§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,. "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ *MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I am sure that the House may be congratulated upon having at length arrived at the final stage of this great and important measure. Whether we approve of the Bill, or disapprove of it, it must be agreed that it deserves the epithet "important," and I think that is the answer to those who contend—as as it has been contended occasionally in this House, and more frequently out of doors by important Ministerial speakers—that an excessive amount of time has been spent upon it. I do not believe that the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) himself will say—fair allowance being made for that surplusage which must invariably arise during the progress of a Bill of this character—that a very excessive amount of time has been spent on a measure which goes to the very root of social life in Ireland, and which, besides that, establishes very delicate and important relations between Great Britain and Ireland for a period of no less than 49 or more years. I did not vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. It was my hope that the Chief Secretary, possibly upon pressure from some of his friends sitting on this side of the House, might see his way to accept alterations which I thought would be improvements, especially one I myself pressed upon the attention of the House. Well, the Bill has now taken its final shape, and we see all we have to expect from the Chief Secretary. I confess I do not think there is much to complain of in the attitude which the Chief Secretary has taken, considering that it is an article of his policy not to consult Irish Members as to Irish measures, and considering that—as we were surprised to find—he had not made up his mind as to some of the most important provisions of the measure when it was introduced by him. I do not intend to go further into any personal remarks on the attitude of the Chief Secretary. Everybody admits the dialectic skill with which he has defended the 445 positions he has taken up. But I would ask, has anything been done to meet one of the objections which we on this side of the House put forward through the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone)? I think we may say on the whole not one of them has been met. I am not for a moment going to re-argue the questions which have been so fully argued during the course of these Debates, but I think it will not be useless if I shortly recapitulate the objections which we took. The first was that the Probate Duty Grant was appropriated for a certain purpose without Irish consent. The second was that certain local resources were hypothecated without the consent or sanction or voice, in any shape or form, of any Irish Local Authority. The third was that the notion of withholding money voted by Parliament for education or other purposes was impracticable and essentially unjust. The fourth objection was that eviction was your only remedy in the case of non-payment of purchase annuities, and that this eviction on a largo scale was a remedy practically intolerable. The fifth objection was that the scheme of the Bill offered no safeguard against pressure being put by ill-disposed landlords on their tenants in the shape of arrears. The sixth was that outside of each purchase transaction all sorts of ulterior liabilities were left untouched, which would be disclosed after the purchase transaction was finished, and that all sorts of covenants might have been entered into which would be in effect destructive of the policy of the Bill. The seventh objection was that inside the purchase transaction, the security is the entire holding—the tenant's interest plus the landlord's interest—and as the Bill stands we are apparently again going to do what was done in the well-meant but most disastrous measure of 1848, the Encumbered Estates Act—namely, sell the tenant's improvements over his own head. The eighth objection, one of the most important of all, springs from the danger we have pointed out of creating by law so great an inequality, so immense a disparity, between two sections of tenants—on the one hand, those whose landlords are willing to sell to them, and on the other those whose landlords are not willing to sell— 446 so that you will have two classes of tenants, a privileged class, paying the reduced annuity, and those outside the Bill, who are paying a rent appreciably higher, and who, therefore, will be proportionately discontented. These are the main objections which we took, and of these not one has been met. I have always said that I gave my consent to land purchase conditionally upon three things—first, that it is part of a general political settlement, because I think that without that you cannot make these enormous advances; secondly, that you ought not on any account to bring the State into the direct relation of creditor to the great multitude of tenants; and, thirdly, with a view to legislation which is undoubtedly in front of us, I hold that no great advance or resort to Imperial credit on such a scale is wise or politic, or even permissible, unless you reserve to some public authority the perpetual advantage from the use of such credit. I wish now to make a few remarks on the Bill as it now stands, and as it will stand, apart from these different objections. I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman has taken the trouble to enumerate to himself the extraordinary multiplicity and complexity of accounts which will exist under this Bill. I think that if the Chief Secretary were to go to any great firm of accountants in the City, and ask them to frame a scheme for these accounts, telling them the conditions under which the accounts have to be kept, they would be filled with nothing short of absolute despair. You will have the transfer and re-transfer of all sorts of sums in connection with the Guarantee Fund; it will be almost impossible to earmark the different fractions of payments to this fund. Then there is the marshalling of assets in the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund, the tracing and earmarking of an immense number of fractional payments, and elaborate calculations made, not all at once, but from time to time, of how much is payable for the construction of labourers' cottages. Then there are the accounts with the Consolidated Fund. Though the record of grants will be easy, the repayment of these grants will be made by small sums, which will make the accounts very complicated. As to the accounts with tenants, there will be a vast number of 447 these if the right hon. Gentleman's expectations are fulfilled. There will be some 200,000 accounts, each of which will be complicated with the Insurance Fund for the first five years; and then there will be another variation in payment at the end of 18 years. This difficulty has not received much consideration in the Bill, and great administrative confusion is the almost inevitable result. The object of this Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, is to restore social order in Ireland. This Bill is a substitute for the policy with which we were connected in 1886, and by which there was to be a political and agrarian settlement at the same time. The right hon. Gentleman professes that the Bill is to be a settlement of the land question, and therefore indirectly the principal solution of all Irish problems. But there is one question I must ask, which goes to the root of the contention. What reason is there for thinking that purchase will go on any more rapidly under this Bill than under the Ashbourne Acts? We know how rapidly or how little rapidly purchase proceeds under those Acts. This year the amount sanctioned was just over £1,000,000, and not more than £1,500,000 has ever been sanctioned in one year. Why should this Bill accelerate purchase? To my mind there are many reasons for believing that instead of accelerating the process of purchase, this Bill will diminish its rapidity. The checks and devices of the Bill will be so many impediments in the way of purchase. There is the provision, to which I moved an Amendment in Committee, for providing a Tenants' Insurance Fund, which illustrates the manner in which the Bill will operate as an impediment. By this provision every buyer, whatever be the rate of purchase he agrees to pay, will for five years have to pay as though he bought at 20 years' purchase. See the effects in the districts where it is most important, from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, that the peasants should be converted into owners. Take a case where the rent is 610 and the price agreed upon is 15 years' purchase. There will be here a normal annuity of £6; but under this provision for five years the annuity will be £8. To an Irish tenant five years is an eternity, and I cannot conceive of a better device for 448 checkmating the policy of purchase than this clause. You say "Oh, he will get the ownership." There is a good deal of misconception as to the desire of the tenants for ownership. They have already had an interest hardly second to that of ownership ever since the Act of 1881, and, therefore, this consideration will not have much weight with their minds. There is another aspect of this clause which is still more important in showing how it operates to retard purchase. What happens now constantly is a transaction of this kind? The average price agreed upon between a landlord and tenant for a £50 holding is a 17 years' purchase, making a normal annuity of £34. The Land Commissioners have frequently said that there is not security for £34, but that they would not object to advancing the equivalent of a normal annuity of £28—that is, £700. The landlord has then come to terms on that basis, and has taken £700 instead of £850. Now, under this Bill, however willing and anxious the landlord may be to sell at the reduced sum, it will be of no use. If the Land Commissioners find that £34 is a normal annuity which the holding cannot bear, they will find £40 much more so; and for five years, in the case I have supposed, the Land Commissioners will not be able to take less than £40. I cannot see any answer to this contention, and I should be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether he knows of an answer. If this be so, all these numerous cases will be excluded from purchase, and the landlord will now say that this is patch-working his estate in the worst sense of that process, by leaving him with all the small and bad holdings on his hands, and he will not sell at all. Then I come to the allocation clause, dividing the holdings above and below £50 valuation. I have the misfortune on this subject not to be entirely in accord with my hon. and right hon. Friends near me. When the right hon. Gentleman first made this proposal, I said that I feared it would certainly impair his own policy, because it would indispose landlords to patchwork their estates. Gentlemen from Ireland, in both camps, nearly all disapproved of this limitation. The hon. Member for West Belfast said that the effect of this difference between 449 the holdings above £50 and below £50 would be to divide the peasantry of Ireland into two opposite camps, having different objects and interests. Then from the other camp of the Irish Party the argument is urged that it is not worth while for the sake of the tenants so few in number as those above the £50 line to draw this division. I agree with Irish Members that the effect will be bad; but whether in the way anticipated or not, whatever other effect it will have, it will tend to check sales. There is only one other consideration that I desire to bring before the House. We are within a measurable distance of a General Election. At that General Election, if my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham will allow me to say so, the issue of Home Rule will undoubtedly be raised——
§ MR. J. MORLEY
My right hon. Friend knew it, and knows it, well enough; therefore I do not see why he should feel any now emotion. Undoubtedly that issue—whether Ireland is to be intrusted with a large measure of self-government or not—will be raised. Whether right hon. Gentlemen opposite will carry the country with them, or whether we shall carry the country with us, what will be the effect? What will be the effect of a verdict for or against Home Rule? What will be the effect upon the policy of the right hon. Gentleman and upon this Bill? Supposing that Gentleman opposite win the day and that right hon. Gentlemen opposite remain where they are for another five or six years; it requires very little knowledge of Ireland to be perfectly confident that the effect of the verdict—the effect of the Chief Secretary remaining in Dublin Castle—a prospect that he will naturally look to with exultation—the effect of right hon. Gentlemen opposite remaining in power in Ireland will be that landlords will think that they have a perpetual Coercion Act behind them at a pinch, and so they will raise their terms, and many of them will be less inclined to sell, most of all those whom it is most desirable to get rid of—that is, the very heavily encumbered landlords. On that point I should like to know why the right hon. Gentleman did not insert the clause 450 which was in his Land Purchase Bill for dealing with encumbered estates. I am astonished that clause did not find its way into this Bill out of the other. Well, the effect of a verdict in favour of hon. Gentlemen opposite would be to check the process of land purchase rather than to encourage it. But take the other verdict. I do not want to predict, and I will only make this remark, that I should not be surprised if one effect of such a verdict would be not to increase the willingness of the tenants to buy, but the exact contrary. On the one hand, then, the verdict will indispose landlords to sell, while, on the other hand, it may possibly indispose tenants to buy. I do not see my way to supporting the Bill, for I do not see that anything can come of it, except an increase of discontent, and a mass of administrative confusion within the next four or five years which will load with embarrassment the Irish Government of that day.
