§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [21st April], "That the Bill be now read a second time."1648
§ And which Amendment was to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ *(2.55.) MR. HAYES FISHER (Fulham)
The only ground I can conceive for the prolongation of this debate is that hon. Members opposite may be able to agree upon some intelligible principle of action. Some years ago the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) became committed to a policy as a settlement of the land question in Ireland, but I have not yet heard any Member of the Opposition say that he is satisfied with the settlement as created by the Land Act of 1881. The nearest approach to an assertion of that kind came from the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), last night, when he told us that he did not think dual ownership was at all a necessary evil. Neither do we think so, but the right hon. Gentleman laid down the conditions under which alone dual ownership can work in Ireland, or in any other country, namely, that the advantages can only be brought out by the dual owners dealing fairly by each other. The right hon. Gentleman went on to tell the House that that Act has failed to secure peace to Ireland and to bring contentment in its train, even upon such estates as those of Mr. Olphert and Lord Lansdowne, on which it has been most recently brought into operation. We have, therefore, to look ahead, and we say that it was the inevitable consequence of the Act of 1881, that during a certain stated term of years the question between the two partners in the property should be re-opened. But in certain parts of Ireland, where there is not that fair dealing between the two partners, to which reference was made earlier in the debate, how can the House expect any definite settlement of the question? No one has risen in this House to say that he sees in the settlement of 1881 anything like a permanent agrarian policy of this country with regard to Ireland; and, therefore, we are justified in calling in some auxiliary aid to settle the Irish land question. I am far from saying that dual ownership has not worked well in 1649 certain parts of Ireland, but this has been mainly in those parts which have not been disturbed by agrarian disputes between landlord and tenant. We have, however, to look to other parts of Ireland, and the only policy which has met with any success in the somewhat more disturbed portions of the country has been a Land Purchase policy. That is the policy the Government are trying to carry further by means of this Bill. They are not acting without experience on their side. They have already taken two steps towards a Land Purchase policy in 1885 and 1888, by the passing of the Ashbourne Acts. Now it is proposed to take a big stride towards the same end; and the experiment of 1890 is fully justified by the experience which has been gained from the passing of those Acts, but I cannot believe that any agrarian scheme can be a good scheme which it is necessary, year after year, to doctor. The only way to settle the Irish question in the more disturbed portions of the country, and to end the difficulties arising from the dual system of ownership established by the Act of 1881, is, in my opinion, to extend the single ownership system begun by the Acts of 1885 and 1888. A great deal has been said as to the success which attended the system of Land Purchase from the point of view of restoring social order, and the great benefits which have been secured from the operation of the Acts in certain districts; but I do not think sufficient has been heard of the great results which have been derived from the fact that the tenants have been induced to extract the extreme value from the land. By restoring single ownership in land there is no longer a conflict of interests. I have received reports from persons who have gone over estates on which the Ashbourne Act has come into operation, which show that the tenants, since purchasing the land, have made improvements which have added considerably to the value of the security. They have kept the land in good order, have made fences, and added to the comfort of their homesteads. Many of them who had not cattle before now have them. On Lord Normanton's estate in Tipperary, which has recently been purchased by the tenants, there is great prosperity. An interesting report from a friend of mine states that according to the parish 1650 priest of Emly, milch cows have increased by 250 in that dstirict.
§ MR. HAYES FISHER
Mainly on the estate purchased from Lord Normanton. And I think it will be found that the new purchasers are displaying much more intelligence, and taking a much more active interest in the question of taxation. That is a result which will greatly facilitate the successful operation of a Local Government Bill. Men who, in 1887, had no cows now have several, while others have increased their stock greatly. From reports of this kind we may fairly draw two deductions; first, that the manner in which these tenants are cultivating their farms has added greatly to the value of the security upon which the country is advancing its money. Every improvement made is an improvement of the security, so that in numerous instances the security will be much larger than when the money was advanced. The second deduction is, that, when we add to the marketable produce of a district, or of Ireland as a whole, we add to the general prosperity of the country. One great objection to the manner in which these advances are secured was stated by the hon. Member for Cork. He said that, supposing these aristocratic tenant farmers made default in their payments, the State would recoup itself by taking funds and taxation which were the property of the neighbourhood, including many not interested in the advances. But if it can be shown that the purchase system has largely extended the general prosperity of the district and of the country at large, then we have a weighty argument for saying that, as the benefit has been shared to a certain extent by the people of Ireland generally, so the penalty for default must also be shared. With regard to the default in the payments to be made by the tenants, it would be either accidental, economic, or wilful, and probably political. If the default were accidental, arising from agricultural depression, then the Insurance Fund would probably meet the case. If economic, as through being caused by general famine, then Great Britain, as in 1847, would put her hand in her pocket and come to the relief of Ireland. If default arose from any other cause it would 1651 be wilful and political, and this country could enforce its guarantees. I do not think that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) has made a worthy contribution to this debate. No doubt, as the responsible editor of a newspaper, which referred to the Bill as "The Idiot Bill" before it had been seen, we could hardly expect from the hon. Member criticism which would be worthy of notice at any length, even by a young Member like myself. The remark I will make upon the hon. Member's speech is that the impotency of its criticism was only equalled by the potency of its language, and the single striking thing about it was the threatening attitude adopted towards the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. W. Sinclair). There was, however, one observation of the hon. Member with regard to repudiation which I will refer to for a moment. The hon. Member actually declared that he thought the tenants of Ireland would be morally justified in refusing payment of the instalments which they have deliberately and voluntarily undertaken to pay, if by so doing they could only manage to turn out the Government. That may be the morality of the Star, but it is not the morality of British statesmen. What would be the situation if there was any general repudiation? It would be limited to those over whom hon. Members opposite have political power, and would not extend to the farmers of Ulster. What, in that case, would the British taxpayer say? I am sure that my own constituents, looking to the fact that these men have received 30 per cent reduction, and that they have availed themselves of the option offered them, would say to those responsible for the government; of Ireland, "Enforce with all your might and power every guarantee you have taken against such dishonest men." I refuse, however, to believe that the tenants of Ireland, even under the guidance of hon. Members opposite, would ever take such a course as that. I do not in any case think the Government need have any serious difficulty with the question, as the favourable terms on which the farms would be offered to incoming tenants would produce a healthy competition for them. At any rate, I am prepared to take the risk. It would, however, be to the 1652 interests of the tenants themselves, for the sake of their own pockets, to maintain the integrity of the contract. Then it is said that it would be impossible to enforce the guarantees, and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool stated that, although a Grand Jury might make a rate, the people would never pay it. I have in my own mind instances where taxes have been violently denounced, and yet not much difficulty has been experienced in the collection of them. I would ask hon. Members opposite to give me a single instance in which the authorities have been unable to collect a tax.
§ MR. HAYES FISHER
One of the most interesting relics in my possession is one of the green placards posted in the neighbourhood of Mitchelstown callingon the people on no account to pay the so-called "blood tax," levied in consequence of the unhappy occurrences there a few years ago. That tax, nevertheless, was collected without any very great difficulty, being paid sometimes after dark, sometimes under divers cloaks and covers, as so many rates and taxes in Ireland are paid. Experience, therefore, would lead as to believe that this, rate also, which would be imposed by the Grand Jury, would be collected without great difficulty. With reference to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) I think, speaking for myself, that the experience of the existing Ashbourne Acts proves that it is better to deal direct with the tenants than with the Local Authority. On that question, however, I will keep an open mind. If the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham is reckoned by the Opposition as being against the Bill, I claim the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) as being distinctly in its favour.
§ MR. HAYES FISHER
There were some valuable comments in the speech of the hon. Member as to dealing with the congested districts, and this Bill, whatever its defects, embodies the only scheme ever pat forward for solving that great problem in a practical way.
§ MR. HAYES FISHER
The Bill of the Government has been described as a measure to buyout landlords, but it may more truly be described as a Bill to buy in tenants, and it is impossible to set up a peasant proprietary in a fair and honest way without buying out the landlords. Hon. Members have joined in a general denunciation of absentee landlords, but is the 8th Commandment to be limited in its applicability, and not to apply to absentee landlords? If not, you must deal with them in a fair manner. Then, again, the complaint is that this is an oppressive Bill, and it is said that the tenants will be coerced into buying at extravagant rates; but that complaint was corrected by other speakers, who say that it will be compulsory and oppressive upon the landlords. For my own part, I do not think it will be either the one or the other. There may be a good deal of pressure put on some of the landlords to sell, but it is a pressure which is not altogether unknown in England. A small landlord, with no other means of obtaining a livelihood, finds himself sandwiched between two large landlords at a time when agriculture is much depressed. The wealthy landlords make large reductions of rent to their tenants, but he cannot afford to do so. If he is a good landlord, taking a general interest in everything that goes on in the locality, he will be able to stand his ground and remain there. And so it will be in Ireland. If a good landlord is pressed to sell he will say, "No, I cannot afford to accept your price," and he will remain there for generations to come. I myself can have very little sympathy with tenants who desire to force landlords to sell at a price at which they cannot afford to sell. Nor, can a policy of this kind be carried out with out British credit, and I claim that, the object being a great national object—the settlement, complete or partial, of the Irish agrarian problem—it is one in which it is perfectly legitimate to employ, and even to risk, to a certain extent, British credit. If we are able to settle the agrarian problem, we shall have gone a long way towards the settlement of the great Irish question, and it is because I believe that this Bill is the corner-stone of a great agrarian policy 1654 for Ireland that I heartily support it, and, so far as my own constituents are concerned, I am only too glad to take the risk incurred in the adoption of it.
