§ 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.)1542
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ (5.0.) MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I very much regret that I am compelled to occupy so much time, but the responsibility for the inconvenience must rest with the Government, who have embodied in one Bill two subjects, each of them large enough to be dealt with separately. I pointed out on Thursday night what was the origin and history of the congested districts, showing how the congestion was caused by the ancestors of the present population being driven from their homes, in the eastern and central portions of Ireland, to waste and barren lands in the western districts, so as to enable the landlords of the latter lands to get rents which it was not possible otherwise to obtain. Thus the congestion of the western districts was deliberately encouraged, and long continued neglect of this horrible state of things by successive Governments has given these unhappy people a claim on the generosity of the English people, and on the attention of the House. Now, how does the Bill propose to deal with the matter? The Bill proposes to constitute another Board in Ireland, which has a sufficient number of Boards already. If Boards could improve the condition of Ireland, no country ought to be more prosperous or better governed, and I can say, on behalf of the people of Ireland, that not even the Chairmanship of the Chief Secretary can reconcile them to another Board unless it is constituted on a principle different from that laid down. And what are to be the functions of the new Board? Those who have studied the speeches of the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General know that the function of the new Board is to be our old friend emigration. The main reliance of the Government is, to emigrate the people of the congested districts. When I turn to the speech of the Attorney General I find that he inverted the order in which emigration and migration were mentioned in the speech of the Chief Secretary. He also said he did not believe migration to be a possible scheme. He showed that there was no real and honest intention to give fair play to the migration scheme. Let me tell the Government, once for all, that if 1543 they lean upon emigration as a remedy for the congested districts it will be no remedy, and if that is their main proposal the Irish Members will oppose it, and will oppose the working of the Commission by every means in their power. Emigration has been tried upon our country in a way in which it has never been tried upon any country in the world, and we shall resist any scheme for increasing the tide of emigration, which is already fatally large. We know of the existence in Ireland of a small section who deliberately avow as their policy the reduction of the population down to two or three millions. If we turn to a remarkable work published lately by an American barrister who travelled in Ireland, Mr. Pellew, we find given there the opinion of a gentleman of the North of Ireland that Ireland will never be peaceable and prosperous until we get the population down to three millions, and until she becomes what nature intended her for, a farm for England. That is a policy which the Irish Party has always resisted, and always will resist. So much for the policy of emigration, which is the main policy put forward in this Bill. I now come to the other proposals contained in this Bill. Those proposals are of an extremely vague and indefinite character. First, there is the extraordinary proposal—and I will ask the attention of Liberal Members to it—that when a tenant wishes to part with his holding he shall be obliged to part with it either to a neighbour or to the Land Commission; and then it is provided that if the Land Commission, when they get possession, throw down the buildings, they shall pay the full value of them. Observe how that will work. The Land Commission is compelled to buy, at the full value, any holding which the tenant wishes to part with, if he does not sell it to a neighbour. The full value must be, at least, the value which the tenant paid to his landlord, or he will not consider that he is fairly treated. The tenant is not to be allowed to sell in the open market, but he is to be compelled to go either to the Land Commission or to a neighbour. If he goes to the latter he will probably not get full value. The result will be that the Land Commission, having advanced to the tenants the money to buy their holdings, will be obliged to buy a 1544 great many of those holdings again. That is the way in which this provision will work, and I say it will lead to a frightful loss of money to the Board, and to an immense quantity of jobbery and corruption. Next, they are to have power to sell for ready money only seed potatoes at cost price; they are not to make any money by the transaction. Did anybody ever hear of such a proposal? It is one which either will pauperise, or will be of an exceedingly trifling character. The right hon. Gentleman states that he has persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to grant him funds for the purpose of discovering where the fish are on the West Coast of Ireland. "At present," said the Chief Secretary, "we are in a state of absolute ignorance as to the fishing resources of Ireland." Was there ever such a confession made before? Why, the subject has been before the House for 50 years, and if the Government are in a state of absolute ignorance as to the fishing resources in Ireland, the Manxmen and the French boats get thousands of pounds worth of fish off the Irish coast every year. Irishmen know, as well as Manxmen or Frenchmen, how and where to catch the fish; but they have neither the boats nor the harbours which are necessary. Then, this new Board may, if they like, improve the breeds of poultry in the West of Ireland, and, if they think fit, teach the art of fish-curing. I will take the liberty to read to the House some of the comments of the Dublin Daily Express on this great measure, which is to bring peace and happiness to Ireland. The Express holds that one of the causes of poverty is the cultivation of potato land in the congested districts, and it adds that the best thing that can be said of the Seed Potato Clause is to wish that it may be inoperative. With regard to instruction in fish-curing, the Express holds that that is a good thing, but it misses any mention of a power to buy boats or any fishing appliances. Certainly fish cannot be cured until they are caught, any more than a hare can be jagged until it is caught. The Daily Express goes on to say that these proposals, with the exception of the Seed Clause, can do no harm and may do some good, but they will not solve the congested districts problem. This is the deliberately expressed 1545 opinion of the organ of the Government.
§ MR. DILLON
Yes, the organ of the Government, for the Chief Secretary subsidises it by giving it all the Government advertisements; but I am afraid that, after this exposure, the advertisements may be withdrawn. The Express sums up its opinion of this portion of the Bill by saying—It is a very elaborate piece of machinery, no doubt, but as there is no coal in the furnace or water in the boiler, the engine cannot be expected to do much work.Such is the judgment of the organ of the Ministerial Party in Ireland. The fact is, the Bill has no friends in Ireland, because its proposals are utterly futile and illusory. I now come to my second point, and that is as to the funds to be placed at the disposal of the new Board. I really had supposed that this Board was going to be liberally and generously endowed by the British Treasury for carrying out this scheme, but, to my horror, I find that there are absolutely no funds at all for carrying out this part of the measure. The sole provision in the Bill with regard to the procurement of funds merely gives the Board power to "accept any gifts of property made to them for the purposes of this Act." It is, no doubt, true that the sum of £1,500,000 is charged on what remains of the Irish Church surplus for the purposes of this part of the Act. But I protest against such a burden being placed on this fund. This is a purely Irish fund, and it will be wanted, when Home Rule is in operation, for purposes of education in Ireland. This fund it is now proposed to substitute in the congested districts for the guarantees provided in other parts of Ireland. What does that mean? The Chief Secretary admits that the only risk in the case of his Land Purchase scheme will be in the; congested districts, and accordingly he is providing for such risks by means of what remains of the Irish Church Fund. This will have the inevitable result of allowing landlords to get more than the real value of their land. It is a direct incentive to the Land Commission to allow the landlord to get more than the 1546 real value. If the Irish Church surplus is to be used as a guarantee for the repayment of the purchase money in the congested districts, it will, instead of being used for the other objects of the Board, find its way into the pockets of the Connaught landlords. The Chief Secretary said that in the congested districts 14 years' purchase was the fair value of the land; but it is double the value of the land, and the result will be that the Church surplus will go in making up the guarantee on sales in such districts, and will, ultimately, disappear altogether. I protest absolutely and entirely against such a use of the surplus. A fund which is intended for the common benefit must not be allowed to go into the pockets of a class of men whom I may justly describe as the most utterly worthless class to be found in all the world. The landlords in the congested districts are an unmitigated curse. I protest against this part of the Bill on two grounds: First, because the substitution of a real guarantee for illusory ones will artificially raise the price of the holding, and give the Irish landlords more power than they are justly entitled to; and, secondly, because the fund will not be expended for the benefit of the people in the congested districts. The resources thus placed by the Bill at the disposal of the Board to be created, vanish away entirely upon critical examination of the measure. I shall resist, to the utmost of my power, this proposal so to utilise the Church Fund. If the difficulty in regard to the congested districts is to be settled, it ought to be settled out of funds provided from the Imperial Exchequer. If the Government are not prepared to act thus generously they ought not to touch the question at all, but leave it to be settled when the Irish people manage their own affairs. Unless your interference in this matter-is based on broad and statesmanlike grounds you will simply make bad matters worse. With regard to the question of the congested districts generally, I desire to point out that it is absolutely essential that the House should clearly understand what the scheduled congested districts are to be. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, in an article in the Nineteenth Century in January last, defined them as all lying 1547 within 15 miles of the sea, to the west of a line drawn from Donegal to Kerry, and he said that these districts alone are in need of heroic remedies. This line of demarcation would exclude from the area of "the congested districts" all the grass lands from which the population have been driven into the congested districts. But the Board can do nothing if the contiguous grass lands are excluded from their jurisdiction. The Board should, if the scheme is to have any prospect of success, have control over all the counties of Donegal, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, and the western half of Cork and Kerry. The hon. Member, in the same article, gives figures showing the decrease of the population in certain districts, which include the rich grass lands of Galway and Roscommon, but he abstains from going into an analysis of the decrease, or he would have seen that it is in inverse proportion to the richness of the land; that where the land is worst the population has increased. And here I must refer to a cruel and brutal sentence in the article—a sentence of a nature which causes crime in Ireland. After treating of the question of depopulation, the hon. Member says—The facts are all against the patriots, and no amount of screeching will prevent ranching.By "screeching" the hon. Member, no doubt, means agitation. It is rather a dangerous thing to point out that mere Constitutional agitation will not put an end to a great grievance. In one district alone, seven or eight thousand houses have been levelled with the aid of the crowbar. Are we to be told, then, that no amount of screeching will prevent the destruction of the houses of the people? We have sought to induce the people to believe that agitation and debate in this House will save them from ranching. If the hon. Member tells us that screeching will not do it, then, I ask, what will do it? The system of ranching has been introduced into Ireland, and 120,000, perhaps 200,000 persons, have been swept out of that most fertile county the County of Meath, in 40 years. Ranching was also introduced into Tipperary, and out of the 420,000 people who lived there in 1849 there are now only 190,000, whilst 35,000 human habitations have been thrown down and levelled to the ground. 1548 That is what the hon. Member calls "ranching," and what he says is to be the future fate of Ireland. I believe that agitation and talking will stop this, and I must say I should take a gloomy view of Ireland if I did not think that by what the hon. Member is pleased to call "screeching," we shall be able to prevent the evils of which we complain. You must include in the congested districts the whole of the counties I have alluded to, and the first and preliminary step before anything else is done for the relief of the congested districts will be to deal with the question of ranching. It is not only useless but worse than useless—it is wrong to pour any money into those districts unless you do what I have suggested. If the land is rented at three times its value, what will be the effect of endeavouring to alienate the people by means of British money? You will simply enable tenants to pay rents which otherwise they could not possibly pay, and your money will go into the pockets of the landlords. The land in many cases is so poor that if the people paid any rent at all they could not live on it, and you propose to assist them to live on it by enabling them to pay £1 or 10s. an acre for land that is not worth a shilling, and to send armies to tear the roofs off their houses and turn them out into the ditches, if they do not continue to pay the rents. Before you deal with the question of congested districts you must deal with this question of ranching. It must be dealt with on entirely different principles in the West of Ireland. I should propose to deal with it on the lines laid down by General Gordon in his letter from the Glengariffe Hotel, in 1881. You speak of Gordon as a hero when he goes to the Soudan, and you raise statues to him, but when he speaks of Ireland and tells you what you ought to do with regard to the poor peasantry there, you shut your ears. Gordon is a prophet, like many another man, on various parts of the earth, but he was no prophet in Ireland because his verdict was not favourable to the Irish landlords. What did he say? He suggested the immediate buying out of the landlords by compulsion, and by totally different machinery from that which would be applied to the larger farms. I should propose, therefore, that in the West, before any attempt is made to 1549 alleviate the condition of the people, you should authorise the Congested District Commissioners to buy out all the Western landlords in respect of holdings valued at under £20 a year, by a rough and ready valuation. It should be done rapidly, and by a much cheaper and more effective machinery than you would apply to the ordinary condition of Ireland. I should roughly calculate that the figure at which you would buy out these men, would be about eight years purchase on Griffith's valuation. I maintain, and I am prepared to prove, that you would be giving more than the market value of the property in giving eight years purchase. I know men in the West of Ireland who paid six years purchase for their estates, and who are now getting 10 percent. on their investment. Land is an article which is absolutely unsaleable and will never again be saleable in the open market. If you give the landlords eight years purchase you will be giving them more than the land is worth. What could you do then? You could immediately reduce the rents all over the West of Ireland by about 40 per cent. on Griffith's valuation. You could deal at the same time with the question of arrears in a liberal spirit, and you could, and you ought to, abolish all rent in the Western Islands-in Innisturk, Innisboffin, and Clare Island—because it is nothing short of a mockery to try to collect rents on those islands. You would then have laid the basis of a real and honest attempt to alleviate the condition of the people, because you would have stopped the drain on the rack rents, which are largely absentee rents, and which act as a leak in the West of Ireland. I would go on to say that in these districts the whole system of purchase of land and registration of title should be totally different from that prevailing in this country and in Dublin under the present Land Commission. When a sale was effected I would have the Commissioners take over the documents of the landlord and treat the entry in his book as the title of the tenant: and I would effect the sales at local centres, as is done in America, the whole transaction costing, perhaps, no more than 10s. In this way you would render the sale of holdings easy, and would establish a system which would be valuable both to Ireland 1550 and this country as well. I would affix to every holding in the West of Ireland affected by the Bill the following conditions:—No sub-letting; no sub-division of land; no mortgaging; and I would go further, and say—and this I would urge on the attention of the House, for it is of the utmost importance—that the interest in the holding of any of these tenants should not be seizable for any debts of any kind contracted after the passing of the Act. That is an important provision, which is gaining ground in America every day. It would remove the objection often urged against the plan I suggest, namely, that the tenants would get into the hands of the usurers, and it would sweep away a dangerous system of credit, which has been the cause of much evil. I am convinced the Irish bankers would rejoice to see the present system swept away, and I feel sure that the adoption of this plan I recommend would be a useful experiment, not only as regards Ireland, but also so far as England herself is concerned. I believe that the fears which are expressed as to the adoption of such a system as this increasing the congestion is perfectly illusory. Having done what I suggest, and having simplified and facilitated the sales of holdings, if you came in with a provision which I shall presently point out to alleviate the social condition of the people, the tendency would be towards consolidation of holdings, and not sub-division. If you could sell these holdings without lawyers, according as the people rose in the social scale, and got accustomed to live better, so they would object to see their children live like pigs, and as a man saved money without those disturbing influences which exist at present between landlord and tenant—such as boycotting—the farms would improve to such level as the economical condition of the country would point to. I would suggest to the Government that, to aid this process of consolidation, where one farm was purchased for the purpose of being joined to another the purchaser should have power to apply to the Commissioners to send a valuer on to the property, and if the valuer thought it desirable, he should be able to advance a portion—not all by any means—but, say, a fourth of the value of the buildings destroyed. That would give a neighbour 1551 a slight advantage over a stranger, and would aid the process of amalgamation. In the West the people have been reduced to a most abject state of poverty; and why? Because of the operation of unjust laws which have ground them down into a condition of wretchedness. I have seen in he West of Ireland three families, numbering 27 individuals, trying to get a living out of nine acres of bog, for which they paid a guinea an acre to a late Member of this House, whose name, however, I will not mention, though he sat here for 20 years. This landowner encouraged his tenant to plant one of his sons on each side of him in order to secure a miserable rent, regardless of the character of the land. That is the system which has been crushing the people down; and I maintain that those who have helped to pass the laws under which such a condition of things was possible should now give some consideration and fair play to us, who have been struggling to raise these people from the horrible morass of misery and degradation into which they have sunk. Then, I would re-distribute the Poor Law Unions in the congested districts, so as not to have a Union consisting wholly of a crowded and very poor district. The landlords have, in most cases, created these congested districts by driving the people from the good land, which they have turned into large grazing blocks. Are these blocks to go scot free? Certainly not. The rate where the clearances have taken place is down at a low figure, and in the districts to which the poor peasantry have been driven it is high, and in these districts, directly a period of distress comes, the whole Poor Law system collapses. To correct this I would give the Poor Law Authority power to levy exceptional rates on these blocks of grazing land, say of 100 acres. In an opposite direction the same principle was enforced in the old days of the tithe, and if, in the olden days, a differential rate was struck against the poor man, I do not see why there should not be a differential rate now against the rich exterminator. With regard to the Western seaboard, I would propose that we should have good deep sea harbours constructed there, and that a reasonable sum should be provided by way of loan, in order to enable the 1552 people to obtain boats, nets, and other appliances. Experiments in this direction having been tried in Ireland with the most complete success, I do not see why the Government should not follow on in the same course, and rescue many villages on the West Coast from their present condition of poverty and misery. I would give the Commissioners power to purchase grass lands and other tracts of land, and to use them for the purpose of migration. The Attorney General for Ireland has no faith in migration, but it appears to me that there are cases where the system might be tried with good prospects of success. I know a case in Western Mayo where land which has been let to a Scotch grazier, by Lord Sligo, might be obtained for this purpose. I am in favour, at all events, of granting sufficient funds to the Board of Commissioners to try the experiment. I would try it first on a very small scale, but I have always thought that the problem of dealing with congested districts in Ireland must be considered in the light of 20 years of work. I now come to the last point I have to trouble the House with, and I do not know that it is not the most important. We protest against the constitution of a new Board in Ireland, unless it be formed on different principles and of different materials from the old Board. Unless the Government give us and our Party a fair voice in the constitution of that Board, the scheme is doomed to failure. What reason is there for trying to settle the problem of congested districts without giving some voice—and I say it should be a preponderating voice—to the people who speak for every single tenant in those districts? You may question our right to speak for Ireland. You may talk of Ulster and the industrial people of Belfast, but is there a Member of this House who says we have no right to speak for the poor tenantry of the West of Ireland? If you are going to deal with this question, you must admit a majority of Nationalists to the Board. We want and would accept from you no salaries. Our men cannot touch salaries from the English Government in Ireland, and do not want to. If you are not prepared to do what we ask, I say your scheme is foredoomed to failure, and it is of not the slightest use 1553 to waste the enormous amount of time that must be taken up in discussing it, and to waste the money that will be expended in working the machinery of the measure. Before I sit down let me call the attention of the House to one fact. It is stated in Clause 54 that one member of the Congested District Board is to be a member of the Land Commission. Who is that member to be? Is it meant that Mr. John George M'Carthy shall be removed from the Land Commission and that that Commission shall be handed over to Mr. Wrench and Mr. Stanislas Wrench, who is the first cousin of the author of Parnellism and Crime, and the farmer of the worst land I have ever seen in Ireland? It is well known that Mr. J. G. M'Carthy has stopped some fraudulent sales, and that he has drawn upon himself the hatred of the Tory Party in Ireland, and if you withdraw him from the Commission its character will be thoroughly understood in Ireland. I have to lay these suggestions before the House. I think the poor people in the West of Ireland have a claim upon the House and upon the British community. I do not think you can solve the question without running some risk to the British Exchequer, but if you are not prepared to deal with it in the spirit I have suggested I would appeal to the Government to save their time and the time of the House by abandoning their proposals and putting off the consideration of this question to some future time.
