§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (12.35.) MR. ROCHE (Galway, E.)
I think I need not occupy the time of the House with many arguments to prove conclusively that the Land Purchase Act of last year has been inoperative. I think I need only remind the House of the answer given by the right, hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) a short time ago—that, although the Act is supposed to have been in operation for some eight months, not a single shilling has been issued to any tenant under the Act for the 251 purchase of his holding. I believe the chief objection—in fact, I may say, the main cause—of the failure of the Act is due to the "Insurance" Clause, and it is to remove this objection the 1st clause of the Bill now before the House is directed. This Insurance Clause in the Act of last year was introduced for the protection of the tenant, not for the protection of the State, and our proposal in this Bill is that the tenant shall have permission to decide whether he will avail himself of the advantage of the Insurance Clause or not—and surely, I think, the Government can have no objection that the tenants, whose interest they profess themselves anxious to protect, should have an option of this kind. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th clauses of the Bill apply, to a very great extent, to the evicted tenants. The 2nd clause proposes to extend the period for agreements, which was introduced into the Act at the instance of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). It proposes that the time shall be extended beyond the period of six months, and it proposes to meet those cases where landlord and tenant are anxious to come to an agreement, but may be unable to make an arrangement in reference to the price. In those cases we propose that the determination of the price may be referred to the Land Commission to bring about an amicable adjustment of the difficulties. The 3rd clause provides that a grant may be given by the Land Commission from the Irish Church Fund to evicted tenants to assist them in bringing their farms into fair cultivation. I believe I am right in saying that the hon. Member for South Tyrone has stated in this House that one of the main objections to the re-instatement of evicted tenants was the present condition of the holdings from which they have been evicted, and the passing of this clause will get rid of that objection. The 4th clause proposes that in certain cases the Land Commission may stay the sale of any holding; for instance, on such estates as that of Lord Clanricarde, from which a large number of tenants have been evicted, so that a tenant formerly in possession may have the opportunity of purchase if he desires it, and so that the perpetuation of a cause of discontent may be prevented. Clauses 5, 7, and 8 are, 252 to my mind, really more in the interest of the landlord than of the tenant, and I think if they are examined it will be shown clearly and conclusively that we have no mere class object in the Bill, but that our wish is that the Act of last year may harmoniously work. We provide for the removal of the restrictions on the exchange of Guaranteed Stock for Consols. I believe I am right in saying that the Chief Secretary stated in the House a short time ago that this was provided for in the Act of last year, and we really provide for that which the right hon. Gentleman thought had already been provided for, and which, therefore, cannot be very objectionable to him. Clause 7 is intended to cut down those absurd expenses which attach to the proving of title to an estate, and which in so many cases prevent sales to tenants. If a tenant is satisfied with a title from the Land Commission I fail to see what objection the Government can have to the passing of such a clause. Clause 8 proposes that in certain cases and under proper safeguards abatements shall be made in charges pending the completion of a sale. Clause 6 is one of the most important in the Bill, and it has reference solely to labourers. I think it will be admitted on both sides of the House that no body of men in Ireland are more worthy of the benefit the Act confers than the labourers of Ireland. I believe that under the Act £40,000 a year for five years is set apart for the purposes of a Reserve Fund, and £30,000 of that we propose shall be expended annually for the benefit of labourers in Ireland. I think, in view of the fact that the Act is working so slowly,—in fact I might say scarcely working at all—it is difficult to see what object or interest is served by piling up this amount of money for the next five years. Clause 9 provides that mortgagees shall have the power to sell to tenants as they can sell to other individuals. I need scarcely say that the only way in which such sales can now be effected is through the medium of a third person, and this encourages a class of speculators who buy from the mortgagees and then sell to the tenants at an enhanced price. We propose that the mortgagee shall have the same power of sale to a tenant as the landlord, that he may sell immediately without the interposition of the 253 speculator. In Clause 10 we deal with the speculative purchaser, and a short time since a case came within my knowledge which proves conclusively the necessity for legislation in this direction. A landlord had a small estate adjoining that of Lord Clanricarde, and a couple of years ago he offered the holdings at 13 years' purchase on the Government valuation. Unfortunately he had mortgaged it, and in consequence the Land Commission would not make the advances to the tenants. I regret this for the sake of the tenants, and for the sake of the example, though I do not know that the example would have had much effect on Lord Clanricarde, whose last offer of sale was 25 years' purchase. Such is the Bill we commend to Members on either side who desire to see the Act, passed last year at the expense of so much time and trouble, made a working measure to carry out the purpose for which it was intended. Speaking for myself, I confess I do not think the Act can have full effect, and cannot do justice to the large body of the tenants in Ireland until this or a future House of Commons passes a measure which shall compel such men as Lord Clanricarde to sell to his tenants, or, at all events, offer such terms as will enable them to live on their holdings in some comfort and respectability, instead of being slaves of the soil, as, to a great extent, they now are. I will not trespass further on the time of the House. I shall be followed by Members of our Party more capable of dealing with the question than I am, and who will explain this measure more clearly and fully than I have. I commend the Bill to the acceptance of the House as an effort to do justice to the tenants, while it inflicts no injustice on the landlords.
