§ (Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Mr. Secretary Matthews.)
§ [BILL 385.] COMMITTEE.
§ [Progress 23rd November.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Increase of limit of advances by Irish Land Commission, and provision therefor).165
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
, in moving to add at the end of the clause the following words—Provided, that no money shall he advanced for the purchase of more than one holding in the occupation of any one tenant if such holding he of the rateable value of not less than £20 per annum,said, the Amendment was intended to provide as much as possible for the useful distribution of the sum of money which Parliament intended to allocate under the Bill. He had always held that the necessary dimensions of the purchase question awaiting solution by Parliament were not nearly so large as was generally supposed. He considered that beyond providing the tenant with the holding upon which his house stood, and beyond making his homestead secure, it was not requisite that the State should interfere. He did not see upon what grounds they could ask the State to advance large sums of money for the purpose of enabling a tenant who had two, three, four, five, or six holdings to become the owner of those holdings to any extent. If they would look at the question of land purchase from the point of view he invited them to look at it, it became narrowed down to the necessity of securing that the holding on which the tenant lived should be his, and there was no claim and no argument in favour of extending the principle of purchase beyond the limit suggested by reasons of State. And what were those reasons? Parliament, in olden times, before there was any land agitation in Ireland, never thought of making the tenant the owner of his holding. It was one of the great misfortunes in the history of the relations between England and Ireland that the crisis following the years 1846, 1847, and 1848, which brought so many estates into the Landed Estates Court, was not utilized for the purpose of making the tenants of those estates the owners of their holdings. But agitation commenced, and now they had the Tory Party assisting the State to provide sums of money for the purpose of converting the tenants into the owners of their holdings. But the necessity did not go further, from the point of view of practical experience, than that the tenant should own the land upon which he lived; and it was not desirable to extend the principle beyond what was absolutely necessary. 166 From the point of view of those who desired to see land purchase carried out as much as possible, it was desirable not to limit the number of owners but to go in the direction of creating a bonâ fide peasant proprietary by making the money reach as far as they possibly could. One of the objections he had heard against the Bill was that it proceeded upon a haphazard plan. It enabled money to be spent upon holdings upon which it was not necessary to spend it, and holdings where expenditure was necessary were not touched. It was for this reason, among others, that he had always advocated compulsory purchase; because, under a compulsory scheme, the State would be able to say what holdings it was desirable, from economical and political points of view, to purchase. It was not necessary to compel the State to advance money where it was not desirable that purchase should take place. When they came to a case in which it was not desirable that the holding should be purchased, it became more than ever necessary for Parliament, if it would not give the Commissioners power to decide what holdings should be purchased, to say at least that the Commissioners should have power to decide what holdings should not be purchased. It was a well known fact that the tenants of Ireland might be roughly divided into two classes—those who had far too much land, and those who had too little. The majority, of course, had too little land; and he might cite, as a proof of that, the congested districts in the West of Ireland, where disturbances had taken place during the Land agitation. He came now to the class of tenants which he desired to guard against in this Bill; and he would describe them as tenants who, to use a familiar Irish term, had "too much land under them," which they were neither fitted by capital, skill, or industry to make useful to them. Everybody practically acquainted with the rural economics of Ireland knew that many of the holdings they saw throughout the country, as they travelled through it, were holdings used by the tenants of other holdings as "draw farms." Such holdings were absolutely neglected, because the tenants had not sufficient capital to enable them to cultivate them. If they could be brought into cultivation, one of the gravest questions in dealing with 167 the masses in Ireland might be greatly helped. "What he wished to guard against in the first place was this. He wished to provide that the money voted under this Bill should be spent, as far as possible, in the creation of a genuine bonâ fide peasant proprietary, and in securing that the tenant who lived on his land should have the opportunity of making it his own property. But when they came to the case of "draw farms" on which the tenant did not live—farms which he scarcely cultivated, or did not cultivate at all, but in reference to which he was perfectly well able, and would be much better able if this Bill passed, to make his own by purchase; for he was perfectly well able to make his own bargain with his landlord in nine cases out of 10. Then, he maintained, there was no occasion that the beneficence of Parliament and of the English taxpayers should step in, and no case had been made out for the expenditure of large sums of money to enable the tenants or occupiers of such farms to become their own landlords. If the Committee adopted his view in this respect, be believed they might go half as far again under the present circumstances. It might be said that it would be a hardship for the landlord to have still to collect the rent from isolated farms scattered here and there over the country, but he submitted that if that was a hardship at all it was a small one, and as Parliament was doing so much for the Irish landlords in granting these millions of money, it might be fairly called upon, where they sold at their own option, and were not obliged to sell if they did not like to do so, to face this still smaller hardship of collecting their rent from small holdings. Prom this point of view he thought it was right that the Amendment should be passed, and he had every confidence in commending it to the favourable consideration of the Committee.
In page 1, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, "Provided that no money shall be advanced for the purchase of more than one holding in the occupation of any one tenant if such holding he of the rateable value of not less than £20 per annum."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOURE) (Manchester, E.)
168 said, that the hon. Member had avowed his preference for a system of compulsory purchase, and he had stated to the Committee truly that under such a system the State would be able to effect the compulsory transfer of the fee simple from the landlord to the tenant in precisely those cases in which it would, in the opinion of the State, be most necessary to make the transfer. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) quite admitted, whatever might be said for or against compulsory purchase—and there was a great deal to be said on both sides—that it would no doubt have the advantage to which he had alluded. But the whole framework of this Bill was founded upon the voluntary plan, and because it was so founded, and because, he thought, that the Amendment would to a great extent interfere with the smooth working of any voluntary plan, he would ask the Committee not to accept the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member in a very able and moderate speech. The hon. Gentleman had told them in a large number of cases the tenants with several holdings had not sufficient capital to work them, that in consequence the holdings were neglected, and that they were not a class whom the State or the Country should specially desire to favour by lending money on favourable terms, in order to induce them to purchase. But the hon. Member bad omitted to consider that many of these men—probably the larger number of them—were really among the flower of the Irish farmers; they were men who had generally succeeded in their occupation; who had accumulated money and invested it for the benefit of their children, and by the possession of those various holdings they had proved themselves to be competent, energetic, and thrifty farmers. It would, he thought, be a serious misfortune to exclude that class from the advantages of the measure. Nobody could contemplate the course of land legislation in Ireland during the last few years without seeing that some of the very gravest difficulties with which they had to contend arose from the fact that their measures left out of account some small nucleus or class of tenants who did not benefit by their proceedings, and who, for that reason, afterwards became centres of dissatisfaction and discontent. That limitation might 169 perhaps have been necessary in the past; but, at all events, let them not repeat it when it was unnecessary. Let them not arbitrarily introduce a limit which might excite a kind of agitation against that Bill, which he should be sorry to see spread in any part of Ireland. Another practical objection to the Amendment which he asked the Committee to consider was this, that in many cases it was an enormous convenience, not so much to landlords as to the tenants in the first instance, and to incumbrancers in the second place, if any estate could be sold as a whole. That was a cheaper and a better process, but an estate could only be bought by the Land Commission if four-fifths of the tenants in number and value combined in a request that the purchase should be effected. If, therefore, an Amendment of that kind were adopted, the power of purchasing estates en bloc by the Land Commission would become almost a dead letter, and one of the most useful provisions of the Act of 1885 would lose all its virtue. Under these circumstances he earnestly asked the Committee not to insert this limitation in the Bill, which would probably not have any material effect in making the £5,000,000 go any further, while it would certainly interfere with the sale of many estates which would otherwise be dealt with as a whole. Much as he desired to see this £5,000,000 used in as economical a manner as possible, he could not consent to the proposed limitation.
