§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [21st April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ And which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."1288
§ Debate resumed.
§ (4.53.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
I wish in the first place to make my acknowledgments to the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Knox) in having allowed me to take this early opportunity of making known my views on this important question. Sir, it is with very mixed sentiments that I rise to express my opinion—mixed in this manner: that I deeply regret to find myself compelled to oppose a Bill which it would have given me far greater satisfaction to support, had I not been driven by overwhelming conviction to offer opposition to it. I had hoped, and entertained a lively hope, that it might be possible for us on this side of the House to give support to the plan of the Government. I was encouraged in that hope by the remarkable declaration of Lord Salisbury, about which, as a matter of fact, I believe there is no question, that the plan of the Government was not intended to impose any burden on the British taxpayer. According to Parliamentary and invariable usage there can be only one meaning assigned to these words. They are totally incompatible with any intention to propose a heavy engagement of the public credit. They were so understood universally, and by myself amongst others. It would have been a very great advantage on many grounds if it had been possible for us to see the land question in Ireland, in familiar phrase, "got out of the way." Every such question, however there may be involved in it principles of justice and right as against oppression, yet likewise tends to stir up the turbid elements of society, and those who have no good cause for making demands on the landlord can often bring forward a claim in such circumstances, under cover of those who have such a cause. It is very well that the country should have' seen brought finally to issue the question whether— as is often alleged, and, as I think, believed, on the opposite side of the House—the land question is the only question in Ireland, and the demand for national self-government merely an appendage to that question It would have been most satisfactory to me, and I believe to others who think that national 1289 self-government ought to be granted to Ireland for Irish affairs, to have seen that important point relieved from all possibility of doubt and dispute by some satisfactory legislation with regard to Irish land. With regard to this Bill, the Chief Secretary, who in his speech repeated the assurance that no burden was to be placed on the taxpayer, must have seen from the reception of those words in what sense they were understood by the House. My first disappointment as to the Bill was when he proceeded to inform us what was the real meaning of the words—that the credit of the country was to be pledged to the extent of £33,000,000 for the sake of carrying through the provisions of the Bill. I should not, Sir, have been deterred from supporting this Bill by the argument offered by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), though I admit there is great force in it. He said, and I think with truth, that we cannot, with perfect satisfaction, approach the settlement of a question of this kind as long as Ireland is under the present Coercion Laws, because the effect of those laws is to disable the weaker portion of the Irish tenantry from prosecuting their aims by peaceable and lawful means, and by what were lawful means, and, by what would be lawful means in England or Scotland, from entering into a combination, which is a legitimate weapon in their hands, for determining the just amount of rent they ought to pay. Still, I was quite prepared to enter upon the consideration of this question on the introduction of the Bill. I endeavoured to do justice to the pains bestowed upon it, to the ingenuity which it displays, and in no respect do I retract what I said upon that occasion. I waited to examine the Bill, still cherishing what hope I could; but I am sorry to say that examination has brought upon me my second and my greater disappointment. One word I must say with respect to the alternative plan which has been proposed by the hon. Member for Cork. I think his conduct in making that proposal was not only honourable, but even chivalrous, because he appeared to admit that a person who is in opposition, may fairly be called upon by the Government, if he objects to a measnre of the Government, to propose an alternative measure of his own. That is a 1290 principle, I think, new to this House. The hon. Member accepted it at the same time without hesitation. Now, Sir, it would not be possible to discuss in detail the plan of the hon. Member, and I am not certain that in all its details I have a perfect comprehension of it. [Ministerial laughter.] I have no doubt it was my own fault; but the statement was a very brief one, and while the general purpose was clear, the exact terms are not, certainly, fully in my mind. But on two points I wish to do justice to the plan. In the first place, it was comprehensive; it was intended to effect a settlement of the whole question. In another point I strongly sympathise with the hon. Member for Cork. One object of his plan was not to expatriate the Irish landlords, but to retain them in Ireland; and I, for my part, am of opinion that though the expatriation of the Irish landlords may be a less evil than many others—for instance, than a continuance of the land system as it once was—would have been, yet I own that I think it would be a sorry conclusion to their long career if, upon the establishment of a free Government and of free institutions in their country, they were to decline to take that part in the adjustment of the affairs of Ireland which their station entails upon them as a high and absolute duty. I am glad to observe that the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, as I understood, in no way took exception to this principle of the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork, and I think a well-known Irish County Court Judge, Mr. O'Connor Morris—a gentleman who, though an excellent public officer, is known to be a supporter of hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to Home Rule for Ireland—has propounded a plan based on the same ideas. I do trust that we may have full opportunity for the consideration of such features of the plan as would tend to the retention of Irish landlords in Ireland, as well as to the adjustment of the land question. I am sorry to say that, partly perhaps owing to my own fault, I did not fully gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland in introducing this Bill its real character in regard to several important points. I shall go over very rapidly the objections to various points which appear to me capable of being dealt with in 1291 Committee, and I shall avoid the inconvenience of entering unduly, in a Second Reading speech, into details which can be dealt with in Committee. Over this class of objections I shall run rapidly, though some of them are so serious in themselves as possibly to constitute valid objections to the Second Heading of the Bill. The first objection is one on which probably there may be a disposition on the part of Her Majesty's Government to come to an agreement. I think this Bill ought to be confined to landlords who are already such. It would be highly improper to encourage persons to become buyers of land with a view to taking advantage of the enormous boon which is being offered. I shall not dwell on this point, because I hope it may not be a subject of dispute between us. Next there is the question of arrears. I shall not dwell on this point at length after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division; but anyone who heard the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in regard to the proposal to allow two years' arrears to be calculated in the purchase money must, I think, admit that the proposal stands in need of justification, which possibly may be forthcoming. There is very great force in the objection of the hon. Member for Cork in respect to the treatment of tenants of non-selling landlords. That difficulty in the present Bill has been raised to a maximum. It may be said this applied to the proposal of 1886, and it is true that it did apply but in a very mitigated degree, because in the Bill of 1886 we proceeded to take a very large portion of the boon to be conveyed by Parliament, not for the benefit of tenants as tenants, but as benefit for the whole community in Ireland. No less than 18 per cent. was proposed, not to go directly to the tenants, but to the benefit of Ireland, though, of course, it indirectly would have gone to the tenants in some degree, inasmuch as tenants form a large proportion of the population. Well, I own I think it is a very great objection indeed that the benefits proposed by the Bill are given to the two classes of landlords and tenants, and I must say in no degree to the nation. With the exception of a very limited proposal in regard to labourers, and while Ireland as a whole will have her 1292 credit pledged, and while the credit of Great Britain is pledged, Ireland as a whole is to receive no portion of this enormous advantage. There is another point which appears to me to be impossible to be defended, and which, indeed, goes so near the root of the Bill as to cause me almost to doubt whether it can be dealt with in Committee. I refer to the method for ascertaining the net rental of the land. The standard laid down in the Bill appears to me to be so bad that it would enable a landlord to obtain compensation in respect of a large part of income that he had never received, and never had it in his power to appropriate to his own benefit and advantage. No reduction is provided to be made for expenses of management, or for law charges—as, for instance, in regard to evictions—or bad debts. Under the Bill the landlord is to be compensated even for bad debts, which have had to be written off, and which are absolutely beyond recovery. I need not say the effect of this is that, when you think you are giving 17 years' purchase, you may be giving 20 or 22 years'. I think these are all elements that ought to be considered in arriving at the real rent. Next, I take the strongest possible objection to our placing an embargo on the local funds of the counties of Ireland. That appears to me to involve a principle which this House ought to hold sacred, and from which it ought never to depart. I am now on a point upon which I stand, perhaps, in need of some information. As I understand the Bill, there is nothing to prevent the occupier who becomes an owner under this measure from himself becoming a landlord.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
He cannot sub-let without the permission of the Land Commission.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
But upon what principle is the Land Commission to proceed in granting or refusing such permission?This is a very important point. Is it to be understood as an uni- 1293 versal principle of the Bill, that every man who buys, buys under a legal obligation to occupy? It is a question of great importance, upon which there ought to be a clear understanding, which no doubt we shall obtain at the proper time. Now, with regard to the guarantees that the right hon. Gentleman has ingeniously provided, I will not, at the present time, undertake to make a minute examination of them. The really valuable part—indeed, I may say the only valuable part—of those guarantees is to be found in the grants to be made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on account of Probate Duty and other public charges. But we have already given to England and Scotland corresponding grants, free from any lien whatever. How is it possible, if we make a free gift of these grants in England and Scotland, and place them unfettered at the disposal of the Local Authorities—how is it possible for us to say that the grants in the case of Ireland should have this embargo placed upon them, not even for the benefit of each county at large, but for the benefit of certain individuals in each county? There have been at various times violations of the principle of equality as applied to different parts of the three Kingdoms; but I am not aware that we have ever known a more glaring departure from that principle. Another point which I must also mention, though it is one that can be dealt with in Committee, relates to the charges which it is proposed to impose on the counties for the salaries of the Land Commission and the composition of that Commission. These are a very grave assemblage of points, on which, however, I feel that it is not desirable to dwell at length at this moment, as I do not wish to prolong the remarks I have to make, and as there will be an opportunity for the future discussion of them. I come now to objections of which I must frankly own that each and all of them appear to constitute an absolute reason against the Second Reading of this Bill. I have already expressed my desire to discuss this question apart from considerations of Party. I will endeavour to adhere to the principle of that declaration. I will not remind any hon. Member of this House of what it might be inconvenient for him to recollect. I will not remind 1294 him intentionally of any portion of the conduct of the Government. It is enough for me to endeavour to look at their propositions as a matter of business, and not as a matter of Party; and to endeavour in that sense, and in that light, to place their character before the country. When this Bill was introduced, I had no reason to know from any communication, direct or indirect, what view would be taken of it by the Representatives of Ireland—whether the£33,000,000 held out would operate as a golden attraction for the purpose of placing in abeyance any objections which they might feel inclined to entertain. I did not say one single word in the course of the remarks which I then made which tended or were meant in any degree to predispose unfavourably the mind of any single person in this House. But, Sir, it became obvious at once that Ireland was opposed to this Bill. I have seen an account of a meeting of Irish landlords, whose position under the Bill it will be our duty closely to examine and carefully to exhibit; but I cannot say that I consider them as having, in reference to this matter, even the smallest title to express the voice of Ireland. For the voice of Ireland I must look to two quarters. I must look, in the first place, to the Members for Ireland, and I suppose that I am quite right in saying that five-sixths of those Members are deliberately and determinedly opposed to this Bill. But this present House is perfectly familiar with the idea of passing Irish Bills in defiance of the wishes of the Irish Members. And, therefore, I never should dream of addressing to this House such an argument—however operative in my own mind—it would be idle to address to this House of Commons such an argument, as that in legislating for Ireland the opinions of the Irish Members should be considered. The contrary practice is recorded in the transactions of the House during the four years in which the present Parliament has sat. But this case is altogether peculiar. You are going to make Ireland a debtor; you are going to constitute a debt of which I have not the smallest doubt that in perfect good faith it is your intention to rigidly exact repayment. But if that is your intention and plan, it is a matter of vital importance to consider what, in the conclusion of this transaction, is 1295 the attitude of the person who is about to be made subject to the debt. That person has but two means of speaking. The first, the greatest and the most Constitutional, is by the Members; and if the great bulk of these Members protest against the constitution of this debt—if they decline to recognise it as an obligation—if, on the contrary, they treat the provisions of the measure as a new wrong inflicted on Ireland—I say nothing now as to the correctness or incorrectness of their opinions; I am simply stating the facts, and my proposition is that if you are going to make the people of Ireland your debtor for a sum of about £35,000,000—which, if the Bill be read aright, is a figure which may rise very much higher—it is a most formidable combination of circumstances under which you, by your own choice, involve Ireland in that pecuniary obligation, she protesting all the time, and declining to admit that she is getting value for her money. To illustrate that question I would make an appeal to Her Majesty's Government. Do they think it would be possible, within the widest limits of the widest definition of Parliamentary omnipotence, to enact a law for Scotland which should contain a concession of Imperial credit to the extent of £33,000,000 for the benefit of certain classes in Scotland, and to impose the repayment of that money, in case of default, upon the counties of Scotland, in defiance of the protest of 60 out of the 72 Scotch Members? If a Member of the Government does me the honour to follow me in this debate, I beg him to answer that question. Would he be prepared so to legislate for Scotland, contemplating with perfect good faith the benefit of certain classes in Scotland, and then, by reason of a thing done for the advantage of those classes, imposing upon the counties of Scotland and upon all persons and interests in those counties—though nine-tenths may not have derived a farthing of benefit under the Act—this liability upon them, in defiance of their protest? There is important auxiliary evidence—the evidence of the counties themselves. Is there a single county in Ireland, is there a single elective body in Ireland, which has said one word in favour of the measure? Their credit is about to be interfered with and appropriated by us for purposes of 1296 which they do not approve, and I do not hesitate to say that even had I doubts— which I do not entertain—upon the provisions of this Bill, which I shall presently refer to, I should deem it most unconstitutional, most impolitic, to force such a measure upon Ireland in defiance of her own deliberate and overwhelming objection. My second objection is to the use of British credit in this case. I have never been one of those who take an extreme view on the subject of the use of British credit. But I think it is a very grave matter indeed, even when the security taken for the repayment of the money advanced is, in my own judgment at least, an absolute security. I cannot deny that any large use of British credit is a burden upon the country. I should think I was tampering with words, and what is called "throwing dust in the eyes" of those whom I address, if I denied that for a moment. It is quite clear that every large use of British credit diminishes your power of using it in other directions, and how am I to be told, if that is the case—and I believe it to be utterly undeniable—tha.t it is no burden on the people? I do not wish to push this too far. It may be quite right to impose burdens upon the country with the assent of the country and for an adequate object and with ample security. I shall, therefore, avoid any abstract declaration on this subject, but I shall refer to the circumstances in which we stand, and I do not hesitate to say that it appears to me that this Parliament is both in honour and in policy, and upon the clearest Constitutional ground, precluded from a large application of British credit for the purchase of land in Ireland. Remember, if ever there was a question decided at a General Election this question was decided at the General Election of 1886. About the voice of the Party opposite upon it there could not be the slightest doubt. I am not going to make the smallest invidious reference to the benefit which they derived, to the victories which they obtained, through exhibiting the tremendous burden which was to be imposed upon the country by the Land Bill of 1886. And with regard to this subject of the burden upon the country, I must remind the House, it is in all our recollections, that the universal representation was that £100,000,000, 1297 £150,000,000 or £200,000,000 wore to be exacted from the British taxpayer for the purchasing the estates of the Irish landlords. That was the case with regard to the Party opposite. It was still more the case with those who still do us the honour of interspersing themselves among us. I think, generally speaking, that they went further and took a more extreme view than the Tories took with respect to this question of the use of British credit for the purchase of Irish estates. I must go further still; I must admit that a very large number of Liberal candidates at the Election declared their opposition to purchase on that basis, and I believe that a still larger number of Liberal constituencies entertained that objection. I do not now enter into the question whether that is a final judgment or not. A judgment may be pronounced very clearly at one General Election, and it may be reversed by another General Election, and I am not at all sure whether this subject of Imperial credit may not possibly add another to the many examples of the truth to which I have just reverted. I am not at all sure whether we ourselves—each of us as individuals—are perfectly capable of giving a filial judgment on this question of British credit until we have considered more largely than we have yet done, and until we have obtained more thorough and authoritative information than we yet possess upon the old relations of England and Ireland with respect to finance as they stood at the period of the Union, and with reference to all the expenditure which has been thrown upon Ireland by the Union. But I do say that for this present Parliament, if British credit ever were to be used for the purpose of purchasing those estates, it ought to be under a system of guarantees, I am bound to say, very different indeed from those which are provided in the present case. I do not think that the present Parliament—if there be such a thing as an honourable understanding with the nation—is in a position to adopt the proposals of Her Majesty's Government for setting aside a vast sum of money, and by means of a circulating fund, and therefore with an interminable operation—I do not think that the present Parliament is in a position to take such a step and give such a vote in conformity with our 1298 honourable obligations to our constituents-These two objections—the Irish opposition and the use of Imperial credit under the circumstances in which we stand— constitute a conclusive reason why we should not permit the Bill to be read a second time. I now come to the third objection which, in my judgment, is more formidable still, and that is the question of State landlordism. The economical test the right hon. Gentleman has ingeniously covered with a triple front of brass in his three impossibilities. I am afraid that those impossibilities would all be penetrated by pecuniary necessity, as the spears of great warriors used in ancient times to go through the many folds with which shields were covered. I own I do not think the results of present repayments are altogether satisfactory. About 2½ per cent. is the deficit upon the repayment of advances which have been made upon such a scale as evidently not very greatly to compromise the power of the State or to entail any particular danger. The payments under the Acts we have passed up to the present time are 2.4 per cent. in arrears. I do not think that is a brilliant result, when you consider that it is the outcome of measures which involved an enormous pecuniary boon, manufactured out of British credit, to the persons who have directed the sales and purchases in Ireland. It is when from hundreds yon come to deal with thousands, and go from thousands to tens of thousands, and from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, that the mere question of pecuniary risk assumes a totally different aspect. The occurrence of seasons of famine will entail difficulties of which we are not at all competent to measure the extent; but the political danger is, in my opinion, tenfold greater than the economical. I think I may say that nothing will induce me, in a Bill of this kind, on a large scale to incur the political danger of State landlordism in Ireland. It is terrible to contemplate. I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman does not think of coming upon the ratepayers of the country or upon the recipients of the Probate Duty Lund until every measure has been taken against a defaulting occupier, for I assume that the very first thing to be done in the case of default is, in the name of the English 1299 Treasury, to evict the Irish tenants, with the help of the constabulary, the soldiery, and the battering ram, with no aid wanting except that of the emergency man, whom, I presume, the State will not have occasion to employ. I am not willing to be a party to such operations conducted in our name. In a most able pamphlet just published by an hon. Member who promises to be a very considerable addition to our ranks, judging from the argumentative power he shows—I mean the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Keay)—I find some words which the hon Member says were used by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham in 1886. I am quite certain that the hon. Member must be wrong in saying that those words were used by my right hon. Friend; he could not have used those words, because they are totally untrue. There is not a single word of truth in them. The right hon. Gentleman could not have been ignorant of the facts, and, therefore, he could not have used the words. They are directed against State landlordism. In the Bill of 1886 there was nothing affecting England; the Treasury was not the creditor; the British State was not the proprietor; the Irish authority was the proprietor; no power was given to the