§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir WILLIAM HART DYKE)
In rising to move that this Bill be now read a second time, I will be as brief as circumstances will permit. I am perfectly aware that I am dealing with no new subject; and, while I explain some of the provisions of the Bill, I must claim some indulgence when I say that, to me, this is a perfectly new subject, and that I am addressing large numbers on both sides of the House who are, so to speak, experts on the question of land in Ireland. At this period of the Session I am quite certain of this—that I should not only be doing an injury to the prospects of this measure by making a long statement, but that I should weary the House by recapitulating the different stages of legislation with regard to land in Ireland. Still more do I think that I ought to avoid as much as possible controversial topics; and although many sitting around me may from time to time have found serious objections with the land legislation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), yet I think this is no occasion for us to raise fresh controversies, or to try to prove that the prophecies we made in bygone days have been fulfilled. The House will ask us to be, at all events, practical, with the knowledge that it is impossible, even if we should wish it, to put the legislative clock back again. We consider it is our duty to take the existing state of affairs in Ireland as we find them, and to endeavour to find a remedy for a condition of things which we think more or less disastrous to the best interests of that country. Whether this Bill he a good or a bad one, whether it passes or not, I do not think that we ourselves or the 1066 House will regret spending some hours in endeavouring to promote a better state of things in Ireland, and create a stir in the land market of that country, which is now in a state of absolute stagnation, and the infusion of energy, enterprize, and the outlay of capital into its chief industries. It must be admitted that this particular branch of land legislation in Ireland has been taken up in bygone years by prominent Members on both sides of both Houses of Parliament, and, therefore, the utmost ingenuity would not suffice to bring it within the range of Party politics. It may be said that this is not a perfect Bill, and that some of its details are capable of amendment; but what I would urge on the House is this—that if in its main provisions it proceeds on the lines of previous proposals put forward from both sides of the House, and if its guarantees as regards State money are adequate, Her Majesty's Government may fairly claim, not only that it should receive due attention, but also favourable consideration for its adoption by a majority of the House. There are very strong reasons indeed why, even at this late period of the Session, this question should be dealt with. As regards this matter of the purchase of land in Ireland, it is true that for years there has been an agitation existing; but I think that Parliament it self has been very much to blame as an agitator. I will explain my meaning in this way. It is now 15 years since proposals of this nature were made in a practical shape in the Bright Clauses of the Land Act of 1870. Since then the 5th part of the Act of 1881 has further attempted to deal with this question of land purchase; and, subsequently, in 1883, a Resolution was brought forward by the noble Lord the present First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton), which met with the almost unanimous acceptance of both sides of the House. Since then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), in a speech of remarkable ability, also brought forward a measure attempting to deal with this vexed question; and we have something more than an intimation that, if the late Government had remained in Office, further proposals would have been made. It may be assumed, therefore, that for the last 15 years abortive proposals have been continually made 1067 on this subject, and it is impossible for any interest, and especially for suck an interest as that of land, which is easily upset by false hopes and constant agitation, to thrive under such conditions, and not to be affected thereby. In having brought forward these abortive proposals, Parliament is in some respects a sinner; and I venture to urge upon the House that the time has arrived for something like decisive action to be taken—that the time has arrived to make a final effort in the right direction, and to promote, as I before observed, something like a movement in the land market in Ireland. In dealing with a measure of this kind, the main thought that will arise in the mind of any man anxious for the future of land in this country will be, in the first place, how far it is good for any community that a Bill of this sort should be universally adopted—I mean, that supposing such a scheme as we proposed should meet with universal adoption, how far it would meet with the adoption of the tenant farmers themselves. I have always held with regard to the question of tenant proprietors in England and Ireland, that there is some land far more suitable for the purpose than that in other localities. I have always held that you cannot deal the same with unfertile land as with fertile land. From my own slight experience as a farmer, I can say that there is a vast amount of land in some districts in Ireland, such as parts of Galway and Mayo, where with a certain acreage and a certain amount of stock, a balance may be made in favour of the cultivator, yet, if small holdings were created in those very districts, it might produce something like disaster to the proprietors. These are mere matters of surmise; but I would ask the House to believe that Her Majesty's Government have brought forward this Bill, at this period of the Session, by reason of the fact that, at the present moment, land is practically an unsaleable commodity in Ireland. If, therefore, a change for the better can be brought about, the Government will consider that the object of their Bill has been amply obtained. I will not detain the House long by the very slight sketch which I propose to give of the scheme of the Bill. The first and most prominent feature of the present measure which strikes the ordinary reader is, 1068 that it is entirely permissive in its character. Transactions in land under the Bill, not as regards price, but sale, also, are entirely voluntary on the part of the owner. In the next place, we propose to amend certain proposals contained in the 5th part of the Act of 1881, and also to further amend that Act by extending some of its provisions. The clauses of the Act of 1881, with regard to the purchase of holdings, were, no doubt, accepted at the time as likely to be successful; but we all know that, when put to the test of experience, they practically failed—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs stated, in moving a similar Bill on this subject last year, as regarded the Act of 1881 and particular clauses of the Act of 1870, that if their combined action had resulted in enabling one tenant in 400 to purchase, that would be the maximum. The right hon. Gentleman at that time, by his Bill, enlarged the scheme of the Act of 1881 by providing that there should be two advances, one of a guaranteed and the other of an unguaranteed character. He proposed that the unguaranteed sum should be at the rate of £4 10s., and should not exceed three-fourths of the purchase money. The guarantee was to be of a local nature. I have heard that that is a proposal which, if it ever had been submitted, would not have met with the acceptance of Parliament. That scheme, however, is not the one before the House. The chief changes that we propose are that all future loans are to be granted for 49 years, at a charge of £4 per annum for every £100; and that where the loans are guaranteed, the advance is to be for the whole of the purchase money. There is a further prominent feature in the Bill, which is that power shall be granted to the Land Commission to convey an indefeasible title to the new owner by a vesting order. Then there are other changes to this effect, that the Land Commission shall only lend the whole of the purchase money where the landlord or some other person shall deposit one-fifth as a guarantee. I am aware that this question of guarantee is one which may lead to controversy. It is true that the offer is a very large and considerable one, and that the system of granting the whole of the purchase money is one that is, I believe, comparatively new, being introduced for 1069 the first time by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs, in the proposals which were made by the late Government for legislation of this nature. But if legislation of this character is sound in itself, and if the principle has been adopted again and again by Parliament, then Her Majesty's Government are justified in proceeding further on the same lines and in advancing the whole money on the ground already mentioned. It has been urged, in some quarters, that this is too large an offer to make, and that you are placing other tenants in a disadvantageous position, perhaps, in making such a large and wide proposal; and it has also been urged that we are offering too much in the shape of a bribe—that the result will be a rush into the land market of tenants, land-jobbers, and others, and that the scope of the Bill will be extraordinarily extended. For myself, I am not afraid of any such extraordinary rush into the land market—neither can Her Majesty's Government be fairly accused in these proposals of gambling with the present situation. The present stagnation in that direction is simply lamentable; and if the Government can produce anything like a movement as regards purchase, then the Bill will have justified itself. Well, now I have further to add, with reference to this advance by the Land Commission, that 3 per cent is to be charged on the deposit of one-fifth, and that, of course, in case of failure, the Land Commission are to make use of that deposit in order to provide against loss, and they are also to be guaranteed a power of sale, which shall only be exercised as a very last resource. Then another proposal is—and it is a large proposal in the Bill—to place a charge on the Irish Church Surplus as a guarantee to our scheme. That may also be subjected to adverse criticism. First, considering that this measure is a very large advance on any previous measure of the same kind, and that it is more distinctly for the benefit of Ireland, I do not see why a fund exclusively Irish in its character should not be set apart in this way, and utilized in its support. But it must be understood that it must be regarded as to be only made use of as the very last resource, and so that any loss that may be sustained will have to be made good. There are other means, too, to 1070 be realized; for it will be the duty of the Court to make good any loss by the deposit, and to sell up the tenant, and realize, before they fall back upon the fund to which I have alluded. Then there is another change, which I have already mentioned, and that is the vesting order guaranteed by the Land Commission, and which was also in the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs. We propose to extend that, not only to the holding, but to the interest in the holding also. That is done with this view—that the land should be conveyed by the cheapest possible process. We assume that any tribunal appointed under an Act like this would take every possible means in their power to ascertain the title of any land they propose to convey, so that it should be conveyed, as far as they were concerned, secure from any future civil or legal process. I should like to say one word as to the machinery by which this Bill is to be carried out. It is proposed, as hon. Members are aware, to add two fresh Commissioners to the Land Commission for the purpose of carrying out the Act.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY
I have always noticed in a Bill of this kind, when it is introduced, that where a Commissioner is to be appointed, the name of the gentleman to be appointed creates more excitement and interest and discussion than the whole of the other provisions of the Bill put together. I cannot, therefore, I suppose, expect to experience any immunity as regards that matter. Of course, the Government are anxious to meet the general wishes of the House in this respect; and I think, at all events, the House will naturally expect their names to be given before we go into Committee on the Bill. I have not had sufficient experience of these vexed questions as to the working of that Court to be able to form a judgment on the course we propose It is enough for me to mention that the question has been most carefully considered by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and other Members of the Government, who have given a vast amount of attention to the question for many years; and I need not tell hon. Members that, if these proposals are to be carried out successfully, there will be an enormous onus 1071 thrown on the tribunal, and the Government, therefore, are very anxious that the Court shall be as strong as possible. The proposal in the Bill is to give the Land Commission power to appoint a solicitor, who would deal with the vexed question of title. Other powers will also be given, the aim of which is to strengthen the tribunal under the Bill, to which I need not now further allude. I shall not detain the House more than a few minutes longer. The House is quite aware that this Bill, which is bristling with legal technicalities, is not an easy question for a layman to handle. I will, however, give the House its main features before I sit down. One main feature is, that in the case of any sale, it being a voluntary act between landlord and tenant, one-fifth of the purchase money is to be devoted to the guarantee fund. The next important change is the advance for a term of 49 years of the purchase money at a charge of £4 for every £100. As to the working of the Bill itself, I will give one short example before I sit down. In the case of a tenant who is paying £10 rent, if he buys his land at 20 years' purchase, say, £200, under the Bill, the charge of the Land Commission to the purchaser will be £8 per annum, and the proportion of the tenant's rate will be something like 12s. a-year. The purchaser will, therefore, pay at the rate of £8 12s. per year for 49 years, as against £10; and, at the end of 49 years, the land becomes the absolute property of the late tenant. It may be said that that is a very large offer; and it may also be noted that it creates a great deal of discrepancy between a purchaser under this Bill and other tenants; but I believe these matters will very much settle themselves, if the Bill he adopted by the House. But hon. Members must also remember that, it the Bill has any successful result at all, it will improve the demand for land, and most likely prevent anything like a considerable diminution of rent. I have to thank the House for listening so patiently to a somewhat imperfect statement, and for having accorded to it a consideration which it has scarcely deserved. Her Majesty's Government are most anxious that the Bill should become law in as speedy a time as possible. Although this is a late period of the Session, and although, only a very short space of time 1072 has elapsed since they Lave accepted Office, yet, looking at the state of things in Ireland, where the difficult questions relating to the land are of the most vital importance as affecting all interests in that country, the Government refuse to sit with their hands folded, and to do nothing to promote a better and more prosperous state of things in the interests of the whole community. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Chief Secretary for Ireland.)
