HC Deb 27 November 1890 vol 349 cc137-54

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am glad to think that it will not be necessary for me on this occasion to occupy at any length the time of the House or to make anything in the nature of a lengthy statement in regard to the Bill I now ask leave to introduce. Broadly speaking, there is no change in the policy which the Government adopted last Session, and in its main outlines the speech which I delivered on the introduction of the Land Purchase Bill in February last would serve for the introduction of the present Bill. But, of course, we have had forced upon our notice the great difficulties—mechanical difficulties, if I may so describe them—which attend the getting of long and complicated measures through this House. We have seen that in the House of Commons, at all events, it is not always the best Bills that survive. It is the shortest Bills that survive; and in view of that fact we have cut the measure brought in last Session into two halves. I will describe very briefly to the House the contents of each of the two Bills which stand in substitution of the Bill brought in last Session. Before doing so let me say that we have introduced a simplification of the procedure of last Session, which, although I do not think it is an improvement in itself, at all events makes the Bill a good deal less cumbrous and complicated. In the Bill of last Session a good many improvements were attempted on the ordinary machinery of the Ashbourne Acts now in force. In the present Bill we have grafted the new loan upon the old machinery of the Ashbourne Acts, and have thereby considerably shortened and simplified the Bills we now have to ask the House to consider. The first Bill—Bill No. 1—contains two parts. The first part grafts upon the machinery of the Ashbourne Acts loans of stock to the same amount as were proposed to be authorised last Session and under the same safeguards as were contained in the Bill of last Session. We propose to give to the tenants in each county in Ireland power to borrow money for the purchase of their holdings up to 25 years' purchase of the guarantee fund of that county, the guarantee fund in this Bill being precisely the same as the guarantee fund in the Bill we introduced last Session. The new money, therefore, to be lent under Bill No. 1 to the tenants of Ireland—money to be lent against the guarantee stock—is precisely the same as the amount lent against guarantee stock in the Bill of last Session, and is lent under precisely the same limitations, conditions, and safeguards. The Treasury will have precisely the same protection, and the land lords and the tenants will have exactly the same privileges, and precisely the same amount will be paid to the localities. So much for the first part of Bill No. 1. The second part of Bill No. 1 deals with the congested districts, and is practically a redraft of the congested districts portion of last Session's Bill. The two portions of Bill No. 1 contain together only about 20 substantive clauses, and those gentlemen who were not unnaturally alarmed by the bulk and complexity of the measure we brought in last Session I hope will be considerably relieved by seeing it reduced this Session. I ought to say that Bill No. 1, in addition to providing the same loans as were provided for last Session, and in addition to dealing with the congested districts in the manner we dealt with them last Session, provides also by a single clause the giving of fixity of tenure to the Land Commission. It will be seen, therefore, that if Bill No. 1 passes it will contain within itself a very large measure—as large a measure, in fact, of laud purchase as the Bill of last Session. It will contain as liberal a method of dealing with the congested districts, and it will give that fixity of tenure to the Land Commissioners of 1881 and 1885 which everybody, I think, to whatever Party in the House he may belong, has always regarded as desirable. Bill No. 2 practically contains those parts of the Bill of last Session which are not contained in the Bill No. 1, which I have just described to the House. Of course, Bill No. 2 is considerably simplified by the fact that we have adopted, without material alteration, the machinery of the Ashbourne Acts; but it contains certain improvements on that machinery. It contains such provisions as the turbary clause of last Session; it contains provisions for dealing with head rent; and it contains, of course, provisions for dealing with perpetual leaseholders. It contains also the scheme we laid before the House last Session for constituting a Land Department. Now, I have broadly explained, with as much detail as I think is required, the procedure that we intend to adopt. I may just add that there are one or two points of, I think, small importance in which we have made alterations in the new Bill. Objection was taken from various quarters last Session to the 20 years' limitation in the Bill we then introduced. That limitation, as the House is aware, was not intended to be any indication on the part of the Government as to the price at which land should be sold in Ireland. It was, however, taken both by the purchasers