§ (3.20.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I do not attach much importance to the eloquence of hon. Members sitting immediately behind the Treasury Bench, because I find that they are utterly wanting in independence. No matter what a Minister proposes, they rain down blessings on his head, or if they do criticise, they do not give practical effect to their criticisms by their votes. I oppose this Bill because I am against the Imperial credit being used, in whatever form or shape, for the object aimed at. The policy adopted in the last few years for Ireland has been a policy of kicks and ha'pence. I have been opposed to the kicks; I am equally opposed to the ha'pence. The ha'pence are, perhaps, more demoralising, and would more lower the patriotic fibre of Irishmen than the kicks. I do not admit that all the industries of this country should incur heavy liabilities for the sake of one industry; still less do I admit that all the industries of this country should incur heavy liabilities for the sake of persons exercising one particular industry in one particular part of the Empire. We are told that we have grossly ill-treated Ireland; that we have sacrificed her interests for our own; and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) has pointed out that by the apportionment of the National Debt at the time of the Union, Ireland was unfairly dealt with. That may be all very true; but whether this measure is injurious to Ireland, or not, I shall equally vote against it, on the ground that if the Bill becomes law, we must inevitably become the owners of the whole of that country. Whether regarded from a political or from a financial aspect it must prove ruinous to Ireland, because the landlords, having got the price of their land in their pockets, would immediately come to England, and the result would be that we should set up a great system of absenteeism. What would be the consequence if the whole of the rents of the English land were taken over to France? Why, the people would not stand it, and they would repudiate any arrangement which led to 1655 such a consequence. I cannot help thinking that too much importance has been attached to the scheme that has been proposed by the hon. Member for Cork, because it was evidently only put forward as an alternative to that of the Government. Perhaps if it were a mere matter of Hobson's choice between the schemes of the Government and of the hon. Member for Cork I might prefer the latter, because it is cheaper and seems to be of a more final character than that of the Government. At the same time, however, I am bound to say that I object entirely to both proposals. The proposal of the hon. Member is to subsidise the landlords by converting the 6 per cent. interest which they now pay upon their mortgages into a 2¾ per cent. interest by means of an Imperial guarantee. The advances which have been made by the State to the English landlords have been expended in effecting permanent improvements in the land, whereby the whole community is benefited, whereas the advances that are to be made to the Irish landlords under this Bill would be applied to wiping out second mortgages, the proceeds of which have already been expended and wasted, and would thus be of no benefit whatever to the community at large. In such circumstances the State would naturally fall into the position of the second mortgagees, and it would have to pay off the first mortgagees if it wished to realise its security by foreclosing. Therefore, before the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork can be accepted it would have to be modified in many respects, and even then it would not do any great good to the people of Ireland. But the right hon Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has also come forward with an alternative scheme of his own. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have a perfect mania for propounding land schemes, whether he happens to be sitting at a Round Table, standing on a platform, writing to a newspaper, or speaking in this House. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to be able to pass three months of his existence without putting forward some new scheme for Land Purchase in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is a sort of Solon unattached—a heaven-born legislator—and he is highly indignant when anybody else has 1656 the effrontery to come forward with any other scheme, and he asks, "Why do they look at that other man's scheme when they have a man like me with not only one but a dozen schemes ready cut and dried?" I hope that the Government, following the example set them on this side of the House, will treat the right hon. Gentleman's schemes with the most absolute contempt. The right hon. Gentleman represents no one but himself. I should like to know whether the followers of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) approve of the schemes of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and will pursue them to their logical conclusion by voting against the Second Reading of this Bill. But no, those hon. Members are too much afraid of the result of a General Election ever to put the Government into a minority. For instance, there is the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Addison), who is now sitting opposite, and who was only returned by a casting vote. I believe honestly and conscientiously that we should have won the last election had it not been for the Land Purchase Bill of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. Hon. Gentlemen opposite used that Bill for their own purposes. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian said that he did not intend to re-introduce the Bill, but hon. Gentlemen opposite mistrusted him. If ever a Parliament was bound by a direct mandate from the people it is this Parliament, the mandate being not to use the Imperial credit for Land Purchase in Ireland. If hon. Gentlemen opposite have changed their minds, as they have a right to do, the honourable course is to dissolve the present Parliament, and ask the electors to absolve them from the veto which they imposed upon them. In such a case they might, with some show of honesty and fairness, come forward with a proposal of this kind. But we know that they were against the Land Purchase system at the last election, and I have seen no sort of proof that they have changed their minds. The arguments of the Government are nothing but pleas in mitigation of their inconsistency. They say, in the first place, that the Bill is a small one, and secondly, that the risk is merely a nominal one. Now, the Bill is not 1657 small. If we grant these £33,000,000 we must inevitably become the owners of the whole of Ireland. I can understand hon. Members opposite being in favour of that, but I cannot understand how any human being can deny that this is the necessary consequence of the present Bill. I hope every elector will remember that this will amount to 3d. on the Income Tax from every person who pays it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham admitted that every supporter of the Government was pledged against giving any guarantee, but, he said, the risk is nominal. But there is no such thing as a nominal risk when you have put your name to a bill, provided you are solvent. I appeal to every solvent Member of this House—an hon. Friend says the minority—whether he has ever been asked by a friend to put his name to a bill with the assurance that it was merely a nominal proceeding find has not had to pay for doing it? I know that has invariably happened in my own case. Let us look at this as a business transaction. We buy this land, and upon what terms? We must remember that half of the land of Ireland has not been subjected to reductions of rent in the Land Court. Reductions have been made amounting to 20 per cent., but, as to all that land which has not been dealt with in the Land Court we should have to buy on the actual rents without reduction. It must also be remembered that the Chief Secretary stated that he would only take off 5 per cent—it appeared from a subsequent statement that it ought to be 3½ per cent., but I take it at 5 per cent.—for the cost of management. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian estimated, in 1886, that for bad debts and management, there should be allowed a difference of 10 per cent. between net and gross; the total, therefore, to be deducted, between the value put on the estate of which purchase is to be made, and the real value, would be 35 percent. in regard to every estate not brought into the Land Court. The Chief Secretary supposed a case of a farm bought at a rental of £105; he takes off £5, and the price would be £1,700, or 17 years' purchase, the amount of the rent less the landlord's rates. Now, what is the 1658 real case? If you take off 35 per cent. you find the real value of the farm, £1,005, and the real and bonâ fide rental £65 a year. But you have to do more, because the right hon. Gentleman proposes to add two years' arrears. We, therefore, should be paying £1,900 for a farm, the value of which we ascertain to be £1,005. But when I say a value of' £1,005 I should like to know who would give half that amount? What an ad vertisement it would make—"To be sold, an eligible property in Kerry; the rent is now £107, but deducting the amount which will probably be taken off by the Land Court, £65; the tenant has not paid any rent for the last two years." The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken told us of himself and his constituents going to Ireland to take farms, but he and his friends must be more foolish than I take them to be if they take farms under such conditions. Can anything be more monstrous in these monstrous proposals than the suggestion that we pay not only for the estates but for arrears? Irish landlords, as well as English landlords and English traders, make bad debts, but here is a proposal to pay an excessive price, and also to pay in full for the bad debts incurred. I confess I see nothing so admirable in the Irish landlords to induce me to make any such sacrifice. Through generations they have practised heartless exactions upon the Irish tenantry. Swift has described how the very vitality of the tenants was sacrificed to Irish landlords. Lord Clare, in 1787, showed how they exacted excessive rents, and what do hon. Gentleman opposite say to the opinion of an authority they will not question—their Bible—the Times, which, in 1852, declared "the name of Irish landlord stinks in the nostrils of' Christendom." Yet these are the men on whose account we are called upon to incur this enormous liability. We are to buy for cash, at excessive prices, and how do we sell? We sell upon credit; that is the first thing objectionable. We take an estate worth £1,005 at £1,900, and then we sell it again for an annuity over 45 years. Everybody knows that the price of land may fall. We are told this will not happen; but who, before the last 10 years, would have predicted the fall there actually has been, and who shall say there may not 1659 be another heavy fall in the next 10 years? There may be bad years, and what is to be done then? But even if there are not, individual farmers may have bad years; they may be extravagant and they may have to be evicted, some of them. Does anybody think that it will increase the love for the British connection if evictions are carried out in the name of the State instead of the landlord? When 180,000 tenants have to pay the rents in the form of taxes to an alien Government, will there not be a very considerable temptation not to pay? We shall have to become the owners of the whole of Ireland, and if there should be a general strike against the payment of rents, how are we to enforce payment? What shall we do with the land if we evict? Where are you to find the men to take the land? Where will you find labourers to cultivate it, with the whole country under a strike against rent? Why, the English Government would become nothing more than a, huge Smith-Barry concern. It is a most remarkable thing that this transaction is to take place with men who hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have told us, again and again, are not fit for self-government, not to be trusted to legislate for themselves or for landlords. But why this political incredulity on the one hand, and this financial credulity on the other? The Government know that the land is no security, and, therefore, they have inserted these contingent securities. Now the right hon. Member for Derby has treated these in so drastic a fashion that there is absolutely nothing left of them; as an existing entity they have disappeared. If Ireland is to be deemed an integral part of the British Empire, why, if the Kerry farmer fails to pay, should the responsibility fall upon the Ulster farmer and the Dublin shopkeeper, any more than upon the farmer in Kent and shopkeeper in London? The multiplication of securities is like trying to give additional value to a bill by having it signed six times by the same person; and in this case it is the forgery of the same name six times over. These contingent securities are illusory and unjust, and they are merely put in to hoodwink the British public, and make them believe that the risk is merely nominal. Certainly the securities are of no value, because they are not pledged with the con- 1660 sent of the Irish people. There is no such thing as taxation, whether Local or Imperial, without the consent of those who are to be taxed. I have seen it discussed who is the real author of this Bill, whether it is the Chief Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I never entertained the slightest doubt about it after I heard the speech of the Chief Secretary. There is a sort of Egyptian Loan Prospectus flavour about these contingent securities, in which I recognise the "fine Roman hand" of the ex-partner in the firm of Fruhling and Goschen. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is an excellent financier, and he knows well enough that not by the addition of any number of rotten eggs can you make a good omelette, and that it is no use multiplying rotten securities to make a sound security. But, instead of coming here to try and hoodwink poor innocent people like us, let him go with his proposals to that eminent firm I have mentioned. Let him ask Messrs. Fruhling' and Goschen if they will guarantee this loan without English credit, and I know Messrs Fruhling and Goschen would reply, "Go to—the House of Commons; do not come here with such a proposal." With regard to the congested districts, the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) has made some cogent remarks, but I confess that, even for the congested districts, I am not disposed to use Imperial credit unnecessarily, and certainly not in the mode proposed by the Bill. These districts are absolutely valueless from an agricultural point of view, though persons live there because it is traditional to live there, and it appears that Irishmen have a partiality for living where their forefathers lived before, and yet we are to buy their lands at residential value, and sell them at the supposed agricultural value, taking the difference out of a fund that belongs as much to the English as to the Irish nation. Then, I want to know what you will do in regard to tenant right? We are to pull down the houses; how are we to pay the people? This does not come out of the Church Fund; this cost the taxpayers will be required to pay. Everybody knows we have unsanitary rookeries in London. We condemn them, but we do not buy them up at habitable house 1661 price, pull down the rookeries, and erect new buildings, and take the difference out of the Public Exchequer. Yet that is what we are called upon to do for these unsanitary rookeries in Ireland. This is not the way I should deal with Irish landed property of this sort. The question has been much discussed as to whom this Bill will really benefit. At first sight it seems as if the tenant would benefit, but though the immediate result will be to lower his rent, yet he will be bound hand and foot in the grasp of a machine, and will have to pay this rent, or instalments, in bad times as well as in good. It would be far better for him to bide his time until the Liberals come into office and bring in legislation which will be still more favourable to him. The real gainers will be the larger landlords and the English mortgagees. The extent to which the large landlords have availed them selves of the Ashbourne Acts is an indication of this. Members of the House of Lords have received between them £930,000 and the City Companies £450,000 under those Acts. Large landlords have to recognise the principle that property has its obligations as well as its rights, and their income is reduced by the contributions which decency compels them to make to local and charitable funds. It, therefore, pays them very well to sell their property and get rid of these calls upon them. The small landlords, however, are generally mortgaged to the full extent of their property, and are merely squatters on a field or two surrounding their house, and which they term their demesne. They are not turned off, because it is nobody's business to turn them off, and so they go on from year to year. For Irish landlords a sale would be ruinous, but if this Bill is passed their mortgagees will compel them to sell. The London Insurance Companies have advanced an immense amount of money on Irish land at 5 per cent., and they have hitherto not pressed for foreclosure, as the estates would not realise the full amount of money advanced upon them, and they do not like to appear to their shareholders, from the balance-sheet, that they have had to write off a certain portion of their assets as bad debts. This Bill will enable these English Insurance Companies to realise the money they have advanced at the high rate of 5 per cent. interest. The 1662 attitude which we take up on this subject is that there can be no property in extortionate rents; that either the rents are fair, in which case there is no necessity to reduce the rents, or they are excessive, in which case there is no necessity to compensate the landlords. But then it will be said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has prejudiced the question of establishing the principle of dual ownership, and single ownership is better. This is nonsense, and the very worst of nonsense—sentimental nonsense. Irishmen have gained considerably by dual ownership, fixity of tenure, compensation for improvements; and they pay rents which theoretically are fair rents. Irish farmers are much better off than English farmers, and why should the latter pledge their credit to assist the Irish farmers to whole ownership, while English farmers have not even the advantages of half ownership which the Irish farmers enjoy? Why should Imperial credit be brought in to enable tenants to buy their holdings? There are many hon. Members who are in favour of leasehold enfranchisement, but no one proposes to carry it out by providing funds by means of Imperial credit. The land question would solve itself if the principle of "live and thrive"—that rent should only be the surplus left after the tenant lived and throve—were thoroughly carried out. I would warn my hon. Friends from Ireland against accepting this scheme or suggesting any other which would involve Imperial credit. The Government realise that the people are coming more and more to understand Home Rule, and their object in forcing this Bill on Ireland is to strengthen their arguments against Home Rule by being able to appeal to the English people not to give up the government of a country of which they are practically the mortgagees. I appeal to my hon. Friends from Ireland not to renounce their birthright for a mess of pottage, especially as the mess of pottage will go not to the tenants but to the landlords. Irish Members ought to mistrust anything offered to them by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham or the Government; they ought to say to the Government, "We claim the right to govern ourselves, but we do not want your money." If they are offered any species of Local Govern- 1663 ment it might be wise to accept it, but I hope, in taking it, they will be frank and candid, that they take it not as a final settlement, but to use as a means for obtaining Home Rule. It may be a useful means of securing that end, the County Councils constituting so many branches of the National League with a recognised official position. If Irishmen adopt this attitude Home Rule is absolutely certain. The English Liberal Party has declared itself in favour of it, and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to show any one single reform for which that Party ever declared itself that in the end has not been carried? If we on this side of the House intend to stand by the Irish, I submit that the Irish have no right and no claim to ask us to incur a species of liability direct or indirect in respect of the relationships between landlord and tenant in Ireland. The scheme of the Bill is bad; it is a thoroughly treacherous Bill; it puts forward sham contingent securities, and it pretends that it only involves the expenditure of a sum of £33,000,000, whereas a sum of £165,000,000 is involved. But even if it were the best scheme that could be devised by the wit of man, if it were a final settlement of the Irish question, I should, even if I stood alone in doing so, oppose it, because I object to the use of Imperial credit for such a purpose.
§ *(4.3.) SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
I shall not endeavour to treat the question, which is a most important one, in the same way as has the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He has treated it as if he believes that the first and only object which the Government of the country has is to keep itself in power by any moans. I venture to say that the one object the Government have in view in dealing with the matter is, if possible, to settle this most difficult and dangerous question of Land Purchase, as it now exists in Ireland. The difficulties which exist have been augmented and intensified by the very hon. Gentleman with whom the hon. Gentleman acts, and by what they have done from the time of the Act of 1870, and especially since the Act of 1881. I myself opposed that Act at every stage. I opposed it because I saw in it no final settlement whatever, and because I believed that under it the landlords would suffer far more than 1664 they deserved to suffer. Will hon. Gentlemen opposite deny that it was the opinion of the Government at that time that the Act of 1881 would be a security to the landlord, and that the rent that was left to them when the dual ownership was in full play would be absolutely secured to them? Has that been the case? Was not the land worth something like 27 years' purchase at that time? What is it worth now? I will ask the hon. Gentleman in all sincerity how he would like, in any enterprise with which he is connected, to have a dual ownership forced upon him in that enterprise. How would he like to have his profits pulled down by others, whose sole endeavour would be to make him pay as much as possible to their account? I will answer that question for the hon. Gentleman, because I know there is no man in the House who would be less liberal to those with whom he has to deal than the hon. Gentleman. When I board the hon. Gentleman refer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I thought the hon. Gentleman must have known in his long public life that when a statement has been publicly refuted and done with it is usual not to refer to it, and I think the course taken by the hon. Gentleman was neither generous nor just. The hon. Gentleman talked about the landlord selling off a portion of his property. I will put it to any hon. Member sitting below the Gangway, if he were in the position of many of the landlords with large mortgages upon their properties, whether he would not like to sell off a certain portion of it in order to clear off some of the encumbrances, and thus enable him to live in respectable circumstances and with the honest wish to do his duty to those living under him on that property which he had inherited and which had been owned by his family for generations—yes, and more than generations—for hundreds of years many of these estates have been in the possession of one family. The great object of the landlords is to get their property cleared and be able to live upon it. The question raised by the hon. Member for Mayo was one which must touch the heart of any one who knows the localities and districts referred to. I have known these districts for many years—perhaps even better than many hon. Members opposite. 1665 I saw them under the worst circumstances which it was possible to conceive—namely, in the days of the first famine—when I was on duty there, and I said that any man's heart must be made of stone if it did not bleed at what was to be seen at the time, in the district. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Has any thing ever been done from that day down to the present time in the interests of those districts? Both Governments have alike neglected that which they ought to have done, and have never taken account of these districts which have made all the disturbances in Ireland. Whenever there is anything wrong in those districts where men are generally nearly at the verge of starvation—when anything of that kind does occur, agitation always springs up and is taken advantage of for the worst purposes. In 1846–7–8 the disturbances were very great; but the district itself was in an awful condition, and no one will deny that the English people, with great generosity, sent over large sums of money to assist the people. As to the present Bill, I am not in love with it, but the one part Hike is that part which deals with the congested districts, and it is on that account I give my support to the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope the Bill will be much amended in Committee. I want to see it made a Bill which shall, if possible, be a final measure; and if it is not to be a final measure, then I am quite sure it will be a mischievous one. If it does not settle the question I know we shall have more agitation, and perhaps worse agitation than we have had before. I think my right hon. Friend also in charge of the Bill knows that as well as I do; and I must say that knowing and feeling that, and knowing my right hon. Friend's anxiety to make Ireland prosperous, contented, and happy, though some may deny it, I hope my right hon. Friend will accept and put into the Bill such amendment as he may think will be found effective to make it, at any rate, a permanent measure so far as human forethought can secure that end. I admit the question is a very difficult one, and I am very much struck with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Mayo. But I certainly did not think he was just in his remarks with regard to the landowners occupying in that 1666 part. I have in my hand a Return of an estate in Mayo; and on that estate, ever since 1884, by the action of the Land League, not one single farthing of rent has been paid to the landlord up to 1887. The hon. Member for Mayo and his friends cheer that statement. But this is a good landlord, and one who is anxious to do his duty. Out of 190 tenants no less than 186 were under £4 valuation. What has happened? Not one single farthing of rent has been paid during the time I have mentioned, but the landlord has had to pay all the poor rates, which amounted to a very large sum the half of the poor rate was only paid by the poor tenants. The House will not doubt be astounded to hear that the poor rates amounted to over 10s. in the £1, and not one farthing of rent paid. Let hon. Members look at the matter in any sense they like, and say whether they call that justice as between man and man. Looking at the whole case, and at the way in which the poor rates are paid by many landlords, and how property has been transferred to the tenants, it seems only fair that the poor rate should be transferred to the tenants, and a proper deduction from the judicial rents. That would be a step in the right direction, and it would quiet a great number of people and give a good effect to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. I recollect the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, when the last Act was being passed, stating what a good thing it would be if the tenant could only have the land which he tilled. He gave an instance of how he had been to Ireland, and had seen where that was done cottages and land had improved, and the people were happy and contented in every case. And now the right hon. Gentleman is going to vote against the Bill which is to settle the whole question, and give the tenants more power to get the land than they have had in any previous Bill. Looking at the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite once dealt with the question, I do not think there ought to be any difficulty made about British credit. I know perfectly well it is a difficult question, and an unpopular question; but, at the same time, when any improvement is to take place in Ireland—when Ireland is to continue to belong to England, as we are all determined it shall—when 1667 we intend that the Union shall be kept, we ought to be prepared to make some sacrifice to enable Ireland to place herself in a position in which she will be peaceable, contented, and happy. As to the proposals made by the hon. Member for Cork, I thought at first the hon. Gentleman was going to be liberal to the Irish landowners, who are run down by everyone unfairly and unjustly. There are many in Ireland who do their duty as well as those who live in this country, and those who do so ought to be maintained in that position in Ireland which they previously held. I believe many of these are a great benefit and a blessing to the county. It is quite evident to any one who has heard the debate that the hon. Member for Cork consulted neither his Colleagues nor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian with regard to his proposals. He evidently thinks that with his 85 followers he is master of the position, and that he can dictate terms, and accordingly he expresses himself in the way he has done. I certainly tried to master the views enumerated by the hon. Gentleman, and I was in hopes that the landowners were to have some small modicum of money to pay off their mortgages. I hoped that the hon. Gentleman wanted these mortgages to disappear, and that the landlord would then be able to claim what little would be left of his own property. But I was disappointed to hear that the hon. Gentleman proposed a rent reduction of 30 per cent. with a certain modicum to be paid to the landlord. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was really anxious to establish the landlord firm in his saddle in Ireland. But that is contrary to anything he has ever said before; indeed, he and his Colleagues have wished to get rid of the landlords. Then I had to look to the other alternative, which was, first, reducing the landlords' rent by 30 per cent. after the judicial rent had been fixed, and after the reduction made by the Act of 1887; and then, after things had gone on pleasantly for a year or two, there is the unpleasant alternative shadowed forth by the hon. Members for Mayo and the Scotland Division of Liverpool of a repudiation of the obligations of the people. So that when another difficulty occurs the people will again say to the landlord, "Down with another 30 per 1668 cent!" until they got the unfortunate landlord into a corner, and prairie value will be all he will get for his land. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian thought something of that kind might occur, and that was why he was anxious to pass his Land Bill of 1886. In these circumstances, I think, the Chief Secretary, being forewarned, ought to be forearmed, and that we should not have added to his Bill the scheme of the Member for Cork, which is open to the objection which I have stated, and which I think would prove prove a cruel one for the landlords. As to the scheme of local self-government referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that requires most careful consideration, and I will only say that if that scheme is passed at the present moment—if all the resources of Ireland are placed in the hands of the County Councils of Ireland—hon. Gentlemen opposite, with perhaps the best intentions, will be able to manipulate the County Councils, and things will work into their hands certainly very much against the interests of the landowners, and even perhaps for some of the tenants, for whom they profess to act. I hope nothing will be done in that matter without due consideration; but I am sure the Chief Secretary has done his duty in all matters pertaining to Ireland to the best of his ability. We have never had a Secretary for Ireland who has more earnestly carried out his difficult and dangerous task, and I hope the House will now concur with him and assist him in taking care that the present measure which he has introduced shall be so amended and carried that it will be of use and benefit to Ireland for many generations, and that it will do a great deal in the immediate future towards making that country contented, prosperous, and happy. I believe that when the tenants are in such a frame of mind their great desire is to be let alone in the position in which God has placed them. I shall, on these grounds, support this Bill.
*(4.26.) MR. PIERCE MAHONT (Meath, N.)
The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to regard most philosophically the idea that the British taxpayer will become the owner of the land in Ireland, and I should 1669 have thought that the illustration he himself cited of a landlord having to pay the poor rate of 10s. in the £1 and getting no rent for years would have been a warning to him not to be too eager to embark in such a speculation. What excellent security would the estate in question afford! What an admirable property for the British taxpayer to lend his money on! After the remarkable speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham last night, we are in somewhat of a difficulty in discussing this measure. I think, however, from the reception given by the Chief Secretary to the criticisms of that speech by the Member for Dover, that I am entitled now to proceed on the assumption that the suggestions of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham will not be accepted by the Government, and therefore I contend that this measure will take Irish security without the consent of the Irish people, that it will be partial in its operation, will settle nothing, and increase the difficulties of the situation. My great objection to the Bill is that you will commit a gross injustice by taking Irish securities without consulting the Irish people, and against their expressed wishes. You are going to take from them for a period of five years a sum of £40,000 annually, which you have admitted the Irish people are justly entitled to. Hon. Members opposite are very fond of telling us that one of the great causes of difficulty in Ireland is the poverty of the people. Yet you are taking from them for five years £40,000 to which they are entitled. That is the generosity of the English Government. Then you are going to lockup, if necessary, year by year £200,000, in addition to which they are also justly entitled. You have no right to take this money against their wishes, not for the benefit of the many, but the few. As regards contingent securities, you talk about your responsibilities in Ireland. One of your great objections to Home Rule is that you cannot relieve yourselves of the responsibility of governing in Ireland. How are you going, by these contingent securities, to accept that responsibility? Either these contingent securities are necessary or they are not. If they are not, you have no business to put them into the Bill. If they are, then you 1670 must admit that there is a possibility of their being used; and if they are used you incur the responsibility of leaving Irish children uneducated and Irish lunatics and paupers without support. There are two absolutely necessary conditions to any scheme of purchase. One is that it must be complete, and the second that it must be equitable. Both are wanting in the present scheme. Personally, I doubt whether it is a very wise course, after having found that one body of landlords has done great injury to the country, to create another body of landlords as a remedy for the evil. However, that is a minor point, and one which may be practically met by very large controlling powers over those landlords who are to be created. But as regards the completeness of the Government's scheme, I say it cannot be complete. We are entitled to know from the Government whether they intend this scheme to be a final one, or whether they intend to act on the same lines until they have bought out all the landlords in Ireland. I press that point. About the circulating fund, I want to dispose of that—to get it out of the way. We are told that, when the £33,000,000 is spent, there will be still money available for the purchase of land, because the repayments will be available for fresh purchases. Hon. Members forget that the repayment takes place to a very small amount every year at compound interest, and that it is in the last few years that the real repayments take place. Imagine the impossibly favourable circumstance of the £33,000,000 being expended this year! What would be the position as regards repayment in 1900? A small fraction over £3,000,000 would have been repaid, with the result that you would have killed, or put into a state of somnolence for a very long period, the goose that laid the golden egg. This circulating fund is worth nothing for practical purposes; therefore, all you have at the present moment is £33,000,000 provided by this Bill. I think it is admitted that any partial scheme of purchase in Ireland will lead to great discontent and great difficulty. I have here some very weighty remarks made by a right hon. Gentleman in whom the Government have very 1671 great confidence. In fact, they credit him with a depth of sagacity as regards Ireland that they would hardly attribute to any other Member of the Government. I mean the right hon. Gentleman who, in a 24 hours' visit to Ireland at the beginning of 1886, was able to alter the whole policy of Her Majesty's Government towards Ireland. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith). Now, on April 16th, 1886, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian offered to provide £50,000,000 to buy out the Irish landlords, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) spoke as follows:—By what means is the Chancellor of the Exchequer to distinguish one application from another. The purchase must be complete or it cannot be carried out at all. If you leave portions of Ireland undealt with by the Bill you will leave an interest which will be an object of attack, for everyone knows that if there is anything unpopular in Ireland with the distressed classes it is that which is prosperous and successful. I doubt very much the wisdom of introducing this apple of discord.If you were going to introduce an apple of discord by proposing to give £50,000,000 for land purchase in 1886, I should like some explanation as to how the smaller sum of £33,000,000 to be given in 1890 is going to escape the description of being an "Apple of discord." We are entitled to know why the Government have changed their minds upon this point. If I am told that they have not changed their minds, and that they intend to go on until they have completed land purchase, we are entitled to ask how they intend to go on. The Chief Secretary said the Bill will put no burden on the British taxpayer, because he has got, in the securities which are to be taken under the powers of the Bill, the exact amount which will guarantee the repayment of the £33,000,000. But that amount will not settle the question of land purchase. What are you going to do after it is spent? Where are you going to get the rest of the money? There is no Irish security left for it; you must go to the British taxpayer. If that is your position, I think it is your bounden duty to say so now, and not to leave the difficulty to some future Government. The right 1672 hon. Gentleman knows that there is great difficulty in this matter, that it will lead to a reduction of rent, and that it will be the cause of agitation. That is clear from his own observations in introducing the Bill. He said that so-large a reduction as from £107 to £68 may, and will, produce considerable difficulty on adjoining estates whore purchase may have taken place. Therefore, he proposes that for the space of five years the reduction shall not be quite so large. What is to happen when those five-years are over? We will have a state of things which will produce considerable difficulty on adjoining estates. Therefore, by his own confession the right hon. Gentleman is only legislating for a period of five years, and after that five years there will be, according to his own showing, difficulty and danger on the adjoining estates. Now, Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to the Bill of 1886, and told us we ought to be grateful to the Unionist Party for having saved the tenants of Ireland from having a great burden thrown on their shoulders. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1886 made a distinction between the gross and net rent, and the landlord was only to receive 20 years' purchase on the net rent, and the result of that would have been that whereas the tenant would have paid £80 a year, the Irish State would only have had to pay to the British State £60 or £64 a year on the loan, and the difference between those two sums would have gone to the direct benefit of the Irish taxpayer, and it would have formed an absolute security to the British taxpayer. Before the British taxpayer could lose a single farthing the Irish State would have been able to give the Irish tenant a reduction varying from 36 to 40 per cent., and still have been able to pay the whole of its debt to the British State. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to have forgotten the further protection afforded by Clause 15 of the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Gladstone's) Bill. That clause directed the Land Commissioners to take into account the circumstances of every holding, and not to advance 20 years' purchase unless they thought there was security. Before that Act came into operation, the Land Commissioners would have realised the 1673 fall in prices which has prevented them giving 20 years' purchase under the Ashbourne Act. We are told that the terms of purchase; are comparatively unimportant, because the whole thing is based on freedom of contract. We have heard of freedom of contract until we are sick. Why, if freedom of contract existed in Ireland the Act of 1881 was of gross robbery and injustice. An hon. Gentleman opposite says that that was an act of gross robbery. If that is so, in the name of common sense and honesty why did he support the present Grovernment in extending the principle of that Act; because he supported the extension of the Act of 1881? Talk about freedom of contract! Not only did freedom of contract not exist in the past, but even at present it does not exist in regard to land purchase in Ireland. I have here the Official Returns to November 30, 1889. They refer only to the Land Purchase Department up to that date. There were 2,188 cases in which the Commissioners refused to sanction the terms which the landlord and tenant had Come to. We do not know their reasons in all these cases; but we do know their reasons in 743 cases, because in these cases the tenants had agreed voluntarily by freedom of contract to pay to the landlords £362,790, and the Land Commissioners refused to sanction the terms thus voluntarily arrived at; but they subsequently sanctioned them on an alteration of the terms from £362,000 to £302,000. These were all cases of small tenancies, taking the average. In those 743 cases, by some means or another, the landlords had been able to compel the tenants to agree to pay £60,000 more for the farms than they were worth—ah! but it means more than that, for the present Attorney General for Ireland, in his wish to prove the largeness of the security, said—Everybody knows in Ireland that in a large number of cases the interest of the tenant exceeded the interest of the landlord.For my part, I am satisfied if the House will accept the proposition that in all cases of dual ownership the tenant has a real property of some value. As it is, when the Land Commissioners send their valuers, they value the whole property as they find it, including the tenant's improvements, as well as the landlord's 1674 interest, therefore, in these 743 cases the tenants have been compelled voluntarily to agree to pay for the landlords' property £60,000 more than the landlords and tenant's property combined is worth. Is not that evidence of compulsion? If it is not I do not know what would be. If these men do not pay, or cannot pay, do you not think the feeling of the rest of the Irish people would be with them? Yet, if they do not pay, what is the next thing? Their interest has to be sold. The Report of the Irish Land Commission for the year ending August, 1887, refers to the cases of tenants who purchased under the Church Act, and who had a sense of wrong upon their minds, and whom their neighbours believed to have been unfairly treated. This is what they say—There has been some increase also in arrears due by tenant purchasers, and here we think it our duty to bring under the notice of your Excellency the very significant fact that in cases where we have been obliged to take legal proceedings against such purchasers we have been able, in hardly a single instance, to effect a sale of a purchaser's interest against his will. As one example of the difficulties we have to contend with, we mention the following case in the County of Louth. A purchaser and mortgagor who owed 12 half-yearly instalments was evicted from his farm after all attempts at compromise had failed. The farm was then set up for sale by us, and we were obliged to buy it in, as the sale was boycotted, The farm still remains on our hands, though it is a very desirable piece of land, close to the town of Ardee, and in addition to heavy costs and expenses which we have already incurred we have now to pay a caretaker to take charge of the property. The certainty that we have felt that a similar result would follow whenever we endeavoured to effect a sale of lands of which we had dispossessed the purchaser for non-payment of his liabilities has seriously embarrassed us.So that not only had the British taxpayer to lose his money advanced for buying the property, but he had to pay a caretaker to look after the property. I think I have shown that, under the existing system, there are cases in which pressure is brought to bear on the tenants to induce them to make unfair bargains in the purchase of their improvements. When the Ashbourne Act was being extended two years ago I tried to get the Chief Secretary to accept an Amendment which would prevent the tenant having to buy his own improvements. I was then told that it was impossible that such an Amendment could be 1675 worked; but now the right hon. Gentleman has put a clause in this Bill which shows that in certain cases what I proposed can be done. He will deal with cases in which there is an agreement between landlord and tenant that the Land Commissioners shall fix the price, but he will not meet the cases in which no agreement is come to, nor where under unjust pressure the tenant is induced to make an unfair bargain. What is the state of things now? There are at the present moment in Ireland about 18,000 persons who were formerly tenants, but are so no longer, and are merely caretakers. Does the House realise the position of these men, who cannot legally get back the possession of their farms except they can agree with their landlords? Are they in a position to make a free bargain? Will not the temptation to make an unjust bargain be too great for them? You say we cannot blow hot and cold at the same time by saying the terms are too favourable to the landlord and too unfavourable to the tenant; but I say that that is not the case. There are substantial tenants in Ireland who can well take care of themselves; but there are numerous small tenants who are not in that position, but who are encumbered by unjust arrears and who are not able to take care of themselves in the same way. When you say that those tenants who are more favourably circumstanced than others would not join in repudiation, I ask are you sure of that? Have you read the history of Tipperary, where men have gone out and left property amounting to thousands of pounds rather than pay a comparatively small sum to the Member for South Hunts which would help him in his warfare against their fellow tenants in Cork. I may add that I served on the Commission for the relief of distress in the congested districts of Ireland. I listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) on the subject of the congested districts. The hon. Member speaks on this subject with an authority and knowledge that I cannot pretend to, and he has the confidence of the poor people of the congested districts, which the Government lack. In these districts there is an amount of distrust and suspicion of the Government that is not 1676 equalled in any other part of Ireland owing to past misgovernment. Right hon. Gentlemen claim our consideration for this portion of the Bill, but what is it going to do for the congested districts? They could not do anything without funds, and the Bill did not profess to find funds for carrying out public works or improvements in these districts except some merely nominal in amount. The money provided by the Chief Secretary was not for the purpose of improving the districts, but for the purpose of protecting the British taxpayer, and that money is to be provided from a purely Irish source. If you desire to do anything to promote the industrial prosperity of these districts you must devote your attention mainly to the fishing industry, and you cannot develop the fishing on the West Coast unless you build several good and safe harbours, and you have no funds provided in the Bill for that purpose. The people also require boats of considerable size but there are no funds provided for that purpose. I have heard it said that the people on the West Coast are not capable of using large boats, but that is not true. Before the famine they had large boats. The people of the Island of Arran had several large boats which they used with skill; but during the years of terrible trial and distress, these boats were lost. If they could be restored, there is no doubt that the fishing industry could again be prosecuted successfully. As to migration, hon. Gentlemen opposite scoff and sneer at the idea; but do they realise the peculiar condition of many parts of Mayo? I know a district 8 or 10 miles from the town of Westport, where the people are living on patches of reclaimed bog, and where, a few years ago, we had to start public works in order to save the population from starvation. Well, in spite of the miserable condition of these people, there was, close at hand, a large tract of land of infinitely better quality than that they endeavoured to exist upon which was going back to a state of nature and barrenness for want of tillage. Surely migration could be effected in this district to advantage; and there are other instances of a like nature I could mention if it were necessary. In conclusion, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland if he will deign to listen to a remark from one of the rank and file of 1677 the Irish Party; to answer me two questions at some later stage; first, what right he considers the Government have in a matter affecting Ireland alone to take Irish taxation for a benefit of a section of the people against the declared wish of the vast majority of the taxpayers of Ireland; and, secondly, is this intended to be the final settlement of the land question in Ireland? Is this Bill the beginning and the end, or is there another Bill behind it? If it is not a final settlement, then, having taken by force all the Irish securities to provide for this Bill, how is he going to find the money for the final settlement without coming to the British taxpayer? I ask him as a matter of honour and consistency to make that clear and unmistakeable to the House, and to say whether it is intended at some future time to come directly to the British taxpayer for further powers, and not to try and-shelter himself behind the sham argutment that this Bill does not really rest on British security.
