§ Bill again considered in Committee.
§ Clause 1 (Increase of limit of advances by Irish Land Commission, and provision therefor).
Amendment again proposed,
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 be of the rateable value of not less than twenty pounds per annum."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
said, that a question had been put to the Government, and they had had a fair opportunity of replying to it, but no answer had been given. It had been pointed out in the course of the debate that the original object of the Bill was to facilitate the establishment of a large number of peasant proprietors in Ireland, more especially of that class which were most impoverished. And again, in the course of the debate on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, it had been pointed out, and admitted by the Government, that this as far as possible was their object, and it had also been shown that large farms had been turned into proprietary farms, but that the small farms had only been to a small extent affected by Lord Ashbourne's Act. The object was to distribute this money throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, and it was said that, by distributing it, it was intended to carry out the establishment of a peasant proprietorship. Now, that had not been done, and an Amendment had been introduced having that object in view—namely, to divide this £5,000,000 in something like equal proportions between the four Provinces of Ireland. That had been plainly put to the Government that evening, after the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had made his speech, and he (Mr. Molloy) thought the Committee were entitled to some intimation of the intention of the Government to make something in the nature of an advance in the direction of this Amendment.
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman was not speaking to the Amendment before the Committee.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, the point he was aiming at was the apportionment of the money to farms of less rateable value than £20. They had received no answer on that subject, and he said the Committee were entitled to ask the Government, who were disinclined to accept the Amendment, to point out in what manner they intended to give effect to their own intentions.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 111; Noes 154: Majority 43.—(Div. List, No. 305.)
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
said, the Amendment of which he had given Notice approached the question from a different point of view from that which had been taken up on previous Resolutions. It had been felt, at any rate on that side of the House, to be desirable to give some indication of the mode in which this money should be spent. If the additional £5,000,000 was to obtain all that hon. Members desired from its expenditure—namely, the greatest amount of good, and the allaying as far as possible the agitation among the working peasants of Ireland, and relieving the distress existing amongst them as far as they were able, he believed that one way of effecting this would be to give preference to tenants on small estates rather than those on large ones. Hitherto, as the statistics showed, preference had been given to tenants on large estates, and a very disproportionate amount of the last £5,000,000 spent had gone to tenants on very extensive estates belonging to wealthy landowners, who, if they had been so disposed, might have treated their tenants with greater leniency, and might have prevented the irritation which at present existed. The Amendment he was about to move proceeded precisely on the lines of a certain sub-section of the Land Purchase Act (Ireland) 1885, which provided that in making advances ander the Act, the Land Commissioners should prefer applications for purchase of holdings on which the tenants resided, or which were reasonable adjuncts of holdings on which such tenants resided. He had another instruction to insert, and that was that preference should be given to tenants on small rather than on large estates. He was not going to argue that the great 226 landlords had been faultless in their treatment of their tenants. Far from it; but a speech had been delivered last week by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) in the course of which certain facts were stated with regard to the management of one very extensive set of estates in Ireland, which for his part he regarded with very great satisfaction. He thought that the public ought to be grateful to the noble Lord for the information he had given, and he was not in the least degree inclined to question the statement of facts which the noble Lord had made. Taking that statement of facts as put before the public, he found that with regard to the set of estates referred to the management had been liberal and kindly as a general rule; and the noble Lord had further shown that there was only one case in which application had been made for purchase by any of the tenants on the Duke of Devonshire's estates. This, at any rate, showed that great landlords, if they were so disposed, had the ability to make things comparatively easy for their tenants, but if they were to proceed on the lines hitherto adopted, the great landlords, who might do better for their tenants than they had done, would receive a very disproportionate amount of the money which was set aside to enable the tenants to purchase their holdings. He thought it would be found that a considerable number of the smaller landlords had purchased their estates simply for investment purposes; a considerable number of them, as he knew, had purchased under the Encumbered Estates Act, and had put their money into the land with the object of receiving from it the greatest possible revenue—that was to say, the highest amount of interest that could be got from their investment. It was not likely that these men would take the same interest in their tenants as the great hereditary landlords might be expected to do. He himself had very recently gone over certain estates in the County of Kerry, some of which had been subjected for a considerable time to the Plan of Campaign, and he found that in all of them difficulty had arisen from the fact that the landlord, being a man of comparatively small means, had bought the estate for the purpose of deriving from it an ex- 227 travagant revenue, and that, even if he were inclined, he was not able to do justice to tenants. Many of these smaller landlords had as much difficulty in making both ends meet as the tenants themselves, and, not to put it too strongly, they were in very great straits, and he thought the Committee ought to have regard to this fact in the application of this further amount of money which was to be advanced on the security of British credit. If the present Bill were passed without any further instruction whatever to the Commissioners, the result would be as before, that a very considerable amount of money would be devoted to the purchase of these large estates, and the small estates would not receive sufficient consideration. He thought he should be confirmed by hon. Members who had very much greater knowledge of Ireland than he could derive from occasional visits in saying that the tenants on these small estates suffered peculiarly, and were entitled to an amount of consideration which had not hitherto been given to them. Having thus briefly stated the principle of his Amendment, he might add that, if it was not expressed as accurately or definitely as some legal-minded Members might require, he was quite willing to make any improvement in the wording that would make his object clearer to the Committee. All he would insist upon was the principle that the smaller estates, where possible, should be preferred, and that landlords holding large estates should be left until such time as that House might be disposed to vote a further sum of money.
In page 1, at end of Clause, to add the words "Provided that in determining the applications to be approved the Commissioners shall give preference to tenants of landlords whose estates are valued, under the Acts relating to the valuation of property in Ireland, at not more than one thousand pounds per annum."—(Mr. Picton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
said, he was sure the Committee would cordially agree with the hon. Member who had just sat down that the small landlords in Ireland had suffered more than any other members 228 of the community from the difficulties attached to agriculture in Ireland. But he was not at all sure that this was the reason for the hon. Member bringing forward his Amendment. He had never regarded the Bill as one for the relief of landlords, and therefore he was not particularly disposed to look at it from the point of view of the hon. Member. The first question he would ask the hon. Gentleman was, how wore the Commissioners to determine the amount of property which each landlord should have for the purpose of applying the Act? Supposing a landlord had an estate worth £500 a year in Kerry, another worth £500 a-year in Donegal, and another worth £500 a-year in some other county; were the Commissioners to investigate the whole of his property, and because he had £500 a-year in another part of Ireland, were his tenants in Kerry and Donegal not to be entitled to the relief given by the Bill? That seemed to be one difficulty in the way of the Amendment. Then there was the question of landlords holding smaller property. For his (Mr. A. J. Balfour's) part, he had never concealed from the House his view of landlordism in Ireland; not that he wished to get rid of landlords, but he was not at all sure that the landlord of £1,000 a-year was the man he should like to see bought out. But, after all, they had chiefly to look at the position of the tenants, and he wanted to know on what principle they were to put a disqualification upon the tenants of large landlords which they were not going to put on the tenants of the smaller landlords? It would be the grossest injustice, therefore, to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman, which was founded on no principle, based on no equity, and led, as far as he could see, to no useful public object whatever. Practically the tenant of a landlord worth £1,200 a-year would be, or might be, precluded from buying his farm, whereas the tenant of a landlord worth £900 a-year might be allowed to do so. Could it be pretended that under the Amendment there lay any principle whatever which the Committee would be ready to adopt? He thought not; and on the broad ground of equity he submitted that the Amendment was not one which ought to be pressed upon the attention of the Committee.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, it was all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say he did not consider this a landlord's Bill. They did, and they had framed their Amendments upon that basis. What was the principal reason urged against the Amendment of his hon. Friend? The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Commissioners were to inquire if the landlord had property in any other county, and in particular in the county whore the sale was proposed? That objection might be easily met by his hon. Friend agreeing to the insertion of the words "in the county where the purchase is made." The right hon. Gentleman said there ought to be a regular hierarchy beginning with the peasant and going up to the noble Duke. Now, he was not in favour of these great proprietors, and he said they must look at the matter at the present moment in the Irish sense. Were the tenants of the great landlords in a better position than the tenants of the small landlords? Of course they were, and they always would be so in a country where there existed such a condition of things as in Ireland. In the first place, it was more easy for the tenants on the large estates to combine; it was much more easy on a great estate to carry out the Plan of Campaign, and therefore the tenants on such an estate were infinitely better off. It would be found to be the case always, in a country where the land was very much worked, that the small man was a harder landlord than the great man, because although the rents might be cut down, there yet remained some margin for the great landlord; whereas, where the estate was small and was spread amongst a few tenants, the landlord had to consider whether he or the tenants should live, and he naturally preferred to live himself instead of the tenants. The Devonshire estate had been cited, and he would take that as an instance of his meaning. That estate was very fairly managed; they had it stated that large voluntary remissions had been made, and that considerable amounts had been spent in charity and improvements. This was a large estate, but even with all those advantages it appeared that a farm had been sold under Lord Ashbourne's Act. Now most unquestionably there was no reason why the House of Commons should make a quasi-present of 230 £5,000,000 sterling to the people of Ireland in order that this farm should be sold. The money could have been better spent in other ways. He would be glad to see the large estates in Ireland, as well as those in England, broken up; but looking at the fact that this £5,000,000 sterling was a gift on the part of the British taxpayer to free the Irish people, and that the Government said they were not going to ask for another £5,000,000, he thought the Committee should accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend, or some smaller Amendment, in order that the money might, under the circumstances, be devoted to the best possible use.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, he thought every Member of the Committee would agree that some Amendment must be framed to direct the Commissioners. While he was not at all prepared to say that the Amendment of his hon. Friend was the best conceivable one to deal with the difficulty, yet he could understand the motive with which it had been brought forward. The facts which had come out solely during the course of these debates were such as he believed affected Members on that side of the House as well as upon the other. He believed there were Members of the Conservative Party who were shocked to find the money, which they believed was being used to mitigate the tension between landlords and tenants in Ireland, and to pacify that country, had, to an immense extent, found its way into the hands of the landowners, whose boast it was that there was no tension between them and their tenants. He thought the Committee would not rest content, or vote this money, until they received an assurance that quarters and perhaps halves of millions would not find their way into the hands of great Dukes and other large proprietors. The noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) had pointed out that the estate of the Duke of Devonshire in Ireland was managed on English principles and in a very generous way. He had not made any charge whatever against the management of this estate, and he always concluded that an estate in Ireland, of the management of which he knew nothing, must primâ facie be not badly worked, because somehow or other he always got to know something 231 about every badly managed estate, but the House would insist on having some security that the Act would not be used for the purposes of such an estate as he referred to. He did not think that the object of the Committee would be met if the money was used for the purchase of their farms by the tenants of the Duke of Devonshire, even if it was started on their own initiative. The estate of Earl Fitz William would absorb something like £400,000 of this money, and would it not be monstrous to tax the resources of this country and the patience of the Committee, if, after a month or two, they heard that the Earl had sold his estate in a district where there was no disturbance? He said that would be a mistake, and although the Amendment of the hon. Member might not be the best possible Amendment for meeting the difficulties, it was perfectly manifest that some words should be carried which would give an assurance that the money would be fairly apportioned out, and not misapplied in the manner he had suggested. His hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) had on the Paper an Amendment which would, perhaps, cover the ground proposed by his hon. Friend more completely, and possibly the best plan would be to withdraw the present Amendment and take the discussion on that of the hon. Member for West Belfast.