and the sellers of land as indicating on the part of the Government some opinion as to the value of Irish land. It did not seem essential to our general scheme, and the limitation of 20 years' purchase does not appear in the new draft. [Cheers and cries of "oh, oh!" from the Irish Members.] I think I hear unmistakable expressions of dissent from hon. Gentlemen opposite. It will be in the recollection of the House when I say that the first and only Amendment proposed to the limit of 20 years' purchase appeared not in the name of any representative of the landlord interest in this House, but in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. John Morley). The second point which I call the attention of the House to is almost consequential upon the fact that we have adopted the Ashbourne Act machinery. In the machinery we proposed last Session there was a plan by which, in case of difference of opinion between the seller and the purchaser, it was possible, with the consent of both, to appeal to the Land Department to have the price of the holding fixed. That added considerably to the complexity of the Bill. It did not appear to meet with very much favour either in the House or in the country, and that again is not in the Bill now laid before the House. The third alteration in the Bill to which I think it may be advisable to call the attention of the House relates to the 80 per cent, of the fair rent which the tenant has to pay. The House will recollect that by the Bill of last year every purchaser in Ireland was obliged to pay for the first five years after he had purchased a sum of at all events not less than 80 per cent, on his fair rent. At the end of the five years the annuity that he had to pay was reduced, not merely to the normal annuity, but below the normal annuity, so as to make the total amount paid at the end of 49 years equivalent to an annuity of 4 per cent, throughout that period. The general system of land purchase which we adopted last year was criticised last Session from two opposite quarters—both by the Opposition and by critics in the country. Some persons said, "Oh, unless you give the tenant a great deal more he will never buy at all." Others said, "If you give him immediately all that you propose to give him, there will be such pressure put upon the landlords, and such discontent upon those estates where purchase has not taken place, that you will find yourselves involved in even greater agrarian difficulties than those against which you have at present to contend." Well, I am still of opinion that probably the best general arrangement for Ireland is that which I proposed last Session, and that is the arrangement which will be adopted in the first instance under this Bill. But power is given to the Lord Lieutenant, with the consent of the Treasury, under certain circumstances, if he should think fit, to prolong the period during which that 80 per cent, may be paid. ["Oh!"] Let the House make no mistake upon that point. This action of the Lord Lieutenant is always to be prospective, and never retrospective; that is to say, his action cannot interfere with any bargain already entered into. The tenant who has bought on the understanding that he is to pay 80 percent. on his fair rent for five years, and five years only, will pay 80 per cent, for five years and five years only. But if it should appear to the Lord Lieutenant, from the great run of purchasers, or any other reason, that the five years may be prolonged in future cases of purchase, it will be in his power, subject to the consent of the Treasury, to make that prolongation, the result of which, of course, will be that the tenant will pay 80 per cent, for a longer period than he otherwise would have done, and he will pay his debt back to the Exchequer at a quicker rate. Moreover, when we recollect that all advances under 25 years' purchase of the Guarantee Fund are to be made out of repayments, we thereby enable the purchase to take place more quickly. The result of course will be that in those counties where there is a great desire to buy, and a great rush of tenants to the Land Commission, repayment will be quicker, and more tenants will be able more quickly to take advantage of the boon which the State now offers. Well, Sir, there remain only two points with which I think I need trouble the House. It will be in the recollection of the House that last Session the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) pressed very strongly on the attention of the House his view that we had included in our scheme too many holdings —that the money being necessarily limited in the first instance, we had admitted too many competitors for this public boon, and that we ought to have limited the privilege of purchase to tenants (I think that was his view) under £50 valuation, and in no case to extend it to grazing tenants. Well, I have thought over the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, which I think was advanced in a perfectly practical spirit, and I do not feel myself in a position to go the whole length suggested by him. I think the limit he suggested is too rigid, and would leave outside our Bill, and render discontented with the