§ MR. WALKER
said, that, as far as he personally was concerned, he desired to support the principle of the Bill. As he understood the Bill, it might be divided into three parts. The first related to the guarantee, which consisted of the deposit of one-fifth, and the advance of the whole of the purchase money; the second related to the legal machinery by which the Bill was to be worked; and the third related to the use to be made of the Church Surplus Fund. He was in favour of the first point; but so far as regarded the legal machinery which the Bill provided, he was not in a position to condemn it, inasmuch as that legal machinery constituted a portion of, and indeed was a transcript of, the Bill of the late Government, for which he (Mr. Walker) was himself, to a great extent, responsible. The deposit of one-fifth of the purchase money was a substitute for the guarantee of the Local Authority provided by the Bill brought in by his right hon. Friend the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan); but he (Mr. Walker) must confess, however, that he preferred the machinery which the present Bill provided. But when he came to the proposal relating to the Church Surplus Fund, he looked at that in an entirely different manner, and he could not quite agree with the proposal embodied in the Bill. That fund, as he understood it, was set apart in order to be devoted to great national objects, such as Education and Imperial purposes, and it was in the hands of the State still. He could not, therefore, understand why the State should guarantee the State in the way proposed, or why that fund, whatever its amount might be, but which was said to amount to about £1,000,000, 1073 should be diverted to what appeared to him to be an illegitimate purpose, from its otherwise legitimate one—namely, to serve one of two purposes; either to increase the price of land unduly, or to secure the debt of the improvident man at the expense of the provident one. The dedication of that fund for the object mentioned seemed to him to be unnecessary, and contrary to the principle of the Act of Parliament. This use of the Church Surplus was an unnecessary excrescence on the Bill, and it would be impolitic to apply it in the manner proposed. He wished now to advert to two or three matters which had struck him in the reading of the Bill. He did not think that the provisions by which it was proposed that £5,000,000 should be allocated to the purchase of land so as to create a peasant proprietary was at all sufficient. Unless the Act was to be a tentative measure, it appeared to him to be a ridiculous sum for such a purpose. The proposal in the Bill of the late Chief Secretary for that purpose was to allocate £20,000,000. He desired, too, to see a few alterations made in regard to the legal machinery. Power was given to the Land Commissioners to declare that a sale was made subject to a mortgage or charge. In his opinion, that provision was extremely objectionable. Another matter worthy of notice, looking to the future working of the Bill, was that of the purchasers under the Act of 1870, excluding glebe tenants, who would occupy a peculiar position under it; but the position of the purchasers under the Act of 1881 was one which would require serious consideration. If they were left in their present position, much heart-burning would be created which the right hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill would have to answer for. Therefore, how they were to be dealt with was a matter for his consideration. Again, in the case of tenants belonging to a village or town which formed a portion of the estate that was about to be sold, he thought these tenants should not be left out in the cold. Provision ought also to be made to prevent a loss accruing to the landlord for the investigation of title and other legal formalities, in case the sale of the property was not carried out. That portion of the Bill he (Mr. Walker) pro- 1074 posed to remedy at a future stage. The working of the Act would depend upon the persons who had to carry it into effect; and, therefore, before the Act could be criticized fully, it was necessary to know to whom its administration was to be intrusted. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland would soon be able to name the persons by whom the Bill was to be administered. If it should once get into the minds of the Irish people that the Act was passed for the purpose of enabling the landlord to sell his land at an increased price, it would be certain to be a dead letter. On looking at the 17th clause, hon. Members would see how important it was that the names of those persons should be known to the House; for it would be seen that the Lord Lieutenant had the power to provide that those two Commissioners should specially attend to the business imposed on the Land Commission by this Act. What would be the result? This Act imposed upon the Commission duties of a most important judicial character; and supposing, as he thought himself entitled to assume, that the two new Commissioners were laymen, were they to be charged alone with the execution of this judicial business, from which the legal Chief of the Commission was excluded? Then there was the important question of the value of incumbrances to be considered. The Bill gave power to the Commissioners to apportion incumbrances, annual charges, and so forth, and he thought it ought also to give them power to capitalize, commute, and to value those charges. He alluded to these difficulties with the most friendly feeling towards the Bill; for, however much he might doubt the wisdom of certain provisions, the object of the Bill had his most entire approval.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, the reason he had blocked the Bill was not because he disapproved of its principle—that of the purchase of land by tenants—for that had been for a long time a great desire of his to see carried into effect, but because he believed that the measure was wholly inadequate for the purpose proposed, and that, therefore, it would be an abortive one. He had been in great hope, when he understood that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Lord Ashbourne) was going to bring 1075 in a Bill dealing with the subject, that it would be an effective measure, one that would be of great service in enabling tenants to purchase their holdings; but, as it was now framed, he felt compelled to look upon it with great disappointment. He had searched high and low throughout the Bill to find one redeeming feature in it; but he could discover nothing in it that would commend it to his notice. The most that could be predicted in its favour was that it might be wholly inoperative; but he was afraid that, if it passed, instead of being inoperative, it would be highly dangerous on the one hand, and, to an absolute certainty, it would be exceedingly costly and expensive on the other. The Body which would be appointed by the Bill to carry out its conditions, would be the Land Commission; and those who knew anything about Ireland were fully cognizant of the working of the Land Commission to know that, by its working, the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of 1881 had been rendered nugatory. In proof of that, he had only to refer to the Return which had been called for by himself, which showed the manner in which the Land Act had been worked. It showed where tenants were anxious to purchase, and where purchasers were anxious to give a fair and not at all an extravagant price for their holdings, that the officers of the Land Court, by precept and by advice to hold on a little longer and they would get the land cheaper, had dissuaded them from carrying their intentions into effect, or they had declined to advance the money. Thus, in one case in the county of Mayo, where the landlord and the tenant had agreed that the purchase of the holding should be carried into effect at the price of 16½ years' purchase, and the security was considered so good that the local bank had undertaken to advance the remaining one-fourth of the purchase money, the Land Commission had interferred to prevent the landlord from selling and the tenant from purchasing at that price, and had refused to advance the three-fourths of the purchase money, with the result that they themselves eventually bought the unfortunate proprietor out at 12 years' purchase. In his opinion, the present deadlock in the Irish land market was entirely due to the action of the Land Commission, to whom it 1076 was proposed to intrust the carrying into effect of the provisions of the present Bill. Why did not the Government propose to intrust the working of the Bill to the Landed Estates Court, which was an excellent tribunal, exactly suitable and competent for the purpose, and which, in any case, would have to be referred to in almost every transaction? That Court had full power to carry out sales; they had the power to apportion, and the knowledge how to apportion incumbrances, and commanded the confidence of the mortgagees? Why was that admirable Body to be ignored, and why should they be paid for doing nothing? The proposal in the present Bill was to appoint two officers, and that two fresh offices were to be created, and more public money was to be; spent unnecessarily. Those two officers had not been named; and he contended that, inasmuch as their appointment would cause an expenditure of public money, that hon. Members should be informed as to whom the Government intended appointing. But it appeared that the Government were going to bring in two officers, about whom the House had no knowledge whatever at present, to carry out the most important, complicated, and difficult duties that had ever-been intrusted to any gentlemen in connection with the Irish Land Question. Those officers would have power over the sale of about one-half of the entire land of Ireland. They proposed paying them £2,000 per annum. They could not get good professional men—they could not got men worth their salt and in decent practice—who would accept the position for so small a remuneration. The Government proposed to put a couple of men in an inferior position amongst others at a salary not exceeding two-thirds of that of the gentlemen among whom they would have to sit according to the proposed constitution of the Court. If the work was to be done in that way at all, it would be infinitely better done by appointing one thoroughly good man who should be well and adequately remunerated for his services. If the Government got the Landed Estates Court to do the drudgery, he believed there would be plenty of really competent men to be obtained who would do the work proposed to be given to the two Commissioners gratis; but it would not be pus- 1077 sible to get men to undertake the duties of the office if it were to be in any way associated with the Land Commission unless they were paid adequately for their services. He wanted to know why it was that the names of the proposed Commissioners had been kept secret? He should have thought that if the Government had been able to secure the services of really good men to work the measure, instead of being ashamed of their names, they would have been only two anxious to make them public. The success of a measure of the kind depended upon the character and stability of the men by whom it was administered. He spoke the views of moderate men on both sides of the House, when he complained that the names of the proposed Commissioners were not given, so that hon. Members might criticize them at that stage. It had been said that the names of the Commissioners under the Land Act had not been made known until just before the measure had reached the Committee stage in that House; but it must be recollected that that Bill had been introduced in that House, whereas the present measure had been introduced in the House of Lords. There was a great deal in this Bill that savoured of sham to his mind. It was going to be a sham Court. If, as he had said, the proposed Commissioners were good men, the Government would not be ashamed to name them. The sum of £5,000,000 put down for expenditure under the measure was a sham, because nothing under £20,000,000 would enable the measure to be successfully carried out, and the proposal to reserve one-fifth of the purchase money was even a greater sham still. Under a reasonable Act, he believed a great deal might be done with the sum of £20,000,000, as proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland. They were told that this was a noble and generous measure, and that the tenant was to have the whole of the purchase money. Well, he supposed that if the tenant who bought the land was, for that purpose, to receive the whole of the purchase money, the person who sold the land should also receive from that tenant the whole of the purchase money. But it was to be otherwise. Whilst the whole of the purchase money would be advanced to the tenant, the vendor would only re- 1078 ceive four-fifths of the amount, the other fifth being absorbed by the State in the event of the tenant not paying his instalments. That was equivalent to the State promising £1 and paying 16s. The probability was that the provisions of the measure would be taken advantage of only by men who were utterly broken down in resources and in credit, and who were so hard pressed by their creditors that they would accept anything. He did not believe that the provisions of the Bill would be taken advantage of at all, because another sham connected with the measure was—and the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill knew it perfectly well—that the tenants had not the slightest intention of availing themselves of the provisions of the Bill. They did not mean to buy their holdings. They were imbued with the idea that they were going to get the fee simple of the land without paying for it at all, and he believed they had been very much encouraged in this belief by the action of the Land Commissioners. In Ireland at the present moment there were those who regularly bought the interest in their holdings; but that was a very different matter from purchasing the holdings. When a tenant was willing to give 16 or 18 years' purchase, agitators stepped in and said—"Hold on