§ MR. PICTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland seemed to have missed his point. He was perfectly aware that they could not meet all cases that might arise, but his feeling was that in determining the question as to which class of tenants should receive relief they ought to have regard to the fact whether they were receiving relief from the landlord or not. He knew a case of the tenants of a small landlord where it was impossible that they should get such relief, and it was therefore with the object of their obtaining the benefit of the Act that he laid his Amendment before the Committee. However, after what had been said by his hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), he would not put the Committee to the trouble of further discussion, but would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said that with regard to the small 232 estates in Ireland the difficulty was to get the landlord to sell voluntarily, and it was necessary that these small estates should be under some compulsory powers that would require encumbered landlords to part with their estates. The noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) was entitled to receive, and everyone would accord to him, absolute trust in the matter of the statement he had made with regard to the management of the Devonshire estates, but it must not be forgotten that there was a vast difference between the large and small estates in Ireland. He did not think that this Amendment would exactly carry out what the Committee wanted, and he was therefore willing that it should be withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
said, he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that it was absolutely indispensable that the Committee should place in the Bill some words of direction, or at least of suggestion, to the Commissioners how they should administer the Act. He thought that it was equally clear, whether judged by the light of common sense or by the experience of the working of the Act. On Thursday night he had endeavoured to introduce some words which would give security that the object, which the Government themselves declared they had in view, should be expressed in the Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, while he approved all the purposes which the Amendment had in view, was not able to accept the terms. He believed, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had led the Committee to believe that some words would be put on the Paper which might meet the views of hon. Members on that side, but nothing had been put on the Paper. As the Government had not placed any words upon the Paper, he found himself obliged as well as he could to endeavour to make good the default. The words he proposed to move were these—Provided, that the Laud Commission, in sanctioning advances, shall have regard to the expediency of dealing with the cases of small tenants, and also to the interest of social order, and the relative urgency of applications received from the several provinces and counties of Ireland.233 The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) had professed himself unwilling to hamper the discretion of the Commissioners, but if the right hon. Gentleman had read the principal Act—the Act of 1885—he would know as well as anyone else that that Act, which consisted of 13 pages, was chiefly composed of directions and limitations which checked the independence and fettered the discretion of the Commissioners, and he (Mr. Sexton) thought he was well within the facts when he said that when persons were appointed that act under Acts of Parliament, one function of the Act of Parliament under which they proceeded was to chock the independence and limit the discretion of those persons. In the course of the debate that evening the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had expressed his willingness to fetter the discretion of the Commissioners by addressing a communication to them to which they could not be indifferent, having regard to his position and to theirs. And what the right hon. Gentleman had hinted, or rather declared his readiness to do, even he, with all his hardihood of denial, would hardly deny it was competent for the House to do. Instead of relying upon the casual action of any official, however eminent, what he (Mr. Sexton) would propose was that they should place within the Statute the directions it was thought wise and proper to give the Commissioners. Upon what principle did the Commissioners act? They acted on a principle fatal to the public policy which induced the House to pass Lord Ashbourne's Act. They considered each case by itself; they considered each case in relation only to itself, and not in conjunction with others. They had had the method of operation adopted by the Commissioners described to them by Mr. Commissioner Lynch, who had said—The basis of our jurisdiction is the agreement of the parties. Our duty, if we are thoroughly satisfied with the security, and if the guarantee fund is provided, is to make the advance.The signed agreement between the landlord and the tenant was laid before them, and all they had to inquire into was whether the holdings were, or were not, security for the money proposed to be advanced by the State? If they were, the Commissioners had no option, it 234 seemed, but to advance the money. Would the House consider what that meant? An estate might altogether consist of large holdings, or there might not be one large holder on it. An estate might consist of grazing farms, and not of farms of tillage. An estate might be in a district which was as tranquil as it possibly could be, and there might be no necessity of social order to serve in making the advance. In fact, the affair might be a mere commercial transaction, and though it might have no effect in advancing the public good, the Commissioners not only advanced the money, but had no option but to do so. He maintained that, though such a kind of advance might with propriety be made under the Act, such an application should never be put in competition with applications in which social order was involved. If they looked into the working of the Act, what results did they find? The hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) earlier in the evening told them that the farms bought in the Province of Munster under the Ashbourne Act were, on an average, of 60 acres in extent. Now he asked any hon. Member opposite who voted for Lord Ashbourne's Act three years ago, or who voted for this Bill last week—when he gave these votes for the purpose of alleviating need and tranquillizing the public mind in Ireland—had he in his mind the possibility of advances being made for the purchase of farms of 60 acres? No doubt, if the Act was applied to such farms when it ought to be applied to small farms the purpose of the measure was perverted. The average yearly value of all the farms bought all over Ireland, in virtue of this Act, had been £33. In 248 cases, individual tenants had received advances of from £2,000 to £4,000. Let them assume that the majority of these had received £3,000. Now, a farmer paying a rental of £10 at 7 years' purchase would require a loan of £ 170, and the inference therefore was, that for every one of these tenants who gave £3,000 each to purchase their farms, they might have created 18 small proprietors; and, of course, with the money advanced to each one of the farmers who had paid £4,000, 21 small proprietors might have been established. It seemed to him, by the policy they had allowed to grow up, the Government were creating a class of proprietors in 235 Ireland who could not possibly be called peasant proprietors at all. They were devoting large sums of money to individual cases, and for every man thus really in a position of great independence, whom they put into the position of a peasant proprietor, they kept out 20 or 25 men who were in the greatest need, and whose poverty and miserable condition tended to keep the districts in which they lived in a state of turmoil and disorder. It seemed to him necessary to give a direction to their Commissioners on these points. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) had conveyed, in one of his speeches the other day, that a direction of this kind would be a slur on the Judges, or that an extension of their term of office would be a slur upon them. Did an English Judge deem it a slur upon him when he was required to hold his office during life or during good behaviour? It seemed to him that they should place the Commissioners in a position of independence, so that they could not be at the mercy of the Executive. Consider the position occupied by the Commissioners? They might retire from office next year unless continued by the pleasure of the Lord Lieutenant and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. What was going to happen in the meantime? Why, the Lord Lieutenant wanted £250,000 of the money out of the sum to be provided under the present Bill. While they denied £200 to a poor man to enable him to become the owner of his farm, they allowed a small, snug, select coterie of Dukes, Marquesses, and Earls to absorb £250,000. The Commissioners, before they retired next year, would have to consider whether or not they should give this £250,000. The average years' purchase given under Lord Ashbourne's Act was 17.4, but what did the Lord Lieutenant—this generous head of a public-spirited Administration—ask? Why, he was taking out writs against his tenants, serving ejectments, and indulging in all the tactics of terror, to compel his tenants not to give 17½ years' purchase, but 20 years' purchase of the old unredeemed rents. Before next year Mr. Lynch would have to determine, as one of the duties of his office, whether or not they were going to allow the Chief of the Executive in Ireland, who had a controlling influence 236 over their position, to get 20 years' purchase for his land, and to appropriate £250,000 of this money; and he (Mr. Sexton) therefore contended that it was indispensable that they should place those Commissioners out of the reach of the arm of the Lord Lieutenant—out of the reach of his revenge—or else that such directions should be given to them that it would be impossible for the Lord Lieutenant to revenge himself upon them. Then the Commissioners ought to have regard to the interests of social order in making the advances. Why was the Ashbourne Act passed at all; why was this Bill before the House at all? Was it simply because it was thought desirable to end commercial contracts between landlords and tenants? No; it was not. They had heard hundreds of times that the main purpose of the Bill was the tranquillizing of the public mind, and the consolidation of public order in Ireland. There were districts which were disturbed, and the Government professed to have before them the motive, by the expenditure of these £5,000,000, not only to promote quietness and peace and the consolidation of order in Ireland, but to see that the sufferings of the poorer class of tenant farmers were alleviated. Therefore he maintained that it was wrong in principle for the Commissioners to consider every application by itself, and that they ought to take all the applications together, and that whore two applications came in, each offering the same security—of course one of the main considerations in making advances should be the security offered for repayment—whore one of the applications was from a district where everything was quiet, and the relations between landlord and tenant were harmonious, and another application was from a district where there was need and disturbance and convulsion, the application from the latter district ought to be preferred. The Commissioners ought to have regard to the relative urgency of all the applications received from the several Counties and Provinces of Ireland, and by this he meant especially—and he trusted that the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland would give his attention to this—that those districts in which the tenants were in manifest need of reduction of their rents, which 237 reduction might be obtained under the operation of this Act, ought to be preferred, in making advances, to the districts in which no such need existed. There were some districts in Ireland where the tenants were well off, and where they did not require the development of the present system either to release them from suffering, or to establish order in the locality; but there were other districts where the tenants were suffering, and where the state of social order was such as to lead to serious danger to life and to property; and if the Commissioners intelligently understood their functions, he thought they ought to address themselves to those districts which were so disturbed. He did not intend the directions contained in his Amendment to be mandatory. He intended them to be simply directions to be kept in view. He did not intend them to inexorably govern every action of the Commissioners, but he intended that the principle embodied in those directions should generally influence and guide the action of the Commissioners. He did not think that any one of the three points could be controverted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman would controvert the advisability of having regard to the formation of small holdings. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman would controvert the desirability of the Commissioners having regard to the interests of social order, and he did not think he could controvert the necessity of looking at the relative urgency of all the applications for advances; and it certainly appeared to him (Mr. Sexton) that if the right hon. Gentleman would accept this Amendment it would have the effect of greatly facilitating the action of the Bill, and consolidating social order in Ireland.
