§ (Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Mr. Secretary Matthews.)
§ [BILL 382.] COMMITTEE.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I propose, Sir, to move the following Instruction to the Committee which stands in my name:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide that the Irish Land Commission may take an account of the amount of arrears of rent due from tenants who 33 have made, or shall make, application to have judicial rents fixed for their holdings, and may decide whether the whole, or any, or what part of such arrears ought to be paid, and whether in one payment or by instalments, and at what dates the same shall be paid.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I took the earliest opportunity of intimating to the hon. Gentleman the irregularity in point of form of this Instruction which he proposes to move. The Motion of the hon. Member says—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide that the Irish Land Commission may take an account of the amount of arrears of rent due from tenants who have made, or shall make, application to have judicial rents fixed for their holdings.That opens up the whole question of the Land Act of 1881, without any special reference to either Lord Ashbourne's Act, as it is called, or to the Land Purchase Bill now before the House. I do not think it would be in Order to open up the whole question of judicial rents, because it is conceivable that persons might make application to have judicial rents fixed without ever intending to apply for the purchase of their holdings under the provisions of this Bill or of Lord Ashbourne's Act. Therefore it seems to me that the Motion would open up a wider and independent question which ought not to be done in the discussion of a Land Purchase Bill, which merely authorizes a further advance of money for the purposes of Lord Ashbourne's Act.
§ MR. PARNELL
Of course, Mr. Speaker, I accept your ruling. I had always understood that an Instruction was necessary where the matter was not relevant to the Bill under discussion. Therefore I put the Instruction on the Paper because I conceived that it was not relevant to the discussion and required an Instruction to the Committee. I should like to ask whether I may be permitted to amend the Instruction by the introduction, after the word "tenants," in line four, of the words "desirous of purchasing their holdings?" That Amendment would, I think, bring it within the Rule.
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is an Amendment in the direction I have indicated as bringing the Instruction in Order. The hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan) has a Motion on the Paper in which he proposes that the Land Commission should permit 34 tenants, "when purchasing their holdings," to do certain things. That is quite in Order, and if the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell) confines the Instruction to those tenants who wish to purchase under the Land Purchase Bill, and who wish that the amount of the arrears should be taken into consideration in settling the amount of the purchase-money, that, I think, would bring it within the terms of the formal Order, with which I alone have to deal, and would, being a limitation of the Notice on the Paper, not be such an alteration as would require a fresh Notice. I therefore think the hon. Gentleman, if he is prepared to take that course, would be in Order.
§ MR. PARNELL
Then I gather from your ruling that the addition of the words suggested would bring the Instruction within the Orders of the House. The amended Instruction will read as follows:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide that the Irish Land Commission may take an account of the amount of arrears of rent due from tenants desirous of purchasing their holdings, who have made, or shall make, application to have judicial rents fixed for their holdings, and may decide whether the whole, or any, or what part of such arrears ought to be paid, and whether in one payment or by instalments, and at what dates the same should be paid.It was not necessary for him to go at any great length into that question of arrears, although it was a very important and most pressing one. He had had an opportunity on the previous day of touching on that subject, and he would only say that, whereas the discussion on the first reading raised the whole question of the settlement of arrears as an alternative to the Bill, that Instruction introduced the question of the desirability of settling arrears in certain specified cases only, and as an addition to the Bill. It was argued on all sides of the House, and admitted by the Government, that there was an arrears question in Ireland which required to be dealt with. If this were the case, it was necessary to settle it from many points of view. It was necessary, from the point of view of security to the Exchequer, that they should put the tenant on an equal footing on the basis of freedom of contract in dealing with his landlord when he came to make terms for purchase. It was necessary 35 also to guard against inflation of the price given to the landlord where the tenant had no power to get out of his arrears except by entering into that contract. It had come to this, that in many cases of purchase in Ireland the arrears accrued due to the landlord had been added on to the purchase price, and had become a debt due by the tenant to the landlord which would have to be wiped out by these annual payments, extending over 49 years. Now, I was precluded by the Speaker's ruling from going into the wider question of arrears, but I could not see upon what ground the Government objected to the Instruction in its present limited form and scope. Did they wish, were they desirous, that the tenant purchasing should stand, so far as this House could place him, in a position of equality with the landlord in making his bargains? Did they admit—they did admit—that arrears exist in Ireland, and constitute a pressing question? If they were desirous that the tenant should be in the position of a free agent, if they considered, as they announced, that the arrears question did exist, then he said he could not understand upon what grounds of equity or justice, or desire to protect the Exchequer, they could persist in refusing the Instruction which he proposed. The matter of arrears had always been a pressing one. The limited field which he desired the Government to enter upon was not one of great magnitude or moment, but it was of importance as regarded the security of the Treasury from loss. It was of importance as regarded the power of the tenant to make his bargain upon free and equal terms with his landlord, and it was of importance as regarded the future smoothness with which the Act would work. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Instruction as modified in accordance with the ruling of the Speaker.
§ MR. WADDY (Lancashire, Brigg)
, in seconding the Motion, said it was a fundamental principle of common law and of common sense that if two parties were to make a contract both of them should come together with their hands untied. But at present, beyond all doubt, in a great number of cases—he believed in the majority of cases—one of the parties—namely, the Irish tenant—came to make a contract with his hands 36 very much tied indeed. He had gone during the vacation to the Vandeleur estate which had been mentioned during these debates. It had been stated that that estate was one on which proceedings were taken with great kindness and "sweet reasonableness" by the landlord and the agent; but yet in every case there was something left in the shape of arrears round the tenant's neck. He maintained that if the negotiation for purchase began while the tenants had arrears round their necks they did not give them a fair chance; and that the only just thing Parliament could do was to give power to the Land Commissioners to deal with arrears exactly as was done in the case of the Scotch Crofters. They must begin their negotiation by dealing with arrears just as if there was not to be a purchase, although they meant that there was to be one. They must get rid of the arrears entirely; and, until they did so, they were putting a screw on one of the parties to the supposed negotiation and bringing to bear on him a pressure that was in every way unfair. He wished to point out what was the bearing of those arrears, and the manner in which they grow, or did not grow, on estates that were reasonably managed; and he wished in illustration to take the Vandeleur estate, as to which he had an account of every man who had been evicted, and who might have purchased if he had a reasonable chance.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
asked, whether the hon. and learned Member was speaking to the question of arrears or of purchase?
§ MR. SPEAKER
was understood to point out to the hon. and learned Member that to go into the general question of arrears and their bearing on the ultimate position of tenants who might hereafter desire to purchase, was opening a wider field of discussion than it was competent for him now to enter upon.
§ MR. WADDY
said, he was anxious to point out that in every case of purchase, unless they had already previously made preparation for the arrears, they were rendering it impossible for an honest and fair arrangement to be made. It was not sufficient in all cases where there had been arrears to call upon the 37 tenant to make them part consideration of the price. But that was exactly the vice which was at the bottom of this Bill. Suppose the case of a tenant bound down with arrears on his holding. He could do nothing with the holding while those arrears were pressing upon him. He would like to purchase, however, if he could do so at anything like a fair price; but if they were going to add to the price of the holding the amount of arrears which the tenant could not pay, then they were simply doubling the price. Take a holding, the fee-simple of which was worth £100, the tenant having fallen into arrears to the extent of £30. The purchase-money would be £100 plus £30 for arrears. In such a case the tenant was perfectly helpless and in the power of the landlord. He cordially seconded the Instruction of the hon. Member for Cork.
Motion made, and Question proposed'
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide that the Irish Land Commission may take an account of the amount of arrears of rent due from tenants desirous of purchasing their holdings, who have made, or shall make, application to have judicial rents fixed for their holdings, and may decide whether the whole, or any, or what part of such arrears ought to be paid, and whether in one payment or by instalments, and at what dates the same should be paid."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, the Government objected to the Instruction of the hon. Member for Cork, because, in their judgment, it would place the tenant in a distinctly worse position than he occupied at the present time. It would decidedly injure his position, and recognize the arrears as a charge which might continue hanging round his neck after the contract had been sanctioned by the Commissioners, and after they had sanctioned the advance to him of the money necessary to effect the purchase. The Instruction distinctly recognized the arrears as an asset due to the landlord, independent altogether of the question of purchase and the value of his estate. This was not the condition of affairs at the present time. In present circumstances the rule of the Land Commission required that before making any advance the Commissioners must be satisfied that all rent had been paid, satisfied, or released; and the form of agreement provided that all rent due up 38 to the last gale day should be included. If the Government accepted the Instruction there would be two distinct arrangements in force. There would be a contract of purchase recognizing a distinct liability on the part of the tenant to pay an annuity to the State, and there would also be a subsidiary contract recognizing on the part of the tenant a liability to his landlord, which would continue for some time after the contract had been made. As a matter of fact, however, no arrears of rent survived the purchase. After the purchase contract was once entered into, the arrears were ipso facto wiped off. What security had the tenant that those arrears were not added to the contract price so as to make it excessive? They had the security of the action of the Commission. The Commissioners were bound to see that the total sum paid was not excessive as regarded the tenant, and was not excessive as regarded the State. The Commissioners had to view both the ability of the tenant to pay the annuity to come, and they had also to see that the money advanced by the State was not more than the holding itself would afford capital security for. The Government believed that the returns furnished to the House showed that the Commissioners had done their duty in this respect. The average rate of purchase was 17.4 years, and as the arrears were wiped off, this left the tenant in a better position than before. The Commissioners were protecting the tenant and the State. No transaction was permitted to take place which was harsh or injurious to the tenant or which was dangerous to the State. In these circumstances, he trusted that the hon. gentleman would see that in the interest of the tenant alone the Government was bound to resist the recommendation.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said a serious misapprehension existed in the minds of the Government on this point, and it was one also which had run through the course of the preceding debate. The right hon. Gentlemen said the Commissioners were empowered to see that the tenant did not pay more than a fail-price. But the Commissioners themselves had repeatedly and emphatically denied this statement. They had placed it on record that they had no legal power whatever to do anything of the kind. Then it was said that the Commissioners 39 had power to see that the holding as it stood with everything upon it was ample security for the advance; but had not the House heard it stated by the Irish Solicitor General that the holding as it stood was and ought to be regarded in many instances as more than half the property of the tenant? It might therefore easily occur—and he contended that it frequently did—that the Commissioners had no power whatever to interfere or stop the bargain, although it was manifest to them that the tenant was paying not only for the interest of the landlord, but for his own interest as well. The Commissioners were not empowered by law to protect the tenant against an excessive price for the landlord's interest; they were empowered to protect the State, and when they sent down a valuer to ascertain the security, that valuer had no instructions and no right to inquire what part ought to belong to the landlord and what to the tenant; but he valued the holding as it stood, and although lawfully and morally three-fourths ought to be the property of the tenant, it was practically competent for the landlord to compel that tenant, in spite of the Commissioners, to purchase and pay with the money of the State, not only the interest of the landlord, but a large proportion of the tenant's own interest as well. That was a consideration which ought to be present to the mind of every hon. Member. The First Lord of the Treasury seemed to think that he had disposed of the case when he pointed out that arrears disappeared when the purchase was made; but the mischief caused by the arrears took place before the agreement of purchase was signed. The Commissioners very properly insisted on the discharge of all liabilities before they advanced the money, but they did not insist that there should be a discharge of the unjust and oppressive arrears before the tenants signed the agreement. The powers of the Commissioners did not extend to a protection of the just rights of the tenants. They had no power under the law to protect a tenant after an agreement had been made from paying more than his holding was worth. Consequently the whole of the argument of the First Lord of the Treasury collapsed like a pack of cards. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were altogether unacquainted with the subject, and merely got their arguments 40 from the columns of The Times. An extraordinary misconception had taken hold of the minds of the Members of the Government as to their object in moving this Instruction. He did not know if the Chief Secretary had been present whether he would have made an attempt to defend this proposal, but he had never seen a measure defended in so lame, faltering, and ignorant a fashion as was this Bill by those responsible for it. There was unquestionably no landlord's agent in Ireland who would dream for a single second of denying that the arrears of rent were looked to by the landlords as a most valuable means of driving up the price of the holdidgs. The cases on which alone the House could be asked to advance this money was in the case of those estates in which some trouble and differences existed. Why should the taxpayers of England be asked to advance millions to increase the value if there were peace and quiet on these estates, and if there were no trouble upon them? On these estates the rents were more or less in arrear. What happened? The landlord proceeded to compel the tenant by process of law to pay the arrears, and when he was face to face with eviction, with no resource but combination and perhaps prison behind, the landlord went to him insidiously and said, "Sign this agreement for purchase at my price, and I will withdraw all the processes and the ejectments, and I will forgive the arrears." He could not understand a bargain in which there was more duress or less freedom. This was not a position in which a man who was making a bargain should be placed. The agent of Lord Kenmare, in the witness box at the Commission Court on the previous day, admitted that he kept alive the arrears on the Kenmare estate, and that it was a good thing to do. He swore in court that lots of tenants owed him rent for the spring of 1883. He kept the arrears alive for the same reason as every other agent who acted for a harsh landlord, although it might be said there were many worse landlords than Lord Kenmare—he kept those arrears alive because they were a valuable instrument with which to exercise pressure against the tenant. He was perfectly convinced that in four-fifths of the sales under the Act in Ireland the tenants had been more or less coerced by the existing arrears. 41 Proceedings were recently taken in the Court-house at Kildare in reference to an estate where a battering-ram and 200 or 300 police were employed to batter down the houses of the tenants who refused to sign agreements at 22 years' purchase. These poor people offered 18 years' purchase of the judicial rents, all the arrears being left to arbitration. The reply was that they must pay 22 years of the judicial rent and all the arrears. As they objected to pay more than 18 years' purchase they were served with ejectment notices. In the Court the tenants said they were prepared to repeat their offer of 18 years' purchase, when Mr. White, on behalf of the landlord, said—"Then you will get it now. We will withdraw all offers of purchase whatever." Whenever a body of tenants approached the Commissioners and said they desired to purchase but were prevented by a threat of eviction for arrears, the Commissioners ought to have power to untie their hands and set them free. If the tenants had some other alternative than that which lay before them of signing the agreement or being turned out on the roadside; if they could go before the Land Court or buy on reasonable rents, the case would be different. Then it had been carefully pointed out by the Government that the effect of purchasing was to reduce by 30 per cent the sum annually payable by the tenants. Now, in pursuing this course the Government were impaled on the horns of a dilemma—either they were guilty of the most iniquitous conduct to the landlords, or the rents formerly payable by the tenants had been grossly excessive. In the City of London it would not be necessary to bribe a man to buy his house by reducing his rent 30 per cent. In these circumstances, was not an unanswerable argument to be found—was it not a fair deduction that the former rents were unjust and inflated rents? There was really no escape from that position. If, then, the rents were excessive the arrears must be unjust; and it was a monstrous thing to leave the tenants under the screw of these unjust arrears in order to compel them to buy their farms on the basis of their unjust rents.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, he would not follow the 42 hon. Member in the somewhat heated expressions which he had let fall. The principle, as he understood, of the Bill had now been generally adopted. That being so, he desired to speak in a conciliatory spirit upon what he believed to be the basis of the measure. He believed that the Ashbourne Act had been fully adopted by both landlords and tenants in Ireland; but the argument with which the hon. Member concluded his speech struck at the whole policy, not only of this Bill, but of every other Act aiming at the same result which had been passed since 1870, and also at the policy and the principles which time after time had received the cordial approbation of Irish Members. The hon. Member had quoted a case of which he had not caught the name—[Mr. DILLON: The O'Kelly estate, County Clare.]—and with the circumstances of which he was unacquainted. It was, therefore, impossible for him cither to assent to or contradict the statement which the hon. Member had made. But, whether the statement was true or false, exaggerated or accurate, it had no bearing upon the question before the House. In the first place, that case never came before the Commissioners at all. There had been, it seemed, negotiations between the landlord and tenants. The proposal of 22½ years' purchase never came before the Commissioners, and would probably not have been approved by them. But suppose a tenant, with the bonô fide intention of purchasing, came to the Commissioners and stated his desire to purchase, but as a preliminary asked the Commissioners to consider whether the arrears were just or unjust, would not the result inevitably be that the Commissioners would be converted into an Arrears Court? And it was obvious that the applications made to them to consider arrears would not be confined to bonô fide purchasers. It might or might not be a good thing to deal with the question of arrears; but it was clearly altogether foreign to the Act, which could not be worked if the parties applying under it approached each other in a spirit of hostility. The proposal had no value at all if it did not mean the establishment of a general Arrears Court. Applicants, having got the matter of arrears settled, might change their minds and not go on with the purchase, 43 so that the Commissioners would become nothing else than a Court of Appeal to decide on the justice or injustice of arrears all over Ireland. If, however, after the application as to the arrears, it was made compulsory on the parties to proceed to a sale and purchase, a totally different state of things would be brought about, and one which, whether good or bad, was contrary to, and inconsistent and irreconcilable with, the principle of this Bill and every similar Bill which had preceded it. If the Instruction were agreed to, the effect would be to alter and revolutionize the whole policy upon which the Act proceeded; and he doubted whether it would be possible for the mover of the Instruction himself to draft such clauses as would carry out his view. He submitted, therefore, that, while a good deal might have been said in favour of the hon. Member for Cork's Instruction as it first stood upon the paper, in its altered form it was one which could not be worked concurrently with an extension of Lord Ashbourne's Act. He appealed to hon. Members, not in the least in a hostile or controversial spirit, not to insist upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Cork. The House had agreed to the second reading of the Bill, and re-affirmed the principle on which the Ashbourne Act had been originally passed; and he would entreat hon. Members to proceed with the Bill in a spirit of friendly agreement on the principle which had been thus affirmed.