§ (12.53.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
I beg to second the Motion for Second Reading. My hon. Friend has explained the provisions of the Bill at no great length, but in such a manner that the object of the measure must be clear to every hon. Member. As to the 1st clause, I find that the hon. Member for South Londonderry (Mr. Lea), who has given notice of an Amendment to the Motion for Second Reading, seems to agree with that clause. He expresses a willingness to re-consider the Insurance Clause and other clauses. When the Purchase Act was under discussion last 254 year the Government were warned that this Insurance Clause would go far to make the Bill inoperative. To-day we have had from the Chief Secretary the information that 1,200 odd applications have been made under the Act up to the present, and that these applications cover a sum of £400,000 odd; but the right hon. Gentleman was not able to tell us, or he has not told us, what amount of money has been sanctioned for advances to tenant purchasers. On that point I think we have reason to complain that official information should be furnished to one Member of the House and denied to other Members. The Chief Secretary has explained that he gave the information in response to a written application, and equally he would have given it in reply to an application from my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast. But we prefer to communicate with Ministers across the floor of this House.
§ MR. JACKSON
The hon. Member for South Tyrone has already explained that notice of a question was given to me in the hope that I should have been able to give him the information across the floor of the House. The information did not reach me until after Question time, and then I forwarded it on to the hon. Member.
§ MR. FLYNN
All I say is that the answer was not given in the usual Parliamentary manner, across the floor of this House, and in the hearing of the House. However, we shall soon know what we are not now in a position to know, whether the Land Purchase Act has become operative or not. It is perfectly useless, for all practical purposes, to say that 1,200 applications have been made until we know how many of these have been sanctioned. The Government were warned from these Benches that the Insurance Clause would operate against the Act, and up to the present the Government do not find themselves able to traverse the assertions we then made. Speaking from knowledge of transactions within my own constituency, I know that the Purchase Act of 1891 has not been availed of in consequence of this Insurance Clause, because, practically, for the first five years after purchase the tenant receives no alleviation at all; he is subject to the same charges, but what he wants is present relief owing to the increasing competition of foreign 255 countries. A certain number of tenants in my constituency informed me that their landlord's solicitor had made overtures to them for the sale of their holdings to them at a certain number of years' purchase—16 or 18 years. The offer was fair enough. I worked out the figures for these tenants, showing how the future payments would compare with the present rent, and it was found that in the first five years, adding the liabilities for county cess and poor rate, there was little or no difference—such a small difference that the tenants preferred to remain as they were, and not to incur the additional responsibility. This Insurance Clause undoubtedly operates as a deterrent to purchase, and so far I think we ought to have the support of the hon. Member for South Londonderry. I will give you a case within my own experience of two farms rented at £40. Application was made in one case to the Fair Rent Commission, composed of men more or less impartial and not disposed unduly to favour the landlord. In that case the old rent was reduced to £25, but in the other case, which was considered by the Walpole Commission, the old rent of £40 was only reduced to £35. Those judicial rents are not regarded as a sacred thing in Ireland. The tenants do not regard them as fair or as binding, and in one way or another in large parts of the country landlords are obliged to reduce. We were told on the highest authority in connection with the Government that to reduce the judicial rents would be almost a breach of contract, would be something iniquitous and unheard of. But the reply to that is that the following year the Government were obliged to bring in a measure to reduce these judicial rents, and they were reduced in the poorer parts of the country. A large portion of the tenants of the country felt themselves in a safer position by bringing pressure so as to reduce the judicial rents rather than by purchasing under this Bill with the Insurance Clause. As to the