§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (4.15.) MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, however we may differ as to the propriety of the proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in the Bill now under consideration, we, as Irish Members, are at least entitled to congratulate ourselves upon the position which the Irish land question has now attained, as acknowledged by the introduction of the Bill. A Bill for establishing an occupying ownership in Ireland, of however limited and insufficient a character, demonstrates the justice of the claim that we made nine years ago by the establishment of the Land League, that such an owner- 981 ship ought to be established. The right hon. gentleman also, in the provisions of his Bill, admits the justice of the main contention we then made, and which we make to-day, that the rents of the Irish tenants are too high. And so far as those two admissions go, we welcome the right hon. gentleman as on most recent recruit and disciple. The Irish land question, after nine years of strenuous exertion on the part of Parliament to settle it, still remains in need of settlement. According to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, it is just that the Irish tenants should have a reduction of 20 per cent. in their rents. There are two ways in which the question might be settled: one by the reduction of the rents by the action of the Courts without purchase—by the reduction of 20 per cent., which the right hon. Gentleman admits the necessity of; the other is the way which he has chosen, the system of compensating the landlord for his interest in the land by payment, and making the former tenant the owner in his place. We have to consider the question of ways and means in considering the sufficiency of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. We ourselves would prefer the solution by the Courts—at all events, as a preliminary to laud purchase—the reduction of the rent of the tenant to the level suggested by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, before we came to the English taxpayers for a loan on their credit. We have introduced Bills into this Parliament, Session after Session, for the purpose of carrying out this offer, and our proposals were invariably defeated. We are, therefore, compelled to return to the solution the right hon. Gentleman has attempted in this Bill, and we are met at the threshold of our inquiry by these questions—Is it a sufficient measure.' How far will it re eh? And how far will the Imperial taxpayer go in the direction of loaning British credit to the Irish landowner? The example of the Bill presented by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, in 1886, shows us that he will not go very far in that direction; it shows us that the amount of the credit will have to be very limited, and that the taxpayer will not consent to extend the loan of his credit to an amount sufficient to settle this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief 982 Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant has recognised the fact in his land purchase scheme, and he has limited the amount of the credit to £33,000,000, or, taking the £10,000,000 already spent, to £43,000 000. He has also seized upon certain local funds in Ireland devoted to other and most necessary purposes in order to diminish the risk that the Imperial taxpayer will ever be called upon to meet. But in so doing the right hon. Gentleman has destroyed his solution of the question. He presents his Bill to us, not as a measure to settle the Irish land question—if ho claims that it is a measure to settle the Irish land question, I shall be abundantly able to show that he is not—he presents it to us not as a measure for the solution of the Irish Land Question, but as a proposal for enabling about one-ninth or one-tenth of the larger and absentee owners to get out of the country at an exorbitant price, leaving their smaller resident brethren in the lurch. He presents his Bill to us, not as a proposal for the purpose of making 600,000 Irish tenant-farmers owners of their holdings, but as a proposal for making one out of every four tenants owners of their holdings. I object to this Bill because it does not carry out what it pretends to carry out, while it exhausts the only Irish credit available for the purpose, by inducing the English taxpayer to loan us his credit for the solution of this great question. I think, and I always have thought, that we might reasonably ask, in view of the history of the Land Question, in view of the fact that the Imperial taxpayer is the descendant of the men who placed these landlords in Ireland for the purpose of perpetuating and securing English rule in that country, and that the presence of those landlords has been the source of untold misery, calamity, and suffering to Ireland, and has resulted in what is now known as the Irish Land Question—I think that under these circumstances Irish landowners and Irish tenants are entitled to expect that, to some extent, the English taxpayer will help us in arriving at a solution. But I object to the right hon. Gentleman running off, in company with these absentee owners, with the only kind of credit we have, and, for the purpose of protecting and inducing the taxpayer to help us, exhausting our resources for the 983 solution of this question, and yet leaving three-fourths of it unsettled. By the way, in passing, I wish to notice that I think the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt unwittingly, has mis-described the extent of his resources, and exaggerated, by some millions, the amount of the funds available. He told the House that the capitalised value of the cash and contingent portion of the fund would be £33,000,000, whereas it is only £26,000,000. It is only by seizing upon the £118,000 surplus of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Chief Secretary has been able to bring the capitalised value up to £29,100,000, which is 3,500,000 short of his original estimate.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TOE IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
When I gave the estimate I necessarily formed it without consulting the Departments concerned, and perhaps it will be more convenient if the hon. Gentleman will take the figures from the Return which I have furnished to the House.
§ MR. PARNELL
I have calculated the figures from the Bill, and also from the Return. I will take the figures from the Return at £30,000,000, and if we take the £10,000,000 already spent, it will bring the amount up to £40,000,000. I will now say that the Bill is unfair to the resident Irish landowners. I state that briefly now, as one of my objections to the Bill, and I will return to it a little later on. Out of every four tenants you will leave three still paying their original un-reduced rent, and you set up for their example a neighbour who pays his rent, less 20 par cent. reduction, under the operation of this Bill. You take, as I have said, one-ninth of the Irish landowners, and you buy them out, and, as I shall be able to show, you have, to a large extent, selected the richer and absentee landlords. My next objection to the measure is that it exhausts our local credit without our consent, and that you neglect to avail yourselves of the only means under which such absence of consent from the majority of the Irish Members would be excusable, by neglecting to provide any local control in the application of this money. My fourth reason against the Bill is, that so long as coercion exists in Ireland, and is used, as 984 the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary uses it, to prevent the legitimate combination of the Irish tenantry, the tenant does not stand on an equal footing in making his bargain with the landlord, and will be compelled, by the existence of arrears and the existence of coercion, to give an exaggerated and exorbitant price for his holding. My fifth objection to the measure is, that it makes no suitable provision for the congested districts. I shall show precisely the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for relieving the congested districts are insufficient and illusory to the last degree. My final objection is, that the Bill is unfair to the Imperial taxpayer, and that the guarantees are illusory, insufficient, and valueless. I shall naturally be asked whether, after these criticisms on the Government measure, I have no counter proposal to make, or whether I devote all my energies to pulling down and destroying the work of the right hon. Gentleman, without having anything to substitute in its place. I think such a question might reasonably be asked me, and I shall answer it briefly by saying that at the close of my argument against the measure I propose to explain my own proposals. I have thought for many years over the solution of this question. One's opinion must change and modify from year to year by common experience; but what I have to suggest to-day is a solution that suggested itself to my mind so long ago as 1881, on the introduction of the Irish Land Bill. The years that have gone by since then, and the proposals in the direction of land purchase made by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, in 1886, and the attitude of English public opinion today, have convinced me that if you refuse to further protect the improvements of the tenants from confiscation by the infliction of rent, if you do not adopt that method, then the only solution is the proposal that I have made—that is the only alternative. And now I come to the question of the insufficiency of the Bill. This land question is not so large a question as many will suppose. You make it a large question, I admit, by the method of purchase proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. If you adopt that method of purchase it must be made a large question, because a landlord selling his 985 estate will not readily part with a portion of it, and retain another portion, but in reality the area, if I may be allowed the expression, of the land question is much more limited than would be supposed by the figures of the working of the Land Purchase Acts of 1885 and 1888. In looking at this question it is reasonable for us to consider what it is that has created the idea of looking for a solution of it. It is the trouble which has arisen in Ireland between the average sized tenancies and the smaller class of tenants and their landlords. The trouble has not been created, as a rule, by the larger class of tenants. The larger class of tenants, I have always thought, can be fairly protected under the operation of the Land Act of 1881 and the Amending Act of 1887 admitting the leaseholders. They stand on a much more equal footing with their landlords to make their contracts freely and fairly, and it is not, in my judgment, necessary for the sake of settling the Irish land question that you should include the class of tenants above £50 valuation in any Purchase Bill. Certainly it is not necessary you should include the cost of large grazing tenants, many of whom occupy farms of from 500 to 2,000 acres. But under the operation of the existing Land Purchase Acts you are obliged to buy up the landlord's whole estate, grazing land, congested farms, large tenancies, and average agricultural tenancies. The only limitation proposed is that the Commissioners shall not advance more than £5,000 for any one estate. That is a pretty big sum to advance to any one tenant for the purpose of settling the Irish land question. My contention is, that it is not at all necessary to go beyond £50, or, if you like, £70. The limitation of £50 was the one adopted by the Arrears Act, and it worked fairly well, that Act being the most satisfactory that has ever been passed by the Imperial Legislature for the relief of Irish agricultural industry. In Ulster the situation is considerably different from that which exists in the other three provinces. The north of Ireland was protected at all times by the Ulster custom. The landlord could not, in that province, carry out the extensive clearances which were effected, to some extent in Leinster, to a considerable 986 extent in Munster, and to an enormous and frightful extent in Connaught. The situation in Ulster may, therefore, be described as normal from the point of view of land purchase. If you come to Leinster, however, you find the situation entirely different. There you find that clearances have proceeded to a great extent, and that you have to deal with very large holdings and some considerable tracts of grazing land. In Munster you have also a mixed condition of large holdings, and a still larger area of grazing land than you have in Leinster, while in Connaught the whole area of the country has been turned into one vast grazing district, the small tenants subsisting upon the mountains and hills, and in the swamps, on land which they have reclaimed from rock and waste, and occupying holdings of a most miserable and impoverished kind. It comes to this—that the area which is now occupied by tenants above £50 valuation has, so far as I can calculate from the imperfect Returns, absorbed 45 per cent. of the whole purchase money advanced. Now the right hon. Gentleman is going to buy up whole estates. If you buy at all, as I have admitted, you must buy on the whole estate if you proceed on the principle of purchase, because it is not reasonable to expect a landlord to sell only a portion and to retain what you do not want, and, certainly, the absentee landowners have objected to this. But if you proceed upon that principle your £40,000,000 becomes ludicrously inadequate. There are in Ireland, under the system adopted in the working of the existing Acts, 14,000,000 statute acres of land, which will have to be dealt with if you proceed on the principle of buying up whole estates. The Poor Law tenement valuation of these 14.000,000 acres is about £9,000,000. According to the Returns which have been presented to us, an average of 18½ years' purchase of the Poor Law tenement valuation has been given under the sales already effected. If you multiply 18½ by 9, you have a sum total of £166,500,000 as the amount necessary to be provided for a solution on the lines proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. But the right hon. Gentleman exhausts our resources after an expenditure of £40,000,000, and he leaves three-fourths of the question untouched; he shuts the door in the face 987 of three-fourths of the Irish tenants, who will receive no reduction, and leaves nine-tenths of the Irish landowners with no prospect before them except continuous strife with their tenants in the attempt to obtain for themselves the favourable position of the minority who have purchased. I have said something about the character of the sales. There, again, I have to complain of the want of information. The ingenuity of the officials in Dublin, and here in the Irish Office, ought to have been exhausted to supply full information from every point of view in reference to the working of the Land Purchase Acts, but the information we have had is of the most meagre description, and leaves many most important matters in the dark. According to the Returns laid before Parliament, giving an account of sales up to December 31, 1888, I find that 530 owners of land sold their estates to their tenants, at an expenditure amounting to £3,792,000. Of these 530 owners, 34 walked off with £2,251,000, or six out of every 100 owners who sold got away with 57 per cent. of the whole amount of the purchase money. I will read out the names to the House, and the amounts they absconded with; they are very instructive. If the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh finds these owners fighting with him in "the last ditch," this may probably account for it. I will give the amounts in round numbers. They have had a good deal more than these sums, but these are up to the end of 1888. The Duke of Abercorn has received, in round numbers, £267,000: Sir Victor E. Brooke, £83,000; Sir Thomas Lennard, £108,000; the Salters' Company, £230,000; the Fishmongers' Company, £118,000; the Skinners' Company, £103,000; The Marquess of Water-ford, £124,000; the Marquess of Bath, £290,000; MR. George Lane Fox, £67,000; the Duke of Leinster, £434,000; the Earl of Normanton, £34.000; Lord Ashbourne, £10,000—we will not begrudge that modest amount to the author of the Act; MR. Anthony Strong Hussey, £63,000; Earl Stanhope, £39,000; Lord Castletown, £49,000; Lord Kilmaine, £53,000; and Lord Ardilaun, £38,000. There are others, making altogether 34 in number, mainly Peers and persons of title, who form 6 per cent. of the total 988 number of landlords whose estates have been brought under the Act, who have walked off with 57 per cent. of the whole sum paid under that Act. Nine of these have taken £1,500,000, or 42 per cent. of the whole. If you are going to carry out the provisions of this Bill as you have done those of the Act, by the time you have spent your £40,000,000, 400 out of the 10,000 Irish landowners will walk off £24,000,000 out of the whole £40,000,000. That is not the way in which' we should like to see the Irish Land Question settled. We do not want to exterminate the Irish resident landowners. We have never felt any ill-will to them individually. We have persecuted and have successfully abolished the system. But with the power of these landowners—many of them the victims of circumstances, I admit—to oppress and rack rent their tenants abolished, and with a suitable solution of the land question, we should gladly welcome their presence in Ireland; we should gladly see them taking the part for which they are so well fitted in the future social regeneration of the country, in the future direction of affairs, and in the future national life of the country. We do not desire that their interests should be sacrificed for the sake of the absentee landowners. If there is one particular in which the Bill distinguishes itself more than another, it is in the utter unscrupulousness with which it throws overboard the Irish resident landowners, and leaves their future to be utterly destroyed and ruined. Let us examine the position of the smaller Irish landowner. His estate is heavily mortgaged, but he has an income remaining after paying all his annual liabilities. He occupies a portion of his land himself, and the remainder is let to tenants, with whom he is at perpetual war with reference to a reduction, which they demand, of from 20 to 30 per cent. You advise him to sell and to take 20 years' purchase of his net rental. I will take the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and assume the estate to have a net annual value of £100 a year. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the estate shall be purchased at £2,000, that the tenant shall pay £80 per annum instead of his original rent of £100, and we will suppose that there are encumbrances on the estate amounting to £1,000, which will 989 have to be paid off, leaving £1,000 clear. The owner will receive Stock bearing 2¾ per cent. interest, which will give him an income of £27 10s., instead of his original income of £40; in other words, he will sustain a loss of 32 per cent. The Bill will leave the normal class of Irish landlords untouched, and it will leave three-fourths of the Irish tenants untouched. It will set up a standard of rent throughout the country in respect of the fourth which it deals with, and the result will be to create an agitation on the part of the other three-fourths for a similar reduction of their rents. How are you going to meet that agitation? You have admitted in your measure that the rent must be reduced by 20 per cent. in respect of the one-fourth of the Irish tenantry. You do not select these tenants because they are the most rack-rented. As far as we know, the most solvent tenants will be the fortunate purchasers of their holdings, and you say to the remainder, "You must still pay your old rents." You will be obliged to meet such a situation as that, and the only way will be by an amendment of the improvement clauses of the Land Act. of 1881, or an extended measure of land purchase, involving £126,000,000, making a total of £166,000,000. Then, let us consider the situation in which we find ourselves as Irish representatives in regard to this demand for the hypothecation of these funds for local purposes. I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman has the face to come to Parliament with such a proposal as that, without accompanying it by some provision for local control over the application of these funds. What is the use of talking of Local Government for Ireland when you appropriate, without our consent, the very funds you hand over to the Local Authorities in England to be dealt with as they please? Where is the consistency of such a proposal? Either it is right that the Local Authorities in England should have control over these funds or it is wrong. If it is right in England, surely it is right in Ireland. These services in Ireland, which you propose to deprive of these funds, are badly enough off already. The National School teachers are miserably underpaid, and the provision for the medical comforts of the poor, which is 990 the principal matter which is provided for by the grants of Parliament in aid of the Poor Law relief, is a matter of the most vital importance to the poor. But you say to the three-fourths of the tenants whose rents have been left unreduced, "If there is any fault on the part of the aristocrats whose rents have been reduced you will have to pay for it." Is this guarantee a real guarantee to the English taxpayer, or is it illusory? The right hon. Gentleman provides for an immediate advance to be made by the Treasury for any sums left in default by the tenants. The landlord will not have to wait until he gets this Poor Law relief provided by the Bill; he will not have to wait until the Grand Juries make their presentment. Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest to Parliament, with a serious face, to make good any default in their payments on the part of the Irish tenant out of the surpluses of England? If you are to continue to govern Ireland from hero you will have largely to supplement the sums given for local purposes. For example, as it stands, the system of education in Ireland is a scandal. The right hon. Gentleman admitted practically in his speech that he could not, and would not, contemplate the misappropriation of these local funds, these Imperial contributions, to local purposes. He said, "We have provided that the Grand Jury shall levy a rate." If there is any tax in Ireland more odious than another, and which could be most easily and most readily resisted, and which the payers would most readily resist tomorrow, it is the Grand Jury Tax. The true test of the worth of these county guarantees is this: Let the Chancellor of the Exchequer take them into the money market to-morrow and see at what per cent. interest he could raise a loan upon them. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman is very like other Bills which some of us have seen, and which were presented to us with the assurance that the signature was a mere matter of form, and that we should never see or hear anything of the matter again. But those of us who have been weak enough to yield to the temptation have always seen and heard a good deal of it. So it will be with this Land Bill. These securities are not real unless they are given to you with the consent of the governed; unless 991 they are given for the purpose of effecting a complete settlement of the land question. If they are not so given, if they are given without our consent, without local authority or sanction, for the purpose of carrying out a parody of land purchase, they are, in effect, and practically a swindle upon the English taxpayer. I come now to the end of my objections, which I have only very slightly sketched. In the first place, it is not an honest Bill; secondly, it will not afford a solution of the question; thirdly, it will continue and perpetuate and render absolutely certain additional agitation in Ireland; fourthly, its provisions cannot be carried out without danger to the Imperial Exchequer; fifthly, it is rejected by the people for whose benefit you ostensibly propose it. Well, is there nothing that can be done in this direction for a solution? I think, if the matter is approached free from Party considerations, with an earnest desire really to solve the question, with a sufficient knowledge of the situation and the conditions with which you have to deal, that it can be solved by the application of the credit which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to exhaust in settling only one-fourth of the question. I have said that if you take the limit not exceeding £50 valuation, you reduce the amount of money necessary to be provided for the solution by purchase to 55 per cent. of the present amount. That is according to the Returns of the operation of the Acts already. Between 45 and 46 per cent. of the money has been spent in purchasing holdings of over £50 valuation, and 54 or 55 per cent. in the purchase of holdings under £50 valuation. This limits the size of the question very materially. I have also shown that the question is further limited in size by the absence of any necessity for making provision in the settlement of the land question with regard to the tenure of the large areas of grazing ground in Munster, Leinster, and Connanght. I think the whole Province of Connaught, so far as the settlement of the land question is concerned, could be bought up for about ten years' purchase of the Poor Law valuation. I think I shall be able, when we get the necessary Returns, to prove what I say to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman. Well, then, if you abandon the 992 solution by purchase, there are two alternative solutions. The first is the reduction of rents by the action of the Courts under the Act of 1881 and the Acts amending it. The only other alternative is to adopt the principle of fining down the rents of these tenants whom the necessity of the Irish land question will compel you to deal with, and of those tenants alone. But the practical question, as I have shown, has been in reference to these tenants who constitute about 54or 55 per cent. of the whole net annual value of estates in Ireland. On the average, with this class of tenants the question in dispute is a reduction of about 30 per cent. in their rents. My proposal, shortly, is to give the landlord so many years' purchase, reducing the rents of his judicial tenants—of this 55 per cent. of them—to a satisfactory amount. Let him, then, use the money in paying off the most onerous of his encumbrances. He will, in that way, as I shall show by-and-bye, increase his income on the one hand by getting rid of heavy payments of interest—as the Irish landlords have to pay a heavy rate for their mortgages—and he will give those of his tenants who are concerned in a settlement of the Land Question the 30 per cent. reduction for which they are clamouring, and without which it will be impossible ever to have peace in the agrarian relations of Ireland. Now let us see how that will work out. Under the system proposed by the right hon. Gentleman and in the typical case selected by him, the landowner with £100 a year net annual value, who is encumbered to the extent of £1,000, is left under the best circumstances with his present income of £40 a year reduced to £27 10s. Let us work out how the fining system would affect this landlord. He has, after providing for his encumbrances, in a case such as I have already given, a present income of £40 a year. According to the reduction of 30 per cent. on £55 worth of the net annual value of the estate—I assume that we have only to deal with 55 per cent. of the area of the estates—the reduction amounts to £16 10s. per annum. It is then lent on the security of the fund proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, 20 years' purchase of this reduction, or £330. You may either treat this as a permanent loan, or you may treat it under the system proposed by the Bill. 993 I should prefer to treat it as a permanent loan, and not to associate it with a Sinking Fund. But I will take two cases—the one with a Sinking Fund and the other without. If you have a Sinking Fund the annuity on the £330 will amount at £4 per cent, to £12 10s. The interest on the balance of his encumbrances, about £650, at 6 per cent. will amount to about £40 a year. His new income will be £31 10s. with a Sinking Fund as compared with an income of under the purchase system in a similar case of £27 10s. Without the Sinking Fund his new income, with the necessity of paying only 2¾ per cent. will amount to £34 10s. a year, or a loss of only 13¾ per cent. on his original income of £40, instead of a loss of 32½ per cent. under the purchase system. Now, having shown you how it works for the landlord, I will show you how it would work as regards the fund and the capacity of the fund. The right hon. Gentleman in the typical case selected of a net annual value of £100 requires £2,000 in order to settle the Land Question upon that estate. I only require £330. That is to say, under the fining system you only require one-sixth of the advance from the public funds which you require under the purchase system in order to secure a reduction of 30 per cent for the tenant, where under the purchase system you only secure a reduction of 20 per cent. So that for the complete solution of this question you will require £166,500,000, and, dividing this by six, it brings it down to something like £27,000,000, which is less than the £30,000,000 provided under the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. The compass of the question, therefore, is well within the resources of the local credit of Ireland, if you approach it with a desire to settle it as a whole and not in a partial fashion of favouritism under this Bill. I have never seen any difficulty in a solution if the English taxpayer would loan his credit, and I see now the question can be solved with a limited loan of his credit. But I shall resist to the last this attempt of the right hon. Gentleman to destroy to take away from us the only credit we have available for this purpose, and that by the partial, insufficient, and unfair method he proposes. I am afraid I have been obliged 994 to drag the House through a very wearisome mass of figures, but I think they are figures that will stand the test of examination. I have worked them out upon the example the right hon. Gentleman himself gave us, and I believe that the solution I have proposed would work out more favourably to the Irish tenant and also to the Irish landowner. Under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman a large class of resident landlords will be shut out from the benefits of the measure and left without hope to struggle with their tenants in a contest that can only have one ending, who undoubtedly will be absorbed, will be submerged in this struggle, and who would prefer the proposal I have endeavoured to explain to this Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. I submit it is right to consider whether it is not time to make an attempt, so far as we can, to an approach to finality in this matter, so far as we can to grapple with the whole question which needs solution, devoting all our energies to its settlement, so that the turmoil, crime, and disturbance which always accompany agrarian agitation may be finally put an end to. Ever since 1879, when I joined this movement, this has been my ardent hope and desire, as it has, I believe, been that of my Colleagues. We do not fear the solution of this land question. We know that when you give independence and security to the Irish tenant. his worth as an Irishman and as an Irish Nationalist will be increased. We have not based our claim to nationhood on the sufferings of our country. We have merely pointed to them as illustrations of your incapacity to govern us—to do us justice from Westminster. But these things are not the foundation of Ireland's claim to a restitution of legislative independence. So far from the securing of the tenant in his holding and the solution of the land question interfering and hindering the settlement of the great national question, I am sure that, every injustice removed, every tenant secured in his holding, will assist in swelling the army of our supporters for the regeneration of our country. I now beg to move that the Bill be read a second time—that it be read a second time this day six months.
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(5.20.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
The hon. Member's speech will be read with interest by all classes in Ireland, but there is one class (specially to whom I would like to commend its perusal, namely, the resident landlords, whom the hon. Member has taken under his protection. It will be interesting to them to learn the proposal of the hon. Gentleman on their behalf that their rents should be still further reduced by 20 per cent.
§ Several hon. MEMBERS: No, 30 per cent.
§ *MR. MADDEN
Hon. Members do not quite follow me. I was not alluding to the fining down proposal. I was alluding to the earlier portion of the hon. Member's speech, in which, having erroneously assumed that our proposal is based on a reduction of rents by 20 per cent., he proposed to effect a reduction of rents by this amount without compensation, and this is the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman preferred to the scheme of purchase, which, while compensating the landlord, would work out a reduction of 20 per cent. in the rents of the tenants who purchased. This portion of the hon. Gentleman's speech will be read with interest by the resident landlords as affording them some slight indication of the treatment they may expect under any legislative institution controlled by the hon. Gentleman—an institution of which I have heard it said that, in the event of its establishment, the hon. Gentleman would be thus the representative of Conservative opinion. There was also another significant portion of the hon. Gentleman's speech in which he suggested that the fair purchase value of a large part of Ireland might be taken at 10 years. But whatever the detailed criticism of the hon. Member may be, his speech may fairly be claimed as in substance a speech in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill, and the hon. Gentleman appeared to have unconsciously arrived at that conclusion, judging by the fact that he was 996 about to sit down after moving that the Bill be read a second time.
§ *MR. MADDEN
The hon. Member may have been thinking of his own Bill, but the logical conclusion of his speech was that the present Bill ought to be read a second time, for the cardinal principle of the Bill consists in the hypothecation of the contributions from the Imperial Exchequer to local purposes. The hon. Member does not object to this. He merely proposes a more economical method of using the money thus raised. His suggestions on this point are very interesting, but they are not antagonistic to the principle of the Bill. The hon. Member has argued that this Bill would necessitate the sale of the whole of the estate on which any sales are effected. But that is not the case. I do not see how he can make this statement; but as he has admitted some confusion on the subject of different Bills, there may be running through his mind the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, which did proceed on that principle. The Bill does not require the sale of the whole of an estate, and, as a matter of fact, many landlords, including some of those he has mentioned, have sold only so far as to meet the requirements of individual tenants. But these are matters for consideration in Committee, and afford no ground for the rejection of the Bill. I think the first question and the main question for consideration is, shall the system of State-supported land purchase be maintained in Ireland? I do not propose to go into the details of past land legislation, but I would shortly remind the House that since 1869 every measure dealing with the land question in Ireland has contained the principle of State-assisted land purchase, and in each succeeding measure we find that principle growing in importance. In the Act of 1869, in the Act of 1870, in the Act of 1881, and, lastly, in the Ashbourne Acts of 1885 and 1888 the principle has been adopted. No one has expressed an opinion more strongly in favour of continuing the system than the hon. Member who has just sat down. The hon. Member for East Mayo has expressed his opinion strongly in favour of the principle, and so has the right hon. Members for Newcastle, and Bridgeton, 997 and Reading, as well as Archbishop Walsh. I do not refer to the opinions of hon. Members who do not profess to have changed them. That being so, I may ask whether they have given any sufficient reason for a change of opinion. Not only is that the opinion of individual Members of this House, but it is the opinion of public bodies differing so widely Lord Cowper's Commission, and it is the opinion of the Irish Land League, and of the Landlords' Convention. When all these Bodies are in favour of a system of State-supported land purchase it is fair to conclude that there must be something extremely good in it, otherwise it could not have recommended itself to bodies of men holding such extremely opposite opinions in relation to Irish affairs. I have another remarkable piece of evidence in the same direction. There is a newspaper in Ireland called the Irish Catholic, which is ranked among the supporters of the hon. Gentleman. On the first appearance of the Bill that paper suggested its adoption, and it repeated that advice upon April 5, saying that the proper course to be followed by Irish Members was to seek the Amendment of the Bill in Committee rather than its rejection. But when the hon. Member for Cork put down a notice for its rejection then the paper said that the hon. Member must be supported in his opposition to the Bill. And why? Was it for the benefit of the tenants or of Ireland? Nothing of the kind. It was in the interest of the tenants and of Ireland that the paper recommended the acceptance of the Bill. But now it writes that nobody would rejoice more than it would if the result of the course now pursued would be the overthrow of the present Cabinet in consequence of the rejection of the Bill, adding that after all it might be possible to inflict on the Government a defeat which would compel them to make an appeal to the constituencies. This is a very candid confession, and it throws some light on the motives of the opposition to this measure. Of course, it is open to hon. Gentlemen to change their opinions, but some reasons ought to have been given by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and his supporters for a change of 998 opinion on a vital point connected with Irish policy. The hon. Gentleman described this Bill in its financial aspect as a parody on land purchase and a swindle on the English taxpayer. I assume he intended the ordinary meaning to attach to those words, and consequently by describing it as a swindle the hon. Gentleman intimates that it is at least possible that the English taxpayer will lose money by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman took part in an important debate in 1883, when a Resolution was moved by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and seconded by the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, bringing urgently before Parliament the question of land purchase. The question was then raised of a possible repudiation, and the hon. Gentleman, arguing against such a possibility, pointed out the exceptionally unfavourable circumstances under which the Church tenants had paid, having regard to the high price of the land, notwithstanding which the right hon. Gentleman who was then Chief Secretary (Sir G. Trevelyan) admitted that the tenants who had become owners had paid with remarkable punctuality, and the result would, it was said by the hon. Gentleman, be the same if the House would only apply itself to the task of removing difficulties, one of which was not advancing the whole of the purchase money. Such was the language of the hon. Member for Cork at that time. Now, our experience of the purchasers under the Church Act of 1869 and the Land Act of 1870 is of first-rate importance in considering the chance of any general repudiation on the part of the tenants. The price of the land was exceptionally high. The tenants under the Church Act were offered the option of buying at 22 and a fraction years' purchase or of having the estate sold over their heads. It has been said by their advocates that they bought under the strong pressure of coercion. The remarkable punctuality with which the debts incurred in the purchase had been paid is well worth the attention of the House. The amount of the capital written off as irrecoverable under the Act of 1869, which has been in force 21 years, is only £1 in every £2,363, and the amount outstanding in arrear is only 1–126th of the entire advance. Out of £1,906,585 it was only found necessary to capitalise £21,065 under the Act of 999 1887, or less than 1–95th. On this part of the argument, when the hon. Member describes the Bill as a swindle upon the English taxpayers, it is well to inquire what are the classes of risk incurred under the Bill. There are two classes of risk—first, the practical risk of individual insolvency or depreciation in the value of the land, and, secondly, the theoretical risk of a general repudiation. Against these risks the Bill provides two classes of security. We get the one-fifth guarantee deposit, the tenant's insurance, and the county percentage out of the holding itself. Experience shows that against the practical risk of depreciation in the land value, or the insolvency, unthriftiness, or drunkenness of the tenant, the one-fifth provided by the guarantee deposit would afford ample security to the State. The figures I have quoted as to the result of the operations under the Church Act, when it is said the land was bought on unfavourable terms, show that a smaller amount than one-fifth would have amply secured the State against what I call practical risks. Now, I wish to call the attention of the House to the difference between the present Bill and the Ashbourne Acts. It is this: that, while the Ashbourne Acts provide a security against practical risks, they provided no security against what I may call the theoretical risk of repudiation. The present Bill provides absolutely mathematical security. Against the most violent and extreme case of actual repudiation the taxpayer is absolutely and mathematically safe. Though the hon. Gentleman has called the Bill a "swindle," he has not ventured for a moment to approach an argument on the subject, or to show the smallest degree of infirmity in the figures brought before the House by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary when he introduced the Bill. He has not attempted that, for the reason that it would have been absolutely impossible. If no more than the capital value of contributions to local purposes is advanced, and the creditor has those contributions in his own hands to withhold, his security is a matter of mathematical demonstration. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has referred to the risk of repudiation. I have called the risk a theoretical danger, and he 1000 believes it to be so. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite has over and over again represented it as no danger at all, even when measures were suggested under which we might have expected danger to a greater extent than under the Bill of my right hon. Friend. I think the House will accept this proposition—that no voluntary transaction can ever afford a moral ground for repudiation. The hon. Member at the beginning of his speech indicated a line of argument which he did not pursue. The hon. Member said that he was going to show that by a system which he was pleased to call coercion which existed in Ireland there would be an interference with legal and proper combination of tenants; and that transactions under this Bill, instead of being voluntary, would be entered into in circumstances, as I understand, involving some element of coercion, ["Hear, hear !"] Friends of the hon. Member cheer that statement; but the hon. Member did not attempt to give a single instance of what he said the Government either had done or would do, namely, interfere with the legal combination of the tenants for the purpose of protecting their interests. The hon. Gentleman advanced no argument loading to the conclusion that purchase under this system would be other than absolutely voluntary. A measure of great importance was once submitted by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian; and the hon. Member then spoke, but did not indicate the slightest danger of repudiation. What was the measure? It was a system of purchase under which the tenant would have had absolutely no voice in fixing the price of the holding. If that system of purchase involved no risk of repudiation, how can it be suggested that the Irish tenant is likely to repudiate a bargain voluntarily entered into and the price of which is to be fixed by agreement, he being one of the parties to it? I must add that a great deal of what has been said on the subject of repudiation proceeds on the assumption, which is not founded on fact, that the £30,000,000 will be immediately advanced. Experience has shown that nothing of the kind will take place. A land purchase system must be universal and compulsory, or voluntary. I will assume that hon. Members opposite have not changed their opinions as to a 1001 system of land purchase based on voluntary purchase. It is extremely desirable to have such a system in Ireland, and for the reason that it is a necessity of the legislation begun in 1870, and carried to the extent of establishing dual ownership in 1881. I have heard dual ownership described as a partnership between the landlord and the tenant, and in any system of partnership there must be some provision for a dissolution between both parties when circumstances render the union intolerable, or there is some reason for bringing it to an end. It appears to me, therefore, that this is a reason why in Ireland, having established this system of partnership, there must be provided some continuous system of dissolution of the terms of partnership, and no other suggestion has been made except the principle of State-supported land purchase. This purchase must be gradual in its operation as applied to such cases. Experience has shown this to be the case in connection with the money advanced under the Ashbourne Acts. There have been £10,000,000 available in Ireland since 1885, and the whole of the amount has not yet been applied for. Why, then, should we assume that, in the case of the present measure, there will at once be an extraordinary development of the desire for a dissolution of partnership? There are strong prudential motives, which "will keep the men who have paid in hard cash a considerable portion of the purchase-money of the holding from falling into line in a general strike against rent. That, at least, appeared to be the argument of the hon. Member in 1883. The hon. Member said that there was a general strike against rent in Ireland, and yet he pointed out that those who had become owners of their holdings had never been brought into line with that strike. But, as I have pointed out, this theoretical risk is amply provided for by the Bill, and the safety of the taxpayer is reduced to a point of almost mathematical certainty. So much for the question of security I was much interested in listening to that part of the speech of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) in which he promised to approach the question of the congested districts. That was a portion of the speech in which the House would have taken a great deal 1002 of interest, and I look forward to it with great interest.