§ (5.54.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I do not propose on the present occasion to follow at any length the hon. Member for East Mayo in the remarks he has made upon that portion of the Bill which deals with the congested districts. I think, however, the House must be grateful to the hon. Member, not only for the frankness of his criticisms on this part of the Government proposal, but also because, following the example of his leader, he has not been content with mere criticism, but has placed a plan of his own before the consideration of the House. J am quite sure that the plan will receive careful and serious consideration. There are many parts of it—I am speaking more particularly of the details which have been explained to us—that 1554 would commend themselves at once to both sides of the House. For instance, I think that all of us would approve of any scheme which could establish a cheap system of land registration and of land transfer, even if it applied only to this particular class of property. I think, also, that we could agree with the hon. Member that if something is to be done for these people—if, with the assistance of the State and of Parliament, they are to be placed in a better position—Parliament and the State have some right to make conditions in order to prevent the possibility of this part of the country going back to the state from which it has been rescued. Accordingly it would be wise to introduce stringent provisions against sub-letting, and against the disposal of the property, except under proper conditions. But I suppose that the crux of the hon. Member's plan is to be found in his proposal for the further fining down of rents, and this time the fining down is to be without compensation, because what I understood the hon. Member to propose is, that you should take rents in this part of the country—rents that are already "fair rents," having been revised by the judicial tribunal appointed for the purpose by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, rents first revised and then reviewed in consequence of the fall of prices—and that you should cut them down to eight years' purchase of the valuation. That, I suppose, would be about five years' purchase of the "fair rent." Of course, that is a very drastic proposal.
§ MR. DILLON
I am sorry to interrupt, but I did not propose anything of the sort. I proposed that the interest of these landlords in the West should be purchased at a valuation of that interest without reference to the rent. I said, only for the purpose of argument, that, as far as my knowledge goes, a fair price would roughly be eight years' purchase of the valuation. I may tell the right hon. Gentleman that in the West of Ireland recent Land Courts have reduced the rents to an average of 40 per cent. below Griffith's valuation.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
But you cannot consider this sort of transaction from the point of view of one side alone; and if a landlord is now getting about £100 a year for his property, he would 1555 think it very hard measure if he is to be asked to give his property up for a net sum of £500. This proposal is so drastic that it could not be justified unless the hon. Member is able to prove, as perhaps he may be able to prove, that the landlords in this part of Ireland are an unmitigated curse, and that in all their relations with their tenants they have shown an absolute neglect of the duties naturally belonging to the possession of property. I now pass to consider the earlier part of the hon. Member's speech. In the commencement he referred to the failure of past land legislation in regard to Ireland; and I think that he attributed it to the fact that Irish opinion had never been consulted with reference to it; the legislation which had been passed was in reality foreign legislation, and consequently it had been entirely unsuccessful. The hon. Member went on to complain that this course, taken in the past, was again going to be pursued by the Government—that we were again going to enter upon important legislation without consulting the Representatives of the Irish people, and without in any way consulting the Irish people themselves. I think an opinion of the same kind has already been expressed by some of my right hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian put, as his first vital objection to the Bill, that Irish assent was not asked to the propositions which it contained. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, at Rochdale the other night spoke with some severity of what he called the infatuation and blind conceit of the Unionist Party, who fancied that they knew more of this complex question of the Irish land than the Irish Members themselves, and that they were better able to find remedies than five-sixths of the Representatives of Ireland. Let me say, in the first place, that I admit that there is great force in this contention. At any rate, one thing is clear, that if we have against us the hostility of five sixths of the Representatives of Ireland and of all the people they represent, not only will that in all likelihood very seriously hamper and delay the further progress of this Bill, but, what is of very much greater importance, it is likely to hamper the operation of the Bill when it is passed. That is clear. On the other hand, I say 1556 that the argument may very well be pressed too far. I think that my right hon. Friends, and perhaps the hon. Member behind me (Mr. Dillon), are too apt to forget that there is a minority in Ireland, and they are too ready to ignore the fact that its opinion is entitled to authority in proportion to its numbers. ["Hear, hear!"] You say "Hear, hear" in this House, but in the speeches to which I have been referring there has not been one word about this great minority of 2,000,000 of the Irish people, who certainly are not represented by those gentlemen whom we hear described as five-sixths of the Representatives of Ireland; because everybody knows what is the electoral situation in Ireland. Everybody knows that, whereas in England and Scotland the minority is, on the whole, fairly represented according to its numbers, for what it loses in one district is made up in another, in Ireland that is not so, and the aggregate minority which cannot get representation means a very large proportion of the total electorate. So much is this so that at the last General Election 65 of the elected Representatives were returned by half of the constituencies of the country. Therefore, while I am willing to give all weight to the argument that this majority should be consulted, I contend that the minority have also a right to a hearing, and to a very respectful hearing. I say, further, that this majority with whom I am dealing have been shown by experience not always to represent even their own constituents on this question of land legislation. What is the experience of the Land Act of 1881? That Act was opposed by these same gentlemen, the Representatives of the same Party in Ireland. They gave it no support; their action in regard to it was hostile from beginning to end. When the Bill was passed it became necessary for my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian to put the hon. Member for Cork and some of his friends in prison to prevent them from interrupting the operation of the Act; and as soon as the hon. Member and his friends went to prison, then the peasants rushed forward to take advantage of the Act. [Mr. ILLINGWORTH: Hear, hear!] I will take up that ironical cheer. What does the hon. Gentleman mean? Does he mean to say that the tenants, in the absence of their 1557 recognised leaders, were induced to take a course which was not to their own interest? But, then, why did the hon. Gentleman and others cheer the hon. Member for South Hackney (Sir C. Russell) when he said that the Land Act of 1881 was the great charter of the Irish tenantry? Again I say that, although we ought to pay attention to the opinions which are expressed by the majority of the Representatives of Ireland, yet the opinion of those Representatives need not be, and ought not to be, the governing factor in the consideration of this case. That, I say, is one opinion, but it is not the opinion of my right hon. Friends. [An hon. MEMBER: It used to be your opinion.] I really cannot be diverted like this every moment, or I shall never get to the end of my task. I want to point out to the House that, at all events, my right hon. Friends the leaders of the English portion of the Opposition are committed to this view—that the assent of the majority of the Irish Members is the governing factor in this business—that their opinion is more valuable than ours; that it is a presumption on our part, as English Members, to have opinions on a purely Irish question, or to set them against the opinions of the majority of the Irish Members. But the other night, at the commencement of this debate, we had the privilege of hearing from the leader of the Irish people, from the leader of the Irish Party, who are five-sixths of the Representatives of Ireland, a plan for the settlement of this question, a plan which was introduced as a complete and final solution. The hon. Member for East Mayo said of that proposal that it was a moderate and statesmanlike proposal, and that it was delivered to us by the only living man who had the power to settle the Irish land question. That remark was loudly cheered.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Member puts in that qualification I accept his statement. But then see, in that case, what a very poor compli- 1558 ment it is to the hon. Member for Cork. You say of his scheme that he is the only person who can settle the question "on those lines," but you might say the same of any man who has proposed a scheme, though it were the most idiotic and senseless in the world. But I do not understand the hon. Member in that sense. I thought he meant to express his sense of the importance of this deliverance, and that his leader, the hon. Member for Cork, was among the best qualified persons to settle this question. But under those circumstances what a singular and extraordinary thing it is that this deliverance, this important speech, by the leader of the Irish Party, which represents the feelings and wishes of the Irish people and the opinions of five-sixths of their Representatives—that this deliverance is entirely ignored and put aside by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle said, at Rochdale, that the Unionist Party had been extremely scornful with reference to this plan, and had received it with ridicule and sneers. I do not know how my right hon. Friend came to that conclusion.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Ah! the Unionist Press. At any rate, it cannot be said of the Unionist Party in this House. Most certainly, for myself, whatever I might think of it I should not be disposed to put aside a plan of that kind from a man occupying the position of the hon. Member for Cork either with scorn or with sneering. But it is my right hon. Friends who are treating him with the most scant ceremony. Here is this plan, to which the utmost importance attaches, and the leader of the Opposition gives to its consideration—for I timed him by my watch—just two-and-a-half minutes. And then he said he did not understand it, or all its details.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
My right hon. Friend puts me a tempting question—Do I understand them all? I am going to try and find out to-night. I am going to say what I do understand, 1559 and the main principles of the scheme seem to me to be pretty simple. I go back now to my point, because I think it is an extremely important one. We ought to know what view the Members of the Opposition generally take of this proposal of the hon. Member for Cork. Do they adopt it? If they do, their opposition to the Bill is simplified very considerably, because then some of the main principles of the Bill before the House are accepted. If you adopt the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork you have to adopt two things which are most important—the principle of State aid, in the first place, and the principle of the hypothecation of local resources in the second place. Do you adopt these two principles? I ask some of my right hon. Friends to tell us, if they speak later in the debate. If they do not adopt them, then I want to know how they are going to defend themselves against a charge of infatuation and blindness, in presuming to think that they know more of the Irish land question than the Irish Members themselves. I wish now to come to what I think is the foundation of the opposition to as well as the support of the Bill—I mean the two principles to which I have referred as being equally at the bottom of the plan of the hon. Member for Cork and the plan of the Government—that is to say, State aid and hypothecation of local resources. It has been urged on behalf of the Government that State aid is consistent with all past legislation on the subject, and all past efforts of legislation. That is perfectly true. Then, I understand my right hon. Friends to say "although it is consistent with what we have done and said in the past, we consider that the General Election of 1886 made it impossible that that principle should be further developed." I also understand my right hon. Friends to charge some of us, myself among the number, with gross inconsistency, because they say our action in supporting this Bill is contrary to the speeches and to the pledges we gave at the time of the Election. My right hon. Friend says that he made no reference to them; but probably my right hon. Friend is not aware of the little correspondence that has been going on in the newspapers between my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby and 1560 myself. I know that my right hon. Friend is going to follow me in the debate, and therefore I am sure that he will excuse me if I anticipate a little what he may be going to say. My right hon. Friend has, I think, many virtues. He has one defect, however; he is under the unfortunate delusion that everybody is inconsistent except himself; and he seeks to prove that universal inconsistency by picking out from the multifarious speeches which many of us have made upon this and other questions isolated extracts, without the context, which are detached from the whole tenour and gist of the arguments which we used. If my right hon. Friend is going to make that charge to-night, I beg him, in the first place, to hear from me a statement as to what I have said on the subject, and then I defy, I challenge him to point to any speech I have ever delivered that is inconsistent with what I have said. In opposing the Land Bill of 1886 in this House I said that as far as I was concerned I had no objection to the use of State credit for Ireland provided that Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom. I accepted the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian that England and Scotland had an obligation towards Ireland, that they were bound to take some risk and some burden on themselves, and the only objection which I took then upon this head was that I was unwilling to lend money to a country which you were going to place in the position of a self-governing colony. I remember using the illustration of Canada, and asking who there was who would lend British money in order to relieve the landlords of Canada of the risk of their occupation. When we came to the General Election I admit—and I have said so again and again in subsequent speeches—that, in my opinion, the electors declared themselves against any burden being placed on the British Exchequer. It is not my view or opinion; but I admit that I have said, and still believe, that that probably was, and probably is, the opinion of the electors. That is what I said, and I do not believe that any extract can be quoted in the slightest degree inconsistent with it. The question between us now as to inconsistency is to be decided by the answer to this question—Whether there 1561 is a burden on the British taxpayer under this Bill; and not only whether there is a burden, but whether there is a risk of burden? If there is the slightest fraction of risk, then I am inconsistent in supporting this Bill. But let us examine the question. What is the risk? in the first place, under this Bill you are going to reduce the rents of Ireland by a further 30 per cent. That gives, with the two previous reductions, about 60 or 60 per cent. below the Land Act of 1881. The hon. Member for Cork said the other day that a further reduction of 30 per cent. would make the rents fair rents. Then he would admit that they could be fair rents, and ought to be paid by the tenants. It is, therefore, clear that if the tenants are honest, and if there be no extraordinary and unprecented calamity, those rents can easily be paid. First, let us consider the question of unprecedented calamity. You are to suppose a further fall of prices, a further fall in the price of Stock, possibly of a more serious character than anything which has occurred previously, I say for that contingency the cash securities are ample. You have one-fifth reserved from the landlord; you have got 12 per cent. reserved from the tenant; you have the contribution from the Probate Duty and other contributions; so that altogether you have obtained a capitalised sum, which certainly secures you against any risk of an ordinary calamity. But you have to go further. Unfortunately, in Ireland you have to admit the impassible. You have to admit that those people who are to be so benefited and to receive such advantageous terms are going to be persuaded by the leaders of some future agitation to undertake a general repudiation. I say to myself that I do not believe that is possible. I do not believe it is possible, because I think that previous attempts have shown that a general repudiation cannot be accomplished. I do not believe it possible, also, because after all those tenants are shrewd people, and they have too much to lose. They would lose under this repudiation, not merely their instalments, but the whole of their tenant-right, which amounts in many cases to something like the equal of the freehold value of the land. I say, therefore, that although in certain cases I conceive that the leaders of a future 1562 agitation might, by the exercise of a sort of baleful influence, such as the present leaders have exercised—as in the case of New Tipperary, where men have been undoubtedly induced to ruin themselves by the persuasion of some hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway—although you may have cases of that kind of extravagant disinterestedness, yet I utterly disbelieve that you can obtain it throughout the whole of the country. But I say, for the sake of this argument, you have to assume that it would not be fair to rest upon the probabilities of the case. I have, in order to make my case good, to prove that the loss is impossible. It is not enough to say that it is so improbable as to be almost impossible. Coming to this point, I say that, supposing you have this general dishonesty, this extraordinary agitation, this readiness to sacrifice everything for the cause—supposing that you have a general repudiation, you have in your hands sufficient resources to bring you home without the loss of a penny. What have you to do? By the hypothecation of the local resources we practically capitalise a payment which we have contracted to make to the Irish Local Authorities. We are under a contract, under an obligation to pay to the Irish Local Authorities so much per annum. We capitalise this sum and hand it over for Irish purposes; and then we have a right to come upon the annual sum if there is any deficiency. I say then, in these circumstances, that you have got an absolute security, an inalienable security. I am told, "Oh, no, the remedy is so extraordinay that you cannot enforce it. If there were a repudiation, public opinion in this country and in Ireland would not justify the enforcement of our terms." Well, but I do not believe that is the case. In the first place, that argument is inconsistent with the previous policy of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, who in his Land Bill of 1886 proposed to hypothecate the national resources. It was not only the local resources, but the whole of the resources of the nation which were made responsible for the payment for Irish land; and accordingly, if there had been a general repudiation of rent, the Receiver General would have to stop out of the national resources an amount equivalent to the amount 1563 of rent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Morley) has said that you cannot have lunatics running about the streets, or the children going about without education; but under the Bill of my right hon. Friend you might have had the whole machinery of Government brought to a standstill in the almost impossible contingency we are contemplating. If this is so you cannot object to the principle of hypothecation; and for my part it appears to me to be perfectly fair. Let us consider the case. You have got to assume, for the purpose of argument, that there is going to be a widespread and general dishonesty in Ireland. It must be supported by the public opinion throughout the whole of Ireland. It is said, "Oh, this Bill is only for the benefit of a limited class, and it would be unfair to punish the majority because of the failure of that limited class." Yes, Sir, but the majority are co-partners in the advantages to be derived. In the first instance, they benefit as part of the nation, if this Bill is successful, in settling the agrarian difficulty; and, in the second place, they would be particeps criminis, because you could not have a general repudiation of this kind on the part of one-fourth of the tenants unless they were supported by three fourths of the public opinion of the country. It is only if there is the general opinion of the country in favour of dishonesty coincident with an act of dishonesty on the part of the tenants that this contingency would arise. In that ease the British taxpayer would be justified in claiming from the Irish people the guarantee which he got, and claiming it to the last penny. My argument, then, is that we are free to adopt this principle of State assistance and the hypothecation of the local resources in order to guarantee any sum which may be borrowed. In adopting those principles we are convinced that they cannot by any possibility impose any risk of loss on the British taxpayer. For what are we to do this? For the plan of the Government or for the plan of the hon. Member for Cork? This is an important question. My right hon. Friend asked me if I understood all the details of that plan. Perhaps I may be described as a venturesome person, but I almost think that I do. The main features, it seems to me are per- 1564 fectly simple, clear, and intelligible to a child. In the first place, you are to exclude from the operation of the Bill all tenancies above £50, and grazing land, which amounts to 45 per cent., and you have only to deal, therefore, with 55 per cent. Secondly, you are to reduce com-pulsorily—you are to force the landlords to reduce this 55 per cent. by 30 per cent. Thirdly, you are to compensate those landlords partially by lending to them money hypothecated upon Irish resources to the extent of 20 years' purchase for the deductions they are compelled to make, by lending it to them at 4 per cent., with which they are to pay off mortgages at 6 per cent., and the profit of 2 per cent. is to go in the reduction of the loss they would make. That is the plan of the hon Member. There is one remark I wish to make at the outset. It is a very unexpected proposal from the hon. Member for Cork—at all events unexpected by us who are not in his confidence. We have always understood that the hon. Member for Cork was of opinion that the rents in Ireland at the present time were still extortionate rents. Of course, that is not the opinion of the majority of the House. Again and again the hon. Member for Cork and his friends have denounced evictions for the purpose of procuring these rents, which we are told are extorted from a reluctant and unfortunate peasantry. If that is their opinion, is it not strange that the hon. Member should seek to compensate the landlords for making reductions which in equity they ought to make without any compensation at all? "Is Saul also among the Prophets?" Has the hon. Member for Cork joined the Landlords' Convention? [Mr. W. O'BRIEN: You have joined it.] I can understand the hon. Member for Cork saying, "Rents are too high, and the landlords ought to reduce them without compensation; but as they do not do so, and as it is most important in the interests of social