arrangements proposed under the Bill, very important members of the agricultural community in Ireland. I therefore cannot accept the limitation of £50 valuation which the hon. Gentleman proposed, but I have argely limited the scope of the Bill. I have excluded from it all purely grazing farms, and I have excluded from it all farms on which the tenant does not reside. Our object in this Bill, as the House will readily understand, is to create a class of occupying owners. To sell a holding to a man who does not live upon it is obviously not to cary out the object and intention of the Bill. and I have, therefore, introduced a clause which I hope will meet, to a great degree, the wishes of the hon. Member for Cork, excluding all purely grazing farms and all holdings upon which the tenant does not reside. The only other point, which is, perhaps, the most critical and difficult connected with this Bill, relates to the proposal pressed upon us, not from one quarter of the House alone, but from several quarters, with regard to the powers to be exercised over the operation of the Bill by the localities interested. It will be recollected that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) speaking for his Party, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) speaking for his Party, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) speaking for his Party, have all independently and powerfully advocated the view that it was not fair, that it was not just, and not in accordance with usage, to prevent localities from having any voice in determining whether or not their own funds should be mortgaged for purposes affecting these localities. I have given my best consideration to the propositions advanced from these quarters, and I have done my very best to balance the arguments pro and con. I must frankly admit to the House that the result of my consideration has not been to convince me that the original framework of the Bill was not the best that could be devised. But let the House remember how the matter stands. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who I think argued his point with greater power and at greater length than any other Member of the House, said, "You are taking funds which belong to the county as much as if they were raised in the county, but without the county's consent, and mortgaging them, and you are giving the benefit of that mortgage to persons not selected by the county and absolutely independent of the county." It is impossible not to feel the enormous force of that objection as it stands. I quite feel that the proposal is not in accordance with the ordinary practice of this House. I quite feel that if a Land Purchase Bill were promoted for England exactly on these lines it is probable, even almost certain, that the House would decide that the Local Authority should have something to say to the mortgaging of its resources. But what are the arguments on the other side? What are the arguments that induced me last Session to bring in a Bill with this provision, and that have again induced me to submit it to the consideration of the House? They are these: I do not think that you ought to consider this question of land purchase in Ireland as a local question at all. We are using British credit, as everybody knows, for the purpose of carrying out what we believe to be a vital reform in the land system of Ireland. We are not doing it primarily for the benefit of this or that county, but for the benefit of the Empire as a whole. And not only are we using British credit without the slightest risk, but we are actually asking Parliament to spend a considerable sum of money in carrying out the scheme, for the House will recollect that the whole cost of the machinery falls upon the Imperial and not upon the local exchequer. The justification of that, which I think is full and ample, is that this is largely an Imperial concern. Very well; you must therefore draw a profound distinction between a scheme of land purchase for the benefit of the several counties in Ireland and a scheme for the benefit of roads, asylums, waterworks, harbours, and other local purposes in that country. These latter are really and truly local purposes, and for these, if Parliament were to propose to mortgage local resources, local consent should first be asked. That is one wide distinction which I draw between the objects of this Bill and the ordinary local purposes subserved by the Local Authorities of the country. There is another consideration which must not be left out. It is a matter of notoriety that the land question has been largely used for political objects— that is to say, agrarian discontent, in many of its aspects of long standing in Ireland, has in recent years been used by politicians for political objects. I do not put it offensively. Nobody will, I think, deny that; and if it be admitted, and if we are bound to look at the realities of Irish life full in the face, is it not absurd to leave it entirely to local committees to determine whether they shall or shall not adopt a remedy intended to go to the root of the agrarian question? [Laughter from the Irish Benches] The argument may be a good or a bad one, but I venture to