§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.)1762
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, he thought the House had a right to complain of the precipitate way in which the Bill was being hurried through the House. Although there might be one or two precedents, it was not a usual thing to print a Bill before the assent of the House had been given, particularly as the Bill bore upon the face of it the statement that it had been printed by Order of the House. It was also not usual, except in cases of emergency, to insist upon all the stages of a Bill being taken without some intervals between them. He had not heard yet why this course was being pursued. There was no urgency; nobody could pretend that this haste was necessary, that there was any reason why the Bill should be passed this week instead of next. He supposed the sole reason for hurry was that the Ministry were anxious that the country should not have an opportunity of considering the Bill; they wanted to force it through before the country had had an opportunity of looking into it. It was true that some of the Opposition had been in favour of land purchase when the county cess stood between the individual purchaser and the Exchequer. It was also true that the Leader of the Opposition had proposed a large scheme, but in that the entire revenue of Ireland stood between the State and the Individual tenant. He and others had always been against the principle of land purchase with an Imperial guarantee. But his objections were not founded wholly on the demerits of this Bill. He denied that Parliament had the right to legislate on this question. In 1886 the Liberal Party lost the election simply because a Land Purchase Bill accompanied the Home Rule Bill. He verily believed they would have gained a majority in favour of Home Rule if to Home Rule had not been added the Land Bill, which the country could not be got sufficiently to understand. The Conservatives and Liberal Unionists knew this, and they were perpetually urging as a reason for electing them that they were opposed to this species of land purchase. On both sides they were almost all pledged against any laud purchase by Parliament. But supposing the House had a mandate 1763 from the country to deal with the question, he should still be against this proposal, on the broad and general principle that he was opposed to all Imperial guarantees in regard to purchase of land in Ireland which involved any species of liability, direct or indirect, on the part of the British taxpayer. It was said that the liability was merely nominal; but there was no such thing as a guarantee with nominal liability. A guarantee did involve liability; the landlords were perfectly aware of it; and they would not sell their land on the proposed terms to the tenants on the mere assurance of the tenants that the purchase-money would be paid off in 50 years. They knew perfectly well what the guarantee meant, and who would have to pay the money if the tenant did not. If 12 or 15 years ago a Bill like this had been proposed, a nice mess the country would have been in, for land would have been bought at a value which it did not now possess. And could we be certain that land would not fall in value as much during the next 15 years as it had fallen during the last 12 years; and might it not fall still lower in 50 years? If it continued to fall through a succession of bad years, it was obvious that we should not be able to get rent from the tenants—at least, not consistently with the general opinion of what rent ought to be. It was admitted that the first charge upon land was enough of its produce to enable the occupier to live and thrive, and that rent was only the margin over and above this first charge. Until a tenant could live and pay interest on improvements and buildings we could not ask him for a farthing of rent. The tenant-right was no additional security, because the State could not sell it without evicting the tenant; and he would not envy the person who bought the tenant-right under the conditions. It was impossible to get a tenant for a farm from which the tenant had been evicted; and if you were to evict a tenant for not being able to pay in bad times you would not be able to sell his tenant-right for anything. The tenant-right, therefore, was no security for the country. The tenant-right meant the value of the improvements made and the buildings erected by the tenant. What, he might ask, were they buying? They were buying the bare land, and, 1764 according to this principle, the value of Irish land was greater than that of English land. Even supposing that the tenant-right was good security, that there would be no bad times, and no falling in value, what would they do supposing there was a general combination against evictions in Ireland? Did they tell him they could evict the whole of Ireland? If they did, whom would they get to cultivate it? They would have to accept the circumstances and not get any rent. What did the Irish Members tell them? They said there might possibly be this combination. The Irish people might say they would stop the steady drain of money from their country to England, and he was not sure, if he were an Irish tenant, he would not take that view. One of the curses of Ireland had been a land hunger, which led the people to pay more than the laud was worth. This land hunger existed in France, where to purchase land people borrowed at 7 and 8 per cent, the land itself only paying 3 per cent. But in Ireland, in addition to this land hunger, they had the tenants coerced and bullied into purchase. He wanted to know why the English taxpayer had to incur any great risk for any tenant or Irish landlord. Why was it not to be applied to English agriculture? Why limit it to agriculture? Why not apply it to mines? The whole thing was a gross injustice upon the English taxpayer. The plan must also be injurious to Ireland. What Ireland had long complained of was the great mass of absentee landlords—the country always being drained of its rent, which was taken elsewhere. But they were now inaugurating a gigantic system of absenteeism. The Consols would gravitate to London. If the Government carried out their own principles, if they obtained £5,000,000 after £5,000,000 and converted all the occupants of land into landowners, paying out all the existing Irish landowners, he defied Ireland to economically and financially exist under such circumstances. What would be the effect on England if money was in this way taken out of it and carried to France? It would be fatal. The Empire would be ruined. But Ireland was a poor country, and in a few years it must be utterly ruined. It was said, "Oh, it will only last for 50 years!" 1765 but 50 years was a long time—quite long enough to ruin a country. He was a practical politician. Well, the Irish landlords were very practical politicians. It was sufficient for him if they could carry on during their own lives; he would leave posterity to care of themselves. The strongest advocates of this Bill, of this plan, were the strongest opponents of Home Rule; and one hon. Gentleman was kind enough to tell them that the plan was antagonistic to the National League. He perfectly understood that it was. But they were to be made under this plan the mortgagees of all Ireland. They were to be the man in possession. They would ray—"We cannot give them Home Rule, because we must see that we get the money that is owing to us." If it were shown that the Irish people were in the position of friends of ours, who were in the hands of brigands, and had to be ransomed from the brigands, then he could understand that, looking to our numerous sins with regard to Ireland, we should be obliged to say—"The brigands will cut their throats. We must buy out these people, who only know one argument—their own dirty, sordid interests." That was the basis of the Land Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who never pretended for a moment that he was in favour of land purchase. He regretted the offer that the right hon. Gentleman made to the landlords. He did not think it was necessary. He was convinced that Home Rule would be carried on its own merits. They should vote down the Irish landlords, and should not have to buy them out. Until Home Rule was carried, he did not wish to hear anything about land purchase. For his part, he thought that any scheme of Home Rule ought to include the right of the Irish Parliament to deal as it pleased with the Land Question, subject, as in the United States, to the proviso that existing contracts could not be altered without the assent of the contractors. It was said the Irish would not act fairly in regard to the land. He could understand that from those who had no confidence in local government; but if they acted fairly with regard to the Empire, surely it was a minor thing to suppose they would act fairly in regard to the landlords. The 1766 real thing at the bottom of the question was the old absurd notion that there was something specially sacred in regard to land which did not apply to any other kind of property. He held that this was unquestionably a landlords' Relief Bill. An hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Northumberland denied that this was a Bill for the particular advantage of the landlord, because he got a quid pro quo; but he (Mr. Labouchere) said it was because the quo was not equal to the quid. No one would buy land in Ireland, and the State stepped in to do so. He treated the cry about the mortgagees with absolute and utter contempt. He had seen a list of a very considerable number of Conservatives and Liberal Unionists who either had properties in Ireland or whose relatives had property in Ireland. It would have been infinitely more decent if these Gentlemen had walked out of the House and not voted last night. What did they see? The exponent of this policy was the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton), who was brother of the Duke of Abercorn, who was drawing £411,000 a-year from Irish estates; but the Duke of Abercorn had gained £200,000 of the original £5,000,000 voted. He presumed that he had gained in his income; but even if he had not, he had comfortably exchanged the somewhat risky income from Irish land, or a portion of it, for the sweet and comfortable simplicity of the Three per Cents. Then they had the Leader of the Liberal Unionists the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), whose father, the Duke of Devonshire, got £90,000 a-year from Ireland. [An hon. MEMBER: And does not spend a penny of it there.] He dared say that was true. That sum, at 15 years' purchase, he estimated at £1,350,000. Perhaps he did not got it all at present, but say he got £30,000 a-year, and if the noble Marquess was to inherit it, would it not have been infinitely more decent if the noble Lord had declined to vote on this question? But it was thoroughly indecent on his part to get up and make a speech in favour of it. The Irish landlords were the last class in the whole world who had a right to claim that a sacrifice ought to be made for them by the taxpayer. Their greed 1767 had been the primary cause of all the agrarian troubles in Ireland. They had the greed brought home to them by the Land Courts, and they had been convicted all over Ireland of exacting excessive rents. Why, the Irish tenants had paid time and again for their farms, and now because the landlords could no longer go on exacting unfair rents, they came sponging to the British taxpayer as if they had a natural, a sacred, and an inherent right to rob somebody. He opposed this Bill because he was against all Imperial guarantee involving any sort of liability on the British taxpayer, and he said it would be foolish and wrong to take this responsibility for the sake of the Irish landlords. The hon. Member concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, his chief objection to this Land Bill was that it was nothing more nor less than an attempt at avoidance, and he was afraid it might be a successful attempt at avoidance, by Her Majesty's Government of the propounding of any real scheme for the settlement of the land difficulty in Ireland. He would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider whether it was wise to insist on such an avoidance by a measure which could only give satisfaction to comparatively few people, and give an excuse for the continuance in Ireland of a system of coercion which was demoralizing alike to those who enforced it and to those against whom it was enforced. How was it that Her Majesty's Government were now in office? It was because of the concessions, which many Radicals thought too large, but which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian deemed it his duty to make to the landlord class. It was because those concessions were made use of by men who declared themselves in favour of some scheme for solving the problem of a degrading misery, and yet with great vigour of vituperation and un- 1768 scrupulousness, for the purpose of breaking up the Liberal and the Radical Party, attacked the right hon. Gentleman's land proposals, although the concessions were made for the purpose of uniting all classes of the House and the country in an experiment intended to produce peace and tranquillity in Ireland. No one could read the history of the transactions of the last few years, with any knowledge of what had taken place in the preceding century or half century, without seeing that a state of things had grown up in Ireland with which it was impossible to deal without wounding the feelings of many Liberals and Radicals, and without making concessions which they would not otherwise think it their duty to make. This short Bill could not be discussed without looking to the Act which it again brought to our notice. There were one or two points in connection with it which were so serious that he would ask the attention of the House to them. In an experiment affecting £5,000,000 we might well leave the Land Commission to do things—hoping they would do them honestly, justly, and wisely—which Parliament would never intrust to them if it were known that the £5,000,000 were to be swelled into £10,000,000, and that into £20,000,000, and that into £40,000,000 or £60,000,000. Here Parliament was intrusting to this Commission to give the landlords a price which no purchaser would pay under proper conditions, although the hunger for land might induce the tenant to pay it when the money came out of the pocket of some one