§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. A. J. Bal four.)
§ *(3.53.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
moved, as an Amendment—That, inasmuch as the Government have advised the landlords in Ireland to combine, strengthened their already exceptional power of eviction, and freely placed at their disposal the forces of the Crown to evict for the nonpayment of unjust rents large numbers of those to whose toil the rental value of their holdings is chiefly due, and have also passed and ruthlessly administered a law of exceptional nature to prevent combination on the part of the tenants, and whereas, as a result of this policy, equality of conditions as between buyer and seller has been greatly impaired, and the landlord's interest is maintained at an artificial value, and it is not proposed by the Bill to invest any Irish authority with control over the transaction, this House declines to pledge the credit of the country to the scheme proposed by the Bill as being alike unsafe to the Imperial Exchequer and unjust to the Irish occupier.I hope the meaning in the Resolution I rise to move is clear. It is to declare that by the policy of Her Majesty's Government a certain species of property is maintained at a more or less fictitious value, and that therefore it would be unjust to ask the Imperial Exchequer to advance money 352 upon that property. I do not regard this matter upon the present occasion from the point of view from which undoubtedly it may be regarded. I do not move the Amendment or claiming to be either a statesman as a philosopher, but I desire to present it to the House from, a strictly practical and business point of view. By this Bill we are proposing to use British credit. Now, I do not understand that there is any use in credit unless it involves a certain amount of risk, and therefore I hold that we are bound, representing the taxpayers as we do, to examine carefully the security on which we are using the credit of the country. I wish to take exception to certain assumptions one hears on every hand. We are told that it is a good thing in itself to put an end to what is called dual ownership of land in Ireland, and that there is great need for a great measure of land purchase. I take an emphatic objection to those assumptions. I am not prepared to say that under no circumstances would I bring British credit to the aid of some of the unfortunate tenants in Ireland, but, as to any large system of land purchase in Ireland, the more and more I reflect upon the matter I am satisfied that it is absolutely unnecessary. What is called the dual ownership of land was not originated by the Act of 1881. It existed long before that. There are districts in Ireland where the relations between landlord and tenant are excellent and have been just; and I am by no means prepared to say that we should, on a large scale, destroy that state of things where it has been established. The question of putting an end to what is called dual ownership depends entirely on the circumstances of each case, and does not require any far-reaching measure of this kind. I say, in my Amendment, that the Government, have advised the landlords of Ireland to combine. I do not think that will be disputed when we recollect that the Duke of Abercorn went last year as the Official Representative of the Landlords' Convention to the Marquess of Salisbury, and that the latter used some very significant language. He said— 353I may say, in the first place, that I am very glad to see the results of the Convention of Landlords in this deputation, that I congratulate the landlords on the united action that they have taken, and, however inconvenient it may in the future prove—I hope it will not—to me as a Member of the Government, on wider and more general grounds I am glad of the spirit and unanimity which they have shown.The Amendment goes on to say that the Government has strengthened the already exceptional powers of eviction of the landlords. Those who are familiar with the debates on the Irish Land Question in either House know perfectly well that since the Union that has always been one of the standing grievances of the Irish people. It was insisted upon over and over again by Daniel O'Connell, and the Bess borough Commission of 1881 said—In many instances principally in connection with the Law of Ejectment, powers have been conferred upon the landlords in Ireland that have no existence in England.It is a remarkable thing that where the landlord has done almost nothing to create value in the holding he has the strongest power to evict those who have created the value. But this was not sufficient for Her Majesty's Government. By Section 7 of the Land Act of 1887 they strengthened the power of the Irish landlords in this respect. They enabled them by a letter in a registered envelope to absolutely determine the right of a tenant to a holding. Now, what use has been made of this power? From the 1st of January, 1888, to the 31st December, 1889, there were no less than 18,816 of these notices given in Ireland. By these notices the tenants were deprived of their property in the holding. I wish I could convey to the House an adequate idea of the depth of perplexity and despair these registered letters have produced among Irish tenants, depriving them as they did of all legal title to the holdings on which they and their forefathers were born. It will not be disputed that the forces of the Crown have been freely placed at the disposal of the landlords in carrying out evictions. We all know that the present President of the Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks Beach), when Chief Secretary for Ireland, found himself obliged to apply to the landlords a certain amount of pressure without the law in order to stay evictions. Yet these evictions have 354 been one of the titles of the present Chief Secretary to having carried out a resolute policy in Ireland. The number of evictions to the 31st March, 1887, were 4,941; to the 30th of June, 8,952; to the 30th September, 4,143, and to the 31st of December, 509; making a total within the year of 18,545. Equally beyond contradiction is the assertion of the Resolution that evictions have largely been for the non-payment of unjust rents; and I do think we ought to have been in possession of figures clearly showing how many evictions were for nonpayment of non-judicial rents. Then we have passed a law of an exceptional nature, which the Judges have declared creates new crimes in a manner altogether unprecedented. I invite the House to say that the Act has been ruthlessly administered, and, if any one doubts the applicability of the term, I respectfully ask him to consider the tribunals which have administered the law. I have no hesitation in saying that it is an insult to the gentlemen who are in Her Majesty's Commission of the Peace in Great Britain to call the myrmidons of the right hon. Gentleman opposite Magistrates. The nature of tribunals, the selection of particular individuals, the manner in which evidence is obtained, the mode in which the charge is framed, the character of the witnesses, the way in which they give their evidence, and last, but not least, the prison treatment of those convicted, amply justify the word "ruthless" in my Amendment. Up to the 31st of March last, 2,239 persons were convicted under the Act, not for crimes in the ordinary sense of the word, but for having either directly or indirectly endeavoured to preserve their property in land—these 2,239 persons have been convicted in what Lord Salisbury has happily called a land war—a struggle between the occupiers and the owners for the preservation of the rights of property. I think that when the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) ceases to vex his soul about land purchase and begins to do that for which he is so admirably fitted, write the history of these times, he will find no better word than "ruthless" to describe the manner in which the Act has been administered. I say in the Resolution that the object of this law, 355 so exceptional and so administered, has been to prevent combination on the part of the tenants. On the 22nd of April, 1887, Lord Salisbury said—We have offered to the other House of Parliament a measure certainly not marked by hesitation in order to put a stop to criminal combinations.There was no hesitation, but the word "criminal" begs the question, for in many cases the crime was only created by the sign manual of the Lord Lieutenant. That is the gravamen of my complaint—namely, that it has been the steady and unswerving policy of Her Majesty's Government to put the Act into operation against one side, and one side only. What can be the only outcome of such a state of things? I ask the House to affirm that the equality of conditions as between buyer and seller has been greatly impaired, and the landlord's interest is maintained at an artificial value. If any one imagines that the present state of the land laws provides a remedy, I would ask his attention to a case which was tried in Dublin, quite recently in connection with the matter—"Lawlor v. Godley." The plaintiff, on the 21st of November last, having a case before the Land Commission, writes to say—In succession to my father I hold this farm, and up to the present have been paying a rent of £357, whilst the valuation was £245. During the tenancy, permanent improvements to the value of £2,700 were made, a large share of the expenses being since 1877. All this was admitted by the landlord.Various valuers, gentlemen of the highest standing as agriculturists in the County of Dublin, fixed the fair rent at £196, £171 10s., £122 10s., £183 15s., and £139 5s. Mr. Lawlor goes on to say—To-day the Sub-Commissioners fixed my rent at £275, the Chairman stating that he was reluctantly obliged by his interpretation of the law to levy rent upon my own improvements. In other words, the capital that I have expended—and the expenditure was admitted to be essential for the proper working of the farm—becomes the property of the landlord, and in addition I am to pay him a large sum annually on account of it. It is as if I, having made him a present of nearly £3,000, were obliged to pay him year after year for keeping it. You will observe that the law, as expounded by the Dublin Sub-Commissioners, is not satisfied with confiscating my money; it orders me to pay what would be something like an exorbitant interest, if I had borrowed it, or if the improvements had been made by the landlord. This may be law, but I do not think that the justice of it is apparent.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
Will the hon. Member give the name of the Sub-Commissioner or of the Chairman of the Sub-Commission?
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
I can only give the name of the case—"Lawlor v.Godley"—which, perhaps, will be sufficient. This precisely illustrates the root of the whole matter. It is a dispute as to whom, certain property belongs. I say now-then that as far as a Government could do it, by your policy you have impaired, and in many cases destroyed, that state of things by which a man, having freely entered into a contract, is not only legally but honourably and morally bound to observe its conditions. I admit that only a small number of holdings have been put up for sale for non-payment of purchase instalment. £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 have been advanced under the Ashbourne Acts, and 2s. in the £1 of this has up to now been paid without much difficulty. But I do not think a banker would feel his bills were being well paid if on Christmas Day he found 30 per cent. of those which fell due yesterday still unpaid. I assert that we are only at the beginning of the matter. I invite the attention of the House to the Returns 81 for 1888–9 and 115 of 1890, If hon. Members will turn to the first Return they will see that it contains the only accurate account of the financial dealings under the Ashbourne Acts. A careful examination of the Return will amply repay hon. Members. I see that to December, 188S, there were 8,861 holdings, with a value of £195,495 and a rental of £214,971, which were sold for the sum of £3,792,532. To the 31st of March, 1890, 3,336 holdings, valued at £78,863, with a rental of £85,448, were sold for £1,418,193. I direct particular attention to the proportion which the valuation and the rental boar to each other—that is to say, that each holding is charged £10 rent for £9 valuation; and, as it has been admitted by the Attorney General for Ireland, that the-tenant's property in the holding sometimes exceeds that of the landlord, we may take it that he is really paying £20 a year for that which the valuer declares to be only worth—9. And now I come to an illustration of the state of things in Ireland drawn from evidence given before this House. There was a Select Committee appointed in 1889, and re- 357 appointed this year, to inquire into the condition of the Irish, estates of the London Companies. At page 49 of the Report an official of the Land Commission, Mr. Murrough O'Brien, gives most instructive evidence. He says—I conclude from my examination of these cases that the contracts entered into were obtained by intimidation, and undue influence, and that they were entered into under duress.Mr. Commissioner Lynch afterwards, in a Judgment which will be found in the Report, expressed a very strong opinion as to the fraudulent transactions in question. These are illustrations of what is going on in Ireland at the present moment. I have in my possession a large amount of evidence, but I will not trouble the House with it to-day, because I freely admit that it is evidence that ought to be strictly investigated. Evidence has reached me that there are numerous cases in Ireland in which the tenants find that they have already given a great deal more for the land than it is worth, and that they are struggling against financial burdens from which they ask to be released. The landlords, aided by the Government to a large extent, are doing everything they can to exact from the tenants that which is unjust. You have the inability on their part to get relief from the Land Courts, and you ,have, under such circumstances, a position of things in which the offer of a large sum of British credit is a dangerous thing. I might perhaps hardly obtain credit from the Government or Members opposite when I say that I do not move in this matter primarily from a party point of view. I believe these proposals will settle nothing. I believe they will unsettle everything. I believe they are fraught with danger to future social order and peace in Ireland. We might take a warning from what happened in the case of the Encumbered Estates Act, which was the outcome of a wave of philanthropic emotion which passed over this country in consequence of the fearful horrors of the Irish famine. If ever a Bill was brought before the House out of pure philanthropy, the Encumbered Estates Bill was. The first judgeship under that Act was offered to a distinguished man of the denomination to which I belong—the Quakers. And the whole of the Quaker body set itself heart and soul to make the Act a 358 success. Never was there in the history of Irish legislation a more disastrous failure than the Incumbent Estates Act. It conferred no relief on Ireland. On the contrary, it did a great deal of harm, because it enabled persons in this country and in Ireland to buy, through the ignorance of Parliament, property which belonged not to the persons who sold it, but to those who had created it. I believe from the bottom of my heart, after all the attention I have given to this matter, that we shall be perpetrating a similar blunder if we accede to a great scheme at the present moment for what is miscalled land purchase in Ireland. It is in the unshrinking conviction that this Bill will lead us along a road which will end in disappointment and trouble that I have to move the Resolution which stands in my name.
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
Will the hon. Gentleman bring up his amended Amendment? The original Question was, "That this Bill be now read a second time, "since which it has been been moved in order to insert—That, inasmuch as the Government have advised the landlords in Ireland to combine, strengthened their already exceptional power of eviction, and freely placed at their disposal the forces of the Crown to evict for the non-payment of unjust rents large numbers of those to whose toil the rental value of their holdings is chiefly due, and have also passed and ruthlessly administered a law of exceptional nature to prevent combination on the part of the tenants, and whereas, as a result of this policy equality of conditions as between buyer and seller has been greatly impaired, and the landlord's interest is maintained at an artificial value, this House declines to pledge the credit of the country to the scheme proposed by the Bill as being alike unsafe to the Imperial Exchequer and unjust to the Irish occupier.The Question is that these words proposed to be left out stand part of the motion.
§ (4.35.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, MidLothian)
Sir, the hon. Member has proposed his Amendment in a speech, I think, of great ability. He has opened up portions of this difficult and complicated question in a manner that will tend to assist the deliberations of the House. For myself I do not intend to go over any wide field; I shall endeavour to imitate the Minister who introduced the Bill in limiting my observations to what I think needful in the circumstances of the case so far as I am myself concerned. I shall not revert to historical matters 359 connected with, the condition of this question at former periods, nor shall I think it necessary to express an opinion one way or the other as to the necessity, real or supposed, of a large measure of land purchase in Ireland. It is enough for me to look at the case as we have it before us. On the responsibility of the Executive Government an extensive and, important measure is proposed, and the line which I am disposed to follow is this—that, viewing that action on the part of the Government of the country, I shall not enter into any abstract question, but limit myself to this proposal. I should not think it right to offer opposition to a Bill so proposed excepting upon the ground that the objections were of a nature requiring and warranting that opposition upon the merits of the case. I do not in these circumstances interpose any preliminary objection to the proposals of the Bill. Other gentlemen, I have no doubt, may do so; but I must bear in mind that this proceeding is, after all, to a great extent in the nature of a continuation of the proceedings of last Session. We then had a discussion upon this Bill, and I think a very useful and by no means unduly protracted discussion. Considerable progress was made at that time in ascertaining and exhibiting its character, and all I have to ask myself is whether the objections that were then taken to the measure by myself and others who thought with me still hold good, or whether, the right hon. Gentleman having made changes in his measure, it can be said those changes are of such importance that they call upon us to deviate from the course we then took. The changes introduced by the right hon. Gentleman are not numerous, and only with one exception are all important. The most important change, as I understand the matter, which the right hon. Gentleman intends to make is the removal of the 20 years' limit; and besides that, if it be generally desired by the House of Commons, the Government will give a control on the part of Irish Counties over a portion of the securities that are to be pledged, that control to be exercised in the form of a plébiscite of the ratepayers. I said over a portion of the security, and I am bound to say that if I were going to enter into a detailed argument I should strongly contend that 360 there was no ground whatever for drawing a distinction between two classes; but I will not trouble the House upon this subject now. There is something tantalising in the character of this proposition, which is not in the Bill, but which is held out to us as a kind of inducement and reward to pass the Bill. If we only show a large amount of inclination and desire in favour of this Bill, that disposition will be met in this way. But it is only right we should, at any rate, know what is the change which the right hon. Gentleman is ready to introduce into the Bill. I have not the least doubt he will make it perfectly clear in the course of the Debate, but the proposal is obviously capable of assuming forms essentially different. From its being a control to be exercised in the nature of a plébiscite, it is quite obvious it is not a control such as was usefully suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, which control was intended to apply seriatim to the different transactions, and to establish an effective form of interference where it seemed to be required, for the purpose of stopping a transaction in the carrying out of which local responsibilities seem to be involved. It is manifest that it cannot be a proposal of that kind. Well, then, what kind of a proposal is it? The words of the right hon. Gentleman are capable of being understood in either of two ways. It may be that the ratepayers will have the opportunity of stating simpliciter whether certain contingent funds shall be made liable for the obligations of the British Government, or whether they shall not, and that their negative upon the liability of these funds will have no effect whatever on the course of the transaction. In that case it would have no other effect than that of weakening the securities, such as they are, that are provided. Still, stating the case as I gather it from the partial statement already made, it may be also that this proceeding, withdrawing a considerable portion of the securities, may have the effect of thereby stopping land purchase in the county when the vote was taken.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