§ (7.36.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am afraid I am not quite so much at one with my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle on the subject of land purchase by means of Imperial credit as on many other subjects. As I gather, my right hon. Friend is in favour of the general principle of land purchase by means of Imperial credit, but he objects to the mode in which by the Bill the principle is carried out. My right hon. Friend stated at first eight, important objections to the Bill, and then went on to state a great many more. I counted 16, and then gave it up. I can perfectly understand that my right hon. Friend will not support the Bill. It seems to me that everyone of those objections is sufficiently grave and important to induce my right hon. Friend to do his best, by voting against the Third Reading, to prevent the Government from carrying out even a sound principle in so pernicious a way. I have put down a notice to move that the Bill be read this day three months, to give hon. Members who are opposed to the measure an opportunity of registering a final protest against it. What is this Bill? It is really to place in the hands of the Executive a sum of £30,000,000 to buy a number of estates that cannot find any purchaser, and a great many of which 451 have no economic value whatever. Having expended this large sum in cash they are then to sell these estates, but they buy on cash terms and sell on credit terms, and they sell on exceedingly long credit, 49 years, during which the present occupier to whom the sale is made will have to pay 4 per cent. on the purchase price, 2¾ going to repayment, ¼ per cent. in minor ways, and 1 per cent. to the Sinking Fund. Then, not content with risking these £30,000,000 once, the Government propose to re-lend the money as it comes in. Now, it has never been explained to the House on what ground this Bill for this system of purchase is passed. We have heard it stated that there is an objection to dual ownership in Ireland, but with this system the tenant has fixity of tenure and fair rent; and you propose to convert the man in this fortunate position into a freeholder at the end of 49 years. Meantime you do not abolish that system of dual ownership which you condemn; you substitute a dual ownership between the State of Great Britain and the tenant for that between the landlord and the tenant with fixity of tenure and fair rent. At the end of 49 years the tenant becomes owner; but will you then put an end to dual owner-ship? The man to whom you have sold the land may let it, and in all probability will, or he may sell it, and thus, having risked many millions of the Exchequer, you revert to the state of things now existing. I cannot conceive anything more ridiculous. We are not loved in Ireland; landlords are not loved in Ireland; and you think that by uniting the positions of English Government and Irish landlord you will have a better position. The fact is, we shall be disliked more than ever. There is a vague general notion that this scheme of purchase will do away with all agrarian difficulties, but to me it seems perfectly obvious that it will increase the agrarian difficulties in Ireland. I could understand the argument if you were going to buy out every landlord in Ireland. But when it is said that the main difference between this Bill and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian is £100,000,000, there comes from hon. Members behind me the expression of the conviction that you will have to buy out every Irish landlord. 452 But until that view is carried out, do you imagine that you will remove agrarian difficulties by creating two classes of tenants; the one a privileged class, paying a lower rent, with the prospect of becoming owners of their farms at the end of 49 years, and the other class paying a higher rent with no such prospect in view? If this Bill does satisfy a number of tenants whom it will benefit, it will cause anger, irritation, and disaffection among the large majority of tenant farmers. Now, from the point of view of the English taxpayer, is this money safe? The value of land has gone down in the last 20 years, and may go lower in the next 20 years, and if it does you cannot exact the rent you now deem fair. If the occupier can show that paying such rent he cannot live and thrive, then according to the principle laid down on this side of the House, you will be bound to reduce that rent, and so it is evident the whole calculation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be upset. The idea of a general strike against repayments is scouted I know, but it will be an exceedingly tempting thing, for we know perfectly well you could not evict all these tenants. You have their good-will only to secure repayment; they know you could not evict them, and whether that is a safe, solid, and valid security from a business point of view I very much doubt. The possibility of a general strike, the possibility of not getting the 4 per cent., is admitted in the Bill itself, for a cover to meet that contingency is provided. But what is that cover? It is an insult to our understanding. We may turn loose the lunatics, we may refuse the blessings of education, we may starve the schoolmasters, and we may adopt other means of punishment if tenants refuse to pay their debts. But we could do nothing of the kind. It is like the threat of an African Chief who enforces obedience by telling his followers he will let loose among them wild animals he keeps encaged. We certainly are not going to turn loose lunatics, starve paupers, and scrimp the salaries of under-paid village schoolmasters. It is a rotten security for our money, and I defy you to get from any financial house in the City a loan on any such security, setting Imperial credit aside. But even 453 admitting, for the sake of argument, that this is the very best Bill that could be framed, and that the very best thing we could do for Ireland is to introduce this system of purchase of estates on State credit, I maintain that this Parliament has no right to pass this Bill in view of what occurred at the last General Election. At that time the question was clearly submitted to the electors. With the exception of my right hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-upon-Tyne and West Birmingham, I do not recollect a single Member on either side of the House who did not declare himself opposed to land purchase in Ireland.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The right hon. Gentleman opposite says he never made such a declaration. No; but the Ministry, of which the right hon. Gentleman is a Member, were collectively bound even more than their followers, to oppose the principle of land purchase. Why are not my right hon. Friends sitting on the other side of the House? Because the Conservative Party, as a Party, declared themselves strongly against land purchase in Ireland, and urged the electors to vote against Liberals because it was humanly possible that, if the latter had a majority, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian might again bring in what I take the liberty to call his pernicious Land Bill. I make no secret of my opinion. I opposed that Bill then as I oppose this Bill now. The electors, whether Liberals or Conservatives, with one voice agreed that they would not have any species of land purchase through the use of Imperial credit. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have since changed their minds, and they have a right to do so.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
They have changed their policy, and I thought their policy represented their minds. I am justified in saying they have changed their policy.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Did not the right hon. Gentleman with other eminent Members of his Party career about the country denouncing the Bill?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman got into office if he alone among his Party was in favour of land purchase. The right hon. Gentleman says he did not oppose the Bill; he was perhaps too wary for that, and wanted to see how the cat would jump in the new Parliament. But I give credit at all events to the hon. Gentlemen sitting behind him who did oppose land purchase, and I want to know why they have changed their policy at the present time. The pledges of Members on this side were to oppose land purchase, and consequently we are fulfilling our duty in voting against this Bill. Ministers and Members on the other side may be careless of their pledges; we never give pledges without intending to carry them out. It is really very curious what are the claims of the right hon. Gentleman to be a Minister of the Conservative Party. During the time the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was before the country, hon. Gentlemen opposite at meetings throughout the country declared that the safety of Ireland lay in the presence of the landlord class, but now they propose to sweep away this safeguard, substituting one great alien landlord—the English Government. We have done our best to resist the raids of the Government on the property of the taxpayers. In some cases we have succeeded. In regard to the Sugar Duties we succeeded, against the Van and Wheel Tax proposal we succeeded, against the proposed indemnity to publicans we succeeded. I am sorry to say that we have failed in the present instance, but we have a conscientious feeling that we have done our duty. We prefer failure like this to success like that. In conclusion, I will only say that I thank Heaven that the duration of Parliament is at least limited to seven years, as I believe that if the Government were to remain in power for a sufficiently long time every farthing belonging to the masses would go into the pockets of the classes. I move that the Bill be read a third time this day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ (7.59.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion, as I am thoroughly opposed to the principle of the Bill. I took no part in the discussion of matters of detail. I had no desire to improve the Bill. I was content to let it pass in as bad a form as framed, because there would be the more necessity for the incoming Liberal Government to amend it. I find encouragement in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, who opposes the Bill on the principle that it is wrong to take the public money and devote it to the benefit of one particular class. He stated that if the Government had proposed to use the public money for the benefit of the public as a whole, if by the Bill a portion of the rent—I suppose he means the economic rent—were retained for the community, then he might have viewed the Bill favourably. This Bill changes the basis of the present tenure, which is that those who hold the land do, or ought to do, service for it. During the Commonwealth, Acts imposing a Land Tax on the then holders of the land were passed. That tax was abolished at the Restoration, and the landlords have since retained possession of the land without performing the duties they ought to perform. At present the landlords in England, Scotland, and Wales pay a land tax, but the Irish landlords are exempted from the payment of such a tax, so that when the new owners take over the land they will not have to pay Land Tax, and therefore they will be required to give a less price for the land. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle referred to what is sometimes called the economic rent—that is, the price paid for superior soil and the more desirable sites. It is quite as unjust to give such values to the tenants as it is for the landlord to retain them. I am not prepared to support any measure which will take a monopoly from one class and hand it over to another class. It is impossible, in consequence of the way in which the Bill is drafted, to secure to the community as a whole the benefit of the economic rent 456 and the minerals. I think Ireland has; more mineral wealth than it is generally supposed to have. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has spent a great-deal of money in trying to develop the mineral resources of Ireland, and I know that in many cases iron is worth working at the present time. I do not think the tenants ought to have a right to the minerals under the ground; all they can ask for is some right to the soil. I am opposed to the creation of a new class of owners as proposed by this Bill In course of time land for which they paid 15s. an acre they will re-let at £5 an acre; there will be rack-renting, which cannot be corrected by the present system of fair-rent valuation; and it will be realised that the Irish agrarian question has not been solved. I protest against the creation of a new privileged class. The tenure in Ireland is one of the best in the world if it is properly carried out, and there is no need to" change it; but the fixing of fair rents, has been frustrated by tenants being, improperly forced to pay rent for their own improvements, and that has led to the continuance of agitation. I do not want to see private property go altogether; I want to see it placed on a basis on which it can be defended. Such a basis is that those who create wealth shall get it, and that all the present indirect methods of robbing them of it shall cease. On these grounds I support the Motion that the Bill be read a third time this day three months. (8.15.)