and you will get your holding without doing that;" and it was not likely that tenants, because of that or any ether Bill, would immediately spring up and give a fancy price for their farms. They knew very well what was thought by a certain class in the North of Ireland on this measure. They knew what was the opinion of Mr. Michael Davitt, and those who were associated with that gentleman, upon it. He had spoken very strongly at public meetings, and had called it a "Bill for the Relief of Pauper Landlords." He advised, and in very clever and very strong language he had almost ordered, the tenants not to purchase their holdings; and he (Colonel King-Harman) had very good reason to believe that that advice would be acted upon. It might be that there would be found a man here and there more enterprizing than his neighbours who would be willing to purchase; but the Bill would not be taken advantage of generally. A landlord might get offers to purchase a farm here and a farm there; but that 1079 would introduce a system of having small farms dotted indiscriminately over an estate, which would be objected to by the landlords, who were opposed to anything but a continuity of holdings. The unwillingness of tenants to avail themselves of powers of the sort was shown by the fact that last year only 241 applications to purchase came before the Land Commission, and out of those 241 cases there were 144 where single tenants would have purchased their holdings, and there were nearly 100 where tenants in twos and threes wished also to do so, and the landlords would not agree to that. Beyond that, a great many of those were refused by the Commission because the tenant and landlord had agreed upon what the Commission considered was too high a price. In most cases the Land Commission would not give 16 years' purchase, though in two cases they had allowed 26 years and 28 years. But it so happened that in the former case the landlord was a Member of the present Government, and in the latter case a Member of the late Government. He did not mean to impute any motives to the vendors in those cases; but the circumstances were somewhat suspicious. He would tell the House that although some landlords would not sell, they would do what they could to assist in the formation of a peasant proprietary. They would give leases in perpetuity, fee farm grants, &c. He would ask whether the Government would try to make this a good and useful Bill by granting some powers for the granting of perpetuity leases and fining down rents? If the Government were really anxious to do a great amount of good with the measure, that would be really the very best thing which they could do. If they would advance the whole of the money for the purpose of fining down rents, it would do a vast amount of good to both landlords and tenants. He objected to the measure as it stood, because it seemed to have been brought in in much the same way in which railways were made abroad in Russia. The Czar took a map and a ruler and drew a line from one place to another, and said—"We are going to make a railway between those two places," irrespective of the difficulties which existed in the physical conformation of the districts over which they were to pass. Just in 1080 the same headlong way the Government said—"We are going to give you a Purchase Bill." In his opinion, the Government had had the opportunity—indeed, they had it still—of working out this matter in a statesmanlike manner, but had not taken advantage of it. They ought to look the matter boldly in the face, and not to run away from it. If the Government had consulted men of experience who lived in Ireland, without confining the matter within the narrow limits in which it had been kept, they would have found out what would have been best for the country. He hoped, however, they would even yet bring forward a measure which would be acceptable to those for whom it was intended, and which would realize the result which was desired.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he desired to speak entirely for himself, and not—as he had been unable to consult with them—on behalf of those hon. Members with whom he had been usually associated in matters of this kind during the past couple of years. He was well acquainted with the views of both landlords and tenants in the West of Ireland, and believed that they would be favourable to the measure. He was very much struck with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman); but he (Colonel Nolan) believed that £5,000,000 was amply sufficient, for he believed there certainly would not be £5,000,000 worth of land sold before the new Parliament met; and even if there was, and more money were needed, it could be applied for. He thought that there were many little faults in the Bill which might be taken exception to; for he believed that the lawyers, in drafting measures of the kind, adhered too much to the old system of feudal tenure. The best way would be to destroy the whole entail and feudal system. He believed that its machinery was a distinct improvement on that of the Land Act, although, as far as it went, the machinery of that Act was good and proper. In the case of this Bill, however, he did not think the guarantee was at all necessary; for it appeared to him that the most important point in the Bill had escaped the notice of the previous speakers, and had only been mentioned incidentally. That was the reduction of the rate of interest from 5 1081 per cent to 4 per cent. Now, he regarded that as the most important part of the Bill. By that it would be possible for the tenant to purchase his land by the payment of a rent not exceeding the amount he was now paying. Therefore, he supported the second reading of the Bill; and, on the whole, he would like to see it pass very much, especially as it proposed to enable the tenants to purchase under terms that would insure the whole of the advance at 4 per cent. It would afford an opportunity of seeing whether they were willing to purchase on the terms offered to them. There was, however, one important blot which might be easily got over in Committee, and that was that there was no provision for increasing the holding of the tenant. He thought it would be quite possible to introduce a clause which would enable a tenant not only to purchase his own holding on the terms mentioned in the Bill but also a few adjoining acres of a grass farm with the consent of the owner. There were many tenants who would be very desirous to obtain a small piece of grass land; and there were, in many places, vast tracts of land which, under the strict rules of economy, should not be all under grass at all. If some provision were introduced into the Bill which would enable tenants to acquire small portions of such grass land near their holdings, he believed that it would meet with very great favour in both Mayo and Galway. It would give the Bill a great impetus, and with such a clause he believed that the Bill might be a considerable success. He should, therefore, at the proper time, move the insertion of a clause of the nature he had sketched. It would, doubtless, be a salutary provision, and he hoped the Government would see their way to agreeing to it. Of course, there was much to be said against the Bill, and certain political difficulties had to be taken into consideration; but he believed that if they were, at that stage of the Session, to enter into any such matters, and to re-open the whole agrarian question in Ireland, the Bill would not have the slightest chance of becoming law.
§ MR. LEWIS,
resuming, said, he believed that there would be no difficulty in making a purchase under the present law, in a case where both parties were agreed. He thought that they could understand the introduction of the cloven foot in any other case of that sort. He was sure that they all hoped to see a settlement of the differences between landlords and tenants in Ireland. He did not think, however, although he should, be heartily glad to see the reverse, that it was very likely that the Bill would be very largely taken advantage of. Unfortunately, besides other strong reasons, property in Ireland was so much subject to mortgage that it would be very difficult to arrange matters respecting sales in such a way as to satisfy the claims of mortgagor, mortgagee, and purchaser. It was, also, from that cause, almost impossible to acquire a good, clear title to small portions of land under the existing legal provisions. As to the remarks with regard to the Church Surplus, it did not seem to him that the Bill was open to objection on that account. Indeed, he could not understand why so many references had been made to that fund. It seemed to him that hon. Members had forgotten that Parliament had long since given up the idea of restricting it to the purposes originally intended. No doubt, when the Irish Church Act was passed, there was a solemn pledge given by Parliament as to the objects to which that Surplus was to be applied. But no sooner was that pledge given than there was the greatest eagerness on both sides of the House to get rid of it; and when his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Walker) objected to this fund being pledged under the Bill, he ought to remember that it was also pledged under the Arrears of Pent (Ireland) Act of his own Government in 1882. In fact, he (Mr. Lewis) had been under the impression that Parliament was solemnly pledged to use it only for certain purposes; but that pledge was no longer recognized on either side of the House. Then he (Mr. Lewis) was of the opinion that £5,000,000 was quite enough to provide in the first instance for the purposes of the Bill. Looking to their ex- 1083 perience of the Bright Clauses of the Act of 1870, no one could be so sanguine as to suppose that even under this, as it had been termed, most generous measure, £5,000,000 would not be sufficient to meet any demands that were likely to arise before the next Session of Parliament. He also thought the Government were quite right to make it a tentative measure. They might, after it had been tried, enlarge the amount, and introduce such amendments and alterations as experience would point out in the way of extension. Then, as to the Bill itself, it proceeded on the lines of old measures, for the House would recollect that by the Church Act of 1869, three-fourths of the purchase money was to be advanced at 4 per cent, repayable in 32 years, but not by way of annuity, but by way of advance of three-fourths of the purchase money at 4 per cent, the capital being repayable in 64 equal half-yearly instalments. That was rather an onerous bargain. In 1870 the first Irish Land Act passed, and then two-thirds of the purchase money was to be advanced, repayable by way of annuity at 5 per cent—that was to say, 4 per cent for interest, and 1 per cent for sinking fund. Then came the Land Act of 1881. Under that there was the same term of 35 years for the annuity, and three-fourths of the purchase money was to be advanced at 5 per cent. What was the Bill now before them? Surely they must all be impressed by the unfortunate relations which existed between landlords and tenants in Ireland, and by the great puplic interest which were involved in those circumstances, and they must, therefore, all desire the Bill to succeed, even if they did not think that it would. Did it then, he would ask, present features of an attractive character? He thought it did. First, the rate of interest was only 4 per cent—that was 3⅛ for interest and £1 per cent for sinking fund. That was, it seemed to him, a most generous and liberal offer from the State. Where he thought the Bill was onerous and would require alteration was in regard to the deposit of one-fifth of the purchase money. He maintained that if they were to regard the tenantry of Ireland as an honest respectable set of men this deposit was not necessary. Let it be remembered that the security which the State would hold against its advance was not only 1084 the landlord's interest in the property, but also the tenant's, which in many instances in the North of Ireland was worth more than the landlord's. The tenant's interest would be included in the mortgage just as well as the landlord's, and thus they would have a double security for the purchase money. He believed that the real mode of settling the Irish Land Question originally would have been by the institution of a liberal and generous system of land purchase. Half the misery and the public scandal produced by agrarian disputes in Ireland or by the unpleasant relations between landlord and tenant would have been avoided if the Bright Clauses had been made the primary instead of the subsidiary portion of the Land Act of 1881; and his great fear was that this retention of one-fifth of the purchase money would be a great impediment to the success of this measure. But as regarded the deposit, he must point out to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman) that the deposit would not necessarily come out of the landlord's pocket. If a tenant was anxious to buy he might agree to make the deposit himself. He must say that he far preferred the mode of guarantee which the late Government proposed to adopt in their last Bill. His belief was that that was a matter of vast importance to the safety of society, to the goodness of the debt, to the validity of the change, in making a guarantee of the district of the Poor Law Union binding the whole population to see that no defaulters were in their midst—he thought that morally that was one of the most valuable features in the Bill of the late Government, and one which would have carried them over difficulties of a financial character. It would have tended to promote, in the most powerful manner, the peace, good order, credit, and safety of the State. However, that was gone by, and it could not be denied that the security under which they were now asked to sanction an advance of public money was most ample. He next came to a most important and serious point which he thought the House should consider. There were a few purchasers under the Bright Clauses of the Act of 1870, who were now paying 5 per cent annuities for 35 years. In what position would they stand after the passing of the Bill?