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman commenced and concluded his speech in a spirit with which they must all sympathize, but at the same time he must point out that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had entirely passed over the main and the powerful contention that had been urged in favour of this Instruction. The right hon. and learned Gentleman contended that there was nothing to be urged in favour of this Amendment considered as an Amendment upon the extension of the Ashbourne Act. There was one thing to be urged, and it was a very considerable thing indeed—namely, that as the Act stood, when a purchase was about to take place the arrears constituted a lever in the hands of the landlord to compel the tenant to give an unjust price. Was that denied? The 44 landlord and tenant were in these relative positions. The tenant was under arrears which, by hypothesis, he was unable to pay. The land lord wished to bring the tenant to bay, and the landlord was in a condition to say to the tenant—"I offer you this at such a price. Either take that price or pay me your arrears," which we know he could not pay, "or go out upon the road." But the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that under this Act there might or might not be arrears. If there were no arrears and there were no evictions, then it would not come into the present debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke as if the purchase under the Ashbourne Act was to provide a convenient arrangement between landlords and tenants in the cases of estates where no trouble or difficulty had arisen. Well, but that was not what they had been taught was the principle of the Act. They had been told the purpose of the Act was to pacify the country; but they did not pacify a country by enabling landlords and tenants, who never had had any trouble in their relations, or who had entirely got over their trouble, to come to an arrangement for the purchase of the estate. The object of the Instruction was to press upon the House that the existence of arrears—showed where trouble existed—it was indicated by the existence of arrears—and that in these cases the landlord had a most unjust power placed in his hands to ex-tract from the tenant an improper price. Did the First Lord of the Treasury adhere to the speech he made half-an-hour ago? [Mr. W. H. SMITH nodded assent]. Did he assert that the Commissioners had power to inquire into the equity of the agreement made between the landlord and tenant? There was a plain question to which he hoped they would have a plain answer. He understood that assertion was traversed as being absolutely at variance with the facts. The assertion on his side was clear that the Commissioners possessed no shade or shadow of such a power, and that they had nothing to do with the equity or inequity of the agreement between the landlord and tenant. What they had to do with was the security given to the State. That was a totally different matter. The question of tenant-right, referred to yesterday by the Chancellor of the Ex-chequer, 45 was a very proper thing for the Commissioners to take into consideration for the purposes they had in view, but the consideration was one which had nothing to do with the protection of the tenant. The First Lord of the Treasury made a case which was no doubt highly agreeable to his own benevolent mind and disposition, because he was the last man who would like to see a tenant placed in a position of difficulty or a landlord invested with a power which would enable him to exercise undue pressure. Having that view of what ought to be, the right hon. Gentleman philanthropically assured the House that was the state of the law as it stood. They had a right to ask, was the state of the law correctly described by the Leader of the House? Would he show them in what words, in what enactment, the Commissioners under the Act were placed in a condition to protect the interests of the tenants? The matter depended to a great extent on that, although the action of the Commissioners had been in many cases a very effective intervention. But if it were true, as he contended, that they had no right or power to protect the tenant, then what was the answer to be made to the contention that the landlord had the power to put before the tenant two alternatives only—purchase subject to the arrears or pay the arrears, or go out—and either alternative might involve the most grievous oppression? It was no answer to them to say that the principle of the Bill was in the judgment of the Government necessary to maintain the union between the two countries. It was for that sacred principle that the Irish tenant must suffer as the landlord required him to suffer—go out on the roadside or purchase on the terms placed before him. But then it was said the tenant, after getting his arrears settled, might say, "I don't mean to purchase; I have got rid of my arrears; that was all I wanted." That could be met by inserting a clause, and the right hon. Gentleman knew that there was nothing easier than to provide that the arrangement as to the arrears should be dependent upon the conclusion of an agreement between the landlord and the tenant. He therefore contended that nothing had been or could be said to shake the contention so powerfully urged by the Member for East Mayo, that there was a strong case of a practical grievance, and 46 that it would be the duty, and, as he hoped, it would be the disposition of the House to adopt frankly the remedy.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, he trusted that, with the permission of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), who thought that everyone on that Bench was necessarily ignorant of Irish affairs, because he had not been in Ireland, he would be allowed to reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who suffered from the same disadvantage.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that, at all events, he could claim the privilege of a later acquaintance with Ireland than the right hon. Gentleman. It had been his pleasure and advantage to have been in Ireland comparatively lately. [An hon. MEMBER: Dublin.] He only mentioned this to show that they were on a level with the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, the fallacies in whose arguments they wished to point out. The House must have observed the extremely limited number of individual cases which hon. Members from Ireland, with all their knowledge, had been able to produce in these debates, and the very few cases in which they had been able to convict the Government of being wrong in their statistics. Even in the present debate the hon. Member for East Mayo had himself committed a gross error, and he would convict the hon. Member out of his own mouth. The hon. Member stated that he believed that in four fifths of the cases of purchase the purchases had been made under the stress of arrears; but the hon. Member at another time asserted that the great majority—more than half of the purchases—had been made in Ulster; and had been made in cases where there were no arrears at all, and he complained that purchases had taken place where there were no arrears and no distress. Those statements of the hon. Member, who lectured the Government on their ignorance of Ireland, were diametrically opposed to each other. Then the hon. Member for East Mayo supported the new theory, 47 which had already been replied to, that the Government were on the horns of a fearful dilemma because, if the tenants were to pay a lower price in future than they paid before, this was tantamount either to a censure or the previous rents as being unjust or to an admission that they wore now robbing the landlords. It was, however, the invocation of the credit of the State which made the difference between the two, and that was one of the very first principles of the whole of the arrangement, as, by being able to borrow money cheaper than it could be done by an ordinary borrower, the State was in a position to let the tenant buy at a cheaper rate, and therefore he was enabled to pay an instalment smaller than his rent, while yet the landlord was satisfied. He noticed that argument again, because the Government had been abused because they had not repeated arguments over and over again that they had used in former debates. Now, the speech of his right hon. Friend opposite had shown that the proposed Instruction, as drawn and presented to the House, was absolutely impossible of acceptance; but he said they could amend it in Committee.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
But it was by drawing it out in the clauses that would show the impossibility of dealing with it. [An hon. MEMBER: Let us see.] The hon. and learned Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Waddy) argued that they ought to deal with arrears and close them up before they began to negotiate. Now, was that the view of the Leader of the Opposition? If they dealt with arrears before they began to negotiate, they opened up that vista to which allusion had already been made—that every tenant in arrears would come and say, "I wish to buy; wipe out my arrears," and when the Land Commission had cleared him, he might turn round and say, "I am prepared to give only five or ten years' purchase; otherwise I won't buy." Was it not clear that a proposal of that bind would simply wipe out all the arrears without promoting the purchase? On the other hand, suppose they made the arrears and the purchase independent negotiations, then it was said that the screw was applied to the tenants to force them into a hard bargain. If they once made 48 the remission of arrears conditional on the agreement, they had not advanced the question at all from the point of view of hon. Members opposite. Hon. Members from Ireland did not want it conditional on, but independent of, the agreement, and then it was impossible to accept the proposal of his right hon. Friend. Therefore it would be perfectly futile to accept a proposition of the kind, because it would be impossible to work it out in clauses, which would either be absolutely unacceptable or would be nugatory and even injurious to the tenant. Then, again, there were no cases in which it had been necessary to pay more than 20 years' purchase, and yet the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) had spoken of cases of gross iniquity, and appeared to think that the Land Commission would give the landlords the facility of wringing unjust rents out of the tenants. £5,000,000 had been spent, £1,000,000 more had been applied for, yet no single case of individual injustice had been shown. ["Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] He held, therefore, that it could not be said that the tenants who had purchased their holdings had paid too much. ["Yes, yes!"]
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
They are being sold out in Kerry now by the Purchase Commissioners for the instalments.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Because they have not paid their instalments. What has that got to do with it? There might have been one or two cases, but the fact that in two or three cases in Kerry the tenants had not paid their instalments did not prove that these instalments were too high. It was impossible to judge from single individual cases. The hon. Member by his interruption did not show that the tenants had paid too much.
§ MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said, that he had mentioned the case of the Marquess of Waterford's tenants, who had, under pressure, contracted to pay too high a sum by way of purchase money.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
repeated that if tenants had really been subjected to undue pressure, they would have been overwhelmed with cases in proof thereof. At all events, he would put it fairly to the House. Out of 8,000 or 10,000 cases, was there any which had been brought forward showing that there had been 49 that strain put on the tenants which has been alleged? And, again, he must point to the protection which was given to the tenant by the Land Commission. And in answer to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he must repeat what had been stated over and over again in former debates, that the protection to the State was at the same time a protection to the tenant. That was the protection afforded by machinery of an organization against which no complaints were brought; and besides that, the Government were able to bring forward the satisfactory proof, in the sales which had actually taken place, of the remarkably small number of years' purchase which had been given. The average price in Kerry was not 17 years' purchase, but 16.8, which included arrears. Supposing there were in Kerry cases where there were arrears extending over four or five years, it would appear that the number of years' purchase was only 11 or 12. That looked much more as if the amount of arrears in Kerry had induced the landlords to accept a very low price than as if the existence of arrears had enabled the landlords to place any strong pressure on the tenants. He had endeavoured to meet frankly the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It was not that the Commissioners asked themselves directly what was due to the landlord and what was due to the tenant in a particular case; but the tenants had the security which he had described—namely, that the Commissioners would not, for the sake of the State, sanction a purchase that was unduly high for the value of the property. He ventured to think that through the action of the Commission there had been none of those cases to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded. He had endeavoured to prove that while the right hon. Gentleman had spoken theoretically, and had said that there might be gross cases of injustice, it had been impossible to prove that any palpable amount of injustice had been done throughout these large transactions, and the figures of the sales showed that the rate had not been exorbitant, and that there was real protection in the Commission which watched over the interests of the State and at the same time indirectly over the interests of the tenant.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the 50 Member for Mid Lothian had put a plain question to the Government and had asked for a plain answer. He asked whether the Government adhered to the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury, that the Commissioners, before sanctioning any purchase, took means and were empowered to make inquiries as to the basis of that purchase. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had evaded that point, because, by a solemn judicial decision, Mr. Lynch, one of the Commissioners, stated that they had no such power. The decision was given in the case of one of the Waterford tenants. It was reported in The Irish Law Times, and the decision had ruled hundreds of cases since it was delivered. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that there was duress in that case; but the Land Commissioners decided that there was no duress. Lord Waterford was by no means a bad landlord; but in the bad times arrears accumulated on his estate, and a test case was taken from his estate into the Commissioners' Court. Lord Waterford was charged, through his agent, Captain Gandy, with forcing the tenants right and left, by means of writs of ejectment, to take advantage of the Ashbourne Act. The case which he himself took into Court from the Waterford estate was one in which the tenant was two or three years in arrear. Captain Gandy went to the tenant and asked him whether he would purchase, and the tenant said that he would. Before this, however, the agent had issued against the tenant writs of ejectment, and he wished particularly to point out that these documents were dated weeks anterior to the agreement to purchase. They asked the Purchase Commission, under these circumstances, for a decision, and the tenants came up and swore that they never would have purchased but for the writs issued against them. The Commissioners decided that this was not duress; but, as he had pointed out, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that it was. Which of these views was to prevail? The Irish Members were told that they were not precise in their facts. The facts of this case were reported, and could be read. What use, therefore, would it have been if they had taken subsequent cases before the Commissioners when they were solemnly told that the Commissioners had no power to go into the question? They were told by Mr. Lynch 51 that if two men came before him, one to buy and one to sell, and he sent down his valuer, who informed him that upon the tenant's right and the landlord's interest there was security for the advance by the State, he had nothing whatever to do with the antecedent relations between the parties. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, said, "What harm is there if a little pressure be used, so long as the State has good security?" That was all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but what was it to the Irish Members? It was proved, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that these men had not paid too much, because in no case had 20 years' purchase been given. Twenty years' purchase of what? The man whose case he had referred to, could he have got a judicial rent fixed? If he had attempted it he would have been put out of his holding. The fact was, the 20 years' purchase was upon the old rent which had been paid, and this was equivalent to 40 years' purchase on the judicial rent. He should like to inform the House that there had not been a judicial rent fixed in 50 per cent of the farms in Ireland; a judicial rent had been fixed in the cases of about 200,000 farms out of 500,000. Men were prevented from going into Court because of the existence of arrears—because, if they went into Court, the landlord would at once issue an ejectment against them. The Fox tenantry came to him and asked him whether they should buy or not? He advised them to buy because they owed a year or a year and a half's rent, and it was being added to the purchase-money. They hoped that times would improve, and as they would not be called upon for an instalment until late in the present year, they thought that they would be able to meet it. In The Irish Times of Tuesday last it would be seen that these tenants had sent in a petition to the Land Commissioners, in which they said that Lord Ashbourne was the greatest benefactor and pacificator that Ireland had ever had; but they were unable to pay their instalments. These men were fairly prosperous, and lived in a county where there had never been an agitation against the payment of rent, and there was no duress used against them. They were, however, tempted to purchase because, by doing so, they would get rid of existing arrears. This was the case 52 on the Fox estate, and the temptation must be greater in the adjoining town-lands. If the Government were unable to accept the Instruction, could they not at least accept an Amendment to this effect—that every payment of money, every order made by the Land Commissioners, should be an order made in open Court, that it should be made upon proceedings which the Land Commissioners were empowered to inquire into, and that the Commissioners should take care that the security should be a security with reference to the landlord's interest in the holding? It must be remembered that the tenants' interest was made extinguishable by the non-payment of a year's rent. It was a novelty to hear the Irish Attorney General telling the tenants that they owned half the soil in Ireland; yet his chief could toll audiences there was an exact analogy between Irish tenants and those living in the slums of London. If the Government wished to give relief to the tenants and security to the State, they would make this a judicial proceeding, and only allow a transaction to be carried through when it was found by the Land Commission that there had been no duress. Look at the case of "Londonderry v. Fergusson," in which the landlord sought to get an order for the recovery of rent which would be the subject of judicial abatement. How were tenants to stand independently before such landlords? In the Waterford case the Land Commissioners said they had no power to go behind what the valuer said, and they declined to allow the previous relations of landlord and tenant to be opened up. He recently met the Duke of Abercorn in the Land Court looking for his quarter of a million. As he jostled up against the Duke he experienced a profound emotion, and he said to himself, here was the brother of a Cabinet Minister who was endeavouring to force through Parliament a Bill which would put a quarter of a million of this swag into his pocket. When such men threw out hints of what might happen if tenants did not purchase, the tenants could not be acting freely. The landlords might be animated by profoundly disinterested motives, but it was difficult to believe it. When the ducal brother of a Cabinet Minister would benefit so much, the Cabinet hardly came into Court with clean hands. It was said that the details of cases were not furnished 53 by the Irish Members. It could hardly be expected that they would supply them in debate under the liability to be closured; but they could be supplied by thousands if the Bill were referred to a Select Committee. He repeated the challenge to the Government to show that the Land Commission had power to enter into antecedent relations; and, if the Government found they were wrong, let them give the Commission statutory power.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, that the hon. and learned Member could not have described the transaction in question more inappropriately than by suggesting that the landlord went off with the swag. The tenant paid instalments that were lower than his rent, and the income of the landlord was invariably reduced. In the Waterford case the landlord entered into the usual agreement to purchase, and on the 11th of July the agreement came before two Commissioners upon the report of the inspector as to the sufficiency of the security. Afterwards application was made to one Commissioner, Mr. Lynch, to have the agreement cancelled on the ground of duress; and he held that the Commission had not jurisdiction to set aside deeds or contracts for sale, and that they could only decree specific performance on the application of either party. On the other hand, he was prepared at any stage, before the actual payment of money, to order stay of proceedings in any case in which there was evidence showing reasonable ground for application for relief; and, further, the Commissioner said there were circumstances in which he would not hesitate to throw upon the vendor the onus of applying to the Court for a decree for specific performance.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