order that they should be reduced, I am willing to make sacrifices in order to relieve them from the loss from compulsory reduction." The other points to which I have to make reference in the hon. Member for Cork's scheme are more practical. The House will see that the hon. Member's scheme depends upon an average estimate he has made of the condition of 1565 estates in Ireland. He assumes three thing's. In the first place, he estimates that on an average 55 per cent. of the land is under £50 valuation. He estimates in the second place that all estates in Ireland are mortgaged, and in the third place that the mortgage in every case is at 6 per cent. Then he goes on to make what I believe to be the curious mistake of applying a general average as though it were applicable to every individual case. I wish to point out to the hon. Member that if you change any one of these factors you will change the whole operation of the scheme. The scheme is based upon the assumption that 55 per cent. of the estates are below £50 valuation. The hon. Member makes a calculation by which he shows that the landlord, under his proposals, ought to receive £31. I. have worked it out, and I make it £30 2s., but it does not much matter. Under the hon. Member's scheme the landlord would gain £31 as against £27 10s., which he would have under the Bill. That is quite true; but if the proportion of lands under £50 valuation were 75 per cent., which I undertake to say it is on a great number of estates, then, instead of the landlord gaining £3 10s. or £2 10s., he would l>se£l. He would get £26 or £27 instead of £31. Then the assumption is that all estates in Ireland are mortgaged. But there are a certain number which are not mortgaged, and what are you going to do in the case of these? Are you going to lend money to the landlord that he may speculate on the Stock Exchange to enable him to make 6 per cent., for unless he makes 6 per cent. he does not make the profit the hon. Member intends to give him. Some gentlemen, I know, have not a penny mortgage upon their estates; it is no use offering them money to play ducks and drakes with, or in order that they may lay it out in Consols at 3 percent.; they would lose by such a loan. Take the third assumption, the question of the interest on the mortgage. The hon. Member says the landlord would have 2 per cent. profit, because he would borrow at 4 per cent. and pay 6 per cent. But suppose he pays 5 per cent.? I always understood that the rate at which mortgages were carried out on land, in Ireland at all events, until the recent bitterness, was 5 per cent., and in some cases where 1566 the mortgage was small it was even less. At any rate, any variation of the interest alters the calculation. These are practical difficulties, but I do not put them forward as fatal to the scheme of the hon. Member. If you adopt his scheme as a final and complete solution you will have a solution which is not uniform, which varies in every different case, and which does not present proper guarantees for finality. The hon. Member told us that the scheme of the Government dealt only with one-quarter of the tenants of Ireland. But at least it deals with that fourth completely, and settles the question so far as they are concerned. The hon. Member proposes to deal with only one-half of the land of Ireland, and to deal with that incompletely. I think it would be much more easy to extend and develop and complete the scheme of the Government than the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork. The hon. Member has excluded from the benefit of his scheme 45 per cent. of the tenants. Does he think they are going to remain satisfied while their neighbours are having a reduction of 30 per cent. in rent? Does he imagine that a man having a farm valued at £55 a year will remain satisfied to pay that amount when his neighbour gets a reduction of £15 a year? The thing cannot last a moment: if you draw a broad and definite line there must be dissatisfaction on the one side or the other. Consider the case of the tenant who gets a reduction: in that case, is it absolutely certain that we shall have reached a final and absorute settlement? What reason have we to believe that tenants who have got, by successive stages, infinitely more than was asked for them by reformers of the past, like Mr. Butt, and who are still discontented—is it reasonable to suppose that they will be contented when you have taken another slice off the cake of the land? In one of his speeches the hon. Member for Cork said that he did not believe in any scheme so long as a chance remained of friction in consequence of the conflicting interests of landlord and tenant. Under these circumstances I cannot regard the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork as complete or final, I cannot regard it as a scheme which could be safely substituted for the plan of the Government. The Government have offered, by 1567 the mouth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to include the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork in the Bill. Is it well to jeer at an offer of that kind made by way of concession? The hon. Member for Cork made an appeal to the House that this matter might be his-cussed without Party feeling. I have treated it in that light. I think the Government made the offer without Party feeling; they made an offer which many hon. Members behind must have thought not only extremely liberal, but perhaps a little unwise. But I am dealing with matters as they stand; that offer has been made, and I am bound to say that there are some advantages in accepting it. If you put the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork side by side with the Bill, you would extend the area and scope of the Bill. Undoubtedly, with your resources, you would be able to do more than under the scheme of the Bill as it stands. You would do more; you would give a double option to the landlords. Many landlords may refuse to sell under the Bill—I am speaking of good landlords, who may refuse to sell because they do not desire to break up old associations with the country in which their forefathers lived and died—those landlords are just the people who might be glad if an option of this kind were given to take the opportunity to fine down their rents. Therefore, it seems to me there might be provided an alternative settlement which might be preferred in some cases to settlement under the scheme of the Government. Although I would not substitute it for the Government scheme, yet I think the plan of the hon. Member might be adopted as a concurrent plan. I am told that the hon. Member is said to have informed a news agency—though I do not place credence on this—that he regarded the offer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a trap, and that the scheme of the Government would edge out and choke up his plan altogether, and that it would be a mere farce to introduce the two plans in one Bill. I take it that the hon. Member believes the offer of the Government to be honestly made, and I do not believe that he thought there was any attempt to catch him in a trap. If he thinks there is any fear that the funds at the disposal of the authorities under this scheme would, without special pro- 1568 visions, be devoted entirely to one of the alternative schemes, it would be possible to put into the Bill something which would provide that a portion of the funds should be devoted to carrying out the hon Member's scheme. That would be consistent with the offer of the Government, and a proof of their good faith and intention that both schemes should run side by side. I have said I want to discuss this without Party feeling. I want to see whether it may not be possible to make some further concessions, or to go some distance further to meet the opposition declared against the Bill. In the first place, it seems to me, we might give further consideration to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork to limit the operation of this Bill to estates under £50. There is nothing in the proposal which is hostile to the principle of the Bill, because the Bill provides a limit already, only it is a limit of £5,000. Though I admit the difficulty of drawing a fast line, I do not myself think it would be undesirable to still further limit that maximum; and I think especially a provision might be made that in those estates in which tenancies of a larger valuation form a large proportion, that there, at all events, the estate might be divided, and only that portion purchased which consisted of smaller properties. In that way I think we might get the practical result of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cork. But there is one other point of very much greater importance. It is the objection which the hon. Member took to the hypothecation of the resources of the Local Authorities without their consent. I think the Government themselves will admit that this was a very strong thing to do. You have only got to test it by considering what would be the result of applying it to England or Scotland. What would be said if you were to mortgage the resources of the great municipalities of Great Britain without consulting them as to the employment which should be made of those funds? I do not hesitate to say there would be a pretty kettle of fish if anything of the sort were attempted. I admit, therefore, the objection of the hon. Member impressed me most strongly. I think it is a very serious objection, and coupled with it comes the objection of the right 1569 hon. Member for Mid Lothian—namely, that we were putting the country into the position of State landlords. Well, Sir, I agree that if you put the British Government into direct communication with the Irish tenant, and make the British Government the rent-collector, you are paving the way for very considerable friction and irritation, and possibly even danger. Now, in reference to this matter my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian paid me the greatest compliment I have ever received in my life. He quoted some language attributed to me in a pamphlet by the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn. He said this language was inaccurate and untruthful, and went on to say under these circumstances nothing ever would induce him to believe I had said it. That was a great compliment, which I accept in all humility. I think it is very much for the right hon. Gentleman, after his experience, to be able to say of me he has so much confidence in my general truthfulness and accuracy that he cannot believe that, under any circumstances, or in a particular case, I could have used these words. I hope I shall justify that good opinion. The passage which was attributed to me by the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, although quoted without the context, is a passage which I adopt and admit. Those words were used by me in describing the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, and I hope I shall be able to show him they were perfectly accurate. Now, what was the provision which my right hon. Friend made in his Bill? He proposed that the rents of Ireland, after the transfer had taken place, should be collected by sub-receivers or rent-collectors, who were to be appointed and paid by the Irish Parliament; that those sub-receivers and rent-collectors were to pay the rents into the hands of the Receiver-General, who was to take the proper amount for the instalments and interest, and hand back the balance to the Irish Parliament.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
He was to pay them into ageneral fund, which was to include all Irish receipts whatever, and to take out of that fund whatever was 1570 due to the British Government, and he was to take no cognizance of rents at all.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Quite so. I quite understand, and I am sorry I did not make it clear. The Receiver-General had no cognizance of rents; all he had cognizance of was the debt to the British Exchequer, and out of the fund in his hand he had not merely to pay the debt for instalments and Sinking Fund, but also to pay for the proportion of Ireland in respect of the military expenditure and the interest on the loan. Now, I want the House to follow. Suppose there were an agitation in Ireland of the kind suggested in reference to this Bill, a general dishonesty, a general repudiation, a general determination not to pay rents. The people who were influencing the tenants in order to get them to adopt a general repudiation would have at least an equal influence upon the Irish Parliament, or the people who elect the Irish Parliament. What would be easier than for the Irish Parliament to give orders to the receivers, who were their servants, whom they would pay, not to collect a penny of the rents? Where, then, would you be? That was the ease I was contemplating in the speech in which I said the British Government will be the landlords of Ireland, and in that case they will have to proceed to collect the rents which the Irish Parliament will not collect, and collect them at the point of the bayonet. My right hon. Friend may say, "No, that would not be necessary, because the Receiver-General would have the whole resources of Ireland in his hands." But how do the resources come into his hands? They would come into his hands through the tax-collectors who were appointed and paid by the Irish Parliament.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
"The law of Ireland!" Well, that is an idea. They are appointed by the Irish Parliament, 6r some official of the Irish Parliament, and they are absolutely tinder the control of the Irish Parliament, and, under the circumstances I have named, it would be just as easy for the Irish Parliament to pass a Resolution ordering these tax-collectors not to pay to the Receiver General as to order the receivers of rent not to collect the rents, 1571 and, therefore, I say that, in my opinion, I was strictly correct and accurate in the language which I used. I felt bound to say on what ground and in what view I used this language, and I confess I cannot see that in using it I have deviated in the slightest degree from the strictest accuracy. After all, the important part is this, and here I admit the case of my right hon. Friend against me. He says, "When you were discussing my Bill you condemned State landlordism—what are you going to say about this?" I say that my objection to the Bill of 1886 holds in part, though not quite in the same degree, to the proposals in this Bill. I say in part and not in the same degree because we have got for the first time the hypothecation of local resources. In the Bill of my right hon. Friend I could not see, and I never have seen, any possible alternative in the case of repudiation of rent, except the recon-quest of the country by arms, but under this Bill, if there were this general repudiation, we have got the right to stop the payments to the Local Authorities, and we are, therefore, absolutely safe. But, although that makes the objection less strong and less vital, it still leaves, in my mind, the objection which I took against the Bill of my right hon. Friend. I do not think it is safe; I think it will tend to provoke irritation and friction if you have the British authority in close communication with the Irish tenant. And now I come to my point—is it not possible for us to go further to meet my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Cork? The hon. Member for Cork claimed that the assent of the Local Authority should be given, or, failing that, that the consent of the majority of the Irish Representatives should be asked. Why should not we ask the assent of the Local Authority? [An IRISH MEMBER: We have got none.] Quite true, and I do not suppose it would satisfy hon. Members below the Gangway if the Grand Jury were inserted. But the Government are pledged to bring in a Local Government Bill. Do you doubt they mean to carry out that promise? But they do. It has often struck me before how very ridiculous hon. Members below the Gangway sometimes make themselves. There are hon. Members below the Gangway who 1572 want this Local Government Bill, but who do not believe the Government are serious in wishing to bring it in, who think they would be glad of any excuse for delay, and yet they are actually playing into the hands of the Government by doing everything they can to make impossible the production of this Bill which they desire. If we were to agree upon this Bill, and clear it out of the way, there is no reason why the Local Government Bill should not be brought in this Session and passed this Session. I confess I should have thought it a question of elementary politics, if hon. Members desire to discuss the Local Government Bill, to give every assistance to get all other business out of the way. Whether the Local Government Bill is brought in this year or next year, we are told by the Government it is to assimilate in the main the system in Ireland to the system in England and Scotland, and, therefore, it is not a very great assumption to suppose it will contain provisions for County Councils. Now, I want to ask the Government to consider this point. May it not be possible to give an assurance on this matter, if by giving an assurance they can in any way promote the general policy of this Bill? I do not say they ought to make concessions to gentlemen who only receive them with jeers, and who treat them as a trap into which they are to fall; but if there be, on the part of hon. Members below the Gangway and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, any desire to deal with this question without relation to Party politics, then I want to ask the Government whether they cannot consider this great concession; whether they cannot say that when the County Councils are established in Ireland they shall have a voice in the negotiations which will take place in regard to the transfer of land; that they shall have a veto over those transactions; that they shall have an interest in their success and a portion of the sum which will be received from the tenant in the shape of rent; that they shall become the landlord; and that their duties shall be confined to paying over to the British Exchequer that portion of the rent which belongs to the British Exchequer for the instalments. Just let us see what are the advantages of this plan. In the first place you get 1573 rid of the communication between the Government and the tenant. The Irish authority, which is the landlord, will have assented to the purchase. The Irish authority will have the profit, and if the profit which the Government have allotted be not sufficient, I think it would be very easy to increase that profit; because it docs appear to me to be a very strong thing to offer to the tenant, as a temptation to become the owner of his land, not only an immediate reduction of 20 per cent., but five years hence a further deduction of 12 per cent. I would reserve that 12 per cent. to the Local Authorities, and in that case you would have this largo profit for the Local Authority which would belong to all the ratepayers, so that all the ratepayers would be benefited alike, and not merely this limited and privileged class. That is a proposal which I press upon the attention of the Government. Now, let us consider what is the objection to it. There is only one objection I have ever heard made to this proposal, and that is that if you were to put it in the hands of the Local Authority the Local Authority would be in the hands of the National League, and the National League would have power over their operations, and might stop them at any time and in any district in which they desired to do so. There is no doubt that is a danger, and it is just as well to look it in the face: but I do not believe it is so dangerous as is supposed. In the first place I would point out that if the National League has this influence over the Local Authority, they have pretty nearly the same influence now over the tenants, and what the National League would then get the Local Authority to do they could now get the tenants to do. The result would be very much the same. But my main reason for not attaching importance to this objection is that I do not believe that even the National League could carry out a system of this kind against the will of the tenants over the whole of Ireland. They might be able to do it here and there; but I think if they did they would run a great risk of destroying whatever authority they previously possessed; and I am perfectly certain that if they attempted to do it all over Ireland, and if you suppose, as we do suppose, the tenants would be desirous of 1574 purchasing, the attempt would break down, just as the No-rent manifesto broke down, and as other attempts to interfere with the proceedings to which the tenants were committed have broken down. Now, Sir, I have suggested this Amendment as bearing upon the speech of the hon. Member for Cork, who distinctly asked that if the local resources were to be hypothecated the Local Authority should be consulted. But just let us see, if we came to an agreement on this point, how it would meet the objections of my right hon. Friend. I venture to say that it meets at once three out of four vital objections of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). It meets the objection that Irish assent is not asked; it meets the objection that the State would be the landlord; and it meets the objection that the tenant would be under coercion, because I suppose it would be admitted that the Local Authority would be able to protect him against abuse on the part of the landlord. Then what remains of my right hon. Friend's vital objections is the objection to the use of State credit. As regards that I venture to say, in the presence of my right hon. Friend, that that is not his personal objection. That is an objection he takes in deference to what he believes to have been the opinion of the constituencies at the last General Election. He told us in his speech the other night that he still considers the British people, being responsible for much that is going on in Ireland, owe an obligation to that country which they ought to meet. I may, therefore, with regard to this last objection of my right hon. Friend put into his mouth the words of Prior—In the dispute, whate'er I said,My heart was by my tongue belied;And in my looks you might have readHow much I argu'd on your side.Now, Sir, I hope I have treated the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork fairly. I hope I have followed the injunction given, not only by the hon. Member for Cork, but also by my right hon. Friend, to those who should succeed them, to speak in this matter without Party feeling. I desire, and I have expressed again and again in public a desire, that this question should be taken out of Party politics. Is there any question which 1575 can come before this House which is less a question for virulent Party controversy than the Irish land question? Why, we are all agreed, at all events, on some of the principles involved in this matter. We are all agreed—even the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), who now puts forward an alternative scheme, is agreed—in favour of the great extension of peasant proprietorship. We are all agreed that this alteration must be carried out in some way or another, with or without the assistance of the State—I do not now say by what method. I believe I may say we are all agreed on the principle of the hypothecation of Irish resources; because the hon. Member for Cork has given his adhesion, and my right hon. Friends on these benches will, of course, accept his view so far as it relates to a purely Irish question. I say, then, we are all agreed as to some of the main principles, but that is not all. We want to get this question out of the way. The interests of all parties point in the same direction. The Home Rulers want to get it out of the way because they say it will clear the way for an Irish Parliament. We want to get it out of the way because we say that when the land difficulty is settled we do not believe there will be any need for an Irish Parliament. You may think we are wrong, as we think you are wrong; but let us come to an issue. Is it not true that the real interests of Irishmen are involved in a settlement of this question? Is it not true that these national interests are greater than Party interests, and that they are intimately concerned in the immediate settlement of this question? Is it not desirable, is it not possible, in these circumstances, to make some concessions, some sacrifices it may be, to secure an arrangement which will be a national and not a Party settlement, and which, because it is a national settlement, will have an infinitely greater chance of having a permanent and beneficial effect?