1085 They would naturally say—"What fools we were when we took advantage of the provisions of the Act of 1870, when we might have had better terms by waiting; now we are left in the lurch with an annuity which involves 4 per cent, whereas those purchasers who have delayed until the present time will have the full amount of the purchase money advanced to them." It was, of course, possible to rectify the position of matters with reference to the small numbers of persons who had so purchased, and it would be only fair to do so. If it was not done a good deal of soreness would be left behind which might be the source of future controversies and disputes. He asked the House also to consider the position of those persons who had purchased under the Irish Church Act of 1869, and whose position was still worse, for they had purchased on the basis of the then existing rents, which had since been reduced under the operation of the Irish Land Act of 1881 from 20 to 25 per cent. Nor was that all, for the purchasers under the Church Act paid a higher rate of interest, with a shorter term of repayment, than under this Bill. These men ought to be placed in such a position that they would suffer no disadvantage from having bought before the Land Act of 1881. The present Bill should provide for all the points he had mentioned; and in that case it would be, even more than at present, a measure worthy the support and sanction of the House, and one that ought to be supported in a generous and thorough spirit, with no desire to carp at or criticize, but with an earnest wish that it might prove to be one tending to settle many of those problems with which the Irish Land Question was surrounded. That the provisions of the Bill taken as a whole in practical detail were generous, liberal, and fair to the landlords and tenants, while they were perfectly safe to the State, he ventured to affirm; and while he must press, without as he trusted any danger to the State, for a relaxation of the provisions with regard to the retention by the State of one-fifth of the purchase money as a guarantee, he did most earnestly press on the House not to pass by the grievous cases of hardship which the purchasers from the Irish Church Commissioners and those who had received advances under the Acts of 1870 and 1881 would suffer, if they were held 1086 to the terms of purchase laid down in those Acts, which compared so unfavourably with those embodied in the present measure. Let the House not falter in doing an act of fair play and justice to a body of men not connected with any particular Party or belonging to any particular class of society. The Bill was capable of being made a useful measure, and he hoped it would receive the sanction of the House.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, as the subject-matter of the Bill was one in which he had taken much interest for some years past, and had had a part in previous legislation, he would claim the attention of the House for some comments on it. It was when the present Government were last in Office in 1878, that he moved for, and presided over, an important Committee for inquiry into the working of the Bright Clauses of the Land Act of 1870 with a view to ascertain the best means of facilitating the acquisition of their holdings by tenants in Ireland; and, after that Committee had been appointed, he subsequently carried a Resolution in that House against the opposition of the then Government, calling upon them to give effect to the recommendations of that Committee, and to legislate on the subject. It had always been his belief that if they had then acted in a generous spirit on that Resolution and the Report of that Committee, much that had since occurred in Ireland might have been avoided. Popular opinion in Ireland was at that time in favour of the tenants becoming owners of their holdings. The best evidence of that was to be found in the fact that three-fourths of the glebe holders of that time became owners of their holdings under terms very far less advantageous than those now offered. The opportunity was lost on that occasion—no action was taken. Then followed the land agitation in Ireland; and, later, the Land Act of 1881. He had no desire, however, to rake up past controversies; but he desired to refer to the Report of that Committee, as it laid down certain principles within which the State might safely lend its aid to such a proposal, which he still himself adhered to. The fact was, that in the turn of the wheel of events the position of Parties seemed to have become reversed on this question. At the time he spoke of, it was the tenants of Ireland 1087 who were anxious for the opportunity of purchasing their holdings, and who desired an amendment of the Land Laws in Ireland in order to obtain full security, and the landlords were somewhat supine. As far as he could see, it was now the landlords of Ireland who came forward, and were urging the State to offer inducements to tenants to purchase their holdings, and who were offering splendid bribes with that object, while the tenants were supine upon the point. He was afraid that, even when this generous Bill was passed, in the present state of Ireland it would not have much effect. The real fact was that, at the time he spoke of, there appeared no prospect of obtaining any considerable amendment of the land tenure of Ireland; and it was vastly more important than it now was to move in the direction of full ownership. In 1881 the Land Act was passed, and that completely changed the position of the Irish tenants. It gave them a security of tenure, and a security of the improvements which they themselves effected in their holdings far beyond what was expected in 1878. The Land Act of 1881 was one of the greatest land reforms that was ever effected in any country, and one which might be defended on its merits upon economical grounds and upon grounds of justice; but since then it seemed to him that the Irish tenants had been far less eager and anxious to avail themselves of facilities for purchase of their holdings. The same Act embodied all the recommendations of the Committee of 1878, and the terms then offered by the State were extremely liberal. It was his belief that, in any ordinary times, the amended Bright Clauses would have produced very considerable effect; but the times had not been ordinary, and, in fact, it must be admitted they had not had much effect. That had been due to several causes. One point was that which he had already alluded to—namely, that the Tenure Clauses of the Act of 1881 had given such complete security that there was no longer the same motive or anxiety for becoming full owners as before. The second was that there was still so much uncertainty as to the future—when expectations, referred to by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) and the hon. and gallant Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman), 1088 were being held out by a political Party so powerful in Ireland as that represented and led below the Gangway that further great amendments would be made in the Land Act and land tenure, leading possibly to a further reduction of rent—it was not to be expected that tenants would be very anxious to enter into bargains with their landlords for the purchase of their holdings upon terms based on the present rents.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I never suggested anything' of the kind.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he did not put the words in the mouth of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but alluded to the feeling entertained by the tenants in Ireland.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman now went farther than he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had suggested. Personally, he did not believe the Irish tenants expected to get the land for nothing. On the contrary, they must expect them to wait and see the result of the General Election, and the views which the next Parliament might have upon this subject. It was his belief that that feeling would remain, and that, until all expectations of further great changes or reductions of rent were removed, no considerable effect would be given to any proposals for facilitating the purchase of holdings, even if the present Bill were passed with the most liberal offers. He knew that of late years many landlords had made most liberal offers to their tenants under the Act of 1881, proposing to leave the remaining one-fourth of the purchase money on second mortgage upon such terms that the tenants would pay less in the future in the shape of interest and instalments of the capital than their previous rent, and had met with no response to them. The offers had been invariably refused in the spirit to which he had alluded. The uncertainty as to the future had equally operated to prevent the sale of the landlord's property in the Landed Estates Court. In the uncertainty as to the future, the possibility of further agitation to reduce rents, it was not to be wondered at that purchasers should be unwilling to invest in land in Ireland. He was aware that some high authori- 1089 ties, such as the Duke of Argyll and, he thought, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), had attributed the block in the Landed Estates Court and the unsaleability of land to the fact that they had, by the Land Act, created a dual ownership of land, and that so long as property in land was not absolute that unsaleability would continue. He thought that was an error. It was a misconception of the effect and meaning of the Act of lb81 in relation to what existed before. In fact, before the Act of 1881, in a great part of Ireland, and certainly in Ulster, and on all well-managed estates elsewhere, a dual ownership of land had practically existed. By the custom of Ulster the tenant's interest was practically secure, and no landlord could deal with his land in the same absolute manner as in England. The Act of 1881 only gave full legal effect to that custom, and extended it over the whole of Ireland; but the existence of the previous custom and the practical dual ownership of land in Ulster did not prevent land being bought and sold for very fair prices, and, indeed, at a higher rate than in other parts of Ireland, where there was no such complete custom protecting the tenant's interest. It was his (Mr. Shaw Lefevre's) confident belief that the unsaleability of land at the present moment was due not to the dual ownership of land, but to the uncertainty as to the future—to the fear of further changes in the Act. They must recollect that purely agricultural land in England was now almost as unsaleable as it was in Ireland. Although they had had no Land Act here, there had been great reductions of rent—quite as great as in Ireland—and there was as much uncertainty here, not of a political character, but of an economic character, as to the future prices of agricultural produce, that land was almost unsaleable. Now, the Bill before them was mainly promoted in the interest of landlords. It was their hope that by its means they would be able to remove the block in the Landed Estates Court, to restore to land its saleable quality, by inducing the tenants to buy, and by using the State credit for the purpose. In fact, the terms offered in it formed, in his opinion, the most splendid bribe which had ever been held out in that direction. It proposed to 1090 reduce the rate of interest at which the State was to lend money from 3½ to 3 per cent; to extend the time of repayment from 35 to 49 years; and to advance the whole of the purchase money without any local guarantee. There was, indeed, a provision that one-fifth of the purchase money was to be retained by the State until that proportion of the purchase money was repaid by the annual instalments—that was, for 15 years. He could not, however, regard this provision as of any real importance or any real security to the State, for the real danger to the State was not the default of an individual, but a general movement in Ireland directed against the State for the reduction of the interest. The State, through the Land Commission, would be in direct relation to the occupying purchaser, and would be responsible for the collection of the whole of the interest. The retention of one-fifth of the purchase money was no security as between the State and the new purchaser; it would, however, be very inconvenient to the owner of the property who sold by keeping him out of his money for a long period, and it was of the nature of those provisions which would be knocked away, either in Committee or in the future. He would venture to suggest, therefore, that the Government would do wisely to abandon it. Setting aside that provision, let him look at the effect of the operation, and let him illustrate it by a case. Suppose a holding of £50 a-year, and let them presume that 20 years' purchase was agreed upon between the tenant and the owner. The purchase money would be £1,000, the whole of which the State would advance, retaining, however, one-fifth of it for 15 years. By reducing the interest to 3 per cent and spreading the repayment over so long a period as 49 years, the annual sum payable by the tenant purchaser would be only £40 a-year; of that, however, £10 a-year was practically an annual investment by the tenant purchaser in redemption of the fee, and adding, therefore, to his interest every year. It was only the interest of £30 which would compare with his previous rent of £50. Even with the instalment of the principal, and even if they added his share of local taxes now paid by the landlord, the tenant purchaser's payment would be much less 1091 than his previous rent, and he would become owner without any exertion whatever of his own. Now, let him point out the effect of this, if it should be largely adopted in Ireland. Suppose any landlord, for the purpose of relieving his property of incumbrances, were to sell to one-half of his tenants upon those terms. The effect would be that one-half of his tenants would be paying rent for ever, and the other half would be paying considerably less than their rent for a term of years; in fact, the real outgoing would be only three-fifths of their previous rent. What would be the views of those who would be paying rent for ever? Would they not complain greatly of their position? It appeared to him that the terms of the Bill were so generous, that if they were adopted to any large extent, and any considerable proportion of tenants were to become owners on such terms, it would be a considerable source of danger in the future. It would give rise to great discontent among those who were not favoured in that way, and they would either see an agitation to make the terms universal and compulsory, and for the general expropriation of landlords, or they would have a fresh agitation for a further reduction of rent on the part of those who remained tenants. He would also point out that there was another possible danger. Supposing these terms were largely accepted and a great number of tenants became owners of their holdings, and the State received their rents and practically was in the position of landlord, having advanced the whole purchase money, and being responsible through the Land Commission for the collection of the whole of the rent and of the whole instalments for a period of 49 years, there would be danger—unless there was some intervening local authority to act as a buffer. His right hon. Friend the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan), in his Bill of last year, made provision for such local authority by requiring that there should be a local guarantee for the interest. That, however, did not give satisfaction, and in the absence of good local government in Ireland it was impossible to provide for any such security. He could not but hope, however, that in the new Parliament, with a greater extension of local self-government in its truer sense, some 1092 such provision might be passed which would provide a guarantee against the possible danger to the State to which he alluded. He looked upon the measure as tentative, and he ventured to hope that if any extension was to be made beyond the very moderate total contemplated by this Bill—namely, of £5,000,000—it would, in his opinion, be desirable that the operation should be effected, not directly through the Imperial Exchequer, but through the Local Authorities, who would be responsible for the collection of interest. But for the reasons he had stated, that until the Irish people saw what the disposition of the new Parliament would be upon the point, he did not think there would be any great application of this measure. Whenever the Irish people knew that no further extension would be made of the principle of the Irish Land Act, he had no doubt that a great number of applications under the Bill would take place. For the reasons he had stated, he believed that the Government had acted wisely in limiting the scope of the Bill to £5,000,000, leaving to future consideration the terms on which the measure might be extended, if, hereafter, it should be found desirable to do so. There was one other point which he wished to mention, and that was with regard to the purchasers of the glebe land of the Disestablished Church of Ireland. He could not but think that a very strong case had been made out by his hon. Friend (Mr. Lewis) in favour of the inclusion of these purchasers in the more liberal terms granted by the present Bill. It should be remembered that when the purchases under the Disestablishment Act were made the price of land was at its maximum, and that these persons gave 24 or 25 years' purchase upon their rents. They had not benefited by the Land Act of 1881, and their rent had been taken at an amount from which it might have been reduced if they had remained in their condition of tenants. He believed that many of the purchasers of glebe land had gone through much suffering and hardship in the endeavour honestly to pay their yearly instalments to the State. Looking at the whole position, and the fact that when these purchases were effected the price of land I in Ireland was at its highest, he thought that these persons were entitled to great 1093 consideration from the present Government. So he thought, also, were the purchasers under the Land Act of 1870, though not the purchasers under the Act of 1881. The latter had not so strong a case; for they bought subject to the possibility of their rents being reduced by the Land Commission. On the whole, looking at it merely as a tentative measure he should give the Bill his support, though, recognizing that it had danger in it as regarded the future, he should reserve to himself the liberty of making any conditions which might be thought desirable with regard to any future extension of the scheme.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET)
