§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
, in rising to move—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide for the reduction of family charges on Irish land,said, he made the Motion from no hostile or Party point of view, or in any controversial spirit. At the same time, he did not profess to have any sympathy with the general policy of the Government with regard to Ireland. He was one of those who, last year, in that 1666 House, without hesitation, came to the conclusion that the difficulties with which the Government had to cope could only be met by a very large measure of Home Rule, to be followed by a large measure of land legislation; and nothing he had heard since then had, in the slightest degree, modified that opinion he then formed. He made the appeal to the Government simply on the ground that it was required, injustice to a large section of the Irish landlords, who found themselves in an extremely difficult position. No doubt, there were a great many Irish landlords who were deserving of no sympathy: but there were others who were honestly striving to do their duty under circumstances of the utmost difficulty, and who, owing to the fall in prices and the legislation which had been found to be necessary, were in the position of being ground between the upper and nether millstones. It was on behalf of these men that he spoke—men who, from no fault of their own, were prevented from doing justice to themselves. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking the other day, adverted to the difficulties attending this subject, and he asked the question—"Are you prepared to extend this kind of relief to England and Scotland?" He (Mr. Haldane) would answer that question frankly and distinctly in the affirmative. He thought it was absolutely necessary that the House should before very long take up the question of how family charges or encumbrances in Scotland and England were to be dealt with, where those family charges wore becoming oppressive, and the position which landlords occupied owing to the fall in the prices of produce. But there were special circumstances in the case of Ireland. The Chief Secretary, in his speech a few days before on the second reading of the Bill, had adverted to the history of the present Irish Land question, finding its beginning in 1881. He (Mr. Haldane) would go back further than that, beginning at 1848, when the Encumbered Estates Act was passed. That Act invited the landlords to sell the tenants' improvements. Then came the Act of I860, and put on the footing of pure contract what never before had been on that footing. The relation of landlord and tenant in England and Scotland was more nearly that of partnership than of contract, and a 1667 similar customary relationship would have been fully recognized in Ireland but for the system of absenteeism. In 1860, the refusal to look this fact in the face culminated. It was only in 1860, in the iniquitous Bill passed in that year, that the present power of eviction was conferred on the Irish landlord—a power possessed in no other country at Common Law. The Acts of 1870 and 1881 had swept the bulk of this away, and the situation of the Irish landlord had become a very difficult one. On the one side he was hemmed in by this new legislation. On the other side he had the charges and mortgages created on the footing of the continuance of the old bad state of things. To remedy this, as regards charges, and, indeed, as far as they could, the legislature must interfere. And they would be justified in making any interference which was called for by the existing state of things, on the ground that, in doing so, they should not be interfering with contracts or bargains, but should simply be carrying out what was the intention of those who created these charges or encumbrances. The position of the Irish landlord was wholly different to the English or Scottish landlord. He (Mr. Haldane) represented a county in Scotland in which the Chief Secretary for Ireland was a large landowner; and no one knew better than the right hon. Gentlemen, and no one had more fully recognized the fact that landlords could not deal with their tenants in that country as though it was their duty and their right to exact their full pound of flesh. No one had more fully recognized the fact that the position of the landlord and the tenant was more the position of a partnership; that the rent was an economic rent; and was paid according to the fertility of the soil, and the special circumstance under which the crop was produced. But the case of Ireland was different. There was land in Ireland which was absolutely incapable of paying any economic rent, and the result of that state of things was, that rent had been paid not out of produce, not as economic rent, but as a ransome rent. He expressed a wish that hon. Members would give their attention to the land Acts of 1870 and 1881, when—
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
I rise to Order. I entirely concur with 1668 the Motion of the hon. Member; but he is talking upon other subjects, and attacking the Irish landlords on a side issue.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The subject of Irish land is the subject before the House, and the hon. Gentleman seems to me to be speaking relevantly to it.
§ MR. HALDANE
said, he was proposing to show that the position of the Irish landlord under the legislation of 1870 and 1881 was an altogether anomalous and exceptional position as contrasted with the position of the landlord in this country. In Ireland there were encumbrances and charges existing to a much larger extent than was the case in this country. He was acquainted with a case in which there were two jointures and three sets of charges beside other encumbrances, and owing to the fall in prices the gentleman to whom the estate belonged had no interest in it; he might very well say, in the words of the old street song—I care for nobody, no, not I,And nobody cares for me.He had no interest whatever in his tenants; and yet he occupied the position of an Irish landlord; proceedings were taken in his name, receivers acted in his name, and harsh measures were adopted in his name, all the interests of charges and mortgagees. It was with cases of that kind that he wished to deal. A mortgagee had a double set of rights; there was a debt, and there was also the security; and if you dealt with the mortgage, you must deal, not merely with the security, but also with the personal debt, or else your legislation would be penal as against those who took security. The intention of the Instruction he was moving was to carry out the recommendation of Lord Cowper's Commission as far as possible. He did not touch the question of mortgages in his clauses; for mortgages involved a personal debt, and if so, he did not know how they were to deal with them and not deal with tradesmen's or other ordinary debts. They would only be punishing the persons who lent money on mortgages for their prudence in taking a security. But he did deal with family charges. He quite recognized that a man might give a jointure to his widow with the intention that it should remain intact, even though the heir in possession of the laud might have his rents reduced; 1669 and the only way in which the difficulty could be met was by giving a discretionary power to a tribunal, which he proposed should be the Land Court, giving them power to reduce a jointure or lump sum charge to an extent not exceeding half the proportion of what, in the opinion of the Court, had been the fall in the annual value of the land. The situation was exceedingly difficult, and he thought the best way of meeting it was to give such a discretionary power. He would provide that, in exercising the power, the Court should have no regard to any fall in value due to negligent or improper management. He would further provide that the discretion was not to apply to bonâ fide charges for valuable consideration. He made these propositions in no sense of hostility to the Bill; but in order to do justice and to get rid of impossible relations between landlords and tenants. He had drafted clauses to carry out the Instruction, and he moved it in such a way that it could be accepted by the Government without the slightest disturbance to the Bill or to any future scheme of purchase. He would conclude by moving the Instruction of which he had given Notice.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
, in seconding the Motion, said, that landowners were the only persons who, so far as law went, had been made to suffer from the depreciation in the value of land, for recent legislation had thrown all the burdens arising from agricultural depression upon that class. Owing to the fall in prices and rents, many landowners received less than those who had charges on their property. It was not equitable that those who had family charges should get the whole of their charges, while the unfortunate landlord was deprived of a portion of even the judicial rent, reducing that rent to an amount perhaps even less than the total of the family charges. He hoped that the question would be considered without reference to Party politics.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide for the reduction of family charges on Irish Land."—(Mr. Haldane.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
It appears to me that of all the classes who are interested in land in Ireland the class 1670 against whose interests this Instruction is directed is not one of the least meritorious. I do not understand how the holders of these family charges can be compared to the owners of the land themselves, when it is considered that after these charges were originally put on, if the value of the land had risen, the value of these charges would not have also increased; but that the increased rent would have gone into the landlords' pockets. Therefore, the owners of land would be in an entirely different position. If the value of land had never increased, rents would still come to the landlords; but increased amounts would not come to their sisters and younger brothers, who were in the enjoyment of these family charges. Therefore, I think the case of sisters and younger brothers, and others who are similarly interested in land, is entirely different from the case of the landlords. The landowners have, it is true, been hit by the fall in prices; but if prices had risen, they would have benefited proportionately. Then, in nine cases out of ten, these family charges are very small, mere pittances, in fact, which, would not bear reduction, and I think it would be a great cruelty to reduce them. I cannot see how, on any ground of justice or expediency, it can be argued that the depreciation in rents owing to the fall in prices should be borne out of the pockets of sisters and younger brothers, when, on the other hand, they would obtain no benefit from a rise in prices. Such a proceeding would be most unjust, and I hope the House will not sanction it.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
said, that as he understood the argument of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), if acted on, it came to this—you ought never, under any circumstances, to reduce the family charges on land, because the payments to the younger children would not be increased if the value of the land increased. But, if that argument was worth anything, would it not affect the case of leases, with which the hon. Member proposed to deal? The case of a landlord who had given a lease was exactly parallel to the cases which the Motion had in view. The landlord who gave a long lease did not, if the land rose in value, get any increase of rent; if, there- 1671 fore, the argument of the hon. Member held good, he ought not to get a less rent if the land decreased in value. He entirely accepted the statement of the hon. and learned Member who moved the Instruction (Mr. Haldane), that he moved it in no hostile spirit. He would go further, and say that the case laid before the House by the hon. and learned Gentleman was one deserving very serious consideration from everyone concerned with Irish land legislation. Perhaps the speech he made in introducing the Bill gave the hon. and learned Gentleman some encouragement to bring forward this Instruction; because he pointed out how hard the case of the Irish landlord was. Since the debts owing to him were reduced, the debts which he himself owed to others were enacted to the last farthing. He was sorry that the Government, however much they sympathized with the view of the hon. and learned Gentleman, could not accept his Amendment. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in his Amendment, carefully abstained from touching the question of mortgages, being perfectly aware on what delicate ground he was treading. But the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument against touching mortgages was rather of a theoretic than of a substantial kind. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that mortgages had a double legal security, and that therefore there would be a double injustice in attacking them. That was an objection which appealed more to the legal than the lay mind. For his own part, he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would confess that he should regard with the utmost misgiving anything said by any responsible Member of the House which should encourage the idea that that House was prepared to tamper with mortgages, not because they were technically secured in a double manner, but because it was impossible to do a greater injury, not to those who lent money, but to those who borrowed, than to throw question on the character of the security; because, once the security was challenged, the lenders would see that their best course was to require that the money they lent should be instantly repaid. If a notion of that kind got abroad a greater disaster would fall upon the Irish landlords than any they had yet suffered, or upon those who had lent the money. But the distinc- 1672 tion between mortgages and family charges was sometimes of a character difficult to make clear. For example, take the case of two children to whom the father desired to give the same portion—say, £1,000. In the one case the portion was left a charge on the estate; in the other, the money was borrowed upon mortgage. It was simply by accident that two different kinds of machinery were employed; and yet, under the hon. Member's proposed clause, the portion of one child would be cut down, while that of the other would be left intact. Take, again, the case of a younger son whose £1,000 was left as a charge upon the estate, and who went to some outside person and said—"What will you give me for the rent-charge upon my father's estate?" He might get the full value of the rent-charge, and, having been disposed of for a valuable consideration, it would not be touched by the Instruction. But if the younger son decided that he would leave his portion as a family charge, then he would find himself mulcted, according to the Instruction, if by the action of the Land Commission the rent had been cut down. But that was not all. If the clause which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to move in Committee were carried, all settlements on the estate, of whatever kind, would stand on the same legal footing. If the grandfather left the property subject to a certain set of charges, and his successor left it subject to a second set of charges, the children of the first and of the second generation would stand on the same footing, though the former had at present, and ought to retain, a priority of charge.
§ MR. HALDANE
said, it would be seen that the clause gave the Court discretionary power to reduce, having regard to the whole circumstances.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he must point out that, notwithstanding that, the intention of the person who made the settlement would not come in. At all events the hon. and learned Gentleman would admit that his solution was fraught with difficulty, and that it threw on the Land Court the responsibility of a species of discrimination which had probably never been thrown upon any Court before. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman's clause was about a page and a half in extent, it dealt with an 1673 extremely difficult and complicated question, and might excite great alarm in the most timid of all classes—the capitalists who lent money. Above all, it could not possibly be passed without a very large expenditure of public time which could ill be spared. For those reasons the Government did not find themselves in a position to accept the Instruction. They fully admitted the hardship of the case; and if, without causing greater injury to the persons intended to be relieved, any means of relieving them could be suggested at a future time, the Government would be happy to give it their favourable consideration. At that period of the Session, he trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman would not press his Motion to a Division.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
said, he had the happiness for once, which he did not often enjoy, of entirely agreeing with what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said on the present occasion. In the first place, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that nothing could be more destructive to the landlords than to meddle with mortgages; for that would mean that nobody would ever trust them with money again. Who ever heard of mortgages being reduced after a great war, when times were hard, because they had been made under different conditions? Mortgages and family charges stood upon exactly the same footing. People imagined that a family charge was a voluntary settlement. It was nothing of the kind. Family charges arose out of marriage settlements, and any lawyer would say that marriage was a valuable consideration. If you tampered with mortgages, no one would lend money to an Irish landlord; if you tampered with settlements no one would marry him. He defied any lawyer to distinguish in principle between a family settlement and a valuable consideration for money.