asked the hon. and learned Gentleman to state all the facts of the case to the House.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he thought it unnecessary to do this. It was quite sufficient to mention the conclusion at which the Commissioner arrived. This House was not a Court of Appeal from the Commissioner. There was a Court of Appeal in Ireland to which the tenant could have gone, but did not. The Commissioner in giving judgment said 54 that there was no evidence of any duress by the landlord to compel the tenant to enter into the agreement to purchase. Either the Commissioner was right or wrong. If he was right, there was an end of the matter, and there was no duress. If he was wrong, why did not the tenant appeal? He did not appeal, and they must take it that the Commissioner was right. The Commissioner pointed out that the mere existence of arrears on an estate could not be pleaded as a bar to a purchase. Did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian think that there ought to be no sales on estates where there were arrears, and that all tenants in arrear should be debarred from purchasing and thus prevented from obtaining this opportunity of wiping off their arrears? The Commissioner pointed out the "happy results" which flowed from these purchases in terminating strained relations between landlord and tenant. The House had been told that there were numerous cases in which pressure had been brought to bear upon tenants to purchase, but, notwithstanding all the hon. and learned Member for Longford's professional experience in matters of this kind, he could only relate this one case, which, upon being looked into, did not in any degree support his contention. The hon. and learned Member had also referred to the petition of certain tenants. The temptation to allude to that very amusing document was too much for the hon. and learned Gentleman. Certainly it was tempting; but what was this document? It was a petition presented by a tenant on the Lane-Fox estate, and the substance of it was, "We bless Lord Ashbourne as the greatest benefactor to the country, and we are paying our instalments." This was not a case of men who were led into a bargain which they could not fulfil. They said, "We are not men who are likely to live for 49 years," but the document rather led to the conclusion that they expected to live for 65 years, and so the sense of humour of the hon. and learned gentleman could not resist the reading of this document. What was the inference from this document? Here were men who were paying up, and what they said was this—"We want during the period of 10 or 15 years for which we expect we 55 have to live to pay a lighter rate." He could not see how that document strengthened the hon. and learned Member's case. These men had paid their instalments and were apparently quite willing to fulfil their engagements, though they made certain suggestions as to a change in the conditions of repayment. There was another observation of the hon. and learned Gentleman on which he wished to say a word. He said—"Take the rate of purchase upon judicial rents." If they were not judicial rents the tenants could go into the Courts and get judicial rents. With regard to Kerry, to which reference had been made, he was in a position to inform the House that there had been 275 sales in that County and only in 10 cases were the instalments in arrear. In one case the holding certainly was advertized for sale, but upon that being done the instalments in arrear were paid up, so that these figures could not be said to corroborate in any way the contention of the hon. and learned Member. Some remarks had been made with regard to the function of the Commissioners in this matter. It was true that their duty was to protect the State by seeing that the tenant did not purchase at a price for which his holding would not be adequate security. But this was practically an indirect and substantial protection to the purchasing tenant. And just in those cases where the tenant most required protection, where the value of his interest in his holding was least, would this indirect protection of the Commissioners be found to be most effective.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said, he thought it would very much facilitate discussion if members of the Government did not contradict one another. The hon. and learned Gentleman's argument was inconsistent with that of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket). He wished to call attention to a very singular difference between statements of the Solicitor General for Ireland and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had plainly stated to the House that the Commission in protecting the State also protected the tenant; but the Solicitor General had risen later, and at once this direct 56 and identical protection had become an indirect protection. He would show that it was neither one nor the other. What the Solicitor General had said confirmed the view of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) that the tenant right was an additional security for the payment of the money, an assertion which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had most emphatically repudiated. The Solicitor General now admitted that when the Commissioners were discussing the terms of the agreement, what they asked was not whether the landlord's interest was alone sufficient security for the repayment of the money, but whether the landlord's interest plus the interest of the tenant was enough security. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was in entire disagreement with the Solicitor General with regard to this point. ["No, no!"] He had understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, on the previous night, that there were two securities—there was the security of the ownership of the landlord and there was the security of the ownership of the tenant—and so there was a double security for the purchase of a single security, because the single thing that was bought was the landlord's interest, and for that there was the security of the landlord's interest and the tenant's interest. Now, there was the declaration from the Solicitor General that the Commissioners did not judge of the amount paid to the landlord by simply the landlord's interest, but by the tenant's interest combined with the landlord's. That declaration got rid of the double security, and showed how fallacious was the whole position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Solicitor General on this matter. Their whole position was that the security for the State was identical with security for the tenant; but how could that be. The only thing the Commissioners asked was whether the whole value of the farm was equal to the 17 years' purchase which the tenant had paid—the whole value of the farm including the ownership of the tenant and the landlord combined. Therefore the tenant might have given too much, and at the same time the State might be secured. It was a complicated question; but he repeated 57 that the tenant might make a bad bargain while the State obtained perfect security.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I do not admit the argument of the hon. Member; but I cannot reply now, though I will do so when I rise.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he would read to the House some very remarkable figures given to him by an hon. Member. The judicial rents on which purchases were made amounted to £97,000 odd. Griffith's valuation on the holdings amounted to £86,000 odd. So the valuation of the tenant and the amount of judicial rents purchased upon were practically identical. Griffith's valuation included the improvements of the tennnt, and, therefore, the Commissioners included the value of the tenant's improvements in the security for the money which the tenant agreed to pay. Accordingly the bargain might be a good one for the State and a bad one for the tenant, and this being the case, some protection for the latter ought to be provided.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
said, that it was not until the speech of the Solicitor General for Ireland had been delivered that the most important objection which had been urged had been understood; and the Solicitor General had understood it more than grappled with it. The objection was that between the tenant and the State there was not that identity of interest which was necessary if the action of the Commissioners was to be looked to for the protection of the tenant. He was one of those who had not seen their way to oppose the Government's proposition. The reason which made him vote in favour of the principle of the Bill made him anxious that some Instruction such as that now under consideration should be adopted. But the very fact that a satisfactory and considerable security had been obtained for the State was just the reason that might make the Commissioners indifferent as regarded the tenant unless they had the duty cast upon them to see that an undue proportion of the money advanced did not go in payment for the landlord's interest. They would have no reason to inquire whether the tenant had made a fair bargain with the landlord. What was wanted, and what he pressed the Government to do, was to take care that the 58 very purpose for which this public money was being offered should be fulfilled, and that this public money should not be taken merely for the sake of enabling landlords in Ireland to get better bargains than they would otherwise obtain. What they on that (the Opposition) side wanted was that a fair bargain should be made between landlord and tenant, and that only so much of the public money as the landlord was properly entitled to should go into the landlord's pocket. What they asked the Government to do, if they wished the Act to be really useful, was to accept the principle of the Instruction, and to develop it. Unless the Government took this step, they would render useless what might otherwise be a most useful and beneficial measure. He rejoiced once more to find himself in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
said, he absolutely denied that in this matter the protection to the State was any protection whatsoever to the tenant. The Solicitor General for Ireland, in introducing the Bill, made the very valuable admission that in the majority of cases the interest of the tenant in his holding was greater than that of the landlord.
§ MR. MADDEN
What I said was that in many cases in Ireland the value of the tenant's interest under the existing law sold for a larger price than the fee-simple.
§ MR. MAHONY
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that in many cases the tenant's interest sold in the open market for more than the landlord's interest, and pointed out that that was a great security for the State. But when the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke a while ago he took quite a different view. There were 519 cases, involving a sum of £243,000 purchase-money, in which the Land Commissioners refused to assent to the terms of purchase, but subsequently sanctioned an agreement, when the purchase-money was reduced by £41,000. That showed that the tenants had been induced by some means or other to agree to pay £41,000 more than the holdings were worth. These holdings were security for only four-fifths of the money. But the holding meant the tenant's interest and the landlord's interest combined. In the 519 cases he had mentioned, the 59 inspectors went down and looked at the whole value of the holdings or the interests of landlord and tenant combined, and therefore we had it beyond contradiction that those unfortunate tenants had agreed to pay £41,000 for the landlords' interest alone more than the landlords' and tenants' interests combined were worth. He would like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to point out a single word in the Act which enabled the Commissioners to withhold their sanction if there was sufficient security, and one-fifth of the money was kept in their hands as an extra security.
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, he had received a letter with reference to a tenant named Reidy, in the County Kerry. The landlord asked him to purchase at about 17 years' purchase. This would mean £120 a-year as the purchase instalments. Reidy considered the terms too high, and refused to purchase. Ultimately he agreed to the terms on the landlord promising to pay for him the first two instalments of the purchase money. The landlord also gave Reidy a present of nine cows and gave him 10 more in time. The first two instalments of the purchase money were paid by the landlord. When the third fell due Reidy was only able to pay £40. When the fourth instalment became due, in May last, Reidy was only able to raise £50 by selling the stock of his farm, and he has been served with a writ for the arrears. What was that but robbing of the public purse? He would undertake, if the debate were adjourned, to bring from County Kerry several instances of tenants being put out of possession, and in particular would prove that in the case of one man the sheriff had come to him with a signed purchase agreement in one hand and a writ in the other.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said, he wished to draw attention to the proposition of the First Lord of the Treasury, which went to the root of the discussion. The First Lord had pointed to the Land Commissioners as being possessed of an authority and as using that authority to consider the equity of the terms between the vendors and the purchasers. His right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian challenged the First Lord to say whether or not the Commissioners possessed and 60 did exercise that authority, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer evaded that question. He said that if the Commissioners considered the interest of the State they would at the same time consider the interest and equity of the tenant. He would venture to answer the question of his right hon. Friend out of the mouth of Commissioner Lynch himself. In the judgment which was first brought to the attention of the House by the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. Healy), and upon which the Solicitor General for Ireland afterwards endeavoured to pu a new and different complexion, Commissioner Lynch used the following language:—The basis of our jurisdiction is the agreement of the parties. Our duty, then, if we are otherwise satisfied with the security, and if a guarantee deposit is provided as required by the Act, is to make the advance; if we are not so satisfied we reject the application.He wished particularly to call the attention of the House to the following sentence:—We have no power to fix prices or revise contracts for sale, and therefore it behoves both landlords and tenants to consider well the terms of sale before entering into agreements.He submitted that that was a complete answer to the challenge of his right hon. Friend, and overthrew completely and entirely the position taken up by the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, what he maintained was that it was the duty of the Commissioners to see that the advance which they sanctioned was one which the conditions of the case would permit; and those conditions, indirectly, as his right hon. Friend had said, were the most sure and complete protection of the tenant. What the Commissioners took into account when their surveyor went to inspect the holding was the rent or annuity which a solvent tenant might be expected to pay for the holding as a tenant. [Several hon. MEMBERS: As it stands.] That was to say, it was the landlord's interest that was sold. [Cries of "No!"] That he asserted to be the case, and those who questioned it must obtain information which would overthrow that statement. The tenant's interest was not purchased by the advance which was made by the Commissioners. All the interest that was purchased was the landlord's interest. 61 The rent to be paid to the landlord was one which the Commissioners, by the report which they received, had reason to believe was an annuity in the place of rent, which the tenant might with case continue to pay. That that was so was shown by the fact that the judicial rent was reduced by from 20, 25, and even 30 per cent. and that judicial rent had been fixed as a rent which the tenant might reasonably, rightly, morally, and lawfully pay to the landlord for his holding.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 148; Noes 182: Majority 34.—(Div. List, No. 301.)
COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.) moved—
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that power be taken in the Bill to enable the Land Commission to permit of tenants, when purchasing their holdings, to also purchase grass land or other lands not held to be used wholly or mainly for the purposes of tillage, and situated in the neighbourhood of their holdings.
It would be an enormous boon to thousands of poor tenants in the west of Ireland, whose holdings were insufficient to maintain themselves and their families, if they could be allowed to take a few acres—three or five, or at most 15 or 20 acres—from adjoining grass farms. In many instances the owners of these large farms would be willing to sell small portions of these farms to tenants. In this way the cottiers in the congested districts in the west might be materially benefited, and would be able to practise that rotation of crops which was absolutely necessary to prevent the exhaustion of the soil. They would change the whole status of the tenants if they adopted his Amendment, and if they took a prudent view of grass farms. The people were hungering after thorn. It would help the landlords and it would enormously help the tenants, besides showing the people in that far part of Ireland that the Government were willing, not only to concede something, but something that the public wanted. His principle was to begin improving small men—men of two acres or five acres, and so on up to 15 acres; not that they were better than the big men, but because the money went further. If they adopted his suggestion they would do great good in the west of
Ireland, and the people would be immensely improved.
§ DR. KENNY (Cork, S.)
seconded the Motion, pointing out that in the congested districts they might go for miles without seeing a house or a human being, but it was only when they penetrated into the most inaccessible districts that they realized the situation. What was the genesis of this vast expanse of grass land in the west of Ireland? In the time of the famine great stretches of land were turned into grass farms, but most of those great speculations came to grief, and the days of large cattle ranches in Ireland were doomed and gone. Those grass lands, extending over hundreds of thousands of acres, were incapable at present of rearing the stock they were originally intended for, but if they were split up into small parcels and handed over to the farmers, it would inevitably have the effect of increasing the comfort and well-being of the farmers and make them a self-respecting class of the community.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that the have power to enable the Land Commission to permit of tenants, when purchasing their holdings, to also purchase grass land or other lands not held to be used wholly or mainly for the purposes of tillage and situated in the neighbourhood of their holdings."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)
thought that a more unfortunate question in reference to Ireland could not be brought forward than was embodied in the present Instruction. It was one that had come down from a very long time past. The result of the policy that came into vogue after the famine of amalgamating farms and laying them down in grass was that the poorer tenants had been driven to the bad lands, to the fringe of a bog, to sandhills, and the barren coast line of the west, so that the parts of the country which were least able to support a large population were precisely those where the population was congested. The population of Ireland had decreased by 20,000 during the past year, and he was sure the Government, Radical or Tory, which would stay this depletion by giving employment to labourers and small farmers to enable them to stay at home would deserve the thanks of the people of Ireland and of 63 all good people. He had often wondered that it had never struck some Members of the Government that great relief would be given if these large grass farms were cut up and offered in the market. If they were to cut up those grass farms, and give a preference to those which were connected with adjoining farms of a different character, they would soon effect a considerable improvement in the condition of those parts of the country in which grass farming prevailed. In connection with that question, they ought to bear in mind the immense impulse that would be given to employment if a better system of farming could be made to supersede grass farming. Grass lands always had a tendency to degenerate into moss, or waste, and such farming ought to be discouraged. The Government ought to take this matter up, and they might do so with a reasonable prospect of raising Ireland out of the miserable condition she was in.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, he did not complain of the spirit in which the Amendment had been brought before the House. He did not propose to argue the question of the purchase of grass land, although he believed there were cases in which it would be an undoubted advantage to the tenant if he had the opportunity of adding some grass land to his farm. But where the landlord and tenant were willing to carry out such a transaction as was suggested in the Instruction, they could do it outside the Act. The question was whether money was to be advanced under the present Act for that purpose. If they adopted any such proposal as this it was obvious that very stringent provisions would have to be taken in order to prevent its being used in a way contrary to the spirit of the Act. He might say that there were on the Paper two Amendments which were opposed to the proposed Instruction, and those Amendments stood in the names of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). He opposed the Instruction on the ground that it would be necessary, to a great extent, to recast the Act in order to make such an Amendment practicable.
§ MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said, he thought it an unfair method of argument for the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward Amendments on the Paper which had not yet been reached in opposition to the Instruction now before the House. If this Instruction had been proposed from the other side of the House, the Government would, he believed, have accepted it, for it was plainly a just and beneficial proposal. The only argument urged against it was that there was another and different Instruction on the Paper standing in the name of another hon. Member. Unless the Bill was extended, as this Instruction suggested, its benefits would be confined entirely to the class of large tenants, and it would be of no service whatever to the small cottier tenants in the poor districts of the country. What the Instruction proposed was merely that when an estate was being sold the landlord should be empowered to split up the adjoining grass lands and allocate portions of such grass lands to the purchasing tenants. This would enable the tenants who purchased to improve their position, and would thereby not only benefit them, but provide additional security to the State. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the Irish Representatives could go and advise their constituents on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman would be taken at his word and his bona fides would be tested. But if the Bill were enlarged, as suggested, it might be of service to the poor cottier tenants and save them from their present unhappy position.
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
said, he regretted that the hon. Member who had just sat down had thrown unnecessary bitterness into this question. He wished that hon. Members from Ireland who sat on the Benches opposite should accept from him the assurance that those on his side of the House who came from the North of Ireland desired as heartily and earnestly as did hon. Members opposite the welfare of the peasantry of the South and West of Ireland. There should be no sectional difference on this subject; and, therefore, when so reasonable a proposition as that of the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway was submitted to the House he desired 65 briefly to express his hearty concurrence and his hope that Her Majesty's Government would find themselves able to accept, at any rate, the spirit of the proposal.
§ MR. COMMINS Roscommon, S.)
said, he desired to express his concurrence with the sentiments of the last speaker. He held there would be no difficulty in inserting a clause giving effect to the proposal. He attributed the distress in the congested districts mainly to the tenants having been deprived, at the time of the famine, of their grass lands, which were let at low rents, as grazing farms, to Scotch contractors.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said, an amount of irrelevant matter had been introduced into the discussion of the simple proposition of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway, which would be perfectly incredible to anyone who had not had experience of this House. He could not urge the Government to accept the Instruction in the present Bill, because it would encumber it in a way which the period of the year and the circumstances of the case would not admit of, but he thought something of the kind might usefully be considered in connection with any larger measure. He thought it would be equally in the interest of all parties concerned. It certainly would facilitate the sale of some estates where the landlord might be willing to dispose of his property, provided he could do so as a whole, but would not do it if he were obliged to leave his estate in a chess-board state, with the grass farms unsold and the tillage farms parted with. He was the occupier of a grass farm himself, and he admitted that he should be willing to buy the lady up who owned it. Therefore, he supported the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member, while he could not recommend its adoption in the present Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, he would appeal to the House not to prolong the discussion. The question had been discussed in a very friendly and amicable spirit on both sides, and had certainly not been met in a hostile spirit by the Government supporters. There were very serious difficulties in the way of engrafting the proposal on to this Bill, but it was a matter which might very 66 fairly be raised by a separate and distinct proposition, and in a distinct Bill. If the Instruction were not to be withdrawn, he hoped they might be permitted to divide upon it at once.
said, that he would withdraw it if the Government would undertake to legislate upon it next Session.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, the interest of the subject to Irish Members was shown by the fact that, although the Instruction was moved from below the Gangway on the Opposition side, its principle had received the support of two Irish Members on the Ministerial side. Still, they had before them a good many matters of importance that were more germane to the Bill. Therefore, if they were to have a Division, it might be taken at once; but perhaps the hon. and gallant Member would be content with the assurances of support he had received.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
declared that he must regard the speeches of the Solicitor General for Ireland and the First Commissioner of Works as nothing short of a positive insult to the Irish Members, who were not to be put off with flimsy and paltry excuses two years old. He regarded the present question as a test of the good faith of the Government in their proclaimed endeavours to do something for the working poor of Ireland.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 128; Noes 159: Majority 31.—(Div. List, No. 302.)
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Increase of limit of advances by Irish Land Commission, and provision therefor).
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
, in rising to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out the word "ten" and insert the words "six and a-half," said, the object of the Amendment was to limit the sum to be used for the continuance of the Ashbourne Act. He did not propose this particular sum because he believed the principle of the Bill to be a good one, or because it was likely to do much good for the pacification of Ireland. He had already discharged his duty by voting, as he should do on all other occasions, against the grant of any further 67 sum for carrying out the provisions of the Land Purchase Act. Having done that, and having been beaten in the Divisions, he thought the opportunity should not be lost of endeavouring to reduce the amount, and his proposal was to vote £1,500,000 instead of £5,000,000. From the figures given by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden), it appeared that 14,338 applications had been made under Lord Ashbourne's Act, of which 8,632 had been closed, leaving 5,706 to be dealt with. If the total appliations—14,338—were complied with, the £5,000,000 already voted would be exceeded, according to the hon. and learned Gentleman, by something like £1,000,000. He thought it was time that they should close the account, and as £1,000,000 was stated by the hon. and learned Solicitor General to be the amount necessary to complete the present applications, he proposed £1,500,000, believing that that sum would cover everything. He wished to fix a limit to the advances of money under the Act. £5,000,000 were granted by the first Act; it was now proposed to vote another £5,000,000, and there was no guarantee that they would not be asked to grant £5,000,000 more from time to time for the purpose of carrying out what many considered to be a wrong principle. He desired to have the account closed for this reason: that the sooner it was closed the sooner would the Irish land scheme, which they were told was in the minds of the Government, be produced. If it existed, the sooner it was produced the better, and if it was a good scheme, then the sooner it was passed the better. At all events, all encouragement to delay its production should be avoided. But he objected to the present Bill on account of its principle, and therefore he wanted to limit the amount of money granted under it. It created a new class of landowners, and the more new landlords there were created in Ireland the more difficult it would be to deal with the Land Question in the future. One of the difficulties of dealing with the Land Question in Ireland arose from the many different titles which had from time to time been created under various Land Acts. By creating these new occupying owners they would be creating a class which would form an additional barrier 68 to the carrying out of radical changes in the land system of Ireland. Therefore, although he was quite willing that small occupying owners should be created, he did not think that public money should be given under that plea partly for the relief of the landlords, and partly for the benefit of a small class of tenants. He thought that whenever public money was voted it should be used for the benefit of the community at large, and not for one or two particular classes, or for the encouragement of a system that would interpose an obstacle to the settlement of the land difficulty in Ireland. He had also another reason. He had no wish to see the Government placed in more direct relations with a larger number of the Irish tenants. It was said that the security was good. He did not think the security was better than that proposed in the Bill introduced by the late Government. Indeed, it did not seem to him to be as good a security as that which was then condemned. At that time many vigorous speeches were delivered, not only in Birmingham, but in other parts of the Kingdom, in which that security was called flimsy and unstable. If it was flimsy and unstable then, it was flimsy and unstable now, and he did not envy the consistency of those men who went blithely into the Lobby to support this grant on flimsy and unstable security, while they indignantly repudiated in 1886 any scheme for taking money from the British taxpayers for the benefit of Irish landowners. Another objection was that the money, as it was proposed to be applied, would not touch those classes which most needed help. Only 2 per cent of the 400,000 tenants in Ireland with holdings under 30 acres, whom they professed their anxiety to relieve from the poverty and hardship of their present life, had been touched by the £5,000,000 already voted. £5,000,000 more would affect but little those portions of the country where the social condition of the people was worst. From the last Report it would appear that 7,711 tenants had been relieved in the Province of Ulster, and only 6,627 in the other three Provinces. It was remarkable that the money to relieve the landlords should have been distributed mostly in that portion of Ireland which supported the Government. It had never 69 been contended that the money was intended to benefit the community at large. It had been used for the benefit of a class which scarcely deserved the largest amount of the sympathy of the Legislature. The Bill had been spoken of as a measure for the pacification of Ireland, but that task must be a very easy one if dealing with some 8,000 farms could effect the pacification of the country. Only 2 per cent of the poorest class of the Irish tenants had been relieved, so that the result had, as regarded the relief of poverty, been exceedingly minute. If the Act of Lord Ashbourne had been really useful in effecting the pacification of Ireland, then the sum of £5,000,000 was much too small, and it ought to be at least £50,000,000. He apprehended that the Government desired to have this £5,000,000 in order to put off the day when they would have to produce a complete land scheme. Those who believed that the scheme of the Government should be produced at the earliest possible day were perfectly justified in limiting the amount of money to be granted. It must have been noticed that as the discussion upon the Bill proceeded the smaller the majorities of the Government became. That ought to teach them a lesson, like the Bill brought on earlier in the year for the payment of a salary to the Under Secretary for Ireland. Another good thing had been brought home by these debates, not only to Members of the House, but to the public outside—namely, that Lord Ashbourne's Act was a scheme which benefited only a small class of persons in Ireland, and that it could not benefit the poorest tenants to any large extent. What he held was that public money ought not to be expended for the advantage of one section of the people of Ireland alone. The labouring classes in England asked for allotments, and were most anxious to have them, but the Allotments Act of last year had proved a sham, and they had been unable to get them. He, for one, objected to a sum of £5,000,000 being voted by Parliament in order to do a piece of work in Ireland that would confer little or no benefit upon the poorest class of the community, while agricultural labourers in England were unable to obtain land, because public money could not be used to help them.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 7, to leave out, the word "ten," and insert the words "six and a half."—(Sir Walter Foster.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'ten' stand part of the Clause."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, the hon. Member had not only raised the question of the amount to be granted, but had again attacked the general principle of the Bill. He thought hon. Members opposite would scarcely expect that the Government should again enter upon the general question, and the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House ought to be confined to the actual sum to be voted. The hon. Member had once more raised the somewhat odious point that the friends of the Government were being favoured with regard to the application of the money. Hon. Members must know that the Government had absolutely no control or influence with regard to the orders or dealings of the Land Commission. And here he would make a confident appeal to hon. Members opposite. They had admitted that they had confidence in the Land Commissioners, with the exception of one hon. Member, who always attacked everybody, and who would not admit the honesty of anybody except himself. [Cries of "Name!" An hon. MEMBER: Do not be afraid!] He did not wish to mention any name; but hon. Members opposite who had been in their places throughout the evening would know who had attacked the independence of the Commissioners. During the debate hon. Members admitted that they trusted the Land Purchase Commissioners, because they were willing to put the question of arrears into their hands. When they were challenged as to whether they trusted the Commissioners, by their silence they practically admitted that they did trust them. It was an absolutely false suggestion that influence had in any way been brought to bear on the Land Commissioners to favour the tenants or landlords in any particular part of Ireland, or to favour any particular class of applicants. The Commissioners were bound to listen to and to deal with the applications as they came in, and 71 he felt called upon on behalf of the Land Commission to repudiate the suggestion that they had in any way favoured any class of persons whatever. The hon. Member argued that the sum should be limited, partly because he did not believe that the right persons would receive the money. But if the hon. Member had studied from year to year the applications to purchase, he would see that the applications were, in an increasing degree, coming from the precise districts in which he would desire to see the money distributed; and it was from Kerry and other congested districts that applications had lately been increasing. It was not true that no applications for a fair share of the grant had been made by the poorer districts of Ireland. He wished to impress upon the Committee the fact that Kerry stood third in all Ireland in the order of counties which had made applications for purchase.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
In number; 860 loans had been applied for in that county. He thought that was satisfactory, and he did not see why the hon. Member should desire to diminish the significance of the fact. Then, again, in the county of Donegal there had been 706 applications. That also was a poor county. Prom the whole of the Province of Ulster the applications numbered 7,700, but in this number both Monaghan and Donegal were included, and the hon. Member knew very well that both in Monaghan and in Donegal there were a large number of poor tenant purchasers. Therefore it was not true that all the money had hitherto gone to the richer and more thriving districts, but the facts were quite the contrary, and there was an increasing number of applications from the less thriving districts, where it was especially desired by hon. Members to see the number of owners multiplied. He would ask the Committee whether it was desirable to check the new movement in the direction of a peasant proprietary by limiting the number of applicants? The hon. Member knew that there were already a large number of applications, and he wished to limit the number. By that means the Commission would be brought practically to a deadlock, and it was precisely that 72 state of things the Government were anxious to avoid. The hon. Member wished to see a comprehensive Land Bill introduced. He hoped the hon. Member also wished to see it passed, as well as introduced. But did the hon. Member realize that if his suggestion were complied with they would have to propose that Land Bill in the early part of next Session? But the Government had to consider the demands and requirements of England and Scotland, as well as Ireland; and the hon. Member was aware that many important Scotch and English questions demanded the attention of Parliament. The Government, therefore, were not prepared, in the very first month of next Session, again to engage in the discussion of an Irish Land Purchase Bill. They asked the House to give them a sum which would be sufficient to carry them over till the time came—which, he hoped, would be no remote time—when they would be able to submit their plans to the House. It would be entirely breaking down the object they had proposed for themselves to vote a smaller sum to carry them over the interval which must necessarily elapse before a larger measure could be proposed and carried. He asked the Committee to confine themselves to the question as to whether or not they should vote a sum sufficient to bridge over the interval, and not to go through again those principles which had already been discussed at considerable length. The money would be distributed fairly in all parts of Ireland, without favour and without advantage to any applicant. The applications would be taken, as hitherto, in the order of their being presented to the Commission. He trusted that, in the course of time, a large number of applications would be made by those portions of Ireland where they especially desired to see a peasant proprietary established.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer contended that, as the Amendment merely applied to the amount of money to be raised by the Bill, there was no reason why the Committee should enter into a discussion of the general principles of the measure. He did not propose to detain the Committee with more than a very ow sentences. In considering 73 the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Sir Walter Foster), he thought they ought to look to the time at which that Bill was introduced, and what had happened since. The Bill was laid upon the Table of the House a week or so ago, but since that time there had been a series of debates which had damaged the Bill to a greater extent than any Bill he ever remembered. He would give an illustration of his meaning. One of the most important speeches that had been made was made by an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, an ex-Minister belonging to the Conservative Party—the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). The noble Lord described the Bill as being altogether financially unsound; and he (Sir George Trevelyan) ventured to say that, in the arguments used by the noble Lord in support of that contention, he was supported by the general feeling of the House. [Cries of "No!"] Certainly the noble Lord was supported by the general feeling of the House, and was supported, also, to a considerable extent, by the feeling of the Treasury Bench; for, if ever he had seen a Ministry glad to catch at a straw, it was when the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer to whom he was referring said he would support the Bill, although he believed it to be financially unsound, as it only asked for £5,000,000 more. He had read carefully the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which followed that of the noble Lord. He could not put his finger upon any sentence in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted the Bill to be financially unsound; but the general tone of his speech was a complete acknowledgment of the strength of the arguments of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. The noble Lord supported the Bill notwithstanding that he regarded it as financially unsound, but because a sum of £5,000,000 was all that was asked for. Here, then, they had a Bill, the financial soundness of which was attacked by the Opposition side of the House with arguments that were unanswerable and unanswered, the defence of the Government being that they were only going to ask for another £5,000,000. He would ask the Committee to consider what that meant. 74 They had been told in many speeches, and in the eloquent peroration of the eloquent speech of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), that this was a Bill for pacifying and settling Ireland, and doing away with those difficulties between landlord and tenant in Ireland, which was the real problem they had to solve. That, at any rate, was a fine description of the Bill, and hon. Members who voted for it might think they were doing a great public service. There was no fine description of that kind put forward now; it was altogether withdrawn. There was no pretence of pacifying Ireland or of settling the Irish question by this Bill, and the issue had been narrowed to this—that they were simply asked to vote another £5,000,000 in order that those fortunate great families in Ireland, which happened to be first in the field, should be allowed to go off with the taxpayers' money in their pockets, leaving their obligations and their positions as landlords behind them. He admitted the truth and justice of what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said as to the Government. He should take shame to himself if he were to suggest that the Government were favouring or playing into the hands of these families, but these families were in the market anxious to sell their estates for £200,000 or £300,000; and £5,000,000 of the public money were asked for by which their wish would be gratified. [Cries of "No, no!" Then for what other motive was the money asked? They were now told by the Government itself that the Bill was such that it was a calumny and an injustice to say that it would lead to any more Bills like it in the future. He maintained that the measure was not financially for the advantage of the taxpayer, and that it simply enabled a system of land purchase to be carried out in Ireland for the benefit of the Irish landlords at the expense of the British taxpayer. They were told by the Government, in their defence, that it was not meant to be a great scheme, nor a perfect scheme, nor even a sound scheme, but was only meant to provide £5,000,000 more to keep things going.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he presumed that the right hon. Gentleman did not wish to misrepresent. In his first speech 75 he (Mr. Goschen) had said that this proposal was to be limited to £5,000,000. There was no departure from the attitude he had taken up on the matter from the first. He had, in his speech, distinctly stated that the Bill was not intended as a redemption of their pledge that they would bring in a larger measure, but intended only to bridge over the interval until their larger measure could be introduced.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, he was not speaking of the personal attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but of the way in which the scheme was regarded by the House on the first night, and of the speeches by which it was then defended. The Government were very glad on the first night to have the scheme defended and spoken of as a grand scheme to pacify Ireland. They were now glad to have it defended on the statement that it was not a perfect scheme, but simply a measure to divide £5,000,000 more among the Irish landlords. Now, he absolutely objected, as a Representative of the British taxpayers, to vote £5,000,000 for a scheme which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he did not consider to be a perfect scheme, and which he himself considered very imperfect and exceedingly dangerous. It was not a scheme for the advantage of trustworthy tenants in Ireland who had shown their bona fides by paying a portion of the purchase money, but it was a scheme for clearing the estates of certain landlords who wanted to have them cleared. It had been stated in debate that certain great families were going to receive large sums at the expense of the British taxpayers. He was told that it was a libel to say so. Well, he did not know that it was a libel; he had no means of knowing the facts. He knew nothing about the matter. All he knew was that in June the Government said they would ask the House to vote £5,000,000 sterling with, for aught he knew, a good deal more to follow. Would not a Government which respected the House of Commons have given directions to the Land Commissioners to draw up statistics and facts on that subject to be laid before the Representatives of the taxpayers? He was told that a Blue Book—a Report of the Land Commission 76 —had been made up, not to September, October, or November, but to August last. He had seen it in the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was a small, compact document, which might have been got up and printed in a week, and considering that it was not only in type, but absolutely bound in blue on Monday morning, it might surely have been placed in the hands of hon. Members, at any rate, on that Friday evening. He was obliged to form his ideas on the question from the answers that were given to Questions and the tags of the rhetoric of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was not certain that it was a libel to say that a great nobleman connected with the Government was to get a large portion of the money—£200,000 he believed. [An hon. MEMBER: More than that.] He might be uttering a great libel if he repeated an observation which had been made from the Opposition Benches and not been contradicted by the Ministry—namely, that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland himself, the Head Executive Officer of that country, intended or hoped to profit under the Bill. He could only say that he trusted the allegation was a calumny. He could not conceive anything more indelicate or more improper than that the Head Executive Officer in Ireland should occupy such a position, because, although it might be said that he did it entirely in the interests of his tenants, still there were ill-natured people who would say that he did it for himself. He (Sir George Trevelyan) had been opposed to the Conservative Party all his life, but he was prepared to pay it this tribute, that he had always found it a good-natured Party. The Conservative Party evidently believed that if the Lord Lieutenant intended to sell his estates, he did it entirely for the benefit of his tenants. But whatever his object might be, it was something very like a scandal if a great officer connected with the Executive in Ireland got any benefit whatever from a Bill of such an equivocal nature as this one had been described, in the early part of the evening, to be. It must be remembered that in the House itself there was a large body of Members opposed to the Bill who had only been defeated by a majority of 34; and, looking at the great pressure that could be brought to bear upon the 77 tenants under the Bill, he maintained that no high officer in the position of the Lord Lieutenant ought to engage in any operation under the measure. Perhaps he himself might be wrong, and perhaps there were no great and powerful families which had carried away large sums of money under the Act; but still, for all that, they found themselves face to face with the position that the Bill was now defended on the other side of the House by the suggestion that this sum of £5,000,000 was the last £5,000,000 that would be asked for. It was a scheme which he defied any man, standing on the platform of a public meeting of his countrymen, to defend; and, under the circumstances, seeing that the Amendment of his hon. Friend exactly met the merits of the case, he should support the Amendment to substitute £1,500,000 for £5,000,000. That sum would just satisfy those tenants and those landlords who had carried through their arrangements up to the point of being something like a contract, and would also enable Parliament to discharge its obligations to the Treasury and to the taxpayer.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, he would net detain the Committee long by replying to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Trevelyan), which he had heard with as much disappointment and regret as any he had ever listened to in that House. Of course he should not have much to do in replying to it, because not one word of the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman had any bearing upon the Amendment now before the Committee. [Cries of "Oh!"] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tell him what part of it he ought to reply to. He (Mr. Plunket) would repeat that he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with very great regret, because the right hon. Gentleman had adopted a style of appeal which was seldom heard in that House, or in any other Assembly, no matter how commonplace might be the character of the demagogic appeals made to it. The style of argument used by the right hon. Gentleman was such as that they were familiar with in the pages of a book called The Financial Almanac. Every one of the insinuations and suggestions which the right hon. Gentleman had thrown 78 out was not a direct charge, but was calculated to create suspicion, to inflame passion, and to array class against class. And who was the right hon. Gentleman who had attempted to set class against class? He, who now sought to draw a distinction between £5,000,000 and £1,500,000, was himself the Minister who had introduced a Bill to expend £20,000,000 for the same purpose.