said, that had it not been for the concluding words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) he (Mr. Plunket) should not have known that the right hon. Gentleman intended to support the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was partly philosophical and partly historical; and it was condemnatory generally of everybody and everything excepting his own earlier share in the discussion of the question; in all other respects it was as hostile a speech against the Bill as could possibly be made. Every warning that could be given to the House and public had been urged by the right hon. Gentleman. He urged every objection as strongly as he possibly could, while every objection that he made would apply equally, and some more strongly, to the Bill of last year, for which the late Government was responsible, than to this measure. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted that the scheme proposed by the Bill of last year, requiring that there should be a local guarantee for the payment of interest, was utterly unworkable. The present Bill offered a different and much more valuable guarantee; but against it the right hon. Gentleman urged the dangers that would arise to England and the Treasury from that provision, forgetting that the same objections would apply even more strongly to the Bill introduced by his own Government—in fact, a more effective speech could not be made against the principle of any and every scheme for facilitating the growth of a peasant proprietary in Ireland, in its practical aspect, and of the necessity of State-aid, than that which the right hon. Gentleman, who prided him- 1094 self upon being the original apostle and the present champion of the principle, had just made. It was quite true that the right hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of a Committee of which he (Mr. Plunket) was also a Member, made certain proposals with the view to creating a peasant proprietary in Ireland, and that he (Mr. Plunket) felt it his duty to oppose such proposals. He was in favour of creating a solvent peasant proprietary in Ireland, if possible; but be was free to admit that if he had known at that time what was coming in future years he should have been less careful of small dangers, and more willing to accept considerable risks, than he was at the time. He did not, however, wish to make any comparison unfavourable to the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He fully admitted that the views of the right hon. Gentleman were then, no doubt, considerably in advance of his (Mr. Plunket's) own views with regard to a peasant proprietary. But the proposals the right hon. Gentleman then made, if carried out, would have proved utterly inadequate, as well as those would which he (Mr. Plunket) was prepared to make at that time. As to the other contentious part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech—the historical—he must just say one word. The right hon. Gentleman could not, if he tried, have more successfully thrown on the floor of the House a larger number of contentious questions, nor have offered stronger inducements to the Irish people to refuse these terms, in the hope of getting something more given them, than had been done in the speech which he had just delivered. If they were to approach the Bill in such a spirit as that, they might as well not be wasting the precious ebbing hours of the present Session upon it. In all the other speeches the question was approached in a spirit of friendliness, with the single exception of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman), who had strong feelings upon it, and who had, he (Mr. Plunket) must confess, struggled manfully against the bad times which the landlords of Ireland had endured. He would not attempt to answer his hon. and gallant Friend's criticisms of the Bill. They were founded mainly on his distrust of the tribunal which was to have 1095 the working of the measure. He was sorry he could not give the House any idea as to who the new Commissioners would be, although he had no doubt that those who had framed the Bill in this large and generous spirit would be guided by the same spirit in the appointment of the Commissioners. He believed that the names of the Commissioners would be declared before the next stage of the Bill; and then, if hon. Members, like his hon. and gallant Friend, were not satisfied with those Commissioners, they might take such steps in the matter as they might think fit. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Walker) had spoken generally of this Bill with praise. There were one or two matters with which he expressed dissent, the first of which was that he did not think the Church Surplus should be applied to the purpose of the Bill. That was a very fair and clear objection for him to raise; but it should be remembered that any deficit arising by means of the Bill must be paid out of some public fund. And, if a public fund, why not an Irish fund? Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman objected that £5,000,000 was not enough to allow for the purposes of the Bill; but it must be borne in mind that it was only an experiment. If the experiments were successful, he did not believe that Parliament would hesitate to enlarge the scope of the Bill; but if the Bill was not to succeed, no question could arise as to whether the sum would be sufficient, and nothing more than the money provided by the Bill could be spent, and nothing more could be wanted. He did not wish to go through the clauses of the Bill, because they all knew it was very thoroughly threshed out in "another place;" but there seemed to be a feeling amongst some persons on one point on which he would like to say a word—namely, that this was a Landlords' Relief Bill. He would point out that the position taken up by his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Colonel King-Harman) did not make it appear as if the Bill were, in his hon. and gallant Friend's opinion, a very large measure of landlord relief. But even he were to concede that it was, to some extent, a Landlords' Relief Bill, let the House consider the real state of the case. When the Land Act of 1096 1881 was passed, it was admitted on all hands by its authors that the landlords of Ireland had been called upon to make great personal sacrifices for the public good; but they were told, by way of consolation, that though they might be called upon to make such sacrifices, they would get in exchange greater security and truer value in that which remained. He would put it to the House, had that promise been kept? Was it true, or was it not true, that the interest of the landlord in Ireland was at this day absolutely unsaleable? It was not only unsaleable; but it seemed to him that whatever small value it still possessed was being rapidly taken away. This had been called a Landlords' Relief Bill. Suppose there were nothing to be said, but that it was a Landlords' Relief Bill, would not there be some arguments in justice and equity for some such proposition as this? Was not the nation bound in equity and honour to fulfil the pledges on which the Land Act was passed? He did not wish to argue the Bill as a measure in the interests of any class, and more especially for the relief of the landlords. He put it on the ground that it would be a great advantage to the State, and a great advantage to all classes in Ireland, if the question could be brought to a happy and successful conclusion; a great advantage through them for this country too, which was asked at present to take a large share of the risk necessarily attendant upon such a measure. In support of his contention he claimed the authority of the late Prime Minister, the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), and he also claimed the authority of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington), and every great statesman who had legislated upon the Irish Question during recent years. Under those circumstances, he ventured to ask the House to take a friendly and frank view of the question; for if every person were to stand out on his own individual crotchet, and opposition was offered to it, the Bill could never pass. There must be some mutual concession. This was admitted to be a tentative measure; but now at this time, when there seemed to be a cessation of violence and animosities in Ireland, he called upon and appealed to the House to take advantage of it; and if he might be allowed, he 1097 would speak in words not only of entreaty, but in words of warning, to hon. Members of the landlord class, who might not like all that was in the Bill; he would speak, and in words of earnest appeal, to every Irishman who loved his country and desired the union of all classes in that country, to lend their aid on this occasion to the Government which had undertaken to do that of which the greatest and the severest criticism that could be uttered was that, for once, at all events, the English Government had been too generous in dealing with an Irish question.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he most earnestly congratulated the Government upon the introduction of the Bill. He would point out to hon. Members that on the 15th of May the late Prime Minister announced that his Government had determined to abandon the Land Purchase Bill, and to renew the Prevention of Crime Act in some shape or form; but he (Mr. T. A. Dickson), on the following day, told the electors of County Antrim that that Session a Land Purchase Bill would be passed, and that there would be no renewal of the Prevention of Crime Act. As an Irish Liberal Member, he was extremely glad that his prophecy had been fulfilled. He was not as sanguine as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir William Hart Dyke) as to the character of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman had said this was a final effort on the part of the Government to settle the Land Question; but he (Mr. T. A. Dickson) only regarded it as an experiment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for County Dublin (Colonel King-Harman) was not able to see any redeeming feature in the Bill. He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) thought there were three redeeming points in the measure which, if they had stood alone, were sufficient, in his opinion, to have justified its introduction. Those points were—in the first place, the Bill provided for the advance of the whole of the purchase money; in the second place, the purchase money was to be advanced at a reduced rate of interest; and, in the third place, the period of repayment was to be extended from 35 to 49 years. He confessed, however, that he was a little disappointed with the Bill in some respects, and chiefly that no reference was made to the case of the glebe tenants, of 1098 whom there were 5,000 or 6,000. There was no class of tenants in Ireland who had a stronger claim upon the consideration of the House. They bought their land, in 1869, at an extreme price. They had no option; because, if they refused to buy, they knew the land would be sold to land speculators. Mr. O'Brien, who valued the land for the Central Commission, valued the land as he found it. Indeed, he admitted, before a Select Committee of the House, that in his valuation he included the tenant's own improvements. Furthermore, the necessity was imposed upon the glebe tenants of finding one-third of the purchase money; and that they could only acquire from money lenders, at an enormous sacrifice. He (Mr. T. A. Dickson), therefore, maintained that the glebe tenants had every right to be generously and favourably considered in connection with this Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel King-Harman) objected to the Bill because the working of it was not to be entrusted to the Landed Estates Court. He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) was glad that the Landed Estates Court was not charged with the duty of putting the Act in force, because it was a Court in which the people had no confidence; and, therefore, he thought that any such provision would be fatal to the Bill. He quite agreed with the creation of new machinery to deal solely with land purchase. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had also suggested that there should be a fining down of the rents; but the adoption of the suggestion would certainly not be satisfactory to the tenants, who were determined to be either tenants or owners. He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) quite approved of the proposal to vest the Land Commission with discretion as to whether the whole or part of the purchase money should be advanced, and would point out that, in some cases in the North of Ireland, it would be safer to advance the whole of the money than to advance half of it. In other districts he, too, was of opinion that the Bill would not be largely availed of by the tenants for some time to come; but he nevertheless thought it right, and the duty of the Government, to create proper machinery for bringing the landlord and tenant together.
said, that he had put an Amendment on the Paper, with a view to move the rejection of the Bill, for the reasons given by the right hon. 1099 Gentleman the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), with whom he agreed upon the subject. He would not, however, press the Amendment. At the same time, he believed there were great dangers in this Bill. The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir William Hart Dyke) stated that the Bill had been brought in because the measures of the last 15 years had proved abortive. Now, he (Captain Aylmer) considered that the measure of 1881 was fully as liberal as any Parliament ought to grant. The failure of the Bills of the last 15 years was owing to two circumstances. In the first place, there was an extraordinary disinclination on the part of Irish tenants for some years back to become purchasers of land. He had made many inquiries, and he had come to the conclusion that they had no desire to become purchasers. The other reason for the failure was because the system, of officialism and redtapeism which prevailed in Dublin prevented purchases being carried out in any reasonable time. They had been told that this Bill had been brought forward to relieve the landlords. The Duke of Argyll, in "another place," said that, as land had been made unsaleable in Ireland, it was only just to bring in a Bill which would make it saleable. He (Captain Aylmer) himself was of opinion that the Bill would make land still more unsaleable than ever. He had the greatest wish to see peasant proprietors established in Ireland; but when they were going to make them artificially the effect would be quite the reverse of what was desired. A tenant who had to pay £100 a-year rent for land would, under the Bill, have to pay only £75 a-year for a given time. He was satisfied that when that was found to be the case the Land Courts would be unable to fix a rent of £100 a-year for that land. The effect of that would be to reduce its value. He believed the Bill was a very dangerous Bill, and that it was full of pitfalls. To make the Government the sole landlord of Ireland would be dangerous and anomalous, and put them into a position they would be sorry for. But as he felt assured that, at that late period of the Session, he would not be followed into the Lobby by more than two or three Members, he would not put the House to the trouble of a division. He thought the Government should not have inter- 1100 terfered directly with the land, but should have endeavoured to have dealt with the question through the Land Act.