§ *(8.45.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I wish to say a few words in opposition to the Third Reading of this Bill, because I strongly object to it altogether. One of my chief reasons for objecting to it is that nearly all the Members of this House were pledged at the last General Election, against the passing of a Land Purchase Bill; and even if the Bill were a good one, I should think that pledge ought to be respected. I cannot give my assent, to such a measure until the people of this country, whose money and credit are to be pledged, have had an opportunity at a General Election of expressing theirs opinions on it. Although we have been told that this Bill is introduced for the purpose of benefitting the tenants, I do not think that assertion has been proved, because if it were intended simply to benefit the tenants and get them out of 457 their difficulties, I do not think it would have been found necessary to make proposals by which those tenants will be sacrificed. As far as I can understand it, the Bill has been really introduced by the Government solely for the purpose of benefitting the landlords. The Government see plainly enough that within a few months or years Home Rule, or local control, must be granted to the Irish people, and they want to com pensate their Irish friends, and give them the opportunity to skedaddle out of the country before the Irish people are allowed to have the management of their own affairs. This, in my opinion, is the true reason for the introduction of this Bill. There may, however, be another reason, which I equally object to, namely, that it is thought advisable to bribe the tenants into giving up their demand for Home Rule. It is a well-known historical fact that it has been a common practice for the British Government, when they have found all other means fail, either to bribe individuals, or to make public grants to Ireland, with a view of thus getting over their difficulties. It may be that this is the idea which now animates Her Majesty's Government. At any rate, it looks like it, as may have been noticed from the remark made by the Chief Secretary the other evening when he spoke of this measure as one of charity to the Irish people, and, therefore, to some extent, a kind of bribe. I should have been glad if the Irish Representatives had stood out against this measure, and stood out against this bribe like the Corporation of London, who refused to have funds granted to them because they preferred to retain the control of their own affairs. Indeed, in distant times the Corporation of London used to take the opposite course, for they are said to have bribed both Governments and Monarchs for the purpose of retaining their own system of local control. I should have been glad, therefore, if the Irish Members and the Irish people had done what the Corporation of London have done, and said, "We refuse to be bribed by British money, because we prefer to have an independent control of our own affairs. When we have got that we will borrow money, if necessary, and deal with it in a business-like and public-spirited manner." I should like to ask whether a Tory Government would do anything willingly 458 for the tenants of Ireland—a Tory Government that has always assisted the landlords as against the tenants. Landlordism is written all over the Bill. I do not think the Tories of this day are likely to do anything for the tenants of Ireland, save they hope to get something out of it. All the alterations made in this Bill have been in favour of the landlord and against the tenant. Some few matters may have been conceded, but mainly the benefit has been for the landlord, and the landlord only. In fact, the Bill now is so little like what it was when introduced that it would appear that it had been simply thrown together anyhow in the belief and expectation that the House would take care of the interests of the landlords. During the last three years Irish tenants have been called criminal conspirators; thousands have been put in prison; some have been murdered by the policy of the Government. Is it not, therefore, all the more extraordinary that this Bill should be introduced for the benefit of the tenants by the present Government—that they should especially offer plenty of land and cheap money to these so-called conspirators? Why should they offer these advantages to Irishmen, and exclude Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Welshmen? One bad lesson the Government has endeavoured to inculcate, that the way to get these benefits is by what they call criminal agitation. What I want is that all classes in the United' Kingdom should be treated alike, and that if these advantages are to be conferred there should be no distinction between one part and another of the United Kingdom, but that the whole country should in a business spirit be treated on terms of equality. It is well-known that the guarantees under the Bill are absolutely worthless if the land is not of the value given for it.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were-not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ *MR. MORTON
I consider that these guarantees are worthless, so far as we-shall be able to make any use of them. They consist of the salaries of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, of the expenses of the officers of public health, and of the maintenances of pauper lunatics and District Asylums in Ireland. Now, all these funds are Imperial, and, 459 therefore, it amounts to this, that we are guaranteeing ourselves. It would be absurd to suppose we could take any of these sums away from the Irish people; we could not possibly interfere with any of the good objects to which they are applied on the ground that some of the purchasers under this Irish Land Bill have made default in their payments. Then, again, why should the benefits of this Bill be confined to agriculturists? There are many other people in Ireland who have an equal right to borrow money at a cheap rate by using Imperial credit. Further than that, I think that the advancing of the money ought not to be under the management of the Imperial Government. I think the Municipal Authorities ought to have the control of the matter, and that there ought to be some kind of Home Rule. Until you have created some sort of Local Authority in Ireland to deal with the matter, I say the great danger and difficulty we have to apprehend is, that too much money will be given for the land, with the result that, after a few years, the tenant will say—and honestly so—that he cannot keep up his payments, and then the liability will fall on the British taxpayer. Under this Bill it is not compulsory on the landlords to sell, and so they will only see the bad land, from which they find it impossible to get their rents. Then they will use the power of the law to compel the poor tenants to give a great deal more money for the land than it is worth, knowing that even if they lose the landlord's deposit they will be better off than they are at the present moment. Therefore, instead of an Imperial Authority representing the Irish landlords, we ought to have a Local Authority representing the people to take care that in these dealings with public money the interests of the tenant and of the State shall be properly safeguarded. I do not think that the Government have acted fairly in this matter. They have pretended to bring in the Bill in the interests of the Irish tenant, but they have taken no trouble to protect him against having to pay more than the money is worth. At the ame time, they have taken the control over the matter out of the hands of Parliament by placing the salaries of the Commissioners on the Consolidated Fund. I know that their tendency 460 during the last few years has been to follow the policy of putting all kinds of expenditure on the public funds; but if they carry it too far, it may become dangerous, and the people may see no remedy but a revolution. I object to the proposal to allow the repayments to be re-lent without Parliament being consulted on the subject; and I protest against the evident intention of the Government to entrust the work to Commissioners who will use all their influence to pay the landlords a higher price than, in my opinion, the land is worth. We have heard of jury-packing in Ireland; it seems we are now to have packed Commissioners, and in due time I suppose we shall get packed judgeships. I wish that the Representatives of the Irish people in this House had refused this bribe of British money, and declined to have had anything to do with it until Home Rule had been conceded. I wish that even now they would take up that position, and so preserve their independence. But at present the landlords and the landlord friends of the Government have got it all their own way. Yet I am not very despondent. I know there is a good time coming, that before many months we shall have a General Election. Then we shall hear what this country has to say upon the matter, and I believe it will not be too late for us to change this bad and unfortunate policy of the Tory Government.