§ (7.8.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I have listened with great interest and attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend. I think the House will have felt that he was skating on thin ice, and that he performed the figure of 8 with that agility and skill he usually displays. I could not help asking myself during his speech this question—is this speech 1576 a speech in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill, or is it a speech against it? What is it we are discussing here tonight? Is it the speech and plan of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), or the speech and plan of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain)? I have no objection to discuss and debate a plan of land purchase by my right hon. Friend. I have spent many weeks and months of my life in discussing many of his land purchase plans. They have all been ingenious and remarkable, but they have all been different. I have heard a new plan from him to-night with great interest and instruction. When he puts it in the form of a Bill and proposes it for Second Reading I shall be very glad to discuss it in this House. But there was one thing my right hon. Friend hardly discussed tonight at all, and that was the Bill of Her Majesty's Government. He was very full of the plan of the hon. Member for Cork. Well, that is not before us. I have not heard that the Government have incorporated it in their Bill, nor that they are prepared to incorporate the plan of my right hon. Friend. If they are prepared to incorporate both I think the best thing they can do is to withdraw this Bill and bring in another. My right hon. Friend made a good many objections which he said were fatal to the plan of the hon. Member for Cork. He said it did not settle the question, because it proposed only to deal with estates under £50, and he proceeded in the latter part of his speech to propose that the Government should confine their Bill to estates under £50.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not say that. I said that although I saw great difficulty in making any limitation, I thought the limitation of the Government might be further reduced, especially in the case of certain classes of estates.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I understood my right hon. Friend to adopt the plan and the figure of the hon. Member for Cork.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
And I am not surprised, because among the many plans which I have had the honour of discussing with my right hon. Friend was one for limiting purchases under £30 rental. But of all the things my right hon. 1577 Friend has said, the most important and the one in which I most entirely concur with him is that it is impossible to work this Bill or any other plan of land purchase until you have established a system of Local Government in Ireland through which you may obtain the consent of the Irish people, and under which you may work the plan of land purchase through and by the Irish people. That is the position we have always taken up with reference to laud purchase. That was the policy of 1886. You may differ from us. I will not quarrel with my right hon. Friend as to what should be the character of that Local Government. He would not go so far in the powers of that Local Government as we propose to go. I will not enter into that. I take this fundamental position: that you cannot hypothecate Irish funds, you cannot deal with Irish rents, except with the consent of the people and through the agency of Local Government That is the basis which my right hon. Friend accepts. I accept it too; but then what is the conclusion from that? That you cannot go a step in this matter until you have let us see and know what is your plan of Local Government. Why surely my right hon. Friend is too good a man of business to suppose that we are going to vote this £33,000,000 of money which is to be raised upon British credit and in respect of which all the local resources of Ireland are to be hypothecated, without our knowing what the Local Government, which is to be the guarantor of the money, is to be. Of all proposals that is certainly one to buy a pig in a poke. I never heard of so absurd a proposal as that we are to pass the Second Reading of this Bill without knowing what the new Local Government of Ireland is to be. Therefore, of all the declarations that have been made none can be more important than that which was made by my right hon. Friend to-night. My right hon. Friend desires that this question shall be discussed without Party spirit. I am ready to meet him in that; but what I say is that before you can deal with the land purchase question you must first settle the principle of the Local Government of the country. That is the very root of the argument of my right hon. Friend. It is the central principle upon which everything else rests, and therefore let us go to work at once and settle what 1578 the Local Government of Ireland is to be. We, however, in this House of Commons cannot treat the Bill of Her Majesty's Government, I will not say with the contempt, but with the indifference which has been shown towards it by my right hon. Friend. Alter all, there is a Government, and the Government have a Bill, although my right hon. Friend has said nothing about it except in disparagement of it; but we are discussing its Second Reading, and I must regard it as existent as long as it is upon the Orders of the Day. Therefore, although my right hon. Friend challenges us, and indeed almost taunts us, into putting the Government Bill aside in order to discuss the proposals of the hon. Member for Cork and of himself, merely from Parliamentary decency I would ask leave to say a word upon the Bill of the Government as it stands before us. I will not enter into the controversy which my right hon. Friend invites us, I may almost say taunts us, to plunge into, because, even when he is in his most conciliatory mood, my right hon. Friend always mixes with his oil a little vinegar, so as to make the salad of his speeches agreeable to the palate. The right hon. Gentleman has to-night shown the qualities he always displays. He is an amiable character, and he has proffered himself as the godfather of bantlings that very often are not avowed by their putative fathers, and he is ready to promise and vow anything in the names of the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork, of the plan of Her Majesty's Government, and even of his own plan, as long as the principle of land purchase in Ireland bears his own hallmark. The only thing in the course of my right hon. Friend's speech that was not condemnatory of the Government Bill was something he thought it necessary to say in justification of his own consistency. I do not, I confess, exactly know what my right hon. Friend's present position is in the matter: but he appeared to complain that in a certain brief correspondence which we have had I affirmed the cardinal principle to be that the credit of the British Exchequer was not to be placed at risk. Well, I do not understand that he denies that that is the position, although I admit that he is perfectly consistent, because in all the discussions, public or private, that have passed between my right hon. 1579 Friend and myself, the great claim he has put forward as the merit of his own scheme has been that it would not pledge English credit. But the right hon. Gentleman says to-night, "I admit that British credit is at risk in the Bill of the Government." And yet he claims to he consistent. My right hon. Friend has made several very important statements to-night. He has made one statement of which I think the House and the country should take note, and that is that the electorate of Great Britain, at the last Election declared against pledging British credit, although he says that that was not his opinion, nor was it the opinion of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. Now, I want to ask, Is British credit pledged in this Bill, and is the British Treasury at risk under it? I think I shall be able to show that there is no other credit at risk under this Bill, and that the whole risk falls, and must fall, upon the British taxpayer. That is the direct issue I take with my right hon. Friend, and, if I persuade him of that, then he admits he will be inconsistent in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. What is the professed object of the Bill? It professes to solve the Irish agrarian question, and thereby also to get rid of the political difficulties between England and Ireland. It is supposed that you are to achieve those ends by buying out the landlords in Ireland, and by putting an end to dual ownership, which is assumed to be a great evil. I have often observed in politics that what are laid down as axioms are generally fallacies, and I myself have never accepted the proposition that dual ownership is necessarily an evil. I am not singular in holding that opinion. I have seen a letter from the Marquess of Waterford, and I have read speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, in which dual ownership is held to be a very good thing, and is asserted to be the only tenure which has been successful in Ireland, and upon which all the reforms of the Irish Land Law have hitherto been based. Dual ownership is an excellent tenure in many countries of Europe. John Stuart Mill considered that in Tuscany and elsewhere dual ownership was a good thing. Dual ownership is a good thing when there are good dual owners fairly dealing the 1580 one by the other, and the failure of it in Ireland is in consequence of the manner in which it has been worked in that country. What you propose by this Bill is to get rid of dual ownership. What does that mean? You are going to buy out the Irish landlords. You are going to get rid of the English Garrison. We have heard harsh language used about the landowners of Ireland; but was there ever such a condemnation of them as a class as the proposal under this Bill to get rid of them altogether? Can anything more harsh be said of these Irish landlords than that they, having had the welfare of the Irish people at their mercy for three centuries, have so misused their powers and have so abused their privileges that the first condition, in your opinion, for the restoration of peace and prosperity in Ireland must be the expropriation of their class? That is the real meaning of the proposal in this Bill to get rid of dual ownership in Ireland, and it is the most severe censure that has ever been passed upon the landlords of Ireland. It is said that the Irish landlords themselves are willing to go, and that the only question they are likely to raise is how many years' purchase they are to get for their land, and that if they get enough the English Garrison are willing to evacuate the fort. You may attempt to solve the agrarian question by this Bill; but you will be entirely mistaken if you think you will solve the political question by it. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite cherish the belief that the only question in Ireland is the land question; that there is no national question behind it; and that there is no desire on the part of the Irish people for self-government. We on this side of the House, however, think differently. It seems to me that this Bill puts forward this great scheme something in the style of a quack medicine advertisement, or of the prospectus of a bubble company. The proposal of the Government is to cure all diseases, and is going to give everybody everything out of nothing. The tenant is to have his rent 20 per cent. lower; the landlord is to sell with the greatest facility property for which there has been no sale; while the British taxpayer, who is to go bail for them all, is to have no burden whatever thrown upon him. I have never seen the prospectus of a 1581 bubble company which promised more. For my part, I am only playing the humble part of an accountant who desires to investigate the nature of the securities upon which the whole proposal is based and of the liabilities which are to be incurred in carrying it out. Let us look for a moment at these securities, which appear so satisfactory to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain). The first great beneficiary under this Bill is to be the tenant, who is to pay 20 per cent. less rent than he does at present, and to enable that object to be attained the local funds of Ireland and the Imperial Treasury of Great Britain are to be pledged. Hither the rents are 20 per cent. too high or they are not. If they are 20 per cent. too high it is the landlord who ought to reduce them, and they ought not to be reduced by pledging the resources either of Great Britain or Ireland. But if they are not 20 per cent. too high, why are we to pledge the resources of Ireland and the funds of England in order to give a limited class of tenants, only one-fourth of the tenants of Ireland, land at a rent which is 20 per cent. below the fair value? Why are we to give the Irish tenant any more than the English tenant land at a rent below its real value, and for that purpose to pledge—what? Not his resources, but the resources of the whole community. You are going to substitute the English State for the landlord in Ireland. Then at least let the English State have a fair rent, neither a rent that is too high nor a rent that is too low. You say that you have introduced this Bill to settle the land question of Ireland; hut will this Bill do it? You provide a scheme under which one-fourth of the tenants of Ireland, at the very most, will be dealt with. That is no settlement at all; it is an un-settlement of everything that exists at present. You have now a settlement upon the basis of judicial rent, determined by a Court which applies to all the tenants of Ireland. Your Bill creates by the side of the judicial rent another rent, which is to be 20 per cent. below the judicial rent. Thus you overthrow absolutely the existing settlement, and introduce a new one which deals only with one-fourth of the tenants. What are you going to do with the other three-fourths? They will be more dis- 1582 contented than ever; they will be more the prey of agitators than ever; and they will be discontented for the best possible reasons. Pass your Bill, and it will give rise to new and extended demands which you will not be able to resist, because yon have no argument to adduce against them. What will the tenants who have not bought say to the landlords who have not sold? The tenants will say, "You must sell, or we will not pay you rent. There is no reason in the world why we should pay 20 per cent. more than our favoured neighbours." Then there will be the mortgagee, who will say, "The mortgagee of the adjacent property has got his money out of the fund provided by Government. I want my money, and you must sell in order that I may get it." Therefore in the long run the sale of properties must become compulsory, and what will be the consequence? You have taken £33,000,000 to deal with one-fourth of the tenants, and if it is absolutely necessary, in the circumstances, as I say it is, that you should deal with the remainder, it is plain that you must have three times that amount in addition to the sum already taken, and the liability for these subsequent millions must rest, without even the pretence of any interposition, upon the British Exchequer. You say you will obtain great benefit by making these tenants freeholders; but if I read your Bill aright, you do not make them freeholders in any sense of the word. For half a century they will only be tenants, tenants under inspection, men paying instalments, who, if those instalments fail, can be evicted at any moment. In the 21st clause of the Bill you will find the conditions laid down under which these men, whom you choose to call owners, can be compelled to leave their homes. In examining this Eldorado scheme, under which everybody is to pick up gold, let us consider where the gold is to come from. Unquestionably a great bonus is offered by the Bill. I will not discuss who is to get the lion's share of it. In my opinion, it will sometimes be the landlord; sometimes it may be the tenant. But I want to know whore the money is coming from. Only one thing is a certainty, namely, that the landlord is to get money for his land which he cannot get now, and the sum which the landlords are to get 1583 you compute at present at £33,000,000. This money is to be paid to people who may, and probably will, take it out of Ireland, and I wonder how that is going to improve the condition of the country. This is a heavy price to pay to got rid of the class whom you treat, and perhaps rightly treat, as the men who are the curse of Ireland. Let us see what is thought of your securities by the landlords. You create a land stock, and you also provide that if the landlords do not like the land stock they may have Consols. Why is that? Because they do not trust your land stock security. If it were good for anything, your land stock would stand at a higher price than Consols. It is because it is known that your land security is not good that the landlords are given the choice of Consols, and they would be great fools if they did not choose Consols. You may wrap it up in whatever verbiage you like; but this is a plan by which the English Treasury—that is to say, the British taxpayer—is going to buy Irish-land to the extent of £33,000,000 sterling at a price which cannot be obtained in the market, and to receive in respect of that land rent less by 20 per cent. than it at present yields. A pretty commercial land transaction for the English Treasury and the English taxpayer to be involved in. Prudent people are sometimes apt to make it a condition in settlements, or in their wills, that trust money shall not be put into Irish land; but here are the Trustees of the English nation, of the taxpayers, about to invest tens of millions, and ultimately hundreds of millions, of English money in the purchase of land which they know not to be marketable. You say you have ample security. What is it? The first security, of course, is the land, and you are going to begin by advancing on the land four-fifths or nearly the whole of the value. Who would lend four-fifths of the value upon English land? Here upon Irish land you begin your transactions by advancing four-fifths of the value, in spite of the agrarian, the social, and the political condition of Ireland. To use a technical phrase, I believe it is correct to say you are going to buy Irish land on the 2¾ per cent. table, when you know perfectly well that ordinary transactions in that land would be upon the 5 or 6 per cent. table, if you 1584 were to buy land in the market at all. The recoupment of this money is to be extended over 50 years—over half a century in which you will have to encounter the vicissitudes of seasons and the chances of political change; and you have left no margin upon the land itself. A famine may come, and the landlords who have not sold must reduce their rent because they cannot collect it. Do you think the English State, standing-side by side with these landlords who have not sold, can collect the rent of land? Of course it cannot; and if it cannot it falls back upon the securities which lie behind. And I ask the House to consider what those securities are. I say that, taking the land itself, it is an absolutely insufficient security; no man can pretend that the land we propose to buy is a security for the money; and you admit that, because you set to work to reinforce it by security after security which you pile one upon the other. It is like children on the seashore building one wall of sand around another until a wave comes and they all disappear. Under your Bill you may call the State either a creditor or a landlord; in fact, the State would be both. And what State? It is the English State. I was quite surprised the other night to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say it did not signify whether it was the English State or the Irish State, and that it was all the same thing. I confess I thought that argument was not worthy of the high intelligence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This rent will have to be collected by the English State which exists in Ireland only by the sword and under a régime of coercion. That is to be the rent-collector of Ireland. A hundred years ago would the Chancellor of the Exchequer have said it did not signify who collected the Tea Duty in Boston—whether it was collected by the State of Massachusetts or by the English Government? Why, it makes all the difference whether you are going to collect rent by an authority which enjoys the confidence of and acts in sympathy with the people, or whether you put the rent collection in the hands of an authority which is hated by the people. What is your case? Your case is that agrarian troubles in Ireland have been caused by political agitation. If that has been so in the past, is it not going to be 1585 so in the future? You say, as the Commission said, that the object of the Land League was to get rid of the English Garrison; and you are going to buy out the English Garrison. When the English Garrison has evacuated, the English creditor will stand in the place of the English Garrison. Why, then, should not political agitators use exactly the same arguments against the English Treasury that they used against the English Garrison, if they are actuated by political motives and seek political objects? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said he could not believe that such a course would be pursued, and he thought that nothing like a strike against rent would be attempted in this case. Really his memory sometimes fails him. I do not desire to fix him with a tu quoque; but I find a passage in which, speaking of the Ashbourne Act, he said—If the expense of this transaction is gradually increased, and if the number of debtors to the State become very large, nothing; would be easier than for agitators at some favourable time or after a bad harvest to bring about a strike against the payment of interest just as they have brought about a strike against the payment of rent.That is a very real fear, and several Members have used the same argument that the collection of rent will be endangered by political agitation. But, says the right hon. Member, that will be against the self-interest of the purchasers, and therefore you may rely upon them. Well, it is your case that the Plan of Campaign has been against the interest of the tenants; and yet they have pursued it. My right hon. Friend referred to the case of New Tipperary. Why, there men have suffered eviction and have sacrificed their homes and their fortunes to carry out objects that they thought were great and worthy objects; and they have sacrificed that self-interest on which my right hon. Friend relies with so much confidence for the security of this £33,000,000 of English money. Where will your £33,000,000 be when the English Treasury is called upon to evict the Irish tenants? Why do you not anticipate that there may be a Plan of Campaign against the British Treasury? Why do you not anticipate that when you have land thrown upon your hands it may be boycotted in the market? If your story is true 1586 that these agrarian questions are really raised for political motives it is just as likely to be true in the future as it has been in the past. There was a Roman Emperor who wished the people had but one neck in. order that he might strike at all with one blow; and here you offer to political agitation a single neck in the form of the British Treasury. As my right hon. Friend said, local Government lies at the root of the whole question. You cannot settle this land question until you make a political peace with Ireland. Until you have political peace you will have no agrarian peace; until you have political and agrarian peace you cannot deal with this question of land purchase in Ireland with any security, nor can you advance money from the British Treasury unless it is secured, not by paper security, but by the constancy and the loyalty of a friendly people. Therefore, I take this principle as lying at the root of the whole matter—the consent of the nation through its Local Government and its National Representatives and the political peace to be brought about by giving contentment to the Irish people. If you push matters to this extremity, that you place the English nation in the situation of becoming the evictor from land in Ireland, you may depend upon it Home Rule will come in a way I do not wish to see it come; because the English people would find themselves in a situation with reference to Ireland of either having to surrender these vast advances or of taking a course with reference to the people, which I venture to say that public opinion would not support. According to the Bill, land being the first security, eviction must be the first remedy for non-payment; that must come before every other security. You have no right to come upon a surety until you have gone against the principal; and the principal is the land. If any default takes place the first duty is to proceed to eviction. If that fails it is a remarkable thing; it is worthy of observation that there are all sorts of provisions as to what you are going to do if you find the land will not sell. Look at Clauses 19 and 20 and see how the Government is going to manage and farm land itself. This provision is made because it is seen that it is likely to be needed. But the Government is not 1587 like an individual landowner who may have a farm here and there thrown on its hands. If the British Government has one farm it will have all that is represented by the £33,000,000. You have behind yon what the Chief Secretary calls three impossibilities, securities which he considers protect the British Treasury with a triple wall of brass. It seems to me that the brass is rather in the assertion than in the securities. The hypothecation of local funds, in my opinion, is utterly worthless. Take the first of these three impossibilities. As to the cash guarantee from the Exchequer contributions, is it possible to maintain that while you give these contributions to England and Scotland without conditions, you can hypothecate them for the sake of a handful of tenants in Ireland? You can do nothing of the kind. As the hon. Member for Cork said, the proposal is monstrous and absurd; as it is not a general settlement, but deals only with one-fourth or one-fifth of the tenants, it is so utterly unjust and unjustifiable that it cannot be sustained for a moment. Then you have actually seized upon the county percentage of a quarter per cent. and impounded it as one of your guarantees. These rates ought to be devoted to the benefit of the whole community, and not to make a market for the land of certain landlords and a reduction of rent for certain tenants. I submit that that is a most improper hypothecation of the public funds. Those grants are in relief of the agricultural interest, and are really part of the resources out of which the rent ought to be earned. If that be so, what an idle thing it is to take away those resources and use them as a security for the payment of the rent. Your second resource is the grants for Local Government in Ireland. That amounts to a proposal to break up the whole social system of the counties in that country, and you employ those grants for the benefit of an inconsiderable fraction of the tenants of Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night said you did not talk of imposing obligations where the obligations were such as the people were delighted to take, and he added that the Scotch tenants would be delighted to get such terms. My right hon. Friend was not speaking of the Scotch tenants who 1588 got the boon, but of the people who did not get the boon, and had to bear the burden. Here you are hypothecating these funds which are provided for the benefit of people who get nothing under your Bill. That is the thing against which we protest. It is like drawing a bill in favour of one man, and putting on the back the name of another without his consent. You cannot enforce that security, and, therefore, it is perfectly illusory. It is exactly the same with your third security—an assessment to be imposed by the Grand Jury or the Lord Lieutenant. Who supposes that such an assessment can be imposed? I do not know whether I need mention the Tenants' Insurance Fund. It is proposed, as I understand the Bill, that if the land is held at 20 per cent. there is no margin for insurance; but when you hold the land below 20 per cent. there is. In fact, the more you pay, the less insurance, and the less you pay, the more insurance you have. I venture to say that is a correct representation of the Tenants' Insurance Fund, one of the many funds which are to protect the British taxpayer. Then you are to buy arrears, and you are to treat them as assets. These are the securities which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham says protect the British taxpayer. These guarantees are a confiscation of the local assets of the country, and without the consent of the people they are to be applied for the benefit of a few individuals. To call them guarantees is a mere abuse of terms, for they never can be enforced. The Secretary for Ireland called them "three impossibilities," and so they are; but only because it is impossible they can ever be enforced. Take your securities into the City of London and see what you can get for them. Why did not my right hon. Friend make it one of his recommendations to the Government that the Consols should be struck out of the Bill? Let the Chancellor of the Exchequer go to the Bank of England, or to the houses of Rothschild or Baring, and find how much of the £33,000,000 they will give him on the security of the"three impossibilities."I think they will bow him very politely out of their parlours. Why not ask the landlords to take them? I should like to see the face of 1589 the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson), or of the landlord's agent, the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W.Russell), if they were asked to take the security without the Consols. You seek to make the Irish people guarantee the security against their will. They repudiate it, and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham supports them in that repudiation. You have no right to hypothecate their funds without their consent. They have a perfect right to say,"Non hœc in fœdera veni." It is like asking a man to sign an accommodation bill and telling him he will never be called upon to pay. That is the real nature of the liabilities under this Bill. I have endeavoured to deal with the points upon which my right hon. Friend challenged me. He said, "Prove to me that there is risk to the English Exchequer under this Bill, and I admit I ought to oppose it." I maintain there is no one of those securities which ever can be realised that gives the smallest security in case of the repudiation or non-payment of these instalments to the British Treasury. It is hardly necessary, in the presence of enormous figures and transactions of this kind, to mention smaller matters. But there is one important thing in point of principle. As I understand, the costs of ascertaining the title and of the transfer will be paid by the British taxpayer directly. The established principle, as in the case of the Charity Commissioners, has always been that those costs should fall on the estate.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then I am wrong on that point. Perhaps I have spoken too long; but I have endeavoured to address myself directly to the question as to who is to be responsible, and where the liability is. I need hardly say I agree to what was said by my right hon. Friend about the folly of trying to settle the land question without the counsels of the Irish people and without the advice and goodwill of their Representatives. All Governments have been to blame in that. I have no faith in those schemes for the betterment of Ireland which come out of Downing Street, and which have no Irish advice except the advice of a few Dublin lawyers, who are 1590 not always very good advisers. In my opinion, there is no security in this Bill unless you secure the goodwill of the Irish people. I do not object, in all circumstances, to using British credit for the purposes of Ireland; but it must be used for men who are your friends, and not for men whom you treat as enemies. Is it not an astonishing thing that you who go about denouncing the leaders of the Irish people and the Irish people themselves as thieves and robbers, who have spent all your energy, and your money, and your time in endeavouring fix upon them the stigma of crime, who go to your constituents and say the Irish people have no regard for the Ten Commandments, should be going to lend those men £33,000,000 of English money? Either it is a most reckless and spendthrift proposal, or else these charges you have made are false charges, and you have made them knowing them to be false. It is perfectly impossible, and inconsistent with the language which nobody more persistently uses than the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that you should trust this sum of money to men whom you so describe. Here is a people to whom you cannot trust the ordinary rights of the Constitution, whom you are treating with coercion every day. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Mayo, if he was to dare to go to Mayo and recommend the tenants not to buy under this Bill, would not be sent to prison. People have been sent to prison for doing what is exactly the same thing. What I wish to point out is that the first condition of making this advance is that you should have confidence in the people to whom you are making it, instead of treating them in the hostile spirit in which you are now treating them. With reference to your Bill generally, I confess that when you have reduced Ireland to this elementary condition I do not see why the whole process should not begin again, and why these small tenancies should not coalesce like drops of quicksilver which you run upon a plate, and which join together into one mass; I see nothing in your Bill to prevent this land being sold, no limit to the number of people who may purchase. There is another consideration connected with this Bill to which I should like to allude, perhaps, most important of all. If you can per- 1591 form this gigantic operation of advancing £30,000,000 to-day and £100,000,000 to-morrow with absolute safety and with no risk to anybody, why do you stop there? If it is true that there is no risk in a gigantic pledging of English credit, if it is only a nominal affair, are there no tenants in England, in Scotland, or in Wales who desire to have their rents reduced by 20 per cent.? Are there no landlords overwhelmed with mortgages in the rest of the United Kingdom who would like to have a few millions advanced by a hocus-pocus of this sort, with no risk of any kind? Is there no question of the housing of the working classes, no question of allotments and small holdings? Why should not all the industrial resources of the country be subsidised by untold millions, advanced by a little ingenious juggling, without anybody running any risk? Do you imagine that these are demands which will not necessarily arise out of a Bill of this description? In this country you can never take a stop of this kind without its being followed by consequences. The English nation have an almost superstitious reverence for precedent, and you are making a gigantic precedent which you have no reason for confining to Ireland. If it is sound for Ireland, it is sound for every other part of the kingdom. I commend that consideration to the Conservative Members of this House, and to the constituencies of Conservative Members, and I think that they will do well to bear it in mind. I confess that nothing astonishes me more than that the ringleader of this sort of switchback finance should be the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a very peculiar thing: we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is supposed to be a prudent financier. He made a speech here the other night, and in it there was no attempt to defend the security that is to protect the English taxpayer. In my opinion, this is a question which is only to be settled by the consent of the Irish people as evidenced by their Representatives. To your Bill and your proposals that consent is refused. It must be settled also by the consent of the English people. That consent you have no right to give. You have no mandate from this nation to spend its money in this manner, upon these securities, and for these purposes. 1592 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has borne testimony to that fact; he has said that, whether rightly or wrongly the electorate of England at the last Election demanded that this thing should not be done. I do not myself admire the argument of tu quoque; I will not quote the pledges that have been given; it will be for each Member of Parliament to justify to his own constituents the pledges which he has given upon this subject; but to us, at least, the course is clear. We, at least, in the name of that portion of the community whom we represent, and whom we believe now at least to be a majority of the United Kingdom—we, at least, upon the Second Reading of this Bill, refuse their consent and our consent to incurring these vast liabilities, which are secured by these delusive guarantees.
§ *(8.55.) MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
I listened with great interest to the exhaustive speech of the right hon. Gentleman who immediately preceded me, and I think we find in it an explicit statement of the real reasons which have operated upon his mind, and upon the minds of his Colleagues, in inducing them to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, from first to last the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a frank appeal to the cupidity of the English taxpayer. The other speakers who preceded him have put forward other arguments, but they have not, I think, relied very much on their force, except in so far as they were likely to raise the fears of those on whom any contingent loss involved in the operations of this Bill must fall. The right hon. Gentleman has attacked and criticised some of the securities in this Bill; other securities he has attacked without criticism, merely assuring the House that they exist only upon paper. I think that the securities which the right hon. Gentleman has honoured with criticism are well worthy of the attention of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has criticised the security to be found in the holding, which it will be in the power of the Land Commission to seizs and farm on its own account, declaring that we are advancing on four-fifths of its value of the holding. But we are really advancing four-fifths of the landlord's interest alone upon the security of the whole holding; and, 1593 therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman condescends to criticism, he has found whatever success has attended his efforts merely in understating the security which is plainly to be read in the Bill. The other securities the right hon. Gentleman dismisses with a wave of his hand, declaring that they resemble the walls of sand built up by children on the seashore around a castle. But if the castle is to represent the money in the pocket of the taxpayer, I maintain that it has been constructed above high-water mark, for the British taxpayer, or the Government, acting in his interests, has only to refuse to give the annual contingent which we owe to Ireland in order to secure absolutely his own property from any risk. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to add to the terrors of the taxpayer by denouncing State landlordism, as the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition denounced it in his speech. He has pointed out that that will necessitate eviction carried out immediately under the Imperial Government. But what was the remedy contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in introducing the similar provision contained in his Laud Bill of 1870? On that occasion he asked the House what remedy there would be in the event of non-payment, and he declared that the Government had not only the remedy of eviction, but the power to attach the whole produce of the farm. Therefore, we find, at the very outset, that in the past other Governments, pursuing similar schemes of Land Purchase, have been willing to undertake the risks which we are willing to undertake; that they have thought themselves secured against these risks by only one out of the many remedies which we believe to be effectual now. The right hon. Gentleman has also attacked the Tenants' Insurance Fund. He has been led away by the seductive argument of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Knox), who assured the House that since when 20 years' purchase was given there would be no tenants insurance—the security became less as the risk increased, and increased as the risk diminished. The hon. Member and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to hold that Irish land worth 20 years' purchase is a more risky 1594 investment than land which is only worth 12 years' purchase. It must be obvious that the very reverse is the case. If land is worth 20 years' purchase it is because the landlord has been able to collect his rents; and if it is worth only 12 years' purchase it is because the landlord has not been able to collect his rents, and has a poor chance of doing so in the future. The right hon. Gentleman further inveighed against the provision allowing the Laud Commission to add two years' rent for arrears where they exist. In doing so, I think he laid himself open to the charge which he and others are so fond of bringing against us, of ignoring, in our attempts to legislate for Ireland, the real conditions of the problem. The Land Commissioners are only allowed, under this Bill, to fix the capital sum of the landlord's interest in the holding. If they are debarred altogether from adding anything to that sum, the result will be that on every estate in Ireland, where the Bill is most likely to effect some good, it will be absolutely inoperative. It is a common place that on the estates on which a deadlock has been brought about the difficulty is that the tenants have been persuaded not to pay the judicial rent in consequence of some quarrel with the landlord as to the reduction, which their advisers maintain ought to be given on the judicial rents. These quarrels have lasted for two, three, or four years. It is asserted, not by English politicians, but by the friends of the tenants, that the only solution of such a deadlock is to be found in purchase. If the Land Commission are precluded from dealing with arrears the deadlock will continue, against the advice of those who constitute themselves the friends of the tenants in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman appears to belong to a faithless generation, always asking for a sign. He seems to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he has confidence in his securities, will be anxious to test them by going to the City of London, and endeavouring to raise money on them from the Rothschilds or Barings. I should have thought that if a man had full confidence in his securities he would not be tempted to test them. But if the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) is so enamoured of 1595 this test, I would suggest that he should take the security he proposes to the same place and test it in the same manner. He has declared that there can be no security hut "the goodwill of the people, who are to be your debtors." Let the right hon. Gentleman call on Messrs. Rothschild or Messrs. Baring with that security and see whether they will not bow him off their premises in precisely that polite manner which he himself indicated as the probable termination of their interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then he asked the House why, if we could advance £33,000,000 without risk, we should stop there. The answer is that £33,000,000 represents the capital value of the securities mentioned in the Bill. When he asks, also, why some of this money is not apportioned to England and Scotland, he should remember the opinions expressed on land purchase by all sections of the House. During the debates of 1870, 1883, and 1884, a great distinction was always drawn between England and Ireland. In 1870 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, in order to draw this distinction, pointed out that in Ireland the tenant had not that sufficient security for his holding which he possesses in England. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to remedy that in part by purchase, and in part by other devices, and it is in-teresting to note that he, contemplating possible remedies, strongly condemned, at that time, anything in the nature of judicial rent, declaring that it would reduce the landlord into the mere receiver of a rent-charge. Yet, in 1881, the right hon. Gentleman adopted a measure which brought about, in an aggravated form, the very evil he foresaw so clearly in 1870. That measure may have been necessary to meet the growing evils of the pursuit of agriculture in Ireland. But if it was a necessity, it was followed by another necessity, namely, the dissolution of the infelicitous partnership into which it has forced the landlord and tenant in Ireland. After the speech to which we have just listened it may be necessary to remind the House how generally this view has been held and how forcibly it has been expressed by a Colleague of the late Prime Minister, and even by the present 1596 leader of the Irish Party. Speaking in 1884 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) declared—Now the Government believe, and earnestly believe, that, the social and political state of Ireland and its agricultural condition are such that there never was a country in the world in which it was more important that many of those who till the land should own it.Holding that view, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to develop a plan for the lending of £20,000,000 by the State, safeguards being provided by a hypothecation of local rates in Ireland. That plan was the outcome of a suggestion made by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1883, and in connection with it the leader of the Irish Party declared himself so far in favour of peasant proprietorship as to lay down that it had succeeded with Ireland, and that if the House would remove existing difficulties—if, for one thing, they would advance all the money, a point, by the way, on which he is still at issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton—'J he House would lay the foundation of the creation of a large class of occupying owners in Ireland, and thus be able to see an approach of a successful and honourable settlement of the great land question in Ireland.Such glorious results the hon. Member for Cork anticipated from a very similar and analogous experiment advocated only seven years ago. I know perfectly well he now asserts that £30,000,000 is too small a sum, and will be so partial in its operation as to raise more discontent than it alleviates. But I find that in 1883 the hon. Member, speaking of £20,000,000, said to the House, "Surely the vastness of the operation should not be a deterrent." £20,000,000 he considered a vast sum in 1883, but in 1890 he considers a sum of £30,000,000 so insignificant, that, applied in this way, it will rather raise discontent than allay the irritation in Ireland. I know, too, he has somewhat discountenanced the present plan by the device of introducing an alternative. I will not discuss the alternative proposal of the hon. Member for Cork, but I must point out that it was not Land Purchase, and that in 1883 the hon. Member asked—Had it or had it not been the policy of Governments in recent years to encourage peasant proprietorship in Ireland?1597 That is the question I am tempted to ask right hon. Gentlemen who make such speeches as that to which the House has just listened. It almost seems as if the hon. Member for Cork and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian had faltered in their attacks upon this Bill, upon turning back and reading what they had in times past said upon the subject. A great deal is said as to the risk to the British taxpayer. But British credit has entered into every scheme of Land Purchase that has been suggested, and no scheme can be successful without it. It is British credit which gives the landlord that security which induces him to sell, and which enables the terms of purchase to be so fixed as to give the tenant an immediate reduction of rent, and thus induce him to buy. It is evident there are three parties to the transaction—the landlord, the tenant, and the British taxpayer. If you are going to attack the proposal of the Government, you ought, at least, to select one line of the three possible lines of attack. You may say that the landlord gets too much, and the tenant too little, or it may be said that the tenant gets too much, and the landlord too little. It may be said that they both get too much, and that an undue burden is put on the taxpayer. I submit it cannot be said that the landlord gets too little, and that the tenant gets too little, and that the taxpayer is unduly taxed in order to effect that result. And yet every one of these three arguments have been urged against the Bill. There has been no unanimity. The nearest approach to unanimity has been in selecting the argument that the tenant gets too little, and the landlord too much. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has declared that by making the Bill voluntary the Government will enable the landlord to get nearly the whole of the boon which they intend for the tenant, and the loader of the other wing of the Opposition has declared that the tenant will be asked to pay an exorbitant and exaggerated price. I take that to mean that, under the scheme of the Government, they assert that the landlord will get too much, and the tenant too little, but I contend that a fallacy underlies the whole of that portion of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. It is not the end, aim, and 1598 object of our Bill to give to the tenant a reduction, and merely a reduction, upon the judicial rent. Our object is to enable the tenants of Ireland to buy the landlords' interest at whatever price they think it may be worth to them. The fact that they get a reduction is merely an accident due to the use of British credit, and a bait to induce them to perform this operation, which, we believe, will conduce to the welfare of the whole of Ireland, and, indeed, of England as well. It has been said that the landlord will be able to bring irresistible pressure to bear on the tenant. That is not only contrary to all the facts that we have noted, and noted with sorrow, in the recent history of Ireland, but it is also a travesty of the proposals contained in this Bill. The tenant is empowered to buy a definite commodity, namely, the land lord' sinterest for what he thinks it is worth to him. I think it will readily be admitted by everyone that the compulsion is far more likely to be used, if at all, by the tenant towards the landlord, than by the landlord towards the tenant. The hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Dillon), pointed out that under the Bill it was very probable that landlords would be anxious to part with their estates, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division also thought that in many cases the tenants would be able to bring undue pressure to bear upon their landlords. Even if the Bill does secure some benefit to the landlord I cannot see that any very damaging criticism can be founded on that fact. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley), speaking so recently as 1886, pointed out—That the late Government to their great honour had passed an Act to prevent the landlords confiscating the property of their tenants. That was a noble exploit, but I do not think we shall be able to deal satisfactorily with Ireland until we have passed some legislation to prevent the tenants confiscating the property of their landlords.If the Bill of the Government does in any way prevent the tenants confiscating the property of their landlords we, upon this side of the House, shall not look upon it as a blemish. We believe that the Bill very fairly holds the balance between the three parties who are concerned in any measure of this kind, and perhaps on that very account has 1599 been criticised from three opposite points of view. The hon. Member for Cork has actually adopted each of the three lines of attack I have indicated, although they are diametrically opposed to each other. He has told the landlords they will get less money than at present; he has told the tenants they will be compelled to give exaggerated and exorbitant prices for their holdings, and he has told the taxpayers of England that since the Bill will leave three-fourths of the tenants and nine-tenths of the landlords untouched, it will perpetuate and render absolutely certain additional agitation for the extension of its scope, in order, I suppose, that the landlords may enjoy a smaller income, and that the tenants may pay a larger price for their interest than is worth to them. These arguments against the provisions of the Bill are mutually destructive, but another class of arguments springs from objections to the Bill based on the time and circumstances of its introduction. It is said that the Government are precluded from using British credit in support of any scheme of Land Purchase, because in 1886 the country definitely declared against such use; and, in the second place, it is said that such a measure as this ought not to be passed in opposition to the views of the Representatives from Ireland. Now with regard to the first point, it is to be noticed that the risk to the British taxpayer has been reduced in this Bill almost to a vanishing point. The risk under the present Bill is very different to the risk under the Bill of 1886. Under the scheme of 1886 Ireland was granted Home Rule, but was to pay an Imperial contribution to England besides the instalments accruing in consequence of our buying out the landlords. Both those imposts were objected to at the time. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian introduced his measure of Home Rule, and stated that the contribution which he proposed to exact from Ireland, was to be 1–15th, there were loud cries of 1–20th. Certainly hon. Members below the Gangway opposite argued in that sense. Again, I do not think anyone can deny that Members on that side felt seriously alarmed when the right hon. Gentleman 1600 proposed to impose compulsory purch so at 20 years upon Irish estates. In 1886, accordingly, the danger of repudiation was aggravated by the fact that Ireland had to pay an Imperial contribution which she considered too high, and instalments for land purchase which she considered too high, and which now everyone in this House would consider too high. Now, I maintain that the risk involved in that scheme was simply enormous, and the risk to the taxpayer now involved is reduced to nothing at all. We are told that we cannot disregard this opposition even though we do not believe these proposals entail risk to our pockets, that there is a moral obligation not to disregard this opposition, because we ought to listen to the voice of Ireland, as expressed through her Representatives. Very well; but which voice are we to listen to, for her voice as now expressed is entirely different to the voice of seven years ago? Then the voice of Ireland loudly demanded Land Purchase by State assistance. Are we to attach more value to the voice now? When a bias in favour of Home Rule makes it ring with an uncertain sound? In saying this, I do not in the least bring forward a charge of insincerity against hon. Members below the Gangway, or say that they are necessarily betraying the interests of their constituents. If they believe that they are likely to be shortly in a position to pass better laws for Ireland they would be fools if they did not oppose the Bill. But we who believe that that is a remote contingency, almost outside the range of practical politics, would stand convicted of ten-fold folly if we preferred the voice in which hon. Members from Ireland speak now to the voice in which they spoke in 1883. The leaders of the Opposition have declared that the political risk is ten times the economical risk. The hon. Member for Mayo has uttered an impressive warning, which will be noted throughout the country, that it may be the duty of Members below the Gangway to preach repudiation to the Irisn tenant. If that is the case the argument based upon the opposition of the Irish Members loses a great deal of its importance and its weight. The Government will derive absolute advantage from dealing directly with the 1601 Irish tenants, who, in the past, have honestly discharged similar obligatious. If repudiation is a political and not an economical risk, it follows that the risk would be increased if the Government were to deal with political or local bodies, who would be the very instruments for carrying into effect the prophecy of the hon. Gentleman. Dealing, as we do, directly with the Irish tenant we are not afraid of repudiation. For confirmation of this view I would appeal to the words of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, who, when he produced a similar scheme in 1870, said he believed that the Irish tenant would appreciate the sacredness of the obligations he was contracting, and discharge them. I know that the views of the leader of the Opposition in 1870 will not carry much weight with hon. Members below the Gangway, because he then held different ideas upon the proper Government of the Empire. I would, therefore, appeal for the last time to the voice of Ireland as expressed by the leader of Gentlemen below the Gangway, who said, in 1883, that it was extremely unlikely that if the tenants were asked to pay a reduced rent-charge, any agitation or any political party would be able to do what they failed to do from 1878 to 1883—namely, to prevent them from paying the annual charge necessary to keep a roof over their heads. The tender regard, the fear for the British taxpayer, has underlain every argument put before the House. But, as the hon. Member for Cork said on the same occasion, "You should not exaggerate difficulties or raise up phantoms on this question." That is the appeal of Her Majesty's Government now. In the belief that these fears are but shadowy phantoms, I shall vote with the greatest confidence for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *(9.40.) MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
I am sorry that the hon. Member who, like myself, is a politician without a past, should have thought fit to encumber his able argument with undue references to speeches made by politicians less fortunately situated. If there is one subject which more than another fails to excite any interest in my breast it is the attempt to prove or disprove accusations of inconsistency. In truth, if 1602 hon. Members on either side had nothing to cover themselves with but their consistency, they would be, to say the least of it, insufficiently clad. I am not one of those who feel that under no circumstances should the British Exchequer incur a risk to make some reparation to an unfortunate country to which so much injustice has been done in the past. But when I consider this measure, the persons by whom it is presented, and its chance of acceptance by the people to whom it is offered, I feel that it is not one which secures the British taxpayer, and, further, that it holds out very little prospect of doing good in Ireland. It is a device of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down to set one argument against another and say that they cannot both be true. That is not a fair way of dealing with arguments, because if one argument is true it may be sufficient to show that this is a bad Bill. Besides which, having regard to what sort of a Bill it is, under different circumstances and in different parts of the country, both arguments may be true. Now, with regard to the argument which has been used, as to the ill effect the Bill will produce in those cases where landlords may refuse to sell, I cannot do better than take the point as it is put in the Economist, a paper opposed to Home Rule, which is to the effect that if there are two adjoining estates, on one of which the tenants pay the old rents, on the other the tenants pay reduced rents, ultimately to become owners of their holdings, the former will come to their landlord and say that if you will not accept similar terms we will simply pay you no rent at all. How do you like the sound of this language, which is not the language of an Irish agitator but of the sober Economist? The argument is founded on human nature. Hon. Members refer to an argument of this kind with a sort of holy horror, they shrug their shoulders and say it is wicked, but in dealing with mankind we must not forget the fact of the Fall. So far as I have any right to import my personal experience into a matter of this kind my own experience teaches me that if we give a debtor a plausible reason for not paying his legal debts, in 1603 nine cases out of ten he will not pay them. In my judgment the tenants in question would have got a plausible reason for refusing to pay. I do not think it is sufficiently realised what an unreasonable position it is that this enormous advantage to the tenant, this buying out of the landlord should depend not on the justice of the case, but simply and solely upon the whim of the landlsrd. I am certain you will find that tenants will refuse to continue to pay rents if they are not allowed to participate in the benefit of what ought to be a common boon. If such a repudiation takes place, the Government will be obliged to come to Parliament for an enormous advance of money to enable them to complete the settlement of this land question. But what, then, becomes of your nicely-calculated security, which is just enough for £33,000,000, and no more? Another objection is this. The Bill puts a limit on the amount of money to be advanced to one tenant, and it also limits the amount to be advanced for the purchase of land to 20 years' purchase, but it does not prescribe the terms of the contract. Consequently, whore a tenant is anxious to buy, there is nothing to prevent him paying 25 years' purchase provided he pays the balance of five years out of his own resources. That is bad economics. Any money the tenant has, ought to go in reduction of the fair price, not in increasing it. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes one of these arguments from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and the other from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, and says I will leave these to fight it out, and then, under cover of the applause such remarks never fail to draw, he drops the subject and reappears in another place. But I say either argument is fatal, and both arguments may apply. An argument which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian used with great force and emphasis has not been replied to—the argument that you dare not hypothecate the rates of Scotland against the wishes of five-sixths of her Representatives. It was a fair challenge he made, but the only reply the Chancellor of the Ex- 1604 chequer made to it was the very trite observation, Scotland is not Ireland. No, it is not, but it is part of the United Kingdom under the same representative system and Constitution, and therein lies the whole application of the argument, that you are applying to one part of the kingdom treatment which you dare not apply to another part. The Government practically admit the force of the argument. If the Government have any doubt as to whether the Irish Members are the duly authorised agents of the Irish people to speak their wishes on this question, they should ask the Irish people in a Constitutional way whether or not they confirm that agency. You have no right to rely simply and solely on your own judgment or belief. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham put the whole thing upon credit, and said he was not disposed to lend a farthing of British money unless perfectly satisfied that the securities are good. Now, when one comes to deal with these I am almost ashamed to say anything more about them, they have been so cannonaded and riddled by argument. All the Government can say in reply is that the cannonading is not all directed to one point—that the objections are not unanimous. Well, it is true we do not all say the same thing, but is it no objection to a Bill that every speaker finds something now to say against it? With regard to the contingent credits, it was significant that the Chancellor of the Exchequer passed them by in silence. They are securities which humanity would never allow the Government to enforce, and upon which nobody would lend 6d. In order to punish Home Rule farmers who will not repay the money which the Government has been foolish enough to lend them the Government propose to tax the poor labourer by depriving him of medical assistance. The other security is the hypothecation of funds, which, in the opinion of almost the whole of Ireland, already belong in equity to the Irish people. Balieving, as I do, that the day is not far distant when the Irish people will secure the blessings of self-government, I feel that the securities offered by this Bill are unsafe. What right have hon. Members opposite, when their 1605 majority is trembling in the balance, to back their opinion against that of their opponents with £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 of public money I do not believe that the Irish people, in exchange for a cheque of £33,000,000, will erase from the tablets of their memories the names of their chosen leaders and substitute for them the name of the man who seldom speaks without insulting those leaders. We are asked to lend £33,000,000 by a Government who mean to deny the right of self-government to the Irish people, and we are asked to do this at a moment when the Government are almost at war with these people. I decline altogether to lend, pendente lite, such a vast sum of money as that. Satisfied as I am also that that sum must be increased, possibly to £150,000,000, I decline to be a party to this Bill.
§ (10.0.) MR. COGHILL (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
This Bill has been described as complicated, but I am afraid it would be still more complicated if the Government were to attempt to embody all the suggestions which have been made by the hon. Member for Cork and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. The Bill has many other advantages over previous schemes of Land Purchase, by the consideration of which, no doubt, the Chief Secretary has profited. For myself, I am against the purchase of land in Ireland if there is any risk to the British Exchequer, and the question in this case is whether any such risk is incurred or not. As to the value of the guarantees, hon. Members have been too presumptuous in assuming that every shot they have fired has penetrated the armour of the Government. I am inclined to think that the guarantees are sufficient. It is a great advantage that this scheme is to be administered by this Parliament, and not by a Parliament to be created and to sit in Dublin. Whilst I admire the Bill I admit that it has defects, which may, however, very well be amended in Committee. In the first place, I think there ought to be stronger provisions against sub-letting and sub-division, or else 1606 Parliament will have to do all its work over again. Then I should be glad to see adopted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cork and the application of the Bill limited to tenants under £50 or £70 valuation. If it were so limited, then a much less sum would be required. Under the Ashbourne Act the sums that have been paid to individuals have been far too large. When the extension of the Act was passed it was certainly never contemplated that any single individual should receive so large a sum as a quarter of a million. That quarter of a million ought to have been more evenly distributed in different parts of Ireland. In many cases the period of 49 years will be too long. There are many tenants who would be in a position to repay the advances in a less time. The number of payments might be reduced and the annual instalment increased. The period of 49 years is practically two generations, and if a purchase were effected by a man at the age of 21 he would be 71 before he came into the freehold of his holding. I have no great faith in Land Purchase, but I find every Party in the House more or less pledged to it, and as this scheme appears to be on the whole fair and workable, I feel bound to support it. It has been asked what would Scotch Members say if such a scheme were proposed for Scotland, and it is suggested that they would be up in arms against such a proposal. But the hon. Member for East Aberdeen last Session asked a suggestive question in the House; it was whether the Government had not received several communications and Memorials from Aberdeenshire and elsewhere, asking that the Ashbourne Act might be extended to Scotland, and whether the Government were disposed to consider the request favourably before the next meeting of Parliament. That question, at all events, shows that some people in Scotland are willing to have the advantages of the Ashbourne Act extended to them. Nevertheless, looking at the Divisions on the Ashbourne Act when it was before the House, I find that it was opposed by the hon. Member who put the question. The purchase scheme, however, is only part of the programme of the present Government. I should like to see the extension 1607 of Local Government to Ireland carried as early as possible—say next Session. I am, and many Members on this side are, in favour of the abolition of the Vice-royalty and of the system of government known as Dublin Castle rule. If Local Government is extended to Ireland upon the lines upon which it has been passed for England and Scotland, and if the Viceroyalty is abolished—though I should like to see a Royal Prince residing in Ireland for a part of the year—the Unionist Party may safely say they have carried the programme for the support of which they were returned to this House. It is in the expectation that these reforms will be carried out that I support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (10.10.) DR. FITZGERALD (Longford, S.)