Yes; that is so.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I understand from the right hon. Gentleman 361 that that is his meaning, and that is undoubtedly an important provision. Before considering how far such a provision may be workable, I should like to see it in definite form, so as to be able to pass a judgment upon it. For the present it is quite enough for me to say it is not in the Bill, and, not being in the Bill, I am totally unaware what may be the state of opinion in the House with regard to the probability of obtaining its introduction into the Bill. There is another point which I took last year which I am not in a position to enter upon to-night. I then stated, and I think the opinion was a sound one, that in my judgment the House would commit a great mistake if it passed a large measure of land purchase for Ireland in opposition to the decided convictions and persevering opposition of the Irish Members. Undoubtedly last year their convictions were hostile to the kind of measure then introduced; and in the peculiar circumstances of the present moment we have no information from them, and I shall not dwell upon that point. The other change proposed to be introduced, which may be fairly considered of an important character, is the removal of the 20 years' limit; and the right hon. Gentleman ingeniously observed that that removal was recommended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle. Yes, sir, but it was recommended by my right hon. Friend in conjunction with a strong contention on our part that there ought to be introduced into the Bill an effective control by an Irish authority—not merely a negative such as the right hon. Gentleman by a plébiscite proposes to supply on the general question whether the Act should operate within the county or not—but that there ought to be an effective control over the particulars of these transactions. It may be that if a control such as was recommended by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were introduced, then the removal of the 20 years' limit would be a valuable change in the Bill. I will not enter upon that question; but I attach weight to the judgment of those who formed that opinion. But if no effective control is introduced over particular transactions, it is quite plain that the removal of the 20 years' limit is a change 362 in the nature of distinct deterioration. My hon. Friend has said, and said wisely, that he was not governed by party considerations in framing the Amendment he has proposed. I made no secret of it that it would be, in my opinion, a great advantage, a narrowing of the ground, a clearing of the issues, a lightening of the task that may be in prospect, if upon any tolerable terms this land question could for a time, at all events, be put out of the way. That, of course, would not justify us in adopting measures which appear to us in principle objectionable. I will, however, say that, having had the opportunity of stating all these objections on former occasions, I do not intend to dwell upon them at any period of the discussion of this Bill. Though from its necessary complications it may require some considerable portion of the time of the House, at no period ought the provisions of such a Bill to be discussed except with strict regard to its provisions, and never in the slightest degree for any ulterior purpose drawn from a political motive. I adhere to the opinion that I gave utterance to in the last Session of Parliament in respect of the pledging of the credit of the British Government. I do think—I may be wrong, but it is my opinion—that this Parliament was returned upon an honourable understanding, to say the least, with the constituencies of the country that it would not pledge the credit of the British Treasury. I will not enter into the merits of that question in the abstract. It is undoubtedly a very large pecuniary boon to the country, although, like many of our pecuniary boons to Ireland, it may be given in such a form that, instead of being an advantage or a real favour or benefit, it might, on the contrary, appear to be in the nature rather of an injury, and heap up and accumulate claims of Ireland against us. I think, indeed, that Ireland has just claims against us, and if I am to give the use of British credit as the means of meeting those claims, it must be in such a way as to make it largely beneficial to Ireland at large, and not in any way to confine it to a limited portion of the population. In the present Parliament I must say I am at a loss to know how it is that Gentlemen opposite conceive themselves to be at liberty to make a proposal of 363 this kind. I know that there were those who went strongly against the question of British credit being pledged in 1886—and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham was one of them—but who now say they are disposed in the present case, because of the different conditions and securities which are attached to this new proposal, to support the Bill. I make no doubt of the good faith of those Gentlemen, but how can they say that the personal security of the Irish occupier under the power of eviction which is to be conducted on the part of the British Treasury is a better security than the positive absolute possession in the hands of the British Executive, with the entire public revenues of England and the whole force of the Crown at its back? I am aware that a certain number of tenants have undergone a process analogous to eviction—that is to say, their interests in their holdings have been sold for the satisfaction of British claims. There are between 20 and 30 of such cases. That may be so, but this may be a question of tens or even hundreds of thousands. I for one am not prepared to rely on the security of evictions conducted at the suit of this country. As soon as the dimensions of the subject have reached a stage such as to give it somewhat of the international character which it assumes when a plan of this kind has been operated upon, it seems to me that it would be a most impolitic course to adopt to open a new source of possible conflict and collision at the point of greatest delicacy and irritability, the most morbid point in the whole state and condition of Ireland—namely, the relations of landlord and tenant. To do so would place the Treasury absolutely for the first time in that new relation, except in those cases under the Bright Clauses of the Land Act which deal with select individuals, and on a very limited scale, where I admit there is a possibility of a similar relation. The question of the want of an Irish authority, in my opinion, goes nearly to the root of the whole matter. As far as I am concerned, were the views of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham really embodied in the Bill, and an effective control over the terms of those sales given to an Irish authority, it would alter, I frankly admit, my attitude with 364 respect to it. I should still have the difficulty I have stated as to the pledging of British credit, but, assuming the judgment of the House to be largely in favour of such a scheme, and assuming, on which I give no opinion, that Ireland did not object, and looking at it from the point of view of a member of this House, I should feel that the intervention of such an authority was a change of inestimable value. It would take away a very large portion of my objections to the Bill. We have had since last Session important evidence on this subject in the declarations of the purchasing tenants who have come forward to state the circumstances under which they have made their arrangements. The allegation of the tenants is that in these transactions they are not able to meet the landlords on terms of equality because of the unhappy omission from the Land Act of 1887 of the consideration of arrears of rent. That omission appears to me to have gone far to vitiate the entire basis on which landlord and tenant should deal with regard to those purchases. That authority would supply a national guarantee almost invaluable, but independently of that authority I know not how to answer the allegations of those purchasing tenants who say, "It is true we purchased certain land and entered into a certain agreement, but we did it because the only alternatives were purchase or eviction." I think it is impossible to deny that those objections both justify and require a vote hostile to the second reading of this Bill. I must refer to another point which I think of the greatest importance, although at the same time I do not take entirely the same view of it as of those I have already mentioned, because it is possible a material Amendment may be introduced if the Bill is fairly handled by the House in Committee, I refer to the manner in which the enormous fund which it is proposed to create by the employment of British credit is to be disposed of as between those who may be considered the just claimants on that fund. When we proposed the Bill of 1886 we felt that it was most important to avoid the arbitrary selection of one set of tenants who might be more limited or extended, but who in any case must for a great number of years continue to be a select and favoured class; we thought it most 365 important to avoid the risk of making their position so exceptionally favoured that it would be a source of social danger to the country. I have been alluding just now to the want of security against oppression upon purchasing tenants. That is undoubtedly one objection, although we have had pointed out to us a mode in which that objectiou may be met; but the objection I make now proceeds on another supposition. No doubt, while there might be many cases in which the landlord took an unfair advantage of his position towards tenants in arrear to extort terms undoubtedly high, I have no doubt there are many cases in which terms would be fair, and where there were those fair terms an advantage would be given to the purchasing tenant, including the eventual acquiring of the fee simple of the land—an advantage of not less than 30 per cent. on the rent. Let the Government consider the consequences of this exceptional treatment on isolated cases. Take the casa of two estates having only this difference between them—that one of them has a landlord who is willing to sell, and the other a landlord who refuses to sell. The landlord willing to sell applies, gives reasonable terms, and the transfer is concluded, and his tenants immediately are better off as compared with the tenants on the neighbouring estate to the extent of one-third of the sum that they paid before. How are you to expect that peace could prevail in such circumstances as these? How can you hope to maintain freedom if you create such inequality? I admit that inequality of this kind is to some extent involved in all these wholesale purchase Bills. There was none in the original Bright clause, but there is some of it in every Bill that has regard, and I am afraid it is impossible not to have some regard, to the work of what I have called the Socialistic Committee of the House of Lords appointed before the passing of the Land Act. But when we introduced the Bill of 1886 we tried to reduce this evil to a minimum. We tried to bring about that a full moiety should go not to the purchasing tenant individually, or as a class, but to Ireland as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman has given certain recognition to that principle, but a recognition so narrow, feeble, and 366 ineffectual that in my opinion it utterly deranges the balance of just claim as between the purchasing tenants considered as a class and the Irish community at large, and if I do not say that this consideration is conclusive against the Second Reading of the Bill, it is because I hope that we may carry some effective Amendment upon the subject in Committee, so strong are the considerations that bear upon it, so honest, just, and well-supported by good authorities—and not only by Home Rule authorities, but by other well-informed persons thoroughly conversant with the Irish land question—so great is the weight of the argument pointing out the enormous social danger to Ireland that would accrue from the lavish concession of so vast a boon to the purchasers as a class, accompanied with such a serious neglect of the interests of the community in which they live. I promised I would not long detain the House. I think I have said all that is necessary. My hon. Friend behind me has set out most of these considerations in his Amendment. I must own that I think it is very difficult to answer his arguments. If the House overrides them we shall do our best to assist in no factious spirit in improving, as far as we can, the details of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, in his speech last year, looked with a practical eye into the working of this measure, and although I am afraid I differ from him on the question of the employment of British credit, yet undoubtedly his proposals, if the Government may be induced to take a favourable view of them, would conciliate a very large portion of the people who object to the measure as it stands. Upon the grounds which I have endeavoured to explain without going into details at undue length, I shall give my cordial support to the Amendment of my hon. Friend, which goes to the root of the matter and is adverse to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (5.6.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I should like, with the permission of the House, to say a few words at this stage. I follow my right hon. Friend not because I am anxious to follow the arguments which he has placed before the House, but because he has referred to me, and because I am 367 anxious before the Chief Secretary replies that he should be in possession of my views in reference to a statement made on a previous occasion. My right hon. Friend has referred to two important changes in the nature of concessions which the Chief Secretary has made, or has offered to make, in the structure of this Bill. But my right hon. Friend has omitted all reference to another change, to which I attach great importance—namely, the concession which the Chief Secretary is prepared to make to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Cork as to some limitation of the area of the Bill. I understand that the Chief Secretary proposes to exclude—in addition to the other exclusions mentioned in the Bill—all pasture land and all land not actually in the occupation of a tenant. The hon. Member for Cork suggested in his speech that the limitation should be one of £50 valuation. It is interesting to examine how far the offer of the Chief Secretary meets the demand of the hon. Member for Cork. I recollect a speech delivered by the hon. Member some time ago, in which he said that in his view the limitation ought to be a limitation of £30 valuation, and that if the action of the Bill were limited in that way the total sum required would be under £80,000,000. As the hon. Member for Cork has now increased his limit to £50, it is not unfair to assume that in his opinion the sum required would be over £100,000,000. Now, I would like to know what would be the total amount required under the proposal of the Chief Secretary? If, as I believe from the best information I have, the limitation which he has proposed will reduce the total sum required under £100,000,000, it is perfectly evident that the concession meets the demand of the hon. Member for Cork, and will be one satisfactory generally to the House. Everybody feels that dealing as we are at the present moment with what after all is a limit of security measured by something like £33,000,000, it is desirable to make it go as far as possible, and to deal with the most urgent part of the problem. The second change made by the Chief Secretary is the proposed omission of the 20 years' valuation maximum in the purchase of property. I understand that 368 that concession is not accepted as satisfactory by my right hon. Friend or the right hon. Member for Newcastle, and I strongly advise the Government to withdraw the proposed concession. I can understand that there may be argument on the other side with reference to this matter. It may be said, "If you fix a maximum of this kind it will always tend to be a minimum as well as a maximum." If, then, you think that 20 years' purchase is too much—as, in view of the working of the Ashbourne Acts, I am inclined to do—it is undesirable to impose a limitation in the Bill which would lead to that maximum being generally adopted. If, on the contrary, you think that 20 years' purchase is a reasonable price, and might with advantage be exacted, you may vote for the exclusion of any limitation at all; the question is so full of doubt that I repeat my recommendation that this concession, as it appears unlikely to conciliate anyone, should be withdrawn. Then we come to the most important of the concessions announced by the Chief Secretary in order to meet the objections made by various Members of the House. The objections which we took to the Bill as it stood were really of two kinds. One I would call a sentimental objection, and the other a really practical objection. The sentimental objection was this: We said it was a harsh and almost indefensible thing to pledge property which, to all intents and purposes, was the property of the Local Authorities with out consulting those Local Authorities in any way. Of course, we meant that it was the property of the constituency that the Local Authority represents. I must say that the offer of the Chief Secretary meets absolutely that sentimental objection. If the suggestion that he has made were adopted, it would be impossible to say any longer that the constituencies whose property is concerned would not be consulted as to its application. I am inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, that when we come to discuss this question in Committee it will be difficult logically to establish any distinction between the two parts of the Guarantee Fund. I admit that the mere fact that hitherto what was called the cash portion of the Contingent Fund has not been in possession of the Local Autho- 369 rity, has nothing whatever to do with it. It undoubtedly belonged to the Local Authority, and was intended to be used for local purposes for the advantage of the constituency, and therefore was in the same category as the contingent portion, which was actually under the control of the Local Authority. I now come to what I call the practical objection to the Bill in its original form, to remove which I am afraid the offer of the Chief Secretary is not equally potent. It was twofold. In the first place, we thought that it was rather a dangerous thing to give these enormous advantages to a single, and, after all, a limited class in Ireland, at the expense of what belongs to the whole population. The whole of the ratepayers are interested in the security we seek to pledge, and the whole of the ratepayers, therefore, ought to derive some advantage from it if you wish them to look with a favourable eye upon the scheme. It may, of course, be said that they would all have the advantage that would arise from the tranquillity of the country. But as practical men we must all admit that they would see their interest much more clearly if it took the shape of something that would touch their own pockets directly. Therefore, I am anxious that a considerable proportion of the 30 per cent. which, under the Bill, will be made a gift to the purchasing tenants, should go in aid of the ratepayers generally. That is one reason why we want to see the intervention of the Local Authority, which should be pecuniarily interested in the success of the scheme. There is another reason: I think that the risk of this operation would be materially lessened if we had a Local Authority as a "buffer" between the State and the tenant. I have never concealed my objection to allowing the State to become the landlord in Ireland. I think that would be a dangerous position. I do not mean that it would involve a danger of loss of money to the taxpayer. Of course, the foundation of this Bill is the use of British credit. But though we admit that British credit is used, we do not admit that British credit is risked. That is a totally different thing. We hold that British credit would be used in the same way as the credit of the Bank of England is used in the case of banknotes issued as against bullion, and that 370 there is absolute security for every penny of British money which is used. We do not believe that there is any danger to the pocket of the British taxpayer. Let me on this point refer to the observations of my right hon. Friend. He says what many of his followers have less courteously said, that hon. Members who support this Bill are doing so in breach of faith; that they, or the majority of them, are pledged to their constituents not to use British credit for any such purpose as this. Let each speak for himself. I myself am absolutely free from any such charge. In my speeches and addresses to my constituents, from first to last I have stated my willingness to use British credit and to risk British credit, though I have always stated that I would not use or risk it for a country to be placed in the position of a foreign country. But it has been part of my own policy that it is right and politic to use British credit for the purpose of making the occupying tenant the owner of the soil not in Ireland alone, but throughout the United Kingdom. My conscience, therefore, is clear; I am prepared to use British credit, although I am very glad I am not called upon to risk it. But though there is no danger, in my opinion, to the purse of the British taxpayer, there is danger of great friction, of irritation, and of loss of what is the chief object of this measure—the tranquillity of Ireland. If you place the Imperial Exchequer in direct relation with the tenant, you almost tempt the tenant to resent the payment of his instalments, and tempt him to say that the price at which he was induced to buy was too high. A tenant would find plenty of persons like the Mover of this Amendment to support him in such a contention. Therefore, unless you can get the public opinion of Ireland—and it does not now exist—in favour of the payment of the full instalments, there will be a constant danger of irritation and trouble. By this plan which I venture to submit you would do a great deal to create such a just public opinion. You would have the Local Authority in the position of landlord, and knowing that if it collected the instalments in full it would thereby be securing a certain pecuniary advantage for the ratepayers at large; whereas, if it did not, an addi- 371 tional rate would have to be levied to make good the deficiency. By this plan you would have the ratepayers interested in the full payment of their instalments by those who had purchased under the Act. Would not the Bill be strengthened and improved by such a plan? My right hon. Friend referred to what I said on this matter on a previous occasion. I should not like to be held to every word I said at that time, because it is quite possible a better way may be found. I want to establish the principle. I admit that in the course of further consideration of the subject I have come to the conclusion that there would be some advantages in leaving to the Local Authority, or the constituents if you please, the one great question whether the Act should be put in force or not, but I do not think that it would be advisable for the Local Authority to consider each transaction. There is a good deal to be said in favour of a referendum on the larger question whether the Act should be put into operation, but the details, I think, should be left to be arranged by the authorities representing the State—the Land Commission and the Exchequer. I think that in the state of Ireland, if every transaction was to be separately canvassed by the Local Authority, there would be a possibility of all sorts of personal questions arising, which would interfere with the fair consideration of the different transactions. But after the terms of purchase had been arranged, it might be well to hand over to the Local Authority the duty of collecting the instalments and to place the Local Authority in the position of landlord until all the instalments had been paid. I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he is governed largely by the general consideration of his unwillingness in the present Parliament to use British credit without a further appeal to the constituencies. That is a consideration which does not govern me. I am free from any feeling of that kind, and, consequently, I shall have no hesitation in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. When we come to Committee, and when this matter is raised, as it certainly will be, I hold myself at perfect liberty to vote for any Amendments which will carry out the ideas I have expressed. I know with what care the 372 right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has considered all propositions that have been made to him for the amendment of the Bill from all parts of the House, and I do beg him to re-consider his position in regard to this matter of the Local Authority, having regard to the fact that by so doing he would probably receive powerful support from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian.