representatives of the British Exchequer to levy one single shilling towards the recovery of the advances under the Bill, but it was wholly an Irish matter. The equivalent of the Irish advances was simply to be deducted from the gross amount of the public funds of Ireland. Until that had been done not a single shilling was to be applied to expenditure. The passage I am going to quote is, I believe, strictly, literally, and absolutely applicable to the present Bill. There are only three lines, but they are sufficiently pungent, and the virtue of their pungency is to be found in their truth as applied to the Bill now before us. They run—Bear in mind this, working men of England and Scotland, you will be the Irish landlords; you will have to evict the tenants; you will have to collect the arrears at the point of the bayonet; and I refuse to be a party to such a transaction.In my opinion, Sir, the knowledge—if even the deficiency is only 2½per cent., or is any percentage whatever — the 1300 knowledge that the eviction of the purchasing tenant is by the agency and for the behoof of the British Treasury forms a conclusive objection to any large measure of Irish purchase in which it is included. Now I come to my fourth and last objection, that is to the terms which, when we first heard them, and before it was realised what they meant, were naturally and of necessity almost seductive to the ears of every Member of the House. The terms of purchase were to be adjusted between the landlord and the tenant by voluntary arrangement. There are some of us who are accused of wishing to have voluntary arrangements in certain cases where at present there are legal State arrangements; and on this occasion the friends of voluntary arrangements felt that the statement I have just cited was the best introduction to any measure of this nature. But what is the voluntary arrangement under this Bill? I am bound to think the Government have not sufficiently studied the operation of their voluntary arrangement I will begin by stating what may seem paradoxical until I have illustrated it, that this provision for voluntary arrangement is a provision under which you will place it in the hands of the landlords of Ireland to transfer to their own pockets, if not the whole, yet nearly the whole of the enormous boon which you think you are providing for the tenant. This is a grave statement, and I could not have made it without being fully convinced of its truth. I first of all assume—what I believe will not bo disputed — that this Bill is mainly meant to meet the cases of the tenants who are desirous to buy their holdings in Ireland I am glad if it is an accommodation to the landlord; but it has always been stated on the other side that to convert occupiers into proprietors is the object they have in view. In order to enable the tenants to buy, what is it that we do? We offer a boon, primâ facie a boon which is large, which, if I understand it aright, is enormous. The offered sum of £100 involved in any one of these transactions is, by a touch of the magician's wand, at once reduced to £68. That is how you begin—by a gift of £32 in every £100; £32 of hard money, coined out of British credit, in every £100 of hard money that is to pass. And that is not all; because you likewise provide that the 1301 reduced annual payment shall not be a payment in perpetuity, but at the end of 49 years it is to lapse, and the occupying purchaser is to become absolute proprietor. What is the value of that reversion? I am not going to compute it as an actuary would, and say exactly what it would be; but I do not think I am wrong in putting its present value at £8. Therefore, I say that £40 in every £100 upon everyone of these transactions is a boon which you are going to confer upon somebody in Ireland by means of the use of the public; credit. To whom are you going to offer it? I do not ask what your intention is—I know it; it is to give it to the man who is now the tenant, and whom you seek to convert into the landlord of his holding. That is your intention. Is it really effected by your legislation? No, Sir. In the former measure what was contemplated was that there should be one integral transaction for the passage of the estate; that the whole of these transactions should be carried on by public advances; and that the landlord should have no more to say to the person who had been occupier and was about to become owner. In the Bill it is totally different. If the terms of the Bill, that the landlord and tenant shall agree, are to be followed, provided the two parties are are not collusive, they will have no effect whatever. In such a matter collusion implies the connivance of both parties to cheat public justice. I am speaking of the enormous leverage you are about to put in the hands of Irish landlords for the purpose of extracting from the tenants nearly the whole of the immense boon which you are offering. Here are two persons, A and B, in business relations with one another. 'Parliament makes a grant of £500 to A, the tenant, but attaches to the grant the condition that he must obtain the consent of B, the Landlord. A, the tenant, goes to B, the landlord, and says, "I want to buy." "You want to buy," replies the landlord; "that is all very well, You cannot buy without my consent, and I am the stronger party." And, undoubtedly, in the case of a tenant desirous to buy, the landlord is the stronger party. The landlord may exact from the tenant, in the shape of a mortgage on the land, or in the shape of additional years' pur- 1302 chase, any addition whatever to the terms, and into that addition he may import as much of this £40 in every £100 as he can force his tenant to agree to. And, further, it may be worth the while of the tenant to agree as long as the landlord leaves him something. Suppose the landlord takes £35 out of the £40—that is a good slice; but he may say to the tenant—"If you agree with me, you get £5 in the £100, and you become your own proprietor in the course of 49 years. If you do not agree you go on paying till the crack of doom." That is the position in which the two parties are placed. As long as you allow these contracts under the name of voluntary engagements, the landlord can screw out of the tenant whatever terms he likes. I do not mean that every landlord would do this, but there are many who would. I am showing what we ought not to permit. We are placing in the hands of the landlord an instrument enabling him to enrich himself, and to obtain an excessive and exorbitant price for his land, in direct contravention of the intentions of Parliament. That is what Ulster is well aware of. Ulster is not deceived. Ulster sees into it. The tenants there are somewhat stronger than they are upon the average in Ireland; their position is a stronger position; but what is the language they hold? The language they hold is that if you want to have a useful Bill it must be not voluntary but compulsory. The tenants must have the right to require that the purchase should take place. That is a very different demand, and it involves a very serious question. I am not going to give an opinion upon that question now. I am pointing out, by an argument which I think irrefragable, that the tenants, for the sake of whom we are going to pledge British credit, will be at the mercy of the landlord. After having made this enormous and unprecedented effort, and placed ourselves in a position of the greatest disadvantage, it is the landlord who will be master of the position. In the division of the spoil the lion's share will fall to him, and nothing but the leavings and the remnants to the tenant. These four objections I am prepared to let stand upon their own merits—first, Irish opposition; secondly, the use of the national credit in opposition to the recorded judgment of the country at 1303 the last election—a judgment which, in my opinion, none but the country itself is entitled to reverse; thirdly, the evil of State landlordism, which involves large pecuniary risks, but which involves an evil ten-fold greater than any pecuniary risks in the shock to humanity, to order, and to the relations between countries, which must ensue from the abuse of such a power; and lastly, the sad reverse which we experience when we find that, in the name of a voluntary arrangement, we enable the landlord to bring an irresistible pressure to bear on the tenant, with the view and with the effect of extorting from him, perhaps, nearly the whole, or a very large part, of the immense boon which Parliament proposes to confer. In these circumstances, I resign with great regret the hopes which I entertained of being able to support the Bill. I am not sure that I have even now obtained anything like a full comprehension of the Bill. It is an exceedingly complicated measure. I do not know that a more complicated measure, or one so complicated, has ever been brought before us. It contains points of great ambiguity and points of great difficulty. All these might, perhaps, be encountered judiciously, and, with temper and management, might be got rid of. But the four difficulties I have mentioned, all persons in this House, whatever their political creed, will feel constitute points which ought to be placed clearly in the view of the country, and the country ought to know what it is asked to do, and what Parliament may be about to do. For my part, though I have not the smallest idea of joining in any obstructive opposition to this or any other measure whatever, still I feel it to be my bounden duty to make objection to provisions so dangerous and flagrant in their character, tending, on the one hand, to embark the country in pecuniary risks to which it ought not to be exposed, and on the other, to make the question of land purchase not an aid in the settlement of the general question of Ireland, but the means of importing into it new social and pecuniary difficulties, and further and further plunging us into the deepest political embarrassment.
§ *(5.55.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Spuare
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the House has had 1304 the great advantage now of having had placed before it the main objections which can be urged against this measure, in the first place by the hon. Member for Cork, who led the Opposition on this occasion, and in the next place by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who has just sat down; and I hope we may conclude that in those two speeches from the respective leaders of the two different wings of the Opposition we have the whole of the arguments of those opposed to this measure. I hope that is the case, though I will not say I am confident, because, if I remember the speech made last night by the Member for Newcastle, there were points in that speech diametrically opposed to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I propose to go through the various points raised by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian seriatim. I am bound to say that he has placed them before us with such clearness that it will be extremely easy—I will not at this moment say to answer them,—but, at all events, to follow them. But first let me point to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, in his speech last night, that the effect of the Bill would be destroyed—and other hon. Members have also said so, both outside and inside the House—by the fact that under this Bill rents would be so lowered that there would be an agitation on the part of those tenants who did not purchase for-the sake of getting those excellent terms which are given by this Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian holds no such view. He holds the opposite, as I understand. He holds that this Bill would have the effect of placing the tenants who buy in a position which would practically be a neutralisation of all the advantages we hope from it.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I said many landlords had the opportunity of securing the benefit for themselves.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
I do not wish to push the argument of the right hon. Gentleman one iota beyond his legitimate contention. We have not to deal with "the many landlords," but with the general argument of the right hon. Gentleman. That [general argument was: "Who will gain by the Bill? It will be the 1305 landlords. "That is to say, the landlords would use their powers to such an extent that the tenants would not get the advantages which we expect them to get. But if they do not get the advantages, then the argument of the right hon. Member for Newcastle entirely breaks down—that one person will be placed in such a position of advantage that his neighbour will feel dissatisfaction, and that agitation in Ireland will be thereby increased. The right hon. Gentleman, in the opening of his speech, spoke of the plan of the hon. Member for Cork. I should like, before I sit down, to be allowed to say a few words with respect to that plan. I had hoped that the Member for Mid Lothian would have bestowed some more time upon an examination of the plan "chivalrously" proposed by the hon. Member for Cork, but I am not sure that it was "chivalrously" treated by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. On the whole, I think that there is no person in the House who will deny that the speech to which we have just listened was a heavier indictment against the Bill than the speech of the hon. Member for Cork. The right hon. Gentleman says that this Bill is opposed by five-sixths of the Members from Ireland. I wonder whether in the remaining sixth we are to include the hon. Member for Cork. As my right hon. Friend the Attorney General for Ireland has said, the speech of the hon. Member for Cork was not a speech really against the Second Reading of the Bill. It was a speech which might as well have been delivered in Committee, and which I may suggest before I sit down may still possibly be expanded in Committee. There was nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for Cork which was thoroughly opposed to the plan of the Government. There is another point on which I hope we may say that we are all in agreement, and that is as regards the expatriation of Irish landlords. The hon. Member for Cork does not desire it; the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian does not desire it; and certainly the Bill of Her Majesty's Government is not constructed in such a manner as to lead to it. Look what has happened under the Ashbourne Act. Under the Ashbourne Act, large transactions have taken place. There are many landlords who have sold under the Ashbourne Act who will still continue 1306 in Ireland, and will continue to exercise, to the advantage of the country, the duties of a landlord to their neighbours. Then the right hon. Gentleman went through a certain number of objections, which he said would be objections to be taken in Committee. I hope that I may be allowed to follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and pass these points over with great rapidity. The right hon. Gentleman said it could be proved that the provisions which the Government had made were given for the sake of the tenants themselves, but that they were not given for the nation at large. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we had neglected Ireland as a whole, and that Ireland would reap no advantage from this Bill. We believe that the settlement of the Land Question, to which we believe this Bill will contribute in a large degree, is a matter which deeply concerns Ireland generally. It concerns the prosperity of the whole of Ireland. We believe that, in lending British credit to the solution of this question, we are not only doing something for the tenants and the landlords, but something for Ireland, and that we are also doing something for this country. Nay, more. We believe that the establishment of a peasant proprietorship in Ireland is a matter deeply affecting the prosperity of all parts of the kingdom. It strikes me at this moment that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer by a single word to that part of the Bill which deals with the congested districts. That, however, is a large and important part of the Bill. Many of us are agreed that there are provisions in it which may be usefully developed for the happiness of Ireland; and if, on the other hand, there are many points for consideration in Committee; why should not the right hon. Gentleman and his friends go with us into the Lobby in support of the Second Reading at least? If you throw out the Second Reading you throw out the part as regards the congested districts.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
If the hon. Member says it is worthless, I can understand his view, but his leader said that it was inadequate, not that it was worthless.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
No doubt according to the hon. Member's recollection the word "illusory" was used in the course of the speech, but my recollection is that it was not used with regard to the congested districts. But, of course, I accept the statement of the hon. Gentleman. We shall have an interesting time when we come to the congested districts, and when we see hon. Members voting against those clauses. I think, however, we shall be able to prove that they are devised for the benefit of Ireland, and if they can be improved and strengthened, though they are said to be illusory, the Government will interpose no difficulty as regards discussion of those improvements. But right hon. Members opposite do not wish, it appears, to attempt to improve this part of the Bill dealing with the congested districts; you are prepared to go into the Lobby to oppose any portion of the plan coming under the consideration of the House. Among the minor points raised by the right hon. Gentleman was the objection to the definition of net value. In making his objection the right hon. Gentleman must have had in his mind his own Bill of 1886. If you had, as the right hon. Gentleman had, a Bill for the compulsory purchase of all the estates in Ireland, then it is extremely necessary [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE dissented]—yes, there was compulsion. There was no compulsion on the landlords to sell, but compulsion on the State authority to buy. In the Bill of 1886 there was a compulsion to buy every estate in Ireland, with certain exceptions, and there was a compulsory standard at which they should be bought. No doubt, therefore, it was extremely important then to have a standard so far as the proceeds that might go into the pocket of the landlord were concerned; but where you have a voluntary arrangement, as I admit we have in this Bill—and I am prepared to defend the fact—we have to deal, not with establishing a compulsory standard, but simply with the definition. A definition of one sort or another you must have, and we consider this to be the best definition that can be given. It is for the purpose of determining the 80 per cent. which the tenant would pay. Those, I think, are the main points on 1308 which the right hon. Gentleman spoke as matters to be considered in Committee-Then he approached the far wider question, and laid down four propositions, which he summed up at the end of his speech, and which I hope I have correctly grasped. He objected to the Bill because it was not endorsed by the voice of the-people of Ireland; he objected to it because he considered that, owing to-what passed at the last election, we were precluded from placing any burden on the English taxpayer; he objected to the State becoming a creditor of a large number of tenants in Ireland; and he objected to the terms of purchase suggested in the Bill.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
Yes; the right hon. Gentleman said it ought to be a voluntary arrangement, and so it is. The right hon. Gentleman's first argument is that we ought not to proceed with this Bill unless we have the voice of the people with us. He assumes, and considers himself entitled to assume, that opposition in this House really means the opposition of the Irish people at large. But then, if hon. Members from Ireland represent the people of Ireland, and if they truly express the views of a great majority of the tenants that they will not buy under this Bill, that this Bill is unsatisfactory to them, at all events they may be relieved of the anxiety that great advantage will be taken of this Bill if the tenants of Ireland do not desire it. That is one answer. Now, here is another which I offer to the right hon. Gentleman. If I am not mistaken, the continuation of the Ashbourne Act was opposed by the representatives from Ireland. I do not remember whether the first production was.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
It was passed by consent of the Irish Members, and in consultation with them.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
And the second against it; but I have not seen that this operated largely on the minds of the Irish tenants. We shall see whether, if we pass this Bill, the Irish tenants will be more satisfied with the action of the Unionist Government who have passed it, or with the protest of the hon. Members below the Gangway who are 1309 opposed to it. At all events, we are anxious to give the Irish tenants the chance; and, what is more, we believe that those tenants will accept the chance. We believe that if they accept the terms offered to them the same advantages will flow from them as have already flown from the effects of the Ashbourne Act. An hon. Member says that the Ashbourne Act was passed with more than the consent of the Irish Members. Are they satisfied with the result of that Act? If they are satisfied, then this is an amplified Ashbourne Act, giving all the advantages to the Irish tenant, in many ways, of the Ashbourne Act. I confess I cannot help thinking that this protest on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite is rather a political than an agrarian protest against this Bid. The right hon. Gentleman challenged anyone to reply to the question, whether we should dare in the case of Scotland to offer such a measure as this ["No, no!"] Well, to impose upon Scotland such a measure as this against its will. It requires an enormous effort of the imagination to conceive the condition of Scotland being at the present time, or in any conceivable circumstances, in an analogous position to Ireland. The analogy would be this—that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, and their Scottish friends, should be going about Scotland trying to persuade the tenants not to pay the rents of Lord Rosebery, and other Scottish landlords. What has been suggested, too, is that the coercion which is said to exist in Ireland tends to prevent that combination by which alone the tenants think they would be able to get satisfactory terms. I confess that we have seen many extraordinary things, but I cannot imagine the right hon Gentleman preaching in Scotland the same doctrines as are preached in Ireland. But, even if it were so, I should like to know what would be said by the prudent and wise tenants in Scotland if such benefits were to be offered to them today as we are said to be imposing on the Irish tenants. It is my firm belief— may I say in reply to the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman—that if a Bill were offered to the tenants of Scotland 1310 by which their rents were reduced by 20 per cent., whatever the whole band of Scottish Members should say in this House, it would be most energetically received. One would think from my right hon. Friend's fourth objection, that this is a Bill which we are imposing on the Irish tenants, or one from which they would not reap a full advantage. I reply that this Bill is not a, measure which is imposed on the people of Ireland; it is a measure which we offer them, and one of which I trust they will not be slow to take advantage. At all events, if I have failed to answer satisfactorily the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will not deny that I have attempted to grapple with his argument. On this point let me say this, that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the hon. Member for Cork used those arguments which are so much utilised in some wilder quarters. They do not speak of the general repudiation which is to follow the acceptance of these terms. Are we to believe that the Irish tenants, because their Members in this House at present protest against this Bill, when they have, through the operation of the Sinking Fund, through the terms which we have offered, and which they will enjoy, become, to a great extent, owners of their property, are we to believe that, short of any general revolutionary agitation, they will he prepared to sacrifice the benefits which we have conferred? The right hon. Gentleman further holds that we are not entitled to bring this Bill before the House on account of our electoral engagements: he also holds, as to placing the burden on the British taxpayer, that we are not entitled by the declarations we have made in so many quarters to proceed with such proposals. But we have not come down to the House with a Bill pledging the country with the insecurity of Irish Home Rule to£50,000,000 or £100,000,000. Then we should, indeed, be outraging every declaration. No; even if we had fallen far short of these gigantic proportions, and had proposed a much less measure, with so me great and appreciable risk to the British people, I admit we should not have been acting according to the declarations we have made. But in this 1311 Bill we have taken such precautions, acknowledged in many quarters, and not disputed by the hon. Member for Cork, that we believe no portion of this burden can ever fall upon the British taxpayer. On one point the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle has contradicted in advance his English leader, and with another argument he has also contradicted his Irish leader, because the hon. Member for Cork did not object for one moment to the character of the security.