In page 1, at end of Clause, to add the words "Provided, that the Land Commission, in sanctioning advances, shall have regard to the expediency of dealing with the cases of small tenants, and also to the interest of social order, and the relative urgency of applications received from the several provinces and counties of Ireland,"—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he could not but regret that the hon. Gentleman 238 in moving his Amendment, which no doubt he had moved in good faith, and with an earnest desire to improve the Bill, should have thought it necessary to imply that the Land Purchase Commissioners were the servants of the Executive, and would use the power conferred on them by Parliament to benefit the particular Members of the Administration or their friends.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the hon. Member had distinctly implied that the fact that the Land Commission had only been renewed for a year made them so far—he would not say the subjects, but the slaves of the Government, and that the mere fact that any Irish landlord was a Member of the Administration, or a friend of any Member of the Administration, or a friend of a friend of any Member of the Administration, was enough to make the Land Commissioners depart from their duty and give special favour to the landlord in question.
§ MR. SEXTON
I never said at all, nor conveyed in the remotest manner, that the Land Commissioners would depart from their duty. What I said was that the Executive would endeavour to induce them to depart from their duty, which is a very different thing.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he never should have thought of taking up the time of the Committee by repudiating the hon. Member's charge had he not thought that the hon. Member impugned the independence and honour of the Commissioners. He had felt bound to defend men who in the nature of the case were incapable of defending themselves, but he accepted in the fullest sense the explanation given by the hon. Member, which was not that the Land Commission was capable of any dishonourable action, but merely that the Executive were capable of endeavouring to incite them to a dishonourable action. He would not waste the time of the Committee by repudiating that charge—such a contention he did not mean in any way to touch upon—and he now came to the substance of the Amendment which the hon. Member had placed before the Committee. He confessed that on the first blush of the thing he felt great sympathy—as he thought he had already expressed to the Committee—with the objects which the hon. Member had in view. He should 239 himself desire to see the benefits which would be conferred by the Act spread as equally as possible over the whole of Ireland, so far, at all events, as the small tenants were concerned; but he saw considerable practical difficulties in the working of the suggestion which the hon. Member had made. In the first place, let them take that part of the Amendment which dealt with social order. The hon. Member said that the Commissioners were to have regard to the question of social order in distributing this money. What was that but putting a premium on disorder? What was that but to say to the tenantry—"You, who want to buy your farms, must, as a preliminary to this bargain, disturb the social order in which you live. You must repudiate your legal engagements. You must start the Plan of Campaign, and carry out all the other incidents of the present agrarian war, which is now unhappily raging over a considerable part of Ireland." That appeared to him to be a great objection to that clause in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman which dealt with social order. But there was another objection of even a wider description. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Land Commissioners, in sanctioning advances, were to have regard to dealing with certain cases afterwards specified. How were the Land Commissioners, however, to be able to approach those cases? The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) had suggested; that they should wait a few months, and at the end of a month consider all the claims which had been sent in to them, and then select the particular cases that corresponded with the category mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. But it must be clear to the Committee that that method of procedure would not suffice to fulfil the object contemplated. If the Commission were to carry out the suggestion of the hon. Member they must wait until the whole amount was applied for—it would not do to wait till the end of a month, and then select from amongst the applications given in during the course of that month, which applications should be granted; but they must wait until the whole £5,000,000 was absorbed and covered by applications, and then select the particular cases indicated in the Amendment. If they did not do that 240 they would not carry out the intention of the hon. Member.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Let them suppose that the Bill began on the 1st of January. The Commissioners would refuse to entertain any applications until the 31st of that month. At the end of January they would consider all the applications which had been sent in, and would have to select certain of them for favourable treatment. But on what principle were they to select or reject? They were not to reject them on the principle that the application was one which did not give security, because they would do that in any case. They were to select from among these applications; but as the total number for January, would not in all probability, cover the whole amount of £5,000,000, it was clear that the Commissioners would not reject any of these applications.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the Commissioners would have regard to certain directions in selecting the applications.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Certainly; but were they to reject tenants who could give perfect security, and who came under the provisions of the Bill, and would make in all respects admirable tenants? Were they to reject applications, not because they had received other applications in January, but because they possibly might receive other applications in February, March, April, or May, which they would think preferable to those particular tenants if they had to compare them? He thought the hon. Member would see the difficulty.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he did not see the difficulty. He thought that after a reasonable time had elapsed, if applications possessing the features set forth in his Amendment did not come in, then he would say they should accept such applications as they had received.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that if the Purchase Commission were to have these millions applied for at once it would be perfectly simple and easy for them to choose £5,000,000 worth of applications which best corresponded with the category laid down in the Amendment of the hon. Member; but if they only waited for a month, as suggested by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, or for two months, he was utterly 241 unable to see how they were to make a satisfactory selection. The point was rather a difficult one to make clear, but it lay at the root of the working of the Act, and it was the absolute impossibility of selecting amongst the possible and not actual candidates which made him disinclined to accept this Amendment. If the hon. Member could point out any means by which the difficulty he had described could be met he should be glad to consider it; but at present he was utterly unable to see how it could be dealt with.
§ MR. DILLON
said, that it seemed to him that some provision in this direction was necessary, and he thought it the duty of the Government, if they refused to accept this Amendment, to make some suggestion themselves. He did not intend to propose any Amendment to the proposition of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), but he threw out a suggestion which occurred to him in the course of this discussion, and which he thought worthy of consideration, and it was that a certain portion of this grant should be set aside throughout every county in Ireland, and that at least for a year or two, until an opportunity had been had for observing how the Act worked, certain districts and portions of Ireland should not be allowed to absorb the whole of this money to the exclusion of other districts. He might be permitted, before he addressed himself to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, to draw attention to the extraordinary way in which in different counties the Act would work. He would again point out to the Committee, and impress upon it the fact, that in advocating this measure, and in endeavouring to justify themselves in rushing it through the House in the extraordinary way they were doing, the Government had grounded their whole action on the plea that this was a great political measure, a measure which experience had proved to be the only effectual weapon with which to quell disorder and to satisfy certain agitators like himself (Mr. Dillon) in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had said, and he was cheered for it by Members of his Party, that if the Committee passed a regulation to the effect that the Commissioners were to have regard to the disturbed condition of certain districts in distributing this money, they 242 would immediately place a premium upon disorder. If that were the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Irish Members could retort by saying that the whole measure was a premium upon disorder. Could anyone say that Lord Ashbourne's Act would have had the smallest chance of passing that House if Ireland had been peaceable? He could convict the Government of inconsistency in this matter out of the mouths of their own speakers, so many of whom had declared that this Bill was the best means of restoring order and peacefulness, and putting an end to the Land League and land agitators in Ireland. It was absurd to say that the Amendment was a premium upon disorder when applied to certain districts, when they bore in mind the fact that neither England nor Scotland, which were peaceable, had had such a Bill as this prepared for them. Therefore, he maintained that the argument that any attempt to apply it to districts which were disturbed would be a premium upon disorder was most absurd. Let them examine how the money had been distributed in the past under Lord Ashbourne's Act. By the force of nature and irresistible law the money voted under Lord Ashbourne's Act, when left to find its own level without guidance of any kind, had gravitated towards the districts where it was least needed, where peace and good will as a rule characterized the relations existing between landlord and tenant. Up to the present, the county which had received by far the largest share of the money was Londonderry. He wished to ask hon. Members representing Londonderry if that was a county distinguished for turbulence and disorder? Why, they had been assured over and over again by those hon. Members that there was no part of England or Scotland more loyal and peaceful than Londonderry, and yet £770,000 of the money of the taxpayers of England had been poured into the pockets of the landowners of that county. He maintained that it was a monstrous thing that such a state of affairs should prevail. That was one of the incidents of the way in which this money was expended. Take, again, the County of Kildare. The portions of Kildare to which this money had gone were rich and prosperous—at any rate, they were well-to-do—he would 243 not call them prosperous, because, no doubt, they had been hit by the times. The money had gone in that district to farmers who were of a class more nearly approaching to the English farmers than those in any other part of Ireland. It was a grazing county, given up to large grazing tracts, and one of the few prosperous districts in Ireland. He found that in the whole Province of Leinster, Kildare had absorbed by far the largest amount of money distributed under the Act. He found that Kildare had absorbed £310,000, although it was a small county. The average grant per man in the county had been £800, which plainly proved that not one single individual in the county of Kildare, of that small class of proprietors which the House had been deluded into the belief had been benefited under this Act, had received any assistance. He found that the average acreage of the farms bought under the Act in the County Kildare had been 70 acres, and it therefore seemed to him that it was country gentlemen, and not peasant proprietors, that the Government had been creating under this Act. It was an extraordinary system to ask hon. Gentlemen to vote the money of the British taxpayer without making them aware of these facts, and to expect that hon. Gentlemen would go home that night under the comfortable impression that they were creating peasant proprietors in Ireland. To these two counties, Londonderry and Kildare, notwithstanding