§ (5.30.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I had not intended to intervene so early in the Debate, but the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) necessitate some immediate notice from this Bench, and no Member on this Bench is so well acquainted with the details of this Bill as myself I hope, under these circumstances, the hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. John Ellis) will forgive me if I do not spend much time in replying to his speech in support of his Amendment. I was not surprised either at his speech or at his Amendment. The lengthy Amendment he has placed on the Paper appears to me to be a very happy and concise summary of all the usual errors and logical confusions which do so much to render useless the speeches which are from time to time delivered on the land question both inside this House and out of it by Members of the Party of which the hon. Member is an ornament. I pass now, Sir, from these general statements to the particular criticisms passed on the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and I may begin by replying to the challenge, or rather the question, put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. He dealt with the alterations—the important alterations, as he rightly termed them—I have made in the Bill by which the area of purchase is limited by restrictions that did not exist in previous Bills. The right hon. Gentleman asked me, if these limitations as introduced were carried into effect, what would be the capital sum, as far as I can estimate it, which would be required to complete land purchase in Ireland. The question is one which I have endeavoured to the best of 373 my power to investigate, but the data are imperfect, and to a considerable extent conjectural. Do what you will with existing statistics, take what trouble you may to collect new statistics, it is quite impossible, in my opinion, to arrive at a conclusion upon this subject which will not have in it a very large hypothetical element. The best calculation that I can make is that in any case the total amount to complete land purchase would be somewhere about £95,000,000 sterling. Therefore, although the 30 odd millions which this Bill proposes to allocate to land purchase certainly is far from carrying it out completely, it will be observed that, if we deduct from the £95,000,000 those cases in which landlords and tenants do not desire to sell or purchase, with the re-payments of the £30,000,000, we may really expect under this Bill to see a great impression made upon the problem we have to solve. The next point touched on by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, which was also adverted to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, dealt with the limit of 20 years, which appeared in last year's Bill and does not appear in this Bill. I think both these right hon. Gentlemen had not present in their minds quite clearly that neither by the terms of the Bill nor by the language of the speech in which I introduced the Bill was it ever suggested that in the opinion of the Government 20 years was the outside limit of the value of land in Ireland. All that the Bill said and all that I said at that time was that we thought that the Public Exchequer should not be called upon with regard to any holding to advance more than the price which corresponded to 20 years' purchase. It will be observed that that operation does not constitute the fixing the price of land in Ireland. It did not, in our opinion, even constitute a suggestion that 20 years' purchase was the proper price at which land should be sold. I found there was great opposition to the proposal. However, it is, no doubt, the fact that some tenants in the better parts of Ireland occupy holdings for which they are prepared to give more than 20 years' purchase, and which are worth more than 20 years' purchase. It is perfectly true that there is no intrinsic reason why the State should aid 374 the purchase of land by advancing more than what amounts to 20 years' purchase. But, on the other hand, it is represented to me by persons who know the districts to which I have referred that this restriction would practically prevent those tenants from buying, though perhaps they are the most eligible class of tenant proprietors in the whole of Ireland. This is not a question on which I individually entertain a strong opinion, but I think that as the question has been raised on the Second Reading it is only due to the House to point out that, since the Bill of last year was before the country, this practical objection has been brought to my notice, and I think some weight should be allowed to it. I now come to the much larger and more important question which relates to the kind of control, if any, that should be given to localities over purchases. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has indicated that, in his opinion, there should not only be a general kind of control, which I gather would fully satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, but also a particular and special kind of control over each transaction between each landlord and each tenant. That, I must say, in plain terms, appears to me to be absolutely inadmissible. I cannot conceive such machinery working justly to either party. Practically, you would have tenants combining together and deciding that no tenant should be allowed to buy at more than a certain number of years' purchase. They would "bear," or artificially force down the value of land through the very machinery with which you would supply them. Everybody will feel that that argument alone is sufficient, and that you must not allow the mass of the people who are not buyers, but who look forward to the time when they may become buyers, to settle the price of the article they may buy. I therefore for that reason, if for no other, reject absolutely any proposal which would give to the Local Authority control over individual transactions. Now, Sir, there is a wider question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham has dealt with the suggestion I threw out to the House on the First Reading of the Bill. The House will recollect that I threw out that suggestion as a compro- 375 mise, and in the interests of peace. I did not pretend to think that its adoption would be an improvement to the Bill, and I do not pretend to think so now. It has the vice incidental to almost every compromise I have ever heard of. It is not so logically compact that you cannot bring logical argument against it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham says he is unable to distinguish logically between that part of the Guarantee Fund over which the Local Authorities are to have control and that other part over which the Local Authorities are to have no control. I do not think that at the present moment it is my business to supply a logical distinction, but I say that there is a great sentimental distinction. The distinction between mortgaging funds which have been given to localities during the past few years, for such ordinary purposes as roads, and the funds over which they have had immemorial control, so to speak—funds, for such purposes as education and the support of pauper lunatics—is enormous. You may say that both are the property of the localities. They are contributions given to the locality by the free gift of the Legislature of Great Britain and Ireland, and may be withdrawn at any moment. The claim of a locality to these contributions is based only on the fact that other localities have the same. I do not at all deny that there is a strong claim, but I do deny that there is a claim of the same strength as that of a man to property that belongs to him. I admit, though I do not go to the length of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham in denying that there is any logical distinction between these two kinds of funds—I admit that there are difficulties in drawing a distinction between them, but that is the case in every compromise. If I could pass this Bill as I wish, I should say,—"Here is a boon given by the country at large to Ireland for the purpose of improving its social position. Do not allow localities to interfere with that boon. Give it freely, and take care that the people get the advantage of it." That is my point of view, though it is not the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, or of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and all I suggested in my short statement on the First Reading was 376 that, if the feeling of the House was rather with those right hon. Gentlemen, we might come to a compromise, which, though it may have the vices, has still the merits of all good compromises, and which may bring peace to e question with regard to which there are many vital differences of opinion between us. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, in a very interesting part of his speech, went on to discuss the interest the Local Authority has in the proper administration of the Bill. He said—"If you want a Bill to work you must give the Local Authority a large pecuniary interest in seeing that the rents are collected, so that public opinion may be in the future what it has never been in the past, namely, on the side of the payment of rents or annuities." Now, Sir, I for one at once admit the force of that argument, but I want to show how far the Bill is open to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman and how far it may be truly said that the locality has no interest under the existing Bill in seeing that these contracts are kept. In the first place, I would remind the House that the locality does already get what is called the Crown per cent.—the county cess. That is more than any land agent in Ireland gets for the collection of rent, and it is a free gift from the State, and subject to no obligation whatever. So much for the amount of the gift to the locality. In the second place, let me point out that the difference between giving a locality money if the contracts are observed and taking away money if the contracts are not observed is very little more than a difference of language. Under the Bill as it stands a locality loses money if the contracts are not observed; under the Bill as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham would wish it, the locality would get money if the contracts were observed. As far as the mere effect on the public opinion of the locality is concerned, I think that that is a distinction which is not a very great one. It is a money distinction, and in both cases the pocket of the general ratepayer is touched. Therefore the general opinion of the locality will be moved in the direction of insisting upon payment, and I do not see any great distinction between the plan of mulcting the locality if contracts are not kept and that of bribing them if 377 the contracts are kept, as the right hon. Gentleman proposes. Then I would point out—and I think it is worthy of the consideration of the House—that you have not so large a margin to give to the locality as at first sight appears. It is true that the diminution of the annuity is considerable as compared with the rent, but I do not believe that the motive to a tenant to buy can be measured accurately by that diminution alone. The terms under which he holds the land after purchase are severer than those under an ordinary tenancy in Ireland. There are arrears, and the State will not and cannot, I think, give the same laxity of treatment to the annuitants as a landlord in Ireland usually does to the tenants, and many tenants even with this bribe of 20 per cent. and over will, I believe, distinctly prefer to remain under their old landlords to coming under the harder and more rigorous management of the State. Therefore, if you are going still further to diminish what I may call the arithmetical benefit which the tenant obtains from purchase, you will remove the motive for purchase and pro tanto diminish the benefits which I hope and believe Ireland will obtain from this Bill. I think I have dealt with the arguments common to the two important speeches which we have heard, and now I will in a very few words further deal only with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. He repeated very briefly some of the arguments formerly used against this Bill, but his main argument, after all, was the old one—that the British Treasury would have to evict in order to enforce payment of the annuities. I dissent from that statement of the principles of the Bill absolutely and in toto The actual process by which a tenant who does not pay his annuity will be dealt with will be undertaken by the Land Commission not in the interests of the British Treasury, but of the local funds. That difference is fundamental. It is not as if the British Treasury would be benefited by one sixpence if the holding is sold, but the ratepayers of the locality would be saved from losing the funds contributed out of the Imperial Exchequer. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian dwelt on an argument previously advanced— 378 I think unfortunately—by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. John Ellis) with regard to the involuntary purchases which have taken place under the Bill already. But he forgot, I think, that his own Bill was based upon involuntary purchase; the whole essence and substance of his Bill was that the landlord might or might not sell, but practically the tenant was compelled to buy, not at 17 years' purchase, which is the average price under the existing Act, but at 20 years' purchase of the judicial rent, broadly speaking.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman corrects me. It is true that there was power to lessen the term, but the basis of the Bill was compulsory purchase at 20 years, and amounted to a direction to the Land Commission to insist upon sale at that price, unless in individual cases strong reason could be shown against it. Therefore, I am bound to say that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian criticises our Bill because, if the story of the tenant is to be believed, involuntary purchase has taken place, he forgets that, if it ever did occur at all, what was a regrettable accident in our Bill was an inevitable necessity in his own. I was unable to reconcile that part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with his own Bill, and also with the next part of his argument, which was that sales under this Bill will so improve the position of the Irish tenant who purchases that the unfortunate tenants who are his next neighbours, and are unable to purchase, will practically feel that they have a grievance against the landlord or the State, and that you will produce a condition of social discord greater than that which you relieve. Well, Sir, but if the position of the tenant-purchaser is so very much better than that of the tenant who pays rent, what becomes of the argument of the hon. Member for Nottingham, which was endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman himself—namely, that the people who have purchased already have a grievance, and ought to be relieved of part of their bargains? I am ready and anxious to give all the information I can about these complaining purchasers, but I deduce this general 379 proposition from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that if the tenant after purchase pays an annuity less than the rent he paid as tenant, he not only has a grievance, but he is also the subject of envy to the neighbouring tenants. Test the purchasers by this criterion, and you will see what their grievance is. The right hon. Gentleman must not suppose that I think that there is not some solid basis for his criticism on the Bill, not from the point of view of the hon. Member for Nottingham, but more from his own; that is to say, it is possible that tenants who desire to buy, but are unable, will compare their condition with that of those who are more favourably situated. Now, Sir, the House will see that in the Bill I have introduced I have done something to meet this possible difficulty and danger, because I have given power to the Lord Lieutenant to continue the 80 per cent. over a longer period of five years, which was the period fixed in the Bill of last year. I think that the Lord Lieutenant will be able to consider the social position of each county in Ireland, and if he finds the competition or the desire to buy so keen as to be likely to lead to discontent, he can, so to speak, put his finger upon the throttle valve, and so diminish the immediate benefit which the tenants expect to get, and he may thereby mitigate that excessive competition which the right hon. Gentleman appears to fear, and which I admit in certain parts of Ireland is a possible danger. I have taken the best advice I can in the matter, and I do not believe that the advantages which the tenants think that they will obtain by becoming subject to an annuity to the State are so great over their present condition of tenants paying rent to a landlord, and I do not believe that over a great part of Ireland this competition and desire to buy will exist. I think that I have now touched upon all the arguments advanced in the speeches to which we have listened with so much interest. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, let me say that most of it seemed to me to be an argument in favour of the Bill. He dwelt at great length and with great elaboration on the evils which exist under the present system, and upon all the difficulties which exist between landlord and tenant, and which 380 beset the dealing of landlord with tenant. Those difficulties do exist, and there is no way out of them except by land purchase, and by land purchase alone will you put an end to them, or remove from the path of Irish progress that agrarian discontent which is in itself the fruit and product of a long and melancholy history, but which I do believe if once removed from that path will leave it unimpeded, and may hold out to us who have the prosperity of that country at heart some not distant hope of seeing a great change for the better in the social condition of Ireland.
§ *(5.58.) MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
I listened with consternation to the language of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and of the Chief Secretary when they spoke of the large sums of money which would be required for the purpose of working out this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham put the sum at £100,000,000, the Chief Secretary put it at £95,000,000. I suppose the sum, whatever it is, is in excess of the £30,000,000 which is provided for in this Bill. This is to be added to the National Debt, and we are to give it to that class who in their conduct in the past have been most neglectful of their duties, and have by their selfishness produced more disaffection and more turbulence in Ireland than any other class in the United Kingdom. The money is to be repaid by those who are in strained relations with the British Government, and may possibly combine to resist payment of the instalments, and whose combination can only be broken by steps that would partially depopulate portions of the country, a thing intolerable in this stage of our civilisation, and, indeed, equivalent to a condition of civil war. I cannot believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite are so confident as they affect to be as to the value of the securities. The probability of a political strike if the present régime under the Crimes Act is continued is self-evident. Even if Home Rule is conceded, as I trust it may be, this Bill would offer a most tempting weapon in the event of any difference arising between the two countries, most mortifying to our pride, and certain to produce corresponding resentment on this side of the water. Now, it has been said that 381 the "No Rent" manifesto did not produce a general repudiation of rents. I agree it did not, but it would be a very bad look out for the peaceful relations between this country and Ireland if it were in the power of Nationalist leaders hereafter to put the Government of this country to such an extremity as that to which Irish landlords were forced to recover their rents in 1881 and 1882. In addition to this there are other dangers to be feared. There is danger arising from a fall in prices, from foreign competition, from the pressure of war; and scores of other contingences may arise in the course of 50 years, so to depreciate the value of land that tenants will be unable to pay their instalments. I believe if it were not for Party recollections, Party ties, and Party fears the Bill would have no chance of passing into law. We on this side are under a great disadvantage; we are fighting under the shadow of the Bill of 1886. I know that Bill differed from this in many particulars, and was itself intended to be part of an agrarian and political settlement; it is none the less true that the main principle of that Bill was similar to the main principle of this Bill, that is an indiscriminate purchase of Irish land at the cost of British credit. Now that is precisely the principle which was condemned at the last General Election, and I believe it would be condemned at any further election if the country had the opportunity of declaring its opinion upon it. But although it has been so condemned I do not gather that it has been renounced by leaders on either side of the House. I have listened to speeches, and I have read many speeches on the subject, and although the leaders of the Liberal Party have opposed this Bill on the ground that it is unsafe to the taxpayer, unjust to the tenant, and unfair, if not dishonest, to the constituencies of this country, yet I have not heard anything said which would be inconsistent with the re-introduction of another Bill providing an equal sum for a like object in the event of the Liberal Party being returned to power again. I think the position of right hon. Gentlemen below me, and especially of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, is logically unassailable. It is perfectly true the methods in the Bill, the with- 382 holding of local control over the disposition of local funds, are features that justify strenuous resistance even on the part of those who are prepared to support a wiser measure directed to the same purpose; but it is none the less true that our chance of successful resistance to this Bill is impaired, if not demolished, by the fear that even if the Bill were defeated defeat will be only the prelude to the introduction of another Bill on the same subject. Of course hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are indisposed towards the Bill, naturally say if it is certain that under any circumstances a Bill of this kind will be passed they prefer to trust it to their own leaders in whom they have confidence, rather than run the risk of the passing of a Bill introduced by their political opponents. Gentlemen on this side of the House may say to themselves that if such a Bill is to pass unquestionably it will be better to pass it at once rather than lead to the inevitable rupture of the Liberal Party in a future Parliament. So the inclinations of both sides have been enlisted in favour of the measure, not because it is a popular measure, indeed it is notoriously unpopular, but because the Front Benches on both sides having advocated or acquiesced in the principle private Members have accepted it as doom. Now I am not prepared to accept anything of the kind. I do not know what there is in the condition of Ireland that necessitates a Bill of this character. This measure has been advocated and supported in the country on the ground, or largely on the ground, that it is for the relief of persons in an impoverished condition. But the Bill will do nothing of the kind. This Bill will apply to the rich, the comfortable, the well-to-do tenants just as much, and indeed more, than it will apply to those in a humbler, poorer condition. We know from past experience of the Ashbourne Act that the comparatively well-to-do class of tenants have chiefly derived advantage from previous Acts passed with a similar purpose to this. The policy of the Bill is not compassionate; its policy is to confer benefit, by the manipulation of State credit, on landlord or tenant, or both, who shall agree to any purchase and sale of land in Ireland hereafter. In 383 fact, the sale of land is regarded as in itself a transaction of such transcendent merit that the State on every such occasion interposes with the cash, to be haggled over and divided between landlord and tenant according to their several necessities, or skill in haggling. Now, the State credit is the common property of us all, and it diminishes in value in proportion to the obligations placed upon it. I should like to know if money is to be given to those dealing in land in Ireland without respect to their financial position, what answer can be given to similar demands made on behalf of England or Scotland. I might go further, and say, if the State credit is to be invoked in favour of private individuals and private transactions in land in Ireland, why should not State credit be usefully applied for the purpose of extending industries in this country, which might, by borrowing at 3 per cent., be largely developed, and provide more occupation for a portion of the people? This doctrine, this practice of advancing money, granting the use of State credit for the benefit of private individuals, is likely in time to lead to some startling conclusions. If it is to be allowed at all it ought to be applied in favour of the poorest part of the population. Now, this is not the policy of the Bill. Indeed the policy of the Bill is rather the reverse, for I maintain that the benefit will go rather to those who are well-to-do than to the poor, and that in precisely the proportion they are removed from poverty. The benefit granted by State credit is thrown as a matter of contention between landlord and tenant, and naturally the landlord will try to get as large a share as he can. The strong tenant will be able effectually to resist his landlord, and will succeed, no doubt, in getting the lion's share, but these are precisely the kind of men we do not require to assist. We require to assist the weak tenant—the man who is under arrears and in fear of eviction, or who, overwhelmed by his poverty, has already been converted into a caretaker, and is unable to contend successfully with his landlord. This is the man for whom this measure will do little. In other words this bonus granted by the State credit goes in very large part to the landlord, and that which 384 goes to the tenant will be greatest in cases where the need is least, gradually diminishing to a vanishing point in the case of those who need the assistance most. That is a kind of inverted Socialism I have no sort of sympathy with myself. Another effect of the Bill will be to inflame the feeling against the Government—against any Government. The right hon. Gentleman himself referred to that. The right hon. Gentleman has intimated his opinion that there will be no ill-feeling created by evictions which will hereafter be undertaken by the Commissioners, because the people of each county will see that clearly the evictions are in the interest of those who are liable to contribute to the Guarantee Fund. But I cannot at all agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that view. Hitherto the feeling against evictions has been general, and this feeling will be transferred from the landlords to the Government, which takes the place of the landlords, for when, as must inevitably happen, either from poverty or bad seasons, ill-health, bad fortune, or a variety of reasons, individual tenants are unable to pay their rent, it will be the duty of the Government, in the interest of the inhabitants of the locality, to enforce rigidly their power of eviction, and the ill-blood and ill-feeling now entertained towards evicting landlords will be transferred to the heads of the Government. I would endeavour to reconcile myself to the Bill if I could see that it would really effect a settlement of the land difficulty even in those cases where it is applied, but I find it will do nothing of the kind. If we are to advance money from the Public Funds in order to aid transactions between landlords and tenants we ought at least to see that the slate is wiped quite clean; there ought to be no more relations between landlord, so that they may not harass and molest each other for the future. But it is quite possible, indeed most likely, that under this Bill, when the landlord has received the full amount he is to receive from the State he will still remain in the position of creditor, or second mortgagee. The Bill does not ask whether the terms between the landlord and tenant are fair, and the landlord may impose conditions upon the tenant which the interest of the tenant 385 may compel him to accept, and when the tenant has paid all his instalments to the State he will require to pay other instalments due to his landlord, and the consequence may very well be that the landlord will use his power to sell up the tenant, take his stock, make him bankrupt, and effect a sale of his property. What sort of a settlement will that be of the land question? To one more point I desire to draw attention. It appears to me that this Bill, if it is largely applied, will produce some of the evils which were amended by the Bills of 1881 and 1887. The reason why these Bills, fixing fair rents, were passed into law was because, by a series of Reports by Royal Commissions, and by the authority of all economists, it was impossible to arrange in Ireland that contracts between landlord and tenant should be really free. The competition for land was so great that landlords were tempted to let their land to the highest bidder; and tenants, to secure the land, were tempted to offer more rent than they could really afford to pay. Now, I will suppose that, under this Bill, a large number of tenants, whose fair rents have been fixed, are allowed to become purchasers. I will take such a case as the Chief Secretary put, that of a man who pays a fair rent of £100 a year. Under this Bill, that tenant has his rent reduced to £68. It is true sub-letting is forbidden under the Act; but who supposes that sub-letting can be effectually prevented by a clause in any Act of Parliament? This tenant, whose fair rent is reduced from £100 to £68 under this Bill, may be able to let his land again for £110 or £120, and thereby turn himself into a sort of middleman; and you will have to do the same thing over again—pass another Bill fixing fair rents. This was pointed out in the Report of the Bessborough Commission a long time ago, and the danger is so apparent that I am surprised attention has not been called to it by some hon. Gentleman who favours the system. In fact, we shall be obliged again to legislate in a vicious circle. I cannot believe, although I do not question the philanthropic motives and intention of the Government in regard to this Bill, that these are the sole motives for the Bill. We have heard it stated in the country, although it has not been much referred 386 to in the House, that the Act of 1881 was a great injustice to the landlords of Ireland. In his speech in the year 1883, in this House I think, the Chief Secretary practically said the same thing. That was one of the arguments with which, at that time consistently enough, he contended against the introduction of a system of land purchase. It has been regarded throughout the country that this Bill is introduced more in the interest of the landlords, and by way of compensation to them for the loss they sustained through the passing of the Act of 1881, than from any other motive.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member quotes from a speech of mine delivered a long time ago, the terms of which are not in my mind. If he imputes to me a suggestion that land purchase is introduced in order to compensate the landlords for something taken away from them by previous legislators, he is certainly mistaken.
§ MR. R. T. REID
I have a recollection of the speech, but I have not read it recently. Practically it amounted to this, that a great wrong had been done to Irish landlords, that it was a very dangerous social experiment, and might be repeated in other parts of the kingdom. Certainly I will accept the right hon. Gentleman's denial at once, but I was under the impression then, and have been since, that he expressed an opinion that some reparation or compensation was due to landowners for their loss by the Act of 1881. There is one other point has been referred to by not a few speakers in former debates—the hope that the Bill will have the effect of tranquillising Ireland. Now, if I thought there was such a prospect, I would not oppose the Bill. What is the position of affairs in Ireland at the present time? You have the congested districts, and I firmly believe that this country will some time be obliged to spend a sum of money to relieve these congested districts. But you must treat them separately from the rest of Ireland; this Bill refers to the whole of Ireland. You have also some estates on which the relations between landlord and tenants—I will not now inquire by whose fault—have come to such a pass that there is no prospect of peace during the present generation. I fully agree that 387 it might be desirable, probably would be, to take these particular estates and confer on some authority compulsory powers to expropriate the landlords, preventing scenes of turbulence and disorder in the future, and to do so on such terms as would deter landlords from forcing such a condition of things in the future. Beyond the congested districts and a few disturbed estates, there is nothing in the condition of Ireland to justify any demand for the indiscriminate purchase of land by the use of State credit. When the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill he gave us a long explanation, and he told us of a series of Reports by Commissions, but I do not think they amounted to what he understood them to be, authority for the introduction of any such Bill. There is nothing to warrant the introduction of an indiscriminate Purchase Bill for Ireland, unless, indeed, it is that rents in general are not at present fair. But that argument has not been advanced from the Treasury Bench, nor has the real reasons for the introduction of the Bill been explained. I do not know whether rents generally in Ireland are fair or not. If they are unfair the recommendations of the Cowper Commission should be carried out, and the period of judicial rents be fixed at five years, but if they are fair there is no sufficient reason for the Bill. I have no wish to interpose between any advantages that might be conferred fairly and legitimately by this House upon Irish tenants, but I maintain that the Bill will not confer benefits upon tenants so much as upon landlords, and even as far as it will confer benefits upon tenants, those benefits will be reaped by the wealthier tenants who do not need them, and not by the poor tenants. I know perfectly well that in the disorganised state of public affairs it may be difficult to prevent the Bill becoming law, but I feel so confident that it will not be a settlement of the land question, that in itself it contains the seeds of discord, that we are certain to hear again and again of this same Irish land question, and to have to pay more money for similar purposes, that I feel it my duty to oppose the Bill.