§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
said, he deeply regretted that the Government, through the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, did not see their way to accept the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Haldane); because unless something was done in the direction suggested he feared that the Irish landlords would be very cruelly treated indeed. The reduction of rent 1674 given recently by the Land Court amounted to about 35 per cent; and, in all probability, by the time that this Bill issued from the House of Commons a principle would be laid down leading to a reduction all round of at least 35 or 40 per cent on the old scale of rents. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) said the other day, that if the whole of the land of Ireland were put up for sale, there would not be sufficient to pay the mortgages on it. The right hon. Gentleman had, therefore, prepared himself for the total bankruptcy of the entire landlord class in Ireland. He (Mr. S. Smith) was not among those who thought very highly of Irish landlords. By their extravagance and foolishness in the past, many of them had got into their present lamentable position; but he did not think they were all equally culpable. Many of them had suffered from the faults of their forefathers; and it was rather hard that the entire class should be ruined by legislation initiated in that House, which took no account of the painful position in which they were left by the acts of their predecessors. Hon. Members, who had studied the evidence of the Royal Commission, would know that the reason why many cruel evictions had been carried out in Ireland was because the mortgagee had been pressing for his pound of flesh. The unhappy landlord, under the circumstances, had been compelled to evict. In nine cases out of ten, it was the money-lender who evicted, while the landlord had to bear all the odium of the situation. He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, that the landlord would be the greatest loser by any legislation that tampered with mortgages. What the landlord wanted was an immediate settlement of these claims, and if the House should consider it just to apportion those claims in some degree to the present rent, the landlord would be a gainer and not a loser. He (Mr. S. Smith) quite saw the difficulty raised by the Chief Secretary; but what he said was that with regard to the case of Ireland, everything was exceptional. They were turning everything upside down in that country, and they could not help themselves. They must protect the tenant by means of judicial rents; but, at the same time, they 1675 should protect the landlord against those heavy and unjust claims which were now made upon him.
§ MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
said, that he would have supported the Amendment in an earlier period of the Session, say, if it were the month of May, instead of being as it was nearly the end of July; but if they attempted to deal with the subject now in connection with this Bill, they would be kept there until the middle of October. It seemed to him that there was perfect justice in the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Haldane), and he hoped that the Government would give some intimation of their intention—if not to bring in a Bill next Session to carry it out—to give it, at any rate, their earnest consideration. There was a wide distinction between settlements and jointures, even including settlements made on marriage, and mortgages; and as they had interfered with the rights of the owners of the land and the returns upon the land of those owners, they ought to deal, not with one particular person who happened to be the nominal owner, but also with those who were practically the joint owners, and give them their fair shares in proportion. By thus distributing the results of the injustice done to landowners by the Land Act of 1882, among all those who were interested in the land, they would diminish the injustice, and, so far as was possible, do justice. He could not agree with the right hon. Member for Derby that marriage settlements stood on a different footing from voluntary settlements made by will or otherwise. That was the view not of a statesman, but of a lawyer, carried away by the legal fiction that marriage was a valuable consideration. Mortgages were altogether different, for, although it might be fair as regards the mortgages to make them bear part of the loss, yet, in the long run, experience showed, as in the case of the usury laws, that interference with the rights of the lender did not benefit the borrower. The Land Act of 1882 had made it most difficult to borrow money on a mortgage of land in Ireland, and to include mortgages in the proposed arrangement would make it impossible to do so. But if a landowner could not borrow, away would go all hope of his spending money on the improvement of his estate. He hoped 1676 that Her Majesty's Government would take the principle of the Amendment into consideration, with a view of throwing on others, as well as on the landlords, the loss that had arisen owing to the fall in the value of Irish land.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
said, that the arguments of the Chief Secretary and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby had by no means convinced him. But he would admit that it was a very important matter, requiring the consideration of the Government; and, after what had taken place, he supposed his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Haldane) would withdraw his Amendment. He felt, however, that the argument of the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the subject of time was conclusive. There was no doubt as to the complication of the matter, or as to the enormous interest concerned in the Amendment; and no dealing with the question could be permitted which was not the subject of the fullest consideration both by the House and by the Government. There appeared to him to be a clear distinction between the case of mortgages and family settlements, although in a country like Ireland, where Parliament had already interfered so much, there could be no very grave objection—indeed, it might be very possible that they might be compelled—to interfere a little more. For instance, one had been accustomed to look on rent settled by a Court as a prior and secured claim; yet they were going by this Bill to interpose an equitable jurisdiction before the rent could be obtained by the landlord. It might also be necessary to interpose the equitable jurisdiction of a Court before even the mortgagee should be able to exercise his rights. He thought that, even in the case of mortgages, which, lawyers regarded as so very sacred, something could be done; but in regard to family charges the case was still stronger. A mortgage was the actual transfer of the legal ownership for a money consideration; whereas family charges were usually the result of voluntary settlements. If those who created those charges could revise them, they would now desire to revise them in the interests of the landlord, and against the charge-owner. The case had now arisen for revising thes6 charges. He would admit it was impossible to pro- 1677 ceed with the matter further that Session. He would, therefore, suggest that the Government might, during the Recess, appoint a small Special Commission to consider the subject, having sole regard to the case of Ireland, and having regard to the case of mortgages and other charges, to see whether the difficulties which stand in the way of an equitable settlement could not be overcome.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman would receive the attention of the Government. They would, probably, institute some form of inquiry; but whether by Commission or Committee, and by which House of the Legislature, would be a matter for further consideration.
§ MR. HALDANE
, in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, said, that his only reason for bringing it forward at that time was that it seemed to him the case of the Irish landlords was an urgent one which must be dealt with at once. Unless something was done they would be squeezed out of life, not merely under existing circumstances, but by the further legislation which was contemplated.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
MR. ILLING WORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, the Opposition were placed at an unfair disadvantage compared with Conservative Members. The supporters of the Government who had attended the meetings at the Carlton Club knew what the intentions of the Government were. On the second reading of the Bill there was a universal feeling that what they were then discussing was a bogus Bill, and he thought, therefore, that the House would not be justified in proceeding further in the direction of going into Committee without attempting to obtain from the Government some information and the necessary explanations, in order to know what were the main features of the Bill that the Government intended to press forward. He maintained that, not only in the interest of Public Business, but in the interest of the measure itself, it would be prudent 1678 and reasonable that the Government should make a statement as to the changes to be introduced. If Lord Salisbury's language was not misunderstood, it was intended to radically alter the measure. If the Government refused to put the House in possession of what they meant to do, on them would be the responsibility of whether delay and confusion might occur at subsequent stages in the progress of the Bill. The Government had not even taken the usual step of putting their Amendments on the Paper. Was it to be assumed that their Amendments were of less importance than those of private Members? The Government having yielded to an influence which it was impossible for them to withstand, surely there was no reason why delicacy should prevent them making a clean breast of their altered attitude in regard to this Bill. In order to protest against the silence of Ministers on the point, he would move the adjournment of the debate.
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
, in seconding the Motion, said, it was essential, in the interests of their constituents and of the House, that they should know what was intended. Since the second reading had been agreed to, there had been a semi-official announcement of great alterations in the Bill, which were described by Lord Salisbury as minor changes. The knowledge of those minor changes should not, at all events, be meted out in instalments. How did they stand with regard to the saving of time? There were 56 pages of Amendments. How many of those might be modified or swept away if the Government would only declare their intentions? The debate should be adjourned until the Government would make up their minds. The question, for instance, of revising the judicial rent and the question of the Bankruptcy Clauses were vital, and the public interest required that they should know what the changes were which the Government proposed to make in the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Illingworth.)