Bill now under consideration of the House; Clauses 2, 3, and 4 refer to tenants formerly in possession. The position of those tenants is one of very great urgency. It is a position that largely affects or is likely to affect, the cause of peace and order in Ireland, and upon that ground, for the sake of the tenants, for the sake of the landlords, for the sake of peace and prosperity; we 256 press upon the House that they should accept these provisions of the Bill. The 2nd clause is simply an Amendment of the provisions relating to tenants formerly in possession; in other words it extends Section 13 of the Act of last year up to the 1st January, 1894. I believe the Government are in favour of that principle, at any rate they have expressed their willingness to extend the term from six months after the passing of the Act of 1891 up to the 1st January, 1894. I regret that up to the present that Act has been practically a dead letter in Ireland. Whether we regard the tenants on the Plan of Campaign estates, or the still larger numbers who were evicted years earlier, owing to the great fall in prices, and causes over which they had no control, those tenants were looking for relief under that Section, and they have failed to obtain it except to a very small extent indeed. Upon a former occasion, when the Bill of the hon. member for Roscommon was before the House, the Cork Evicted Tenants' Association collected statistics in regard to the Province of Munster, and I regret to inform the House that, although that Association is a very numerous body, composed of evicted tenants—and not one of them belonged to the Plan of Campaign estates—as far as I can learn, not one single landlord has been willing to permit the tenants to avail themselves of Section 13 of last year's Act. This Association approached the landlords in the most mild and conciliatory spirit, asking them to set up an Arbitration Board, before whom there might be an opportunity of consulting the landlord and the tenant and arrange a fair price, and thus bring about a mutual arrangement between landlord and tenant. These tenants were not the naughty Plan of Campaign tenants, they were tenants evicted either for poverty or for causes over which they had no control, at a time when the Legislature afforded no relief to the tenant of Ireland. As far as that portion of Ireland goes, the disposition of the landlords has been of such an unsatisfactory character that they have refused in every case to approach the tenants and Section 13 is an absolutely dead letter. The extension of the period to January, 1894, will give the landlords time to think and reflect whether they should not pursue a different course of action. The 257 proposal is to place the tenants in the position of negotiating with them, and I therefore hope to hear from the Government that they are prepared to extend the time to January, 1894. Sections 3 and 4 also deal with tenants who have been formerly in possession. The Government must be in possession of this fact that if the landlords who have evicted tenants, such as Lord Clanricarde and scores of others, make application to the Land Commission, and sell their tenancses to men who were not formerly tenants in possession, you will have a scene of disorder in that part of the country which it will take the whole British Army to quell. It was hoped the Land Acts of 1881–85 and 1887 were to give us peace and order in Ireland; but, if that takes place in Ireland which I have just mentioned, the last state of things will be far worse than the first on these estates, unless you can, by an Act of the Legislature check such a man as Lord Clanricarde from dealing in what would be large bogus operations. One of the members of this party has some correspondence on this subject, which can be produced when opportunity offers, and the outcome of the entire controversy between the hon. Member for South Tyrone and one of the Directors of the Freeman's Journal, was to show that the hon. Member's claim was without foundation, that the majority of the so-called tenants were planters and emergency men who had no bonâ fide intention of tilling the land. These so-called bonâ fide tenants of Lord Massereene are hungering to purchase under the Act, and have sent letters to his former tenants saying they will re-sell.
§ MR. FLYNN
Did not the hon. Member write to the Times and other papers making certain statements with 258 regard to those planters, and how prosperous they were, and did not they send a Commissioner to investigate the case, the result of whose investigations was to prove that those so-called tenants were mere planters?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I understood the hon. Member to say that I had a correspondence with a director of the Freeman's Journal about these tenants.