that neither of them had the smallest claim upon the grant, £1,000,000 had gone. Take another illustration to show that money, left to find its own level at its own sweet will, went to the districts where there was no trouble or disorder. In the County of Galway they found that 305 men had bought their farms, but what was the acreage of those 305 farms? Why, 1,400 acres, the average acreage of each farm being 50 acres, so that it was obvious that, although Galway was a disturbed county, and although it was in the rich and undisturbed and prosperous parts that the Act had been operating, no small proprietors had been created at all. Then, again, let them go to the County of Clare, the most disturbed of all the counties of Ireland—at any rate, the most disturbed for the 244 last year and a-half. If the contention of the Government were correct—namely, that the great argument in favour of this Bill was its efficacy in putting a stop to outrage and disorder, and putting an end to the League—there could be no county in Ireland in which it was more essential that the Act should be put into operation than Clare, as there was no county where there was more distress, and where there was more trouble and disturbance. In Clare, however, only 63 people had bought their farms, and the whole amount of the grant applied for was £31,000. He maintained that those figures utterly and absolutely condemned the Act. In the County of Leitrim, one of the poorest and most disturbed in Ireland, 168 people, most of them large farmers, had bought 4,000 acres, and £27,000 had been expended. So that the Committee would see that money, when left alone without direction, had found its way into districts where it was not needed, and, consequently, that it had not had the effect that they had heard so much about, of allaying disturbance and defeating the League. As to the people into whoso pockets the money had found its way—take the Duke of Abercorn, who had managed to sell his estates in the Counties of Tyrone and Donegal, and had raised the average of purchase to an enormous extent. In the County of Donegal the average rate was 207 years' rent, while in Tyrone the average was 19.1 years. That was a very good bargain for the Duke of Abercorn to have made, and he (Mr. Dillon) happened to know that in the eastern part of Donegal, where the greater part of the sales had taken place, the noble Duke had compelled his tenants to pay on the old unreduced rents. Many of the purchasers were leaseholders, and were preparing to go into the Land Court, when they were induced to buy at this enormous price of 20 years' purchase of the unreduced old rentals. These were all interesting and important facts, and he had no hesitation in saying that the transaction in question had enabled the Duke to get probably £50,000 more for his land than he would have got if this Act had not been passed, and if he had been obliged to sell in the open market. Now, he (Mr. Dillon) 245 wished to know was this the object for which the Act had been passed? Now, however, he came to the most serious question of all—and it was one which, let hon. Members mark, would be pressed upon the attention of Parliament again and again until some assurance with regard to it was received from the Government. He wanted to ask this—whatever their views were, and let them be as strong Party men as they liked—did hon. Gentlemen opposite consider it prudent, or wise, or even decent, for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to get 20 years' purchase out of these grants? The noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), speaking no longer ago than Saturday to his constituents, repudiated as a scandalous charge against him that he was personally interested in this matter, and that his father proposed to sell his estates in Ireland. The noble Marquess had said that no initiative had been taken on the Devonshire estates to sell to the tenants, and he (Mr. Dillon) was perfectly certain that neither the noble Marquess nor his father would do such a thing. He would consider it a shame to do so. In the case of the Lord Lieutenant, the Head of the Executive in Ireland, the same state of things ought to apply with ten-fold force, because the noble Marquess was not governing Ireland, but was merely an independent Member, although, no doubt, exercising a certain influence upon the decisions of the Government; but the Lord Lieutenant was the Head of the Executive, and therefore, to some extent, responsible for the granting of this money. Notwithstanding this, the Lord Lieutenant did not wait for his tenants to apply, but issued a more or less intimidating notice warning them that if they would not sign agreements for 20 years' purchase at the old unreduced rents, and abstain from going into the Land Courts, he would withdraw the reduction which he had been in the habit of allowing them. He thought that if the Head of the Executive in Ireland was a man of honour, and had a keener sense of what he owed to the Government and his Colleagues, he would not require his tenants to purchase under this Act for fear that it would be said that his hands were not clean. This nobleman, so far 246 from waiting to be asked to sell to his tenants, absolutely intimidated them into signing agreements, and hunted him (Mr. Dillon) away with his police when he went down to advise with the tenants. Surely this was not proper conduct on the part of the Head of the Irish Executive. The Committee was entitled to an assurance from the Government that if Lord Londonderry was to get £340,000 out of this £5,000,000 he should, at all events, be compelled to wait until the tenants called upon him to buy. No one had, as yet, opposed the principle for which he (Mr. Dillon) and his hon. Friends were contending. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had admitted that the principle for which they were contending was most right and desirable, but said he could not see his way to carry it out. There was one other point upon which he wished to make a last appeal to the Government before they passed from this particular part of the Bill. Over and over again he had addressed appeals to the Irish Government on the question of the congested districts. Year after year all authorities had concurred that if there were any parts of Ireland more than others which deserved the consideration of the House they wore the congested districts. In those districts the people were suffering most intensely, and less through their own fault than the people of any other part of Ireland; and yet here was a measure proposing a grant of £5,000,000 to the distressed tenantry of Ireland, but such was the arrangement of the Bill that not 1s. of the £5,000,000 could, by any possibility, find its way into the congested districts. He contended that it would be very easy to introduce words directing the Commissioners to apply, say, £500,000 of this money to the congested districts. Belief was more easily brought to those districts than to other districts in Ireland. It was a fact, noticed by all observers, that the poorer the soil, the greater the rack-renting. He could show hundreds of acres of land in his constituency let from 10s. 6d. to £1 per acre—land which, in this country, would be waste. By far the cruellest exhibitions of rack-renting were in the poorer districts. Why was Parliament going to vote this money? Apparently, a great deal of the money would go where it was not 247 wanted at all. No care was to be taken that even the smallest portion of it should find its way into the poorest district. Any reasonable valuator would decide hat eight or ten years' purchase should be the outside limit of any of the Mayo estates. What would be the result of purchase on those terms? They would be able, without any injustice to the landlords—on the contrary, they would probably get a great deal more than the market value—to cut down one-half of the entire rent of the farms in the congested districts, and at the same time get rid of all arrears, and in that way enable these unhappy people to start again. On what ground did the Government defend their conduct in this matter? After the discussions which had taken place in the Committee, it would be very difficult to get any more millions out of the British taxpayer, and, therefore, he most earnestly urged the Government to utilize at least £500,000 of this last grant of £5,000,000 for the relief of the congested districts.
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
said, that hon. Members opposite talked a great deal about their care for the pockets of the British taxpayer, and about the security on which the money should be lent, but surely this Amendment was proposed utterly regardless of the interests of the British taxpayer, and utterly regardless of the security under which the money should be advanced. [Cries of "Not at all."] Yes; the Amendment seemed to him to disqualify from the benefits of this Bill all those tenants who resided in the quiet and more prosperous districts of Ireland. If they disqualified the tenants in the most prosperous parts of the country from coming in at all under the Bill, and threw the whole of this money into those parts where the tenants were less prosperous, that would greatly injure the security upon which the money was advanced. He objected to the disqualification of any tenants in Ireland. He was most unwilling to disqualify even the tenants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, about whom they had heard so much that evening. Why should those men, because they happened to be the tenants of a great nobleman like the Lord Lieutenant, be disqualified? He objected strongly to 248 this Amendment, and hoped that the Committee would not assent to it.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, it was a pity hon. Gentlemen opposite did not take the trouble to study the Amendments which were proposed. He utterly failed to understand how a man of the hon. Gentleman's (Sir Roper Lethbridge's) intelligence could have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), and then get up and make the speech he had just made. The hon. Gentleman spoke of giving, in certain cases, a preference to a certain class of tenants. [Sir ROPER LETHBRIDGE: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman picked out one little point of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast, and thought that was sufficient ground for the rejection of the Amendment. The hon. Member for West Belfast distinctly contended that in every case the security should be the first consideration. If the security was not sufficient—if the Commissioners wore not satisfied as to the security—then no preference was asked for anyone. It would be absurd and ridiculous for anyone to get up and ask that, for some outside reason, bad security should be accepted. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had a knack of assuring them that he was in entire sympathy with most of their Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman had gone further that night, for he had said that this Amendment was a very good one. The right hon. Gentleman thought the object of the Amendment was an exceedingly good one, and yet, although he was in charge of the Bill, and had all the legal staff at his disposal, he asked them to frame the Amendment in such a way that it might be accepted. Was it not time that the Government did something to put the Amendment in such legal terms that it could be accepted? It was not the business of hon. Members to construct Acts of Parliament; it was their business to criticize them. They were not the draftsmen of Amendments, or of Bills. The Government were bound to make some effort to put into such words as could be accepted the Amendment of his hon. Friend. The speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) had given double effect to the observations of the hon. Member the Mover of 249 the Amendment. His hon. Friend had pointed out the absolute failure of the object of this Bill. He (Mr. Molloy) went a step further, and asserted that, as the Ashbourne Act had been carried out, it was a fraud upon the English taxpayer. The Act was passed for the purpose of relieving small and impoverished and disturbed tenants in Ireland, but the money granted had gone into the pockets of the rich tenants and the rich landlords in that portion of Ireland which was not disturbed, and which did not require the money.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, it struck him, while listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, that the only one obstacle in the way of the acceptance of the Amendment was that if the Commissioners were considering applications on a certain date they would be obliged to put aside certain applications in the hope that some other applications would be made subsequently. He (Mr. Sexton) thought that the Commissioners might examine all the applications periodically, and be at liberty to dispose of all the applications then on hand. He thought, for instance, that the Commissioners might proceed to consider applications at the end of each period of three months after the passing of the Act.
§ MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, that the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) began his speech by finding great fault with the working of the Act, because so much of the money had been appropriated to the county of Londonderry. There were two points which made the County of Londonderry pre-eminently fitted for the establishment of a system of occupying proprietors. The large London Companies owned a great part of the County of Derry, and if there was any sort of landlord they wished to disestablish it was the absentee landlord. Anyone examining the Return would see that the average price that the tenant farmers paid for their holdings in Derry was £15 a-year. That, to his mind, was a sum at which an occupying proprietorship might well be established. On less than that a man could hardly live. The hon. Member for East Mayo thought Clare was the most disturbed county in Ireland, and that there the Act had been the least used. The hon. Gentleman also went on to say that in 250 that county they were the most powerful—that was to say, the National League. He put it to the hon. Gentleman whether the reason why the Act had not worked in County Clare was that the hon. Gentleman and his Friends never advised the tenants in County Clare to buy? Reference had been made to the congested districts. They could not safely work this Act in congested districts. For instance, in West Donegal, on Captain Hill's estate, there were about 760 tenants, paying £720 a-year in the shape of rent, or less than £1 per head. Was it possible there could be any good security given by a tenant paying less than £1 a-year?
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N. W.)
said, he thought that, as an English Member, he was entitled, in common with his brother English Members, to have some clear definition as to the principle on which this money was to be applied. Personally, he was absolutely opposed to the pledging of English credit for the purpose of buying out the Irish landlords. This Act of Parliament he understood was aimed at relieving the agitation and the friction which unhappily existed in Ireland between the landlords and the tenants by destroying dual ownerships. That he understood to be the scope and purpose of this Bill; but he found there were two main and radical objections against the Bill. One was that it was unfair in its application, because they had not arrived at a sound basis on which the tenants were to buy; and the other was that the Act had not been equitably administered. When he said they had not equitably administered the Act, he meant that tenants had been assisted to purchase whose position did not render it necessary that they should purchase. He had gone very carefully through the statistics, and through the evidence which had been given before the Royal Commissioners, and he found two pieces of evidence which he, with great respect, asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to explain. There was an estate in the county of Roscommon which was known as the Taaffe estate. That was a very large estate, and it was almost exclusively owned by poor tenants. He did not take the evidence from any source which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would regard as tainted. It was the evidence 251 of the O'Conor Don given before the Royal Commission. The O'Conor Don said—The landlords have, with the mortgagees, offered to sell all the holdings on the Taaffe estate for 30 years' purchase.The Commissioners under Lord Ashbourne's Act wrote declining the advance, and the grounds of their refusal were that the bulk of the holdings were occupied by a large and poor population. A reply was sent to the Commissioners under Lord Ashbourne's Act, pointing out that if the purchase were sanctioned there would be a margin of £1,000 per annum between the judicial rent and the rent which would be fixed under the Purchase Clauses of the Act. Now, he desired to know why, under these circumstances, the purchase was not sanctioned? The second matter to which he wished to draw attention was a written Report of Mr. Adair. Mr. Adair was a gentleman who had been for many years connected with the sale of landed property in Ireland under various Acts of Parliament, and he said—The first year of the working of the Ashbourne Act shows that the entire number of loans over all Ireland was only 2,426, of which no less than 1,175, or nearly half, were for property in the county of Londonderry. The loans so sanctioned for application to the county of Londonderry are chiefly for the estates of the London Companies, with clear unencumbered title, managed at all times with great liberality, and the sale of which in no way affects individual receipts.Mr. Adair observed, in conclusion—These estates in all Ireland less require State subvention.He (Mr. Atherley-Jones) had endeavoured to the best of his ability to understand the basis of the principle on which this Land Act had been applied, and he was driven to the conclusion that they were relieving tenants who were on perfectly good relations with their landlords, and were doing nothing at all to mitigate the volume of agitation which existed in Ireland. From whatever side of the House any scheme of land purchase came under the sanction of English security it would meet with his opposition. At the same time, since the Government had a moribund majority which would undoubtedly carry this Bill, the Opposition must do the very best they could in order to render the Bill what it was in its principle 252 intended to be—namely, a destruction of dual ownership in cases where tenants were suffering from the exactions of their landlords.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he did not object to dual ownership per se. He did not think that it was altogether a failure, any more than he thought marriage was a failure; but what was possible was, that when the parties did not get on well together it was desirable to resort to the system of purchase. If Ulster stood alone in this matter, they would not have entered upon a heroic measure giving the money of the British taxpayer in order to separate proprietors and tenants. In Ulster proprietors and tenants had got on tolerably well together. In Ulster, where they were not specially wanted, very nice small proprietors had been set up. In other parts of Ireland, wherever they bad created the new ownership, most of the money went to those who were not peasant proprietors, but large farmers. That was a state of things which required some remedy. He could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, looking at this Amendment so favourably as he did, had not accepted it, or suggested something of his own in its place. It was not desired by the Amendment to tie the hands of the Commissioners. All they wanted to do was to provide that the money should be spent where there was most need of its being spent, and where it would do the most good.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
said, he thought that they ought to press the Front Bench a little more upon this point. An hour ago the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary expressed sympathy with the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). Surely the right hon. Gentleman could find some practical way of giving effect to that sympathy. He (Mr. Flynn) protested against the tone the right hon. Gentleman had adopted when he defended the Lord Lieutenant and the Duke of Abercorn and other large proprietors who had sold their estates, or were going to sell them. The attacks made on these gentlemen were not made because the gentlemen were Members of the Executive, or connected with the Executive, or friends of the friends of the Executive. It was abuses which were attacked, and if the very ugly cap 253 fitted the Lord Lieutenant and the Duke of Abercorn so much the worse for those gentlemen. The most extraordinary argument was brought forward that, because the London Companies had got on very well with their tenants in regard to prices, they were all the more entitled to the benefit of the Act. Was it a fact that the money under the former Act, which was passed by the Committee, was for the benefit of estates of that kind? The Committee would find that in Londonderry the landlords had received £740,000, whereas in Donegal, which required the benefit of the Act to a much larger extent, only £224,000, or nearly a third less, was advanced, so that not alone did this argument apply to Clare and portions of Connaught, but also to Ulster itself. His hon. Friends the Members for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) and East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) had waited in the hope that the Committee would receive an intimation from the Government that they would do something to meet the object in view; but, although they had expressed some sympathy with the object, they had given no proof of any sympathy with the Amendment. He wanted hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider that the Amendment stipulated that the Commissioners should, as the very first condition of an advance, be quite satisfied as to the security for the money. It did not mean that the money should be advanced to tenants who would be unable to repay it; it would be advanced to the tenants, but the Amendment carried with it the condition that the number of years' purchase would be considerably less, and, therefore, the amount of rent would be less than they had found it possible to pay up to the present. The condition of the tenants would be materially benefited by this, and they would be able to carry on the instalments with as much case as tenants in any other part of the country. It was not the congested state of the districts which produced all the turmoil in Ireland. It was a fact that the landlords recognized that the land was so poor, that rents must go down to a greater extent than they had done, and that they were not anxious to adopt the initiative under the Act, because, if they did, the Land Commissioners would not sanction the transaction. If some Amendment like the present were not accepted, the Act 254 would aggravate the existing danger in a double sense. In the first place, a large portion of the money would be spent in the pnrchase of estates on which there existed little or no difficulty between the landlord and the tenants, and the result would be that the Commissioners being unable to advance the money on bad security, there would be a continual temptation to the rack-renting landlords to keep on the screw as long as possible, and to refuse the benefit of the Act to the unfortunate tenants. For these reasons he repeated that, unless some such Amendment as that proposed by the hon. Member for West Belfast were accepted, the entire money would be expended with a minimum amount of good to the tenants, and of security to the British taxpayers.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said, he desired to impress on the Government that they should give the Commissioners a chance of carrying out their desire of pacifying Ireland. He believed that in Kerry the Act would be largely availed of, and would be the means of introducing peace to that county; that the small proprietors would purchase under the Act, and that after a certain number of years tranquillity would prevail in the district. In Londonderry he found that the tenement valuation and the rents were on a par, and that purchases had been made at 17.5 years, and that in Kerry purchases had been made at 15.6 years. But if hon. Members looked at the adjacent column they would find that by dividing the purchase money by the valuation, 26 and 27 years' purchase had been sanctioned in the County of Kerry, and it must be remembered with regard to Kerry that the loan was to be made on improvements effected by the tenants themselves, whereas in other counties it was upon the improvements and expenditure of the landlord. It was this difficulty which the Government could remove by adopting the Amendment. Of course, it would be preposterous to argue that they should wait until a district was disturbed before the grant was made, and he was sure that the Commissioners would not be so foolish as so to interpret their powers. Hon. Members on those Benches had shown that they were sincerely desirous of doing everything which would conduce to the peace of the disturbed districts, 255 and the hon. Gentleman opposite had indulged in a very small point a little while ago when he said there was no security in those districts, because the prime element to be taken into account by the Commissioners was that there should be security. And, again, when it was said that there was no more reason for giving the money to the poor farmers than to the wealthy farmers, the answer to that argument was that the Bill might as well be applied to the whole of England. He believed in all sincerity that the Government, by adopting this Amendment and making this suggestion to the Commissioners, would be doing a great amount of good.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, it was of no use to cry over spilt milk; £5,000,000 had gone in an experiment which, had the House foreseen the result, he believed would not have been sanctioned. If, however, the Amendment were carried, there was some hope that, at any rate, the second experiment might he successful. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) had over and over again declared that it was the object of the Government to meet the distress or mitigate the pressure of agrarian life in Ireland, and to make the Bill in reality an antidote to the mischief occasioned by the National League in that country. If the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way that evening to adopt the Amendment, he (Mr. Illingworth) hoped that before the Bill left the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman would consider the matter, in order that the House of Commons might not be utterly deluded as to where this £5,000,000 would go.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, it seemed to him that those who were seemingly most anxious to protect the ratepayers' money were in reality anxious that it should go into districts where there was most danger of it being advanced on bad security—districts in which they maintained that the people could not live if they had the land for nothing.
