§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [11th July], "That the Bill be now read a second time,"801
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, taking into view the circumstances set forth in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1886 on the Land Acts of 1881 and 1885, and the recommendations of that Commission, is of opinion that no Bill for amending the Laws relating to Land in Ireland can he satisfactory which shall not provide, not only for entitling leaseholders to the benefits of the Land Act of 1881, but also for affording such means for the revision of the judicial rents under that Act, as will meet the exigencies created by the heavy fall in agricultural values since the passing of the Act,"—(Mr. Campbell-Bannerman,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
Mr. Speaker, as I have not ventured this Session to address the House at any length, or, indeed, at all with any observations on Irish affairs, and finding the House once more in consideration of the Irish Land Question—which is to me not altogether unfamiliar ground—I hope I may, without undue presumption, ask the indulgence of the House for a brief period while I offer some observations on the subject. In the first place, I would make, with some boldness, this proposition, that we have, in our dealings with Irish land, arrived at a very critical period. We have before us an opportunity, which Parliament may or may not be able to avail itself of; but it does appear to me that we have arrived at a point where the roads seem to part, and where it is possible for Parliament to follow the road of inaction, or of failure to legislate with regard to the Irish Land Question—a road which, I believe, will lead to immeasurable tumult and immeasurable disorder in Ireland—a state of things in which the last state of Ireland will be worse than the first. Or we may be able to follow now a road which, if wisely followed and adhered to, might lead to the amelioration and to a vast improvement of agricultural affairs in Ireland. In these matters, we should be careful to avoid, as far as possible, unnecessary conflict; and it is for that reason—viewing the situation in Ireland at the present moment and the surrounding circumstances—that I respectfully, but 802 very earnestly, deprecate the Amendment which has been brought before the House by the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). It appears to me that that Amendment raises altogether a false issue, and does what I both deplore and deprecate—that is, it raises unnecessary conflict, and it forces Parties in this House to range themselves on this question in sharp opposition; and I fancy the general disposition of the House to be not to so range itself. What is the principle of the Bill? On that principle, I imagine, there will be considerable agreement. I take that principle to be this—that it is absolutely necessary in the interests of Ireland and of the United Kingdom generally that relief should be afforded by legislation to the tenants of Ireland, and that that relief should take the form of remedying those defects and applying those shortcomings which have been proved, and are admitted to be proved, to exist in the working of the Land Act of 1881. I will make one general assumption, which will be the foundation of all that will follow in what I say. It may be considered a large assumption. I think it is undeniable that there is a general desire among all Parties to find some way, if possible, of coming together in order to ameliorate the condition of the Irish tenants. That, I take it, is the position of the Government; and I say it is absolutely certain that it must be the desire of the Government. It is absolutely idle, and seems to me almost extravagant to impute to the Government bad motives, want of intentions, and want of bona fides in this matter. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, if there is any method conceivable to the mind which would more alleviate the anxieties of the Government, and more remove difficulties from their path, than legislation that might be satisfactory to the Irish tenants. I come now to the regular Opposition, and I cannot for a moment suppose that it would be disagreeable to them—on the contrary, I think it would be agreeable—that the defects and shortcomings of that great Act of 1881, where those defects are proved, should be remedied and settled in a manner agreeable to the wishes of the Irish tenantry. Well, then, I come to the Irish Party; and of this I am perfectly certain, that whatever may be 803 their views with regard to the future government of Ireland, whatever may be their views as to the nature of the treatment which that question has received from this side of the House, still, when they remember how critical is the condition amongst the tenants of Ireland, and how greatly the Irish tenantry are supposed to be in their charge and under their protection they will dismiss from their minds every thought but one—how they can extract from the general wisdom and desire of Parliament such a settlement as may improve the condition of those whom they think look for protection and support. Therefore, I do not think it is an extravagant proposition when I say that the foundation of my observations will be that there is a general desire on the part of the House to provide a satisfactory settlement of this matter—a Parliamentary settlement of this matter, rather than by a Party settlement. That being so, I pause for one moment to allude to the attitude of the Irish Members, as it seems to be supplied in the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) on Tuesday; and I would address, in view of what I have already said, a remonstrance to the hon. Member with regard to a certain line of observation which he made. He quoted from Lord Salisbury's speech a passage in which Lord Salisbury invited from all quarters comments, advice, and Amendments—[Mr. DILLON: Stated that he had invited.] Yes; but the hon. Member said that Lord Salisbury did not invite comments and advice from the Irish Members. Well, I can see nothing in the speech of Lord Salisbury on this question, and I am sure there was nothing in the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) the other night, that should give any cause whatever for the hon. Member to suppose that the advice and opinions of the Irish Members on the Irish Land Question would not be received with attention by the Government. I am sure of this, though I do not profess to have any knowledge whatever of the feelings of the Government, except what I have gathered from their attitude and their speeches in this House, that, whatever the feelings of the Government may be on the matter, I am quite certain that there are very many Members on this side of the House who are not 804 prepared to allow the heated controversies upon this great question in which we have been engaged to disturb their minds to such an extent as to prevent them from hearing with attention, and receiving with all care and consideration, the opinions and proposals for the relief of the Irish tenants which may emanate from those whose authority and experience on the subject qualify them to offer suggestions to Parliament. At the same time, I am bound to say this—that I think it is only due to the House and to themselves that the Irish Members should, on this very difficult question, make suggestions of a much more definite character than any which they have yet made to the House. There is one very disagreeable and gloomy feature in the situation, and that is the time of year at which we have arrived. Now, this is the situation. "We have, it seems to me, reached a period of the year at which anything like prolonged controversy has become almost impossible. There is an absolute necessity for the Government—a necessity even in limine—to legislate on the aubject of Irish land before the Session closes. That necessity is imposed upon them, not only by their pledges, but by their official responsibilities. I can imagine no more terrible and odious task than for the Irish Government to have to administer the Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland) Bill, which has passed through this House, and is now in the other House of Parliament, unless the administration of it is made easier by the passing of a measure for the redress of the grievances of the Irish tenants; and, therefore, even having regard to the administration of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill itself, it is almost absolutely and imperatively necessary for the Government now to legislate on the subject of Irish land; yet I admit that I think that the Government are to be commended for having adhered so frankly and faithfully to the pledges which they gave some time ago with respect to the settlement of the question, because one could hardly imagine a stronger temptation than that which is presented to a Government to shirk a labour of this kind at this time of the year, and to delay the fulfilment of their pledges. But that temptation has been resisted, and for that, I think, some measure of praise 805 is due to the Government. But while this imperative necessity for legislation on the Irish Land Question exists, another inexorable fact imposes a limit upon our legislation on the matter, and that is the period of the Session which we have reached. We have come to a time of the Session when, I assert with considerable confidence, it is not within the range of physical possibility that hotly contested and hotly opposed legislation should be carried through Parliament. The legislation which Government can carry through Parliament at this time of the year may be beneficial in the highest degree, but I think it must be legislation in its nature and essence, founded upon the consent and agreement of all Parties; and it does not appear to me possible for the majority of this House, with regard to the question of Irish land, or, perhaps with regard to any other legislative question, to impose its will upon a strongly resisting minority. But I am not at all clear that it would be advisable to do so, even if it were possible. Perhaps the great fault of the Land Act of 1881 and the origin of all the difficulties under it, arises from the fact that it was forced upon the Conservative minority and also upon the Irish minority by the great strength of the Liberal Party of that day. Therefore, whether having regard to what is physically possible, or to what is politically expedient, legislation as to the Irish Land Question must, as far as possible, be founded upon the agreement and consent of all Parties in this House. May I then be allowed to examine very cursorily and very rapidly the clauses of the Bill in the light of the reasonable probability which exists as to that general assent and agreement being arrived at, And I do not hold that I am departing from the custom of the House in giving a cursory examination to the clauses of the Bill, viewing them collectively and separately, as the second reading is practically the only occasion on which such an examination can be made by a Member of Parliament. If, then, I glance as rapidly as I can at the clauses in order to discover the possibility of agreement, I find as follows:—The 1st clause received a good deal of approval from the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), both of whom are specially tenants' Representatives; but 806 both of them object to the restriction upon Clause 1. I find no difficulty whatever in agreeing with those hon. Members in their objection to those restrictions. In agreeing with their objection, I am only agreeing with many Irish landlords and Members of the House of Lords; and as we have it now admitted that a great mistake was made in the Land Act of 1881 by excluding leaseholders from the operation of that Act, I think that our reparation for that mistake should be full and complete. And as a reparation we should not endeavour to mar the effect of this Bill, or to spoil its general operation by restrictions which do not seem to rest on any strong or solid ground. If you are redressing grievances among the people, there is no greater mistake than the one which this House has often made, but which I hope in this instance it will cease to make, to give with one hand and to withhold with another; and I am told on high authority that if the restrictions on Clause 1 are maintained by Parliament, the effect would be to exclude almost half of the leaseholders of Ireland from the operation of the Bill. That, I believe, would certainly not fulfil the intention of Parliament, or of the Government; and I feel confident that after discussion in this House and in Committee there will be no difficulty in arriving at agreement on that point—at least, I cannot imagine why there should be any. Then, as to Clause 2, that is altogether approved by hon. Members opposite, and to Clause 3 much the same remark applies. Now we come to Clause 4. Here I differ from a Gentleman of great authority, the hon. Member for South Tyrone; but I am not impressed with the benefits of Clause 4. I have the greatest possible doubt whether that clause will work in the way that I am certain the Government wish it to work. I am aware that the defence of that clause by the Government is not only an honest and a genuine, but a very plausible defence; but, at the same time, I should greatly fear to entrust, not to Irish landlords, but to their land agents and attorneys, the powers that would be given by that clause. I would only put one question to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury on this point. I put it especially to him, because I understand that he will represent the Government 807 in the debate to-night, and because I know to my certain knowledge that he is more acquainted with Irish matters than any of the Colleagues who sit round him. Surely it is within the knowledge of many hon. Members opposite, and of many on this side of the House, that the First Lord of the Treasury has for years paid a close attention to the Irish Land Question. Therefore, I put this question to the right hon. Gentleman that he may judge, in the only way that he can, not only as to the merits, but the dangers of Clause 4. What would the state of Ireland be at the present moment if, in the course of the last autumn and winter, Clause 4 had been the law of the land? I have little doubt that the state of things would have been this—that one-quarter, or perhaps one-half, of the tenantry of Ireland would have been caretakers at present; and the great remissions of rent which have been made by the landlords would probably not have been made, because of the irresistible pressure that would have been put upon them by their agents or their attorneys if Clause 4 of this Bill had been the law. The state of things would have been appalling, and such as one dreads to contemplate. Whether the First Lord of the Treasury agrees with me in that or not, it is evident that Clause 4 will be hotly opposed, and would lead to protracted controversy. I could not, therefore, find it in my power to condemn severely any protracted opposition to the clause, which seems to me to come within that category of legislation which it is not in the limits of physical possibility to proceed with at this period of the year. For that reason alone, I would counsel the Government again to examine with great closeness and minuteness the operation of the clause, and take advice from disinterested quarters, and, if possible, to lighten the Bill—as they undoubtedly will to a most considerable extent—by omitting that clause from the Bill altogether. The First Lord of the Treasury will observe that Clause 4 is a very long clause. It takes up two whole pages of the Bill. Therefore, my advice to him is to come to a conclusion with regard to it, and I think my advice is really practicable, when I counsel that the Government, if they possibly can come to that conclusion, should withdraw it. I now come to Clause 5, as to which there is no oppo- 808 sition, and which is a beneficial clause. Clause 6 also excites no opposition, but as to which the hon. Member for South Tyrone, with a great deal of justice, urged the extension of its operations. I do not think that this is a matter which will excite prolonged controversy in the House. It may be carried out without exciting Party heat. Clauses 7 up to 19 are clauses connected with the purchase of land, and I do not imagine that these clauses will excite any hostility at at. As to Clause 19 I have a word to say. I object to it, not on the grounds put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but for economical reasons. I suppose that in it you take powers to strengthen the Court of Appeal. I am not taking objection to that. You propose to add three new Members to the Court. Well, I suppose the object is to enable the Court of Appeal to overtake the arrears of appeals which come before it. But what do I find in Ireland? I find arrears of official business which ought to be dealt with undoubtedly; but, looking at it from a purely economic view, I think it is very advisable that the arrears should not be allowed to accumulate, but they ought to be dealt with by the present judicial staff, which is now largely underworked and largely over-manned. I feel strongly about it, and I say this—if you have judicial arrears you ought to apply your judicial staff which is underworked and over-manned, and your appointments of three or four new men will be unnecessary. And another thing to be considered in this connection is, that you will relieve the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Government and Dublin Castle from the task, which they cannot undertake without exciting the greatest amount of criticism and hostility. I do not believe also that it is in the power of this Front Bench, or of that Front Bench if they were in Office, to strengthen the Court of Appeal by fresh appointments from one political Party or the other, without calling down upon either Party the fiercest condemnation from rival Parties in Ireland. I urge the Government, therefore, to consider whether, in the amending of this clause, they cannot make a considerable saving in utilizing the superfluous and superabundant strength of the Irish Judicial Bench. So much for Clause 19. Now, I come to a clause which gives me a little pleasure—Clause 20; and here I 809 really cannot refrain from giving a little nudge and a pinch to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I think, must have slumbered soundly when the clause was put into the Bill. I invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer's special attention to it. I invite him to contrast it with the sub-section introduced into the Land Act of 1881. I invite him to estimate the total amount of unnecessary charge which it will put on the public. When he has done that, then I am perfectly certain that I have said all that is necessary, and that he, being the vigilant guardian of the public purse, will come down to the House and propose himself to omit Clause 20 from the Bill. It is unnecessary to detain the House on that point. I come next to Clause 21, and I again advise the Government to reconsider their position with regard to this clause; because I believe that if they do consider that position, they will come to the conclusion that they will do more injustice than justice by pressing the clause. I expect you will find, in cases where an Irish landlord has lands unlet, in innumerable cases it will be impossible to relieve him from the charges of management, and if you cannot relieve him you have no right to relieve him from the rates for local expenses. But I wish to remind the Government, and especially the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that the Skye landlords were in almost an analogous difficulty to the Irish landlords. In many cases they got no rent for their farms for a very long time, and when they thought of refusing to pay the local rates, not only did the Government come down upon the Skye landlords with all the powers of the law, but they were told that the proposal to relieve them from the rates was perfectly ridiculous and absurd. They were ordered to pay them, or to submit to the penalty of non-payment. I see no reason why you should extend to the Irish landlords a totally different and a much more favourable treatment than was extended to the Skye landlords, and only a very short time ago. As to this Clause 21,I would say that it seems to be a clause which is likely to excite such long discussion, and to arouse such strong opposition, that unless the Government are of opinion that its provisions are absolutely dictated by the highest possible principles, they would 810 do wisely to omit it from the Bill. Now I come to Clause 22, which provides for conferring on County Court Judges large powers of equitable jurisdiction with regard to claims by landlords for arrears of rent, and I am bound to say that I find this a most valuable clause, and much more valuable than the Irish Members seem to think. It is valuable for three reasons. In the first place, the application of the clause must tend to diminish harsh and unreasonable evictions. I believe that most of the evictions in Ireland take place for arrears of rent for two or more years; and, therefore, to arrest evictions on the ground of non-payment of arrears of rent is most valuable. But the clause is most valuable, also, because it gives to the County Court Judges the power to make an equitable composition. [Home Rule cries of"No, no !"] I think it does. It gives them very great power indeed with regard to spreading payment over a very long period, and this practically amounts to a composition for arrears. It is also extremely valuable because it affords to the House a basis for the expansion of its provisions. Allow me to pass from that. Then I come to clauses—no less than 10 of them—of great length, which provide for relief being given to certain tenants in Ireland by means of proceedings in bankruptcy. I hope that hon. Members opposite will not think that any remarks I make on this subject are prompted by a spirit by which really they are not dictated, and will not twist or distort them from the purpose to which they are directed. I conceive that no more difficult subject could well come before a Government than the question of how they might most speedily and effectually remove the present difficulties in Ireland. I can imagine that the Government, balancing one proposition with another, might light on a proposal which, at first sight, might not command the assent either of the House or of the country, and I cannot admit that any blame attaches to the Government in this matter, even if these clauses should not receive the assent of Parliament, or even if Parliament should put pressure upon the Government to alter them. With regard to these clauses I must say I see immense difficulties, and, subject to the maturer and better judgment of the Government, there appear to me to be objections to them alto- 811 gether insurmountable. My chief objection is based upon the morality—or rather, I should say, the immorality—of driving or inducing a large portion of the community to have recourse to bankruptcy for relief from their debts. Undoubtedly, a great deal of our legislation in regard to Ireland has not been directed to raising the fibre and strengthening the character of the people. ["Hear, hear !" from the Treasury Bench.] Ah, but you who have made that objection—with which I entirely agree—are you taking steps to formulate legislation