else. The desire for land was shown in the struggles in France, but there, if a mistake was made, the consequence fell upon the purchaser. Here, if there should be a mistake upon a large scale, it was the country which would have to bear the loss, or you put the State in the position of an execution creditor against debtors, perhaps, numbering scores of thousands, if the experiment were to be of any real value, and thus you were provoking the possibility of a political struggle of immense magnitude. The security of the 20 per cent deposit might be utterly illusory. There might be a dishonest contrivance between the tenant and the landlord. Landlords were not all honest, and the landlords' Representatives urged in that House 1769 that many of the Irish tenants were dishonest and entered into combinations and conspiracies not to pay what they owed. How, then, could Ministers come to that House and ask for facilities to enable men whom they themselves described as dishonest to make dishonest bargains? Since Lord Ashbourne's Act was passed, the amount which men could realize upon investments in Consolidated Stock had become less than what the State had agreed to pay. Why pay the British taxpayer less than you gave to the Irish landlord, who had lent you nothing? It was said that the success of the experiment justified Her Majesty's Government in asking the House for its extension. He held the reverse. He had always held it a most dangerous thing for any Government to teach the subjects of the State in ordinary cases to come to the State for relief. He agreed that the Government had done so much wrong in Ireland for so long a period that there was an obligation which did not belong to the ordinary relations between a Government and the subjects whom they controlled. But what would they say if the Scotch asked for aid too? There was pressure there, and danger there. What would they say if the English agricultural labourer asked for it too? If they would give equal treatment to the Scotch crofter, the English agricultural labourer, and the Irish agriculturist, he could understand their plea, but it was not for Scotch crofters, English agricultural labourers, or even Irish agriculturists that the Government were pleading; they were pleading that landlords should have a preferential claim over other classes in the country. One of the greatest dangers of modern politics was the idea that the State had a huge purse into which it might dip or a magic wand which it might wield. It had nothing of the kind; and if they were going to relieve these landlords out of the earnings of the Lancashire weavers, and those of the miners of Northumberland and Durham, and all classes of the United Kingdom, they should at least have the courage to say how far they would go. It would not be hard to raise a storm in the country which might move even Her Majesty's Government, if it were shown that, without any emergency, the State was opening its purse for the relief of a 1770 class, for this relief to the few would plunge into greater despair the hundreds of thousands who could have no share in those £10,000,000. He should be wanting in his duty to those for whom he had a right to speak, if he did not make a protest against that course. The Government did not pretend that they wanted the £5,000,000 which they now asked to enable them to get through the winter, or to apply to cases where the necessity was sharpest. As he understood it the money would go to those who needed it least, so that the Government intended to irritate those who were suffering most by helping those who were suffering least. Why should the Land Commission make the advance of the whole? If the advance were not too much it could be done by private enterprize. ["Oh!"] Some one said "Oh!" but it was done in this country over and over again. It was the ordinary procedure of building societies. It might be said that the operation was so great that ordinary combinations of a few men were not large enough to meet the present case; but that was no answer, because if the operation were safe they would have large societies, like assurance societies, ready to enter into it at once. The truth was that a small class of men had taken advantage of that land-hunger to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others had alluded, and had extorted from despair and misery a higher price for the right to struggle for life than any human beings could reasonably be expected to pay. Rents had so gone up that no sane man would advance money for purchase on the basis of the ordinary calculations that would apply to the bare purchase in such a case. The Government dare not quarrel with the landlords. They preferred to tax more a long-suffering people. Was it wise? In France, in Germany, in Italy—he would not speak of Russia—there were murmurings and claims that it would be difficult to withstand in this country unless the Government were wise when they could be. If they were to make a bankrupt landlord solvent, why not the poor wretches who met in Hyde Park, or anywhere else? In France it was found so easy to make a little concession now and then to appease the clamorous until the difficulty of the financial position became so great that no statesman could 1771 grapple with it. In Germany it was being played with by those who thought they were strong enough to govern; but Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench were neither Bismarcks nor had they the genius or aptitude of statesmanship. They are only the accidents of a few Liberal and Radical deserters, and if they intended to bow in turn to every breath of wind against them, they would leave a legacy of huge difficulty for any reasonable statesman who might follow them, and who spoke with a desire to save his country.
§ MR. HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
said, he thought it opportune that one who represented a great artizan constituency in the North of England should take part in this debate, not only because it was a question affecting the British taxpayer quite as much as it was an Irish question, but because many on that side of the House had exchanged views with their constituents on the subject. There were two phases of the debate which were exceedingly grateful. One was that a debate on an Irish question should be based so very largely on economical rather than on political grounds. The other was that in the course which had been adopted by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian they had had a very large and welcome concession to those Members sitting on the Ministerial side of the House who were pledged, and who meant to keep their pledges, that as soon as might be Parliament should apply to Ireland other than merely negative remedies. Hitherto, the right hon. Gentleman in many of his speeches, echoed by his followers, had laid it down that that was not the proper tribunal for the discussion and passage of measures to remedy Irish grievances and Irish wrongs. That view seemed to him and to many others to be a hopeless view, when they considered that, whatever were the merits of Home Rule, it was at all events at present in the very distant horizon; and if they were to postpone adapting legislation to Irish needs until Home Rule was granted, they would virtually be postponing any remedial measures in Ireland to the Greek Kalends. He was exceedingly gratified to hear the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), in one sentence in his most temperate and welcome speech on Tues day, marked by his usual courage and 1772 frankness, assert and emphasize the fact that it was the duty of this House, if possible, to remove from that Irish Parliament which he hoped to see founded, at least one of the great difficulties of the position, by passing some measure which should be at once fair to the tenants, and fair to a class which did not always receive fair treatment on the other side of the House—namely, the landlords. The main question before the House was, whether it would be wise or prudent to extend the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act; and he could not conceive, whatever might be his views as to the wisdom or prudence of the proceeding, that any hon. Member could feel anything but hesitation when he saw the hazards and the possibilities that underlay this extension. This was a great deal more than a mere continuation Bill. The Bill, as originally passed, was an experiment; but by the Bill they were going to vote upon they were emphasizing their view, not merely that the experiment was wise, but were also pledging themselves and the House to the position that a peasant proprietary was a good thing in Ireland. The question whether a peasant proprietary in Ireland be a wise or an unwise subject for this Parliament to pledge itself to, seemed to him to be somewhat complicated by another question raised by an hon. Member on the other side—namely, whether it be possible to limit such a question to Ireland—whether it be not within the immediate reach of practical politics, if this Bill pass, that we should have in England within a very short time claims made for similar treatment—claims which might or might not involve us in very serious and very questionable difficulties. Putting this aside, he would rather limit his remarks to Ireland itself. Was it wise or unwise to contemplate a general adoption of peasant proprietary in Ireland, and not only to see it coming upon us by the operation of economic laws, but to assist it, and assist it very materially, by exceptional legislation such as that embodied in this Bill? It seemed to him that some of the arguments which had been used ought to be met on the Ministerial side. He referred to the arguments used by the hon. Member for Haddingtonshire (Mr. Haldane), whose vote was exceedingly welcome to them on that side of the House, 1773 but whose arguments could not be accepted by them without involving themselves in a most suicidal position. His hon. Friend urged that a peasant proprietary in Ireland was an excellent thing, because it would inevitably lead to the eviction from Ireland of its gentry. Whatever men might hope in that House, he could not conceive a serious politician, having studied either history or politics, who could view the prospect of the eviction from Ireland, by the operation of any laws, of its gentry as a subject of anything but very great difficulty and very great doubt. He knew of no community which had ever prospered or made a mark in the world which was not officered and led by its gentry. Apart from this difficulty, there was another position taken by his hon. Friend to which they could not assent on that side of the House. The hon. Gentleman argued that the concession of this Bill would, in effect, lead most directly to the concession also of Home Rule. If he and others on the Ministerial side of the House thought that was likely to be the result of the Bill, they would be very loth indeed to go into the Lobby to support it. In his view the chief security for the Government in making that great loan was that it would retain in its own hands the power to enforce the huge debt that was being created, and that the State, which had granted it, would be able at all times and under all circumstances to enforce its claim against the debtor; whereas, if he thought that Home Rule was likely to be the consequence of such a measure, he would fear that a great scheme of repudiation might loom upon the horizon. He did not share the distrust expressed by some as to the Irish tenant fulfilling his obligations; he believed that both his interests and his instincts would lead him to fulfil them if left alone; but immoral politicians might hereafter seize any opportunity that arose to raise an agitation for the purpose of bringing about repudiation. Those on his side representing constituencies in the North of England, among whom there was a large Irish population, with whom they lived on very good terms, had voted for that Bill because we had reached an impasse and a deadlock out of which there was no possible escape. ["Hear, hear!" 1774 from the Opposition.] Hon. Gentlemen cheered, but the impasse and deadlock were just as great for the Nationalist as for the Tory, the only difference between them being as to whether the remedy should be applied by that Parliament or by some other Parliament. When the Roman Republic in old days re-distributed the public lands and passed Acts for the repudiation of debt, it was simply because a condition of things had been created by history and by circumstances from which there was no escape except by the breach of the great laws of political economy and political conduct. They had a similar case in Ireland, where, through the perverse operation of laws, they had created a double ownership of land on every estate. The seeds which had been thus sown had been watered and nurtured by the legislation of that House traversing economical laws, and they were reaping some of the fruits. There was no escape from the difficulty in which they were placed except by exceptional legislation; and it was on that ground, and on that ground alone, that he voted for this Bill. He urged upon the Government the prudence of avoiding any land purchase scheme on a large scale. In consenting to that Bill, and perhaps to another of the same kind, they would consent only to a very gradual adaptation of their remedy to the needs of the case. A wise Irishman—Lord Chancellor O'Hagan—once said that he wished very much to see a large extension of peasant proprietary in Ireland, but that he did not wish to see that system become the universal mode of holding land in that country. The enormous amount of money which that would involve would not only present a most perilous temptation, but would necessitate the buying out of all the landlords. It would be a great satisfaction to some Gentlemen on his side if there were a probability that that legislation would put an end to dual ownership, without the doing away of which he feared they would never get rid of their perpetual difficulty in Ireland. Again, as in France, and almost every other country where there was a large peasant proprietary, they would have the danger of substituting one class of landlords for another, and the money-lenders, the usurers, and the mortgagees might become the landlords of a great part of the land in Ireland; and he 1775 feared that when it became a question of choosing between discharging their obligations to these, the worst form of landlords, and the great landlord of all, the State, that difficulties and friction might arise. In conclusion, he wished that Gentlemen on both sides of the House, on those questions with which they could deal apart from politics, would cease to exchange Party recriminations, and would all heartily join in an earnest endeavour to confer what might prove a permanent and invaluable boon upon Ireland.