§ MR. DILLON
said, the hon. Member went down and took part with the crowbar brigade in places where the tenants would not continue to pay high rents for land which, as he said, was worth 256 nothing. He had told the British taxpayer what he thought his security was, and he thought they were justified in taking the Government at their own word, who said they wanted the money in order to bring peace and contentment to the poverty-stricken districts of Ireland. Now they had the champion of loyal Ulster wanting to do what those loyal gentlemen had always done—nanely, to bury their arms elbow-deep in the money of the British taxpayer. [Laughter.] It was perfectly true that the Loyalists of Ulster were always ready to take the lion's share in what those who represented the South had run risks for and won; they ran no risk, but they came down and proclaimed loudly that the Ulster tenants must have the largest share of money voted by Parliament. He was perfectly sure that if the taxpayers had understood the use to which the money would be applied not 1s. would have been voted.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, that the tenants of the districts he had lately visited were very much better off than those in many parts of Ulster, and their rents wore a great deal lower.
§ DR. FITZGERALD (Longford, S.)
said, he was a British taxpayer, and also a taxpayer in Ireland, and had certainly no desire to rob the British taxpayer. He and his hon. Friends had objected to the Vote altogether, because they knew it would be used for favouring a few Irish landlords and a few Irish tenants. In listening to the discussions of that evening he had been very much surprised by an hon. Gentleman on that side mentioning that the money now asked for was to be spent in buying land for men in Ireland who possessed more land there than he did himself. It had been stated by the hon. Gentleman that a man who would obtain an advance under the Act held about 1,000 acres, which he had purchased under Lord Ashbourne's Act. He thought he had never heard a more demoralizing speech delivered on any platform than that which the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) delivered on a recent occasion. The noble Lord said he was the trustee of the British taxpayer, but a few moments afterwards the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) came down and told the House that the money now asked 257 for was not the money of the British taxpayer at all. As one of the British taxpayers, all he would say, with regard to the declaration of the noble Lord who claimed to be his trustee, was that the sooner some court stepped in and discharged him from his trust the better he should like it.
said, he must remind the hon. Gentleman that there was an Amendment before the Committee, and that the observations he had to make should be in connection with it.
§ DR. FITZGERALD
said, he wanted to be sure that this money would go to the disturbed districts and not to the wealthy landlords and tenants in Ireland. That was the question immediately before the Committee, and he thought the noble Lord would have to account for his trust if the money now voted should be wasted in the interest of the rich landlords and not spent in improving the condition of the poorer tenants in Ireland.
§ MR. SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
said, there appeared to be some doubt on the opposite Benches as to whether something ought not to be done by way of concession to this Amendment; but on the other hand the Government said there should be no concession. He and his hon. Colleagues simply wanted this money to be divided equally; they did not want to deprive Ulster of its fair share, but they protested against what appeared to be the offer of a bribe. If the land in Ulster was of such a class as that indicated by the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), his hon. Friends were willing that it should be relieved just as well as the congested districts in any other part of Ireland. But the experience of the hon. Gentleman extended only to evicted districts, where he said the land was as good as any in Ulster, and he did not tell the Committee that the land had been manufactured by the tenants and by them alone.
said, he must point out to the hon. Gentleman that he was not speaking to the Amendment before the Committee.
§ MR. SHEEHY
said, he was trying to point out that Members on those Benches wanted the money to go to the relief of the congested districts and not be squandered in places where it was not required. They contended not that 258 Ulster should not have its fair share, but that the majority of the money should not go there. If the right hon. Gentleman objected to the Amendment only because it was not well drafted, he hoped some Member of the Government would rise and say that they would embody the principle which it contained in some other form.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Oldham)
said, he rose to say a few words only, because hon. Gentlemen opposite persisted in confusing the present Bill with some general scheme for the relief of tenants in Ireland. He had understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week to say that the Bill was entirely distinct from any scheme for that purpose which the Government might introduce at a future time. This was a measure for advancing money of the State on good security, and naturally those persons who were able to give such security knew that they were making a good bargain by going to their landlords and arranging to purchase their holdings. He should of course be unwilling to see any money of the State advanced on what was not good security. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite had asked that part of this money should be given to the congested districts. Well, would that be expending the money on good security, when they had it from hon. Members themselves that any money invested in those districts would be a bad investment? They had heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) utter the ominous word "repudiation." The hon. Member for East Mayo had made many sinister prophecies, and had always had the advantage of being able to watch over the fulfilment of his own predictions. If money were granted to tenants in the congested districts of Ireland who had no tenant right worthy of the name, and who, if they got their land for nothing, would hardly be able to live on it, what would be the result? The hon. Member said he had told the tenants that they must either fight for their land or pay for it, but there was a more excellent way. The tenants could either come to this House from time to time to get their arrears wiped off or they could come and purchase under a Bill of this kind, and then, if they thought it inconvenient to pay 259 their instalments, they could repudiate their bargain. Who would buy the land of these tenants supposing they did not pay their instalments and the land was put up for sale? Why, it had been very pertinently pointed out by one of the Irish Members only recently that he should be very sorry for the man who bought under such circumstances. There would soon be another combination of the kind they had heard so much about lately established for the purpose of preventing people buying. As an English Member he was opposed to the advance of a single shilling on such security as this. Such a Bill could only properly be carried out for a purely benevolent purpose, but in the present instance the objects in view were not solely benevolent, because it was maintained that the Bill merely contemplated the advance of money upon good security. It was only by a benevolent Bill that they could hope to carry out their purpose of settling the Irish Land Question, and such a proposal was not now before the House. He doubted if there was any real economical justification for the present measure. An hon. Member below the Gangway opposite had said very fairly to-night, why should this money be advanced to the thriving and prosperous tenants in Ireland unless they were prepared to do the same in England? As a matter of fact, the Government were building up a precedent which might be used against them when they came to deal with the enfranchisement of leaseholders in England.
pointed out that the hon. Gentleman was now going into a wide question, which was outside the limits of the Amendment before the Committee.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN
said, that in deference to the Chairman's ruling, he would abstain from enlarging on the point. He would say, in conclusion, that whatever might be argued for or against a Bill of this kind, it could not be made a part of such a general project as Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite would wish to see carried out.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
said, the hon. Gentleman had repudiated all benevolence on the part of the Conservative Party, but he did not think that that repudiation was necessary, as it was pretty well understood now that the whole origin of this Bill was to 260 enable London Companies and large landed proprietors to clear out of Ireland. No doubt the Bill was a good thing for the London Companies interested in land in Ireland, because formerly those Companies had to spend a great deal of money on the improvement of their properties, and were thus unable to spend so much on dinners in London, and now that they were relieved from this necessity of incurring expense on the improvement of their estates, they could devote the whole of their incomes to dinners. He did not, however, attribute any bad motives to the London Companies, because, seeing that the money was going begging, they no doubt had a perfect right to get as much of it as they could. He looked upon the way in which this Bill was being conducted through the House as a very good sample of their whole method of governing Ireland. In the days of Liberal Governments, even when those Governments contained a large number of Unionists, it was always considered to the interest of the Administration when money was about to be expended on schemes of this kind—on drainage and tramway schemes—to ask the Irish Members their opinion as to how the money should be distributed. But the present Government, with the present Bill in hand, did not think of asking the Irish Members for their opinion. The Government ought to say, "We intend to get so much money and then we will take the advice of the Irish Members how the greatest amount of good can be done with it without incurring the danger of bad security and without entailing any further expenditure." No doubt the Government could make this £5,000,000 do a great deal of good in Ireland if they properly distributed it, but he thought it would require a very powerful microscope to see the good which was being done at present by Lord Ashbourne's Act. No doubt that Act had done good to individuals, but he would defy anyone to point out a single instance where it had improved the social condition and done good to the community at large. If, however, the Government accepted the Amendment, an Instruction would be given to the Commissioners to take a little trouble in order to see that the money was expended in a way that would do some good to the localities. No one would expect 261 that a number of small tenants would get as good terms as one large tenant, and if the Committee did not accept this Amendment, or something like it, it would be an inducement to the Purchase Commissioners to act in regard to these purchases in the future as they had done in the past.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
said, he thought that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Maclean) had fundamentally misapprehended the case so far as this Amendment was concerned. The matter of security was not at all in question on the Amendment. His contention was that the Commissioners would not lend one penny in any case unless the security was ample. The hon. Gentleman was unwilling to lend upon anything but a binding security, and he (Mr. Sexton) was also unwilling to do so, but he asked, not only that the Commissioners should see that the security was abundant, but that they should give preference in granting applications to those which gave promise of bringing advantage to the class of small tenants for whom that Act was intended, and to those cases where social order would be promoted and in which dangerous pressure upon the tenants would be relieved. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would see that the supporters of this Amendment had no intention of risking the interest of the British or Irish taxpayer. The Chief Secretary for Ireland admitted that the object of the Amendment was good and that he wished to see it carried out, but did not see his way to effect that object himself. He (Mr. Sexton) had suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that there should be a periodical examination of the applications, but to that suggestion the right hon. Gentleman did not deign a reply, and he was afraid, having regard to the policy of the Government, which was first a policy of impotence, and secondly a policy of silence, it was no use prolonging the debate, and they might therefore come to a Division.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 180: Majority 62.—(Div. List, No. 306.)