§ MR. PARNELL
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I certainly pointed out, though not at as great length as the right hon. Member for Newcastle, that these securities would be useless for the protection of the British taxpayer, and that no Government would ever use them for that purpose.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
I am sorry to hear the hon. Member for Cork say that, becanse in another part of his speech he offered it as a security for his own plan. I was not going to attack the plan of the hon. Member for Cork at all, but he said that we were going to take his security away from him. Was his security a good or bad one? If the security is not a good one, why did he say he would offer it as a security for his plan? If he did not believe it to be a good security he was not dealing quite fairly with the House. My own belief is that the hon. Gentleman does think—though,of course, I cannot go against the statement of the hon. Member himself—there is very considerable security indeed in these sums which we have taken. I believe he knows, as we all know, that practically the security is good. I believe that this is the keynote—that the security is good. There are four or five degrees of security. Hon. Members do not challenge the first, second, third, or fourth. They have only set upon the fifth and last security; they only speak of the contingent portion of the guarantee fund; while we maintain that that portion is absolutely unlikely, except in time of revolution, to be ever called into play. We prove that by figures, and the great master of finance, who understands figures himself, has not attacked our security, but has attacked the principle only. Let it be noted that the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, while attacking us heavily on the cardinal points of the 1312 Bill, has left untouched that network of securities which we have built up, and which we believe will prevent the burden from being ever placed on the British taxpayer. The right hon. Gentleman only made out that there would be a burden on the British taxpayer in one way—that is, that the issue of £30,000,000 of securities might slightly affect British credit and the value of the British Funds. The right hon. Gentleman did not pretend that they would lose any of their capital or interest; but the only burden which he represented would fall on the British taxpayer would be that the advance of £30,000,000 might appreciably affect the British Funds. I say that to declare such a result to be a breach of our pledges is a most exaggerated interpretation of any declarations we have made. I maintain that by this Bill we do not put any burden on the British taxpayer, and that the measure is constructed in order to avoid such contingency. The right hon. Gentleman did not attack the structure of our proposals. I come to the point which I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit in his own judgment is substantially the greatest objection in his view to our plan—that is, that we become the creditors of the Irish tenants. One would have thought that this was a heresy of so deep a dye that any Administration attempting to establish such a State creditorship ought to fall under the condemnation of the public at large. Yet State creditorship has already been established in Ireland and is in force there at the present moment. Unless I am historically incorrect, the author of this State creditorship is in part the right hon. Gentleman himself. I believe that under the Acts of 1869, 1870, and 1881 we stand as State creditors in relation to Irish tenants. I ask hon. Members to recall the strength of the denunciation with which the right hon. Gentleman visits this part of our proposal. I frankly admit that it is not desirable for the State to be the creditor of tenants. Did the right hon. Gentleman himself attempt to deal otherwise with the matter?
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Gentleman says yes; but I think that the name of the Authority which was to stand in the relation of landlord to tenant in 1313 Ireland under his Bill was the State Authority.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
Yes, the Irish Authority, but the Irish State. I am not dealing at the present moment with the point as to whether it is the English or the Irish State. There is a point far beyond that. It is a cardinal objection, and one that ought to be argued apart from any question of nationality, whether the State ought to stand in the relation of a creditor. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman was simply directed against its being the State.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Gentleman wishes to make a buffer between the State and the Treasury. As to my challenge on the point, I hope I may be allowed to carry the argument further. Is there not the same objection to the Irish State Authority being placed in the position of landlord to tenant?["No."] Then I understand that the Irish Parliament may evict but the English Parliament may not. A battering-ram christened after the hon. Member for Cork may evict, but an English Parliament may not. What I wish to prove is that if you had a State Authority in Ireland it would be open to the same objection as the British. We always find that it is not a question of the poverty of the tenant, but a question of the nationality of the evictor, and whether the eviction is by Irish or Imperial Authority. I think that the right hon. Gentleman's system of gaurantees was infinitely more illusory than ours, and for this reason—the Irish tenants would have been able to put precisely the same pressure upon Members of the Irish Party sitting in an Irish Parliament as it may be thought they could bring to bear upon Irish Members in an English Parliament. If there were famine, or any difficulties of that kind, under Home Pule, precisely the same difficulties would occur as could occur now, only they would occur in the absence of those measures which we have taken in order to minimise danger, in the absence of that system of insurance and reserves by which we are prepared for any contingency that may arise short of 1314 a repudiation of rents—a contingency in which we do not believe. Now, I come to the fourth objection of the right hon. Gentleman—to the question of voluntary arrangements. The right hon. Gentleman believes that under our Bill the landlords will be able to exact whatever terms they like. Well, that assumption depends, to a great extent, upon this consideration—Who are the more anxious, the tenants to buy or the landlords to sell? In any bargains which are made it is generally the person who is less anxious who is able to get the better terms. Well, what has been the course while the Ashbourne Act has been in force? The landlords have continually been willing to sell, and the tenants have been less anxious to buy, if we may judge by their action; but I admit that that action has sometimes been controlled by outsiders, who have prevented the land lord and the tenant from coming to terms. I know of cases in which landlords and tenants have been most desirous to come to terms, the conditions being infinitely more advantageous to the tenants than any ever sketched by the right hon. Gentleman, and outsiders have interfered and prevented the tenants from availing themselves of their opportunities. But I want to ask whether this objection as to terms comes with very good grace from the right hon. Gentleman, who proposed in his Bill that landlords should have the option of selling their estates, and that purchase should be compulsory on tenants above the E4 line. The hon. Member for Cork and the right hon. Gentleman are now, no doubt, delighted that the Unionists prevented that Bill from passing; for if it had passed the situation at the present moment would have been this—all the tenants above E4 would have been compelled to buy at 20 years' purchase of rack-rents if the landlords wished to sell. Speaking broadly, if that Bill had passed the Irish tenants would at this moment in a vast number of cases be compulsorily paying rents which have been denounced as 30 per cent. too high by the followers of the hon. Member for Cork. The right hon. Gentleman says that we are offering disadvantageous terms to the tenants, and that the landlords will alone derive benefit from our proposals. Let the tenants of Ireland reflect upon what the 1315 Unionist Party have saved them from by opposing the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. They cannot but be grateful to us. But for the action of the Unionist Party in throwing out the right hon. Gentleman's Bill a vast number of the tenants of Ireland would now be saddled with rents which the hon. Member for Cork and his friends say are 30 per cent. too high; I doubt myself whether it is true that those rents are 30 per cent. too high; but my purpose in drawing attention to these things has been to shake the authority of the right hon. Gentleman opposite in his criticism of the measure now before the House. Let me point out further that under the Ashbourne Act the arrangements between landlord and tenant have been entirely voluntary, and who has had the advantage under that Act? At all events, the average is not more than 18 years' purchase, and generally 18 years' purchase of rents which are lower than those which prevailed in 1886. When the tenants have secured such great advantages under the Ashbourne Act I am unable to understand why the right hon. Gentleman should argue that the landlords will be the only persons who will derive advantage under this measure. The whole recent history of Ireland proves that it is not the landlord who will be able to extract extravagant terms from the tenant under this Bill. Nor is that the view of the landlords themselves. The right hon. Gentleman referred, perhaps in somewhat sarcastic terms, to the action of the landlords declaring that they were charmed with the idea that they will be able to get whatever terms they like from the tenants under the Bill. I believe the landlords hold very different language; and if the right hon. Gentleman studies their view he will find, I think, that the particular objection which he has raised on this point is only a theoretical objection, and that the tenants will reap that full benefit which I believe all of us in this House desire that the Bill should confer upon them. Am I not right in this, that if we could only agree upon the method, we are most of us in favour of extending the number of proprietors of land in Ireland. That is the wish of the Irish Party, I believe, and it is the wish of most of those who sit on this side of the House. Well, then, can we not agree on the broad 1316 principle of endeavouring to increase the peasant proprietary of Ireland, not for the sake of the landlord only, or of the tenant only, but in the interest of the social and economic prosperity of Ireland? People omit to give due weight to this consideration, that the position in which Irish land is placed under the Act of 1881 is eminently unsatisfactory, and that dual ownership is ruinous to agriculture. That is a point to which the public ought to direct their attention. This is not only a Bill for the promotion of social order, though we hope that may be one of the results, not only a Bill to assist landlord and tenant, though we hope it may do so, but a Bill for improving the economical conditions of Ireland by the promotion of a more satisfactory system of agriculture—the present system being fatal to the interests of both landlord and tenant. Now, having-said so much, before I sit down I have to say a few words respecting the plan of the hon. Member for Cork. It is an ingenious plan, and I am not sure that it is not built on a clause in the Act of 1881. It is a plan which may seem satisfactory to many tenants and landlords; but it does not put an end to dual ownership from that point of view, and it is inferior to our proposal. No doubt it would reduce rents, and to that extent would pacify tenants for the moment: but it would be interesting to know whether Mr. Davitt endorses the plan of the hon. Member. What guarantee should we have that a fresh agitation would not be set on foot in respect of the remnants of rent which would be left payable under the hon. Member's scheme? We do not deny that the application of the plan advocated by the hon. Member for Cork would make the money go further, and that we should be able to satisfy a larger number of tenants; but it would leave the matter unsettled, and cause further agitation Still, I do not contend that this may not be a proper matter to consider in Committee. We do not consider that the hon. Member for Cork's proposal is hostile or necessarily destructive of our Bill. It would be possible for the two schemes to-be tried together. I hope I have met the hon. Member's plan in the same conciliatory tone as regards his proposal as that which characterised a great portion of his speech. I do not 1317 exactly know how the Members of his own Party view the hon. Member's proposal, and I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian did not say to what extent he associates himself with that plan; but if the hon. Member's only ground, or chief ground, for objecting to our Bill is that his proposal is not contained in it, he has no right on that account to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, or to endeavour to throw out a measure which does so much, or might in Committee be so amended as to do so much, for the benefit of the people of Ireland. Nothing could be more gratifying to us, of course, than that in the solution of the Irish Land Question we should carry with us the good will, not alone of the English Opposition, but of the Irish Opposition too. The hon. Member said, "Let us see if we cannot settle this question together." Well, while the Government prefer and will insist on the adoption of their plan, they do not exclude an experiment with his plan, provided he adopts the attitude that his speech leads us to expect, namely, that such a trial would mitigate a great portion of his objections. I have endeavoured now to answer the four objections of the right hon. Gentleman, and to grapple with the points which he has raised. I must say I thought I should have a more formidable task, and that the right hon. Gentleman would attack many other parts of the Bill with that supreme ability which we all recognise. The country will now see what has been urged against our proposals by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Cork, and I believe it will be seen that our position is unassailed. In conclusion, I will venture to express the hope that those who may not altogether agree with our proposals will not allow their judgments to be warped by their political opinions, and that when we come to the Committee stage—as we shall come—the will examine the provisions of the Bill with that impartiality which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian promised us.
§ *(6.48.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
I must ask the indulgence of the House for making my maiden speech so early in my Parliamentary life, and I would not do so if this question were not one in which my constituents take a great, if 1318 not a supreme, interest. I feel bound to express their views at the earliest possible moment. As an Ulster Member, as well as an Irish Member, elected since the introduction of this Bill, I express a view which I believe to be the view of my constituents, when I say that this Bill is condemned by the people of Ireland. I think that our duty in discussing the measure has been considerably increased by the way in which the Bill has been prepared by the Government. This question is one of enormous importance. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has just told us that the question is political as well as agrarian, and I was glad to hear that admission. The settlement of the land question, as we have often said, will not settle the political question; but at the same time, the agrarian question is of enormous importance. The Government say they are settling the whole agrarian question by this Bill. We object to the terms of the settlement, and deny its finality. It is characteristic of the system presided over by the Chief Secretary that this measure has been prepared without consultation with representatives-of either the tenants or the landlords. I should like to know how many people outside Dublin Castle the right hon. Gentleman has taken into his confidence. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have deliberately refrained from consulting any representative persons in Ireland-According to the Times, he did not consult the landlords, and I can myself affirm on the best authority that he did not consult either the National League or the Tenants' Defence Association. As far as I can make out, the only people whose views the right hon. Gentleman deigned to listen to in Ireland were a number of Ulster farmers who thought fit to go to Dublin Castle to express their opinions. They went all the way to Dublin to tell the right hon. Gentleman that no Bill would satisfy them that was not a measure of compulsory purchase, so that it appears that, if the right hon. Gentleman did consult anybody in Ireland, he has neglected to take the advice of those few whom he did consult. I do not think the light hon. Gentleman—who has furnished us with many strong arguments for Home Rule already—could furnish us with a stronger one than that, in preparing a measure that may deter- 1319 mine the whole future of our country, he has deliberately refrained from consulting any representative person or body in Ireland. I see in the whole framework of the measure the mark of this neglect of Irish opinion. It is said that there are now two owners of Irish land, the landlord and the tenant. I maintain, however, that there is not merely a dual ownership, but a triple ownership of the landlord, the tenant, and the mortgagee—and the owner to whom the Government propose to give the greatest security is the one who has done, in many ways, the most harm to Ireland, and to whom the Irish people would give the shortest shrift, namely, the mortgagee. Members on the Ministerial side, in supporting this measure, have taken two lines of argument. They say there has been great unanimity in favour of land purchase in Ireland, and also that the Opposition have brought a great variety of objections against this Bill. Well, I venture to say that no line of argument could be more damning to the framers of the Bill. They have to deal with a matter concerning which, by their own statement, there is something like unanimity of opinion, and yet they manage to frame their Bill so that not one of those on the Opposition side, who are in favour of land purchase, can support their scheme. We are all of opinion in this quarter of the House that the Bill is unsatisfactory, and I would remind the Members of the Government, who are so proud of their ingenuity in framing a Bill against which the greatest recorded number of objections has been brought, that two negatives do not make an affirmative in the Division Lobby, nor will they at the polls. I confess frankly that my own views on this question differ considerably from the views of many English Radicals. I think, with the hon. Member for Cork, that the English taxpayer does owe a debt to the Irish people, and that ho may fairly be asked to advance something to settle the Irish land question, in a reasonable way. Land purchase would, as a counsel of perfection, be the best solution of the Irish land question. The Irish Party supported the Government which passed the Ashbourne Act, and only opposed its renewal because of the pressure of coercion and of arrears, and Lord Ashbourne's Act, in those parts of Ireland where there is no pressure of 1320 arrears, or of coercion, has worked with tolerable success. If the same could be said of other parts of Ireland, we should be content with an Amendment merely of the Ashbourne Act. But it cannot be said. There are many cases where free bargain is now impossible, and for that reason we should oppose a mere renewal of the Ashbourne Act, even if the right hon. Gentleman proposed nothing more. But this Bill is not merely an amplified Ashbourne Act. Ear from it. It differs very materially from the Ashbourne Acts. Whenever the right hon. Gentleman has introduced differences between this Bill and the Ashbourne Acts he has introduced them for ill. Whenever, on the other hand, the Ashbourne Act required amendment, he has left it undone. So the Government have managed to frame a Bill against which more objection seems to be raised than against any within recent memory. I can but put forward a selection of the main objections, and put in the first place the objection which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has put in the last place. The Bill must be condemned, because there is no provision for compulsory sale, without which this question cannot be finally settled. I do not know whether this House has any conception of the interest felt by Ulster tenants, and especially by Presbyterian Ulster tenants, on this point of compulsory sale. So keenly do they feel upon this that they, to the number of a thousand, met the other day to declare that no Bill of this kind could be satisfactory that did not contain the