§ *(5.9.) THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET,) Dublin University
I shall only ask the House to give me its indulgence for a short time whilst I endeavour to explain, in a very general way, the reason why I intend to give my hearty support to this measure; and in doing so I shall ask the leave of the House to speak, not so much as a Member of the Government to which I have the honour to belong, but rather as an Irishman anxious for the welfare of my countrymen, and as a Representative of a section of the community, especially in the South-West of Ireland, who have not much representation otherwise in this House. I could not expect the House to listen to me were I to pretend to examine all the objections which have been raised to this measure; but I desire to call attention to the extraordinary fact that hardly any two hon. Members on the opposite side of the House have based their opposition to the Bill upon the same ground. The right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir G. Trevelyan), who spoke first on behalf of the English Opposition, said that he should be in favour of any measure that would enable 1678 substantial tenants to purchase their holdings, while the hon. Member for Cork, who spoke first on behalf of the Irish Opposition, asserted that such tenants are well able to take care of themselves, and that he would give such facilities only to the smaller occupiers. Other hon. Members declare that the tenants will not avail themselves of the unattractive terms offered by the Bill, while others, again, assert that there will be a rush to participate in those advantages, which will be followed by general repudiation on the part of the tenants. Then it is also said that only good landlords will sell their estates under the provisions of the Bill, while, on the other hand, it is complained that the good landlords will have no chance of selling under the Government proposal. It is further alleged that this Bill should be resisted because it is an insidious attempt to wean the Irish people from their adhesion to Home Rule; while, on the other hand, it is with equal confidence boasted that the more independent you make the tenant as a peasant proprietor, the more admirable a Nationalist he becomes. Then it is said that,£33,000,000 is too much to provide; while, on the other hand, it is insisted that that sum is not half enough. These objections, therefore, are inconsistent and mutually destructive of each other. Yet all these objectors are, or have been, ardent advocates of some scheme of land purchase for Ireland. Again, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labou-chere), supported by "patriotic fibre"—as he described it—said we ought not, under any circumstances, to make any advance upon British credit for the creation of a peasant proprietor; and, finally, what struck me most of all was that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down intimated to the House that he was disposed very much to doubt whether it would be a good thing to establish peasant proprietors in Ireland, because that would be establishing a new class of Irish landlords. Well, I am under the impression that the hon. Member himself is either a purchaser or a seller under the Ashbourne Act.
§ *MR. MAHONY
I purchased a small farm from my brother, who had sold his property to the rest of the tenants in a certain district, and as I happened to hold a farm I also purchased.
§ *MR. PLUNKET
The hon. Member must not imagine I am charging him with any offence; but it struck me as a strange thing that this throwing doubt on the general policy of the Act should come almost alone from the hon. Gentleman -who has himself availed of the provisions of a similar measure.
§ *MR. PLUNKET
There have besides been two or three suggestions of alternative schemes; but it occurrs to me, as I believe it will to many outside the House, that opposition of this kind is not of a very formidable character. There is confusion in the camp and conflict within the ranks of our assailants, and if those who have put forward these various objections and different schemes should succeed in all getting together in one Lobby, they will form for the moment a congeries of atoms; but it does not follow that their attitude and conduct will amount to a solid, consistent, or strong opposition to the measure which is now before the House. For myself, I support this Bill because I believe, in the first place, that it will be of great advantage to all classes of the Irish people, It will be so, because, as far as it goes, it will mark great progress in the direction of getting rid of the conflict between landlords and tenants, which hasever been such a hindrance to the prosperity of the one great industry of Ireland. It will release the country from the trouble and shame that have been brought upon it for a long time, and recently in an acute form, by the conflicts between landlords and tenants. That has always been, as all who have spoken or written on the history of Ireland agree, the one great source of difficulty and danger in Ireland. But if that source of difficulty and danger was great in former times, how much greater has it become since the passing of the Land Act of 1881. Whatever the merits or demerits of that Act may be, which is a question I will not enter into at this moment, the Act of 1881 created dual ownership in two persons who must have opposite interests and objects. The situation was summed up in a single phrase by Lord Dufferin, when he said that the Land Act of 1881 was an attempt to put two men into one bed under one blanket; one man was sure to 1680 kick away at the other until he has succeeded in kicking him on to the floor, and thus securing the whole bed and blanket to himself. A broader ground on which I myself would advocate the adoption of the Bill, even if much greater risk and difficulty were involved in it, is that it will help to modify the political deadlock in which we are fixed from the present social condition of Ireland. I am not now going to argue fully a matter of such immediate controversy, as the effect which the creation of a large number of peasant proprietors is likely to have on the Home Rule movement. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) says that he is confident that the Bill will strengthen the Home Rule movement. But I remember that at the commencement of the Land League agitation those who invented it declared that they had found it necessary, in order to induce the Irish people to take an active and energetic part in it, to use the land question as a steam-engine in order to drag along the national question. It has occurred to me that if the land question were settled and the steam-engine were thus unhooked, the speed of the train might slacken, and before long it might come to a standstill. Setting that aside, however, I am convinced that so long as the minds of the Irish people are agitated in regard to a great predominant interest like the land question, it is impossible to carry on a system of self-government, at all events of representative government by political parties; for so long as this question is open it is in vain to appeal to the tenant-farmers upon any other subject of public importance whatever. The Irish people are consolidated by that question, and progress must be retarded for all other reforms until that controversy is eliminated from the discussion of public affairs. I advocate this measure also in the interests of the tenant. Whatever may be said by those who represent them in this House, I believe the tenantry of Ireland do take a most keen and deep interest in the success of some such scheme of Land Purchase. The zeal and energy with which tenants have thrown themselves into the experiments which have been already made is a sufficient confirmation of what I say. 1681 The master passion of every Irish tenant is the absolute possession of the land on which he was born. All this was acknowledged by the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division when, speaking for the Government of 1884, he said—The Government earnestly believed that the social and political state of Ireland was such that there never was a country in the world in which it was more important that those who tilled the land should also own it.Great success has attended the measures that have been already passed with this purpose. In almost every instance in which tenants have been made owners there has been seen a most marked improvement in their condition. There have been signs of contentment and prosperity in their homes, and there has been peace in their localities. And now, Sir, let us look at it from the Irish landlords' point of view. Their position at the present time is one of extreme difficulty and danger. For many years abuse has been heaped upon them—mark you, not upon the bad ones only, but upon the Irish landlords as a class, and they have been singled out and marked down for destruction as a class for a well-defined political purpose. Of course I do not deny that there have been landlords whose conduct I should be the last to defend, but they have always formed a small minority among the landlords of Ireland, and here today I claim for that body, as a whole, that whenever their conduct has been brought under the review of any fair and impartial tribunal they have passed through the ordeal scatheless. We may be sure that we have heard the worst that can be said. Vigilant eyes are ever on the watch. Every error, great and small, has been paraded on the political stage and dragged under the limelight of public opinion. Their conduct during the famine time has been described as that of ogres and monsters. It has somehow or other been made a charge against the landlords that they were responsible for that awful calamity when for two years the food of the people rotted in the ground. I will not defend them in words of my own. Let me read to the House what was said of them in New Ireland by Mr. A. M. Sullivan, than whom no one was better able to speak on this subject with knowledge and authority— 1682The conduct of the Irish landlords throughout the famine period has been variously described and has been, I believe, generally condemned. I consider the censure visited on them too sweeping. I hold it to be in some respects cruelly unjust.Then, after condemning many of the landlords individually, and especially the absentees, and referring to cases of heartless conduct on their part "here and there," he continues—But granting all that has to be entered on the dark debtor side, the overwhelming balance is the other way. The bulk of the resident Irish landlords manfully did their best in that dread hour. No adequate tribute has ever been paid to the memory of those Irish landlords, and they were men of every party and creed, who perished martyrs to duty in that awful time; who did not fly the plague-reeking workhouse or fever-tainted court. Their names would make a goodly roll of honour. If they did too little compared with what the landlord class in England would have done in a similar case, it was because little was in their power. The famine found most of the resident landed gentry of Ireland on the brink of ruin. They were heritors of estates heavily over weighted with the debts of a bygone generation. Broad lands and lordly mansions were held by them on settlements and conditions that allowed small scope for the exercise of individual liberality. To these landlords the failure of one year's rental receipts meant mortgage, foreclosure, and hopeless ruin. Yet cases might be named by the score in which such men scorned to avert by pressure on their suffering tenantry the fate they saw impending over themselves. They 'went down with the ship.'This is the impartial summing up of a man who, if ever there was one, was the tenant's friend, and who, from personal experience, knew well the history of that time. For a while after the famine better and happier fortunes came upon Ireland, and prosperity seemed determined to return to the country. I remember that all classes were full of brighter hopes for the future. The relations of landlords and tenants greatly improved, and just before the year 1879 the number of evictions had fallen to something like one-fortieth what they had been in the famine time. I will not quote the Reports of Commissions, lest I should be told they were, more or less, landlords' Commissions; but I will quote the words of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who, in introducing the Land Bill of 1881, referred to the Report of the Bess-borough Commission, which he said was, "certainly not deficient in popular sympathies." He also said:— 1683We do not think it just to propose legislation on this great matter on the ground, whether express or implied, of great misconduct on the part of the landlords of Ireland. On the contrary, as a rule, they have stood their trial, and they have been, as a rule, acquitted.Again, in 1886, the right hon. Gentleman brought in his Land Purchase Bill, and said that he had to frame an indictment against the Irish landlords, but he added—I frame that indictment against many in the past, but against few, I hope, in the present.It was upon that judgment of the action of the Irish landlords of this generation that the right hon. Gentleman framed those two great proposals he made for the settlement of the Irish land question. But arguing this Session in the Debate on the Parnell Commission the right hon. Gentleman said the large reductions of rent had forced to his mind a different conviction and conclusion; and yet only the other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division said that the landlords in Ireland had no right to complain if they had had their rents cut down, because the reductions had been much larger in the case of the English landlords. We may be told that the English landlords made reductions voluntarily, whereas the Irish landlords were compelled by Act of Parliament to reduce their rents. What I have to say is, that from the time the Land League was instituted it was not possible for the Irish landlords to make reductions in a friendly spirit in any place where the Land League had the power to prevent them. The object of the Land Leaguers was not to make the landlord system tolerable, but to make it intolerable, in order that it might be abolished. Conciliation between landlord and tenant in Ireland was made impossible. The door was shut in the face of any attempt on the part of the landlord to come to terms with his tenants. I am sorry to detain the House so long upon this subject, but the Irish landlords have but few Representatives in this House, and as they have been so roughly used in recent times, it is not, I think, unfair that I should defend them. I am glad to say that in many parts of Ireland it was not in the power of agitators or anyone else to step in between landlord and tenant, and that in those parts of the country there have 1684 always been, and there still continue to be, happy and friendly relations between landlord and tenant. There is only one other accusation that is hurled at the heads of the Irish landlords that I want to refer to. The right hon. gentleman the Member for Derby, who has lately made himself a pastmaster in the art of denouncing the Irish landlords, says that now the English Garrison want to abandon their posts and carry off the plunder. Sir, there is no ground or foundation whatever for such an accusation, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to produce any warrant for it. The great landlords of Ireland who have been in the position to sell their estates to their tenants have not left the country, and they have declared over and over again, both in speeches and in resolutions which they have agreed to at the meetings of the Association that represents them, that their desire is to remain in the country, and that the ground upon which they support this Bill is, as stated by Lord Waterford the other day, that although there is much in the Bill that, is injurious and destructive of their interests, they regard the measure as a great statesmanlike measure for the improvement of the general condition