§ *MR. MADDEN
It strikes me as a most remarkable circumstance that such an important part of the Bill should be forgotten by the hon. Member, dealing as it did with the Irish Land Question in its acutest form. It appears to me that the Bill before us differs from other measures of land reform in one important particular. It is the first Bill that has made a real and practical effort to deal with this question upon special grounds. I believe that the great mistake of your legislation during the last 30 years in relation to Irish land has been the ignoring of the fact that there are districts in Ireland in which the Land Question assumes a special aspect, and must be dealt with in a special manner. This is the great fault of the measures which Liberal Governments considered as a great panacea for Irish ills between 1849 and 1860. In the last-mentioned year they applied to the whole of Ireland the commercial system—a system of dealing with the contract of tenancy as they would deal with any other contract—applying it to portions of Ireland to which it was inapplicable. I think, also, that this was the great fault of the Encumbered estates system, followed as it was by the Landed Estates Courts system—that is to say, applying the commercial principle to the whole of Ireland generally, without considering the special circumstances of the portions of the country to which the system was to be applied. The idea then was to get a number of purchasers and new blood introduced amongst Irish landowners, holding out land as an ordinary commercial investment. Printed documents were circulated on the authority of the State, inviting purchasers and declaring that rents were so low in certain cases that handsome profits could be made, praising them, and this commercial system was applied to the whole of Ireland, without considering to what portion of the country it was applicable to and to what portion inapplicable. But the system broke down, and hence the legislation of 1870 and 1881. Again, the mistake was made of dealing with Ireland as a whole, in 1003 respect to which one uniform system of legislation was possible. I have thought for many year's that this is a cardinal defect of past legislation on the Irish Land Question. I was greatly struck by a passage in the writings of Lord Dufferin on the Irish question, which I read some years ago. I quote from memory, but I think the passage ran somewhat in this way—Is it an adequate reason for altering the relations between landlord and tenant in the most prosperous parts of Ireland because on the west coast a tenant cannot live on his holding if he had it for nothing?It seems to me that our legislation has been founded on the mistake that Lord Dufferin there indicated. That mistake is avoided by this Bill, which is entitled to recognition as the first attempt, on any adequate scale, to deal specially with the congested districts. How does it do so? What is the disorder from which the congested districts suffer? The disease may be simply described as congestion. How is it to be met? What do we mean by congestion? We mean that the population in existing circumstances is too great to derive subsistence from the occupation in which they are engaged, of luring and tilling land. Some other mode must be called in aid. There are two modes in which the evil of congestion can be met. You may uncongest. And the Bill deals with this matter in two ways—by emigration and migration. Now, I do not believe in migration as a possible scheme. Nor as to migration, you must get lands unoccupied by the tenants in some of the non-congested districts. That class of land in Ireland, under the worst cricumstancs, fetches a high price. It is right that the Bill should contain provisions which may be of use in certain exceptional cases; but I think if we look at the matter on a large scale we cannot expect much from migration Then, Sir, you have the question of emigration. It is most desirable that there should be an outlet from every part of the United Kingdom to a field of enterprise in the British colonies. As an Irishman, I should prefer that legislation should, as far as possible, enable my fellow-countrymen to remain in their native land; we must, no doubt, have recourse to emigration under certain circumstances. But what commends this Bill especially 1004 to my mind is that, for the first time, it proposes to call into existence a Body provided with ample funds to develop those industries to which we must look for uncongesting the congested districts, by altering the conditions under which they are inhabited, and rendering the population no longer redundant in proportion to the means of existence and of remunerative employment. I hope that the Government may have the assistance of Members in all parts of the House in passing this portion of the Bill. I have an agreeable recollection of the passage through Parliament, last Session, of the Light Railways Bill, which I hope and believe will aid in developing the resources of these less favoured districts of Ireland. That measure received the support of hon. Members opposite; and I can see no reason why they should not equally support this portion of the present Bill, so that it may be passed with a concensus of opinion in its favour. If it be passed into law, I believe that in the future, when the controversies and incidents of to-day have been long since forgotten, the legislation of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary will be remembered with gratitude, as having laid the foundation of comparative prosperity in the less favoured districts of Ireland. I have heard this Bill spoken of as a complicated one, and that may be either praise or blame, according to circumstances. If the subject can be treated simply, it is blame; if it requires complicated provisions for its adequate treatment, it is praise. For all persons not concerned in the details involved in the working out of the scheme it is an extremely simple one. The three classes of persons who require to understand the main principle of the Bill are the landlords, tenants, and taxpayers. Is there any complication as between landlord and tenant? They can come together and fix a price; and if they cannot agree they can invoke arbitration. On the vesting order being made the tenant becomes the owner, and the landlord knows how he has to receive the price allotted to him under the order. This arrangement, so far as it affects landlord and tenant, is simplicity itself. Of course, behind that arrangement there are complicated provisions to meet certain cases; bat they are not of general concern. All the 1005 taxpayer desires to know, unless he takes a very intelligent interest in the Bill, is summed up in the question—"Am I safe? "The taxpayers are told," You yourselves are your own paymasters, and have the power of withholding the annual payments, "the capitalised value of which cannot be exceeded under the Bill. If the theoretical danger become an actuality then, of course, there are complicated adjustments of liability between the guaranteeing parties. It is necessary that complicated provisions should be in the Bill, but the clauses directly affecting the landlord, the tenant, and the taxpayer, are plain, simple, and intelligible, and their purport can be stated in a few sentences. The complicated details concern only legal and financial experts. The more minute criticisms of the hon. Member for Cork may very well be dealt with in Committee. There is great difficulty in reconciling the adjectives and the verbs which hon. Members opposite use in relation to this measure. It is inconsistent to talk of landlords absconding and walking off with what I have heard termed the swag, and yet to suggest that their interests are not satisfactorily dealt with. The hon. Member (Mr. Parnell) might have been expected to make his choice as to which of the two views he intended to present to the House, but as he has not done so, it is not for me to make it for him. There are three classes of persons in the list of those who have been spoken of. There are, first of all, those who are absentees to start with, and who, therefore, could not abscond, because they never were in the country; next there are the large companies who are landowners; and, lastly, there are landlords such as the Duke of Abercorn, Sir Victor Brooke, the Duke of Leinster, and the Marquis of Waterford, who have not absconded, because they still remain in Ireland. It appears to be an infelicitous use of the word to speak of any of these classes as having absconded. Over and over again the House has heard that the class of owners of land that the country wants to be rid of are the absentees, and one of the great advantages anticipated from any system of land purchase is that it will transfer to resident occupiers the estates of public companies and of absentee landlords. So far as land purchase has gone this is what has been, to a large extent, 1006 accomplished. There is a fallacy involved in speaking of a single landlord having gone off with £240,000, as if this were an isolated transaction affecting himself only, whereas his property has been transferred to hundreds of tenants, from whose point of view the final result must also be looked at. It is, from their point of view, that schemes of this kind always are professedly regarded by hon. Members opposite, except when they are proposed by the present Government. The hon. Member for Cork has gone into a detailed criticism of the effect of the Bill upon the resident landlord, whom he has taken under his protection. In a particular case he has assumed that the interest payable to the landlord would be £27 10s., instead of £40. That comparison appears to me to be based upon an unwarrantable assumption, namely, that the landlord's property before purchase was an investment as secure as that of the stock is to which it is invested. This would seem to suppose that land in Ireland offered an exceedingly secure investment. I do not think the suggestions of the hon. Member tended exactly in that direction, and the hon. Gentleman did say that taking land worth £2,000, the landlord could borrow £1,000 at 6 per cent. interest.
§ MR. PARNELL
I took the same case and the same amount of interest in explaining both systems—the system of fining down and the system of purchase.
§ *MR. MADDEN
From what the hon. Gentleman has said as to having to borrow at 6 per cent., to the extent of half its value, it is clear that he, at all events, does not regard land in Ireland as so secure an investment as the public funds. If Irish landlords invested their purchase money in such investments of such a character that to borrow half their value they had to pay 6 per cent. interest, then their annual income would not be reduced one fraction from what it now was. The hon. Gentleman offered, at the conclusion of his speech, what he regarded as an alternative solution of the question. It is important to note that his solution, equally with that of the Government, is based on the cardinal principle of borrowing money on the security of contributions to the local rates; but it differs from the Land Purchase Scheme of the Government in not being a Land Pur- 1007 chase Scheme at all. Whatever may be the merits of the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork, it is not a system of land purchase. The tenant's rent may be fined down, but he is a tenant still. The hon. Member suggested a mode of applying certain portions of the money intended to be dedicated to land purchase, which is not incompatible with the general scheme now before the House.
§ MR. PARNELL
If the scheme of the Government is adopted there will be no credit left for carrying out my proposal.
§ *MR. MADDEN
I think it would be perfectly possible to engraft upon the scheme of the Government a mode of economising the funds available by applying a portion in fining down rents. Her Majesty's Government is of opinion that the scheme they now put forward affords the best mode of escape from a system of dual ownership where it has become intolerable to both parties. Supposing the hon. Member is right in contending that economy could be effected by fining down rents with a portion of the money allocated from local resources, that is no reason for voting against the Second Reading of this Bill. The hon. Member and the Government are together in wishing to economise the funds available, but I should like to know how much the hon. Member would apply to fining down rents according to his proposal. [Mr. PARNELL: 27,000,000.] In that case, indeed, the hon. Member's scheme differs from that of the Government in this—that he would apply £27,000,000 to what is not a scheme of land purchase at all. But I would remind the House that until it was the scheme of the present Government, land purchase was the plan proposed by the hon. Member himself for the settlement of the Irish Land Question. It appears to me that there are only two classes of Members who can sincerely vote against this Bill—those who do not believe that the Bill would produce prosperity to, and the pacification of, Ireland; and those who do not wish it to have that effect. With the latter I shall not argue, but, in addressing myself to the former, I ask who are the unbelievers? On this doctrine I preach to those who have long since, at all events, professed to be the converted. I would remind the 1008 House that since 1881 there has been no prominent man upon either side of politics who has not laid it down that the ultimate solution of the Land Question in Ireland is to be found in some system of State-assisted land purchase. It has always been admitted that the Land Question is the cardinal difficulty in Ireland, and the party opposite has admitted that it could be most effectively dealt with by a system of land purchase. Let them show, if they can, that the measure before the House is not adequate to deal with the question. Let them show, if they can, that it is unjust, or that it would involve any undue risk, or any risk at all, to the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman has not attempted to do so. Let hon. Members opposite show, if they can, some more excellent way of dealing with this question; and let them show, if they can, when their former professions on the subject ceased to be applicable. Let them show, if they can, that their opposition to this Bill is based upon some other principle than that of embarrassing the Government. I believe that the Bill will be accepted by the great majority of the House as the wisest and the safest, as certainly it is the most comprehensive and the most generous, scheme ever submitted to the Legislature for dealing with the great difficulty of Ireland, upon principles that have been accepted by representatives of every class of opinion in England and Ireland.
§ *(6.26.) SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland has thrown out a long series of challenges, in the perfectly courteous and Parliamentary language which he always uses towards hon. opponents, and I rise for the purpose of replying to them. In the first place, he asked whether we are prepared to stick to our often-declared opinions in favour of a system of State-supported land purchase in Ireland. I answer, yes; but not to the Government system. Our objection to the Government system of State purchase, is that it is brought forward in the interest of the individual and not in the interest of the State. I will show at once what I mean. It is not the interest of the State to drive the landowners from Ireland. The right hon and learned Gentleman made a most 1009 extraordinary and dangerous fallacy in one part of his speech. He said that Ireland had too long suffered from absentee landlords, and that they should be got rid of. It is true that absentee landlords are a great disadvantage to Ireland, but the circumstances are not improved if their connection with the country is finally and absolutely cut off, and they are enabled to take out of the country a very large sum of money. Is Ireland improved by being put into this miserable condition, that, being an agricultural country, whose wealth is in her soil, she should have this amount of money taken out of the country for the next 50 years? That, as it seems to me, would not be an advantage to Ireland. Our object is not to remove the landlords from Ireland, but to supplement them by adding to their number—in great numbers, I hope—other and smaller landowners—that is to say, the most solid, respectable, reliable, and solvent tenants. That is the only species of land purchase to which I, for my own part, have ever acceded, and it is the only species which has ever been approved by a vote in this House, on the part of the great Party to which I belong. My firm belief is—and very sad I am to think how great an opportunity has been lost—that if, during the last 10 years in Ireland, there had been a permanent system of land purchase, which dealt as simply and as trenchantly with the obstacles to purchase as, I freely acknowledge, the Ashbourne Act, of which this is a continuation, applies, and if that Act had only been applied to the more solvent and reliable tenants, then, by this time, there would have been a very great number of such landowners in Ireland. What are the principles that ought to be enforced? In 1884 I was privileged to bring in a Bill, which I certainly was not privileged to pass, and that Bill laid down that in order to get the purchase money from the State, the tenant was to give a hostage to the future by himself paying down one-fourth of the purchase money. But that was not all. Under one circumstance, and one circumstance alone, was the whole of the purchase money to be advanced by the State, and that was if there was a local guarantee. But, observe the difference between that local guarantee and the one pro- 1010 posed in the Bill now under debate. We proposed to introduce the best substitute we could for a Local Representative Body, and we did not propose to grant any loan until the applicant's neighbours had pronounced him to be a trustworthy and solid man, and had undertaken responsibility by guaranteeing the rent. That was the utmost limit to which we would go. But this Bill is of quite another sort. It deals with all tenants, good and bad alike. It permits, and the permission has been freely exercised, the clearing out from whole estates of the landlords, and the settling on the public, as the tenants of the public, of all the farmers on those estates, whatsoever their personal character and power of making their promises good. I must own that I do not wonder that this Bill gives too much for the benefit of the landlord. When the Ashbourne Act was first introduced into the House of Lords, Lord Salisbury stated markedly that it was brought in on behalf of the landlords as well as of the tenants, for no body of human beings had had greater suffering and distress inflicted on them by Act of Parliament than the Irish landlords. I deny that. I venture the assert that English and Scotch landlords have voluntarily done more for their tenants in the shape of rent reductions, than the Irish landlords have, by law, been compelled to do for theirs. A desire to aid the landlords shows itself in every line of the Bill. The hon. Member for Cork did not put the matter in so striking a way as if he had chosen one or two special districts, and had shown how much of the purchase money has gone into the pockets of a few landlords. In one county I find that, of £500,000 advanced, £450,000 went into three pockets, while in another county, out of £316,000, some £296,000 went into two pockets. Now, those were men who could not find anybody to buy their property in the open market, and the State came in, bought it, and constituted itself the landlord for 50 years. But now consider the way in which the landlords are benefited by the details of this Bill. I consider the clauses relating to the addition of two years to the purchase of the estate, on the account of arrears, as most dangerous to the taxpayer and most improper. Seriously, does the Government. consider what it is doing? Here is a 1011 farm where there are two years of arrears. That must mean one of two things—either the rent is too high, or the farmer is not trustworthy to pay the rent; and yet the Government actually make these arrears one of the assets which they are going to offer to the public, and, at the end of 50 years, the public is to be liable for having bought an estate for two years' purchase more than it is worth, because the rent has not been paid. Again, the Government propose to ascertain the net value by deducting the landlord's half share of the rates—8 per cent.; but in order to ascertain the net value how would anybody going to buy a property himself instead of for the public proceed? He would take off the expenses of management, the agents' and the sub-agents' and the clerks' salaries, Income Tax, and tithe rent-charge, and he would take off the prospective taxes and charges, which will be thrown on Irish land when Irishmen have their own way, and can spend their own money, as they will under the promised County Council Bill, if it is worth anything. Now, these together constitute a very serious deduction, and yet what does the Government do? It capitalises all these deductions, and calls upon the State to pay down solid cash to compensate the landlord for what he does not surrender. The hon. Member for Cork asks how far the British taxpayer will allow his credit to go to settle the Irish question, and said the Secretary for Ireland has limited the amount to £33,000,000 or £43,000,000. The Secretary for Ireland, I respectfully say to the hon. Member for Cork, has done no such thing. It is absolutely impossible to place any limit on purchase when once it is begun, unless Parliament buttons up its pockets and says no more money shall be given at all. The present leader of the House argued that question in 1886, and showed, with absolute and irresistible force, that if once a purchase system is established you must apply it to the whole extent of the land which offers itself for sale in Ireland. The essence of this Bill is that the tenants of Ireland are to become owners of the land at an annual payment of 20 per cent. less than the rent they now pay, and you must make up your minds, if you pass the Bill, that its benefit shall be extended to the whole of Ireland. The right hon. 1012 Gentleman has challenged me to say that this is a swindle on the taxpayer. Well, I do not use that word, but I do assert that the taxpayer will be put in extreme peril, and I should like to remind hon. Members opposite that, in their addresses at the last election, they estimated the sum required under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian at from £50,000,000 to £150,000,000. In the year 1886, I myself stated that if the Government once began to buy Irish land they might render themselves liable to a burden of £200,000,000, and I was vociferously cheered from those Benches. Now, those are the conditions that the taxpayer has to meet. He is going to become the landlord for Ireland, and he is going to find himself face to face with the tenants of Ireland, from whom he must exact every penny of their rent, for the space of half a century, or this scheme will break down. You must remember that this enormously complicated scheme is founded on two absolutely different conditions. One is that the tenants of Ireland should continue to pay their rent regularly. And here I must quote a few lines for the benefit of my Liberal Unionist friends from their great leader. The noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (Lord Hartington) in speaking upon the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, stated that the bad harvests which had prevailed in Ireland had rendered the payment of reasonable rents in that country impossible. Is it to be supposed that, during the next 50 years, we are not to have a recurrence of those bad harvests. If we do have a recurrence what position will the British taxpayer be in under the provisions of this Bill? In such a state of things how will the State be able to help itself? There is also the point relating to the congested districts to be considered. The great bulk of the English public appear to be still under an illusion with regard to the congested districts of Ireland. In those parts of Ireland the tenant is not so much affected by good and bad seasons; scarcely any rent can be paid in most seasons, and in some seasons no rent at all can be paid. In those districts rent is demanded for land which in England would pay absolutely no rent at all, or, at the outside, perhaps, 6d. per acre might be paid for it in large quantities for the 1013 poor grazing it afforded. The present rents are paid for the privilege of dwelling upon it, while the living of the family was made elsewhere. In the worst districts it may be said that those upon the land form a sort of humble and miserable villa population, who acquire the right of living upon the land, but not the power of getting their living out of it. The Government, I feel sure, would approach this