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said, he had a special reason for following the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Howorth). He at once acknowledged the perfectly unexceptionable tone in which his hon. Friend had on that, as on all other occasions, addressed the House. His hon. Friend had been strictly consistent in the speech he had delivered that day with the somewhat remarkable speech that he made in the House some two years ago, not on the same question, but on the same subject, when he said he believed the artizans of this country would be chivalrous enough to be willing to do something for the relief of the Irish landlord. But a still more remarkable answer was then made, from the same side of the House, to the remarkable speech of his hon. Friend. The hon. and learned Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Addison), a bold and robust Conservative, whom he was glad to see present, then said he claimed to represent a working-class constituency, and he wished to state that his constituents objected to pay 1s. of English taxation for the relief of either the landlords or the tenants of Ireland, adding that, with the working men, no measure would be so unpopular as to saddle the taxpayers of this country, or any of the industries of this country, with any charge for the relief of the landlords of Ireland; and he wound up with the statement that he hoped the House would never assist either the landlords or the tenants by the money of the hard-working British taxpayer. He (Mr. E. Robertson) had only to add that he had consulted the Division List of last night, and he found that the first name on the List of those who supported this Bill was the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne. He was glad the hon. Member for Northampton had 1776 given them an opportunity of considering once more the policy of this Bill. With regard to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), he admitted the reduction of rents by judicial interposition and the reduction of arrears was a duty pressed upon them by the recent course of legislation in Ireland. He was free from all responsibility for that legislation, and looked upon it merely as a series of historical facts. A distinguished countryman of his, the Duke of Argyll, had lately said that the whole of the land legislation for Ireland had been a bungle. That might or might not be true, but, on the question now before them, they were bound not only to reduce rents which were excessive, but they were bound to apply the same principle to arrears. There was nothing in the contention that because they once reduced arrears they must not do it again. They had reduced rents already, and they were willing to reduce them again. Having said that, he felt that no further obligation was incumbent upon him with reference to the Land Question of Ireland. He did not say that he regarded the creation of occupying owners to be a desirable thing. He had never held that view. He had always recognized considerable force in the statement that the system of tenancy, inasmuch as it saved considerable capital, had advantages of its own. He could not conceal from himself that in new countries, especially in the Western States of America, which he happened to know well, where the whole of the territory was owned by occupying owners, those owners acquired farms the capital value and the successful cultivation of which were beyond their means. They had to draw capital from this country and elsewhere, and at that moment evictions of the nominal tenants, the mortgagees, were common enough to be a cause of considerable social discontent. He voted for Mr. Gladstone's Amendment, not because he approved of all the terms of that Amendment, but because it was the only opportunity then available for opposing the Bill. He admitted that the discussion on the Amendment had revealed on the Liberal side of the House, to a very large degree, the acceptance of the principle of the purchase of Irish land by 1777 British credit. That was the principle which he conceived to be chiefly involved in the present debate. That was a principle which he could not accept. He was in a somewhat different position from the hon. and learned Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane), who supported the Bill because he supported the Land Purchase Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. He (Mr. E. Robertson) was one of those who received the Bill of 1886 with the greatest dislike, and who, in an address to his constituents in 1886, declared his intention of voting against that Bill. Having taken that position then, he was bound to adhere to it now with reference to the proposal before the House, because both proposals came to the same thing in principle, in this respect—that both involved the advance of British money for the relief of the landlords and tenants of Ireland. The question he had to face was—How was he to vindicate to his constituents the proposal of the Government? Should he accept it? He was the representative of a purely industrial and commercial community, every man in which was engaged in industrial or commercial operations. The rich owed their means to successful commerce, the men of leisure owed their leisure to successful commerce, and the poor men owed their daily bread to industry connected with commerce. The whole of that community displayed an absolute self-reliance that had been second to no community in this country in advancing commercial enterprize in England and throughout all the nations of the world. It was to these people he had to vindicate the proposal now before the House, which, stripped of all disguise, simply came to this, that we were to advance £5,000,000 of British money for the relief of the landlords and the tenants of Ireland. He had heard it said that this was a Landlords' Relief Bill. That was an unfair and one-sided description of the Bill, and, unless the Bill was administered with an amount of bad faith, chicanery, and fraud which was inconceivable to him in any British Administration, it must be made a Bill for the relief of the tenants as well as the landlords of Ireland. This Bill was a second instalment of that proposal the first Purchase Bill, that of 1885, which was avowedly an instalment and 1778 was also avowedly an experiment. This Bill was presented as an instalment also; but it was no longer as an experiment that they were asked to support it. They were asked to support it on the ground of the success of the first experiment, and therefore they were committed not to a mere experiment involving £5,000,000, but to a policy which may involve £50,000,000 or £100,000,000. The landlord of Ireland was to receive the value of his estate, the tenant was to get the land, and the State was assured that it would lose nothing. This idea of making everybody happy all round at no loss to the State was nothing more nor less than a mere financial juggle. They were playing with the unparalleled credit of this great country. Why did they not apply the same process to the landlords and tenants of England, Scotland, and Wales? Was there anything in the Irish landlord or the Irish tenant that entitled either of them to a consideration from this House that they were not going to extend to the same classes on this side of St. George's Channel? An hon. Member the other day described the Irish landlords as a pack of ravenous wolves. On the other hand, the Tory Party were never tired of telling the House that Irish tenants were either the dupes or accomplices of a criminal conspiracy. If they put the two statements together, there was probably this residue of truth—that the landlords and tenants were convicted of having not very successfully managed their own affairs. He entirely repudiated the only plea upon which it was possible to defend such an application of Imperial money to Irish subjects. The only plea which could be made would be that he and those whom he represented were in some way responsible for the agrarian condition of Ireland. He denied that his constituents had any moral responsibility in the matter. They were more landless than the Irish tenants whom they were asked to supply with farms at the cost of the Imperial taxpayer. Even in Ireland there were labourers as well as landlords and tenants. Were they going to do anything for the labourers out of the Imperial credit? In his point of view the persons engaged in land, whether as landlords or tenants, even in this country, had been singularly deficient in their civic virtues. They 1779 compared unfavourably with the uncomplaining artizans in the towns, who did not look to Imperial credit for any aid or assistance whatever. A very peculiar position was occupied in this question by the right hon. gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). The right hon. gentleman was formerly a trusted and deserving servant of the Liberal Party. He left that party because he could not repose sufficient confidence in the new electors who had since been called into existence on this very question of the abuse of public resources. He left them because he thought the agricultural labourer in particular, if they gave him political power, would at once demand for himself aid from the Treasury of the nation, which could not be reconciled with political safety. What was the position of the right hon. gentleman now? He came forward in this House as the principal advocate of a policy which made over £10,000,000 to that very class in Ireland, and which committed Parliament in principle to £150,000,000 more. [Cries of "Oh!" He (Mr. E. Robertson) was taking the estimate made by a right hon. Gentleman who sat but did not vote on the Liberal side. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) tell them was involved in the Bill of 1886? Not £50,000,000, but £150,000,000, which he declared was the purchase value. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after having almost impugned the good faith, and certainly impugned the political sagacity of the new voters, came forward to do a thing which was worse than anything that had ever been dreamt of by any agricultural or rural labourer in this country. He (Mr. E. Robertson) had a few words now to say about the figures. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) claimed that in the operation of this Act the benefit was chiefly confined to the smaller holdings. The figures were:—Under £10, 3,000 odd; between £10 and £30, 3,000 odd; between £30 and £50, 884 cases; over £50, 995 cases; but the 1,000 cases of farms of more than £50 annual value represented a much larger sum of purchase money than the 3,000 odd cases under £10. No man could tell how much more. 1780 It might be 10 times more. Every case over £50 was equivalent to at least five, and it might be 10, cases under £10, so that the comparison which the hon. and learned Gentleman made was unintentionally misleading. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not told them how high the holdings reached which had been purchased under this Act. A farmer who attempted to farm a holding of, say £75, was, compared with the great bulk of the people of this country, a rich man. His tenant right must be worth something; the capital required to work his farm must be worth something. It might be a fair average statement to make that a man attempting to farm a holding rented at £75 a-year must be worth a capital of at least £500. They were going to give that man a present under Imperial credit worth, perhaps, £1,000. They were asking people who were mainly poor to allow them to make a present of £1,000 to a man who had already a capital of £500. He (Mr. E. Robertson) and hon. Members around him represented thousands and thousands of people whose capital in each case did not amount to £20. In connection with a Bill which he had vainly tried to pass for the protection of the homes of the poor, he had been informed on good authority that, in the case of something like 90 per cent of the working people in this country, the whole estates, at any given moment, would not be more than £20. To ask thousands of his constituents who had paid their way, but who had not more, perhaps, than that sum between them and bankruptcy, to give £1,000 to an Irish farmer who had already £500, and in defence of whom they could only say that he had quarrelled with his landlord to such an extent that they could not get on any longer, it was monstrous to submit such a proposition to the Representatives of working men. It appeared to him to be an ineradicable vice in this scheme that, while it was economically safe, it was politically unjust and even wicked. In the case of the tenants over £50 who bought tidy, thriving farms, he had no doubt that the money was perfectly safe; but what a vile thing it was to ask people who did not possess £20 to secure the property of those men, and what a risky thing it was to advance money to tenants of holdings 1781 under £10. He should like to know, not only the particulars as to the high holdings, but the particulars as to the low holdings. He wanted to know not merely whether they were putting in any thriving tenants, but also how far down they were going. They were proposing to advance £5,000,000 to give those people the fee-simple of wretched little holdings, perhaps worth 9d. a-week; and what did they say about them on every occasion? When the hardships of those people were held up as an argument for reducing their rents, the invariable answer was—"If you gave them the land for nothing they could not live upon it." They were going to spend £5,000,000—or, at least, a considerable portion of £5,000,000—on buying those wretched little holdings on which the tenants could not live if they had them for nothing.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
I never said anything which could possibly justify that statement.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said, he did not know that the hon. and learned gentleman had taken his point. He congratulated the House in his speech on the large extent to which this Act had been employed in the purchase of small holdings. Did he accept that?