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I hope, Sir, if is possible, the Government will not invite the House to go into Committee on this Bill without telling us what Bill it is, or what they intend 1679 to do. The House of Commons has never been treated in such a manner as this before. The Government have gone a long way in their treatment of the House of Commons; but such a thing as this has never been heard of. What is the meaning of the second reading of a Bill? It is that the general provisions of the Bill shall be discussed as a whole on the second reading. Then the stage of moving the Speaker out of the Chair is proceeded with; and the meaning of those preliminary proceedings is, that there shall be an opportunity of discussing the general aspect of the Bill, and the bearing of one clause on another. We know very well that many of those clauses may depend extremely on their relations one with another. We know, in our experience of the last Bill, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland desired to explain the effect of one clause on another, but was not allowed to do so. Is this the Bill we read a second time? We know perfectly well that it is not. It is all nonsense for you to talk about the meeting at the Carlton Club being a private meeting. If so, why did you send accounts of it by the newspapers to all the world? You are afraid of a Dissolution, and you must buy votes from the Liberal Unionists. And then you dare not say what is the price you have paid for the votes. You are trying to conceal it. The Government are the bravest men in the world until the moment of fight. They nailed their colours to the mast, and then in a moment of danger they put their tail between their legs and ran away. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes; you have run away to-night. It is most extraordinary to me that we are not to be allowed to know the changes which are to be made in this Bill. Why is that? We know perfectly well what the Chancellor of the Exchequer means by greater stability, and what he thinks of judicial rents. Last Friday he swore that he never, never would alter his mind or make any concessions on the subject of the revision of judicial rents. Let the Government tell us whether they adhere to the stability of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we shall know where we are, and we shall be satisfied. [Mr. A. J. BALBOUR: Will you be satisfied?] We shall then know where we are. We want to know what are these terms you disapprove of, and which are contrary to Conservative prin- 1680 ciples—Conservative principles which you have surrendered, because it is necessary to have the support of the Liberal Unionists to defend the Union? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he would never make any concession to win votes. We want to know what is the bargain made since? We know what the Bill was on Friday night last; but we want to know what it is now? We want to know something about that miraculous conversion of last Sunday, and of the effect it has had on the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Tell us what are now your opinions with reference to leases, the Bankruptcy Clauses, and to judicial rents and other points on which he was never to give way? These are matters which affect hundreds and thousands of men in Ireland. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) I fear is to be cashiered for the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) as leader of the Ulster Unionists, who does not like the concessions it is said you have made. Yes; that hon. Member is paraded as the lawgiver of the Government. Well, we know what the views of the hon. Member for South Tyrone are on this Bill. We know also what the views of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) are; and we know as well what the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) are, and we should like to know how far these views have been adopted by the Government. I am not going to say anything about surrender. Conservative surrender is a thing of which there are many examples in history, for instance, it has been illustrated by the pen of the present Prime Minister. I do not suggest there has been any surrender to the Member for South Tyrone, to the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, or to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. It is not to them the surrender is made, but to the electors of Spalding and Coventry. These are the real political Leaders of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are anxious to know what the exact nature of the surrender is. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is an extremely valiant man till he sees he is going to be beaten, and then, with that discretion which is the better part of 1681 valour, he runs away. His courage, like that of Bob Acres, oozes out at his fingers. The right hon. Gentleman would not buy votes by giving any pledges, but when he sees that he is very likely to be beaten, he now says—"It will never do to be beaten, so let us buy votes at the market price." I only want to know, in that case, what the market price is. We were told that these desperate Liberal Unionists might bring about a Dissolution—a terrible thought. A Dissolution, conscience makes cowards of us all. [Ministerial ironical cheers.] Oh, no, we are not cowards. We are fighting for our principles, and you have dropped yours. You are afraid that if you were defeated you might have to dissolve Parliament. So you are positively going to recommend to the House a scheme which on the face of it your principles disapprove, and you are doing that in order that you may buy a majority, for the purpose of preventing the country from pronouncing their condemnation of your policy. If you want to see a picture of humiliation look at the Treasury Bench. Look at the men who would not buy votes, and look at the transactions of last Sunday. They absolutely avow that they have accepted opinions which they dislike, which they disapprove, and the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer goes to the Carlton Club in order to explain why he has been made the Jonah of his Party. He has spent the last three days and three nights in the Carlton Club to explain to the Conservative Party why it is he has thrown overboard all those principles which he proclaimed in this House the other night, and which he went over to the Alexandra Palace on Saturday to declare he never would abandon. That is a specimen of the species of the stability of which we have heard so much. It does not suit your purpose before we go into Committee to explain the recent transactions. Yet you expect us to go into Committee on your Bill without an explanation of its whole character. Is the House of Commons going to stand that? The other night the First Lord of the Treasury told us that the proper occasion to explain matters would be on going into Committee, and ever since then he has been trying to get out of that declaration. It would be the simplest thing in the world for you to say frankly that you have reconsidered these 1682 matters since the second reading, and have seen reason to change your minds. You need not state your reasons if you like; we know them well enough. We do not ask you to confess the reasons of the bargain you have made, we only want you to state the conclusions at which you have arrived. We will allow you that peace with which you desire to receive the surrender, but come forward and tell us what your Bill is going to be, so that we may discuss it, as we have a right before the Speaker leave the Chair. Sir, if there is any sense of self-respect or any regard for its own dignity left to the House, I hope it will not allow itself to be treated in this manner—a manner in which it has never been treated before by any responsible Government.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Sir William Harcourt) has alleged that we are afraid to state our opinions at present, and he emphasized that assertion by informing us that our consciences made cowards of us all. I know not whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever in his life suffered from terror; but if he ever has, I doubt whether the cause of his fear was the same as that which he attributes to us, for whatever else may have made him afraid, it ran hardly have been his conscience. He wishes the House to refuse to consider a Bill in Committee until the Government of the day has declared exactly what its intentions are in regard to every specific point of detail connected with the measure. That has never been insisted on before. I recollect the case of a Bill of even greater importance than the Bill now before the House; I can recollect when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) brought in his Bill of last year for establishing Home Rule. He was afraid of defeat on that Bill. Conscience made him a coward on that occasion. [The right hon. Gentleman here entered the House.] I repeat that the right hon. Gentleman brought in his Home Rule Bill last year, and on that occasion, to quote the words of the Member for Derby, conscience made him a coward, and he indicated to the House that they were not to consider themselves bound by the details of his proposal; but that they were to vote for a bare abstract principle, and that they were to trust to the 1683 discussion in Committee for determining what the specific details of that measure were to be. Well, I do not now offer to the House a bare abstract principle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has apparently concluded, from a garbled report which he has seen of a private meeting, that certain changes which, in his opinion, entirely alter the character of this Bill are to be introduced into the measure. Allusion was made at Question time by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley) to a meeting of the Liberal Party preceding the second reading of the Homo Rule Bill. At that meeting, reporters were admitted, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian acknowledged that he was reported with substantial accuracy. That distinguishes broadly the meeting at the Carlton from the Liberal meeting. The meeting at the Carlton was a private one, and the report which appeared in the papers was a breach of confidence. It was evident that the report was made from memory, and by a gentleman with very confused and imperfect memory. Well, on the strength of those reports, the right hon. Gentleman comes down and says—"You are bound to make a public statement of what you are going to do with regard to this Bill." We entirely deny the obligation. It is monstrous to suggest it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby says the changes will make it a new Bill. I entirely repudiate such a contention. The Bill will not be a new Bill. The course the Government are taking is a course that every Government takes when dealing with a large and difficult measure. We have laid the Bill before the House. We have explained its objects, and we have taken advantage of all the criticisms heard in the House, especially by those who have not indicated that they are wholly hostile to every provision of the Bill. We have not, it is true, consulted those who, like the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) are entirely opposed to it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member said that Clause 1, profoundly modified, might be accepted, and dismissed the whole remaining portion of the Bill with contempt.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is my contention; the hon. Member disapproves of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs spoke for an hour and a-half without uttering a single word of approval for any clause, or even sub-section of the Bill. Such hostility is uncompromising. When the right hon. Member for Derby talks about change of front and running away, I would beg him to recall the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs. After making the speech, he had not the courage to divide on his Motion. ["Oh, oh?"] The Bill which the Government intend to pass is, in the main, the same as we had introduced, and we will shortly state the Amendments agreed to. How is it possible for the Government to anticipate the changes which it may be thought desirable to introduce? The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian assents to that.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman could not have heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. It is perfectly true that, as a result of the criticisms which it has already received, it has been decided to introduce certain changes. Other changes must depend on the course of the discussion in Committee, and on the amount of time which remains for the discussion in Committee.
§ THE SPEAKER
It will not be in Order for the right hon. Gentleman to go any further, as the Motion before the House is one for the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then, if necessary, I shall make what observations I have to make at the proper time, after the Motion is withdrawn. Meanwhile, the lively strictures of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby are wholly misplaced. We are not presenting a mere shell of a Bill to 1685 be filled in in Committee. The measure which we hope will be passed will be the measure we introduced to the House, and to the second reading of which it has already assented.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, it is not my intention to prolong this discussion. My object is to bring it to a close. The matter from our point of view is a very plain one. In the course of the debate, I indicated in the plainest terms that the most controversial matter entirely turned upon the admission or non-admission of the judicial rents to revision. That has been our position. We have now heard the declarations of the Government. We have also heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the strongest terms, announcing the loftiest principles and motives and opposing utterly any such provision. We have further read in the papers an account of a meeting which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary says was a private meeting; but it is the first time in my experience of half-a-century that I have found a Minister bold enough to say that an aggregate meeting of a Party in both Houses at a Public Office was a private meeting. At our meeting, which was not of both Houses, we had one reporter, knowing the mischief of having inaccurate reports spread abroad. We had that one official reporter, therefore, and we are told that that made it a public meeting, whereas this was a private meeting. I utterly dissent from the doctrine that a meeting of a Party which is in power and rules the two Houses is a private meeting. But, whatever it is, and whether it was private or not, we have a right to be informed of the upshot of that meeting before we are called upon to enter into a discussion dealing with the details of this Bill. I do not want to create any difficulty. Are we to have the Government Amendments on the Paper to-morrow morning, or Saturday morning, so that we may debate them on the Speaker leaving the Chair on Monday?
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The Speaker will leave the Chair to-night! We are told to value freedom of discussion. We are also told that hon. Gentlemen opposite, whatever other people do, value freedom of discussion, and 1686 that, in introducing this Bill, they had regard to principles of honour, which would not allow them to touch judicial rents. That was their declaration on which they founded the Bill and introduced it to the House. Lord Salisbury said, last year, that if these rents were interfered with the public must pay. Well, what is it that appears in the different newspapers with regard to this meeting, supplied, apparently, by their own friends who were at the meeting? Is it not a reasonable request, when we understand, from the whole of those reports, that judicial rents are to be revised, and that a fundamental principle of the Bill is to be revised, that we should have an opportunity of discussing it?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I rise to Order, Sir. I was about, a few minutes ago, to state the substance of the changes proposed to be made, when you stopped me doing so. I want to know if the right hon. Gentleman is in Order in entering upon a discussion of a matter which I was not allowed to touch?
§ MR. SPEAKER