§ THE LORD MAYOR OF DUBLIN (Mr. SEXTON) (Belfast, W.)
said, he was sorry in respect of this matter, as in the case of others which had arisen in the course of these debates, to complain, and complain strongly, of the insufficiency of the information which had been placed in the hands of hon. Members. Since that morning he had been afforded the opportunity of a cursory examination of the Blue Book containing the last annual Report of the Commission. But while the Blue Book gave them information as to the number of applications for purchase which had been made, and the number which had been granted, it afforded no information as to the number of individual tenants who had applied. There was no information whatever to enable them to discover how far plurality of purchase had been allowed by the Commissioners 170 —or, in other words, how far individuals had been allowed to purchase more than one holding. He wished to know whether it was not possible to supply that information?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
was understood to say that he would make inquiry and see whether the information asked for by the hon. Member could not be supplied.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman. It would be most important, if possible, to have the information. He did not think there was any force, whatever, in either of the two reasons which had been advanced by the right hon. Gentleman in opposition to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork. The right hon. Gentleman was of opinion that it would be better for a tenant to be in possession of two farms because he might thereby be able to make provision for his younger children; but surely a peasant proprietor who had only one farm was in an infinitely better position to make provision for his children than the man who was unable to purchase any farm at all. He asked the Committee to look at the inequality which the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman would establish. He would allow a man to obtain one or two or even three farms in order that he might be in a position to make provision for his younger children, while, on the other side of the road, there might be a tenant who was unable to make provision either for his elder children, his younger children, or himself, and yet he must continue to occupy the one farm alone. Therefore, public policy, even as interpreted by the right hon. Gentleman, was in favour of the Amendment. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) had taken pride to himself, in the course of the debate, for the number of small holdings which had been created, and had told them that the greater portion of the £5,000,000 already voted had been applied to the purchase of small holdings. But if they allowed a man to purchase more than one farm they would initiate a system which would tend to create a new class of small landlords. As a rule, a man who bought two or three small farms was not likely to occupy them, probably he would hold one as proprietor and let the others. The object of the proceeding in which 171 the Committee were now engaged was certainly not to replace the Irish landlords by smaller landlords. The smaller the landlord became, the more sordid would be the nature of his transactions and the greater the evil. Instead of replacing larger landlords by smaller ones what was wanted was that they should replace rent-receiving landlords, large or small, by cultivating proprietors. He hoped they were not prepared to ignore that principle by allowing plurality of purchase. It would almost seem that right hon. Gentlemen opposite had made up their minds that they were going out of office very soon, and that it might be a long time before they came back again, they were so anxious to do all they could to foster the principle of large landed proprietors. The second reason given by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for opposing the Amendment was that unless they allowed plurality of purchase it would be impossible or difficult for the Land Commission to buy whole estates. He doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman could have inquired into the facts of the case or could have examined the Records of the Commission upon this question. How many entire estates had the Commission purchased during the last three years? The number was 12. Twelve throughout the whole of Ireland, and even those estates were very small seeing that the purchase money represented only £70,000. It was, therefore, evident that the Land Commission seldom purchased an entire estate for re-sale, and, consequently, any argument based upon the purchase of whole estates by the Land Commission was an argument of no force; and there was nothing whatever in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that the Land Commission must not be debarred from purchasing whole estates, or otherwise the integrity of an estate might be prejudicially affected. The right hon. Gentleman said the Amendment left out the thrifty class. It did nothing of the kind. They were desirous that thrifty men should buy their farms, and thus secure an independent home of their own, as that would ensure the stability and secure the harmony and order of society, but they did not want them to add field to field and farm to farm, as that would tend to create a class of small rent-receiving landlords. There was another reason why he 172 thought the Government, from their point of view, ought to adopt the Amendment of his hon. Friend. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland boasted that a great number of small holdings had been created under the operation of Lord Ashbourne's Act. They had been told, in various forms, in the course of the debates that the Ashbourne Act was the competitor of the National League. In the language of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) the Ashbourne Act would "knock the bottom out of the National League," and it was said that most of the tenant farmers, since they became proprietors of their holdings, had given up The Freeman's Journal, and had ceased to subscribe to the funds of the League. Personally, he preferred that a tenant should be able to improve his position, even if, after purchasing his holding, he ceased to be a member of the National League or to take in The Freeman's Journal. There had never been the slightest desire to maintain the National League to the injury of the Irish tenants, and if a tenant on becoming a purchaser was willing to abandon his position in connection with the National League by all means let him do so. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes; certainly. He could only repeat that he should prefer to see the tenant improve his position, even if after the improvement he left the League, rather than he should remain in it and suffer in his position. What he objected to was the plurality of purchase. Instead of one man being allowed to purchase three farms, three men ought to be allowed to purchase them. He was astonished that the Government could not see the force of his argument, because if his suggestion was carried out, instead of taking away one man from the National League they would take three. He was quite willing, in that way, to lose them as members of the League. So, also, was his hon. Friend the Member for Cork, notwithstanding the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that every man who became a purchaser and left the League became a loyal supporter of the Tory Party. Surely that was no reason, even from the Government point of view, why the Amendment should be rejected.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, the Amendment only referred to the status quo which existed in the Act of 1885, before it was altered by the Amendment Act of 1887. He might add that the provision which effected the alteration passed through the House without amendment and without debate, and, indeed, without any notice having been taken of it. The second section of the original Act was construed to mean that a man should not be allowed to purchase a holding upon which he was non-resident. But this Government slipped into the Act of 1887, in Section 14, Sub-section 3, a provision that any person in occupation of, and paying rent for, the holding, held under a contract of tenancy, should have power of redemption and purchase. It was quite evident, therefore, that the Land Commission construed the Act of 1885 to mean that only occupying tenants should become purchasers. His hon. Friend's Amendment simply proposed to revert to what was the original meaning of Lord Ashbourne's Act, and he thought it was only reasonable that the Government should accept the Amendment, and go back to the original position. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had that night made one of the most important admissions which had been extracted from him since his occupation of his present Office—namely, the admission he had made in reference to mistakes in the previous policy of the Government in excluding certain portions of the tenants from the benefits of Irish legislation. The Irish Members had always pressed the case of these tenants; but when last year they succeeded in placing them in the position of town park holders, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary refused, when his own Amendments were refused, to insist upon them. All the right hon. Gentleman was now asked to do was to revert to the original provisions of the Ashbourne Act. For his own part, he did not see that the Land Commission would be at all able to apportion and allot this money properly, unless some attention was given to the suggestion he had made at the close of the debate the other night. He thought it would be admitted that it was more desirable to make some persons tenant proprietors than others. It would be admitted, further, in the words of the Ashbourne 174 Act itself, that occupying tenants had most claim to this £5,000,000 sterling. If, however, the Land Commissioners adopted the improper principle of "first come, first served," merely because a particular claimant put in a claim for money on a Monday, although a great deal better tenant presented himself on Tuesday, they would, in his opinion, be adopting a principle which would defeat the good intentions of Parliament. If the Ashbourne Act was to be carried out, his hon. Friend's Amendment would have considerable weight, and would prevent the Commissioners from adopting the principle of "first come, first served." He would suggest that the Commissioners, before sanctioning advances, should wait for a period of three or four months after the passing of the Bill, and, instead of adopting the "first come, first served" principle, should advance the money, on adequate security, to resident tenants—or, in the words of Lord Ashbourne's Act, to occupying tenants resident on their holdings. Before they scattered their money about, because some man happened to have got into his own hands some three or four different holdings—certainly a man who least desired State aid—they ought to be told what steps the Commissioners would take to give effect to the provision relating to occupying tenants which was contained in the Ashbourne Act of 1885, and drop the pernicious principle of "first come, first served." If the Commissioners would wait until they got in a reasonable number of applications, they would have a complete purview of the work before them, and be able to decide upon the merits of each case.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
said, he was anxious to say a word or two upon this Amendment from the point of view of a Scotch Representative. He believed there was not a Scotch agriculturist—and there were many of them in Aberdeenshire—who would not readily buy his holding on the terms offered under the Ashbourne Act, especially if he could obtain it for from 17 to 20 years' purchase. Scottish agriculturists, who were called upon to vote £10,000,000 to Ireland, on conditions they could not obtain for themselves, were entitled to ask that the credit of the State should not be used except on behalf of those tenants in Ireland who were in strictly 175 necessitous circumstances. He did not believe that the Scotch agriculturists had any jealous feeling towards the agriculturists of the Sister Island, and if strong claims were shown for the aid of the State they would not be unwilling to interpose their own position as an integral part of the United Kingdom on behalf of the Irish tenants. But he submitted that they ought not to be called upon to pledge their credit for the well-to-do tenants of Ireland, and to confer upon them privileges which were denied to themselves. Therefore they ought not to be asked to give the necessary security for this advance of £10,000,000 without being assured by Her Majesty's Government that the money would only be given to those whose necessitous circumstances entitled them to ask for such an advance. What could he say to his Aberdeenshire constituents to satisfy them that he had done right in asking them to become security for the well-to-do farmers of Ireland in obtaining advances of the public money at a low rate of interest? At any rate the advances ought to be restricted to necessitous eases. The land was an exact quantity and ought to be distributed among as many tenants as possible. But although it might be desirable to increase the number of the holders of land, the money of the State ought not to be used in enabling tenants to buy farms of 300 or 400 acres, especially when the Scotch agriculturists, who contributed a considerable portion of the money, were unable to obtain money on any terms for the purchase of the small holdings on which they live. He claimed the support of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) on this point. He understood that the noble Lord was to be invited to contest a constituency in which he (Mr. Esslemont) was interested.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
In order to save the time of the Committee, I may tell the hon. Member that I have received no such invitation.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
said, he was very sorry to hear it, being prepared to give the noble Lord a hearty reception. He would, however, warn the noble Lord that if he did go down to Scotland he ought to be provided with a fair and reasonable answer to the questions which 176 were certain to be put to him on this head—namely, whether the Scotch agriculturists wore to be called upon to give security for the advance of money to Irish tenants to enable them to purchase two or three farms while they were unable to obtain money on any conditions whatever for the purchase of their own farms from the Imperial Exchequer?
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, that two or three matters had been brought forward in the coarse of the discussion upon which he should like to say a word. The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) had referred to a clause in the Act of 1887, which he contended amounted to a departure from the Act of 1885. The impression of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not quite correct. The Policy of Lord Ashbourne's Act was in no respect altered by the legislation of last year. The primary object of the Ashbourne Act, no doubt, was to enable the occupying tenant to become the owner of his holding, and the object of the Amendment introduced into the Act of 1887 was not to interfere with the preference given by the Act of 1885 to occupying tenants, but to enable the Land Commissioners to dispense with formal devolution of title and the tenants' interest in certain cases. That was the object of the Amendment, and that alone. It did not at all interfere with the section of the Act of 1885, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred, but the occupying tenant still had the preference. He concurred that the primary object was to enable the occupying tenant to become the owner of his holding; but that object would be best carried out by not laying down a hard and fast rule, that in no circumstances should the tenant of a holding, covered by the Amendment, become the purchaser of any adjoining holding. He was informed that cases of purchase by tenants not in occupation were not numerous. There were, however, some instances in which a man was in possession of what was substantially one entire farm, but which technically consisted of several holdings, and why should he be prevented from becoming the owner of the entire farm? It must be remembered that there were very stringent provisions in 177 the Act of 1885 against sub-letting, by which it was impossible for a tenant purchaser to constitute himself into a landlord. That, he thought, was a complete answer to the mischief which was present to the mind of hon. Members opposite. The hon. and learned Member said that he (Mr. Madden) had asserted that the effect of Lord Ashbourne's Act had been largely to enable small tenants to become the owners of their holdings. It was true that he had said so. He had divided the holdings into various classes, small holdings which were very numerous; moderate sized holdings at a rental of from £10 to £30, of which there was a larger number; and large holdings; and he had added that the working of the Act had been in the direction of creating peasant proprietors. His right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary had pointed out that the purchase of any large estate would be seriously impeded by the adoption of the Amendment, and the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) replied to that argument that very few entire estates had been purchased by the Land Commission. That was quite true, but although that was one of the cases in which the Amendment would have a detrimental operation, it was not the only one. There were not only cases of purchase by the Land Commissioners for the purpose of re-sale to the tenants. There were, in addition, a large number of cases in which the landlord had sold, or been anxious to sell, an entire estate. It appeared to him that substantially the Act had operated in the direction the hon. Member desired, and it would be difficult to extend its operation in that direction by laying down a hard and fast line.
