§ [FIRST NIGHT.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
I rise, Sir, to move the second reading of this Bill, 1269 and, in doing so, I will endeavour not to detain the House for a greater length of time than is necessary to put the issue clearly before the House. I will only advert to the main points connected with the subject, not dwelling on the particulars of the Bill. In fact, those particulars are, to a great extent, fixed by what the House has already done, for the greater number of them were contained in the Arrears Clause of the Land Act of last year. In respect to that clause, a vital and essential change has been made—namely, a change from voluntary action as a method of loan to compulsory action as a method of gift. But when that change has been made—and it raises an important but not very complicated question of principle—the House has before it the main subject. I wish to state one word about the finance of the Bill. This would not be a convenient opportunity for going into the details of finance; but since I obtained the leave of the House to introduce the Bill I have had an opportunity of going into the data upon which I then based my statement. In the first place, I stated that I felt confident that the available residue of the Church Surplus would yield £1,500,000; and, secondly, that the claims to be made under this Bill would not exceed £2,000,000. With regard to the first of these data, the subject is rather a complex one; but the data themselves, although complex, and hardly suited for a discussion like that of to-night, are not, I think, open to a great deal of uncertainty. With regard to the second of these data, doubtless there is room for more latitude of opinion. Very good authorities have put the probable liability of the public funds lower than I have stated; but I am bound to say it is always with the reservation that they cannot be absolutely certain what claims may start up. The House may remember that although nothing in the world can be better, in my opinion, than the organization of our Inland Revenue Department, yet upon various occasions, when the Department had to estimate a drawback, and have believed that there was very good evidence in their hands, their estimate has been materially exceeded. The truth is, there is something exceedingly fascinating in the idea of receiving public money. It is apt to bring into the field a certain number of 1270 claims that, perhaps, have not been anticipated. If I put the question as one of probability, I believe the very high probability is that the claims under this Bill could not reach £2,000,000 in all; but I am not prepared to say that there is not a possibility that they may go beyond that amount. The main question on this Bill rests on the difference between granting a loan and making a gift. I am not at all sorry to see that the question has been raised by Gentlemen of authority on the other side of the House, and that the subject will be fairly presented to the House. The House has already gone a long way. Here is the argument I should make upon the subject. The whole of this interference of the Legislature with respect to arrears of rent is a thing exceptional and extraordinary. But there have been most exceptional and most extraordinary circumstances to warrant it. In the year 1870 it was never dreamt of. But let me remind the House that that most exceptional and most extraordinary step has already been taken. It is in the principle of a clause of this kind, and not in the particular form of it, that there lies the most of what is doubtful, difficult, or objectionable in the issue now before us. Lending public money is, in some respects, more objectionable than giving it; and lending public money for a purpose of this kind—to enable private individuals to overtake their private engagements—involves everything that is exceptional and everything that is strange in the proposal that we now make for a gift. It appears to me that when the Legislature adopted without question the Arrears Clause last year, that when Parliament has interfered in the face of the very grave objections that are to be justly urged against all legislation of the sort, in providing means of this kind for the discharge or settlement of private engagements—when Parliament has once done this, it appears to me that the argument becomes very strong and very difficult to answer; that it ought to interfere effectually; and that it ought not to be baffled in that purpose. At least, it is extremely difficult—if you had justifiable cause for the measure adopted last year—to show any probable or equitable grounds for stopping short at that measure, now that the measure is admitted generally, and, 1271 with certain exceptions, to be justifiable. I believe there are three conditions that ought to be fulfilled by legislation of this kind. If Parliament is of opinion—as it has been of opinion—that the gravity of the case calls for such legislation, the first condition is that it should be equitable; the second is that it should be safe; and the third is that it should be effectual. I will not now discuss the question whether the present Bill is equitable, and the reason I pass by that discussion is because I have not heard it seriously disputed. As far as I know—I may be insufficiently informed—there is a general disposition to admit that the settlement is a thing of very high social necessity, and that such a settlement can only be made with equity to all parties on general principles, and on the basis of the abandonment of extreme claims. The next condition which a measure of this kind ought to fulfil is that the plan proposed ought to be safe. The plan may be open to the objection that it is costly, although I do not estimate the cost at anything that ought to deter the House from such an important issue as the one before us. It may be open to the objection that it is costly; but I hold that it is eminently safe. I hold that it is very desirable for us to be chary about contracting largely the relations of creditor and debtor between the British Treasury on the one hand, and the Irish tenant—especially the Irish small tenant—on the other hand. On the point of political safety, of freedom from all tendency to embarrass the future relations of the two countries, I have no doubt that the method of gift is far preferable to any method of loan, even if it had been very well devised. There is, I am bound to say, one special reason why I feel called upon to refer to this subject—that is, on account of certain resolutions forwarded to me by my hon. Friend the Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw). These resolutions convey the sentiments of a certain number of Irish Members—I do not know precisely the number—but this I know, they are men of weight and authority, and men who, above all, are entitled to a most respectful hearing from Her Majesty's Government; because from them, and if I may say so without invidious distinction, most of all from my hon. Friend the Member for the 1272 County of Cork himself, we have received the most faithful and the most invaluable assistance in carrying the Land Act through the difficult Session of last year. Therefore we had every disposition to give a favourable ear to any suggestion from such a quarter. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) will, I think, not be surprised if I admit that in approaching these two principles, as far as we might entertain a proposition on account of the generally sympathetic character of the quarter from which it proceeded, we should undoubtedly have been very glad if we could have adopted that which the hon. Member for the County of Cork recommended. My hon. Friend the Member for the County of Cork held strongly to the principle of loans. I observe the difficulties under which he labours, and I do not wonder at them; because, in fact, the plan which, together with many friends, he proposed to us is by no means a plan of loan exclusively. It is that we should adopt the basis of the Acts for the Relief of Distress in 1880, and advance 15s. in the pound on the arrears now subsisting in Ireland—I know not whether under certain limit of valuation or not—that is not mentioned in the resolutions—and that upon these sums, advanced by way of loan out of the Consolidated Fund, interest should be charged at the rate of 1 per cent. Yes, Sir; but it does not require much experience in public or in pecuniary affairs of any kind to know that when you make large advances to men, be they who they may, at the rate of 1 per cent interest, you are making to them, in fact, a large percentage of gift. There is an element of gift amounting to 25 or 30 per cent in such a plan were we to make the advances upon that basis, and appoint a period of some 30 years, or something like it, for the repayment of these advances. But, while that element of gift is not to be escaped, and is essentially involved in the plan, on the other hand, it loses altogether the effectual character which belongs to a plan of gift and compulsion; because, as I understand it, being a loan, it remains on a voluntary basis. I believe there is one thing that even this House cannot do. I recollect an Amendment introduced into a Railway Bill proposed in in this House to compel a Company to borrow money; but you cannot compel 1273 people to borrow money. You may compel people to pay money, and you have no difficulty in getting people to receive money. When the Income Tax was laid upon Ireland we were told that it never would be paid; but, notwithstanding, it has been as well paid in Ireland as in England, and the complaints from Ireland have been fewer than they have been from England. Compel people to borrow money you cannot; and therefore if it is a voluntary plan, then you lose the whole reason that recommends the plan of gift. If it is a voluntary plan, and if it also involves a gift, then it has the disadvantage attaching to a voluntary plan that you cannot insure that it will be effectual; and it has also the disadvantage of a compulsory plan—namely, that it involves the element of gift and of charge to the public. I believe that in making his proposal my hon. Friend was simply struggling with the difficulties of the case we all have to struggle with; and I do not pretend to say there is any method of struggling with them that can completely overcome them. But the position that we take is that it is necessary, in the first place, to make an advance under the section of the Land Act of last Session; and if we do not make an advance under that section, we abandon a policy which we then accepted after much consideration, but with a strong sense of the importance and the essential character of the objects that we had in view. Now, are these objects essential? What is the number of the tenants who are called small tenants in Ireland, and who would be included within the limit of £30 valuation? The number is 585,000; and no person, however sanguine or well informed, can know the precise number of those tenants that are in arrear. But though we may not know the precise number, we know it is very large. We think that to estimate it at one quarter of the whole 585,000 is too low. To estimate it at one-third would be a moderate computation; but if we estimate it at one-third—that means nearly 200,000, out of a total of between 500,000 and 600,000 in respect of whom one effect of being in arrear and not having paid their arrears under the facilities offered by the Act of last year we may say is that at present they are, in a great degree, excluded from the benefits of the 1274 Land Act. They are also held at the mercy of the landlord, and when I say that I am very far from saying that that position of things is one which is favourable to the landlord. On the contrary, I believe it is painful and embarrassing in the last degree to every humane and enlightened landlord; and, as far as my information goes, there is a great disposition on their part to make sacrifices in order to meet the requirements of the public in the settlement of this question. Without the settlement of this question, I sorrowfully confess that the working of the Land Act, however beneficial, must remain essentially incomplete. That being the case, I think that the House will feel that there is some reason in the proposition that we make. We are already committed to the policy of interference; but there we have overleaped the barriers that were really formidable. Having interfered, we ought to interfere, if we can, equitably, safely, and effectually. The plan is equitable; the plan is safe; and if it exhausts the Church Surplus, which it may or may not do, the Church Surplus cannot be better disposed of, and never has been better disposed of to this day, than in giving thorough effect to any measure necessary for establishing harmonious relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland. Above all, it is by this plan of gift alone, founded on compromise and composition, that you can make an effectual remedy; and whatever else the plan is or is not for dealing with this subject in Ireland, at this time of day and this crisis of affairs, it would not be worthy of the dignity, and would not prove the wisdom, of Parliament were they to propound and adopt a plan that would be otherwise inequitable. I believe that is the one question of great importance; and while I grant that the proposal will justify, and even call for, inquiry and the jealous vigilance of the House, I confidently commend this measure to the consideration of the House, and beg to move that it be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
, in rising to move—That it is inexpedient to charge the Consolidated Fund with any payment, except by 1275 way of loan, in respect of arrears of rent in Ireland,observed, that Gentlemen on his side of the House had repeatedly shown their readiness to consider any measures which were devised for the peace and welfare of Ireland. They had been parties to the passing of the Land Act of last year, and especially of the particular clause in it which the right hon. Gentleman now told them required amendment. Why did it require amendment? The reason was very clear. The enormous number of tenants under £30 had been advised by their self-constituted Leaders to hold their rent; and they had most effectually taken that counsel. Another reason of the failure of the Act was the onerous terms of repayment of loans imposed by that Act. The repayments were to be made in eight and a half years, and he thought the obvious way of improving that provision would have been to alter that period to 15 years. But a new settlement, it was said, must be made. For the last six weeks they had had dangling before them the attractive and plausible proposition that the Arrears Question must be dealt with in order that the operation of the Land Act might be secured. Any one who listened to the speech of the Prime Minister during the recent debate on the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond), and also to his speech in introducing the present Bill the other night, must feel that a very great change had been made from the policy of the clause in the Act of last Session. No reason had been suggested in favour of the principle of gift, which he believed approached more nearly to a Communistic proposal than anything before suggested in this country. He was certain that it would have a demoralizing and mischievous effect in its operation upon those for whose benefit it was designed, and that it would be pointed to in after years as a disastrous precedent. The object of his Amendment was limited to the narrowest issue, relating only to the advisability of making a gift from the Consolidated Fund. He did not wish to enter upon a discussion of the general principles of the Bill, though, no doubt, many criticisms would be passed upon it by other Members; he only desired to make one or two observations upon it arising out of the limited scope of his own Amendment. 1276 From whatever source the money might be derived, it was clear that the great question was, whether it was to be advanced by way of gift or by way of loan? There were many considerations that should dispose them to proceed by way of loan; while, on the other hand, there was nothing in favour of proceeding by way of gift, except the purely hypothetical assumption of the Prime Minister that the scheme was bound to be successful; but he saw no reason whatever to expect that result. The system of loan was a matter well known both in England and Ireland, especially in the latter country, and it had also been of frequent occurrence in connection with the very incidents which brought about the Land Act. When the failure of the harvest of 1879 plunged both England and Scotland as well as Ireland into poverty and distress, all advances then made to Ireland were made by way of loan and not by way of gift. Even the hon. Member for Gal-way (Colonel Nolan) never proposed that the money for seed potatoes should be given in any other way than as a loan. In the present case there was to be a free gift, and the gift was to be participated in, not by the most deserving, but by the most irreconcilable of the tenantry of Ireland. Those whose rents exceeded £30 were excluded from the benefits of the Acts, as well also those who had honestly paid their rent. It was not difficult to conceive, under these circumstances, the jealousy with which honest men would view those who had withheld their rents. This obvious and palpable objection to the measure had not, however, received any notice from the Government. But whether the money was to be advanced by loan or gift, there was no machinery by which any restraint could be placed upon the amount issued from the Exchequer. There was no security taken for the amount of money which might be issued; not any security as to the condition under which it would be issued, nor any security that the parties to whom it was issued were really impecunious. Everything was to be left to the Irish Land Commissioners or their deputies. Last year, when the Land Act was under discussion, the House was told that the Land Commissioners might safely be left to fix fair rents without being tied down to any rules; and they had seen already 1277 how much ill blood and how many heart burnings had already arisen from their decisions. Questions of difficulty would be sure to crop up with respect to the advances also, and the House might fairly expect some much more stringent conditions introduced into the Bill. He was not at all surprised to hear that the Government had determined to seize upon the Irish Church Fund; but he wished to say one word upon that subject. He did not pretend to cope with the information at the disposal of the Treasury Bench in matters of that kind; but he must point out that the estimates given that afternoon differed a good deal from those they had previously heard. When the 59th Section of the Act of last year was under consideration, upon the 21st of July, the Prime Minister made a statement—a very guarded one, it was true—upon the subject of the Church Surplus. He said that the Church Surplus would be more than sufficient to meet a charge amounting to from £500,000 to £1,000,000. They now knew that the charges under this Bill were computed at £2,000,000; but it was quite possible that that sum might be increased to £4,000,000. Some people thought that the Irish Church Surplus itself was in a very hazy condition; and it was quite certain that the Controller and Auditor General had drawn pointed attention to the increased amount of arrears, an increase which in the course of the coming year, in all probability, would again enormously increase. He did not complain of the inappropriateness of the fund from which the Government proposed to obtain their money. As an English Member, he should be very glad to see the Surplus, which he looked upon in the light of a village charity, and, therefore, as demoralizing, absorbed altogether; and if he were sure no more would be heard of it, that would be a great temptation to him to acquiesce in this proposal. But an Irish Member would take a different view; and the House ought to know whether, although the Fund was now estimated to be inadequate to make this advance of £2,000,000 by way of gift, it would not be adequate to meet the mere advance of loans. He thought the proposal in the Bill to allow the claims to be made till Midsummer next year was a most mischievous proposal. If the tenantry had not already got a year's rent 1278 in hand, would they be in a better position to pay it next winter, or spring, or summer? By that time another year's rent would be due. The Irish peasant knew perfectly well what was going on in Parliament, and there was no need for any delay after the passing of this Act to give him an opportunity of coming forward with his year's rent. If he was not ready now, there was nothing to begained by allowing the matter to stand over till next year. Assuming that the principle of gift was adopted, what was it they were asked to do? They were asked to pay the just debts of the tenant farmers of Ireland out of the Church Surplus Fund, and if that was not sufficient, to pledge the Consolidated Fund, and thus assist in a questionable operation of making them go through a quasi-process of bankruptcy. He said that was a most objectionable plan, both in the interests of the recipients and in those of the non-recipients. But it was still more objectionable from the point of view of the Scottish and English taxpayer. The farmers of England and Scotland suffered quite as much, in proportion, from the disastrous harvests of 1879 and 1880 as did the Irish tenants, and they had not had the advantage, which the Irish tenants had, of an excellent harvest in the following year. Not only was the proposal mischievous, but it was demoralizing and fatal to the future career of the Irish farmer. It was unexampled in our previous history. The precedents given by the right hon. Gentleman reached 50 years back and more; but he did not think that these precedents were applicable to the present moment. Proposals which were tolerable in the days of Lord Melbourne and Lord Liverpool would not be accepted by any Government likely to occupy the Benches opposite in the present day. What were the precedents to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred? He could not find the words the right hon. Gentleman had used; but what he had said was that Parliament had not unfrequently interfered on grave occasions with the aid of the public purse.