No discussion on that matter can take place until after the Motion for Adjournment is withdrawn.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I was not going to discuss it. What I was going to say is, that if we are to credit these reports, a fundamental change is going to be made in the principle of this Bill, and the demand of the Government is that we shall not be allowed to discuss these changes with the Speaker in the Chair. I say that so outrageous a demand was never before made, and the House of Commons, which has surrendered all its liberties and thrust them prostrate at the feet of the Government, will not, I feel sure, accede to that demand. I think my proposal is a moderate one. "Will the Bill leave the judicial rents intact, or will it introduce a change? If we are told that judicial rents are to remain intact, and the Amendments are Amendments of detail, we shall raise no difficulty; but the right hon. Gentleman knows what has gone forth uncontradicted to the world, and he knows what the pith and substance and essence of the matter in dispute is. Every one of these reports furnished by his own friends declares 1687 that a great change is about to be made. They all agree in that—that there is to be a fundamental change in the Bill, in the essential principle of the Bill. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman is a bolder man at assertion than anyone I have ever known; but I do not think that even he will venture to deny that these reports represent to us that a substantial, essential change is about to be made in what we regarded as the essential principle of the Bill. Well, I say that if that is going to be done, it is a fair demand, and we make it, and I trust we shall persist in it, that we shall have power to debate all these changes, if we see cause, with the Speaker in the Chair. If the Amendments are put on the Table, we shall endeavour to judge them fairly; and if they are Amendments of detail, we shall, I think, make no objection; but if they involve a change of principle, we have a right to ask for an opportunity of discussing them before the Speaker leaves the Chair. You might as well deprive the House of the power of discussion on the introduction or the second reading of a Bill as attempt to deny that, when the Government introduces what a large portion of the House believes to be essential changes, we are entitled to discuss those changes before the Speaker loaves the Chair. And I want to know, from the Leader of the House, whether he can show to me a single case in which the contrary proceeding has ever been followed? I defy him to do so. My affirmation is that there never has been an instance, to my knowledge, when a Government has introduced into a Bill what was deemed by a large minority of the House to be an essential change in the principle of the Bill, in the interval between the second reading and the Committee, that an opportunity of discussing that essential change has been refused. That is my proposition, and if the right hon. Gentleman will lot us know that he will give us that opportunity, in my opinion he will gain a good deal of time, and will be able to forward the Business of the Session. But if an attempt is to made, after all the violent acts we have had in the present year—under high sanction, I admit—to commit this violent act without the smallest reason, there will be, in my opinion, evident and palpable loss of 1688 public time. I enter my protest against such a course, and I hope it is not going to take place, and I merely request that we may be favoured with an assurance that if, en reviewing the Amendments of the Government, a fundamental change is, in our opinion, introduced into the Bill, we may have an opportunity of commenting on the change before the Speaker leaves the Chair.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The right hon. Gentleman, after having consented last Thursday evening to the second reading without a Division, in the express hope that certain changes which have been indicated might be introduced, now says unless these changes are stated in detail and the Amendments with regard to them are placed upon the Paper he will advise his Friends to refuse you, Sir, permission to leave the Chair.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
What I stated was this. It was understood that the Government intended to introduce a number of changes into this Bill. If these changes appear to the minority of the House to involve essential alterations in the principle of the Bill, I ask the Government that we should have the opportunity of discussing those essential changes before the Speaker leaves the Chair.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman now seeks to lay stress upon the possibility of changes or Amendments which the Government may think it right to lay upon the Table, and he makes a claim, on the part of the Opposition, to consider whether these Amendments or clauses shall be deemed by the Opposition to be essential changes in the Bill, and he demands that the House shall not proceed with the consideration of the Bill in Committee until the Opposition have had the opportunity of forming their own judgment as to whether these Amendments are essential changes or not. I think that is a demand—whatever the right hon. Gentleman's experience may be, and it is certainly greater than my own—which is much greater than has ever been made by any Opposition before. It is for us to say whether the changes are essential changes or not. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland was about to proceed to indicate roughly and generally the main changes, such as they were, which 1689 the Government thought it right to introduce into the measure. But he was stopped by you, Sir, on the ground that it would be out of Order to indicate those changes. The result is that the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) has himself prevented my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary from making any statement whatever as to the changes which the Government were making.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
I kept my seat in order to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to proceed, and there was an evident intention that you, Sir, should leave the Chair without any explanation.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I am dealing with the actual facts. The hon. Member for West Bradford moved that the debate should be now adjourned, and the fact is, that the mouth of my right hon. Friend is shut. He cannot now give to the House oven a general idea of such changes as we may think it right to introduce into the measure. Therefore, the hon. Member for West Bradford has the great satisfaction of knowing that he has put it out of our power to give the House the information it desires by moving the adjournment of the debate. I can say, however, that we are prepared to put our Amendments on the Paper tomorrow, and the House can proceed with the consideration of the Bill in Committee on Monday; but I deny that it is at all fitting or right that the measure should be delayed at this period of the Session, simply because right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to consider these Amendments, which are not inconsistent with the principle of the Bill, which carry out the principle of the Bill, which do not depart in the slightest degree from that principle, and which follow necessarily, from the statement which has been made by my right hon. Friend, to meet in part the views of Gentlemen who have expressed their desire that the Bill should pass in order that a preliminary debate should be raised on these changes. I can only answer to the statement made on the other side that if it is the intention of the Opposition to delay or to frustrate the progress of the Bill, upon them must rest the responsibility. The Government are prepared to proceed with the measure; we are prepared to give full information to the House, in ample time 1690 for the consideration of any of the Amendments, and there will be full opportunity for deliberation concerning them. Then, if the Opposition shall think it consistent with their duty, consistent with the interests of the county, and consistent with the interests of the tenant farmers of Ireland, to interpose delay and in any way to frustrate the Bill, it will not be for the Government to bear the blame, but it will fall on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has begun rather early to charge us with a desire to delay or to frustrate the Bill. It is the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary himself who is answerable. If on the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair, the right hon. Gentleman had made this statement as to the changes in the Bill which he now promises he will make, the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) would not have made this Motion, and we should have been at the point we have now arrived at, an hour ago. Therefore, it is the Government who are responsible for the delay that has taken place. I do not want to prolong controversy; but, so far as precedent is concerned, I should say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian is as good an authority as the House possesses. But there is one case, that of the Education Act, 1870, when great changes were expected between the second reading of Mr. Forster's Bill and the Speaker's leaving the Chair. What happened? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian himself, as Head of the Government, explained before the House went into Committee what the nature of these important and vital changes was. Now this Bill is probably not so important as the Bill of 1870. I do not want to wrangle about the Carlton Club. Everyone knows that the Government have resolved—I am glad they have resolved —to accept important changes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian—I think in his speech on Thursday night—recommended the Government to keep as long as they could an open mind, and as far as possible to give a free reception to the ideas which had been developed by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord 1691 Randolph Churchill), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), and to make considerable modifications in the Bill. I understand that if the Motion is withdrawn the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would, on the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair, explain the substance of the changes the Government propose to make in Committee. If that were so, I would recommend that the Motion should be withdrawn.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, that on the distinct understanding that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was about to give the explanation that was vouchsafed to the Carlton Club he would have no objection to withdraw the Motion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that, as he had already indicated to the House, he would be perfectly ready to give a general account of the Amendments the Government meant to put down on the Paper; but he hoped it would be understood that, if he did that, in return the Speaker would be allowed to leave the Chair that night.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
said, the House would be better able to judge what it should do when it had heard what the Amendments were.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said, he declined to be a party to any pledge; and he protested against the inaccurate statement of the events of that evening that had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. The delay which had occurred in the declaration of the intentions of the Government was entirely due to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who was not in his place when an opportunity occurred of which he might have availed himself.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had spoken of the Amendments the Government were going to put on the Paper; but there were many Amendments put down by the Friends of the Government; and the House wanted to know which of the many Liberal Unionist Amendments the Government were going to accept in 1692 addition to those they would put upon the Paper. They ought to know what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary's statement was before they agreed to any conditions. Surely the country would now perceive what utter muddlers the Government were. From their muddling mode of conducting Business they had become the greatest obstructors that had ever been known in the House. What were their feelings when they looked back on the proceedings of the earlier part of this evening?
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is not speaking strictly to the Motion before the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he quite acknowledged it. He was illustrating the matter. He did his best to find excuses for the Government, and the only excuse that could be found for them was that very possibly the terms of the bargain were not yet settled, and that the Government were still discussing the matter with their Liberal Unionist Friends. If that was the case let the Government say so frankly, and postpone the matter for two or three days. They had had to make a surrender; they had hauled down their flag; they had to eat the leek, and they wanted to do it bit by bit in Committee; but the Opposition wanted them to swallow it now—and whole. If they did the country would know that we never had a more addle-pated, a more muddle-headed, and a less vertebrate Government, and one that obstructed so much by putting forward proposals and withdrawing or changing them. The House could not say, until after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, whether the Speaker should leave the Chair that night or on Monday.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The two Amendments which the Government propose to put upon the Paper relate to the question of what has been termed the "back door," and also to the question of the temporary abatement of rent. I can describe the principle on which the Government propose to deal with the first question in a few sentences. We are perfectly aware that it is possible, although we do not think it very probable, that certain landlords may use the 1693 powers left them by this Bill, and the powers they possess as ordinary creditors, to circumvent the limitations which we have sought to put upon evictions by the 22nd and subsequent clauses. We are aware that it is possible that a landlord may proceed against a tenant as an ordinary creditor does against a debtor, may sell up his effects, and may, among other things, sell up his tenant-right, and, having sold that, may proceed to evict We have also thought that that is a possible objection that ought to be considered and met; but we do not think it would be just or right to place any limitation upon landlords which we do not place upon other creditors. We therefore propose shortly to place an Amendment upon the Paper which will, subject to the discretion of the County Court Judge, prevent any creditor, be he who he may, from selling up the tenant-right. As I have said, that Amendment will be shortly on the Paper; but I do not think any study of it will enable anyone to get a clearer idea of it than is conveyed in these few sentences. The other question is the one, I presume, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) more particularly alluded to when he talked of the enormous change made in the Bill by the decision the Government recently came to. I do not agree with right hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the magnitude of those changes. They are not inconsiderable; but, certainly, we do not think they amount to a total remodelling of the Bill, neither are they so great as the right hon. Gentleman seems to imagine. If I may gather the intentions of right hon. Gentlemen opposite from the Amendments which are on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne(Mr. John Morley), their view of the method of meeting the present situation is to throw every single judicial rent into the melting-pot and to bring it out brand-new. This is revision of rents with a vengeance. I will not state fully the objections the Government entertain to that proposal; but we consider it to be wholly and absolutely inadmissible, and when it is brought forward I shall state more fully why we cannot accept it. Our proposals are of a much more limited description. The right hon. Gentleman opposite says that we have laid down the proposition that judicial rents are not to be revised. 1694 Well, Sir, to that proposition, with proper limitations, we still adhere. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh, as as if we had always interpreted that proposition as meaning that under no circumstances would any rent fixed by the Sub-Commissioners be altered in any respect.