§ *(6.28.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
It is perhaps only a Member representing an Irish constituency who has 388 had practical experience of affairs in Ireland who can appreciate all the fallacies which have been put forth in the course of this Debate. The hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division in his Amendment charges the Government with using the forces of the Crown to carry out evictions for the non-payment of unjust rents. Now, I have just come from a distant part of Ireland, where pure accident took me, and I happened to be in the neighbourhood upon the last day of the evictions carried out upon the Olphert Estate, at Gweedore. More than a hundred tenants were evicted in three or four days. I arrived there on the last day, and gathered facts regarding 42 of those tenants. In 24 cases which I personally investigated the aggregate annual rent was £40. The total amount due on the decrees was £170, and the landlord offered to give those 24 men a full discharge on the payment of £31.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Mainly judicial, and these are what the hon. Member has called unjust rents. In the cases of 18 other tenants the annual rent was £47; the total amount due under the decrees was £186, and on the day on which those 18 men were evicted for non-payment they were in possession of 711 sheep, 111 head of cattle, and the crops of the whole year. On one man, who was arrested on a charge of murdering his wife, and who had 11 sheep and four head of cattle, his rent being only 16s. per annum, the police found in cash a sum of £8 17s. 6d. I want the House to appreciate at its true worth the charge that the Government of the country are lending the forces of the Crown to carry out evictions for unjust rents. I do not mean to say that there have not been unjust rents, or that there have not been evictions for unjust rents, but what I complain of is that hon. Members who go to Ireland, and tramp through bogs to the knees to witness evictions, take very little pains indeed to get at the actual facts of the situation they go to investigate. When a measure similar to the Bill now under discussion was before the House last Session, I spoke at considerable length upon the Motion for the Second Reading. I come from a 389 part of the country where there is not the slightest difference of opinion as to the utility of land purchase. Anyone who knows anything of the Province of Ulster knows that there are only two opinions regarding land purchase in that province. There is a considerable party who are so enamoured of land purchase that they will be content with nothing less than a compulsory sale of the landlord's interest. That party is not a large one, but I have told them that they are doing what they can to impede the right hon. Gentleman in carrying land purchase. By far the greater number of the intelligent farmers of Ulster—and the small farmers are quite as intelligent as the large ones—are perfectly convinced as to the utility of land purchase; nay, more, they are persuaded that the future of Ireland, the future peace and prosperity of Ireland depends upon it. Therefore, in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill, I am acting not only with my own constituents at my back, but with the whole province of Ulster behind me. Now, the Chief Secretary has split his Bill of last year into two, and I frankly say I do not quite understand what he means by that process. The other night the right hon. Gentleman said it was designed to save time, that it was possible to get one portion of the Bill passed which will be complete in it self, while it might not be possible to get the other portion passed. I could quite understand that, but I find that in the first Bill the right hon. Gentleman makes the Land Commission a permanent body—a very proper thing to do—and that in the second Bill he proposes to create a Land Department. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by making the Land Commission a permanent body, and then setting up a Land Department which must supersede the Land Commission? There is more that I do not like. I observe that the Chief Secretary has crowded into his second Bill a great many valuable provisions that were in his first Bill, every one of those provisions being warmly supported by the tenants, and bitterly opposed by the landlords. Take the question of turbary, for example. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to allow the first Bill to come into operation, and to leave the question of turbary as at present? If he is prepared to do that, he leaves 390 the landlord still landlord of the bog, and free to exact from the tenant purchaser for turbary what he may think he has lost in the price of the land, and I maintain that that will be an improper situation to create. There is another question to which I desire to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have given the Tithes Bill priority over the Land Purchase Bill; in other words they have given the Tithes Bill, which was within an ace of defeat last night if the Irish Members had come down from the Committee room in which they were assembled—they have given the Tithes Bill, which is not cared for by many of their own supporters, priority over the Land Purchase Bill, which is cared for. Is that precedence to be maintained after the Second Reading, and is the Land Bill to be caught in the toils of the Assisted Education Bill in the same way as it was caught last year in the toils of the Compensation to Publicans Bill? I will now deal with the alterations the Chief Secretary proposes to make, and will first of all take the question of the 20 years' limit. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has left that out; I do not think it had any supporters in Ireland. The Chief Secretary is quite right in saying that a great many Ulster landlords object to it. Rightly or wrongly the Ulster landlords consider they ought to get more than 20 years purchase for their land, and they object to the tenant purchaser being forced to go to the money-lender or the gombeen man for the excess over the 20 years' purchase. The tenants of Ireland object to the 20 years' limit quite as much as the landlords do; for, no matter what may be said, if there is a limit in the Bill at all, an implied standard of value is set up, and therefore the tenants object to the 20 years' limit. I am glad that the limit has disappeared, and that the landlords and tenants will be able to fight the matter out. There is another alteration in the Bill which I thoroughly dislike, and I am bound to place it before the Chief Secretary. There was a most valuable practical clause in the Bill of last year which provided that, where a landlord is willing to sell and the tenant is anxious to buy, but where they cannot come to terms as to the price, they may, with the consent of both parties, call in 391 the Land Commission as arbitrator to decide the matter. That clause would have affected an enormous number of properties, because that is exactly the situation in a great many cases; the landlord would sell and the tenant would buy, but they cannot come to terms. The Bill of last year provided the machinery for bringing them together. The provision was violently opposed by the Irish landlords; it has disappeared from the Bill, and I greatly regret it. I now come to the vexed question of popular control, and I am glad to have the opportunity of stating clearly and explicitly what I think about it. We are proposing under this Bill to mortgage the property of a county, and I think the argument in favour of the county having the right to veto that mortgage is absolutely unassailable in logic. I am perfectly certain that if it were England or Scotland we were dealing with it would never be attempted to mortgage the property of a county without the consent of the county. But to give an Irish Local Authority control to veto the sales under this Act is a very serious operation indeed. The Local Authority will in the main consist of the farmers; that is to say, they will either be farmers themselves interested in the question or they will be men elected by farmers. Stripped of all rhetoric the proposal is simply to give the County Councils the power to fix the price of the land, and that is a proposal the House ought not to entertain. No man ought to be judge in his own case, and the Irish tenant farmers are no better than any other class of men. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. R. T. Reid) thought this Bill has been advocated to a large extent on false pretences. I candidly confess that I consider land purchase to be the instrument with which we are to defeat the hon. and learned Member in his designs upon Ireland. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman imagine that any sensible man would furnish his political opponent with a weapon which would undo the work he himself is doing? Upon the grounds I have stated it is perfectly impossible to place in the hands of the Local Authority the right to control or veto these sales, for they will either fix the price of the land or hamstring the 392 Act upon which the Government and the Unionist Party depend for the tranquillising and pacification of Ireland. There is a third reason why it should not be done. We have had some little experience in the matter of land purchase, and when hon. Members like the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. J. E. Ellis) rise with information as to the tenants of the Duke of Leinster, the Marquess of Bath, and Lord Waterford wishing to get a change in the terms because of the bad season, I may put the matter in this way: The glebe tenants purchased 22 years ago—many of them at 28 years' purchase. They could not help purchasing under the Church Act, for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was responsible. They had to purchase or go. What has happened? Notwithstanding that they purchased under the onerous condition of 28 years of the old unrevised rents, the glebe tenants have laboured to meet their engagements, and they have met them. Take the purchasers under the Budget Clauses, for which again the Front Opposition Bench were responsible. What have those purchasers done? Have they repudiated their engagements? Some of them purchased at 25 years of the old unrevised rents; they have honestly met their engagements, and are meeting them to-day. What has happened during the five years the Ashbourne Act has been in operation? We had it from the Chief Secretary yesterday that only £28,000 is in arrear. So we have had some experience of land purchase in Ireland. As I have more than once said, I believe a good deal of the agitation is a put-up job to deter the House of Commons from entering on the consideration of this Purchase Bill, and I believe the tenants of the Duke of Leinster, the Marquess of Bath, and Lord Waterford, know too well the bargain they have made to run any risk in the matter. In conclusion, I desire to say that, whilst I claim the right to criticise the Bill in detail, the Chief Secretary may rely upon my loyal support of the Bill. I have been told that this is a landlords' Bill. If it be a landlords' Bill, how comes it that the tenants of Ireland are clamouring for it? They have not been in the habit of clamouring for assistance for the landlords in the past. The 393 tenants of Ireland are the hereditary foes of Irish landlordism, and I ask hon. Gentlemen who speak in the House of Commons with very little experience of Ireland to explain how it comes about that the most enthusiastic support of the Government in this matter comes from the tenants of Ireland.
§ *(6.50.) MR. J. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)
I think I can give at once a reply to the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). He asks why it is that, if the Bill is unjust to the tenants, the tenants clamour for it. The answer is this: the British know that the intervention of tenants credit represents an enormous sum of money to be given to someone. They know, to their pain, that probably nineteenths of that immense boon will be taken away by the landlords, yet, for the sake of the odd tenth that may come into their possession, they want the Bill. It appears to me, as one who has devoted some attention to the matter of land purchase in Ireland, that, next to its predecessor, which I admit was still more complex, this Bill is one of the most complicated measures ever laid before Parliament. Not only has the Bill itself to be mastered, but 14 Acts of Parliament to which it alludes have to be read along with it. The measure is one which may be best described as combining the most abstruse banking problems with the most abstruse legal phraseology. Its unparalleled complexity is proved by a mere recital of the different funds and accounts through which the money will have to pass. They are the land purchase account, the local taxation account, the guarantee deposit, the Guarantee Fund, the cash portion and the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund, the Sinking Fund, the Reserve Fund, the County Percentage Fund, the Purchasers' Insurance Fund, and, lastly—to the present and future sorrow of the British taxpayer—the Consolidated Fund. Assuredly such an unprecedented measure should not have been placed in our hands with the expectation that we would master it in 48 hours. I object to the Bill because in my judgment it is an embodiment of the policy of the unjust steward in the parable. The Government know they will shortly have to give up their place, and so they are determined to transfer to their friends as much of their master's 394 goods as possible. I think the Bill tells us pretty plainly why its predecessor was withdrawn. Mere decency caused the insertion of a limit of 20 years' purchase in the last Bill, but most of us know that the landlords—the friends of the Government—protested against that limit. They did not see why, when they had such a fine opportunity of dipping their hands into the Public Treasury, they should have any limit placed on the amount they could extract. In fact, the landlords were lukewarm about the last Bill because the Limitation Clause allowed them only to dip their arms up to the elbow in the Public Treasury, and they have now compelled the Government to bring in a Bill which will enable them to dip in their arms up to the shoulder. I should like the Government to give a categorical answer to the question why they have increased the advance to be made by the British taxpayer under the present measure as distinguished from the last Bill. I ask whether the security has increased since last February? The express contrary has been shown to be the case. Surely it does not add to the security of Irish land that a famine is expected to stalk through Ireland in a short time. Sound finance would have demanded that the right hon. Gentleman should have fixed the limit lower in the present Bill than in the last one. He has, however, actually withdrawn all limit whatever. In fact, he has done just the opposite of what every banker and financier would have done, as he has practically agreed to increase his advances in inverse ratio to the solvency of the tenants. Another ground on which I object to the Bill is that it needlessly and gratuitously gives as a present to one or two classes of men the benefit of the enormous money value produced by the interposition of British credit. Granting the most favourable supposition that all the tenants could actually borrow money at 5 per cent. for the purpose of making themselves proprietors of their holdings, and supposing they did so, and had to pay the money back at the end of 49 years, I would point out that the State, by stepping in and raising money for them at 2¾ per cent., will have saved them in interest alone the enormous sum of £307,000,000 on this one transaction 395 of £43,000,000. The figures may seem surprising, but I think they will not be controverted. And yet the value of the whole fee - simple amounts to only £43,000,000. Then why should not the State reserve to itself at least£43,000,000 worth of this boon of over £300,000,000 by retaining the fee-simple of the land instead of giving it to the tenants? It must be remembered that the tenants would still have the benefit of the remaining £260,000,000 or so in the shape of reduced rents during the whole term. If we apply this calculation to the whole of Ireland—aye, and to Great Britain also—I think it will soon appear to everyone that, by the using of British credit, the nationalisation of the land can be accomplished with great advantage to the tenants, with full compensation to the landlords, and with great benefit to the country, which would receive the whole rents in perpetuity. But the force of the argument against the Bill is further increased by the well-known fact that the landlords will carry away such an enormous part of the boon conferred by British credit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian during the Debate upon the former Bill last Session went fully into this demonstration, and showed that the landlord would be able to secure the lion's share of the benefit by simply increasing the purchase price. I remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied to the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion, and he said that only when the tenants needed more to buy than the landlords needed to sell, such an increased purchase price would take place. But the right hon. Gentleman must know that in nearly all cases the landlord has not so much need to sell as the tenant has to buy. He must know very well that there is a great difference between the two. The landlord has not always process out against him, or the fear of eviction hanging over his head. It was in February last, I think, that the Chief Secretary made his remarkable eulogy of the advantages of voluntary purchase, because, he said, it would enable both of the parties to maintain what he called freedom of contract. An hon. Gentleman on that side of the House assured us there was no interference with freedom of contract so long as an alternative was offered. But 396 the alternative which the landlord gives the tenant is something in the nature of that offered by the highwayman—money or life. The victim naturally prefer; to part with his money. The landlord says to the tenant, "Give me my purchase price or be evicted and starve," and the tenant, if he can, pays the purchase price. That is the view of freedom of contract which the right hon. Gentleman offers to the Irish peasant. But there is another objection to the Bill, if possible, of a still graver character. It will be observed in the Bill that there is a careful avoidance of naming the limit of the amount to be granted. The two Ashbourne Acts contained an arithmetical limit; £5,000,000 were mentioned in each case. But this Bill mentions no limit of money. What does this mean? It simply means this: that the Government have reserved to themselves the power, even in the next Budget, of increasing the amount by simply voting an increase of the Imperial contributions to Ireland. The new loans are to be limited to 25 times the Imperial contributions to Ireland. That simply means that Imperial contributions may prove, and probably will prove, to be variable; and, if the landlords can make them steadily increase in amount, I want gentlemen on that Bench to tell us how we are going to prevent the lendings jumping from £30,000,000 to £60,000,000. It must be remembered that there would be no further need to apply to this or the other House. It may be said that no Government would ever do such a thing. But I say that at this moment the Government is in the act of doing it. In point of fact, the Chief Secretary boasted to us on Friday last that three years ago Ireland had none of these sums, and he is claiming to-day the hypothecation of them. We all know that one at least of those sums, £40,000 from Probate Duty, was actually given this year for the very purpose that it should be bottled up for five years in order that another £5,000,000 may be issued to the Irish landlords. I think, therefore, there is grave doubt about the object of the Government in leaving out of the Bill a statement of the exact pecuniary limits to which they intend to go. We surely must give the Treasury Bench the credit of knowing and feeling that no British taxpayer would ever knowingly incur 397 an obligation to such an extent as that I suggest. What would happen? Supposing the £30,000,000 is exhausted, as the Ashbourne money is about done. Supposing this money were all urgently applied for and appropriated by needy Irish landlords. Supposing some noble Duke, a relative of a Member of the Government, wanted a million or so, would it not be very easy for him to persuade some Member of the Government, on the occasion of the next Budget, to give another £40,000 as a contribution to Ireland, in order that an odd million might be disposable to him? There is a noble Lord actually in that position at the present moment—Lord Ardilaun I mean, whom the Government promoted the other day to second the Address. The noble Lord's rent roll is about £7,000 a year, but he has only sold about one-sixteenth part of his property under the Ashbourne Acts. If we are to judge of his future action by his past, he still wants £130,000 of the British taxpayers' money in order to get rid of the rest of his unsaleable property Now, suppose the £30,000,000 exhausted. I imagine that Lord Ardilaun could easily come forward and persuade the Government to make a suitable increase to the Imperial contributions. I hope, therefore, that the Chief Secretary, or some Member of the Government, will tell us whether there is to be any way of putting a limit to the money raised under this Bill. I will now take the briefest glance at the so-called securities which are said to be provided by this Bill. The first of them is the land itself. But the Chief Secretary has actually taken care to destroy the value of the land by a double system of over-valuing. In the first place, in order to determine the purchase price, he takes so many years' purchase of what is practically the gross instead of the net rent. If the rent of a farm is £100, he allows the landlord and the tenant to capitalise the gross rent, deducting only the local rates, and deducting nothing for outgoings of the landlord, such as land management and cost of collection, not to speak of arrears, which in many cases practically deprive the landlords of a great part of their income. The landlord has no right to capitalise those outgoings, and take the money out of the British Treasury, because they comprise 398 no part of the income which he is able to retain and apply to his own use. This practice alone is sufficient to destroy the validity of the land as a banking security. But in the present condition of Ireland, I say that it is unsafe to take even the net rents for the purpose of capitalising them. The only safe basis is not the amount of any nominal rent which the tenant has marked down against him, but the actual amount of rent which he has been able to pay. For example, a man has a nominal rent of £10, and he has not been able to pay more than £5 for many years, because of the fall in agricultural values. In all such cases it is perfectly clear that by capitalising the rental of £10—at 20 years' purchase, £200—the Treasury is advancing really double the value of the land. We have never heard that land purchase prices in Ireland are based on the rents actually paid. Last Thursday or Friday I asked the Chief Secretary for information as to how many of the existing Ashbourne tenants had paid only part of their rents and how many arrears had been outstanding against them at the time of purchase, my object being to see how far the land had been over-capitalised; but the right hon. Gentleman refused the information, and he did so from what I regarded as extraordinary data. He said the Land Commissioners had no record from which that information could be supplied, and I asked him on the spot how it was possible that that body, whose duty it was to see that the land was of the full and proper value before the advance was made, could fairly discharge that duty if they did not know—not what the nominal rent was, but—the actual amount paid as rent before the purchase was arranged. Now, let me take the case of a tenant with a nominal rent of £10. Supposing he had to buy at 20 years' purchase, he would have to pay £200, although in point of fact he might never have paid more than £5 per annum in actual rent. Under this Bill the amount he will have to pay would be not £5 but £8 per annum, or, in other words, he will have to pay £3 more per annum than he was able to pay before he made the purchase, simply because the nominal rent will be capitalised in the purchase, and he has apparently 399 never been asked as to the real rent he was able to extract from the land. We shall doubtless be told, and the Bright hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has already made a great point of this, that we have one great security, and that is what is called "the landlord's fifth." I believe, however, that the Chief Secretary will be one of the first to admit that, assuming the arrears to have been large, and assuming that in consequence the land has been over-valued to the extent of even 20 per cent., the landlord's fifth absolutely disappears from existence as a security—in fact, it never comes into existence at all. There are two other so-called securities that I will class with the landlord's fifth, namely, the county percentage and the tenants' insurance. In the case of all these three classes of securities the right hon. Gentleman first lends money, and then when he keeps back or gets back a small portion of it he gravely turns round and says he has excellent security for the large amount which remains unpaid. I do not think the Chief Secretary will deny that the Government are now doing what every other financier is refusing to do, namely, lending money for a long period on land at its present value, in a falling market, and with no margin left for depreciation. I ask the Government to say what preparations they have made against a further fall—say, of 25 per cent.—in agricultural values either in the present or in the far-off future, under a Bill which practically covers a century in its operation. I now come to the last point with which I will trouble the House. [Ironical cheers.] I wonder whether those behind the Treasury Bench will cheer when they have heard what I have to say? I have, naturally enough, reserved the most important point for the last, and I am sorry I do not see any financial Member of the Government present, because I am not aware whether I shall be fully understood by those who now occupy the Treasury Bench. My last point is, in my opinion, so important that although I have no right to detain the House much longer, I think hon. Members will pardon me when they hear what it is. It is neither more nor less than the pecuniary validity or otherwise of the Guarantee Fund itself. Hon. Members need notqe 400 alarmed, I am not going to analyse the details, or even to question what will happen when the particular items of this Fund are all impounded, when the roads in Ireland are allowed to go to pieces, when the pauper lunatics are set at large, and when the industrial school children are all starving. I am assuming that the money for these purposes is kept back and turned into hard cash for the benefit of the Fund in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman wants to see it done. But, first of all, I should remind the House of what the right hon Gentleman the Chief Secretary stated when bringing in the first Bill. He said—It was a mathematical impossibility that any loss could possibly fall on the British taxpayer:and he added thatThe deduction that the Treasury cannot suffer is not open to argument.I propose to analyse this Fund, but before doing so I will take this opportunity of reminding the House of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) said on the same occasion, because in the speech he has made to-night he slightly softened certain strong and clear and frank expressions which he had formerly used. The right hon. Gentleman, on the occasion referred to, admitted plainly and frankly that he only supported the Government because the Guarantee Fund had been absolutely proved by them to cover every half-penny of the loans, so that no loss could possibly fall on the British tax-payer even in the event of total repudiation. That was the right hon. Gentleman's position, and I will now read two or three sentences from the speech he made on that occasion. He said—I say for the sake of this argument you have to assume that it would not be fair to rest upon the probabilities of the case. I have, in order to make my case good, to prove that the loss is impossible. It is not enough to say that it is so improbable as to be almost impossible.The right hon. Gentleman added—Supposing that you have a general repudiation, you have in your hands sufficient resources to bring you home without the loss of a penny.Now, what are the facts with regard to the amount of the Fund as compared with the liabilities that may have to be 401 met? If you take the figures adduced by the Chief Secretary last year as to the principal amount of the money to be loaned to Ireland you will find that he put it at £43,000,000. Then we have to consider the interest. The right hon. Gentleman is going to create a land stock every year to pay the interest of 2¾ per cent. if he does not get the instalments in. Now, I take the total interest during 49 years on this £43,000,000 land stock, in the event of the instalments not coming in, and I find by a plain calculation that it amounts to £119,000,000, which added to the principal gives a total of £162,000,000 sterling. That is the actual amount of the land stock that would be in the possession of the public at the end of the 49th year, assuming the instalments not to be paid. Now we have to be brought home through the medium of this Guarantee Fund without the loss of a penny. What will the Guarantee Fund which is to be set off as a resource to meet this enormous liability consist of? I will take the Chief Secretary's own return, and assume his figures to be turned into hard cash. By this return he will have yearly in the shape of contributions, both of the cash and contingent portions of the Guarantee Fund, £1,169,000. The right hon. Gentleman takes 25 times that sum for the purpose of capitalising the Fund, and thus the annual instalments on the new loans will be equal to £1,169,000, and if the figures are sound that is a very natural principle; but I will show that the figures are unsound. I will go further than the right hon. Gentleman. I will increase the yearly income of his Fund from £1,169,000 to £1,200,000, I will give him 49 years' purchase of that income, and I will let him add compound interest at the rate of 2¾ per cent., which I admit he has a perfect right to do. What, then, would be the result? It is that mathematically there must be a deficit, and that that deficit may amount, in the event of the Ashbourne payments falling in speedily by redemption or sale from default, to £42,000,000, namely, the whole capitalised value of the land that he is operating upon. That is a direct statement, and I challenge a reply to it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian made a mild suggestion that it was possible some Members of the Treasury 402 Bench thought two and two made five. Now they have an easy way of showing me that I am in error. I am perfectly willing to show how I arrived at the conclusion I have stated. I have already referred to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham—a speech in which he staked his whole political consistency on the issue whether the Guarantee Fund was absolutely necessary to the loan. He said the issue was to be decided by the answer to the question whether this Bill imposed upon the British taxpayer a burden, or the risk of a burden; and he added, "If there is a fraction of a risk, then I am inconsistent in supporting this Bill." If the right hon. Gentleman were now in his place I would invite him to look at the calculations I have made, and when he had seen them I would demand of him respectfully that he should go into the Lobby against the Bill. This mistake is fatal to the whole character for accuracy of the Government, and it has happened simply because they have been so pressed by the landlords to get the control of an additional £10,000,000. Somehow or other, they forgot that whatever they re-lent of the Ashbourne moneys was destitute of guarantee. Is the Chief Secretary aware that the Guarantee Fund is so constructed that it only covers new money as distinct from the re-lending of the Ashbourne Act or any other money? Neither he nor his colleagues explained, when they asserted that the Guarantee Fund covered the liabilities created under the Bill, that the Ashbourne money being thrown into the vortex—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is arguing under a misapprehension. As the Bill was framed last year the Ashbourne money was to be re-lent with the assent of Parliament. As the Bill is now drafted the Ashbourne money cannot be re-lent.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is quite in error. There is nothing in the section which authorises, 403 or appears to authorise, the re-issue of that money.