I think I may perhaps assist the right hon. Gentleman a little by telling him that I did not at all claim these precedents in regard to the financial part of the questions. Not in the least. It was in regard to the equity between the parties.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the precedents to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded were quoted as applicable to all the circumstances. He apprehended, however, that none of the cases bore much analogy to the present situation. The question of Slavery clearly could not apply. It had no reference whatever to this case. Then there was the question of Irish Tithes. It was perfectly true that large sums of money were made applicable in that case; but the money was granted by way of loan.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
believed that was so with regard to the larger loan; but with regard to the smaller loan of £250,000, one fourth of that was recovered. Indeed, it was only last year that the amount of both loans not recovered was wiped off finally as a bad debt. It was, therefore, quite clear that the intention of the Government was that the money should be repaid; and, undoubtedly, under the vigorous system which now prevailed at the Treasury, serious attempts would have been made to recover the amount. A much more analogous case was nearer at hand—namely, the advances upon the Irish Famine in 1843—with regard to which the system of repayment was always insisted upon. There was another analogous case—the Cotton Famine in Lancashire. Every shilling of the money advanced had been repaid as it became due. What was more important for his purpose was that the county rates were, in that case, pledged to the Consolidated Fund for repayment. Then there were the advances for the Welsh roads. There was a great deal of similarity in that case. There was an indisposition to pay the lawful tolls, and the Government made an advance to abolish them, and, as a matter of fact, the money was all repaid. The right hon. Gentleman stated the other day that he would be guided by Irish opinion in this matter; but Irish opinion had not been expressed in the shape of a demand for public money. It was not contained in the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond). It was repudiated by the hon. Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw). It seemed, in fact, to have been a gratuitous suggestion on the part of Her Majesty's Government, unless it was required by some secret article in the Treaty of Kilmainham. 1280 Why should this, what he might call great departure from principle and practice, be sanctioned for so small an amount? This was a question of only £400,000 or £500,000. To deal with this sum they were asked to employ the immense engine of the Consolidated Fund. Why were they not to go to the counties and baronies of Ireland, or to the land of Ireland in the whole? What was the value—the depreciated value—of Irish land? Certainly not less than £10,000,000 per annum. Some put it at £15,000,000; but £10,000,000 was a moderate estimate. A penny rate for six years would pay off the whole. Was it worth the while of the right hon. Gentleman, then, to adopt a course so novel and so objectionable? Let them see how this matter struck persons out-of-doors, persons whose principles could not be called in question or doubted. A well-known writer and thinker wrote thus to The Times on Saturday last—The upshot is that the Power which overthrew Napoleon is paying the private debts of Irish terrorists out of the public purse, to induce them to abstain from butchering its citizens and trampling on its laws; while the English farmer and peasant, because they are law-abiding, bear their own burdens and those of the Irishmen too.These were the words of a thoroughgoing Liberal, Mr. Goldwin Smith, and he had no doubt they had found a response in the minds of many, if not most, readers. It seemed to indicate the direction in which public opinion would very soon run. He did not think this was the time for opening that great fountain of wealth, the Consolidated Fund, not for the advantage of the most meritorious, but of the most troublesome class. He thought the taxpayers of the country were beginning to get seriously alarmed about the state of the finances. They saw the charges on the Consolidated Fund augumented, while they were endeavouring year by year to pay off taxation. What means were there of paying this tax except by borrowing? There was no Surplus this year, and there was no prospect of one next year. This was no time, then, to set an example of this sort; and he sincerely hoped that Parliament would take hold of that opportunity, put its foot down, and say that the thing should not be done. He saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) in his place; 1281 his reputation as a Liberal was undoubted, as a financier was unrivalled; and it would be interesting to know what his opinion was in regard to the principle of this Bill. Then there was the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), who carried his views in regard to economy to an extreme; what had he to say to this encroachment on the Consolidated Fund? He saw Scotch Members before him, and he would like to know whether, in the interest of Scotland, it was, in their opinion, desirable that the Consolidated Fund should be appropriated in the manner suggested? In conclusion, he would earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to remove a most objectionable blot from the Bill by not asking the House to assent to the clause which guaranteed from the Consolidated Fund the arrears of rent in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he had on the Paper a somewhat similar proposal; but he had given way willingly to his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth). He was of opinion that none of the Predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would have dared to bring forward such a measure as that before the House. Since the right hon. Gentleman's accession to power, however, he had coerced his majority into passing measures which, if not actually unwise, were, at all events, far removed from the principles which formerly guided the House of Commons. The legislation now proposed was certainly class legislation. It was, in fact, for the relief of a part only of a class, for it would not apply to all farmers who were in arrears with their rent, but only to those whose holdings were below a valuation of £30. It appeared strange that the Prime Minister had not taken into his consideration the position of those poor people, the small landowners, and the many ladies and children, who had been brought to misery and want by the agitation of the last two years. For them the Bill provided no relief. One great objection to the measure was that it would teach the Irish people that dishonesty was a better policy than honesty, for it made no distinction between them, but rather appeared to encourage fraud. Tenants who had bor- 1282 rowed money at high interest in order to pay their rents were passed over unnoticed by the Government, while it was notorious that, in many cases, those who had refused to pay, though well able to do so, were now to be rewarded by the help extended to them under this Bill. The Irish people would look upon the measure not as an act of charity, but as one of compulsion, in the same way that a highwayman would look upon a purse which he had taken from a traveller after holding a pistol to his face. Parliament had already passed an Act which was first mentioned in the programme of the Land League, to reduce rents to Griffith's valuation; and they were now asked to accept a further portion of that programme by the payment of the arrears of rent. Such a course would create jealousy in the hearts of those who did not benefit by it, and would also raise up an agitation in parts of Ireland which up till now had been perfectly quiet. In fact, the Bill would, he feared, make the government of Ireland impossible, especially so long as that government was intrusted to a Ministry which were prepared to do themselves what they had put the leaders of the Land League in prison for endeavouring to do. In England and Scotland it would be looked upon as a sop to sedition, and in Ireland as the spoils of victory. The Land League had taught the people to pay no rent, and the Government now accepted the League's programme, offering, at the same time, to pay the rents of the people for them. When the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was contesting Mid Lothian, he had allowed that the Act of 1870 was a wise Act, and had been of great benefit to the country. He (Captain Aylmer) entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in that, and he only wished he had put his foot down, when he went into Office, and maintained that Act in its integrity. This Bill would be known in Ireland as the Land League Fund Relief Bill, for it would do away with the necessity for the large amount now paid weekly out of the Land League funds to people who had been evicted. It was said the Bill would benefit the landlords, inasmuch as they would now get payment of arrears, which otherwise they would never receive; but he (Captain Aylmer) believed he was speaking the sentiments of the landlords 1283 of Ireland when he said that the majority of them would rather go without their arrears of rent than obtain them in the way provided by the Bill. ["Oh, oh!"] He said that deliberately; because the landlords knew that the principle was unsound, and would ultimately be made use of in a manner detrimental to their interests. He objected to the Bill on many and serious grounds. It taught the Irish to depend upon the Government rather than themselves in times of difficulty; it taught them that relief from the Government would follow agitation; and he objected to it because it would only be a momentary relief, and would produce no sound results in the future. What was the use of enabling tenants to get rid of their present arrears when nothing was before them but their getting into arrears again? He objected to it also because it was not proposed to hold out by the Bill the slightest assistance or help to those who were disposed to be honest. Lastly, he objected to it because it was calculated to plant upon the soil of Ireland a beggar peasantry, than which nothing could be a greater source of weakness to any country. It was not kindness to allow them to remain, for he ventured to say that in nine cases out of 10 the result of the action of the Government would be that the gombeen men would force the tenants to sell out their interest. If the Government wanted to be generous to Ireland, why did not the Prime Minister, instead of proposing this Bill, propose to aid the industries of Ireland? If the Government had advanced this money for some of those public works that were so much required to improve the resources of the country, it would do more good. Then, again, the attention of the Government had often been called to the state of the Irish fisheries, the neglect of which was disgraceful to this country. There were also districts in Ireland which greatly needed railway accommodation. Why did not the Government propose some measure on that subject? What Ireland wanted was capital to develop its industries; but no one would lend as long as the country was in such a state.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient to charge the Consolidated
Fund with any payment, except by way of loan, in respect of arrears of rent in Ireland,"—(Mr. Sclater-Booth,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, there could be no doubt of the great difficulties surrounding that question, and that the objections to the Bill, and, indeed, to almost any Bill that could be brought forward, were manifest; and, allowing that, he hoped the House would allow him very briefly to give the reasons why, after weighing the matter carefully and anxiously, he had come to the conclusion, reluctantly he must say, that they must make a great effort to settle that Arrears Question; and certainly, notwithstanding the objections, there was really no other course open to them in order to solve this question, unless to adopt in principle the plan proposed to them by the Government. He thought his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had a little underrated the difference in principle between this Bill and the Arrears Clause in the Act of last year. The clause of last year was merely to facilitate the payment of these arrears by means of loans to two parties, who were both agreed, and who both made themselves liable for repayment. But this was a new principle of compulsion of both parties upon the initiative of either, and there was the very great distinction of gift in place of loan. The right hon. Gentleman who proposed the Amendment (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was much alarmed at the idea of any money being paid out of the Exchequer; but he (Mr. W. E. Forster) did not think he need be very uneasy, or that there was any great danger in the matter. His (Mr. W. E. Forster's) impression was that if the arrears were interpreted according to the interpretation given in the Bill, it would be almost impossible that any burden should come upon the National Exchequer, although, at the same time, he thought it would hardly be consistent with the seriousness of the question for the Bill to have been proposed, leaving it doubtful as to whether there would be money forthcoming for the settlement. He did not, however, think that ought to make them reckless in giving away the money. There 1285 were some hon. Gentlemen who, he believed, wished the Church Surplus to come to an end as quickly as possible. He could not say that was his view. There were many other, and many very excellent objects to which it might be applied. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who had spoken last (Captain Aylmer) had alluded to the Irish fisheries, and he (Mr. W. E. Forster) should be sorry if one result of this Bill should be that none of it should be available for the excellent plan of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Blake) with reference to the Irish fisheries. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) also looked forward to some of it for the cause of Intermediate Education. They ought not, therefore, to wish to get rid of the Surplus. On the other hand, if they could really give to Ireland that immediate peace which the hon. and gallant Member seemed to anticipate, it would be very difficult to find a better object. The objections to the Bill were very clear. There was the objection of discouraging those who had paid their rents at great sacrifice, and many of them at great danger, and of irritating those who had been obliged to pay under pressure. There was also the disadvantage of any appearance of the Government interfering with a voluntary settlement. After having considered all these objections, he had come to the conclusion that the Government and the House must make a great effort to settle the Arrears Question, and mainly and chiefly for this reason—that, unless it did so, one very great object, if not the chief object, of the Land Act of last year, which sought to meet the case of the poor cottier tenants of the West, could not be attained; that unless they stepped forward and tried to settle that matter the Land Act would be of very little use to those tenants. Just consider what they had to deal with in the Arrears Question. He had said that he did not think the amount would be as large as some hon. Gentlemen anticipated; but the difficulties were felt by a great number of people whose circumstances were most distressed, and whose distressed circumstances were well known on both sides of the Channel. Whatever might be the objections and dangers of that plan, they were much less now than they would have been six months ago. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) 1286 began by stating that, by means of the Bill, the Government was rewarding those who had withheld their rents under the influence of the Land League. The hon. and gallant Member for Maid-stone (Captain Aylmer) also seemed to think that was the class the Government were contending with now. He (Mr. W. E. Forster) did not think that was the case. He was afraid he was now getting on debateable ground; but he thought that there had been a great separation made between those who could pay and would not pay and those who could not pay, by what had happened within the last two or three months. Those who could pay their rents had, to a very great extent, paid them; some through their honest willingness to do so; some of them at great sacrifice, and perhaps at great danger; and many of them, he was sorry to say, because they had been compelled; but he was quite sure he was accurate in saying that a very large proportion of the rents in Ireland which at the beginning of this year were owing had been paid, and an immense proportion of the rents by those who were able to pay. He might be allowed, in passing, to say that he believed the chief anger against himself, both in that House and in Ireland, was because it had been his fate to be the person in the Government whose business it was to get these payments of rent made. They had now got to consider the people who had not paid their rents. There were cases of contest still going on between landlord and tenant; but they were diminishing every day, and the large proportion of persons who had not paid, their rents were those with whom the arrears were so hopeless that it was no use their attempting to settle with their landlords. The class that did not take advantage of the Land Act were the small cottier tenants, who felt that the hopeless accumulation of arrears was so great that if they went into the Land Court it would be of no use. Those were the people whose position the Bill was intended to meet; for he thought it would be admitted that they could not allow so large a class to remain in their present position without trying to meet it. They tried to meet it in the clause of the Act of last year; but that clause had failed—the apparent cause of its failure was that they called upon the landlord 1287 to make himself liable for the money, and he had not sufficient faith that he would get additional rent from the tenant to incur this obligation. Even without that objection he (Mr. W. E. Forster) doubted whether it would have answered. The period of its operation was too short, and it was only getting to be understood when it came to an end. There was great ignorance on the part of the tenants regarding it; and he also found that there was too much hostility between landlord and tenant for any agreement in an application under it. That clause, however, held out a temptation to a voluntary agreement, and thence came the question whether they might deal with it upon the principle of the clause of last year, or in some other way? Should they make the temptation greater and the time for repayment longer? For a while he had hoped they might meet the case in that way, and escape the disadvantage of dealing with past contracts, so as to avoid compulsion and its disadvantages. But he had since come to the conclusion that compulsion was not to be avoided. The chief reason why he held that view was that it was to the interest of the landlords to clear their estates of these small cottier tenants; but, although it had been said by the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Captain Aylmer) that it was no kindness to allow them to remain, yet he (Mr. W. E. Forster) believed it was not to the interest of the State that large clearances should be made. It was, indeed, more the interest of the landlord now than before the passing of the Land Act. He was making no charge against individuals. He believed that when the history of what had happened in Ireland during the last few years was carefully written and properly read it would be found that there never was a class that more resisted temptation to act harshly than the landlords of Ireland. There had been individual cases of hard evictions, although hon. Members below the Gangway did not seem to know of them, of which he could have told them. [Mr. HEALY: Why did not you?] He was trying to conduct the discussion as fairly as he could, and he begged the hon. Member to exercise a little self-control. He was not saying it for himself only, but for his late friend (Mr. Burke) as well, that they had not seldom 1288 interfered, and by private influence prevented cases of hardship; and it was his knowledge of these cases of hardship that made him determined to propose some such Bill as this to his Colleagues. But he was not resting the argument for the Bill upon those individual cases of hardship, but upon the general interest of the landlord to make clearances, and to make them all the more quickly, because of the passing of the Land Act. Let them take some of those estates in Mayo or Galway which were cramful of cottier tenants. They had become so full, not because of any unkindness on the part of the landlords, but from good-natured carelessness which was very popular in the neighbourhood. He knew of one very large estate in Connaught where, though the soil was wretched, some being bog and a great deal of it rock, there were three souls to every 10 acres. That was a case in which the land was over-peopled to an immense extent. In that case, how was the landlord to get his rent? He got it not out of the produce of the Connaught soil, but out of the produce of the English or Scotch soil. These people had come over here, and earned their rent and had then gone back. They had been paying immense rents for their wretched cabins. With that state of things it was, until recently, the interest of the landlord that there should be this enormous number of tenants with high nominal rents, which could not be paid in bad years, and which could with difficulty be paid in average years. It answered his purpose, because the good and many of the average years made up for the bad years, when he got no rent at all. But now the Land Act having been passed, under it there would be fair rents fixed for the future. That would take away from the landlord the power to get the advantage of the good years against bad ones; and, therefore, it would be greatly for his interest to get rid of this large number of tenants, and replace them by a smaller number of men with capital, who really could expect, one year with another, to get enough out of the land to pay its rent. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone asked, why not allow that to happen? Were they prepared to face that, and to say that they would let the Land Act start with a crowd of evictions for the purpose? Was it for the interest 1289 of the State that they should allow that? He must say he thought not. He remembered this—that the competition of those tenants, the misery of those people, was a fulcrum of agitation. The condition of the poor cottier tenant of the "West was not only the cause of discontent and disorder in Mayo and Connemara, but it was the excuse for discontent and disorder in Limerick and Cork. Often and often he had seen cases in which well-to-do farmers of the middle counties of Ireland—as well able, and, perhaps, better able to pay their rent during the last two years than farmers of Yorkshire, or Devonshire, or Norfolk—appealed to public sympathy for not doing so, simply because of the misery of these tenants in the West. Therefore, he said, let Parliament remove the fulcrum of agitation. They could not allow the eviction of these people to go on without State interference, for, in his opinion, the State had allowed this condition of things to grow up in Ireland. They had been obliged to pass a Land Act to get a better condition of things in future; but they could not deny that those people were in that miserable position entirely through what they bad allowed to happen in past years. Therefore, he did not think the House could, with safety to the peace of Ireland, and with respect to the opinion that would be formed of the action of the Government, or with justice to the new system, allow that clearance to be carried on which would be carried on unless they stepped forward in some way to meet the question. Let the Land Act get a fair start with these poor cottier tenants. Let their holdings be estimated at a fair rent. Let them get a property—the tenant right which was contemplated by the Act to attach them to their holdings—and then he believed that gradually, though not slowly, but quickly, there would be a natural diminution of those tenants. They would become fewer in number, because they would have some property they could sell to enable them to betake themselves to other employments, or, generally speaking, to emigrate. They would thus obtain a state of things such as they desired, without the dangerous, and, as it was represented to be, the cruel process of very large evictions and clearances. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Aylmer) was in favour of emigration——
It would be much better to spend this money in emigration than in putting the people back in farms they cannot live on.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
agreed with the hon. and gallant Member in thinking it was only ultimately by emigration that these people could be improved. He was sure the people were themselves becoming more and more sensible of it; but if the House wanted to stamp the emigration plan with certain failure, and excite disgust and almost hatred of it all through Ireland, they could not do so more effectually than by allowing such a state of things to happen that these people should be absolutely forced to emigrate. That was the reason why he felt Parliament was driven to a compulsory measure. Then came the question, should it be accompanied by gift or by loan? The disadvantage of a gift was clear enough. He did not quite agree with the Prime Minister that gift was a necessary accompaniment of the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond), because that Bill merely gave the initiative to the tenant; and he (Mr. W. E. Forster) could not see what difference it made to the landlord, if he was to get one year's rent, whether he got it direct from the State, or indirectly from the State through its giving a guarantee for the tenant. He did not see, so far as the landlord was concerned, why they might not have combined compulsion with loan. But his right hon. Friend made an alteration in the present Bill as compared with the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross, and which he (Mr. W. E. Forster) thought was very important and very just. It was that he gave the initiative also to the landlord. He told the landlord that he might compel the tenant to come to an agreement. It was a mistake to suppose that the actual payment of the whole year's rent was required by the Bill. The payment of so much of the year's rent as the landlord might choose to take in settlement was all that was required; and he imagined there would be many cases in which the landlord, finding it very difficult to get anything, would accept a very small payment for the last year. Upon the ground of accepting that, and giving a receipt in full, he would be able to get one year's rent from the Government. Undoubtedly, 1291 the Government, from whatever fund the money was drawn, would rather suffer by that arrangement; but that was the Bill. He did not know that Parliament would have a right to compel the tenant to enter into such an agreement, and, at the same time, to impose upon him the repayment of a loan, extending over eight or ten years; and, therefore, the fact that the initiative rested with the landlord made it all the more difficult to avoid a gift. Leaving the theoretical argument, which was certainly strong against gift, he thought the immediate practical arguments were very strong in favour of gift as against loan. It was not only to the interest of the landlords, and still more to the interest of the tenants, but it was the direct and immediate interest of the State. The attempt to get rid of the matter by means of a loan might be attended with danger; and he doubted whether the State would succeed in obtaining repayment. On the other hand, by making it a gift, the State would get rid of a most difficult, and, to some extent, a dangerous duty—that of collecting the rent from the tenant. Of course, there was the danger of setting up such a precedent; but that might be avoided, to some extent, by clearly recording the grounds upon which this Act was passed. In this case the real ground for deciding in favour of gift was that the State found it necessary to interfere with past contracts; but it did so in the interest of the parties, and there were advantages on both sides. The landlord would gain greatly by this interference. He would, in all probability, get at least 10s. in the pound, instead of 1s. or 2s.; and, of course, the tenant was clearly the gainer; but it was still an interference with past contracts, and he thought that so dangerous a thing that there was no great harm in making the State run some risk, whenever such an interference was made. There was one overpowering argument in favour of the plan being a gift rather than a loan; and that was that, now that the Government had proposed it, he believed the gift would be irrecoverable, and it would be impossible to take it back. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared, on the part of John Bull, that he would give the money; and they must 1292 all be aware that it was not now in the power of John Bull to button up his pockets and back out of it. For those reasons, he thought the balance of advantage was on the side of the Bill. In his opinion, they were bound to make a great effort to settle the question; and, so far as he could see, they could settle it in no other way than the one proposed. He would now add a few words upon two important questions of detail. The first was with regard to the tribunal which was to administer the Act. No doubt, a very great deal would depend upon clearly ascertaining whether the tenant was or was not able to pay. That would not be an easy matter to determine; but he did not think it ought to be given up. He must ask his right hon. Friend, before he went into Committee, to very carefully consider whether he could impose that duty upon the Land Commissioners. He quite agreed that the notion of a complete block in the Land Courts was a mistake, and that they were getting through their business vastly quicker than was generally supposed. But, undoubtedly, there was a very great deal to do; and it was a serious matter to put upon them this new and serious task; moreover, he doubted whether it would make their work easier. He had a strong suspicion that the purely judicial business of finding out whether a man was able to pay or not, using rather brusque language, and finding out whether his statement was true or not, must be a very hard and anxious task, and one not likely to be very popular. Therefore, he doubted whether it was wise to attach it to the duties of the men who had to establish a fair rent, and, as much as possible, to do it with the concurrence of both parties to the bargain. He was aware that the Bill also contemplated County Court Judges doing it, instead of the Sub-Commissioners. But the County Court Judges were, in many instances, already engaged in efficiently carrying out the provisions of the Land Act; and, therefore, he strongly suspected it would be a great saving of time, which would be an enormous advantage in this matter, and much more preferable, to appoint a few gentlemen specially to carry out the work of this Bill, and to do nothing else. There would be no loss on their salaries, because it would 1293 still leave the County Court Judges and Sub-Commissioners plenty to do, and men could only work so many hours a-day. The other suggestion he had to make was that it would have to be considered whether the limitation of £30 could be adhered to. There was no doubt it was more difficult to adhere to that limitation in the case of gift than it would have been in the case of a loan. A man rated at £31 or £32 would look very queerly at his neighbour of £29 who had got the gift, while he had not. He believed the cases of arrears under this Bill of estates over £30 valuation would be comparatively few—that was, where the arrears were for rent owing before November, 1880. He believed that, upon most of the larger and middle-sized farms, they had been paid. But, as the Prime Minister said, the object was to secure a prospect of finality for the measure, and a very few men above £30 excluded would make a very great disturbance in Ireland. His experience was that most of the disturbance had come, not from the poorer cottiers, but from the better class of tenants. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would consider the question of limitation, and how far it would endanger the success of the measure. He had only one other remark to make, and that was that if the Bill was to be passed at all—and passed he thought it would be—it was, in his opinion, of the most immense importance to everybody in Ireland that it should pass soon. They wanted to stop evictions. There was no doubt about that. They wanted to release these poor tenants from the fear of eviction. It was to the interest of the State that the evictions should be stopped, and it was also to the interest of the landlords that the Bill should be quickly passed, because there was no denying that this would be the consequence of the Bill having been brought in, that until it was passed there would be no more arrears paid, and probably fewer rents would be paid. He would not repeat what he had said as to the importance of the Prevention of Crime Bill taking precedence of all other Business; but he hoped that after that Bill it was the intention of the Prime Minister to give this Bill precedence over every other Bill. He also trusted the House would adopt the second reading 1294 of the Bill; and he was sure that every hon. Gentleman connected with Ireland would support him in saying that it was immensely to the interest of everybody in Ireland, to the cause of good government, and the advantage of landlord and tenant, that it should be so. Though reluctant to take up the time of the House, he had felt compelled to say so much; and he hoped that, both in matter and in manner, he had said nothing that would give offence.
§ MR. MULHOLLAND
said, that if the Prime Minister was disposed to give £2,000,000, the gift would be made much more telling, and go much towards securing the peace of the country by helping the people to emigrate, and take their labour where it could be made more profitable to themselves. He thought that would be the best remedy for what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had described as "the seeds of Irish discontent." He (Mr. Mulholland) thought he might claim for the Irish landlords that they had not shown a selfish disposition to allow their own interests to stand in the way of accepting any legislation which the responsible Government assured the House would be for the advantage of the Irish people. They gave that assurance when the country acquiesced in a settlement of the Land Question, which was, to a great extent, opposed to their convictions. The country had now a year's experience of that measure, and what equivalent had been obtained for the sacrifice then made? Was Ireland more peaceful, or were the relations between the landlords and tenants more friendly or more amicable now than they were? No; just the contrary was the fact, for never was Ireland in a more unsatisfactory condition than now, and the flood of litigation which was let loose over the country as a consequence of the Land Act had inevitably led the landlords and tenants into two hostile camps, a situation which must leave behind some feeling of bitterness. Therefore, although fresh legislation was needed, it was natural they should look with some feelings of distrust upon a Bill proceeding in the same direction. He, and, he believed, most Irish landlords, would readily say that if they were convinced that the Government proposal was one which would really settle the 1295 Agrarian Question between them and their tenants, would do away with the hostile feelings at present existing, and restore Ireland to a satisfactory condition, no pecuniary sacrifice that was necessarily involved in it would allow any of them to stand in its way. But the question was, was there any reasonable hope that the Bill would accomplish that? He regretted he could not persuade himself that there was such a hope. He would look at the question with different feelings, if he thought the limit of the Bill's operation to those who were unable to pay would be effective; but he could not entertain that hope. How on earth could the landlord prove that a tenant was unable to pay his rent? The tenant might have money in his pocket of which the landlord could know nothing. If the tenant had money in the bank, he would keep it so that it could not be traced. On the other hand, their experience of the working of the Land Act, as regarded litigation, so far led him to believe that no evidence on the part of the tenant of inability to pay would be available to any extent. They might assume that the Act would apply to those who had hitherto obeyed—and who would, doubtless, continue to do so—the instructions of the Land League to "hold the harvest," and had refused to pay the rent. What effect would that have on the public mind in Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Mr. W. E. Forster) seemed to think little of this demoralizing effect, and put it to one side. To him (Mr. Mulholland) it appeared very grave indeed. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the advantages the landlords would gain by the receipt of rents under this Bill; but no landlord would be so short-sighted as not to perceive that these advantages might be counter-balanced by the immense inducement there would be in future to all tenants to glide into arrears. If the money had been advanced as a loan and not as a gift, this demoralization would not exist to the same extent. The Bill would be a terrible discouragement to the man who, at the risk of life and limb, had resisted all attempts to draw him into the "no rent" path, and who had paid his rent at immense risk, even danger, when he found men similarly rented, and who had declined to pay, were absolutely made a present of their arrears. Nothing could be more 1296 disheartening or discouraging to those men; and if there should arise another agitation, in which the honest and law-abiding would be ranged against the dishonest and lawless, it would not be surprising if they found that the friends of honesty had greatly decreased, and that its enemies had increased. He believed it would be of far greater advantage if the money were given in the shape of loan; and he was glad to know that many hon. Gentlemen opposite, representative Members, coincided with that view, amongst them the hon. Members for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson) and the County Cork (Mr. Shaw). Perhaps English Members would be more inclined to come to the same conclusion if they found that the Church Surplus was not in a position to pay it. For himself, he doubted very much whether the Church Fund was in the condition that many hon. Members expected. It was difficult indeed to make any accurate statement with regard to that Fund. They had had no balance-sheets since 1840. His idea was that the only intelligible basis on which to arrive at the state of the Fund was to take the total amount of liabilities on the one hand, and on the other the total amount of assets. The Church Temporalities Commissioners had never presented a balance-sheet framed in that manner. Their receipts for 1880 included money that had been received for sales of land and tithes, as well as the instalment of Terminable Annuities; but it was his belief that if the balance-sheet were made up to-day, showing the value of the assets on one side and the amount that had been borrowed on the security of them on the other, it would be found that there was no surplus. He, of course, was aware that it was possible, by a system of book-keeping, to treat income that would accrue in future years from a less solid form of security than that upon which the money was borrowed as if it were a surplus and discount it at the present day; but his contention was that then there would have no difference in the rate of interest for the two securities, and that the difference in the rates of the securities only represented the risks. That would be a mere banking transaction, and the interest would not deserve to be entitled a portion of the Church Surplus. The amount raised in 1880 did not correspond with the amount that was estimated to be re- 1297 ceived with reference to the Irish Relief Fund. The arrears of the tithes had been estimated at £148,000, and the amount was steadily increasing, therefore all calculations on the assumption that the instalments would be fully paid up were fallacious. From a rough estimate he (Mr. Mulholland) calculated that the present net income from the tithes and from land which belonged to the Church was £450,000, and that the amount borrowed upon it was £9,700,000, to which had to be added £20,000 a-year, which would go to the Universities, and that would require £670,000 of Consols. He could not state exactly the amount that was expected to be raised from the Relief Fund. He thought it would be better to have no reference whatever to the Irish Church Temporalities, because it might induce hon. Members to believe that there was a substratum of security where, in reality, none existed. For the reasons he had given he thought the money should be granted as a loan. If they took £15 as the average sum to be given to each tenant, it would only amount to 10s. a-year, and the maximum would only amount to £1. That was a very small amount compared with the sum deducted from their rents by the Sub-Commissioners, and the payment of it would put the transaction on a sounder basis, and one more consonant with justice and with equal right.