of a different kind? Are you quite certain that, by these 10 clauses, you are not doing more to lower the moral tone of the Irish people, when you invite them, as it were, into the Court of Bankruptcy? That is an objection which has been taken before; but it is an objection to a plan which, if passed, may have disastrous consequences to the moral tone of the people. But there are other objections to the clauses. I take it that these clauses must produce an innumerable mass of litigation. Think how much more prosperous and how much better cultivated Ireland would have been if you could get back from the lawyers the thousands and tens of thousands of pounds which in recent years have flowed from the pockets of the tenants and the landlords into the pockets of the lawyers. That is a stupendous matter. Is it not time to be extremely careful about taking any steps in Ireland which shall promote a great additional mass of litigation? Not only do you provide that any number of tenants almost can have recourse to these bankruptcy proceedings, but you admit an appeal in each single proceeding. That alone will give to the House an idea of what is likely to be the mass of litigation which will arise in the course of these proceedings. Then look at the machinery. Again, I cannot help referring to my economical grounds. Again, I cannot help thinking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer slumbered whilst this Bill was being drawn. Look at the army of officials it is proposed to create. Under Clause 26 you give to the Irish Lord Chancellor a power which I would give to no Irishman, and certainly not to an Irish Lord Chancellor—namely, the power to employ almost any number of briefless barristers, who will undoubtedly be highly paid, to assist the County Court Judges. More than that, 812 under Clause 31 you give the Land Commission power to create a whole army of valuers, who may be paid what the Treasury thinks fit, and I know how impotent the Treasury is to limit their remuneration. Whether on the ground of this unnecessary public expenditure, whether on the ground of the strong temptations to jobbery and improper appointments, which you offer to a system which is not able to resist temptation of that character, I say, on one of these grounds or another, even if there were no other objection to the Bankruptcy Clauses, almost insurmountable objections can be raised against them. Then, as far as I can make out, under Clause 25 you propose that the County Court Judge shall be responsible in the minutest detail for the agricultural management of thousands and tens of thousands of acres of Irish land. Power is also given to the Official Assignee to interfere with the holding for 18 months. Now, can anything be more preposterous than that you should place in the hands of the County Court Judges the agricultural management of innumerable holdings, and that you should expect in such circumstances that agriculture could possibly flourish? Then look at the enormous temptations you offer to fraud. I see endless openings to collusion between landlord and tenant—endless inducements to both tenants and landlords to act in collusion in order to mislead the Courts of Justice which you have created. That is a very simple, and everyone will come to the conclusion that it is an extremely probable, result. There is one more objection—there are hundreds, but I will not dare to mention them all—and the one other objection I wish to mention is the utter want of finality about the Bill. What is going to be done at the end of 18 months? As far as I can make out, at the end of 18 months, even suppose your Bankruptcy Clauses come into operation, and can be carried out in the way you suggest—at the end of those 18 months, during which the Official Assignee will have in his possession the resources of the tenant, the state of things will be fifty or a hundred times worse than it is now. Yes; there can be no doubt that during that time an immense proportion of the resources of the tenants of Ireland will be in the hands of the Official Assignees. How, then, at the end of that period, can the 813 tenant be in a better position than he was before? He must be in an infinitely worse position, and the object of your Bill, which is to put the tenant in a better position at the end of the 18 months, will not be attained. Then the Chief Secretary for Ireland said, and rightly enough, that the Government look upon this Bill as only a temporary Bill, and, in fact, as a modus vivendi, until a much larger Bill of Purchase shall be brought into operation. Now, I do not believe there is any question more full of inextricable complications, more large, more widespreading, more likely to arouse the fiercest Party conflicts in this House, than the question of Land Purchase in Ireland. It is, I think, a question which must not only be brought before Parliament, but which will involve the fate of more than one Government and possibly of more than one Parliament. Are you wise in thinking, and in basing your proposal on the thought, that it will be sufficient to legislate for 18 months, and that at the end of 18 months your larger measure will come into operation? That appears to me extremely dangerous, and therefore I do not think the House ought to be guided for one moment in considering this Bill by the fact that a larger Bill may come into operation. There is another point. I spoke of the large numbers who will take advantage of this Bill, and I am completely confirmed in that view, not only by the machinery, the vast machinery, which the Government have proposed for dealing with a number of cases likely to come into Court, but also by the speech of the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) the other night. So far as I can recollect the speech, it was to the effect that there were 200,000 tenants who had had their rents fixed, of whom a large number were on the brink of insolvency. My noble Friend said that you must provide some machinery which will not only free them from their debts to their landlord, but also from their debts to their other creditors. It is obvious that the noble Lord contemplated that the large number of 200,000 will come into the Court of Bankruptcy. But suppose there are only two-thirds of this number? Then some 150,000 tenants will have recourse to the Court of Bankruptcy. Further, as far as I read the 814 Bill, I am distrustful of every limitation. Other tenants beside those who have had their rents fixed can go to the Bankruptcy Court, and there is no reason why 300,000 tenants should not have recourse to it. Mark also what inducements you offer them to do so, for you relieve them not only of their debts to the landlords, but of all their debts. Further, you put a premium upon the tenants who come into bankruptcy and you put a penalty on the tenants who keep out. You say that in the course of next year you are going to bring in a great Purchase Bill which will settle the Irish Land Question. But when you bring in that Bill, it is quite on the cards that then half the tenants of Ireland will be in the threes and agonies of bankruptcy. How can you propose an advance of public money, for that must be made under a Bill of this description, on any reasonable basis to an enormous number of people whom by your legislation you have invited to come into bankruptcy? It seems to me you are endeavouring—only the assumption is too absurd—to build up a great system of national credit upon a widespread foundation of national insolvency. Now, there was a proposal with respect to bankruptcy which came before me last year. It was a proposal which I understood at the time and still believe originated with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). But it was a very different proposal from the present one, though even then I did not see my way to agree to it. I understood the proposal to be this—that certain provisions for the relief of debtors which are sometimes acted on in this country might be extended with benefit to certain of the smaller tenants of Ireland in such a way that the name and stigma of bankruptcy should not necessarily apply. But it was very different from the proposals in the present Bill. Certainly, I do not see the objections which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland sees to it. My right hon. Friend says that we could not grant the tenants relief without attaching to them the stigma of bankruptcy, and the reason he gives is that such a course has not been pursued in any other country in the world. Well, that is the oddest reason for any Minister to give for not doing a certain thing in regard to Ireland that I ever heard. I 815 think there was a good deal to be said for the proposal, though. I also see some objections to it. Why not? Look at your dealings with Irish land, and tell me whether in any country in the world you can point to any analogous proceedings to those of the last 10 years with regard to Irish land? It is no argument at all, if the suggestion is good, to say that it cannot be tried because it has not been attempted before. However, in any case, I think there would be considerable objection to a proceeding of that kind. I come now to what appears to me to be the enormous difficulty of the situation, to those Members, at any rate, who wish to see a satisfactory settlement arrived at. Our difficulty is this—there is no alternative proposal. The Bankruptcy Clauses, to use an expression which has become classical, "hold the field." If you omit your Bankruptcy Clauses and do not expand Clause 21, your Bill will not afford any adequate relief to the Irish tenants. If some substitute is not suggested, your time will have been altogether wasted, and Parliament will have made another abortive effort. I say, moreover, that it is absolutely impossible for a private Member to suggest an alternative proposal. What is it that makes it almost an act of folly on the part of private Members to suggest any alternative proposal? That impossibility arises from the constant attitude of the Irish Members on these questions—an attitude which I will venture, I hope without exciting their indignation, to describe. The Irish Members have a way of coming down to the House and stating Irish grievances with great force and colour; those grievances lose nothing at their hands, except, perhaps, some of that close communication with fact which the statement of a grievance ought to maintain. Their case is generally stated with immense force and colour, but with great exaggeration, and English Members on both sides of the House are generally ready to admit that there is a great deal of truth in the grievances laid before the House. But what happens? English Members are foolish enough, unwise enough, inexperienced enough to admit the grievance, and they submit a remedy; the admittance of the grievance is seized upon, but the remedy is denounced as ridiculous and absurd, with all the Parliamentary force of the Irish Party.
816 The admission of the grievance is not only seized upon and made much of, but it is used, against you, sometimes with most terrible and fatal consequences. I would illustrate that assertion by what occurred when the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) declared that no settlement of the Irish Land Question could be of the smallest value unless a general admission were made that all prices had fallen, and that no Bill could have the smallest effect on the land difficulty that does not reduce the judicial rents 40 or 50 per cent.
§ MR. DILLON
I made no such statement; I said nothing that could bear such an interpretation. I only said that the hon. Member for West Birmingham had understated the extent of the Irish grievances.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I apologize to the House for having misrepresented the hon. Member. I am delighted that he should correct me in the manner which he did. I only intended to use what I thought was a fair and correct illustration, to show the uselessness of making alternative proposals for the remedy of Irish grievances. I would suggest, acting upon what I said before, that I think it their duty to make definite suggestions upon the point. I say this—suppose the Irish Members were, on their own authority and responsibility, to suggest such an expansion of Clause 21—[Cries of "Clause 22"]—well, the Equitable Jurisdiction Clause—as would give to the Judge not only the power of dealing with rents, but of composing rents, and replacing on an equitable footing rents fixed before; well, no one could prophesy what would take place. I would not be so foolish or presumptuous as to prophesy what would be the fate of such a proposal; but of this I am sure—that it would not only commend itself to the very careful consideration of the House, but would, if election were permitted between it and the proposals of the Government, outweigh and outbalance and displace the Bankruptcy Clauses. What would be the effect of that? Why, the Bill would be lightened by one-half; the Bankruptcy Clauses, which must inevitably excite not only doubt and distrust, but protracted opposition, would disappear from the Bill, and the Committee upon the measure would be immeasurably relieved. But we have no such pro- 817 position before us, and the fact is that the clause, which must excite doubt and distrust, is without alternative. I will now indulge in another proposition. I suppose a suggestion that, in view of the great and general grievances, recognized in the House on all sides, a certain fall in prices had rendered a certain number of rents unfair, instead of fair—I suppose that in view of that fact, and in order to alleviate the suffering of the Irish tenantry, and to reduce the mass of litigation which must arise, Irish Members should suggest that power should be given to a Land Court to review generally certain rents all over Ireland, on a large scale, according to the different counties, and to make an order that certain reductions should take place, counterbalancing the fall of prices which is admitted to have occurred, and giving as a safeguard to the landlords the power of showing cause before the County Court Judge or Court of Appeal why the reduction should not operate upon a particular holding. Such a course, I think, would not be impracticable, although, of course, great objection could be raised against it. But I take this course and compare it with the Bankruptcy Clauses, and I have no hesitation in saying that it would be far superior to the proceedings under the clauses which I have named. But we have no alternative put before us by hon. Members from Ireland, or from any other quarter, which will allow us to deal with it; and I say that, viewing the necessity for legislation, the imperative necessity which is imposed upon the Government to give relief to the Irish tenants, if no alternative proposal, backed up by sufficient authority, is made, I shall be forced, greatly as I dislike the Bankruptcy Clauses, and insurmountable as are my objections to them, to vote for those clauses, rather than run the risk of giving no relief at all to the tenants. That I find to be the position, and I think it is really worthy of the consideration of the House, if the object be to establish some large, complete, and final settlement—some settlement which, at any rate, shall be final as far as the fixing of rent is concerned. I have only one more point to bring before the House. I hold very strongly indeed that the time has arrived and is propitious for taking into consideration the position of the 818 Irish landlords as affected by the former Land Laws, and by the proposed laws of the present day. I do think there is a general and widespread opinion on both sides of the House that it would not be inequitable or unreasonable or impolitic for the House to consider the position of the Irish landlords as affected by the legal reductions of rent—their position, I mean, in connection with settlements and mortgages. I wish to press most urgently upon the Government the adoption of some such course as that. Of course, it could not be carried through in the face of hostile and bitter opposition; but the Government, I think, might well test the temper of the House upon the point. Could they not devise and put into the Bill some clause giving power to the Land Court to review, with a large, equitable jurisdiction, the charges and mortgages on an estate on which there have been judicial reductions of rent? Could they not give that Court the power to make certain reductions in the charges and mortgages, which should be in proportion with the reduction of rents forcibly effected by Parliament? I make that suggestion in the interest not only of the Irish landlords, but also of the Irish community at large. It is not to our interest, nor is it our business, to ruin and extirpate the Irish landlords; neither is it the business of hon. Members opposite to fleece, and ruin, and extirpate the landlords, who might, in certain circumstances, some day be a class doing incalculable benefit and good to Ireland. If, therefore, you are determined to pursue a course of legislation which will give substantial relief to the Irish tenant, you would be wrong and unwise and unjust if you left out of your calculations the demand for relief of the Irish landlord. Those are the observations which I wish to address to the House, and I wish to thank hon. Gentlemen for having allowed me to make them. I hope that I have not in any way added to the difficulty of the situation. My one object and desire has been to mitigate, at least, if I cannot entirely clear away, all difficulties, so far as I am able, because I believe that if the House of Commons can pass a Bill which shall deal effectually with the most pressing grievances of the Irish Land Question it will do more to secure tranquillity and order in Ireland than 819 could be done by any other Bill which the human mind can devise.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
We have listened to a most interesting and instructive and, I will venture to say, most satisfactory speech. If we were asked to give a second reading to the Bill drafted by the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) I think there would be no opposition. The noble Lord has invited the expression of the views of the Government upon the statement which he has made, and we await that expression with the greatest interest. If they are prepared to accept—I do not say in every detail, but in the main—the doctrines laid down for their guidance by the noble Lord, I am quite sure that there will be no disposition to oppose the second reading of the Bill. The noble Lord has performed, with all the skill of a first-rate surgeon, a capital operation upon the Bill of the Government. The operation was performed under chloroform, but there were not wanting signs towards the end that the effects of the anæthetic were wearing off. He has cut off every member of this measure; he has eviscerated it and re-stuffed it with a great deal of new and good material. He has told us that he expects to find a convert in the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), who is the only one of his former Colleagues who he thinks knows anything about Ireland. That is, after all, not unnatural, for the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury did once pay a visit to Ireland. As I listened to the noble Lord, the thought struck me that by some breach of confidence the Amendments that we intend moving had been communicated to him. It was a very satisfactory speech. But what a pity it is that that speech was not made last autumn.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
There were persons in the House then who did know something as to the state of Ireland if he did not. We have certainly progressed since last autumn. There was then a Bill brought in which contained almost all that the noble Lord has left of this Bill. What has he left of it? I think that if Clause 1 is en- 820 tirely altered so that the limitations to it are removed, and if Clause 22 is made entirely different to what it is, and if all the Bankruptcy Clauses are cut out, and if something proposed by the Irish Members be put in, then the noble Lord is prepared to recommend this Bill. The noble Lord has invited and almost implored the advice of the Irish Members. I am glad to hear that language from the noble Lord, and I will not say of him what I am obliged to say of the Government—that by every form of calumny and insult they have rejected and repudiated the advice of the Irish Members. It signifies not on what question it be—whether on the political or land government of Ireland—if the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) or any one of his Party make suggestions the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), or the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) jump up, and with their organ, The Times newspaper, give but one answer—"You are the companions of assassins." It is upon that assertion that you are trying to win public support, and that you are losing it. Last autumn the hon. Member for Cork introduced a Bill that would have admitted 100,000 leaseholders to the benefits of the Land Act. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: No.] The hon. Member for South Tyrone denounced that Bill.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The Bill distinctly provided for the admission of leaseholders, and if the hon. Member objected to some of the other details he could have endeavoured to amend the Bill in Committee as he now proposes to do with regard to this Bill. Why is it that he takes a different course now? He has warned the Government that unless they do justice to the leaseholders Ulster will be lost to the Union. I dare say it will; but I think the hon. Member probably saw a still greater danger—namely, that he himself would be brought to the Unionist Party. How did you treat that Bill which, with your majority, you could have amended as you like? The men who now sit on the Treasury Bench denounced the Bill, and 821 they set up the Home Secretary to state that it was not within the moral competence of an honest Parliament to meddle in any way with the settlement of 1881. The Government took up an attitude of non possumus and of complete refusal to modify in any way that sacred settlement. What part did the Liberal Unionists take? I heard with great satisfaction the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) the other night; but last autumn when the hon. Member for Cork's Bill was brought forward, he was basking among his flowers and in the smiles of his hon. Friend—I forgot the constituency he represents—I mean the hon. Member for the three acres and a cow. The right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) was also absent, but by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) the Bill was denounced. Yet now it had been stated by two right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench that this Bill goes further than the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