compulsory principle. They met in an Orange Hall, in the County Antrim, and they asked my hon. Friend the Member for the St. Stephen's Green Division to present their Petition to this House. These thousand men have thus protested against the Government proposal. A whole battalion of the army of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh has gone over to the enemy. These men feel deeply on this point, and show a very practical insight as to the political position. They are men, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cork has said, are admirably fitted to become peasant owners. They see, under the Government proposal, that the whole 1321 security of the county will be pledged without their getting the opportunity of purchase. I say, as they say, that this voluntary system is bad both for the tenant and the landlord. It is, firstly, bad for the tenant. As a fact, we know that free contract under normal circumstances in Ireland is impossible for the tenants. It is not necessary to support this assertion by argument. It is a fact of record. It has been written on the Statute Book since 1881 that free contract between landlord and tenant in Ireland is impossible. But now we are told that, although the tenant could not make a fret contract from year to year, he is able to make a free contract for half a century. And the inequality of the tenant's position has now been increased by certain transitory conditions—by the pressure of arrears in many parts of Ireland, and by the operation of a Coercion Act designed and administered for landlords and by landlords. I say further, besides being bad for the tenant, because the tenant cannot bargain on even terms, it is, in the second place, bad for the State for the same reason. After all, whatever security you make upon paper, the only real security for the payment of instalments is the value of the laird. If a tenant once falls into arrears you necessarily have to evict, and all your force of police and military will be insufficient to keep peace in Ireland. If, on the other hand, land were bought at a cheap rate there might be some security that you would not generally have to evict. By this voluntary system you decrease the security. But the voluntary system is bad for the State also in another way. You profess that you cannot get rid of the whole of the landlords of Ireland, or make the whole of the tenants peasant proprietors. If you only want to get rid of some landlords, I presume you would dispense with the worst of them, and make the most deserving, most suffering tenants proprietors. But I declare you do neither under this Bill. There are certain places in Ireland, certain plague spots, which any one could point to, where, owing to their sufferings, the tenants have the first claim. I do not refer to the congested districts; there are many places outside these made miserable by bad landlords. Such places you do not touch. And it is a matter that 1322 all those who have any knowledge of agriculture well understand that the small tillage farmers have suffered more from the agricultural depression than the grazier, and yet you benefit the grazier more than the tillage farmer by this Bill. The larger tenant can negotiate on better terms with his landlord. Without combination he can bring more pressure to bear than can the smaller tenant. In a Return recently presented to Parliament there are some very interesting figures in reference to salts of laud, from the end of 1888 to March 31 in the present year. I find that the Earl of Shannon sold 55 holdings for £45,000. It is an expensive luxury, making peasant proprietors out of these substantial graziers. I find that Lord Listowel sold three holdings in Cork for £3,000, and one in Kerry for £2,500. The Marquess of Waterford sold 114 holdings, in Waterford, for £113,000, the average valuation being £51, or over the limit which the hon. Member for Cork thinks necessary. And, finally, as a sort of plum, I find that Sir George Colthurst sold a holding; in County Cork for £5,000. These are hardly specially chosen cases. Altogether in Munster it took £541,000 to create 811 peasant proprietors, at the average valuation of £36. I would not, of course, object if I thought that the Munster tenants held under more substantial valuations than the rest of Ireland, but it is not so; it is the big tenants who have gone in for purchase. The average valuation in Munster is £21, so that we see, side by side, the big holdings purchased, the small holdings left. So, also, they are not the worst landlords you get rid of. The Attorney General for Ireland seemed to think he had demolished that part of the contention of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell), when he said it was a good thing to get rid of absentee landlords. There are absentees and absentees. The absentee landlord may be the very worst, but he may also be very nearly one of the best. There is a class of absentees who, although they do not live on their estates, spend money there by deputy. The absentee may be a liberal landlord; very often he has property in England, and, acquainted with the principle upon which estates are managed in Eng- 1323 land, gives to his Irish tenants some of the advantages he is compelled to give to his English tenants. There is a great temptation to this man to sell under the Ashbourne Act, because, as ho spends money annually on the improvement of the estate, there is no loss of net income when he sells under the Act. And, no doubt, in the case of the London Companies, who are not the best of landlords, but who spent a great deal on the estates, there is no loss of net income when they sell. But what does it mean? When you effect the sale of the property of the London Companies the interest goes year by year out of the country to an absentee collector, the British Treasury, and I believe there is a net loss to the people of the district from the buying out of the London Companies. But the worst class of absentees remain as a plague for future Governments. You do not find that Lord Clanricarde has sold any of his land. Lord Clanricarde expects a little more than 2¾ per cent. for his money. These are the men who have never done anything for the improvement of their property, who are mere rent collectors, who find it more profitable to hold on. So, as the Government plan works out it is a policy of buying out the best landlords and setting up as owners those tenants who can best get on without assistance; an insensate plan for the State to adopt. I admit the difficulty in the North of Ireland in the way of compulsory purchase. I recognise in the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) the most able and indefatigable opponent of compulsory purchase, and I feel confident that his view has largely guided the Government in refusing compulsory purchase in this measure. I hope the electors of South Tyrone will also take note of the fact. However, although the hon. Member for South Tyrone has prevented the Government from putting in compulsory purchase, he now turns round and says, as if offering a sort of sop to the electors, though the Bill is not compulsory it will work out in compulsion. Well, if he intends to address the House, I hope he will explain in plain English what he means by "working out in compulsion." The only way in which I can understand it can work out in compulsion is this. Where a tenant on one side of the road has bought under 1324 this Act, and has got a reduction of 30 per cent., then a tenant on the other side goes to his landlord, who refuses to sell, and says, "If you will not give me 30 per cent reduction I will pay you no rent at all." Is that a programme the law-abiding Member for South Tyrone would recommend the Irish tenants to adopt? Why, this is a No-rent manifesto, on a scale and with a permanence never dreamt of before. The Chief Secretary, by summary process, under the 2nd section of the Coercion Act, should, in the well known form, proceed to the prosecution of the hon. Member for his letter to the Morning Post. Does it not open a whole vista of possibilities? What would be the state of the country with a sort of Plan of Campaign in force all over Ireland? Yet some such course is inevitable if tenants are to secure advantages offered under the Bill. As a second objection, I say the proposed mode of pledging our securities is a fallacious and disastrous one. Let there be no mistake in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what Irish Members think on the question. We think that if these securities are pledged without our consent, or the consent of our people, the securities are not worth the paper on which the Bill is printed. I shall not deal at great length with this question, because the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) has dealt with it in a comprehensive manner, which I cannot hope to rival. Though there is a pretended freedom of agreement in the bargains between landlord and tenant, there is no pretence of free contract when you pledge our Irish securities. You might have set up representative Local Authorities, and have given them a veto in regard to any particular loan, or you might have asked the assent of Irish Members to some general scheme applicable to the whole of Ireland, a scheme which, in such a case, would, of course, have to be framed by Irish Members. Neither course have the Government adopted. Let us examine these guarantees. You have the cash portion. But how do you get it? By starving our Irish education. You would not give us the same benefits you gave from the Probate Duty to Scotch education, and in that way you keep the money in your till. But suppose we get our hands into another till. Suppose we make it almost impos- 1325 sible for you to pass, year by year, the Estimate giving the mean pittance to Irish National School teachers? In this way, possibly by degrees, a Minister anxious for the progress of business might be brought, year by year, to make concessions to the advantage of school teachers in Ireland, and others. You have already the £5,000 to improve the breed of horses to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. Suppose, by our pertinacity, we should establish further claims on the Consolidated Fund, what, then, becomes of the cash portion of your security As for the contingent portion you can only get it by involving the whole country in anarchy. I do not think that if the Chief Secretary, with his experience of the last few years in stirring up disorder, had deliberately designed a measure to make government impossible he could have succeeded better than he has in this Bill. You do not propose to raise the deficiency by poor rate, but by county cess. It is by a levy, from which the landlords escape, that you are to raise this contingent security; it is the poorer part of the county population who are to subscribe towards making good the default of their richer brethren, who have had the advantage of purchase under the Act. Surely by this time the Chief Secretary knows that it is impossible for him to levy such a rate. Why, it, is not a security for peace, it is a provocation to rebellion. But the Irish peasantry, though they have been stricken by successive Governments, have not yet sunk to the level of fellaheen, whose money, derived from taxes, may be disposed of as the Government think fit, by a stroke of the pen. The Irish peasantry, if their consent has not been asked directly to the pledging of their security, will never pay any such unjust demand. Let the Government have fair notice that this mortgage of Irish rates is entered into without the consent of the Irish representatives, and there is no covenant for quiet enjoyment in their mortgage deed. And now a word or two as to the security for the tenants' interests. I have looked carefully through the Bill, and I find that though you are going to give duties to the Land Commission for which it is essential that you should have some machinery by which the tenants' improvements should be 1326 valued, I find no such machinery provided. The only machinery of the kind is that which I find in Clause 17, which is ambiguous in its terms. I venture to say that a tenant's life-work on his holding require some better security then a mere legal metaphor. Lastly, we shall require further particulars as to the personnel of the purchase part of this Irish Land Department, and how it is to be conducted. Who are the new Commissioners to be? Messrs. Lynch and McCarthy have done their work well. It is a curious historical circumstance that the reason these two gentlemen were appointed to administer the Act may be ascribed to the temporary—I will not call it alliance—concurrence in the Division Lobby between the Irish Party and the Tory Party in 1885. Had it not been for this circumstance you would never have appointed to administer the Ashbourne Act two men whose traditions are wholly opposed to the landlord party; and now, when you no longer have need of the Irish vote, you are going to shelve these gentlemen or swamp their influence on the Commission? Something more definite will have to be said as to the administration of this Purchase Act. Lastly, the amount with which you are proposing to effect a settlement of the Irish Land Question is miserably insufficient. It is a large sum of course; it is as large, I daresay, as you have the courage to ask for, but it is miserably insufficient. Of course I know the fund will go on, and that if an Irishman should happen to live for upwards of a century, by that time he may become the owner of his holding; but, in the meantime, all our securities are pledged, and yet the question remains unsettled. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not want to expel all the landlords, nor is there any hope of their being expelled; they will not all get the chance. In the meantime, all the causes of discontent exist, and will continue to exist, in an increasing degree. By this settlement of the Irish Land Question, as you call it, you will make a real settlement still more pressing. Your £33,000,000 will be taken up, and the position as between the tenants who have bought and the tenants who could not buy will be unbearable. I do not think that 1327 hon. Members, who know nothing about Ireland, recognise the jealousy that exists between tenants, and must exist where one would be paying 30 per cent. more rent than the other. I heard of a case lately in which two farmers who had been excellent friends went into the Land Courts, and the one had his rent reduced 3s. more than the other. These two men have since been bound over to keep the peace. Are you prepared to bind over the whole Irish people to keep the peace? These are the feelings that will be excited if your proposals are carried into effect: that is, if the tenants go on paying their full rent, which I do not suppose they will. If you had compulsory purchase you might say to the tenant "Why did you not buy"; but now it is not open to him to buy. We have heard from an hon. Gentleman opposite that there are landlords who will not sell unless the tenant brings three years rent in his pocket, as a sort of tip. Your £33,000,000 will be taken up in a few years, and you will be left with the Land Question in a more difficult form to solve. You will not introduce compulsory purchase in this Bill, because you wish to conceal from the English and Irish people the ridiculous inadequacy of your proposal. Indeed, I think the Bill shows that they are conscious of the inequality. I refer especially to that part of it which deals with the Tenants' Insurance Fund. I do not know whether the House has yet realised what a ridiculous thing the Tenants' Insurance Fund is. The table which has been distributed to the House illustrates this more forcibly than any words of mine can do. I find that if a tenant buys on any thing less than 20years' purchase, he has to pay, for the first five years, the sum which he would have paid if he had bought at 20 years' purchase. What is the result? The greater the risk the smaller the premium. If a tenant buys at 20 years' purchase he will pay absolutely nothing to the Tenants' Insurance Fund. If, on the other hand, he buys at 12 years' purchase, when there will be a very remote chance of his getting into difficulty at all, he pays £160 to the Tenants' Guarantee Fund. The provision as to an Insurance Fund is simply ridiculous. It was not put in as an Insurance Fund at all. It was put in to prevent people seeing at once that 1328 the Irish Land Question was still unsettled. It was put in to disguise, for the moment, the inequalities of the scheme. The Government think there will not be much feeling on the point during the first five years. They have shelved the difficulty for five years, not expecting to have themselves much interest in Ireland, one way or the other, five years hence. Five years hence, no doubt, the leader of the House will have retired to a higher sphere; five years hence I expect the Chief Secretary for Ireland will be in philosophic retirement, discussing the question of bimetallism; five years hence others will have to face the Irish Land Question, the difficulties of which will have been aggravated by this Bill. You are leaving a heritage of trouble to your successors, simply in order that you may go on to English platforms and say, "Look how we have settled the Irish Land Question." This proposal cannot settle the question. £30,000,000 cannot settle it on the basis of purchase. The hon. Member for Cork has forward a moderate and statesmanlike proposal, which I think the Government would do well to consider at a little greater length. The hon. Member for Cork has shown the way to settle the question without the expenditure of more than £30,000,000. If you are ready to give more than £30,000,000, possibly the solution of the question, by means of purchase, may be practicable; provided that your Bill is properly amended. If you are not prepared to give more than £30,000,000, you must take the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork, or leave the question unsettled. It will not do for the Government to accept some trumpery Amendment, and then say, "We have adopted the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork." If they want to take up the scheme of the Member for Cork, they had better save the time of the House by withdrawing their Bill at once, because they cannot have both schemes together. After all, we must tell the Irish tenants, and the Irish landlords, that politics, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle has said, is a question of second best. We would like purchase well enough if the English taxpayer is prepared with £160,000,000 to let us have it. We cannot get the £160,000,000, and must, therefore, look out for some other means of settlement. 1329 Thirty-three millions will not settle the question; it will rather aggravate the difficulty. I wish the Irish landlords would take our advice. They have taken the advice of Gentlemen opposite, and it has not done them much good. If they took our advice, no doubt their incomes would be reduced. They would not be able to come over to London for the season, or to vie with the luxury of the English plutocracy, but they would have enough to enable them to live in Ireland, and to work for Ireland. The Irish people, beyond all other people, have shown themselves generous and grateful when any man has turned from the old bad ways and shown himself ready to serve Ireland truly. I do not believe even yet it is too late for the Irish landlords to turn to a wiser course. Surely it would be better, though on a smaller income, to be respected by the Irish people than to remain for ever political Bourbons, forgetting nothing and learning nothing, or else to come to a sort of sham-chivalrous end by dying with the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) in the Shankhill Road, in Belfast. We offer them a better way. The Member for Cork, with a generosity unparalleled in political history, has put a better way before them. If they refuse his offer, under the misconception that they will have a better time under the Chief Secretary's Bill, I think they will regret it. They will find that it is not merely the landlords who sell who will have their incomes reduced. They will find that the tenants of the landlords who have not sold will not pay rents higher than those of their neighbours. It is customary to jeer at "mere Irish Members," and refuse to take their advice. We are told here, and on the platform, that our opposition to this measure is based on personal self-interest, because we are afraid that Ireland will become peaceful under the benign rule of the Chief Secretary. Perhaps there are a certain number of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who will recognise it as a fact of some importance that the Irish Members do deliberately say that they will vote for the rejection of this Bill. I can speak for myself, at least, and I believe I can speak for the others, when I say we do so without the slightest 1330 sense of self-interest, except so far as the interests of our country are our interests. I ask the House, instead of jeering at "mere Irish Members," as the Chief Secretary is wont to do, to listen for once to what we say, and to believe it is for the sake of peace and for the sake of Ireland, that we ask the House to reject this delusive and dangerous Bill.