§ SIR THOMAS M'CLURE
said, he cordially supported the Bill as a wellmeant effort to remedy the present deadlock in the land market. It was most desirable to pass a measure to facilitate the purchase of their holdings by occupiers, which had been so long promised. He would remind the House that great expectations had been founded in Ireland concerning this measure, and it would be impossible to estimate the disappointment that would follow its rejection by Parliament. The Bill was extremely liberal in its provisions. It afforded an easy means of enabling the landlord to sell who wished to do so, and the tenant to buy his property; while it brought to bear no compulsion on either party. He therefore trusted the Bill would not meet with serious opposition from any part of the House. Its principles had been advocated in Ulster by gentlemen representing both political Parties, not only on local grounds, but for high Imperial reasons. He saw there were various Amendments to be moved when the Bill got into Committee; but he would express the hope that the action of hon. Members in whose names those Amendments stood would not be allowed to delay or endanger the Bill.
said, he did not entertain any very sanguine expectations of the success of the measure; but he believed it to be an honest endeavour to meet a difficulty, and he hoped it might succeed. He thought the sum of money proposed to be allocated to the purpose was sufficient. It was an experiment, and if it succeeded Parliament would be willing to increase the sum. He objected to its being supposed that this was a landlords' Bill. For the first time, he believed, in the legislation of this country, it was suggested that the seller should become security for the payment of the purchase money by the buyer. ["No, no!"] Well, he knew of no Act in which that principle was already embodied. Was it to be supposed that the tenant, who was purchasing a farm for £200, would provide the fifth part of the money, which was to remain in the hands of the Land Commissioners for 10 or 15 years? Could anyone believe that the tenant would provide the £40? Or was it to be supposed that a 1101 third party would come in between landlord and tenant and advance the money? Therefore, the security must come from the landlord. If it did not come from him, then from whom else could it come? And if the security was to be given by the landlords, what chance was there of the Bill being largely availed of? He was not at all surprised that those who held property in Ireland and England should be desirous to get rid of the Irish property. Parliament had recently inaugurated such legislation towards landed property in Ireland, and so great a depreciation in its value had resulted in consequence, that those landowners could not but think that at some future time Parliament would go still further. The landlords of Ireland might be divided into three classes. One class was nearly hopelessly insolvent, and the Bill could do no good to them. There was a second class, who were mortgaged heavily, but not too deeply. But they were mortgaged sufficiently deeply as, with the assistance of the late legislation, to put them in a very precarious position, and leave them a very small margin to live upon. Unless these men got a fair price for their land they could not live. The third class, who would avail themselves of the Bill, would be comparatively small in number. The position of Irish landlords for many years past had been anything but agreeable. They had been deprived of their former position, and now they saw Parliament year by year reducing the amount of their rent. It had been said that it was difficult to explain why land was unsaleable in Ireland. To him the explanation was very simple. It was because of the constant, persistent, and determined agitation kept up by hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Opposition Gangway. No matter what Act was passed embodying concessions, they immediately began agitating for a further one. They were now apparently sitting in a most demure, lamb-like attitude; but when this Bill was passed they would shortly disperse themselves over Ireland and use language not at all suited to the very quiet position they now assumed against those robbers, rascals, and murderers, the landowners. They would, no doubt, be yet heard to say to those who came to hear them—"What do you think Parliament has done? Parliament has given the landlords the 1102 full value of their land. Will you stand that?" Of course, the answer would be "No, no!" And they would also be asked not to be such fools as to give any money to the landlords, when they might get all they wanted and reach their desired end by following the lead of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). They would be asked, why put money in the hands of those rascally landlords? Now, what was this proposal? He would examine it briefly. It was, he believed, in effect, that, by purchasing under the Act, every tenant should not only get his own holding, but also a slice of somebody else's grass land. The House must know that on many estates in Ireland there were tenants who had large farms, chiefly grass lands, and these were to be found in Meath, Mayo, and Galway. These large tenants, as he understood it, would, under the operation of the Act, be ousted, and slices of these large holdings would be given to the small tenants. If the House of Commons sanctioned anything like that, he could assure them that there would be much indignation in Ireland. He should be extremely glad to see the Bill succeed; but he hoped that what had been said by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) and other hon. Members would be considered by the Government, and that was to afford some relief to those glebe tenants who came in and purchased under the Act of 1869. Those tenants purchased at an extremely high rate—24 or 25 years' purchase—those terms having been made by the officials of the Church Commissioners, who went round and valued, and made the tenants l>ay through the nose for it. These glebe tenants were bound under very strict terms, and if they failed at the end of a half-year to pay their instalments they received notice that legal proceedings would be taken against them. He believed that many of them had borrowed, not only the fourth part of the purchase money which they originally paid down, but had also been obliged to borrow since to pay up their instalments. They were, therefore, heavily charged with debt, and the future in store for them was a very gloomy one indeed. The position of those tenants would be a most anomalous one if they were not included in the Bill, for they would be shut out from the benefits of recent legislation and become so many 1103 pariahs, so to say. Later on in Committee he (Mr. Macartney), if no one else did, would make a proposal respecting these tenants, which he hoped the Government would accept, as it would bring these glebe tenants under the Bill.
§ MR. PARNELL
I am very glad to see that the opposition of the Irish landlords, as represented by the hon. and gallant Member for the County Dublin (Colonel King-Harman) and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Captain Aylmer), is not a real or sincere one, and that it has come to an end; because I think it would have been a misfortune if this Bill, subject to some Amendments, were not to be passed into law this Session. There seems to be a dispute as to whether the Bill is more in favour of the landlords or of the tenants; and I am bound to say that the action of hon. Gentlemen who put down Amendments to the Bill, and then retreat from those Amendments, shows that, in their opinion, they consider the measure is likely to be more in favour of the landlords than of the tenants. However, I do not propose myself to express any opinion upon that point, and will only Bay that the Bill appears to me to offer facilities to the landlord who is not able to sell his land and who desires to do so, to find a purchaser for it; and it also appears to me to offer facilities to a tenant who is desirous of buying his land to purchase it if he wishes to do so. For the rest I will only say that, judging by public indications and appearances, the Irish landowners are looking, more than the Irish tenants, for help from a measure of this kind; and I cannot help thinking that their attitude is a wise one, and that if they had adopted this attitude some years ago, however much worse it might have been for the tenants, it certainly would not have been any the worse for themselves. Taking the whole case as it stands, looking at the Bill merely as experimental, involving only the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money—£5,000,000 sterling—I cannot see that very much mischief can be done, either to Irish landlords or to Irish tenants, by its passage; whereas, on the other hand, some knowledge may come to us, from the experience derived in its working, which may tempt all parties interested in the question—the tenants, the Government, and the land- 1104 owners—to go further in the future, and perhaps to arrive at a final solution of this very important and difficult Land Question in Ireland. With regard to the details of the Bill to which I object, I would simply say this—that I cannot understand why the Government desire to take from us the only public fund we have left in Ireland, the only money that we have left for any purpose whatever, for the purpose of providing an additional security to those securities which already exist in abundance. If you give the Land Commission, the body which is to be entrusted, practically speaking, with lending the money to those desirous of purchasing, and, therefore, practically speaking, entrusted with the duty of preventing too high a price from being given; if you give to them the Church Fund to fall back upon as an extra security, the inevitable tendency will be to allow higher prices to be paid for farms than prudence would dictate—the Land Commission will, under those circumstances, look less closely into the security and into its nature. They will say that, as regards that portion of the purchase money, they have an absolutely unimpeachable security to fall back upon; and the necessary consequence will be that the Land Commission will be inclined to give a higher price, or, rather, allow a higher price to be given to the landowner than the circumstances of the time and other matters would prudently permit. The same thing applies to the retention of one-fifth of the purchase money. If that provision be left in the Bill, it will inevitably form a bone of contention between the tenant and the landlord. There will be a tendency, undoubtedly, upon the part of the tenants to look upon that one-fifth as a portion which ought to be discharged by the landlord and not by the tenant; there will be the tendency on their part to borrow on the land more than it is entitled to by that operation, and to turn over to the landowner the loss involved to that extent. I think it would be far better for the Government to place the Land Commission in the position of having to scrutinize narrowly the security that may be offered them, and the price that will have to be paid, with the understanding, on the part of the tenants, that the price they now say they are willing to give for their holdings, and the annual instalments neces- 1105 sitated by that price, will be strictly demanded from them in the future. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney), who last spoke, said that many of us do not desire the landowners to get anything at all for their land. [Mr. MACARTNEY: Hear, hear!] I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I desire in reference to this matter. I desire that the tenants should not pay anything more than they are perfectly certain to be able to continue the payment of to the State as annual instalments hereafter; and I think that tenants purchasing in these times, when there is so great a depreciation in the price of agricultural produce, that the only remaining articles of produce, butter and cattle, have fallen in value 50 per cent within the last 12 months, when we see that the bottom of the fall has not apparently been reached, and that the downward process is still continuing—I say, in the interests of public honour and morality, in the interests of the State and of the taxpayers of this country, as well as in the interests of the tenants themselves, we should warn them not to incur liabilities which they may be unable hereafter to fulfil. Let them pay, by all means, a fair price for their holdings; but let them not be tempted to undertake annual payments which, from the depreciation in the price of farm produce, it may be absolutely impossible for them to pay. That is the view that I take of this question of purchase. I have always held, since making my entry into public life, that it is eminently desirable that the Irish Land Question should be settled permanently upon the basis of an occupying ownership. My mind has not at all been altered by the passage of the Land Act of 1881. I do not think that the Irish tenants are to be blamed for failing to purchase their holdings. Up to the present moment they have been occupied in getting their rents fixed in the Land Court; and immediately after the rents have been fixed has come this great depression in the prices of agricultural produce, which will undoubtedly make it exceedingly difficult for many of the tenants, if the depression remains permanent, to pay the judicial rents. Therefore there is further need of caution and deliberation on their part before they purchase and involve the State in their misfortunes. At present it is the Irish 1106 landlords and the Irish tenants who have to face this question of agricultural depression; and if you leave in the Bill inducements, such as the security of the Church Funds, or the retention of