§ MR. FLYNN
The hon. Member has misunderstood me; I know he has no desire to misconstrue what I say. I referred to the controversy about alleged tenants, and then, with regard to the correspondence, I say there are members of this Party who have at the present moment correspondence which they can produce in due time, which will prove to a demonstration that a certain number of these planters are anxious to avail themselves of the Land Purchase Act in order to subsequently clear out of the place and sell once again. Why not do this in a proper way instead of by bogus transactions of that kind. Instead of allowing those so-called tenants to go off with a certain amount of swag, why not insist that all transactions shall be bonâ fide, and that the Land Purchase Commissioners shall not sanction any purchase which has not been made by bonâ fide tenants. With regard to Clauses 5, 7, and 8, they are drawn largely to the advantage of the landlords, for, in the first place, they guarantee the land and stock shall be exchanged for Consolidated annuities, and I believe the landlords have expressed a preference for that. I hope those who represent them will see their way to take advantage of those clauses of the Act. Clause 7 deals with proving titles to estates. That is a matter in which the landlords are greatly concerned at the present moment, for there is great difficulty just now in regard to proving titles. I could give two cases in the neighbourhood of Cork in which applications were made to the Land Purchase Commission for sale. The landlord and tenant agreed as to the price, the Land Purchase Commission sanctioned the security as an admirable security, and though the landlord had been receiving rent from the tenants all along, still there was some defect or flaw in the title, and the landlord and tenant were not able to carry out the sale. Any arrangement in the direction of simplifying the proof of title ought to meet 259 with the approval of the House generally. Clause 9 is one of the most important in the Bill, whether with a view to cases of ordinary titles or cases of estates in the Landed Estates Court. And there ought to be no opposition to it from any side of the House. There is no question that at the present moment a large number of the landlords of Ireland are merely owners in name. A deadlock has been created owing to the action of the mortgagees or perhaps owing to the action of the landlords, and you have practically a deadlock in thousands of estates in Ireland. The last Return of the Landed Estates Court showed that there were 2,258 properties under the control of the Land Court, representing one-fifth of the rents of Ireland. But that is not a desirable condition of things, it is bad for the tenants and the landlords as well, and it must be disastrous for the mortgagees. It works evil all round, and, I fail to see why the Government should sanction a system by which this immense amount of property is kept practically locked up, by which the tenants are in a dreadful state of uncertainty, under which Receivers are appointed whose power of dealing with the question of fair rent is so far restricted that you have constant cases of contempt of Court, and one thing and another occurring in Dublin. I say the power of compulsion should be introduced, and, where the landlord is hopelessly encumbered some way out of this deadlock should be found. I learn that an Insurance Company, the Scottish Equitable Life Assurance Company, is mortgagee of a certain estate, and the date of filing the petition was three years ago. That estate has never been offered for sale. The number of tenants is 558, and there is no landlord who can be interested in them, because, in a case like this, a corporation or company has no body to be kicked or soul to be damned. If this Company and companies like it had power to sell, I believe a large number of them would prefer to realise their money rather than carry on as they at present are doing, with interest running up and very little hope of receiving the principal until they are able to sell their estates. Another important clause in the Bill is that with reference to the contribution for labourers' cottages, and anything which 260 tends to improve the position of those labourers should be cordially welcomed by the House. As to the purchase insurance claims, this matter, at any rate, ought to be optional with the tenant, for the guarantee fund and other funds provide ample security for the State. We hope the Government will consent to the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a Bill which is desired by the tenants and will improve their condition. It will not injure; but, on the contrary, serve the landlords and tend to produce peace and order in Ireland.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Roche.)