§ MR. KEAY
Of course, I am not speaking of any mere ear-marking of that particular money, but of the use of the Fund of which it forms part. Still, I fail to understand the right hon. Gentleman when he says there is nothing which enables the Ashbourne money to be reissued. I am delighted with the assurance.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Under the Bill as it stands, money is to be lent up to 25 years' purchase of the Guarantee Fund. With the accumulation of the Sinking Fund, by which the loans are to be paid off, further advances maybe made, equivalent to the amount of the Sinking Fund. Therefore, necessarily, the liabilities of the counties will always be covered.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, Sir; the Ashbourne Acts are left precisely as they are, with this exception with respect to further advances. This Bill only deals in the future with advances on guaranteed land stock; that guaranteed land stock is to be covered by the Guarantee Fund; and any further issue of guaranteed stock beyond the 21 years' purchase is to be covered by the amount of the Sinking Fund.
§ MR. KEAY
I certainly cannot say I understand that in a financial sense. As long as there is no Sinking Fund in the Ashbourne Acts, and provision is now made for making one, I cannot see how the Ashbourne money is to be kept from being re-lent. The right hon. Gentleman would have conferred a great favour on the House if he had alluded to the point in his speech, and made it clear that he has taken away the power of re-lending this £10,000,000, which form the capital of the Ashbourne Acts. I do not think I need further detain the 404 House. I have attempted to raise what I believe to be a most serious point, and I can only now thank hon. Members for the indulgence they have extended to me.
§ *(7.45.) MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)
Whether or not we agree with the criticisms of the last speaker, we must all feel it is of great importance that such criticisms should be applied to the details of a Bill of this magnitude. I should not have risen to address the House had it not been for a note which struck me most forcibly in the speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries. I feel that that speech marked a new point in the attitude, not of the leaders of the Liberal Party, but of a large proportion of those who support the Liberal Leaders in the House, on the general question of land purchase. My hon. Friend complained of a want of thorough repudiation on the part of the official leaders of the Liberal Party of the general principle which underlay the Government measure. As I understood him, and as I understood the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth, the objection of my hon. Friend and some other hon. Members of the Opposition side is to the principle of employing British credit for the benefit of the Irish landlords. It is important that the House should note that this marks a new period in the history, at any rate, of a large section of the Liberal Party towards land purchase. The Liberal Party were land purchasers when the Bright Clauses were first discussed in 1870; again in 1881, 1884, 1885, when no opposition was offered to the principle of the Ashbourne Act; in 1886, when the Liberal Party brought forward a Land Purchase Bill, which, considering the difficulties of the time and the opposition encountered, displayed an amount of courage for which the leaders of the Liberal Party will be remembered in history. They are land purchasers, so far as their leaders are concerned, to-day, and there is no stronger land purchaser than my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, as was evidenced by his speech at Swindon the other day. But new difficulties have now been placed in the way of those who believe in this principle. It is not long since the Liberal Party were in a position to discuss the question of land purchase on the basis that the objection 405 to any scheme which the Conservative Government might bring forward was that there was no central representative National Authority to stand as a buffer between the Imperial Exchequer and the Irish tenant. But the present objections go far beyond that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and others now object to the general principle of the State intervening for the benefit of the Irish tenant or the Irish landlord. I should like to understand the principle on which that opposition is based. I could understand it well coming from those who take a wider view of the land question. It may be that it is wrong to do anything to further recognise the private tenure of land or the creation of a peasant proprietary. It may be from the point of view of land nationalisation that it is wrong to bring forward any scheme of land purchase in any circumstances, but that is not the attitude of the hon. Member for Dumfries and some other hon. Members who think with him. Those hon. Gentlemen are in favour of allotments, leasehold enfranchisement, and the recognition of private property in land. It is not enough, for them to say it is only a question of the circumstances of Ireland. Are they prepared to come forward and say that the Irish landlords have so conducted themselves that the State ought not to interfere on their behalf? There may well be some truth in the general charge against Irish landlords. The Irish landlords have been responsible for a good deal in the past, but this is not the occasion on which to condemn them. In considering the question of land purchase the House has nothing to do with the conduct of the Irish landlords. They are entitled to justice, just as much as any other section of the community. If it be right otherwise, if it be proper or part of our policy to bring forward a measure of land purchase, then the mere fact that the Irish landlords have behaved ever so badly cannot affect the propriety of that policy. It is no fault of the Irish Nationalist Party that they are not able to deal with the question of the land without a certain amount of prejudice against the Irish landlord faction. I do not think it is fair to ask the Representatives of the 406 Irish nation sitting in an Irish Parliament to take upon themselves the responsibility of dealing with this question. It seems to me, therefore, that up to this point there has been a certain amount of community of purpose between the policy of the Government and the policy of the leaders of the Liberal Party. We are strong Home Rulers, and continue to be so. We are not to be shaken or affected in the slightest degree by temporary difficulties which may have arisen at this or any particular moment. But it has been part of our policy, and I believe it still to be part of the policy of many of us, to accompany the settlement of the difficulty with regard to Irish government with a settlement of the land question. We believe that by taking that course we can make Home Rule work smoothly, and, therefore, we find ourselves to a certain degree at the same point of view as the Government. I know that at the present moment the Government are opposed to Home Rule. They hold, however, it is essential that the Irish land question should at once be dealt with. I agree with them, and I believe we should approach the subject not on a mere ordinary Party basis, but that we should deal with it with the united skill of both Political Parties. I am far from pretending that I think this is a good Bill. It seems to me to be defective in a leading characteristic. But I find myself brought face to face with this question, "What is the alternative to the rejection of this Bill?" And the question must now be answered with little hesitation. It is to have no Imperial measure of land purchase at all. I believe that if the Bill of 1886 had been carried there might have been a settlement of this question, and we should have been saved from the necessity of grappling with it this year. As a Member of the Liberal Party I am unable to see any prospect of carrying a measure of land purchase, which, in my judgment, forms a most important part of any scheme for the Government of Ireland. But there is this great defect in the Bill. There is no suggestion of even adequate local authority being interposed between the Irish tenants and the State. On the other hand, there are certain considerations which reconcile me to what otherwise would be a more weighty objection. It seems to me, from a con- 407 sideration of the framing of this Bill, that there is nothing in it to prevent us or any other Party, should an Irish Legislative Body be established in Dublin, from tacking on the interposition of such a body to the scheme of land purchase. But, after all, this is largely a question of the machinery of the Bill. The Bill takes the principle of the Ashbourne Act that extends and improves it. Taking the Bill as it stands, there is much in it which seems to me to point to an improvement in the general machinery of the scheme which differentiates it for the better from the machinery of the Ashbourne Acts. For example, there is the provision of 80 per cent. for the first five years. Then, again, you seem to have made a distinct step forward in the scheme of the measure, because it will be possible for the Irish tenant to discount the future bad times by paying in advance, and the provision is improved by the clause as it comes this Session before us enabling the Lord Lieutenant still further to extend the period during which the 80 per cent. is to be payable. That provision seems to me to be one which ought, at all events, to lead those who are considering the Bill favourably readily to the belief that the Government are in earnest in trying to make the best of this part of their machinery. Then there is another improvement, the limitation of purchasing powers to resident occupiers, which not only gives relief to the class who want it, but to some extent, at all events, gets rid of the objection that a large and indefinite sum will be required before a large and complete system of land purchase can be carried out. We have heard from a Representative of the Government to-night that not more than the £95,000,000 mentioned by the responsible Representative of the Government will be required. A complete system of land purchase which would give the fee-simple to all occupiers would require provision to be made for the expenditure of that sum. On this point you have got a calculation put forward in a simple fashion, and have got away from the very large figure you had to deal with before. Taking it at a sum very much short of £95,000,000, which will be constantly used, over and over again, for carrying out land purchase, it seems to me that you have got 408 as near as you can get, in the absence of the interposition of an Irish Executive, to getting rid of material risk to the British taxpayer. There is theoretical risk, and we ought to be prepared to run that, at least, for the purpose of getting rid of a great evil.
§ MR. HALDANE
The hon. Member for Northampton dissents from that, but I think we owe a debt to the Irish Representatives and to the Irish people in this respect.
§ MR. HALDANE
I think the Irish Representatives have good cause to complain of the extent to which people in this country in the past have been responsible for the acute state of feeling that separates the Irish landlords from the Irish tenants, and with that in view I am prepared to run not only theoretical risk, but to a certain point substantial risk for the purpose of obtaining a settlement of the land question. And it is because I believe that the Bill has gone as far as it is possible to go in the absence of a Home Rule scheme, and as far as we are likely to go with or without such a scheme—having in view the protection of the British taxpayer— that I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. Member for Dumfries holds that this is not a Bill for the relief of impoverished tenants. To my mind that is one of its advantages. We do not want a Bill for the relief of impoverished tenants. We do not want a Bill for the purpose of putting paupers again on these lands. What we want is to take the honest, industrious, and solvent tenants and put them into the position of owners. What we are here to do is to solve a problem which we have hitherto succeeded in dealing with only very inefficiently; because I do not believe anyone, however sanguine, will say that the Land Act of 1870, or even that of 1881, or even, for that matter, the Act of 1887, can be looked upon as anything like a solution of the Irish land question. For the first time we are face to face with a scheme which, at any rate, attempts to grapple with the question radically and thoroughly; and whilst regretting that I should give a vote which may seem to separate me 409 from those with whom I habitually vote, I am bound to do so on the present occasion. It is all very well for those of influence and authority in the councils of the Liberal Party to stand upon a principle like this; but within the ranks there are those who have set themselves against the recognition of the principle in any shape or form. It follows, then, that those who take a different view must set their faces against opposition to that principle, and, holding that view, I for one feel myself compelled to give a vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. It is not because I have the slightest misgivings about the general policy of the Liberal Party with regard to Ireland, but because I think this Bill will assist us, and assist us materially, in paving the way towards a solution of the Irish question, which will proceed on lines infinitely wider than any that have been placed before the country by Her Majesty's Government. (8.10.)
(8.40.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ *(8.43.) MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
I am sure many of us, on this side of the House, have listened with great pleasure to some of the remarks which fell from the last speaker. This, he says, is the first time we have found ourselves face to face with a great measure dealing thoroughly with the great Irish land question, and, no doubt, it is pleasing to us to have such a recognition from a distinguished lawyer opposite. At the same time, the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to refer to the changes made in the Bill this Session as compared with the Bill of last Session, and said these changes were very important. Now we have the Chief Secretary telling us that the changes are unimportant, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has told us the same thing. I am glad, however, to find that the hon. Member for Haddington finds the changes important, because these, perhaps, have enabled him more easily to come round to the support of the Bill, though he voted against the Bill last Session. Further, as a reason which seemed to weigh with him, he said it would not be fair to ask Irish Members to deal with this question of 410 land in an Irish Parliament. On that matter I think he may set his mind at rest, for I can assure him that there is no possibility of Irish Members, for a long time being asked to deal with this or any other question in an Irish Parliament. Again, the hon. Member, referring to the British taxpayers, said we owe a debt to the Irish Party, and then the hon. Member for Northampton called out, "Where are they?" Now I do not know where the Irish Parliamentary Party are at this moment, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman where they were on Thursday last, they were here, voting in favour of the First Reading of this Bill. [An hon. MEMBER: No, walked out.] I think I am correct in saying that a large majority of the Parnellite Party voted in favour of the First Reading. The hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth (Sir W. Lawson) cheered the remark of the last speaker, that Irish landlords have their rights, but, if I recollect, in the course of the Debate on the First Reading, the hon. Baronet told us, that Irish landlords, or landlords in general, were of no value whatever Now, those people who have no value, perform no duties, and those who perform no duties, can have no rights, so that the hon. Baronet is scarcely consistent. Then we had some remarks of a highly metaphysical character in a speech from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Reed), a speech so metaphysical that I was unable to understand almost any part of it—metaphysical, I mean, in the sense of that definition of metaphysics which says, "When one man is explaining a subject of which he knows nothing to another man who does not understand him; then that is metaphysics." I did, however, understand the hon. and learned Member to say he would support the Bill, if it would create good feeling between landlords and tenants. On that point I can set his mind at rest, and assure him that good feeling will result. Furthermore if the Bill operates largely, it will extinguish the relations between landlord and tenant, the latter by purchase of their holdings becoming owners. Argument has been exhausted on the principle of the Bill, and I would not have intervened in this Debate were it not that the comparative silence of the 411 Ulster Representatives on the Second Reading last Session has been misinterpreted in some quarters, and it has been alleged that Ulster is very cold in regard to the measure. Now, I can assure the House that that is a complete misapprehension, and that not only Ulster but the whole of Ireland is strongly in favour of this Bill. If ever Ireland was united on any subject, it is on this. Last Session we had much opposition from Irish Members, speaking, as they said, the minds of their constituents. But they are met by a dilemma, for if they represented the feeling of their constituents then, they could not have done so last week when they supported the Bill, unless there has been such a revolution of opinion as would be rare, even in Irish politics. I can speak particularly of one Home Rule county, the County Donegal, and I can state positively that in all parts of that county there is a strong feeling in favour of this Bill. There are, no doubt, many persons who desire to see the principle of compulsory sale introduced. But the working of any such principle is surrounded by immense difficulties. We are told there is nothing an Irishman hates so much as coercion, and I think the real meaning of coercion, is not an Act preventing a man from doing what he wants to do, but rather an Act compelling him to do something he does not want to do. Certainly, the principle of compulsion, as applied to the sale and purchase of land, should only be adopted as the very last resource, after all other methods have failed. If landlords were compelled to sell, tenants would have also to be compelled to buy. This would be coercion of the most objectionable kind, and would certainly give the purchasers some excuse for subsequently refusing to pay their instalments. In connection with a system of compulsory sale there comes the difficulty of fixing the price. We know that where there is a difficulty in getting persons to agree upon a price, then the price must be arbitrarily fixed for them, and for this, a tribunal must be established, and the decision of that tribunal will be sure to cause dissatisfaction either to buyer or seller, or to both. There are some people in Ireland who are in favour of compulsory sale as applied to 412 landlords, because they desire to inflict punishment upon landlords. There are some who would prefer compulsory sale voluntary sale, and would apply compulsion at once. With regard to the character of landlords we have heard much for and against. On either side hon. Members have spoken of Irish landlords in terms of the highest praise; but we have also heard them referred to, from the other side of the House as if they were the foulest wretches that ever cumbered the earth. Anyone who knows Irish landlords, and will judge from personal knowledge, will come to the conclusion that as a class they are a fair, an honourable, an upright, and, on the whole, a generous body of men. It is perfectly true that in the past, on some estates bad, tyrannical, and cruel things have been done; but they were done—and I speak from personal knowledge not small—in nearly every instance, not by the landlords, or with the knowledge of landlords, but by bailiffs and underlings connected with the management of the estate, so that those who now desire compulsory sale as a retaliatory measure against Irish landlords, would not, if they accomplished their desire, inflict punishment on the actual wrongdoers. It is admitted, that the agents or bailiffs are answerable for most of the cruel acts done to tenants, and vengeance in the shape of compulsory sale cannot reach them. Others desire compulsory sale because they believe that landlords will not be willing to sell. To these gentlemen I may fairly say, give the landlords a trial before you condemn them, give them the chance of showing what they will do. It seems to me that landlords, considering their position, would be very likely to sell, because in the proper sense of the term there is no such thing as a landlord in Ireland at all; the Irish landlords are nothing more than rent-chargers. Elsewhere landlords have rights and powers; but an Irish landlord would be treated as a trespasser if he went on the property called his own. He simply has a rent-charge upon that property. Now, when we have a rent-charger whose security is said not to be very good, surely he will be very glad to get rid of his rent-charge if he can get good terms. Therefore, it seems to me, there can hardly be a doubt, but 413 that the landlords would be extremely glad to sell if the opportunity be given to them, and compulsion should not be used, nor will it be desired, except for purposes of revenge, until every other method has been tried. Of course, the dual ownership that does exist, and with which this Bill tries to deal, has been largely created by legislation of recent years. In many instances, this is an evil, but at the same time, while this dual ownership exists it must be dealt with, and I think this Bill deals with it in a broad and thorough fashion. But furthermore, this Bill takes into account that which every attempt at legislation for Ireland ought to take into account, namely, that in this, as in almost everything else, there is not one Ireland but two. There are certainly two Ire-lands in regard to the manner in which the country is populated—that is to say, there are the uncongested and the congested Irelands. Any Bill of any kind that has ignored the existence of two Irelands has failed, and had not this Bill taken that fact into account it would have been incomplete from every point of view. The hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth (Sir W. Lawson) said the other night that Unionist speakers boasted that the Irish tenant had better terms than any other tenant in the world, therefore why aid him further? It is true that he has better terms than any other tenant, but it is also true that he is more dependent on agriculture than any other tenant. His case is peculiar, and he requires to have more done for him than any other tenant in the world. The hon. Baronet also asked why, if Unionist speakers are right, in declaring that Ireland is peaceful and contented, anything more should be done for her. The hon. Baronet's argument is that because Ireland is peaceful and contented nothing should be given to her. The logical conclusion is that if Ireland were discontented and turbulent, everything should be given her. No doubt it has been the policy of Liberal Governments in the past to give to turbulence and riot what they would not give to a peaceful people. On the other hand, Tory Governments always consistently refuse to yield anything to turbulence and riot, though they are ready to give to peaceful and law-abiding men. It has been 414 asked "Why was not this Bill brought in two or three years ago?" It was because Ireland was not peaceful at that time, and the present Government said, "When Ireland becomes peaceful we will deal with Ireland generously, and, if possible, more than generously." The hon. Baronet condemned a statement by the Earl of Derby that his chief reason for supporting this Bill was that the Irish Members were against it, therefore the hon. Baronet says in substance that one ought to vote, not against the Irish Members, but with them. If so, then in the present case the hon. Baronet is doing the very thing he condemns the Earl of Derby for doing, because he is voting against the distinct action of the great majority of the Parnellite Members, who supported the Bill on Thursday last. The hon. Baronet asked, "What is the use of a landlord?" and, in order to prove the uselessness of landlords, gave himself as an instance. The question whether or not the hon. Baronet is useless is more within the knowledge of the hon. Baronet than within my knowledge, and, therefore, I shall not attempt to controvert what the hon. Baronet said about himself; but, even granting that English landlords are useless, Irish landlords stand on a different footing The complaint of the hon. Baronet against landlords was that "they toiled not neither did they spin."
§ SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
May I say that was a quotation from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain.)
§ MR. RENTOUL
Well, the Member for Birmingham was not the originator of the language. The Member for Birmingham used the words, and the Member for Cockermouth quoted them, either second-hand from the Member for Birmingham or first-hand from the original source. But, to continue my argument, the Irish landlords stand on a totally different footing. Three-fourths of them have purchased their estates under the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849, and paid cash down. That money was evidently earned by somebody who did both toil and spin. A strong charge was made last Session by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Cavan (Mr. Knox) against the Chief 415 Secretary, that he does not consult with the Irish Representatives, but treats them as "mere Irishmen." I do not think that the Chief Secretary has ever done anything of the kind. If my right hon. Friend ignored Irish opinion, or contemptuously treated Irishmen on every occasion, I myself am just enough of an Irishman to be sorry for it, and to resent it. But I think I did see a right hon. Gentleman opposite treating the Irish as mere Irish, and an Irish Member as a school boy on one occasion, for when the hon. Member for West Cavan commenced his speech that night, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) went and sat at the end of the second Opposition Bench above the Gangway, and put his hand to his ear and gazed into the face of the hon. and learned Member with an amount of attention I have never seen exactly equalled except by Mr. Toole when playing Paul Pry. It was evident the right hon. Gentleman left his place in order to show the hon. Member for West Cavan that he did not treat him as a "mere Irishman," but as a very important personage on that side of the House. It was evident that the right hon. Gentleman's spirit was very willing to compliment the hon. and learned Member for West Cavan, but, unfortunately, the flesh was weak, for the right hon. Gentleman yawned 18 times during the speech. Now if that is treating a man as anything else than "a mere Irishman"—and as a very poor type of an Irishman, one who is easily flattered—I cannot understand what such treatment is. I trust no right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench on this side of the House will ever offer to treat me in such a way. Now as to this Bill being a pledging of British credit, those who are most familiar with the question declare that there is no risk to British credit whatever. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian asked in this connection with great solemnity, whether any Member on this side, in good faith and openly, would assert that two and two made five. Of course no Member on this side of the House took up that challenge. No Member on this side of the House would assert anything of the kind, because we know, that figures never lie—though we know that under skilful manipulation 416 they may be induced to prevaricate to an extent that almost answers the purpose—and there are certain gentlemen, on the other side of the House who are able to deal with figures in a masterly manner. There are also some Gentlemen—notably the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian—who always have to explain every speech they make, on this or on any other question—reminding one of the man who, when he wrote a letter, delivered it him self in order that he might read it to the person for whom it was intended, no one but the writer himself being able to read it. Now as to British credit, even supposing that it were necessary to risk it to some extent, all Parties on every side of the House have over and over again asserted that this country owes a deep debt to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian stated that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House obtained their seats at the election of 1886, on the distinct understanding that they would not risk British credit. Well, since the vote on this Bill last Session, the constituencies have had ample opportunity of speaking out on that subject; yet what constituency has spoken out against the vote of its Member even supposing there was an understanding of that sort in 1886, which we entirely deny? [Opposition cries of"Eccles."] Every one knows that Eccles was won upon the eight hours question, and therefore that election proved nothing with regard to the Irish question or to an Irish Land Bill.
§ (9.15.) MR. LABOUCHERE
The hon. Member has blamed a Member on this side of the House because he spoke to him metaphysically. He said his intelligence was not sufficiently great to enable him to understand my metaphysical friend. Well, I am bound to say for myself that my intelligence has not been sufficiently great to enable me to understand a great deal that fell from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member commenced by saying that he would put to us a series of dilemmas. I was puzzled to see where they were, and I confess I am not disposed to take the slightest trouble to get out of one of them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, "one single dilemma" is quite enough. As if we had not had enough speeches this Session, he fell back on last Session, and said he was in favour of the Bill because the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Cork had made a speech last year in the House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian had yawned 18 times during that speech. The hon. Member said we were given to repetition and were not in the habit of producing new arguments. If what I have repeated from him is a specimen of the new arguments that hon. Members opposite are going to submit to the House in support of this Bill, I confess I should prefer even the repetition of an old argument, for greater nonsense, I can assure the hon. Member, I never listened to in my life. The hon. Member seems to suppose that an Orange Member is to be taken as an exponent of public opinion throughout Ireland, and having done that he comes forward to defend the landlords. I could not help thinking that if the landlords of Ireland could have heard the hon. Member, they would have said, "Preserve us from our friends." What did he say? He declared that on a vast number of estates horrible things are done.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I do not know where "were" ends and "are" begins, but we will take it either way. What was the explanation of this advocate of the landlords? Why, that the landlords were the best and noblest of human beings. They lived away from their estates, had bailiffs representing them to bully the miserable tenants and get all the money they could from them, which money the landlords were to spend elsewhere, and if anything wrong was charged against them, they were to say, "Oh, it is only the act of my bailiff." That was exactly the position taken up by the slave owners in the Southern States of America in the old slave-owning days. If anything went wrong the blame was laid at the door of the overseer, who was replaced by another person whose doings were precisely similar to those of his predecessor. The hon. Member asked why the electors have not protested if his Friends opposite have not fulfilled 418 their pledges. Well, the electors are only longing for an opportunity to protest. They are asking every day for a General Election. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but they take very good care only to laugh here, and not risk a General Election. The hon. Member says that the Eccles election was not a protest on the part of the constituency, because it was won upon the eight hours question. What does he know about the eight hours question? All I know is that there was a supporter of the Government on one side and a gentleman who avowed himself as our ally—and an opponent of this Bill—on the other, and that the latter was returned by a large majority, the seat having formerly been held by a supporter of the Government. Let the hon. Member remember the number of followers the Government possessed at the commencement of this Parliament, and let him count them now. I think he will observe in the result some sort of a reply from the electors. The number of his friends has materially reduced, and it will be much more reduced when we have what we ask for, that is an appeal to the country. I have heard a speech on this side of the House in favour of the Bill from a Gentleman (Mr. Haldane) who has not even the excuse of being a Liberal Unionist. The hon. and learned Member for Haddington has said that he is a theoretical financier, and that we ought to incur risks. For my own part, I think that if the hon. Member had been in business and had tried to carry out his theoretical finance he would have been ruined long ago. The hon. and learned. Member has given a curious reason for voting for the Bill. He does not think that it is a good Bill, in fact he thinks it is rather a bad Bill, but he says that he will vote for it on the ground that any Bill is better than no Bill. Then the hon. and learned Member has said that a Land Bill ought to accompany a Home Rule Bill. But where is the Home Rule Bill? The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), on the other hand, is going to vote for the Bill on the ground that it will prevent Home Rule. There seems to be a curious diversity of opinion among the supporters of the Bill. It 419 has been said by my hon. Friend that we have nothing to do with the conduct of the Irish landlords and that we ought to do justice to them. I agree with that; I should like to do justice to them, but what is proposed is to make them a vast present. That is not justice to them, but injustice to the British taxpayer. There is nothing in this Bill to show that the occupier will become the owner of the land, because there is nothing in it to prevent the tenant from going somewhere else as soon as the advance has been made. I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), and the speech of the Chief Secretary, that all sorts of concessions and bargains are being made. There is, I understand, a concession being made to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley), another to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and another to the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). Well, you may make what concessions you like, but as far as I am concerned you will not lead me to abate my opposition to the Bill. I object to the principle of the Bill, and to every line and every word of the Bill. I consider that in bringing forward this measure the Government are acting ultra vires, and that the Bill, judged on its merits, is giving effect to utterly erroneous principles. We are told that the guarantee is merely a nominal and not a real one, but I deny that there is any such thing as a nominal guarantee. What do you do? You issue a quantity of Consols—£33,000,000 of Consols at 2¾ per cent. Interest. You guarantee the interest and that is why people take them, but the persons who take them would not dream of doing so simply on the guarantee of those Irish estates. The question is what is the price at which any Irish proprietor could get money on interest? There is no doubt about the fact that Irish proprietors had to pay 5 per cent. at a time when money could be obtained in the English market at 4 per cent., and yet you tell us that we are incurring no risk in lending money at 2¾ per cent. almost without any margin, at a time when the Insurance Companies, knowing 420 that the risk with a large margin on Irish land is so great, are demanding 5 per cent. for loans on Irish land. We know something about guarantees. It was only the other day that the eminent firm of Barings wanted to get money from the Bank of England. The name of that eminent firm is certainly as sound as that unfortunate Tipperary peasant occupying two acres of land, but the Bank of England said, "No, we cannot lend you the money without some solid guarantee," and the result was that they got a number of big houses in England and Scotland to unite in guaranteeing the £17,000,000 which was advanced to Messrs Baring, and yet one of those who aided in this transaction comes to this House, in conjunction with his right hon. Colleagues, and says there is no sort of risk to be incurred in lending the money asked for on this Irish security. Well, Sir, what is it that we are asked to guarantee? It is that these Irish occupiers who are to purchase the land will be able to pay the interest on the money advanced, and further in a given number of years to pay back the capital. Now let me put it in this way. Suppose you had done this 15 years ago. Land especially in Ireland has fallen enormously in value since that time. If you had made such advances on the basis of land value prevalent 15 years ago, it is absolutely clear that the tenants would not be able to make the repayments now. How then can you say we have no risk to incur when you do not know that land which has largely fallen in value during the past 15 years will not sustain an equal fall in value during the next 15 years? The tenants have not paid because they could not pay, but even supposing they could pay is there anything like certainty that they would pay? We have proof that the tenants have in many cases been bullied into these bargains, and in all probability they will again be bullied by the landlords into similar bargains. There seems to be a sort of prejudice against the payment of rent in Ireland, and if Irishmen have anything like a fair and reasonable excuse for demanding reduction of rent they make that demand. Is it to be supposed that they will be more enamoured of the payment 421 of rent when the owner of the land is the alien Government of England? We are told that everybody paid who purchased under the Ashbourne Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland urged that as evidence that they would always pay; but, unfortunately for his argument, we have evidence that they have not always paid under that Act. There is evidence that on the Duke of Leinster's estate large farmers—not mere paupers—have been agitating against these payments, and saying they are not able to pay. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) has said the glebe purchasers paid. That may be so, but last year we did not have to fall back on the glebe purchasers. The Government brought forward the Ashbourne purchasers, and asked us to pass the measure they proposed because the purchasers did not complain; whereas now they ask us to pass this measure because they do complain. It does not seem to signify whether they complain or not, or whether they pay or not. The Government want this Bill passed, and will do everything they possibly can to secure its passage. We are told that, supposing the Irish purchasers are not able to pay, and we may not be able to evict them, we shall still have ample cover. Now, let hon. Members see what this wonderful cover is. In the first place, there is a guarantee fund—a fund of £40,000 per annum, which is only to be paid to a special guarantee for five years, when it will amount to £200,000; besides this there is the Irish share of the Probate Duties. I ask the Government—do they mean to say that these two guarantees are sufficient for £33,000,000?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Yes, but that is cut out. The Treasury will decide as to that. It has to lay down rules.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I am afraid my right hon. Friend has not looked at the Bill. All I can say is that I have read the Bill, and we are told that everything is in this Bill. If I am mis- 422 taken, I am mistaken in my knowledge of the English language. There is the Bill and the clause referred to; and I would beg the right hon. Gentleman to read it himself. That is what is called the guarantee. After that there are certain contingent guarantees. Well, what are they? It will be seen that we give Votes in aid, we pay a certain sum for lunatics in Ireland, and certain other sums for schools for medical officers of workhouses and dispensaries, and also for industrial schools. We are told that we should be able to retain this money, that if we cannot get back our advances we are to call on the Lord Lieutenant to levy a rate on the county. Does anyone mean to say that if the Irish tenants did not or could not pay, we should be able to deprive the people of Ireland of the Votes in aid for keeping up lunatic asylums, schools, dispensaries, and the medicines furnished by those dispensaries? I am assuming, of course, that times are exceedingly bad, and that the people cannot pay. How in that case could we levy increased rates? Of course we could not do it, and if we did we should commit an act of the grossest injustice. Supposing I were a grocer in some county in Ireland, why should I be taxed because some one does not pay his rent? The fact is that the whole thing is illusory. There is no sort of guarantee for these 33 millions, and the Chief Secretary knows that if this Bill is passed, the 33 millions will come in the main out of the pocket of the unfortunate British taxpayer. If you want to make these presents why do not you give them to my constituents in the County of Northampton? They have no ownership in the land at all, and, as the saying is, "half a cake is better than none." Nevertheless you say that although these Irish tenants have part in a dual ownership, you are to step forward and make them a present of this land. I say that my constituents have a better right to this money than the Irish tenants. Now, Sir, let me ask for whom is this money really intended? Is it for the tenants of Ireland? Not a bit of it. Of course you cannot carry the Bill without conferring some little benefit on the tenants, but that is a mere incident in this matter. What the right hon. Gentleman really wants is to make a present to the 423 landlords of Ireland. He knows perfectly well that land in Ireland has fallen greatly, and may yet fall still further in value. He knows that there are no buyers in the market, and he knows also that the Irish landlords are anxious to sell their estates. Yes, but there are many landlords in England who would be glad to sell their estates. If because Irish landlords wish to sell we are to come forward in this, why not do the same thing in the case of the English landlords who are similarly circumstanced? And here let me call attention to an important and significant fact. We are told that under the Ashbourne Act nine large landowners of Ireland actually receive £1,500,000 which we have guaranteed. That enormous sum goes into the pockets of nine exceptionally rich Irish landlords. We know that property has its obligations, although they are not very well fulfilled in Ireland, yet even an Irish landlord has occasionally to give something in charity, and probably there are a good many who give a considerable amount. But under this Bill they will be freed entirely from this obligation, and as to the State it, of course, would give nothing. It would absorb everything. It would make a hard and fast bargain with the purchasers, and nothing would be given in charity or in the shape of subscriptions for schools and other institutions. I expect the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has been influenced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman is a representative landlord, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a representative of the moneyed interests of the City. Now, a vast number of Insurance Offices have lent money at 5 per cent. on Irish estates. If people knew how much these offices had lent on these estates the shares would go down considerably. These offices cannot hand over the mortgages to any one else, and they cannot foreclose, because in that case the property would be thrown on their hands. They are, therefore, obliged to content themselves with a lower rate of interest than 5 per cent. These eminent City gentlemen are, of course, anxious to get repaid, and they will be repaid under this Bill. The amount of the mortgage money will go to the Insurance Companies and the rest will remain with the 424 Irish landlords. It is really a class measure. The Government are passing it in the interests of the landocracy and plutocracy they represent. It is because the plutocrats cannot force the money out of the Irish tenants that they are now to come upon the British taxpayer for the value of their property. Unfortunately hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot get it out of their minds that there is something sacred connected with land, and when those gentlemen, whom it is said neither toil nor spin, find that they cannot get enough out of their property to keep on neither toiling nor spinning, they are desirous of making up for the deficiency in some such manner as is suggested by this Bill. Say that we are to pay the market price of these congested districts to the owners of them. What may be the market value? It may be the capitalisation of the amount that they charge—not that they get from—their tenants at present. These congested districts are the shame and disgrace of the United Kingdom. They are Irish rookeries. What would be said were we to pass a Bill saying that England and Scotland and Wales were to join together to buy out the rookeries of London at their market value? Do not allow these landlords in Ireland to crowd people as they do at present. In the name of common sense do not bring in a Bill to benefit these landlords on account of their own iniquities, saying to them, "You have raised the value of the land by crowding persons most improperly, and now we will pay you the hard market commercial value."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Again, I would wish the right hon. Gentleman to read his own Bill. I have no objection to go through the whole of it; there is time. He has really nothing to say in favour of his Bill, and he falls back on the statement that "it is not in my Bill." The right hon. Gentleman must really look after his draughtsmen. I have no doubt the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman are most excellent; in fact he told us that the Bill is a sort of speculation which he brings before the House. 425 He will withdraw it if the opinion of the House is not in favour of it.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, I will not pursue this. Will the right hon. Gentleman read the Clause—page 13, sub-section 3?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Yes, it is bought by the tenant occupier; but where does the money come from? From the British taxpayer. If the right hon. Gentleman likes to buy land in Ireland he is perfectly welcome to do so, at his own price. Your tenant is a mere sham. You buy out the land, and you sell it to the occupier. You are buying at the full market value; and I appeal to Members on this, aye, and the other side, of the House whether I have not clearly made out my case, that what I have stated is in the Bill. There is a third reason why you are bringing in this Bill. I am sorry that my Irish friends are not here. [Laughter.] They are kept away by domestic affliction. Were they here I would recommend them to be exceedingly careful about accepting this Bill if they want Home Rule. My impression is that one of the reasons for this Bill is that they would be better able to oppose Home Rule were this vast amount handed over to the Irish. We should be the man in possession in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] I like my hon. Friend (Mr. T. W. Russell). He knows what the Government are doing, and he applauds them for it. My hon. Friend admits that we shall have to spend £100,000,000. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: No.] More than that— between £100,000,000 and£200,000,000. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but one for whom they have the greatest respect, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, said £200,000,000 would be required. I am putting it at £100,000,000. My contention, then, is this, that you cannot have two classes of tenants—one who 426 pay less and in a certain time get the land, and the other who pay more and in no time get the estate. Therefore, if you pass this Bill, it will involve not merely the amount named, but between £100,000,000 and £200,000,000. Anyhow, the reason for which the hon. Member for South Tyrone admitted the Bill was brought in was to prevent the Irish from having Home Rule. That is one of the reasons why I am against it, and why I trust the Irish Members, who still retain such solid opinions, will vote with us on this occasion. The Chief Secretary told us that this was an Imperial Bill, and for the advantage of Ireland. But I can conceive of nothing worse than that, in the case of a part of the Empire, consisting of two islands, Great Britain and Ireland, one island should be the landlord or financial master of the other. Such a relationship would perpetuate the ill-feeling which still exists. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer about this. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will admit that Government securities are invariably attracted to the financial centre of the country issuing them; and the consequence will be that the entire rental of Ireland will each year be swept away from Ireland to be brought to England. No country in the world will stand this for a long time. Any country would be ruined. If the whole of the land of England belonged to proprietors in Paris, and the rental went to Paris, we know very well that England would in a given time be almost ruined. The case is far stronger in Ireland. In Ireland you have only one industry, agriculture; here you have many. You will sweep the whole of the rental of one island into the other, and yet you expect the country to be prosperous. If I was an Irishman I should refuse to pay one farthing. As a British taxpayer I will have to pay, but if the Irish refuse to pay, I shall tell English taxpayers that they have only got what they deserve. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what I should do. I should leave dual ownership alone; and I should reduce the rental if it is in any case too high. If the rent is too high, all we have to do is to have fresh Land Courts and fresh legislation to make a further reduction. 427 [Laughter.] Yes, I should support it. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he will bring in a Bill to reduce all rents in Ireland by one-half I shall give it my most cordial and warmest support. Do in Ireland what you have done in the Islands and Highlands of Scotland. That is a far more reasonable proposal than this one, which is to gorge the plutocrats and landocrats with the money of the British taxpayer. Take the Campaign estates—there are five or six of them. If I had the honour of being in the place of the right hon. Gentleman what should I do? I should have a Board of Arbitration and Conciliation in regard to these Campaign estates, to decide what was fair on both sides. And I should again come for legislation and pass a little Act converting the decision of the Board into law. In that way I would get rid of the whole question of these Campaign estates. In the congested districts I should deal drastically with the landlords. I do not think I should give them anything. I do not see why they should have anything. They perfectly well know that the only economic value of their land is that which is caused by the fact of Irishmen choosing to live there. Indeed, I have always wondered why Irishmen continue to live in those districts, to which they give value, just as do people who choose to pay for living in the rookeries of London give value to those rookeries. I say there is no real economic value in these properties at all. Well, then, I should finish up by passing a Home Rule Bill for Ireland. I have been asked whether we should really leave the Irish to settle the Land Question after they got Home Rule. I have never yet discovered why they should have Home Rule and not be allowed to deal with the Land Question. I can under stand that hon. Gentlemen opposite are opposed to the Irish having full power to legislate on anything. But why should you give full powers to the Irish Legislature to legislate on everything except the land? Simply because of the fetish notion you entertain that land is superior to everything else. I have now stated a few of the reasons why I am opposed to the Bill. Others I will give when the Bill gets into Com- 428 mittee. I always respect the traditions of this House. I consider that on the motion for Second Reading a Member should only make a Second Reading speech, and I have endeavoured to do that by stating the reasons why I intend to vote against this Bill. I oppose the Bill because, in my opinion, it is ultra vires in the present Parliament to give any species of guarantee, whether it is desirable to give it or not, and further, on the merits I think it is one of the most pernicious and injurious Bills to the entire Empire, and especially to Ireland, that can well be conceived.