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think the hon. and learned Member or hon. Members generally can have studied the Bill either in its present shape or as it was introduced by the Government into the House of Lords, because, subject to certain conditions of bankruptcy, we always comtemplated that there might be some relief from judicial rents. [An hon. MEMBER: Eighteen months.] An hon. Gentleman opposite says "Eighteen months." As the Bill was originally produced in the Lords that limitation of 18 months did not exist; but, under the Bill as it now stands, an alteration of the judicial rent under bankruptcy is possible for 18 months. We never interpreted that, however, as an interference with the judicial rent in the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman thinks they ought to be interfered with. We have always thought, and we think still, that it would be absolutely fatal to any permanent future settlement of Irish affairs if we were entirely to upset the arrangements come to in 1881. To that opinion we still adhere. The proposal of the Government that we shall put on the Paper is undoubtedly different from that which was in the Bill when it was in the House of Lords and when it was read a second time in this House on Thursday last. We recognize the fact that this House has taken upon itself, as we think, the impossible task of managing all contracts relating to land in Ireland through a machinery of Courts and Commissioners. We regret that that principle was ever adopted; but we recognize the fact that it has been adopted. We know that this House has taken upon itself the task of making Irish landlords good by Act of Parliament. The system adopted in 1881 was to establish leases for 15 years all over Ireland for such tenants as chose to apply to the Court to have a fair rent fixed. Since that time there has been something in the nature of a revolution of prices in Ireland—a revolution in 1695 Ireland of far less magnitude than has taken place in England; but still, undoubtedly, there has been something in the nature of an economic revolution in prices. Well, we asked ourselves this question—What would an ordinary English or Scotch landlord be disposed to do who had made a lease in 1882 or 1883, and who found that after he had made that lease prices had altered to a considerable extent? What have English and Scotch landlords actually done to a very large extent? Well, an English or a Scotch landlord would say—"There has been an unexpected fall of prices; but there may be an equally unexpected rise. I will not therefore alter the terms of the leases which I have made with my tenants, but I will give them a temporary abatement in order that they may get over the difficulties of the next two or throe years." That is the policy which has already been adopted by the vast majority of Irish landlords, and it is a policy we think we may, without serious injustice, make compulsory by the Bill upon all. Hon. Gentlemen have talked as if the suggestion made by the Cowper Commission was a quinquennial revision of rents on very much the same basis as that on which rents were fixed by the Act of 1881. As I said in my speech on the second reading, a quinquennial revision of rents, on whatever basis, is a total absurdity. Not only were you monstrously wrong in fixing 15 years as a convenient period for a lease in Ireland, but you would have been equally wrong if you had fixed five years; because you say tenants whoso rents were fixed only three years ago are already so oppressed by the alteration of prices that their cases ought to be considered by the Legislature. It is a mistake to suppose that the Cowper Commission suggested anything so crude and absurd as a mere quinquennial revision of rents. The suggestion was made with this important modification, that you should arrange your rents by some automatic process depending upon prices. But even if a perfect system of sliding scale could be devised, it might be a serious obstacle in the way of a purchase scheme, which in the opinion of the vast majority of the Members of this House, is the only true and final solution of the Irish Question. But we do consider that we can adopt, 1696 in a rough fashion, a sliding scale so as to obtain that temporary abatement of the judicial rent for the next three years which may enable an Irish tenant to tide over the interval which will, in all probability, separate us from the final scheme of purchase. Our proposal is in effect this—that the Land Court shall be instructed, by the Bill, to devise a scale of revision based solely upon prices, and which shall, of course, vary according to the districts to which it is to be applied. The Land Commission shall, have power to fix averages and to arrange districts. The districts will, of course, be settled by the character of the agriculture and the character of the soil. Having arranged these districts in a more or less rough-and-ready fashion, they will apply automatically the diminution of rent that they think just, having regard to the fall of prices and to the fall of prices alone to the various holdings contained in the sections. That will apply for the next three years, and the House will observe that it is a very rough, ready, and rude, but expeditious method of applying the principle of a sliding scale so as to obtain a temporary remission of rents until the purchase scheme can be carried—for introduced, I hope, it will be in a very few months—and brought into operation. That is the object which we have in view. It is to get over the interval. We frankly admit that that plan is, in its nature, a rough-and-ready plan; but it is cheap and expeditious, it will not lead to litigation, and I trust it will not have the effect of impairing in any way the certainty and security of any future settlement which may be arrived at on the basis of purchase.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The circumstances to be taken into account by the Commission will be the general character of the holding and the fall of prices.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That, as well as all other questions of rent, will be left to the Land Commission appointed under the Act of 1881. When the hon. Member interrupted me I had almost 1697 explained the full scope and purport of our suggestions to the House. The merits of the plan are its simplicity and cheapness.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We are still of opinion that the Bankruptcy Clauses will be a great boon to the tenants. Regarding them, I do not think I have anything to add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was that, while we thought those clauses would be a boon to the tenant, we should drop them with reluctance, if we found that the Representatives of the tenants entertained a great objection to them, and knowing, as we do, that the Representatives of the landlords do not look at them with any enthusiasm. We do not think we should be justified, at this period of the Session, in expending any large measure of the public time upon them. That statement was made explicitly by my right hon. Friend. I hope I have now, with sufficient clearness, though with rather rude outline, explained the main principles of the Amendments which we shall have to propose. I hope, also, that I have laid a sufficient basis for the discussion which the right hon. Gentleman desires.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
asked, what was the view of the Government with regard to the restrictions on leaseholders, and what arrangement had been come to as regards them?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
With regard to that the Government will, of course, very favourably consider any proposals which may be submitted, although, they do not themselves propose any Amendments. They still, however, adhere to the opinion laid down that perpetuity leases should not be included. After this statement, I trust that the House will be satisfied with a brief discussion, and that the Speaker will be allowed to leave the Chair this evening.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I think the right hon. Gentleman has very fairly and sufficiently stated to the House the alterations that the Government propose to make in this Bill; but I desire to call the attention of the House to the course which they have taken in dealing with the whole of this 1698 question. Now, they introduced this Bill in the other House of Parliament, and they had an opportunity there of considering all these questions upon which they now announce these alterations. They had the advice of the Liberal Unionists, who abound in the House of Lords. A Motion was made by Lord Fitzgerald, on the subject of the fieri facias, and the Government refused it. [Mr. A. J. BAIFOUR: We still refuse it.] They refuse it still. They refuse the view of the Liberal Unionists on this special point of fieri facias. Let us understand that. That is not part of the bargain. Then they had a remonstrance from Lord Cowper, the Chairman of the Commission, as to there being no provision whatever with reference to a reduction of rent. That they absolutely refused in the House of Lords. The Bill comes down to this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) makes a speech, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) makes a speech. Still, there was no sign of yielding upon any of these points. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, was put up on Thursday to make a "no surrender" speech upon the subject. This is what he said—Let it be distinctly understood that we do not mean to buy a vote by pretending or assuming any agreement of opinion which is not an absolute agreement and would not express the convictions we hold.Did you hold these convictions last Thursday upon the subject of abatement which you call by that name, and imagine that you are going to change the character of it by using one word instead of another? There was a remarkable appeal made to the Government from a remarkable quarter. I see the noble Viscount the Member for the Darwen Division of Lancashire (Viscount Cranborne). He is not the Rose, but he lives near it. The noble Viscount has said—The rents fixed before 1885, though calculated on higher prices than now prevail, were still fair rents, and ought to be maintained. The Members of the Unionist Party sitting on both sides of the House have pledged themselves not to interfere with the judicial rents, and he did not think that the Government"—the noble Viscount enjoys, I envy him, the innocence of youth— 1699and he did not think that the Government would ask them to interfere with judicial rents and to be false to their pledges.He says—The Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, have all declared against tampering with judicial rents.That is the pathetic appeal made by the noble Viscount to the Government; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a magnificent tone, declared on Thursday night, "Oh! never." The noble Viscount was quite justified in his appeal. Last year there was a proposal made by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) for tampering with judicial rents. What did the Home Secretary say then? Did he say—" We do not like the particular form of your proposal; if it were an abatement for three or four years which any reasonable Englishman would grant, why, of course, we would give compulsory powers for it?" No; that was not his language. The right hon. Gentleman said—It is not within the competence of an honest Parliament to vary the pledge that for 16 years there should be no interference with the judicial rent, and if the statutory rent is not paid, the landlord shall recover the possession of the land.That was the pledge upon which the Government took their stand last year, and with regard to which the noble Viscount now appeals to the Government. The noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale is probably more responsible than anybody in this matter. What was his language last year? He said—The House is not entitled, however tempting it might be, to use its power of depriving any class of the community of rights guaranteed to them by law.What were those rights? The judicial rent for 15 years, which he said the House is not entitled to deprive the tenants of. The noble Marquess said—He protested against any scheme to deprive landlords of rights that have been secured to them by the Act of 1881.The noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale was, therefore, instigating the Government to refuse to deal in any form with the abatement of rent for 15 years. Then came forward the gallant Chancellor of the Exchequer on Thurs- 1700 day night last; and he says that "if you tell the tenant that his rent is to be varied according to the price" you will have established a totally different principle, which goes to the whole root of purchase. That is the very thing the Government are now going to do. There is to be a 16 per cent or 20 per cent reduction. According to what we have just heard, the Court is to determine what is to be the reduction according to the price." Therefore, the very thing which, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Thursday night that nothing would induce him to do he has now agreed to do. "The principle of purchase," said the right hon. Gentleman, "is that there should not be a fluctuating price, but a price fixed once for all." Are you going to fix it, once for all, in the next three years, or is it to vary according to the price?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I ought, perhaps, to explain that I only deal with judicial rents fixed before the date when the Commissioners said the fall in prices began to be serious; and the rent is to be fixed each year of the three years. It is not to be a settlement for the three years; but it is to be automatic—each year for that year.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
That is exactly what I understood—namely, that there is to be a variation. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] That is the very thing which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that apostle of stability, said he never would agree to. Let me read what the right hon. Gentleman said, because it is the solemn assurance of this great advocate of stability in finance, stability in domestic affairs, stability in foreign affairs. He said—I never agreed to the rent being fixed according to the prices, because, if you do that, it will be fatal to purchase.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Yes. I will read it again. It is so long ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has forgotten it.If you tell the tenant that his rent is to be varied according to the price you will have established a totally different principle, which goes to the whole root of purchase. The principle of purchase is that there should not be a fluctuating price, but one that is to be fixed once for all.1701 His argument was that nothing should be done to vary the rent according to price, because it would destroy purchase. But that is what I understand the proposal of the Government to be—namely, to vary rent according to prices. Now, what has happened since Thursday last? Oh, that is confidential. Let us go by dates. On Saturday night it happened that the true gospel was still being preached at the Alexandra Palace. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was as firm as a rock upon his principles. But Sunday intervened, the conversion took place, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was received into the true Church by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. Listening to the final benediction of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, he was converted, and thus the vital principle of the Bill disappeared. The Carlton has been the scene of many memorable conversions, and will be, I dare say, of many more. The statement of Lord. Salisbury has not been denied. These confidences will get out. According to the account which we have had, Lord Salisbury said that he had conceded the principle unwillingly; that he did not agree in the principle; that he thought it was a very bad principle, but that he could not help himself; and, therefore, he threw overboard the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his principle, and commended himself to the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. I admire the frankness of Lord Salisbury. He does not conceal his opinion of the situation. Lord Salisbury said—"Why have we done all this, and sacrificed the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Because, if we did not, there might be a Dissolution." Well, if you thought the country agreed with you; if you thought your sacred principle dear to the country; if you thought that the country approved of your Coercion Bill and the rest of your conduct, why do not you pray every day and all night for Dissolution? But you hold a Dissolution up as something terrible to look upon. Why frighten the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson); why frighten the right hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. 1702 Chaplin), who lives next door to the Spalding Division? Why do you say that if we do not dissolve, that dreadful man the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) would dissolve, and then the end of the world would come? These are the arguments by which the great Conservative Party are induced to sacrifice the sacred principle of the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer. I sympathize with the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh very much. He is thoroughly in earnest; he is a man of war, and he does not care the moment the battle has begun to run away. He is not afraid of Dissolution, or anything else. I would advise, if he really wants to fight, to leave those Benches, and come here. He belongs to a Party who always runs away; and if he will come here we shall be very happy to receive him, and make use of his fighting qualities. Men like the hon. and gallant Member are always ready to fight—'gainst fearful oddsFor the rent-rolls of their fathers, and thealtars of their gods.The moment the odds are a little too heavy against them, when they think there is a chance of their being defeated, they throw away all their former principles, alter all their acts, and run away. I should advise the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh to enlist under some better standard, and not to belong to an army where the flying rout is led by the valorous Chancellor of the Exchequer. If they are only patient, they will see plenty more of this kind of thing. How many months will it be before there is a meeting of the Carlton Club, and they are told—" If we do not go in for Home Rule "—not our Homo Rule, but some kind of Home Rule—"you will have a Dissolution, and the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh will be expected to vote for Home Rule, in order to avert a Dissolution." I confess I am very glad the Government have run away; it will save, I hope, a great deal of time and a good deal of discussion. To use the phrase of one of their former Leaders, they have "yielded to fear what they would not yield to reason." All these matters were argued and reasoned out when the Bill was iu the other House; but they would not yield until last Sunday; until they found they were going to be 1703 beaten they would not listen to it for a single moment; but, if report is not untrue, the hon. and. gallant Member for North Armagh thinks that they have bought the support of the Liberal Unionists at too dear a rate. Surely, that is rather shabby. The hon. and gallant Member thinks that the support of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), and I will throw in the right hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), has been paid for too dearly. Surely, no price is too great to be paid for adhesion by such as these. Let us look at the Constitutional aspect of this question. I am not speaking of Gentlemen opposite, for I know what their opinions are; they have shown that they do not care a pin for the Constitution; but I am speaking to old-fashioned people on this side of the House. I have always understood that the Constitution of England requires that a set of responsible men, called the Ministers of the Crown, should recommend to Parliament, and should be responsible to Parliament, for the measures they approve. Upon the very face of it this Government say—"We are recommending measures we do not approve, because they are forced upon us by men whose votes we want, but who are not responsible for the measures they recommend." Anything more thoroughly inconsistent with the Constitution of this country it is impossible to conceive. You avow, you have avowed, that you propose to buy votes for a measure you do not approve, in order to escape a defeat which might terminate your Government, or a Dissolution which might destroy your Party. That is the statement which has been given forth, and not denied, from the Carlton Club. Now, what are you doing to do with this measure? You have altered the measure in a manner you do not approve, and you are going to send it back to the House of Landlords stamped with your own disapproval. That is the manner in which you are going to settle the House of Landlords. What infinite mischief have you done already by your obstinacy in this matter of judicial rents? Months have elapsed—a sad 12 months for Ireland, a disgraceful 12 months for England—all because, until you were compelled by fear of Parliamentary defeat, you refused to do the 1704 very thing you now avow you will do to-night. The hon. Member for Cork, not 12 months ago, proposed a measure which would have had a temporary effect in relieving tenants from the pressure of unjust rents. I will not argue whether that was the best proposal which could be made. That was not the question. The question was whether something should be done in that direction. You had a majority, and you might have made the Bill anything you liked; but you refused, and laid down the sacred principle that you would not, that you could not, that no honest Parliament could touch judicial rents. What has happened? You chose to cut yourself off from all communication with the Irish Members on the subject. You said to them—"You are ignorant men, and know nothing of the state of Ireland." You were encamped in Ireland as the Austrians were encamped in Venice; like them you were ignorant of the opinion, and you cared nothing for the Irish people. It was the right hon. Member for West Birmingham who said that you had treated Ireland as the Austrians had treated Italy, and as the Russians treated Poland.