§ MR. MADDEN
I took the entire number of applications, and I subdivided them under different heads. I did not say anything to lead to the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman makes. I said that this £5,000,000 would go largely to small holdings, and I congratulated the House on the fact that the moderately-sized as well as the larger class of holdings had received a fair and substantial share of the grant.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said, he did not see that the hon. and learned Solicitor General had substantially affected his argument. The hon. and learned Gentleman did congratulate the House on the large extent to which the money had been employed in the purchase of small holdings. How could they expect to be safe if they were buying holdings so small that it was no use reducing the rent, because men could not live upon them if they had them for nothing. It was a fair inference that that principle, 1782 which they had never ceased to proclaim as an argument for not reducing rents, told directly against the one portion of the Government scheme which might commend itself to his sympathies—that was for the protection of the homes of the poorest classes of tenants in Ireland. He had endeavoured to reconsider his position in reference to this question on land purchase in the light, not only of his own declaration, but also of the grave necessities of the case. He spoke for those in the House and out of the House who stood where they always stood in reference to land purchase. He listened last night with admiration to the eloquent speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley). He heard him say, with reference, at all events, to some of the main principles of the Land Purchase Bill of 1886, that he (Mr. John Morley) stood where he always stood, but he (Mr. E. Robertson) was afraid that it would be found on inquiry that the two Dissentient Liberals who were brought into political existence last night were more nearly in harmony with the Leaders of the Party on this question than many of the hon. Members who, like himself, followed their Leaders into the Lobby last night. Therefore he saw in this open question of land purchase a grave and serious danger for the Liberal Party if at any moment, and specially soon, they should once more resume the Government, as he believed in ordinary circumstances they would be called to do. He conceived that it was a grave source of political danger. Therefore, from a Party point of view, he was almost tempted to hope that Her Majesty's Government would have the courage to use the opportunity, which undoubtedly they now possessed, considering how the Irish Members and many Liberal Members had accepted the principle of purchase by State aid. If the Government chose they could end this question now by a blow, and he had been almost tempted in his heart to wish that the Government would have the courage—he would not say of their principles—but of their opportunities. It would, of course, clear the way for the Liberal Party. It would undoubtedly be followed by the fall of the present Government. All that would be left for the Liberals to do would be to give Home 1783 Rule to an already pacified Ireland. But while he felt that that was the best future to which he could look forward, he could be no party to bringing that future about, and alike to this proposal, or any larger proposal which the Government might submit, he felt constrained by the principles which he had always advocated, and which he had been sent there to advocate, to say an emphatic "No."
§ MR. C. J. DARLING (Deptford)
said, if the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) to which the House bad just listened meant anything at all, it should have been delivered against Lord Ashbourne's Bill before that Bill became an Act of Parliament, because it was entirely opposed to the spirit and principle of that Act. The speech was interesting, too, as throwing some light on the tactics of those who opposed the present measure. The hon. and learned Member stated that he regarded his vote given on the Division for the Amendment last night as a plea in abatement, which was known in the Profession as a dilatory plea, whereas he regarded the vote he was about to give as in favour of a plea in bar—that was to say, a direct and absolute negative. The hon. and learned Member had attacked the hon. and learned Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Addison) for his want of consistency; but the hon. and learned Member would recollect the words of a modest moralist, that "in affairs none are consistent except the dishonest." To whom was it left to seek to frustrate land purchase in Ireland? Not to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who was simply in favour of delaying matters until presumably he found himself planted on the Government Bench, but to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who prided himself on being par excellence the practical politician. The kernel of the question, from the point of view of the British taxpayer, was whether the security was sufficient or not. He maintained that it was. There was the security of the interest of the landlord and the interest of the tenant in the shape of his tenant-right. It was said—"Why do you not apply the same rules on this side of St. George's Channel as you propose to confer on the Irish ten- 1784 ants?" It was forgotten that there was nothing in this country in the shape of tenant-right which constituted a guarantee to the State for any advance Parliament might be called upon to make, though the advance here was only to the extent of the landlord's interest. On the other side the money was lent to two men, one of whom, the landlord, left one-fifth of the advance in the hands of the State. The tenant's interest, as he had indicated, was his tenant-right, which was often more than one-half the interest in the land. If he did not pay the money that interest went—it was lost, and went into the hands of the State, which had already retained one-fifth of the whole value of the landlords' property. How was it possible, then, using language as ordinarily understood, to describe that as the making of a "present"? It could only be possible to use such language where very likely it would often be used in a short time—before ignorant and uninstructed audiences. The hon. Member for Northampton said that if this money was lent to the Irish tenant he would not know how to resist his various clients in all parts of the country who were failing in business if they claimed that the State should give them pecuniary aid. One would imagine that a proposition to assist those who were trying to get a living out of the land, which was the hardest way of getting a living ever known to man, was now made for the first time, whereas the law had always taken care from the remotest times that the land should be properly cultivated and should get into the right hands. It had been said that it was a disadvantage that most of the loans would be made to small occupiers; but the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland stated that while many small holdings had been purchased, those advances had only been made when the Land Commission considered the advances secure, and that the Commission had refused some 1,100 applications on the ground of insufficient security. It was argued that the State should not lend money to the tenants, but that objection should have been made before Lord Ashbourne's Act was first passed. The law had, from the remotest times, taken care of the land and its natural products, of the water and the air, and the Legislature was now interfering to insure the cultivation of 1785 the soil. Was it right to prevent the State from receiving its part of the produce of the land—right to lay farms waste? Which was the greatest mischief, to do that or to make the land profitable? It was not to the interest of the country that the land should be uncultivated, and that farms should lie vacant, as hon. Gentlemen opposite from Ireland, who deserted the House when any practical measure for the amelioration of their country was being considered, had boasted they had succeeded in bringing about. The money which was about to be advanced would not be wasted, but was to be laid out on what was really a reproductive scheme. This was a measure which would tend to the public good and bring about content, peace, and prosperity in Ireland.
§ SIR WILLIAM PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton, W.)