one-fifth, you inevitably offer inducements to all parties to agree to the paying of too high a figure for the land; and if the holdings are purchased at too high a price the difficulties of the tenant will be proportionately increased, and that may be the result of offering the further guarantee. As this is to be an experimental measure only tentatively dealing with the question, and as possibly larger, much larger, measures may hereafter spring out of it, if it succeeds, I am obliged to feel the greatest anxiety that, whatever is done under this Bill, if it become an Act, should be done well, and that no loss should result to the public from the expenditure of these millions of money. It is evident, if the Land Question is to be settled on the basis of purchase, the advance by the State will have to be very large; and it would be a very poor encouragement for the English taxpayers and Irish farmers if any of the provisions of the Bill were, under the surrounding circumstances in Ireland, to tempt the latter to pay an impossible price for their holdings, a price at which they would not be able to keep up the annual instalments hereafter; and I hope, therefore, there will be no attempt on the part of the Land Judges to bolster up the value of land artificially, or to refuse fair and reasonable offers from the tenants of those encumbered estates in Ireland with regard to the purchase of their holdings. I think the Irish tenants should be treated, at least, as reasonably in this matter as the land jobbers were in the bad times of 1847 and 1848. There was then no attempt on the part of the Land Judges artificially to bolster up the price of land, and estates were put up in the open market, and knocked down to the highest bidder. I think that should be to some extent the case on the present occasion. If that principle be adopted now, and tenants are tempted to come forward, I have no doubt that the deadlock in the land market will soon be terminated, and such prices will be given by the tenants for their holdings as will be fair, and as will render it possible that they will have a reasonable hope of being able to pay hereafter 1107 the instalments fixed upon. Another matter was mentioned in the course of this discussion which I should like to allude to. It is the important question of the glebe tenants. Appeals have been made by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House that the purchasers under the Church Act, who bought their holdings at a much higher rate than those contemplated by this Bill, should be put in the same position as purchasers under this Bill. Now, these purchasers were divided into two classes—there were persons who came forward and bought land over the heads of the tenants in the open market, and who were assisted by the funds of the State to do so, and there were those bonâ fide tenants who purchased their own holdings. In respect of the first class of persons, I do not see how you can fairly ask that a Bill, which is intended to enable tenants to become the owners of their holdings on more reasonable terms, should be so stretched in its provisions so as to enable land speculators, admittedly men who bought land in the open market as an investment and speculation, to obtain better terms than those bargained for. On the other hand, I admit I should be very glad if the Government could see their way to give bonâ, fide occupying tenants who purchased under the provisions of the Irish Church Act the same terms that this Bill proposes to give. These tenants undoubtedly bought at a very high price—occupying tenants bought, I think, at an average of two years' higher purchase than the ordinary purchaser gave for the same class of land at the time. I think that ordinary purchasers who were not tenants bought on an average of 22 or 22½ years' purchase, and I think the occupying tenants were obliged to pay 23½ or 24 years' purchase. In that way they paid a higher price, and their annual instalments were higher. However, I would certainly not reduce in any way the terms they have covenanted to give; but I would give them the advantages of this Bill, so far as the terms of repayment go and the interest. In this way you could gradually lighten the very heavy burden which they are suffering from. From 24 and 23½ years' purchase a lower price has ensued, which has gone down to 20 years' purchase. I do not think, therefore, you ought to reduce the amount of purchase money 1108 which they consented to give, because the fund that you gave it to is a public one. But neither the Imperial Exchequer nor the Church Fund need suffer in the slightest degree by the interest on the purchase money being reduced, as it may be, by an arrangement between the Treasury and the Church Commissioners, to enable the Church Commissioners to borrow at the lower rate provided for in this Bill. I am glad that there has been no political acrimony excited by the introduction of the measure. I am also glad to see that the Conservative Party have so far been educated on the Land Question as—I will not say to settle it on the lines of the Land League, because this very small measure of £5,000,000 sterling cannot be considered in any sense as even an attempt to settle the Land Question—I would, however, remind the House that the much-abused Land League was formed first to do away with rack rents and prevent landlord oppression and eviction; and, secondly, to enable every occupying tenant to become the owner of his holding upon fair terms, objects for which no abuse or ridicule was thought to be too strong at the time, but which, I am glad to say, now appear to be becoming rapidly absorbed into the political creed of the Conservative Party. I trust that this Bill, so far as it goes and when amended, may enable the tenants to become the owners of their holdings.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said that, as an English county Member, he must excuse himself for speaking on the subject of the Bill, upon the ground that for 15 years he had not uttered a word in that House on the Irish Land Question. When the Land Bill of 1870 was introduced, he endeavoured to prove that, instead of extending the Ulster tenant right to the whole of Ireland, they ought to go in at once for State-aided peasant proprietorship. That he was right at that time was evident from the fact that after experiencing the working of the Acts of 1870 and 1881, they had found it would be much better that there should be a solid landed proprietorship, and that those who cultivated should own the land, rather than there should be a sort of bastard ownership which had existed during the last 15 years. At the same time, unless those who purchased their holdings showed a 1109 greater amount of assiduity and hard work than he thought was generally practised by some of the small tenants of Ireland, he feared that they would not succeed as well as the House desired. There could not be a worse system than prevailed in Ireland at present, as far as concerned the interests of both landlord and tenant. Irish tenants, with the exception of those who first acquired the tenant right, were really under two rents; for the interest of the money locked up in the purchase of the tenant right was a second rent paid by the tenant from which he could not escape, and the liability passed from one occupier to another. The hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) had told them that, in some instances, the tenant right was worth more than the fee simple. There were three interests involved in the cultivation of land, although they might all exist, in some instances, in the same person. There was the man who supplied the dead capital, the man who supplied the working capital, and the man who did the labour. All three might be rolled into one—the peasant proprietor—but still they must co-exist. However well he might cultivate the land, the only way in which a small farmer, whether owner or occupier, could succeed, was to do the work of two agricultural labourers and live at the expense of one. In that case, if the Irish peasant could fulfil those conditions, the Bill might be a success. There was much point in the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) with respect to a probable fall in prices. The hon. Member had said that, in the last few few months, stock had fallen 50 per cent. He (Mr. Clare Read) was not aware of any such fall in England, though prices had undoubtedly gone down. But in this there lay a great danger, and in a few years the purchasing tenants might find themselves as owners in a much worse condition than their tenant neighbours. He believed the Bill was the only possible corollary to the two Irish Land Acts; but he could not endorse its principle, nor could he give it support upon any ground of political economy; but as to its expediency there could be no doubt. Therefore, under the present circumstances, he hoped it would become law as speedily as possible, although it would add another page to our history, 1110 whereby the State would become, in a more real sense than ever, the father of the people.
§ MR. THOMASSON
said, that he shared in the anxiety of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) lest tenants under this Bill should engage to pay too high rents for the next 49 years. Even if the freehold were bought at 20 years' purchase, the tenant would pay less than his present rent by way of instalments, and in about 10 years the State would lose the security of one-fifth the price deposited at the time of the purchase. Then, about the same period, would come the revision of rents, as the 15 years' term of judicial rent would then be on the point of expiration. If rents should then be still further reduced, serious discontent would arise among the purchasers under the present Bill, for the tenants who took advantage of it, and bound themselves for 49 years to pay a certain rent to the State, might find themselves in a very much worse position than those of their neighbours who might have their rents considerably reduced. That being the case, there would be great danger that the State would not receive the rents agreed upon, so that the loss would fall upon the British taxpayers. ["Oh, oh!"] As an English Member, he was entitled to take into consideration the possible effect of the Bill upon the British taxpayers. The right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach; had hinted at the possibility of an increase of the duty on tea; and it was possible that every house holder in the town he (Mr. Thomasson) represented, and in the Kingdom also, might hereafter find that he had to pay an increased duty upon that article in order to make up the loss to the Exchequer from the failure of Irish tenants to perform their contracts. Many of these householders were women, who were unrepresented, but whose interests the House ought not the less to consider. The State was running a great risk in this Bill. It was buying a rent charge of 3⅛ per cent, while running the risk that in 10 years' time the rents on which it was based would not be paid. He was afraid that the worst of such a state of things would be that the idle and thrift less among the tenants would be benefited at the expense of the more industrious and of the English taxpayer, and that 1111 the measure would produce discontent in Ireland. He would much rather that the rents of the industrious tenants who had invested their money in their farms should be reduced by a revision of the Healy Clause of the Land Act than that the question should be dealt with as was proposed under this Bill. It had been frequently remarked that the Bill was merely an experimental, and not a final one; but, in his opinion, there had been more than enough of experiments of this nature, and he was afraid that considerable danger might result from the measure. For instance, if it were largely taken advantage of, the State would become the landlord of a large part of Ireland, which was a most undesirable position for the State to be in, as it would have to exact the rents to the uttermost farthing in justice to the British taxpayer, which would increase the difficulties, already great, of governing the country. It would, in his opinion, be wiser not to try any further experiments in this direction, but to have postponed the consideration of a measure dealing with such large, important, and complicated interests, leaving the question to be dealt with by the new Parliament if it was considered that the present Parliament had not solved it satisfactorily.
§ SIR HERVEY BRUCE
said, he rose to express a hope that whoever concluded the debate on the part of the Government would give the House some assurance that those landowners who purchased their land for residential and not for speculative purposes under the provisions of the Act of 1870, and also the purchasers of glebe lands, would be favourably considered under the Bill. He thought, however, that, in respect to those persons, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was quite right in drawing a line of distinction between those who bought land for speculation and tenants who bonâ fide purchased their holdings. The latter, it seemed to him (Sir Hervey Bruce), deserved the same treatment as if they had purchased now. He was glad that the Bill had been introduced by the present Government; for, although he did not think it by any means a perfect Bill, or one which would at once solve the problem of the Irish Land Question, still it was the thin edge of the wedge, which might be driven home until better 1112 relations were established between landlords and tenants in Ireland. Indeed, he thought that if the sentiments and opinions contained in the speech of the hon. Member for the City of Cork were carried out the Bill might be the beginning of better days for Ireland, by doing much to place the Land Question in that country upon a more satisfactory footing.