§ *(10.1.) MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
I ask the attention of the House to some of the features of the Bill now before the House, because, having for more than 40 years taken an active interest in the various measures and schemes for the improvement of Ireland, I am satisfied that there are omissions and provisions in this Bill which, unrectified, would intensify the misery, discontentment, and political dangers it is intended to remove. Nay, more, it would extend to the tenant farmers of Great Britain that agrarian discontent which has made the Government of Ireland so difficult, discontent which would be still more dangerous if extended to races far more tenacious and determined in the assertion of their rights than the Irish. But before entering upon the defects of the Bill let me say that I have never pledged myself against the safe use, within reasonable limits, of the credit and means of this wealthy country in the settlement of the land question in Ireland. No statesman or historian can deny that Great Britain shares with the landlords, tenants, and people of Ireland the responsibility for the state of affairs there; it is difficult, if not impossible, duly to apportion the share of each in the sad history of weakness, folly and wrong—we have all to bear our share; and instead of wasting time and strength in recrimination, it is far more practical and sensible to appeal to those many noble and patriotic qualities which history also proves our various nationalities possess, to combine all our wisdom and the resources at our command in the attempt to settle a ques- 429 tion, the settlement of which statesmen on all sides believe to be necessary—the one party contending that without it Home Rule is inevitable, and the other admitting that without it Home Rule would be unworkable. I should also wish to express my satisfaction that Government has decided to treat the congested districts on a different footing to the rest of Ireland, though I think their proposals for doing this will require the most careful consideration, and probably considerable modification. The circumstances differ essentially from those of the rest of Ireland, and require special aid and treatment. The inhabitants of the congested districts could not live on the land they occupy, even if it were their own, if aided alone by the wretched industries which they yet possess. Moreover, there does not exist in those districts materials out of which a safe and efficient system, of Local Government could be constructed. On the other hand, in the rest of Ireland the population is by no means in excess of those who can live decently on the produce of the land, aided by industries which would thrive and extend if we only remove agrarian discord, and thus restore credit and confidence. Moreover, in the other parts of Ireland are found ample means out of which you can construct a good system of Local Government. I am glad the Bill contains provision for relieving those districts from the extreme pressure of population on the means of subsistence. I am glad, too, that it gives the option of emigration and migration, and I hope there will be no delay in making a trial of the former. Migration would be, if practicable, far the most desirable; but the experience of the two systems, both tried under exceptionally favourable circumstances during the last famine, told very strongly in favour of emigration, 11,000 of the population who were emigrated from the congested districts have been removed from the depths of poverty to prosperity in America and Canada, and have remitted many thousand pounds to support or bring out relatives; while those who remained behind in the Unions from which the emigrants went have been materially relieved by the removal of pressure 430 of excessive population on the labour market, and on resources of the district. Of this we had ample evidence before the Colonisation Committee. I am sorry to say we were not equally successful in the attempt at migration. At that time the same preference for migration was expressed as is now, the people were starving, and I suggested that we should try just the experiment that was suggested last year by the hon. Member for East Mayo, that we should do it by private means assisted by a loan from Government. The hon. Member for Cork took up the measure very warmly, a Land Purchase and Settlement Company was formed under a Board of Directors, who ought to have ensured success, if success were possible. It consisted of those who believed in the success of migration; the hon. Member for Cork was Chairman, one of our ablest and successful and improving English landowners was Deputy Chairman, the late Mr. Dwyer Gray, the Members for Londonderry, for North Galway, the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney were Directors; it was difficult to conceive a more influential or stronger directorship. They bought exactly such a property as that recommended by the hon. Member for East Mayo, consisting largely of grass lands, which the Directors were to have possession of, but not a single tenant from the congested districts migrated on to this land. The Deputy Chairman came to me, I think soon after the purchase, and told me that the neighbouring tenants had given it to be understood that not one tenant should come on to the estate until they had all the land they wanted, and the whole plan broke down. I am aware that legal difficulties arose, but they were those that could have been got over, had not this greater difficulty been behind. I fear that while the greed for land in Ireland continues to be as strong as it is at present, migration cannot be considered a sufficient remedy for the surplus population of the congested districts. I agree, however, that it ought to be tried and to be adopted if it can be made successful, but it ought not to stand in the way of other remedies if unsuccessful; and if it can be tried under the management of those who believe in 431 its success, I consider the decision so important that I should be willing under proper circumstances to join in a similar experiment. I think it is most desirable that a cheap system of land transfer should be embodied in the Government measure.
§ MR. RATHBONE
I am very glad to hear that, as when once we have put those districts on the upward course of improvement it will enable them to work out their own salvation in a way that neither the Government nor charity can do. I am most anxious to see the land question of Ireland settled, and had hoped we should find that the Government had largely amended the Bill of last year, for the Purchase Clauses of that Bill contained provisions so dangerous and unguarded that I dare not vote for a Bill that is to retain them. But I cannot see that they have introduced any limitations or safeguards which have any chance of being effectual. I think that I can show the House in a very few words that, if we attempt to purchase the larger holdings, say those over £30 a year, you cannot complete the edifice you are thus beginning to build without putting a strain on the resources of the United Kingdom which it neither will nor ought to bear. I maintain further that instead of benefiting Ireland, and removing her discontent, you will recreate, and in a more aggravated form, the evils which you seek to prevent, and that the measure would, in its present form, create a precedent in the United Kingdom with which you would be incapable of dealing. I feel strongly the dangers of extending the purchase system to the larger holdings in Ireland, repeatedly pointed out by the hon. Member for Cork and other Irish authorities. I contend that to so extend them will impose unnecessary liabilities on both Irish and Imperial resources. Independently of being in itself evil, it will furnish a precedent so dangerous that on that ground alone it ought to be, if persevered in, absolutely fatal to the measure. If you refer to the Returns of the Agricultural Holdings of 1881 you 432 will find that they show 585,721 holdings of £30 per annum and under; and only 74,430 of holdings of above £30 per annum, or, in other words, eight-ninths of Irish holdings are stated as below £30 per annum, and only one-ninth above. But while the eight-ninths of holdings of £30 and under, taken at 20 years' purchase, would require only £95,000,000 at the rates of rent current in 1881 to buy them the remaining one-ninth would require £103,000,000 to buy them. The Census Returns give different figures, they state 400,000 holdings at £30 per annum and under, and 163,000 holdings at over £30 per annum, or about seven-tenths and three-tenths respectively. I have been unable to find any tables or calculations which would enable us to ascertain what amount we must deduct from these figures for demesne and other grass holdings, which will not be dealt with tinder the Act, or for other deductions, which must be very large, for reductions in rents since 1881, and other deductions which will have to be made from the £95,000,000 and the £103,000,000 respectively. These reductions must be very large, and will emphasise the fact that for the comparatively manageable sum, less than one-half of what would otherwise be required, you can buy up from seven-tenths to eight-ninths of the whole of the agricultural holdings in Ireland, and they the only holdings which would create a bonâ fide peasant proprietary, where the labour of the owner and his family was the principal factor in the cultivation of the holding. Of course, the landowner would prefer to sell his property as a whole, but the part of his property left him is the safest and best; the large tenants are able to pay the rents and less likely to wish to shoot him. And though they will, no doubt, be discontented at being left out, what claim have they to force us to extend our advances to £120,000,000, or £150,000,000, or more, in order to include the purchase of these larger holdings whose owners are in a better position in many ways than English, Scotch, or Welsh tenants? If you once admit the principle of buying up these large tenancies you cannot possibly stop at the limit fixed by the Bill. And for what are we asked to take this extended liability and risk 433 If you do it yon will inevitably create a large number of small landowners, who as soon as they become owners will at once want to set up as landlords, and live on the margin between the reduced rents they will have to pay, and those excessive rents which that intense greed for the possession of land which exists, and I am afraid for some time will continue to exist, in Ireland will enable them to exact. Those who are unacquainted with Ireland would be astounded to know the rents and tenant-right money that Irishmen will pay for land. I could give the House recent facts proving this, if proof were needed. I know that there is a provision against sub-letting such holdings without consent; but with the intense desire and great temptation there will be on both sides to let and take these holdings, no Government Department will be able to prevent sub-letting, any more than good resident Irish landlords have been able to prevent it in times past. The Bill as it now stands will inevitably create before many years are out the greatest curse of Irish landowning, the small grinding squireen landlord. The new landlords will be of the same character as the middleman of 50 years ago—poor, remorseless, exacting; and the new tenants, without tenant-right or capital, poorer, more reckless and desperate than even those now to be found in the congested districts. But the want of a proper limitation of the size of holdings involves in the precedent it will set a still greater danger to the country at large than the one I have pointed out. Any practical politician, any reader of history, knows that the democracy when its interests are concerned is apt to be very clear-sighted and very sternly logical in demanding the application of principles admitted to be just to its own affairs. And I would ask the House to consider how, if you pass this Bill in its present form, you are to meet the demands of the English, Scotch, and Welsh farmers, that they too shall receive similar facilities for becoming owners of their holdings, and at a large reduction of their present rents. Yet, without such limitation as has been suggested, the credit of England would be all too small to carry out a land purchase scheme on these principles. But if you adopt boldly the 434 sound limitation of peasant proprietary of £30 and under you are safe, because the number of such tenancies in Great Britain is not excessive, and could be dealt with on sound principles, as it can be in Ireland, by a compassable amount. I must say that it has of recent years appeared to me that our statesmen too often, as in this case, grasp at an immediate palliative for some present difficulty, forgetting that they are establishing principles which involve frightful danger when people come to realise and insist upon their being carried out widely and consistently. I have not dealt with the precautionary restrictions introduced for the first time in the Bill of this year. They are absolutely worthless—that with respect to residence could be easily evaded, and both are made subject to an exception that they do not come into force if they interfere with carrying into effect sales on the estate of the same landlord. I fancy there will be few estates in Ireland where this exception might not be held to apply; and knowing, as the framers of this Bill must know, the history of the way in which such provisions have been disregarded in Ireland in times past, and the pressure that will be brought to bear by landlords and tenants interested to have the same treatment for the future; knowing this, it is really hardly respectful to this House to offer for their consideration provisions so utterly illusory. I have spoken strongly from no antagonism to the object of this Bill, for every one interested in, and acquainted with, the state of Ireland must earnestly desire the settlement of this land question, knowing it to be a necessary preliminary to the establishment of peace and prosperity in Ireland. This is a moment peculiarly favourable to the settlement of such a question. Could we not, in the present chaotic state of Parties, proclaim what was called in olden times "a truce of God" on this question, and combine the wisdom, experience, and patriotism of the wisest and best men of all Parties, and approach the subject in a spirit of sympathy, justice, and last, and not least, firmness, settle what all consider an essential preliminary to other Irish reforms, in whatever shape respective Parties contemplate them—do this, and I am confident you will make Ireland one 435 of the most prosperous, easily governed, and I venture to predict, from the character of her people, not the least loyal and conservative part of Her Majesty's dominions.
§ (10.30.) MR. ATKINSON (Boston)
I could not listen to the Senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) without endeavouring to respond to his manner of putting the question. We all know what to expect from him, both by his speeches out of doors and the rumours in the Lobby, as to the way in which he is going to prevent business being done. To-night, amusing as he generally is, he has been more amusing than usual. He has given us to understand what the springs of his action are. He appears to think that the Liberal Party is so hopelessly split up that the section of which he is the leader is coming to the front, and he is evidently expecting that in the event of a political crisis the Queen will be sending for him. I, however, do not think that the hon. Member will be sent for during the present century, at all events. His idea is that we ought to have another Government—any Government so long as the present one is driven from power. Well, I would ask him to show us what benefit would result to the country from a change of Government, either in Irish affairs or anything else. They would not be able to bring from the Benches opposite any two or three men who, combined, would have the same grasp of Irish affairs as the present Chief Secretary, or who would fill the post of Chief Secretary as ably as the right hon. Gentleman has done. The British electors will read between the lines of the speeches of hon. Members opposite; they will see that they want to be in Office; they will refer to their doings, and then will vote in such a manner as will astonish the hon. Member for Northampton and his friends. [Cries of" Question!"]
§ MR. ATKINSON
Then I will not follow the observations of the hon. Member for Northampton any further, as I see he is an unsound guide. I will only say that I congratulate the Government and the Chief Secretary upon 436 the way in which they have framed the present measure, which, in my opinion, will cut the ground from under the feet of the agitators who are demanding-Home Rule.
§ (10.35.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I do not know whether I should congratulate the Chief Secretary or condole with him on his present position. I remember him as the great advocate of Protestant landlordism, on which our civilisation depends, and now he brings in a Bill which will strike a fatal blow at landlordism, and, if your civilisation depends on it, then at civilisation. As I do not believe in landlordism, I am glad that he has brought in his Bill. I hope to see it finished even in my own day. I think we are all agreed that Irish landlords must go, and but few hon. Members would like to eject them without giving them compensation. I object to the provisions of this Bill, however, and shall vote against the Second Reading, because I regard the prices at which the tenants are required to purchase their holdings as unfair, even when based on the rents fixed by the Courts, inasmuch as the Courts require the tenants to pay rent upon, their own improvements, and because the Irish tenants are being coerced into buying their holdings. I object to it, on the second ground, in the interests of the public as well as of the tenant. Badly as the present tenant-farmers in Ireland have been treated, those of Scotland have also been badly treated; for every £1 stolen from the Irish tenants there have been £10 stolen from the Scotch tenants; therefore, I say that a Bill of this kind ought not to be used for a class, badly as they have been treated. I hold that the public as a whole should get the benefit of it, and not one class. The difference in the value of the estates in Ireland as between State purchase and the price that would be given in the ordinary way in the market is from £50,000,000 to £80,000,000. That sum, I hold, should not be given to a class, but to the whole community. I know that under the present tenure Irish tenant-farmers are paying their 15s. an acre, and are charging labourers and others £4 an acre in conacre, putting the difference into their 437 pockets. I do not see why we should seek to benefit the small farmers alone by this Bill. Why not adopt a system by which the labourers and the general community could benefit as well as the small farmers? Such a plan has been proposed for England by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, as Chairman of the Small Holdings Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture and some of his colleagues. If this Bill applied to Ireland the system recommended by that Committee I, for one, would support it. If you gave the tenants the land at a perpetual rent instead of letting them buy it out and out you would be able still further to reduce their rents. If we are to abolish the present landlord system, I do not think we ought to create new landlords. If it is wrong for a man to let land to tenants, it can only be wrong because private property in land of this character is an expedient. I do not think you will be able to prevent the subletting of some farms. When you are making a change of this kind the best way is to make it thoroughly and completely. If you make the payments by the tenants perpetual you can reduce the rents 30 per cent. instead of 20 per cent., and I think the farmer would much prefer a system under which this could be accomplished. Economic rent is not created by the tenant, but is the price paid for the more valuable sites and soils as against the poorer ones. The tenants do not create the artificial value of the soils. The soil has been created by the Almighty, and He never opened land offices and sold it. The economic rent from site is two or three times as great as the economic rent from soil. If, however, you are going to transfer a monopoly from one class to another you will not get rid of the monopoly, but will perpetuate an injustice, and you will soon have the community fighting as much against your new tenure and your new landlords. The new owners of the soil will be as bad as, if not worse than, the old landlords, because the wealthy landlords are generally the best and the poor landlords the worst. Very often the old Tory landlords are the best, and the new commercial men, who have bought the land, are the worst possible 438 owners. The latter apply commercial principles to the land, whilst the old families still allow sentiment to influence them. I look upon it as a curse to the land when new men come in and apply economic principles to it. An hon. Member has said that in Donegal the people are all ready to buy. If the hon. Member had been to Dunfanaghy and Gweedore he would find there much the same state of things as in some of the Western Highlands, namely, that if you were to give the land rent-free and tax-free you would not be able to much improve the condition of the people. I know of one well-managed estate in Ireland, the proprietor of which is a very good-humoured gentleman, and probably as easy a landlord as any in the country. Nine-tenths of the people are on one-tenth of that estate, and the remaining nine-tenths of the estate is occupied by one-tenth of the tenants. It would be no solution of the land question at all to bring these tenants in as purchasers. To do so means the creation of another form of land monopoly and privilege which will lead to fresh agitation, and give us more work in this House in future. At the present time I am not very much interested in politics, but by-and-bye the questions in which I am interested will come to be legislated on, although it may not probably be for three years. But looking at the questions which come before us, I am, for one, beginning to feel Conservative. Even from hon. Friends from whom I expected better things I hear views expressed that show them to be in a state of sentimental socialism. There will before long be new lines of cleavage between Parties, and the great fight will probably be between Individualism and Socialism. I am an old-fashioned Individualist, and I want to get rid of conditions of property which are dangerous to property as a whole. I believe a man has a right to whatever his labour has created. Land, of course, has not been created by labour, and I would point out that a bad form of property will help the crusade against all forms of property. The best way of settling the question is not to create new privileges and new monopolies that could not be justified, but to get rid of those who possess the 439 present privileges and monopolies. They will consent to be bought out at a rate which is not a dear rate. Do not create new landlords, but pass over to the community what ought to belong to the community, and you will then avoid the struggle to get from the community that which the community ought not to have. I say that if you adopt the system recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and others who sat on the Agricultural Holdings Committee, you will be able to reduce the amount paid by the tenants much more than you can do under this Bill; you will be able to get a better price for the landlord, and will put an end to an agitation which you will not bring to an end by this Bill.