§ (9.15.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for Peterborough that there is a good time coming; but I very much fear the Irish tenants will have to wait a long time for it, unless they accept this Bill. We have been invited by the hon. Member to spurn this bribe as, so he told us, the Corporation of London did. I do not know much about the action of the City Corporation; but this I do know: that the City Companies received as bribes large grants of land in Ireland in order to induce them to take an interest in the settlement of Ulster, and they have drawn the rents ever since. If they will only refund what they have drawn during the past six years we shall be very grateful. Now we absolutely and totally deny that what we are getting under this Bill is of the nature of charity. In the first place, we believe that not one penny will fall on the British taxpayer. 461 The hon. Member for Peterborough has made light of the guarantees, and he said it would be impossible to stop the schools working. But there is about £500,000 sterling now paid to the Poor Law Authorities which could be stopped at once without affecting the schools, and as 150 of the 160 Unions in Ireland are perfectly solvent, that stoppage would mean the imposition of an extra sixpenny or shilling rate. We are only getting that which we claim as a right. Part of the National Debt has been raised on Irish credit, Irish finance. Irish finance represents about one - eighth of the whole Imperial Revenue; and as the £800,000,000 or £900,000,000 have been borrowed in the past for purposes of Imperial defence, it follows that one-eighth has been raised on Irish credit. Ireland had no great national purpose to be served by providing funds for the War of Independence in America, the war against Napoleon, or even the Crimean War; yet you pledged her credit as you pledged the credit of the whole Empire. You have also made a lavish use of her credit for purposes of Imperial defence, in which Ireland has but a secondary interest, for protecting your immense trade, and for defending your colonies; and as you have done that, surely it is only fair you should enable us, by lending us your credit, to borrow money for land purchase at a lower rate of interest than we could otherwise obtain it at. It will be advantageous to you, for it will reduce the injustice now prevailing in Ireland, and save you a large sum in administrative expenses. The hon. Member for Peterborough says that the tenants of Ireland do not care for this Bill, and that it is not in their interests. I tell him he is mistaken, and if he went to any part of the country he would find they would be very sore if they had not the option of purchasing under the Act. I venture to say that if this Bill is not passed in a year or so the funds provided under the Ashbourne Acts will be exhausted, and the process of land purchase stopped, perhaps, for years. We know that the late John Bright, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian have supported the principle of land purchase. The right hon. Gentleman brought in a Bill which involved an expenditure of £150,000,000.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
A Bill ostensibly to devote £150,000,000 to the operation, and I am sorry to notice that he has to some extent lately withdrawn from the position he then took up. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Cork has supported the Bill from the beginning. I myself adopted a neutral attitude towards it at first; but when I heard the hon. Member for Northampton and his friends declare that not a penny of English money should be pledged for land purchase in Ireland, my opinion changed. I admit the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian did not go quite as far as that; he said he must first have a mandate from the constituencies. Although we are anxious for Home Rule, I must say I have not been convinced of its immediate proximity by the speech of the hon. Member for Peterborough. He referred to it as local control, and that certainly would not satisfy the Irish people, although the Members of the Irish Party in this House are by all their traditions and proclivities inclined towards the Liberal Party. I think that any independent Irish Party would be very foolish if it rejected a boon like this offered in the Bill merely because it comes from the Conservative Party. Therefore, I say the hon. Member for the City of Cork has shown great wisdom by declaring from the outset in favour of this Bill. The hon. Member for Elgin has proposed certain Amendments in the interests of the British taxpayer. No doubt he has honestly believed he is right. I think, however, he has been utterly mistaken, and we were bound to oppose his proposals as they were prejudicial to the interests of Ireland. I agree that other parts of the United Kingdom have claims for benefits similar to those conferred in this Bill. I would willingly support a Bill giving the crofters of Scotland and the labourers of England similar advantages; but we should not be justified in postponing the Irish Bill until that had been done.
§ *(9.28.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
In the few remarks I propose to address to the House on this Bill, I do not intend to follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle in going into details of the measure; my observations 463 will relate rather to the principle of the Bill. I look upon it as an honest effort on the part of Her Majesty's Government to try and meet a grave and difficult Irish question. At the same time, I have taken no part in dealing with it in Committee, because I have felt that whatever was done there my objection with regard to principle could hardly be removed. Let the House consider for a moment what is the country, and what are the evils, to which this legislative remedy is to be applied. It is an agricultural country. It contains some 660,000 holdings. Of these 218,000 are under £4, 415,000 are under £10, and 492,845 under £15, and 538,392 under £20. That is to say, one-third of the holdings are under £4, two-thirds under £10, and five-sixths under £20. Now, it is to these small holdings mainly that you propose to apply English credit. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) in his view on this point. I hold that English credit means English money, and you have no right to give the credit unless you are prepared to find the money. That is one of the first things taught in trade, and I hope it is an axiom that the House will never forget—that credit means money. Let us look at the state of Ireland. According to a Return published the other day, we find that in 1841 the population numbered 8,196,527. According to the Census just completed, it is only 4,706,162, or a decrease in half a century of 3,490,365. In the last 20 years the population has decreased by 706,251. Again, while the paupers of England have decreased in number since 1875, by 28,042, and in Scotland by 10,673, the population of England has risen by 5,362,264 and of Scotland by 605,803. In Ireland the number of paupers has increased by 26,781, and the population has fallen by 572,467. Take the case of the cereal crops. Since 1875 the acreage devoted to them has been reduced by 401,791 acres; the acreage of green crops has also fallen by 155,690 acres, while the number of cattle and sheep has also fallen off considerably. It is to remedy this condition of things that this Bill has been brought in. In the meantime, we are told by one of the greatest authorities on Irish land who gave evidence before Lord Cowper's Commission, that one-half of Ireland at 464 least is mortgaged at 4½ per cent. What measures have the Government introduced to deal with this discreditable and discouraging state of things? I find, on looking to the Returns, that there have been grants of potatoes and seed, grants for fisheries and light railways and relief works, but, with the exception of the light railways, every relief given has been of a temporary character. Now, the present measure is a great effort to put these things straight. I know there is a consensus of opinion on both sides of the House that some great advantage is to be obtained by turning the Irish peasant proprietor into a peasant freeholder. But I am not convinced on that point in the slightest degree. I say that we are only increasing the number of probable Irish landlords, and it seems to me that this scheme is framed in violation of all the-rules of political economy, for it involves the use of State credit to perform an-operation which, if it is commercially successful, would have been carried out on its own merits. The experience of the last few years has proved that it is dangerous for the State to interfere with transactions which should be left to ordinary dealings of mankind. We have interfered in the past no doubt; the question is, are we to go on interfering, and in a large degree? Should we not rather hold our hands and try some other remedy? There is nothing immoral in the ordinary relations between landlord and tenant. It is just the reverse. Take the case of house, or mining, or any other property. It is to the advantage of the tenant that the landlord should find capital for him at a lower rate of interest than he can employ his own capital at in the occupation he-carries on within the hired premises. In England and Scotland the landlord is practically finding capital for the tenant at 2½ per cent. or 3 per cent., while the tenant is employing his own capital at various rates, according to his skill in the markets with which he has to deal. If you attempt to destroy the relations which have been found by the long experience of mankind to be beneficial, then I say there is a primâ facie case against your Bill. I shall be told, and rightly so, that in Ireland these-relations are of a most complicated character. I think they have existed 465 under laws, under circumstances, and undercustoms which have been decidedly-detrimental to the best interests of the State. Both parties, it seems to me—my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian equally with the present Government—have endeavoured to get out of the Irish land difficulty without fully considering the further difficulties which their new departure may involve. I hold in my hand a long list of the right hon. and hon. Members who were at one time exactly of this opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Grimsby in 1886 said—He was anxious to do justice to Ireland, and he was also anxious for many legislative reforms which were required in this country, but he did not believe that either the one or the other would be promoted by the Bills introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and in consequence of the rejection of which Parliament had been prematurely dissolved.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said—I object to these proposals because they will lay an unprecedented liability on the British taxpayer, not for the benefit of the Irish tenants, but in order to purchase the compliance of the landlords. I trust you will be unwilling that an Act of separation should be procured by the most gigantic bribe ever offered to the opponents of any legislation.Similar views were expressed by the hon. Members for the Appleby Division, for the Penrith Division, for Chester, Durham, and Sleaford. They were all opposed to the granting of English credit and English money for the purpose of making an arrangement between the landlords and tenants of Ireland. What would be the effect if similar principles to those embodied in this Bill were applied to labour disputes in this country? There was a strike some months ago in some of the collieries in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Was the proper remedy for the Government to find money to enable the workmen to purchase the collieries, and to take security over the collieries for the purchase money? Ought the Government in the recent omnibus strike in London to have enabled the men to buy up all the vehicles by an advance of cash? If not, then why, because an Irish tenant is dissatisfied with the rent he has to pay, should English money be found to enable him to purchase his holding? Another grave argument against this Bill is that it will aggravate 466 the evil of non-residence. Ireland is suffering materially from non-resident landlords, and yet, by every transaction under this Bill, you ensure that for at least 40 years the money now paid as rent, and much of it spent in Ireland among the tenantry, will then be sent over to this country as interest and redemption of purchase. I see that there is in the papers a proposal of the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland dealing with his Down tenantry. I presume it is in the interests of the tenantry that his Lordship should spend a portion of his time among them, yet they must not expect that if he sells his estate. I know what a loss it would be in my own county if he disposed of his Durham estates, and if the money he received from them were all spent elsewhere, whilst the tenants had to use their capital at 2½ per cent. in the purchase. Again, this Act is permissive; you have no security that those who ought to sell will sell. In my humble opinion, those who ought not to sell are the very parties who will sell. If you look at the list of noblemen who have taken money under the Ashbourne Act, you will find they have been some of the very best landlords in Ireland. The worst continue sticking to their estates, and are likely to do so. I do not see how it is possible to work any scheme successfully which leaves tenants farming under exactly the same conditions paying different rents. Side by side you will have two men: one paying a fair rent, the other paying an annuity less by 20 per cent. than that fair rent, and with the prospect of owning the farm in 40 years' time. It seems to me that this must breed discontent. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he does not intend that more than a certain amount of money shall be advanced, but the very Bill itself implies that more will have to be found or you will promote discontent by adding to the disparity which will be created under the Bill. It seems to me, too, you will do enormous damage to the smaller class of landlords. In too many cases their estates are mortgaged up to the hilt, and if you compel them to sell you reduce them to penury. The more I have talked with Irish landlords on the subject the more dissatisfaction with this Bill have I found to exist. I am afraid that in bad seasons a great number of the small tenants will come to 467 grief. One-third of them, as I have already stated, are under £4; in bad times in the past they have not been able to pay their way, nor will they be able to do so in the future. They will have to ask for credit, and you must give it them or drive them into the hands of the money-lender. There is nothing in your Bill to prevent the aggregation after 40 years of the small holdings which will be bought under this scheme, so that in the end you may have a worse state of things than now exists. I may be asked, and fairly so, if I would leave all the small tenants alone. My answer is, that we have not done so in the past, and the point is upon what principle should we proceed? John Stuart Mill, in his Principles of Political Economy, says—Rent paid by a capitalist who farms for a profit and not for bread may safely be abandoned to competition. Rent paid by labourers cannot, unless the labourers were in a state of civilisation and improvement which labourers have nowhere yet reached and cannot easily reach under such a tenure, peasant rents ought never to be arbitrary, never at the discretion of the landlord either by custom or law. It is imperatively necessary that they should be fixed, and when no mutually advantageous custom such as the Metayer system of Tuscany has established itself, reason and experience recommend that they should be fixed by authority.You adopted that principle in 1881, by authoritatively fixing fair rents for 15 years, but you have not carried it far enough. You have refused to act on the recommendation of the Cowper Commission, that rents should be revised more frequently. I never could see why they should wait even five years for revision; you might allow it to be done at any time on 12 months' notice being given fair rents would soon settle themselves. I object to this Bill on principle, because it deals with that which cannot properly be so dealt with, because it is likely to create more evils than it redresses, and because it will ultimately lead to a state of affairs worse than that which at present exist. It is not statesmanlike to rush out of one difficulty into another in order to avoid the existing state of things. The House ought not to deal with English money in order to buy out Irish tenants, without taking under its wing the smaller class who are only half sheltered by previous legislation. I declined to vote for the Home Rule, coupled with land purchase, Bill of 468 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1886 because I entertained similar objections to his land proposals, and it was not till his Land Bill was dead that I could support Home Rule. I think the present measure is equally dangerous to English credit and to Irish prosperity, and with these views I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ *(9.50.) MR. FORREST FULTON (West Ham, N.)