If the right hon. Gentleman refers to me, what I said was that this Bill was more comprehensive than the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I think it was the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes) who made the statement I refer to. However, all this is very encouraging. It shows progress. One of these days the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, or the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, or the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, will get up and say in introducing their Home Rule Bill that it goes further than the miserable Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). Let us therefore take comfort. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said that we must in considering this Bill have regard to the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland, and he said the landlords formed a weak and unpopular class. He added, in his usual courteous and generous spirit, that 822 I was naturally the sworn friend of the opponents of any unpopular class. If he referred to the Government he was not far wrong. That they are an unpopular class I am not in a position to deny, and my opposition to them is quite natural. But when he says that the Irish landlords are weak I am at issue with him. They have the Government and 30,000 bayonets at their backs. They have still a giant's power, and both the Acts of 1870 and 1881 proceeded upon the basis that Parliament could not trust the Irish landlords to do justice to their tenants; that certain restrictions ought to be imposed on them; and that if due restrictions were not imposed there would inevitably be illegitimate combination on the part of the tenants. We told you last year that your refusal to legislate on the basis of the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork was the immediate cause of the Plan of Campaign, of which you complain so much. Now, how have the landlords of Ireland used their powers? I have not wantonly introduced this matter into the consideration of the Bill; but it belongs to the subject as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary himself says. He has started with the extraordinary theory that admitting the behaviour of the Irish landlord has been different from that of the English it is because you have put him in a different position from that of the English landlord; but before 1870 he was in the exact position of the English landlord, and it was because he had abused that power so grossly that you were compelled to pass that Act. After 1870 he used every ingenuity to defeat that measure, and when he found he was unable to confiscate the improvements of the tenants in one way he proceeded to do so in another by raising their rents. In 1881 you fixed fair rents by law, because you could not trust the Irish landlord to fix a fair rent. You gave the tenant fixity of tenure to prevent the landlord from evicting him unjustly; and you established free sale, because if you had not done so by law, then the landlord would have proceeded to take advantage of the tenant in that respect. What is the meaning of this Bill? If you can trust the Irish landlord, why are you going to re-open leases? You are not going to do it in England. Thousands of Eng- 823 lish landlords have made fair allowances to their tenants. Why do you compel the Irish landlords to have a revision of rent? Why, because you cannot trust them. Why have you got an Equity Clause? Because you cannot trust the Irish landlord. You say, when you hear of shortcomings in this Bill—"Oh, it is true we do not provide for everything, but trust the Irish landlord; you only put exceptional cases, he is sure to show mercy and to do justice." Lord Salisbury made a remark in his speech, which I think shows that frank cynicism which is characteristic of him. He said—I greatly doubt whether the conduct of any large class is guided in the long run by anything but an appreciation of their own interests.That is quite true; and it is more true of the Irish landlords than of the members of any other class. Then Lord Salisbury proceeds to show that it is to their interest to get rid of the tenants as a burdensome obligation, and then, with the utmost inconsistency, he makes this appeal—I think we must look to the holders of property in Ireland from high and patriotic motives to exercise some restraint.What is the use of making that appeal? I have on this subject the authority of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who spoke on this argument of whether abatements had been or would be made by the landlords in Ireland? What did the hon. Member for South Tyrone say? He said—It was no answer to say that the case had been met by reductions given by landlords. In the South and West it was an answer where the landlords had given abatements, and where intimidation had done its work, and he thought that it was a scandal that this should be the case. Ulster was precisely the province where these reductions had not been made.That is to say, where the National League has had the power reductions have been made; but in Ulster—loyal Ulster—where there is no fear of bad passion, where everybody is good, and peaceful, and admirable—there the landlords make no abatement. That is the testimony of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. There is one very remarkable piece of evidence which I should like to read, although I do not wish to overweight the House with quotations. Here is the evidence of Mr. Waine, who was the agent for Lord Gosford's estate, given before the 824 Cowper Commission. I believe that Lord Gosford is not an exceptionally bad landlord, but a very fair specimen of a good Irish landlord. His agent was asked—Do you think that the arrears now due are caused by any inability on the part of the tenant to pay?" Answer.—" I am afraid in many cases they are." "Have you given an abatement?" Answer.—"Not on the judicial rents since 1881.He admits, therefore, that in many cases the tenants were incompetent to pay, and yet no reduction was given. Mr. Waine went on to say—I consider it a very unwise thing for any landlord to do, because he is taken advantage of the very moment he does it. The fact of abatements having been given was mentioned in the Land Act, and I think if the landlord gives abatements now it will be said that he considered his present rent was too much, and that fact will be brought into argument when it comes to purchase.Yes; the landlords of Ireland are screwing and keeping up rents with a view to the purchase of their estates, to which they are looking forward. That is what this means; and yet this is not the case of an exceptional landlord. Mr. Waine was asked—And you do not think that the landlord should give any reduction upon the judicial rents?" Answer.—"I do not think so." Question.—"And so you think that the landlords in other parts of Ireland are acting foolishly?" Answer.—" If I was a landlord I would, not do it." Question.—" Are there no landlords in your locality who have given some reductions?" Answer.—" Not a penny." Question.—"It is not customary?" Answer.—"No.I cannot quote this evidence at length to the House, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said he had read this evidence and had come to the conclusion that abatements had been generally made. I come to the opposite conclusion, and I say that abatements have been rare. As the hon. Member for South Tyrone tells us, they have not been made except upon the compulsion of the National League. I may be allowed to read to the House some evidence from Clare, which has been held up to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary as being a particularly bad county. It is the evidence given by Mr. Stacpoole, a proprietor and agent to relatives and friends in all directions in the County of Clare. He is asked—Are the farmers on the estates with which you have to do receiving abatements?825Answer.—"Where their rents were not judicial I gave them 15 per cent." Question.—"But not on the judicial rents?" Answer.—"Not on the judicial rents." Question.—" As to those who are not paying, do you think they can pay? "Answer.—" In the majority of cases I think they could pay. There are some few cases in which it is not so." Question.—" In these cases do you intend to give abatements?'' Answer.—"I do not intend to give abataments on the judicial rents at all.That is the kind of language that runs through the whole of this Report. Now, you are going to disarm the tenants by your Coercion Bill; you take from them their only protection which has enabled them to get abatements; what are you going to give them in its place? The landlords plead their poverty very much as the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet; but I should have more sympathy with that plea if the poverty had originated in money being borrowed on mortgage for the improvement of their estates; but in these Irish mortgages how much money has been spent upon the improvements of estates and on the welfare of the people? The landlords borrowed money for the improvement of their estates, but that money has been advanced by the tenants, whom they evict because that money has been spent. The Government talk about a great purchase scheme as a remedy for the condition of Ireland. I doubt whether any great purchase scheme ever can or will be carried in this country. For party and political purposes you fouled and poisoned that ground at the last Election. You never can have a purchase scheme which puts one single farthing upon the English Exchequer after the language you have used and the manner in which you have acted. If you are going to make a scheme of purchase out of the resources of Ireland, then, I tell you this, that if you are going to buy the land in Ireland at anything like a fair market price, the bankruptcy will not be that of bankrupt tenants, as you now propose in your Bill, but of bankrupt landlords, because, if these landlords sold at a fair price, they would not have enough to pay the charges on it, and when that comes to be felt you can only carry a Purchase Bill on those terms. Well, now, the speeches of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington just now, are only illustrations, enlargements, confirmations of the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the 826 Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). The objections made to this Bill may, indeed, be said to have been identical from every quarter of the House. There has not been a defence of the Bill from anybody. Where is there a person who has a word to say for the Bill as it stands? There is one point on which I will say a word. I agree with the noble Lord that the Appeal Clause is a very dangerous clause, and I hope it will be reconsidered. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland tried to fix me with some responsibility for it on account of what I had said of the treatment by the House of Lords of the Commissioners in 1882. I repeat again the censure which a great majority of this House pronounced on the conduct of the House of Lords in that matter. I say it had a most injurious effect upon the working of the Land Bill of 1881. We have had the misfortune in our land legislation that in no Bill that we had produced has the House of Lords failed to endeavour to introduce the seeds of failure, and part of that failure is due to the manner in which our Bills have been treated by the House of Lords. What did the House of Lords do? They appointed a committee of vigilance to look after the Commission. The argument upon which Lord Salisbury rested himself was this—namely, "We never understood rents were to be lowered; we never would have passed the Bill if we had thought so; and we will take as good care as we can that they shall not be." Lord Salisbury then attacked the Commissioners by name, and added—"The landlords of Ireland were plundered by the operations of a packed tribunal." But are you quite sure when you have constituted your court of appeal there may not be equally violent language used, that there may not be some who will say that the tenants are being "plundered by the operations of a packed tribunal?" What does your Friend the hon. Member for South Tyrone say with reference to these appointments of Irish officials? He says that "the recent appointments in connection with the Land Court have filled the tenants with fear and dread;" and he asks whether these appointments would be left to the "underlings of Dublin Castle, who would wreck the best Government that ever lived?" Well, there—on the Opposition Benches 827 —is the best Government that ever lived; they are being wrecked by the underlings of Dublin Castle. Yet the hon. Member for South Tyrone was the most constant and vehement supporter of that Coercion Bill which is to be administered by those very underlings. Those underlings are the tools of Orange landlords—all those landlords who mobbed and denounced Earl Spencer when he was in Ireland because he would not do their will—even the Chief Secretary and the Government are, where they are, very much as the agents of the Orange landlords of Ireland. Well, now, it is quite unnecessary, after the speech of the noble Lord, for me to go into details upon the clauses of the Bill, further than to express my entire concurrence in almost every sentence he expressed. It is said we want to throw out this Bill. We do not want to do anything of the kind. We have not got the power to do so even if we had the will, and we have not got the will if we had the power. First of all, technically speaking, the character of the Amendment would not throw out the Bill, but it might throw out the Government, which is a more important thing. What we want to do, in concert with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone, is to turn the Bill inside out, to make it a totally different Bill, to turn out all the bad in it, and to put into it all the good which it does not contain. For that purpose it is obvious that the Bill must be kept alive. We want to make it a just Bill, instead of an unjust Bill; a real Bill, instead of a sham Bill. Then it is asked, why do you move an Amendment? Well, everybody who has any knowledge of the House of Commons knows that you cannot have a debate in which attention, will be concentrated on the leading features of a Bill unless you have Amendments; and the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and, above all, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington are a justification, in my opinion, of our having moved the Amendment. What we propose is, as regards the 1st clause, that all the limitations should be struck out, and that the operation of the clause should be in the 828 option of the leaseholder. That makes that clause satisfactory, and, so far, so good. I doubt whether the noble Lord has left anything else alive. There are the Bankruptcy Clauses; but after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs those clauses have been dead for some days. They died from the ridicule heaped upon them by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] I assume the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary is a respectful mourner over these clauses. Now, if my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham were here I should have made an apology to him. He imputed to me that I had charged him with the authorship of the clauses; but to my infinite surprise the noble Lord has fixed him again with the responsibility, and I cannot reconcile the two accounts. The truth is what has happened reminds one of the plays of Sheridan, wherein he says the gipsies disfigure the children whom they have stolen in order to make them pass for their own; and so I have no doubt the gipsies of the Treasury Bench stole the Bankruptcy Clauses of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and then they disfigured them in order that they might pass them for their own. The noble Lord has alluded to the Equity Clause; but his testimony as to its merits rested rather, I think, on a misapprehension of its character.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I quite agree as to the enlargement. The noble Lord said it gives power to the Court to give a composition. But it gives no such power without the consent of the landlord. The equity supposes, first of all, a man who is in bad circumstances, and who cannot pay his rent—we will assume that this is one of the judicial rents which is too high—a man cannot make immediate payment, he goes into Court. What is the equity? That he shall pay the rent that is unfair in instalments. That is surely only like renewing an evil; you spread it over a time, but you do not redress the injustice. It is a farce to call that relief. The Court has no power to reduce the rent, or in any degree remove the arrears. It is obvious that will not prevent evictions at all, 829 If a man makes default in the instalments the eviction takes place at once; and, therefore, this so-called Equity Clause has precious little equity in it as it stands.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
, rising, read as follows from the Bill:—The Court may put a stay upon the execution of the judgment of the Court for such time as the Court thinks reasonable, and the Court may, if it thinks fit, order that the arrears of rent and the costs, or such sum in satisfaction thereof as may be agreed upon between the parties, shall be paid by such instalments as the Court may appoint.I would add that it is in the power of the Court to spread the instalments over a quarter of a century.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I do not see what benefit it is to a man to have instalments of an unfair rent spread over a quarter of a century when that unfair rent is running de die in diem. We condemn it, and we propose that the Court shall have the power of fixing composition on the basis of a fair rent, and to fix a fair rent in the future. Then you will have an equitable clause. There was nothing of the kind now, and the clause will do nothing whatever to stop unjust evictions. I agree with the noble Lord in what he said about Clause 4. It is a most mischievous clause. Clause 4 is only meant to hide the scandal of not giving any redress, not to redress the evil. It is not to cure the sin; it is to avoid the shame. The consequence of it will be that notices will descend on the tenants of Ireland like flakes in a snowstorm. You will then turn all these men into caretakers at once; and then you think you have avoided English public opinion by the process. But you will not; you have to evict the caretaker in the end; it will come ultimately to eviction; you will only postpone the evil for six months; and, in the meantime, you will have encouraged people to make these evictions, relying on the facility of the process and also on the Coercion Bill; and the consequence will be, therefore, that so far from diminishing evictions, the Bill will greatly increase them. There was a portion of the noble Lord's speech which was a little less clear than the rest, and that was the part where he spoke of the Equity Clause applying to the insolvent tenant. But what has been demanded by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, the right hon. Member for West 830 Birmingham, and the right hon. Member for Stirling District, is that you shall do something for the solvent tenant. That is what the Cowper Commission asked you to do. It was not to send the insolvent tenant into equity or bankruptcy. They wanted the man who was struggling to be honest, and who could pay, but who was greatly impoverished by excessive rent, to have some remedy, and an opportunity of getting a fair rent. It is necessary, therefore, that you should deal with these cases. Lord Dunraven stated that this Bill did nothing for the cases commented on by the Cowper Commission. The bankruptcy proposals of the Bill are so futile and ridiculous that they are not worth talking about. Are you going to stay eviction against the solvent tenant? Under your Bill you must be ruined before you help him. Injustice to this man will be greatly aggravated by what you are going to do to the leaseholders. One of the great defects of the Act of 1881, I admit, is the omission of the leaseholders. Why were they omitted? In face of your violent opposition the Bill could not carry any more weight, and the leaseholders were omitted. You are now going to give the leaseholders the benefit of the judicial rent on the fall of prices; but you leave the judicial renters, whose rent was fixed, say, a year or two ago, in a worse position than the leaseholders. On the information which has been given to me, the leaseholders will get a reduction on the present prices of something like 40 per cent. The judicial renters have had a reduction of something like 20 per cent, and if this is so, then they will be twice as badly off as the leaseholders. It is impossible that you can leave 200,000 men in Ireland with their rents fixed on the old prices, when, at the same time, you have 100,000 whose rents are fixed on the new prices. What we propose is this. Until you learn that you have to take the advice of the Irish Members you will never get on in Irish questions. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes; an hon. Member groans at the notion; but it is that groaning at the notion of taking the opinion of Irish Members on the Irish Land Question that has been the cause of a great deal of mischief. If you had tried to settle this Land Question according to the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork, probably a better job 831 would have been made of it than this Bill will now make, because that Bill came from persons who thoroughly understand what they want. The suggestion I have to make on behalf of my Friends is this—that you should put the leaseholders and the men whose judicial rents were fixed before the fall of prices on the same footing in respect of revision; that you should introduce a sub-section in the 1st clause, and that you should give to the leaseholders, without exception, at their option, a right to go to have their rent revised under the Act of 1881; and you should also give to the men who had their judicial rents fixed before the fall of prices the right to go in a similar manner and have their rents fixed on the present prices. That is the suggestion I have to make for the consideration of the House, and especially of the Irish Members. If you adopt it you will do what you must do in the end—put the leaseholders and the judicial renters on the same footing. If that is done, then we shall have got a satisfactory Bill. We shall have a Bill which in Clause 1 will do equal justice to the leaseholders and to the judicial renters in respect of their rents fixed before 1885, or some other date, and you will have an equitable clause with reference to the insolvent tenants who cannot pay, which will give to the Court a power of staying evictions on a fair composition, which will be based on a fair rent. If there is any disposition on the part of the Government to meet us in these matters we shall withdraw the Amendment at once. We have no desire whatever to throw obstacles in the way of the progress of this Bill.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