§ MR. SHAW
said, he had listened carefully to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and of the late Chief Secretary for Ireland; and perhaps it was owing to his want of appreciation that they had not convinced him that the principle on which the Bill was founded was the right one. He (Mr. Shaw) still continued to hold, as he did some time ago, that the principle of gift was an unsound one, and that the principle of loan was the one upon which the Bill should have been founded. He thought, even financially, it would have been better for the tenants of Ireland themselves to have a loan on moderate terms than a gift made upon the terms contained in the Bill, which commenced by providing that every tenant should pay a year's rent, and if a man was not able to pay a year's rent he was excluded from its operation. He had heard, and believed it was true, that in nine cases out of 10 the people they desired to help, and for whose 1298 benefit the Bill was designed, were unable to pay a year's rent up to last November. Then, how was the Court to find out the inability of the tenant to pay? A man might have a small farm pretty well stocked, but he might have no money; and was the Court to pronounce him unable to pay his rent? If left to himself he might struggle through his difficulties; but the Government, by this Bill, would send to Ireland missionaries, who would by their conduct teach what was not right. On one side of the boundary there might be an honest struggling man, who had for years performed his duty honestly, and paid his rent regularly; while, on the other side, there might be an unfortunate man who, probably owing to his own habits of intemperance and to other causes, was now in arrears, which he was unable to pay, and this man was to be taken up and petted, and helped by the State. He did not wish to do more than hint at the reasons why he thought the principle of the Bill was bad; but now, after the Prime Minister had stepped in, he looked upon it as a foregone conclusion, for he did not think it would be possible to carry any other measure. 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. He also felt, when he set about considering this question, that they would be helping people whom they had no right to help by any fund whatever. It was rather amusing to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) tell them that the balance of the Church Fund would be enough to meet the claims arising under the Bill, and yet he talked of the State being about to undertake the matter. He (Mr. Shaw) supposed it did not probably occur to the right hon. Gentleman that this was a peculiarly Irish fund, and that if it was found sufficient the State would do nothing at all in the matter. It was also rather amusing to hear the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment (Mr. Sclater-Booth) rouse up the feelings of the Scotch, and Irish Members against taking the money out of the Consolidated Fund. 1299 He (Mr. Shaw) was told that the charge for Cyprus was a considerable charge, and there was a strong suspicion that the charge upon the Fund for certain wars, such as for the Abyssinian War and for the Afghan War, was a very considerable one; but the idea of touching the Consolidated Fund for the relief of a few poor persons in Ireland, or even of lending the money to them, who were the children of the State, was a proposal which horrified the great Party opposite. The right hon. Gentleman opposite did not take a very wise or dignified course in raising that argument, for the fact was, the State owed the Irish Church Fund something like £1,500,000. They all knew that when the Church Bill was introduced there was a certain charge upon the Consolidated Fund for May-nooth College and for the Presbyterian ministers in Ireland; and he remembered that in the first Session in which he sat in that House—a green Legislator—he was astonished beyond measure to see that that great country, in carrying out great measures, did the little job for itself, and took away from the Irish Church Funds equal to £1,500,000. He thought the first thing the right hon. Gentleman opposite who moved the Amendment should do was to move that the money should be paid back to the Church Fund. In England they could, of course, play with such little things as £1,500,000, and think it nothing. In their great centres of industries, where wealth and comfort abounded, they would have no trouble whatever, by small taxes and by contributions from their merchant princes, in doing things for education and charity which they in Ireland were unable to do at all in the South and other parts of Ireland. In many parts of that country there was an amount of native talent that could not be surpassed. They had an Art School in Cork that had produced wonderful talent; and yet it was located in such a place that, in wet weather, persons attending there had to put up their umbrellas to keep themselves dry and prevent their work being spoilt. The poverty was so great in the country that none of their Corporations or Local Boards could afford to levy a tax for the improvement or development of institutions of that kind, which some people might think sentimental. A man who had to struggle for 1300 his living did not like to pay money for teaching Art and Science; and, therefore, he thought it would be of immediate advantage that they should have in the country a Fund like the Church Surplus for purposes of that kind; but, by the Bill, the Government proposed to take away the whole of that Fund, and to give it to a class of people not the most excellent in the country. They forgot that there were other classes suffering in Ireland, who were equally poor and equally deserving of help. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford that whatever was going to be done should be done quickly, and that the machinery for carrying out the Bill should be expeditious. It should not be hanging over for a long time, and he did not think the tribunal selected should be one already pressed with heavy duties. He must say he had the greatest dislike to patchwork legislation of this kind on the great Irish Land Question. It was but a part of the greater scheme recently unfolded, which included the question of purchase and other things introduced by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Redmond), and, if possible, it should be taken up in a way that would settle the whole question. The right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had in his mind some great scheme of purchase; but he (Mr. Shaw) supposed the great Party opposite got so frightened at it that he had to withdraw it. Last year the right hon. Gentleman submitted a plan to the House which was well worthy of careful consideration by the Government. He proposed to erect an independent tribunal outside the Treasury for dealing with this great operation of purchases; and, although he (Mr. Shaw) was sorry that the proposal had not been entertained by the Government, he hoped it would not be lost sight of. If they had such a tribunal to deal independently with the question of purchase, it could also deal with the question of arrears without embarrassing any other body. However, as he said before, he now looked upon the question as practically settled; and as he was most anxious to relieve the poor peeple who were suffering from a load of arrears, and to prevent them being driven off the face of the country, he could not offer any opposition to the Bill, and he should be very sorry 1301 to put his ideas or notions in competition with the minds of the people. He thought it better to have the Bill as it was than have no Bill; and, therefore, he hoped the second reading would be taken that night, so that they might be allowed to go into Committee.
said, that, in passing that Bill, the House was practically obeying the behests of the Land League. They were going to pay the rents of a great number of tenants who could have paid them; but they were told by the Land League not to pay them. The lesson the Bill would teach to the Irish tenant would be that if he obeyed the law of the land he would be exposing himself to outrage and death; and all that a tenant had to do to advance his own interest and consult his own safety was to obey the orders of the Land League. Who were the real authors of this Bill? The Bill was only the adopted child of the Government. The real parents were the Land League—the open and avowed enemies of England—those who had already demoralized the people of Ireland, who had stirred up that evil spirit which they were now unable, if they wished, to allay—those were the men whose advice and counsels Her Majesty's Government were endeavouring to carry out. It was in the hope of conciliating these Members that the loyal classes had been sacrificed, and this Bill had been introduced. If the Government continued to pursue this policy they would find themselves in the position of the Roman Empire in its decline; they would at length reach a day when they would have no more bribes to throw away to the barbarians. He was amazed that the right hon. Gentleman had said nothing about the future, although he had spoken of finality. Mr. Davitt did not see any finality about it. He respectfully challenged the Prime Minister to explain to the House in what way the claims of the present generation of Irish tenants upon the public purse were stronger than those of any past or future generation; and he commended to his attention the words of Mr. Goldwin Smith in The Times, where it was shown that the Bill was a concession to Irish terrorists. He maintained that the loyal classes of Ireland had been plundered, sacrificed, and ruined; and he contended that this Bill even would not satisfy the people it 1302 was meant to pacify, inasmuch as there would be more arrears of rent in the course of a year or two, payment of which would be demanded, and, if not acceded to, fresh outrages would be the result. It failed to draw a distinction between the honest tenant who had fallen into arrears from want of means, and the dishonest tenant who, although able to pay, had not done so, but had allowed his arrears to accumulate. It failed, too, to provide compensation for the families of those men who had been murdered, because they had dared to disobey the edicts of the Land League.
§ MR. GIVAN
said, he regretted the tone of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down (Colonel Dawnay), for, in his opinion, such statements were not calculated to improve the existing relations of this country with Ireland. At a time when all were anxious to conciliate the Irish people, and to afford them some relief in the direful condition in which they were placed, speeches containing such an amount of acerbity were out of the question, and, he was afraid, would detract from the advantages of the measure to a considerable extent. If the Bill was to be watered down by hon. Gentlemen on the Benches opposite it had better be withheld. He believed that in the Compensation for Disturbance Bill last year the argument of economic principles had been exhausted. He regretted exceedingly, with the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw), that the whole subject of Irish relief had not been dealt with in the Bill by the insertion of clauses providing for the extension of the Purchase Clauses of the Act of last Session, and the extension of that measure to leaseholders, so that they might stand upon the same footing as tenants from year to year. The extension of the Purchase Clauses and the fixing of fair rent he knew must come before the House; but because the Government did not think fit to deal with these in the present Bill was no reason why it should be kept back, and the proposed measure of relief to the people be refused. He objected to the manner in which the tenant was to prove his inability to pay the rent, and he did not see why the County Court should be made subservient to the Land Commission. The latter had more business than it could do for years to come, and ought 1303 not to have further duty imposed upon it. The number of cases in the Land Court up to the 28th of the last month was 77,326, and of those only 8,606 had been disposed of. He would suggest that the Land Commission should call for a statement of the account between the landlord and tenant for the past three years and let the balance be struck. This account could be verified by affidavit by the landlord or his agent and the tenant, before a magistrate; and if the Land Commissioners had any reason to doubt the account they could refer it to the Petty Sessions Court. That would be a cheap way of dealing with the matter, and one that would be always accessible. He objected to the limitation of £30. No doubt, the rents due were chiefly from tenants under£30; but if the superior class of tenants above £30 were excluded from the benefits of the Bill there would be a class—limited, he admitted, but still a class—the centre of disaffection and discontent in the neighbourhood; and if these men were left in that condition, it would be a matter of regret to the Government that they had not extended to them the benefits which they held out to the smaller tenants. They would be agitators in the neighbourhood in which they lived; and inasmuch as they were few in number, and had, as a rule, paid their rents, the sum required for their benefit would be small. With regard to the economic principle, in the year 1847 the House cheerfully voted a sum of £10,000,000 to relieve the Irish people in the Famine. It might be said that that was not an analogous case; but he contended that it was. The reason in 1847 was that the people had been reduced to such a state of poverty by the rack-rents and law then existing, that the moment the crops failed they were reduced to starvation. They were now reduced to poverty and inability to pay their rent from the same causes. They had been for years in circumstances under which no country could thrive. The same principle would be at work in the grants with which that Bill proposed to relieve the tenants from the incubus round their necks in the shape of arrears. If the County Courts were to be utilized, some further provision must be made in the Bill. All the arrangements for sittings for the year were fixed on the basis of the line required in past 1304 years, and if further work were put upon them the time would be totally inadequate. He thought the Bill ought to be amended by enabling the local magistrates—either one or the whole Bench—to take the affidavit or declaration settling the account between the landlord and tenant. Imposing that work on the Land Commission or the County Courts was making a machinery which would not work satisfactorily to the tenant. Promptitude was what should be aimed at in the Bill, and that could not be obtained by giving the work to the Land Court or the County Courts.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he could not contemplate with satisfaction either the proposed gift, or the alternative of a loan; but, as a choice between two evils, and after having considered the matter fully, he had come to the conclusion that relief in payment of arrears had better be given by means of a gift than a loan. That was the question raised by the present Motion. There was, no doubt, a larger and more important one upon the Bill itself—namely, its soundness as a financial operation, on which he would be prepared to give his opinion at the proper time. What they were dealing with now was in what shape the relief was to be afforded, on the assumption that relief was to be given in one way or the other. Now, one of the conditions of the relief was that the tenant should be unable to discharge the antecedent arrears. If the money were lent to a tenant on that condition, what security could the Government expect from him, and how could payment of the money advanced be enforced against him? Some had suggested that the money should be lent by way of loan at 1 per cent interest; but there was a very grave objection to placing the State in the position of a creditor to men of the class proposed to be benefited by the Bill, which was, in fact, almost a gift. A great outcry would be raised against any Government enforcing these loans, and all kinds of pressure would be put upon them to forego them. In fact, first or last, that would be practically a gift. He thought, however, that as a gift, some scheme of voluntary emigration might fairly be carried out by it. He admitted the force of the argument that to make emigration compulsory by the Bill, or the advance of money dependent upon it, would be to discredit 1305 emigration altogether; but that would not apply to the application of the money to this purpose with the consent or at the request of the tenant. Now, a few words as to the machinery for carrying out the Bill. He participated in the doubts which had been expressed of employing the Land Commission for the purpose. They had already every weapon in their hands; and, with great respect to the members of it, he doubted the competency of many of them for the investigations which would be necessary under the present Bill. Great frauds would be practised upon the Government unless great care was taken. Truth was not the characteristic of the Irish peasant; and, in the present instance, his whole interest would be to conceal or pervert it. The Government should have officers upon whom it could fully rely to carry out the Bill, with full power to call for bankers' books, accounts, bought and sold notes, and other documents of that description, and to ascertain in every way the state and condition of the applicants under the Bill. He threw this out for the consideration of Government, and reserved to himself the right to vote against the Bill itself; but he could not concur in the Resolution which was now proposed.
§ MR. NELSON
said, he felt bound to protest against the language of the hon. and gallant Member for Thirsk (Colonel Dawnay), who had said that the men who thought that the whole ownership and occupation of land should be re-examined and reviewed were demoralizing the people. He (Mr. Nelson) did not wish to anticipate the future; but he regarded the present Bill as a means of giving a sum of money to men who were in distress, in order to relieve their families who were in squalid poverty. He did not regard the measure as at all likely to settle the question of land in Ireland. That was a question which had to be settled, he suspected, on a very different and far wider basis. They talked of arrears of rent. Arrears of robbery, arrears of dishonesty, arrears of racking poor men to penury! The evil of the system was that it allowed one man to take from another his unpaid labour. There were large quantities of land in Ireland that ought to be resumed by the Government of the Empire, and very small compensation conceded. They could not 1306 govern Ireland from that House. They might rule it with 60,000 armed men; but to govern a country implied that they had the assent and the consent of the people. Another proposition which he would lay down was that the land of a country was given by the Creator to the people of the country for their support. Probably there were 10,000,000 acres in Ireland which would be worth £1 per acre. It might be that there were 500,000 acres that might be worth 10s. per acre. There might be 2,000,000 of acres which were worth a few shillings an acre. There were multitudes of acres that were worth nothing at all. It would be far wiser for that House to take up the question of how to settle for all time the Land Question, by letting the land of Ireland become its own security for any sum of money which was necessary to put it in the possession of the people. When that was done, let an Exchequer be formed for the price of the land. Let the people of Ireland have the land at a fair value, and let the land be held responsible, as in Switzerland and other countries, for the defence and the support of the Government. These would probably amount to a rent as high as the present rent. That might be; but until the people became masters of their own industry they would never have stable peace in Ireland.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
in supporting the Bill, said, he thought it would do much to help the tenants who were anxious to be solvent and to be honest, as well as the landlords who were anxious to be merciful to their tenants. The provision which made it necessary for the tenant to pay a year's rent would, he thought, go a great way to prevent collusion between landlords and tenants for the purposes of fraud, either upon the Irish Church Fund, or upon the Imperial Exchequer. The tribunal that had the settlement of these cases would not necessarily have to adjudicate upon all that came before them. In the first place, a tenant would have to show his inability to pay beyond a certain amount; then, on the other hand, the landlord must show that the tenant had paid a year's rent. If a tenant were unable to pay even one year's rent there was no prospect of his being able to pay in future, and it would be hopeless to aid him by a grant. The main question at issue was whether the grant of money 1307 to the tenant should be made by gift or by loan, and it had always appeared to him that there was a very strong argument in favour of making whatever assistance was given—within certain limits, and under proper conditions—a gift. The arrangement was this—the very existence of arrears at all was due, to a large extent, to the fact that, in many cases, the rent exacted had been excessive. For instance, there was the entire class of cases, for which the first part of the Land Act, dealing with the reduction of rents, was passed. In that case there was no doubt whatever that if the State had stepped in early, and had done years ago what it was now proposed to do, that act of justice on their part would have prevented, to a large extent, the growth of arrears. It would certainly have prevented the existence of arrears to the extent that it was now proposed to meet by State aid. The action of the State was now only repairing an injustice that was inflicted upon the Irish tenants years ago; and, therefore, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw) in thinking that there was anything demoralizing in a tenant becoming the recipient of Government assistance in the shape of a debt due to him from the State. It was only by the abuse of the provisions of the Bill that any demoralization could ensue. At the same time he could not cordially welcome the proposed gift, for he was in the unfortunate position of having to bring forward tomorrow a question which was seriously damaged by the proposal of the Bill. He was going to have asked the Government to give additional assistance to the cause of Irish Intermediate Education from the Church Surplus, and there would be great disappointment at the danger which had happened to the prospects of Intermediate Education. But the present crisis was too grave and too full of deep responsibility to the Government to justify any Irish Members in raising their interests in opposition to the grave and vital interest under this Bill. The hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had said that it would be a dangerous thing to allow men to receive assistance from the State. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) maintained that it would be much more dangerous and much more demoralizing to hold out to those men the temptation to bank against 1308 the State. Having regard to the fact that, in the future, many of these men would become the debtors of the State for the creation of peasant proprietorships, it would be wise not to place before them a temptation not to pay their just debts, by creating now a liability of which no one could see the end. As to emigration, he believed that the Land Act would lead to emigration, for the Free Sale Clauses were bound to lead to consolidation of holdings. The Bill would not touch holdings above £30 a-year, and he was sorry for it, for that limit would not cover many cases well deserving attention. To reach the tenants able to deal with the landlords on true economic principles, they must go much higher than that. He thought it should, at least, be extended to £50; and unless that were done it would soon be found that there were many tenants above the limit who were unable to meet their claims without feeling the dreadful pressure that now fell so heavily on tenants subjected to unnatural competition. He would also be glad to see such provisions in the Bill as would prevent anything like the possibility of fraud.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that, in his opinion, it would be uncandid not to admit that that was a question of vast importance, not only to all who were connected with land in Ireland, but to the peace and order of that country. It must also be allowed that it was too late now to object to any proposal on that subject, because it was inconsistent with the acknowledged rules of political economy and with the precedents which the House had been wont to respect. Last year, they had not only followed, but had defied economic laws, and they were more or less committed to the principle of interfering with the contracts between landlord and tenant. They had now to deal with an exigency so grave that he should have been prepared to accept a Bill for giving assistance to tenants in the form of a gift were no other course open to them; but they had two alternatives presented to them—the one was the method of offering assistance by gift, the other was the method of a loan. One of the strongest objections to the form of a gift was the practical difficulty of carrying it out. If the aid were in the shape of a loan, all that it would be necessary for the Court to ascertain would be that there was a landlord and a tenant 1309 and a debt, and then, pro rata, assistance might be given. But in the case of a gift the Court had to ascertain the amount of the debt, to guard against fraud, and to inquire into the ability or inability of the tenant to pay. The tribunal would be helpless in attempting such a task. The tenant would appear in his most ragged clothes, and give the most pitiable description of his poverty; but there was strong reason for believing that many of the banks in Ireland could tell a tale that would be a striking commentary on the claim of many a tenant to participate in the largess from the State. He had expected to find in this Bill stringent powers for investigating the condition of tenants applying for its benefits, and that bankers would be called upon to disclose the state of the affairs of their customers who sought that relief. If a man had no money, but had crops in the field, cattle, and agricultural implements, which were liable, under the Law of Distress, for the very rent in arrear that was the subject-matter before the tribunal, was the Court to say that he was to be considered unable to pay? Or was the man to be told to go and sell his cow or his pig to pay his rent, because that would be sufficient? There was nothing in the Bill giving the smallest indication to the Court how it was to exercise its discretionary power, or affording any protection to the pocket of the State, by setting out what principle was to be followed in deciding whether a tenant was able to pay or not. Was the Treasury to be represented before the Land Court, or were single Commissioners, whether they were farmers, auctioneers, retired tradesmen, or lawyers, to be sent all over Ireland to test, by such cross-examinations as they were able to conduct, whether a tenant was "shamming" or telling a true story about his means? Probably there were some 300,000 tenants who might come within the purview of the Bill; but supposing that there were only 200,000, and that they had 20 or 30 Commissioners dealing with those matters, and taking eight or ten cases per day, would it not take many months before the majority of them was disposed of? He believed, in fact, next spring would be upon them before there was any reduction of the vast mass of cases which would come under the operation of the Act. From the very nature of the case, and 1310 having regard to all the agitation kept up by the Land League during the last year or two, instances of fraud might be expected to spring up like mushrooms under that Bill; and surely, therefore, it would not do to allow those cases to be decided on the ex parte evidence of the tenants alone; but the Commissioners should have the assistance of some responsible officer of the Treasury, who had made previous inquiries in the neighbourhood, and who would endeavour, on the part of the Crown, to test the truth of the tenants' representations. If the angel Gabriel could descend from Heaven, and, with the prescience which they all supposed he possessed, distinguish between the various classes of tenants, and point out to the Court those who were the proper recipients of a gift of this sort, nobody in that House would more resolutely ask the House to pass the Bill than he should. But they knew very well that was utterly impossible. The deception would take the form which they knew fraud always assumed when it was connected with a direct pecuniary advantage; and no tribunal, however acute or experienced, or however much evidence it might be furnished with, would be able to perform this duty with any satisfaction whatever. They were casting upon the Court a duty of the most difficult and delicate character, which ought not to be imposed upon it; and he therefore came, with great reluctance, to the conclusion that the assistance given should not be by way of gift. There were overpowering reasons against that method. Tenants who had paid their rent, having made sacrifices to be honest, could not take advantage of that Bill. Those persons had paid their rent, in many instances, by borrowing money, which they still owed; in other instances, by selling their stock, their implements, or their crops. There were other tenants, again, who had paid their rent by allowing other debts to grow up against them with the shopkeepers, and who had those other obligations still hanging over them, but had no means of meeting them. Again, there were a large number who had paid under distress for rent and under eviction processes which had been brought against them. Those clauses would have no advantage under the Bill, although they had paid their rent under circumstances entitling them to consideration. The honest tenant was 1311 not considered in this Bill. Supposing there were 20 tenants of townland, and 14 had paid their rent and six had not, what would be the feelings of the 14 when they found themselves left in the lurch, while their recusant neighbours were left with very considerable advantages under this Bill? There was not the slightest advantage in the Bill; in fact, the only argument that could be adduced in its favour was that it might contribute to the peace of Ireland. Who were the persons to benefit by this Bill? The great majority of persons who failed to pay did so by wilful default. The Bill dealt with—first, a class of men who were wilfully in default; next, with a class who spent their money in drinking and other extravagances, instead of paying it to their landlords; next, with a class who had not paid their rents through sheer fear of the operations and practices of the Land League, and who must have a great deal of money remaining in their pockets which they had not paid out. Then there was the last class, those who, by sheer inability to pay, had not paid their rents. To relieve this class no one would be more ready than himself to ask the House to pass this Bill; but it was the dishonest tenant whom this Bill would mainly benefit. What was the lesson as regarded the future? If it only related to the present and the past, he should vote for this Bill. But what was the lesson to be learnt as to the future by the acute Irish tenant when he heard of this Bill? He would say a state of arrears of rent was a state of happiness for the Irish people. Could anyone doubt, on reading the recent speech of Mr. Davitt, that they were on the eve of further agitation? The lesson in this Bill was—"Do not pay your rent; the last thing you should do is to pay your rent; always be in arrears; the larger your arrears the better is your position; begin to get into arrears the day after the settlement under this Bill; begin your new career by a new series of defaults." He wanted to know what answer there was to that? After learning this lesson of dishonesty, how could the Government suppose that the Irish tenant would settle down at once and become a punctually-paying, contract-keeping, and law-abiding man, when by the Act of last year they told him, not to mind his contract, and by this Bill 1312 not to mind his rent? A tenant who piled up large arrears of rent would be much better off than his neighbour who paid his rent honestly. This Bill was called a practical measure; but it was impossible for it to assume a practical shape, unless it authorized an arrangement by loan and not by gift. If the latter course were adopted, it would only incite to fraud, and would store up for the future a heavy load of dishonour and dishonesty which the Legislature had taught the Irish tenant to carry out. On the other hand, all the objections to the Bill would be destroyed if the transaction were made a loan. That would keep up the principle of honesty and the obligation of paying one's debts. It was said the repayment of the loan would be too heavy a burden upon the tenant; but with an average reduction of 22½ per cent in the rent, which was now going on, he did not think that proposition could be maintained. In any case, it was impossible to go back, for it could not be denied that the question of arrears formed a serious impediment to the working of the Land Act. That principle was the only one which could with justice be applied to the present case, and he trusted the Government would adopt it.