said, that it was rather difficult to understand what the object of this Bill was, as the statements from the Government were somewhat conflicting. They were told that it was to pacify Ireland; and if that object could be attained by an expenditure of £5,000,000 he should be delighted to vote for the Bill. But the Government had already had £5,000,000 voted for the same object, and was Ireland in a better state now than it was in 1886? ["Yes!"] He was glad to hear hon. Members say "Yes," but the state of the country was not altogether satisfactory when they considered the facts; and he would specially point to remarks that had already been made in regard to the large number of derelict farms in illustration of this. Any way, he ventured to say that if the object of the Government was to pacify Ireland, by means of their present proposal, they would have to ask for a very much larger sum than £5,000,000. It might fairly be urged that the object of the Government was not what it was represented to be. The Government had not put forward any real information with regard to the special object of the measure; therefore he was obliged to go back to the original Act to find out what their object was. If they took up the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council (Sir William Hart Dyke) which he made when, as Chief Secretary for Ireland, he moved the second reading of the Bill in 1885, it would be seen that there was not a 1786 single word about creating peasant proprietors or about pacifying Ireland. But there were many utterances with regard to the prospects, which the right hon. Gentleman hoped for, of improving the price of land in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said, on that occasion,That they were endeavouring to promote a better state of things in Ireland, and to create a stir in the land market;again:That land was not a saleable commodity in Ireland, and if a change for the better could be brought about, the Govenment might consider that the object of their Bill had been amply attained,He had marked other similar statements in this speech of 1885, but it was not necessary to refer to additional instances. The object of the Act of 1885 was, therefore, pretty conclusive, and the object of the present measure, which was said to be a mere continuation of that Act, must be the same. But he would not, for an instant, accuse the Government of not having as their object what they averred it was—namely, the pacification of Ireland. Had Lord Ashbourne's Act had this effect? Was it pacifying the country? What was happening? The Government proposed to take £5,000,000 with which to add to the number of peasant proprietors in Ireland. Incidentally, he contended that it was utterly unnecessary at this period to ask for such an amount, because the Government were pledged to give a measure of Land Purchase. [Mr. DE LISLE: No, no!] He would not accept the hon. Gentleman's ideas, nor his authority. The Government had distinctly told them that they were pledged, and that they had not redeemed their pledge in bringing forward the Bill now before the House. The Reports of the Irish Land Commission gave them some information upon the subject with which the Bill dealt. Up to August 31st, 1888, the Commissioners had issued £3,294,000 out of the £5,000,000 voted in 1885, so that they still had a considerable sum of money to issue. There were, as the result, 4,070 persons who were in the position of payers of instalments to the Government. There were, however, according to Thom's Directory, in 1873, in Ireland no less than 573,000 occupiers of land with plots rated or valued at less than £30 a-year, and in three years this legislation which had been 1787 passed had only touched 1¼ per cent of the whole number. Did the Government mean to say that if they went on in the same way in the future they would be able to pacify Ireland in anything like a reasonable term of years? At the rate which the Government were proceeding it would take 100 years to pacify Ireland, and they ought, therefore, to try some other plan. The method which the Government had adopted, he thought, was undesirable, unprofitable, and even injurious and dangerous. By the assistance which they were giving from the State they were putting a small section of the tenants into the position of peasant proprietors, and the very first step which they took in that operation was to reduce the payment, by whatever name they called it, whether they termed it rent or instalment of purchase money, from £100 a-year to £70 a-year. At the same time the neighbouring tenants would still have to pay their £100 a-year without the least prospect of becoming owners of the land they occupied. Thus this legislation, by an artificial system, which the Government were not prepared to carry out on the extended scale on which it ought to be carried out if it was to be of any value, would produce a small set of men whose rents would be reduced by 130 per cent; and then the Government expected the great bulk of the neighbouring tenants to go on paying what must appear by contrast to be exorbitant rents. He admitted that the instalments were being paid with great regularity, but there were distinct arrears, and they were positively increasing. In 1887 there were only 58 persons in arrear, and their arrears amounted to £212. Then as to the next year. The last Report which they had got referred to the period up to August last. But why had not that Report been distributed to hon. Members, seeing that it had been laid upon the Table of the House?
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, that the last Report had been laid on the Table of the House at the earliest possible moment, and some advance copies had been circulated, but it had been absolutely impossible to make a general distribution.
§ SIR WILLIAM PLOWDEN
said, he was glad to hear that some copies had 1788 been circulated, although he had not been the recipient of one; but the Government ought to have taken steps to put the House in possession of full information. Still, the figures available showed that the number of tenants in arrear in 1888 had risen to 168, or 4 per cent of the whole number of purchasers, and the arrears had risen from £212 to £2,250; while, in one instance, the arrear had hung over from November, 1886. This was not satisfactory; the figures did not support the assertion that the Act was a success; and he challenged the Government to the proof of their assertion. In fact, the time had not come for satisfactory generalization. An instance to be found on another page of the Report, which was a curious commentary on the propriety of this Bill, showed that this was not the time to take money from the British taxpayer in a hopeless endeavour to do what was right to Irish tenants. The Land Commissioners spoke of a farm that they obtained in the working of their Church property, and they said that, although it was desirable land and close to a town, it remained on their hands, and they were obliged to pay a caretaker to take charge of it. They went on to say that a similar result would follow if the State had to effect a sale of land; and such interference with free purchase would materially lessen the value of the security on which the money had been advanced by the State. Apart from the objection to dealing with the question in a piecemeal and ragged fashion, he objected to be a party to doing what was not necessary. All that was required by the Government was a sum sufficient to tide over the time between November and February, and the Reports showed that £2,000,000 would be ample for that purpose. Therefore he would not be a party to the granting £5,000,000.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said, before he dealt with the matter more generally, he would say a few words in answer to the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Sir William Plowden), with whose statements he could not agree. The hon. Gentleman said the ostensible object of this Bill was the pacification of Ireland, but that he failed altogether to see any omens of success from the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act hitherto. From that opinion he (Colonel 1789 Waring) distinctly and emphatically differed, for he held that there were very strong evidences of success with regard to the pacification of Ireland arising out the action of Lord Ashbourne's Act. The hon. Gentleman asked if any derelict farms had been let. He (Colonel Waring) replied, "Yes, many had been let." The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland ought to be a better authority on this point than any hon. Gentleman opposite; and His Excellency told a meeting at Belfast the other day that 160 derelict farms had already been taken. That statement had been confirmed by the person next best qualified to judge—namely, the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden). Another statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite was open to criticism—namely, that there were 600,000 tenants in Ireland whose tenancies were under £30 a-year. The fact was that the hon. Gentleman was somewhat muddled in his figures. The number of 600,000 was the total number of tenancies in Ireland at the date of the Return from which the hon. Gentleman quoted, and no doubt it had been decreasing since. The hon. Gentleman said they could not look for any fruits from this measure within the terms of their natural lives. He (Colonel Waring) would, however, like to see an improvement within the term of his natural life. If our ancestors had legislated with as much foresight as was exhibited in the Bill before the House, we should not have been in our present difficulty. The sentiment of the hon. Gentleman opposite was not a worthy one, and he (Colonel Waring) hoped the hon. Gentleman would consider that it might be our duty to take into consideration what posterity ought to receive from us. There had been a great deal of argument upon the subject of the reduction of rents. It was said that this measure was passed by the then Secretary of State for Ireland, who brought it in on the ground that it would increase the market for land and tend to recoup Irish landlords for the loss of their rents. He (Colonel Waring.) accepted that view. They were told that it was a landlords' measure—a breeches-pocket question—but he would like to approach it from a patriotic point of view. He was as large a tenant as he was a landlord, and, while he hoped that the pocket replenished from 1790 the profits of tenant-farming might be benefited by the operation of this Act, he confessed that he did not intend to deal in the land market at present prices. Many a good vessel that had got into shallow water had floated off at the next tide. He thought they had been in shallow water, and they might have lost a few feet of their false keel; but they could still navigate the vessel, and if there were 100 lifeboats alongside in the shape of Ashbourne Acts, he would not take to one of them. He did not, from his own point of view, look upon it as at all an attractive measure; but, looking upon it generally, he regarded it as of the utmost importance. It would have a great effect on the political future of Ireland. Hon. Gentlemen opposite argued that it was not our duty to look to the future; but he held that it was, and he believed that a very considerable influence on the political future of their country would be exercised by this measure. Those who became possessed of property under this Act, by a method such as was offered to no other tenantry in the world, would become members of society who would be distinctly opposed to agitation, to anything which would unsettle the state of affairs under which they gained such advantages, which they would not risk for the sake of some ideal future; or, for the sake of any nonsense about it becoming a "Nation with the green flag waving o'er her," the substantial advantages of the present hour. He would like to say a word or two on the subject of security. They had heard a great deal of the insufficient security offered by this proposal. He held that the security was ample and excellent. In the first place, they had the security that they retained during the earlier period of the repayment—one-fifth of the purchase money in their own hands. Further than that, they had the security of the tenant's improvements and the tenant's interest in the land, which in his Province had always exceeded the value of the landlord's interest in the fee-simple. In an adjoining county to his own, the other day, a farmer purchased under Lord Ashbourne's Act for £550 the fee-simple of his farm. Within a fortnight he disposed of it to a neighbouring tenant for £1,000. Did they mean to tell him that a farm which had a money value in the market of £1,000 was not sufficient 1791 security for the £440 which would be the Government advance? That was a proposition which, even in these bad times, and even with the prospect of a further fall, he was not prepared at once to accept. But was there a prospect of a further fall? So far as he could judge, and he was deeply interested in it, he thought the prospect was the other way. Only that morning he had received a telegram from the man who managed his stock asking whether he could sell the whole stock at an advance of £2 a head more than they were valued at on November 1 last. He (Colonel Waring) telegraphed back not to sell. Under these circumstances it was perfectly clear that the security would be sufficient, and there was not any real risk of this country losing anything by the transaction. But suppose there were. The hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had objected to any burden being imposed on the Imperial taxpayer. But what became of the hon. Member's constant request for generous treatment to Ireland? He did not believe in generosity which cost nothing. Now, with respect to the principle of the Act. Those who were now opposing it—of course he did not always expect consistency from them—had shown in a remarkable way their appreciation of it on previous occasions. As to what was said in 1880, he was not going to give much ancient history, but it was worth calling attention to it.
§ COLONEL WARING
said, hon. Members no doubt had read it, but he ventured to suggest that they had not marked, learned, and inwardly digested it. He would refer to the language of the hon. Member for West Cavan (Mr. Biggar) in 1880. That hon. Member then said the object of his Party was to get the land for 20 years' purchase—be it remembered—of the Government valuation. Under this Bill the price would be much lower than that, because the Sub-Commission would not allow the landlords to exact so much from the tenants as Griffith's valuation. Then the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy), speaking in June, 1886, said he had nothing but commendation to pass on the admirable manner in which the Commissioners 1792 under Lord Ashbourne's Act had steered an even keel between the landlords and the tenants. It was odd that the hon. and learned Member for North Longford should have so changed his opinion as to have said that no Irish tenant ought to make a treaty on his own account, and that the man who purchased under Lord Ashbourne's Act was making a treaty of peace behind the backs of the Nation as a whole. There was a fact which the hon. and learned Member did not contemplate which might arise out of this resistance. Derelict farms were now being taken. On the Coolgreany estate 10 or more such farms had been taken.