§ *(10.52.) SIR E. GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
I do not wish to enter into any discussion on the merits of the Bill, because they have already been so extensively discussed by the House that I can say nothing additional. I think there were many valuable criticisms in the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark), but I think they come rather nearer to Socialism than he himself seemed to be aware of. I admit that some of his criticisms might with great advantage be given full weight to in the further development of this Bill, but I regard the vote that will be given on the Second Reading of this Bill as one on the principle of land purchase, and the question to be answered is not whether the Bill before the House is or is not perfect, but whether the Bill is so bad that those in favour of the principle of land purchase ought not to vote for the Second Reading. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has made an attack on the Bill from the point of view of the British taxpayer, and has directed the British taxpayer's attention solely to his own pocket. The British taxpayer would have been more grateful if his attention had been a little more directed to the merits of the Irish question from the point of view of Home Rule. As an English Home Ruler I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. The great difficulty in governing Ireland so far has been the agitation and unrest in 440 the country which Government after Government have found it almost impossible to allay. The same agitation will be the difficulty of a Home Rule Parliament, and, as I wish to see the success of Home Rule in Ireland, I wish first to remove as far as possible all difficulties from the settlement of the land question. There has been no stability in Ireland, because the great body of the people who are engaged in the chief industry of the country have had no future to which they might look forward. The Bill before the House proposes to create such a future, and it will go far to create a class of people who will form a sound and stable basis to resist those trials to which a new Government in Ireland must necessarily be especially subject. One of the great difficulties in connection with the land question in Ireland has been that the Irish tenant cultivating the soil has never been brought face to face with economic conditions. Between him and economic conditions there has always stood the landlord, and when the tenant has suffered—not always, though very often, from high rents—it is the landlord and landlordism he has blamed. The first duty of Parliament ought to be to remove this wall between the tenant and economic conditions, and to let the tenant see things clearly as they really exist, so that he may shape his course accordingly. People talk about sub-division and subletting, but it is landlordism that has been at the bottom of the sub-division and the sub-letting, because the tenants have never recognised the true economic conditions. There are many Home Rulers who feel that the Home Rule movement has been greatly and mischievously complicated by the land question, and that it will be a great advantage if we can get the political question put before Irish public opinion quite free from the agrarian complication. One great difference between us and Unionists is this—that Homo Rulers believe that if you settled the land question absolutely to-morrow there would still remain the demand for Home Rule. On the other hand, Unionists seem to think that if we could only settle the land question we should get rid of political difficulty in Ireland. Home Rulers do not believe that, and I, for one, wish to see the point put to the 441 test; and I am, therefore, willing to support any well-considered effort on the part of Unionists to put an end to the land difficulty in Ireland, and I am willing to abide by the result as it affects the political movement. It will be said that this Bill is capable of improvement, and that I ought not to take so strong a step as to vote against my Party; but those who are in favour of land purchase have no choice in the matter. A large section of the Liberal Party have done their best to put it beyond all doubt that the Liberal Party will never support a policy of land purchase for Ireland; they have done their best to make that policy for ever impossible. At all events, they have told the country it ought never to be done by British credit, and how will they do it without, if the terms offered are to be as favourable as now? What alternative remains if there is no chance of a Land Purchase Bill being passed by the Liberals if they come into power? The alternative seems to be this: Assuming this Bill to have merits that are worth voting for, it is to vote against this Bill, and by so doing obtain whatever credit is to be gained for having resisted a measure which is not popular in every part of the country, and for having opposed the Government, and then to go for Home Rule for Ireland, feeling that all difficulties have been removed by a Unionist Government, and that it was these very difficulties the removal of which Home Rulers had opposed. This would be to obtain all the benefits of a land purchase measure, and at the same time to take credit for having opposed it. I will not say anything about that course on conscientious grounds, for I have observed in politics that when a man begins to talk about his conscience people conclude that he does not possess one. The course I have described is one which is very obvious, but it is one which is sure to be found out, and it is one which will be resented by the electors when it is found out. I do not believe that this Bill is as unpopular as some seem to think. When a surgeon is advancing to perform a painful operation on a patient, we do not expect him to make any great show of cheerfulness and enthusiasm, and land purchase is not a pleasant operation to undertake. Land 442 purchase in Ireland is not a pleasant subject, but at the same time the question is one it is necessary to take into consideration, and I believe the country will look upon it from that point of view. Apart from the question how far this particular measure is unpopular throughout the country, the Opposition have something to gain by showing themselves willing to support it. I do not think that many by-elections have been won by anti-land purchase speeches, but they have been won by Home Rule speeches, and the two things are not the same. There are still doubtful electors throughout the country, and, considering how English Parties have for years come under the suspicion of using Irish questions for Party purposes, the Liberals have more to gain by making some show of courage, firmness, impartiality, and disinterestedness in supporting a measure brought forward in the interests of Ireland, even when it comes from the other side, than they will lose by risking the loss of the votes of a few timid and selfish taxpayers.
§ *(11.8.) MR. MACARTNEY
The opposition to this Bill should not be based on the assumption that it is a landlords' measure; no one can think so who knows the reception it has met with in Ireland among the landlords of the country. The landlords have never asked the Government to introduce it. With regard to the objection that there is a want of local control in the purchase department, I can quite understand the right hon. Members for Mid Lothian and West Birmingham placing great value upon the interference of Local Authorities; but if the Government want to hang up the Bill and to make it inoperative, they will give effect to the views of those right hon. Gentlemen, because I am perfectly convinced there would be no possibility of the measure having any operation if that had to depend upon the decision of a Local Authority. I hope, therefore, that if the Government desire to make this an effective measure they will resist the suggestions that have come from the opposite side of the House. Objection has been taken to the elimination of the 20 years' limit of purchase; but that, I think, has been answered by the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The 443 objection last year came from both sides. In fact, the objections made last Session, when the previous Bill was before the House, were not directed to inflict injury upon the tenant, but to remove hardships inflicted on the landlords by certain provisions, and the removal of the limitation in no way interferes with the operative value of the scheme of land purchase for the tenant. I do not pretend to say that this is a Bill I entirely approve. I presume that there are very few landlords in Ireland who would approve it as it is now drawn, but I agree with many Members on both sides of the House in desiring to see the land question in Ireland settled. Recognising, therefore, that the Government have given an ear to the complaints which have come from both sides of the House, that they have, as far as they could, endeavoured to meet the arguments used against certain portions of the measure introduced last year, I shall vote against the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham, and shall support the Second Reading of the Bill as it is drafted, and as it has been now introduced on the authority of the Government. I have never been an enthusiastic admirer or advocate of an extended scheme of land purchase in Ireland, but I should not like to take the responsibility at the present time of declining to support a measure which has been, to a certain extent, re-cast, which I believe to be as good a measure as can be produced by any Government, and especially when there is no prospect of any measure being forthcoming from the Party opposite.
§ *(11.15.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
It is not my intention to join in any attempt to talk out the measure, or prevent a Division being taken, but I do not like to give a silent vote against this Land Purchase Bill. I oppose the Bill, first, because I was one of those who at the last election declared against the land purchase scheme of my own leader. I am not one of those hon. Members, of whom I see several opposite, who at the election placarded the walls of railway trucks stating the number of tons of gold which would be taken out of the taxpayers' pockets by a land purchase 444 scheme and given to Irish landlords; but I declared against using British credit or the money of the British taxpayer for the purpose of buying out Irish landlords. I shall vote against the Bill next on the principle that I object to using public money for private good. This Bill will benefit a certain number of landlords (who will sell their estates for more than they could get in the open market), and also will benefit a certain number of tenants who will become landowners through the use of British credit. I fail to see that a tenant has any right to demand from the Legislature more than two things—first, that the conditions of tenure on which he holds his land shall be fair, reasonable, and just; and, secondly, that the rent he pays shall be a fair rent. This is a very awkward precedent which is being set up, and hon. Gentlemen opposite may rest assured that if public credit is to be used to-day for the purpose of creating a new class of landlords in Ireland, it may be used hereafter when it shall be sought hereafter to dispossess landlords in Scotland, England, and Wales! But while putting the British Exchequer in this most invidious position of rent collector in Ireland, the Government have not the justification (though, doubtless, many of their supporters honestly believe they have), of being satisfied that this measure will tend to the lasting peace and contentment of the country. Forty-nine years is a long time to look forward to, and probably only a very small proportion of tenants who purchase will carry out the bargain they have made; every few years a certain proportion of the holdings will change hands—some of them will change hands repeatedly before the redemption is complete. I therefore fail to see that this Bill will do anything to bring about permanent contentment in Ireland. At the most, it will only affect at all a small portion of the tenantry of Ireland, while it will leave the rest more discontented than before. It is, indeed, no final settlement. My last objection is that the Government are giving the gigantic bribe of a large sum of money to the landlord class in Ireland. They are making themselves a reputation as a Government of being a kind of "universal provider," because, after try- 445 ing to endow out of public money the property of the brewers and the public-house holders, they have called Parliament together at this season for the purpose of rewarding two other classes of their friends. The Tithe Bill is intended to benefit the clerical supporters of the Government, and the Land Purchase Bill is intended to buy out at enormous cost Irish landlords. Hon. Members opposite know that the sum of money that the landlords will get under this Bill will be far above what would be got by them in the open market on the free sale of their property. I believe the constituencies, who declared in 1886 against the employment of British money for such a purpose, will be found at the approaching General Election to adhere to that declaration.
(11.21.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
I was amused at the way in which the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) came down here to bless the Government. Generally from the loyal and patriotic class there come complaints that the landlords would be robbed by land purchase proposals, but at last, apparently, the Government have done enough to please their supporters in the North of Ireland. To meet the views of their friends in the North of Ireland the Government have removed the limitation of years' purchase, and thus the risk to the British taxpayer is increased. At the best it is very doubtful whether the money advanced will return to the British Treasury, and I have not yet heard any argument showing the necessity for the Bill. I speak, of course, of the Purchase Clauses. As to the congested districts part of the Bill, that, I understand, deals with Irish Church surplus money, in which I am not concerned to interfere. I may say that I do not think that the congested districts part of the Bill will have any far-reaching effect. That however, is not a matter a British Member need go out of his way to criticise. But I do not think this part 446 of the Bill will do any harm. So much cannot be said for the Purchase Clauses. We all know where the benefit will go. The Conservative Party, after four years ago denouncing land purchase for Ireland in unmeasured terms, have introduced a Land Purchase Bill every year since, and I must say it is not a very creditable thing that these proposals emanate from the Party many of whose supporters are directly interested. I believe that under the Ashbourne Act of 1888 £1,500,000 of the purchase money went to families members of which have seats in this House. I have no doubt in this there is to be found a reason for bringing forward this Bill. We are within a measurable distance of a dissolution, the position of affairs is precarious, and the Government have resolved that before they run the risk of leaving Office they will endeavour to reward their Irish friends. Hon. Members opposite have praised the conduct of Irish landlords; but the Chief Secretary when he introduced this Bill told us that Irish landlords had not, in many cases, made improvements on the land, or put up cottages for labourers, and that owing to political agitation the Irish landlord is no longer in a position to perform the ordinary social duties of a landlord. In other words, the landlords do not do their duty. But good or bad, at any rate the Chief Secretary has determined that by his scheme he will extirpate them from Ireland as far as he possibly can. Supporters of the right hon. Gentleman may say this legislation, is brought forward for the settlement of the Irish question, but everybody who has knowledge of the operation of the Ashbourne Act knows that a very large number of the holdings purchased under the Act were so small that tenants could not live from the farms rent free. The purchase of these small holdings cannot have the effect of settling the land question, because the people cannot live on the holdings. They would not be able to do so, even if they were given to them for nothing. In speaking-on the Irish land question, it is a common thing to refer to the way in which Ireland has been coerced by absentee landlords, but by this scheme of legislation you are creating the 447 greatest absentee landlord it would be possible to make. This money which will be paid in the form of rent will all go out of the country to London, and you will have a complete system of absentee landlordism. The economic effect of that cannot be other than bad. [Cries of"Divide!"] There seems to be an idea amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite that landlords demand some sort of special consideration, but why should landlords receive more consideration than other people? Recent legislation, it is true, has brought down their rents, but the original rents were unfair; therefore I fail to see why the landlords deserve special consideration. We have already spent £5,000,000 on this land purchase; we are told that another £33,000,000 will be required under this Bill, and it is an open secret that that is not all that will be required. At the last General Election the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) said that £150,000,000 or even £200,000,000 would be required. [Cries of"Divide!"] I must say this anxiety for a Division is somewhat excessive, seeing that no one can say that the business of Parliament has been obstructed during the last two or three days, and that the subject we are debating is the expenditure of £33,000,000. We consider, having regard to the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland in introducing the Bill, and taking it in conjunction with the speech the right hon. Member made in the early part of this year, that he has made considerable efforts to hedge round his plan with collateral security. If I rightly remember, in the spring he said that his securities made us safe against everything but an organised repudiation of the payment. But is such a repudiation impossible? Hon. Members opposite never tire of telling us of the illegal combinations of the Irish tenants, and it certainly seems to me that it will be much easier for the tenants in Ireland to combine together against one landlord and one estate than it is to combine against different landlords and different estates. When the peasantry come to reflect upon the large sums of money which will have to be paid by them—paid, as they will say, by them to Englishmen—it will be a very easy thing for an agitator to 448 go round and call on them to repudiate this tribute altogether—and "tribute" was the word used by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. [Cries of"Divideh!"] I cannot see that we have any strong guarantee from anybody that this attempt at repudiation will not be made. We have had no Irish Members getting up and declaring that they approve of the scheme, and will accept it. I do not say that if the Irish Members accepted it I should be in favour of it; but I say that whatever a guarantee from the Irish Members might be worth, we have not even got that. Two or three Members who have spoken to-night have put before us what they call dilemmas— even the hon. Member for South Tyrone. He says that the Bill will be popular in Ireland, and that there has been pressure brought to bear on the Irish Members to induce them to vote for it——
He said something to the effect that the Bill was popular amongst the tenant farmers of Ireland.
I thought the hon. Member was speaking for the whole tenantry of Ireland. I accept his correction. At any rate, another hon. Member opposite said that all classes in Ireland were clamouring for the Bill. Hon. Members were candid, especially the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who said it would be impossible to give the localities control over the money. He said the localities would refuse to accept the responsibility, and that the Bill would be ruined. He was candid, and we were charmed by his candour. It is too much that hon. Members should tell us at one moment that this Bill is popular with everybody, and at the same time say, "We will not trust the localities with any veto in the matter, because if we did they would veto the scheme at once.'' As to the safety of the scheme one thing is certain, namely, that if 449 Ireland liked to combine against the payment of rent it would be absolutely impossible for the British taxpayer to evict the whole nation. We know well enough that even now landlords arouse a certain amount of public opinion when they are evicting the poor tenants even on one estate; and every one will admit that it would be impossible for the British Executive to evict the whole peasantry of Ireland if they chose to combine against this scheme. Even if we turned these poor people out of their holdings we know from the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Saunderson) that "evicted farms do not let very readily." I am glad the hon. Member for Northampton gave us his opinion as to how this question ought to be settled; because I take it that very few Members of the Liberal Party who are in favour of the House dealing with the question of land purchase are in favour of this Bill. Judging from the speeches of Liberal Members, it is clear that they are becoming every day more strongly opposed to any further guarantee by the British taxpayer. Then what I, for one, wish to see is that this question should be left to the Irish people in an Irish Parliament to settle. That is what Home Rule means to a great many people. I am sure I can speak for my own constituency. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, I come from a bye-election, having been returned more recently than some hon. Members opposite; and I can assure the House that my constituents look forward to decentralization not only in Ireland, but in Scotland, and they think that one of the most essential powers of any Home Rule Parliament should be the control of the land system of its country. It seems to me that the Irish would be very unwise if they accepted a Land Purchase Bill of this kind, because whatever advantage the Irish tenant may get from buying his land now there is no doubt that the tendency of the value of land in Ireland is downwards, and that if the tenant will wait a 450 few years he will get his rent reduced. He will, at any rate, be able to buy his land under a Home Rule Parliament at a great many years less purchase than he will have to pay to-day, and the Irish Executive will have the advantage of having the whole rent roll of the country as a basis of taxation. The tendency of the legislation of hon. Gentlemen opposite is to make endless calls upon the public purse—as we saw last Session in their proposal for the compensation of the publicans, and as we see this Session in their proposals for tithe redemption and Irish land purchase. I do not say that the money they spend is always wasted. It was not wasted in the case of the Bill passed in the early part of the year for the housing of the poor. When one sees how the public expenditure is being increased, and how local debts are being increased, and how they are sure to be increased by useful legislation like that relating to the housing of the poor—I say that when we see this tendency towards the expenditure of public money going on increasing, and when we see it proposed to spend the money in a fresh manner every Session, it is a most serious thing. It is not as if we were paying off large sums of debt. Hon. Gentlemen opposite in their platform speeches are continually boasting of having paid off large sums of public debt; but it is within the memory of some of us that we are still, under the scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reducing the Debt by £500,000 less per annum than was the case in the last Administration. You must remember that it is not possible for this country to borrow unlimited sums of money—that the amount people will lend at 2¾ per cent, is limited. Whether the Debt is large or small, the credit of this country is the possession of all its people. Speaking as a Scotch Member—[Cries of "Oh!"]—I do not pretend to speak for Scotland, but surely I may speak for my own constituents; I represent a very poor industrial community, and, speaking for the people there, I say that if the State is going to use its credit at all, it should be used for the benefit of the poor people of Scotland just as much as for the benefit of the landlords in Ireland. It is a very serious thing that the Government 451 are proposing these extravagant plans for dealing with many millions of public money; and it is in the interest of the taxpayers, in the interest of the poor people, to whom I should like to see this money voted, that I oppose the proposal, as I shall oppose any proposal of land purchase, whether brought forward by hon. Members opposite or by gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench on this side of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Storey.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I think, Sir, it is the general desire of the House to bring this Debate to a conclusion tonight. If there is a wish on the part of any considerable number of hon. Gentlemen to continue the discussion I shall not oppose the Motion for adjournment; but from information that has reached me I am led to believe that it will be for the general convenience to close the Debate to-night. If it is the opinion of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that it will be to the advantage of the question that the Debate shall be prolonged I will not oppose the adjournment, but will submit to the convenience of the House.
§ (11.53.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I feel that it would be hardly decent to limit to one night the Debate on the Second Reading of a Bill of this magnitude, which involves such enormous interests, as long as there are gentlemen who desire to prolong it.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I certainly shall not object if there is a general desire to take a serious part in the discussion.
§ (11.54.) Question put, and agreed to.