§ MR. CARTWRIGHT
was understood to say he had great difficulty in determining which way he ought to record his vote. He would not say that he would vote against the Bill; but he should hesitate before recording his vote in its favour. It appeared to him that the arguments they had already heard were arguments which were not founded on any principle, but solely upon expediency; though he frankly admitted the difficulty of satisfactorily dealing with the subject. He admitted, also, that the arguments of the right hon. Member for Bradford, though they appeared to him to be based upon expediency, were arguments of no light character; while, on the other hand, he must confess that the Bill contained points so remarkable that they compelled him to hesitate. The substantive point of the Bill—one of grave importance—was, of course, the question between gift and loan; and he believed that question involved one of the most difficult problems they were ever called upon to deal with. With respect to the question of arrears, one or two difficulties had occurred to him. 1313 In estimating the inability of the tenant to pay the arrears of rent due, which was a condition precedent to his obtaining relief under the Act, he wanted to know what would be considered assets of the tenant? The Land Act of the preceding year had invested him with a valuable tenant right. Would that be considered assets of the tenant, and sold to pay his debts? He admitted he might be in some danger of being considered hard-hearted; but he could not help being impressed by the arguments of the hon. Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw), when he spoke favourably of the system of loan, instead of gift; The Prime Minister objected that a loan at 1 per cent really involved the principle of gift; but he forgot that in 1880 he advanced to the landlords out of the Church Funds large sums of money, repayable in 35 years' time, at only 1 per cent interest; and if a loan was assented to then, grave reasons ought to be required to reject it now. The hon. Member for the County of Cork brought forward these views in a public document in the Press in a Memorial presented to the Prime Minister. He well remembered the terms of the Kilmainham letter, and from that he concluded that hon. Members opposite were opposed to the loan system; but he felt perfectly certain that the effect of the Government proposal would be to stop altogether any further payment of arrears—tenants would now wait and see what was going forward, and payment of arrears would cease altogether after this night's debate.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he thought the scope of the Bill had been exaggerated, and that it was not open to the objections urged against it. He would remind the House that it was only intended to deal with cases in which tenants were really unable to pay their rents; those who were solvent not participating in the benefits of the Act. He failed to see how people who were unable to pay their debts in full were to be demoralized by payment of a composition of 10s. in the pound. The consent of the landlord to the tenant's application to the Court should be sufficient evidence that the tenant was entitled to the relief he asked. The landlord was the man who had dealt with the tenant, probably for a number of years, and who would have to accept a composition; he would 1314 be the most likely person to be able to judge of his solvency or the reverse. With regard to the tribunal, he quite agreed that there ought to be a separate one composed of one or two men in each county, who would dispose of cases as they arose; and he suggested that some clause to that effect should be added to the Bill. As to the question of loan or gift, he would have preferred the loan, buttrusted that the Bill would pass a second reading, and that it would be amended in that respect in Committee.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he agreed with the hon. Member for the County of Cork, that loan, and not gift, was the best way of dealing with this question; and he regretted that the Prime Minister had departed from the sound financial principles which had hitherto guided him throughout his life. He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) opposed this mode of gift because he believed it would have a demoralizing influence upon the people who might receive it. They would see tenants who had refused to pay their rents rewarded, while those who had worked hard and denied themselves in order to discharge their debts would feel justly sore at obtaining no advantage and being left out in the cold. The Prime Minister had some time ago said that he would be influenced by Irish opinion. The right hon. Gentleman having expressed his wish to have Irish opinion on the subject, the majority of the Irish Liberals met, and considered the question of arrears. He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) acted as secretary to the meeting, and it resolved—That the Court or Commission appointed to deal with the arrears should have the power to advance the sum of 15s. in the pound for the purpose of extinguishing them, and that the sum thus advanced to the tenant should be collected by local authority.They thus proposed that 75 per cent of the arrears should be advanced by the State upon loans, and in that proposal they believed they were acting on sound principles and adopting a course for the benefit of the tenant farmers of Ireland. That system was founded on the precedent of last year, when money was advanced to the Irish landlords.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Not to the landlords. It was advanced to relieve the distress of the people.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he believed the landlords reaped a rich harvest by 1315 the loans. With regard to the position of the landlords in Ulster, they were secured by the tenant right, and he did not believe they would lose any of their rents. He wished, however, to know whether the Government intended to do anything for those poor tenants who were evicted, as in Connemara, a few days ago, and whom the Act would not therefore assist? One of the first questions that would arise would be whether the value of the tenant's interest in his holding was to be taken into consideration, because upon that it would entirely depend whether a tenant was solvent or insolvent. Although he might object to the principle of the Bill, he should be glad, on behalf of the tenant farmers, to see any measure passed which would meet present difficulties and would relieve them of arrears of rent. He objected only because he wanted the thing done in a sound and satisfactory manner; he did not wish to reward those who had not paid their rents and to punish those who had. In Ulster, where there was no agrarian crime, there were more evictions than in any other Province. Tenants who obeyed the law, and who were evicted because they obeyed the law, would reap no benefit from the Bill. Had they obeyed the "no rent" manifesto they would have been in possession of their holdings. Parliament could not deal equitably unless it reinstated the honest tenant and discharged the amount of his arrears. It would be a mistake to give the business under this Bill to either the Land Commission or the County Courts. It would take years for the Commission to overtake the work already assigned to it; and the County Courts, sitting in many cases only four times a-year, were unsuited for it. What were required were, not lawyers, but men of intelligence—he meant business men of intelligence—accustomed to accounts; these should be enabled to deal promptly and effectively with the question, which either the Land Commission or the County Courts would take years to settle. To secure this promptness and efficiency the Bill would need to be altered in Committee. The limitation to a rental of £30 would exclude 60,000 or 70,000 of the very cream of the Irish farmers, the men who had been the stay of law and order, who had involved themselves with the banks, and reduced 1316 themselves to very great straits. A few hundred thousand pounds more would enable the Government to meet the most deserving cases of all; and he trusted the Government would assent to some modification of the Bill with this object.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, it was the cardinal misfortune of the Bill that it embodied the opinions of the Home Rule Members, and not those of Irish Members in other parts of the House; and the divergence of opinion thus entailed would lead to delay and difficulty, which all would equally deprecate. Almost the only speech in support of the Bill had been made by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, and that was conceived in a tone which was more likely to serve the opponents of the Bill than the Government. The question chiefly raised by him was whether the West of Ireland should be relieved of surplus population, or whether it should be rooted to the soil? The right hon. Gentleman gave reasons why it was important that the country should be relieved of the surplus population; but be arrived at the extraordinary conclusion that it was not desirable that the relief should be afforded by this Bill. He admitted that there must be an emigration scheme, but it must not be connected with the Irish Land Bill. He (Mr. Brodrick) submitted, on the contrary, that they ought to put out of sight the necessities of the Liberal Party in making the Irish Land Act a practical, working measure; and they ought to subordinate a temporary gain, to the permanent good of Ireland. Hon. Members opposite had laughed at the statement that the landlords would regret this measure because it was a temporary salve to the difficulty, and he believed that the position of landlords was now such that if they could see their way to turning an honest penny and recouping some of their losses they would not object; but, at the same time, he believed there were many men who looked at their estates, not merely with reference to the rental of a year or two, but also with reference to the effect of the measure on their future position. How far would a good result be obtained in this respect by the present Bill? Would it put men on the soil who would be capable of discharging their obligations? What was to happen when the next bad season came? The men who would be relieved 1317 would be left without resources for meeting it, for if they had means the Commissioners would refuse to advance them money, and the payment of a year's rent might leave them without anything to put into their farms. What arguments could be adduced from the Treasury Bench to support the belief that this would be an effectual remedy and that there would be something like finality about it? It was not enough that such a measure should be based on the opinions of one section of Irish Members. Turning to the actual defects of the Bill, he thought that the door would be opened to endless jobbery by the time allowed for applications under the Bill. Arrears were only to be settled up to November, 1881, while the period for applications was extended to June, 1883. Three half-years' of rent would thus in many cases be due when the settlement was made, and these new arrears would form the basis of a fresh agitation. In the interval no further rents would be paid, and Parliament would have stepped in to increase the existing difficulties, and would have thrown away public money in vain. It was inaccurate to say that there was no money in the country; for it was notorious that in the banks in Ireland the balances of the tenant farmers were greater now than they had ever been in the last 30 years. Moreover, they were the balances of men who would not pay their rents. These men would have the opportunity given to them of taking out these balances between the passing of the Bill and the application to the Court, and dissipating them among their tradesmen and their friends, and then they might ask the State to pay a year's rent for them. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; but this was the first thing that would occur to every Irish tenant as soon as the Bill was passed. He cordially reechoed all that had been said by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and also by the hon. Member behind him, with regard to delegating these extraordinary powers to one member of the Land Commission. If these powers were intrusted to anyone they ought to be put into the hands of an impartial person; and it could not be expected, after what had occurred in the last six months, that the landlords would deem the Land Commissioners impartial. He also hoped that the plan of the hon. 1318 Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson) would be adopted, and that men of intelligence, not lawyers, would be sent down to carry out the provisions of the Bill. The crucial point was as to who the recipients of the bounty would be. He contended that the tenants benefited would be those chiefly responsible for the disorders of the last two years. It was all very well for the late Chief Secretary for Ireland to assert that a large number of the rents of men who could afford to pay had been paid. Not one fact or figure had been adduced in proof of that assertion, and it was directly adverse to the view which he (Mr. Brodrick) had heard expressed by every other person of authority in the country. It might be taken as certain, even without the authority of the hon. Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw), that there were a large class of men who could afford to pay but who would not pay; and it was these men who would be benefited by the Bill. He could mention an estate on which there had been an absolute refusal to pay rent for two years. The tenants had had two good harvests, and could afford to pay something. Of the 400 tenants, up to November last only two had paid rents, and since then nobody had been allowed to pay. One of those two men were murdered, and the other was dragged out and shot in the road. If evidence were procurable it would appear, as was well known to the police, that the crimes were committed by some of the farmers in the neighbourhood who had refused to pay their rent. This Bill, therefore, would benefit the very men who had brought those two honest tenants to their death. Again, the landlords who would derive benefit from the Bill would not be the best landlords in the country; for if the Chief Secretary's argument was good for anything, it proved that the tenants benefited were those in arrear from no fault of their own. Good landlords who had foregone rent would be losers; while those whose estates were too highly rented, but who refused to give reductions, would receive assistance from Parliament in respect of these excessive rents. Rack-rented tenants were the only men, according to the late Chief Secretary, who could not pay; and therefore the landlords whom it was proposed to benefit by this provision were the very land- 1319 lords against whom the Act of last year was aimed, and those who were the least worthy to be recipients of our bounty. Everybody in that House, with the exception of a very few, would agree with him that what Ireland chiefly needed was—first, an improved class of tenants; secondly, a greater number of landowners; and lastly, a scheme, not of compulsory, but of permissive emigration, which would really relieve the starving districts. What was proposed to be done to attain any of those ends? The operation of the late Land Act had left all those ends more remote than they were before. By keeping unthrifty tenants on the soil it barred the way to the substitution for them of a better class. If the Land Bill had any excuse at all, it was to be found in the contention of the Ministry that its general application would relieve the country of grievance by assisting all classes of tenants. This Bill would actually perpetuate distinctions by creating a privileged class of tenants. If the Land Act failed to secure those ends, how could it be expected that they would be attained by the present Bill, which was really of a temporary and a flimsy character? The present measure would not really take us one step nearer the final goal. The Prime Minister had laughed at the Leader of the Opposition, when the latter had said that the whole Church Surplus would be gone under the present Bill, and nothing would be left for any scheme of purchase or emigration. But it should be remembered that, before the present agitation began, this policy, and not that of payment of arrears, was that to which statesmen of all Parties had looked for the permanent amelioration of Ireland. Yet, not only was this surplus to be entirely devoted to the arrears, but the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) had shown that probably more than £1,500,000 would be required beyond the Church Surplus, and that only for a temporary benefit to the people of Ireland. The fact seemed to be that the Government were still uncertain as to their policy—were still groping in the dark. If the last Land Bill were not a reward for past agitation, he could only regret that it had already been made the vantage-ground for fresh agitation. The continuance of final measures to final concessions was calcu- 1320 lated to demoralize the country, and it would henceforth be more difficult to make men pay their just debts. He believed that this Bill would fail in effecting a final settlement; and it would be remembered that every suggestion made by the Opposition had been disregarded, and every suggestion made by the hon. Member for New Ross and his Friends had been adopted. If the Government chose to follow a policy of compromise, it would look as if their course had been adopted from fear. He hoped that they would attempt in the future to choose a course in which there were some elements of consistency and strength, the absence of which had caused their policy hitherto to fail, and had greatly contributed to the present deplorable condition of affairs in Ireland.
said, he hoped that, though he was an English Member, he might be allowed to say a few words on the subject. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken seemed to think the main question was whether the poor cottier tenants of the West of Ireland were to be rooted in the soil. But the question really was whether those tenants were to be able to obtain the saleable value of their holdings, which had been given them by past legislation, and which they possibly might lose in consequence of the arrears created antecedent to that legislation. That was the main point of the Bill, and one which ought to be steadily kept in view. There were, no doubt, grave objections to the Bill; but so there would be to any plan, and he had felt re-assured by the speech of the right hon. Member for Bradford. It had been said that many tenants had recently been found to pay who had money in their banks, but who had before refused to pay. The right hon. Gentleman spoke after great experience, and the conclusion he drew from his remarks was that it would be the poorer tenants who would reap the advantage of the Bill. There was one part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he could not follow him. He feared, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, that those tenants would not be able to satisfy the condition of the Bill which required the payment of one year's rent. Therefore, he was inclined to follow the suggestion of the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson), that that condition 1321 should not in all cases be insisted on. If he were right, the poor tenants recently evicted in Connemara would not reap any benefit from the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman who had opened the debate spoke of the measure as Communistic; but they had become accustomed to that term, and it had lost its force. The right hon. Gentleman said that the method should be loan, not gift; but the Prime Minister had said that the only difference between loans at a small interest and gifts was one of degree. Therefore, the objection had little force. But, besides, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. H. Smith) had a scheme for buying up Ireland. He remembered that when a scheme was proposed of a tentative character to deal with about £1,000,000 for a similar object to that of the right hon. Gentleman he had referred to, Mr. Gathorne Hardy denounced it as Communistic and highly dangerous. We lived and learned, and what was then Communistic on a small scale was now adopted on a large scale. It appeared to him, not only from the Government, but from what had been recommended by a Committee appointed in "another place," that when we came to deal with Irish land we had to throw political economy to the winds in order to make things pleasant to all parties, landlord and tenant alike. But he derived some consolation from what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had said, that the Church Surplus would be sufficient. He thought, if they were going in for generous legislation, the sooner they set about it the better. He did not think that the Bill was likely to be a precedent for English legislation. In England, during the recent bad seasons, landlords had made very large remissions of rent, varying from 75 to 50, 40, 20, and 10 per cent. But he was sorry to say that Irish landlords had not in any large number of cases shown a similar spirit. He would mention another point. If the Bill were intended simply to help tenants to pay who could not pay, nothing would induce him to vote for it. He saw no reason for the precedence thus given to the landlord. But by the Act of last year a substantial property in his holding was given to the tenant—a property which he had always claimed as his due, but which had not before been recognized by legislation. Whether rightly 1322 or wrongly, the tenant had become the real owner and the landlord a mere rent charger. It was that the tenant might secure the advantages thus given him that he voted for the Bill. It was only just to give a fair chance to these tenants to enable them to obtain a valuable interest in their holdings. He did not say that the plan proposed was the best, although it was, perhaps, the only feasible one. Perhaps he might be allowed to state that, two years ago, when the Compensation for Disturbance Bill was before the House, he made a suggestion that the Government should deal with the matter by bringing in a Bill for the temporary suspension of eviction pending the treatment of the whole question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford characterized that proposal as being more stringent and severe than that of the Government; but he would venture to say that if his proposal had been carried out the position of matters would have been better during the last two years than it had been. He believed that the Government did right in making the system under this Bill a compulsory rather than a voluntary one. As regarded the proof which appeared to be necessary as to the tenant's ability to pay, they should remember that the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland told them last year that that was a matter with which it was impossible for any Court to deal. He should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in his speech on the second reading, would inform them how the Court was to proceed in reference to that matter. He had no doubt that the details would be settled and the Arrears Bill passed; but he was afraid that, after all, it would prove but a very temporary expedient. He did not know whether hon. Members had read an account which appeared in The Daily News on Saturday of certain evictions in Connemara. It was a very sad account. The writer said that even if these poor people in Connemara had their land rent free, he did not know how they would make a living. Under such circumstances, a plan of State-aided emigration could alone do permanent good to Ireland.