part of the question with every desire to be humane and of service to the poorer classes in Ireland, but the Attorney General for Ireland has said that the Government does not approve of migration or emigration, and that their policy is to assist the people to pursue some more profitable industry by the aid of the State. But that is not the main feature of this Bill as regards the congested districts of Ireland. The main feature in the Bill, as regards those districts, is that the landlords should go off with a certain number of years' purchase in their pockets of rents which ought never to have been exacted at all, and on the other hand that the people should be encouraged to remain upon their holdings. There are proposals, too, for amalga mating holdings. How idle to talk of amalgamating two holdings, neither of which is worth 6d an acre of rent. Do not the Government see what a terrible responsibility they are laying up for themselves in the future in reference to these matters, in buying out landlords in these congested districts? They do sea it: for they have inserted clauses allowing the Lord Lieutenant to forbear from selling up a defaulting tenant, and for enabling the Land Commission to work a farm themselves, if they cannot sell it. The proposal that the Land Commissioners should have power to send men to cultivate holdings in respect of which the tenants make default in their payments will result in the men working them not making sufficient to pay for their shoe leather. Is the price of produce in Ireland always to remain at its present figure? In England and Scotland, when there was a great fall in the price of produce the landlords and the tenants put their heads together, and it was agreed that the loss should fall upon the landlords. But in Ireland, when the landlord has gone out of the country with the value of his estate in his pocket, the Government will find themselves 1014 face to face with the tenants, and the British public will find themselves in the odious position of having to exact the full rent in the face of a falling market. And whom is the British public to be brought face to face with? The original tenant will, in all probability, have sold his holding at a much better price than he gave for it, and having gone off with his 20 per cent. of rent in his pocket, the tenant in possession will pay the full value rent to the Treasury part, and part to the money-lender, and the latter is the man whom the British public will be brought face to face with. It was reasons of this kind that induced the Government to refuse to lend the public credit in order to enable the crofters in Scotland to buy their crofts. The Government then said that they would not throw a burden upon the labourers of England in order to provide crofts for the Highlanders. The Government now propose to do something for the landlords and the tenants of Ireland which they will not do for those of any other portion of the United Kingdom. Are they prepared to advance money, at 2¾ per cent. interest, to the London shopkeepers to purchase their houses, or to farmers in the English or Scotch counties to enable them to buy their holdings? Certainly not. Everything is reserved for Ireland, which has the best land system for the tenant of any in the United Kingdom if it were properly carried out. That land system depends upon the principle of dual ownership, which has led to the prosperity of the most prosperous class in the country, and that principle the Government are now going to destroy. I am now going to say something which, perhaps, may be thought very hard, but I think it my duty to say it. Our legislation ought always, as far as possible, to represent the real facts of the situation. What are the real facts of the situation? The Irish landlords have estates which give them legally a certain income, but those estates are not as rapidly saleable as they would be if they were in England. If, therefore, the Government wish to encourage the landlords to sell their estates, let them give the landlords an exact substitute for their estates; let them buy the Irish landlords out with an Irish Stock, if the people choose to agree through their 1015 genuine representatives to the creation of such a Stock. I think that is a perfectly reasonable proposal. The landlords would receive their incomes from such a Stock, but, doubtless, when they came to sell their land they would find that they would have to submit to considerable loss. But why should the British public have to bear that loss? There has been an instance lately of the goodness of Irish securities. The City of Dublin has recently consolidated its debt upon very satisfactory and honourable terms, in face of great difficulties. The security of the city rates in Ireland is good enough for the capitalist; the security of the county rates ought to be good enough for the ex-landlord. To turn to a minor point, I must also object to that part of the Bill by which it is proposed to give to the men who are to carry the measure into effect the enormous income of £2,500 a year with pensions, or £3,000 a year without pensions. There is not a Member of the House who does not know there is not a single Civil servant, at the head of a great State Department, doing the most responsible and laborious work, who ever gets a halfpenny more than £2,500 a year, and that it is only as a mark of great confidence on the part of his masters that he gets as much as that. The permanent Secretary for Ireland only gets £2,500, for giving up his position in the English Civil Service, which was his natural home. That is my first objection. But my second objection, which goes to the root of the whole matter, is that this large permanent paid Body is not to have any representative element at all, in my opinion it ought to be a representative Body, with one or two paid Government servants upon it. The right hon. Gentleman said that if there is a voluntary acceptance there will be no moral ground for repudiation. In the case of the tenant it will be sometimes, but not always, a voluntary acceptance, but it will not be so in the case of the great body of Irishmen. This Bill is being imposed upon Ireland without the consent of her representatives. Lord Leitrim said—Should the Purchase of Land Bill pass into law in anything like its present form?' My answer is If the Irish representatives accept it, Yes; if they reject it. No.Lord Leitrim knows Ireland; he knows 1016 it is certain that years will come when the rent cannot be paid; he knows that we must come on the guarantee; and he knows what a guarantee is worth that is not given, but taken by force. Lord Derby, on the other hand, says—The opposition offered to the Purchase Bill by the Nationalist Party is, to my mind, the strongest argument in its favour.The noble Earl says so now, but will his inheritors and successors say so 20 or 30 years hence? The Budget shows us that we shall never have any additional indirect taxation, and the burden will consequently fall upon the payers of Income Tax. If the Irish rents are not paid. Just imagine what the Irish Representatives will say. They will say, "Our consent was never asked; you took the Probate Duty, the Licence Duty, and the payment for education, and we refused to give our sanction." I ask hon. Gentlemen to consider what the Irish Members will think 20 or 30 years hence when the education money is taken. The landlord will sell his estate without any consideration being taken of the fact that it is morally liable to a contribution towards the education of the people. Consequently the Irish people will find themselves in this predicament—that they will not get their share of the Education Grant, inasmuchas the landlord will have carried off in his pocket the means out of which it ought to be paid. Again, if we have a great war all this beautiful, complicated, and delicate scheme, founded on the supposition of the nation being able to borrow money at 2½ or 2¾ per cent. will all go to the winds, and the taxpayers will lose every penny. There was one challenge which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made, and that challenge I boldly meet. The right hon. Gentleman said that coercion does not affect this Bill, which will be worked in a perfectly impartial and fair manner to all parties. That is not the case. In the present state of Ireland it cannot be from the nature of the circumstances. Those who want to sell their land belong to what is termed the party of law and order, while the tenants, and still more their advisers, are classed as opponents of law and order. Let hon. Members observe what great impunity there is under the present system. The Land Commissioners reported that the agent of the Drapers' 1017 Company, who wished to sell in a very-large number of oases, inserted incorrect rents in the agreements for sale, with the deliberate intention of deceiving the Commissioners for the benefit of his employers. Nevertheless, the company have kept that agent in their employment. If an agent of theirs had been guilty of such conduct in dealing with their English property, they would have dismissed him at once, but they forgave him because it was in Ireland, and in relation to the Treasury. This shows the spirit in which many who are selling come to the sale. If a great company can do such things, to what extent will common squireens think they are justified in getting the utmost they can out of the public? With regard to the question of pressure on the tenants, let me refer to the examination of MR. J. G. M'Carthy before the Cowper Commission. This witness was asked by the President, "How doss he (the agent) exercise the pressure?" The reply was—By telling the tenant he must either sign a contract for sale or go out. I have seen letters of this class. I have a letter in my possession from an extensive land agent, telling the tenant that the sheriff would not he put off beyond to-morrow, but that if he handed the sheriff the contracts for purchase duly executed he would not take possession.Surely a contract signed under such circumstances cannot be free. Now, the Government have decided that this terrible pressure shall not be counter acted by the advice of those who are advising the tenants in their own interests and in that of the taxpayer. The Chief Secretary has never in Parliament thought it right to deny a statement which has been made two or three times—namely, that the Government brought a criminal charge against an Irish Member of Parliament, because, in the most moderate manner, he advised the tenants that a certain number of years' purchase—17 years, I think—was too high. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Who was that?] That Member was the hon. Member for Monaghan. He was not convicted on the charge, and he may not have been prosecuted; but the Government prosecutor went into Court for the purpose of prosecuting. By taking that action, the Government showed that they consider the giving of advice of that nature, even in so moderate a manner, to be a punishable crime in Ireland. Now, 1018 the Government base the fair rent in Ireland on a deduction of 8 per cent. of the rates and taxes which the landlord has to pay.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman cares to be interrupted. I think he refers to what he calls my estimate of the general difference between the net and the grots rent in Ireland. The sum I myself took was merely for the purpose of illustration. I believe that the general average is far less than 7 per cent.
§ *SIR G. TREVELYAN
I am surprised at that being the result. I will not name any percentage, but simply say that the Government arrived at a fair rent by deducting a certain sum for rates and taxes. The hon. Member for Cork, in an extraordinarily able speech at Kildare, based the fair rent very differently. He stated in that speech that when the judicial rent bad been decided the tenants should deduct from it various charges which the landlord now paid, and which they would have to pay if they became their own landlords. They must deduct, he said, half the poor rate and half the county cess, the income tax, the tithe rent-charge, and agents' fees, and they must make allowances for bad debts, and also for the additional taxation which would certainly be placed upon the land for developing the education of the country. The net amount which the landlord was in the habit of getting would thus be reached, and the tenants would be able to give him a liberal number of years' purchase. I entirely agree with this statement of the hon. Member for Cork. But when the Bill before the House becomes law, what if the hon. Member for Cork and his friends go to Ireland and tell the tenants what the hon. Member for Cork told them at Kildare? Does the House seriously think that they will be allowed to make such statements with impunity in places where purchases are on foot? I maintain that coercion then will be sharper, and that the gaols will be fuller than ever. The measure before the House cannot be fairly worked under the present system of government in Ireland; and though it has been brought forward with the express desire of pacifying Ireland, it will only result in convulsing and irritating the country; and instead of settling the relations between 1019 this country and Ireland on a satisfactory footing, it will at no long interval bring about quarrels and misunderstandings between the Irish people and the Government graver than any of those which have occurred in the unhappy history of Ireland. I have spoken not only as a Representative of the taxpayer, but as a former Irish administrator. I have spoken to-day exactly in the same way as I spoke in 1883, in 1884, in 1886, and in 1888; and in my character of Representative of the taxpayer, and of an administrator who knew Ireland, I say I am heartily and unreservedly and sincerely opposed to this Bill.
§ *(7.22.) MR AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
If I had not heard the concluding sentence of the right hon. Gentleman, I should certainly not have realised the fact that he opposed the Second Reading of the Bill; indeed, his observations, like those of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), appeared to be more applicable to the Committee stage on the Bill rather than to the Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Bill is too favourable to the landlord. He also complained that it is too favourable to the tenant, and he argued that it is in some way or other injurious to the taxpayer. He seems to forget that the measure is the result of the Bill to which he was a party, and which is now law—the Land Act of 1881. Another of his complaints is that the Bill will tend to cut out the present residential landlords, and convert them into absentee landlords. That would have been a very good argument to have used before the Land Act of 1881 was passed, because the effect of that Act was literally to do that which the right hon. Gentleman says this Bill will do. The Act of 1881 gave to the tenants the three f's—free sale, fixity of tenure, and fair rent. That represents exactly the interests of the many men in England who own property subject to a rent-charge, and I never heard that a rent-charger upon land had the obligation of a landlord. When we speak of the obligation of a landlord, we understand the obligations of the squire of a parish, or of some great landowner, who gives parties and employs labourers, and deals liberally with his tenants, and attends to their farms. Can it be said that a 1020 man who has never any right to go on the land at all, so long as the tenant observes his part of the contract, is a landlord. It is right we should understand that, since the Act of 1881, to speak of landlords in Ireland is altogether a mistake and a blunder; they may be rent chargers, but they are certainly not landlords in the proper sense of the term. It is the establishment of dual ownerships in Ireland that makes this Bill a necessity. What is now the interest of the tenant? It is, of course, to get his rent reduced as often as he can; and how does he try to do that? Why, by reducing the produce of the soil as much as possible. The object of every tenant, and of every country, and of every Department of the State should be to encourage the best form of agriculture. That is not done by having laws which encourages the tenant to reduce the produce of his land, to cultivate the land in a slovenly and unscientific manner lest his rent should be increased. Ireland, or that part of the country outside of Ulster, has not the same resources in the way of manufactures and commerce that England or Scotland has; therefore, it is of the utmost importance that if agriculture be the staple industry, every opportunity should be afforded the tenant. I thought it was determined long ago that it was desirable, if possible, to improve the position of the Irish peasant, and, if we could, to help him by State aid. Surely that is a course of conduct to which hon. Members opposite can raise no sort of reasonable objection. That seems to me to be the reason which varies this case from the case put by the right hon. Gentleman. He referred to the shopkeepers in Bond Street, and to the agriculturalists of England who may prefer a similar claim to have money advanced to them by the State for the purpose of buying the goodwill of their businesses or farms. But before the argument can apply it must be shown that the condition of the shopkeepers in Bond Street and of the agriculturalist in England has in some sort of way been affected as the condition of the Irish tenant has been affected by legislation. That cannot be shown. It was the Act of 1881 that created the dual ownership, and it is the dual ownership which now throws on the State the responsibility of dealing with the difficulties of 1021 the situation. What is it that is proposed by this Bill? It is proposed that an advantage should be given to the landlords and to the tenants. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, in 1886, said we owed a great deal to the Irish landlords; and he would not venture to introduce his Home Rule Bill unless he had first made thy landlords safe, as their position might be rendered precarious by the action of the Legislature. Again, so far as the tenants are concerned, every one will agree that some advantage should be given to them. What is that advantage to be? It is said that they are to get the land for themselves and pay annually for it a sum of money which is less than the rent they are now called upon to pay. But what is the real explanation of it? It is that the British Government has power to borrow money at 2¾ per cent. on its own security, a power which certainly is not possessed by individuals. Well, if it can obtain that money on those terms and lend it again at 4 per cent., it makes a clear profit of 1¼ per cent. per annum; and if you spread the operation over a period of 49 years and form a Sinking Fund, as is proposed in this Bill, it becomes possible, by means of such Sinking Fund, to pay off the principal. That is what the British Government are now seeking to do on behalf of the Irish tenants; and, assuming the security they take for the loans to be good, nobody can be injured in the slightest degree. Then the point arises, Is that security good? Comparisons have been made between this Bill and the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian: and the Daily News this morning publishes extracts from the speeches and the election addresses of Unionist Members in 1886, in which the Bill of that year was condemned. The editor of that paper has done me the honour to quote some words from my election address, in which I stated that the opposition of the Irish landlords was to be bought off at a cost of £150,000,000, which money was to be paid by the taxpayers of England and Scotland. No doubt I did at that time look with disapprobation on the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman; and if it were now before the House, I should still disapprove of it, because it contained none of the points 1022 which recommend to our favour the Bill of the Chief Secretary now being debated; it contained none of the securities which are now provided for. Much has been said as to the consent of the Irish Representatives not being given to this Bill, and as to the probability of having to fall back ultimately on Imperial Revenues to redeem the loan. But I believe we shall never have to resort to the second line of defence, and that the security taken in the first instance will prove ample. That security consists not only of the landlords' interest, but also of the tenants' interest. The landlords' interest will be all that will be paid for by the money to be advanced. That interest is a mere rent-charge, liable to be diminished by unskilful or lazy tilling of the soil, and is not the ownership of the estate. But, in addition to this, the Government have, as security, the property of the tenant. The Cowper Commission's Report, or rather that part signed by Earl Milltown, showed that the interests of tenants have realised, on the average, 20 years' purchase when the Land League have allowed sales to take place. Therefore, if the Government lend £1,700 on a property producing a rent-charge of £100 a year, the total value of the security, allowing only 17 years purchase for the tenants' interest, will be £3,400. It is said that the value of the tenants' interest is very uncertain, because there may be combinations amongst them. It is, I think, surprising that Home Rule Members should suggest the possibility of a combination among tenant proprietors to repudiate engagements to which they have voluntarily put their seal. I have never heard such a charge made against the Irish farmers, even from the Conservative Benches or platforms. I do not believe those farmers are more dishonest than either Scotchmen or Englishmen; and I do not agree that, having obtained money from the taxpayers, they would pocket it and then immediately repudiate the transaction. It has been suggested that they would be justified in doing so, because the transaction will not have been carried out with the assent of their Representatives in this House. But what does it matter if the bargain has been made without the assent of their Representatives in Parliament? There would have been some- 1023 thing in that objection to transactions under the Bill of the leader of the Opposition, because, under that Bill, the tenant would have had no choice as to whether or not he should purchase his farm. But under this Bill he will enter into the bargain because he wishes to do so, and I believe there will be a keen competition for the advances. What was transferred by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was the landlords' interests, and consequently only half the security afforded by the present Bill. Then under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to whom was the land to be transferred? The reason for that Bill was that the landlords would have been at the mercy of the Irish Government, and the Bill was intended to save them from being-sacrificed. Yet the right to the property was to be transferred to the Irish Government, the rents were to be collected by revenue collectors appointed by the Irish Government, which would have been hostile to the landlords, and might have been expected to take every opportunity of encouraging repudiation in case of a quarrel between England and Ireland. What would have been the position of the British Government under such a Bill? Under such a Bill as that the British taxpayer would have had no security whatever. But not only was there no security under the Bill of 1886, there was not even the personal promise or responsibility of the Irish tenant for the re-payment of the money. In these points the Bill now before the House compares favourably with that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. The hon. Member for Cork has complained that money enough is not provided to buy out all the tenants, that only about one-quarter of them will come under the operation of the Bill, and that great dissatisfaction will be caused. That may be a fair criticism for Committee, and I hope the Government will consider whether the advances might not be restricted to the smaller tenants, in the first instance. But the objections taken by the hon. Member for Cork do not go to the root of the Bill; they only point to matters which can be dealt with in Committee. The hon. Member seems to ignore the fact that this measure is intended to be gradual in its operation, 1024 and may, if successful, be followed by others of a like character. It is utterly inconsistent on the part of gentlemen opposite, who were so eager a few years ago in favour of allotment and the right of the labourer to a portion of the soil, to oppose a Bill of this character. Under its provisions the British taxpayer will not suffer the loss of a farthing. I should like to know how hon. Members who oppose it can pose before their constituents as the true friends of the working classes. I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.