(7.40.) MR. W. P. SINCLAIR&c.) (Falkirk,
The House is always prepared to recognise ability when it is shown by new Members, and I think we are also quite as willing as his Colleagues can be to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down on his speech. Something has been said about the electoral engagements entered into by Unionist Members at the last General Election on the subject of land purchase in Ireland. I declared against the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian; but I stated strongly my belief in purchase as the best, if not the only method, of ultimately settling the Irish land question. I, therefore, come to the House pledged to consider any scheme of land purchase which has good features, and which is likely to bear a part in the settlement of this most important question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir Geo. Trevelyan) expressed himself in favour of State-supported Land Purchase, though he criticised the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down took a similar course. In my opinion, the Government's proposal is made in the interest of the State, and will be successful, because the interest of the individual is recognised, cared for, and made to harmonise with the interest of the State. The main object of all proposals of this kind is to get rid of that dual ownership which has been found to work badly in the past. The question really is, can this be done unless the State is prepared to advance the entire amount necessary to effect the object, and can the amount be advanced under safe conditions as to security for the loan and ultimate repayment. Partial advance has been tried already, with only partial success, I believe a very large proportion of the arrears referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian arose out of these partial efforts, and 1331 not out of the efforts made under the Ashbourne Acts. Those Acts have been singularly satisfactory as regards re-payment, and I venture to say that, when the 1st of May comes round, it will be found that the amount of arrears still to collect from payments which became due prior to the 1st of last November are almost infinitesimal. It is said that the Member for Cork and his Party will be able to use this Bill in their own favour. In so far as what we regard as the illegitimate claims of the hon. Member for Cork and his Party are concerned, I believe the measure will cut away very largely the ground from under their feet, and that, if it passes, we shall find less and less desire to disturb the Legislative Union between the two Countries, and Ireland will be more willing than she has been in the past to remain part and parcel of this Empire. Under the Ashbourne Acts, the landlord and tenant must agree as to the amount before they come before the Court. I think that is a wise and salutary condition, and I am rather sorry it has not been adopted here. I am rather afraid that the provision of the present Bill in this respect may have the effect, if the purchaser is discontented with the award, of making him feel he is paying too much for the bargain he has entered into. The same objection may arise, and has arisen, against judicially fixed rents, but we may be protected against that to some extent. What is it that the tenant actually buys? It is solely the interest of the tenant in the holding, and I think it is perfectly possible, by the acceptance of Amendments in Committee, to make it more clear and more certain that that which is said to have taken place in the past, cannot take place in the future—I mean, that the buyer shall not be required under this Bill to buy the improvements which he himself, or his predecessor in title, has made. The total value of the holding is the united value of the landlord's and the tenant's interest. It is not pretended that any part of the tenant's interest is to be bought; the sole object of the Bill is to transfer the landlord's interest to the tenant; can we provide that that shall be done? It seems to me it would be perfectly possible to throw upon the Land Department which is to be created under the Bill, the duty of assessing what is the 1332 landlord's interest and what is the tenant's interest, and that the purchase money should be limited, either to the sum representing the landlord's interest, or to a sum slightly in excess of it. I should say that in no case ought it to exceed 10 per cent. Suppose that the value of the landlord's interest in a holding that is about to change hands, is estimated at £400, and that of the tenant's interest at £200. It is known to many hon. Members that it very frequently happens that the tenant's interest is quite as great, sometimes even greater, than the landlord's. In such a case as I have mentioned the State ought not to advance more than £400. If any latitude is allowed—say 10 per cent.—the amount would be £440. The tenant might be willing to pay £40 more than the real value in order to become the sole owner. How will this work out in practice? The State has the entire holding, valued at £600, as security for the advance, but, in addition to that, it will have 20 per cent. of the purchase money not paid over to the seller. The agreed amount of the purchase money being £440, 20 per cent. would come to £88. On the £400, the sum which we suppose the landlord's interest only to be worth, 20 per cent. would only be £80. The State, therefore, would receive the £80 and the £40. As additional security, I would propose to retain the whole of the £40, in addition to the 20 per cent., and add it to the guaranteed deposit which is referred to in Clause 2 of the first Ashbourne Act. In that case the State would be perfectly safe; indeed, I cannot see how, in the long run, any loss at all will accrue to the State, if the Act is carried out as the Ashbourne Act has been carried out, and especially if the services of the present Land Purchase Courts are retained, as I hope they will be. They have done their duty, not only to the State, but also, I believe, to the country and to the people; and they have not allowed an excessive sum to be paid, even when there was willingness to pay it. They have so acted in the interest of the proposing purchaser. I think the method proposed by the Government, even without the guarantees mentioned in the Bill, will be found to be perfectly efficacious in securing the State from loss, except in a few exceptional cases. There have been about four cases of 1333 default under the Ashbourne Act, but, on sale, the estates have more than realised the deficits. I believe a similar state of things will result from the working of this Act. It is said that coercion has been applied in order to make purchasers pay too much. But there is no evidence that coercion has been used in the past to compel tenants to pay too much for their holdings; in fact, two hon. Members from Ireland who denounced the Ashbourne Act in the House, afterwards availed themselves of its provisions for their personal advantage. I believe that both intend honourably to fulfil the engagements into which they have entered, but I can only express the great surprise we all feel that those who have denounced this Act should take advantage of it for their own purposes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has spoken of the evils of State landlordism. "The expression is a misnomer. The State does not become a landlord. It simply puts itself into the position of the banker advancing money on what he deems to be good security. It may be an objectionable position for the State, but it is not the position of a landlord. The State becomes a mortgagee, and not a landlord. The right hon. Gentleman has also referred to the ability of the landlord to extort from the tenant the benefits which he is to receive under the Bill. But it will be the duty of the House to examine the clauses carefully in Committee, and so to amend them as to protect the tenant and the State from the possibility of this danger, which is not entirely illusory. I have a strong feeling that the Irish people, as a whole, are most desirous of paying their just debts, and if it is possible to arrange the details of the Bill 80 as to convince those to whom the money is to be advanced that they have entered into an engagement under just terms, there will be absolutely no necessity for putting into effect the guarantees. The real security for the advance proposed is the security contained in the holding on which the advance is made. I hope that the Bill will be passed by a large majority, and that a great deal of the opposition which has been threatened will disappear before the Third Reading.
§ (8.40.) LORD H. BRUCE (Chippenham)
It would appear, according' to the statements made in this debate, that there 1334 are two Irish Land Purchase Bills, one of them being the Government Bill, and the other the measure propounded by the hon. Member for Cork. I may say at the outset that I have never received any brief from my constituency to support any Land Purchase Bill which will make the British taxpayer security for the money expended. I have always been opposed to the purchasing of the landlord's interest in any country, and I maintain that at the J present moment there is no necessity I whatever for an Irish Land Purchase Bill. We well know from the authorities that no exceptional state of affairs exists to warrant such a proposal. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) is reported to have made a speech in which he stated that instead of there being 4,000 agrarian crimes in Ireland, as in 1881, there are now only 400, and that instead of 2,500 evictions, as in that year, there were, in 1886, only 800. There were formerly 5,000 cases of boycotting, whereas now there are only 152; therefore, I contend that no case has been made out for the passage of an Irish Land Purchase Bill. Now, Sir, I contend that comparisons between the Land Acts of 1884, 188G, and 1890 are entirely beside the mark. We know that the other Party brought in a Land Bill, in 1886, upon which they were defeated, because wrapped up in that measure was a buying-out proposal, to which the country at that time distinctly objected. Every one of these fresh Land Acts has only taught Pat to become more dishonest. What is the bribe now? Twenty per cent. What in the future, if this Bill should be carried? Why, they will go in for repudiation, because the measure has not received the support of their representatives. But supposing the Bill is passed, and the landlords are got rid of, who are you going to put in the landlords' place? Tenants' capital, furnished by the State, cannot take the place of the private capital of the landlords. I would ask, will it be for the benefit of Ireland that we should get rid of landlords like Lord Londonderry, the Duke of Abercorn, and the Marquess of Waterford, and that Castle Stewart, Baron's Court, and Curraghmore should be closed? We have always denounced absenteeism, and now, by proposing to get rid of the landlords, we are asked to 1335 go in for State-aided absenteeism. What, I would ask, have these tenants and would-be landlords in the disaffected districts done that England should go out of her way to put them in possession af the land they occupy? I maintain that the financial machinery of this Bill is totally unworkable, and that you cannot guarantee the repayment of the money to be advanced. If you do, you will have the whole of civilised Europe against you. I say, further, you cannot compare this Bill with Lord Ashbourne's Act, because there were a smaller number of tenants to be dealt with under that Act. Under this Bill you hope to create 180,000 landlords, whereas in the case of Lord Ashbourne's Act you had no more than 20,000 or 30,000. The only good portion of this Bill is that which relates to the congested districts. That, no doubt, is an excellent proposal, but whence do you propose to get the money? You have to go to the Irish Church surplus and apply that money to secular purposes, and yet, as is well known, for you constantly see it advertised in the public papers, there is a fund called the Irish Church Sustentation Fund, in reference to which appeals are made to the benevolent to give to those who have been pillaged by the Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. Let me point out what are the opinions of some of the supporters of the Government in regard to this Bill. Sir James Caird, the eminent head of the Agricultural Department, is a well-known authority. What did he say in a book published in 1879—a book which cannot be ignored, because it is generally accepted as one of authority. Sir James Caird says—There is not a single reason in favour of exceptional aid from the Public Treasury for Ireland that is not equally applicable to the rest of the United Kingdom.The result you may, therefore, expect will be that, having begun with Ireland, you will have to pursue a similar course, first in Wales, next in Scotland, and eventually in England. What does the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Caine) say on the matter. Speaking the other day, at a public meeting, he said—These land schemes were far-reaching and never ending, and if they applied them to Ireland they would have to apply them to Great Britain.1336 The same hon. Gentleman said, in his election address of 1886—I shall, if elected to the next Parliament, give my vigorous opposition to any proposal to buy out Irish landlords with English money.I can now quite understand why the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth said of that hon. Gentleman,"Cave canem." Again, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War (Mr. Stanhope), in his election address, denounced the spending of £120,000,000 in land purchase, and the Secretary to the Admiralty said substantially the same thing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Sir S. Northcote) said—I think it most unfortunate that landlord and tenant have not been able to agree as they do in England. I will go a step further and say, I am not convinced that the creation of a peasant proprietary will ultimately have for Ireland the admirable effects Irishmen think it may have.From any point of view, the truth is that this Bill is a leap in the dark. Unless you can guarantee to Ireland resolute government until the Land Purchase Bill can be completed, the state of Ireland will become worse than it has ever been, because it is unfair to expect that any Government should have to face the odium of collecting Irish rents. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, speaking at a Railway Station at bring, correctly anticipated what would be the attitude taken by the Irish tenants if this measure were passed against their will, as expressed by their representatives, what will be the result should the right hon. Gentleman come into power after the passage of the Bill? Why mob law would be again triumphant. The people of the North of Ireland would not submit to that; the country would be placed in a condition of Civil War, and the Government would be unable to collect their rents. These measures are not messages of peace, and they make the Irish people more unsettled than they were before. They have no wish to get rid of the landlords; they have only a wish to sqeeze them as much as possible. But that is what the Government must not allow them to do. The Special Commission reported that the land question had been made the stepping stone to National independence. What reasons have we to expect that the 1337 farmers of Ireland will become more prosperous? Are farmers in this country prosperous? Not a bit of it. It would be very hard to find a prosperous farmer at the present time. But I maintain that, in getting rid of the English Garrison, you are doing Ireland a serious injury. When Irish landlords are wanderers on the face of the earth, they will be able to turn round on their English compatriots, and say:—Hodie mihi, cras tibi.
§ *(8.42.) SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, at a very early period of this debate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow struck the keynote of what has been the main objection of the Opposition to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of himself as a British taxpayer, and he stated, in the most doleful and alarming terms, the terrors which are hanging over the British taxpayer in the Bill that is now before the House. Well, Sir, I, too, am a British taxpayer, and I venture to say that I represent as large and as important a Body of British taxpayers as himself, or any other Member of the House. But, further than that, I have, since the right hon. Gentleman made his speech, had an opportunity of addressing a large and crowded meeting of my supporters and friends in the constituency that did me the honour to return me. I informed them of my intention to support this Bill, and I asked them frankly whether that was in accordance with the pledges I made at the time of the Election; and secondly, whether it was in accordance with their wishes. Sir, my questions were met with one universal chorus of approbation. Not a single word was uttered in opposition to my expressed intention. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) laughs at that. Let the hon. Member go into my constituency at North Kensington; let him address a meeting of free and intelligent electors such as those to be found there, and I venture to say he will find a large number of those who assemble to meet him who will tell him that this measure is a wise and proper one, because it benefits Ireland in the first place, and next, by been fitting Ireland, it also benefits England. In my opinion the benefit is not confined to Ireland. What does this measure 1338 propose to do? It will plant upon the soil of Ireland a large class of resident peasant proprietors. Despite the opinion expressed by my noble Friend (Lord Henry Bruce), I maintain that the creation of such a class of peasant proprietors must be of great advantage to Ireland. And with regard to the Sister Island, as far as we here are concerned, we are, having established across St. George's Channel a community of peaceful, prosperous farmers, who will be bound to us by the tie of friendship. That is a point which I would commend to hon. Gentlemen. That tie of friendship will be of considerable advantage to the producers in Ireland of agricultural products so largely used in this country; and those Irish producers, in their turn, will be customers for our manufactured goods. The benefits of such a measure as this, I think I am right in saying, will not be confined to Ireland, but will extend to this country. I admit that it is not everyone who approves of a resident peasant proprietary. My noble Friend (Lord H. Bruce) is an exception to the general rule; but I believe he will admit that most of those who have thought on such subjects oppose his view, and do believe that the creation of such a class will benefit Ireland. My noble Friend says the necessity for such a measure has passed away, because, forsooth, Ireland is now more peaceful and prosperous than it was three or four years ago. Well, Sir, I gladly admit that Ireland is more prosperous, more contented and peaceful than it was three or four years ago; but, instead of drawing the conclusion of my noble Friend, I say that now is our opportunity to clinch the matter, and, when the nation is prosperous, to put its prosperity on a permanent footing, by removing those causes of discontent, which have in the past so largely contributed to the misfortunes of Ireland. My noble Friend quoted the authority of Sir James Caird for saying that no reasons or circumstances exist for applying such a measure to Ireland that would not apply to England, or Scotland, or Wales. Surely, the circumstances of those portions of the United Kingdom are altogether different from the circumstances of Ireland. I think the circumstances of the various portions of the United Kingdom will be more like each other when Ireland has obtained such at 1339 measure as this, because then I believe that the prosperity of that part of the Kingdom will more nearly approximate to the prosperity that rules here. But I confess that I do not draw from the words of Sir James Caird anything like the conclusion that has been drawn by the Member for the Chippenham Division of Wiltshire. When I say that I cordially approve of the aims and objects of this Bill, I wish to say also that I altogether assent to the methods which the Government propose in order to achieve those objects and aims. In the first place, I think that the methods laid down in this Bill are in accordance with the teaching of economic science, and compatible with what I trust will always commend them to a British House of Commons—or, for that matter, an Irish Parliament as well—I mean honesty and morality. That is a point which I hope hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House will not overlook. What is suggested as an alternative to State-supported land purchase? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) spoke of the London Companies, amongst others, as absentee landlords, and appeared to approve of the adoption of means for getting rid of such landlords. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the censure he passed on the London Companies in respect of their management of their estates in Ireland. I am personally acquainted with some of the details of that management, and I know that there are few better-managed estates even in England. But what did the right hon. Gentleman suggest with regard to the expropriation of the City Companies? He said—Yet, how do you improve matters if you allow these Companies to go away with this money in their pockets?Well, I am really at a loss to imagine on what other terms we can ask them to go away at all. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that the City Companies—who, I maintain, have managed their estates well, and who, it is admitted on all hands, have spent large sums of money on the improvement of their property, much as landlords in England are in the habit of doing—are to go away without the money in their pockets? I put it to the honesty and 1340 right feeling of Gentlemen opposite if this solution of the question is consistent with well-ordered ideas of social and political morality? I say that such a solution is not merely dishonest and impolitic, but is one which would not be listened to for a moment by public opinion in England. The only alternative to State-supported purchase is confiscation, and that, I maintain, is an impossible alternative. It is quite true that the methods employed in this Bill for bringing about State-supported land purchase are backed up in the last resort by the use of the credit of the State. But that is the final and ultimate guarantee only, and it is on account of the use of that final guarantee' that purchase can be affected in the economical way proposed. I admit the necessity of looking into the matter—and I have looked into it on behalf of my constituents—to see whether this-operation is perfectly safe to the British taxpayer. We must ask ourselves "Is it fairly certain that the British taxpayer will never be called upon to make good any deficiency whatever with regard to this land purchase?" I admit that I was-one of those who objected most strongly to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1886, because it not only pledged the taxpayers' credit to an enormous extent—to an extent infinitely greater than the present scheme—but was bound up with the insecurity of an unruly Home Rule Government, hostile to British interests, and hostile, presumably, to the contract with the Imperial Government which it was proposed to set up. The guarantees that are provided by this Bill are of such a character that the taxpayer is absolutely safe from any possibility of ever having to make good any deficiency whatever. What are the guarantees? Just consider the nature of the risks that must be involved in any scheme of State-supported land purchase—risks of a threefold nature. First of all, there is the depreciation that may naturally arise in the value of land; secondly, the loss occasioned by the tenants turning out. to be bad and worthless and thriftless characters, or by the inclemency of the seasons, or the bankruptcy of the tenant; and, thirdly, there is the risk of a general strike against the payment of rent on some Such plea as was hinted at 1341 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian at a railway station a little while ago, when he talked about the Representatives from Ireland not having assented to the Bill and thereby being absolved—as he appeared to assume—from all moral responsibility in the matter. Now, there are against these risks the securities, first, of the one-fifth of the capitalised value of the land retained or held in abeyance to meet any such thing as depreciation in value, or unthriftiness of the tenant. Secondly, when we consider the probabilities, or even the possibilities, of any such strike as that foreshadowed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, the country will remember that they become less and less every time that each instalment is paid up. It must be remembered how rapidly that will lessen the risk—how quickly it will absolve us from any risk whatever. But behind and after that comes the ultima ratio of these guarantees. Suppose all the funds to be drawn on in Ireland to be exhausted. Suppose the county rates have been called on to furnish their aid and to have failed. Suppose that, one after the other, all the many securities devised in this Bill are found insufficient. Then, I say that in the last resort, and if the worst come to the worst, the British taxpayer—or his representative, the British Government— holds in his own hands the funds to meet the difficulty under such extreme circumstances. I believe that those extreme circumstances will never be reached—I cannot conceive it possible that they should be reached—but if, on the extreme supposition that such a situation should be reached, then the British taxpayer would be fully justified, through his representatives in this House, in saying, "Here is a defaulting locality; we cannot give it those grants which it otherwise would receive from Imperial contributions while it is in default—we must apply those funds to make good its default." I admit that that would be a very extreme measure, but I say that it is a measure which would be so powerful in the ultimate resort that there will never be any need to put it in practice; it will be quite enough that such a power is in reserve. Sir, it is because I am anxious that there should be planted on the soil of Ireland such a prosperous and contented resident peasant proprie- 1342 tary as I spoke of just now—it is because I am anxious to see peace and prosperity return to Ireland, and, in the train of that peace and prosperity, happiness and goodwill between the Sister Islands—it is because I wish to see all this done honestly, not by means of confiscation, but by methods compatible with morality, that I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *(9.11.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I wish that some responsible Members of the Government had been present during the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Chippenham, who has shown that the Bill will be absolutely unworkable. He reminded us of a number of pledges that had been given by Members on the other side of the House, and told us that we should have mob law, and then civil war. When I heard these things I could not help speculating in my own mind as to what the hon. Member for South Tyrone would think about it. I find myself in absolute agreement with the hon. Member for Chippenham, as to there being no real need for any large scheme of Land Purchase. The result of the Ashbourne Acts has not been encouraging, inasmuch as most of the operations have been in Ulster, where the tenants are already prosperous, and which, therefore, stands least in need of assistance of this kind. I believe there are many estates where there has been no difficulty between landlord and tenant, and in such cases no Land Purchase Bill is wanted. Of course, I am not prepared to say that in no case would I approve the application of State credit to the purchase of land. We have had stated to-night by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian 13 objections. The objections with which I shall trouble the House may be grouped under two heads. In the first place, over a very large part of Ireland there is no real freedom of contract; and, in the second place, the interest of the landlord in the holding which the tenant has to buy is maintained by the policy of the Government at a fictitious value. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, in a speech of his in Oxfordshire about Easter, said that this scheme is based on the voluntary action of the tenants and the landlords. Well, the Bill may provide for nothing but volun- 1343 tary arrangement, and what the voluntary arrangement between landlord and tenant in the Bill is has been pretty well explained by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian tonight. But, outside the Bill, I maintain that there is very little voluntary arrangement, unless it be in some portions of the Province of Ulster. At the beginning of 1887 the Government came down and told us that there was no disorder in Ireland except such as arose from the relations between landlords and tenants. Lord Salisbury has said more than once that there has been a land war raging in Ireland. Now, the duty of the Government certainly ought to be in such a struggle to stand impartially between the landlords and tenants. Have they done so? The landlords, headed by the Duke of Abercorn, came last year to the Prime Minister, who used some very significant language to them. He said—I may say, in the first place that I am very glad to see the results of the Convention of landlords in this deputation; that I congratulate the landlords on the united action that they have taken, and however inconvenient it may in the future prove—I hope it will not—to me as a Member of the Government, on wider and more general grounds, I am glad of the spirit and unanimity which they have shown.That, coming from the Prime Minister of this country to a deputation, was certainly what, in some other persons, would have been called incitement to a criminal conspiracy. It was a direct approval of the Landlords' Trades Union, and an imitation to go on upon the same lines in the hope of being able soon to reap a harvest. But the Government have not contented themselves with advising the landlords to combine. They have, by their Act of 1887, altered and increased the severity of the Law of Ejectment in Ireland. In 1881 the Bessborough Commission, which consisted of three Irish landlords and one Irish Judge, made use of a very significant sentence in their Report. They said—In many instances, principally in connection with the Law of Ejectment, powers have been conferred upon the landlords in Ireland that have no existence in England.But this was not enough. By Section 7 of the Land Act of 1887 the Government strengthened the power of the Irish landlords in this respect. They enabled them by a letter in a registered en- 1344 velope to absolutely determine the right of a tenant to a holding. Now, what use has been made of this power? From the 1st of January, 1888, to the 31st December, 1889, there were no less than 18,816 of these notices given in Ireland. By these notices the tenants were deprived, as far as the Act can do it, of their property in the holding. During the period of 15 months anterior to the 31st of September, 1887, 3,258 tenants, or 21,414 persons were evicted from their holdings. If you take the same proportion between the tenants and their families as is shown by the Returns last before us up to December, 1887, you will find that during the three years of the existence of the present Government more than 130,000 persons in Ireland have been either evicted from their holdings or deprived of their property in those holdings. I have tried to ascertain at what cost this has been done. Returns moved for by the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Healy) for two years, and by myself for two years, give the cost in each of those years at a figure exceeding £20,000 per annum for constabulary at evictions alone. I have no hesitation in saying that this is much below the mark, and that the total cost of the operations I have mentioned has been not less than £100,000 to the taxpayers during three years of the present Government. The Government, by means I will not characterise, have passed a new law by which they have created as has been remarked by the Judges of the Irish Bench, new crimes. They have placed the administration of the law in the hands of men whose conduct has often been subject to examination and criticism in this House. I venture to say that the Irish Resident Magistrates have made the word "Magistrate" a bye-word among men. The object of all these proceedings has been to suppress the combination of those who were trying to maintain what they conceive to be their rights of property. Not only have the persons themselves been proceeded against for criminal conspiracy for doing precisely what Lord Salisbury advised the landlords to do, but those who have advised them at their request have been placed in gaol for so doing. As far as the Government could do, they have taken the part of one party in the 1345 struggle. The Government are not only responsible for what they have done, but for what they have left undone. The state of business before the Land Commission as regards fixing of judicial rents is, I think, a perfect scandal. The Land Commission is one of the most highly paid Government Departments in the whole British Empire. It costs more than the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office put together. It costs move than the office of the Home Secretary, and more than the Board of Trade. Yet it is unable to overtake the arrears of cases. In December, 1887, the arrears of cases undisposed of numbered 64,852; in December, 1888, they numbered 56,522; and in December, 1889, they amounted to 40,619. Anyone who will go into the figures will find it will take three or four years before the last application for judicial rents is disposed of. What is the position of these unfortunate tenants in the meantime? I believe if you could find out—and I make great complaint against the Government that they are not in a position to supply the information—how many of the persons who have been evicted during the last three years have been unsuccessful in obtaining decisions as to their rents, the number would be very large. I should also like to know how many of the persons on whom notices under Section 7 have been served have made application for judicial rents before receiving such notices. There is hardly any matter in which so much interest is felt in Ireland as the declaration of judicial rents. Again and again hon. Members, even on the Benches opposite, have urged upon the Chief Secretary the necessity of strengthening the Land Commission in order that the tenants have proper opportunities of obtaining the fixing of judicial rents. I accuse the Government of the greatest dereliction of duty on this point. If they desire to paralyse the Land Act of 1881, they cannot adopt more effectual means than to allow these poor people to be harassed on the one hand with eviction notices, and on the other hand to render them unable to obtain decisions as to judicial rents. On the 6th of August, 1888, an hon. Member (Mr. M'Cartan) referred to the case of a tenant of Lord Londonderry, named 1346 Hugh Fergusson in County Down. Fergusson had a writ of summons sent to him for the recovery of the old rent. He had applied to the Land Commission to have a fair rent fixed, but he could not get a decision. When the case came before Baron Palles, that learned Judge made certain observations, and the result was a compromise pending the fixing of the judicial rent. It was admitted by the Chief Secretary or the Attorney General that there wore many cases in County Down and the adjoining counties in which the tenants had been unable to get any decision, in consequence, I suppose, of the inadequacy of the staff. On the 4th of July, 1889, the case of Charles Murray, a tenant of the Marquess of Londonderry, was brought before the House. He had entered his case in the Court, but had received a notice under Section 7 by which he was precluded from proceeding with his application. I do not think it was, to put it mildly, a very creditable proceeding on the part of Her Majesty's Viceroy, and when one becomes aware of a circular that was issued from Lord Londonderry's rent office with respect to the purchase of land, one cannot help seeing the connection there is between all the cases of serving eviction notices or notices under Section 7 of the Land Act and Land Purchase. On the 20th of February, 1888, Lord Londonderry's agent sent out this circular:—I am desired by the Marquess of Londonderry to inform you that he is willing to offer you your farm at 20 years' purchase of the present rent. Lord Londonderry has decided to take this step (though much against his inclination) mainly owing to the fact that in the event of another bad season he will be quite unable to give the reduction which he has granted the last two years, and by giving which he has received absolutely nothing from his own property; as you will see by enclosed circular you will, by purchasing your holding, still gain a reduction of 20 per cent., which will not be dependent on the will of your landlord, but permanent; and at the end of 49 years your holding will be absolutely your own free of all rent.The Viceroy was not ashamed, on the one hand, to deprive his tenants of the opportunity of getting fair rents fixed, and, on the other hand, of urging them to Purchase on the present rent by telling them he could not make any further abatement. That is an illustration of the pressure which has been brought on tenants in Ireland. The 1347 Duke of Abercorn, who has sold property, for which he has or will receive, according to Return 81, Session 1889, no less than £267,000, took an extraordinary step last year. He did what has not been done, I am told, on the Hamilton Estates for many years. Early last year he sued the tenants for the running half gale. The tenants met and passed this resolution:—That pressure of this kind, whatever its intention, is not calculated to promote the purchase of farms by the tenants on the estate at the landlord's price; that the tenants will not he compelled to buy in that way; and that the compulsory sale for which they look is a sale in which the tenants, as well as the landlord, will have their rights considered and reserved.There was a direct attempt on the part of the Duke of Abercorn, or those who represent him, by serving for the running half gale to force the tenants to purchase on terms they did not consider fair. Mr. McCarthy, one of the Land Commissioners, gave evidence before Lord Cowper's Commission, and he was asked by the President how the landlord exercised pressure. The answer 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 could not be put off beyond to-morrow, but that if the tenant handed the Sheriff the contract for purchase duly executed he would not take possession.—Question 2,215: Then the tenant can apply for a judicial lease—can't he? Not if eviction is hanging over his head—he must go out—Question 2,219: And what was the effect of this letter of the extensive agent? The tenant agreed to sign the contract.—Question 2,221: And this was a case in which the tenant had become completely at the mercy of the land-lord owing to the largo arrears of rent? Owing to her owing large arrears of rent.That is an admission by one of the Land Commissioners as to what was being done before the Coercion Act was passed, by which, as I have pointed out, it has been attempted to deprive the tenants of the right of combination. It is said that the Land Commissioners protect the tenants; but it is not the function of the Land Commissioners; all they are required to do is to see that the holding is proper security for the advance made. It is said there is freedom of contract, but I have no hesitation in saying that freedom of contract in Ireland with respect to the purchase of land is absolutely migratory. 1348 Now I come to the second objection which I have to the Bill, namely, that the interest of the landlord in the holding has not found its true level of value. Land in Ireland has been at a fictitious value for generations. It gave great political power in times gone by to those who held it. To those who were able to hold land, land was an object of the greatest desire, and on the part of the tenant there has been that land hunger which has been described by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian in his great speech in 1881, so that you had thousands of persons rushing to get hold of land at an artificial price. Not only has the value of the landlord's property been artificially raised, but it has been artificially maintained, and the greatest efforts have been made to prevent the interest of the land lord finding its true level. I see by the Returns, 81 of Session 1889, and 115 of Session 1890, that 12,197 holdings of the value of £274,358 and a rental of £300,370 have changed hands. I invite attention to the relation between the rental and the valuation. There is no question whatever as to the fact that in the valuation of Irish land everything is included, on this point the evidence of Mr. J. B. Greene, the Superintendent of General Valuation in Ireland, given before a Committee of the House in 1869 is extremely interesting. He admitted that in making deductions from the valuation he never took into account the existence of tenant right in the North of Ireland, but merely made deductions on account of ordinary rates. Both Mr. J. B. Greene and Sir Richard Griffiths, who also gave evidence before the Committee, agreed that the valuation was made on the principle of what the property will fairly let at, the tenants improvements and everything else being calculated and included. It, therefore, came to this, that a rental of £300,000 has been exacted for property which commands a letting value of £274,000. That is to say, £10 has been exacted as rent for what everything included was lettable at £9. Tenants must have been paying on their own improvements. This has a very significant bearing on the capital value. The Chief Secretary replying to the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Rowntree) the other day said he did not see what con- 1349 nection sliding scale of rent had with land purchase. But, as will be seen, 17 years' purchase in Ireland is a very different thing to 17 years' purchase in this country. You must in most cases double it, according to the dictum of the Irish Attorney General, that the property of the tenant is equal to that of the landlord. I hold that the landlord's interest in the holding which it is the object of the Bill to sell is still too high. It appears to me that the first thing to do in Ireland before any land purchase scheme is proposed is to make a re-valuation, in order that we may discover what is the value of the tenants' interest, and what is the value of the landlord's interest. Nowadays one does not attach great value to the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain); but with what he said as to the necessity of a re-valuation on the 13th of October, 1887, at Coleraine, I heartily agree. The right hon. Gentleman said—The question, therefore, is how to establish a fair valuation for the transfer that we all agree ought to be made. I do not believe you can lay down a number of years' purchase of judicial rent, whether it be '20 or any other number, which would he fair for all circumstances and all cases, or which could be universally adopted; and I should think that the first condition of any settlement of this business would be that there should be a new and independent valuation for the purpsoes of purchase … Well, then, I say that this separate valuation for the purpose of purchase alone is the foundation upon which any transfer of the ownership of land can take place.I must say, speaking as I do with some practical experience, I am alarmed at the measure of Her Majesty's Government. It is not only the risk to the English Exchequer which alarms me; but, looking at the question from the Irish point of view, I am afraid that the scheme of the Government will burden the land in Ireland beyond its capacity to bear. We must bear in mind that the rental of Ireland, for the last generation at all events, has not been paid off the soil of Ireland, but largely by the contributions from the relatives of those who cultivate the soil, and who have emigrated to happier countries. When this measure is passed you will not have the relatives of the people abroad sending money home to help to pay the interest on the instalments to the 1350 Treasury. If any such scheme as this-is carried, the land will be waterlogged. Speaking as a practical agriculturist in a small way, I fear that the land will not be able to produce annually the charges necessary to meet this fictitious system of valuation maintained by the Government, leaving at the same time a fair remuneration to the tenants tilling the land. Looking to all the chances and changes, therefore, that may occur during the 49 years, I think that the security is not a good one, and that the investment for British credit is a dangerous one. I am not altogether adverse to the pledging of British credit in the matter of land purchase; but there are at least five conditions which would have to be satisfied before I could consent to it. The scheme would have to be reduced to true proportions, as suggested by the hon. Member for Cork. There must be a re-valuation; the two parties must be perfectly free, the assent of Ireland must be obtained, and the scheme must form part of a general political settlement. It is because none of these conditions are fulfilled, and because I believe the present is a most dangerous proposal, that I have not the slightest hesitation in recording my vote against the Second Reading.