§ MR. PLUNKET
On Irish credit! That was the only defence or excuse. Whether it was upon Irish credit or English credit, the money was to be advanced; and what difference did it make if the great shame was to be committed of these great families putting the money or the plunder into their own pockets? Supposing such a charge were true; what provision was there in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman to prevent this from occurring? None whatever. He (Mr Plunket) said then that it was a total misrepresentation of the facts. It might be that the right hon. Gentleman had some other object than to inflame the minds of the public by representing that the great families were marching off with the public money. Was there anything which forbade the landlords, great or small, from coming in and benefiting by this Bill as well as their tenants? Where was the shame, and what was the scandal? The main policy of the Bill was the policy of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. What did it matter who got the money—whether it was one landlord or another—so long as the benefit was produced and the occupying tenant converted into the owner? The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not directly charge the Government with playing into the hands of their friends. Did he not know that the Government could not play into their hands? Did he not know that the Government had nothing whatever to do with the distribution of these monies? He asked Englishmen, to whatever class they belonged, whether that was a fair method of attack? He asked the right hon. Gentleman not to say, "I will not give names," but, instead of throwing out insinuations, to make his charges in an open and straightforward manner. Passing away from the subject, which was distasteful and odious to him, he would 79 ask the Committee seriously to consider what was the real question before them. The Government asked for £5,000,000, and it was proposed by the Amendment to grant only £1,500,000. Why did they ask for £5,000,000 and not for £1,500,000? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the Government desired the Bill because they did not want the machinery of the Ashbourne Act, which had effected so much good and operated with such satisfaction, to fall to the ground. They were of opinion that the machinery should continue to be carried on; and in order to make sure that there should be no failure he said that £5,000,000 was a fair sum to ask for. How did the case stand? He believed that for the last two years the money voted by Parliament had been spent at the rate of £2,250,000 a-year. It had been spent at an increasingly larger rate; and was it not natural that as the benefits of the Act became appreciated, all classes of tenants—the poorest as well as the larger and more thriving—should desire to come in? As time went on the smaller had, in proportionally larger numbers, been coming in, and as far as any distinction was to be drawn between the last £5,000,000 and the present £5,000,000, the benefit would be more and more in the direction of the smaller tenants. Could they get anyone from Ireland to deny that, up to the present moment, the effect of these transactions had been not only beneficial to the landlords, but to the tenants? He could not deny that it might be possible to put their finger upon one case as an instance in which the working of the Act had not been wholly satisfactory, but in the mass of cases there could be no doubt that it had had a beneficial effect. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, with all their industry, ability, and zeal, had not—if they would forgive him for saying so—their heart in opposition to the Bill. They knew that there was a strong feeling in Ireland in favour of giving the experiment, successful as far as it had gone, a further fair trial. It was only an experiment on comparatively a small scale. It was the beginning of a policy which, with whatever qualification they might make in it in the future, all parties, from whatever part of Ireland they might come, regarded as 80 sound. It was acknowledged that the scheme was popular in all parts of Ireland, and the Government asked the Committee to give them this additional £5,000,000—which was not in itself a large sum—with every prospect of developing the resources of the country at but slight risk to the State. The system had been successful, and they asked that it might not be interrupted, popular as it was with every class in Ireland. So far as not only the immediate but ultimate effects were concerned, speaking with some knowledge of the country, he declared that nothing but unmixed good would result.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, who commenced his speech by an attack upon his right hon. Friend the Member for the Bridge-ton Division (Sir George Trevelyan), had stated that he believed his right hon. Friend was the author of a Bill which practically would have treated £20,000,000 in the same way as the present Bill treated £5,000,000.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he could not blame the right hon. Gentleman for not remembering all the proposals of that Bill, but there was one proposal which he appeared entirely to have forgotten—that not a single sixpence, under the Bill of his right hon. Friend, could be advanced until after the Representative of the county, elected by popular election, had decided that it should be advanced. The Bill enabled advances for the full amount of the purchase-money to be made to the tenants after the plan of advancing three-fourths under the Act of 1881 had failed. But the repayment had to be guaranteed by the county; and not only so, but that previous assent was necessary before any advance was made. Thus, if an advance were proposed to be made to purchase an estate in Tipperary, it was necessary, under the Bill of his right hon. Friend, that a Body popularly elected by the occupiers and owners of Tipperary should approve that particular advance; and without that approval it could not be made. That was a totally different manner from the proposal of the present Bill, where there was no popular representation whatever, where the county was not responsible 81 for the advance, and had no voice in its sanction. He believed the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who appeared to doubt his accuracy, would find that he was right in both those respects. He had not, however, risen merely for the purpose of putting that matter right, but to call attention to another point. The Government were aware in June or July that this proposal was to be brought forward. He wanted to know why they did not then instruct the Land Commissioners to cause to be prepared, before the House met in November, a complete Paper, to be laid before the House, showing the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act, with detailed accounts of the purchases and advances, giving the names of the sellers and the acreage of the farms? There was nothing to prevent them from making such a Return. The Act had now been in operation for three or three-and-a-quarter years; and he understood from the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Plunket) that this year £2,000,000 had been advanced, or arranged to be advanced. That being so, there could have been no difficulty in getting the Commissioners to prepare a Return of the operations from August, 1885, to the month of August in the present year, showing the way in which the money had been expended. There had been no Return of the kind. The Government now sought to extend the operations under Lord Ashbourne's Act by granting another £5,000,000 without producing a page of any Return to show the manner in which the first sum of £5,000,000 had been expended. He recollected when there was a proposal in 1860 to expend a sum of £8,000,000 upon fortifications, before a Bill was introduced into Parliament, the utmost details were given to the House, and those details were followed by the Bill. Parliament had a full opportunity to discuss the Return before the money was voted. Full information was similarly given as to the advance for localization purposes, which amounted to several millions. He should like to know why that precedent had not been followed now? It was the duty of the Government to give the whole body of information officially to the House, not to distribute one or two copies of a Return to this or that Member—a 82 Return which, he might say, as he had seen it, was most imperfect and delusive. If it had been so given to them they would have been in a position to discuss the Vote. As it was, certain statistics had been given, but they did not possess anything like a complete body of information on any point connected with the advances that could be said to be within the grasp of any hon. Member. They were told that many thousands of tenants had applied for advances, and that so many thousands of persons had been agreed with in respect of their applications, and certain sums of money advanced. He had not the smallest wish to obstruct the Bill; but he did say, by all the analogy of Parliamentary practice, that that information ought to be given to the Committee before they were asked to do what, in the opinion of the hon. Member for the Southport Division of Lancashire (Mr. Curzon), was carrying out an operation to do justice to persons who had not yet applied for advances, and who, the hon. Member said, would be defrauded if the same facilities were not given to them which had been given to other landlords and tenants in regard to the first £5,000,000.
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, the Committee had listened a short time ago to a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket), in which the right hon. Gentleman had expressed much virtuous indignation; but hon. Members on that side of the House wanted, and the country wanted, something more than virtuous indignation. They wanted to know whether it was true or whether it was false that a certain Tory Nobleman was going to receive £250,000 out of this public money? Was it true or false that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was going, under this Bill, to obtain, by the benefit of the National credit, better terms for his estates than he otherwise could obtain in the open market? He had no wish to dwell upon these circumstances, but he desired to put the matter very plainly. Members of the Government might make as many virtuously indignant speeches as they liked, but the country would insist upon having answers to the plain questions which had been put. There was only one other thing he wished to say. He 83 had no desire to wander from the Amendment—he objected to the Bill in toto. He objected to any grant of National Funds for purposes that did not fulfil conditions which the present Bill certainly did not fulfil. Therefore, as the smaller he could make the grant the better he should be pleased with it, he should support the Amendment. He had, however, risen particularly to call attention to an argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who appealed to the House and to the country to repose confidence in the administration of the Bill because of the deservedly high character of the two Commissioners. He thought it would somewhat facilitate the passage of the Bill through Committee if the Government would say they intended to accept the Amendment which stood lower down on the Paper, and which would very much alter the status of these two Commissioners by making them irremovable by the Lord Lieutenant and irremovable by Her Majesty's Government during the expenditure of the money. That was the particular reason which had induced him to rise, and he thought that as the Government had appealed to the Committee to have confidence in the administration of the monies by these two gentlemen it would be a good thing to put them in a position in which they could exercise their power independently.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, that when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose to reply in the early part of the discussion he appeared to treat the question as a simple "hum-drum" matter. He had, therefore, been much surprised to see the right hon. Gentleman priming the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works to deliver the fusilade which he subsequently fired off upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan). He confessed that he had never in his life seen so much needless heat displayed by a Minister as had been imported into the debate by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works. As far as he could see there was no need whatever for such a display, and if the Government wanted to conduct the Bill on business lines they ought to restrain 84 such exhibitions. He was reminded of the anecdote of the man who was charged with pocket-picking. His hand was found in that of another person, but his high character was pleaded as the ground why he could not have committed such an act. The Government told them that the Bill was going to be administered with great impartiality and fidelity by the Commissioners. Although he disliked some of the decisions of the Commissioners, the language he would use towards them was the language of praise. But he wanted to know, if the Government were going to use the money for the benefit of the Londonderry's and Hamilton's, and others like them, what was the use of talking of the status of the Commissioners? He must test the Government by their own Bill, and he thought that in an Act of Parliament no language of a less usual character had been employed against these gentlemen. The estimate the Government formed of them now was that they were men of high integrity and impartiality. But did they so speak of them only a few months ago?
said, the remarks of the hon. and learned Member would be in Order when they reached an Amendment that stood lower down on the Paper, but at that stage they were irrelevant.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he had no intention of discussing future Amendments, but both the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works had made it a point that it was impossible for this money to be misused or mis-spent, because two gentlemen of high character and integrity would have the spending of it. The Government, however, had not always the high opinion they now expressed of these gentlemen, because in the Bill which was introduced on the 22nd of March last, and the second reading of which they forced through the House by the use of the Closure, the Commissioners were described somewhat contemptuously as "the two persons appointed to be members of the Land Commission," and it was carefully provided that they should only hold office until the sum provided should have been appropriated. "Or"—and he 85 asked the Committee to give attention to this point as showing the inner mind of the Government—Or until the Treasury, having regard to the pressure of business on the Land Commission under the said Act, shall order and declare that the services of the said two persons are no longer required.In other words, the Treasury might dispense with their services on any day.