§ MR. FINDLATER
said, he most heartily approved of the Bill, which, in his opinion, would confer a great boon upon the people of Ireland. Its provisions were good, and with some slight but necessary Amendments it might be made a good working measure. In the belief that it would be a boon to both parties, he desired to see it pass as soon as possible; and, so far as he was concerned, he would aid its passage by making it as perfect as possible. With that object he should make several suggestions to the Government when the Bill reached the Committee stage.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he hoped that before the debate closed Her Majesty's Government would announce their intention of standing by their proposal to reserve one-fifth of the purchase money. After the best consideration he could give to the subject, he did not think the Government would be justified, considering their duty to the country, in giving up the security constituted by the retention of that money. It must be remembered that the terms offered by the Government in this Bill were of perfectly unexampled liberality. No company or association of capitalists in the City of London would advance money on such terms. By the Bill money was to be advanced for the purchasers under it at 4 per cent, which was not merely interest, but sinking fund; whereas he ventured to assert, with great confidence, that no one would lend money on an Irish security under 5 per cent for interest alone. That being so, the Government were entitled to have every possible security for the repayment of their advances; nay, more, they were bound to demand it, for they were Trustees of the public, whose interest they were bound to protect. Their duty involved the exaction of a proper guarantee for their advances. What, then, was the guarantee which the Bill provided? It was simply the retention of a certain amount of the purchase money. During the 10 years the 1113 portion of the purchase money thus retained could be assigned, charged, or otherwise made available as a security by the person to whom it belonged. He did not think that an unfair arrangement; and, in the interest of the taxpayer, he thought it ought to be maintained. He would again repeat the hope that before the debate closed they would have some assurance from the Government, and it would be maintained. Then as to mortgages, which were one of the difficulties he saw in the working of the measure, the Government might desire to purchase certain portions of a mortgaged estate. If they paid the money to the landlord, the estate would not thereby be discharged from the mortgage. The Government would have to consider how that was to be met, and he thought they would have to place themselves in such cases in the position of the mortgagee, by paying off the mortgage and taking an assignment of it. He wished every success to the measure; but he was not very sanguine as to the results that would flow from it. He hoped it would lead to a settlement of the Land Question in Ireland; but he was afraid that it would only increase the demands of the tenants, to whom so much had been given. Ten years hence, when rents were revised, as they were to be under the Land Act of the late Government, they might be reduced; and then the tenants who had purchased under that Bill on the basis of the existing rents might think that they had made a bad bargain, and had paid too much, and in that case there might be a revival of irritation and discontent. That, however, to a great extent, was a matter of speculation, and, at all events, of opinion. What he confessed did seem to him certain was that the Government were bound by their duty to the taxpayer of this country to take every precaution that no loss to him should accrue from the present measure.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. HOLMES)
said, he thought the Government might feel satisfied with the almost unanimous approval with which the Bill had been received by Irish Members on both sides of the House; and, so far as the criticism which had been passed upon it was concerned, it would encourage them to press the Bill on with as much expedition as possible. He thought the discussion 1114 had given the Government some assistance in carrying out their Bill. It was not his intention to enter into the details; but he wished to state what would be probably the views entertained by the Government of the suggestions which had been made. The Bill dealt with the question from two points of view. It dealt first with the machinery by which it was expected that the tenant might be able to secure the fee simple of his holding; and, in the second place, with the means by which he could procure the purchase money. As to the first point—the machinery—that was to say, the tribunal to which the carrying out of the measure was to be entrusted—he could not agree with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman) that it would be wise to place the duty on the old Landed Estates Court. He admitted that it was a Court fully competent to deal with this question; but without, in any way, speaking to its disparagement, he could not help feeling that the measure would not be carried out as well, if left to that Court, as if it were entrusted to the Special Commissioners who would be appointed under the Bill. The Judges and officers of the Landed Estates Court were in the habit of trying large cases; and it was not to be expected that they, who were mainly engaged in dealing with large estates, would be able to descend and adjudicate upon matters connected with the transfer of the small holdings between landlords and tenants. Then, if the Government left it in the hands of the Land Commissioners in Ireland, he did not think the Bill would be carried out very vigorously; because they had already in hand more work than they would be able to do in an effective way in the ordinary course of their duties. They were appointed originally to fix the rent of land between the landlord and the tenant; and they had large arrears of work on hand, which they were not likely to get rid of for a long time to come. Under all those circumstances, the Government thought it best to appoint two Commissioners, to form a special tribunal for carrying out this measure. Objection had been taken because their names had not been published to the House. Before the second reading of a Bill was surely not the time to announce the names of the gentlemen whose appoint- 1115 ment depended solely upon the passing of that Bill. Before a position of this kind could be accepted by a gentleman with credit to himself, he must have an assurance that the Government were in earnest and would pass the Bill. Under the Land Act of 1881, the names of the Commissioners were not announced until after a later stage than that at which he hoped to mention the names of the two gentlemen who would be selected under the Bill. As the Government were anxious that the Bill should be efficiently carried out, the House could rest assured that they would only appoint gentlemen who were fully qualified to discharge their duties zealously and with ability, and who would receive and retain the confidence of the public and of the Executive. There was a provision of the Bill which had not been referred to, and which he considered a very valuable one. The Executive had taken power to transfer some of the officers from the Landed Estates Court to the Land Commission, for the purpose of carrying out the investigation of titles. These officials would bring a large amount of accumulated knowledge to the work. As to the provision which the Bill made for enabling the tenant to purchase, reference had been made to the guarantee as a condition precedent to the purchase money being advanced. It was obvious that the State ought to be in a position, when enabling tenants to purchase their holdings, to take care that it should be protected from loss, especially when it was advancing so much as £5,000,000. It would be a rash and imprudent thing to ask that the advance should be made, unless there was some guarantee that the State should not suffer. They had made two provisions in this regard; one was that the vendor should allow a part of the money to remain in the hands of the Commissioners. But this would only remain till such time as the purchaser had paid instalments equal to the amount left by the vendor. The tenant's interest would then become the guarantee. When they asked that this one-fifth was to be retained, they did not ask that it should be retained without making some return to the landlord or the vendor. He would be paid at the rate of 3 per cent, and at the same time he would not be entirely deprived of the use of his capital; for if the country was prosperous, 1116 and the tenant paid up his instalments punctually, the landlord could raise money on the security of that fifth which had been retained; so that, while it was being retained by the State as a security, he would be receiving an advantage from it, and would be enjoying it. With reference to the next guarantee, the Church Surplus Fund, there had been some adverse criticism. The sum now vested in the Church Temporalities Commission amounted to something between £600,000 and £700,000. He hoped it would not be necessary to resort to that at all, and that this fund would still remain for such National purposes as Parliament might be disposed to apply it to. Should it, unfortunately, be necessary to use it, it seemed to him, and to the Government as well, that it was a most natural thing to apply this National Irish Fund to an Irish object when required. Adverse criticism came principally from his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dublin County, who had declared that the Bill was likely to be abortive, or a "sham," as he described it; but there was one answer to his criticism about the £5,000,000. They must remember that they were now at the end of a Parliament, and on the eve of a General Election, and they would shortly have a Parliament elected by different constituencies to those which had hitherto elected Members, and it would not be desirable to apply a larger amount of State funds than was likely to be absorbed in the interim. If the Bill was a success, he believed there would be no difficulty in getting further funds. He wished to make one other remark, and that had reference to the tenants who had already purchased under the Acts of 1870 and 1881, also the glebe tenants who purchased under the Church Act of 1869. He assured hon. Members that this matter had received the consideration of the Government; but the more they considered it the greater were the difficulties which confronted them. It would always be an argument against doing anything to say that there was a certain number of others who had purchased in antecedent years under other circumstances. The tenants who purchased under the Acts he had referred to paid their purchase money under the law as it existed. It would be wholly impossible for the Government to reduce 1117 the amounts paid by those tenants, and he thought there would be the greatest difficulty in reducing the interest. No doubt, however, something might be done, and it was a matter which would continue to receive the earnest attention of the Government. It had been paid by some that this was a landlords' Bill, and by others that it was a tenants' Bill. It appeared to him that the great recommendation of the Bill was that it was neither a landlords' Bill nor a tenants' Bill, but that it was a Bill from which both landlords and tenants might derive certain advantages if they availed themselves of it. He wished to point out, what had been already pointed out by the hon. Members for County Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) and for Monaghan (Mr. Findlater), that although this Bill might not be perfect in every part, yet if the House approved the principle the best way to allow the principle to be carried out was to permit the Bill to pass a second reading, and to make such Amendments as were necessary in Committee. A Bill might be killed either by active opposition or by protracted discussion; but he hoped that hon. Members would see in this Bill the germ of an earnest effort to do something for Ireland, and would therefore withdraw their opposition in order that its merits might be tested, and that, therefore, they would permit the Bill to pass. As he had been permitted to say so much, he might, perhaps, add a hope that as the House had now spent a very considerable time in discussing the principle of the measure, and as the Government intended to put down the next stage for an early day, hon. Members would now allow the discussion to cease, and the second reading of the Bill to be taken.
§ MR. SAMUEL SMITH
I wish to congratulate the House on the introduction of this Bill, and I do so as representing a constituency having a large Irish population, in whom I take a very keen interest. The Bill is a generous Bill, and in that respect it is politic, for all legislation dealing with Ireland, in order to be politic, ought to be generous. The Bill, in my opinion, also contains within itself the seeds of something like a final settlement of the Irish difficulty as regards the Land Question. I especially congratulate the House upon the very friendly way in which the Bill has been 1118 received by all sections of opinion, and especially by the section which is led by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). I do not think we can too highly congratulate, both ourselves and the country at large, upon the great change in the tone of Irish opinion in this House. It is a matter for very hearty congratulation that we have at last reached a method of speaking about Irish questions which is a great deal more rational than what has been the custom for many years past. I believe, myself, that if this Bill is heartily accepted by the Members of the Party who follow the lead of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, it will pave the way, at no distant date, for a very wide extension of its terms. It, no doubt, is an experiment; but that experiment may be developed to a very large degree, and may become the means of settling the controversy about the land in Ireland. I wish to say how entirely I approve of the measure, and how heartily, speaking from the Liberal side of the House, I wish it God-speed. I think it is a thoroughly wise measure. It has already produced excellent effects on public opinion, and I join with all who have discussed this subject in hoping and trusting that it will turn out to be a solution of one of the greatest—if not the very greatest—of Irish difficulties.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that if the Bill were intended to be the beginning of the general purchase of their holdings by tenants, it was unreasonable to suppose that the Church Surplus would offer any security for the payment. It might be a valuable security if the purchases were not to exceed £5,000,000; but it would be of no value if the Bill were extended beyond that. He considered the Bill carried out the principles of the National League, therefore he was very anxious that it should succeed; but its success depended not so much upon what was in the Bill as upon its administration. He also thought that what the Government ought to do was to regard the measure as an experiment, a commencement with the question of Land Purchase, and should give the Commissioners instructions that they must, if possible, conduct the business in such a way as to deal with the whole of this £5,000,000 of property within the next three months after the Bill had become law. If the Commissioners waited till the landlords 1119 could screw an extravagant price from their tenants no business would be done. He believed that many tenants wished to buy their holdings; but they wanted to buy as cheap as they could. He thought that the first transactions ought to take place at the present price, and a beginning might be made by the new Commissioners buying properties which had been some time in the Landed Estates Court.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.