The last speaker said that he was desirous for the prosperity of Ireland, and the question which, therefore, presents itself to this House and to the country is whether that object is to be attained by the methods which are recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, or by those methods which are recommended by the Representatives of the Irish people in this House. This brings to our minds on this side of the House the manner in which our country has been treated by hon. Members opposite, and by those who support the Government. The Attorney General for Ireland said that this was a theoretical Land Purchase Bill. I am not quite sure whether the learned Attorney General was correct in so describing this measure, because, after all, when we come to consider it, I think that, should it unfortunately ever become law, it will be discovered to be a practical scheme for the bribery of a certain section of the landlord class in Ireland, and I am strongly of opinion that it will give rise to a state of chaos and disorder which will produce a land war such as there has never been before. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Birmingham, whom we were glad to hear speak for the first time in this House the other night, supported this measure on the strength of something which he had heard from a man on the banks of a river in Ireland. If this man had been 1608 an Irishman—and I very much doubt that, because if there is one thing in the world of which a true Irishman is proud, it is his grammar—or rather your grammar—I think it would turn out that he knew little more about the subject than you do yourselves. But even if he were an Irishman, is it not preposterous nonsense for the hon. Member for Central Birmingham to come down here and support a measure dealing with £40,000,000 of the taxpayers' money, simply on the strength of a statement by such a man. Would it not have been far more sensible for the hon. Member to take the advice of such men as the hon. Members for Cork and East Mayo, who may be presumed to understand what really their countrymen require. Again, the hon. Member for Central Birmingham told us that the prosperity of the tenant farmers of Ulster was due to their superior intelligence. But, Sir, as a Southerner, I repudiate the assertion with indignation. If the hon. Member had read the speeches of his distinguished father in the year 1866, he would have learned that the prosperity of the tenant farmers of Ulster was due to the Ulster custom—that it was due to a combination among the Ulster tenants, which the Orange landlords, with all their adoration of King William, and with all their hatred of the Pope, never dared to assail. The hon. Member, however, said one thing as to which I am in entire agreement with him. He said that the Irish tenant was the honestest man in the world, and that he would be likely to pay any instalment which would become due from him under the provisions of this Bill. I agree with the hon. Member as to the honesty of my fellow countrymen; but I should like to know what the hon. Member for North Armagh has to say about that, for that hon. and gallant Gentleman, who is now at home picking up the ammunition which he will fire off in this House in a day or two, only three weeks since declared in this House that he never saw an Irishman who would pay anything so long as he could find anybody else to pay it for him. I disagree entirely with the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. I think he must have been dreaming about the landlords of Ireland, because I never saw an Irish landlord 1609 who thought of paying anything so long as he could get the Government, or the Board of Works, or the taxpayers to pay it for him. He would not even pay his tailor's bill if he could put it on the shoulders of other people. The hon. Member for Central Birmingham also said that the tenants of Ireland would meet the demands made upon them under this Bill, because those demands would be the result of a free and open bargain. But I venture to assert that the scheme of purchase as between the landlord and the tenant does not represent a free bargain. It is a bargain made by a man with a pistol at his head—a double-barrelled pistol, one barrel of which is charged with two years arrears, and the other of which is charged with notices of eviction-made-easy. In my opinion no duty rests upon a man to discharge a debt so contracted, and I believe that, under such circumstances, a man is not likely to discharge a debt thus forced upon him. I am also inclined to think that a few years hence, should this Bill pass, the tenants who have purchased under it will come to the conclusion that they have paid a, great deal more than they ought to have done. It should be remembered that in Ireland the rents are about 30 per cent. higher than those prevailing in England, and that, in the long run, they must sink to an equal level. I should like any hon. Gentleman opposite to tell me to what extent Free Trade in cattle in this country will be carried, and where it is likely to stop. Agriculturists in Ireland at this moment can produce nothing which would pay the cost of production. Last year there were imported into Scotland from Canada five-year old bullocks at the ridiculously low price of £13, a price for which the Irish farmer could not produce an animal of even only one-and-a-half years old. Again, recently there have been imported into Liverpool, thousands of sheep, coming from a country where they are only valued for their wool, and they have been actually imported at a loss of 10 per cent. Therefore, I want to know to what extent Free Trade can go, and when I am informed on that point I shall be happy to tell the hon. Member giving me the information, what is likely to be the value of land in Ireland 10 years hence. There is one provision in 1610 the Bill which, in my opinion, is alone sufficient to condemn it, and that is the provision by which it is sought to levy a tax through the agency of the Lord Lieutenant and the Grand Jury upon the industrious people of the community, in order to make up any deficiency in the repayment of the principal and interest. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, in proposing this, certainly shows that he is not a modern statesman. He attempted to govern Ireland by means of a Coercion Bill, and, failing success with that measure, he introduced into his system the ancient Act of Edward III. There, again, he failed in the objects which he sought to attain; and now be proposes to introduce into this Bill the ancient and antiquated provisions which cost Charles I. his head, and which, if the Bill is carried, will probably, two or three years hence, cost the right hon. Gentleman his political head. I venture to think that no Government will be able to enforce a tax such as that which is proposed. It would be a tax on the industrious for the benefit of the poor, the knave, and the drone. It will enable one man to put his head over the fence of another man's field and stop him in his operations. It will enable a man to say to the industrious tenant, "You have got up in the early morning, you have ploughed and sown; I have been a drone; I have gone into the public house to drink, but I am a wise man and you are a fool. You have sown, but I shall reap. You will have to pay the deficit which I have created." If the Government attempted to enforce such a tax as that, I venture to say we should be able to raise such an agitation, and create such a storm of indignation, that even the hon, and gallant Member for North Armagh would not be able to withstand it, and it would take all the troops you could possibly put into the field in the case of an European war to enable you to enforce the impost. Sir, we have been accused of fighting against a measure which is to make the peasantry of Ireland the owners of the soil of Ireland. No such thing. We vote against this measure because the tenantry of Ireland will not be able to take advantage of it. We vote against it because it is a premium upon robbery, 1611 a tax upon industry, and a bribe given to a certain section of a certain class who have already reaped so much, through the agency of their rack rents, that they deserve no consideration at the hands of the British or Irish taxpayer. But, above all and before all, we vote against the Bill because, not being compulsory, it will be inoperative and inert. It will not touch the more infamous of your associates, such as the Marquess of Clanricarde; it will enable him still to carry on his war of extermination. In a word, we vote against it because it will create in Ireland a perpetual war, and because we desire to live in peace, in order that every section of our country, regardless of class or creed, may have an opportunity of combining to make Ireland what we intend to make her, a prosperous and free nation.
§ (10.2.) MR. HANBURY (Preston)
Sir, I am free to confess that, unlike the great majority of Members who sit on this side of the House, in many cases of eviction during the last two or three years it seemed to me that though the tenant was legally wrong, he was morally right, and though the landlord was legally right, he was morally wrong. That opinion is not weakened but strengthened, confirmed, and ratified by the introduction of this Bill, and endeavouring, as I have done, to look at this Bill with the utmost fairness, and without any Party bias, I confess I am utterly unable to form the estimate of it which has been stated by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that this Bill can be called in any sense a landlords' Bill. Unfortunately that is a charge which can be brought against some Bills. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Trevelyan) was essentially a landlords' Bill. It was brought in when rents were a great deal higher and the scale of compensation was higher than that which is introduced into this Bill. The power of compulsion is put into the hands of the tenants in this Bill, in that it was put into the hands of the landlords. And the main reason for introducing that Bill for the benefit of the landlord was, I think, an insult to the Irish people—it was that they could not be trusted to 1612 deal honourably with their landlords if they got possession of their country. The position with regard to this Bill is the very reverse of all that; the rents are lower than they were at that time, the scale of compensation is lower, and compulsion is in the hands of the tenants, and not in the hands of the landlords. The principal argument against the Bill is that sufficient security is not taken for the money advanced, and that we are placing too great reliance on the honesty of the Irish people. How anybody can consider this a landlords' Bill, I fail to see. Take the case of a man paying £100 a year rent. What happens? The tenant buys at 20 years' purchase, and the landlord gets £55 a year, where he was getting £100. There is one tendency, as far as I can see, on the side of the landlord. By the Insurance Fund I find that a great inducement is offered to the tenant to buy at 20 years' purchase on account of the very small sum he contributes towards the Insurance Fund. A much heavier sum is paid in the case of purchase at 13 or 14 years. There is one other provision which, apparently, tells in favour of the landlord, and that is adding two years' arrears to the possible price. That, after all, is utterly a delusion. The tenant, after all, is not such a fool, if he had to pay two years for arrears, as not to take them off the number of years' purchase paid to the landlord. Another objection to this Bill, primâ facie, seems to me a very fair one. It is said:—"It is all very well to say that the price which the tenant will pay in future will be less than he is paying at the present moment, but he will not be a free agent, because he will be acting under coercion." The hon. Member opposite said a double-barrelled pistol would be presented at his head; what is the charge in each of those barrels? One is the compulsion that will be brought to bear on the landlord. I have already said the compulsion is exactly the other way. An hon. Member opposite quoted an instance which exactly proves my case. Take the case of a tenant whose landlord is perfectly willing to sell to him. The result is that he gets his land at about 30 per cent. less than he had it at before. Or take the case of a 1613 tenant whose landlord does not wish to sell. The tenant can compel him to sell. Because this Bill is an admission by the Government that the owners of land in Ireland are entitled to hold that land at a price which is something like 30 per cent. less than the price at which they at present hold it. It is all very well to say that only £30,000,000 is involved, but as that sum is repaid it will be continuously used in the same direction. Therefore, the Bill will have universal application, and will be compulsory. If the present price is a fair one, then the tenant ought to be forced to pay it. But if it is not a fair price, and we do an act of benevolence, then we ought to do it, not at the cost of the landlord, but at the cost of the national purse. If this reduction is made for the public convenience, and to save trouble in Ireland, then it is a very dangerous course to pursue, for a bribe now will be the source of endless trouble. But the Government would never have taken this course had they not made up their minds that this 30 per cent. was fair, and ought to be carried out universally. As to the argument of coercion, if a tenant will neither purchase nor pay the present price, then it would be perfectly right to apply coercion to him. Or if the landlord should prove stubborn, and refuse to come to terms, then the nation would never tolerate that the tenant should not have the benefit of the Act. The double-barrelled weapon which the hon. Member has mentioned, therefore, tells against his own position. No doubt there is a great number of landlords in Ireland who have faithfully tried to do their duty, and I think that, in some respects, these men are treated harshly by the Bill. Many of them are struggling on honourably, in spite of the difficulties with which they have to contend, and I, for one, will support any Amendment in Committee which will enable these landlords to be dealt with more justly than they are. But, at present, it is useless to ignore the fact that we have to legislate for the general body, and not for the few. We cannot legislate for white blackbirds only, and I am sorry to say that the great majority of the class are black. I own it would be thoroughly unjust, even against the worst landlords, to rake up a 1614 history which shows that they have been always loyal themselves, but often have been the cause of disloyalty in others. And that history is by no means ancient history, and the traditions of their acts must linger long among the peasantry. There is no need to point to the past. I will refer only to the present, and I say boldly that a man like Lord Clanricarde, with his planter-like insolence, has sown more seed of disloyalty than any one else in Ireland. The difficulty is, that while you have punished the tenants you have encouraged and made yourselves accomplices of the landlords. In the interests of the Union this Bill will do a vast amount of good, if it will only get rid of such landlords as I have described.
§ MR. HANBURY
I hope that such Amendments may be introduced into the Bill in Committee as will make that consummation possible, and I must add that if we do not deal in such a manner with such men this Bill will be absolutely useless. We frequently hear of landlords who spend a vast sum of money on their estates, who have se an admirable example to other landlords, and who give almost everything to their tenants except what the tenants most want, namely, their personal guidance and sympathy; but, after all, I ask what is the use of a garrison whose best men are never at their post? What confidence can we, as Unionists, have in a garrison, the best, and strongest, and the richest of whom, those least exposed to danger—I allude to the landlords of Ulster—whom we find deserting their posts at the very first opportunity, and leaving their weaker brethren, for whom the boon of the Ashbourne Act was primarily intended, in the lurch? Looking at all these facts, I hope that throughout the length and breadth of Ireland this Bill will remove the obstacles to kindly feeling towards this country. Even in Ulster, if we are to 1615 have a garrison at all, I confess I should look more to those energetic manufacturers in that province who have no bad history in the past, and whose associations are with the old and destroyed industries of Ireland, their own factories being the remnant of the day when Ireland did not depend on agriculture alone—men who, even at the present day, supply what is the greatest want of Ireland, manufacturing industry, and whose interests do not in any way clash with those who are dependent upon them. We have already had some very remarkable admissions from the Government, but we have also had a remarkable admission from an individual who is almost a higher authority than the Government itself. We have had a proposition from the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), which, for my part, I consider to be most useful, when he suggested that this Bill should not apply to tenants paying more than £50 rental. I have one or two observations to make with regard to that suggestion. In the first place, I think the security for the repayment of the money advanced would be vastly increased by its adoption; and, in the second place, I think it meets the solitary objection which I entertained to this Bill. I have always thought, and have never seen any reason to alter my opinion, that the Irish tenant has no right to different treatment on the part of this House to that which is given to the English tenant, unless his condition and circumstances are shown to be totally different from those of the English tenant. I confess I do not see how the condition of the richer farmers of Ireland can be said to be at all different from that of the richer tenants in England; and I will go further, and add, that I do not see how the position of a good many of the smaller tenants in the manufacturing districts is different from that of the smaller tenants here. What has always struck me as the one reason for making an exception in favour of the Irish tenant is, where he has not sufficient capital to embark in other industries, where those industries are close at hand, 1616 the land affording him his sole occupation. No doubt this circumstance has weighed heavily with the condition of the great bulk of the Irish tenants, especially when we consider the enormous proportion of those who pay less than £20 a year rental. In point of fact, more than one-half of them pay an average of only £6 a year, and in those cases I think we are justified in turning the tenants into owners, because their case is totally different from anything to be met with in this country. What is their position? In the first place, as I have said, cultivation of the land is the only possible occupation for them. If they cannot get land they have no other means of living, and that is a very remarkable position. Again, there is a tremendous amount of competition among those tenants for the land they occupy. How is this competition fixed? It is mainly fixed on the standard derived from the cultivation of the potato—a standard smaller than that of any other agricultural community in the world. Upon that standard, coupled with the fact that the tenants are able to get their rent either by coming and working at harvest time in England, or from their relatives in America, everything is fixed, while all above that goes into the pockets of the landlords. We never had so low a standard in England. When we are told we are transgressing the laws of political economy in the proposal to purchase the land for these smaller Irish tenants, I say it is because competition and other results inimical to the tenant are found in Ireland as they have never been known in England. Ill this country the landlord recognises the fact that duties attach to property as well as landlord rights. If ever we come to such a state of things in England as we find existing in regard to the smaller tenants in Ireland we shall be justified in passing for England a Bill like this, but at present no such case exists. Therefore, I say we are not breaking the laws of political economy by purchasing the land for the small tenants. Indeed, the ordinary laws of political economy were never intended to apply to such a state of circumstances. In such a case but one result follows, and it is because of that that we are bound to give the Irish tenants a position in 1617 the future which will prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such a state of things. It is because of the competition and the raising of his rent that the Irish tenant does not get the full reward of his labour. It is said that the Irishman is lazy by nature, but I ask is the Irishman lazy here? I have employed several of them, and I always found them to work just as well as English labourers. We know that all the great works all over the world have, to a great extent, been built by means of Irish labour. We know what he is as a soldier, and we appreciate him as an Irish constable, and I say he is quite as good as an Englishman or a Scotchman when he meets with his proper reward. It is because I hope that this Bill will tend to remove some of the difficulties he labours under that I want to see it applied to the small tenant. It is said that, to a great extent, he has security for his holding already. I do not know how far that may be the case in Ulster, where dual ownership has, from time immemorial, been the custom, but in the rest of Ireland the Government admit the dual ownership to be an unworkable system. Wherever we have tinkered at this subject we have only made matters worse. We made it far worse for the tenants when we introduced the Bill for the sale of encumbered estates. The same thing happened when we went further and gave the tenant the benefit of his own improvements, because the Law Courts over-ruled us, and the tenant did not get the full benefit intended, while under the system of judicial rents the tenant feels that there is great uncertainty—at any rate not the certainty he has a right to expect, in looking for a reward for his labour. Therefore, the Government have, at last, decided to come between the tenant and the landlord, and remove the difficulty by making the tenant his own landlord in future. We are told that we are only getting rid of the difficulty for the present, and will create a new and, perhaps, a worse set of landlords for the future; but when the tenant is certain of a reward for his labour, and there is no power tending directly, or indirectly, to the raising of his rent, I am convinced he will be found working as well and as hard upon his farm in Ireland as he 1618 works elsewhere. In that case I am sure he will not be anxious to sub-divide his farm. After all, how has sub-division been brought about? It has been brought about by the action of the landlords in the past, which has practically forced them into sub-division. What has been the history of this question? There are no less than six causes which have brought about the sub-division of land in Ireland. In the first place, up to 1839 there was no Poor Law in Ireland, and there was nothing to induce a landlord to prevent any needy man from settling upon his land. Then the law of tithes, only remedied 40 or 50 years ago, by which tithes were not leviable upon grazing ground, made it to the benefit of the landlord to have these small holding's. The tenants of the small holdings were able to live on potatoes, and, therefore, they were able to pay a higher rent than the holders of richer farms. That, again, was a great inducement to the landlords to have these small holdings. But the greatest inducement for a landlord to increase the number of tenants on his estate is that he increases his political influence. With regard to the question of security, looking to the immense advantage which a Bill of this sort will give to Ireland, I am perfectly willing to run some risk. If it is successful, even from a monetary point of view, the gain will be enormous to this country. With the exception of agrarian crime, Ireland is singularly free from criminal offences, and if, by doing away with agrarian crime, we can diminish the necessity for a force of 30,000 military and 12,000 constabulary in Ireland, the gain, from a mere monetary point of view, will be very considerable indeed. If, however, the security is considered insufficient, I think there are directions in which it can be increased. At the present moment the landlord's security is the security of the land, and I cannot conceive why the landlord should have more security for the payment of his interest in the future than he has had for the payment of his rent in the past, and, on the other hand, in the case of a general refusal to pay we might increase the Customs dues upon articles imported into Ireland, as suggested by Mr. Arnold Foster. I am 1619 unwilling, however, to believe that the Irish tenants are knaves or the English people fools. To suppose Irish tenants will repudiate these payments is a libel on their honesty and an insult to common sense. The Irish tenants have loyally paid their instalments under the Ashbourne Acts, under Acts which, by the way, do not afford the security which is afforded by this Bill, and, therefore, to assume that in future they will be dishonest seems to me a libel upon the whole tenantry of Ireland. With regard to the English people, though in the past a good many of them have looked with strong misgivings upon the evictions that have taken place, in the future there will be nothing of that kind. Where the Irish tenant has voluntarily entered into an engagement of this kind, and where the whole gain is on his side, English people will feel that right is on their side, and will in the last resort use every legitimate means to recover that money which is fairly their own. The Bill is a fair attempt to deal, not with the political grievances, but with the material grievances of the Irish tenant, and we on this side of the House think that, by removing the material grievance, we shall go a long way towards removing the political grievance. In addition to that, I look upon the Bill as not only lowering the tenant's rent to a very considerable extent, but also as one which for the first time entirely and thoroughly gives to the tenant that which he has never had before, namely, the certainty that if he is an honest man and works laboriously and industriously on his farm, he will secure the advantage of his labour. It also confers a great boon upon Ireland itself at large, because from that country, which has been singularly free from ordinary crime, we shall, by this Bill, if it is successful, remove that which has been constantly the one dark blot upon its history, the ever - recurring curse of agrarian crime.