(7.55.) THE EARL OF CAVAN (Somerset, S.)
I presume that if a stranger who visited this House during the debate on the Bill of 1886 were to enter it now he would be astonished at the change which has taken place in the interval. In 1886 the Liberal Party were all for Land Purchase, and Gentlemen opposite were against it. Now, those who sit on this side of the House are found arrayed against the land purchase scheme of a Conservative Government, whose Chief Secretary has become the powerful ally of those who wish to rid the country of the English landlord. I am opposed to the present Bill, though I do not consider it to be an unmitigated evil; on the contrary, there are three distinct benefits which I think may be secured from it. One would be the getting rid of a number of the landlords, an end which apparently the Chief Secretary is very anxious to secure; secondly, I think the Turbary Clauses with the smallest possible change, will be very acceptable; and thirdly, the clauses dealing with long leases are, to my mind, admirable, and I wish the right hon. Gentleman every success in passing those portions of the Bill. But I object to the purchase provisions. There is no freedom of contract between the landlord and the tenant. The other day I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would withdraw the police from meetings of the tenants held for the discussion of the Bill. I was told that the police only attended when there was a fear of illegality. But illegality is a broad term as interpreted by Resident Magistrates in Ireland, and the Bill cannot be looked on with favour by the tenants, because no fair discussion of a measure like it can take place under the menace of the presence of police reporters. The land- 1025 lords, of course, are allowed to discuss it without being so menaced. I have still another objection to the Bill. Thirty years ago, when I first began to take an interest in politics, I was always told by a relative who had been a Minister of the Crown that any Bill brought forward should carry on its face the recommendation that it sought to obtain—the greatest happiness of the greatest number. I think this Bill will produce the greatest misery, and I will endeavour to show how this will occur. It was estimated, when the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was before the country, that £200,000,000 would be required to buy up the whole of the land in Ireland; but, taking a moderate estimate, I say £160,000,000, so it is obvious that if only £33,000,000 is the sum which the Government are inclined to spend, then something like four or five landlords will not be bought out to every one that is. A great number of tenants will be disappointed, and possibly a great number of landlords. I am perfectly well aware that it is proposed that as money is paid in it will be paid out again; but let me take the illustration the right hon. Gentleman himself gave on introducing the Bill, that of a tenant paying £100 rent. That tenant enters into an arrangement with his landlord as explained by the Chief Secretary; for five years he pays £80 a year, and for 44 years £68, and at the end of that time he is owner of his farm. Well and good; the man is satisfied, and I suppose the landlord is satisfied. But just over the hedge there is another man who pays £100 rent and his landlord refuses to sell. Now, what are the feelings of that tenant towards his landlord as he contrasts his position with that of his neighbour? Do we not get very close to my proposition, the greatest misery to the greatest number? You start a now state of ill-feeling between tenant and landlord, and it is rather a serious matter. I presume under the Coercion Act it will be possible to keep these tenants in order. The landlord can go to the tenant and say to the tenant, "Pay me my £100 rent or Her Most Gracious Majesty's battering ram will knock the house about your ears and the whole force of the Coercion Act will be brought against you." These are strong argu- 1026 ments on the part of the landlord, but the tenant has no arguments whatever to use. The tenants cannot even combine. We have had the Home Secretary's opinion of combination; the right hon. Gentleman has shown that agricultural tenants cannot combine for their own protection like members of a Trades Union. The Irish tenant has no menace, no pressure to put the landlord. But, suppose this landlord, though he does not desire to sell, is a good landlord who has got on well with his tenants and is anxious to continue on good terms with them in the future, he is not impecunious, but has means at his disposal besides those ho gets from his tenants. This landlord may go to his tenant and say, "rather than have a standing quarrel between us I will reduce your rent to £80 for five years, and then to £68 for 44 years, and so you will be on the same terms as your neighbour." Would the tenant be right in acceding to these terms? Certainly not; they are not nearly good enough, because there will be this distinction between the two positions, that he will, at the end of 49 years, be still a tenant, when his neighbour will be an owner. What, then, will be a fair compromise to make up for want of possession? Why a rent of £50 or £60, and the tenant will be badly advised if he accepts a higher rent than that. Well, suppose he accepts £50, and agrees to pay that instead of £100. He is in the happy position for the time being, on meeting his friend who is coming in on the Purchase Act, of showing how much better off for the time being he is. But suppose disasters come? Suppose distress comes as it came 10 years ago and may come again; then what will be the position of these two persons? The positions will be to a very great extent reversed. I can hardly imagine a more miserable position than that of the good landlord with little money at the bank, who desires to remain in Ireland, and who has not come to terms with his tenants under this Bill. And now a few words in reference to an important letter which has appeared in a leading newspaper from the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). The noble Lord seems to have been very fairly criticised on both sides. He addressed himself to persons who, in the language of Lord Granville, 1027 are persons of a cross-bench mind, and who, in the opinion of election agents, are of no use to anybody, who are not Liberals and not Conservatives, and of whom it is impossible to say which way they will lean. So deep is the dislike to this class that a name of contempt has been imported from the other side of the water, and they have been styled "mugwumps." But who are these with whom the noble Lord is dealing? They are those who turn out Governments and re-construct Cabinets. They are the people who, being neither Liberals or Conservatives, think for themselves on every question. They are a very important class, to my mind, after all the sarcasms poured upon them. These are the persons to whom I would address myself, persons of an open mind, and to these the noble Lord has addressed himself. I cannot go the length of all the noble Lord has said, but I can go with him in the advice he has given to the Government—advice, I am sorry to say, they will not accept. That advice is that this Bill should be dropped, and that the Government should bring forward a Local Government scheme on very broad principles, and that after that they should bring forward this Bill, or something like it, on a more representative basis, and they will carry it out with greater ease. That advice will not be taken. It would be presumptuous in me to suppose that the Government would take my advice when they have refused that of the noble Lord. But let the Government consult their Whips, those admirable officials who discharge their duties with so much courtesy and punctuality, and have so much knowledge of the position of parties. They will tell the Chief Secretary what, perhaps, he knows already, that it is more and more difficult to keep a House every year; that the further we get from the time when Members were in close connection with their constituents, it is more difficult to keep a House, and the difficulty increases as July approaches. Supposing there is great opposition to the Bill as a whole, then bring forward a Local Government Bill first, then deal with the Turbary Clauses and long lease clauses. The opposition to your Bill would not carry half the weight if the noble Lord's advice, were taken; The Government would be in a stronger position, for 1028 it would be impossible for Members to resist the Bill at any great length, and I do not think they would resist it. Then bring forward the remainder of the Bill next Session, a Bill re-constructed on more popular lines. If they do that, the Government will lighten the Bill and will do something to show they realise the position in which they are now placed; they will do something to meet the demands of the Irish people, proceeding on a basis of popular representation with a Bill in more popular form. But if the Government think it is their duty to press forward this Bill, equally the Opposition have a duty, and that is to offer opposition to the Bill, not opposition of such a description as will provoke the angry comment of any reasonable man, not a factious opposition, but still an opposition that will go to the extent of questioning every line, every single word in a Bill which will act prejudicially to the greater interests of Ireland. (8.20.)
§ *(8.45.) MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)
I have to say that, in my opinion, the objections that have been offered to this Bill are exceedingly well-founded; and before coming to the chief points of objection I should like to offer a few remarks. The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland has, singularly enough, invoked in support of this Bill an Irish Catholic newspaper; but, for my part, I cannot see what special authority that newspaper has to speak on the question, either for or against. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also quoted in favour of the Bill the opinions of that Body which the present Government have so stoutly insisted in describing as a criminal conspiracy, namely, the Land League. I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman was it not for their connection with that so-called criminal conspiracy that no fewer than eight Members of the Irish Party were accused of the most serious criminality, notwithstanding which the right hon. and learned Gentleman cites in defence of the measure now before the House the opinions of the Land League? It is quite certain that time brings about strange changes, and I must say that it has brought about nothing more strange than when we see the Irish Attorney General of the present Conservative Government quoting 1029 in favour of a Government measure the opinions of the Irish Land League.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ *MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (continuing)
If this Bill were to pass in its present form it would be the occasion of a large amount of discontent all over Ireland, and would only render the state of things much more unpleasant than at present, when, goodness knows, they are quite bad enough. I might not object to a scheme of purchase such as could be applied to all Ireland; but in that case it must be administered honestly and fairly, and by men in whom the tenants would have confidence. At any rate, some arrangement might be made by which, at least, one-half of them should be men in whom the tenants would have confidence. As it is at present, all the Courts in Ireland—the Land Courts and others—are administered by men who are notoriously in favour of the landlords, and I do not think it possible to get a Land Court scheme out of the present Government that will have the confidence of the Irish tenants; nor is there any probability of the Land Question in Ireland being settled by this measure. For it proposes to touch merely the fringe of the question, leaving the balk of it untouched, while at the same time it exhausts Irish resources. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to a speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in which, after referring to the landlords' combination, he said he would not object to a tenants' combination; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General added that it must be a legal combination. For my part, I doubt whether human ingenuity could devise a tenants' combination that would be recognised by the present Government as legal; and if it be possible to create such a combination, I would ask the Attorney General for Ireland to sketch for us a plan that would satisfy the Government. I am afraid, however, that the example furnished by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor, who is now on the Judicial Bench in Ireland, would operate: as a darning of the danger attending the preparation of such a scheme; for the previous Attorney General for Ireland 1030 committed himself to an approval of the Plan of Campaign, a procedure which he found shortly afterwards had placed him in a very unfortunate position. It seems to me that one of the greatest objections to this Bill is that it leaves practically unlimited power to squeeze the tenant. This 20 years' purchase is not on the real net rent, but on the gross rent, less the taxes. The real net rent, allowing for costs of collection, bad debts, &c, would be at least 15 per cent less. The Government propose to give the landlord 20 years' purchase, and as much more as they can squeeze out of the tenant. To make matters worse, we have a land market which is entirely rigged. Sales, when they can be passed through the Land Courts, are at an entirely fictitious price. The prevailing prices are entirely fictitious. Consequently, we have a closed market, and in this state of things any sales forced now would be forced at artificial rates altogether. Nearly one-fifth of the estates of Ireland are in the Land Courts, and if the Government were to put those estates in the market they would, within a very short time, ascertain the value of land in Ireland, and would obtain valuable information for the purposes of this Bill. By the arrears of unjust rants, and by the eviction made-easy clause of the Land Act of 1887, the tenants are now entirely at the mercy of the landlord, who can coerce them to agree to any terms he likes. Under these circumstances, if the Bill passed, the tenants would be coerced to pay exorbitant prices. Suppose there were two or three bad seasons, what would be the condition of things? Total inability to pay these exorbitant instalments. It is to meet that state of things, apparently, that these fictitious guarantees are piled up. The hon. Member for the Harrow Division spoke of the guarantees as the second line of defence; and he also said that the tenants' interest would not be counted in, and that it would be equal to the interest of the landlord. [Mr. AMBROSE: Would be.] I understand I have not taken the hon. Gentleman amiss. He told us that the tenant's interest would be an additional guarantee, and that it would be equal to the interest of the landlord; That would certainly be the case under circumstances different from those which prevail at the present 1031 time. If the tenants had not been cheated of the benefits of the Healy clause of the Land Act of 1881, there would have been a different state of things now prevailing. What was the decision of the Irish Appeal Court? That a tenant's interest in his improvements was exhausted after 20 years, and that then they became the property of the landlord. There is the old saying that "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." Why is the landlord's interest in his property not exhausted after 20 years' possession? As the law stands now, I do not think it can be controverted that the rent is fixed upon the tenant's interest as well as the landlord's interest. Where is the property in Ireland with regard to which the landlord's interest alone is worth the [resent rent? The thing is altogether absurd. Rents at the present time are fixed upon both the landlord's interest and the tenant's. Tenants' interest would be paid for under this scheme as well as the landlords', but the scheme of the Chief Secretary is obviously framed to deprive the tenants of the benefits of the Healy cause of the Land Act. Will the right hon. Gentleman re-enact the Healy clause without ambiguities? If he will do that, we shall have a bonâ fide security for the taxpayer, but I am afraid that without it there will be no such security. And here I would say to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ambrose) that before he ventures again to offer the House his opinions on the Irish Land Question, he should inform his mind on the subject. My own impression is that if the Healy clause were really operative in the interest of the tenants, the tenants would not care three farthings about a Purchase Bill. That clause is—or ought to be—worth all your Land Acts and Purchase Bills put together, and if the Government were to set about to restore it to the tenants honestly, fairly, and securely, and have it administered by men in whom the tenants could repose confidence, there would be little need fur a Purchase Scheme. This Bill does not go far enough to settle the Land Question in Ireland. It keeps clear of the real trouble. We were told that the Ashbourne Acts and the Light Railways Act were to improve the condition of Ireland, to restore peace and harmony, and to render the people contented, but as yet we have seen none of these beneficial 1032 results flow from them. The Ashbourne Acts have not been carried out where they are most required. We do not find that they have been applied to the Clanricarde estate, or to any of the estates where these bitter struggles have been going on between landlord and tenant. What then, I ask, is the use of this Bill? Will it apply to such estates as the Clanricarde? If men like Lord Clanricarde refuse to sell, what will be the use of the Bill—to what purpose will it have been passed and will the money of the British taxpayer have been given? We have to look at the Bill from that point of view. It seems to me that the sole object of this Bill, and the other measures to which I have referred, is to put money into the pocket of the landowners, but as to pacifying Ireland that idea would not appear to have entered the mind of the Government at all. This measure is not desired by the representatives of the Irish people. It is a big scheme of jobbery you want to try and force on us, and you wish to do it in spite of the views of the representatives of Ireland, who object to your allowing the landlords to pocket double the value of their interest in the land—to take, in fact, both their own and the tenants' interest. And having forced these dishonest terms on the tenants the Government provide a guarantee for the security of the British taxpayer. What is that security?—The grants in aid. On what grounds would the Government deprive the Irish people of these grants in aid? Simply to enable a fourth of the tenants of Ireland to pay exorbitant prices to the landlords for their land. And if they deprived Ireland of these grants what would result? Why, the effect of that fraud upon the Irish taxpayer would be that we should have to close the lunatic-asylums, and the workhouses, and leave the school teachers without their salaries. And to make matters worse, the Grand Juries and the Lord Lieutenant would have power to levy certain rates in support of the guaran-the. The powers you propose to con-fer on the Lord Lieutenant are not very dissimilar from those exercised by Charles I. in this country, which were the beginning of his trouble with the Parliament and which, in the end, lost him his life. Would any sane man suggest that the people of Ireland are 1033 Likely to permit a levy of any such kind to be made by the Lord Lieutenant on his own motion? Certainly not. I do not think that a force ten times as great as that you at present possess in Ireland would be sufficient to enable the Lord Lieutenant to levy such a tax. And what would be the position if the new purchasers in Ireland—these men for whom you run all these risks —became defaulters in bad times? Why, the whole of the people would suffer because of the default of a few, and the position of those who purchased under the Bill would become so unpleasant that you would not only have a strike against these instalments but against rents all round. I believe this Bill is calculated to produce great mischief and confusion in Ireland, and I further believe that, under coercion, it will not be fairly administered. As a matter of fact, the Government, knowing that their term of office is not likely to last very long, desire to do the best they can for their friends, and, certainly, if they are able to carry this measure, they will be doing a splendid stroke, getting for the landlords double the value of their interest. As to the Land Act of 1881, to which so much reference has been made, my belief is that that measure, including the Healy clause, would have gone very far to settle the Land Act if it had been honestly administered, and if that which no one could have foreseen. namely, the sudden change in agricultural values, had not taken place. In my opinion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has never received the credit he deserves for that Act, seeing that it would have gone very far indeed in the direction of settling the Land Question in Ireland if the Healy clause had been honestly administered, and it had been recognised that the interest of the tenant in his holding was equal to that of the landlord. The restoration of that clause in its integrity would satisfy the great bulk of the Irish tenants, and save the time of the Government and of Parliament, always provided that the Land Act were administered by those in whom the tenants could have confidence. It is no use banding the administration of the Act over to the enemies of the tenants, and, for the sake of fair-play, at least one-half of the Body administering the Act should be men en- 1034 joying the confidence of the tenants' The Land Court at the present time is manned by the landlords' men, and before you pass any Bill like this you should clearly comprehend the true value of the tenants' interest in the land. To ascertain that value the present Land Court is incapable. It seems to me that this Bill betrays an incapacity or an unwillingness—I am afraid an incapacity—to grapple with this question, and whilst it only touches the fringe of the subject, it proposes, under certain contingencies, to swamp the whole of our Irish local resources. It leaves the claims of three-fourths of the tenants unsettled, which would produce endless discontent, and altogether the measure is not one to which we, in this quarter of the House, can offer any support.