§ *(1.20.) MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
The hon. Gentleman who moved this Bill says it is an unimportant measure, and the hon. Member who seconded or supported it used these words—that they are not yet in a position to know if the Land Purchase Bill is inoperative.Yet those hon. Gentlemen in their Party arrangements when they brought in their Bills at the commencement of the Session have actually put it in front of the Compulsory Purchase Bill which they could not get into a sufficiently good place, and which they withdrew in favour of the Resolution last night. It seems to me, if they were in earnest in dealing with the question of land purchase in Ireland they would have had their Compulsory Purchase Bill instead of this small measure which the hon. Gentleman who introduced it described as an unimportant measure. Why do they attempt to bring it in with such evident lukewarmness? I listened to the Debate last night in the hope of hearing the hon. Members for Mayo, Longford, or Belfast, or some of those hon. Gentlemen who are recognised as leaders, and who take a very active and earnest part in land legislation, give their views on the subject. But not one of them said a word in favour of the Bill, and very few of them sat in the House at all. The hon. Member for West Belfast is, I think, the best attender in this House. He listens more than almost any other Member, he speaks well, and I have never known him absent from a Debate on Irish affairs as he was last night.
§ MR. SEXTON
I was present in this House during the greater part of the 261 Debate. There was no opportunity for speaking. The chairman of the Party was only able to get five minutes.
§ * MR. LEA
I carefully watched the hon. Member in the hope that he would give us a speech last night, and was greatly disappointed that he did not do so. It seems to me that this is a very early date at which to amend an Act which can hardly have been in operation for three months. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Bill did not seem to know the circumstances of the case. Last night it was pointed out that there were 1,253 applications already under the existing Bill. Practically that Bill has not been in operation for three months, and it does seem to me that a case has not been made out for the Second Reading of the Bill to-day. There is no doubt the pith of the Bill lies in the 2nd and 3rd clauses. That is my chief objection to it. I admit that with regard to the Insurance Fund if the Bill had simply that one clause I would give it hearty support, and during the Debate of last year I said I believed this clause with reference to insurance would tend to restrict land purchase. But that has not been proved to have been so. But as I believed it would be so, then I opposed it; but I am now prepared to accept an Amendment on that clause. Farming is not a very paying game at the present time, and the Irish tenant has hard work to make both ends meet either for paying rent or for paying instalments under the Land Bill. Under such circumstances it was a misfortune and a mistake to make him pay for the first five years a good deal more than he would pay hereafter, for the purpose of creating an Insurance Fund which was quite unnecessary and unneeded. It seems to me a most absurd thing that you should create an Insurance Fund that would make the tenant pay 10, 15, or 20 per cent. more than his instalment would be for the sake of creating an Insurance Fund when he has already property in the soil equal to that of the landlord. If it were only that, I should be willing to support the Second Reading of the Bill; but the pith of it lies in the clauses with regard to evicted tenants. And it would have been more correct if this Bill had been called a Dillon and O'Brien relief Bill, because those hon. Gentlemen have got into a good deal of trouble with regard to evicted tenants. I admit that I would like to see the 262 trouble and difficulty got over simply for the sake of peace in Ireland, and if it only needs an extension of time for the clause of my hon. Friend behind me to be brought into fuller operation I should be content to wait. Hon. Members want to place these evicted tenants in a better position than the honest tenants, and I cannot understand them persistently bringing this question repeatedly before the House, unless they know that the trouble is extreme and that they must get out of it some way or other. They speak of the present tenants as "bogus tenants," and desire to turn them out for the purpose of replacing the evicted tenants, and the Bill proposes advances for that purpose. I think if the Government had seen their way in the Bill of last year to give small loans for the improvement of holdings it would have been a good thing and could have been done at small risk. But those loans should be given to the ordinary tenants and not specially to the evicted tenants who have gone out or been turned out when able to pay. I have the strongest objection to the proposal to take £100,000 or whatever may be required from the Irish Church surplus, which was made by the glebe land purchasers on the disestablishment of the Irish Church. The purchasers of the glebe lands had to pay 25, 26, and 27 years' purchase, and were only advanced three-fourths of the purchase-money—not the whole as in the case of the present tenants—and had to borrow the other fourth from usurers at very high rates of interest. They purchased, too, on the high rents then existing; no fair rents having been fixed by a Land Commission. These people honestly paid their instalments and created the surplus, and it is proposed to appropriate that money for the benefit of tenants who will not have to pay half the amount for their holdings. If ever there was a case of using honesty to relieve dishonesty it is here, and I shall oppose the clause to the best of my ability on behalf of the glebe tenant purchasers of Ireland. This is a disappointing Bill. I expected this would be a comprehensive measure, which would include a clause to induce the landlords to sell. When, last year, we proposed Amendments to the Land Bill which tended to benefit the landlord, we were called landlord's representatives; but I held then, as I hold now, that while we have a 263 voluntary system of purchase, we must give the landlord every possible inducement to sell. If the clause proposing that the Guarantee Fund should be exchanged for Consols could be adopted most of the unwillingness of the landlord to sell would be got rid of. There seems to be some misapprehension as to this Stock. It is Two and three-quarter Stock which the Government gives, and it ought to be worth the same in Consols, and it is simply a question of changing one Stock for another. If we could hold out the inducement to the landlords that they could have £100 in cash or value in Consols for what they have to sell it would have been better than this proposal in the Bill.