said, he must again call the hon. and learned Member to Order. He had already reminded the hon. and learned Member that he was entering into the discussion of another Amendment.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he had been simply following the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, that these gentlemen had the confidence of Parliament; but he would not pursue the matter further. He accepted, with some slight reservation, the statement of the Government that in principle hon. Members in that quarter of the House were not keenly opposed to the Bill. He was, no doubt, anxious to see a peasant proprietary established in Ireland; but when the right hon. Gentleman said the Irish Members were not averse to the principle of the Bill, but were really anxious for some measure of the kind, how was it he charged them, in the same breath, with opposing it, because if it were passed their occupation would be gone? He would say this—that if the Government would accept the Amendment he would withdraw his opposition to the Bill. It was not an unreasonable thing to get a certain amount of money, but he was opposed to giving a blank cheque to Lord Salisbury until the great scheme of the Government was prepared. They were told that the Government would be unable to present their Irish Land Bill next year on account of the pressure of Scotch and English Business. The right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked them to abstain from opposition because next year they were to have Local Government on the lines of simultaneity and similarity with England. But next year the right hon. Gentleman might have gone, and it might be that when the £5,000,000 were out the right hon. Gentleman might be out too. He (Mr.T. M. Healy) 86 was therefore asked to support the Bill upon grounds which, as far as he was concerned, he was unable to accept. If the Government only meant, so to speak, to apply oil to the existing machinery, he was willing to vote a further sum of money; but he was not willing to give the Government money under circumstances which he considered to be objectionable. He would ask the Government whether it was, or was not, true that the Bill had been brought in owing to the pressure of the great families? The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works retorted upon the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division by saying that the late Government brought in a Bill for £20,000,000 themselves. When that Bill was introduced, not only was the charge to be placed upon Ireland, but the Liberal Party wore not hand and glove with the great Tory landlords in Ireland as the present Government were. Where was the demand of the tenants for the Bill? He knew the Government said they were promoting it out of sympathy for the tenants. But this Bill was to be passed on the demands of the landlords of Ireland, and the tenants might ask on their knees to all eternity for such a Bill without getting it. Members from Ireland asked that some specific statement should be made at once on the point of difficulty which occurred to their minds. It was not enough to say that the Irish Members passed the Bill of 1885, and that, therefore, there should be no opposition now. At that time there was a treaty between the Irish Members and the Tory Party, and he confessed that at the time they did not scrutinize the scheme as rigidly as they ought to have done. He was always willing to shut one eye when the friends of the Irish Party were in Office, as they were when the former Bill was passed, and he would be sorry to have taxed his financial conscience with any great amount of criticism—to use the words of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). He had, at the time, entrusted his financial conscience to the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). But the Irish Members now placed before the House a moderate demand with regard to a Bill of this kind. They were not in principle keenly opposed to the Government measure, 87 but they wanted some assured guarantee that the money would be fairly applied. The intention of the Government was simply this—they were going to do in Ireland exactly what they had done in Egypt—namely, to advance £5,000,000 and then £10,000,000, and to say that all this was necessary for the pacification and development of the country; then they would turn round and say—"Englishmen, are you going to release your hold on Ireland, where the money of the taxpayers has been advanced?" and then it would be absolutely impossible for them to accept the principle of Home Rule without having the money back. "Working men of Great Britain," they would ask, "will you not insist upon the Imperial Government of England being maintained, so that these £10,000,000 may be assured to you?" He declined, in the interest of a Government, to put the future in pawn, which was what they were now asked to do. The Government wore anxious to spend this money in order to give themselves a little case at the present time, but they were banking up a reservoir which would have disastrous consequences for their successors. Irish Members charged that this money was going towards the payment of arrears; that it was not for purchase, but for rack rents. The Government would not answer their moderate demand that the money should be fairly allocated; and, that being so, he said that the country would not regard as of much value their protestations of virtue when compared with the solid cash which would, in the meanwhile, be dissipated among the Hamiltons and Londonderrys.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) contended that the object of the Bill, although he was not unfavourable to its principle, was so to enslave the tenants of Ireland as to create an argument against any separation between the two countries. He could not imagine that the hon. Member, if he had considered a little, would have used that argument, because it implied that he and his hon. Friends would oppose not only this, but every Bill which pledged the taxes of this country for the purposes of Ireland. Questions had been asked of the Government 88 as to the status of the Commissioners and the persons to whom the £5,000,000 were really to go. He did not know whether he should be in Order in replying to the question as to the status of the Commissioners; but, in reply to the challenge made, he might briefly state that the Government did not think it necessary, in order to insure the impartiality of those tried men who had already discharged their duty to the satisfaction of Ireland generally, to bribe them into further impartiality by giving them a seven years' tenure of office, which, as suggested by hon. Gentlemen opposite, was the only condition on which they were likely to administer the Act honestly. The demand was that the Government should insure the Commissioners a continuance of office long beyond the time necessary for the expenditure of this £5,000,000, otherwise they would be suspected of favouring certain persons in Ireland. If it were supposed that this was necessary to secure confidence in gentlemen who were to act in the capacity of Judges, he was sure that the Government would decline to put such a slur upon them. The hon. and learned Member for Longford had in this made a most extraordinary proposition; he had also suggested that there should be no unnecessary heat introduced into the discussion. That was after the extremely exciting speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan); and the calm temperament of Irish Members who had listened to the right hon. Gentleman's insinuations seemed to expect that hon. Gentlemen on those Benches should feel no spark of indignation at the unworthy charges he had made. If his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) had spoken with some warmth, he thought the right hon. Gentleman himself must have perceived that his warmth was shared by every man sitting on that side of the House—a warmth which would have been felt if such insinuations had been made in any quarter of the House, but which, when they came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, was peculiarly natural and well-justified. How did the right hon. Gentleman think he could escape from the argument 89 of the First Commissioner of Works, who suggested that under his own scheme the Dukes and others, to use a phrase which those opposite wished to make current, "might have walked off with the swag?" Had the present ally and friend of Irish Members, whom they had been able to conquer and seduce—did their present champion, who had turned his back on all his previous declarations, represent the case fairly even from his own point of view? The right hon. Gentleman had risen with some excitement, and said—"Look at the difference in my Bill; there Irish credit was to be the security." As his right hon. Friend the Member for the Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) had observed, in a case where you are walking off with money to which you are not fairly entitled, whether it comes from Irish or from British credit seems to make very little difference. But did the right hon. Gentleman base his proposals on Irish credit? Yes; there was a proposal that Irish credit should be interposed, but there was an alternative. British credit was to be used supposing that only three-fourths of the purchase money were to be advanced, and in that case the Dukes of Ireland were to be enabled to walk off with the £20,000,000 without any such interposition as the right hon. Gentleman suggested when he referred to the county guarantee. He (Mr. Goschen) attached importance to that point, because, as the Committee would see, it was the avowed intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite to represent to the people of the country that the object of the measure was to favour a certain number of families in Ireland. Was the Bill of 1884 intended to have that object? If not, why did the right hon. Gentleman think that the present Government were legislating in favour of families while he legislated for the tenants of Ireland? What right had the right hon. Gentleman to suppose that the Government, who were advancing £5,000,000, were animated by any different sentiments whatever from those which animated him when he proposed a much larger advance? Were they to forget that the right hon. Gentleman's present Loader, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), offered to every landlord in Ireland the temptation to 90 walk off with the property of the taxpayers? They could not forget that there was a proposal made—he would not say in the coarsest manner—to the landlords of Ireland that if only they would not allow the hour glass to run down and would join the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in a measure which they believed to be detrimental to their country, they might walk off not with £5,000,000, but £50,000,000 or £100,000,000 and every Duke in Ireland would have a share of the swag. An hon. Gentleman had said yesterday—"Let us clear our minds of this cant." Yes; let hon. Members clear their minds of the cant that this measure was for any other object than what had been the continuous object of successive Governments—namely, to multiply the number of tenants who would become the owners of the soil. And if there were large owners owning large properties where there were a large number of tenants, why should the fact that those tenants bought from the large owners make any difference whatever in the general theory that they should establish peasant proprietors according to the desire and intention of Parliament during these latter years? It was asked whether any particular landlords would benefit under the Bill. To that the Government replied that the applications would be taken in order, and that they did not intend to deny to the tenants of any particular landlord privileges which were given to the remaining tenants. Were the Government to lay down the principle that if a man happened to be the tenant of a large landlord, he was not to be admitted to the benefit of the Act—that only the tenants of the smaller landlords were thus to be benefited? They did not intend to classify landlords or tenants. £5,000,000 were offered to the tenants of Ireland for the purchase of their holdings, and they would be dealt with in the order of their applications, without favour; and the Government must repudiate with warmth, since they saw it was the intention to cast a slur on the whole administration of the Act, the insinuation that it was intended for the benefit of any particular families. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridge-ton Division of Glasgow asked whether 91 the Government would defend the measure on any platform in England. They would defend it on every platform. [Mr. J. E. ELLIS: Give us the chance.] As usual, when he was answering successfully a point put to him, another issue was raised. He repeated that the Government would defend the measure on every platform as establishing a once favourite principle of the advanced Liberal Party—that of multiplying the number of owners of the soil; and on every platform they would have a word to say as to the tactics and insinuations by which it had been attempted to misrepresent to thwart the honest effort which the Government were making in that direction.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, he had too much sense of the fairness of debate to have risen again, and would not have done so, had the right hon. Gentleman confined himself to a repudiation of the charges brought against the Government. But the right hon. Gentleman and the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) had brought against him very serious charges indeed. His charge against the Government was that having risked £5,000,000 they were prepared to risk £5,000,000 more on a Bill which was financially unsound. That was the worst charge. There was a suspicion, even on their own Benches, that the Bill was financially unsound, and he charged that the measure was by no means proposed in the interest of the tenants, but in that of the landlords. This, he repeated, was the worst charge—[Cries of "No!" and "Certain landlords."]—that certain families connected with Cabinet Ministers, were first down for purchase, were going to get the benefit of £5,000,000 more, under a Bill that was financially unsound; and in addition to that he had said that he did not think that families connected with Cabinet Ministers, or the Lord Lieutenant, should get the benefit. He did not know whether this had happened, because they had been deprived of the Return which had been twice asked for by Members on that Bench in the course of the evening without any reply being given. But what was the counter-charge brought against him by the two right hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Bench? They stated that he had proposed a Bill by which the sum of £20,000,000 sterling was to go to the landlords, under very 92 much the same circumstances as those existing in the present case. Now, he would not characterize that charge at all, but would refer to one or two short passages in the speech in which he had explained his Bill, and from them the Committee would see whether or not the charge against him was just. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that he had proposed to let the landlords walk off with £20,000,000 with no Irish guarantee, by means of a loan of three-fourths to the tenants.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I did not say that. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to have understood my charge. I read, not from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but from the Bill, and under it the £20,000,000 might have been applied for entirely under the system of advancing three-fourths without guarantee; so that, if the guarantee had broken down, the £20,000,000 might have been lost.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, that in the year 1881 the Land Act was passed, under which the tenants were allowed to borrow if they put down one-fourth of the money; between 1881 and 1884 there were 400 tenants who accepted that offer, and he thought it might be fairly said that it was im-sible that £20,000,000 or £1,000,000 could have gone under the circumstances of the three-fourths guarantee. But if it had done so, it would have gone into the pockets of careful and thrifty tenants, who had proved, by putting down one-fourth of the money, that they were to be trusted as debtors to the State. But they had now come to the much more important proposal of lending the whole of the money. On moving his Bill he said—It is impossible to ask the taxpayers of the United Kingdom to show such confidence in the farmers of Ireland, unless the taxpayers of Ireland evince that confidence themselves; and the liability of the tenants who have borrowed the whole sum from the State will have to be strengthened by a local guarantee, which will not be required in the case of those who have borrowed only three-fourths. It is proposed.…to make the county cess responsible for the deficiency in the payments of the purchasers."—(3 Hansard,  1520.)And, further on, he had said—Again, it would be unjust that a district should be burdened with a liability which it had no voice in accepting, and consequently each purchase scheme, after being approved by 93 the Land Commission, would be submitted for approval or rejection, and only for approval or rejection outright, to a local body,And, again, earlier in the speech, obviously referring to the two proposals, he said—And therefore the Government, in the measure which I beg leave to introduce, have gone to the utmost limits which the welfare of the State and the security of the Exchequer will permit.Now, in the first place, the British taxpayer was not in danger, because he had the Irish county cess as his guarantee; but, in the second place, the Government of that day did not commit the great injustice to Ireland of taxing the county cesspayers for the purpose of clearing the estates of Irish landlords without giving them the opportunity of saying whether the applications for loans should be accepted or not. For the argument he had used, therefore, he was not sorry, although he regretted to have shown some heat in speaking of a Bill against which he had certainly a strong feeling. He maintained that the charge of inconsistency brought against him by right hon. Gentlemen opposite was unfounded—namely, that although having introduced the Bill of 1884 he had opposed the present measure; and it was an extraordinary thing that right hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Benches had not brought against him this charge of inconsistency when he was opposing the Purchase Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian.
I think it as well to point out that the discussion is travelling rather wide of the Amendment before the Committee, which is to reduce the £10,000,000 sterling to £6,500,000 sterling.
§ MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)
said, that in rising to continue the debate for a few moments be should accept the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and endeavour to purge his mind from cant as far as he was able to do so. But he would not import into the debate the warmth of feeling displayed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; indeed, he should be a remarkable man could he do so, for he considered—and he was satisfied most hon. Gentlemen would agree with him—that an air of unreality bad hung over the whole discussion. It had been like 94 a sword and bayonet combat at a transpontine theatre—one, two, three, and up; two, three, one, and down—very good care being taken that no one engaged should be hurt, and the money returned at the doors if the spectators were not satisfied. He thought it had been too readily assumed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that they were all in favour of creating a peasant proprietorship in Ireland. There was nothing further from his (Mr. Cunning-hame Graham's) wishes than to create a peasant proprietorship in Ireland. Whilst voting, as he held it was his bounden duty to vote, with the Representatives of the Irish nation sitting on the Opposition Benches, he reserved to himself the right to explain the reasons that had caused him to reject in toto the arguments advanced on both sides of the House. He objected to spending £5,000,000 sterling in buying out Irish landlords, but he equally objected to spending £5,000,000 or £1,000,000 sterling upon the Irish tenants. He did not wish to hand over the whole soil of Ireland to the cultivators who at present cultivated it. If they turned to history they would find the mistake committed by the French Convention in the last century in raising the cry of "The land for the cultivators!" and not "The land for the whole people!" He asked hon. Gentlemen why the present cultivators of the land of Ireland should be entitled—
§ MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM
said, he would endeavour to confine himself to the Amendment, which he understood was to reduce the amount of the Government proposal from £10,000,000 to £6,500,000. He rose to advocate the nationalization of the land of Ireland, and having accomplished his purpose he would sit down.
§ MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, he did not think the views of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cunninghame Graham) would find much favour in the House; indeed, the hon. Gentleman had admitted he was not in sympathy on this question with any Party in the House; he might, therefore, be left to himself. He (Mr. Lea) agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) that 95 it was not advisable that any superfluous heat should be thrown into the debate, and he only rose for one purpose—namely, to controvert one of the arguments used against the Bill. It had been said over and over again—and the charge had been made that evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan), in a speech which he (Mr. Lea) greatly regretted to hear—that this Bill was to benefit the landlords of Ireland. A more unfounded misrepresentation of any measure was never made in the House. The tenants of Ireland regarded this Bill as one of very great value. [Cries of "Order!"] He begged hon. Members to listen to a Resolution which had been passed by an Association of tenant farmers in County Antrim.
The Question before the Committee is whether £10,000,000 or £6,500,000 stand part of the clause?
I have already pointed out that the discussion has wandered very far from the main issue. I desire to confine the debate to the real issue.