The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has always ended the many speeches he has delivered on this question with a general charge against hon. Members sitting on this side of the House, namely, that in 1886 we over and over again denounced the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and yet are found voting in favour of the present Bill. I have risen simply for the purpose of showing that the statement of the hon. Gentleman is entirely inaccurate. So far, at any rate, as I am concerned, there is not the slightest shadow of foundation for the statement.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
On a previous occasion I brought down in my pocket the addresses of 68 Members, with the object of reading them to the House, but hon. Gentlemen opposite were not anxious to hear them.
§ *MR. FORREST FULTON
Had the hon. Gentleman read the 68 addresses, I am sure mine would not have been amongst the number. It is quite true I did denounce the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and denounced it in general terms and in particular terms as a Bill which, in my opinion, would have had a most disastrous effect upon the interests of the taxpayers of this country. But I did not denounce the general principle of land purchase in Ireland, and I believe that if the hon. Member had quoted the addresses of the 68 Members, it would have been found that the 68 gentlemen took up the position I took up, namely, that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was a dangerous Bill, because in that measure there was absolutely no security whatsoever offered to the British taxpayer, and, further, that the Bill was a necessary corollary to a system the right hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce for the better government of Ireland, giving to a Home Rule Parliament control of the 469 Executive Government of the country. I remember that the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) made a very humorous speech with regard to the supposed security offered in that Bill. The supposed security was the revenue derived from the Customs and Excise in Ireland. The noble Lord pointed out that such security was absolutely worthless, because, as it was also proposed to hand over to an Irish Parliament the control of the Executive Authority, all that was necessary was to present to the Receiver General a first class ticket from Kingstown to Holyhead, see him on board the steamer, and politely wish him "good day;" and thus all the monies he had collected, and which remained in the office of the Receiver General, would have ceased to be an available asset for the British taxpayer. Another reason why I denounced the scheme of 1886 was that I believed it to be distinctly immoral in its conception. It was intended as a bribe to the Irish landlords to induce them to support the Home Rule Bill. It was notorious that the amount—20 years' purchase—which the right hon. Gentleman offered was largely in excess of the value of many estates. Though I was not a Member of the House at the time, do I not remember the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in which he warned the Irish landlords that "the sands were running in the hour glass?" Why did he warn them of that except that he hoped the Irish landlords would be base enough—I am thankful to say they were not—to accept the bribe offered to them by him on that occasion to support the Bill for the better government of Ireland which he had introduced, and upon which he had staked his reputation.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The expression as to the sands running in the hour glass was used long after the Home Rule Bill was rejected, and when we were out of office.
§ *MR. FORREST FULTON
I think that, on referring to Hansard, the right hon. Gentleman will find he is entirely mistaken. I have a distinct recollection of all the circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian proposed to advance, without any security, £50,000,000 in the first instance, and in the long run possibly £200,000,000. The present Bill is, 470 no doubt, complicated, but it appears to me that under it there is absolutely no risk to the British taxpayer. I have listened with great attention to the many speeches delivered by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), and I do not think they have been too many. The hon. Member has exhibited an acquaintance with the details of this measure which has filled me with admiration; but the hon. Gentleman has pointed out over and over again that the money which is being now advanced is not the money of Great Britain at all, but Irish money, which they are to receive as the result of the re-arrangement of Imperial finance introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I think the hon. Gentleman misapprehends my argument, which was that Ireland, as contributor of more than her share to Imperial taxation, is entitled to her share in the Imperial credit for carrying out an Imperial policy.
§ *MR. FORREST FULTON
I also understood the hon. Member to say that the amount of money under the Bill was such as Ireland was entitled in any event to receive, and, that being so, it matters not, so far as the British taxpayer is concerned, whether it goes in relief of local taxation as in England and Scotland, or for converting tenants into owners in Ireland.
§ MR. SEXTON
On the contrary, my view is that Ireland is entitled to annual payments from Imperial revenue, and that you have no right to divert those payments.
§ *MR. FORREST FULTON
That is an entirely different point. I quite follow the hon. Gentleman's argument that the money should not be allocated to any particular purpose without the consent of an Irish Local Authority. I am addressing myself to the argument of the hon. Member for Northampton, who has charged Members with being false to their pledges in opposing the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and yet supporting this Bill. I opposed the first-mentioned Bill because under it there would have been no security; I support the present Bill because there appears to be absolutely no risk whatever to the British taxpayer. When Members on this side are charged with not opening their mouths, 471 my anwer is that we do not get the opportunity. Having the opportunity, I state the reasons why I contend I am perfectly consistent in supporting this Bill, although I opposed the Bill of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian.
§ *(10.35.) MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
I have taken no sort of part in the discussions on previous stages of the Bill, but before it passes its Third Reading I desire to make my general protest against it, because I think it is important that an expression of opinion should come from all sections of the Liberal Party. Many of my reasons for opposing the Bill have been mentioned, and these I will not repeat. I am against this Bill because it is opposed to the decision of the people of this country as declared at the General Election five years ago, a decision which they have never recalled and from which they have never varied. Gentlemen opposite cannot get out of the false position of setting themselves against the spirit of the mandate which placed them in power, except by resorting to a series of quibbles which would not impose upon a County Court office-boy of six weeks' standing. This is an extension of the Ashbourne Act, and that Act was professedly introduced with the view of stimulating a stagnant land market—in other words, for the purpose of enabling Irish landlords to get their land sold at a price which they would not have obtained in any other circumstances. The Government foresee the coming of Irish Home Rule, and knowing that in that case the price of land under the action of ordinary economic forces will certainly go down to the natural price of the Irish land market, they desire to forestall that contingency and to enable their friends to make hay while the sun shines. The people of this country, however, object to be made the cat's-paw of the Irish landlords, to whom they trace a large portion of the Irish difficulty, which they are now determined no longer to tolerate. If the poorer portion of the Irish tenantry are to receive some temporary and doubtful benefit, the people of this country object that they should receive it at their present risk and ultimate expense. They object that a limited portion of the population of these islands should be chosen out to be the exclusive 472 beneficiaries of British credit. They see no solution of the Irish difficulty in this measure. I further object to it because it seems to be only the beginning of a necessary series of measures of the same kind. Anybody can see that the three-fourths of the favoured class left out in the cold will be certain to clamour for an equal share, and that it will be impossible to argue them down. The Irish Members see that clearly and proclaim it loudly and unequivocally. The Chief Secretary says that this will be the last grant of the kind, but he will find that he is by no means the first who has broached the doctrine of finality, and has found out that the logic of events is an inexorable tyrant from whom it is impossible to escape. If the Chief Secretary said that this must be the last grant because his guarantees are exhausted, I would remind the light hon. Gentleman that he might fall back upon the police and military grants, which in the tranquillised Ireland to which he looks forward will be more open to diversion from their specific purposes. In any case the statesman who has the courage to face the possibility of letting loose the lunatics—and Irish lunatics too—upon the land of their nativity, ought not to shrink from the temporary necessity of dispensing with the services of a few policemen. I object further to the passing of this Bill because I feel morally certain that within 18 months we shall have Home Rule proposals definitely laid upon the Table of the House, and that the establishment of an Irish Legislature is within measurable distance and is really within the horizon of practical politics. It will not be just to Great Britain that it should be left entangled and burdened with the complications, difficulties, and responsibilities that are proposed to be created by this measure, and it would only be just to an Irish Legislature that it should receive this Irish problem undamaged and unprejudiced by the action of the British Parliament. In spite of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham Home Rule is alive, and alive with increasing vitality in the minds of the people of this country, and this I know from my personal experience of elections in both Scotland and England. The people have made up their 473 minds that Home Rule is to be granted, and they are determined that it shall be a generous measure on Constitutional lines. I know no other interpretation to what the voice of elections is saying. I know that hon. Members declare that recent elections have not turned on this question, that they have been decided on other questions, on labour questions, or the one man one vote doctrine, and other questions, little stress being laid on Home Rule, but I am prepared to deny that.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I do not think that these remarks are pertinent to the question that the Bill be read a third time.