§ COLONEL WARING
said, by the men whom the same hon. Member, speaking at Clones, declared would by this time be driven into the North-East of Ireland, and hedged in there with a ring of fire. They had broken through the ring of fire, would break through it, and would colonize other parts of Ireland, and would carry their loyalty with them in a way which hon. Members would hardly appreciate. There were other signs of an improvement in the state of Ireland which led them to look hopefully upon this Act. A large manufacturer in the Eastern Counties, whose business was that of making machines for agricultural work, told a friend of his that during three years up till this summer he had only done business with Ireland to the extent of £500, but since the month of August his business had increased to £1,500. It could not be the Belfast merchants who bought these machines, and that increase of trade must be due to the tenant farmers, who had been represented as suffering so terribly from recent events. They were told too high a price was to be given for the land. What was the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian when, in bringing in his Act of 1870, he was fixing seven years' rent as the penalty which the landlord was to pay for disturbances? When the right hon. Gentleman was remonstrated with for putting it at such a high figure, and was told that that was one-third of the value of the fee-simple, he indignantly turned to his questioner, and said—"Do you mean to tell me that 21 years' purchase will represent the fee-simple of land in any civilized 1793 country in the world? The civilization must be very low if that is the case." He (Colonel Waring) admitted that civilization in Ireland was not very high, but when an average of something under 18 years had been arrived at it was rather idle for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that the price was too high. Next they were told that if the State to any large extent acquired the position of landlord in Ireland there would be serious danger of a strike against the payment of instalments. He thought that a strike against payment to the landlord was, perhaps, more probable than a strike against payment to the State. The State was a good deal bigger than any single landlord, or combination of landlords. The State could not be intimidated; it could not be Boycotted; it could not be starved into submission. The Irish peasant was very shrewd. He thought the Irish peasant was quite too cute to hit so big a man as he would then have to deal with; and, if there was a desire to strike, he believed it would never be put into practice. While he agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson), he should view with very grave suspicion the extension of the Act to such dimensions as to make the whole, or a large part, of the Irish tenants owners, for he did not think the climate or soil of parts of Ireland was favourable to the construction of a thriving peasant proprietary; but he held that while it was kept within the bounds to which even several more instalments of the same amount would confine it, nothing but good, pacification, and satisfaction could come of it. He, therefore, should most heartily support the proposition which the Government had made in regard to this matter.
§ MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said, he felt bound to complain of the way in which this Bill was being rushed through the House, while information which the Government possessed was being kept back from the Irish Members. The House ought to have more time to consider all the facts which the Government could, if it would, supply. He denied that there had been any such taking of derelict farms as was alleged by the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Waring). The farms on the Coolgreany estate were not occupied by tenants, but by 1794 Emergency men. He could give an instance in the contrary direction, on Lord Dinevor's estate, where a man called Darcy had been unable to maintain himself on such a farm, although he had been subsidized to the extent of £300 by the landlords. In the west part of County Limerick some two or three years ago a tenant named Taylor had been evicted and sold out, and an Emergency man had been put into his holding. The Emergency man had then purchased under the Ashbourne Act, he and his landlord joining in a conspiracy to take the money of the State; and after the man had held the farm for a year he left. The Commissioners had then advertised the farm, but could find no one to take it at the price asked, and it was now farmed, under the Commissioners, by the very man who had been evicted. On the Marquess of Waterford's estate the first step taken under the Ashbourne Act had been to serve notices of ejectment on all tenants in arrears, and then the agent had informed the men that they had the alternative of purchasing under the Act or of leaving their farms. He could tell of one man who had bought at 20 years' purchase and who had not a decent coat on his back. It was not the tenants whom they wished to protect against their landlords who would purchase under the Act, but the tenants on the large estates. Arrears were being pressed to force tenants to take advantage of the Act, as the only escape from eviction and destruction. If there were a free, open, and clear method by which an honest rent could be fixed, so that the tenants driven to the wall by arrears could force their landlords to utilize the measure, then there would be something in it. But by the Ashbourne Act all the power was given to the landlord, who might or might not take the initiative. If the House were asked to give a sum of £5,000,000 in addition to the sums already given for the purpose of pacifying Ireland, there ought, at least, to be some evidence that that intention was being carried out. But no such evidence had been forthcoming; and the only idea of the Bill was to compensate the landlords for their past losses. No landlord or interested party could, with any decency, vote for this Bill, but he feared that there was very little decency among landlords where there 1795 was a chance of getting money. Their patriotism was always and only spelt by the three letters £ s. d.
§ MR. ADDISON (Ashton-under-Lyne)
said, that he would not have intervened in the debate had it not been that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) had thought he would enliven a speech, not otherwise very amusing, by making some quotations from some speeches of his. The hon. Member sought to make out that between something he said two years ago and his vote last night there was an inconsistency. It would be very difficult for any hon. Member to find him inconsistent, and the hon. Member who followed would have been better employed in altering his own political convictions than in censuring his. About two years ago he said that the British taxpayer should not spend one shilling for the relief either of landlords or tenants in Ireland. He adhered to that opinion; he repeated it to-day, and the only reason why he warmly supported the present proposition was that it did not take one shilling out of the pocket of the British taxpayer. He would not weary the House by repeating for the thirteenth time arguments which had been used a dozen times already in the course of the debate. But could any hon. Member mention an instance of any experiment which had succeeded so well as that of Lord Ashbourne's Act? Some two years ago a rumour rose, he knew not where, that the Party to which he had the honour to belong intended to mould some plan after the model of the scheme of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. He had always the most intense dislike to that scheme, and he had heartily opposed it. That scheme was to comprehend all the tenants of Ireland, even those who had not paid their rents or were ever likely to pay them. When he heard that a large heroic scheme was to be proposed by a Tory Government he was the first to get up and denounce it. The very merit of the present scheme was that it was not heroic, that it was what had been called piecemeal legislation, that it trod upon safe ground and only dealt with these who were themselves dealing honestly. The hon. Member for Dundee stated that Members on the Ministerial side of the House were at one time saying that the tenant farmers of Ire- 1796 land were either the accomplices or the dupes of a conspiracy, and the next moment were going to trust them with £5,000,000. That was the very thing they were not going to do. They were going to advance the money to those who were neither the accomplices nor the dupes of conspiracy. They were told that the scheme would not pacify Ireland. They never said it would. All it would do was to enable a number of honest, respectable people to acquire their farms on reasonable terms. When Gentlemen talked of pacifying Ireland they trotted out that old fallacy of speaking of those outsiders who were under the control of the League as all Ireland. The wealth, the industry, the intelligence of Ireland were on the side of the Government. He wished hon. Members opposite to bear in mind that everyone who represented anything in Ireland rejected their advice, and would not have anything to do with them. The hon. Member for Dundee asked what the 17,000 working men of Dundee, some of whom had not a baubee in their pockets, would say to this proposal? Those who had not a baubee in their pockets would, he should think, have very little interest in it. He also represented 4,000 working men, and it was because those on the Ministerial side represented working men that they were enabled to gain the majority. They not only represented working men, but they represented, before any Party in the House, the Party most desirous of securing the welfare, peace, and prosperity of all Ireland.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, that he would come at once to the main question, because on this question he felt as strongly as it was possible for anyone to feel on any subject whatever. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Howorth) rightly said that the Bill pledged the House to establish a peasant proprietary in Ireland. It did more than that; it pledged the House to establish a peasant proprietary in Ireland on the lines of Lord Ashbourne's Act, which Act, in his opinion, was a most faulty one. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) showed, in an unanswerable manner, that they could not stop the extension of the advantages of this Act at the point of £5,000,000 or of £5,000,000 more, as long as they gave 1797 Parliamentary sanction to this being the right way of establishing a peasant proprietary in Ireland. He remembered very well a drive which he once took through one of the most interesting counties in Ireland, the county of Donegal. He began at the east, and he went over a country covered with farms which, to anyone who knew what successful rent-paying farms were, appeared most prosperous. Those farms were well situated, the houses were admirably built, and there were in them all the marks of comfort, and even of opulence. It was the tenants holding those farms who had been bought out by the Bill. A right hon. Friend of his in the House of Commons, in 1885, contrived to insert in the Bill a limit which would have excluded most of those farms from its operation; but that limit somewhere disappeared, and now the Act of 1887 allowed a sum of £5,000 to be lent on one single holding. Was it credible to anyone who drove from East Donegal to West Donegal, seeing the misery of the people who lived in the western parts of that county, that when those people heard that their well-to-do neighbours in the east of the county were having their rents immediately reduced by 10 per cent and 20 per cent, with the prospect of having their holdings as their own in 50 years—was it credible that those poorer neighbours would not insist in sharing the same advantages? He trusted that the sentence spoken by the hon. Member for Dundee would be engraven on the mind of every taxpayer, when he said that wherever this Act was economically right it was politically wrong. When once they had made this concession to one class they might be certain that all the poorer tenants would claim it. That was the meaning of the movement which the Solicitor General for Ireland said had already begun—a marked increase in the number of applications from the poorer tenants. He took it for granted that this was the way, in the opinion of Parliament, if this Bill were passed, that the Land Question in Ireland should be dealt with. It was plain that that was the opinion of the supporters of this Bill. A very curious sentence was spoken by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Curzon), who was very greatly regarded on the Ministerial side. The hon. Gen- 1798 tleman said that under Lord Ashbourne's Act they had entered on an obligation of faith to two classes in Ireland—with such landlords as were willing on equitable terms to sell, and with such tenants as were willing on equitable terms to buy. That was, the hon. Member said, an obligation of faith and honour on the part of the Government. He (Sir George Trevelyan) imagined that they were under no obligation to either landlord or tenant in this matter. They were under an obligation to the State, and to the State alone, and in the interest of the State he certainly intended to support his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) in asking the House to reject the Bill. While the Government had other, perhaps predominant, and perhaps very honourable, motives for supporting this scheme, the interest of the landlord entered