§ * MR. LEA
I have never known any form of the House prevent hon. Members proposing what they desire. Last year there was a limitation with regard to the amount for counties, and I expected that this Bill would deal with the question. If you are to deal with that question as hon. Members desire, you must have free purchase, no limitation as to counties, and no limitation of £25 or £50, so that whole estates can be bought. The hon. Member referred to the cases in Court. I think a little management would have brought about a settlement between landlord and tenant, and nothing would have been of more use for that purpose than the Arbitration clause of the Bill of 1890, which was omitted in the Act of last year. We asked the Government to accept that clause, and if we had been supported by hon. Members below the Gangway, I believe the Government would have accepted it. This Bill deals chiefly with the evicted tenants, and therefore I am not prepared to support it. I am prepared to support the Amendment of the Land Act if improvement is wanted to make it work. It is not working so fast as I could wish, but it is working faster than the Ashbourne Act when it first came into operation. Hon. Members say that the sale of the Ponsonby estate accounts for a large portion of the applications under the Act. One of the earliest applications under the Ashbourne Act was in reference to the Marquess of Bath's property in Monaghan, involving 700 applications, beside which the 109 applications for the Ponsonby estate sink into insignificance. If hon. Members would use their influ- 264 ence to promote the settlement of the land question they would do more for the peace of Ireland than by any proposal for self-government or any similar proposal they choose to adopt. I wish hon. Members would treat the land question seriously and earnestly, instead of bringing forward Bills which they say are not important. It seems to me that they are not serious when they oppose the various Land Purchase Acts of 1888, 1890, and 1891, and, in the face of a General Election propose a Bill which the introducer says is not important.
§ * MR. LEA
The hon. Gentleman used the words "not important," as I took them down at the time, but I am willing to accept his definition of what he intended to say. But if they think this Bill is not important, and the Seconder says that he is not in a position to argue that the Land Purchase Act is inoperative—
§ * MR. LEA
If that is the way hon. Gentlemen introduce and second Bills of this kind, it is not treating the question so seriously as it deserves. It is too early to consider any Amendment of the Land Purchase Bill, but if they bring forward any Bill which it can be proved would be beneficial, and make the Act more operative and work better, I shall be happy to support it. I do not think this is such a Bill, and therefore I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ *(1.45.) MR. BARTON (Armagh, Mid.)