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I did not say so; I am quite sure my right hon. Friend does not wish to misrepresent me. What I really did say was this, or words to this effect, for I cannot remember the precise words, that the Government of this country in Ireland was as bureaucratic as the Government of Austria in Venice and the Government of Russia in Poland.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The Government and Unionist Party have shown absolute ignorance of the condition of Ireland, and the proof of it is this—that in the debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for Cork you said you did not know whether rents were fixed at too high a rate or not. My hon. Friend the Member for Cork did know, but you would not listen to him. The fundamental principle laid down by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), the basis of the Unionist principle, is that you must disregard the opinions, the wishes, and the knowledge of the Irish Members in any settlement of the Irish Question. You chose to endeavour to govern Ireland by that means, and the consequence is that you are utterly unfit 1705 to deal with the Irish Question. You showed your ignorance last year. Last August you appointed a Commission, evidence was taken, and before Parliament met you knew perfectly well—it is true the Report of the Cowper Commission had not been presented, but the evidence had been presented to the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and you knew perfectly well the condition of Ireland. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) charges upon you, to his honour, that the late Chief Secretary for Ireland used his influence with the Government, and that the Government knew perfectly well that rents were too high, and he recommended a reduction of rents. You knew it last January. I want to know why you did not then produce this measure? The men who refused last autumn to make any proposal for the reduction of rents, in consequence of the fall in prices, are the men who are morally responsible for the Plan of Campaign. I charge upon my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale that by refusing the demand, which is now on all hands admitted to be just, he drove the Irish people to take refuge in the only defence against admitted wrongs, and the oppression from which they are now suffering. I do not want to use harsh words, but the noble Lord the Member for Devon (Viscount Lymington) has had the face to charge Sir George Trevelyan with treachery. Abuse and contumely from the noble Lord is a compliment, and Sir George Trevelyan would be more proud of insult from the noble Lord than of compliment. Treachery because he would not be an accomplice to such a wrong as that. Treachery because it was found that he would not be a party to compel men for 12 months to undergo the injustice of these excessive rents, and the evictions which took place upon that basis were morally unjust evictions. [Cries of"No!"] You may say "No;" but it is the finding of the Cowper Commission. It was in consequence of the course the Government and the Unionists took last year. I want to know what has been the consequence of this? We have the testimony of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) that nowhere except where the Plan of Campaign has been in operation has there been any material 1706 reduction in rent. He said that in the South and West abatements have been made, and there has been great reduction. Was it made from any sense of justice, or humanity, or feeling of mercy? No; for according to the hon. Member for South Tyrone intimidation and outrage have caused the abatements to be made. In Ulster, where there has been no intimidation in the shape of the Plan of Campaign, where there was no outrage, there has been no abatement. There you have the Irish landlord in his native colours, and there there has been no abatement of rent. I say that the men who refused or who were parties to the refusal last August of any abatements upon these excessive rents are responsible for all the evictions that have taken place since. If these abatements have been made these evictions would not have taken place. We have got this morning a Return showing what these evictions have been. In six months there were 8,891 persons evicted. And all these men were evicted because you would not give relief from excessive rents. [Cries of "Not all!"] Well then, I will not say all. You say, however—"Oh, but so many people were retained as caretakers." Now, we have never got at the bottom of that. What becomes of the caretaker six months afterwards? Does he remain in the house or not? His fate has not been explained to us. But, even making a liberal reduction for those who are readmitted as caretakers, you will still leave 6,000 persons who are evicted in consequence of your refusal to give this relief last year. I lay upon you the responsibility for these evictions. Now, what might you not have done, even if you were so ignorant of the condition of Ireland, and were so unwilling to borrow the knowledge you did not possess from the Representatives of Ireland, if you had brought in your Bill at the beginning of the Session. You knew every fact you now know, all but the fact that the Liberal Unionists were going to vote against you; every other fact was known to you at the beginning of the Session. Mark what a difference there would have been in the history of the Session. What a difference there would have been in the history of Ireland, if, instead of rushing upon coercion, you had given relief to these unfortunate people by a Bill introduced in January, 1707 and had reserved yourselves for your final measure of purchase. Why, what a different situation, what a different temper you would have found the House of Commons in, and in what a different way would it have dealt with the Public Business of the country? You did not choose to do so. You were absolutely bent on going into the business of coercion; you put off until the last day of the Session this measure, imperfect no doubt, but a measure which I hope may be made more perfect in Committee; and it is in consequence of the course you have taken that you have wasted the time of the Session, ruined your prospects of the government of Ireland, and destroyed this Session for the use of the people of the United Kingdom. If you had introduced a Land Bill affording reasonable relief to the tenants of Ireland, as you now say it was your intention to do, freeing them from the burden of excessive rents, in nay opinion we should never have heard of this Coercion Bill. Therefore, I throw back upon you the taunts you level at us on the subject of obstruction. I repeat that the course you have taken in reference to legislation for Ireland has ruined your prospects for the government of that country, and has destroyed the Session for the use of the people of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
The distinctions which have been drawn between revision and reduction are very much like the quibble we had upon the Coercion Bill, when we were told that coercion did not mean coercion. With regard to this revision or reduction, there will be a substantial reduction; but it pleases hon. Gentlemen opposite to call it revision, which amounts to precisely the same thing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) ably pointed out that it is not we who have been the Obstructionists; he has justly thrown upon the Government the responsibility for everything that has occurred in Ireland; and everyone on this side of the House who does not happen to be a Liberal Unionist concurs in what my right hon. Friend has said. When the Opposition dinned it into the ears of the Government that they ought to make a reduction of rent they were met by a non possumus; they now reply by a, possumus. Her Majesty's Ministers have been in a false position 1708 throughout. They took Office without a majority; they had to submit to the Unionists, and were obliged to do as they were told. They have done so because they are afraid of a General Election, and because they know that public opinion is turning against them. I do not complain of Her Majesty's Ministers; but why did they accept Office? I was in the country the other day, and I looked into a pigsty and saw a man knocking the pigs about. I said—"Don't push those little pigs about;" but the man said—"They don't care what you do so long as you leave their noses in the trough." That is very much the position of the present Government. The right hon. Member for Derby might prove by argument and reason that they are in the wrong, and that they have sacrified their principles; but the Government do not care, they know they have got a numerical majority, and they treat everything said by their opponents with supercilious silence. The First Lord of the Treasury, in a speech last night, said of his followers—"A better Party to follow their Leaders never has been found in any House of Commons." I entirely agree, if it is the business of followers simply to follow like a flock of sheep, to go right or left as they are ordered to vote, black one day and white the other, that a better Party to follow Leaders never was found in the British House of Commons. The noble Lord (Viscount Cranborne), on the same occasion, elevated the same idea upon principle. He said—"The weather-cock has turned, and we must turn with it." Now, is it surprising that when the weather-cock turned against them they wished to change their opinions? When, however, right hon. Gentlemen opposite speak of themselves as Leaders they are somewhat mistaken; they are entirely the slaves of slaves—they are the slaves of hon. Gentlemen there (pointing to the Treasury Bench), and right hon. Gentlemen there are the slaves of hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Opposition side and call themselves Liberal Unionists. I really do not know why a right hon. Gentleman who prides himself on this, that his Allies are the gentlemen of England, should condescend to sit with such obscure and humble persons as his former Colleagues. Why do not the gentlemen of England sit together? Her Majesty's Government paid a price 1709 for the support of right hon. Gentlemen who call themselves Liberals, and who advise people to vote for Conservatives, who never lose an opportunity of reviling everything they once held sacred, and who attack everyone who still remains Liberal on this side of the House. Assuredly those right hon. Gentlemen have earned their reward—surely some concession ought to be made to them. The concession which the Government gives them is their principles, nothing less and nothing more. We are told that this Bill is to pave the way for an Irish Purchase Bill; and if we are to believe the report which appeared in the newspapers somewhat mysteriously of what took place at the Carlton Club, Lord Salisbury stated at that meeting that if the rents were reduced in Ireland to a judicial figure the landlords should be compensated. Who is to compensate them? The money is to come from our pockets.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
May I take it, then, that under no circumstances will any sort of compensation be given to the Irish landlords, if their rents are reduced? Do I gather that from the right hon. Gentleman? The right hon. Gentleman is silent. No; the right hon. Gentleman is afraid of his followers. This is a policy of conciliation. He dare not say that. He wants to catch votes, and he says this was not stated by Lord Salisbury. But he will not get up in the House and say that under no circumstances will compensation be given to the Irish landlords. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was the first author of the idea that first charges and mortgages ought to be reduced. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fervour with which he goes further than the gentlemen of England themselves. The right hon. Gentleman finds favour with his Allies by telling them he is prepared to aid and abet them in robbing the commercial classes of this country. The House, I think, ought to know something distinctly about this Purchase Bill. I am perfectly aware that there are some Gentlemen in the House in favour of a purchase scheme. We were told there would be no risk; but there is no liability without risk. I do not care by what Government a Pur- 1710 chase Bill is brought in, or who votes for it—I shall always vote and protest against it, if any species of liability or risk is thrown upon the British taxpayer. The last Election was, to a great extent, lost because there was an idea abroad that there was some scheme in contemplation for buying out the Irish landlords and incurring liability on their account. [An hon. MEMBER: There was no Bill.] No; the Bill was withdrawn. The Bill is dead. I perfectly understand the position of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). I do not suppose the right hon. Member thought the scheme was economically sound; but he wanted to pass the Home Rule Bill; the right hon. Gentleman and many others were ready to pay a price for it, and this was a species of offer he made to the landlords of Ireland. [An hon. MEMBER: A bribe.] Yes; a bribe. But when you are dealing with the landlords you must give bribes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian saw that the sands were running through the hour glass. The offer was made and the offer was refused, and it will not be made again. Therefore, there was an erroneous impression on the part of the electors. But what I wish to point out is this. So horrified were the electors at the idea of being called upon to incur any risk or liability in connection with the Irish landlords, that the mere notion of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian recurring to a Purchase Bill injured the prospects of the Liberal Party in the elections. But who were those who made capital by insisting that the right hon. Gentleman was going to bring in such a Bill again? It was the Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists. If any Parliament was ever pledged to anything, it was the last Parliament that they would not incur any liability or risk for paying off the landlords of Ireland. Then I trust that no Bill of the kind will be brought in again; but I hope the Irish Members themselves will see that if it is it would injure their cause if they joined the Conservatives in throwing this liability on the taxpayers. If the country decides that it should be done, we must submit, and I would ask nothing better than to go to the constituencies and let the constituencies decide whether or no they would incur this liability on behalf of the Irish landlords, or give Ireland full 1711 national independence without incurring such a liability.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I wish, in the first place, to correct a considerable error into which the right hon. Gentleman fell in quoting from the Return of evictions for the last quarter, as for six months; but they were for the quarter only, and the right hon. Gentleman did not give the entire number. From the last Return issued by the Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary, on the 2nd of July, 1887, it appears that in the last quarter 9,140 persons were evicted, or more than double the number stated by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The hon. Member for Cork is perfectly right. I stated that 8,991 persons were evicted for non-payment of rent, and that 5,711 were admitted as caretakers during six months. It should have been three months.