A Member of the Government makes the remark. He is of opinion that this debate has been injurious to the progress of this Bill. I do not think he will get many hon. Gentlemen sitting on his own side of the House to agree with him. I believe that in the few days' debate on the Bill a great deal has been done in the progress of the Bill. It was only possible at this stage to take a view of the Bill as a whole. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, in spite of the observation of the hon. Member, will agree that 832 any time has been wasted improperly on this Bill. If time has been wasted who has it been wasted by? I suppose by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who have taken up a large part of the time of this debate. If there is to be, as I hope there is, a concurrence in those points, surely the Government will give us some intimation to that effect. I have been a little surprised that the Government intended to postpone for so long the Committee stage of this Bill. We are quite ready with our Amendments, and the Irish Members are no doubt ready with theirs. What is this delay for? The Government cannot make up their minds what they are going to do. Under the pressure which is coming upon them from behind and before they cannot announce how they are willing to transform their Bill. For my part, I should be glad to go on with the Committee on the Bill after the speech of the noble Lord on Monday. The Government thought 24 hours long enough to put down Amendments on the Coercion Bill; and now this Bill, condemned as it is from every quarter of the House, cannot be proceeded with because the Government are at their wits' end to know what to do with it. Let the Government pluck up their courage. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the views of the Government on the subject, and will say that he agrees generally with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham—Sentiments in which we cordially concur. That is the support which the noble Lord invited for the Government. We offer that support. To their Bill as at present framed we must offer opposition. We consider it a worthless Bill. With the exception of an imperfect clause dealing with the leaseholders, there is nothing good in it. A great deal needs to be put into it, and a great deal to be cut out of it, and if you give us a skeleton Bill we will try to put some decent clothes on it. It has been said that the Bill of the Government has been stripped so bare that it is not decent. There is nothing of it left. Let us make something of it. That is the best we can do under the circumstances. And as there seems to be a general concurrence 833 of views as to the case of leaseholders, as to the remedy for the solvent tenants, as to making the Equity Clauses for the insolvent tenants better and more effective than they are, why should not the thing be done? But all this depends on one very serious consideration. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) asked the question whether the right hon. Member for West Birmingham meant business? Does the right hon. Member for West Birmingham mean business; does the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale mean business; and does the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington mean business? If those Gentlemen mean business, we mean business, and the Irish Members below the Gangway mean business. I hope the Government will make a virtue of necessity, and throw overboard the inside of the Bill. You can leave in the last sheet—"A Bill for the Amendment of the Land Laws of Ireland "—strike out all the remaining pages, and then, by putting in a couple of pages with some sensible clauses, we may make a very good Bill of it. I think that is a very reasonable proposal, made in the spirit of peace, and if we have a general cooperation all round we shall get the Bill through in a reasonable time. I hope we shall begin it on Monday, and if the Government are amenable to the advice they have received from every quarter of the House there is no reason why it should not be finished next week. Do not tell us after that we are obstructive. We offer a programme which is not obstructive at all, but a programme which is worthy of the House of Commons, which would lead to a spirit of union among Parties that is much to be desired, and which would be of advantage to the tenants of Ireland.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I would urge that if we are to consider the question of the revision of judicial rents, we should also introduce a clause to fix the tenant right at the same time. If Parliament is not very careful, after having bought out the landlords, we shall have to buy out those further landlords created by the giving of those large tenant rights. Statistics show, and I will admit, that the condition of a great part of Ireland is most deplorable, and that many of the tenants, as a class, are very much worse off than they were before, and have not the means of paying their 834 rents. But the reason for the passing of the Land Act of 1881 was that the tenants could not pay their rents; and that Act not only reduced rents from 18 to 20 percent, but it also introduced into the law the system of tenant right and the power of free sale for the tenant. The Act enabled the tenant to sell his holding at any price he could get, and also to borrow money on the security of his holding. Some of the tenants, after having their rents judicially lowered, have sold their tenant right in some cases for 10, 20, and even more years' purchase; and the incoming tenant has thus practically to pay a proportionately-increased rent, which is higher than the old rent before it was judicially reduced. The practical result of further reducing judicial rents, as is suggested by the Amendment before the House, will be to benefit the existing tenants; but the ultimate result, in a very few years, will be that in re-selling their holding the tenant right will increase, and more than the amount of the reduction in the judicial rent will be added to the tenant right. The lower the rent the greater the tenant right, and the greater, therefore, the temptation to the existing tenant to sell. Between 1881 and 1886 the loss to the Irish tenantry from fall of prices and other causes amounted to £15,000,000 on crops, and £9,000,000 on stock; and is it to be supposed that that heavy loss can be made up by reductions of rent to the amount of £2,500,000? If they had their land rent free, would the position of those poor people be substantially improved? I much fear that no legislation can place them in a comfortable position, and that reduction of rent is a thing altogether beside the question. Mr. Tuke's evidence before the Commission is conclusive that the people cannot live upon their land, rent or no rent. The living is not in it, and other sources of living and employment must be resorted to. To talk about reduction of rent in such circumstances only encourages delusive expectations; and, on that ground alone, I think the Amendment is to be condemned. Before we can get Ireland into a fair course of improvement we must get rid of the idea that by the reduction of rent living on the land may become possible. If a landlord charges too high a rent, there is a law by which it can be altered; but something more 835 is necessary to ensure prosperity to the country and contentment to the people. No reduction of the rents in the poor and miserable districts will remove the difficulty. What are the facts of the case? The total agricultural rental of Ireland is £13,000,000, and a further reduction of 20 per cent on the judicial rents will reduce this total by about £2,500,000. If every person in Ireland got an equal share, the reduction would amount to about 2½d. per week per person. I believe strongly in the power of the penny; but it will be absurd to say that that sum will convert the tenants into contented and comfortable citizens. And, moreover, it will be the well-to-do tenants who will get the bulk of the money. The fact is the poor districts are over-populated; for, although the population of Ireland has decreased very largely in the last 30 or 40 years, the decrease has not extended all over Ireland. In some of the poorer districts the population has increased fully 10 per cent. I deny, further, that a reduction of the rent will affect evictions. Agriculture may be improved, technical instruction in agriculture may be afforded, and much good may be done thereby; ten times more good than will be effected by the mere reduction of rents. I trust that even hon. Members below the Gangway opposite will see that something more must be done than reducing rents and keeping the people on the soil if the Irish problem is to be settled, and Ireland made a prosperous and contented nation.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said, no one could have turned his attention to the question of Ireland and Irish land without being immediately struck with the great difficulties of dealing with so complex a question. He gave to Her Majesty's Government every credit for bringing in this Bill as an attempt to deal with it, encompassed as they were on every hand with difficulties of one sort or another; but what disappointed him was to find from the various Members of the Government who had addressed the House that the tendency was to look to this as a temporary measure only, dealing only with the fringe of a large and important subject, with the hope in the future for something better; something, perhaps, more radical, something, at all events, more satisfactory. The word "tempo- 836 rary" was so used that they were obliged to come to the conclusion that, while Coercion Bills were to be perpetual, relief to the Irish tenant could only be dealt with by temporary expedients. It was a conclusion he did not like to draw. It was the duty of a Government dealing with the question to look well at the state of the country, to see what evils were to be redressed, and then bring in a measure as large and comprehensive as they could devise to redress these evils. The temporary character of the Bill was upheld by the leading journal of the day, which described this as "stop-gap" legislation, and as such he could only look at it; but he hoped to show that there was no need at the present moment for stop-gap legislation. The House was in a position to deal with it thoroughly, or, at all events, to a far larger extent than the Government had endeavoured to deal with it. The Bill certainly had been pretty well criticized by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), who had anticipated many of the criticisms he (Sir Joseph Pease) had intended to offer. First, he must congratulate the Legal Advisers of Her Majesty's Government for incorporating in this Bill more Acts of Parliament than he had ever within his experience of Parliamentary proceedings seen incorporated in any one Bill. The 13th and 14th Vict., the 20th and 21st, the 23rd and 24th, the 33rd and 34th, the 35th and 36th, and he might go on till he arrived at a total of some 13 or more other Acts of the Reign of Her present Majesty embodied wholly or in part in this Bill. He wished to discuss this question, keeping ever before him what he had always considered the great feeling as to this and other Irish questions—the preservation of the Union of the United Kingdom. There was, in his opinion, no real Union at the present moment; it was but a parchment Union; and the House had the duty to devise measures to make the Irish people one in feeling with the people of this country. All those who travelled the streets of this City during the recent Jubilee celebrations could not have failed to mark the unmistakable loyalty of all classes; but crossing the narrow channel no such feeling to such an extent was found existent, and there lay the duty before Parliament, that of creating by just legislation a feeling of loyalty to the 837 Crown and Government, equal to that in England, Scotland, and Wales. It was no use Liberal Members being told they were taking part with those who had done those things they ought not to have done. If there had been evil associates of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway at one period of their history all the more reason existed for redressing the grievances that had given rise to such association. Did not the history of all time show how justice ignored and grievances unredressed had torn countries to pieces? Go through Ireland, and the traces of the evils found there were met with at once—great poverty, great complaints of high rent, the unequal incidence of taxation in many instances, with other evils not alluded to by the hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) who had just sat down. On the small holdings of the West of Ireland the absence of the work that the people formerly found in England and Scotland, together with that which every Englishman could not fail to be struck with, a total want of sympathy between landlord and tenant. Non-resident landlords had been and were one of the great evils of the country. That non-residence arose from causes he would not now dwell upon; but accustomed as Englishmen were to go about among their tenants, or the tenants of their friends, they found that all that harmony, sympathy, and mutual support that existed in other parts of the Kingdom were absent in Ireland. Too long had landlords been nonresident, spending the rents they drew from Ireland elsewhere than in Ireland. During his travels he found thousands of people living on nothing but potatoes, cabbages, and Indian meal. Sometimes these poor people got white bread, and sometimes a little tea. One wondered how they lived. They lived as no Englishman would live, as no working class toiler in this country would live. Still they toiled early and late. He maintained that the landlords of the district had been living in a great measure on remittances sent by the servant girls of New York, and on the poor people who had emigrated to that country, and who sent money across to Ireland to pay the rents of those miserable holdings. There was proof sufficient that even the rents fixed by the Land Court were much too high. Those rents were fixed utterly irrespective of what some hon. Members 838 thought at the time of the passing of the Land Act ought to be the case, that there ought to be a sliding scale for rent according to the price of produce; but, of course, it was very difficult to draw a clause providing for such a scale. The value of the stock of cattle had been greatly reduced in Ireland, and the land had yielded small crops, worth but little in value; but still the people were asked to pay the rents fixed in 1881 and 1882. That was the great difficulty of the Irish Question, because if the rents were left alone tenants would 10 years hence be paying the same price as they did when the stock and crops of Ireland were worth £20,000,000 sterling more than they are at the present time. It could not be questioned that the rents were much too high at the present time; indeed, Lord Cowper's Commission distinctly recommended that the Irish rents should be revised every fifth year. The recommendation, however, had been scattered to the wind just as their other important recommendations had been disregarded. High rents were the cause of all the agitation in Ireland. General Buller considered it was the pressure of high rent which produced agitation. Lord Milltown said that all the agitation for rent was forced on the people by the conduct of the landlords. That had been his belief for years. He had lately inquired into the facts connected with the Bodyke estate, where the evictions had recently been taking place, and he found a large number of cases in which the old rent was twice as much as the Poor Law valuation. The people over a course of years had been bled to death. If the Land Question were settled he believed we might give Ireland Home Rule with perfect safety. Indeed, if the Land Question were settled, he was assured the existing great demand for Home Rule would be limited to those really Irish questions which ought to be in the hands of every free people. The Bill of the Government declined to carry out the principal recommendation of the Cowper Commission, the five years' revision; it declined to deal with solvent tenants, and would only deal with tenants when they were bankrupt. But they did not want bankrupt tenants on the farms, they wanted to place them there in such a position that they would be solvent. He quite 839 believed that before they had done with the question they would get to the solution of an annual revision. There was another great evil in Ireland—that was the charges and mortgages on the estates. He believed that so soon as the State stepped in and said that it would fix the rent and break the contracts, it was bound not only to deal with the income of the estate, but with the outgoings also. There was nothing in the Bill dealing with the charges on an estate. They would never get the landlords to reside in Ireland until they had some margin of income over the charges on the estate. The Cowper Commission said that those charges should be settled by a competent tribunal. Mr. Townsend Trench very strongly held that view. There was under the present system a great greed of land, and a great greed of rent, and it was painful to hear on what slender excuses the rents were raised. The people of Ireland were of the opinion that they were not fairly and generously used; they felt that every possible occasion was taken of raising their rent when the rent was not already settled by the Land Court. Those were matters which bred discontent, and with which the Bill did not deal. Then there was the question of the congested districts. He believed that emigration or migration was most essential for the people in the South and West of Ireland; but there was nothing in the Bill to provide for that. The country would be better when some of these congested districts were freed from their congested population by a good scheme of emigration, or by migration only. Then they came to the evictions. People were now being evicted at the rate of 20,000 a-year, and the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale had described them as sources of danger, scandal, and disgrace. It seemed to him also that the eviction of a caretaker at the end of six months would be more troublesome than that of a tenant, and the eviction must come, and he could not see how the Bill would stop evictions in anyway—it only postponed them for six months. Evictions could only be stopped by putting the rent down to a figure which the man could afford to pay, which the Bill did not provide for. The Bill dealt with leaseholders, but that only in an emasculated way. Clause 21, which provided that landlords and tenants who were 840 getting on well together should pay the rates of those who were not, was monstrous. There seemed to be nothing in favour of the tenant unless he was bankrupt, or in favour of the landlord except the posting of the notice of eviction instead of actnal eviction at the moment. The Government seemed to say they would give the Irish people coercion perpetually, and would reduce none of the burdens which were so heavily oppressing them.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)
said, a great number of speakers on the opposite side had fallen into the error of looking at this Bill as the Government plan for settling the Irish Land Question. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Barnard Castle Division of Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) spoke as if he thought that landlords in Ireland still had the power of raising their rents whenever they pleased. He also misconceived the nature of this Bill. It was merely a temporary measure, intended to tide over a short period; but the real policy upon which the Government would be judged by posterity was the policy of land purchase—a measure to carry out which the Government had emphatically promised to introduce as soon as the state of Public Business permitted. He had been glad to hear the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) say that there was practically unanimity as to the principle of the Bill, though, as he listened to the noble Lord's criticisms, it was occasionally difficult to bear in mind that the noble Lord himself was in favour of the principle of the Bill. The principle of such a Bill as this ought to be not to disturb, under any circumstances, the settlement of the Act of 1881. He thought the words of Mr. McCarthy, one of the Commissioners under the Act of 1885, deserved to be inscribed in letters of gold over the door of that House—"I highly object to perpetual chopping and changing in legislation with regard to land." Did that Bill come up to that definition? With one great exception of the question of leaseholders he thought that it did. It appeared to him that the principle of admitting leaseholders to the benefits of the Act was radically bad; but there were many things which now made it advisable. Undoubtedly it remedied a 841 logical defect in the Act of 1881, and they were not now called upon to inquire into the correctness of the principle of the Act of 1881. It appeared, also, that both classes interested in the land were in favour of this change. It had been said that the Bill gave nothing to the tenant class in Ireland. In his opinion it gave them a great deal; and he thought that the tenants of Ireland ought to be very grateful that such a measure was to be passed. Mr. MacElroy, who represented the farmers of Ulster, had given evidence before the Commission to the effect that the leaseholders of Ireland had entered into their leases freely and at rents regarded at the time as fair, although they had become unfair owing to the fall in prices. Was it to be admitted as a principle that when a man found that his bargain was not a good one he was to come to Parliament to be relieved from the consequences of his own act? Under the circumstances, however, he did not see any reason for being more in favour of the landlords' interest than the landlords themselves; and, therefore, he was not prepared to vote for the rejection of the Bill because the leaseholders were admitted to the benefit of the Act of 1881. Still, he thought it ought never to be quoted as a precedent for the future. For the rest, the Bill was emphatically a small measure, and was only intended to help those who could not pay through no act of their own; but he thought, under no circumstances, ought they to lower the judicial rents. With regard to the Bankruptcy Clauses, the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) seemed to think that they were drawn up entirely in the interests of the landlords, because the landlords had tried to put the Bankruptcy Law in force in order to counteract the Plan of Campaign; they had been foiled in their efforts, and, therefore, now came to Parliament to secure an extension of the Bankruptcy Law. He would point out, however, that most of those who had acted under the Plan of Campaign could not come under the Bankruptcy Clauses of the Bill except by perjury. It appeared to him that the principle was a very good one, and one which had been recognized again and again in legislation, and at this stage it was the principle of the Bill which they were to consider. Relief was given to those who were unable to pay through 842 no fault of their own; and, secondly, the principle was laid down that occasionally it was for the interest of both debtor and creditor that the strict letter of the creditor's rights should not be enforced. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington had asked what advantage the Bankruptcy Clauses would be to the tenant. In the first place, if the tenant conformed to the requisitions of the Court he would have relief from the whole burden of his debt, and all that was necessary for him to work with would be left in his hands. The noble Lord had spoken of 200,000 or 300,000 tenants being in the hands of the Court; but the Bill was only to deal with exceptional cases. It must be remembered that it was impossible by any enactment to provide for the revision of the rents of a few solvent tenants in Ireland whose rents were too high without opening the door to the revision of all the judicial rents in the country. In his opinion the rents fixed before 1885, although calculated on higher prices than now prevailed, were still fair rents, and ought to be maintained. In fixing the judicial rents the valuers looked forward to a possible fall in prices. No doubt the Cowper Commission had recommended the reduction of the statutory term from 15 years to five; but Mr. Justice O'Hagan, the head of the Land Commission, in his evidence before them, said he would be sorry to alter the time at present. But there was a consideration more important than Judge O'Hagan's evidence. The Members of the Unionist Party sitting on both sides of the House had pledged themselves not to interfere with the judicial rents, and he did not think that Her Majesty's Government would ask them to be false to their pledges. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews), the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington had all declared against tampering with the judicial rents. He quite agreed with the remark of the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) that if the Government tried to conciliate every section of the House the Bill would be reduced to its outside sheet; but, at the same time, the only result of such an attempt would be to increase opposition to the measure on one side of 843 the House in proportion to the decrease of opposition to it on the other. He trusted that all sides of the House would combine to reject the Amendment and to read the Bill a second time.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he hoped the Government, in considering Amendments which had been suggested to them, would not adopt the views and tone of the noble Viscount (Viscount Cranborne) who had just spoken. Hon. Members were in a state of perplexity as to what should be done with the Amendment before the House. The right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) asked the House to discourage a measure which contained great advantages in favour of an Amendment which did not, and could not, deal with arrears; and without dealing with arrears they could not stop evictions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) had expressed a positive pleasure in the idea that Amendments should be made which would enable the Amendment of the right hon. Member to be withdrawn. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) had taunted the Unionist Party with inconsistency in not having done in August last what they were doing now. The right hon. Gentleman was certainly a good judge of consistency. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) did not know which would be the most curious piece of reading—the right hon. Gentleman on consistency, or consistency upon the right hon. Gentleman. Now, what those had to consider who were thinking how they would cast their vote on the Motion for the second reading was, what would be the result of the vote? They knew very well that there were great benefits in the Bill as it stood. [Cries of ''No, no!"] That was so plain that he declined to argue the point. The Division List would be a curious study, because the House had heard a great deal as to the enormity and brutality of evictions in Ireland, and the Amendment afforded a quick and real test of the anxiety of right hon. Gentlemen who supported it to stop those unjust evictions. The country would scarcely understand the language indulged in about evictions if hon. Members cast a vote the effect of which would be to destroy a remedy for those abuses. Now, one could not criticize this measure except in direct con- 844 nection with others which the Government had promised. The Government, having recognized the two principles of admitting the leaseholders and of preventing unjust evictions, would not, he trusted, hold back on a question of degree, for there had been no Amendment asked for which would violate any principle which they had adopted. He was aware of the enormous difficulties of a revision of the rents fixed under the Act of 1881, and it was marvellous how hon. Members on the Front Opposition Bench could speak so lightly of such a revision. But the suggestion made by Lord Spencer and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) that the landlords should make abatements for a year or two would, he thought, got over the difficulty. They had only to compel the bad landlords to do what it was understood the good landlords were doing. What was to be gained by carrying the Amendment? Of course, he was aware it might bring the former Government back into Office; but would not that postpone to an indefinite time the rendering to the poor people of the immediate help which they needed? He was aware it was commonly supposed that it was the duty of a Government which came in to proceed with the question on which it was returned; but he did not believe that the late Government, if it came back, would proceed to deal with this question—and he would justify his statement. Eighteen months ago the situation was similar to the present. The actors were the same. The right hon. Gentleman now in Opposition (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) came into power on an Amendment affecting the agricultural labourers—an Amendment far more defined than that now before the House; but as soon as they came into power they threw the agricultural labourers absolutely aside, and the question had not been dealt with to this day. He was not going to forsake experience for faith, and he would advise the Representatives of the Irish tenantry not to vote for the Amendment in the belief that they would get immediate help if the Amendment were carried. If the Bill passed, even as it stood, the scenes at Bodyke and Glenbeigh would not be possible, and he asked hon. Members if they were going to vote for an Amendment which would kill a measure 845 that offered a remedy? By the admission of leaseholders to the benefit of the Act, the Government had the courage to do what had been persistently refused by right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side of the House; and assuredly if those who sat on that side stuck to the old Radical doctrine of measures, not men, they would accept a measure which, good in itself, had been always refused by a Liberal Ministry when in power.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said, he did not intend to criticize the several proposals in the Bill, but to suggest a practical Amendment, which it appeared to him would remedy its greatest defect and secure the ends they had at heart by mitigating the hardships of the still solvent and striving tenant without doing injustice to the landlord. The plan he had to suggest would not only do that, but it would prepare the way for the Land Purchase Bill promised by the Government, for surely a Land Purchase Bill was impossible until you had first discovered some means of determining what were fair rents on which to base it. To be practical, any such suggestion must show a method of determining fair rents, resting upon a rule so simple, definite, and obvious that neither landlords nor tenants would find it difficult to understand or carry out. Neither would they find it to their interest to take cases into Court, otherwise the amount of litigation involved would frustrate the object of the Act. The principle of the proposal had actually been embodied in an Act of Parliament dealing with the leases of a large and important Irish Corporation. It has also been carried out to a very considerable extent in regulating payments in Scotland. Lord Salisbury said that he objected to constantly re-opening the question of judicial rents; but his objection would not apply to a self-adjusting system of settling rents more fairly between landlord and tenant. The plan he was about to suggest was not perfect. No such system could be perfect; but it would approach far nearer to justice than the present law or the proposals of the Government, and it would be valuable even more by indicating to landlords and tenants the basis of a fair settlement between them than by their applying to the Courts for its enforcement. Indeed, a just law was far more 846 effective in that way than by actual process of law. They had a precedent for what he suggested in Scotland, where, he believed, the system of regulating payments by the value of agricultural produce had worked extremely well; and they had also precedents in the permanent leases of Trinity College, Dublin. By 14 & 15 Vict. c. 128 (1851), the leases of the College were to be revised, if required by either party, every 10 years, and the revision was to be made in accordance with fluctuations in the prices of certain kinds of agricultural produce in varying proportions. In fixing these rents oats naturally had the largest proportionate influence—very nearly one-half of the whole; beef and butter came next; and mutton and wheat were of less importance. The latter, in several markets in Ireland, had ceased to appear as a native product at all. The system had not been strictly carried out by the College, because it was found that the expense of ascertaining and settling by arbitration the prices of the various articles in not less than 10 different towns in Ireland was so great, when divided among the leases of a single property, that it led to a compromise; and the leases had been nettled from time to time in accordance with the fluctuation of prices by general agreement, but without going through all the formalities required or adhering strictly to the terms of the Statute. But these difficulties would not apply to a large measure extending over the whole of Ireland, where you had got already in the Land Court and in the local Courts the means of dealing with the question, and where the expense of collecting information would, when applied to all the leases of Ireland, be very small. On calculating what would be the effect of working out such a provision, it seemed to him to confirm very much what had been found just by the Land Court in Ireland. For instance, in the first two years after 1882, when the new system commenced, there were very slight fluctuations in the value of produce; and, consequently, it did not seem to have been until after the considerable fall in 1884 that the Land Court in 1885 began making materially larger reductions of rent. In other words, the Land Courts had found it necessary, in their recent decisions, to regulate reductions of rent by fluctuations in the prices of 847 agricultural produce, and what he proposed was to make these fluctuations of rent practically automatic. Anyone who wished to understand how the principle might be worked out had only to refer to an existing Act of Parliament, 14 & 15 Vict. c. 128, in the clauses and schedules of which he would find the system explained. A still more simple system might be adopted under which the Courts would experience no real difficulty in calculating the percentage of reductions which were to be applied in accordance with it to each county, and landlord or tenant could make his own calculations as easily as he could estimate the discount which he was to give or receive on ordinary business transactions, such as the payment of his tailor's bill. On this plan, of course, it would be possible for the rents to fluctuate annually with the varying prices of agricultural produce, as when once the system was established the calculations would be easily made, and he did not believe there would be many appeals; but it was probable that a system, say, of triennial adjustment, would be preferred. Of course, it would be said against this plan that it did not take into account all the dangers to which farming was exposed; that you might have a year of high prices, and yet in Ireland of produce so small that the farmer might still be unable to pay his rent. From this or other causes there would always be exceptional cases, with which no law could be expected to deal with absolute justice. Therefore, this must be, as it were, a provisional settlement from which, in exceptional cases, there must be an appeal. He did not believe those appeals would be numerous, as they would be expensive; and it might be assumed that, on the indication of what the law would give, the landlord and tenant would settle matters out of Court, particularly if, in cases of appeal, the Courts gave the grounds on which the settlement was arrived at, which would be a guide for voluntary and unofficial settlements out of Court. He had not troubled the House without first taking advice as to the practicability of drafting clauses to carry out such a settlement, and he was advised that such a system could be made very elastic. The Land Court might be directed to ascertain annually the price of various articles of agricul- 848 tural produce, on the fluctuation in the prices of which they were to depend, and to decide periodically what in different districts—say in counties—should be the articles, and also the proportion in which they should influence the rents. The Court to which appeal was given in individual cases could lay down the principles on which it decided its cases, and on which, in deciding future cases, it would be guided in calculating the fluctuations of prices; while agricultural districts in Ireland, which were very full, and might be made, if necessary, still more exact, would be guides to the Land Courts in making their decisions. You had the machinery at hand; it would only need to be strengthened, and the House would see that if this plan would not deal with all the uncertainties which affected the power of the tenant to pay rent, it would deal with the largest and most important hindrance, and remove the great element of disturbance which had brought on our present difficulty. Of course, the Government would say that they were not prepared to accept a principle until they saw the clauses which were intended to practically carry it out. But he thought he could assure them that either by himself, or some more influential Member of the House, such clauses would be placed on the Paper.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I think it is unfair to find fault with the Bill of the Government because of its temporary character. All classes in Ireland, however they have been divided hitherto on the Land Question, and whatever opinions they may now hold as to the present remedies which can best be applied to existing grievances and complications, are agreed on the one point—that the only permanent settlement will be one that abolishes dual ownership in land. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) has pointed out sufficient reasons for excusing Her Majesty's Government from bringing on, at this period of the Session, a measure of such an important character. The present measure is designed to meet difficulties that have recently arisen, difficulties that the Government and the Opposition will admit could not have been foreseen at the time of the passing of the Act of 1881, and even at a much later period. The hon. Member for North Meath (Mr. Mahony), 849 who has had considerable experience of agricultural operations, and with the working of the Land Act, declared his readiness to oppose the measure, because it falsified and was hostile to the principles of the Act of 1881. It is to be presumed the hon. Member was making use of an oratorical expression as a basis for his emphatic opposition to the Bill, for he did not attempt in his lengthy speech to point out—and, indeed, he could not point out—how any principles of the Act of 1881 were invaded—fair rent, free sale, and fixity of tenure. In no single point is the Bill hostile to these principles. In point of fact, the direct reverse is the case. In one particular the Bill does invade the Act of 1881. It encroaches on the immutable and permanent character supposed to exist in the old Act—a permanent character which its authors adhered to and refused to alter for any appeals, and it amplifies the benefits that Act conferred on the tenants. The Bill, on the one side, is attacked as being hostile to the interests of the Irish tenants; and subjected to criticism on the other side because the landlords do not accept it; but I hope Her Majesty's Government will decline to recognize denunciations coining from either extreme. It is their duty to satisfy themselves as to the nature of the evils existing and the best remedy, and apply the remedy as speedily as possible. Hon. Members have assumed the impossibility of anything favourable to Irish tenants coming from the House of Lords; but Irish landlords may well ask had the House of Lords an existence, for they have failed to discover on any one of these provisions any one favourable to the landlords. I am bound to say that throughout the measure is true to the principle for which it was brought in—the relief of the tenants. Only one clause may be said to be favourable to the landlords, that relating to rates, which exempts landlords from paying rates on a farm which is unoccupied, because of the action of certain combinations declared to be illegal. Hon. Members who adopt the Cowper Commission cannot find fault with that clause, for if there was one thing emphatically and unambiguously expressed, it was the fact that there were extensive combinations to prevent the payment of rents, and for other purposes. The Leaseholder's Clause has drawn a good 850 deal of attention, and I rejoice that this large and important body of tenant farmers will shortly be relieved from the difficulties under which they are placed by the Act of 1881; but I will point out in face of the attempt to minimize its benefits that it will have a serious effect upon a portion of the Irish landowners. A suggestion has been made that Parliament should give relief to those landlords who will be injured by this portion of the Bill, and I should be glad to see the restriction upon the Leaseholder's Clause swept away, provided the House will consent to give some reasonable compensation to such interests as landlords are able to prove are substantially injured, and which they would have a right to place before a proper tribunal. Clause 6, dealing with town parks, has been denounced as a sham and delusion, but I cannot share that opinion. I am perfectly convinced it will confer great benefits on owners of town parks. It has always been a strong subject for complaint, especially in the North, since the passing of the Act of 1881, that restrictions, contradictory and unwise, had been placed on that property. I am glad that the measure will leave those charged with the administration of the Act no doubt as to whom they should admit to the benefit of the Act. The object of the Bill is to prevent harsh and capricious evictions—to relieve tenants from evictions which are the consequence of circumstances over which they have no control. The difficulty, however, to face is how to decide the meaning of harsh evictions, as in and out of the House various interpretations are given. The House has hardly any data to go upon. The evidence before them in the Cowper Commission is, to a great extent, contradictory, and even the extent of the fall in prices is disputed. The hon. Member for North Meath devoted a long argument to proving that the statistics of the Registrar General relating to the amount and value of agricultural produce are entirely untrustworthy, yet on these statistics the Cowper Commission has based one or two of its most important recommendations. It is perfectly evident that the House cannot apply a remedy to every evil. All that it can do is to devise a remedy to meet the average case. That is all that can be expected from legislation, and I believe 851 that Clause 22, and the clauses following, are capable—though on this point I differ from the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell)—capable of providing a remedy that will meet efficiently the average circumstances. The clause which deals with the equity jurisdiction of the County Court Judge will not be sufficient to meet the case by itself, because it only relieves the tenant in an insolvent condition from arrears due to the landlord. It still leaves him embarrassed by the debts that hang round his neck to the money lender, and leaves him still sinking in his debts to other creditors. If the Bankruptcy Clauses are struck out, and the tenant is relieved in another way from the landlord's arrears, he will only be set up for a few months longer in a tottering condition, growing worse and worse. A way out of the difficulty of casting on the tenant the opprobrium of bankruptcy is by developing the Equity Clauses, and I should be delighted if some method could be discovered by which the stigma of bankruptcy could be avoided. I would suggest, not being quite sure if it can be carried out, that the County Court Judge should have within his cognizance and jurisdiction the liabilities owing to the money lenders and other creditors, at the same time that he deals with the tenant's obligations and arrears of rent. That will probably meet the position of affairs in Ireland at the present moment. It cannot be the desire of anyone that the tenant shall be in a worse position than he now occupies; but I wish to impress on the House, as I said before, that it is no use releasing the tenant from one class of creditors while he is left sinking in debt to other creditors; and if the Bankruptcy Clauses are cut out, without replacing them by something equally beneficial relieving the tenant from other creditors, little good would be done. But the measure is temporary, and I look forward to the measure to which I understand the Government is pledged with the assent of all sides, though hedged with difficulty, a measure directed to the abolition of dual ownership. The question is, in reality, so complicated not only by the social, but also by the political relations of Ireland at the present moment, that, for my own part, I think the Government is quite right in only dealing with it in a temporary manner in 852 the Bill before the House. I must say that, without dealing with the more controversial points of the Bill, I think that some of the clauses have sufficient merit to entitle the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House, so far, at all events, as to induce us to read it a second time, with a view to afford to the Irish tenant farmers that relief which they require in their present difficult and embarrassed position. There is only one other suggestion made in the course of the debate which I should like to allude to—that is as to the charges of various sorts which exist on many Irish estates. These charges are, no doubt, in many cases very heavy; nor can it be denied that they have, in many cases, placed many landlords in a position of great embarrassment and difficulty. If this House, or if Parliament, is now prepared to consider, with a view to legislation, the question of affording relief to the Irish landlords, either by diminishing the claims of the mortgagees, or reducing family charges, or by granting such assistance to the mortgagors as they have given to the tenants in Ireland—[Cries of "No, no!" from some of the Parnellite Members]—then there can, in my opinion, be no conceivable objection to the dealing with any property which landlords may now have in Ireland. Then there is another part on which I wished, in conclusion, to say a few words. The hon. Member for South Tyrone has turned his attention to, and has made some observations on, the political aspect of this measure. Now, I must say that I do not think that it would be right for the House to legislate on this matter with regard to any possible or probable effect which its legislation may or may not have now or hereafter upon the political situation in Ireland. I must say that I differ to a great extent from the opinions which the hon. Member for South Tyrone has expressed, as to the effect this Bill may have upon the tenant farmers of Ulster. It cannot, indeed, be denied that our farmers do entertain very strong feelings upon the Land Question, in which they are so deeply interested; but, at the same time, I do not think that they are prepared or disposed, as the hon. Member for South Tyrone seems to suppose, to repudiate their political feelings or opinions on account of any relief which may be granted to them, or withhold 853 from them, by the Imperial Parliament in regard to the tenure or the rent of their land. I firmly believe they will, at all events, receive the measure which is now engaging the attention of the House of Commons as an earnest and an honest attempt to benefit and to relieve those classes of the cultivators of the soil who are now, and have been so long, suffering from the severe agricultural depression.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