§ *(9.56.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace) the other evening pointed out that those hon. Members who had not the honour of a seat in the Parliaments which sat between 1880 and 1886 possess some advantage in discussing this question. In supporting this Bill the Unionists are held to be violating the policy they were pledged torn the Election of 1886, and this statement has been repeated this evening by no less an authority than the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. Hon. Members sitting below the Gangway are held to be committed by the constitution of the Land League, and the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Opposition Bench are held to be committed to the policy they enunciated in 1886. I did not sit either in the Parliament of 1880 or 1885. Anything I have said in public on this question has been in favour of, and not against, land purchase, in favour of establishing a peasant proprietorship, and not against it. I come, therefore, to this question with no em- 1351 barrassing past at all events. No one will be able to rake up any old statements of mine and to hurl them at my head. In the Debate of Monday night two noteworthy speeches were delivered, one by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) and one by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. J. F. X. O'Brien). The last-named hon. Member had a very admirable scheme for settling this question. He was in favour of the policy of the hon. Member for Cork; but before that was put into operation he would establish prairie value. Now, I think that is an admirable way of settling the land question first of all to establish prairie value by working out the Healy clause by friends of the tenants, for that is what is stipulated for, and after that prairie value is established then comes in the hon. Member for Cork with his plan for fining down rents. I take the plan of the hon. Member for Cork as practically amounting to this—it was not very clear, I am bound to say, I hope I apprehended him clearly, but it is not my fault if I did not, for I believe very few could follow the speech at this point with clearness. What he said practically amounted to this. The Chief Secretary said the hon. Member will require £160,000,000 before he can complete his scheme, while I propose to do it for one-sixth of that sum. But his scheme is not a land purchase scheme at all. If hon. Members below the Gangway are committed to anything on this earth they are committed to a scheme of peasant proprietorship. That was the scheme laid down and enshrined in the very constitution of the Land League. They supported the Bill of 1885, which proposed a great experiment in that direction, and on the Second Reading the hon. Member for Cork said that it was a measure which would probably lead to a larger one in the future. If hon. Members are committed to anything in this world it is to a scheme for setting up an occupying ownership in Ireland. Well, but the principle or plan now promulgated from these Benches for fining down rents is not a scheme of that kind at all. The scheme came upon many in this House with surprise, but it is far from being new. Certainly the hon. Member for Cork cannot take out a patent for it. I hold in my hand a pamphlet, reprinted from the Fortnightly 1352 Review of 1884, containing a scheme for fining down rents in Ireland one-half. The author is Dr. Traill of Trinity College, and it has since been advocated by Mr. J. Wilson, of County Longford. Whatever the scheme is, therefore, it is not new. The scheme does not get rid of the necessity of pledging British credit, and it leaves the landlord still the landlord. The hon. Member's scheme does not get rid of the landlord, who we have been told are entitled to nothing on earth but a single ticket to Holyhead, and it leaves the Irish people to pay what they have been taught to believe an immoral tax. Whatever may be the merits of the hon. Member's plan it cannot be substituted for land purchase, though it may be advisable to adopt it as a supplement or adjunct to the Land Purchase Bill. Where there are landlords who are not willing to sell outright—and there are such—or where the tenant might not be willing to take the risks of ownership, then the scheme might come in, and it might in certain cases economise the public credit and money. What is the real case for the Government Bill? We have been labouring hard at this problem since 1870—where has our success been most marked, and where has the result been best worth garnering? We have protected the tenants' interest in the soil, and still there is dissatisfaction, whether justifiable or not I do not pause to inquire. The fact remains that after 20 years' effort to protect the tenants' interest there is still dissatisfaction. We have tried hard to fix and determine what is a fair rent, but we have had only indifferent results as regards that problem. The only thing that has been a complete success has been the transfer of the land from the owner to the occupier. During those 20 years we have performed that operation in 20,000 cases, and what has been the result? Payments have been punctually made and arrears have been nominal. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian complained that there has been 2 per cent. of arrears, or that that amount has been written off. Surely any mercantile establishment which conducted such a large operation with a loss of only 2 per cent. would be thought exceedingly fortunate. In addition to payments having been punctually made and arrears 1353 being merely nominal, peace and order has reigned on the estates where transfers have taken place. All this has been achieved under circumstances of great difficulty. We have had all kinds of political and agricultural weather; we have had "No rent" manifestoes, plans of campaign, and all kinds of incitement to wrongdoing, but wherever they have taken effect it was not upon the estates where transfers have taken place. I repeat that this is the only experiment that has been completely successful during the century in Irish legislation. If we wish to settle the agrarian problem, how are we to do it? We have experimented for 20 years, and the results are written large and luminously on the history of these years. The only question, in my opinion, is how far Parliament ought to go and on what lines Parliament should proceed. I submit that those are the real questions the House ought to discuss. The first line of cleavage arises on the question of ways and means. I would direct the attention of the House to this fact, that the opponents of the Bill are at issue among themselves. The hon. Member for Cork thinks that British credit ought to be pledged, while the right hon. Member for the Bridge ton Division of Glasgow thinks that the work ought to be done by means of Irish credit alone. As I presume right hon. Members on the Front Opposition Bench agree with the latter, I would ask them who set up the English system of land tenure in Ireland first of all, and who planted the ancestors of the present race of landlords in Ireland? It was England, and England is primarily responsible for the system—the evil system I think it—of land tenure in Ireland, and England cannot escape from the responsibility of the situation, which she has brought on her own head. This Bill does in that respect all that could be done under the circumstances. It no doubt pledges British credit, but it secures that credit by Irish resources alone. During the Debate this point has been systematically misrepresented, and it has been actually travestied by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. The Bill begins by doing that which the hon. Member for East Edinburgh neglected to point out, by exacting hostages from both buyer and seller. Will any one 1354 stand up and say that the securities obtained from the buyer and the seller are illusory? Why they are absolutely cash in hand, and what better security can there be than that? Next, and in addition to the landlords' deposit and the tenants' insurance fund, the Bill creates a guarantee fund. This, it should be remembered, is a new fund of money Ireland has never had before, the Probate Duty only excepted. The duties derived from licences and from Ireland's share of the Probate Duty and the county percentage fund form together practically a new fund brought into operation for this purpose. I will say nothing about the contingent guarantee fund or the compulsory levy, both efficient and real securities, but both very unlikely to be called upon. How is repudiation to work? In the first place, I maintain that purchase under this Bill is not forced upon a single tenant in Ireland. It may, and I think it will, be found to work out to compulsion, so far as the landlord is concerned; very likely he will be compelled to sell, but the tenant is left by the Bill absolutely free. I wish to know why, if a tenant paid a judicial rent 33 per cent. higher than he would pay under this purchase scheme, he should repudiate his bargain? Why should we think that Irish tenants would do anything of that kind? Irish tenants are not fools; but that tenant would be a fool if he could get a reduction of 33 per cent. from his rent and the fee-simple of his land in 49 years to run any risk of repudiation. Can any one say where repudiation is to begin? The operation and working of the Bill must of necessity be gradual. We cannot wave a magician's wand over Ireland and effect this change in a week or a year or two. I believe it will take from 10 to 12 years at the very least to exhaust the money under this Bill, no matter how hard the Departments may work. I know enough of lawyers to know that they will immediately set themselves to devise means of obstructing the Bill, and the chances are that they will succeed. Is it supposed that repudiation will take place at the end of five years? Then the whole credit will not have been pledged, and the risk will be proportionately less. The operations, in fact, could be stopped. Is repudiation to take place in 10 or 12 1355 years? Why, by that time those who have bought in the first years of the operation of the Bill will have secured such an interest that repudiation in their case would be absolute insanity. Does any hon. Member believe that Ulster tenants would repudiate after having put their signatures to a bargain? They would work the nails off their fingers first. This theory of repudiation is a mere bogey. Let us remember that even in the worst times the celebrated "No-rent manifesto" utterly failed. In my opinion, the securities provided in the Bill are amply sufficient without the contingent fund and the compulsory rate, and these will remain in the Bill more for ornament than for use. What are the chief objections against the Bill? The most common is that it is a Landlords' Relief Bill. In connection with this contention the names of some seven or eight noblemen and gentlemen have been mentioned, who, it is said, have taken advantage of previous land legislation, and walked off out of Ireland with millions of the British taxpayers' money. The statement, however, is false, not one of these persons having left. In fact, they reside in Ireland much more than the hon. Member for the City of Cork does. The opponents of the measure call it a Landlords' Belief Bill, because it does not prohibit the sale of large estates. Did the right hon. Member for Bridgeton, in l884, confine the operation of his Bill to small estates and small landowners? No; that Bill was as open to the large landowner as to the small. I think there are points in the Bill before the House which may operate very hardly against the landlord. As an illustration I will take a holding in Cork or Kerry, the annual rent of which is £4, the rates being 6s. in the £1. Under the Ashbourne Act the landlord would sell on the gross rent, getting the amount of that rent for 12 or 15 years. Taking that he received as purchase money the rental of £4 for 15 years, he would get £60. But under the present Bill the gross rent disappears, and the net annual value takes its place, or the gross rent minus the landlord's share of the taxes. As a result, in the case which I have taken the purchase money which the landlord would receive would be £2 16s. for 15 years instead of £4. 1356 We may rest: assured that the tenants will only agree to give the same number of years' purchase as they have hitherto been in the habit of offering, and, therefore, they will not consent to increase the 15 years. Instead of being a Landlord's Relief Bill, the measure will hit the landlord severely, and it will have to be made easier in more respects than one. The next objection raised turns on the point of local control. I admit that if Ireland were in a natural state the objection would be valid, but we have to treat Ireland as it is, and not as it ought to be. Under the various Acts passed since 1870 some 20,000 occupiers have been transmuted into owners, and all this has been done without the intervention of the buffer of local control between the State and the purchaser. It is true that the defeated Bill of 1886 provided a buffer between the State and the purchaser; but it was precisely to that buffer—an Irish Parliament—that the Unionist Party and the country objected. In 1886 the Unionist Party never opposed land purchase on its merits. What they said was, "This is a proposal to advance £50,000,000 to Irish landlords, and probably £50,000,000 more will be required. We shall not advance this money in the circumstances, because by another Bill you are going to create what would practically be a foreign and possibly a hostile country." I repeat, that if Ireland were in a normal state the case for local control would be complete and could not be opposed. But Ireland is not in a natural, normal state, and I object to the introduction of an element of danger that might retard land purchase instead of advancing it. As long as British credit is used, Great Britain has an absolute moral right to keep its hand on the machinery and to work the machine itself. We are asked, "What are you going to do. You talk, of abolishing landlordism. You are going to do nothing of the kind. You are going to set up a new race of landlords, who probably will not be an improvement upon the old." The right hon. Member for Bridgeton has asserted that the people who purchase will not, in many cases, remain in possession, and that the land will be sub-let and sub-divided; but the Attorney General for Ireland has shown that it could not 1357 be sub-let and sub-divided. For my own part, I do not think that the temptation to sub-divide and sub-let is so great as it once was, because there is not now the over-pressure of population that existed formerly, and certainly, at the end of 49 years, we may safely prophesy it will have disappeared altogether. But there is a point of substance in this connection that requires the attention of the Government. I do not understand why a man should be allowed to buy on such favourable terms, and 12 months afterwards sell at a fancy price; and, therefore, I suggest that the Land Department ought, in the interests of the State itself—because if a fancy price is given the repayments were thereby imperilled—to have a veto on the sale. We are told by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Trevelyan) that the Bill is not general, and that it is not compulsory. Now, when did the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House become converts to the doctrine of compulsory sale? I know that they went a certain length in this respect in 1886; but certainly this is the first time the doctrine of compulsory sale and purchase of land in Ireland has been openly advocated in this House. Suppose that under this Bill 100,000 freeholders are created. The balance of 500,000 tenants are left out in the cold. There is no more money, and therefore they cannot buy, and, in addition to all the money being exhausted the landlords are unwilling to sell. That is taking the worst aspect of the case. But, at all events, there would be 100,000 freeholders created by means of the credit of the State, and these men are not one bit more virtuous or more deserving of the boon than the others who are unable to get it. That is exactly why I contend the Bill must ultimately work to compulsion. This Bill, however, or any other Bill of the kind, must work gradually, and, that being so, the friction will not be so great. And it is precisely here that the "fining down" process could come into the plan. It is not a new scheme, and it is in this difficulty that the process of "fining down" could be used with advantage. A good deal is being said in Ireland about the tenants' insurance fund, and it is one of the things in the Bill which constitute the greatest difficulty. The 1358 objection to it is this—that right in the front of the Bill you lessen the inducement to the tenant to purchase. I recognise that objection, but I feel bound to add that I think the principle a sound one. Whether the landlord "walks off" or not, as the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division phrased it, the State demands that he shall leave behind him one-fifth of the purchase money as security. If we ask the landlord to do this, why should not the tenant bear a share in working out his own emancipation? Again, bad seasons will come, as they have come so often before, and that is another reason why this Insurance Fund should be created. The State cannot be treated as the landlord has been treated; the tenant cannot be allowed to accumulate arrears with the State; and the only way to secure that the demand will be met is to make the good seasons pay for the bad ones. The Insurance Fund secures that that shall be done. I would like the Chief Secretary's attention to this point, The Land Department pays interest on the landlord's deposit; why should it not pay interest on the tenant's? The next point I wish to deal with is that as to the congested districts, which the hon. Member for Cork said he forgot, though it is an urgent problem which has been pressing for a very long time indeed. There is nothing easier than to attack any scheme for grappling with the congested districts. The Bill proposes to encourage the fishing and other industries, and though it does not either suggest emigration or migration, it proposes to assist either. It seeks to force neither upon the community, and it proposes, further, to aid in the amalgamation of holdings. Before we condemn these provisions, let me ask who ever tried to do anything before? Undoubtedly, the real risk to British credit will arise in connection with the congested districts; but it is just here that the British taxpayer is held entirely free, though it is just here, too, that the British taxpayer might well be asked to pay a little money. I admit the Constitutional difficulty arising' from the hostility of the Irish Members to this Bill; but I am not sure that hon. Members below the Gangway represent Ireland in that hostility. Certain I am they do not 1359 represent Ulster. I should be very curious to see Ulster Members explaining to Ulster audiences in the County of Antrim, or the County Down, the new theory enunciated by the Member for Cork as to abandoning the solution of purchase. Nor am I quite sure of the rest of Ireland. I do not forget when we are faced with this Constitutional difficulty that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway walked out of the House when the Division bell rang for the Second Reading of the Land Act of 1881. But the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian forgot that fact when he talked about the assent of Irish Members being necessary to Irish legislation. And who opposed the extension of the Ashbourne Act in 1888?Every Member below the Gangway went into the Lobby against it. And what has happened? The same Irish people whom the hon. Members claim to represent gladly avail themselves of the benefits of this Act. What happened in County Cork? Mr. Davitt advised the tenants who were about to purchase their holdings on an estate in that county not to let the landlord walk off with a quarter of a million of swag; but the tenants declared that they knew their own business better than Mr. Davitt. The tenants in Munster, Leinster, and Connaught have reckoned the hostility of hon. Members as of no account, but have purchased their lands under the Ashbourne Act. There are two policies before the country—the policy of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, whatever that may be. I do not profess to know, and the right hon. Gentleman will not tell; but there is that policy on the one hand, and on the other there is the Unionist policy. The Unionists are playing against hon. Members on this side of the House, and I believe the cause of the Union will win. After all, the great governing, ruling passion in the heart of the Irish peasant is to own a bit of land; and I maintain that that peasant hardly cares whether there is a Parliament at all, or where it sits, except in so far as it helps him to gain possession of that bit of land. The Irish peasant will go through fire and water, suffering and misery, to get it, and he will buy land on the terms provided in the Bill—terms such as no State ever offered to its 1360 citizens before. I believe the principle of this Bill will go far towards the pacification, the security, and the contentment of Ireland. The right hon. Member for Bridgeton, in concluding his speech on Monday, ventured to look ahead 20 or 30 years, and saw a strange vision— bad seasons, farmers ruined, instalments repudiated, Ireland thrown in to confusion, and the British taxpayer compelled to bear a heavy burden. I hold that to be a jaundiced view. Prophesy at best is unprofitable; but looking forward and trying to scan those distant summers which we may not see I can discern a different picture, and, at all events, my vision of the future is warranted by_ actual experience in the past. I see agricultural tenants in Ireland transformed into freeholders; I see the friction between landlord and tenant which has cursed Ireland and destroyed her peace gone; I see capital spent on land without fear of confiscation by anyone; I see a race of men emerged from a prolonged struggle with serfdom enfranchised; I see industrial enterprise following in the wake of peace, order, and security; I see a time when the baskets of the people will be full, offering all manner of store, and when there will be no complaining in our streets. Those who are supporting the Second Reading of the Bill are doing a work which future generations of Irishmen—aye, and of Englishmen too—will rise and call us blessed for doing.
§ (10.55). MR. DILLON
It appears to me to have been a highly injudicious and ill advised course which the Government have taken in joining in one Bill two questions, each of which is difficult and important enough to warrant its being dealt with in a separate measure. In speaking on this question I intend to deal with the question of the congested districts. Representing as I do perhaps the largest and poorest of those districts, I have become pretty well versed in all the intricacies of that problem. The British Parliament has done nothing to solve that problem. That is the fault of the system which has brought Ireland to a condition of misery and reproach by a long course of unjust laws, neglect, and misgovernment. I hold that the problem of the congested districts is so beset with difficulties that it 1361 is well worthy of a separate measure to itself. It is only within the last year or two that the hon. Member for South Tyrone has had his soul wrung with the condition of these people. It was only when the Olphert tenants defended their houses against eviction that the attention of the hon. Member for South Tyrone and the Government was called to that question. The House has listened to a eulogy from the hon. Member for South Tyrone on the nature of the collateral securities offered to the British taxpayer; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given the go-by to those securities. The speeches of the hon. Member for South Tyrone and the Chief Secretary made me wonder why it was thought necessary to touch British credit at all. If the credit of the Irish funds is so absolutely secure, why not pay the landlords in unguaranteed Irish land stock? I should like to see the hon. Member for South Tyrone invest his money in that security. I have noticed in the Irish newspapers that at every meeting of the landlords strong resolutions have been passed in favour of their being paid in a stock which should bear its full face value, and that they have exhibited extreme nervousness that that should be done. I can say this for the benefit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: that in the speech in which the Bill was introduced by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he said that if any Irish landlord was so foolish as to doubt the value of his guaranteed stock, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be authorised to exchange it for Consols. I venture to prophesy that in that case during the first year this Bill is in operation there will a steady procession of landlords desirous of exchanging' their Irish stock for Consols. There are two points in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to which I wish to draw attention. The right hon. Gentleman has made a most remarkable admission, namely, that the Government have taken every precaution against every possible eventuality short of repudiation; and the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he had noticed that neither the hon. Member for Cork nor the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian had alluded to the possibility of repudiation, although it had been alluded to in wilder quarters. 1362 What are those wilder quarters? The right hon. Gentleman was, doubtless, referring to the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Paddington, whom once the Tory Party were proud to follow, but who is now regarded by them as a wild and erratic individual. We, who have had many years' experience of him, however, regard him as a politician to be counted with, and not as an irresponsible person. The noble Lord has deliberately put it on record that, in his judgment, repudiation is not only possible, but is exceedingly likely to occur. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer admits that no pre caution has been taken against that eventuality. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham, in a letter which I have before me, says—If the extent of these transactions gradually increases, and the number of debtors to the State becomes large, nothing would be easier than for the agitators at some favourable time after a bad harvest to bring about a strike against the payment of interest, and against the payment of rent.Since those words were written, experience has shown the Irish tenant that the Plan of Campaign is a far more effective weapon than a strike. I now come to the provisions of the Bill. I must observe, in the first place, that it has been brought forward as a great measure for conferring immense benefits upon the people of Ireland; but I am entitled to ask Her Majesty's Government where they have found declarations in its favour? Such declarations have not been made by any public meeting in Ireland or by any representative Irish Body, while the Bill is rejected by five sixths of the Irish Representatives in this House. No single Petition in its favour has been presented by any representative Body. A charge has been made against the Irish Representatives that they do not truly represent the views of the Irish people with regard to this measure. In that case Her Majesty's Government have an easy remedy. Let Her Majesty's Government dissolve Parliament on this issue, and then we shall be able to see what the views of the Irish peasantry with regard to this Bill are. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, however, know perfectly well that we do represent the views on the subject of all Irishmen who are 1363 not landowners. I leave out, of course, the South-East of Ulster. Let us look for a moment at the organs of the landlords. What do we find? Here is an article in the Daily Express, the official organ and mouthpiece of the landlords of Ireland and of the Tory Party in that country, written on Tuesday last. The hon. Member for Cork had observed that this Bill would not settle the Irish land question; and in commenting on these observations, the Express says—That is, of course, obvious". As the Bill stands, it can only settle a tenth part of the Irish land question.That is the opinion of the Irish landlords. Yet probably the mere fact that the hon. Member for Cork expressed such an opinion would make some men quite fanatical about planting in the country a new garrison of peasant proprietors.But it may be urged (says the Express) that another sum of £33,000,000 will follow-That is impossible, for all our local funds are hypothecated by the Bill. It is perfectly true that great and opulent landlords can utilise such a measure; but the small and embarrassed landlords cannot, for reasons which are obvious to all of us.This is a most remarkable expression coming from such a quarter. So perverse, so idiotic, has been the action of the Government, that they have converted even the Daily Express into a second edition of United Ireland. What has been the history of the Irish land question during the last 10 years? It has been a series of imperfect measures, drawn up without consulting the Irish Representatives, and passed through Committee in this House without regard to their suggestions, and as a consequence of these proceedings there has been an immense waste of money, and the problem is yet unsolved. There is one point to which I should like to call attention, to which all those who have spoken on this question have given the go-by. Hon. Members speak of the possible loss in a failure of repayment of the advances to the tenants; but no one has reminded the House of the enormous loss to the British Exchequer by the continual failure of previous Land Bills to solve the Irish problem. How much money have you spent on the machinery of this Irish problem during the last 10 years? From 1881, when this question was first earnestly taken in hand, to last year 1364 £777,992 has been spent in this way. When the hon. Member for South Tyrone reproaches the Irish Members with quitting the House on the Second Reading of the Land Bill of 1881, the hon. Member was very much mistaken if he thought that we were going to accept the reproach. We left the House on that occasion because we believed that that Bill would be a failure as a settlement of the Irish land question; and though we did not wish to vote against it, because it gave some boon to the poor people of Ireland, we would not accept it as a solution. Had our warning been accepted in 1881, I have no hesitation in saying that £500,000 would have been saved to the Treasury of this country. I do not propose to go at any length into the question of the contingent expenses of the delay in settling the question; but I will ask, How about the expense of the police, how about the expense of criminal prosecutions, which have been simply enormous and incalculable in Ireland, to say nothing of the loss to the people of Ireland from the disturbance thus caused?' This Bill, in order to be properly dealt with, must be looked at from three different points of view. It must be judged first of all from the point of view of the British taxpayer and public; secondly, from that of the Irish tenants and the Irish nation; and, thirdly, from that of the Irish landlords; and we must remember that what would be commendable and deserving from one of these points of view may be eminently undesirable from another. I dismiss the point of view of the Irish landlords, because I am not here to represent their interests; the Irish landlords are represented in this House—and very ably represented—by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh and the hon. Member for South Tyrone. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Tyrone on having delivered a speech to-night in his true character. He has criticised this Bill as being too friendly to the tenants of Ireland. He pointed out certain objectionable provisions, and——
§ MR. DILLON
The hon. Member pointed out that in the remote congested 1365 districts, where the rates were high, the transaction would inevitably result in the loss of the advance if the tenants would not agree to the landlords' terms. I will not, however, take up the consideration of the Bill from that point of view; but in dismissing it I will say, with regard to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork, that if it errs at all it errs in the direction of being too moderate from my point of view. I do not hesitate to say to the House that there are points in that proposal which I do not like. I will not go into them, but one is the proposal to draw the line at £50 a year. I have been consistently opposed to that in the past, and I am still opposed to it. Of one important consideration, however, the House may be confident, and that is that in listening to that speech they listened to a statesmanlike and moderate proposal from the one living man who has power to settle the Irish land question. It has been the subject of wide remark that the Irish Members, the followers of the hon. Member for Cork, did not receive that portion of his speech which dealt with that proposal with cheers. That is perfectly true. They have not received it with enthusiasm, because its character is not one which excites enthusiasm among those who are a party of war. The Irish Members listened to those proposals with the deepest interest; without enthusiasm, because they regarded them as some more of the proposals of compromise which, during the course of the Irish land war, have been made over and over again, by the man who will yet be regarded by the landlords of Ireland with feelings of remorse and regret, because they did not close with his offer when it was still in his power to restrain those forces which may make them bitterly sorry for their action. The hon. Member for Cork could settle the Irish land question on the fining down proposal; but in a year it may be impossible, and it is for the Irish landlords to say whether they are acting wisely. Now, with regard to the British taxpayer, is there any real risk incurred by him under this Bill? And is there 1366 any reasonable prospect that if he incurs this risk he will get value for his money? It is i to be noticed that hon. Members opposte, when touching on this question, indulge in glowing eulogies of the honesty of the Irish tenants. When did they discover this trait? All this is new; we have not heard it before. But if the Irish tenant is so honest and so good a payer, where is the necessity of calling in any British security at all? The securities may be classed under two heads—the cash securities and the contingent. The cash securities amount roughly to £293,000, and the contingent securities to £876,000. I think I shall be able to prove to demonstration that those securities are utterly rotten and illusory, and that three-quarters of the contingent securities at any rate will immediately vanish in smoke. Power is taken under the Bill to withhold from Ireland grants similar to those which have been given to England and Scotland. But what right is there to do that? To withhold such grants will create a new Irish grievance. They will be withheld in the teeth of the Irish Representatives; and, judging from my experience in the past, the Irish Members will drag them out of the Government in the first two or three Sessions. With regard to the contingent securities, it is to be remarked that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not enter into any detailed exposition. In case of combination among the disaffected purchasers, on the non-payment of their instalments certain grants for education and other local purposes are to be suspended, and the Irish people are to be converted into a nation of savages. Are Her Majesty's Government so obtuse and blind as not to see that by such a course as this they would be playing into the hands of the revolutionary party, whose object it always is to promote as much confusion as possible? Power is also taken for the striking of a special rate to make good any deficiency. Any population that would submit to such a rate Would deserve to be kept in slavery for ever, for a more atrocious and brutal and insulting proposition was never placed before the country. This rate is to be allocated to the payment, not of any liabilities of the country generally, but of certain individuals who decline to 1367 pay their own debts. Would the people pay such a rate if not struck by the local body? And what local body, if really a representative body, would be willing to strike such a rate? The Government itself would have to strike such a rate, and the result would be a state of things bordering on civil war. When the Ashbourne Act of 1888 was under discussion what were the two principles to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Chief Secretary, and others, pledged themselves? First, they said that the measure of land purchase to be introduced would be comprehensive and final; and, secondly, that it would impose no risk on the British taxpayer. It will be in the recollection of the House that these pledges were given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
No, certainly not; quote.