said, that, after the speech to which they had just listened, he could not be surprised at the Prime Minister's discretion in wishing to keep 1323 down discussion on this Bill. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had also told them that he hoped no extraneous matter would be brought into the debate. But that was impossible, since it was entirely on extraneous considerations that Parliament was asked to consent to its adoption. In his opinion, it was one of the most profligate measures ever laid before the House. The principal objection that he had to the Bill was that, under the peculiar circumstances in which it was brought forward, it would be regarded by the ignorant public outside, who had not their veneration for the constancy and consistency of the Prime Minister, and more especially by the people of Ireland, as the price paid by the Government for the Treaty of Kilmainham. In the celebrated letter to which reference had so frequently of late been made, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) spoke of the absolute necessity of the settlement of the Arrears Question. The little bit about the support of Liberal measures was only a hors d'œuvre. The right hon. Gentleman had no understanding of any kind with the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his Friends; but by a strange coincidence—as strange as that by which the elder Mr. Weller had his coachful of voters upset, and to his amazement found a certain sum of money awaiting him at a certain place—a Bill had been introduced exactly on the lines mentioned in the letter from Kilmainham, and was forced upon the House as a necessity of the present juncture. Therefore, it was not at all unlikely that the notion to which he had alluded would rapidly spread outside the House if the Bill were proceeded with. They should remember the brave words used by the Lord Chancellor in 1880 at the Mansion House, when resistance to authority first commenced. The noble Lord then said—It is and always must be one of the first, greatest, and most paramount duties for the Government to maintain the authority of the law with firmness and steadiness, and without respect to any man who seeks to introduce public disorder into the State and to insist that the law shall not be obeyed.Why had not the principle then laid down by the Lord Chancellor been carried out? However, instead of insisting upon the maintenance of law and order at all hazards, Her Majesty's Go- 1324 vernment had introduced this Bill, and people out-of-doors would say that they had descended into making a bargain with those who were responsible for the outrages that had occurred in Ireland, and that, had it not been for the recent Dublin tragedies, they would not have introduced this Bill, and have allowed law and order to go to the winds. These were reasons why, at all events, the House should discuss this Bill before they passed it. He had been greatly surprised when the Prime Minister had told them that they were committed to the principle of this Bill by the Act of last year, and that, indeed, they were scarcely at liberty to discuss it, as it was simply a corollary of that measure; but it would be in the recollection of hon. Members that the clause bearing upon this question which was contained in the Act of last year was vehemently opposed, and it was only passed by the House of Commons because they were told that it was the one thing necessary for the pacification and contentment of the Irish people. Now, however, that the Land Act had proved a failure, this Bill was to be forced down their throats. What was the difference between this Bill and the clause of the Act of last year? Why, the right hon. Gentleman had carefully slurred over the fact that, while this Bill was compulsory, the clause of last year was voluntary. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, in supporting that clause last year, had said that the objections that had been urged against it would have been perfectly good had the clause been compulsory, but were unsound, seeing that it was voluntary. It had been pointed out last year, on behalf of the Government, that the year 1880 had been a good one, and that, although the tenants might not be able to pay the rents of 1878 and 1879, they would be able to pay those of 1880 and 1881. Now, however, they were told that if the tenants would only pay the rent of 1881, the rent of 1880, which was in arrear, and which they could and ought to pay, was to be paid for them out of the Consolidated Fund. That was to say, it was to come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. So profligate, however, was this Bill, that it would actually create arrears where they did not exist, and would call upon the Consolidated Fund 1325 to pay a half-year's rent that had already been paid. It seemed a strange policy to pursue towards the Irish tenants to tell them that, because they had refused to avail themselves of the Arrears Clause of the Act of last year, they were now to have their arrears paid for them. What assurance had the House that the Government would not come down next year and propose that the rent of 1883 should not be paid out of the Consolidated Fund? One great objection to the Bill was that it would open the most extensive frauds upon the Revenue of the United Kingdom. That night the right hon. Member for Bradford had said that it would not be a very easy matter for the Court to determine the ability or the inability of a tenant to pay his rent; but last year he had used stronger language, and had said that it was impossible for the Court to determine such a matter. Would the right hon. Gentleman or one of his Colleagues point out to the House how the Court was to fulfil that which the Chief Secretary for Ireland last year said would be an impossible task? To his intense astonishment, the Prime Minister recommended that Bill because it was so equitable. He should like to ask one or two questions on this "equitable" idea. How was it equitable to the tenant who had paid—tenants who had paid under circumstances of great hardship and great personal danger? Tenants had been shot who had paid their rents; and how would this Bill look in the eyes of those men who had had the extraordinary courage to fulfil their obligations? How was the Bill equitable to landlords who had foregone their rents? They were now in a position that their harder neighbours who had refused to grant abatement were to be benefited under the Bill. Was the Bill equitable to those tenants who had wasted their money in sedition? It might be true that such tenants had not the money now; but where had it gone? In subscriptions to the Land League, in payments to promote seditious purposes. Did they think it was equitable to take the money of the English taxpayer to replace the money spent in sedition? He did not think the English taxpayer would consider that equitable. Lastly, would the Prime Minister explain how this Bill was to be equitable to the working classes of this country? What right had the Govern- 1326 ment to take the taxes of the people, paid with great difficulty and self-denial, and make a present of the money to Irish tenants and Irish landlords? That was a real hardship. A Member of the present Government took a remarkably strong view on this subject only in 1881. When it was a question of granting compensation for cattle slaughtered in connection with the cattle trade, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was very angry at the suggestion that money should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund for such a purpose. The words of the right hon. Gentleman were—I have a very great objection to the proposal contained in the Bill that compensation in the case of the cattle trade should be paid out of an Imperial fund, and I will repeat the words of Sir George Grey, which to my mind are conclusive. With regard to the payment from the Consolidated Fund, Sir George Grey said:—'That the principle of applying the public funds to compensate private loss was an extremely dangerous one.' Nothing was more likely to lead to reckless expenditure than to use the bottomless purse of the nation for such a purpose.He should like to know how, after that, the right hon. Gentleman could be a party to this Bill? There was, he thought, one consideration which might induce the British taxpayer to sanction such a proposal as was contained in this Bill. If there was the slightest hope that this concession would be the last concession, and that this demand on the public purse for Ireland would be the last demand, then the British taxpayer might assent to it. He did not say that even then the measure would be economically sound; but he thought the people of this country, like certain Members opposite, would be induced to forget their political economy. But would any Member of the Government get up and tell the House that there was the slightest hope that this measure would be a fixed one? Why, Mr. Davitt had said that the Land League was organized to effect the complete abolition of Irish landlords, and until that work was completely accomplished there could be no alliance between the people of Ireland and the Whig Party in this country. In the face of such a declaration from the acknowledged Leader of the Land League, it would be well for the Representatives of the taxpayers of this country to pause before they gave their consent 1327 to a measure which the Government confessed to be contrary to all political economy, but which they pressed upon the House in the vain and futile hope of satisfying the ultimate demands of the Irish people.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
Sir, it would ill become the Representative of the Irish Government, who are anxious to get this Bill passed, after the great consideration and indulgence shown by hon. Members, in compressing their speeches, to occupy the time of the House at any great length; but I cannot allow the speech of the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down to pass without notice. In one respect that speech was very satisfactory. I have not been quite certain with regard to some of the speeches made whether hon. Members at the bottom of their hearts liked this Bill or not. But about the speech of the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down there is no doubt whatever. The hon. and learned Member protests against the Bill on behalf of several clients, and the first of these clients was the British taxpayer—the working man—who would be called upon to pay a large sum of money to meet the debts of the tenant farmers in Ireland. On that point I take issue with the hon. and learned Member. I have constituents with, perhaps, the same income as the hon. and learned Member; and I venture to say there is absolutely no act or object upon which the taxpayers of England and Scotland would more willingly pay money, if they thought that money was well laid out, than to bring back tranquillity to Ireland. In every respect it is worth their while to pay it. If we look even to the commonest view, that of "pounds, shillings, and pence;" if we look at the Army, Navy, and Civil Service Estimates, it surely is worth while to make some moderate outlay, if, as I shall be able to show, that moderate outlay will do much to restore tranquillity to Ireland. Then the hon. and learned Member takes up the case of the tenant. He says that it is exceedingly hard on the tenants who have paid their rent. That is a point of view which has been spoken upon with very great force by several hon. Members in the course of the evening. I think those hon. Members have left out of sight what is, perhaps, the governing consideration of this question, why, either by loan or gift—I have not come to that yet—both sides 1328 of the House, at least a very large number of Members, think it necessary to assist the tenants of Ireland. It is because the times have been most exceptional. The hon. and learned Member asks whether this is the last case in which we shall come forward to assist the tenants of Ireland? So far as I can remember, no instance of this sort, in which money has been asked to assist the tenants of Ireland, can be quoted since the Famine of 1846. The reasons why we have come forward now are the bad years of 1878 and 1879. I only put into other words what was said by the right hon. Member for Bradford, when I say that the sudden rise in Irish agrarian crime which took place in 1879–80 was connected with the discontent which was fostered in an atmosphere of misery. There are parts of the country where the people could not pay their rents. They could not keep body and soul together without charitable assistance, and the helplessness and despair of these people gave the first material thirst for agitation, which afterwards spread into other districts, and was continued into other places where there was not the slightest excuse for disorder. That disorder the Government undertake to repress, under the Bill which commends itself to the vast majority of the House. And, at the same time, it is highly important to relieve the distress. Every day the Government gets reports of evictions, and wherever these evictions are of tenants who can pay their rents, and will not, the Government is very carefully informed by their officers. That is not the case with all evictions; and at this moment, in one part of the country, men are being turned out of their houses, actually by battalions, who are no more able to pay the arrears of those bad years than they are able to pay the National Debt. I have seen a private account from a very trustworthy source—from a source anyone would allow to be trustworthy—of what is going on in Connemara. In three days 150 families were turned out, numbering 750 persons. At the headquarters of the Union, though only one member of each family attended to ask for assistance, there was absolutely a crowd at the door of the workhouse. It was not the case that these poor people belonged to the class of extravagant tenants. They were not whisky drinkers; they were not in terror of the 1329 Land League. One man who owed £8 borrowed it on the promise of repayment in six months with £4 of addition—a rate of interest which hon. Members could easily calculate—that he might sit in his home. The cost of the process of eviction amounted to £3 17s. 6d. I am told that in this district there are thousands in this position—people who have been beggared for years, people who have been utterly unable to hold up their head since those bad years, and whose only resource from expulsion from their homes is the village money-lender. There are some who think the remedy for this is emigration. Amongst those I certainly, speaking privately, enrol myself. Nothing has delighted me more for the short time I have been in Ireland than the admirable efforts which private enterprize promoted for emigration; but, whatever the ultimate remedy, I agree with the practical advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) that Parliament would do more to mitigate the position of these poor people, and give them time to look about them, without having them turned out of their homes; although there may be some—I am told that there are not many—who would not stay in their homes if this Bill had been passed, for the landlord would get something in the end, and would not be driven to eviction by that necessity, which, I am sure, is the only necessity which oftens drives landlords to eviction, that they get almost nothing from their property. As regards the number of evictions, I notice that the hon. Members expressed dissent when I spoke of this measure bringing tranquillity to Ireland. I cannot help thinking that the discomfort and uneasiness must at this present moment be credited to evictions, because I find that in the year 1880 the average in each quarter of evictions was 473. In 1881 the average in each quarter was 805. [Mr. SEXTON: Are these families?] Yes; in the first quarter of this year, ending in March, the evictions amounted to 1,299, and in the month of April they have reached 512, which I presume to be decidedly the highest figure which evictions have yet reached. Some of these, no doubt, can pay; but after three such years as 1877, 1878, and 1879, there must be a great deal of embarrassment and destitution. Even as regards those in the more prosperous 1330 parts of Ireland, I think if we could get them the advantage of a fresh start, and a feeling of independence such as they and their forefathers never have known, we should spread hope and contentment throughout Ireland. So much as regards the tenants. I should like to say a word about the landlords. Is this a real advantage to the landlords? I must say that if the landlords of the counties of Warwickshire, Hampshire, and Wiltshire could get their rents in full for last year, and 50 per cent for the two years that precede it, they would think themselves exceedingly lucky. I do not wonder that the accounts sent us by a very eminent special Resident Magistrate are that the landlords will gladly except the payment of arrears as proposed. The landlord will get in some cases what he must have long considered to be a very bad and hopeless debt. There are Irish estates where there are arrears of extremely old standing, going as far back as 1847. Now, I have no doubt that some discussion will arise upon this point, whether we ought not to place a limit to the arrears and say that no arrears incurred previous to 1877–8–9 should be taken into account. On the other hand, any backward limitation would interfere with that which the Irish Government consider the main purpose of the Bill. The essence of the Bill is the clearance of accounts all through Ireland once for all; and it is impossible to call upon the landords compulsorily to do their part unless you allow them to bring before the Land Commission all arrears whatsoever they can prove to the Land Commission to be genuine. It is said that the door will be open to fraud, but no respectable landlord will allow his tenant to say he is insolvent if he were not so; and it is, moreover, the landlord's interest to press him for all the rent he can get. In making preliminary inquiries, the Government have found no difficulty in ascertaining from its officers in Ireland on what estates two years' arrears are owing and on what estates there are more. I believe that hon. Members will be astonished when they see this Return and find that the amount is not nearly so great as they imagine. The Government will keep its mind open to suggestions such as that of the hon. Member for Tyrone; but, whatever the new Court may be, I do not see why it should have any greater 1331 difficulty in ascertaining a tenant's inability to pay than the Bankruptcy Court has in ascertaining how much a bankrupt can pay in the pound. It is said that this Bill will demoralize the country. In the first place, there is one clause the very opposite to demoralizing, upon which too much stress cannot be laid. By Sub-section 1, paragraph A, a tenant is bound to pay in full the rent beginning at Michaelmas, 1880, or the landlord must have remitted it. That year is the one in which the anti-rent agitation took its most acute form. I do not want to enter at any length into that subject; but hon. Members will see that no more moral obligation could be laid upon the tenants of Ireland than that they should be obliged to pay the rent of that particular year. As to the question of this payment of arrears being by gift instead of by loan, I do not see the drawbacks that some profess to see. There are circumstances in which proceeding by loan is a very good thing, and the Irish people have before now shown themselves perfectly fit to be trusted with money on loan. Since 1822 there has been a disposition to lend money to the fishermen in the maritime counties of the South and West, for the purpose of providing them with boats and nets; £38,000 has been lent in that manner, and of that £10,000 is now outstanding; the money is always repaid within two or three years at most, and, notwithstanding all the terrible chances of the sea, the Commissioners have had to write off little more than £1,000 as bad debts. At the present moment there is a Bill before the House for modifying the management of these loans, entitled the Reproductive Loans Fund Bill. But to lend money in order that it may be made productive and to lend it to pay off debts are different things. I fail to see the analogy, also, between this case and that of the loans to landlords for the relief of distress. Those loans were lent for the purpose of making reproductive works. In public as in private life it is found to be very bad policy to lend money in order to pay off debts. The Government have tried both systems. In India the Government in some cases bargained with the Zemindars to excuse the ryots their arrears, and they in turn remitted them; and that is exactly the course the Government now propose to take in Ireland. But where 1332 the Government was practically the landlord, dealing directly with the ryots, the arrears were made chargeable as a loan on the land; but in two or three years it was found that the debt could not be recovered, and the arrears were remitted altogether. The tithe arrears in Ireland are another instance. Then the Government bargained with the clergy to excuse arrears of tithes to the farmers on their paying a composition of two-thirds of a year's tithes. The Government intended to recover the arrears from the tenants, and they did recover some; but when the Attorney General had recovered £12,000, at an expense of £20,000 to the Treasury, the remainder was given up as a bad debt. The reason for that is plain. At that time the Irish tenants were paying a rent which most hon. Members believed, one year with another, to be more than they could afford. How could they pay the arrears of the tithes in addition? The essential feature of the Land Act as it passed both Houses of Parliament was that no tenant should pay more than a fair rent. How could they tack to that a tax which it was acknowledged no tenant could pay? The hope of the Government now is, that every tenant may start fair, at a fair rent from this time, and for this they are willing to strain a good many points, and submit themselves to a good many charges, and to some very trenchant and formidable arguments, which are, in all respects, not. perhaps, easy to answer. They may be doing violence to some old economical theories, just as they have been obliged in the case of the Prevention of Crime Bill to do more violence to other theories which they hold a good deal dearer. Powerful speeches have been made in great number upon this Bill, and will be made; but the truth is, that powerful speeches have been made in great plenty about Ireland, and what Ireland wants now is some quiet, silent, peaceful administration. I do not claim that this Bill is approved by every Irish individual Member; but the Irish Government believe that it pleases the Irish people and has their confidence. An hon. Member asked us the other night whether we intended to insist equally on both Bills? One, he said, does not please the whole Liberal Party, whereas the other, the Crime Prevention Bill, practically pleases the whole of it. 1333 I did not see any such visible signs of exultation in regard to the Prevention of Crime Bill; but the Government hold this Bill—I will not say more necessary, or less necessary, or as necessary as the other—but they hold it to be absolutely necessary. There are times when the safety of the people is the supreme law, and the Government think that the time has come when it is necessary to press a measure which is repugnant to a good many people in Ireland, and of which all Irishmen are ashamed even if they think it necessary; at the same time, to draw back what Ireland welcomes is a policy to which the Government will never consent. The one measure will be an engine of fear to evil-doers, but the other will be a source of hope to an important part of the innocent population. Without both these measures, the Irish Executive cannot hope to tranquillize the country; but with them, at any rate, they will resolutely, if hardly cheerfully, undertake the task.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I think I may say, for everybody who sits on this side of the House, that we heartily appreciate the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. Trevelyan), in a very anxious moment, has undertaken the duties of his Office. I should be very sorry indeed to place any obstacle in his way in the fulfilment of his arduous duties; but, at the same time, I must point out that the speech he has made to-night is somewhat wide of the Amendment under discussion, for that Amendment raises one point, and a very vital point—namely, that whatever advance is made should be made by way of loan rather than by way of gift. I have myself had an Amendment upon the Notice Paper in the same direction, which, however, I have withdrawn. My Amendment, perhaps, went a little further than that of my right hon. Friend's (Mr. Sclater-Booth) now under discussion. I quite agree with many hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, that an Arrears Bill is more or less a necessity in Ireland; but what many of us on this side, and certainly a considerable number on the other side, contend, is, that there is no necessity in any Arrears Bill to make the advance to the tenants a gift instead of a loan. This raises a consideration which is, perhaps, wider than any which has hitherto been discussed. It seems 1334 that a good many hon. Gentlemen who have spoken do not exactly understand what is meant by this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Brand) stated that he deemed the Bill to be necessary in order to enable the tenant to acquire certain rights, including the right of selling his interest in his holding. Every tenant in Ireland at this moment has a saleable interest in his holding. But that is not the object of this Bill. The object of this Bill is in one sense to stop evictions, but evictions can equally be stopped whether the money be advanced for the payment of rent by loan or by gift. The complaint of the tenants is this—that they have under the Land Act a right to submit their claims to have a fair rent fixed to the tribunal appointed by the Act of last Session; but a certain time, owing to the block of the Land Court, must elapse before their claims can come under the consideration of the Sub-Commissioners, and in the meantime, owing to the arrears of rent which they are unable to pay, they are liable to eviction, and consequently unable to obtain that adjustment which they seek. That is the real ground of complaint. It has nothing to do with the saleable right of the interest which the tenant has in his holding. Perhaps I go further than my hon. Friends. I admit that an Arrears Bill is necessary, and I say that whatever Arrears Bill is passed ought to be passed quickly; but when we are asked to make an advance of an unlimited sum which is to be charged on the Consolidated Fund by way of gift to those tenants in Ireland who are unable to pay their arrears of rent, there are certain questions we have a right to ask the Government, and unless these questions can be answered in the affirmative we have a right to alter the Bill. Now, this Bill is brought into the the House, as far as we are able to understand, in order to comply with the first terms of a certain treaty of which we have heard a great deal. I am quite ready to admit that I will concede whatever objection I have to this Bill, if the Government can satisfy me upon two points—namely, that the evil from which Ireland is suffering equally affects all the tenants, and that all the tenants have honestly attempted to pay their obligations. As far as I am myself concerned, I have no objection to 1335 make a large gift to Ireland, if it can be conclusively shown that the agrarian war which has been carried on during the past two years is about to cease, and that there is to be peace between the Government and the Land League. But we have no such evidence. All we know is that this Bill is practically a truce between certain members of the Land League and the Government; but it is tolerably certain that that truce, so far from leading to permanent peace, will be utilized by many of those from whom it has been obtained to reorganize and strengthen their forces, in order that they may continue the war. If hon. Gentlemen have any doubt on that point, let me just read to them an extract from a recent speech of one of the Leaders. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) has already read an extract from the speech of Mr. Michael Davitt at Manchester, and perhaps the House will allow me to read another. Mr. Davitt is no braggart; he means what he says. The speech was not a rhetorical effusion. It was written and read, and at the end of it he said that he is the "sleepless and incessant opponent of English misgovernment and Irish landlordism," and he goes on to say—I tell the Prime Minister that though the Arrears Bill may lead his Government over a temporary difficulty, the very next season of scarcity or famine that unpropitious seasons will bring upon Ireland will re-open the Irish Land Question and call into play the same passions and provoke the same strife between conflicting influences that have brought the Land League into existence and forced the hands of an unwilling Legislature.Therefore, the first fact this House has to face is this—that if we pass this Bill we are creating a precedent, and that as soon as bad times occur again in Ireland exactly the same demands will be made on the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of enabling tenants who are unable to pay their rents to liquidate their arrears. But there is another question, and one which I confess concerns me a great deal more than any novel precedent this Bill may establish. I think it is tolerably evident, not only from the speech of Mr. Davitt, but also clear from the language which has been used in this House by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon)—who is equally fearless and equally honest in the expression of his opinions—that a fresh 1336 agitation will shortly be opened in Ireland, and that that agitation would probably be conducted by the same organization, although on different lines, as the agitation which has been carried on by the Land League. If that be the case, the question I want to put to the Government is this—In what condition would you find yourselves, to oppose any new agitation, if you pass this Bill, which is known to be a Land League Bill, and which is purposely framed to indemnify their adherents to the detriment of those who have loyally and honestly fulfilled their obligations? Do you believe that in the coming contest, which is perfectly certain, you will have given any encouragment to men to act loyally and honestly? If I were a Land Leaguer, I would support this Bill by every power at my disposal; but it is because I am not a Land Leaguer that I am bound to protest against the public funds being applied in such a manner as must tend to promote an Association which the Prime Minister, a short time back, pronounced to be propagating the principles of public plunder. I do not for a moment dispute that the Government are honest in their denunciation of certain acts of the Land League; but the complaint I make against them is this—that whenever they indulge in violent denunciation of that Land League and apply opprobrious terms to its Leaders and call on loyal men to support them in all parts of the Kingdom, they, somehow, afterwards, by some thoughtless or foolish acts, utterly frustrate the effect of their own denunciations, and positively advance the fortunes of the organization they have so strongly condemned. Take this very question of arrears. What has happened as regards arrears? Three separate proposals have been made by the Government during the past two years. The first proposal was the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, which practically embodied the proposals of a most prominent member of the Land League. I myself happened to be in Ireland during the whole of the autumn which followed that Session, and I say, most unhesitatingly, that I never met a man in the North of Ireland who did not express his opinion that the Government, by taking up that measure in the manner which they did, did more to advance the fortunes of the Land League 1337 than anything else. I know that certain Cabinet Ministers informed their audiences that it was the rejection by the House of Lords of that measure which added so much to the power of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and his Colleagues. They cannot labour under a more absolute delusion. It was not the rejection of that Bill by the House of Lords that assisted the Land League in Ireland, but the introduction of the measure by the Government. That Bill, although I admit it was brought in with the best possible intentions, made this most extraordinary proposal, that where the debtor was unable to fulfil his obligations to his creditor, he was, under certain conditions, to claim compensation from his creditor. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), in a very able and, I am bound to say, logical letter, showed that that Bill, introduced by the Government, was the commencement of an agitation and an outcry which resulted in the "no rent" manifesto. And now the Government, for the second time, in dealing with this Arrears Bill, have taken up a measure that was introduced by four of the most prominent members of the Land League, which Bill was avowedly brought in for the purpose of saving the adherents of the Land League from the consequences of their own conduct in refusing to pay rent. Now, I ask anybody, putting all political and Party considerations on one side—[Ironical cheers from the Ministerial Benches.]—I believe the question we are discussing to-night raises a far larger issue. Those hon. Gentlemen who derisively cheered my last observation possibly did not hear the speeches which were made in the earlier part of the evening by a number of Irish Members who sit behind the Government. None of them went so far as to say that they would vote against the Bill, but it was pretty clear that the only reason they did not say they would do so was that they were afraid of embarrassing the Government. Every one of them, and none more than the hon. Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw), pointed out the unquestionable danger of making a free gift to the tenants of Ireland, who have, during the past two or three years, declined, or been unable, to pay their rents, because they know perfectly well that it would be the greatest 1338 deterrent to those men who, in spite of intimidation, have honestly complied with their obligations and paid their rents, if they found that the only notice taken of them is that they are absolutely excluded from the benefit of the measure which compensates many of those who have intimidated them. I could not help being struck by an incident which occurred before we arrived at the discussion of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) asked the Prime Minister if he had any proposal to make to compensate those tenants who have been subjected to outrage, and even murdered, because they had paid their rents, and whose families are, in consequence, destitute? What was the reply of the Prime Minister? He said that this was a question which was to be relegated to the Irish Government; and, I understood him to say, that the Imperial Government would be guided by their opinion.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
"It must be referred to the Irish Government." Quite so; but I understood him to say further, that by their opinion the Imperial Government would be more or less guided. I quite admit, and I make every allowance for, the difficulty of any one in the position of the Prime Minister having to answer a question of that kind, which, perhaps, may have been put to him without very long Notice; but what effect will it have upon the susceptible and quick-witted people of Ireland, when a question is asked of the Government as to what compensation will be made to the families of men who have loyally fulfilled their contracts and been murdered, and they are told that it is treated by the Government as a subordinate question which must be sent over to Ireland in order to see what the Irish Government may have to say to it, while, at the same time, the proposal to compensate tenants who have possibly dishonestly repudiated the payment of rent for two or three years is pushed forward by the whole strength of the Government. I regret that the Prime Minister was not able to give a more satisfactory answer to a question of such extreme importance. It seems to me, therefore, that, simple as at first it may 1339 seem, the issue as to whether this grant should be by loan or by gift raises most important considerations. At the same time, I should be very sorry to ignore in any way the great difficulties which surround the question. Last year the proposal of the Government was that money might be advanced to the tenants on certain terms. I then pointed out to the Government that they had excepted from the clause the necessity of compelling the tenant to prove his inability to pay; and the reply made, more than once by the Government, was that it would not be possible for the tenant to prove his inability. Now, curiously enough, although a year has elapsed since then, in this Bill the tenant is to prove his inability, but it is a very curious kind of inability. All he has to show is that he is unable to discharge the arrears—it may be through drunkenness, it may be through dishonesty, it may be entirely his own fault—but all he has to show is that he has spent all the money which he otherwise should have spent in payment of rent, and then he is to get a free gift from the State. It seems to me to be a most extraordinary proposal. Now, Sir, what I object to concerning the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Ireland is, that they scarcely ever say the same thing on the same question twice. I took the trouble the other day to look back to the arguments which were adduced last year on behalf of the Arrears Bill, and certainly they are not such arguments as would be adduced this year. Last year my right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) pointed out to the Prime Minister the constant concessions which had been made to Ireland without much result; and the Prime Minister replied somewhat indignantly, and lectured us very much for our ignorance of certain facts. Now, these facts were remarkable. He asked if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (SirStafford Northcote) was aware that there was no country in Europe which during the last 30 years had more advanced in wealth and prosperity than Ireland? That is not exactly the kind of argument which suggests itself in reference to an Arrears Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say that, with the exception of one class of offences, there was no country in Europe in which so great an advance 1340 had been made with respect to obedience to the law. The Prime Minister said, further, that in Ireland, where jurors could not be relied upon to convict upon the clearest evidence, the number of convictions for criminal charges were larger in proportion than the convictions in this country. He then proceeded to take us severely to task for our ignorance of the history of the country, and he urged that we were unable to understand the condition of Ireland. This year, again, we find a statement made on behalf of this Bill which is absolutely antagonistic to the statement so confidently made last year. The main argument in support of this Bill is, that it is in accord with Irish opinion. The Prime Minister relied very much on that fact some time back, when a discussion took place upon the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond). Now, what is meant by Irish opinion? Last year, when hon. Gentlemen who belonged to the Land League were in prominent collision with the Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister reminded us that the majority of those who opposed him could not arrogate to themselves that they represented Ireland. But now, has a single Conservative Member been consulted in reference to this Arrears Bill? And, judging from the speeches delivered from the other side of the House, I should say that the opinion of no Irish Liberal Member has been taken. If the opinion of any Irish Member on the other side of the House has been taken, it seems to me that it has only been taken to be rejected. The reason is tolerably obvious. In the letter written by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) from Kilmainham, he imposes this preliminary obligation upon the Government—The proposal you have described to me, as suggested in some quarters, of making a loan, over however many years the payment might be spread, should be absolutely rejected for reasons which I have already explained to you. If the Arrears Question be settled upon the lines indicated by us, I have every confidence—a confidence shared by my Colleagues—that the exertions which we should be able to make strenuously and unremittingly, would be effective in stopping outrages and intimidation of all kinds.And this was part of the accomplishment of the programme, which enabled the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. 1341 Parnell) and his Friends cordially to co-operate with the Liberal Party. What is the result? I have here a paper published in Ireland which has a large circulation. It is called United Ireland. What does that paper say about the Arrears Bill? Does it give the Government any credit for the Bill? Of course not. To whom do they give the credit for the Bill? The writer says—Mr. Gladstone is following Mr. Parnell's advice about obliterating arrears, and time will vindicate his wisdom. He is lagging and stammering over the rest of Mr. Parnell's plan for giving vitality to the Land Act.So that now, because the Government wish to conciliate a certain number of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, whom they denounced in a violent manner last year, they absolutely repudiate the advice of their own Friends, and bring in a Bill which they mainly recommend to the House and the country because they say it is in accordance with that Irish opinion which only a short time back they associated with objects of the most improper kind. I want the House to consider what must be the effect of this upon the loyal inhabitants of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister insisted that the Bill should be in accordance with Irish opinion, and he arraigned the opinion of certain hon. Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway. The memory of the right hon. Gentleman is singularly retentive; and if he will only study the speech which he delivered on the second reading of the Bill of the hon. Member for New Ross (Mr. Redmond), he will, I think, see that one of the conditions which he then laid down for the Bill was that it was essential it should be in accordance with Irish opinion.