think that it is not a common one; and I am at a loss to understand what has so moved the hilarity of hon. Members opposite. I have briefly endeavoured to recapitulate the reasons on both sides, and, although I freely admit that the reasons against the Bill as it now stands are of a very strong character, I am still of opinion that on the whole the balance of argument lies against giving the control to the localities. That, however, is a question upon which the general opinion of the House must be consulted, and, of course, if there is a strong general feeling in the House against the proposal it will be impossible for us to keep the Bill exactly in its present shape. I have thought over the various methods by which, if a change is to be made, that change might be effected with the least detriment to the Bill as I should like to see it carried through the House. One proposal has been to make the scheme dependent on Local Authorities which are to be hereafter constituted. I think that scheme is impracticable. You cannot load this Bill with a Local Government Bill. You cannot introduce into the Bill a provision for constituting County Councils in Ireland. That is absurd. Very well; if you are going to wait until a Bill constituting County Councils in Ireland is passed, at the rate at which the House of Commons does its business, you will have to wait at least for some months. Now during these months, if this other Bill is passed, you cannot forbid purchase going on. If you put a clause into this Bill saying that County Councils, when they come into existence, are to possess a veto upon its operations, you would find yourselves in the absurd position of allowing a certain number of sales to be effected, after which the County Councils, when constituted, might step in and stop the whole operation. I do not think that that is practicable. If you are to give any local control at all you must give it by way of plébiscite. You must put the matter Ay or No to the ratepayers, and ask them to give, under the safeguard of the Ballot, their verdict, Ay or No. There are obvious advantages in that plan. It would be very undesirable for the County Councils when they come into existence to do more political work or to come more into contact with political controversies than is absolutely necessary. The ratepayers are perfectly competent to give a decision, and there ought to be no difficulty in their adopting the ordinary machinery of Parliamentary elections by means of the Ballot for determining this simple issue. Now, what is the issue that should be submitted? I would ask the House to recollect that the guarantee portion of the fund, which is the fund to be mortgaged for land purchase in Ireland, is divided into two portions—a cash portion and a contingent portion. The cash portion consists of certain subventions from Imperial sources for local purposes, which did not exist three years ago, and which are for the most part allocated to roads and other local purposes. I see no reason why there should, under any circumstances, be any interference by localities allowed with this cash portion of the guarantee. I think we may very well advance the money upon the cash portion of the Guarantee Fund without asking their consent. The contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund is applied to different purposes—such purposes as education, supporting pauper lunatics, and other similar purposes which are scheduled in the Bill of last Session. These purposes are such as the Government have been committed to, they come very near to the local life of the population, and they are purposes which it would be disastrous to stop under any circumstances; and if the kind of compromise which I am now with great diffidence suggesting be adopted, I would recommend the House, if they insist on doing anything, to have this plébiscite applied to the mortgage of the contingent portion, and the contingent portion only, of the Guarantee Fund of each county. I may perhaps have travelled beyond the ordinary province of a First Reading speech in making these suggestions, but I thought I ought to be frank with the House, and to explain why you will find nothing in the Bill of the nature of local control. I thought I was bound to tell the House why, after the best consideration I have been able to give to the subject, I still desire the Bill to remain in the shape in which it is, but I thought it might serve a useful purpose if I threw out in this tentative manner a suggestion which would, in my point of view, be the least pernicious that could be made with respect to giving to the localities any control over the operations of this Bill and the administration of this fund. I do not think that I need add anything more. I did not intend to make, and I hope I have not made, a long speech. I have only given the barest and most naked outline of the small and immaterial changes we have made in our programme. Those changes have been principally in machinery. They have been designed almost entirely to facilitate the passing through this House of a great measure of Land Purchase with due safeguards, and I hope that the House will without undue delay proceed to its consideration.