§ MR.ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, the Blue Book—which had at last found its way into the hands of hon. Members—placed them for the first time in a position to examine the case presented by the Government. The Act of 1885 was regarded as an experiment, and it was the apparent intention of the Government to enlarge the scope of that experiment without supplying the House of Commons with information by which it was possible to judge whether the experiment, as far as it had gone, had been a success. The hon. Member for Cork had hit the right nail on the head when he characterized the scheme as 178 altogether a haphazard one. He felt certain that the House of Commons would not have allowed it to have proceeded as far as it had gone unchallenged, if it had been known outside the Government that the Commissioners would have been allowed to carry out such schemes as they now found from the Blue Book had been the rule. He wished to draw the attention of the Committee to one or two considerations in regard to the number of tenancies, but not the number of tenants, which would make the case worse, because the information supplied by the Government was confined to the number of tenancies. The average area of a holding was 40 acres, and the average rental £33. He did not see why the people of this country were to be landed in an enormous loan for the scheme of this kind for Ireland alone. According to the view of his hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen, upon some future day they were likely to have a similar claim from the Scotch agriculturists, who would object to have the credit of the country so largely mortgaged that the chance of any other part of the kingdom obtaining aid would be very small indeed. These facts, he thought, proved the necessity for the limitation proposed by the hon. Member for Cork. If £5,000,000 had been squandered, it was very desirable that a second £5,000,000 should not be treated in the same manner. If the intention of Parliament was really to assuage the suffering and remove the disaffection and political discontent of Ireland, then the poor ought to have had the first consideration. But the very opposite had been the case. Take the case of Ulster. During last year 80,000 acres had been dealt with, and the number of tenancies were 2,300, representing an average in the case of each tenancy of nearly 40 acres. For his own part, he was more than ever convinced that what was in the mind of the Government in originating the scheme was the relief of the landlord class and not of the tenants, and, in the second place, the facts shown in the Return proved that neither the Government nor the Commission had sought to reach the lowest depth of poverty in Ireland from which the great majority of tenants was suffering. He did not know what might be in the mind of the Government now, but he trusted 179 that the majority of the poor tenants would be reached. Nevertheless, as far as the present scheme went, there was nothing on the face of the Return to show that any substantial good had as yet been done to the majority of the Irish tenants. His own opinion was that it was a scheme which had been manipulated in the interests of Ulster primarily, where the landlord pressure had been greatest. Now the Committee had been made acquainted with the mode in which the Act had been administered, the security asked for by the Amendment on behalf of the mass of the tenants became absolutely necessary, and it was in the highest degree desirable that the Commissioners should be prevented in future from taking the line they had hitherto taken. Unfortunately, precedents had been established which made it almost impossible to do anything like justice to other parts of Ireland, still less to give consideration to claims from other parts of the United Kingdom. For his own part, he thought that if the Committee had seen reason to limit the further progress of the experiment to a loan of another £1,500,000 the Government would have been saved from falling into a serious mistake.
§ MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
said, he failed to see that either the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary or the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland had given any substantial reason why the Government should resist the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork. He thought that they had carefully suppressed their real reasons for opposing the Amendment, which was that where a man was holding, perhaps, three or four farms in a certain locality, it might be necessary for the landlord to hold on to a certain portion of the estate after he had sold the rest of it, and, consequently, he would not be able to march off, as an hon. Friend near him had said, with the whole of the "swag." Personally he preferred to have large landlords to small ones, and he entirely denied that a farmer who resided on one holding and had three or four other holdings scattered about, could be any improvement on the existing class of landlords. A considerable number of men who had taken these farms did not work them 180 themselves at all, but stocked them with cattle and let them out to dairymen, who took them at so much per cow. That was a cheap way of getting rid of all the responsibility of working the farm. But was it a system on which this country ought to expend its taxes in promoting? If the Bill was to pass, he did not see why Parliament should not provide assistance for every speculator out of the taxes, as the men against whom this Amendment was directed were mere speculators in land and not bonâ fide peasant occupiers. He saw but one reason for the measure—namely, that it was a scheme to enable the landlords to get out of the country, while he would prefer to see them obliged to hold on to such portions of their estates as this Amendment would exempt from the provisions of the Purchase Act, and so give them some tie to keep them in the country. It would be far better than that a new landlord owning three or four farms should be created.
§ MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, he could not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for West Bradford (Mr. Illingworth). The Ulster tenants had always taken advantage of Acts of Parliament intended for their benefit because of their confidence in the Imperial Parliament. The applications for fair rents under the Act of 1881 were more numerous from Ulster than from any other part of Ireland. As regarded the particular Amendment, he had some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork, and he should be sorry to see this Grant consumed by men holding two or three farms. But he doubted the wisdom of putting a limitation into the Act, and the Amendment would have such little operation that it was hardly worth while putting it into the Bill.
§ MR. W. O'BRIEN (Cork Co., N.E.)
said, the hon. Member who had just addressed the Committee said that the Ulster tenants had always distinguished themselves by their acceptance of any legislation on the part of the House of Commons that was intended for their benefit. That was quite true, and in enormous numbers they swarmed into the Land Court the moment the Land Act was passed. They were, however, the first to discover the blunder they had made, and ever since they had been 181 groaning under the rents they had been in such a hurry to have fixed. From the Blue Book just printed, they would appear to have been bitten again by the purchases under the Land Purchase Act of 1885, because he found that the rate of purchase in Ulster was a decimal over 18 years, while the rate in Munster, where the tenants were not so eager to take these things at a rush, was only 16 years' purchase. It would probably turn out that, in the long run, there was some wisdom in waiting. In discussing the Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had used a very remarkable expression in the course of his speech. He had said that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork would be prejudicial to the "flower of the smaller tenantry of Ireland." He was rather afraid that the expression was only the right hon. Gentleman's picturesque way of describing what in Ireland were known as "land grabbers." He thought that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman contained an admission that the Act did operate unquestionably, to a large extent, as a bonus to land grabbers. Of the agricultural tenants, in Ulster at least one-fourth held duplicate or triplicate tenancies—that was to say, that there were two or three farms in the holding of one man, and that one man was very frequently a professional land grabber. Out of the 8,000 sales under the Act of 1885, it would be found that from 1,500 to 2,000 of the purchases were made by the holders of two, three, and four farms. And this would very naturally happen, because what the Commissioners had to look to was the security for the loan much more than the class of tenants who were to have the land, and the land grabber who had accumulated several farms in his hands, and who had acquired means by trade in neighbouring towns and not by cultivating the land, would be considered far better security than the cultivating tenant. Those were the men who obtained the loans very much in preference to the poorer tenants. But was it that class of men that this Act was intended to benefit? They might as well take a prosperous shopkeeper in one of the principal streets of London, and buy up his shop in order to present him with the fee-simple of it. As far as he could gather from the administration of the 182 Act, there was no guarantee that the State might not be buying half-a-dozen farms for the same man. Very often this class of man had four or five different farms on the same estate, and the Land Commission had no means of ascertaining how many farms were in the occupation of a particular tenant. There was another disadvantage which this system of buying up all the land of the large farmers had—namely, that it increased the difficulty of establishing a peasant proprietary in Ireland. He believed that £50,000,000 or £60,000,000, properly expended, would buy out all the small agricultural holdings which could by possibility be called peasant properties. The remainder of the Irish tenants could fairly well take care of themselves, at all events, as to the purchase-money; but the difficulty of the system was that the Land Commissioners naturally had their eye first on the security of the British taxpayer. Consequently, the State did all it could for those who were well off already, and did nothing for those who were unable to do anything for themselves. At the last Election they were told that £200,000,000 would be necessary to buy out the Irish landlords. Why, one quarter of the money, if properly expended, would answer every good purpose. He should certainly vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork, and he did not think the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland had disturbed the contention of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford that the Amendment simply carried out the principle of the Act of 1885. Although he took a different view in some respects from the hon. Member for Cork as to the effects of the present system, he thought the Bill was a Bill for encouraging land grabbing.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he thought that if it was desired to arouse a strong Conservative feeling in Ireland by the creation of an Irish peasant proprietary, it would be absolutely necessary to make some such limitation of the Bill as was proposed by the Amendment.
§ ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said, he felt unable to give a silent vote upon this Amendment. He had the honour to represent an agricultural constituency who took great interest in 183 these debates, and, although he intended to support the Government and vote against the Amendment, he wanted to hear something from the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland in answer to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy). Many of his friends had been much exercised by the way in which the Act had been worked for the benefit of Ulster tenants who were already prosperous and on good terms with their landlords. He agreed with the hon. Member who spoke last that the Act was introduced with the best intentions; the desire being, if possible, to assist the occupying tenants in purchasing their holdings. He did not believe it was ever intended, or indeed that it was ever thought of, that it should be a measure to apply mainly to Ulster. He said that there must be enormous difficulty in prescribing the operation of the Act and to say what portion of the fund should be spent in one part of the country and what in another. He wished to know if it was not possible that some proper instructions might be given to the Land Commissioners so that a months' delay should elapse before any scheme of purchase was sanctioned. In the meantime, advertisements for applications made might be inserted in the local papers. He knew the difficulty of laying down a hard and fast line, but precautions should be taken not to allot the money unduly to particular localities. He, therefore, though it was the duty of hon. Members on that side of the House not to sit silent but to tell the Government what their view of the matter was. The hon. and learned Solicitor General had made no reply to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford. He thought they were worthy of some reply, and he would therefore ask if it were not possible to frame some instruction of the kind he had suggested?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he thought a considerable part of the discussion really dealt with the Amendment disposed of on Friday night rather than the Amendment now before the Committee. With regard to what had fallen from his hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Field) it would seem that he desired that the money should be more evenly spread over the whole of Ireland. That object was a natural and desirable one, but, 184 unfortunately, it was impossible to provide any machinery to carry it into effect. The number of pluralists did not, he thought, exceed 100. The essence of the voluntary system was that those should come into it who desired to come—"first come, first served." No doubt, if he had the power he would allocate the money according to his views as to the necessities of the case, and he should probably spend more money in certain districts than in others—such, for instance, as grazing districts. If they had a compulsory system they could allocate the money to their own views of the public needs, but they could not have a voluntary system, and, at the same time, the advantages of a compulsory system. He had given his best consideration to the matter, and he could find no method by which the suggestion of his hon. and gallant Friend could be carried out—that was where equalization could be arrived at—consistently with the voluntary system.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that some of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne (Admiral Field) were directed to an Amendment which had been moved on Friday night. The right hon. Gentleman in reply to the speech of the hon. and gallant Admiral had pointed out that which must be admitted, that even if the money were equally divided between the four Provinces of Ireland there would still be an inequality when they took into consideration the population. Would the right hon. Gentleman be willing to accept an Amendment by which the money should be allocated in accordance with the gross valuation of agricultural land and the population? He should be glad to know whether a proposal of that kind would receive the attention of the Government. On Friday night there were many objections heard; one was that it would be unfair to ask one Province to wait for the money if another Province was not prepared to receive it. The right hon. Gentleman had painted graphically the eagerness of the tenants to have the money, and therefore they might take the gross value of holdings in the different Provinces, and allot the money in different instalments, say one-fourth at a time.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)
rose to Order. He wished to know if it was in Order for the 185 hon. Member to discuss an Amendment that was disposed of on Friday night, and which was entirely different from the Amendment now before the Committee.
said, the discussion was certainly becoming irregular. He had been willing to allow the discussion, but it was now desirable to place some limit upon it.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he had been only following the course of the discussion as it had proceeded. He had handed in to the Chair an Amendment which he should personally move, and which, if adopted, would not hamper the discretion of the Commissioners, but would get rid of the vicious principle which was embodied in the clause as it stood. If they were to take each case as it came up, and deal with it at once, he was afraid that although the case might benefit one, there would be many others that would be left out. He therefore proposed to provide that the Land Commissioners, while sanctioning advances to the tenants, should have regard to expediency and to relative urgency of the particular applications.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, he would not object to allow the discussion to proceed on these lines if it wore considered relevant, but he wanted to know what was the result of the meditations of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, who promised on Friday night that he would consider some means of carrying out the suggestions that were made on that occasion.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he would like to have some reply to the point he had raised. The principle of the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork was that preference should be given to occupying tenants; and there was a provision in Lord Ashbourne's Act which provided that the occupying tenant should have first claim. That, however, was inconsistent with the principle now urged by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. How could they give a preference to the residential tenants unless they waited to see what applications were made. He was much obliged to the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite for reinforcing the argument he had used, and he now wished to ask the Government in what way was it proposed that the Land Commission should give effect to the second section of Lord Ashbourne's 186 Act? It would be impossible to give effect to it, unless they waited for two months or a quarter, until all the applications were sent in, and then allow the applications in accordance with the spirit of Lord Ashbourne's Act. The Land Commission had now told the Government what the principle was upon which they proceeded, and he thought the Government might find that it was becoming a very serious matter. He would give an illustration which came under his own notice that day. An advertisement had recently been issued by a firm of solicitors in Dublin, Messrs. Dudgeon and Emerson, who were the agents of the Emergency Association in Ireland, and was printed in one of the Ulster papers. He could not give the exact words of the advertisement, but they amounted to this—"Farmers wanted for Ulster; none but Protestants need apply." An hon. Friend had handed the advertisement to him, and the precise words were these—Vacant farms. Important to Protestant farmers and their sons. There are several vacant farms to let in the County of Louth and Meath, in close proximity to good markets. None but Protestants need apply. Signed Dudgeon and Emerson.If anyone had read the book in Ireland published by the late A. M. Sullivan, and become aware of what happened in the fifties he would be able to guess what might happen in the present case. Mr. Sullivan showed that on Lord Lorton's estate, when a score of Protestants were imported they were shot down in the most abominable manner, and, unless the Government would tell the Committee on what principle they were going to proceed, and whether this was a Bill intended to plant resident tenants on the soil or to bring in importations from other districts, where they were already increasing in some localities, it would be impossible to know what the real object was. He complained that they were not receiving from the Government that reasonable information which they were entitled to expect. The Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork was distinctly on the lines of Lord Ashbourne's own Act, and, unless the Government were promoting the Bill from a political point of view in order to benfit land grabbers, and to benefit persons who belonged to their own Party, they would accept some such Amendment 187 as that of his hon. Friend. What was the principle on which the money was to be allocated according to Lord Ashbourne's Act? It was that preference should be given to occupying tenants. The Government were now asking for a further sum of £5,000,000, and it was essential that they should tell the Committee whether they were going to allocate it in accordance with the provisions of the Ashbourne Act or not.