§ (11.10.) MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
Although I cannot agree with everything that has been said by the hon. Gentleman, it is only fair to say that we, on these benches, recognise the extremely kind way in which he has spoken. If we had many speeches 1620 of the same nature, and if the acts of the Government in Ireland were inspired by the same spirit as ran through the hon. Gentleman's speech, we would approach the consideration of this Bill, and of other Acts of the present Administration, in a very different temper than we do at present. But I do not think the hon. Gentleman was altogether correct in his appreciation of the results of this measure. We thank him for the very candid and manly confession that whereas a number of landlords in Ireland may have been legally right they were morally wrong in their recent proceedings against their tenants. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Marquess of Clanricarde, and said that this Bill will enable us to get rid of landlords of the type of the Marquess of Clanricarde. He said, further, that the proceedings of men like the Marquess of Clanricarde are the greatest peril to the cause of the Union of which he is an advocate. With regard to his statement as to the Marquess of Clanricarde, I would remind him that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has sent to gaol at least 130 persons for refusing to submit to Lord Clanricarde's exaction of legal rights but moral wrongs. The hon. Gentleman is wrong when he says this Bill will enable us to get rid of men like the Marquess of Clanricarde. There is no compulsion in the Bill by which such landlords can be got rid of. It will probably not be the Marquess of Clanricarde and such landlords who will be got rid of, but fairly reasonable absentees with comfortable tenants. Now, I am surprised that no one has risen from the Treasury Bench to answer the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. Whether the right hon. Gentleman is the patron or the tool of the Government, he has in his speech this evening made the most damaging criticism that has yet been heard against the Bill. 1621 The right hon. Gentleman said very properly that it is proposed to pledge the securities of localities in Ireland without constituting a Local Authority or having any consultation with the locality. And he added rightly that such a thing would not be thought of in the case of any English city; and he indicated that if such preposterous and inequitable proceedings were tried in Birmingham, for instance, there would be a pretty kettle of fish. I can promise the right hon. Gentleman that if the Government pledge the rates and securities of localities in Ireland without giving the Local Authorities control there will be just as great a kettle of fish as there would be in Birmingham. Then the right hon. Gentleman took our main objection to the proposals of the Government out of our mouths when he said that there ought to be an Irish authority between the individual tenant on the one hand and the Imperial Exchequer on the other. That is the basis of our opposition to the Bill. We say that nothing can be more dangerous than to bring the Imperial Exchequer into direct relations with the hundreds of thousands of small tenants in Ireland. During the recent Partick election I asked the hon. Member (Mr. Parker Smith), who now sits for that constituency, a question which he has not yet answered, whether it would be better in Glasgow to lend money to the small shopkeepers and beer sellers, or to lend it on the security of the funds of the Corporation? Her Majesty's Government seem to think that it is better to lend the money to the £4 cottiers and the small tenants of Ireland than to an Irish Exchequer or an Irish Government and the Irish nation at large. Does any hon. Gentleman think that it would be safe to lend money to these small tenants? [Mr. SINCLAIR,: I do.] The hon. Gentleman, who is an Irishman by birth, represents a Scotch constituency, owing, perhaps, to equal ignorance of Scotch and Irish affairs, and I should say of affairs in general. No 1622 man in the possession of his senses would rather have 100,000 £4 cottiers as his debtors than a National Exchequer and Government, and if any man would he shows an absolute ignorance of the ordinary affairs of life. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham said there ought to be a buffer of the Local Authority between the tenants and the Imperial Exchequer, and he deprecated in the strongest manner bringing the Imperial Exchequer into direct relations with the individual debtors. Why have not the Government told the House what answer they have to give to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman? Why is the House left without "light and leading" on this point? An answer must be forthcoming before the Debate closes. The Government say that they have a Local Government Bill in the pigeon-holes of their Department. Are the Government, or are they not, going to accept the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham? Is this Bill to be worked by a Local Representative Authority, or by the landlords sitting on the Grand Jury? I do not want to make too strong a charge against the Government as to their relations with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and I suppose they know their own business best; but I say that if it is respectful to the right hon. Gentleman it is not respectful to this House that, having this suggestion made to them in the course of the Debate, not one of them should get up to give an emphatic reply on the question, aye or no. I hope this point will not be allowed to drop, and that every hon. Member who follows me from these benches will repeat the question until we receive an answer. Supposing the Bill Is passed in its present form—which would not be the case if I had my way, because I think it is a thoroughly bad Bill, brought in by a thoroughly bad Government, and backed by a thoroughly bad House of Commons; but if it is not amended in the direction indicated by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, we shall find that the Grand Juries in Ireland will be asked to make a rate for schools, lunatic asylums, medical relief, and other purposes. Do the Government think that the Grand 1623 Jury will make the rate, or, if they make it, that the ratepayers will pay it? The Chief Secretary for Ireland is living in a fool's paradise with regard to this question. Hon. Members point to the regular payments made by the Ashbourne tenants. But I should like to ask the hon. Member for the Falkirk District whether those tenants were not Nationalists before they bought their lands, and whether he thinks they have become less Nationalists since they bought their holdings?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
What does the Chief Secretary think of this interruption on the part of the hon. Member? The whole basis of the Government policy is, that land purchase destroys Nationalism.
§ (11.27.) MR. SINCLAIR
I said on a former occasion that while I believe the creation of a tenant proprietorship under the Ashbourne Acts and under this Act would have no effect in diminishing the desire of the Irish tenant who became a proprietor to obtain legitimate local control of local affairs, yet I did believe that it would have a great effect in diminishing that which is the danger of Nationalist proceedings—a desire to become a separate nation, and distinct from the British Empire. I hold most strongly that the Irish tenant, whether a Nationalist or not, when he has entered into a fair bargain desires to keep the terms of that bargain as an Irishman and not as a Nationalist.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I think that the hon. Gentleman has scarcely improved his position by what he now says, because no one sitting on the Irish Benches is in favour of separation. According to the views of the Government, anyone who is in favour of a moderate form of Home Rule is a Separatist. But the point I wish to urge is this: that those tenants who were Nationalists before they became owners of the land have remained 1624 Nationalists after they became owners; and, therefore, the whole basis of the Unionist policy in passing such a Bill as this is destroyed, because that basis is that the ownership of land converts a Nationalist into what is called a Loyalist. The Government hold that the whole political question in Ireland will be removed the moment the agrarian difficulty is settled. Well, I would recommend the Chief Secretary to pay attention to the statements of one of his supporters, and to convince himself that even after he has passed such a measure as this he will still have the National question to deal with. Hon. Gentlemen think that this Bill will limit the area of discontent. On the contrary, it will widen the area of possible repudiation. If these tenants buy under compulsion from the landlord, backed by Removable Magistrates and by a perpetual Coercion Law, there is no sanctity in the contract. I will go further, and say that if a tenant who has entered into a bargain under this Bill with his eyes open can, by a temporary postponement of his payments to this country, aid in turning the present Government out of office, he will be morally justified in adopting such a course. [Cries of "Oh!"and "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members meet that statement with cries of dissent. That they should do so is curious, considering that in this country every Nihilist from Russia can find a most enthusiastic welcome, even though dynamite has been employed by him against his Sovereign with the object of securing reforms: The Chief Secretary smiles, suggesting, perhaps, that I have advocated the use of dynamite. I have never done so.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
If the right hon. Gentleman has anything to say he ought to take his hands out of his pockets and stand up. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is not an Irremovable Magistrate trying an Irish prisoner. A great deal has been said about the Ashbourne tenants, but everything has not been said about them yet. We read recently in the Times about the boycotting of a railway by a certain num- 1625 ber of tenants, and among those who, according to the veracious Times, encouraged this boycotting are the tenants of an Ashbourne estate. Then, there is the Tenants' Defence Fund, which amounts now to £60,000. To this Fund the County of Cork is the largest contributor, and in that county the largest subscription but one has come from a parish where stands the estate of Lord Shannon, whose tenants are buying him out under the Ashbourne Act. And I am told there is a case of precisely similar character in Queen's County. These large subscriptions, it would appear, do not come from rack-rented tenants, hut from comfortable, prosperous, and "loyalist." tenants, who have become owners under the Ashbourne Act. Why, then, this delusion about the tenure of land making any difference in the Nationalist principles of Ireland? It is a fallacy which by this time should have been exploded even in a Unionist mind as impervious to impressions as that of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs. Why, every single Land Act passed by the Imperial Parliament has immediately resulted in an enormous increase of strength to the Nationalist Party; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary never in his life harboured a greater mistake than he does now, if he believes that the present Purchase Act will have the least effect in diminishing the Nationalist cause in Ireland. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has cold us that the present House of Commons is morally incompetent to pass a. Land Purchase Bill involving the credit of the State, and the statement has been contradicted on the opposite side of the House. But I could quote speech after speech made by hon. Members opposite at the time of the General Election in which land purchase in any shape involving Imperial credit in any form was condemned and repudiated. Does anyone who went through the General Election of 1886 forget that? The action of the Government and of the whole Party opposite is as glaring a piece of wholesale mendacity as this 1626 country ever witnessed. There are men opposite whose election placards can be produced calling for votes on the cry of "No Coercion," and "No Land Purchase," and yet these men have voted for coercion, and are now about to vote for land purchase. Election speeches, it would seem, are only good until Parliament is elected, and are forgotten the moment Parliament has come into existence. This Land Purchase Bill is on a level with the election pledges of 1886. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann), in his election address, referred to the Land Purchase Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and said that three years previously the fight hon. Gentleman put the cost of buying out the Irish landlords at between £300,000,000 and £400,000,000. I have here an election placard inscribed "Vote for Weymouth and No Coercion," and another on which appears—Do not vote for Samuelson. He would increase the taxes on your beer and bread by giving millions of English money to buy out the Irish landlords.Well, the Marquess of Bath, the father of the Gentleman who was elected on this placard, got £225,000 under the Ashbourne Act for his Irish estates. I return to the hon. Member for Peckham. Does he adhere to the estimate I have mentioned of the amount that is required I [Mr. BAUMANN indicated assent.] Well then, what is the meaning of offering this paltry £40,000,000? Let them bring in a Bill for £300,000,000 or £400,000,000. Then they will be honest, and then they will cease to be the Tory Government. The hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Yerburgh) also at the time of that election entered into a calculation of the number of railway lorries it would take to carry the gold with which Mr. Gladstone intended to buy out the Irish landlords. And it was on statements like these—which I dare not characterise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, unless you should call me to order—that the majority of this House were elected. No House of Commons ever had a baser origin than the present one, and if the Party opposite had any candour in their nature they would rise in repentance and apologise to the constituencies, and 1627 especially to the right John. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. Compare this tinkering and botching measure with the Bill of 1886. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has spoken of the net rental, and has calculated that the difference between the gross and net rentals is 8 per cent.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is not my calculation. In order to make my statement clear I gave two illustrations. I gave one in which the difference was 7 per cent., but I stated that that was not the average for the whole of Ireland. As far as I can discover, from the facts at my command, the average difference all over Ireland is about 3¼ per cent.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I am very glad to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman. It makes my case a, good deal stronger. I must go back to I S8G again. I apologise to Gentlemen opposite. I am sure the recollection is painful to them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said at that time, and they have been saying ever since—"Talk of the Liberal Government being the friend of the Irish tenant. Why, those miserable hypocrites actually proposed 20 years' purchase of the rentals of Irish land, throwing the most exorbitant burden on the Irish tenant. If you want to find the real friend of the Irish tenant, go to the Chief Secretary, who only asks 17 years." Yes, 17 years, plus two years of arrears, and plus the average reduction between the gross rental and the net rental. I have not the slightest doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has the picking of the Land Commission, the purchase will be a 22 years' purchase. I am glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place. He seemed to me the other night to be labouring under an extraordinary want of the power of discrimination. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian said that under this Bill there would be State relations between the Exchequer on the one side and the 1628 tenant on the other, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied that under the Bill of 1886 there was also a State authority. But does he not see that there is all the difference between the relations of the tenant with a State friendly to him and a State hostile to him? In the State hostile to the tenant, you have a State with a perpetual Coercion Act in its hand, and you have nothing hut feelings of the bitterest and most vehement hostility. Under the scheme of 1886 every penny of rent would have been collected by an Irish policeman, armed with powers by an Irish Court, sent by an Irish Minister, and backed by Irish public opinion. Under that scheme, Irish liberty was the hostage of Irish honesty. The tenant who did not pay would be imperilling the liberties of his own nation, and he would, therefore, be a traitor against the liberties of his own country, and public opinion would back the authorities in bringing him to his senses. A man sent to prison under that Bill would have been regarded as a traitor going to prison to purge his contempt; whilst under this Bill he would be looked upon as a man going to prison to help in restoring the liberties of his country. Unless this Bill restores peace in Ireland it would have been better that it should not have been brought in at all. How can it be said that a Bill which, to put it at the highest, will only deal with one-fourth of the tenancies, can restore peace? The measure is meant to serve for the year that must elapse between this and the General Election. It is meant to show that purchase in Ireland can be carried out for a small sum, and is, therefore, intended to throw dust in the eyes of the country. We shall vote against it with a perfectly light heart. Our people can afford to wait. Land is going down in the Irish market every day, and when we come to deal with it, it will not be at 17, but at 10 or 12 years' purchase. We oppose this Bill, therefore, feeling perfectly secure that in no way shall we interfere by so doing with the interests of the people. If the right hon. Gentleman doubts that we are representing the feelings of the people, I invite him to give as the opportunity of testing it. We oppose the Bill with a 1629 light heart, because it will not be a settlement of the relations between England and Ireland, and it is our most anxious desire to have those relations placed on a satisfactory and tranquil footing. The Bill will create discontent. It will widen the area of disturbance, and, instead of making easy the relations between England and Ireland, it will give further opportunities for misunderstanding.
§ (11.53.) Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Hayes Fisher,) put. and agreed to.
§ Debate farther adjourned till Tomorrow, at Two of the clock.