§ *(9.21.) MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
The hon. Member who has just sat down used words which fell from his leader a while ago, namely, that there is no need for a Purchase Bill in Ireland. That is certainly not what I have always understood as to the wishes and desires of the Irish tenants, and I must say I regret that the hon. Gentleman and his leader have decided to oppose this measure. I hoped that the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian on the introduction of the Bill would have had a greater effect in all quarters of this House, and that all parties would have joined in support of a Bill embodying a principle which all parties have adopted, namely, the conversion of the tenants into owners. Hon. Members below the Gangway have always held that those who till the soil should own it. I cannot think that the hon. Member for Cork, in speaking as he has done this evening, has represented the true feelings of the tenant farmers of Ireland. The hon. Member has advanced no reasons for opposing the Bill; but he admits that the Land Act of 1887 has been of use. Yet when that Act was under discussion, and the Act of 1881, the hon. Member for Cork and his Party walked out of the House without voting. Hon. Members from Ireland, when they cross St. George's Channel, often claim credit for the passing of Bills which they have opposed in the House. The hon. Member for Cork gave one reason for 1035 opposing the Bill with which I have a certain sympathy, namely, that only one part of the tenants would benefit from the Bill. But that difficulty exists at present under the Ashbourne Act, and the Bill before the House is at least one step towards removing that difficulty. For my own part, I wish that all parties had joined in urging upon the Government the necessity of making the present measure a final one. Certainly agitation will continue as long as a certain number of tenants are excluded from becoming owners. The right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) brought in a Purchase Bill in 1885, and he, with Lord Spencer and the Member for Newcastle, has always declared that the Land Question must be settled before a Home Rule Bill can be passed. It is, therefore, rather strange to find the right hon. Gentleman opposing the present Bill. The hon. Member for Cork declares that the Land Question in Ulster is in a normal condition; but if the hon. Member were to contest one of the agricultural constituencies of Ulster on that cry he would soon find out his mistake. The Ulster tenants want a Purchase Bill, and one on the lines of the present measure. The hon. Member for Cork further said that he would apply the Bill only to tenants paying rent under £50, and would strike out grazing tenants; but this would only aggravate the acknowledged difficulty of the existing situation. For whilst a tenant who paid £55 a year rent could not be an owner, one who paid £45 a year could. The hon. Member is prepared to strike out tenants in grazing districts, and that also would be again creating two classes of tenants, and preventing one altogether from realising their hopes and wishes. But it was when the hon. Member for Cork came to deal with the congested districts that I was most disappointed. I was surprised to hear him say that he had forgotten to speak of the congested districts, for they have been the cause of much of the trouble in Ireland. The question in the West of Ireland is not a Land Question; and therefore any Bill dealing with the congested districts must be founded, to some extent, on public works, and follow the Light Railways Bill, of last year. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the 1036 Bill said the landlords would receive large sums; but why not? I do not view this Bill as a landlord's Bill, but as a measure to put the tenants in possession of their own holdings. If a landlord is in possession of a large estate, he is entitled to receive the value of it, whether it is large or small. Other people have mortgages, whether their estates are large or small, the mortgages have to be paid off; therefore, it does not follow that large amounts will go into the pockets of the landowners. As to the London Companies, I think it is right that they should sell, and I have always thought that absentee landlords should be required to sell. The London Companies sell, and I hope a Committee of this House will investigate the matter, and see that these companies do not run off with all the swag, as some hon. Gentlemen put it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division made a statement with regard to the sale by the Drapers Company. There is no doubt the proceeding was very disreputable. I believe the purchase amount was fixed upon the rents paid, instead of upon the fair rents fixed by the Court, in some cases, and no doubt the company did attempt to get more out of the tenants than they should have done. But the great point is that the Land Commission refused to ratify the sale. It will always be open to the Land Commission to refuse to ratify a sale an any estate where force is used. Then the question of security has been raised. I always contend that the security in Ireland is very safe, because the tenants own part of the holdings. In the past, instalments of purchase have been paid very regularly. The Attorney General for Ireland has mentioned the glebe purchasers; but he has not mentioned the purchasers under the Act of 1870. I do not think the latter purchasers have paid their instalments so regularly as glebe purchasers; but it must be borne in mind that, in their case only, two-thirds or three-fourths of the money was advanced, and they had to go for the rest into the open market to borrow at a usurious rate of interest—8 or 9, or even, more per cent., That is completely remedied under this; Act. Then. we have heard of repudiation,, and I regretted to hear of it. I believe that Irish tenants who, go voluntarily into 1037 the Land Court will not repudiate; it is impossible that after paying 80 per cent. for the first five years they will render themselves liable to be turned out of their holdings. In the North of Ireland the tenant farmers would treat with scorn the idea that they would attempt to repudiate. The hon. Member for Cork explained a scheme of his own. I confess the scheme is difficult to understand; indeed, it seems to me that all it does is to complicate the situation. The hon. Gentleman proposes that only half of the purchase money should be given by the State, and that the landlords should still remain. That simply amounts to the introduction of a third party. Such a scheme does not seem at all workable, and will, I think, be rejected by the hon. Member's own Colleagues. The hon. Member for the City of Cork has spoken of putting an end to the turmoil in Ireland. It is because I believe that this Bill is a step towards putting an end to the turmoil in Ireland, and because it gives a considerable benefit to the Irish tenants, that I give it my hearty support.
§ (9.35.) MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
I do not rise for the purpose of attempting to reply to anything that has been said by the hon. Member (Mr. Lea). I am not inclined to enter into the internecine fight between the Irish Members. This question is not simply an Irish question; and I think it is full time that a Representative of another nationality, and especially a Member of the House who was not a Member of the House at the time that many were committed irretrievably on the one side or the other upon the Land Purchase question, should be allowed for a moment to interpose a word. In opposing this Bill I find my duty is an exceedingly simple one. One of the purposes for which I was sent here was to oppose any such Bill. At the last election my constituents were, and they are now, of opinion that if Ireland is fit to be intrusted with the management of its affairs generally, it is certainly fit to be trusted with its land affairs; that an Irish Parliament, necessarily possessed of more minute knowledge and greater time to deal with such a question, would deal with it with more information and more skill than the Imperial Parliament, and certainly not with less wisdom and justice. In that opinion I most heartily 1038 concur. There may be leading Members of the Liberal Party—I do not include the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who I believe has not committed himself to any statement of the kind—who are of opinion that the Imperial Parliament ought to settle the land question before allowing an Irish Parliament to commence its duties. That is not at all the opinion of Scottish Liberalism. The arguments that have convinced them that Ireland ought to have a Parliament at all, have also convinced them that one of the first and most prominent difficulties of Ireland ought also to be one of the first and most prominent duties of an Irish Parliament. Holding that view myself, I unhesitatingly maintain that this question ought not to be before the Imperial Parliament at all, and ought to be reserved for an Irish Parliament. But the question is before this Parliament, and that being so I am none the less pledged to oppose it on its merits. I am bound to oppose any proposal for beneficially paying off the Irish landlords at the expense or the risk of the British taxpayer. In proposing his Land Bill of 1886, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian said that he considered it as a matter of honour to offer the Irish landlords the boon of the measure, because the deeds of the Irish landlords were our own deeds. But in Scotland we do not see this obligation of honour; because whilst we see that the deeds of the Irish landlord class are undoubtedly the deeds of the English landlord class, we do not see that they are the deeds of the British people, who at the time of those deeds were unenfranchised—at all events, the Scottish people were. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian admits that at the time those deeds were committed the whole representation of Scotland in the Imperial Parliament was in the hands of 4,000 or 5,000 persons; and that, therefore, as he put it, the Scottish people had no responsibility for the dreadful history of the relations between Great Britain and Ireland. I feel, therefore, bound to oppose this Bill, which, while to some extent it is a tenants' temptation Bill, is also a landlords' relief Bill at British risk. But I go further than this and maintain that all parties in this House are by implication pledged against this Bill, and before 1039 dealing with its proposals are bound to go and obtain a new mandate from their constituents. The last General Election was, no doubt, a Home Rule election in one of its aspects, but it was also a Laud Purchase election as well and as much. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite were not content with raising one hobgoblin at that time; they employed two of these scooped-out turnips with lighted candles inside, shedding a ghastly glare from eye-holes on dark evenings to scare village populations; and of the two I think the Land Purchase turnip was quite as successful as the Home Rule turnip. I remember the struggle we had to lay the Land Purchase spectre. With a copy of the Land Purchase Bill in each hand, hon. Members opposite went raving, reciting, and maddening through, the land, proving from a hundred platforms, to their intense satisfaction and to the intense consternation of the assemblages of old women, and children of both sexes respectively, that possibly since the Flood there never had been so dangerous a cataclysm as the introduction of the Land Purchase Bill of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. We were told that the £50,000,000 would inevitably swell out to £200,000,000; that, through bad harvests, declension of prices, and the competition of American and Indian corn-growers, and other contingencies, the tenants would become unable to pay their instalments; and then, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham particularly put it, the working men of England, Scotland, and of Ireland would become Irish landlords, and would have to extract non existent rents from impecunious Irish tenants at the point of the bayonet—a situation so tragic that it led the right hon. Member for West Birmingham to appeal to their parental, and even their grandparental, sentiments, and to warn them that their children and their children's children would be loaded to all time with the intolerable burden of an enormous addition to the National Debt. I hold in my hand a tract, published by what called itself The Liberal Committee for the Maintenance of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland. The tract was distributed in its thousands, as I believe the proper phrase is, amongst what were then my future constituents. It took the form of a 1040 series of questions, some of which I should like to read to the House. Question No. 6 was—The Government Irish Home Rule and Land Bills will cost at the very lowest £120,000,000—it may cost as much as £200.000,000. Where is the money to come from?—From the English and Scotch and Welsh. Will it ever he repaid?—Never. Who will suffer?—The English, the Scotch, and the Welsh. How will they suffer?—By paving more taxes.And then there was the statement—If you pay more taxes you will have to pay more dearly for your tea, your coffee, your beer, your spirits, your tobacco, your houses and lands, and everything that is taxed; which nobody can deny.It was in vain the followers of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian pointed out to them that the Land Purchase Bill was not a logically necessary adjunct of the Home Rule proposal; that it was only inseparably necessary in the right hon. Gentleman's own mind; that he had told them it was as dead as the clauses of the Home Rule Bill itself; and that he had told them weeks before that the sands in the glass were rapidly running out; and that although all of us had heard of such a thing as an eight-days clock we had never heard of a six weeks sand glass. It was throwing words away. They maintained that the right hon. Gentleman was an "old Parliamentary hand" getting older and more Parliamentary, and more handy every day. They said he was the master of ambiguous phraseology, not entirely to be trusted, and, in short, that he was the "wickedest man on earth"["Hear, hear !"and laughter]—I am speaking in inverted Commas—and that having once said it was a point of honour, he would, from the very untrustworthiness and wickedness of the man, stick to his point and reintroduce the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity. That reasoning, if I may so degrade a respectable term, did not much succeed in Scotland; in one or two soft places, such as Inverness and Fife Burghs, it was successful. But it was extensively successful in more southern latitudes, and that success, like everything else, was bought at a price, and the price of it was certain obligations and responsibilities upon hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. When hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite come here and pro- 1041 pose to support a Bill which, if the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was dangerous, is a fortiori infinitely more dangerous, a Bill whose £43,000,000 must, on the showing of even so tooth-and-nail a defender as the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), expand to meet the purchase of all the properly purchaseable land in Ireland, and which, by the logic which was applied to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, cannot stop short of, at all events, £200,000,000, a Bill which, instead of putting the tenant in the position of a friendly debtor to a Government of his own race and choice, makes him, by force, a, tribute payer to a foreign and, as he will reckon, a conquering and a hostile power; a Bill, moreover, which for a full and a reasonable security substitutes one which is insufficient even if it were strong, but which, instead of being strong, is fantastically and ridiculously flimsy. I say that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in acting as they are, are breaking faith with the country, and they are bound, before ever they consider such a proposal as this, to consult the country and get themselves liberated from the vows which they so solemnly, or in some cases so lightly, took during the last General Election. Even if it were not so, I submit that the proposal is in itself, and on its own merits, at once so novel and gigantic that the country ought to he consulted upon it before anything further is done with it. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, in his speech in introducing the Bill, implied that everybody is agreed about the propriety of an occupying ownership. I question so sweeping an assertion. I am of opinion that the great proportion of the electorate believe that if a kingdom is changing hands the nation to whom in reality and in principle it belongs ought, in some substantial manner, to have its interests and its rights recognised. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian did this. I maintain that in this case a march ought not to be stolen upon the country, but the country ought to be consulted as to whether it is willing to make this new settlement of its heritage, or of a great part of its heritage. But the great objection I have to this Bill is that it proposes to perform a great act of State favouritism by using the 1042 public credit—that great financial power that has been created by the enterprise and industry of the community at large—to endow a very limited group of Irish landlords and tenants, without any call or justification whatever for such a partial and one-sided proceeding. I ask, upon general principles, why should not all of us who need it get assistance from British credit in our different difficulties in our different spheres of life? I should myself be delighted to acquire the fee simple of my house on such terms, and why should I not have such a privilege as well as the Duke of Abercorn or any of his colleagues? I say nothing but overwhelming public necessity, not to be otherwise met, or a stupendous public advantage not to he otherwise attained, ever could justify such a departure from equity of treatment. How is this proposal to be justified? What is the great advantage suppposed to he gained to justify this deviation into Socialism? Mainly, we are told the advantage is that it will convert the Irish nation from their feeling of discontent towards England and Dublin Castle Government, that it will, in fact, cure them of Home Rule. Well, to many of us that does not present itself as a great temptation, because we are not afraid of Home Rule, but, at the same time, if Ireland were persuaded in this way to dispense with Home Rule, and to rest satisfied with Dublin Castle Government, we, on democratic principles, ought to be glad to satisfy her and be released from a weary struggle. But, at all events, this is undoubtedly the aim of the Government in introducing this measure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us the proposal of the Government is to pacify Ireland, to destroy the power of the National League, and to maintain the Union between Great Britain and Ireland. And the Time, alternately your protégé and patron, tells us also that, by settling a large number of small owners all over Ireland, the agitator will be deprived of his functions and income, or, in other words, by such a measure as this you will be able to drive the national spirit into acceptance of Dublin Castle Government. But I thought you had been long telling us that the Irish nation are in that condition already; that your brave and bi-metallic Chief Secretary, by his plank beds and 1043 battering rams, his bullets, his bludgeons I and his bayonets, by his crowbars and murderous police, had succeeded in calming down the rebels and making them perfectly contented with Dublin Castle and the English Garrison. Yet I find that, though you have over and over again declared that you would never never never give in to national violence, you are thinking, by this Bill, of distributing a largesse of some £43,000,000 among these cruel seditious Nationalists, in order to purchase that affection which you find you have not been able to enforce. I do wish you would frame some consistent story, and stick to it. Tell as many stories as you like, but, for the sake of the stories themselves and the father of them, do make the stories consistent with each other, do not have them fighting it out openly on the Queen's highway like this. I must say I cannot understand this alternative policy of kicks and coax, of cane and candy, of stroking the cat with the hair on the one side and against the hair on the other side, and imagining that thus yon can soothe the animal. The coaxing will be undone by the kicks, the candy will not be sweet in the mouth so long as the smart of the cane is bitter on the back, and the feelings of the cat will not be soothed by your double action. Besides, if you think it worth your while to buy reconciliation by measure in this way, why spend your money upon Ulster, why not economise your funds, why spend them upon a people who, we understand, are so perfectly loyal that they are ready to die in the last ditch for what they call the Union in the cheerful society of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson)? Why should the Duke of Abercorn—I only mention him as a representative of a class —why should he be given a quarter of a million of money, or have the opportunity of acquiring that sum in this way, when that nobleman is a leader of anti-Home-Rule loyalty? By getting him out of the country you turn out one of your strongest defenders from your citadel. I am not surprised when, as I am told, your Dublin Express, which, I understand, is one of the keenest organs of your party, is down upon you for your folly and falsity. After all, will this great land bait be effectual for the end you contemplate? 