§ MR. GILL (Louth, S.)
said, that the Amendment went to the root of the chief danger arising under the Bill, which was that while removing one class of landlord they would create another and a worse class, whose influence had not been found salutary either in France or the United States. Both the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had expressed their belief that it would be desirable to guard against the danger of removing one class of landlords and creating another class in their stead, instead of creating peasant proprietors. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary opposed the Amendment chiefly on the ground that it created the principle of selection, that it gave the Land Commission power to select one particular class of tenants who were to receive the benefit of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was opposed to the voluntary principle on which Lord Ashbourne's Act was based. Now, he denied that the Act was based on a voluntary principle, because the tenant had no option in the matter. He was entirely deprived of the power of initiation; he had no initiation in the matter, but, so far as the landlord was concerned, it was voluntary, and he could avail himself of its provisions as |he pleased. The tenant, on the contrary, could not stir until the landlord chose to give him leave, so that in that respect the argument of the Chief Secretary that the Bill proposed to establish voluntary purchase was perfectly absurd. But if the Bill was a voluntary Bill, whether they limited the discretion of the Land Commision or insisted on their exercising discretion, it would not at all affect the question; because, whether the system was voluntary or compulsory its object was to benefit chiefly the poorer class of tenants in Ireland; and to create a proprietary peasantry, but not a new system of landlords. The right 188 hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary told the Committee that plurality of purchase, even if allowed, would only affect a small portion of the Irish peasants, and the right hon. Gentleman had volunteered the information that among the purchasers under the Act there had only been 200 pluralists. He wished to know how the right hon. Gentleman knew that? The Return which had been submitted to the House gave them no information on that point, and he should like to know how the right hon. Gentleman had ascertained the fact. If the right hon. Gentleman did know it for a fact, why did he not let the House know it also? In the absence of official information upon an important point of that nature, he refused to accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He believed that the great majority of purchases effected under the Act had been effected by a class of men that it was not intended to benefit at all. That was proved by the only figures which had been supplied to them to guide them as to the mode in which the money had been advanced. They were told that the average purchase-money in each case was £33, and the average acreage over 40. That pointed to holdings in Ireland far exceeding in extent those held by the tenants whom they were anxious to constitute the peasant proprietors of the country. Therefore it was evident that the statements of the right hon. Gentleman was not borne out by the facts. Both the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary and the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland had stated that the adoption of the Amendment would prevent the purchase of whole estates in Ireland by the Land Commission. But it had been pointed out by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), in the very damaging commentary he had made upon that statement, that out of the whole number of purchases affected under the Act there were only 12 in which entire estates had been bought, and those only represented a total of £70,000 out of the £5,000,000 already granted by Parliament. It was, therefore, apparent that the great bulk of the properties purchased under the Act had been purchased by individuals, and not by the purchasers of entire estates. The hon. and learned Solicitor General said the Land Commission had power to prevent sub-letting, and the hon. and learned 189 Gentleman argued that the Act operated against anything like the creation of a petty landlord class but he (Mr. Gill) wished to point out to the Committee that the consent of the Commission was only a temporary matter, and could only be withheld so long as the instalments of the purchase-money were unpaid. The moment the purchase was absolutely effected, the consent of the Commissioners became unnecessary, and the new proprietor could do what he pleased with the holding. He maintained that the adoption of the Amendment was essential in order to prevent the vital and sanitary principle of Lord Ashbourne's Act from being wrecked by the creation of a new class of landlords. The Amendment touched the root of the chief danger, and, as he had pointed out, the experience of other countries, such as France and the Western States of America, showed that great evils might be introduced by the creation of a class of petty landlords. In many districts of America, owing to the grant of large tracts of land, a landlord class had been rapidly springing up, and the Legislature of Illinois within the last 18 months had had to pass a most drastic Act against the system which would render null and void all contracts in future by which one man attempted to obtain possession of several holdings. He maintained that the creation of petty landlordism in Ireland was the danger they had to guard against, and, in his opinion, they could only be guarded against by some such limitation as that which was proposed in the Amendment. The Amendment, whether it was likely to be effective or ineffective, was well worthy the careful consideration of the Committee. It had not yet been shown that the adoption of the Amendment would contravene any real principle of the Bill, or that it was not in fact the best expedient they could devise at the present moment for checking these evils which would prevent the creation of a peasant proprietary. He hoped that with the view of preventing the creation of the system of petty landlords the Government and all sides of the House would devote to the Amendment a far larger amount of attention than it had yet received.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
said, the Amendment was evidently one of the very highest importance in the 190 consideration of the Bill. It was perfectly plain that there was nothing in the Bill to prevent its provisions from being used for extensive land speculations. There was nothing whatever so far as he knew in the Bill to prevent a man from going on at the expense of the English taxpayer, and purchasing holdings with the intention of reselling them at a profit. He knew nothing from the operation of the Act that would prevent it from being used for extensive land speculations, or if they liked to call it so, land grabbing purposes. There was another purpose for which it might also be used, especially in the North of Ireland—namely, for dealing with land not with the knowledge of the Commissioners who did not go behind the arrangements for purchasing soil, but by making arrangements with the owner and the proposed buyer. Supposing that the landlords in the North of Ireland, with a view of getting hold of the land for their own purposes, acted on the principle of the notice which had been read by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy)—namely, that "none but Protestants need apply," the whole of the money granted under the Ashbourne Act might be used for the odious purpose of bringing about an exclusively Protestant ownership and occupation to the exclusion of Roman Catholics. Were they to write this notice over the door of the Land Commission,—"None but Protestants need apply?" They might draw some conclusions that that had been the principle upon which the Act had been worked more or less. He would not say that it was the intention of the Commissioners, but only that it was the effect of the working of the Act, because it had been shown that in Ulster the larger part of the money had been used; and it would now appear that upon one estate, the Massereene, which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had held up as a model estate in Ireland, a circular had been issued offering land for occupation with the intimation that none but Protestants need apply! If such a circular had been issued by the Irish Members they would all have been put in prison. It was boycotting and exclusive dealing with a vengeance. It was boycotting the whole Catholic population. It was the Unionist doctrine; 191 it was the doctrine the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) went to Belfast to preach, and Messrs. Dudgeon and Emerson—who issued the circular—were the solicitors to the Loyal and Patriotic Union. So far as the application for the £5,000,000 already advanced, the Protestants of Ulster had already got the lion's share of it. What was to prevent some large Protestant landlord from taking advantage of the new £5,000,000 and the terms now offered by the Exchequer, and then to take care that none but Protestants should take part in the arrangements. What security was there that the Orange landlords would not work the Act upon this principle? It was quite possible. They could make their own bargains; and if they brought the person with whom they make the bargain before the Commissioners, the Commissioners had no right to inquire into the facts of the case. He wished to know what security there was that Messrs. Dudgeon and Emerson would not work the fund on this principle behind the backs of the Commissioners, on the basis that no Roman Catholics need apply, and with the object of establishing a Protestant settlement in different parts of Ireland. He knew something of the nature of the transactions which were already going on in the County of Down at this moment, and the Government ought to be called upon to show what security there was to guard against contracts being made without the knowledge of the Commissioners, on the principle that none but Protestants need apply. He knew that he should not have the support of the Liberal Unionists in this matter, but in the name of what used to be the Liberal Party he felt bound to enter his protest against any such scheme which meant the re-establishment of the bitter and mischievous principles of the old ascendancy, and if attempted to be carried out would mean Civil War. Hon. Members were there to resist any such scheme, and to take security that the money of the British taxpayer, if granted at all, should be properly applied.