§ MR. PARNELL
I have called attention to the matter, because I have some remarks to make on the question of evictions, which does not appear to be dealt with in the Government Bill. Now, Sir, I think I am entitled to claim credit, to some extent, for the suggestions I made last autumn in the direction of the abatement of judicial rents, because I found that the Government had been following very closely the three leading principles of my Bill. In the first place, they are now going to deal with a revision, or, as they call it, an abatement of the judicial rents. In the second place, they lay stress upon the fact that there has been a considerable fall in agricultural prices, just as I laid stress upon it; and, in the third place, they make the abatements run for three years, as I made them run. I am, therefore, encouraged to hope, from the successful way in which my Bill has been imitated, both in respect of the Leaseholders' Clause and the question of the abatement of judicial rents, that some attention may be paid to the claims I now wish to make, in all good faith and sincerity, with reference to certain matters omitted from the Government measure. I do not wish to dwell on the inconsistency of the Government on the present occasion. It is sufficient for me that the Bill, as far as we can judge of it in its altered form, will go a long way to alleviate the evils which now exist in Ireland. I intend now to ask the Government to go a little 1712 farther in that direction, so as to obviate and do away with all possibility of hardship and trouble arising out of the delay which has taken place in legislating on this matter. I observe that there is no effectual provision in the Bill dealing with arrears of rent. Of course, the Chief Secretary has not told the House at what period the judgments of the Commissioners will take effect, whether in respect of the year's rent ordinarily payable at the end of this year, or ordinarily payable at the end of next year. If their decisions follow the 2nd clause of the Government Bill, these reductions will only take effect in respect of the gale accruing next after application made to the Court, which would be ordinarily payable some time next year. But the Bill cannot come into effect for a month or so, and would apply to the gale due in September or November next which would be ordinarily payable some time next year, the date varying in accordance with the practice on different estates. It would have no effect whatever upon the rents becoming due this autumn, and the tenants would be left to struggle with the existing rents as they have been doing under the Plan of Campaign. I think that the House will agree with me that it is earnestly desired that this should be a measure which would deal with the critical position in Ireland at the present time, and also in years to come, if it should continue; and as long as the tenants are left, as a number of them would be left, with a year's rent coming due in the autumn, with the old excessive standard hanging over them, their position would still be a very unfortunate one. This matter, however, would no doubt be more clearly explained when we see the clauses of the Bill; but I would respectfully urge that the first judicial decision should have effect upon the year's rent ordinarily payable at the end of the year, as in November. I also urge that there should be an effectual provision to assist those tenants who are oppressed with arrears. The weight of the arrears has been perpetually associated with the difficulties of the tenants. It was one of the causes which led to the terrible future position of the tenants after the passing of the Land Act of 1881, although that Act did an immeasurable amount of good to Ireland, and was one 1713 of the most successful Acts ever passed for that country. Let me now go on to another point. The Government are now going to abolish the right of the landlord to proceed by writ of fieri facias; but there are a great many tenants who have been evicted during this year under that process, simply owing to the failure of the Government to legislate. Would it be fair that such tenants should be shut out from the benefit of this Act? Are they to be punished for the nonpayment of rents which the Government now admit to be unfair? The Government may say that the Plan of Campaign is responsible for that. Now. I am not responsible for the Plan of Compaign; but I would submit that the Plan of Campaign is not more responsible for the failure to pay these rents than this House. If we are to have a temporary settlement of the question, we should deal with the situation as it stands; and not to remove all the causes of the irritation which still exists would mar the beneficial operation of the measure. Therefore, I would impress upon the Government the justice and expediency—I would almost say the necessity—of introducing something into the Bill under which these writs of fieri facias should be set aside, and the tenants allowed to have the full benefit of the Act. Finally, I would refer to the case of tenants evicted in the ordinary way whose period of redemption has expired. We are dealing with a case in which there has been a long and cruel and unnecessary delay; and in the period involved in that delay Parliament should be generous and see, as far as it can, that the tenants should be reinstated upon their holdings, and that such raws and blots should not be allowed to remain longer in existence. I will go further, and say, with reference to the evictions which have taken place in Ireland for a great number of years back—for instance, there have been many thousands of evictions in the County of Kerry, which has been one of the most disturbed counties in Ireland; but I would gladly see power given to the Courts to reinstate all such tenants, and also power given to them to compensate the landlords out of the Irish Church Fund for any loss they might incur in consequence of such reinstatement, I am now referring to cases of old evictions, in regard to which the 1714 landlords may have incurred a considerable expense, and may be able to prove that they may suffer loss in consequence of reinstatement. I believe that if this measure, with the suggestions I have made, was passed and fairly worked it would be accepted by the tenants of Ireland as a satisfactory means of tiding them over their present difficulties; and, at all events, in the unhappy agrarian struggle which has been going on in Ireland, they would wait with patience and hope for the projects of the Government with regard to their larger scheme.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I have risen for the purpose of suggesting that the statement which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) is entitled to some reply. In my opinion, some most important allusions have been made by my hon. Friend to the case of the evicted tenants, and I think that if there is anything in the condition of Ireland which deserves attention, even from the point of view of the Government themselves, it is the case of these unfortunate men. I would ask the House to refer to the evidence of General Buller before the Cowper Commission. He strongly pointed out that it was the idle and hopeless men who have been evicted who have been the cause of the outrages in the counties of Kerry and Clare. My hon. Friend the Member for Cork has been the jealous guardian of the agrarian question in Ireland, and also of the Irish Church Surplus. He has always resisted any proposal which has been made outside his own Party for the appropriation of any portion of the surplus; he has regarded that surplu3 as sacred, and has maintained that it is only to be used for purposes of a national character. The proposal he has now made is a most statesmanlike one, and I believe it is one which, some time ago, met with the approval of the right hon. Member for Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who has had considerable experience of Irish affairs. My hon. Friend suggests a way of dealing with the old cases of eviction, which date from the year in which the land trouble commenced—namely, in 1880, down to the time at which the landlords made arrangements with the Emergency men and the Protestant Defence Association to take up their cause and carry out these evictions. My hon. Friend pro- 1715 poses that in every case in which, the landlords can prove that they would sustain loss if the farms were given back to the evicted tenants the Church Surplus should be available for giving them compensation. Now, I think that that is a practical and a statesmanlike proceeding. It can do no harm to the landlords, nor can it do harm to the Government. It may be said that we should be dealing with the property of the Irish landlords. Let me point out to the House and to those Gentlemen who have been so persistently attacking the National League for its intimidation that they virtually admit our case when they say, in the words of General Buller himself —"These farms cannot be let at the present time at any profit owing to the intimidation which prevails." Let me give an instance which has come within my own knowledge. In moving for a reduction of rent in the Chancery Court in Ireland, it was stated, in regard to particular holdings in the County of Tipperary from which the tenants had been evicted, and where the rents formerly amounted to £2,000 a-year, that the entire evicted lands had been let for something like £600 a-year. In the face of facts like this, I maintain that there would be no harm done to the landlords if we were to give back to the tenants land from which they are deriving little or no profit. The House may rely upon it that the hon. Member for Cork would not have made a suggestion of this kind unless he knew that it would tend to the pacification of the country without regard to Party spirit. The speech of my hon. Friend was entirely divested of Party triumph. He claimed no triumph in regard to what took place last autumn, although a considerable triumph was achieved, and was entitled to be favourably considered. There was one detail on which he might have pressed the Government. Why do the Government go back to the proposals of 1882 in dealing with the question of arrears The tenant is regarded in the clauses of the original Bill as a bankrupt tenant, and where, then, is the good of allowing the arrears to hang like a millstone round his neck? It is practically a dead asset, as far as he is concerned. We maintain that it is a dead asset. I have certainly never known a tenant to go out of his holding and submit to eviction, except, 1716 perhaps, in a few cases which have occurred in recent days, if he could beg, borrow, or steal sufficient to pay the rent. Not one such case in ten thousand has ever occurred. It is the knowledge of that fact which constrains my hon. Friend to say that if the Government will mould their Bill in the direction he suggests it will not be necessary to make use of the Coercion Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) have made the allegation that whenever a pacific proposal has been suggested it has always been repudiated by the Irish Party. That allegation, I think, cannot be repeated now. I call upon the House to bear witness as to how the proposals of the Government have been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork in his calm and temperate speech. He has met those proposals in a spirit which even the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham cannot complain of. We are not disposed to quarrel with the proposals of the Government as we now understand them; but, of course, it will be necessary to subject them to criticism. If we are to deal with the question in a spirit of statesmanship and conciliation, I beg of the Government to drop out of the Bill the two contentious clauses, and let the Bill pass in peace. I refer to the 4th clause, by which evictions are made easy, and the clause absolving the landlords from paying rates on evicted farms. If the Government will drop those clauses out of the Bill, I venture to say that the measure need not trouble the House at any great length. The question of the leaseholders will, of course, engage considerable attention—the question of making a man surrender a lease for which he has given a valuable consideration—that is a question which must engage the attention of the Government and of the House. Before I sit down I should like to call the attention of the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) to one point. I congratulate the Government upon having the services of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in studying the Bill from the point of view of an Irish lawyer. Although there have been many able lawyers in this House, I think the right 1717 hon. and learned Gentleman is quite as competent to deal with these questions as any of his Predecessors. He must be aware that the question of sub-letting will practically annul the Leaseholders' Clause, unless it is fairly and reasonably attended to by the Government. Let me give an instance which came under my notice, and which is a reported case. It was this—and I tell the leaseholders of Ireland; I tell their Friends in this House above the Gangway, the Liberal Unionists, and I call the attention of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to the facts I am about to state, and which were brought before the Irish Land Commission within the last two months. The landlord was Captain Bolton, and the tenant was a widow. The case went before the Land Court, and the Sub-Commissioner reduced the rent, which stood originally at £140 a-year, to £90; or, in other words, took off 50 per cent. A technical question, however, was raised in connection with the holding, with the view, I presume, of settling the value. The tenant was asked—"Have you any labourers' cottages on the holding?" The reply was—"I have one which has been on the holding for generations." It was the landlord's cottage, and there was a ground rent attached to it, for which the tenant received the munificent rent of 6d. a-week. Here, then, was the case of a labourer's cottage, which had been in existence upon the holding for two or throe generations, and because it had been let to a labourer 40 or 50 years ago, and had descended to his wife and children—at the time I speak it was in the possession of a daughter—that little mud cabin, occupied by a poor woman, who had married into it, or been born in it, I do not know which, was held to be a sufficient justification for depriving the tenant of a reduction of rent, which the Court had fixed at 50 per cent. The result is that the landlord has issued a writ against the tenant, and she asks for God's sake that something shall be done in order to prevent Captain Bolton from trying to obtain from her a rent which has been pronounced by the Land Court to be iniquitous and unjust. At present, if enough land is sub-let to enable a pigstye to be built upon it, the tenant can be deprived of the benefit of the Act of 1881. The question has already been 1718 argued and settled in the Court of Appeal, and I have been told by a learned friend of mine that the decision amounts to this—that if you have sub-let a piece of land only the breadth of my hand, or sufficient to build a pigstye upon it, that sub-letting will deprive the tenant of his interest in the land. The case I have referred to is that of Keating and Bolton; and I am prepared to tell the leaseholders of Ireland that there is not one man among them who will get a single fraction of benefit under this Act, unless the question of sub-letting is dealt with. The word "holding" is the word that governs the tenure. A tenant must be in absolute possession of the holding, and the holding comprises within its compass the entire land let by the landlord to the tenant. If he is not in possession of that, he may be deprived of the benefit of the legislation which has been introduced on his behalf. I have pointed out this blot in the Bill from the tenant's point of view, and, having done so, I hope the matter will receive full consideration from Her Majesty's Government. The Government provide in their Bill that the Leaseholders' Clause is to come into operation provided that the tenant is in bonâ fide occupation of his holding, and that it is to take effect if no beneficial lease has been made. In other words the tenant has only to let a single foot of the land in order to deprive himself of the advantages of his lease, and to enable the landlord to say—"You are not in bonâ fide possession of the land." That is the ridiculous position in which the question has been placed; and therefore I claim, at the hands of the Government, a revision of the unfortunate provision which was inserted by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian in the Act of 1881 in order to effect a very different purpose. If there is any clause of the Act of 1881 upon which the Government and the House ought not to lay too much stress, it is this. At the time it was under discussion it was very much bandied about, and in the end underwent considerable change and alteration. Amendments were inserted in it by wholesale. When it came back from the Lords it had been amended; when it went to the Lords it I had been amended. Therefore, I think that the question of sub-letting, as well as the question of town parks, should 1719 receive from the Government the attention it deserves. Of course, these are points upon which I cannot expect an immediate answer; but I certainly do expect that some reply will be made to the questions which have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork with such sincerity and statesmanlike prescience. The offer now made by my hon. Friend is one which will prevent the necessity for coercion, and will give peace to Ireland. Those who refuse the offer will be responsible for any future agitation, crime, and misery, which, may take place in that country.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