§ *MR. WALLACE
What I wished to say was that the probability of Home Rule coming is the minor premiss of my argument, which I am logically entitled to prove by relevant considerations, but of you decide otherwise I submit to your authority.
§ *(10.20.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
Before the Bill is read a third time and passes to another place, desire to say a few words. I confess I lave listened to a great part of this Debate with something like astonishment. I heard the hon. Members for Peterborough and East Edinburgh declare that this is a landlord's Bill, and he hon. Member for Peterborough said, that landlordism was written in every line of it."
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I accept the hon. Member's correction, but it does not amount to much. Now, there are two considerations I submit to the hon. Member. I do not expect they will change his mind, but at least they are worthy of his attention. When the Division is called to-night he will find every Irish Member in this House, without exception, whether he represents landlords' or tenants' interests, walking into the Lobby in support of this Bill. I submit that in face of a fact like that, even the hon. Member for Peterborough might pause before denouncing this as a landlords' Bill. In the second place, I would like the hon. 474 Member to explain how this can be a landlords' Bill, when it gives to the purchasing tenant an immediate reduction of 20 per cent. and a contingent reduction of 15 per cent. How can the landlords be the gainers by that? One speaker seemed to me to imagine that landlordism is a divine institution, but it is not so in the opinion of Irish Members. We look upon landlordism as having been in the main a ghastly failure. The English people and Government are responsible for it, and it will be one of the meanest things in English history, after having planted a land system which has worked such evil, for England to cooly turn round and say she will do nothing to help Ireland to get rid of it. Then it is said the Bill would produce a new race of landlords and sub-division of holdings in the future. That cannot take place for 49 years. But let me point out to my hon. Friend this. What caused sub-division in the past? The causes of sub-division in the past have been density of population and want of manufactures, but now, at all events, population is diminishing, and the reasons for sub-division are disappearing. It is said that if difficulty arose with the colliers in the north of England the Government would have to buy up the collieries. It might be so if the working colliers owned one-half the collieries. The difficulty had arisen in Ireland because landlord and tenant are dual owners; the system is intolerable, and one of the partners has to go; the tenant cannot go and therefore the landlord must. It is said this is a complicated measure which will involve administrative difficulties, but the complications will not affect the purchasing tenant who will have nothing to do with the difficulties of the Land Department. It is asked whether the demand for land will increase in the future. Personally, I believe it will. There is great anxiety on the part of occupiers to own their holdings, and not less in Ulster than elsewhere. It is a notorious fact that tenants have been kept back from purchasing because they were told to expect better terms. On the passing of this Bill the terms will be fixed, and tenants will be very likely to go in for purchase on a large scale With his anxiety to be the owner of land, why should the tenant restrain his ambition when he can gratify it on the 475 terms offered by this Bill? I am certain that the rate of purchase will increase, although the Insurance Fund may to some extent operate as a deterrent. The real question is whether that fund is necessary or not, and I believe that it is. I do not like the clause altogether as it stands, but the broad fact remains that the tenant-purchaser gets 20 per cent. reduction at once, and the money he lodges for insurance is banked for him, while the prospect of future ownership is steadily staring him in the face. I will admit that this is not a perfect, nor so good, a Bill as that of last Session or the Ashbourne Act, and those who opposed the Bill of last year are responsible for the Irish tenant getting a worse Bill this year. We have been told this is a final settlement, but I do not believe it. I do not believe that this is the last grant that will be made, and the history of land legislation for the last 13 years should cause us to doubt that this is the last grant for the purpose. Irish Members know that this is not the last word OH the subject, and they make no secret of their belief. The English Government are responsible for the present land system in Ireland. You tore up the old Irish land system by the roots, and you planted in its place a system which has been a curse in our midst, and you are responsible, therefore, for all the trouble that has arisen. I hold that the Irish people will be within their right in making you pay to the last farthing what you owe to them in this respect. I should like to ask what you have lost by the advances you have made up to the present? What have you lost by the Bright purchasers, by the purchasers under the Land Act of 1881, and by the purchasers under the Ashbourne Acts? You have scarcely lost anything. I say the Irish tenants will meet their engagements under this Act, and you will have no cause for refusing to complete the undertaking into which you have entered. I say this is not a final Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan) said the other night that it was a Bill which was noble in conception. That is perfectly true, and I think it has been nobly carried through this House. I believe it will result in the good of Ireland, and be a great pacificator of Ireland. I thank the Government for introducing it, and the Chief Secretary 476 for carrying it through, and I believe that in doing so I am speaking for the section of the Irish people whom I represent, and for the Province from which I come.
(10.32.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUE,) Manchester, E.
I suppose it is necessary for me to take part in this Debate on the final stage of this long - protracted Bill, though it does not appear to me that anything has been said in the course of he Debate by the opponents of the Bill which either sheds a new light on the measure or requires an answer from me of a different kind from that I have given to the House on more than one occasion to objections coming from the same quarter. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment on which we are going to vote was not weary of again asking us whether we were going to destroy the very bases of society by attaching the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund. He appeared to think that society had never existed until Imperial contributions for pauper lunatics and so forth came in to existence. If he will study the history of his country, he will see that society die exist before these Imperial contributions were made, and there is no ground for believing that society will dissolve in to its constituent atoms if these contributions be withdrawn. The hon. Member, from his great knowledge of financial matters, was prepared to give us an assurance that no financial house in the City would advance this money on the security of Irish land unless there were behind it the guarantee of the Imperial credit. I have already replied to that argument. I will repeat my reply. I believe that any commercial house, if you brought into their coffers the Guarantee Fund under this Bill, would be perfectly prepared to advance at the ordinary rate of interest the money corresponding to the Guarantee Fund. I do not think it necessary to pursue the hon. Member through the rest of his speech, or to deal with his taunts that the Conservative Party have abandoned their pledges. So far as I am concerned, and the speeches of any hon. Friends of mine which I have had the opportunity of studying are concerned, nothing has been adduced which goes beyond saying that the kind of security which was promised us by the right hon. Member for 477 Mid Lothian in the Bill of 1886, was not a kind of security which they would admit as being adequate. With that opinion, loudly expressed from Conservative quarters, loudly echoed by the Radical section of the House, I entirely agree. Merely from the point of view of security—I say nothing of the 20 years' purchase or other difficulties—the whole scheme of the right hon. Gentleman, based as it was upon Home Rule, intimately associated as it was with Home Rule, was a scheme perfectly impossible of acceptance. The speech of the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark), which followed, was an attempt to put a new complexion on the Debate. The hon. Member began with the feudal system, described tenure by service, gave us a long disquisition on the Land Tax, and ended his discourse by dealing with the doctrines of Mr. Henry George. His speech was a contribution of considerable aovelty to the Debate; but I doubt whether it had any relevance at all to he issue before the House. I believe; he hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Wallace) also intended to give us a new contribution—at least he told us that none of the arguments which we had heard from hon. Gentlemen below; the Gangway would be repeated by him—but, as he never was allowed to get beyond his minor premiss, I do not offer any opinion upon the value of his disquisition. The right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) gave us a brief summary of the objections taken to the Bill in its earlier stages by himself and his Friends, and he thought it desirable to point out that the main objections had not been met by any Amendments accepted by the Government. I must frankly admit that I think that is true. I think if the objections urged last year and this year to the second reading of the Bill had any weight, their weight has not been diminished by any of the proceedings in Committee or on the Report stage of this Bill. But as he was content merely to enumerate the main grounds of objection, he will not think me wanting in any respect to him if I do not repeat at length the arguments which, not once nor twice, but many times, I have put forward to express my own view as to the way those objections should be met. The right hon. Gentleman said that the 478 administrative difficulties which would arise in working so complicated a scheme would cause embarrassment to any Government that had to work it. I think that argument is exaggerated. I admit the Bill is complex, but I ask anybody who criticises it to consider the difficulties it had to meet. If you have to open a very complicated lock you require a key with very complicated wards to it. There is nothing in the world more complicated than the existing Irish land system. It lies in a series of geological strata representing varying efforts of different Parliaments, Irish and English, to deal with it, and the result is that in attempting to solve problems that meet us, we find ourselves face to face with a state of things so complicated and difficult, that to say that a scheme intended to meet it is a simple scheme is to condemn it straight off. The Ashbourne scheme was a simple scheme, but it did not deal with two difficulties that meet any Government which tries to make a larger and more permanent settlement. It did not attempt to meet the question of security; it did not attempt to meet the difficulty of eviction. Now, hon. Gentlemen have met this scheme with a criticism which is applicable to every conceivable land scheme, but is less applicable to this scheme than to any other ever proposed to this House. It is said the non-payment of the annuities must be met by eviction or by some process analogous to eviction. That is true of this as of every other scheme I have ever heard of. Certainly the clauses in the Acts of 1870 and 1881, the abortive scheme of the right hon. Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan) the Ashbourne Acts of 1885 and 1888, and the scheme associated with the Home Rule measure of 1886, did not attempt to meet this difficulty, that if by any unforeseen misfortune or agricultural calamity the non-payment of the annuities became an impossibility, the purchasing tenant would have to be evicted. I say that any scheme which does not attempt to do that, brings this House face to face with the problem of eviction in the most difficult possible manner. This scheme, and this scheme alone, does attempt to meet it, and in attempting to meet it undoubtedly various complexities have been introduced. Is the House disposed to regret them? For my own part, I say these 479 complexities afford one of the strongest arguments in favour of this scheme as compared with any other scheme with which we have any means of comparing it. The other point is the question of security. Under the Ashbourne Act, if the holding was not ample security, there was nothing behind it except the landlord's fifth. It was alleged by every right hon. Gentleman sitting on these Benches that never again would they consent to another 6d. of public money being advanced on that security. What was the result? The result was that a Government determined, as we were determined, to do something in this question, were compelled to devise a scheme by which some other security was produced, and that fact goes a long way to explain the necessary complexities of the scheme. As to the objection raised on the subject of accounts, I do not believe that they will overburden the strength of any Department. They are nothing like in complexity the accounts of any scheme of taxation; certainly not any scheme of taxation which involves ad valorem duties or protection in every State in Europe, almost in the world. In comparison with these the complexities of the Land Department accounts will be found to be easily worked in practice; and although it is true that the more purchasers you have the more accounts you will have to keep, I do not believe the number of accounts will ever be such as to make the Land Department incapable of dealing with them. There is one other point which I think ought to be dealt with, and which was raised by the right hon. Member for Newcastle. He said—"What ground have you for supposing that land purchase will go on at a quicker rate than it has done under the Ashbourne Acts?" I think that several reasons may be alleged why it will go on at a faster rate. In the first place, I think there was a distinct set made against land purchase by many gentlemen in whose opinion the Irish tenants over a great part of Ireland had great confidence. I have no ground for believing that that set will continue. I have some ground for hoping the reverse. In the second place, I believe that one reason why purchase under the Ashbourne Acts did not go on in a rapidly increasing ratio, was because the tenants were waiting to see 480 what terms were to be given under this Bill; and until they knew what those terms were to be they did not come forward, as they otherwise would have done, to take advantage of the Ashbourne Acts. But the right hon. Gentleman's argument on this head was not quite consistent with what fell from him in the earlier part of the speech. He borrowed an argument much in favour with the right hon. Member for Derby during our Debates last year; and he stated that in his opinion land purchase, so far from conducing to the tranquillity of the country, will conduce to its disturbance, owing to the fact that those who had not purchased would be discontented at finding they had not received the same reduction in their rents as their neighbours had from their annuities. How is that state of discontent which is anticipated, to be reconciled with the non-desire to purchase? If there be no desire to purchase there will be no discontent; if there be no discontent there can be no desire to purchase. Hon. Gentlemen cannot stand on both sides of the argument; they must choose on which side they will stand. There is one other point which I ought to answer. The right hon. Gentleman in dealing with the Tenants' Insurance Fund reminded us that under the existing Ashbourne Acts it happened several times that an arrangement had been come to between landlord and tenant, and that this arrangement had been brought for sanction to the Land Commission, who said—We cannot advance so much on this holding; we cannot make an advance which will correspond to a reduction of 30 per cent.; we are prepared to make a reduction corresponding to 40 per cent. of rent.Then, he said, the parties went back to an advance which would correspond to £ reduction of 40 per cent. How, says the right hon. Gentleman, can you expect any sales to take place on estates of that kind, when you insist upon 80 per cent. during the first five years? It is true that on those estates the Bill insists that there should be a reduction of 20 per cent., that 80 per cent. of the old rental should be paid for 49 years; and it is true the Land Commission would not sanction the advance. This 80 per cent, does not represent a payment of 80 per cent. to the State, but 60 per cent. to the State and 20 per cent. to 481 the Insurance Fund, which is additional security to the tenant, and the reason I apprehend why the Land Commission would not sanction the reduction of 30 per cent., but would have sanctioned a reduction of 40 per cent., was because in their opinion, though the tenant might pay 30 per cent. for a certain number of years, a bad year would occasionally come and he would only be able to pay at the rate of a reduction of 40 per cent. But that contingency is provided for by the Bill, and by the Insurance Fund, and by paying 80 per cent. in good years the tenant is able to meet a bad year. I think the right hon. Gentleman will see that this 80 per cent., though it may, and will prevent a certain number of sales in the sense that it will diminish the anxiety of a certain number of tenants to buy, will not prevent this by compelling the Land Commission to refuse advances where otherwise they would make them. On the contrary, I believe the Land Commission, if they have behind them the payment of the annuities, this Tenants' Insurance Fund, will be more ready to make advances to small holdings and poor tenants than could possibly take place under the Ashbourne Acts.
§ *MR. J. MORLEY
I think the right hon. Gentleman scarcely sees the force of the argument he is answering. My point is this. If the Land Commission refused to sanction an advance because the holding will probably not be able to pay a certain annuity, are they more likely to sanction the advance, or less likely, because for five whole years the annuity is greater?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The Land Commission refuses now to make an advance corresponding to a reduction of 20 per cent. for 49 years. Is there any argument to be based on that for supposing that it will refuse to make an advance corresponding to 20 per cent. when a large amount of money has accumulated for the Insurance Fund? The large annuity is only asked for for five years. In the second place, it is asked for to serve as an Insurance Fund, and it appears to me that, so far from discouraging the Land Commission from making the advance on indifferent holdings, they will feel that the tenant, owing to his insurance, will be far more capable of meeting the occasional stress of a bad year during the period of 49 482 years than by any possibility could have been found under the Ashbourne system. I leave these relatively small objections in order to deal briefly with what has been the staple of Radical speeches on this subject. They have objected to land purchase as a whole; their objection is not to this Bill or that, but to any Bill. That is not the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and I venture to say that it is not the attitude of any true friend of Ireland. Hon. Members have used Ireland as their stalking-horse on every platform in the country. They have talked about justice and generosity to Ireland; but I observe, when I see their professions translated into practice in this House, that by generosity they did not mean the giving of anything to Ireland, and by justice to Ireland they mean injustice to the Irish landlords. They are not animated by love of the Irish tenants. No, Sir, the motive of their action is hatred of the Irish landlords. I am not going to discuss the merits or demerits of the Irish landlords. I want the hon. Members who make these loud professions about Ireland to consider the position of the Irish tenants, and I say that men who consider the position of the Irish tenants at the present time, and the agrarian evils which have been brought on the whole of Irish society, will desire and struggle for any scheme that is likely to put an end to those difficulties. Hon. Members having discovered that the only alternative for the system of dual ownership is a system of land purchase, have suddenly become enamoured of the system of dual ownership. I have not heard any one in this House defend dual ownership except as a painful necessity. But now it appears that dual ownership presents itself to hon. Members as theoretically the most perfect scheme. There are two objections I will mention. The first is that you cannot have dual ownership without a landlord, and I ask any man who has followed these Debates on the Irish question, extending over many years, whether they think that a system that depends on a landlord is a good or a bad one for Ireland. It was said by the hon. Member for West Belfast the other day that the Fair Rent Commissioners lived in an atmosphere of conflict. Well, Sir, it is inevitable that a Court that interposes between the interest of the landlord and the 483 interest of the tenant must live in an atmosphere of conflict. My second objection is that dual ownership is not accepted by those very persons who support it in this House. What does dual ownership mean? It means this: that when the Court has decided upon a fair rent, that fair rent shall be exacted. ["Hear, hear!"] I hear one hon. Gentleman opposite say "Hear hear!" and I only hear one—the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy—whoso experiences are Indian and not Irish. Have these Debates convinced hon. Gentlemen that that preliminary condition is rejected by both the Radical and the Nationalist Parties? If a landlord has a fair rent fixed, he is amply justified by every conceivable canon of public and private morality in exacting that rent. He is as much justified in exacting that rent as if it was an ordinary financial debt or an ordinary bill of exchange, or some negotiable security of that kind. But if the landlord does attempt to exact that rent, and it is not paid, and he adopts the only remedy in his power—namely, eviction—his action is described as that of confiscating the property of the tenant. Over and over again, in almost every speech from the other side of the House, have I heard it stated that the landlord so acting has unjustly made himself the owner of that which really is the property of some one else. I do not say that these canons of morality are right. I do not say whether the landlord is justified or not in having resort to eviction, and I do not say he is or is not justified in exacting the debt due to him; but if these things are not justifiable, then dual ownership falls to the ground, and either this House must declare that the landlord is justified in exacting his rent, judicial or otherwise, hon. Members opposite must either cease from declaring that in evicting the landlord is taking the property of the tenant, or they must admit that the system of dual ownership is a failure, and that the sooner we substitute a more rational tenure the better for everybody concerned. I am merely putting this forward as showing why, in my opinion, the system of dual ownership in Ireland is unsound and that it has practically failed. There is one more question, Sir, I should like to touch upon. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle talked a good deal about 484 the result of the next General Election. He did not at all prophesy what the result of the election would be, but he considered two possible alternatives, that either the Unionist Party would be returned to power or that the Separatist Party would be returned to power. ["No, no."] Well, either that the present Government would return to power or that he would return to power. "If," he said, "the Government at present in Office return to power the Irish landlords will probably raise their terms. They will be very disinclined to sell, and land purchase will be affected in that way." I do not know whether that is true or whether it is not, but it is to the other alternative referred to by the right hon. Gentleman to which I wish to call the attention of the House, He said that if gentlemen sitting now on that Bench were to sit after the next General Election on this Bench he would venture to prophesy——
§ *MR. J. MORLEY