1044 Will it be successful in converting Home Rulers to an anti-Home-Rule position? You must remember that the land question is not by any means the only cause of the national sentiment in the minds of Irishmen, but even supposing it were? A little metaphysics must come in here for the consideration of the question. I am sorry the Chief Secretary is not here; he is himself a metaphysician, and he, I think, would understand what I am going to say, which is this: Where a cause has given independent existence to an effect, that effect may subsequently go on existing although you may have removed the cause. If a mad dog bites a man, I suppose that will be the cause of the man having hydrophobia, but that hydrophobia has an independent existence, and the man cannot be cured of the hydrophobia by the shooting of the mad dog; the removal of the cause comes in a little too late. So, in the same way, although the land difficulty has been the original cause of the existence of the Home Rule sentiment in the Irish breast, you are a trifle too late in coining to settle the land question, and the Home Rule sentiment may survive in a man. Even though he become the owner, instead of the tenant, of his farm, it does not follow that he will be converted at once to a profound affection for Dublin Castle rule. A young lion who has once tasted blood is not very easily put off with grass. If I were an Irish Home Ruler and had acquired the ownership of my holding on these easy terms, the reflection that would cross my mind would be that to be a Home Ruler was a profitable occupation, and I should be probably encouraged to persevere in my opinions, and find it useful to pursue the Oliver Twistian policy of asking for more. That certainly seems to have been the opinion of the Land League leaders, who have been found by the Special Commission to have promoted the Land League for the purpose of driving out Irish landlords, not because they are landlords, but because they are the English Garrison in Ireland, and anticipating that by substituting Nationalist tenants for Orange landlords. The anti-Nationalist cause would be weakened by the withdrawal of its strongest defenders, and the Nationalist cause would be proportionately strengthened by adding more 1045 power to Nationalist elbows. If that is so I do not think you are likely to get much for your money, in which state of circumstances, I hold, we might have all had a share if there is going to be this distribution on the strength of the national credit. It may be said that the new element of prosperity that will be given to the tenants who are to be made landlords or owners must, at all events, count as a great gain, but I very much doubt it. Forty-nine years are a long time, and no one knows what may happen during that period. The provisions in the Bill cannot secure the British taxpayer against misfortune overtaking the tenant, from a fall in the price of agricultural produce, the result of American competition, or a succession of bad seasons; so that long before the 49 years fixed for the repayment of the advances, the tenant may become a ruined man and utterly incapable of keeping up his payments. But even supposing that this matter could be passed over, I want further to emphasise the point I have already alluded to, and that is that so far from this measure doing good, it promises to produce a new and unheard of amount of evil that will infinitely outweigh any good it can conceivably effect. Part of the evil effect has already been recognised by the hon. Member for Cork, namely, that though £43,000,000 may be distributed, there would still be three-fourths of the tenants of Ireland not participating in the tempting advantages professed to be afforded by the Bill. Now, we have been told, by such an authority as the hon. Member for South Tyrone, that an Irish tenant will go through fire and water to secure a, bit of land. Well, but what are these three-fourths of the tenants of Ireland to do when they see themselves excluded from the opportunity of obtaining this land under the proposals in the Bill? We have no alternative before us. Then there will be either deep discontent, breaking out into turbulence and outrage, and possibly into violence against the landlords, worse than any we have ever known in our time, or we shall he compelled to buy up at once the whole of Ireland, and then what becomes of the boasted protection which you profess to the British taxpayer? The whole pretence of security is gone when you extend the purchase beyond the sum 1046 you have fixed. What becomes of your ingeniously contrived security, with its cash and contingent departments divided under heads and sub-heads? The true way of looking at the proposed security to the taxpayer is to see how it will work when the worst comes to the worst. It is no good to have a fair weather security; we must have one that will stand wind and water. Suppose that in some great crisis there is a general strike against rent. Why then you cannot, as was well said by the hon. Member for Cork in a memorable epigram, "You can't crowbar half-a-mil-lion of people." You may crowbar half-a-dozen and rejoice in it, as you have been in the habit of doing. But, say the Government, we do not want to use the crowbar, we do not need to evict, we can call on the county to rate itself in order to pay the debts of these defaulting tenants. But surely that is a most unjust, a most oppressive proposal; surely justice goes for something still. To make a whole county pay for debts of a part of the inhabitants in the contraction of which debts they had no voice ! Surely the apostles of law and order will admit there is something irregular there. The Government say that whether the proposal is just or unjust it will be effectual, because it will bring public opinion to bear upon the defaulters. Public opinion, however, cannot get blood out of a stone nor money out. of an insolvent's pocket. The counties will resist such a demand, and will refuse to tax themselves to pay these debts. Ah ! say the Government, with a triumphant—I was going to say sneer, but I have no desire to be uncivil—well, say the Government in reply, with a triumphant consciousness, in that case we can fall back on our security Now, I just want to test how this will work out, and I will occupy similar ground to that taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when critcising the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. What, said the right hon. Gentleman, are Irish Home Rule Judges, Home Rule Magistrates, and Home Rule Police to have their salaries stopped after money has been sent to meet these liabilities'? And, in like manner, I ask how are your securities to work should the worst come to the worst? You will be in a position, should the counties stand out against 1047 the rate, to say to the counties, "If you will not pay other people's debts then we will stop your road money, and if you wish to travel at all you shall proceed along the worst conceivable roads, and over the most tumble-down bridges; if that will not bring you to your senses, then we will stop your Poor Law money and you will have to turn out your paupers to die on the road side; if that will not do we will stop the workhouse school masters 'and mistresses' money, with the result that the country will be over-run with 'young barbarians all at play;' if that will not do we will stop the industrial schools money, which will empty the reformatories, and you will have the boys and girls from these establishments larking about all over the country, and giving you a lively time; if that will not bring you to reason then we will stop the national school money, and so your own children will grow up in ignorance; and if that does not make you see the reasonableness of paying other people's debts, then we will stop the grants for your pauper lunatics, and you will have this class roaming about all over the shires, like beasts of prey, perhaps throttling you and causing you other trifling inconveniences when they meet you in out-of-the-way places; if that does not bring you to reason then we will stop the money for workhouse doctors and medicine, and then some of you will be in the happy position of knowing that some of your relatives have been removed to the outside of the workhouses, dying from want of nourishment and medical attendance: if still you will not conform to our reasonable view, then we will stop your Public Health Officers' money, and then your towns and villages will get into an irretrievably insanitary state, and you will most probably catch typhoid fever, and serve you right for not seeing the ridiculous unreasonableness of not being willing to pay other people's debts. "This is no caricature of the security that is proposed by Her Majesty's Government in this Bill. I am simply interpreting it on the lines of the interpretation laid down in the reply of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and I ask, on the lines of that interpretation, whether there was ever anything more cruel seen out of the history of the 1048 Spanish Inquisition, or anything more absurd heard of outside farcical comedy? What it reminds me of, at the moment, is the practice of barbarous military chiefs in ancient times who, by accident or arrangement, had secured as hostages or captives, the brothers, sisters, father, mother, or children of some opposing chief, and who then sent proposals to their opponents to submit or they would begin "and do, and do, and do," beginning with the father and going down to the youngest child, killing each as their enemy still refused to submit. This enforcement of this security reminds me of this. It seems to me to have been conceived with a combination of the characteristics of Torquemada and Mr. Toole. Do you suppose it would ever be possible to work out such a security? It is an unworkable security, and in a financial Bill that is completely damnatory and settles its character and ought to settle its fate. You have brought forward a financial measure, and you have included in it a security that you would be the laughing-stock of the civilised world if you attempted to put into execution. Consequently, it is no use discussing the Bill further as a financial measure. Because the Bill ought never to have been submitted to the House, because we are pledged against a Bill of this kind, and because it should not be passed before the nation has had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon it, because I believe it is dangerous and mischievous, I have no hesitation in voting against the Second Reading.
*(10.30.) MR. J. A. BRTGHT (Birmingham, Central)
I should like to claim the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I address it for the first time and explain my reasons for the vote I am about to give. The speech to which the House has just listened has raised the debate from the dulness which has hitherto characterised it—a dulness which, I think, has struck everyone. I shall not attempt to reply to the grotesque similes and illustrations of the last speaker. As I was passing through the Lobby a few minutes ago I heard a remark which I am sure was not uttered out of any disrespect to you, Sir; it was to the effect that debates were always dull when MR. Speaker was not in the chair. Well, Sir, I do not take that to be the reason for the dulness of this debate. In my 1049 opinion it is an unreal debate. When I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Cork I came to the conclusion that the Bill would be sure to pass, and that the hon. Member would not be able to carry all his followers with him into the Lobby against it. The hon. Member began by saying that the Government had admitted that 20 per cent. was a just reduction of rents in Ireland. As far as I am aware no such opinion has been expressed. It is generally thought by the Unionist Members that reductions have gone quite far enough, and that the people are getting fair value for their money. What the Government has said is that 20 per cent. reduction is an enormous boon to the tenants, and one which they would not be likely to refuse. I do not think the hon. Member for Cork and his friends will be able to deprive the people of this boon. When I was in Ireland, lately, I had some talk with a peasant, who said that his landlord had offered to sell him his farm. When asked whether he thought the terms were fair, the man said he thought they were, and when questioned why he had not bought his farm he explained that "Them as knows better than us told us not." I suppose that "them as knows better" sit on this side of the House below the Gangway. The hon. Member said this Bill would only settle one quarter of the land question; that in Ulster it is not necessary to settle it at all; and that in the other parts of the country it is only 55 per cent. which wants settling. Well, by reducing the question to these dimensions we get very nearly to the £40,000,000 which, according to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, is the outside limit of the Bill. The hon. Member for Cork proposes that the benefits of the Bill should only be extended to tenants of farms with a rental of over £50. In that respect I am disposed to agree with the hon. Member. The richer tenants do not require help of this kind. The hon. Member proposes to exclude Ulster, as I understood him. But the same laws prevail in Ulster as elsewhere, and if the Ulster men have succeeded in establishing a tenant-right it is in consequence of their superior intelligence and persistence, and if the people in other parts of Ireland had been equally persistent they could have established in their own districts customs such as those which prevail in Ulster. 1050 The hon. Member for Cork says that £166,000,000 will be wanted for the purposes of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian brought in a Bill which it was estimated would require £150,000,000, and I believe the hon. Member for Cork voted for that Bill. [Home Rule fries of "No !"] Well, the hon. Member supported it. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was compulsory. [Mr. JOHN MORLEY: No.] Well, there was certainly some compulsion about it. As to the Bill only affecting one-quarter of the tenancies, it is not necessary to deal with all at once; and if the measure works satisfactorily, the remaining three-quarters will have their chance in good time. It is said the richest landowners have walked off with an enormous sum of money. But they have not; they are still there. Anyhow, the land is there and the purchasers have it. I cannot understand this objection to the Ashbourne Act. I have always understood that it is held desirable by hon. Members below the Gangway to break up the large estates. Surely it is better that the land should be in the hands of the people who live on it than in the hands of absentees. We have been told that, thanks to the struggles of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, the powers by which tenants have been oppressed in the past have been removed. If there is now no oppression is it not strange that we should hear of cases like that of the Ponsonby Estate? Now, we are told that it is desired that landlords should stay in Ireland; is it because they are wanted to subscribe to various objects? At one time the English garrison in Ireland was denounced in every possible way; now, apparently, it is sought to retain them there. For instance, we have the hon. Member for Cork holding up the landlord to commiseration on the ground that his £40 a year will be reduced to £27 10s. But out of the £40 the landlord probably has to pay rates, and he is in danger of his money passing through the hands of the friends of hon. Members below the Gangway and the promoters of the Plan of Campaign. If, according to the hon. Member for Cork, the landlord is not getting too much, who is getting too much? I cannot see where the hardship comes in. I cannot understand the proposition of the hon. Member 1051 for Cork, and I doubt whether the hon. Member himself understands it. In several papers lately the Chief Secretary for Ireland has been accused of bringing in a Land Bill prepared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know nothing about that, but it did strike me that the speech of the hon. Member for Cork had been prepared by the hon. Member for North Longford, and that the hon. Member for Cork had only had an opportunity of reading it half an hour before he rose to speak. As far as I could make out the hon. Member's proposition, it was that the landlords of Ireland should be given an opportunity of borrowing money at 2¾ per cent. in order to pay off mortgages bearing interest at the rate of 6 per cent. If any such proposition had been made by a Unionist Member there would have been a tremendous outcry, and we should have been told it was a proposal to relieve men of troubles which they had brought on themselves by squandering their money. The fact is, the opposition to this Bill is altogether unreal. I have lately read an article in the Pall Mall Gazette, in which it was said:—We all dislike the Bill and desire to injure the Government; but when we consider why we dislike it, we are all at sixes and sevens.It was another case of—I do not love thee, Doctor Fell,The reason why I cannot tell.In fact, all sections of the House are pledged to peasant proprietorship. It has been proclaimed, not from Dan to Beersheba, but from Mid Lothian to Cork. Five objections have been taken to the Bill by the hon. Member for Cork. I think he might have stated a sixth, that the Bill had not been brought in by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. I have been told that two or three days ago there appeared in the Daily News an article quoting a letter by my father, and said to be against the Ashbourne Act. I have not had an opportunity of seeing that letter; but I hope I may, without any want of good taste, say that in his last days my father frequently spoke of the Ashbourne Act. The Liberal Party was then opposing an extension of the Act, and my father said to me, "It is the only thing that appears to me to have done any good." The opposition to this Bill will not, I think, be carried very far, for I do not think 1052 that hon. Gentlemen above and below the Gangway will dare to oppose it altogether. They would, if they did, be judged out of their own mouths every minute of the debate. The opposition is not to the details, but to the spirit of the Bill, and it is an opposition to putting the land into the hands of peasant proprietors. If the Bill were passed, and there were a strike against rent, it would be caused by public opinion; and if that were so, it is only right that the public should bear the cost. For my own part, I have a better idea of the people of Ireland than their own Representatives seem to have. I believe that Irishmen always wish to pay their debts if they are not interfered with by people who wish them to do otherwise. In the past they have justly and regularly paid money borrowed for purposes connected with the land, and until I see it I will not believe that the whole Irish nation is going to show itself demoralised by efforts which may be made to lead it into evil courses. I hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will think better of the matter and will not oppose the Second Reading, but will content themselves—at all events, the moderate among them—by endeavouring to amend those propositions which they think wrong. I cordially support the Bill.