Of all sections. What I said was, that it was most desirable it should be in accordance with Irish opinion of all sections.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
We all agree that if the Government could make a proposal in accordance with Irish opinion of all sections, it would be most desirable; but, unfortunately, the opinion of all those who stuck to you in the crisis through which you have been passing, and who have, in consequence, been subjected to much obloquy, intimidation, and even outrage, you have now scattered to the four winds for the pur- 1342 pose of confirming the arrangement you have made with hon. Gentlemen whom you had imprisoned on the charge of intimidation and treason. The result of so throwing over your Friends can have but one effect, and that is a pernicious effect on Ireland. And now, Sir, let me refer for a moment to figures. Last year it was estimated that the amount which might be gained would be from £500,000 to £1,000,000 on the Bill of last year. This year it is estimated to be about £2,000,000, and I wish to put a question to the Government on that point. Does this increase from £1,000,000, which was the maximum last year, to £2,000,000 this year, arise because you are about to give more favourable conditions than you did last year, or because the arrears have grown by £1,000,000 since last year? That, I think, is a vital question. Last year there was not a bad harvest in Ireland. The "no rent" manifesto was issued about October last, and therefore if the arrears have grown by £1,000,000 between the present date and last year, it is tolerably certain that it has not grown in consequence of bad weather and bad crops, but in consequence of the obedience which was shown to the "no rent" manifesto issued on behalf of the Land League. Now, Sir, what I am afraid of—and I may as well frankly state my fear—is this. I am much afraid that in a few months you will have an agitation in Ireland for the repeal of the Union. Supposing such an agitation is started, have you not placed in the hands of those who would conduct that agitation an almost irresistible argument which you could offer to the minds of its audiences, particularly in the North of Ireland, if they are able to show that the result of their agitation hitherto has been that all those who oppose them have been intimidated, that certain of them have lost their lives, have had their flocks mutilated, their farm buildings burned, and that those who refused to pay rent, and who were possibly the very persons who were engaged in these nefarious practices of molesting their neighbours, came off scot-free, and are to be compensated at the expense of the State? They will be in a position to offer arguments which, I am afraid, will be almost irresistible to the audiences they may have to address. So far, I am unable to follow the debate; and the 1343 speech of the Prime Minister seems to me to be no argument whatever in favuor of making this grant a gift; because, if any argument could possibly be offered in favour of any proposal on the face of the earth, the Prime Minister is the person to offer it. What was the assertion—I cannot call it an argument—he made? He insisted—and I think he properly insisted—in the way of argument, that if the State now endeavours to assist the tenants in settling their arrears, that settlement should be compulsory; but he seems to think you can only combine compulsion with a gift. I fail altogether to follow that contention. Last year he pointed out that the Arrears Clause had failed. It obviously has failed; but it has failed on account of three conditions, which no longer exist, or which, if they do, can be easily put aside. The first was that the clause was optional. The House now declares it compulsory. The second was that the rate of interest at which the loan was to be made to the tenant was a high rate of interest—I believe 3¼ per cent—and repayable in 15 years. It is within the power of the House to substitute a much lower rate of interest. The third condition, I believe, which caused the failure of the clause in the Bill of last year, was the issue of the "no rent" manifesto, which unsettled the tenants' minds, because it is perfectly clear that if they were called on in all parts of the country to refuse to pay rents, they were not likely to make arrangements for the settlement of arrears. All these conditions are absent from the present Bill; and, therefore, it seems to me that we are making the grant a gift, without in any way affecting the efficacy of the measure which contained the principle of making the grant a loan. Let me point out one of the obvious advantages of making the grant a loan rather than a gift. Suppose you were to make a loan at a low rate of interest, say 1½ per cent; no doubt, in one sense, it would be a gift. That is perfectly true—[Ironical cheers from the Ministerial Benches]—but, wait a minute. It would be a gift; but, assuming, as I suppose would be the case, that the Government raised the money at 3 per cent. instead of making a present of £2,000,000 to the tenants in Ireland, they would diminish the interest by £30,000 a-year, and be able to deduct that from their expen- 1344 diture of £60,000. If they advanced money at 1½ per cent. they would be able to raise £4,000,000 by loan, and yet charge no more to the Consolidated Fund than by giving £2,000,000; and they would be able—which I think is most essential to the settlement of this Arrears Question—to deal with the arrears at a higher level than that fixed in this Bill—namely, a £30 valuation. I have been reminded that if the money were advanced at that low rate of interest, you would be making, to a certain extent, a gift to the tenant; but anybody who has had anything to do with tenants in Ireland is aware that there is nothing they so much detest as an increase of rent, no matter from what cause it arises. And if those who followed the Land League and assisted in carrying out the "no rent" manifesto found that the result of refusing to pay rent was that they had their rent raised for the next 15 years by means of the loan advanced to them, it would be a good reminder to them during the next 15 years not to have anything to do with the same practices. Sir, I think I have stated what has been to me the almost conclusive objection to the principle on which this Bill is framed—namely, that of making a free gift to the tenants of Ireland for the satisfaction of their arrears of rent; but, perhaps, before I sit down, the House will allow me to say a few words upon a question which has been often put by hon. Members who represent English constituencies. It is often asked why the Irish Land Question is so constantly cropping up, and why we cannot get rid of it? I believe I can give an answer to that question in a simple sentence. The Agrarian Question in Ireland is founded on a difficulty which the Government will not attempt to touch. All they will do is to try to remove the grievances which arise from it. The difficulty is the want of employment and excessive competition for the occupation of land; and the Bill of last year did not decrease competition, but decreased the value of the thing competed for. It has been said by the Minister who dealt with this subject that you must get rid of the principles of political economy—banish them to the planet Saturn, where, by the way, they have since remained. But I want to put this question. Do hon. Members believe that in dealing with, perhaps, the most 1345 difficult of all economical problems—the system of land tenure—they can so banish the principles of political economy, and not again have to face difficulties which invariably occur where economic principle is overthrown? If you desire to maintain an industry which, without protection, cannot exist, everyone knows that the result is that the nation is called upon to contribute to that industry. And this gift of£2,000,000 to the tenants of Ireland is the first sum which the nation is called upon to pay in order to protect and bolster up the obsolete system of agriculture in Ireland, which, without this bounty, cannot exist. I believe it was stated that there were some 200,000 tenants who it was thought would avail themselves of this Bill; but it has also been calculated by some of the most eminent authorities—by Professor Baldwin and others who visited Ireland—that there are at least 100,000 families who, even if they had their land rent free, would not be maintained by it. I hear, too, that some of the Sub-Commissioners, men whose political opinions are exactly the reverse of those which I hold, and who were appointed to perform certain functions in the West of Ireland, are most painfully impressed with the miserable condition of the population in that part of the country. Last year two proposals were made with reference to that struggling population which were very worthy of the consideration of this House; and the first of these emanated from hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House below the Gangway, who suggested that facilities might be afforded to that population to migrate to those parts of Ireland where the population was less dense. Now, it must be remembered that the Land Tenure Clauses in the Bill of last year put an insuperable obstacle in the way of that plan; for every occupying tenant has a property in his holding, no matter how large, which you cannot force him to sell. The second proposal was that of emigration. I can sympathize with hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who, recollecting the terrible scenes which occurred during the Famine of 1848, entertain a strenuous objection to a system of emigration, and can understand their sympathy with the feelings which the poor cottiers have for their homes. Nevertheless as long as these people remain where they are, it 1346 is to my mind perfectly certain that this relief which you are giving them is but a transient relief; and, as Mr. Davitt says, when bad seasons occur you will have a renewal of agitation. If I have spoken warmly in the course of the observations which I have felt it my duty to make upon this question, it is because I am certainly impressed with the great danger of passing this Bill in the form which the Government propose. I should be glad if the Government could meet what I believe is the wish of the great majority of the House, by converting this grant into a loan. In that case they would, in my opinion, have the cordial co-operation of hon. Members on this side. I believe that we are on the eve of a new struggle in Ireland, more serious than those which have preceded it; and I confess I cannot bring myself to assent to a Bill the result of which, in its present shape, must be to invite a large number of persons who have hitherto been more honest to swell the ranks of those who are endeavouring, in the impressive words of the Prime Minister, to march through rapine to the disintegration of the Empire.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, that the noble Lord who had just sat down (Lord George Hamilton) had spoken several times in the course of his speech of the economical view which ought to be taken of the Government proposal, and he urged that assistance given to the Irish tenants should be in the shape of a loan and not of a gift. In doing so, the noble Lord had touched the very heart of the difficulty, and had shown that, in the present case, the proposal to proceed by way of loan was impracticable. Because it must be remembered that they were dealing with the poorest part of the Irish population—the only part that was allowed to come under the operation of the Bill—from whom, if the proposal were adopted, the loan would have to be recovered by annual instalments of, say, 10s. or 15s. from each tenant. Now, as the number of these poor people was set down at 200,000, he asked by what machinery this collection could be effected? The thing was absolutely impossible except at a cost greater than the amount of the money advanced. He might be told that other loans had been made, but to that he replied that no loans of the same kind had been made; and, moreover, in the case of for- 1347 mer loans, the money had been advanced and collected through the Poor Law Guardians. If the loan in the present instance were made compulsory, it would have to be collected from the very poorest of the people; and this, for the reasons he had stated, would be found to be a very inconvenient task. But there was another observation of the noble Lord to which he would refer. The noble Lord actually said, in the course of his speech, that this money must be collected from these people during a period of 15 years as a kind of punishment, and by way of giving them a lesson for the future. All he would say with regard to that was that it would be a very strange way of carrying on the policy of conciliation towards Ireland to adopt such a method. He regretted that the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was not in his place, because he wished to point out that the present Bill did not touch anything beyond the 1st of November, 1881; and that, therefore, the very ingenious argument he had put forward on the subject of the "hanging gale" fell to the ground. Again, all the Members who had spoken in the course of the debate of that evening had alluded to the sum to be paid on account of arrears as £2,000,000, which sum they said was to come out of the public purse. But that was entirely a mistake. The bulk of the money would come from a purely Irish source, and no more than £500,000 would be paid out of the National Exchequer. Of course, he appreciated what had been done by the Prime Minister; but he was bound to point out that in ordinary times Ireland paid £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 to the National Exchequer more than her fair share of the total expenses of the country; and it was no great tiling that perhaps in the course of eight or nine years £500,000 of this was returned. If it was said that the British taxpayer was paying this money out of his own pocket, he thought that it was only fair that a balance should be struck between the two countries, and this would show that Great Britain got the benefit of a large amount of Irish money under the present system. He was anxious to say a few words with respect to his own constituency, which had so often been referred to. The statements as to a portion of that constituency—Connemara—were perfectly true, and he was bound to 1348 say that evictions in very large numbers had taken place, and were going on at the present time. He did not blame the landlords; but he would mention that one of the great proprietors there, who owned some 200,000 acres, having been asked to remit some of the arrears, refused to do so, unless the tenants contracted themselves out of the Land Act, and agreed to pay the present rents for the next 15 years. Nearly all the tenants were liable to eviction for three or four years' rent. Another point was that heavy law costs had been incurred by the tenants in some portions of the constituency; and he believed that, if the Prime Minister did not make some provision for these, the poor people in question would be very little benefited by the proposed legislation. As a great deal had been said on the subject of emigration, he would point out that the very best system of emigration already existed in Ireland. There was in almost every parish an Association, by means of which persons could get over to America; and the arrangements were such that on their arrival the emigrants found friends waiting to receive them, and, in many cases, a home ready for them on the other side of the Atlantic. He believed the Government were right in their endeavour to do something to wipe out these arrears in Ireland.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Baron Henry De Worms.)