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman had given rein to his vivid imagination, and had indulged in a kind of nightmare. There was not the least basis for the misapprehensions of 192 the right hon. Gentleman that the Act was to be used for the purpose of planting Protestants on the lands which were formerly held by Roman Catholics. The right hon. Gentleman complained of more money having been given to Ulster under the Ashbourne Act than to any other Province. But that fact by no means supported his suggestion; because Ulster was just that part of Ireland where the tenants were already Protestants. A wilder piece of argument than the apprehension that the money was to be spent in replacing Catholics by Protestant tenants was never put before the House of Commons. With reference to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) thought the hon. and learned Member had asked a question which it was very proper to ask. He had called attention to Sub-section 2 of the original Act of 1885, which directed the Commissioners to give a preference to the applications for the purchase of holdings to tenants who were resident upon their holdings. That Sub-section was still in force, and was not repealed by the amended Act of last year. The Land Commissioners were still directed to give a preference to those tenants who were resident on their holdings. As a matter of fact there had never been a case yet where a tenant who was resident upon the holding, had been deprived of the advantages of Lord Ashbourne's Act because the money had been advanced to a tenant who was not resident. The Commissioners had kept this Sub-section in view, and had never refused the application of a tenant in bonâ fide occupation of a farm in order to give the money to a tenant who was not in bonâ fide occupation of it. What they had done in the past he had no doubt they would do in the future. He would inform the Committee, if they were unaware of the fact, and he did not think they knew it, that in the directions given by the Land Commissioners to their valuers was one directing them to find out this very fact:—Whether the tenant who wished to purchase was a tenant in occupation of the holding? he trusted that the Committee would not accept the Amendment, and thereby lay down a hard and fast rule which might prevent, and certainly would prevent, 193 the sale of an estate en bloc. He was quite ready to communicate with the Commissioners with the view not to give money to pluralist tenants except in a case where the refusal would prevent the sale of an estate en bloc. He thought if the Commissioners carried out this view the general feeling of the Committee would be satisfied, and in a far more satisfactory way than by laying down a rule which might impair the working of the scheme.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the right hon. Gentleman had told them he would communicate with the Commissioners; by what right had the right hon. Gentleman to give the Commissioners any directions?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the phrase was an unfortunate one; he simply meant that he would call the attention of the Commissioners to what had taken place in the House that evening with regard to the matter.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the right hon. Gentleman had blurted out what would happen—namely, that the Commissioners would be directed to give persons in certain cases a preference. It was for this reason that hon. Members on that side of the House had asked that the Commissioners should be made perfectly independent of the Government. How could full effect be given to Lord Ashbourne's Act unless some months were allowed to elapse before some money was advanced. The Land Commissioners had no means of inquiring into these matters. All they had to do was to send down a valuator and direct him to make a report, and the valuator's report must be before the Commissioners before they were able to judge whether the tenant resident on the holding was in the holding or not. The right hon. Gentleman now told them that he intended to enter into communication with the Commissioners, which might influence their decisions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, it was exactly the reverse. What he said was that he had no power whatever of influencing the Commissioners.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the right hon. Gentleman had intimated that he would call the attention of the Commissioners to what had taken place in that House. Now, the Commissioners had to give a legal construction to the words of an Act of Parliament, and it was a 194 most un-Constitutional doctrine that any statement was to be read by the light of a debate of Parliament. An Act of Parliament must be read strictly in accordance with its letter, and there was no other rule of construction whatever. They were told now that the right hon. Gentleman would call the attention of the Commissioners to the discussion that had taken place in that House. He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it was his (Mr. T. M. Healy's) speech he would call attention to, or that of the hon. and gallant Admiral opposite (Admiral Field), or those of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson). Any more gross departure from constitutional principles had never been suggested than that in regard to two gentlemen who were absolutely at the mercy of the Treasury, and who might be dismissed the moment their term of office expired, and who, in the Bill that was brought in last Session, were described as "those persons." Mr. Lynch and Mr. John George M'Carthy should be communicated with before giving their decisions to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. No doubt the Commissioners would read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and understand what his desire was; but he hoped they would act by the written law, not by the private instructions of the right hon. Gentleman. Would the communication of the right hon. Gentleman to those gentlemen be published, or would it be in the nature of a private letter? Was it intended that a billet doux should be sent in regard to the Duke of Abercorn's purchase, and were his wishes to be preferred over those of any other person because he happened to be the brother of a Cabinet Minister? Were the Government in the habit of making private communications of this nature to independent Departments? Unless the Commissioners were prepared to wait for a certain period of time and then act upon defined and definite principles, what security would there be that they would be able to judge properly of applications that were sent in, and to consider which ought to be granted? The House was entitled to know upon what principle this money was to be allocated. 195 If it was to be on the principle of first come first served, great injustice would be done. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to what he termed the nightmare conjured up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), but he (Mr. T. M. Healy) had received the best information from Ireland that landlords were attempting to set up bogus tenancies on vacant evicted farms, and endeavouring to sell under this scheme.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
On Lord Lansdowne's estate, and on the Coolgreany estate. Unless the Amendment were accepted, there would be no security that some great scheme might be carried out for placing Protestant tenantry on vacant farms. They were laying up a reservoir filled with combustibles.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he maintained that his expression was perfectly sound and correct. They were laying up for themselves, and they reminded him very much of the anecdote of Sheridan, who, whenever he signed a bill for six months, in order to stave off the payment of a debt, always said, "Thank God, that is done with." That was exactly what Her Majesty's Government were doing; the Land Commission were not to act even in accordance with the original provisions of Lord Ashbourne's Act, but they were to be guided by the private instructions of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. He should be glad to have from the Government some distinct declaration as to the manner in which these applications were to be dealt with by the Commissioners.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
said, it was most unsatisfactory that further information had not been given to the House of Commons in reference to this important Bill. It was only at the last moment that a Return had been placed in their hands, and on examining it he found that it was the most unsatisfactory one that could have been possibly produced. He was afraid that unless the Amendment were adopted the Bill would have the effect of introducing into Ireland the worst class of landlords they could possibly have. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for 196 Ireland (Mr. Madden) had said that there was a Sub-section in Lord Ashbourne's Act which made that impossible because no sub-letting could take place. In a purely agricultural country like Ireland it would be very difficult to prevent sub-letting, and reasons had already been placed before the Committee which explained how it was that Lord Ashbourne's Act in all cases failed to operate. There was a large class of farms that were filled by men who were non-residents. They were well to do, but would not take the trouble to farm the land, but let it out to tenants as dairy farms at so much per cow. The men so accepted as tenants were the most undesirable class of tenants that any country could have. They did little or nothing for the land. They lived as a rule in towns, and they let out the holdings of which they had acquired possession on certain terms to dairymen. He ventured to say that any man, no matter what his political views were, who went to Ireland and passed through the Midland Counties, would find that all the good grazing land there was held by non-resident farmers. There were immense tracts of country giving no employment whatever; only a single herdsman was employed here and there, and they were the most undesirable class of men any country could wish to have. Yet within half a mile of them would be found many roofless houses that once formed the happy homes of the people, while in the immediate vicinity of the land might be discovered the rotten mud cabins into which the poor tenants had been driven. Those pluralist tenants gave no employment whatever, they were indifferent to the interests of the country, and even from an economical point of view it would be found in most cases they are not solvent. Was it the wish of the Committee that these men should avail themselves of the money proposed to be advanced by the State with a view of creating a peasant proprietary, or did they wish the real tillers of the soil to be converted into peasant proprietors? He maintained that, unless the Amendment of his hon. Friend, or some other Amendment like it, were adopted, the Bill would have the directly opposite effect to that which was intended. Men of the class he had described would obtain advances in preference to those persons 197 whom it was desirable to have upon the land, and they would be no nearer arriving at the solution of the Land Question than they were at present. Unless some Amendment on the lines of that of his hon. Friend were adopted, they would be creating a separate class of landlords worse than those who now existed, and would be excluding from the operation of the Act that class of the Irish people whom they wished to see in possession of the land.
§ MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had laid so much stress on the word preference that he was afraid the expression would imply that the Emergency men who had been put in upon evicted farms, such as those at Coolgreaney and on the Vandeleur and Massereene Estates, should be able to obtain possession of the farms upon which they were acting as Emergency men. He would like to give an illustration to the Committee. He happened to be in Ireland when Lord Guillamore made an effort to sell his estates in Kerry and Limerick early in the year.
said, he wished to point out that the kind of argument the hon. Member was entering into was quite foreign to the Amendment.
§ MR. SHEEHY
said, he only wished to show how a man, holding one farm already and having the occupation of another as caretaker, might purchase that other holding. The case he had in his mind was that of a man named Darcy, who was in occupation of two farms on Lord Guillamore's estate and also in occupation of another under the Earl of Devon. An application was made to sell those estates, and it was desired that the person in occupation should take the place of the evicted tenant. The sale, however, fell through, and Darcy was not able to continue the occupation.
said, the hon. Member had evidently misunderstood his ruling. The hon. Member was altogether travelling beyond the Amendment.
§ MR. SHEEHY
said, he took it that the Amendment was proposed in order 198 to give instructions as to the purchase of land, and his impression was that what had occurred in the County of Limerick might occur elsewhere. A man, in order to take advantage of the Act, might become Emergency man for a particular landlord and then the purchaser of a holding. He contended that that would be over-riding the real spirit of the Act, and if the Bill passed without the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork, it would be quite possible for an Emergency man to buy a holding, to go then to another holding as Emergency man and buy that, and so on indefinitely. He had heard the noble Lord the Member for the South Molton Division of Devon (Viscount Lymington) on Friday night declare himself in favour of colonizing the estates of tenants who had been evicted by Emergency men. He (Mr. Sheehy) thought that must be the object which induced the Government, at the present moment, to resist so strongly the Amendment of his hon. Friend, because if the Amendment were adopted it was only bonâ fide tenants resident on the holding that would be accepted as purchasers. He should, therefore, support the Amendment, and he believed that in so doing he was only consulting the original purpose of the Act, and preventing Emergency men from supplanting genuine tenants.
MR. ILLING WORTH
said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to give an explanation of the fact that the holdings purchased in the Province of Ulster averaged 60 acres, whereas in other parts of Ireland the average was under 40 acres. Those figures would be found at page 46 of the Blue Book. He attached great importance to the question of rental and area. Taking this large average of 60 acres, with an average rental of 10s. an acre, it certainly seemed strange that the public money should be asked for and granted for such exceptional purposes as to enable persons holding on the average 60 acres of land—if the average was 60 acres there would probably be some even holding 100 acres—to enable persons with such extensive holdings to purchase the property. He maintained that that was not the purpose of Parliament in sanctioning this legislation. If between 50,000 and 60,000 of the tenants of the smallest 199 class had been put in a position to become the owners of their holdings, they would then have made a serious attempt to grapple with the lowest class of tenants in Ireland; but it would appear, from the acknowledgment of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite, that little or nothing had been done in that direction. He was afraid the country would find in the end that those £10,000,000 had been appropriated to tenants who had no pressing necessity for becoming the owners of their holdings, and not in aid of those poor miserable tenants of from £10 to £12 a-year, whom the Act was intended to benefit. He presumed that in the end the Government would deal with that class by introducing some great scheme of emigration.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that the real question was whether pluralists should be allowed. He noticed from The Times that one man was renting farms amounting in all to over 1,000 acres. In this case the Land Commissioners had sanctioned purchase. He asked whether, in such a case, fair discretion had been exercised by the Land Commissioners; had they given a preference to resident tenants? It seemed to him that the Land Commissioners had no right to assume that more than £5,000,000 would be granted. They had received applications for more than £5,000,000, and amongst the applications was one of the character he had named. He appealed to the Government whether, in some shape or other, they could not impose some limitation in this matter. He was very much alarmed when they were told that there was the hard and fast rule of first come first served. Were the Commissioners to be bound to serve a big man who came first, although they might know that there were many smaller men who might come afterwards? Were the Commissioners to act upon the belief that the £5,000,000 sterling was final, and must be distributed to the best advantage, or were they to accept the application of great pluralists because they happened to come first?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, his objection to the Amendment was that he believed it would result in the creation of fictitious tenants. If there were two farms near one another, a man might convert his son into a 200 tenant of one farm, and thus defeat the object of the Amendment.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, it was surprising what an amount of time was wasted in this matter through the Government not meeting the demands made on the Opposition side of the House. In the Ashbourne Act there was a section which provided that preference was to be given by the Land Commissioners to the resident tenants. That was all the Opposition wanted. What they complained of was that this preference had not been given. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary practically admitted that, for, as he said, he would meet their complaints by privately writing to the Land Commissioners and asking them to consider what had taken place in the House that night. Of course such a proceeding was utterly un-Constitutional and improper. Besides that, what would be the consequence of the right hon. Gentleman writing? He would write to the Land Commissioners—"See what happened on the 26th of November in the House of Commons." What had happened? They had protested again and again against the adoption of the system of first come first served, instead of the system laid down in the Ashbourne Act, but the Government had refused to make any alterations or to introduce any proviso in their Bill. Seeing that a Division took place in which the Government's view was adopted by the Committee, the Land Commissioners would be confirmed in their view that they ought not to give this preference, but that they ought to continue to act on the principle of first come first served, which they would make out was the desire of the right hon. Gentleman and of the House. It had been suggested again and again, during the discussion on this Amendment, that the poorer tenants were intended to be benefited. As a matter of fact it was impossible that the poorer tenants could be benefited by the Act, because the Land Commissioners were to look into the security, and the Committee had it from Mr. Caird and others that the vast majority of the small tenants in Ireland had got absolutely no economic value in their tenancies. How was it possible, then, that preference should be given to the smaller tenants? This was an Act intended for the benefit of the landlords; for the 201 benefit of Protestants; for the benefit of large farmers, who were not worse off, but very much better off, than the large farmers in England. This money was going to be divided in some mysterious way between the large tenants and the great landlords.