Those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who, in the course of this debate, have spoken of the great difficulties which surround this subject have only done justice to the position of the Government. A more complicated question, a question more surrounded on every side by almost insolvable difficulties, has seldom been presented to Parliament. We may be at issue, and we shall be at issue, more, perhaps, than my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) contemplates, during the course of this debate; but I think that all the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Benches opposite will freely admit that we have a task before us in endeavouring to settle, temporarily even, this land problem, which is equal to any difficulty which they themselves have had to deal with in previous times. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby may think, I do not believe that it is possible to reduce the opinion of this House upon this question, or even the opinions which he holds, and which are held by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, to a sufficient state of unanimity to sustain the confident belief entertained by him that it would be possible in two pages of space, and within a week of time, to solve one of the most intricate problems that could ever be submitted to Parliament. We do not disguise from ourselves the difficulties which are before us, and, in rising to give utterance to the views of the Government upon a good many of the points which have been submitted to us in the course of the debate. I wish to speak with the greatest frankness and with such clearness as I may be capable of. Let it be distinctly understood that we do not wish to buy a single vote on this stage of the proceedings by holding out any hopes which we may not be able 854 to fulfil, or by pretending or assuming any agreement of opinion which is not an absolute agreement, and which would not express the convictions which we hold. I fear that the words which may follow from me may disappoint some of the hon. Members and the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in this debate. But there are great questions of principle involved, and there are principles in this Bill which we intend to maintain by speech and vote throughout the whole of the proceedings on this measure. Now, as if the difficulties which arise out of the Bill itself were not enough, some further considerations have been submitted to us as to points with which we ought to deal. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) have both submitted that we should attempt to deal with an extremely grave question which lies outside the present proposal, though it is one which might fairly engage the attention of Parliament at a future day—I mean the question of family charges and of mortgages upon the estates of Irish landlords. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington certainly spoke with much eloquence and with much justice as to the position in which we stand at the present moment of the Session, and he deprecated the introduction of unnecessary topics and of any subjects which would require lengthened debate into the Bill, and. he advised us to drop as much controversial matter as we could manage to throw overboard. But, at the same time, he invited us to discuss as thorny and difficult a subject as could possibly be submitted to our attention. I do not propose to argue at any length this question of mortgages and family charges; but I am perfectly willing to admit that it is a question which de-serves the attention of Parliament and must be thoroughly examined, and perhaps it is one which Parliament may find itself ultimately willing to address itself to. But there are the most serious problems connected with it. In the first place, what ratio should we apply in dealing with family charges and mortgages; and what date will you assign to the commencement? And will you limit this new principle to Ireland, or are you prepared to set a precedent which is to 855 be applied universally in future; and are family charges and mortgages to be interfered with throughout the British Isles? Because clearly this is not a measure which can be logically or consistently applied to Ireland alone—it is a question that must be raised in connection with Great Britain generally. Ought it to be contended that in Ireland, where reductions of rent have been forced upon the landlords by the State, mortgages and family charges should be reduced, while elsewhere, where landlords have made voluntary remissions of rent, a similar relief should not be applied? Again, when the time comes, it will be necessary to submit to the attention of Parliament and the public to what extent the interference with mortgages and family charges would destroy the possibility of raising any money upon land and obtaining any credit for the purpose of agriculture, and to what extent it would injure permanently and deeply the prospect of the application of capital to land in future. These, it strikes me, are matters which would not require simply a week's consideration at the end of a long and protracted Session, but the attention of the best men in Parliament consecutively and closely for a considerable time. I do not wish to convey the impression that the Government reject the idea that family charges and mortgages may have to be dealt with. But we declare it utterly impossible to deal with the question in the present Session, without far more and closer inquiry than it would be possible for the Government or Parliament to devote to it now. That is one of the points which have been submitted to us, as having been omitted from the Bill, and as deserving to be introduced. I have shown that we do not consider it possible to deal with the question in the present Session. I will now approach the consideration of the various clauses in the Bill, taking them somewhat in the order in which they were dealt with by the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. It was most interesting to see on Tuesday how my right hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) had nothing whatever to say with regard to the Bill itself, except to echo the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. And, again, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 856 Derby to-night accused the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington of taking his Amendment, which might have been communicated to him by some indiscretion. The right hon. Member for Derby spoke in a very amusing manner with regard to the possible effect of the Bankruptcy Clauses originally in the mind of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham being adopted by the Government; and he now accuses the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington of having stolen his Amendments. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Our thunder.] Your thunder. I know that the thunder of my right hon. Friend is very loud; but I understood that his Amendments had been stolen, and that by some indiscretion Amendments which were to have been proposed by the right hon. Member for Derby had got into the hands of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Derby thought that the same fate would befall his Amendments in the hands of the noble Lord as has befallen those of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, or whether he was content with the position taken up by the noble Lord, because he hoped that during the rest of the debates the noble Lord and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would be found working together to eviscerate the Bill. That was evidently a process which had great attraction for the right hon. Member for Derby, and he revelled at the prospect of holding out his hand again to the noble Lord; but to what extent that prophecy will be fulfilled remains stilt to be seen. However that may be, the Government have their own views with regard to the Bill before the House, and views which they will endeavour to maintain and induce the House to accept. I think that I shall best give the key to the anxiety of the Government by, at this point of my observations, stating what we conceived to be the cardinal points in introducing our Bill. It has been stated before, and I desire to state it again, that it is a temporary measure, and that we do not wish by the introduction of any principles into this Bill, or by the admission of any clauses to damage that prospect of purchase, which we consider to be essential to the solution of this question. [Cheers.] I do not quite understand those cheers coming from 857 hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. I will re-assert the proposition. We wish to admit nothing to damage purchase, and in some of the propositions made from different quarters of the House there lurks the danger that if we accept them, plausible as they are, we may do something that may posssibly he destructive to purchase. The right hon. Member for Derby ridiculed the idea of our carrying out a purchase scheme at all. He thought the question was so beset with difficulty, and that the events which took place in connection with the scheme to which he himself was a party were so decisive, that we should not be able to carry out a purchase scheme under any circumstances. That is not the view of the Government. We think that to end dual ownership is the one great object to be aimed at in regard to Irish land. We are aiming at that, and we wish to resist all proposals in connection with this Bill which seem to us to be inconsistent with that cardinal principle. We shall not resist Amendments which do not touch that cardinal principle. There are many points as to which we are prepared to consult with the House in order to the best means of solving the difficulty; but where we come into conflict with that great principle, the House, I think, will not find us to be in a yielding mood. I will test the 1st clause by what I have just laid down. It has been suggested that we should give up the restriction which includes what are called the English-managed estates—namely, the restriction with regard to those cases where the landlord has spent large sums upon the estate. It is urged that we should extend the benefit we propose to grant from leases of 60 years to leases for a far longer term. It is urged upon us that we should omit the words as to tenants being bonâ fide in occupation of their holdings, and it is also urged upon us that we should extend our concessions to perpetuity leases. When we are asked to extend our concessions to perpetuity leases, we seem to come into conflict with the principle of purchase. [Laughter.] Hon. Members must not think that ridiculous. It is a fair argument, though they may not agree with it. Our point is this. A perpetuity lease is simply another form of purchase; and you might as well say, when a man has received a sum down for the land which he sold some 10 or 15 years ago, that he 858 ought to give up a portion of that sum because the transaction has turned out badly for the purchaser since, as say that you ought to make a reduction in the perpetuity rent which was agreed upon in lieu of a sum down. A perpetuity lease is simply, I repeat, a form of purchase; and that is a view which commended itself to my right hon. Friend on the Front Opposition Bench some time ago. I would be prepared to admit, however, that as leaseholders under the Land Act of 1881 were admitted to the benefit of the Act, if it could be shown that any undue pressure had been brought within a certain period to secure those leases, so if it could be shown to the satisfaction of the Court that these leases had been obtained by coercion or any undue means the Court should have the option to revise them. That is a suggestion which we should not be averse to entertain. But we hold that simply to say that perpetuity leases should be treated like all other leases is inconsistent with the principle of purchase; and you might as well argue, after you have passed a Purchase Bill, that the instalments ought to be varied according to prices, as to say that perpetuity rents ought to be altered with reference to prices. With regard to the question of the English-managed estates, by which term I describe the reservation which is made in the clause in favour of landlords who have expended a certain amount upon their properties, the object of that clause was this—to distinguish between cases where the landlord has done his duty to the land, and has spent a large sum of money on the holding, and where it is consequently considered that the leases should not be broken, and other cases. On that point the right hon. Member for West Birmingham made a suggestion which is worthy of consideration—namely, that the interest upon the capital which he has expended should be treated as a kind of preferential charge, and that the remainder of the rent should be treated in the ordinary way. This is a matter the Government would be prepared to examine in order to see whether they can meet the views of hon. Members. There is another phrase which limits the benefit of the Act to cases where a leaseholder is in beneficial occupation. It was suggested by the hon. Member for South Tyrone that these words had 859 been put in by an insidious lawyer with some intention to take away with one hand what had been given by the other. But a study of the 'Land Act of 1881 would have shown him that it was an historic phrase introduced by the Law Officers of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. This shows how ill-founded suspicions may arise with regard to the phraseology of these clauses, and how unfair it would be to visit upon the present Government precautions and reservations which were contained in the original Land Acts which place upon us tremendous difficulties in endeavouring to amend them and bring them to something like a practical form. There are legal decisions which have made these words necessary; and if better words can be found in order to meet the difficulties of these recent decisions, the Government will do their best to meet any such suggestion. I only protest, and I have a right to do so, against the supposition that the words have been put into the Bill by Her Majesty's present Advisers with any malevolent intention of limiting the advantages of this clause, which otherwise commends itself to the approbation of almost all parties in the House. I now come to an important clause on which great differences of opinion exist, by which we seek to substitute the service of a written notice for the cruel process of eviction, [Laughter.] Yes; I am going to grapple with this. Hon. Members have had their say on this clause; I hope they will allow me to have mine.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I wish to grapple with the position they have taken up. I do not know whether hon. Members who have not looked carefully into this matter know the peculiar state of the law as regards evictions. In almost every case there are two evictions, or there may be two evictions where one would suffice. In the first place, an eviction takes place in order to certify the fact, as it were, that the landlord has got the right to turn the tenant out. Then he is reinstated as caretaker, and if he makes no arrangement with his landlord during the following six months he may have to be again evicted at the end of that time, and so there may be two evictions from the one holding. It would strike most people that it would be well to get rid 860 of evictions as a preliminary process, and then, considering that a vast number of tenants settle during the six months, the total number of evictions would be much reduced. Let it be thouroughly understood that if you do away with these first evictions you will have done away with the great majority of evictions, and there will be left only a certain balance of evictions which occur at the end of the six months. Then read Clause 4 along with Clause 22, which stays evictions for arrears, and you will see the extent to which the Government go. They are confident that by the two clauses they will be able to diminish greatly the number of evictions. But to our surprise not only Irish Members opposite below the Gangway, but right hon. Members above the Gangway, and even the noble Lord on our own side, prefer that evictions should continue.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I would not misrepresent the noble Lord, and I am glad that that was not the tendency of his argument. But hon. Members below the Gangway maintain distinctly that it is an object to keep up the number of evictions, because they have an influence on English public opinion. [Cries of "No, no!"] It was said that the incidents and the publicity of these evictions acted on public opinion, and we were accused of attempting to do away with these evictions in order, as someone said, to hustle tenants out by notice without attracting public attention. That is to say, needless evictions are to go on in order to keep English opinion up to the mark. This enables one to understand how it was that in a great number of eviction cases aged and sick persons were not removed from houses that were fortified to resist the attacks of the police. One would have thought that such persons would have been removed from motives of common humanity to the houses of neighbours while gallant defenders were pouring boiling water on sheriffs and the police. I now understand that the object in keeping the aged and the sick in the houses of the tenants who were to be evicted was to excite public opinion by making the evictions appear to be carried out in a barbarous manner. Therefore, hon. Members do not wish to put a stop to the evictions; they do not 861 wish to see notices given quietly. In order to prejudice public opinion against landlords by the horrors of evictions they wish to keep up what we consider to be a barbarous and unnecessary process. I shall be interested to see to what extent hon. Gentlemen will continue to support this process of eviction, which is unnecessary when a written notice will suffice. Do they see no public advantage in doing away with the scandal of these evictions, and in doing away with the cost of the police and the presence of the military? Do they not object to see the law brought into disrepute? How is the law brought into disrepute? It is by the spectacle of people shaking hands with the girls who pour boiling water on the bailiffs and police. It is by the exhibition of sympathy with the law-breakers against the agents of the law. Can hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to continue these scenes? If not, is it not desirable to substitute some other process for them? There is nothing ridiculous in that. [Dr. TANNER: Indeed, there is.] I can tell hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that they will not promote the efficiency of these debates by ridiculing a serious subject. This is a serious subject. I wish to ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they are law-abiding, whether they do not see that the law is brought into disrepute by these processes; and, if so, why it is that they wish to continue these evictions? The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington has repudiated any sympathy with the view that these evictions ought to be continued; but he is disposed to go against the clause.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I never said anything about it. I said there were grave doubts as to the wisdom of the clause.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
And he put a very pointed question to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
He asked what would have taken place if the clause had been in force before, and I gather that he thinks it would have been a misfortune if this clause had been in existence; in other words, that it would have been a misfortune if a written notice had before now been substituted for the present process. Well, it appears to me a dangerous thing to continue these evictions—dangerous 862 to the good government of Ireland—and I trust that hon. Members will assist us in doing away with them. The noble Lord spoke of several of the clauses as if they had escaped my attention as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as if I had not been sufficiently vigilant in the interest of the public purse; but to the noble Lord, as a most economical Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would put this question. What is the cost of these evictions? What is the cost of sending police and military, and of having a series of sieges and military operations, in order to do that which a written notice will equally do? Looking to the protection of the public purse I think I am justified in adopting the sensible, economical process of sending a written notice as proposed. That will be a far more satisfactory and a great deal more peaceful, and it will achieve the same thing.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
We, therefore, are not prepared to accept the suggestion from various quarters of the House to drop this clause from the Bill. We consider that it will promote law and order and economy and the good government of Ireland. We do not wish to see the hillsides of Ireland devoted to eviction scenes simply for the purpose of calling the attention of Great Britain and Ireland to their existence, [Cheers.] Those cheers show how entirely right I am. If we put a stop to the evictions we put a stop to half the stock-in-trade of the agitators. I leave that clause and now proceed to the Bankruptcy Clauses. In the first place, I wish to refer to the view taken by the opponents of these clauses. It is the view that every creditor is to be satisfied, and the landlord alone is to bear the reverse. Much merriment has been made of the Bankruptcy Clauses, but I do not think that any hon. Gentleman has tackled the principle. If a tenant is insolvent not only through a high rent, but from other causes beyond his control, is the landlord to bear the whole loss? It may be that this principle is accepted by hon. Members opposite because they say—as it was said by the hon. Member for East Mayo—that the landlord's debt is a dishonest debt, fixed though it was by a Judicial Court under the Act passed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It is a dishonest debt, although fixed by the law of the land.