As it is possible, judging from the speeches delivered in the course of this debate, and the manner in which it has been deemed necessary by some hon. Members on a question of great importance to enter into extraneous matter, that this debate may extend over many weeks, I hope the House will not consent to the Motion for Adjournment. We made the most urgent appeals a few nights ago to Gentlemen in every quarter of the House entreating them most earnestly to forego much that they desired to say on a far larger measure than this—the Prevention of Crime Bill. Looking at this measure, I hope we may be allowed to do what I think we are in a position to do—namely, to bring the debate on this Bill to a close. With regard to the Motion for Adjournment, we shall feel it our duty to take the sense of the House upon it.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has been hardly fair to the House in speaking as he has of the introduction of extraneous matter into this debate, and the possibility of its extending over several weeks. I will not say that everything introduced into the discussion has been strictly relevant; but I must say that I never listened to any debate on a matter of such importance in which the great bulk of the speaking kept so closely to the question. However that may be, some of the speeches of hon. Members behind the Government Benches raised points which require explanations, and, although these explanations have not been given, I think we are entitled to receive them before this debate is closed. Then, Sir, I would point out that this measure, which is represented to be of the greatest importance and urgency, was only introduced on the 15th of this month, while the Bill itself was not in the hands of hon. Members until late on Friday evening, and was not generally circulated until Saturday morning. No opportunity, or only an imperfect opportunity, is given to consider and study proposals which are admitted by the Prime Minister himself to be of an exceptional and extraordinary character, and only justified by the urgency of the occasion. That, upon the face of it, seems to render it desirable that we should have some explanation of the measure which has been so introduced; but have we had it? A speech was made by the Prime Minister, in introducing the Bill, in which he told us very little indeed, except that it was a case in which we must set aside ordinary considerations in order to make a great effort. Then we had a speech from the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant—a very excellent speech in its way, but which did not grapple with or meet the questions which have been raised; and beyond these two speeches we have not had a single speech from any part of the House in support of the main principle of the Bill. Hon. Members below the Gangway on both sides of the House have been silent. Gentlemen who sit behind the Government—and especially those Irish Members, such as the hon. Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw) and the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson), and other hon. Gen- 1350 tlemen whom I might mention, and who are high authorities on the matter—have told us that they do not even profess to approve of the distinctive principle of this Bill—namely, the giving of this relief by way of gift instead of by way of loan. They tell us, further, they have argued that the Government should do what they could to get the other principle admitted. But then they have also gone on to say—even the late Chief Secretary, though he spoke, on the whole, in favour of this Bill, spoke not without some hesitation of this particular point—even he brought forward the argument, which has been taken up by those Gentlemen to whom I have referred and by others—namely, that you could not discuss this question with any advantage, because the Government have said that this is the principle they mean to adopt; and the Government having so laid it down, the House has no alternative. But, although that may probably be convenient for the Government, it is a matter of serious import, and, at all events, gives reason to ask whether, if we are ultimately to obey the decision of the Government, we are not, at all events, entitled to discuss the question? There have been expressions used and statements made by the Prime Minister this evening which strengthen, to my mind, very much the reason for criticizing very carefully the course which the Government proposes to adopt. What did the Prime Minister tell us? He said, in point of fact, this was not a new departure, because it was already involved in the decision which the House arrived at last year in the 59th clause of the Land Act, in which certain provisions were made in regard to loans for the purpose of paying arrears. We had no idea at the time that that clause was so passed; we had no idea that it included this principle, and yet we find it sprung upon us that this principle was included——
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I am not sure that I did not take it down; but it was something to the effect that we had taken the first step. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that he did not, in fact, use this argument that we were not now taking this step for the first time, but that it was in sequence of last year that the new ground 1351 had been broken? This is all the more important, because it is not the first time in these Irish land debates that the same sort of thing has happened. What happened last year when the Government introduced their Bill which has now become the Land Act? They stated that there was contained in the Land Act of 1870—though we were not aware of it—the creation of a certain right in the tenant, which he did not previously possess, and which those who passed the Act were not aware was then given him. If there are these things possible, and we are warned of them, surely we are entitled to look carefully into them and to expect some explanation with regard to that which may be contained without our knowing it in the Bill which we are to pass simply on the ground that it is presented by the Government. There have been questions put to-night of vital importance to the Bill which have not been answered or attempted to be answered. I will mention one which goes to the root of the matter. We are told that by this Bill there are to be advances made to tenants who cannot pay their rents. What is meant by tenants who cannot pay? Do you mean that a tenant who has a tenant right of a certain value is to dispossess himself of that right in order to bring himself into a position in which he cannot pay? Or, in other words, are you reckoning that property which you created last year among his assets; and, if so, are you to say that you leave him in possession of this property, or are you to tell him that he must first dispossess himself of his tenant right so that he cannot pay, and if he cannot pay then put him in the category of a man who cannot pay? That has never been answered; but if he is to be required to part with his tenant right before the advance is made how will that prevent evictions? It will of itself be a most formidable instrument of evictions. Questions on this point have been put to the Government, but they have not been answered. On the broad point which is at issue—namely, whether you are to assist by loan or by gift, look at the great difference between the case of a man if you treat him by loan and if you treat him by gift. If you treat him by gift you compel him to sell his tenant right before you make him an advance; and if you treat him by loan he has a security 1352 which he can offer, and which you do not take away from him, but on which you can make an advance. That would be far better for the tenant and far better for the State. All that I wish to raise now is that the question is one that demands consideration. It is utterly impossible that we can discuss this question fully in a single evening. There are many Gentlemen on this side of the House who have a right to be heard, but who have not had an opportunity. I venture to say that no speeches have been made with a view to wasting time, but that all the speeches have been of a practical character; and I think we have a right to claim from the Government that we should have another evening for the continuation of this discussion.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he should like to ask the Government, before the debate was adjourned, whether they were going to resist the Motion for Adjournment, because his experience was that, whenever such a Motion was made after half-past 12 o'clock, hon. Members had always gone home to bed. Therefore, although he should have no objection in supporting the Government if he knew that his vote would not be thrown away, he had a strong objection to voting with the Government if Members were simply to have the trouble of walking through the Lobbies for nothing; and he should like to know whether the Government were going to resist this Motion for Adjournment firmly? Just as little time had been given to the discussion of this Bill as to the discussion of the Coercion Bill, which was introduced on a Thursday night at 9 o'clock, and it was read the first time after a three hours' debate, and on the second reading, although it was true they had a Morning Sitting, everybody knew how little time there was in a Morning Sitting; but really a much longer time had been given to the consideration of this Bill. They, in the Irish quarter of the House, knew what it was to make Motions for Adjournment, and to bring forward claims as to the importance of measures before the House; but, whenever a Coercion Bill was before the House, the Tory Party said their arguments were worth nothing at all; but because the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) had commanded legions, he divided his strength into 1353 relays and voted them down. What was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander; and if the Government were going to be firm on this matter they should at once divide their Party into relays and insist on the matter being carried through; but if it was simply an academic statement that the Government would take the sense of the House, and, after the Irish Members had supported them, they gave way to the Conservatives, he should not rejoice in any vote he might have given.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 140; Noes 290: Majority 150.—(Div. List, No. 92.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
begged leave to move the adjournment of the House. He might, perhaps, observe, in doing so, that whatever might be the intention of Her Majesty's Government, he, for one, as a humble Member of the Tory Party—and he believed he was expressing the opinions of many others—certainly intended to offer what the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy) described as a "firm opposition" to the further progress of this Bill to-night. He should hope, however, that it would be unnecessary to offer what the hon. Gentleman called a "bellicose opposition," because he could not help thinking the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would reconsider his decision. He must say that within his experience it was certainly absolutely without precedent that the Prime Minister, on the first night of a debate on a Bill of this importance, should absolutely close the mouths of the Leaders of the Opposition, who had signified their intention and their desire to take part in this debate. He did not know, he was sure, what would have happened if the right hon. Gentleman's Resolution with regard to the clôture had been passed; but he was bound to say that the Prime Minister was unreasonable in the attitude he was assuming, seeing that the clôture had not been adopted. ["Question!"] Surely this was the question—whether the mouths of the Leaders of the Opposition, who desired to take part in the debate, were to be closed. They had had only a few minutes ago an able, admirable, and effective speech from a noble Lord 1354 who sat on the Front Opposition Bench (Lord George Hamilton). Did any hon. Member disagree with him in that statement, because, if he did, he was surprised he had not risen to reply to that speech. No single Member of the Government had attempted to offer a word in reply; therefore, it was fair to assume that they found it difficult to do so. Having regard to what appeared a most unusual proceeding on the part of the Government in closing an important debate in this manner, he, by way of protest against the further progress of the Bill, would move the adjournment of the House.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he rose to second the Motion. One point had been agreed to—namely, that this measure was one of first-class importance. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laughed at that. Was he to believe that they did not consider it a Bill of first-class importance—that they looked upon it as a measure of such second-class importance that one night's debate upon it was sufficient? If they were of that opinion they were quite right in the votes they had given. He thought he had understood from the Prime Minister that this was a Bill of first-class importance; and, if it was, it certainly seemed to him perfectly unprecedented—as had been remarked by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin)—that there should only be one night's debate upon it. To the best of his recollection, Bills of this importance had always been debated two, three, or four nights; and it certainly appeared to him not to be doing justice to the subject to smuggle it through in one night. As his hon. Friend had remarked, the debate on that (the Opposition) side had closed with the able speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex. He (Mr. Fowler) had observed that the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Childers) was taking notes; and, no doubt, if the Government had expected that the debate was about to close, that right hon. Gentleman would have risen to reply. He did not, however, and that certainly showed that Her Majesty's Government did not think the debate would end tonight. He hardly thought they would allow it to close with the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman—who, though, no doubt, a distinguished and much respected Member, had not a seat 1355 in the Government—the Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan). Under these circumstances, he begged to second the Motion of his hon. Friend that the House do now adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he wished to put before hon. Gentlemen opposite one or two considerations which, he feared, in the heat of a Party conflict, they might overlook. Now, he did not deny the truth of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that a great deal more might be said about this Bill; but that statement would be equally true two or three or four nights hence. They knew what an almost endless length of talk was possible on a Bill of great importance. He did not understand that the Government desired to close the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite or of the Leader of the Opposition. They were perfectly ready to go on with the debate, and to hear such statements as the House might wish to make; but what they desired was that the House—the great majority of the House—should not be baulked of their intention, which was, if possible, to come to a decision on the second reading of this measure to-night. It was ridiculous—and he did not use the word offensively to right hon. Gentlemen opposite—to describe this as trying the clôture to put an end to the debate. How many opportunities would there be for discussing the Bill? If this was a Resolution which had to be decided by a single vote, the argument as to the clôture might have had some force; but his hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin) knew quite well that there would be opportunity after opportunity for discussion on every stage of the Bill; and he, therefore, maintained that it was idle to say that this was closing the mouth of Parliament and attempting to apply the clôture. But he would suggest that they had got that very desirable two-thirds majority—the majority by which so much store was set by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The House had shown by an overwhelming majority—[Mr. WARTON: No; not overwhelming.] He did not know what the hon. and learned Member for Bridport would call an overwhelming majority; but it seemed to 1356 him that where the majority was greater than the number actually polled by the Opposition he was tolerably correct in describing it as overwhelming. If, then, it was the desire of an overwhelming majority to continue the debate and come to a decision, he did appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite not to set themselves against that desire. Of course, what had been said by the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion was quite true. This was a Bill of first-class importance, there could be no doubt; and, in the hon. Member's experience, it had been usual to give more than one night's debate to such a measure. Well; but were they in ordinary times? Could the House afford—could hon. Gentlemen opposite afford—to set the example of opposing the will of such a large majority in an attempt to pass an Act which they, at all events, believed would be for the pacification of Ireland?
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he did not wish for a moment to interfere with the satisfaction which the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) appeared to feel at the result of a certain diplomatic arrangement which had been recently under the consideration of the House. But, at the same time, he must own that he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) was by no means out of his right in pointing out the great danger which the House would incur upon occasions like the present one under the Resolutions which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had submitted to their consideration with regard to Procedure. Without entering into that matter, he would beg to inform the right hon. Gentleman that if he had been in the House during the earlier part of the evening he would have seen six or eight Members upon his own side of the House rising at the same time to catch Mr. Speaker's eye; and he would have found that, so far from there being any determination on that (the Opposition) side of the House to prolong debate and continue discussion beyond its legitimate extent—he could, from his own knowledge, speak for his Friends sitting near him—many who might have reasonably been expected to take part in the discussion deferred their observations to a future occasion. He himself had intended to trespass on the indulgence of the House when an opportunity 1357 was offered him; and, so far from having exhausted this important discussion, they had only entered on the threshold of it. It was said that they had been discussing extraneous matters; but if the Prime Minister would refer to some of the topics which had been alluded to as extraneous matters, he would see that not only were they not extraneous, but that they were really the kernel of the whole Bill.
I called some of the subjects referred to extraneous matters, as the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) called them so himself. I was not desirous that any reply should be given to the appeal made to us by the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy) before the last division; because I thought that on this occasion it was very difficult to judge what course ought to be taken with regard to the Motion for Adjournment, until there had been some experience afforded us by a division of what was the real sense of the House. For that reason I thought it well to wait. I cherished the hope that if the decision of the House was of a very conclusive character, by a very large majority expressing the conviction on the part of by far the greater portion of the House, those who have been in the Government and those who may be in the Government again, whatever might be their own feelings upon the propriety of the decision, would not set the example of placing themselves in opposition to such an overwhelming majority. I still cherish that hope, notwithstanding the speech just delivered. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowther) spoke of some diplomatic arrangement. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is contented in this House with a term so courteous, and I hope an opportunity will be given us to call him to account for language he has used elsewhere, and to thank him for the great improvement which has taken place in his phraseology on his resuming his place in the Honse.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I am quite ready, on the resumption of the debate, to repeat anything I have said elsewhere.
I dare say the right hon. Gentleman is ready enough. If I can find an opportunity, when I can do it with regularity and without leading the House into extraneous matters, 1358 I shall be glad to know what are the views of the right hon. Gentleman as to the limits and licence of language. I shall be glad of such an opportunity to refer to the "diplomatic arrangement" alluded to, and to compliment the right hon. Gentleman for the alteration which has taken place in his phraseology. But the matter now before us is of a different character. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), in one of the longest speeches I ever heard delivered on a Question of Adjournment, although not in the least too long as a speech on the Bill, has stated important arguments from his point of view, showing that there are important matters which will have to be discussed in Committee on the Bill. For example, he says he wants to know whether the tenant's interest in his holding is to be regarded as an asset in determining whether or not he is able to pay? If ever I heard a question for Committee it is that. That, however, is not the question before us. The subject on which I wish to watch the course of the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends is whether, when the majority of the House that has just expressed its opinion has given that opinion not less deliberately than the right hon. Gentleman himself, he will give way to that opinion, or whether he still insists that the opinion of the minority shall prevail over that of the majority; because that is the question which lies at the very root of all our proceedings. It was because of the unwillingness of the minority to give way to the majority that the necessity has arisen for introducing Questions on Procedure. This question is of the greatest importance, and I do not hesitate to say that after the decision just given I shall again take the sense of the House upon it.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I hope I am duly sensible of the duties of minorities in cases where divisions have been taken fairly expressing the deliberate sense of the House on important proposals; but I must, at the same time, say that the minority of this House on this occasion—and it is a very considerable minority—feel a sense of duty in connection with this important question, not only to the House, but to the country. When we are of opinion, as we are, that the matter has not been fully discussed, that the arguments 1359 which have been brought forward on our side have not been answered, that our arguments have not met with full discussion and reply, I think we are bound to adhere to our appeal. I regret very much that we should be obliged to take this course. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes; seriously, I regret to put the House to the trouble of another division, or other divisions; but I think we are bound on this matter to secure that there shall be full discussion, and all the more so because the subject is of such importance.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
Will the House allow me to make one remark? I observe that we are getting somewhat into the Party question of the rights of majorities and minorities. I would venture to appeal to all the Members of the House. This is a matter of most serious moment for the actual administration of the Government of Ireland. I venture to repeat what I said before—that it is the necessary accompaniment of this Bill, and could not be avoided, that it makes it exceedingly doubtful as to whether any arrears will be paid until it is settled, and makes it much less likely that rent will be paid. The House has, I think, by a large majority, shown itself in favour of the principle of this Bill. I can well understand that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen can see reasons against it; but if they would consult what I believe to be the predominant feeling in Ireland they would find it is the earnest desire of that country that this matter should be settled without delay. If we do not come to a conclusion to-night we may not be able to come to a conclusion for many days, as the Prevention of Crime Bill must take precedence of this. If we do not come to a conclusion to-night it will be postponing the matter for several days. I believe it will be the feeling of a large majority that the Prevention of Crime Bill should have precedence, and I have no doubt it will take precedence; and if no decision is come to to-night the state of things in Ireland will be this. It will be thought doubtful what you are going to do as to the Arrears Question, and you will have the whole question of the collection of rent in a most dangerous state of uncertainty for weeks to come.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, he did not wish to stand there in any sense in the light of an Obstructionist; but he did feel very strongly as to the 1360 position in which they found themselves that evening. He had had something to do with the conduct of Business in that House for many years, and he could not call to mind a precedent for the situation in which they now found themselves. There was no one in the House more deeply anxious than he was to see a better state of things in Ireland, yet he stood there as the Representative of a large and important constituency; and what were the facts? On Saturday last he had a Bill placed in his hands, the second reading of which they were asked to assent to this evening. The Bill was one of the very greatest importance. It was a measure to tax his constituents in order to pay the rents of the Irish tenants; and as yet he had not had the faintest opportunity of discovering what the feelings of his constituents were on such an important matter. During the 17 years he had had the honour to sit in that Assembly he never remembered such a proposal as this—he never remembered the Government asking the House, after one night's discussion, to assent on the Monday to the second reading of a Bill which was sent into the House on the Saturday before. For that reason alone he should give his support to the proposal of his hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin).
§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said, he rose to refer to a remark which had fallen from the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster). The right hon. Gentleman had said that public feeling in Ireland was entirely in favour of this question being speedily settled. There he (Lord Claud Hamilton) cordially agreed with the right hon. Member. But the right hon. Gentleman had not said on what principle the majority of the respectability of Ireland—["Oh!" and laughter]—wished that settlement to take place. English Members who knew nothing whatever about Ireland might laugh; but he had with him hon. Members from Ireland who sat on the other—the Ministerial—side of the House when he said that the principle on which they wished this matter to be settled was one not of gift, but of loan. They were called on tonight, after a short debate, to decide on second reading the principle of the Bill—a principle to which the majority of the respectability of Ireland objected. His right hon. Friend the Member for Mid 1361 Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) had said that in the whole course of his experience in the House he never recollected such an occasion as this. They were asked to follow the dictum of the Prime Minister. What had happened to-night? Every Member who supported the Government, though they might have said it with bated breath, objected to this principle of gift. Every Member from Ireland who supported the Conservative Party on that side of the House objected to the principle of gift. Who, then, advocated it? Why, hon. Members representative of the Land League in the House, who a short time ago were represented by the Prime Minister as being "steeped to the lips in treason."
Perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough to ascribe to me words I have used, and not words I have not used.
§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said, that the words were used by the Attorney General for Ireland, who had acted as the mouthpiece of the Prime Minister. And were they to be asked by the Prime Minister, backed up by the Land League, to vote for a principle to which Members coming from Ireland, on both sides of the House, absolutely and entirely objected? No; they objected. He spoke, not only as an Irishman, but as the Representative of one of the largest constituencies in this country, and as such he had to look to the pockets of those whom he represented in that House. He deliberately refused, if he sat there for 24 hours, to allow the money of his constituents to be voted away to enable the Prime Minister to pander to treason and the Land League in Ireland.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The noble Lord must be quite aware that the expressions he has just used are quite un-Parliamentary.
§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
said, of course he would withdraw the expressions. This money, however, was to be voted to those who had observed the behests of the Land League, the Leader of which had been described by the mouthpiece of the Prime Minister—["No, no!"]—a short time ago—["No, no!"]—by the Attorney General for Ireland, then—during the State Trials—as "steeped to the lips in treason." That was his justification for making these remarks; and all he could say was that 1362 no Representative of an English constituency would be doing his duty if he allowed the Bill to pass after the discussion they had listened to.
§ MR. GIVAN
said, with regard to the attitude of those hon. Members from Ireland who supported the Government, he must say for himself that he had not expressed any doubt as to the principle of the Bill, because he was convinced that a gift, and a gift only, was the proper remedy; and he declared the opinions of more than himself when he uttered this sentiment. He regretted there had been any difference amongst Members from Ulster; but he had this strong opinion in his mind—that by a gift, and a gift alone, could this difficulty be removed.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, he only rose to ask the question substantially asked by the hon. Member for Wexford. (Mr. Healy) before the last division, and that was, what course Her Majesty's Government proposed to take after this division? Did they intend to stand firm? If not, he did not see why he should go to the trouble of walking through the Lobby with them now. He would go into the Lobby with them as often as necessary if they were prepared to maintain their position. If they would insist on the second reading of the Bill he was prepared to divide with them from now to the commencement of the Morning Sitting.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in the two or three statements he had made on the subject of the adjournment, had described, not unfairly, the general opinion of the House relative to the different points that had arisen in debate; but he had omitted to say one thing, which was singularly confirmed by the last division. He had omitted altogether to say that all those who had in detail criticized certain portions of the Bill, except those who sat behind him—and he had spoken especially of hon. Members sitting on that (the Ministerial) side of the House—expressed the opinion that the Bill should pass as rapidly as possible. Since then they had confirmed the opinions they had expressed by, without exception, voting against the Motions for Adjournment. That being the case, he failed to see what objection could now be raised to taking a division at once upon the second read- 1363 ing of the Bill. In reply to the question of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane), he might say that if the second division went as the last had gone, it would be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to press the second reading to-night.
§ MR. BULWER
congratulated the Government on the majority with which they had been favoured; but if they would allow him to tell them so, he had no doubt their majority was the result of a very strenuous and vigorous Whip. He had risen, however, for another purpose. He was interested in Ireland both by family and connections, and he had known it all his life. This Bill was placed in his hands on Saturday morning. He had had no opportunity of seeing its provisions until then. He had since read the Bill, and had written to friends in Ireland for particulars in reference to certain matters upon which he wished to inform himself, in order that he might be able to bring a sound judgment to bear upon the measure. It was now Monday—[Cries of "Tuesday!"] Well, it was Monday night or Tuesday morning, and yet the right hon. Gentleman asked him and others interested in the matter to come to a decision, when they had not had one-half of a debate. He had heard the hon. and gallant Member for Gal way (Colonel Nolan) appealing to hon. Gentlemen sitting around him not to impede the progress of the Bill, as it only involved the abstraction of a paltry £500,000 from the pockets of the taxpayers. But if he (Mr. Bulwer) knew anything about Ireland, he would undertake to say that if such were the calculations placed before the House by the Government they were altogether erroneous, and that £4,000,000 would not cover the demands which would be made upon the public revenues to meet the requirements of the Bill. He had not the honour of a seat in the House during the last Session of Parliament; but he was in the House in the last Parliament, and at that time he formed one of a majority as large as that which sat upon the Ministerial Benches now. But he could not recollect an instance in which the Conservatives had used their power with such tyranny as the present Government. He knew that the master of great battalions was the master of the situation, and that if the right hon. 1364 Gentleman the Prime Minister chose to drive him and his Friends to the wall he could do so. But he would tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House that he, for one, was quite ready to stay there until 2 o'clock on Wednesday morning, if a tyrannical Minister with a powerful majority chose to drive him to it.
§ MR. HENEAGE
remarked, that, so far from there having been a vigorous Whip on the part of the Government, there had been no extraordinary Whip whatever—nothing beyond the ordinary Whip; and if hon. Members opposite were ready to stay there for the next 24 hours to prevent a decision being arrived at upon the second reading of the Bill, he was quite as ready to sit up all night to oppose them. Allusion had been made to the cost which the Bill would entail upon the British taxpayer. He ventured to remind hon. Members that even if the cost came to £2,000,000, the interest would not amount to as much as the country was now paying in consequence of the acquisition of Cyprus—an expenditure forced upon the taxpayers by the late Government. There was one other remark he desired to make. They had been told in the course of the debate that Her Majesty's Government were making an extraordinary demand upon the taxes of the country. Now, unless he was very much mistaken, about five years ago a much more extraordinary demand was made upon the country by the Cabinet of which right hon. Gentlemen opposite were Members—namely, a proposition to give a large sum of money in aid of the unfortunate refugees of a foreign country, with which England was in no way connected—he referred to what was called the Rhodope Grant.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
wished to put a challenge to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He would, in the first place, appeal to the House to endeavour, for a single moment, to try and throw themselves out of the heated atmosphere into which they had got into a cooler temperature. He had not had the honour of a seat in the House for very many years; but he was able to recollect this—that on many occasions, on the first night of a debate of great importance, he had heard the adjournment of the debate moved. Occasionally he had known the 1365 Motion for Adjournment to be defeated, and a division taken on the Main Question; but he had never known—and he challenged contradiction—an instance in which the Leader of the Opposition had stated, on behalf of those who sat near him, that they desired to continue the debate, in which the Government of the day had not at once given way. [An hon. MEMBER: Go on with the debate.] In recent years it had been the invariable custom for the Leader of the Government for the time being to say that, although he would not agree to an adjournment moved by a private Member, yet, when the Motion was backed up by the Leader of the Opposition in his official capacity, the Government invariably yielded.
§ MR. STORER
said, there was another reason why the Government should give way; and as it was altogether independent of anything in the shape of Party recrimination, he hoped it might induce the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War to pause before he insisted upon rushing a Bill of this extreme importance to the country through the House upon so short a notice. He was quite sure that the taxpayers of the country were not in the least aware of what was in store for them under the provisions of this Bill. There was a suffering class in the country which did not appear to be acknowledged by Her Majesty's Ministers at all—a class suffering far more severely than the farmers of Ireland, because, while the farmers of Ireland had had two good harvests, the farmers of this country had had two of the worst harvests they had ever experienced; and yet they were now asked to contribute towards enabling the Irish tenants to meet their obligations. He thought it was only fair and just that Her Majesty's Government should give ample time to the Representatives of the English farmers, in order to enable them to express the views of their constituents.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he was afraid that if anybody entertained any doubt that the Irish question was often made the mere shuttlecock of Party in that House, he would be convinced of the fact by the proceedings which had occurred within the last two or three hours. If the present Bill were of a complex character, he could understand the hesitation of the right hon. Member 1366 for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) in going to a hasty division upon the second reading; but nothing appeared in the printed form of the Bill which was not stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister on the occasion upon which he first introduced it. They had already had some days in which to make up their minds as to the principle of the Bill, and as yet no direct opposition had been offered to the measure. The opposition had been of the most narrow and limited character; and he must say that he was surprised to find a great Party in the State, who were ready to vote away and abolish the British Constitution in Ireland in five minutes, wanting further time, after a whole evening's debate, for the consideration of a partial measure of relief. He spoke with some feeling upon the matter, because he knew that the proposals contained in the Bill affected the great majority of the tenant farmers of Mayo whom he was called upon to represent in that House. He knew of large estates in that county which at the present moment were in a most unsettled condition, and were awaiting patiently the decision of the House of Commons on the important question of arrears. He wished to know whether right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who were opposed to the Government were prepared to meet the Bill with a direct negative? If so, why did they not do so, and move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months? If, on the other hand, they were not prepared to meet the measure with a direct negative, the course they were pursuing was plain and absolute Obstruction. Speaking for the landlords as well as the tenants of Mayo—for he had endeavoured to represent the united interests of both in the struggle which had been taking place during the last two years, and he had never consciously given a vote in that House, or delivered a speech, without his object having been to do justice to both classes—speaking, then, on behalf of both, he ventured to record a strong protest against the unreal and unpatriotic Obstruction which the Opposition were guilty of in preventing a decision being arrived at on the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. BRODRICK
remarked, that he would only detain the House for a moment while he entered a strong protest 1367 against the words "unreal opposition," which the hon. and learned Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) had thought fit to make use of in regard to hon. Members who objected to the Bill. If the hon. and learned Member had been in his place during the greater part of the evening, and had had an opportunity of hearing the speeches which had been delivered, he would know that they had not been made with any view of obstructing the Bill. They were directed to a criticism of the provisions of the measure, which the Government had hitherto found it impossible to answer. The hon. and learned Member for Mayo, in the course which he had taken, had, however, simply followed the example of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), who, having been absent during almost the whole of the evening, now came down at the last moment to impute motives to his opponents and to force on a division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 272: Majority 137.—(Div. List, No. 93.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, that, although the voice of two great divisions of the United Kingdom had been heard on the question before the House, so far as he was aware, no Scotch Member had had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon it. He appealed to the Prime Minister to consider the fact that the Bill, which was printed on Saturday, only reached Scotland that morning; and he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it would very much surprise his constituents in Scotland, as he (Sir Herbert Maxwell) was sure it would surprise his own constituents, to read in the papers of to-morrow that this important Bill, which they had not had an opportunity of seeing, had been read a second time. He believed there were very few Gentlemen present when the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) spoke that evening; but the point raised by that hon. Member was one on which the House was entitled to the fullest possible information. The hon. Member expressed great doubt, which would be shared by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, as to 1368 the amount of the Surplus of the Irish Church Fund. It had been somewhat vaguely estimated to amount to about £2,000,000; but would he be surprised to hear that it amounted to half that sum? The agricultural depression, which formed the ground on which the Bill was recommended to the House, was not confined to Ireland alone. There had been agricultural depression in Scotland, where there were some heavy arrears of rent; and he thought if the Irish tenants were to receive assistance from the Government, of the unprecedented nature proposed in the Bill, that it would not be unreasonable on the part of the Scotch farmers to commence agitation—to toll the chapel bell, so to speak—in order to call attention to the grievances of their countrymen and the misfortunes they had suffered. As a Scotch Member, he thought he should be doing right in moving the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Herbert Maxwell.)