of the country. They desire to live in their own homes, amongst their own people, and they desire to live on more happy and friendly terms than in the past. While they recognise the injury which, in many instances, this Bill must work, they realise the desperate position in which they have been placed. Their property has been reduced enormously in its value to them by a reckless agitation, and rendered absolutely unsaleable by the agency of boycotting, as the hon. Member for East Mayo boasted the other night, and they are, at the same-time, threatened by the Party oppesite with measures for further reducing their rents—measures which the same Party only a few years ago declared to be unjust and indefensible in principle, and which will almost annihilate what remains of the landlord's property. They have been accused, on false testimony, on reckless exaggeration and monstrous falsehood; they have been sentenced to an unjust sentence, and now they are to be "left for execution" by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have placed them in this position 1685 of difficulty and peril by the Act of 1881—the Act by which those right hon. Gentlemen promised that what property remained to them should be absolutely secured to them. Speaking in my capacity of an Irish Member, I wish to say I cannot hide from myself the fact that some, at least, of the landlords of Ireland may be exposed to considerable injury by some of the provisions of this measure, but I feel very confident that if Amendments to such clauses of the Bill should be proposed not inconsistent with its principles—not inconsistent with what is right and reasonable, this House will listen to such arguments as may be advanced in support of them in a spirit of fairness and justice to this unhappy class of men. There is only one other subject on which I wish to make an observation, and it is the proposals with regard to the congested districts. Though I listened with admiration, as I of ten do, to the eloquence—the somewhat volcanic eloquence—of the hon. Member for East Mayo, I must say that when he came to deal with that part of the Bill which affects more particularly his own constituents and those parts of the country which lie close to the constituency he represents, I heard with great regret the tone in which he spoke. Whatever you may think of the relations of landlord and tenant in other parts of Ireland, however much you may be heated by Party debate and Party passion, is it not worth while for Irishmen on both sides to lay aside such feelings and prejudices in the presence of the problem which is here brought before us? This is the first honest and great attempt that has ever been made to deal with this part, the saddest part, of the Irish social problem. Whatever may be the prosperity of the rest of Ireland, there is always a certain amount of distress, if not existing, at all events hovering over the parts of the country which are called the congested districts. I have spent a great deal of my life in some portions of the congested districts of the West of Ireland. The people who live there are, in good seasons, a light-hearted and happy people. They live in wonderful contentment, notwithstanding the hard circumstances of their case; but whenever a time of distress falls upon Ireland, when the seasons are unfavourable, when the food 1686 of the people fails, then there comes a cry of agony and great distress from that desolate part of the island, there comes a cry like the hollow hopeless sound of the waves when they break upon the inhospitable rocks of the coast—a wail of misery and despair. There is no subject in the whole range of Irish social and political history so sad and so difficult to deal with as the question of these congested districts. The Government of the present day have, at all events, endeavoured to face this state of things, and I appeal to the House whether it would not be better for the hon. Member for East Mayo to apply his great ability and knowledge of the case in assisting the Government, if he can, to deal with this awful or terrible difficulty, rather than to heap contempt upon them and to throw every possible obstacle in the way of their solving the problem.
§ *MR. PLUNKET
I am extremely glad now to learn that I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, and if he will really go into this business with us he will find there is not a Member on this side of the House who is not as eager as he is to help the congested districts in their difficulties. And now, before I sit down, I venture to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on the duty which has fallen to him, and the great opportunity, the great and well-deserved and well-earned opportunity, which he has achieved for dealing with the Irish land question. Two tasks the present Government undertook when they accepted office, besides, of course, the maintenance of the legislative union between the two countries. The one was to restore order in Ireland, to establish the sovereignty of the law of the Queen, and to make safe and sure what we considered was then wanting in many places—individual liberty. But the second task was to do something by practical legislation for the material prosperity of Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has, in my judgment, with extraordinary ability and courage and industry achieved almost completely the first task we undertook to perform. Save in a few an I isolated parts of 1687 Ireland where the wretched land war is still waged, peace, order, liberty and respect for law have been restored, restored far faster than I—though I know something of the country and of its history—believed to be possible. But now it is, I am sure, a great pleasure and satisfaction to him to turn from that task, which, however necessary, must be for all public men a painful task, and standing on the firm ground which he has won by the policy which he has hitherto pursued, and following up some smaller efforts which he made last year and the year before to advance the material prosperity of Ireland, to propose to this House and this country and to the Irish people a measure for improving the Land Tenure of Ireland, a measure to deal with the great historic difficulty, that which has been so often the cause of the ruin and shame of Ireland in former times, a measure to give to the one great industry of that country the means of going happily forward on a prosperous course. These ends, I believe, will be to a great extent achieved by this Bill if only it is accepted and carried out in the same spirit as actuates those who are offering this "enormous boon," as it has been truly called, to the people of my native land.
§ *(6.0.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I think I reflect the opinion of all hon'. Members when I say we always listen with pleasure to speeches from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket), and only regret that he does not more often speak in the House upon these subjects, with which he is so familiar. I listened to his speech just now with peculiar interest, for I could not but re-call the day, when, not so many years ago, he and I sat on the same Committee on the subject of Land Purchase in Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman occupied a very different position in reference to this subject. I have no desire to refer to what took place on that occasion, but I confess I was curious to learn by what process the right hon. Gentleman had persuaded himself of the expediency of supporting a measure so far in advance of anything he then contemplated. As I understand, from the speech just delivered, the right hon. Gentleman has been mainly influenced by the passing of the Land Act of 1881, 1688 and the creation of dual ownership under that Act. Now, for my part, I have been influenced in a contrary direction by that Act. It has always appeared to me that, since the passing of that Act, it has become less important than before that a peasant proprietary should be established in Ireland on a very large scale by means of advances of English capital. It appears to me that the Act of 1881 gave to the Irish tenants an enormous boon by conferring security of tenure, judicial rents, and complete protection for their improvements. It has been said that the dual ownership created under that Act is a false and dangerous position, and one which ought to be got rid of. But may I remind the House that dual ownership is not an unfamiliar condition of things. It exists in many parts of Europe, and it exists in India, and even in Ireland it was not created by the Act of 1881. It practically existed in a part of Ireland before the Act was passed, and was known as the "Ulster custom," and the Act of 1881 only had the effect of giving statutory sanction to that custom, and of extending it to the whole of Ireland. It has long existed in the North of Ireland, and the agricultural prosperity which has existed there, as distinguished from the other parts of the island, is undoubtedly due to the fact of the existence of dual ownership there. Since the passing of the Act it appears to me to be vastly less important from an economic point of view to use State capital for the purpose of creating individual ownership of tenant farmers on a very large scale. I cannot regard the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken as the Representative of the Irish landlords. They have their Representatives from the North of Ireland, who, so far, have not spoken a single word in favour of the Bill. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham has grossly exaggerated the numbers of the minority in Ireland, and there is not the slightest proof that any considerable proportion of them are in favour of the Bill. It is well known there is a very great difference of opinion, even among the landlord class, with regard to the proposals of the Government, many of the landlords thinking, and with good reason, that the Bill, if passed, will ultimately bring about the extinction of their class in Ireland. 1689 At all events, there is the gravest differences of opinion, and the principal organ of the class, the Dublin Express, is a vehement opponent of this Bill. Even among the tenants in the North of Ireland, a very sensible section of the minority, there is to be observed a considerable difference of opinion as to the expediency of the measure, and, so far as I know, at meetings held among Ulster tenants, the conclusions arrived at are that the Bill is unsatisfactory as it stands, and can only be made satisfactory to their interests by being made universal and compulsory in its application. The hon. Member for Fulham appears to think that those who have advocated moderate schemes in the direction of creating a peasant proprietary are bound to support the present Bill in all its extreme proposals. For my part, I protest against that doctrine. I have never been in favour of the total abolition of landlordism. The discussion of this Bill has been complicated and embarrassed by the number of alternative schemes which have been suggested. Suggestions have been made by the hon. Member for Cork, the hon. Member for Mayo, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham. The hon. Member for Cork has proposed a scheme limited to tenants below £50 rental. He suggests that their rents should be fined down to the extent of 50 per cent. by means of advances to their landlords, out of which their mortgages could be reduced. The scheme has much to recommend it in preference to that of the Government. It has, at all events, the great advantage of restricting the proposal to the smaller tenants, and it is to these and not to the larger tenants I have always considered any proposal of the kind should be extended. There is no more reason for extending that boon to large tenants in Ireland than to similar tenants in England. Without committing myself to the details of the scheme of the hon. Member for Cork, which are not fully developed, I will say it offers some very great advantages. It has the element of finality. It would not leave the Government face to face with a large body of small debtors, as the landlords will be primarily responsible, and would collect the interest due. The scheme would have the enormous advantage of the assent of the Irish Representatives. The 1690 scheme has been put forward as a compulsory measure; it would, therefore, exhaust the whole of the advance which the Government think it safe to propose. I will only say that, as part of a settlement of the Home Rule Question, it is eminently worthy of consideration, and every way preferable to the scheme of the Government. Then we have had the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman practically admitted all the many objections which have been urged on this side of the House to the measure of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out the danger of legislating without the consent of the people of Ireland, and has merely stated, as against that, that there is a minority, numbering 2,000,000, which may take the opposite view. But there are no indications whatever that that minority thinks differently upon the Bill from the majority of the Irish tenants. By far the most important part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that in which he stated that it would be desirable to give popular Local Authorities a veto upon transactions under the Act. The scheme of the right hon. Gentleman is practically an entirely new scheme, quite inconsistent with the scheme of the Government, and one which, in my opinion, has many advantages over that scheme, but it would inevitably necessitate the postponement of a scheme of purchase until after passing a Local Government Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham has said that he hopes to press this scheme on the Government, but he has not stated what steps he proposes to take, or what the effect would be of his suggestion not being adopted. The right hon. Gentleman does not threaten to vote against the Second Reading, which is the only effective way of bringing pressure to bear upon the Government. Nor have we had any intimation as to what course the Government propose to pursue with regard to those proposals. I will, under these circumstances, we have only to consider the Bill before the House, devote my remarks especially to the question of whether the Bill is likely to be a settlement of the question, even from the point of view of those who propose it. If the 1691 measure is likely to be a full and final settlement of the land question in Ireland, as the Government hope, there might be much to recommend it, and the use of English credit for that purpose might be justifiable and advisable. But it is my confident belief that the Bill will not prove to be a final settlement of the question, but, on the contrary, will raise up further difficulty and agitation, and must inevitably give rise to a demand for its being made universal and compulsory throughout the whole of Ireland, involving an advance of £150,000,000 or £ 160,000,000 before this question can be settled on the lines of the Bill. Let me assume that the measure has all the success hoped for by the Chief Secretary. Assuming that within four or five years the whole of the sum allocated under the Bill is applied for by tenant purchasers, what will the result be? We shall have within a reasonable period 120,000 tenants turned into owners under the operation of the Act, including those who already own their land under the two Ashbourne Acts. I will assume, also, that the price between them and their landlords is that which has been the average under the Ashbourne Acts, of which I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has spoken with approval, and which I assume that the right hon. Gentleman supposes will continue to be the average price.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOB IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The right hon. Gentleman must not draw any such inference. I merely based an illustration upon what had actually taken place; I have no ground for assuming that the average value of land will remain the same.