I expressly said I would not venture to prophesy. All that I threw out was what the right hon. Gentleman would call a philosophic doubt.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman, as I understood him, said that if right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the left of the Chair sat upon the right of the Chair after the next General Election the probability was that the Irish tenants would be much less inclined to purchase.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, Sir, I do not wish to quarrel with the right hon Gentleman's own version of his own speech, but it seems to me that when he threw out that philosophic doubt he thought there was some possibility, at all events, of a disinclination on the part of the tenants to purchase. [Mr. J. MORLEY: Certainly.] I am curious to know, Sir why the Irish tenant should be lea anxious to buy if the right hon. Gentle man returns to Office. I think the suggestion might be made the basis of an interesting speculation. In another part of his speech the right hon. Gentle man said that the poorer Irish tenant never looked beyond five years, which were to them an eternity, and he led us to infer that the poorer Irish tenant is animated in all his actions in connection with the land by the thought of the immediate 485 prosperity which such or such a policy can produce. The only conclusion that I can come to, if the view of the right hon. Gentleman is correct, is that the Irish tenant, if the Party of the right hon. Gentleman should come into power, would be likely to think that he would make a great deal more money by declining to pay his rent than by undertaking to pay an annuity. If this state of things should come to pass, there is a pleasing prospect both for the right hon. Gentleman and the Irish landlord, for the latter will get no rent, and what the right hon. Gentleman is to do with regard to the enforcement of the payment of rent he does not say, and I do not know. It almost makes me desire, for the gratification of a mere philosophical curiosity, to see the right hon. Gentleman occupying the interesting and responsible position which I now hold. There is one more observation which I have to make with reference to this looked-for return of a Home Rule Government to power. We have heard a great deal about the present scheme not being a final scheme. I have not the same gift of prophecy which is given to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I do not wish to make any confident predictions, and I am quite ready to admit that if, when the £30,000,000 is exhausted, and when this experiment has been a long time in operation, all the expectations we have formed are proved to have been correct, it may please the united Parliament to make some further advance for the completion of the scheme of land purchase. I think that not altogether outside the bounds of political possibility. Obviously it will rest entirely with the statesmen of the day, and with the English public, with the ample fund of experience which they then will have, to determine what course shall be pursued. It is a political possibility. But what is not a political possibility, what no man off a platform would venture to assert, is that a British Parliament would ever advance to an Irish Parliament any money at all for the purpose of carrying out a land purchase scheme or any other scheme. The idea is an obvious and absolute absurdity, and, although I do not venture to prophecy what the future of the plan of land purchase may be, I will venture, with the utmost confidence, upon this negative prophecy, at all events— 486 that by a British Parliament to an Irish Parliament no sixpence of money would ever be granted. I have now dealt with much that has been said in the course of these Debates. Let me now say a word on what has not been said. In all these Debates, as far as they have been conducted by English Radical Members, not one single word has been uttered with respect to the congested districts portion of the Bill, a part of the measure which possibly may be more fruitful of good in the poorer districts of Ireland than any other provisions of the Bill. This, at all events, I claim for it, and I think the claim will not be denied by the bitterest opponents of the measure. It is the first organised legislative attempt to deal with a most difficult and anxious problem. I am no believer in the indiscriminate squandering of money. I think it might be without paradox maintained that the West of Ireland has suffered almost more than it has gained by half the money which has been expended upon it by British charity. I do not believe that by simply announcing yourself as a philanthropist, begging money of your friends, and starting an industry in the West of Ireland, you are likely to regenerate the country. Nor do I believe that by merely building harbours and piers whenever they are demanded by the inhabitants you will be able to create a great fishing industry, even though nature may have been most bountiful in the production of the staple article. If the Congested Districts Board is to do any good at all, it must, in the first place, know how to resist successfully mere begging demands for money; and it must, in the second place, do its best not only to provide the machinery of production, but, at the same time, to teach the people how that machinery is to be used. Hon. Members opposite have urged me not to consider emigration to be the one solution of the congested districts problem. I do not even consider it to be the chief solution, but I do think that there are parts of the west coast where emigration is a necessity. What the Board has to do is to consider in its whole scope and bearings the question of the great poverty and misery in the west, and whilst it encourages emigration in some districts, in others it should do its best to provide technical education which may really be useful, and to provide the 487 harbours and boats required for the fishing industry, and, above all, it must bear in mind that agriculture is, and must be, the main staple of industry in Ireland. Do what you will to make them fishermen or anything else, the great majority of Irishmen still remain agriculturists, and it will be the duty of the Board to induce them to cultivate their lands to the best advantage, to teach them how to get out of their lands all that can be got out of them, to use the means which are provided even on the west coast for the sustenance of mankind. To use those means to the best advantage is the way, and the main way, by which they may extricate themselves from their present position of poverty and penury. If the Congested Districts Board will set themselves to work on these problems, and not expect too early fruits from their labours, be content to wait and to work, and not merely to produce sensational reports of expenditure and sensational schemes of vast novelty, I believe the good the Board may do to the West of Ireland is absolutely incalculable. It is in that hope I have seen with pleasure that, while hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway accept this part of the Bill with pleasure, gentlemen below the Gangway have accepted it with gratitude. [Mr. MAC NEILL: No, no!] All excepting the Member for Donegal, who represents a county, though he does not live in it—a county in which congestion is so little known, and from which so few attempts to afford charity have ever come. He may well affect to treat with contempt, the great act of charity which this House is now conferring on Ireland. As we have now reached the end of these prolonged Debates, I desire to say on my own behalf that, though it is impossible to say of this Bill, as, indeed, it is impossible to say of any large Bill of which I have had any experience in this House, that no unnecessary speeches have been made, no unnecessary repetition of argument has occurred, yet, in my judgment, the Debates have been of a businesslike character. There has been very little surplusage, and the acuteness, the knowledge of a most complicated and difficult measure shown by some hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway has been such as to extort the admiration of every man really acquainted with the measure. We have had many a long 488 and difficult fight over this Bill. I have not been able in every respect, perhaps in the most important respects, to meet the wishes they have expressed upon various Amendments, but I think they will do me the justice to say I have always attempted to meet them fairly in argument. I have not relied simply upon a Government majority, but have endeavoured, with or without success, to meet point by point the objections brought against the measure. On the other hand, I gladly recognise that so far as they are concerned they have argued the Bill with perfect fairness, with great knowledge, and with conspicuous ability. I think it the more necessary to make this public statement from the fact that the difficult, and I had almost said the repulsive, dryness of the subject has driven from within these walls the great majority of Members, who have not been able to follow our Debates, and that nobody is qualified to judge what has taken place who has not followed from day to day and almost from hour to hour the progress of our discussions. I cannot hope—it would be presumption to expect that the measure as it has come out from the Committee meets the wishes of the Irish gentlemen who sit below the Gangway; but I think that even those—I again except the Member for Donegal—who have argued with most ability and most perseverance against it, will admit that, even if in every respect it does not come up to their wishes, it is at all events a well-considered, a large, and a not ungenerous measure passed by this Parliament for the benefit of the great class of tenant farmers in Ireland.
§ (11.25.) Mr. ROBY and Mr. KEAY
rose together, but, in deference to loud cries of "Keay," Mr. Roby gave way.
opening sentences could not be heard, in consequence of loud cries of "Divide!" and "Sit down." The hon. Gentleman was understood to say: The closing remarks of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary were meant to discourage any Member from getting up to succeed him. [Loud cries of "Divide!" and interruption.] I am determined not to be discouraged. I consider it to be my duty to record a last protest against many of the points in this very objectionable 489 Bill. [Interruption, during which for over five minutes the hon. Member vainly endeavoured to make himself heard.] The first objection I take to the Bill is its absolute unfairness to the tenantry of Ireland. [Loud cries of "Divide!"]
§ (11.31.) Mr. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)
rose in his place and claimed to move "That the Question be now put."
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I can understand the reason for proposing that Motion, but I would appeal to the hon. Member for Elgin to consult the general feeling of the House.
§ MR. KEAY
I feel it my duty to snake my final protest against this Bill, which has been framed to an unblushing extent for the benefit of the landlords. It is an utter delusion as a tenants' Bill. Look at the alteration which has been made in the landlord's guarantee deposit. His deposit is only to be used to the extent of one-half in case of default, while the other half is to be saved to him at the expense of the public revenue. Further than that, this Bill has been deliberately passed without any limit as to the amount to be spent under it. It is entirely wrong to call it a £30,000,000 Bill. I asked the Government why they had not put a maximum into it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his reply plainly admitted that there was no precedent for sanctioning in a Bill issues of Stock without fixing a limit to the amount. The intention, and most unjustifiable intention, of the Government is to tell the country that this is a £30,000,000 Bill, whereas it really involves the expenditure of a much larger sum of money. [Loud cries of "Time!" and "Divide!"]
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The Question is, "That the Bill be now read the third time." Since which an Amendment has been proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months." The Question is, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. KEAY,
who spoke seated and with his hat on, said:—Mr. Speaker, I ask your ruling. I sat down because I 490 thought that you, Sir, were rising to a point of order——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The reason why I rose was that I thought the noise in the House was becoming so great as not to be creditable to the House at large, and I felt sure that the hon. Gentleman would acquiesce in putting a stop to it.
§ Question put.
§ (11.40.) The House divided:—Ayes 225; Noes 96.—(Div. List, No. 297.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.