With regard to the last point raised by the hon. and learned Member, I think it should be remembered that the Government have already undertaken to do their best to meet any difficulty with regard to the bonâ fide occupation of land, and the subject was alluded to in the debates on the previous stage of the Bill. We recognize the difficulty, but the language was borrowed from the Act of 1881, and there is no intention on the part of the Government to neutralize any benefit which may arise to the tenant. The matter is one to which the Government have already promised to give their attention. I now turn to the important speech of the hon. Member for Cork. I do not think it would be possible at a moment's notice for a Member of the Government to give a definite answer to the questions asked in that speech, raising, as they do, large and new points of considerable scope; but I recognize with pleasure the language used by the hon. Member when, dropping bygones, he addressed himself to the real matter before the House— namely, the improvement of this Bill. He took a very different course from that of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench (Sir William Harcourt). I am bound to say that if there seemed to be in this House one hon. or right hon. Gentleman to whom the arrangement come to and the proposal about to be made was disagreeable, that Gentleman was the right hon. Member for Derby. In not one single phrase did he say anything in regard to the advantage gained under this measure by the Irish tenants. The Irish tenants are the last people for whom the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to express any 1720 sympathy. His interest in evictions seems to be confined to the disappointment which he feels at not being able to evict the tenants of the Government Bench. I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Cork was more worthy of the occasion, and of the serious matters we have to discuss, than the prepared banter of the right hon. Gentleman, which caused unmixed delight to hon. Members below the Gangway, but which had evidently been concocted before he heard the statement of the Government. No wonder that the right hon. Gentleman was keen for a full-dress statement from these Benches, because if it had not been delivered he would not have been able to fire off his speech, which, with all its comments, he had prepared beforehand.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Then if the right hon. Gentleman knew it he kept a deal to himself, and he put into his speech a great deal that he never could have known, because it was contrary to the fact. The right hon. Gentleman is not happy either as a prophet or as a student of reports, and in truth his whole statement of the case is founded in error. However, I did not rise to answer the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. It would have been ill-natured to criticize his enjoyment in delivering a speech which has certainly nothing to do with the Bill before the House. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was not intended for our ears, but for those of persons out-of-doors. So far as he is concerned, it is a piece of Party polemics; but, as far as we are concerned, there is nothing in that speech which deserves our serious consideration. As I have just said, I rose not to reply to the right hon. Member for Derby, but in answer to the appeal of the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy), to take note of the language used by the hon. Member for Cork, who has promised to assist the House in carrying through this Bill, on condition that the Government regard it in the view of a temporary arrangement, which is intended to bridge over the interval between our present position and purchase, which, contrary to what the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has urged, is the only real solution of the Irish difficulty. I hail 1721 that declaration of the hon. Member for Cork with the greatest satisfaction. Of course, the House is aware of the fact that there will be great difficulties to contend with in carrying out the agreement which has been come to. We foresaw that there would be considerable difficulty, in view of an ultimate solution of the land problem by purchase, in adopting anything like a sliding scale; but we understand the hon. Member for Cork to believe that our present scheme will not ultimately damage any proposal that may be made in reference to purchase. It is to purchase, and not to any sliding scale of rents, that we must look for the future solution of the Irish agrarian difficulty. I am glad that we have come so near a solution. I do not think that the hon. Member for Cork will expect me at this moment to express any opinion upon the three points he has laid before the House, which raise questions of very considerable importance, or to give any pledge with regard to them. I am unable at this moment to say anything in regard to the re-instatement of tenants who have already been evicted, or the appropriation of the Irish Church Fund for the purpose of providing compensation for the landlords, both of which were points which I understood the hon. Gentleman to raise. But I think, after what has passed, we may hope that while every consideration will be given by the Government to Amendments moved in Committee which are consistent with the general spirit of the Bill, the hon. Member for Cork will assist us in carrying the measure through this House without any unnecessary delay.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
It seems to me that an opportunity has been opened up which it would be a cruel misfortune to allow to pass away without an agreement being arrived at with regard to this measure. I perfectly recognize that it is impossible for the Government, at such short notice, to make any statement with reference to the points which have been urged on their attention by the hon. Member for Cork; but I rise to add my voice in an appeal to the Government that, between this time and the Committee stage of the Bill, they will take into their consideration the points which have been urged by my hon. Friend. I wish most earnestly to adopt the tone alluded to 1722 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to recognize to the fullest extent the great change which has come over the situation in this House, and over the prospects of the Bill since we last discussed it. I ask the Government and the Conservative Party really to believe that, so far as I and my hon. Friends are concerned, we are not anxious to prolong the agrarian controversy in Ireland. It has always been said—and the charge has been brought against Irish Members again and again, and it is a most unfounded reproach—that we have desired to perpetuate this agrarian struggle as long as possible, because through it alone we could hope to regain our national rights. It is my sincere desire, on the contrary, to arrive at some means or another, even if it be only a temporary measure by which this agrarian struggle can be allowed to slumber for a year or two, and during that period I feel perfectly confident that we shall succeed in asserting our national rights. Let me ask the Government seriously to consider whether they cannot meet our views on these points between this and the Committee stage. If the Government will give effect to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork, a result may be achieved of the most unexpected character in regard to the saving of the time of the House, and the winding up of the Session without heat and Party controversy. If it be the real desire of the Government to bring about a condition of peace in Ireland, I would leave it to their fair and impartial consideration to say whether they can hope for such a result so long as many thousands of families existing in that country are being cast out of their homes on account of unjust rents, and so long as no avenue is open to them to regain the possession of their homes and to enable them to earn their living. The second point is, that no measure for the revision of the rents can be trusted to in Ireland which will not take account of the rents payable this autumn, and which also does not take into account the case of tenants who are more or less in arrear owing to the excessive rents which all parties have agreed should be revised. I would ask the Government to consider, in an impartial spirit, the demands which we make between this and the time of going into Committee on the Bill. If they can arrive at a settlement on equitable terms 1723 by which power can be given to the Commission Courts to insure that those tenants under ejectment for arrears of rent shall be able to got a reasonable reduction, and if the Government can arrive at Amendments to effect this, then it will be possible for this Bill to pas3 through the House without any serious controversy. There are two other points—there is, first of all, the system of reductions, on which, however, I will not say more than that it will be a good tiling if the Government leaves to the discretion of the Land Commissioners the principle upon which the reductions are to be assessed in proportion to prices, but to lay down as a general principle that a redaction of 15 per cent would meet the case would be of no use at all. I ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland seriously to consider the condition of the glebe tenants and the purchasers under the old Acts of 1870 and 1881. Although these tenants are not a numerous class, it ought to be a principle accepted by the Government that, when they are passing a measure intended to pacify the whole country and to meet a general grievance, they ought not to leave out from the benefit of the measure any considerable class of the population. The tenants I am pleading for number about 5,000 or 6,000 families; and the clause introduced with the view of meeting their grievance I warn the Government will fall short of attaining the object in view. If the Amendments I have placed on the Paper are agreed to, they will involve no loss or risk to the Treasury; and I ask the Government to consider what object can be gained by refusing fair and reasonable relief to the glebe tenants and those persons who made a loss by purchasing the land when it was at a high value? If the Government come to the conclusion that I am right in this statement, I ask them to accept the Amendments which have been put down, and remove all needless controversy and loss of time. I beg the Government to believe me when I say that there is no man in this House who is more anxious than I to see safe and honourable road out of the agrarian controversy. I am in this position—that if there is no possible settlement of this question by the end of next month I shall have dependent on me at least 700 or 800 families in Ireland who have nothing to stand between them and star- 1724 vation except such funds as can be got from America and charitable organizations in Ireland. I say that a man in my position does not know what it is to have an easy hour either by night or day; and, for my part, I assure the House that there is no one who has a more personal or intense desire than I have to see a safe and honourable path out of this difficulty, and that Ireland should, at least, obtain a peace of two or three years after the terrible strife that has occurred.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
There is one point in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer against which I desire to enter my protest. The right hon. Gentleman stated that this measure may be looked upon as a temporary one, with a view to a great purchase scheme. My right hon. Friend told us on Saturday last that any Amendment introduced for the revision of the rents would be a fatal blow to the Bill, and that it would almost relieve the Government of the responsibility for introducing the great purchase scheme. I think the right hon. Gentleman was more right in his statement on Saturday than he is to-day. I believe that the proposal of the Government will deal a serious blow against the purchase scheme. I am not otherwise than pleased at that. I did not think there was any prospect of a purchase scheme being made acceptable to the country even before the introduction of this Bill. I feel satisfied that the House and the country will not agree in the future to any great or universal purchase scheme such as is now suggested by the Government. I will not enter into my reasons for that opinion; but it seems to me that one of the great arguments in favour of a purchase scheme is this—that, while it would relieve landlords and enable them, to get out of their present position, it would enable another reduction of rents to be effected; and if by the Bill before the House you enable a greater reduction of rent to be made than was attainable under the Act of 1881, I think the claim of the tenants to a scheme of purchase will certainly be disposed of. With regard to the proposal for amending the Bill before the House, I am bound to say that it appears to me to be of a satisfactory character. The Cowper Commission 1725 proposed a quinquennial revision of rents, and under that system the tenants who had their rents fixed two or three years ago would not be able to obtain a revision of thorn until after another two years; whereas now it will be possible for all who have obtained a judicial rent to go at once into Court and get a revision of rent on a triennial scale of purchase. I say it is distinctly a more favourable proposal than that of the Cowper Commission; and, therefore, I hail it as a very decided improvement of the Bill. Such a change in the measure on the part of the Government is a distinct admission that they made a mistake last Session in refusing to accept the Bill of the hon. Member for Cork. I venture to ask the Government to recollect the statement they made last year and to deal with the Irish questions which may arise with the aid of Irish Members, and in a somewhat different spirit than they have shown hitherto. I think it will, on the whole, be wise to take council with the Irish Members with regard to the future provisions of the Bill, and I earnestly ask them to listen to the proposals of the hon. Member for Cork. There is one question which I strongly urge upon the consideration of the Government; that is, that most of the tenants in Ireland are in arrears of rent, and I repeat that they will do wisely to take the Irish Members into council during the further discussion of the Bill, and if they do so I believe that they will be able to settle the agrarian question on a lasting basis, and thus remove one of the greatest grievances under which Ireland suffers.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I believe that the statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) will be received to-morrow in Ulster with great satisfaction; but there is one point on which I wish to say a few words in relation to the glebe tenants. As a matter of fact, I believe that the Government will find that there are almost no arrears due by the purchasers under the Act of 1870, who will get, therefore, the full benefit of the proposals under this Bill; but the case of the glebe tenants is altogether different. There are five or six different classes of glebe tenants, and it is only proposed to relieve two of those classes. Now, I do not see why any distinction should be made between them, in as much as they 1726 are all in the same difficulty and ought, in my opinion, to be dealt with in the same way. But the proposal of the Government is that they should pay up half the arrears, and that the remaining half shall be capitalized and added to the mortgage. I quite appreciate the difficulty of putting in the same position those who are in arrears and those who are not; but I very much fear that the tenants will not be able to pay half the arrears, and that, therefore, they will not get that benefit which the Government intends they should receive. I hope that between this day and Monday the Government will be able to see their way to be more liberal towards the glebe tenants by capitalizing the whole of the arrears and adding them to the mortgage. On the occasion of the second reading debate, I asked whether the Government proposed to extend the same relief to purchasers under the Act of 1881 and those under the Act of 1870, and the Government said that the matter would be provided for by this Bill. I do not see that it is met by any of their proposed Amendments, and I call the attention of the Attorney General to that fact. [Mr. GOSCHEN: the clause is being prepared.] I have only to say, in conclusion, that we have had a full and fair statement from the Chief Secretary for Ireland, which, I repeat, is one that will be received with great satisfaction in Ulster.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.