§ MR. LEA
asked to be permitted to read a Resolution that had been passed to-day by the North Antrim Liberal Association with regard to the sum named in the Bill. At a meeting to-day of the North Antrim Liberal Association, a Resolution was passed which entirely condemned the Amendment, for it was as follows:—That they urge upon the Government to grant the additional sum of £5,000,000, believing that in proportion as peasant proprietorship is extended will peace and prosperity and contentment prevail.That was an Association which contained nothing but Liberals, and he believed scarcely anyone but tenant farmers. It contained, he believed, a certain number of Gladstonian Liberals, but if it did not, a similar Resolution to the one he had read was passed to-day by the Tenant Farmers' Defence Association, and a telegram had been sent to an hon. Friend of his urging him to support the 96 Bill. The telegram was signed by the Gladstonian Home Rule candidate at the last election in County Antrim. He had given the opinion of tenant farmers in the North of Ireland; he had given the opinion of tenant farmers who held Gladstonian Home Rule principles, but let him also give the opinion of an hon. Gentleman who sat below the Gangway. When the Ashbourne Act was introduced three years ago, and a grant of £5,000,000 sterling was proposed, the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) proposed that £20,000,000 sterling should be granted. He held the same opinion as the hon. Member, and, if it were not contrary to the Standing Orders of the House, he should certainly move to increase the £5,000,000 to £15,000,000. On behalf of the tenant farmers in Ireland he strongly condemned the present attempt to defeat peasant proprietorship, which was the object of the Bill.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, that the House of Commons should not forget that they were at this moment in Committee, and engaged upon the not very agreeable task of laying new burdens upon the shoulders of the taxpayers. They were asked to continue an experiment—an experiment about which, unfortunately, the House of Commons knew very little or nothing. They were asked to take the success of the expenditure of the first £5,000,000 entirely upon the representations of the Government. Now, when the Committee of the House of Commons was engaged, under ordinary circumstances, in dealing with the Estimates, there were to be found in the hands of Members all the details of the previous year's expenditure. So far as his recollection went, there had never before been a case in which the Committee of the House of Commons had been asked to vote repeated large sums of money in such a slipshod fashion as they were now asked to vote £5,000,000 sterling; the Government generally paid the House of Commons the compliment of placing in their hands information as to the expenditure of the sums granted previously. He did not hesitate to say that there had been on the part of the Government, if not criminal neglect, at any rate culpable neglect, in not putting in the hands of Members the information which the Land Commissioners 97 could have given. But the question whether £5,000,000 or £1,500,000 might be necessary, depended altogether upon the faith they had in the representations that had been made by the Government. The Government had avowed that they had no expectation of coming to Parliament for any further sum under this Bill or under this scheme; they only wished for £5,000,000 sterling, and why? In reality, there could not be much benefit given to the tenant farmers of Ireland, because the amount was so small. So far as the expenditure had gone, not 2 per cent of the tenant farmers of Ireland had been benefited, and with the further sum of £5,000,000, not 4 per cent of the tenants of Ireland would be beneficially affected. What was it they heard from the Treasury Bench? This sum was required to keep going certain machinery in Ireland. A more extravagant and more dangerous proposal was never submitted to the guardians of the British taxpayers than that, for the sake of keeping going certain machinery in Ireland, they should sanction the expenditure of £5,000,000 sterling, an expenditure which, it was acknowledged, was not likely to be very serviceable to the Irish tenants. He wished to see this scheme brought to a speedy termination—the sooner the better; and he believed that the less permanent discredit would be done to the British House of Commons if the amount granted was £1,500,000 instead of £5,000,000. They had witnessed to-night several flights of fancy as to the benefits which had accrued to the tenants by this scheme. There was no doubt about it that relieving Irish tenants in any way from the burden of excessive rents would be temporarily agreeable to those tenants; but the view taken by the Government as to the value of this scheme was worth nothing to the House of Commons. They had had too much experience to be deluded by proposals of this kind. However, they were called upon to see what immediate and present use was being made of the money, and no one would deny that at present the Irish landlord was benefiting by the expenditure. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite professed to be very indignant that such a suggestion should be made. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) had 98 come out to-night in his old character. He remembered the time when the right hon. Gentleman sat upon the Front Opposition Bench, side by side with his Colleague, now Lord Ashbourne. The heat the right hon. Gentleman had displayed to-night was nothing to the frenzy he and his Colleague used to get in when the landlords' interests were assailed. The right hon. Gentleman had come out in his old character; and he (Mr. Illingworth) congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon having intervened in this debate with something like his old zeal and warmth. The right hon. Gentleman's old friends, the Irish landlords, had come under criticism, and he was anxious to show himself in the debate in their defence. If anybody knew what the real meaning of this scheme was it was surely the right hon. Gentleman. When it was thought the Government were hesitating as to whether they would trouble Parliament with this Bill this Session, there appeared in The Dublin Gazette a reminder of this sort, "Whenever the landlords' interests are at stake the Government seem to be indifferent and lukewarm." He thought that very shortly the eyes of the British taxpayers would be open to the reality of this scheme. In his judgment the scheme was primarily introduced in the interest of the landlords of Ireland. It had been said it was immaterial whether large or small landlords received the money if the transaction was fair. Why were they going out of their way to spend the money of the British taxpayers upon schemes which were admittedly dangerous, and only to be resorted to under extremity? It could not be denied, even by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Lea), or by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that at any rate the bulk of this money had gone into the Province where they had always avowed that the agrarian difficulty was not acute. Unfortunately a large amount of money had gone, and if they granted another £5,000,000 he, at any rate, had no confidence that it would not go into corresponding pockets. £1,500,000 was certainly as much as was necessary to draw to a close the present scheme of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared that this scheme was not suited to the congested districts of Ireland. Over and over again that 99 had been stated on the Treasury Bench. Then what was the use of enlarging the scheme if it was not immediately and largely to benefit those in Ireland who were the supporters of the Government? He understood that the reason why they were called upon to entertain proposals of this kind was that there was a large part of the tenants in Ireland in such a distressed condition that something must be done in their interest. But what had happened? Why, that more than half of the money already contributed had gone into that Province of Ireland where the difficulty had not been severe, where tenant-right had been respected for ages, and where the question of arrears of rent had not come in to complicate the situation. The Government would do well not to press for this additional sum of £5,000,000, for there never had been a scheme, so far as he could remember, which had at the very outset proved so abortive.
§ MR. PINKERTON (Galway)
said, that as reference had been made to the feeling of the tenant farmers of Ulster, it was as well he should point out that the Tenant Farmers' Defence Association had resolved that the arrears question should be dealt with in conjunction with this scheme, that there should be a system of compulsory purchase, but that no tenant should purchase his holding unless he obtained 50 per cent reduction upon the judicial rents.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) had spoken of the British public. The Government might feel assured that whether their proposal were good or bad, if the object was the creation of peasant proprietorship, the British public would welcome it, and readily assent to the expenditure of the sum proposed for the purpose. If, during the last 20 years, the British public had been worried and excited any way more than another by hon. Members sitting on the Opposition Benches, it had been by having placed before them Returns showing the enormous estates which existed in the United Kingdom, and the absolute necessity of breaking those estates up. The principle of peasant proprietorship was adopted by the Government and hon. Members opposite, and hon. Members upon the Opposition Benches had absolutely changed their opinions. 100 Having failed in defeating an attempt to create that which up to the present time they had advocated, hon. Members were now engaged in endeavouring to minimize the attempt to the utmost possible extent. He thought the British public would understand what the exigencies of the political situation had reduced hon. Members on this side to. They would understand why hon. Gentlemen appeared in the new character of opponents of the principle of peasant proprietary.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, his hon. Friend had completely misrepresented him; he never said one syllable against the principle of peasant proprietary.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Col-lings) had stated that they who sat upon the Opposition Benches were opposed to the creation of peasant proprietary in Ireland. The only answer to that was that it was a statement which had not the slightest foundation in fact. Every man who had spoken from the Opposition side of the House had expressed approval of the principle of the Bill. They had heard a good deal of the marked indignation exhibited by the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket). He must confess that the marked indignation of another man on the Treasury Bench always seemed more impressive. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was much more frequently indignantly virtuous, and seemed to put on the appearance of virtue much more successfully. This was the right hon. Gentleman who some time ago declared at Hastings that he had kept for 14 years out of Office for the sake of principle, and thought that long enough.
The question before the Committee is whethe £10,000,000 or £6,500,000 stand par of the clause?
§ MR. CLANCY
said, he was just coming to that question. He did not intend to trespass very long on the time of the Committee, but he should be obliged to do so if he was not allowed to proceed without there being exhibitions of impatience on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to-night, and the First Commissioner of Works also said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the 101 Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) had not directly charged but insinuated that the Government were in league with the landlords of Ireland in this matter. If the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Trevelyan) did not make that charge in plain terms, he (Mr. Clancy) and his hon. Friends did, and in face of the facts that had already occurred he was astonished at the audacity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in saying anything that seemed to give countenance to the opposite assertion. What were the figures given last night by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis), figures which had not been contradicted? The London Companies had got £400,000; Lord Normanton, £50,000; Lord Bath, £170,000; the Duke of Leinster, £260,000; the Duke of Abercorn, a brother of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton), had pocketted £267,000 of the "swag." In all £747,000 had already been distributed between the London Companies and four Peers connected with the land in Ireland. And in addition to that, the statement was made last night by the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham, that Lord Lurgan and Lord Londonderry, if the agreements with their tenants were carried out, would pocket additional "swag" to the amount of £400,000. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridge-ton Division of Glasgow said last night he hoped it was a calumny that the Lord Lieutenant was looking for this money. Let him assure the right hon. Gentleman that, whether it was a calumny or not, it was true. The right hon. Gentleman himself understood that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had caused to be issued to his tenants a Circular in which he had, on the express ground that he would not in future be able to give the reductions he had been giving in the past, asked them and pressed them to buy at 20 years' purchase of the present rents. In other words, Lord Londonderry, not being able to give in the future the 20 per cent recent reductions which he had given in the past, would try and compel the Government to get the British taxpayer to give it for him; and at this moment he was confident that, if they were permitted access to the official 102 correspondence in the office in Dublin, they would find that the agent of the Lord Lieutenant and the agent of Lord Normanton and the agents of other Lords and big landlords in Ireland were sending letters day after day to the Land Commissioners, wanting to know when their bargains would be closed and their money banded over. He assured the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, if English Members did not try to make plain to the British public that the object of this Bill was to fill the empty pockets of certain big landlords in Ireland, the Irish Members would endeavour to do so. He was greatly mistaken if the people of Hol-born, where an election was about to take place, would not be informed of the fact that hundreds of thousands of pounds had gone into the pockets of four landlords in Ireland, and that two of these landlords were at present connected with the Government. One of the most scandalous things he had ever heard of, read of, or observed, was the fact that this Bill had been championed in the House of Commons by near relatives of the persons who were to pocket this money. Who were they? The First Lord of the Admiralty was a brother of the Duke of Abercorn, who, as already shown, had got £267,000. It was, after all, not very strange that the noble Lord of the Admiralty should champion this Bill because the name by which the Hamilton family went by in Ireland was "the hungry Hamiltons."
I must remind the hon. Gentleman once more of the very limited question before the Committee.
§ MR. CLANCY
said, he was trying to give the reasons why they should reduce the amount, not to £1,500,000, but to nothing.
§ MR. CLANCY
said, he would only add that he was sorry the Bill had not been championed by persons who came into the House with cleaner hands. The persons who had championed this measure were the last persons in the House who ought to have done so. He maintained they were connected with the persons who had pocketed the "swag," and he invited the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a second display 103 of his virtuous indignation by repelling the denunciation.
§ MR. HALLEY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
said, he was extremely—[Continued cries of "Divide!"] He should move to report Progress unless he received a hearing. Hon. Members opposite were not facilitating the progress of the Bill by attempting to prevent him from answering their arguments. He was extremely reluctant to interfere at this stage of the debate, and had no intention of occupying so much time as had been demanded from the House by the interruptions he had received; but there was a charge made against the Liberal Party by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) which had not been referred to, and to which he thought he was entitled to make a reply, according to the ordinary courtesies of the House. The difference between the peasant farm-system advocated by the Liberal Party and the peasant proprietary under the Bill was that while they—the Liberal Party—safeguarded the taxpayers' rights, the Government now proposed to lend £5,000,000 of money of the British taxpayers on terms so easy that it was equal to a gift of £2,000,000 to the Irish landlords—or Irish tenants whichever they liked. This money, or the equivalent of it in our National credit, was found by the whole ratepaying and taxpaying population of the Kingdom, and yet there was no provision in the Bill that any part of it should come back to those who pledged their credit and found the money. That was why he should support the Amendment. He was in favour of bringing back the peasant to cultivate the soil, and of cutting up large estates, and he protested against the charge made by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham, especially when it was made against the Opposition by a supporter of the Government sitting on the Opposition Benches.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 212; Noes 154: Majority 58.—(Div. List, No. 303.)
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
said, he begged to move an Amendment he had handed in to the Chair to give the Government an opportunity of justifying 104 or making effectual some of the pledges they had given to the Committee and to the House. They had heard, if once, a dozen times in the course of these debates, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers of the Crown, that the money proposed to be granted by this Bill would be equally distributed over the whole of Ireland. Well, be proposed to add at the end of Section 1 these words—Provided that not more than a quarter of the said sum of £10,000,000 will he applied in any one of the four Provinces of Ireland.How had the £5,000,000 been applied under Lord Ashbourne's Act? Well, their information on the subject was very meagre. It was contained in one sentence of the speech of the Solicitor General for Ireland, and from that sentence it appeared that more than half the total number of applications had been received and dealt with from the Province of Ulster. But this Bill, they had been told, was a measure of pacification. Did Ulster need to be pacified? Ulster, they were told, was loyal, and loyalty was the fountain of contentment! Ulster, being loyal, was contented. Ulster was made of the wealth and all the intelligence of Ireland. He saw opposite his Colleague the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), and he was sure the imputation that Ulster was disloyal, or even discontented, or that it in any way required to be pacified, was an imputation the hon. Member would resent with disdain. The opinion of the hon. Member would be of value, because he knew every ditch in the Province of Ulster—indeed, he had threatened, not very long ago, to lie, if necessary, in every ditch in Ulster against the forces of the Crown.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he had thought the hon. member had said against the forces of the Crown. Why was Ulster credited with so large a share of the spending of this money? Was it because the Tory landlords, who were in the inner circle of official confederacy, by reason of being connections and relatives of Members of the Government, were more numerous in that Province than elsewhere? He could answer this question for himself, without troubling the House, if he were in possession of the Blue Book which it was the constitutional 105 right of every Member of the House to have in his possession. Ministers of the Crown had been studying that Blue Book "with nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles," since the beginning of the week. Why had it been kept from private Members? They had always been under what now turned out to be the delusive impression that Blue Books were printed for the information of the House. The Government had reversed the ordinary view because they were keeping back the Blue Book on the Bill until the Committee on the Bill was over; they were reserving the information until it could no longer be of any use. With regard to facts which wore essential for the due consideration of this Bill the Representatives of the people on this Bill were groping in the dark, by reason of the conspiracy and silence and suppression of information by the Government. Hon. Members belonging to the Irish Party could answer other questions if they had the Blue Book. An incident occurred a little time ago which might have been determined if they could have had a sight of this Blue Book—they might have been able to tell whether or not a brother of a Cabinet Minister had appropriated £250,000 under the Ashbourne Act. The right hon. and learned =Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) might have spared his suspicious heat. It would have been more to the point if he had answered the accusations made rather than merely declaimed against them. The Blue Book would have told them what the Duke of Abercorn had or had not received, and he submitted that the House ought to have this information. Perhaps the Blue Book might tell the House, by reason of the information in the hands of the Commissioners, whether or not a person who was something more than a relative of a Member of the Government, a person who was a Member of the Government himself, was about to receive another £250,000. This was a Bill of pacification! Pacification of whom? Was it a Bill for the pacification of the suffering and struggling tenants of the West, who were driven to desperation and often to crime, or was it for the pacification of the voracious landlords who crowded the antechambers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and din their impudent tales 106 into the right hon. Gentleman's tired and weary ear? If this were a Bill of pacification, why was its operation needed in Ireland? It could not be said that it was for Ulster. The counties in Ireland, of which they heard so much in the debates in this House, whose proceedings were being inquired into by three Members of the British judicature sitting on a Royal Commission—Kerry, Mayo, Clare, Galway, and Cork—where were they in this matter? How much of this £5,000,000 was about to be spent on them? If they had the Blue Book they could tell. When would the Government describe this cryptic Blue Book? When these £5,000,000 were spent? The Solicitor General for Ireland had said that 3,000 applications had been dealt with in the Provinces of Munster and Connaught, but how many even of these 3,000 applications from Munster and Connaught were out of these five counties? It was something worse than ridiculous, it was an absolute farce, to pretend that this was a measure of pacification, or that for a single moment it had been applied in that direction. As he had said, the Government had repeatedly told them that they intended this money to be equally distributed over the whole of Ireland. If there was any sincerity in the pretence that this was a Bill of pacification the Government should rise up and say that they intended to devote the whole of this £5,000,000 to these five struggling counties. The tenants would pay on fair terms, but would they be allowed to have fair terms? He heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), in his mock heroics, declaim in deep tones affected indignation against the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) because that right hon. Gentleman dared even to hint the truth, and he (Mr. Plunket) asked where was the scandal and where was the shame of allowing great proprietors to walk off with £250,000. He (Mr. Sexton) would tell the right hon. Gentleman where was the scandal and the shame. It was in the Government first passing a Coercion Act to enable the great landlords to terrorize their friends into accepting fraudulent contracts, and then allowing these great landlords—their brothers and cousins, the instruments and confederates 107 of Ministers of the Crown—to walk off with quarters of a million and hundreds of thousands of public money, getting rid of their responsibility in the country that they had robbed and ruined, and leaving, to the certainty of severe suffering, the tenants they had coerced, and leaving to the certainty of loss the State which they had betrayed. He thought he could put forward a strong and conclusive claim that the whole of this second instalment of £5,000,000 should be spent in these disturbed countries. He brought forward this Amendment as a test of the sincerity of Ministers in their contention that this was a measure of pacification. He desired to go no farther than the pledge of the Government themselves, therefore he moved that not more than one-fourth of this money should be spent in any one Province of Ireland.