863 I make no comment on that view further than to state the proposition. Now, as the clause is drawn by the Government, if the tenant is insolvent his creditors generally must contribute to his release; that is the release to which hon. Members opposite object. They desire that the whole loss should fall upon the landlord so long as there is any rent to pay. He is the man from whom everything is to be deducted. That is their position with regard to the fi. fa. The landlord is to be prevented from entering, but other creditors are to be allowed to seize the tenant's goods. On this matter of fieri facias, the Government are perfectly prepared to meet the views of hon. Members if there is to be the same justice and equal treatment for all creditors. That is to say, the Government are absolutely determined and anxious to stop evictions, and for the sake of stopping evictions they have proposed Clause 22. But in case Clause 22 is insufficient, and there is a door open through some other legal process by which the landlord can bring about a similar result, we wish to close that door. But we do not think the remedy should be taken from the landlord, and at the same time all the other creditors should be at liberty to seize the goods and sell the goodwill. We shall appeal to the House, and we trust with success, to see that while all assistance is given to the tenant the principle shall be upheld that, if sacrifices are to be made, other creditors shall be called upon to contribute to them and to suspend processes by which otherwise the tenant might be ruined by his other creditors. For, remember, the tenant may be ruined by the gombeen man as well as by the landlord. It would be doubtful policy to leave all his remedies to the gombeen man, such as the power of selling the tenant right and the stock—to leave these untouched, and, at the same time, to lock the door on the landlord. But to return to the Bankruptcy Clauses. We are prepared to investigate these clauses with the help of the Committee. These clauses we frankly and honestly believe to be to the advantage of the tenant. They are introduced with the object of assisting the tenant. But the landlords do not like them—naturally they do not like them; and if the tenants refuse them, then I admit there will be very little encouragement to the Government to leave these clauses in the Bill. But the noble 864 Lord the Member for South Paddington spoke as though we were going to found a system of purchase on insolvency; and it was one of the host points in his able speech. It was a very clever thing to say that we were founding national credit upon national insolvency. But the truth is—andit was pointed out the other day by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham—it is not the fact of going into the Bankruptcy Court that makes the tenant insolvent, but the fact that he is insolvent which obliges him to go there. I am not arguing this point, because I am willing to admit that a certain number of solvent tenants might go into the Bankruptcy Court on the ground of insolvency. But it might be argued with much greater force that the purchase scheme is to be successful it would be no use to introduce it with a number of insolvent tenants with debts round their necks, and it would be a natural preliminary to such a scheme that if they are insolvent, if their debts are such that they would never have a chance to relieve themselves, they should be given a fresh start by going first into the Bankruptcy Court. But said the noble Lord—it was a strong objection—"It would injure the moral fibre of the tenants in Ireland to be asked to go into the Bankruptcy Court." At all events, I do not think their morals would be injured to the same extent as by the Plan of Campaign. I call attention to this view of morality. Break all contracts with your landlord, ask for a revision of rents fixed by the State; the moment it is inconvenient to pay, tear up all agreements affecting your tenancy. That is no matter. But it is an injury to your moral fibre if you do not pay the gombeen man. I admit that all these measures are injurious to the morality of all classes. We have been injuring the morality of the tenants in Ireland ever since we embarked in the course which has landed us in our present difficulties and put us in this position, that, turn where we may, we seem to be confronted by these difficulties. It is too late in the day to say that these clauses would injure the moral fibre of the tenants of Ireland. I have stated the view of the Government with regard to these clauses. I must apologize to the House for having taken so long; but I have to touch on one point still, which is, perhaps, the most impor- 865 tant of any with which we have to deal, and that is the counter-plan which is suggested to us as compared with our Equity and Bankruptcy Clauses—namely, the revision of rents. We are asked to revise rents. No hon. Gentleman, no right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench has given us any indication whatever how far they would carry that process. We are charged, in the first instance, with having rejected the recommendations of the Cowper Commission. From what some hon. Members say who have not read the Report, it might be thought that the Commission recommended a general revision of rents. It is nothing of the kind. The Commission does not suggest an immediate revision. But the extraordinary remedy it suggests is this—that instead of having a fixed rent for 15 years you are to have a revision every five years. I think the expression is that a time should be fixed so short that there could be no likelihood of serious error. Then they go on to recommend five years. If five years had been taken in 1884, the next revision would have taken place in 1889, and therefore, during this period of a fall in prices we should not have been a single inch farther than we are at the present time. A serious error has resulted during the quinquennial period. Therefore we cannot accept the recommendation made by the Cowper Commission. I do not think that sufficient attention has been drawn to that point, for when we examine the Report of the Commissioners we see that their recommendations would not deal with the present difficulty if we had attempted to adopt that recommendation. There are only two proposals possible. Are you with every serious fall in prices to revise the rents throughout Ireland? We cannot disguise from ourselves that that is the question with which we have to deal. If now we were to accept the view of a revision of rents in Ireland who can tell that in two years there might not be a further great change in prices and that we should not have again to revise the rents? It is clear that you could not, except with a gigantic machinery, revise the rents again so as to bring them into accord with prices. I do not speak merely of the enormous expenses; but before you had completed the process the new decisions would again be wrong, 866 for in two years you might have another fall or another rise in prices. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby wishes to have a uniform scale. He says—If you admit the leaseholders you must put the others on the same footing, and on the same scale of prices as the leaseholders.But long before you arrive at that there will again be a change. You cannot continually revise, and the question is, does the House intend to commit itself to a revision of rents or to a scheme of purchase? And here I come to one of the main arguments which has influenced the Government in deciding against a revision of rents. Such a revision must be a revision on the scale of prices, and if you once establish that you will have done away with one of the greatest inducements to purchase. If you tell the tenant that his rent is to be varied according to prices, you will have established a totally different principle, which goes to the whole root of purchase. The principle of purchase is that there should be not a fluctuating price, but one which is to be fixed once for all. We attach great importance to the question of regular purchase and of instalments, and we believe that a fatal blow would be struck at that system if you were to approve the system which is now recommended to us. I think that must be acknowledged by hon. Members. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) is in favour of purchase, but he thinks it is very difficult for the tenants to wait until we shall be able to carry a Purchase Bill. I trust that the majority of the House, at all events, will believe us when we say that we are absolutely sincere in our determination to carry a Purchase Bill at the earliest possible opportunity, if we have the power to do so. We should hold, however, that a great blow had been struck, and that we should almost feel ourselves relieved from our responsibility to carry a Purchase Bill if the House of Commons were to decide that they would substitute for that system a system of rents varying according to profits. That would continue that dual ownership against which I thought every section of the House had decided to vote. We cannot, therefore, accept the suggestions which have been made with regard to a general revision of rents. We will do our best 867 to improve our Bill in the direction of the Equity and the Bankruptcy Clauses. but the Amendments proposed must be consistent with the general principle, and we are averse to a revision of rents, which we believe would destroy the general policy on which we are embarked, namely—to solve ultimately this great Irish Land Question on the broad basis of purchase as a final settlement.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) upon the determination which he has announced to-night of the Government to which he belongs, that they intend to stand by the system of purchase and the abolition of dual ownership of the land in Ireland, and to resist any Amendments to this Bill that would seem to impede the adoption of a system of purchase as the ultimate settlement of the Irish Land Question. I cordially agree with him in that; but I think the right hon. Gentleman is rather looking to the price at which this purchase shall take place, and to the swelling of that price and the maintenance of that price at a fictitious height and value, rather than to the impediments which the Amendments we seek to introduce into this Bill would throw in the way of dual ownership. By all means do not set up any artificial barrier against a large scheme of land purchase; but when the right hon. Gentleman devotes his great ability and financial experience to this attempt to bolster up the inflated rents on Irish estates under the present system, he is doing all he can to prevent any system of purchase from being adopted, or, if adopted, to doom it to a near and speedy failure. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he desires to abolish eviction; and so do we. But the way in which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to abolish eviction is by calling it by another name. Under the system of the right hon. Gentleman, proposed in Clause 4, evictions will take place just as they take place now; but none of them will be recorded in your Blue Books. Undoubtedly it presented itself to the candid mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in looking over the long record of evictions in the Returns presented to the House, that it would be a most desirable thing to 868 abolish this record. Evictions of caretakers are not called evictions in Ireland. They are not carried out by the Sheriff, and they are not given in any Return to Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman will not get rid of a single eviction; evictions will take place just as hitherto. The only thing he will do will be to get rid of the record presented to Parliament. What happens now is that the tenant, after the actual eviction, has a six months' period of redemption. Within that period he can redeem his holding and save his title from being broken, by the payment of rent and costs, either in full or in part, if the landlord agrees to take less than the full sum. But under the system which the right hon. Gentleman lauds when he tells us that a written notice will suffice, the title of the tenant will practically be broken, without chance of redemption, by the written notice, and by eviction which will follow it all the same. It will be possible for the landlord to break the title which the Land Act of 1881 conferred upon the Irish tenant by the use of this written notice with which the right hon. Gentleman is so much in love, followed, of course, by the summary process of dispossession on a magistrate's order. It is not because we think that this system of written notice will get rid of the scenes that have shocked public opinion in this country that we object to the 4th clause, but it is because we know that this system will not get rid of evictions, and will not do away with the scenes either. The scones will take place all the same; the dispossession will have to come all the same. Evictions under another form will come all the same, and you will find that these evictions will come home to your consciences and the consciences of our constituents just as they do now. The right hon. Gentleman will find that he has been baffled in the amiable purpose which has governed the minds of the authors of Clause 4. This is a very good example of the way in which a Minister of the Crown thinks that he is entitled to mislead the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman actually attempts to prove in this House that by substituting a written notice and postponing the process of eviction for six months he will get rid of evictions altogether. Now I come to the question of the leaseholders. I fear that, after 869 the declaration just made from the Ministerial Bench, the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) will find that his confidence in Her Majesty's Government has been somewhat misplaced. The hon. Member sought to deprive me of any credit which may attach to the Leaseholder's Clause in the Relief Bill I introduced last year, by interrupting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) with the announcement that the clause would not have admitted the leaseholders of Ireland, and that, therefore, he refused his support to the Bill.
§ MR. PARNELL
The hon. Member did not say that. That may have been, and undoubtedly was, his meaning, but he did not say it. However, I accept his correction, and I say that the clause in my Bill, which he refused to support because it would not have admitted the whole body of leaseholders, would have done far more than the clause of the Government, the Bill containing which he now supports. The clause in the Relief Bill was the same as the clause of the Government, minus some of the important restrictions in the latter, and consequently it was a better clause than the clause of the Government; and I ask the hon. Member for South Tyrone how he can consistently defend himself for refusing to support a Bill containing a better Leaseholder's Clause than that in this measure?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
If that clause had stood by itself in the Bill of last year, I should certainly have supported it; but the Bill contained a fatal clause which I was not prepared to support. Inasmuch as I was not prepared to support Clause 1, and as I thought Clause 2 defective, I voted against the hon. Member's Bill, and I should do so again.
§ MR. PARNELL
Then I am afraid I must class the hon. Member in the category of unrepentant sinners. The hon. Member having sold himself to his Party in connection with the Crimes Bill, and having agreed to vote with that Party, and to be bound by the decision of the majority of that Party—
§ MR. PARNELL
The hon. Member now finds himself in the position of being dragged at the tail of the Party because they refuse to support him—at least, we understand the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Party does—and we believe that the Leader will carry the majority with him notwithstanding the puny efforts of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The hon. Gentleman finds himself left in the lurch. I appreciate at their true value the exertions of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain). I look upon that Gentleman as a unit and nothing more in what is called the Liberal Unionist Party. I look upon him as possessing as little influence in the Party and in the country as any other Member of the Party, and certainly as possessing a great deal less influence than some Members of the Party. I hope that the hon. Member for South Tyrone when he revisits his constituents will provide himself with some better excuse for his conduct and perfidy than any which he has given to the House. Now I come to the question of the revision of the judicial leases, which appears to be the question that will excite the greatest difference of opinion when the Bill reaches Committee. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has used the most extraordinary argument. He has told us that any attempt to interfere with judicial rents will discourage purchase. Why will it discourage purchase? It will not discourage purchase, as the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe, because it will unsettle the prospect of variable rents. It will settle the mind of the tenant, because the tenant who is desirous of converting his variable rent into a fixed and terminable rent will have the inducement of being able to diminish the rent at which he starts. It may, however, interfere, in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, with the prospect of purchase, because he thinks that, he has thus got the tenant in a cleft stick, and that he and the Irish landlords are in the position of being able to say to the unfortunate rack-rented tenants—" Purchase, or else go out!" And that is the keynote of all the proceedings of the Government in reference to this question. They wish to keep up the prices in order to force the tenant to purchase. I believe this is a very mis- 871 taken policy, from their own point of view, for I am convinced the tenants will not purchase on the basis of the present prices, for if they did the result would be disastrous both to them and to the English taxpayer. I do not believe the common sense of the English people would permit such a job as that which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Colleagues in the Government are seeking to perpetuate in this attempt to bolster up the judicial rents as the basis of purchase, and to send the tenant forward upon his new career with a small stone round his neck.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I did not say that the judicial rents would be the basis of purchase; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary said that the purchase would not be based on any rent at all.
§ MR. PARNELL
Well, Sir, I am rather at a loss to know whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to join the "No-rent" standard, and to abolish rents altogether before he brings forward his Purchase Bill. In that event, undoubtedly, there would be some people—I will not say in Ireland, but over in New York—who would cordially agree with him—Mr. Patrick Ford, for instance; but I do not see on what lines the proposed system is to be based, except upon rents, unless it is upon no rents at all. Surely, if you are going to buy property, you estimate it by its yearly value—by what it produces yearly; and how is the right hon. Gentleman going to estimate the yearly value of Irish farms unless he first ascertains what the fair rents of those farms are going to be? It strikes me as being the only common-sense way in which this operation can be gone about—namely, to ascertain a fair rent, and then proceed to fix the number of years' purchase. If it is otherwise, you and the other persons concerned will have no standard of value whatever upon which to go. You will be in a perpetual state of uncertainty; first of all, as to how many years' purchase should be given, and, secondly, as to the principle of fair rents on which the number of years' purchase should be estimated. But I have another criticism of a more valid character to offer against the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of 872 the Exchequer. He proposes that these rents should remain as they are, lest their reduction should interfere with the ultimate solution of the question by purchase. That means that the tenant is to be left without any protection except that afforded by 18 months' interregnum constituted by the Bankruptcy Clauses—which, by-the-bye, have now been given up by the Government—it means that the tenants are to be left without any protection except that afforded by the illusory 22nd clause, until this system of purchase, which is to be based upon some other plan of estimated value than what the rent may be, is brought into effect. The right hon. Gentleman is a financial authority of great experience; but has he ever calculated the number of years it will take to investigate the titles and carry out a scheme of purchase upon any proportion of the land of Ireland? I have heard such an estimate made by good authorities that the period required has been put at from 10 to 15 years. I do not see how you can possibly hope to complete the scheme of purchase in the minds of the Government, to abolish the system of dual ownership in Ireland, in a lesser period than eight or ten years. During those years are the Irish tenants to be left at the mercy of these rack rents, for that is what is proposed by the Government? The Government say—"We will not interfere with the Act of 1881, but we will abolish dual ownership with the view of protecting the tenants from unjust and unfair payment." I maintain that long before the system of dual ownership could be abolished by means of your system of purchase it will have abolished itself by the extermination of all the tenants of Ireland. The best authorities in the country have agreed that it is impossible for the tenants to pay the present rents. Why, then, in the name of common sense, cannot the so-called Unionist Party set to work to solve this problem, and give protection to the tenants from unjust rents? We have been blamed for being desirous of keeping this Land Quest ion open. Some people say we want to keep it open in order to increase the strength of the National movement, in order that the sores of Ireland may be exhibited, like those of Lazarus, for the compassion of the world. Others say that we want to close the question in order to get rid of the 873 landlords, and so abolish British rule in Ireland. In my judgment, both sot of critics are wrong. I certainly do not wish to keep this Land Question alive for the purpose of attracting attention to the grievances of Ireland. I believe that, whether you settle the Land Question radically, as proposed by us, or whether you leave it open, it will make no appreciable difference to the strength of the National movement. If, however, you leave it unsettled, you will have a continuation of those scenes which occurred lately, you will have the disaffection of the people excited as it is against your rule, and you will have the indignation of the nations of the world against your rule. You will also have to answer to your consciences. [Laughter.] Perhaps they are not sufficiently tender for them to trouble you; but, at all events, you will have your constituents finding fault with your proceedings in the government of Ireland, as they have done at some recent elections, and you will continue to exhibit yourselves and your Government as permanent monuments, or monuments more or less permanent, of stupidity and ineptitude. I could not have believed it possible that the Government would be so foolish and stupid, and so regardless of their election pledges and every principle upon which they took their stand when they were making their appeal to the country at the last Election, as to deal with the Irish Land Question as they have dealt with it since they came into Office. Your whole platform was that you were strong enough and willing enough to do justice to Ireland. How have you dealt with this question? In the first place, you introduced the Bill into the House of Lords, kept it there for weeks while you were chopping and changing it; and now, when it has come down to this House, instead of announcing that you will meet the wishes of the country and bow to the inevitable, you shift and shuffle and bring forward futile and insignificant excuses. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has misrepresented the Report of the Cowper Commission. The Cowper Commission recommended that there should be a revision of rents every five years, not from 1884, as represented by the right hon. Gentleman, but judicial rent in each case was fixed. The result of that would be that 100,000 tenants would have gone into Court to get their 874 rents revised, and the revision would have taken place without any of the difficulty or delay suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, because, as he admitted, it would be a revision conducted on the basis of the difference in prices between the time at which the rents were fixed and now. This provision would be a mere actuarial calculation, necessitating no visiting of the farms, or any of the proceedings which characterized the fixing of judicial rents. The revision in respect of these 100,000 or 120,000 tenancies could be disposed of most rapidly. It would not occupy more than a few months; indeed, there would have been none of the delay or difficulty anticipated by the right hon. Gentleman. It may be necessary for us, when the Bill reaches Committee, to show you some way in which the difficulty can be met. I hope the Government will be in a better frame of mind by that time than they are in now, and that they will reciprocate the way in which we have met them in regard to this matter by coming forward half-way, as we have come forward more than half-way, to meet them in the settlement of this great question. Now, Sir, a revision of some kind of the judicial rents is absolutely necessary, and it will be impossible for the Government to go to the country, or to go over to Ireland and administer the Coercion Act, in face of the fact that they leave the grievances of the judicial tenants unredressed. They will be constituting a fresh inequality. Whereas the Act of 1881 left the grievances of the leaseholders unredressed, and whereas every year's experience of the working of that Act showed how more and more necessary it was that the leaseholders should be included in the Act, until at last the Government have admitted that they ought to be included, the working of this new Bill will show every year how necessary it is that the judicial tenants should be admitted to the same privileges as the leaseholders—that they should be allowed to apply to the Court to have fair rents fixed at a time when a great fall in prices has taken place, a fall which, unhappily, as far as all human judgment can foresee, is bound to continue for many years to come. Sir, I have dealt with the different points of the Bill, and I come now to consider the attitude that ought to be adopted by the Opposition at this stage 875 of the measure. The Government have dropped the whole of the Bankruptcy Clauses, which constitute one-half of the Bill as it stands at present. Possibly, by the time we reach the Committee stage, they may make up their minds to drop another quarter of the Bill, and substitute for that quarter a couple of pages of common sense and of justice; at least, I think it will be wise for us to give them the opportunity of doing so. I think it will be wise for us, in view of the progress that is being made upon this question, to allow the Government to see our Amendments on the Paper before we challenge a hostile decision of the House of Commons. The responsibility that will be thrown on the Government in the interval between now and the Motion to go into Coumittee will be very great. No body of men have ever faced a greater responsibility. You talk of having been placed in this position by the legislation of 1881. The people who talk in this way talk like fools of that which they know not of. You know not what the legislation of 1881 did. It was not the Coercion Act of 1881, it was not the Coercion Act of 1882, that broke down the Land League movement—it was the Land Act of 1881. I know well the truth of what I am saying. I watched from Kilmainham 90,000 tenants going into the Land Court, and I say that if it had not been for the Act of 1881 it would have been possible for us, even from our cells in Kilmainham, to have pushed the Land League movement to any extreme goal we chose it to reach. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his Colleagues in the Government, and the Irish landlords, may thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) for the lifeboat, as it was truly called at that time, which he launched to their assistance. He saved the Irish landlords at that time, and if the results of his measure have not been so fortunate as they might have been, it is not for you to throw that failure in his teeth; it is not for you who, during 50 nights of opposition in the House of Commons, obstructed the efforts of the Government of the day, and who, subsequently, in the Lords, cut out of the Bill some of its most valuable provisions, who afterwards dogged the proceedings of the Commissioners by every species of intimidation, at one time by 876 Motions in the House of Commons, and at another time by the appointment of Lords' Commissioners to examine and heckle the Land Commissioners in the discharge of their duties—it is not for you to taunt the Government of the day with the failure of that message. If it failed, it failed, in the first instance, owing to your exertions; and, in the second place, owing to the operation of the natural laws which brought about the fall in prices which we have since witnessed. However, we are now on the threshold. The Government have conceded something; they have conceded some points; they have given up, as I have said, a great deal of their Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) who has moved this Amendment consider whether, under the circumstances, it would not be right and fair to allow the Government a little breathing time after the two very important speeches that have been delivered, but especially after the very important and able speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill)? Everybody who is concerned in this matter, everybody who has any responsibility upon him, should hesitate long and carefully before taking any decided step. I shall be very unwilling, while the mind of the Government may be open—for all I know it is still open, I sincerely and ardently hope that it, is still open—while, I say, their minds are still open and while there is some time, let us not close in hostility with them, let us give them the necessary time, even as long a time as is sought by the Government—namely, till this day week—for the consideration of the Amendments we may place on the Paper and the final making up of their minds. If, then, the Government should make up their minds against justice and in favour of sending this stone to the Irish people when they have asked for bread, upon them will be the sin and the shame of what may follow in Ireland, upon them will be the responsibility if the Bill should be lost.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, I think that upon one point at least hon. Gentlemen in all quarters of the House will agree in a common opinion that we have listened to a debate during these three nights of remarkable interest and remarkable 877 ability. The House has applied its mind to the subject, and great light has been thrown upon all the main propositions of this Bill. I do not, Sir, under these circumstances, and I should not even if the hour were earlier, propose to enter upon any repetition or upon any detailed examination of any of these arguments; but I wish to answer, if I may, the appeal which has just been made to those who sit near me by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). I wish likewise to direct, as far as I can, the mind of the House to that which appears to me to be the one vital question in the consideration of this Bill, in which all other questions, however important, are included and absorbed. The hon. Member for Cork is of opinion that it would be well, on a double ground, that the Amendment now before the House should be withdrawn. The ground, as I understand, is, in the first place, that the mind of the Government may still be open to consider the changes which would make this measure a really valuable law; and, in the second, that a disposition has been shown in various independent quarters of the House—if any quarter of the House can be called independent—to sympathize with the hon. Member for Cork, and to deal with the position in a manner which may greatly improve the Bill and endow it with increased strength. When my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) undertook to give Notice of this Amendment, we acted alone as a small minority of this House—a minority scarcely exceeding one quarter of the entire House. We had no reason, excepting from general declarations and inferences, to know what were the views upon the present Bill of the hon. Member for Cork, or any of those who act with him, and still less had we any opportunity of obtaining information respecting the section of the House who have played a most important part during the present Session, and who are for the most part represented by my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). But I need not say that at no period, upon no question, in no conjuncture of the many questions that have arisen during the course of the present laborious and anxious Session, have we been ever favoured, directly or indirectly, with the smallest indication of 878 the course those Gentlemen were likely to pursue. We had to act for ourselves, and we deemed that the point which was put forward in the Amendment of my hon. Friend was the one great and vital point upon which the ultimate decision of this measure would have to depend. In looking at this Bill, and at the condition of the Irish tenantry, we have brought before us two large bodies of persons. Those two great bodies are dealt with in this Bill upon principles, not only different from, but contradictory the one to the other. The one body is that of the leaseholders, numbering, perhaps, about 120,000 persons; and the other is that of the tenants under judicial rents, who, taking those whoso rents were determined by the Courts and those whoso rents were fixed by agreement sanctioned in Court, together amount to 200,000 persons. What we have felt all along is that it is impossible to deal with these two classes upon opposite principles. By this Bill the leaseholders are to be admitted to the benefit of judicial rents. Why? What pretension is necessary in order to justify the admission of leaseholders? Simply this—that they are over-rented, and that, in many cases, the present rents are unjust. Why should not the judicial renters also have the benefit of the same principle? When you come to deal with them you adopt a principle totally different, and which tends, as we think, and as was admirably pointed out by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), to degrade and demoralize the people in Ireland. What says the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) on that subject? In a portion of his speech, which, I confess, I heard with some surprise, he said it was made an objection to the Bankruptcy Clauses that they tended to diminish and deteriorate the moral fibre of the people of Ireland. What answer did he make to that objection? It was that the moral fibre of the people of Ireland had undergone so much deterioration already from the Plan of Campaign that it really was a matter unnecessary for him to examine whether it was likely to suffer further in consequence of the enactments now proposed. Why, I want to know, is a different principle to be applied to tenants under judicial rents and under leases? If 879 there is any argument for this broad distinction, it is in favour of the judicial renter, because he has submitted to a rent fixed for him by public authority, while the leaseholder has accepted a rent which, according to all palpable and available evidence, has been fixed at his own discretion. I do not say that it has not been under pressure and difficulties; but it is, at least, by his own act, and not by public authority, that he has incurred the rent which he now pays. Why is the leaseholder to have his rent reconsidered, except on the ground of inability to pay? If it is just that the leaseholder should have his rent reconsidered, why is not the judicial renter to have the benefit of the like consideration? Those are the two points on which this question depends. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated the willingness of the Government to make certain, concessions, which are of a secondary character, as he himself would admit. They are in themselves not unimportant, but they do not touch the great and vital question of the principle upon which you have to deal with 200,000 occupiers who are now subject to judicial rents. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that the Government, as at present advised, are opposed to a revision of rents. The question raised by the right hon. Gentleman was regarded as one so vital and so difficult to deal with in an effective manner in Committee that we considered it impossible to do otherwise than to call attention to it on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. Since that time we have had an opportunity of learning the views of the Government, and we have also had an opportunity of learning the views of Gentlemen who call themselves Liberal Unionists on the subject. I cannot say that I am sanguine as to the views of the Government. I might distinguish between the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government would not assent to the revision of judicial rent3 except in cases of inability to pay, and the reasons upon which he founded that decision—those reasons referring simply to the difficulties which would arise in establishing a relation between rents and fluctuating prices. I hardly think that so acute a Gentleman as the right hon. Gentleman is believes that his 880 reasons are of the slightest practical use. If I understand the right hon. Gentleman rightly, he indicated that there was some disposition on the part of the Government not to press the Bankruptcy Clauses in the face of the objections taken in so many quarters. But the Government in dropping the Bankruptcy Clauses will drop that which all along they have put forward as the main remedial provision contained in the Bill. They have not proposed or glanced at any substitute for the Bankruptcy Clauses, and consequently we shall have to obtain in the best way we can the judgment of the House upon this important question—namely, when shall the judicial renters in Ireland, who are now suffering, like the leaseholders, from the extraordinary abatement of agricultural values which have taken place, be admitted to the benefit of a reconsideration of their covenants in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission which had the confidence of the Government. What are our means for bringing the question to an issue? We have no right whatever to suppose or to hope that we have any chance of pressing it to an issue, except on the part of a very decided minority of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) has made a speech containing propositions of the greatest importance, corresponding in the main perhaps, without any very material difference, with the views which have been independently taken in another quarter by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. The announcements which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham on the question of Amendments to the Land Bill have probably been the subject of careful and renewed consideration among hon. Gentlemen forming that section of the House with which he acts. Until I know something to warrant such a supposition, I will not repeat the question put by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon)—whether it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to use his utmost exertions to press upon the House the Amendments he had explained with so much ability? I hail this speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and the propositions contained in it, as substantially adopting the principles that arc put forward in the Amendment of 881 my right ton. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs. Another important announcement was made to-night in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. No person could possibly have listened to that speech without the conviction that it was the offspring of deep belief in the mind of the noble Lord, and of a careful consideration of the matter on which he was addressing the House. I am not disposed to say anything to decrease the difficulties in which the Government are placed in regard to this measure. I beg pardon; I intended to say that I am not disposed to augment the difficulties in which the Government are placed in regard to it. There is no principle of Party which ought to compel the Government to reject the proposition made to them by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham in favour of the revision of judicial rents under the extraordinary and exceptional circumstances which have effected agricultural values within the last few years. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke against the arguments of the Commission in a manner that caused me some surprise. The right hon. Gentleman was not a Member of the Government when that Commission was appointed; but has he considered the moral pledge given to the people of Ireland by the appointment of that Commission? Is it possible for you to hope that after you have made the primâ facie admissions involved in the very appointment of that Commission, when you have selected a Commission composed of men after your own heart, who would look at the question from your own point of view, after that Commission has carefully examined the whole subject, and has reported and has made it the first and most vital of its recommendations that judicial rents should be revised, is it not demanding too much of the people of Ireland, under the pressure of agricultural distress, to expect that they should be able to acquiesce in your rejection of the opinion and advice and authority of your own confidential representatives, and that they should be content to accept forms of relief which are given to them under no other conditions than those of a previous submission to what they justly deemed degradation?
882 Sir, we have to think not merely of the strong recommendations which have been made to the Government, but of the general tone of the House. We have seen no disposition in any portion of the House to sustain the Government in the extraordinary and, I think, unfortunate course that they have determined to adopt in refusing the principal and simple recommendations of their own Commission. I cling to the hope that if happily we can keep this question free from the entanglements of Party associations and recollections, there may be so effective a movement in the House that the Government may, even with some promptitude and before embarrassments thicken around them, be disposed to make changes in the Bill which will bring it to the condition of a valuable measure. Hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who have assumed to themselves the name of Liberal Unionist must be sensible that upon this question they have an enormous responsibility; that it is for them to determine, in the main, which way the judgment of the House shall be. Most singular, indeed, will be the spectacle exhibited to the world if, after the close cohesion that they have shown upon all subjects connected with the repression and restraint of the liberties of the people of Ireland, they should go to pieces, and prove that they have no cohesion as a Party when it comes to a question of ministering to the practical wants of that people, and so avoiding the recurrence of scenes such as those which have recently shocked the nation. I hope I do not seem to utter that language in the tone of suspicion and mistrust. I utter it in justification of my confidence; I utter it at the same time, I frankly admit, because of the words by which the hon. Member for Cork has somewhat disparaged the weight and importance of the declaration which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, and which, until I know to the contrary, I shall believe he has made on the part of those with whom he has so closely and so consistently co-operated, and on the part of those whom he has so constantly undertaken to speak. Well, under these circumstances, I agree with the hon. Member for Cork, and I give effect to what was stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby in thinking that our 883 main contentions have obtained, in some respects unexpectedly, a vantage ground which, a week or a fortnight ago, we had no reason to anticipate. What we wish is that that impartial judgment of the House should be taken upon this question, and should be taken especially upon the subject whether the great body of the tenants of Ireland who are affected by the judicial rents are or are not to be treated upon principles of equality with those who are now known as leaseholders. We have every prospect I think on going into Committee—I regret there is to be so much delay, but that after all is only a matter of a few days—we have every reason to hope upon going into Committee that the prospect may be improved—the more days intervene between this time and Committee the better it may be for our opinions—we have every prospect of bringing to bear all the elements favourable to the proposition of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). I know I speak his sentiments and the sentiments of those near me when I say that it would be wise in the general interests of the question, and would undoubtedly tend to keep it free from Party associations and Party animosity, if we were to save the House the trouble of dividing on the present occasion, and allow to go forward a Bill to which we can give no sanction or countenance as it stands, but in which we recognize the capability of being brought by judicious Amendments, recommended in an impartial spirit from very different and separate quarters of the House, to such a state that it shall become a valuable and important boon to the people of Ireland, and contribute in its degree to the solution of the great Irish Question.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
There is at least one portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) in which I cordially concur, and that is in the desire that the House will approach the consideration of this great question free from Party influences and Party aims. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain). Only a few days ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham advocated the 884 second reading of the Billon the ground that it was a much more generous and liberal measure than has at any time been proposed. It is on these grounds that we ask the House of Commons to read the Bill a second time this evening, and to read it as it is. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) has expressed our readiness to accept Amendments consistent with the general principles of the Bill, those principles being to extend the benefits enjoyed by the tenant from year to year to the leaseholder, and to put a stop to harsh, unjust, and cruel evictions. We desire to give relief to the tenant when he is unjustly and cruelly pressed, and, at the same time, to admit the leaseholder to the benefit of the Act of 1881. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) says that we are now extending to the leaseholders benefits which the judicial renters will not share. It is remarkable that throughout the whole of his Land Law legislation the right hon. Gentleman had denied to the leaseholders the benefits he has been ready to extend to the judicial renters. I cannot conceive that there is any difference whatever in the position of these two tenants. One has entered into a contract as well as the other. One is as free to make a bargain as the other; and it seems to me that the tenant under a lease is at least as much entitled to the benefits of the Act of 1881 as the tenant from year to year. But what is the contention of the right hon. Gentleman? It is, virtually, that the benefits which have been derived by the last tenant under the last fixture of the judicial rent, under the last fall of prices, under the last condition, which can in any way affect the tenancy, shall be applied to all tenants—to all leases and to judicial rents fixed by the Court. A contention of that kind is a contention which destroys all possibility of finality and of settlement under any circumstances whatever. Here is a settlement which has been made under the Act of 1881, an Act passed with great solemnity, and under which we were assured there would be a settlement for a term of years which would not be disturbed. I, for one, should very deeply regret if any of the rents so fixed should, owing to change of circumstances, become onerous and severe on the tenants; and if that is the case, there is a power 885 under the Equity Clause of this Bill, Clause 22, which will enable the tenant to put pressure upon the landlord to bring about a settlement; and, for my part, I would infinitely prefer that the old system, under which landlord and tenant came together and made their own bargain for one year, or for two or three years, should be revived. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) referred to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and said that the object of my right hon. Friend was to maintain an impossible rent in order that impossible terms of purchase should be exacted from the tenant. I entirely deny that that is either his intention or the fair and reasonable moaning to be attached to the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the previous evening the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) distinctly stated that the basis on which the Government contemplated purchase was the real value of the land and not the judicial rent. I am sure the hon. Member for Cork must be very well aware that the judicial rent does not express the real value of the land in a variety of cases; the land may be worth more or leas years' purchase. If the principle which was embodied in the Bill of last year were followed a certain number of years' purchase would have been applied to the judicial rent wherever it was found. That is not the meaning we attach to a scheme of purchase. We believe that the value of the land must be found at the time the bargain was made. That is the basis on which we hope to go; but it is conceivable that if Parliament substitutes for an arrangement of that kind a rent expressed by, if you please, a fresh valuation or a fresh adjustment, all inducement for purchase is gone, all motive for purchase is gone; and I am afraid that for a long time to come we may have that condition continued which every statesman and every Member of Parliament looks upon as most disastrous, and I am afraid the dual ownership of land must continue. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) referred to the Bankruptcy Clauses. We hold to the Bankruptcy Clauses as beneficial to the tenant. If hon. Gentlemen say that they are not beneficial to the tenant, and if they put 886 obstacles in the way of these clauses being considered and adopted by the House, upon them must rest the responsibility. I am not able to agree with the remarks of my noble Friend the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) with reference to the stigma which is supposed to attach to a man who has been applied to avail himself of bankruptcy in consequence of inability to pay all his creditors. It seems to me that any other method of paying less than the full sum of debts carries equal stigmas to that which is attached to the process of bankruptcy in open Court. It was suggested that the end might be obtained without the stigma of bankruptcy. Let us, at leaat, be frank, straightforward, and open. If a man is not capable of paying all his debts let an arrangement be made under which his creditors will share alike without distinction, and then we shall have a basis on which a man may start again as a free man, capable probably of discharging the duties of life. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the conditions under which purchase may be carried out—possibly by men relieved in this from the liabilities which hang round their necks. I am sure that any hon. Gentleman who is acquainted with the condition of the tenantry in Ireland would very much prefer they should start free from debt and liability than that they should have these encumbrances dragging them down. I will not at this moment occupy the attention of the House further than to refer to the 4th clause. Reference has been made to the 4th clause of this Bill as being an insidious clause. It is intended honestly to put a check upon evictions. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is one thing we desire as much as they, and that is the peace and prosperity and happiness of Ireland. Now, the 4th clause must be taken in connection with the 22nd. Under the 22nd clause, any tenant against whom any process of eviction is levelled can go to the Court and obtain a stay of eviction; therefore, none of these preliminary processes need be gone through if the tenants can show good cause why processes should not issue. If a tenant can only show that his failure has not been due to any fault of his own, the County Court Judge is 887 compelled by the provision of the section to put a stay upon the execution of a process and to order that the debts due to the landlord shall be paid by instalments. And then the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork says that this is a mere insidious attempt to carry out eviction without obtaining the discredit connected with it. Why it is notorious that 75 per cent of these preliminary evictions do not issue in ultimate evictions.
MR. T. M. HEALT (Longford, N.)
That is not so. Where are your figures?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I am satisfied that when these clauses come to be examined they will be found to be real boons to the tenants of Ireland, and they will assuage many sores and troubles which we all deplore, and will bring1 about, I hope and believe, a better state of relationship between the landlords and tenants. I have been reproached for the delay in taking1 the Committee stage of the Bill. I must, however, remind the House that we are in a difficulty with regard to Supply. It is absolutely necessary that we should take the Navy Estimates on Monday, and the Civil Service Estimates on Tuesday and Wednesday. The exigencies of Supply compel us to postpone the Committee stage until Thursday next.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday next.