§ MR. DILLON
I am perfectly certain the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave that pledge, and that was what I gathered from the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen delivered at the time. The present measure fulfils neither of these conditions. It is neither comprehensive nor final, and it does impose a risk on the British taxpayer. I am one of those who hold that the idea of righting Ireland's wrongs by force of arms and by insurrectionary movements is now outside the domain of practical politics. But if the English Government are so foolish as to advance £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 in the circumstances I have referred to, and leave on the minds of the people of Ireland a sense of injustice—a feeling that they have been coerced into paying more than is reasonable for the redemption of the land—and, at the same time, continue to refuse them Home Rule, then I believe that in the very first period of acute distress the opportunity will be taken by the extreme party of Irish Nationalists to raise an insurrection in Ireland of a character infinitely more 1368 dangerous than any hostile movement that has taken place in the country during the present century. It would be an insurrection of the nature of the tithe war, but ten times aggravated by the nature of the case. An insurrection taking the form of an organised refusal to pay is perfectly possible, and, under the circumstances I have sketched, not at all unlikely. For the Government to pursue a policy of coercion in Ireland, and to refuse the local Legislature which the nation demands, would be to throw the whole body of these debtors of the State into the hands of the Fenian Party, which, when the first distress came, would probably organise their movement with the rapidity of lightning. The forces of England would, of course, be sufficient to suppress a rebellion; but they would not be sufficient to save the British Treasury from enormous loss. There cannot be the slightest doubt that in the event of such an insurrectionary movement breaking out many millions would probably have to be wiped out as lost to the British Exchequer. The Chief Secretary said that he "declined to contemplate" the eventuality of organised repudiation. That may be very convenient for the right hon. Gentleman now, when he wants to oil the passage of his Bill through the House. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), when it was a question of upsetting the Liberal Government in 1886, did not decline to contemplate it. There was not a single speech he delivered on the hustings in which he did not proclaim to the country that it was not only a possible, but even a probable eventuality. Judging, therefore, by the past utterances even of the right hon. Gentleman's friends, there is a very considerable risk of the repudiation of these debts. It has been said that the instalments due to the Government under the Ashbourne Acts have been paid. One element in connection with that matter has, however, been entirely overlooked by all the Members of the House, namely, that we have inculcated on the people of Ireland their moral obligation to pay those instalments. That entirely alters the situation. I have myself, over and over again, addressing great meetings in Ireland, at which I knew there 1369 were present tenants who had purchased under the Ashbourne Act, pointed out that if they bought their holdings under that Act, they were morally obliged to pay, and were in a totally different position from what they were in with regard to the landlords. Our organisation has consistently refused to countenance, directly or indirectly, any tenant who refused to pay his instalment. There is, therefore, no analogy whatever between the present condition of things and a condition of things which might prevail if the leaders of the future, whoever they might be, should, from whatever motive or with whatever ground and justification, proclaim to the people that they would be engaged in a justifiable and patriotic course in refusing to "pay a single penny to the Government. I would put this question to any practical Member of the House. How would a Government, having made advances to 100,000 tenants in Ireland, propose to face a Plan of Campaign against payment to them, backed up by a universal system of boycotting of farms? You might evict 20,000 tenants but how would you get fresh tenants? I say that the boycotting that has taken place, under recent movements in Ireland, would be a trifle compared with the boycotting that would arise then. The man who took an evicted farm from the British Government would be obliged to face the accumulated hatred which is now divided between the Irish land-grabber and the Irish informer, and I do not think his life would be a very happy one. I have been accused of using the phrase in Ireland, and so I use it here now. I have only dwelt on this point because I want to put it on record that we Irish Members warned you of what might occur, so that it may lie in the mouth of no one to say the Irish people are dishonourable if they repudiate these debts. I come now to the point of view of the Irish tenant. It is said we are inconsistent because we have supported Irish land purchase and now oppose it. Why, Sir, we are the men who created Irish land purchase. At a time when it was looked upon as a revolutionary and Socialistic thing, we made it the first plank in the programme of the Irish National League to procure such an alteration in the law of Ireland 1370 as would enable every tenant to become the owner of his land. And the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) who never made a single sacrifice, and never did a single iota of work, and who never till the day of judgment would have been able to gain one single benefit for the tenants, comes here and lectures us on the question of consistency, and instructs us as to what "the gallant men of Ulster" think about the thing. I wish the gallant men of Ulster had to fight the battle themselves. They gave us very little help when it was a question of suffering and danger and imprisonment, but they are very willing and eager to reap all the benefits of our labours. We created Irish land purchase. We made the landlords of Ireland anxious to sell, and until we did so we could never get a hearing in this House for the Irish tenants. Talk of Irish land purchase, why the most eloquent voice, perhaps, that England ever heard, after that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, that of the late John Bright, pleaded for land purchase years ago, amidst the howls of the Tories, and the miserable concession he had been able to obtain for the Irish tenants amounted to almost nothing owing to the obstruction of the Irish landlords. I told the people of Ireland, 10 years ago, it was no use arguing the question of purchase in this House until we had reached the House through the Irish landlords, and made them ready to part with their estates. What is it that has made land purchase in Ireland popular? Why, boycotting! Boycotting, and nothing else; and you know it as well as I do. It was not until I, and those who were working with me, were able to say—were able to boast and to prove— that when we banned a farm in Ireland no Irish landlord could let it, that the Tory Party began to discover the virtues of land purchase, and the Irish landlords became so eager for it; and now they turn round upon us and say that we have been the opponents of land purchase in Ireland. For myself, I can say I have been in favour of purchase ever since I entered Irish politics. I am in favour of it to-day, but I am against coercion. I am against the atrocious system which is being worked by the 1371 manipulation of the Land Commission; and I am against the Land Commission—which ought to deal out even-handed justice to all, and which, if it showed bias at all, should exhibit it in favour of the weaker man—being turned into a department of landlordism. I am against the handing over of the control of the Commission to Mr. Wrench, the nominee of the worst class of Irish landlords. I am in favour of making the Irish Land Commission, which has been turned into a fraud and a delusion, a fair and impartial tribunal. I am against the infamous and atrocious policy and fraud of, introducing, along with the purchase scheme, a scheme of coercion for the real and sole purpose of breaking up the Association of tenants, and denying to us a right which we shall insist upon—that of defining for our people what it is best for them to do. The hon. Member for Central Birmingham (Mr. J. A. Bright)—who, I am afraid, but badly fills his father's place—favoured the House the other night with one of those mawkish, stale old stories that one frequently hears from such quarters, about a poor Irishman on the road side in Ireland, who meets a tourist and tells him, when asked why he did not purchase his holding, that he was willing to purchas3, but "them as knows better" told him not to. That language sounded unfamiliar to our ears, and some of us doubted the reality of the story; but supposing it were true, for the sake of argument, where is the shame, where is the wrong, if a poor Irish peasant who has been led by our policy, in spite of your oppression, out of the lowest depths of degradation, told this gentleman that he was prepared to follow our advice? If 10 years' experience shows that it would have been better if the peasantry had followed the advice more slavishly than they have done, who is to blame? They learn from experience. Had they followed our advice in 1881, and not rushed into the Land Courts, they would have had bigger reductions. What did I hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He boasted in one sentence of his speech that although we opposed the extension of Lord Ashbourne's Act, the Irish tenants paid no heed to our advice, but availed themselves of the measure, and in the next sentence he said that he had noticed that during the past five years the Irish 1372 tenantry were getting better terms by being slow to avail themselves of it. I thought I detected a great inconsistency in the right hon Gentleman, though he is very fond of finding inconsistencies in others; because, according to his own statement, the Irish tenants were unwise, and rushed in too quickly to avail themselves of the Act. What has been the nature of our advice, which these gentlemen so much condemn? I claim that we have a right to go to every estate in Ireland and advise the tenants to combine for the purpose of making the best bargains they can, and that the people are well advised when they refer their bargains to us for consideration. What is the nature of the charge made against us in this matter? It is that we have pointed out to the people of Ireland what are the true facts of the case-that, owing to boycotting, owing to combination, and owing to agitation, there is no purchaser of the land of Ireland except the tenant; and that if the tenants only wait and are patient and hang back a little, the price will go down to a fair value. Those who have followed our advice have got their bargains. Those who have not followed our advice are, many of them, sorry men to-day. What argument is it for the right hon. Gentleman to say that certain poor wretched tenants, in their ignorance, and in their eagerness for present benefit in the shape of a year's rent to escape from insolvency, disregard our advice? When they do that they generally repent it. I do not see anything to be ashamed of in giving that advice, and I intend to continue to give it. There are reasons why we supported the Ashbourne Act, and opposed the extension of that Act. We supported the Ashbourne Act because we were in favour of land purchase in Ireland. We oppose the extension of the Ashbourne Act because we are no tin favour of swindling the Irish tenants—because in the interval between the passing of the Ashbourne Act and its extension the Commission has been manipulated in the interests of the landlords, and coercion has been adopted for the accommodation of the landlords.
§ MR. DILLON
I will tell the House how Mr. Wrench had to with it. There is not a single man in the Laud Office who does not hold his post in terror of Mr. Wrench. They are all holders on short terms, and Mr. Wrench is a gentleman who represents the Government, and who can get anybody sacked—at least, they believe so—at very short notice. Besides, Mr. Wrench is perfectly well known, and, but for the agitation in Ireland, he would have had the control of the whole thing long ago. These are the reasons why 1, for one, have adopted the course I have indicated. My position on this question of land purchase has been always perfectly clear. I am in favour of the principle to-day as much as I was when the National Land League was founded, provided it is honestly administered, and provided you have not got coercion in Ireland. It is for the English Members to consider how far they will trust their credit on this proposal. I only speak now of the securities put forward as perfectly preposterous, in order that the people of Ireland may be kept right with the English taxpayer, and that it shall not lie in the mouth of the English taxpayer to say that the Irish are a dishonest nation if they take the money and do not repay it. Speaking on behalf of the large majority—five-sixths of the Representatives of Ireland—I say that if you do advance this money to the Irish people under present circumstances, the time may arise—and probably will arise—when, for political purposes as well as for social purposes, we shall call on our people to repudiate the debt. Now I come to the question of the congested districts in the South-West of Ireland. This subject has been a pressing problem in Ireland for 70 years, and the fact of its existence so long without any serious attempt having been made to remedy it is one of the strongest arguments against 1374 this proposal of the Government. In order to form a fair judgment of how the problem ought to be dealt with, you must first understand how the congested districts came to exist at all. You have a condition of things existing in the West, in these poor districts of Ireland, as far as I know, absolutely without any parallel in any civilised country in the World. You have in these districts poor land, immensely overcrowded with a population necessarily reduced to a very low condition of living, and in the immediate neighbourhood of these congested districts you have vast extents of rich lands absolutely denuded of population. That forms one of the most striking and characteristic features of this congested district question, to which the hon. Member for South Tyrone and the Government have given the complete goby. This condition of things has grown up through no fault of the people. Everybody admits that this alone constitutes an enormous claim on the Government and on the country, which, through neglect and through the long, unchecked operation of abominable laws, has allowed these people to fall into a condition of degradation and misery, and to grow up uncared for. How did the congested districts grow up? As far as we can ascertain by studying Irish history, they were mostly territories which were given over a couple of centuries ago to wild animals and to forests. In the course of the civil wars in Ireland terrible barbarities were practised there—barbarities almost without parallel in the history of the conquest of one nation by another. Vast numbers of poor, famished wretches were driven by conquering armies on to the wild land, and were compelled to take to the companionship of wild animals. But this condition of things was trifling compared with what it grew into under English government. The population of these congested districts, as far as I can ascertain, at the end of the last century was very trifling compared with what it is now. What do we find? One of the beautiful characteristics of the Irish land system was that the landlord pursued the poor people on to uncultivated tracts. As soon as they cultivated the land, the landlord put them under rent. A most outrageous proceeding. We find 1375 that these landlords, who took possession of these districts, having, under the operation of the English Law, such a power as is described by Arthur Young, in his great work of travels in Ireland, as amounting to absolute slavery, proceeded to increase the population of those districts deliberately. By putting small tenants on the land they were able to extract considerable rents from land which would otherwise have been given up to stubble and grass. I know, as a matter of fact, that in one of the chief congested districts it was the custom of the agent to induce young men to marry by offering them five or six acres of mountain side, which was absolutely valueless for any purpose. A young man was allowed to marry and to settle down without; house or home, paid a rent of 1s. a year until he improved the land, and then was put under a rent of, say, 10s. I say that if we have in these congested districts in the West of Ireland, as we have, a festering mass of poverty and misery, and a source of disturbance when starvation comes in, this detestable system is responsible for it, and this country has contracted a heavy debt to those unhappy people whom it has so long neglected. You talk about emigration. What has been the history of those congested districts in the past? The hon. Member for South Tyrone spoke of the large emigration from the West as an improvement in the condition of the people. The people emigrated from land that was well able to support them, and were driven into the poorest and into the most utterly congested districts. I have electoral districts in my own constituency where, according to the Report presented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, when he was Chief Secretary, in spite of a general depopulation in Ireland the population increased. So you see that emigration has not wrought any remedy. On the contrary, it has been an aggravation of the evil, for those well able to support themselves have been swept out of the country, while the poor have been left behind, because it paid the landlord to evict on the rich fallow land of Galway and Roscommon, and to drive the people on to the poor mountainside, which was perfectly valueless.
§ It being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.