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he would now ask the Government to agree to report 262 Progress. He appealed particularly to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this ground. The right hon. Gentleman must know that it was an old custom in years gone by never to vote money after 12 o'clock at night. Well, they were now going to vote £5,000,000 of the money of the country at 1 o'clock in the morning. He did not at this moment say that the Government should not vote this money, but his contention was that if they did it should be done at a reasonable time. It should be remembered, also, that when the House was in the habit of meeting at 4 o'clock Members usually got very tired by midnight, but now the House commenced business at 3 o'clock, so that Members got even more tired than formerly. Besides, they had had a very exciting night, and, besides, the Members recorded on the last Division showed that the Government were utterly wearied out and could not put forward their full strength. He submitted that they should not force the Bill through at this hour and weary still further a drowsy Committee. He begged to move that the Chairman report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
wished to point out that early in the sitting they had passed a Resolution that proceedings on the Land Purchase Bill should be continued after 12 o'clock at night. He was bound to say that his experience of the way in which money was voted in the House of Commons did not agree with that of the hon. and gallant Member, because, to the best of his recollection, most of the money was always voted after 1 o'clock. He thought the Committee might proceed a little further with this Bill.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said, he thought the Government might be very well allowed to finish Clause 1, and then the new Clause which he (Mr. John Morley) intended to bring forward could be disposed of and settled. He did not think it would take long to deal with his new Clause.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
hoped the Motion for reporting Progress would not be pressed. In justice, however, 263 to the Attorney General, who had to be at an important inquiry at 10 o'clock in the morning, he trusted that they would not continue the Sitting very much longer.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, that in deference to all the arguments which had been addressed to him from both sides of the House, he would withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, that at this late hour (1.5) he would not detain the Committee more than a moment or two in moving the Clause which stood in his name. The Clause was in itself, as he hoped the Government were prepared to admit, a perfectly reasonable and fair one, and the only argument it was necessary to advance on its behalf was to be found in the course in which the debate had taken. The whole course of the debate had been impeded and fettered by want of information on the part of Members of the House as to the actual facts connected with the operation of the Ashbourne Act. They had had to debate the Bill on the strength of scraps of information flung across the Table from time to time by the Representatives of the Irish Government, and he thought it was felt in every part of the House that such a method of procuring information was not a proper one. Moreover, they had been told constantly by the Government that the Bill was of the nature of an experiment. The particulars he had enumerated in his new Clause were the only means, so far as he could tell, of testing the success, the value, and the bearings of this experiment. If the operation of the Bill was experimental, the House ought to have from time to time, and he thought the interval of three months was not too long, the means of judging how the Bill was working. First of all they ought to know what kind of security the Government took for its very large advances, and in the second place they ought to know what was perhaps more important—namely, what was the distribution and allocation of the funds provided by the Bill. He need not go through the particulars. The justice of the principle of the particulars was admitted by the Chief Secretary, and the right hon. Gentleman 264 had stated that he hoped the Land Commissioners would be able, in reference to the expenditure of the first £5,000,000, to supply the House with the information. He trusted, therefore, that the Chief Secretary would see no difficulty in the way of complying with this request.
§ New Clause:—
The Land Commissioners shall once in every throe months make a report to the Lord Lieutenant, and every such report shall be laid before Parliament, stating how many holdings within each period of three months have been purchased under the provisions of this Act of an annual valuation under ten pounds, how many over ten pounds and not exceeding thirty pounds, over thirty pounds and not exceeding fifty pounds, over fifty pounds and not exceeding one hundred pounds, and how many over one hundred pounds; also the average number of years purchase of the net rental paid under each of the above divisions; the sum advanced in each division; the sum advanced in each county; the number of cases in which the sum advanced was between two thousand pounds and four thousand pounds; the number of cases in which the advance exceeded four thousand pounds; the number of applications in which advances were refused; the names of the vendors in cases where advances were sanctioned, and the amounts of the advance; and the number of sales in the case of each such vendor.—(Mr. John Morley.)
§ —brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman had complained of the want of information. Allow him to point out that the Act had been in operation three years, and that there had been an Annual Report by the Commissioners in regard to the working of the Act. If during the three years any Member of the House had felt the want of information he had only to move for a Return in order to get the information. He presumed that the want of information had never been felt until the time came for the discussion of this Bill. There was really no reason for asking for this information, because the information had not to do with the sum now required. ["Oh, oh!"] At all events he did not wish to make that a controversial point. He did not think it was convenient; it certainly was not the usual course to introduce a Clause of this kind in a Bill. The proper and usual course was to move for a 265 periodical Return giving the information required. If the right hon. Gentleman chose to move for a Return he (Mr. Balfour) would certainly support him in obtaining it. He would have, however, before the right hon. Gentleman moved for the Return, to get a report from the Land Commissioners as to any clerical or other difficulties in the way. If the right hon. Gentleman thought that course unsatisfactory, if he still adhered in spite of any opposition, if there was any opposition on the part of the Committee, to the particulars in the shape he desired, he (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would support him in moving that those particulars should be given. He hoped this assurance, this pledge, which he gave on behalf of the Government, would suffice to meet the view of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, he was very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but he would like to understand whether the Chief Secretary meant that this was to be a recurrent Return which he (Mr. John Morley) or some other Member was from time to time to move for?
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
confessed that he did not think that was nearly so satisfactory as the automatic production of the Return by the Commissioners themselves. He would not press the condition that the Return should be quarterly. He did not at all mind making it half-yearly, but he thought it would be more reasonable that the Land Commissioners, without any intervention on the part of any Member, should produce the information.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that in each of the two preceding Sessions of Parliament this suggestion had been made. In each case it was struggled against by the Government, but in each case it was carried. In the Criminal Law and Procedure Act of last year it was provided that there should be published quarterly in The Dublin Gazette a Return of the inquiries held during the preceding quarter and of other matters. In the Peace Preservation Act of 1886 it was provided that there should be published monthly a Return of the Counties Proclaimed and other particulars. Could anything be more absurd than the opposition of the Government 266 to grant the Return suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle. The attempt to carry a Bill without Amendment, in order to avoid the Report stage, always produced disastrous consequences. It was always better for the Government to accept reasonable Amendments; personally he would be no party to delaying the Bill on the Report stage; indeed, if the Government would accept reasonable Amendments in Committee, he would undertake not to have any Amendment on the Report stage. He appealed to the Government to accept this proposal. It was admitted they had not sufficient information, and he blamed the Front Opposition Bench for not insisting on having the Blue Book before they considered the Bill. Why did not the Leaders of the Opposition demand the presentation of the Blue Book? In 1881, when the Irish Nationalist Party were a small party, and they did not get a Return from Mr. Forster, they kept the right hon. Gentleman up for three nights. He certainly thought they had been very generous to the Government in allowing them to have this Bill without any information. They did not know yet whether the Duke of Abercorn had got £300,000; whether he had got it under the last Act or was going to get it under this Act. He appealed to the Government to act reasonably in this matter, and give Parliament the information desired.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
thought the most convenient course would be that he should move for a quarterly Return, if it be a quarterly Return that was decided upon. He would like, however, to consult the Land Commissioners as to the form of the Return. The Return could be made a recurrent one, such as the right hon. Gentleman desired.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, it occurred to him that the carrying out of the arrangement suggested by the Chief Secretary would be a reflection on the Commissioners. It would imply a suspicion that something was going on which was not right. Many of them would not forget the House of Lords interfering with the jurisdiction of the Land Commission at a certain critical moment. It undoubtedly would be more respectful to the Land Commission that this clause should appear in the Bill. The precedents 267 quoted by the hon. and learned Member for North Longford ought surely to satisfy the Government as to the justice of the clause.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, he did not see what difference it would make to the Commissioners whether they produced the Return of their own accord, or rather by the order of the Statute, or produced it on the Motion or by the direction of the right hon. Gentleman. So far as the Commissioners and the House of Commons were concerned, the result would be precisely the same. The Commissioners would produce the Return, and the House would have the benefit of it. Why, therefore, should it not be done in a regular and orderly way, by a direction in the Statute ordering the Commissioners to produce the Return? He failed to see what was gained by making the production of the Return dependent upon the occasional action of the Chief Secretary, instead of on the natural and spontaneous action of the Commissioners themselves.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he had two reasons for preferring the course he bad suggested to the right hon. Gentleman. His first reason was that his course was the more usual one. There were any number of Returns presented by the Local Government Board and other Boards—monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, and annual Returns, not imposed by Statute, but granted in the manner he proposed to grant this. It was not wise to overload the Statute Book by regulations of this kind. Besides, the course he proposed possessed the additional convenience that they could alter the form of the Return without altering the Statute. His second reason was of a somewhat less general character, and it was that, before assenting to the particular form of the Return, he should be glad if both the right hon. Gentleman and he could have some opportunity of hearing what the Land Commissioners had to say upon the matter. He had distinctly committed himself that if right hon. Gentlemen offered any objection to that, he would abide by the right hon. Gentleman's Return, and would, as far as he could, overrule the Commissioners. He was persuaded the Committee would feel he had dealt in the most open manner with the right hon. Gentleman, and that there could be no valid reason for rejecting the course he had suggested.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he found it was provided by the 55th section of the Land Act of 1881, that the Land Commissioners should once in every year make a Report to the Lord Lieutenant as to their proceedings under the Act, and that every such Report should be presented to Parliament, and clearly it had been the practice to put into all these Acts stringent provisions as to the making of Reports. Information would certainly be required when Mr. Wrench was put in a position to average the price of the land. They must have some bit in the mouth of Mr. Wrench. That gentleman was boasting at the Kildare Street Club that he was going to be the boss of the Land Commissioners; he was an Englishman, and naturally he was going to set Irishmen right. The Chief Secretary proposed that he should move for the Return; but the right hon. Gentleman might be out of Office any day. He might be promoted to a higher position, and then they would have his successor to face, who, he (Mr. T. M. Healy) understood, was to be the present Naval Lord of the Admiralty. The new Chief Secretary might not feel bound by the declarations of his Predecessor, and might ask them why they did not get directions as to the Return inserted in the Act. Therefore, they might reasonably require that the Act should provide that a general Report should be presented. The form of the Report could be made matter of future arrangement.