To add at the end of the Clause, "Provided that not more than one-fourth of the said sum shall be applied in any one of the our Provinces of Ireland."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, he did not think it necessary to notice the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down with reference to himself; nor was it necessary to go fully into the question of the Amendment, as he did not think it was seriously meant. He rather thought the hon. Member had moved it as a peg on which to hang some of the observations he had made in the course of his speech. The classification the hon. Member proposed in his Amendment was a thoroughly imaginary one—a classification which had no relation to the population of the various Provinces, to the distress in the various Provinces, or anything else. Why, if the people of Ulster were anxious to avail themselves of this Bill, should they not be able to do so. Why should they have to wait until the tenants in other Provinces had made up their minds whether or not they would avail themselves of the Bill. Eight hundred, or thereabouts, was the number of loans that had been applied for, and Kerry stood third in the list of counties as regards the number of applications.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he could not tell exactly, but the Commissioners had dealt with 465 cases, representing £252,227. The suggestion that they were selecting certain persons to whom they wished to give the money was absolutely unfounded. There was no reason, with regard to the future, why those who first came forward should not get their proportion of the money available for the purchase of their holdings, and he could not see any logic in proposing that a man in one Province should not get as much as he desired of the money, because men in another Province were unwilling to come forward and ask for it. For these reasons, he submitted to the Committee that the Amendment was not one which could be accepted.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, that the information in the Blue Book was such that it ought to have been in the hands of hon. Members for a week at least. The only statement made in the course of the debate in justification of the Bill was that it was a great measure for pacifying the disturbed districts in Ireland, but they had listened in vain for a single argument in support of that view. The County of Mayo was one of the districts in which, of any others, one would desire to see money given in pacification of the people and the tenants; but in that county there was only 268 applications and the total purchase-money agreed upon was £125,000. This was a mere drop in the ocean. In the case of one estate alone in the North of Ire-laud £267,000 of the taxpayers' money had gone to a Duke, while in the entire County of Mayo only £125,000 had been applied for, and no more than £70,000 or £80,000 paid out of the fund. Again, although the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that Kerry stood third in the list for the amount of money paid, he would draw attention to the fact that the entire sum paid in that unfortunate county was not equal to the sum which had passed into the pocket of the Duke of Abercorn. He had reason to know that Kerry absorbed so little of the money, because after the passing of the Act a system of terrorism unparalleled in any other county in Ireland was pursued against the tenants there, and he believed the first breakdown of this Act would be in that county, where there 109 would be found a number of bankrupt tenants unable to repay the money advanced by the State. With regard to the other disturbed counties, Mayo, as he had shown, had taken a very small sum; Galway applied for only £ 129,000, half of which went to the Duke of Abercorn; in Clare, one of the most disturbed and distressed counties, on which the Coercion Act had fallen with crushing and terrific force, and which more than all the other counties together had given trouble to the Executive Government, there were 63 applications for £27,000; in other words, the Duke of Abercorn had pocketed ten times the amount of money which had gone to the County of Clare. Was it not, then, a public scandal that it should be sought to drive this Bill through the House and Committee while not one man in ten outside the Government Bench was aware of the simple facts which he had been able to get at? The reason why they had been unable to get the Blue Book was because otherwise the facts would have been known to Members of the Committee, and it would have been impossible for Gentlemen opposite to defend the Bill as a pacifying measure for the disturbed counties. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked, why should not the people of the North be able to get the money if the people of the South and West did not make application? There was a great difference between the North and the South of Ireland. In the North-East of Ireland, to use the words of a County Down land agent examined before the Devon Commission 40 years ago, "If the same practices were resorted to in Down as in Tipperary, the blood of the landlords would have been shed there in the same way as in Tipperary." In the North, the tenants, owing to the tenant right which prevailed, had attained to a degree of prosperity and an accumulation of property which had not been the lot of those in the West and South of Ireland, and the former could, in consequence, deal with the landlords on equal terms, whereas the tenants in the South and West were in a state of comparative slavery, and not in a position to avail themselves of the Act. That was the reason why the Irish Members claimed that they should be made free to do so. But if the Government refused to deal with arrears, how much stronger became their position, 110 that this money should not be spent in districts where, according to the statement of the Government themselves, the people were already contented, loyal, prosperous, and happy, and who would therefore have no claim on the taxpayers to enable them to become owners of their farms. Unless some alteration was made in the Bill, this £5,000,000 would be absorbed in the most peaceable part of the country, where the landlords and tenants could come together and make their bargains in the absence of strained relations, without having the slightest influence in the general pacification of Ireland. Mayo, Kerry, and Cork would remain in the same state of disorder as now, and when the money was gone a Return would be presented showing that nothing in the nature of pacification with regard to them had been effected. He had sat in that House for two or three years as the Representative of Mayo, and every year he had stood up and raised the question of the condition of the district which he represented—one of the most disturbed, and teeming with a dense and poor population. He recollected, on two occasions, having brought the circumstances in full detail under the notice of the House, and on each occasion the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had admitted that his case was unanswerable, that the condition of the population was a matter of the most urgent interest to anyone responsible for the government of Ireland; and that he felt the responsibility to the fullest degree. But what had been done? Absolutely nothing; and he was assured by experts that the machinery provided by the Act was such that at present it was practically impossible to bring any relief to the small tenants of the Western districts, and that not only was it the case that the money by some natural pressure gravitated towards the peaceable and wealthy districts, but in the Western districts, where the differences between the landlords and tenants were composed, the costs were such as to deny to the unfortunate people the benefit of the Act. On what ground of justice or expediency were the Government pushing this Bill through the House without laying any proposal before it which would afford the hope that at least a share or portion of this great benevolence would find its way into districts 111 such as he represented? Knowing that the comparatively rich and prosperous tenants of Lurgan and Londonderry were waiting to dip their hands into this fund, he asked on what principle money was to pass into these districts, which, as they were repeatedly told, was intended to promote law and order in Ireland? And why was the machinery of the Act so arranged that the poor starving people such as he represented were denied the benefit of the measure? He thought it the duty and right of the Committee to insist upon having some assurance that a fair proportion of the grant should find its way into such disturbed and poverty-stricken districts as those of Mayo.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON) (Middlesex, Ealing)
said, he thought it must be difficult for anyone to believe that the speeches just delivered by Members below the Gangway opposite had been made in earnest. For two nights there had been constantly poured into the ears of the House of Commons statements by hon. Gentlemen who were supposed to possess special knowledge of Ireland, the upshot of which was that the landlords were terrorizing their tenants in order to force them to enter into transactions which the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) had characterized as fraudulent. That had been the sense of the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen, and now they turned round and said that their complaint was that those parts of Ireland under their protection had not had a sufficient number of terrorizing and fraudulent acts forced upon them. He could tell hon. Gentlemen why it was that there were not so many applications from parts of Ireland with which they were associated, as from Ulster. It was because the whole of their influence had been used to prevent persons from applying. [Mr. PARNELL: Quote.] He might deal with that presently. Certain allusions had been made to the fact that the Duke of Abercorn had sold a considerable portion of one of his estates in the North of Ireland. He knew nothing whatever of the transaction, but he had noticed that Mr. Davitt, who he understood was a member of the National League, had been in that part of the country making violent speeches. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: In what county?] In Tyrone. Meeting 112 a friend of his own he had asked, "What is Mr. Davitt doing in that part of the country?" and the reply was, "Oh, don't you know? He has gone to stop, if he can, a number of transactions into which your brother has entered with his tenants." But he had failed, because they were not persons who paid very much attention to Mr. Davitt's advice. Their object and desire was to secure their ownership in land and multiply the number of owners; Mr. Davitt's object was to destroy all ownership in land, and, therefore, one could understand how it was that the number of applications where the tenants were allowed to make their own arrangements were larger than in those parts where they were not allowed to do so. But even as it was, if the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) looked at the Return he would see that the amount of money applied for in Munster was very little short of that applied for in Ulster, and that, taking the ratio of population, it was very much the same. He thought it would be advisable that more applications should come from other parts of Ireland, and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would use his influence for the purpose of inducing persons to apply. [Mr. DILLON: Wherever they get a fair price.] The hon. Gentleman seemed to be a judge of fair prices. Of course, if he were going to take upon himself in every instance to regulate the price of land, many transactions would be interfered with before they went to the Land Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman had talked of the Duke of Abercorn as walking off with the taxpayers' money. But did the hon. Gentleman seriously use that argument? He undertook to say that, so far as the taxpayers were concerned, they would not be one farthing out of pocket. He did not know why the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) should be so indignant, because he remembered that when the former Act was passed he was in favour of it, and wanted to quadruple the amount asked for.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that when he moved an Amendment to the Bill he did so because, not only did the Government give Irish Members reason to believe that they were in favour of Home Rule, but also because they had abandoned coercion, and declared that it would not be again applied; and also 113 because he saw a prospect of a state of things in which he believed the tenants would be able to make fair and free bargains.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, all that the State proposed to do was to facilitate transactions between individuals, and to see that the security was sufficient for the advance made. [Sir GEORGE TREVELYAN: Whose money is it?] The money did not come out of the taxpayers' pockets. [Laughter.] He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman who laughed was as ready to repudiate every sound financial proposal as he was willing to repudiate everything else. [Cries of "Order!" and "Withdraw!"]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
asked, whether it was in Order for the noble Lord to state that an hon. Member was ready to repudiate every sound financial proposal just as he was ready to repudiate everything else?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
asked, how the money could be the taxpayers' money if it was not raised by means of taxes? Did hon. Gentlemen really imagine that a landlord improved his income by sales under this Act? If anyone would reduce the matter to figures he would see that in this case, as in other cases, a considerable reduction of income must ensue. The hon. Member for East Mayo accused the Government of deliberately keeping back the Return. [Mr. DILLON: Yes.] Did the hon. Gentleman look at the date of the Return? [Mr. DILLON: I could not get the Return.] He was sorry that should be so, because it was very desirable that in the case of the discussion of a Bill of this kind the fullest information should be given. The Return was not finished till the 25th of October, and the Government regretted that, owing to some delay in the printing, for which they were not responsible, the Return had not been supplied to Members. He wished that everyone had had a copy, because there were a great many instructive inferences to be drawn from the figures. The hon. Member for East Mayo then gave a further reason why he wished to support the Amendment now before the Committee. He said he represented a part of Ireland where there was a great deal of distress, and 114 he thought a large portion of this money ought to be spent in those parts of the country which were known as congested districts. Congested districts were, in certain cases, disturbed districts, and if applications were made from such districts and the securities were good, he had no doubt the Commissioners would pass the transactions. But the hon. Gentleman must know that one great objection to applying any large system of land purchase to congested districts was the poor nature of the security. While he thought the principle of purchase was in itself beneficial, he did not think it would be wise to insist upon a large portion of the money being spent in districts where it was a matter of absolute certainty the security was worth nothing. Then the hon. Gentleman asked how it was that the applications from the North of Ireland were granted first? For the very simple reason that they were made first. Throughout the Commissioners adopted the principle of taking the applications in the order in which they were made to them. That appeared to him to be a sound and proper principle to adopt. If the Commissioners had adopted any other they would have justly laid themselves open to the charge of partiality. He had now answered all the questions put to him. [Cries of "Oh!"] He had answered all the questions put to him for the purpose of being answered, and he thought he had shown that it would not be wise for the Committee to assent to such an allocation of the money as was suggested. If they wanted to promote the system of purchase it would be most absurd to lay down the rule that certain sums of money must necessarily be spent in certain localities whether the security was good or not.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said, they had been told several times from the Treasury Bench that the expenditure of this £5,000,000 sterling was an experiment. Surely the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton) would acknowledge that if it was to be an experiment the expenditure ought to be spread over the different districts of Ireland and not confined to one particular part of the country? He thought the proposal made by his hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) was somewhat crude in its nature, and, 115 therefore, he asked the Government whether they could not see their way, between now and Monday, to draw up some Amendment which would not exactly distinguish between Ulster and the other parts of the country, but prevent—what he feared would happen if nothing was done—namely, the prosperous tenants in Ulster rushing in first and securing the allocation of the greater part of the £5,000,000 to Ulster? Hon. Members did not desire to say that each district should have a certain amount, but they did desire that Ulster should not have all the money. The noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton) had just said it was a very great pity that Members had not got the Blue Book in their hands when discussing this question. It was very evident that the noble Lord ought to have followed up his speech by moving to report Progress, as it was impossible for them to discuss this very important Amendment without having the Blue Book in their possession, and in order to give the Government time to consider whether they could not draw up some Amendment tending in the direction he had endeavoured to indicate; and also, because he thought it was now quite time they should go, he begged to move to report Progress.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed; "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Sydney Buxton.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
, said he hoped that the Committee would not report Progress without disposing of the Amendment under consideration. The Government would be prepared, if the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sexton) would either withdraw his Amendment or allow it to be negatived, to report Progress. The Amendment was one which could not be accepted; indeed, the speech of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. S. Buxton) must satisfy hon. Members that the Amendment was one which the Committee could not accept. The Government had every desire that the money should be fairly distributed throughout Ireland, and every effort which could be made in that direction would be made. They could not, however, hamper the discretion of the Commissioners by the adoption of such an Amendment as the present.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said, he was afraid that he could not support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast; but that, however, was not for the moment the question. It seemed to be admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that by Monday the Blue Book as to which so much had been said would be in the hands of Members. If that were so, then considering that they had been more than 10 hours at work—he himself had been at work more than nine hours—it was very fair they should leave the subject for the present. He thought his hon. Friend would not find any very great support for his Amendment on the Opposition side of the House; and, therefore, the hon. Gentleman might very well consent either to divide the Committee, or to withdraw the Amendment, on the understanding that on Monday the Government would provide them with those Papers of which hitherto they had been so deplorably wanting.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, the Government had made every effort to obtain the Blue Book in question; but, unfortunately, it was printed in Ireland, and, therefore, not so easily procurable. They would telegraph to Ireland, and they had every hope they would be able to comply with the wishes of hon. Gentlemen.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the principle of his Amendment appeared to meet with universal acceptance. [Cries of "No, no!"] At any rate the First Lord of the Treasury had said it was the desire of the Government to spend the money equally throughout Ireland, and the desire expressed by the right hon. Gentleman was also the principle of the Amendment. He admitted that the terms of his Amendment were hastily drawn, but everything in connection with the Bill had been hastily done. He had no objection to accept the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and withdraw the Amendment, if the Government would consent to bring up on Monday some words to make good their intention.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
wished to be clearly understood by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He had said it was the desire of the Government that the money should be fairly distributed throughout 117 Ireland. He had also said they desired to respect the complete independence of the Commissioners, and that he could not see his way to give directions to the Commissioners which would hinder or fetter their judgment. He would consider between this and Monday whether consistently with that statement it was possible for them to make their wishes more clear. He did not wish hon. Gentlemen to be under the impression that he said the money would be equally distributed throughout Ireland; that would be absolutely impossible.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
asked, if it would be possible to give the House on Monday a list of the names of the landowners. There were 1,000 estates included in the Return, and it appeared to him it would afford very useful information as to the class of estates which were being sold, or were proposed to be sold, if the names of the landowners were given?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was afraid it would be impossible to give the names of the landlords. They could not do more than use their best exertions to circulate the Report which had been prepared. To ask for a list of the landowners which was not in the Report was more than he could undertake.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
asked whether the Government could not see their way to make some proposal on Monday, whereby, instead of adopting the unsatisfactory principle of first come first served, which really might mean first come worst served, the Land Commissioners should be able to have in view the entire number of applicants before they made any further allocation of the money? He respectfully put it to the Solicitor General for Ireland whether he could not devise some scheme whereby the Land Commissioners should make no allocation—say for three or four months—and that then they should have before them all the applications made in the meantime? It appeared to 118 him the First Lord of the Treasury was anxious to pass the Bill without the change of a comma, and thus avoid the Report stage. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not come down to the House on Monday with the intention of refusing all Amendments. The quickest way to get a Bill through was, on matters which did not affect principles, to make concessions to their opponents.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was anxious to consider, on behalf of the Government, every recommendation, with the most earnest desire to deal with it. They would consider all that had transpired in the debate to-night.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
said, that the first point in the Return ordered by the House earlier in the evening was a list of the names of the landowners. He respectfully suggested to the First Lord of the Treasury that a telegram should be sent to Dublin to-morrow morning, so that by Monday the list of the names might be furnished to Members.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.