very largely into their motives. They had heard about the Landlords' Relief Bill, and there could be no doubt the landlords themselves thought they were entitled to some such scheme. The House might not be aware what a very great question it was grappling with at present. The Irish Landlords' Convention had put forward very large demands indeed, on the ground that they had been ill-used by Parliament. The first of these demands was that advances should be made to landowners by the State at the lowest possible rates to pay off mortgages and family charges, and they explained that such loans should be granted by an annuity not exceeding 3½ per cent, repaying capital and interest in about 65 years, and the Landlords' Convention said it would mitigate the present crisis if the operation of the Sinking Fund were suspended for five or seven years. When he was Chief Secretary for Ireland he went very carefully into the question of the amount of the mortgages in Ireland, and the very best authorities told him that they were at least £80,000,000. So that here they had a proposal that the nation should take up a security of £80,000,000 of such a nature that in the Money Market nobody would take it for less than 4½ per cent, and yet the State was, deducting the Sinking Fund, to take it up at about 2½ per cent. The next proposal was that the tithe rent-charge should be capitalized and converted into 3½ per cent annuities, ter- 1799 minable in 66 years. The third was that the Board of Works allowance for drainage and other agricultural improvements—which at present were paid off on very much the same terms as English tenants had to pay to a Land Improvement Company—should be granted to the Irish landlord upon terms which were, perhaps, twice as favourable. The fourth proposal actually was that where an Irish landlord had paid Succession Duty upon his old rents, he should, within a limited time, have a portion of that Succession Duty refunded to him if his rents were low. There were other proposals which were quite as impudent; but he would go at once to the last and most serious demand—that if the Irish landowner could induce his tenant to agree to buy, the taxpayer of the United Kingdom should step into his (the landowner's) shoes, and that he, without any local guarantee whatever, should walk off at once with four-fifths of the money in his pocket. It was said that this was no boon. The boon was this—that the man wanted to sell, that he could not get a purchaser, and that he had one provided for him. All this list of claims, the first of which they were now going to satisfy, were made because the Irish landlords said they had a right to compensation for the losses inflicted upon them by the legislation of recent years. He asserted that they had no such right to compensation. The rents of the Irish landlords had been lowered in the Land Courts. The Report of the Land Commission was not yet out, and he thought it was very hard that it was not out. Consequently he was not able to say what were the present average reductions in Irish rent, but he would put it at about 20 per cent all over Ireland. The reduction was made by the Law Courts simply carrying out the result of economical causes, which, in England and Scotland, were left to work their way. He challenged contradiction when he said there were several counties in England where the real average reduction of rent had been 30 per cent, with the exception of some small grazing farms, and that reduction was on the gross rent. The landlords in England constructed the buildings and carried out improvements. On the other hand, reductions in Ireland were very nearly, though not quite, on the net rental, and 1800 he did not hesitate to say that a reduction of 25 per cent in England was equivalent to a reduction of 35 per cent at the very least in Ireland. He had seen in The Times the letter of an ill-used Irish landlord. The writer said he thought that Irish landlords merited some consideration and compensation at the hands of the Government. He was a gentleman who, when he had deducted the head rent, received £1,300 a-year, and on two farms his rent had been reduced by £77. In that letter given in large print in The Times, evidently as a specimen of the kind of correspondence received about the grievances of the landlords, it was stated that the landlord had two mortgages on which he had to pay interest. But there were worse things behind; he had to pay £540 a-year in allowances to his sons and daughters. Just conceive what the state of mind of a class must be who had been talked into the idea of their own importance and wrongs, when they wrote to a newspaper that it was a grievance to pay allowances to their sons and daughters! Let him now take the case of an Irish and an English landlord at £1,300 a-year. Out of that sum Income Tax and half the Poor Rate came to £70, the agent's salary to £50; the tithe rentcharge—which when he was Chief Secretary he ascertained to be on an average 9d. in the pound—would be £50. Then he had his rents reduced by an average of 20 per cent, which would be £260. All those items came to £430. Thus, out of the £1,300 a-year which he had before, the Irish landlord had £870 in his pocket. Next take the English landlord with £1,300 a-year 10 years ago. At the very least the maintenance of his estate, payment of tithes and rates, the agent, and other necessary expenses would come to 25 per cent, or £325. He had his rents reduced 25 per cent on the gross rental. Therefore, they had to deduct from his income £650; and the average English landlord of £1,300 a-year would thus now have £650 to spend while the Irish one had £870. It was impossible to impugn those figures. He would like to give the House a personal story regarding a friend of his, who was in the position in which, unhappily, many a landlord had been. He would give figures which were relatively correct as compared with each other, but not the 1801 actual amounts. That friend was a Scotch landlord, who came into £30,000 a-year in land. According to the custom of the family he would have £10,000 a-year to live on. He was very much shocked at the amount of the burdens on the estate, and he determined to sell, but the fall in prices came just then. There was a deduction at once of 20 per cent over all his property, and therefore his available income fell at once £4,000 without reckoning subsequent reductions. But his estate was not in good order, and as a good, honest man, he borrowed £25,000 to rebuild his cottages and farmhouses—to make the one decent and the other lettable. He did not know to what extent his utterly undeserved troubles hastened his death, but he had never heard him complain or ask to have a return of the Succession Duty he had paid, or his mortgages consolidated on the price of the estate. Could anyone doubt that his tenants, good and thrifty men, would have been glad to have had the purchase money of their farms advanced to them by the State? But they were not to have it; but they and the landlord's children would to the end of time be responsible under that Bill under which men of this class went off with £500,000, and some with £250,000 in their pockets, at the risk of people every bit as worthy as themselves. He now came to the case of the tenant. In May, 1884, he himself had the honour of introducing a Land Purchase Bill, and he gave two reasons for introducing it. He said, first, that the Government earnestly believed that the social and political state of Ireland and its agricultural condition were such that never was there a country in the world in which it was more important that the men who tilled the land should own it; and, next, that no one could deny that when the land of a country was practically unsaleable it was a great misfortune to the community and a great hardship to a large class of individuals, and no one could deny that such a state of things existed in Ireland. He next described the obstacles and drawbacks in the way of the sale of land and the manner in which his Bill proposed to remove them. Lord Ashbourne spoke very handsomely of that Bill. When the present Vice President of the Council introduced Lord Ashbourne's Bill in that House he likewise spoke of it in very 1802 generous terms. He was willing to refer to those compliments, as the credit of the scheme was due to the able and experienced men who were assisting and inspiring him behind the scenes—to Mr. Commissioner Lynch, to Mr. Ball Greene, and to Sir Robert Hamilton. By it the tenant who wished to purchase could, without a farthing of expense, walk off with a Parliamentary title, good for ever, in his pocket. Although the object of the late Government was that a great many of those who tilled the land should own it, their desire was that those should be the right people and not the wrong people. The interest of the landlord was that his laud should be taken from him entirely, and that all the tenants, bad and good, should be turned into Government tenants. But that was not the interest of the public. The interest of the public was all the other way. It required that a selection should be made, and the best and surest means of making that selection was to require payment down of a certain part of the purchase money by the tenants. That was the only way, as they conceived, of making sure of getting hold of the men who really wanted to buy. Under the present system he was afraid the question merely was whether the landlord wanted to sell. What was the real danger of that Act? It was that in coming years there would be bad seasons, and that during those bad seasons the tenant would not be able to pay his instalments. He could only pay them by thrift in previous years. Well, it was exactly the man who had saved enough to provide a material part of the purchase money who would be likely in future to show that amount of self-control which would make the Government safe. His firm belief was that if his Bill, with its trenchant provisions as to the reform of land purchase, had been passed into law, the effect would be been that, instead of the Government getting a mixed class of tenants, good and bad, they would have had scattered all over Ireland a multitude of thrifty, reliable men who would have been real supporters of law and order in the country, and, at the same time, safe tenants. But on both sides of the House there were Gentlemen who wanted to have the whole of the purchase money lent. The Government had considered the matter, and thought that the taxpayer 1803 ought not to be overlooked in that question. They felt that the proposals they had made were the utmost they could offer at the risk of the taxpayer. But as there was such an eager desire in Ireland to have the whole of the money paid down, they thought that Ireland should have the money if only she was willing to take the risk to herself. The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) had started the idea of a local guarantee, and they borrowed that idea from him. Under that local guarantee they were ready to lend the whole of the money, but with the safeguard of a short term, and that on paying 5 per cent for 33 years the tenant might become the owner of his farm. He himself stated that it was impossible to ask the taxpayers of the United Kingdom to show such confidence in the farmers of Ireland unless the taxpayers of Ireland evinced that confidence themselves; that the liability of the tenants who borrowed the whole sum from the State would have to be strengthened by a local guarantee which was not required in the case of those who borrowed only three-quarters of the money; and that it was proposed to make the county cess responsible for any deficiency in the repayment of the purchase money. It was his opinion then, as it was still, that without the safeguard of a local guarantee they could not afford to lend the whole of the purchase money, either in Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom. In 1885 Lord Salisbury's Government did not take the view of the Opposition. They adopted the Bill which had been brought forward, but made two very important changes. They gradually lengthened the term during which the payments would be made to the State, and they likewise removed the local guarantee, and lent the money straight out. He greatly regretted himself that a more energetic opposition was not offered to the Bill. It was curious to observe that, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), there was not one hon. Member on that side of the House, and, as far as he knew, in the House of Lords, who did not speak of the Bill with disapprobation. The hon. Member for Flintshire spoke of the measure as a generous one. That it certainly was; but he left out 1804 of view the question of justice to the taxpayer. The name of Lord Spencer was quoted as having approved the Bill. Lord Spencer, in his speech, described how important it was to have a Local Authority as security for the money, not only because it was better security, but because the Local Authority would have personal knowledge of the qualifications of the tenant. The danger from the operation of the Bill was not immediate. It was not to-day or to-morrow; but it would come quite certainly. In Lord Spencer's time, an estate in the West of Ireland was offered for sale to the tenants. An agreement between landlords and tenants was made at 15 years' purchase. The Land Commission looked into the matter, and they came to the conclusion that the estate was not worth more than 12 years' purchase, and at that price they bought it in. That was the sort of asset they were to have in the British Exchequer now. When they had advanced this £5,000,000, and all the other £5,000,000 which they would be under an obligation to give, there would be many such estates on their hands, including not only the well-to-do and industrious tenants of the estates, but all the tenants. They were creating a great number of Government tenants who would have to pay rents for 50 years to come. How often had it been found within the last 50 years in many parts of Ireland that very many tenants were absolutely unable to pay any rent at all? The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir Edward Grey) said that the English Government was hated because it had to collect rents for bad landlords. Did hon. Members reflect that even the worst landlord might often make remissions and allow arrears to run up, but the British Government could not allow any arrears to run up? Bad times would come; then the British Government would be obliged to exact those rents, and the consequence would be that there would be the gravest discontent created among the poor tenants who could not pay, and that discontent would extend to other portions of Ireland. He hoped hon. Members would read the speech made by the late Mr. Forster on the second reading of the Arrears Bill of his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). Mr. Forster spoke with the greatest 1805 force about the absolute impossibility of the tenants in many parts of Ireland, in the bad years of 1878 and 1879, to pay any rent whatsoever, and as to the effect this had on the peace of the country. Hon. Members might say that the Government in the strongest cases might remit the rents in a bad year. Suppose the Government remitted the rents in Kerry, would not the Members from Clare come forward and ask what difference there was between the two counties, and so on with regard to other districts? Indeed, pressure would be put on the Government which it would be absolutely unable to resist, that it ought not to resist, because it would be absolutely impossible in the case of a great number of those farms that any rent could be paid at all in the worst years. He thought he had shown the immense dangers to which this extension of the Ashbourne Act undoubtedly and avowedly tended, and he had shown that the House, as guardians of the public purse and stewards of the nation, was absolutely bound to refuse its assent to the extension of this scheme.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY, WAR DEPARTMENT (Mr. BRODRICK) (Surrey, Guildford)
said, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was one of special interest, because he was the parent of an almost precisely similar Bill no later than 1884. He confessed, however, that he was not prepared for the speech just delivered. He had followed as closely as possible the somewhat intricate political course of the right hon. Gentleman, and had hoped that the scheme of land purchase initiated by him would have escaped the general shipwreck of his political views on Irish questions. The right hon. Gentleman argued that nothing was more dangerous than that the State should become landlords in Ireland. That contingency, however, was not left out by the principle of the Bill for which the right hon. Gentleman himself was responsible. If there was any difference between the two schemes it amounted to this—that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared in the worst districts, and in the case of the worst tenancies, to advance three-fourths, whereas the Government were now advancing four-fifths. That was not a serious difference.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
I was speaking of the advance to the tenant. The Government advances the whole of the purchase money to the tenant.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, the Government advanced four-fifths of the purchase money, and retained one-fifth in case of failure on the part of the tenant. In one portion of his scheme the right hon. Gentleman proposed to advance the whole, and this established a minimum difference between his scheme and that of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the impossibility of the poor struggling tenants in West Donegal acquiescing in certain advantages which, it was supposed, the richer tenants would obtain at their expense. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by that insinuation? Did he mean to say that the Land Commission, having two cases before it, one a rich case and another a poor case, would deprive the poor tenant of any advantages?
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
I referred to the poor struggling English taxpayer, not the exclusion of the poorer tenants. I said they would come in by shoals.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman had not expressed his meaning; but he accepted the correction. He must, however, enter his protest against the imputation which the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to lay upon the Government that certain proposals of the Irish Landlords' Convention, which had never been ratified and as far as he knew had never been considered seriously by the Government, should be taken side by side with the proposal under this Bill, and that he should thus attempt to confuse the minds of hon. Members and to mix up questions which were absolutely distinct with this question of land purchase, as to which, up to two or three years ago, every statesman, of whatever Party in the House, was willing to signify agreement. The comparison drawn between the average return of an English and Scotch estate was, he submitted, absolutely misleading, since the right hon. Gentleman omitted from the Irish estate any expenditure on improvements, which, he was well aware, had been undertaken by a large number of landlords in Ireland. [Sir GEORGE TRE- 1807 VELYAN: Hear, hear!] The right hon. Gentleman had also referred to a certain Scottish estate. He (Mr. Brodrick) was perfectly conversant with the circumstances of the estate, although the right hon. Gentleman had not given the name of it; and he could give the House this information which the right hon. Gentleman had not given—namely, that the rents on that estate had been enormously raised during the last 30 or 40 years, and that the reduction was not one farthing beyond the amount by which they had been raised in that period. That, in his opinion, made a very material difference on the case which the right hon. Gentleman had presented to the House. The measure of the right hon. Gentleman proposed an advance of £20,000,000, and when the measure of Lord Ashbourne was under discussion in 1885 the late Attorney General for Ireland, speaking on behalf of the Front Opposition Bench, said he did not think that the provisions by which it was proposed that £5,000,000 should be allocated to the purchase of land were at all sufficient. In fact, he plainly stated that the sum asked for was so inadequate as to be ridiculous; and yet they were now censured for making up to £10,000,000 as against the £20,000,000 asked for by the right hon. Gentleman. When he came to the security for the advance he found it was not less, but absolutely more, in this measure than it was in the measure of the right hon. Gentleman, who, indeed, proposed a local security; but this security fell to the ground, because it was pronounced to be utterly impracticable by Members in all parts of the House. It was rejected by the Irish Members, and ridiculed by the newspapers. Not only did the local security perish of inanition, but it dragged down the rest of the Bill with it. As an alternative, the right hon. Gentleman proposed to risk three-quarters of the money; but he took the purchase at 20 years, and was thus willing to advance £1,500 on every £100 of rent. But now the year's purchase had been brought down to 17; the risk, therefore, was now only £1,360 on every £100, or, at 18 years' purchase, £1,440. Therefore, if the Bill of 1884 had passed, the British taxpayer would have incurred greater risk of liability than he did at the present moment. They had been met in these discussions by an 1808 assurance that whatever sum was advanced by the Government they must look for a repudiation of their obligations to the tenants at some time or other. He regretted to hear those expressions. From the time of the Act of 1881 he had never heard, until now, either from the Irish Benches or from right hon. Gentlemen opposite, anything but an assurance that the natural disposition of the tenants in Ireland was to pay debts, provided they were legal and reasonable. From that idea all recent legislation on land purchase had been allowed to start, and, looking at the Returns which had been presented, he did not think they had anything to complain of in regard to the way in which Irish borrowers had paid their instalments. But the Government had this further security. Everything which combination, bad seasons, and ceaseless agitation could do to lower the value of land had been at work in Ireland for the last eight years. In consequence, rents had been brought so low that the purchase price was bound to be reasonable, and they had also the Land Commission Court, as trustees between them and the buyers and sellers, to see that the price was one which gave fair security. That Court had already refused to ratify sales in no less than 1,100 instances, besides sending back many others for amendment before sanctioning them. Then they had what the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman had not—a deposit of 20 per cent, which would be forfeited to the State if the instalments were not regularly paid. And they had the further security that the tenant would not willingly surrender his interest in the farm, which was not included in the judicial rent, for which money had been separately paid, and which, in most cases, formed a large addition to the security. Having regard to all the circumstances, it was altogether inaccurate to represent this measure as brought in to give compensation to landlords. Her Majesty's Government were following the line taken up by all parties in recent years—namely, that it was desirable to increase the class of peasant proprietary. He had only heard one argument against the probable working of the Bill, and that was brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), who asserted that the Bill would only 1809 assist the substantial farmers, and be of no use whatever to the poor tenants in the West. It unfortunately was the case that the small tenants, who showed a strong disposition not to pay rent, showed no disposition to purchase; but this might be explained by the influence brought to bear on them by some persons who desired to frustrate the operations of the Ashbourne Act, as they had endeavoured to frustrate every Act which might replace agitation by contentment. A great deal had been said with regard to the question of arrears, and it must not be forgotten that those who were in arrear were, for the reason just named, the special protégés of hon. Members below the Gangway. In 1882 an Arrears Act was passed, which enabled tenants who went into Court to have their arrears wiped off, and those who were now in arrear were mostly those who did not take advantage of the Act of 1881, and did not go into Court to have their rents fixed, because they considered their rents were fair. There was a very remarkable contrast between the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) made last night, and his speeches on this subject made in former years, when he looked to such measures as these to produce a prosperous and thriving peasantry. It was easy for the Irish Members to frustrate the prosperity of the country; but the speeches that had been made with regard to this Bill by hon. Members from Ireland sitting below the Gangway did not in any way represent the feelings of the tenant farmers of Ireland. The hon. Member said he was in favour of legislation which would enable Irish tenants, on reasonable terms, to become purchasers of their holdings; but this was just what the Bill aimed at doing. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir George Trevelyan), when introducing a Bill in 1884, spoke of the advantages to be obtained by facilitating land purchase by tenants, and expressed his opinion that by so doing the number of contented and law-abiding men in Ireland would be increased. Did he still desire to increase the number of contented and law-abiding men? If so, why had he not one word of commendation for the Government which was attempting to deal with this subject on almost identical lines? Well might the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed 1810 (Sir Edward Grey) say last night that the difficulty of convincing the electors of the necessity of Home Rule was to persuade them that the Gladstonian Party were in earnest. The attitude of the right hon. Gentleman and of his Friends towards this Bill was difficult to explain upon any other ground than that they desired to see the Unionist policy in Ireland fail. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson), who strongly opposed the Bill, and denounced the Government for promoting it, had none the less confessed that the Bill would be an undoubted benefit to the tenants of Ireland. He accepted this tribute to the Bill as a just representation of the objects of the Government, who would press forward the measure by every means in their power, not for the compensation of Irish landlords, but the benefit of the tenants of Ireland, and the permanent amelioration of their condition, and he hoped it would as such receive the hearty support of that House.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,—"(Mr. Parnell,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.