§ (10.50.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
We have all of us listened with great interest to the maiden speech in this House of an hon. Member who possesses such historic associations; but I must confess I heard with great astonishment his assertion that the debate was unreal. I can, on the part of some hon. Members who sit on these Benches, promise him that the Bill will meet with very strong opposition, and that we are not at all nervous as to what the outside public may think. The hon. Member tells us that we ought to be almost afraid to vote against the Bill, and that if we did vote against it our consciences would rise in accusation against us. Now I was not in the House when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian brought in his Bill in 1886, but, if one thing more than another lost the Liberal Party the General Election of that year, it was the strong antagonism of the British electors to the Land Bill rather than to the Home Rule Bill, while the strongest parts of the election addresses of hon. 1053 and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were contained in their denunciation of the Land Bill. The honoured father of the Member who last addressed the House, immediately after his unopposed return in that year, delivered a speech, the greater part of which was devoted to an attack on MR. Gladstone's Land Bill. I have yet to learn that the opinions which existed in the country on this subject at that time have died out, or that the public are less antagonistic to spending a large sum of money to buy out the Irish landlords. Our point is this: if you compel the Irish landlord to accept £27 10s. for that which is worth £40, you do him a gross injustice. He is entitled to £40 if you purchase from him on an equitable basis. But if, on the other hand, he is only entitled to £27 10s., then he is now getting an undue rental, and many of us are inclined to think that rent reductions in Ireland have not yet reached their lowest level. The Unionist Party have had to do a tremendous wriggle in order to escape from the position which they got into in 1886, for they are now obliged to defend a principle which they opposed strongly in that year. I do not think the hon. Member for Harrow has at all satisfactorily explained the extract from his election address which was published in the Daily News. The hon. Member went into the question of the power which we have, as a nation, to borrow money at a very low rate of interest; but I venture to think no nation ought to borrow to the utmost of its power, because in a great emergency it might, if its powers had been largely drawn upon, find the task of getting money very difficult. Now, we contend that there is no demand for this Bill; that the English people do not want it; that the Irish tenants do not require it, and that many of the Irish landlords object to it. The Government have chosen the worst possible time to inflict on the Irish people a Land Purchase Bill. Four years' experience of a drastic Coercion Bill has not made the people, as a whole, more contented than they were previously. As to the suggestion of repudiation, I do not believe that the Irish people are more dishonest than those of any other portion of the British Empire. What the Irish people want is Home Rule, and I venture to think you are making a very great mistake in refusing 1054 their demand for it. One thing that has been apparent this evening in the debate, and very apparent in the speech of the hon. Member for Central Birmingham and in the speech of the hon. Member for South Londonderry, is that they, at least, do not consider that this Bill deals with the whole question; that only a segment of it is being dealt with, and that we are really face to face with the project of purchasing out the whole of the Irish landowners. The speech of the hon. Member for Central Birmingham seemed to indicate that the repayments might be re-invested from the purchase of the property of other landlords. That would not meet the difficulty of the situation, because if you rely on the repayment of the £30,000,000 you would have to wait about a century, at least, before you purchase out the whole of the Irish landlords. You cannot wait that century, and I at once approach this question in the belief that we are not discussing £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 of British credit, but that the Bill goes at once to the root of the whole land purchase of Ireland, whatever the sum required may be, whether £100,000,000 or £150,000,000. While I am willing to give you all the credit you claim for the Bill, I say that the moment you advance your £30,000,000 it will be taken up by tenants distributed all over Ireland. Then you will have a class of tenants eventually becoming the owners of the fee simple of their holding, and paying a less sum per annum, as against the tenants who are paying an annual rent-charge which does not place them any nearer the possession of their holdings. Do you mean to tell me you are going to keep a contented Ireland under such circumstances? You will not be able to do so, whatever Party is in power; and there will be a demand on the part of the rest of the tenants of Ireland for the advance of the whole money necessary to purchase out the landowners and enable those who desire it to become possessed of their holdings. That money must be advanced on British credit, and borrowed on British credit, and you must go into the market to get it. Are you sure, with the other demands that are made upon the British Government, that you will always be able to borrow at the Same rate of interest? At present there is plenty of floating capital in the country awaiting sound 1055 investment, but if you make a greater call you will get less money out of the market for other purposes. But even supposing you could borrow at the same rate of interest, do hon. Members who are going to support this Bill think it is a thing that is to be entered upon lightly, to make the British Government the creditors of the Irish tenants to the extent of £100,000,000, putting it at the very lowest sum? In spite of the protection of the county or district, you are face to face with the poor tenant, who may be on the cheapest holding that can possibly be purchased under this Bill; and if you have to foreclose, what takes place? The British Government has to foreclose on the property and the poor, struggling tenant. There is not money enough to purchase the whole of the land. Will the landlord go to a secure and stable tenant and offer him inducements to purchase his holding? Will he not rather be only too anxious to get rid of those tenants who are in difficulties and in arrears with their rent? The agent might point out to these poor tenants that they could get an immediate reduction of 20 per cent. for the first five years, and at the end of that period there would be 32 per cent. off their rent if they could keep on their holdings. The tenant is not likely to be a man who will look at what will possibly happen 49 years hence. All he sees is that there is a present chance of relieving himself of his responsibility if he can come to terms, and the Commissioners advance the money. The Commissioners would have great difficulty in knowing all the details of the case. It would not be to the interest of the tenant who wants to get his immediate reduction, or of the landlord who wants to sell his land, to place too many details before the Commissioners. The man intends to pay just as he intends to pay his rent. Owing to the conditions of his holding, the poorness of the land, or what not, he has been unable to pay his rent, and by-and-bye he would in the same way be unable to meet the repayments as they became due. That is the class of security you will get if this scheme is adopted. The ingenuity of man could not devise a plan more unjust than to ask the tenants throughout the county to become security for a man who purchases his holding, when they have no voice whatever in saying whether he shall be allowed to pur- 1056 chase or not. The moment the men fail you come down upon these farmers in the county, who have nothing to do with the transaction, and say, "You shall find the money to pay the legitimate debts of these men who have purchased their holdings." What sort of an agitation will you have in Ireland? The Chief Secretary knows what the difficulty of collection was in the tithe agitation, 50 years ago, and he knows how thorough was the failure, because the whole nation of Ireland felt there was no justice in the claim. Do you think you could impress upon the English nation, or any civilised country, the justice of making farmers contribute to the payment of debts which they had no part or lot in incurring, and for which they had in no way given their security? I say that this position in which you are placed shows at once that you are face to face with Home Rule, though you do not like to admit it. You may call it Local Government, or what you please; but until you place in the hands of Irishmen the power to control their own affairs and make them responsible for the purchases in the various districts, you have no right—it would be grossly unjust—to wring a single sixpence out of the pockets of any of these tenants in respect of purchases with which they had nothing to do. I will not labour the point dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, with reference to the stopping of the local cess, or the Education Grant. You dare not attempt to carry it out. It may be a very good bogus security to put up here for the purpose of pacifying some weak-minded people who think you have not taken enough security. You know that in these days you could not stop the education of the people, and, in the failure of repayments, you know you would have to come to Parliament for a money grant to meet the difficulty. I know there are many hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House who in their cooler moments will say that this must be the situation. There is one very objectionable power in the Bill which, if you look carefully into it, shows that the security will not be sound. I refer to the provision that two years' arrears of rent may be added to the capital value of the land which is purchased. That is a very objectionable portion of the Bill, and the more we 1057 look at it the worse it seems. No doubt it will pass a Second Reading, as I assume the Government have had a majority guaranteed at that stage; but it will have to pass outside this House a criticism more severe than it will receive here, and I have yet to learn how the Government and their supporters will justify themselves in forcing on the Irish people a measure they do not require. With all due respect to the hon. Member for South Londonderry, I confess that I would rather take the opinion of the hon. Member for the City of Cork than his as to what are the views of the majority of the Irish people; and I would suggest that if an opportunity is wanted of judging of those views, it will be afforded at the forthcoming election to fill the vacancy created by the death of MR. Matthew Harris, when the majority of the constituents will be able to show whether they approve of the action of the Member for the City of Cork or that of the Government in regard to this Bill. If the Government would only consent to a contest in that place we may be able to obtain a vast amount of information that would be useful to all parties concerned. Not only would the electors be able to express an opinion on the action of the Member for the City of Cork, but also on the great mischief which, in their opinion, would be inflicted for years to come by the passing of this measure. The Government would then see how far the Irish people were desirous of rushing into their arms and embracing them for the good work they have done. In conclusion, I shall have great pleasure in voting against this measure, believing it to be uncalled for and based on wrong foundations, inasmuch as it does not contain the conditions which are inserted in the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. That was a scheme for the pacification of Ireland, and formed part of a complete whole intended to meet the requirements of the situation, supposing the country considered that to be the best policy. There is no such position in connection with this Bill. The Government are forcing it on the Irish people, and in addition to their dislike to it it would prove a great misfortune to this country if passed, because it is not, as the Government assert, a mere question 1058 of £33,000,000 or £45,000,000, but one as the outcome of which you will ultimately have to deal with the purchase of land throughout the whole of Ireland; because no Government would be able to resist the demands that would be made upon it in respect to land purchase should the result of the present scheme be what its supporters anticipate.
§ *(11.18) MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
This debate has furnished a somewhat singular and curious spectacle. We have seen Irish and Scotch Radicals and Home Rulers telling us that they and other Radical Members differ on this subject from the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace) on the independence he has displayed, and I only wish that he and other Scotch Members had displayed that independence a little sooner. After the entertainment we have enjoyed from the carefully-prepared impromptus and Scotch wut indulged in by the hen. Member, it requires some little boldness for a Southern Member to call the House back to the regions of plain prose. But, at the same time, I think we have sufficient courage on this side of the House to take up the challenge thrown down to us, and state why it is we are able to support this Bill, while in 1886 we opposed in the manner so graphically described by the hon. Member for Edinburgh the Irish Land Bill of the hon. Baronet opposite. I think I can show, without difficulty, how any one may have strongly opposed that measure, and yet very properly and honestly support this. There are great differences, not only as to the occasion and circumstances attending the introduction of the two Bills, but also in regard to their contents. In the first place the Bill of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian was most indissolubly tied by a chain, which honour prevented him from breaking, to the Home Rule Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman seemed to regard his honour as very much like that of Bob Acres, whose courage oozed out at his finger ends, for his honour was easily satisfied by the offer once made to the Irish landlords, although they had never had the opportunity of accepting or rejecting that offer. At any rate the two Bills were bound together, and the result would have followed that after the necessary 1059 money was advanced which was to have been secured on the credit of the British nation, the repayment of that money could only have been obtained under what would have become, by the operation of the Home Rule Bill, practically a foreign law. There was no way in which the money could have been recovered, if the Irish repudiated payments, except by an invasion of that country, and I think we might honestly object to the possibility of having to enforce the repayment of probably £120,000,000 by such means. In the next place, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was compulsory, and although the right hon. Gentleman talked of only £50,000,000, it was evident that it must ultimately amount to, at least, £200,000,000, if the scheme were really carried into effective operation. Thirdly, that Bill, involving as it did the credit of the British taxpayer which was thus impossible of enforcement and was compulsory on both tenant and landlord, did not contain the intermediate guarantees for the repayment of the money which the present measure provides. These are the chief differences between the two measures. Now, Sir, the arguments used by hon. Members opposite might well be left to answer each other, because they were mutually destructive. Hon. Members are so driven to find arguments against the Bill that they are obliged to attack it all round in the most absurdly inconsistent manner. We are told at one moment that the Bill offers such poor terms that neither the tenants nor the landlords care to accept it, and the next moment we are told it is so excellent a measure, as far as the tenants are concerned, that they will all rush for it, so that, instead of £33,000,000 or £40,000,000, it would immediately require the provision of a sum that would buy up the whole of the land of Ireland. Again, we were told that the security given to the British taxpayer would be so slight that ultimately the money would have to come out of his pocket; but at the same time we were informed that that security is quite good enough for the landlords, while the right hon. Member for Bridgeton said we ought to deprive the landlord of the other security, and not allow him to come upon the British taxpayer even as a last resort. We were told that the Bill is one of which only the poorer tenants will avail themselves, that the interests of the 1060 British taxpayer will be jeopardised, and that he ought to move heaven and earth to reject the Bill. While the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill told us that it ought to be limited to tenants of less than £50 a year, one of his followers objects to it because only the small tenants will take advantage of it. I confess there would be force in arguments against any scheme by which the State should lend its security to enable tenants to purchase the landlords' interest in the property they occupy, and that if we pass this Bill for the benefit of the Irish tenants, the English agricultural tenants, and even the small shopkeepers, might ask for a measure of a similar character, if, in other respects, the conditions were the same between the parties as they are in Ireland. But this is not so; the position of the Irish tenant is not the same as that of the English tenant, who has a resident landlord, accustomed from time immemorial to do things in connection with the land which he does not do in Ireland. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan), has told us that the case of Ireland might be cited as a base on which to found in the United Kingdom a system of tenancy, such as that on which farms are held in some parts of the country, and he also told us that the Ulster custom had legalised the same mode of occupation throughout the whole Island. I differ from the right hon. Baronet. The Ulster custom was extended through Ireland by the Act of 1870, but that custom and that Act did not make it possible to go to the Court to fix the rent payable by the tenant, and to fix that for 15 years, nor was the tenant able to sell his interest without communication with his landlord. But for the Land Act of 1881, I do not believe there would have been any necessity for this measure. What was the effect of the Act of 1881? It had the effect which every one who studied the question knew it must have. Its effect was to render some Bill of this kind absolutely necessary. The disastrous consequences of the Land Act of 1886 have, in the language of a distinguished statesman, been—To generate the very mischief it proposed to eradicate, to throw into confusion all the economical arrangements of the country; to drive out of the field all the solvent and honest 1061 men who might he bidders for the farms; and to carry widespread demoralisation throughout the whole mass of the Irish people. That Act h*s made the landlord an annuitant on the land without interest in its prosperity.These words are those of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, contained in a prophetic speech. The result has justified his prediction, and I see no way of escape but to buy out the landlords. The hon. Member opposite said that we were coaxing the cat and rubbing it the wrong way at the same time. Well, it seems to me that our first duty is to enforce the law, to deliver the law abiding subjects of the country from the tyranny of those who hay. "illegally oppressed them, and at the same time to look out for grievances and endeavour to amend them. It certainly is a very thankless task to endeavour to amend grievances in Ireland. Ever since 1869, it has been put forward as the greatest grievance of Ireland that the land was held by a number of absentee Protestant landlords, while the cultivators were Roman Catholics, and the object that was spoken of as most desirable of accomplishment was to get rid of the absentee landlords and put Human Catholic tenants in their place. Now that an honest endeavour is made to carry out that object we are met with all kinds of criticism. There is scarcely a Member opposite who is not pledged up to the hilt to the principle of a Bill of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan), for instance, was either a Member or supporter of the Government which brought in the Land Act of 1870. According to that Act two-thirds of the purchase money was to be lent at 5 per cent. for 35 years, on the credit of the British taxpayer. No security whatever was given to the British taxpayer except the remaining one-third. None of the intermediate securities contained in this Bill were given. Then came the Land Act of 1881, under which the Land Commissioners might advance, on the credit of the British taxpayer, three-fourths of the purchase money. No security was given to the taxpayer except the remaining one-fourth. Yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton by vote and speech supported that Bill. Then came the Land Purchase Bill of 1886, under which the whole money was to be advanced. This 1062 Act did give an intermediate security for the money advanced. It gave a charge on the Customs and Excise to be collected by the Irish Receiver General; but it was a second charge only, the first charge being a tribute of £4,666,000 a year, payable to England. The illusory character of such a security as this is evidence. I admit at once that the right hon. Gentleman did not support that Bill. He was also opposed to the Home Rule Hill of the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), and, being opposed to one of the twins, he was naturally opposed to the other. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian told us that the two Bills were bound together in honour. That being the case, how can Gentlemen opposite, who supported both those Bills, object to the present measure? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton speaks of the possibility of bad times recurring, and of war breaking out. We cannot say there is no possibility of such things even for a period of 15 years. But when I look at the Land Act of 1881, I find that there the rent is absolutely fixed for a term of 15 years, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton was a Member of the Government which introduced that measure. That being so, and that being described by the right hon. Gentleman as a most admirable measure, I reply that it is worse for the Irish tenant to be bound to pay £100 a year for 15 years as rent, despite wars and bad times, than to pay £70 a year for a longer period, as instalments of the price at which the land becomes his own. I do say, however, that, in my humble opinion, 49 years is too long a term, and I hope that further consideration will be given to that point when we roach the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Trevelyan) says there is an absence of any real security for the British taxpayer. How charming it has been to us to-night to see this great anxiety for the British taxpayer on the part of Gentlemen opposite. There was a time when the Irish Members were willing to take all they could get from the British taxpayer as instalments without thanks. Now, in the interest of the British taxpayer, they oppose this Bill. It is noticeable that, when speaking of the securities, they have carefully 1063 omitted the important facts of the security. The right hon. Gentleman made no mention whatever of the intermediate securities, which must be exhausted before the Exchequer can be called upon. In the first place there is the land itself and the tenant right, and, in many cases, this will be a sufficient security for the loan. In the next place one-fifth of the purchase money is kept back as further security, and then you have the tenant's insurance money. There is very little chance indeed of the tenant who is willing to pay being driven out of his holding, because he can borrow money on his holding, without difficulty, in order to meet the emergency. As to the hardship pointed out by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace) of laying hands on the intermediate securities, and, as a result, children going uneducated, and pauper lunatics being thrown upon society, the hon. Member seemed to forget that it is only recently that these grants have been made in aid of the rates which are primarily chargeable for all these purposes. If the Probate Duty and other grants are to be withdrawn to pay up any arrears of the annuities under this Bill, and all these terrible things are to happen in consequence, I would ask how it is they did not happen before these grants were given at all? I should have thought that the only effect of withholding the grants would be to throw Ireland back into the position she occupied a year or two ago, of having to pay for these local purposes unaided by the State. Therefore, I venture to think that all these statements were enormously exaggerated, and that there is no more reality in the pictures which were so cleverly conjured up by the hon. Member than there is in the opposition with which the Bill has been met. As to the remarkable prophecy and moral teaching of the right hon. Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan)—a combination which was usual with the prophets of old, in whose wake the right hon. Gentleman affects to follow. He teaches that there is no moral reason why the Irish purchasers should not repudiate this obligation, and prophesies that they will be advised to do so, because this Act will have been imposed upon their country against the wishes of their Representatives. The old prophets taught that righteousness 1064 exalteth a nation: he teaches the repudiation of contracts. The Act of 1881 was imposed on Ireland against the will of her Representatives, and the same hon. Members who now oppose this Bill then opposed that measure. It is not so long since the present leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Baronet were scouring this country for a majority whereby they could govern Ireland without having to consult the 85 Irish Representatives. We are told that an injury is done to Ireland by imposing this Bill on it, but to whom will it do injury? Volenti non fit injuria, and I ask what wrong is done to a man by giving him the opportunity of voluntarily putting himself into a position which he has reason to believe will benefit him? No landlord can be made to sell, and no tenant to buy, so that everyone who buys and everyone who sells under this Bill will do so because he wishes it. Landlords and tenants will join together in a bargain, because it suits them both, and does anyone mean to tell me that a tenant, who in 1891 buys because he wishes to buy, and borrows money for the purpose because he wishes to borrow, and agrees to pay the purchase money by an annuity will, eight or 10 years hence, when he has paid a considerable part of the purchase money, repudiate the bargain he has entered into, on the ground that the transaction was immoral, because his representatives voted against the Bill for their own purposes? If anyone holds that view, I, at any rate, do not sympathise with him. The late Government took up this Land Purchase Question because they hoped by its aid to galvanise the Home Rule Scheme into life; and now hon. Gentlemen opposite object to every plan of land purchase because they know that when the tenants have become owners of their holdings they will no longer desire Home Rule. The right hon. Member for Bridgeton knows that land purchase will be fatal to Home Rule, and that is why he declares that the Irish Members will go round the country and tell the people to have nothing to do with this Government measure. He says that, in telling the people that, they will be regarded by the Authorities as making seditious speeches, and will be brought into Court and put into gaol. Well, anything of that kind which occurs will only be by 1065 process of law, and after it has been shown that the speeches are seditious. But what happened in 1881 and 1882? The Irish Members told the Irish tenantry to have nothing to do with the Land Act—or, at any rate, until certain test cases had been disposed of; and then, the hon. Member for East Cork and the hon. Member for East Mayo were put into gaol at once, and locked up for months, without being taken before a Court at all, and without any proof having been given that they had uttered seditious speeches. The hollowness of these objections is of a piece with the languor of the opposition, and will not deter me from giving a hearty support to this Bill.
§ *(11.55.) MR. W. H. SMITH
Of course I shall not oppose the Motion, but I must remark upon the extreme langour of the debate this evening. I do not think that the Government would be justified in allowing it to be continued indefinitely, if the same spirit of indifference is to prevail, and I trust that it will be concluded on Thursday.
§ (11.56.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that this is the principal measure of the Session, and that it must be fully discussed. There has been quite as much langour on the Ministerial side of the House as on the Opposition side.
§ (11.56.) MR. SEXTON
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman opposite that debates which often begin in a languid manner gain animation and spirit as they advance. To the expectation that the debate will terminate on Thursday I can give no countenance.
§ (11.57.) DR. TANNER
I wish to point out that Conservative Members have been allowed by their Whips to leave the House this evening in a way that is unprecedented. Expressions which I have heard in the Lobby lead me to believe that hon. Members have been induced by the Conservative Whips to go home, in order to justify the First lord of the Treasury in making the insulting proposal which we have just heard, and which I certainly did not 1066 expect from a gentleman of the right hon. Member's years and experience. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will, in future, bear in mind a motto which I have seen inscribed on the walls of a certain gaol, "Cease to do evil and strive to do well."
§ It being midnight, the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate lapsed without Question put; and the Debate on the Amendment to the Second Reading stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.