§ *MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I will assume that it will remain the same, and that on those terms the Bill will not be otherwise than successful. At any rate the right hon. Gentleman has spoken without disapproval of the effect of the Ashbourne Acts, and I am justified in assuming that for the next three or four years the average will remain the same. Of this I am quite certain, that if this average is very much higher there will not be many transactions under this Bill. The only chance of many transactions is that the average of the recent past will be maintained in the future. This average price has been 18 years' pur- 1692 chase. The result will be that 120,000 tenants will be turned into owners upon the terms that their average payment for interest will be 28 per cent. less than their previous rents, spread over a period of 49 years. But that is not the full measure of the advantage, for of these annual payments, one-fourth will represent re-payment of capital, and, therefore, ought not to be taken into account in a comparison with the previous rent. The boon to the tenant purchaser will be enormous, and can be at once realised by the purchaser selling his interest. Speculators in Ireland are already buying land in order to get the difference in price. A case has come under my notice where a man bought the tenant's interest in two farms, the one for £550 and the other for £650. He then agreed with the landlord to purchase these holding's under the Ashbourne Act at 19 years' purchase, and, having done so, he sold the holdings, subject to the reduced payments, for £960 and £1,220 respectively, making use of the Act to obtain the value of the State advances, although he had never been in possession and occupation of either farm. Now, under the full operation of the Act, and suppose it comes into effect in the manner I have suggested, we shall have two classes of occupiers, one class deriving these enormous benefits under this Act who are converted into owners in fact, and paying instalments much less than the amount of their previous rent; and then there will be a larger class still under the obligation to pay rent for ever. Of the whole number of tenants, three-fourths will be of the class under the obligation of paying rent for ever. Now, I ask, is it possible for such a condition of things to exist? Is it possible that there can be two classes of occupiers in Ireland at the same time, one paying rent for ever, and the other paying a reduced rent for a limited number of years, and then becoming absolute owner of his farm? Such a condition of affairs would be unstable, and the three-fourths of the tenants who will not benefit by the Bill will make a claim to be brought within the terms of the Act, and you will be unable to resist their demand to make the Act compulsory and universal. I have always realised this difficulty, and when I was Chairman of the Committee on the Bright Clauses, which sat in 1693 1878–79, I always resisted any attempt of this kind, which would make the terms of purchase so favourable as to create an enormous difference between the two classes of occupiers. The clauses in the Act of 1881 were purposely restricted in this view, and framed so as to avoid turning tenants into owners upon the terms that they would pay considerably less than their previous rent. In 1885, when Lord Ashbourne's Act was passed, I raised the same objections; and again in 1888, on the renewal of the Act, in almost the same words as I have used to-day. In the General Election of 1886 I took the same line with reference to the scheme of purchase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I predicted the time was not far distant when there would be an agitation on the part of the tenants left out from the operations of the Act, and I pointed out in, 1888, that the difficulty was already arising, and that comparisons were being made between tenants who had availed themselves of the Act and those of their neighbours whose landlords had not sold under the Act. My predictions are already in course of verification. In the autumn of last year an important deputation from the tenant-farmers of Ulster waited on the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in Dublin, with reference to the proposed Land Bill, and insisted that no scheme would be satisfactory which was not compulsory and universal. At the same time they pointed out that the contrasts being set up between the two classes of tenants, the purchasing tenants with a reduced rent gradually obtaining ownership and those less fortunate tenants continuing under the old rents, were creating much dissatisfaction, discontent, and agitation throughout the country. But I have still another witness to call in support of this view, namely, an hon. Member of this House with whom I do not often happen to agree on questions affecting Irish land. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, in an interesting article which he contributed to the Nineteenth Century, in October last, asserted that every estate sold under the Act rendered the position more intolerable in his own constituency, making discontented those tenants who were unable to reap the benefits of the Act. 1694 That is exactly my contention, and I say the result will be to produce a universal and irresistible movement on the part of the tenants throughout Ireland to make the terms of the Act compulsory throughout the country. Unless this is acceded to you will get an agitation for a further reduction of judicial rents. The position of inequality will be greatly aggravated by the provision in the Bill making those who have been unable to become owners guarantees for the payment by the favoured minority of their debts, and discontent and agitation will necessarily arise. Not only will the tenants not benefited by the Act have to guarantee the payments of those who are benefited, but for five years they will be deprived of the advantage of the £40,000 a year admitted to be due to the ratepayers of Ireland. I believe that the more this principle of purchase upon the suggested terms is extended the greater will be the discontent and the stronger will become the demand for the Act to be made universal and compulsory. It may be said that the Bill contemplates an ultimate extension by providing that the capital repaid may be advanced again; bat this would mean for years to come no more than £400,000 a year, which would be a mere fleabite in proportion to the number who will demand a share. The measure, therefore, cannot be a settlement of the question. It must create a demand for its being made universal and compulsory or for a reduction of rents. I believe the former to be the more likely result, and in this view we must contemplate an ultimate advance, not of £33,000,000, but of £150,000,000. In fact, the scheme is open to precisely the same objections which were raised in 1886 to the scheme of Mr. Gladstone, when it was said, in opposition to his proposal to advance £50,000,000 to landlords who wished to sell, that it would ultimately involve £150,000,000. I always thought there was much force in the objection, and I stated at that time that I could not support the proposal as it then stood. But, whatever were its defects, the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman had some great merits which are wanting in this Bill. In the first place, it was part of a great scheme for settling the whole of the Irish question. It had also the hearty approval of the Irish people through 1695 their Representatives, and it also interposed between the Imperial Government and the class of small debtors a representative body whose interest it would be to collect the payments, and thus the danger of bringing the State face to face with a multitude of small debtors would be avoided. The present scheme, however, has none of these advantages. It is not part of a great settlement of the Irish question; on the contrary, it is an isolated measure which is not even immediately connected with a scheme of Local Government short of Home Rule. It is avowedly put forward in the hope of withdrawing the tenants from their natural leaders and inducing-them to give up the demand for Home Rule—a most vain delusion. It is an idle dream. It leaves the State in direct relation to the multitude of small debtors, a position which every one who has looked into the question has admitted to be one of great danger. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1883, on a Motion for the extension of land purchase on the basis of this Bill, said that few conditions would be more dangerous to the Government than that it should be the creditor of a large portion of its subjects to whom it might be politically opposed, for it would be brought face to face with hundreds of thousands of tenants, to whom the doctrine of the repudiation of rent is too familiar. I agree with the noble Lord that it is a position of the greatest possible danger, and therefore I am opposed to this Bill. But, above all, I think a far more serious objection to this measure is that it has not received, and will not receive, the support of the Irish Members. That raises both financial and political dangers. If the Government have not the assent of the Irish people in the first instance to a proposal of this kind the fact will always be recorded against them, and will always be a source of financial danger and difficulty. It appears to me that the political danger is even greater, for it is wholly without precedent to pass a remedial measure against the will of the majority of the Irish people—with the single exception of the extension of Lord Ashbourne's Act. Now, however, the Government are going to propose a remedial measure, and to force it upon Ireland against the wish of the Irish people. 1696 That I conceive to be a dangerous policy, and one wholly unprecedented in the history of this country.
§ It being ten minutes to Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.