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, the hon. and learned Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) had given the House a good reason for proceeding with the debate. Although the Motion for the second reading of the Bill had not been met by a direct negative by hon. Members opposite, it had, nevertheless, been met by dilatory arguments and Obstructive Motions. He appealed to Her Majesty's Government that, if this Obstruction proved successful, as was generally the case when it emanated from a considerable number of Members, the second reading of this Bill should be proceeded with before they went on with the Prevention of Crime Bill.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE
said, that the objection to proceeding in this matter by way of gift was to be raised on an Amendment to Section 9. There was no one more strong than the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) in saying he was prepared to deal with this question of arrears by way of loan; and, moreover, the right hon. Gentleman who was to move the Amendment had taken the same ground. Therefore, he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite as to whether they had not already accepted the principle of the Bill. He was one of those who thought there was a great deal to be 1369 said on the question which had been so plainly raised on the other side of the House, and he should have some remarks to offer on the subject when the 9th section of the Bill was reached; but he trusted that they might be allowed to proceed with and read that evening a measure so necessary to Ireland and the interest of the country generally.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
remarked, that the hon. Member who had just sat down seemed to think there was no difference between the two sides of the House with regard to the Preamble. The hon. Gentleman said hon. Members on that side of the House ought to accept it, because they had already accepted the principle of the Bill in saying that loans should be advanced for the payment of arrears. But it had been laid down by the Government, as an essential principle of their legislation, that the money should be given as a gift, and not by way of loan; and, therefore, hon. Members on that side differed fundamentally from them on the principle of the Bill. He was bound to say that the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) was the strangest of all the strange speeches he had heard that evening in that House. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman had taken part in the debate upon the Main Question; but from his observations he should certainly think he had not. But, notwithstanding that he seemed to have had no personal experience of the speeches delivered on this question, the hon. Member rose and said that the arguments made use of against the Bill were dilatory arguments.
§ MR. DILLWYN
believed he had said that the Motions now made were dilatory Motions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he, of course, accepted the explanation of the hon. Member. But he believed the House would bear him out in asserting that if this was what he meant to say it was not exactly what he did say. The hon. Member, however, went on to state that the Bill having been met by dilatory Motions, was now met by Obstruction. But, notwithstanding the indignation of the hon. Member, he (Mr. Balfour) was quite certain that anyone who, like himself, had had the privilege of sitting with him in that House for six or eight years, would agree that no man would Lave been more ready to move the ad- 1370 journment of the House, had the Government, when he was in Opposition, attempted to burke a great debate on its first night, or who, having moved the adjournment, would have persistently stood to his guns. He trusted that hon. Members on that side of the House would profit by the excellent example so often set them by the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), and those who sat near him. He hoped he was in the recollection of the House in alluding to a remark which had fallen from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), because it seemed to him that that hon. Member had, so to speak, "let the cat out of the bag" in the most unfortunate manner when he said that there had been no urgent Whip.
§ MR. HENEAGE
I beg pardon. I said there had been a very ordinary Whip.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
entirely accepted the statement of the hon. Gentleman. He now understood him to say that there was no "Whip," asserting there would be a division that evening.
§ MR. HENEAGE
I intended to convey that there had been no "Whip" for an urgent division to-night.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that being so, the Government came down to the House and told Members that it was absolutely necessary to divide on the Bill at that Sitting. But did anybody ever hear of a Government expecting a division on a great question, who did not issue a "Whip" for it? Of course, he did not know whether the hon. Member for Great Grimsby had accurately stated the position; but he knew that his assertion that there had been no "Whip" was greatly cheered on that side of the House, and had not been contradicted. If, therefore, as he believed, no "Whip" had been sent out that morning saying there would be a division, it was a most conclusive proof to anyone acquainted with the customs of the House that the Government could not have had any intention of dividing.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he wished to set the House right as to one of the statements made by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Balfour). The hon. Member, doubtless from not having again read the Amendment, had stated that it simply raised the question whether the payment on account of arrears 1371 should be a payment by way of gift or by way of loan. But he must remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had said this was not the object of the Amendment; but that it admitted of the whole payment, if made out of the Church Fund, being by way of gift. But if the latter was not sufficient, he suggested, he (Mr. Childers) believed, the payment of 1d. in the pound on the valuation of land in Ireland, which, according to him, in six years, would make up the deficiency. So that the question they had to decide related only to a fraction of the whole payment, and even in respect of that another means of meeting it was suggested. He thought that that might very well be decided after one night's debate.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he thought the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War were somewhat misleading. The right hon. Gentleman intimated that the Amendment dealt only with a fraction of the question. It was true that it was put in that way by the Prime Minister, who said there were £2,000,000 of arrears to be dealt with; that he hoped it would not be so much, but, in case of accident, he measured the arrears at that sum, and in the event of the Irish Church Fund being insufficient he should move for the payment of £500,000 out of the Consolidated Fund. It was in that sense that the right hon. Gentleman used the word "fraction."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has entirely missed the purport of what my right hon. Friend said, and also of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) said. My right hon. Friend's point is this—the question we are debating is not the question involved in the main principle of this Bill; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire expressly stated that his Motion did not raise the question whether the assistance should be by gift or loan. His Motion did not raise that question at all; all that it asks us is to determine whether the assistance shall come from the Consolidated Fund or not. We have pointed out that the bulk of the relief may be from the Church Surplus Fund.
§ MR. GIBSON
I am very sorry to have interrupted the Prime Minister, but I do not think I have made a mis- 1372 take in the matter; and, at all events, I have not made a mistake intentionally. True it is that the Amendment before the House is one which says if the assistance is to be from the Consolidated Fund, it shall not be by way of gift, but by way of loan. And the way in which the figures were represented by the Prime Minister showed that we are only dealing with a moderate portion of the liability, inasmuch as the greater portion was to be by way of gift from the Church Surplus Fund. The hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) demonstrated, however, I think, to the satisfaction of many that the Church Surplus Fund could not be relied upon to represent anything at all like the amount indicated by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister valued that Fund at £1,500,000; but the argument of the hon. Member, who is a thorough master of this question, demonstrated that this Fund was not now worth £500,000, and that would leave, to be covered by the Consolidated Fund or some other source, far and away the larger portion of the liability. In other words, this Amendment indicates that the larger portion of the liability should be dealt with by way of loan, and that the real thing to be looked to to supply the arrears must be the English Treasury, or the machinery of the English taxpayer; and in that sense I think the Amendment now before us raises important questions. I do not now propose to discuss the question in detail, but there are many questions beyond the question of finance that call for comment; and, bearing in mind the answer I received at the commencement of these proceedings from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I think I might appeal to the love of fair play of the Prime Minister, with all his majority at his back, to consent to this adjournment. I would remind him that he largely bases the machinery of this measure on the calculation that the Church Surplus Fund will yield £1,500,000; and I venture to put it that this Bill would hardly be brought forward if the whole sum had to be provided from the Consolidated Fund. So far back as last February a Return was issued to show the condition of the Church Temporalities Commission. That was ordered to be printed on the 24th of February; and the question I asked to-night was, what was the cause of the 1373 astounding delay in circulating that Return? What was the answer I received? All my dates were quite accurate; but it seemed that at some date not fixed the Government had found it necessary to recall the Return, in order to present the figures in a way more conformable with accuracy; and when I asked the hon. Member, as the third head of my Question, whether he could, for the convenience of this debate, and in order to assist hon. Members in dealing with this question, state the results of that Return, the answer I got was that the figures would bear out the statement of the Prime Minister. A more loyal answer was never given by a Financial Secretary; but still its loyalty did not convey very much information to the House. Having regard to that fact, and to the fact that the House has had no answer to the speech of the hon. Member for Downpatrick, who suggested to hon. Gentlemen opposite who are capable of giving answers to financial speeches that they should give a reply, I venture to think that we should have an opportunity of discussing this point. I am not conversant with matters of finance, and if this debate is postponed that is not a branch of the subject with respect to which I should seek to weary the House. I merely took up a branch of the subject suggested by a single word of the right hon. Gentleman, and when I come to speak I shall address myself to other grounds more suitable to my own knowledge. I will not dwell upon that now; but I do sincerely hope the Prime Minister, after the divisions which have taken place, will see that it is not unreasonable that he should accede to the Motion.
I wish to repeat my apology to the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but I must adhere to my statement, and the right hon. and learned Member has no means of meeting that statement, except by what lawyers call "reading into"—not by the Mover of the Amendment, but by an hon. Member at the back of the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) stated that the Church Surplus Fund would not yield more than £500,000. I heard every word of the speech, and everything that falls from the hon. Gentleman is worthy of respect; but I ven- 1374 ture to say, with the utmost confidence, that in my opinion there was nothing contained in that speech which in the slightest degree shook my statement. But the point is that the Amendment which is moved must be interpreted by its words, and not according to extraneous matters in speeches by hon. Members, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman treats as essential considerations. The point of the Amendment deals with the whole question by way of gift from the Church Surplus Fund; gift from Irish land was suggested from the other side—gift from any quarter except the Consolidated Fund is suggested; and that is why we say that the point upon which this opposition is raised does not touch the essential condition of the Bill, and that these two divisions, expressing the sense of the House by a two-thirds majority, were not allowed to decide. Then we are pressed for a precedent; and the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) says he never has known such a thing as that the request of the Leader of the Opposition for an adjournment should be refused. [Mr. E. STANHOPE: On the first night.] Then the experience of the hon. Member is extremely narrow or very inadequate. There is no opposition to hon. Gentlemen who reasonably urge adjournment; but we must look at the circumstances of the case. I was told that I had described this as a first-class measure; but that is no distinction of mine, and I do not recognize that it is the most accurate description. It is an important measure; but the issue is a collateral point, and we are not allowed to decide it—and at a time when, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), the settlement of this question and the delivery of decisive judgment on the principle of the Bill is necessary to allow the course of affairs to proceed in Ireland and enable the Government in that country to have a fair chance of successful administration, and to give to the Land Act a reasonable hope of attaining its end. If I am asked for a precedent I cannot recollect a time when a request for adjournment was made under such circumstances by the Leader of the Opposition, or when a request for adjournment was pressed by a Leader of the Opposition after such remarkable 1375 Manifestations of the judgment of the House.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
said, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under the impression that the only point raised in the minds of Members was the Amendment submitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth). The Prime Minister was under a great misapprehension. He did not know what might be the views of other hon. Members; but, speaking for him, so far as he had been able to study the question and form an opinion upon this Bill, it seemed to him to be the most dangerous and demoralizing measure he had ever seen. So far as he was concerned, if the Government intended to press it—and he had every reason to suppose they did—he should most certainly take a division on the second reading, and he should have been glad of an opportunity of stating his reasons for doing so. No one could question the importance of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had appeared to be trying to whittle down the importance of the Bill; but the language he now used was very different from the language he used on some occasions not long ago. He wished to put another question to the Government. His right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) had referred to the statements which were repeated two or three times by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage). It was clear from those statements that there was no intention on the part of the Government to take a division to-night. If that was not so, as he saw the noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor) in his place, perhaps the noble Lord would state whether a Whip was issued or not. He thought the noble Lord might fairly call upon the House and say whether the statement made by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby was accurate—namely, that no Whip was sent out for a division to-night, and, consequently, that no division was intended by the Government.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, no hon. Member had a right to attribute to another hon. Member what he had not stated. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire had attributed to him the statement that no Whip was sent out and that no division was intended. He had never said anything of the sort. What he had said 1376 was that no urgent Whip was sent out for this division.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the House, and to the hon. Member who has just addressed the House (Mr. Chaplin), that this digression is certainly irregular on a Motion for the adjournment of the House.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he would refer to the matter no further than to explain that what he had attributed to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby was the statement that no Whip had been sent out for a division. ["Order, order!"] He thought hon. Gentlemen, or, at least, those of them who had had any experience of that House, would acknowledge that indulgence was allowed to every Member who wished to make a personal explanation. That explanation was due, and he had therefore risen to make it. He would make one more appeal to Her Majesty's Government, which was that, taking all things into consideration, they should not endeavor to force on a division to-night. So far as he was concerned, he was certain he should be accompanied in the division by every Member on that (the Conservative) side of the House. They were prepared to stay for any number of hours in order to fulfill what he believed to be a distinct duty and obligation on their part. It was their duty to resist this tyrannical attempt on the part of the Government in pursuit of a course which, whatever the right hon. Gentleman might say, he believed, and should always believe, unless an instance to the contrary were quoted, was wholly without precedent.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, it was his misfortune, and not his fault, that he was obliged to frame his Amendment without having the opportunity of seeing the Bill, which was not circulated till Saturday morning. He had framed it, however, after having attentively listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister the other evening. It was quite true that if one clause were struck out of the Bill his Amendment would fall to the ground; but, as long as the Government refused to strike out that one clause, he must regard it as vital to the Bill.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that discussion ought and was certain to convey a deep lesson to the people of Ireland, at any rate. He believed he was as fond 1377 of fighting for the mere sake of fighting as the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Stafford Northcote); but even he should be puzzled to account for the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had thrown his weight into the comparative superiority of the method of loan over the method of gift, had he not some knowledge of the real intention of the opponents of the Irish tenantry. For his own part, he (Mr. O'Donnell) attached very little weight to the preference of a good many hon. Members for the method of loan over gift—loan, forsooth, to thousands and tens of thousands of starving tenantry whom every man in the House knew would never be able to repay a loan. If they were able to pay the loan they ought not to get the assistance. It was because they were in a desperate condition that this Bill had been brought in, as everyone knew who looked at the matter from other than a Party point of view. What was at the back of this dilatory policy of the opponents to the tenantry? It was because they had been told that the policy of coercion was to precede this Bill; and he, therefore, said that if Her Majesty's Government persisted in the intention they had originally formed, in ignorance of the conduct that would reveal itself to-night, of resolutely postponing the Arrears Bill until they had made progress with the Prevention of Crime Bill, they would see more and more of this dilatory policy when the first named measure came on. The coercive policy would be pushed on with all the energy and goodwill of the Conservative Party; but when this debate was adjourned—if it was to be adjourned—and taken up again after the Coercion Bill was sent to the House of Lords, where loving arms were waiting to embrace it, then Ireland, so far as it depended on the English Parliament, the policy of the Liberal Party and the best interests of both countries would be dependent and solely at the mercy of that section of English politicians who, up to the present, had never contributed anything but the most envenoming elements of quarrel between Great Britain and Ireland.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he rose for the purpose of throwing oil on troubled waters by making an appeal to the consciences and common, sense of hon. 1378 Gentlemen opposite. Last year, it would be remembered, a Coercion Bill was brought in. Irish Gentlemen, in defending what they and many others considered the liberties of their country, kept the House up all night. That conduct was denounced by no persons more strongly than by the Gentlemen of the Conservative Party. They said that the Irish Members were disgracing and degrading the House. Well, he should like to ask what were the Conservative Party doing now? The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Balfour) told them that this was not Obstruction; and if it was not, he (Mr. Labouchere) could only say it was extremely like it. He had the greatest respect for the Scotch Members, because they were given to keeping silence; but when they found a Scotch Gentleman getting up and literally telling them that they ought to adjourn now in order that the Scotch Members might have an opportunity of addressing them on an Irish Bill he said that Obstruction could not go farther. If hon. Members were deaf to the voice of their consciences, perhaps they would listen to a little common sense. ["Question!"] He thought hon. Gentlemen would find this was the most practical observation—and he thought he could say it without vanity—that had been made this evening—namely, that either the Prime Minister would yield or he would not yield. Let him point out what would be the result of the Prime Minister yielding to-night. The Bill for the Prevention of Crime was set down for to-morrow. [An hon. MEMBER: To-day.] Yes, to-day. The programmer of the Prime Minister was that this Bill should be read a second time before the Bill for the Prevention of Crime was proceeded with. Well, hon. Gentlemen opposite defeated that intention of the Prime Minister, and he made no doubt that to-day it would be supported by the Irish Members. They would support it by the simple process of obstructing the Prevention of Crime Bill to-night. He would, therefore, point out that the Prime Minister would gain absolutely nothing by yielding to hon. Gentlemen opposite except a late Sitting; while, at the same time, the programmer which he had drawn up, and which had been supported by a large majority of the House, would be broken into. There was only one thing to do if 1379 hon. Members opposite intended to make a night of it—namely, organize themselves into relays and meet hon. Gentlemen in the usual manner; or the Prime Minister should do what he understood the Conservative Party did not wish him to do—namely, set down the present Bill for this day; and if the division were not taken this evening—if hon. Members opposite pursued the same tactics—set it down for the Derby Day, which would give the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) an opportunity of addressing the House, of which, no doubt, he would avail himself. It was now 3 o'clock in the morning, and he trusted they would be given clearly to understand whether or not they were to sit up all night. ["Yes, yes!"] Then, if so, let them organize themselves into relays. If not, let the Prime Minister favorably consider the alternative course he had suggested.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
The hon. Member commenced by saying that he was going to pour a little oil on the troubled waters; but whether it was his intention to do that or pour a little oil on the fire he thought was not blazing quite brightly enough I leave the House to imagine. I hope it will not be our fate to have anything to do with organizing an All-night Sitting. However, that is not a matter on which, at present, I can express any opinion. The demand which we have made for a continuance of this debate at a time when we can properly resume it is one that is so reasonable and thoroughly within our right that it is utterly impossible for me to shrink from pressing it on the Government. We consider this matter, whatever may be said by the Government or anyone else, to be one of very great importance. We consider that it involves future consequences that cannot, or ought not, to be neglected, even for the highest momentary advantages; and though we know that when the second reading of the Bill ultimately comes to a division we shall be beaten by a majority, we feel it our duty to ourselves and to the country that we should have a fair opportunity of expressing our views. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are hon. Gentlemen on this Bench and others on this side who wish to bring important matter before the House that will not be in the nature of dilatory discourse, 1380 but really argumentative. As regards the suggestion of the hon. Member (Mr. Labouchere) as to the order of proceeding with the measures, that, of course, is a matter which is in the hands of the Government. They will go on with the conduct of Business as they think fit. That is a point on which I express no opinion. As to the main point that we have to deal with, though I am sorry to be setting myself and Friends against the feeling of the House, we feel it our duty to insist, as hard as it is in our power to insist, for further time for the consideration of the Bill.
§ MR. VILLIERS-STUART
said, he hoped the House would not think that the voice of Scotland was heard when the hon. Gentleman opposite moved the adjournment. He believed the Scotch Members were almost unanimously in favor of the Bill being rapidly passed through the House.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he rose merely for the purpose of saying one word. The right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) had stated that he intended to take his Party any length against the Government, and they all knew very well that the right hon. Gentleman had a large following at his back. When the Government had to deal with a small Party of 20 or 30—as in the 49 hours' Sitting—by a system of relays that Party was easily beaten; but it was a different thing with the Tory Party. The Conservatives declared that the Bill for the Prevention of Crime was of the utmost importance in Ireland. They had urged that the Government should bring it forward at once and proceed with it urgently from day to day. Well, now they had a good opportunity of testing the sincerity of the Tory Party with regard to their expressed opinion as to the state of Ireland by accepting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and, instead of taking the Prevention of Crime Bill to-day, putting down this Arrears Bill instead.
Mention has been made of the order of Business, and I think I may say that what was suggested by the hon. Member for Northampton was not new to us. It was a matter that had been discussed in conversation between right hon. Gentlemen and myself on this Bench; but we 1381 were unwilling to say anything about it publicly until the time of necessity came, because it might have had the appearance of a threat if it were proposed by us as a contingency. After what has occurred, we certainly have made up our minds to ask the House to proceed with this Arrears Bill to-day. Immediately the second reading is disposed of we will take the Committee on the Prevention of Crime Bill and then proceed with our plan, with no other alteration. But I am bound to say that the proceedings of to-night bring into greater doubt the question, which was already doubtful, as to whether it will or will not be possible to propose that the House shall adjourn for any holidays at Whitsuntide. That question must be reserved for consideration. The course we take will depend upon the progress we may make with the two Bills. Under the circumstances we do not think it necessary to ask the House to take a further division.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
By the indulgence of the House I may, perhaps, say in one word that our reason for pressing for a continuance of this debate was a thoroughly bonâ fide one. We desired it not for any purposes of Obstruction, but in order that we might have a full and proper discussion. We are perfectly content to take the offer that is made, that there shall be an adjournment now, and that the House at its meeting to-day shall resume the discussion now closed. The Government are responsible for the order of Business, not us. We make no objection to what they propose, and as to the Whitsuntide holidays, we must do the best we can. I presume the debate is now closed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow, at Two of the clock.