Motion made, and Question proposed That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide further funds for the Purchase of Land in Ireland and to make permanent the Land Commission, and to provide for the improvement of the condition of the Congested Districts in Ireland."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

(4.40.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I am aware that I am taking a somewhat unusual course in proposing that an important Bill of the Government should not be read a first time and submitted to the House, and I feel that it is necessary I should give my reasons for taking that step. I am entirely opposed to this Bill upon its merits, but that is not the main reason which has induced me to bring forward my Amendment, because I am aware that there would be other opportunities for entering a protest upon the Second Reading and on Committee. But I find that the measure is practically the same as that of last Session. The only difference between the two Bills that I can see is that the present one gives a further advantage to the landlords, and reduces to a certain extent the security which the English taxpayers who are to provide the money for carrying out the scheme will have. The right hon. Gentleman, in order to avert opposition, has said that the Bill practically represents merely his own personal opinions, and that he is ready to alter it in any way if there is a consensus of opinion in the House—that is to say, amongst the Liberal Unionists—against its present form. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the main fact remains that the Bill, just like the Bill of last Session, pledges English credit. The right hon. Gentleman has not blinked the fact. He has told us that the Bill will pledge British credit for the benefit of the Empire, but its real object is to buy out the English landlords in Ireland. I think it was stated last Session that the amount to be expended at once is £8,000,000, but that is only a very small portion of the liability we undertake. If the plan of the Government is accepted, it will have to be carried out on a much larger scale than was suggested last Session, and the State will become the possessor of all the land of Ireland that is purchased with British credit. Moreover, there will be two classes of tenants in Ireland, one paying a certain rent, and another paying a lesser rent, and from the very fact of paying a lesser rent, becoming the owner of the property at the end of 30 years. There is no such thing as a nominal risk when you advance money, and, with all respect for Irish Members, there is no such thing as nominal risk when you advance money to Irishmen. The right hon. Gentleman says the State has cover in funds which it has in its hands for the maintenance of lunatics, paupers, and so forth, but the right hon. Gentleman admitted that it would be a monstrous thing to withdraw those funds from the objects for which they were intended.


No, I did not.


Then I can only say that I am surprised the right hon. Gentleman did not say so, for it would be a monstrous thing, and I cannot imagine that for a moment he would dream of turning loose all the paupers and lunatics in Ireland because the Irish people did not pay something they were called upon to pay without having been asked their opinion on the matter. During the recess a letter was published by Mr. Gregory, who was formerly one of the most eminent lawyers on the Conservative side of the House, and who has had as much as any one to do with mortgages and the transference of land, and Mr. Gregory says that the security offered is one which no private person or public company would accept. There is no doubt that no private person or public company would accept it, because if they did it would not be necessary for Parliament to put its name on the back of the Bill; and, as Parliament does so, the money will be borrowed on our security, and nothing but our security. It is possible that land in Ireland may yet go down in value, as it has done during the last 15 years, and the purchasers may, therefore, be placed in the position of being unable to pay the money, even if they wished to do so. They are not consulted as to the amount, which is to be on the basis of the present rent, and that is regarded in many cases as being most unfair and unjust, so that the purchasers would have a legitimate right to refuse to pay. If they did refuse, what security could the State have? As the Duke of Wellington said, you cannot evict a whole nation. It is admitted on all hands that the Bill does pledge British credit, and before such an enormous liability is undertaken the constituencies ought to be consulted. I have always been under the impression that typical Conservatives hold, even more strongly than we do, that there is a limit to the power of any particular House of Commons or Parliament. When we have protested against the action of the House of Lords they have said that it is one of the advantages we possess in guarding against the House of Commons passing any important measure without consulting the constituencies. In such a case it is considered right for the House of Lords to provoke a dissolution by throwing the Bill out. From a Conservative standpoint this theory acts very well when the Liberals are in office, but when the Conservatives are in power the House of Lords for such a purpose is practically non-existent, and that renders it all the more necessary in this case to take action against the First Reading of the Bill. The case against this Bill is stronger still, because the Ministerialists and the Unionists opposed the Land Purchase Bill of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) on the ground that it involved Imperial credit. [Cries of "Oh!"] Oh, yes, I daresay that hon. Gentlemen opposite want to forget the fact, but it is abundantly proved by their election addresses, of which an interesting collection can be seen at the British Museum. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his Party, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) and his Party—whatever that Party may be, for I cannot find it—will turn to the addresses of hon. Members at the last General Election, they will find that the Ministerial majority were returned on the distinct understanding that they were opposed to an Imperial guarantee. They may have changed their opinions; but, having got into power on one opinion, they have no right to act upon another without consulting the constituencies. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will therefore see that I am logical in protesting against this Bill, which I regard as contrary to the wishes of the constituencies as expressed at the last General Election. Indeed, in my belief, it is an absolute fraud upon the constituencies; and for these reasons I beg to move the Amendment which I have placed upon the Paper.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is undesirable for this House to entertain any proposal to pledge the credit of the country for the purpose of land purchase in Ireland until the question has been brought before the constituencies, and their assent obtained, at a general election,"—(Mr. Labouchere,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(4.55.) SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

I rise with great pleasure to second the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend. I think the House is fully aware of the nature of this proposal for land purchase. We have had three great Land Purchase Bills before Parliament in a very short space of time. First there was the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and I suppose the reason why it met with any sort of acceptance on the Liberal side of the House was that it was connected with a great measure for Home Rule. That was the only ground taken up by the Liberal Party for supporting it, but I do not think that even that ground would induce them to support so extensive a measure of land purchase as that which is now submitted. What was the course taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite? Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has told the House that this Bill is virtually the same in spirit and scope and object as that which was brought forward last year, although, as he has stated, its details have been somewhat altered, and, as far as I have been able to make out, they are somewhat worse than they were last year. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord R. Churchill), speaking of the Bill of last Session, said— This Bill makes the State creditor to the Irish Treasury to the extent of some £40,000,000, an amount which it is contemplated may be doubled, trebled, or quadrupled as years go by. Then, again, my hon. Friend the Member for Elgin (Mr. Seymour Keay) wrote a pamphlet on that Bill of 1889 in which he said— The amount for which the British taxpayer is asked to become liable under this Act and the Ashbourne Acts, supposing that the means could be all raised at 2¾ per cent., is more than £162,000,000. Well, Sir, I ask can there be anything more serious than a measure the effect of which will be to pledge the credit of this country at some future time for so enormous a sum as this? I must say that I know of nothing which has been brought before this House for a long time that is of so much importance as the measure which the right hon. Gentleman has just asked leave to introduce. Last year the Government brought in a measure which proposed to devote the money of the taxpayer to the benefit of the brewers, whereas this year a measure is brought forward by Her Majesty's Government for the benefit of the Irish landlords. It is my belief that if we can only get the country to understand this question the English people will not consent to the Government extorting money from them for the purpose of advantaging the Irish landlords, any more than when the former proposal was made they would permit money to be taken out of their pockets for the benefit of the brewers. The right hon. Gentleman has said the Bill does pledge British credit, and added speaking quickly as if he were ashamed of the statement, "without any risk to the Exchequer." If there is no risk to the Exchequer why should the guarantee be put into the Bill at all? It is altogether absurd to say there is no risk to the public, and at the same time to put a provision into the Bill for the purpose of giving a guarantee. Why, I ask, is this Bill introduced? I should like to call the attention of the House to this point for a moment. It is surely not because the tenants are badly off in Ireland; because, when I read the speeches made by Unionists and Tories— and I will take for example the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell)—I find them stating over and over again that there are no tenants in the world who are in possession of such privileges as the Irish tenants. It certainly does not appear to me, on the statements of the supporters of the Bill, that any such measure is wanted by the people of Ireland. Not a bit of it; and, on the other hand, I find from the Unionist and Tory speeches that the tenants of Ireland are the most prosperous and contented of any tenantry in the world. I believe that the great majority of the Irish Representatives do not want the Bill. I do not know, however, what course they will take just now. It may not be quite so satisfactory as I might have been led to expect; but, certainly, from what took place last Session, I am inclined to think that the great majority of the Irish Representatives do not want this Land Bill. But I suppose that is the reason why it has been brought in. [Laughter.] Yes; I will tell you why. Last Session we had this Bill—or one like it—before us, and what did Lord Derby say on that occasion? Speaking on the 9th of April in the present year, Lord Derby said— I have no hesitation