§ MR. SEXTON
thought it must be generally agreed that the argument of the Chief Secretary was unfounded. The right hon. Gentleman said that the course he suggested was the most usual and the most convenient. It was neither the one nor the other. Three cases had been cited in which in Acts relating to Ireland provisions had been inserted as to the making of Reports to Parliament. So far as his memory served him, whenever powers were confided to any bodies or boards, provision was put in the Act directing the persons to inform Parliament from time to time of the manner in which their powers were exercised. If the clause of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne were adopted, the Land Commissioners would be directed as to what they had to do every three months. If what the Chief Secretary ventured to call the more convenient course were 269 adopted, the result would be that at the end of every three months a Motion would have to be made in the House for a Return. That would be all very well for the six months when the House was sitting, but during the six months of Recess who was to move for a quarterly Return? What was the reason for delay? The right hon. Gentleman wished to consult, first the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and then the Land Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne had said what he thought about the matter, and, therefore, there was no use consulting him any more about it. Then, why should the Land Commissioners be consulted? Did the House know what they wanted, or did they not? They were the Representatives of the people, and the Land Commissioners were their paid servants. The course was most unusual and inconvenient, and the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was one, in his opinion, which was neither respectful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne nor to the House of Commons.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
said, he had the strongest possible objection to bargains made across the Table of the House, which were not respectful to Gentlemen below the Gangway; and if there were no other objection, he should object to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, with his usual wiliness, trying to thrust this bargain on the Front Opposition Bench. If hon. Gentlemen on those Benches were to be asked, he should refuse for one moment to be bound by any such pledge as that offered, by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. As to the refusal to accept the Amendment on the ground of consulting the Commissioners, these gentlemen, as the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) had said, were their paid servants, and to consult them in this matter would be similar to Mr. Speaker consulting the Clerks at the Table, which, of course, they know he never did. He had a strong conviction that the Government, which was very squeezable, only wanted time to allow them to make this concession; and, probably, when they were able to withdraw their attention from the contest at Holborn, they would consult the wishes of the House, and accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 270 He was most desirous of facilitating the measure; and, therefore, with the object of lubricating the machinery, he would move that Progress be reported.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Conybeare.)
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, he did not wish, as the hon. Member had suggested, to rely upon the squeezableness of the Government; he preferred to appeal to their reasonableness. If the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to accept the clause of the Act of 1881 enjoining the Commissioners to make a Return—every six months, as he would prefer—he could not help thinking that would be the best way out of the difficulty.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Annual Return of the Commissioners as if they were working under the Act of 1881. He thought the Committee would feel it to be superfluous to overload the Commissioners with a power which they were already in the habit of using, and that hon. Members would see that he had offered the right hon. Gentleman everything he asked for in the form in which it was most usually granted. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) said that because the Commissioners were the paid servants of the House—which, by the way, they were not—they should be required to make a certain Return without considering the propriety or the cost of so doing. He did not want to seem obstinate, but he thought it desirable that the Government should have an oppportunity of hearing what the Commissioners had to say on the subject.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, he did not want to appear obstinate either; but, at the same time, he thought that nearly every one of the particulars he asked for had been already under the consideration of the Commissioners. Certainly to every one of them the attention of the Commissioners had been 271 called. He would remind the Committee that he had asked for particulars in the form of a Return the other day, and the Commissioners had reported that they could not have them ready for several weeks, on the ground, he believed, that their preparation would distract their officers from the ordinary course of their work. That being the case, he thought he had a right to be suspicious and firm in insisting that this important information should be given to Parliament and the country. If the right hon. Gentleman would accept this clause in its present form, he was sure it would be most conformable to precedent, and be the moans of giving information without which the country would have no knowledge of the work done.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said, he had asked for a Return with regard to the Crofters' Commission, and was told that if he wanted special information he could get it in the ordinary way. He had been trying for the last 14 days to get from the Lord Advocate a Return of the number of cases heard in the last 12 months, which information could have been obtained if the Commissioners had made a quarterly Return. At the present time it was not known how many applications were waiting, they did not know what work had been done, and the Scotch Office refused to give any information. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Members would press for the Return now asked for, because when they were told that information was to be got in the ordinary way, they found, on application, that it was always refused.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman was shifting his position very uneasily, and he now pleaded that he did not want to overload the Bill—a Bill of one clause. He also quibbled on the point as to whether the Commissioners were the servants of the House; but the House paid their salaries, and they had a perfect right to dictate their course of action; and again, he asked even if it were advisable was it practicable to produce the Return, and would it be too costly? But would the right hon. Gentleman read the Amendment and say that the information required was such that the House of Commons was not entitled to ask for? This information, which the right hon. Gentleman did not venture 272 to say was unadvisable, could be extracted by one clerk. It had been suggested that the Government were refusing all Amendments because they wished to avoid the Report stage of the Bill; but the stage was prescribed by constitutional usage, and yet, in order to avoid it, they refused Amendments which they themselves were obliged to admit were reasonable. He would add another speculation and say that he was under the impression that the confederacy of those on the Treasury Bench, and persons outside who wanted to dip their hands into the public purse, was so close that the Government wore under an engagement to pass the Bill in the form in which it had been introduced.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said, he understood that personally the Chief Secretary for Ireland did not object to the demands made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley); on the contrary, that he was ready to back them up even in opposition to the opinion of the Commissioners. He had not objected to the Report being made quarterly, or that it should state the details mentioned in the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. His one objection appeared to be that the Commissioners might find the particular form of Return demanded inconvenient. With regard to the question of cost he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) ventured to think that this was a matter for the House and not the Commissioners to decide. On the question of form he saw no difficulty in the right hon. Gentleman communicating with the Commissioners between that and the Report stage of the Bill, and if he would undertake to accept the Amendment, putting it in such a form as his right hon. Friend and the Commissioner could agree to, he did not think his right hon. Friend would persevere with his present Motion. Hon. Members wanted to insist that this should be a statutable regulation. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had been gradually dislodged from the position he had taken up—namely, that the demand the Opposition were making was an unprecedented and unusual one. As a matter of fact, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle demanded was that this Bill should be in consonance with all previous agrarian Bills. He (Mr. T. P. 273 O'Connor) thought they were not unreasonable, in the face of all the Returns which had been given to them, in demanding that this matter should be put beyond the caprice of any Chief Secretary or Commissioner, and that a distinct instruction should be contained in the Act of Parliament. He thought he had suggested a very fair compromise.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, it occurred to him that the Gentleman who proposed the 50th Section of the Act of 1881 was no less a person than Lord Ashbourne himself. ["No, no!"] Yes, he was satisfied it was moved from the Front Opposition Bench, and that it was inserted in deference to the demand of the Tories. If they were addressing an Irish Chief Secretary he did not believe that he would for a moment refuse the application made for information. The Amendment was only rejected by the right hon. Gentleman because of his entire want of sympathy with Ireland and its Representatives. It surely was not advisable to refuse information. The Government were not wise in refusing it. Why should they not take the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale into their counsel? Surely he must be most anxious that a proposal of this kind should be accepted by the Government. The Government said that if they were assured of the passage of the Bill, and after Mr. Wrench had been appointed as the President of the Triumvirate, they would give the House all the information it wanted; but the promises and the performances of the Government were very different things. But with the thing in the Statute itself, to which they could nail the Commissioners, then not even the Gentleman whom it was proposed to put in charge of the two Commissioners could evade the Statute. He thought the Opposition were asking a reasonable thing. If the Government maintained that the proposal as framed would be inconvenient then they would not insist on more than the provision contained in the Act of 1881. The Government did not want to have a quarterly Report produced, because in all probability the last day of the quarter might be the day on which such an election as that in Holborn was taking place, and then it would be seen that they were giving £250,000 to a certain Duke or to a London Company. Moreover, if the House had a forecast of the results of 274 its action it might be reluctant to fall in with the schemes of the Government; for instance, if it had been known that as a result of the Conversion Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which had fallen four in the course of a few months, probably the measure would not have been passed as it was without opposition. If the Government rejected this proposition when Members of the Opposition made a point against them at any public meeting, and said the Government had refused to give them information, the Government would reply—"Oh, we promised them everything and have given it to them, the dispute between us being as to what we promised. "They might say," We did not promise to give the names of the owners who had sold their estates." When he (Mr. T. M. Healy) asked the Solicitor General for Ireland whether he intended to give the names, the right hon. Gentleman replied, "No, we never have given them." Surely it was most unreasonable for the Government, when pressed for official information, to refuse to give it, although they had every opportunity of doing so. In conclusion, he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite to support the Motion for this Return. He was sure that if they were appealed to privately they would give the Irish Members their support and sympathy.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
said, he really thought that they had tolerated this sort of conduct on the part of the Government too long, and therefore—
§ MR. Arthur Balfour rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 174; Noes 99: Majority 75.—(Div. List, No. 308.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 108; Noes 166: Majority 58.—(Div. List, No. 309.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he gathered from certain cries that hon. Gentlemen thought the Committee should now finish its labours for the night, and he was not disposed to differ from that view. He would, however, remind the 275 Committee that the substance of the Bill was finished, that it was but a continuance Bill, and that the question of extending the existing Act to an extent of £5,000,000 had been very fully discussed. It should not require very much more time to dispose of the few points hon. Members might desire to raise, and with the expression of that hope he assented to Progress being reported.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.