in expressing approval of the principle on which the Irish Land Purchase Bill is founded. The opposition offered to it by the Irish Nationalist Party is, to my mind, an argument in its favour. There can be no doubt that this measure, if passed, will enormously increase the indebtedness of this country, and for no good purpose that I can see; yet it is for this object that we have been summoned here in the depth of winter from our happy homes. I am afraid there is still on the part of some of my right hon. Friends on the Front Opposition Bench a sneaking kindness for Land Bills. We shall hear some of them, I hope, before the night is over, and I trust that we shall have from them some clear deliverances on the subject. But I cannot help being a little afraid. Why should they go on with these Land Bills? Why, Sir, they are sitting on that Bench mainly because they brought in a bad Irish Land Bill, and I can assure them that they will never sit on the Bench opposite through the support they may give to a very bad Bill now. My hon. Friend below me has pointed out that you are going to make the taxpayers of this country virtually the landlords of Ireland. Can anything be worse than that? I will give you the words of a very great statesman. They are words which were quoted in a Liberal Unionist publication, and spread widecast through the country. When I have read them, I will tell you the name of the great statesman who used them. He said— Working men of England and Scotland, you will have to evict the tenants, you will have to collect your rents at the point of the bayonet, and prepare to be a party to such contingencies. British credit, built up as it has been by past generations, is a precious reserve to be held for times of need and necessity, and I will not anticipate it for the benefit of Irish landlords. I hope to hear the same noble and patriotic words from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham again. Why should he or anyone be anxious to devote the money, the hard-earned money of the people of this country for any such purpose as this? Why are we to buy the Irish landlords out? Let me quote one sentence from the Manchester Guardian. It is a journal which does not agree with my view. It is in favour of some sort of land purchase, and here is one sentence which I read in an article arguing the case— The West cannot support landlords, and the landlords must be bought out on fair but not unreasonable terms. The land cannot support them there. They are carrying on a bankrupt business, and you are to buy them out on fair terms. Fair terms for a bankrupt business mean nothing at all. These landlords are very unfortunate men I admit. They have lived a long time by letting land. That is their business. The letting of land has become a bad business, an entirely bankrupt business in some parts of the country. They can make nothing out of it. And then they come to Parliament and say, "Because our business is bankrupt you must buy it up for us with the taxpayers' money." You might just as well buy up all post - horses because the posting business has gone wrong. Why should these landlords be treated on a different footing to any other traders? I would like to know that, and I would like to have an answer to-night. What is the use of a landlord? I am a landlord myself. I never found out what use I was. I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle what is the use of landlords? If he cannot tell me, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham can. He will tell me that he is a man "who toils not, neither does he spin." I have no animosity to Irish landlords. But I do say that the only people who are of any use in the country are those who produce wealth, not the people who put the money into their pocket. These Irish landlords, of all people, what have they done for us? Why, we are at this moment in all sorts of trouble and perplexities because we have been governing Ireland in the interests of the landlords. Instead of government of the people by the people for the people, it has been government of the landlords by the landlords for the landlords. Let me quote a paper highly valued on the other side—the Times. What did it say of the Irish landlords in the year 1852?— The name of an Irish landlord stinks in the nostrils of Christendom. What have the Irish landlords done since 1852? If they were so bad then, what great service have they done since 1852 that we should be called upon to give them such large sums of money? I know of nothing they have done except support Her Majesty's Government. Of course the Government say: "We will support those who support us. Whether they are sugar refiners, brewers, clergymen, or landlords, if they vote straight they shall have money given them." It is all right. It is the Tory system, of course, which puts the money of the many into the pockets of the few. Here, in an Autumn Session of an old Parliament, we are called upon by the very men who up hill and down dale opposed it at the General Election to pass this Bill. I say it is one of the most monstrous proceedings ever indulged in in the British House of Commons. You talk about the mandate of the country. I know I have no mandate except to oppose such nefarious schemes tooth and nail, and I will do so. I say, if there be a Liberal Party left in this House, it is its duty to oppose clause by clause, line by line, and letter by letter, a measure which is designed to squander national property in a reckless, rash, and, I should say, in a nefarious manner.

(5.15.) The House divided:—Ayes 268; Noes 117.—(Div. List, No. 1.)

Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill to provide for the purchase of Land in Ireland and to make permanent the Land Commission, and to provide for the improvement of the condition of the Congested Districts in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Attorney General for Ireland. Bill presented, and read first time. [Bill 111.]