I beg to second the Amendment of my hon. Friend. The discussion to-day differs from that of last night; it is a real discussion, while that of last night was a sham discussion. This Bill differs from that of 2nd March in a rather curious way, which has not been explained. That Bill dealt candidly with the evicted tenants, and put their case simply before the House. This is an omnium gatherum Bill, which collects all the Amendments to the Land Bill that 265 have been from time to time suggested from different quarters, and couples them with the case of the evicted tenants. This is, I think, a course injurious both to the Land Act and to the evicted tenants. If there are Members on this side who would like to see the Act amended, they are prevented from voting for the Bill because it is identified with the evicted tenants; and I think the evicted tenants would prefer to have their case put simply and candidly as by the Bill of the 2nd March. The 1st Clause of the Bill deals with the Insurance Fund. If I had been in Parliament last year I would have opposed the introduction of that Fund, as it is my desire that all Land Purchase Acts should be facilitated, and not rendered difficult of operation. However, my opinion on that question expressed in the Debate on the Address has been modified, for I find that hon. Members opposite have misrepresented the meaning, object, and effect of the Insurance Fund, and I cannot identify myself with that misrepresentation. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) described it as a Fund for giving two years' arrears to the landlord; I cannot accept that. Another hon. and learned Member described it as an Insurance Fund, not for the relief of the tenants, but of some spendthrift, useless or drunken man at the other end of the county. The only person who has anything to do with the Fund is the owner for the time being of the holding concerned. The object of the Fund is a good one—to provide a Fund in case of arrears due to distress or agricultural depression. And if it be not required to meet those cases it will be available to reduce the annual payments, so that the tenant would, after some years, have to pay less than he would even under the Ashbourne Act. While I object to anything which clogs the Act I cannot vote with hon. Members who attack the Fund on grounds which I cannot think other than misrepresentation. Another reason for the modification of my original view is that the Act is working better than we were led to believe was the case. I am also influenced by the rapid demoralisation on the Front Bench opposite. When we find Ministers, who, if they come into power at the next Election, will be responsible for the administration of the law, and in a position to introduce new legislation, voting on the 2nd March to indemnify the tenants 266 evicted under the Plan of Campaign, and pursuing a policy which can only lead to a general repudiation by the tenants of their obligations, I am less inclined than I was to disturb any guarantee. Clause 5 seems an excellent clause in itself, and I wish hon. Members had given me an opportunity of voting for it. Clauses 6, 7, and 8 also seem good clauses, if they are practicable. Clause 9 I object to. This clause shows the desire of some hon. Members to confine the operation of the Purchase Acts to unburdening the Landed Estates Courts and selling the inferior estates in Ireland. That is not what the tenant farmers and others in Ulster desire; they desire the Act to work on the best estates, between the best landlords and the best tenants. This clause would favour inferior estates, and I shall oppose it in the interests of both landlords and tenants in Ulster. I come now to the clauses which I regard as the real heart of the Bill—Clauses 2, 3, and 4. In Ireland this Bill is regarded merely as an evicted tenants' relief Bill, and as a bid higher than that in the Bill of 2nd March. That Bill proposed that rights of reinstatement and compulsory sale should be given to the evicted tenants, and this Bill offers a bid over that of £100,000 from the Church Surplus Fund. I admit that these tenants have claims on some persons and some funds, but the persons are not the representatives of British taxpayers in this House, and the funds are not public funds belonging to any part of the Empire. The persons on whom they have a claim are those who said, "The tenants left their homes on our advice." The evicted tenants also have strong claims on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House; claims which become evident in the light of the statement of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), that the Plan of Campaign was not an agrarian but a political agitation.
§ MR. J. E. REDMOND (Waterford)
That is a misrepresentation, no doubt unintentional. I said with reference to the origin and inauguration of the Plan of Campaign that I could not speak, as I had no share in its origin. What I said was that in any part I took in that Plan, I regarded it primarily as an agrarian movement, and also as a political movement and as an engine for discrediting the Government of the day.
§ * MR. BARTON
I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation, and his statement, as he has now explained it, is quite sufficient for my purpose. I say these tenants have claims on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, if it was a political agitation with the object of putting right hon. Gentlemen opposite in office. Any subscription list for evicted tenants might appropriately be headed by the names of right hon. Gentlemen who usually sit on the Front Opposition Bench, but who are conspicuous by their absence to-day. Hon. Members opposite have often declared that these tenants would be supported and maintained by the Irish nation and the Irish National Party. I say that after using words like these—we may call them brave words—they have no right to come and ask Parliament to sanction this application of public money to the use of persons whose only claim is that they have openly violated the law. But we hear that there are funds both in Ireland and Paris for the benefit of these evicted tenants. The Irish National Fund was subscribed partly for the evicted tenants and partly for electioneering and party purposes. I submit that if this money which is asked for is subscribed by Parliament you will be practically subscribing to an election fund for hon. Members opposite—not indeed for the Irish Party, but for one part of the Irish Party. You would not only be subscribing to that fund for election purposes against the Unionist Party; but also against the other section of the Nationalist Party, for it would be used against them just as much as against us, and I protest against any public money being granted for the use of a political Party or a part of a political Party. I should like to call the attention of hon. Members opposite to the report of a meeting of the Evicted Tenants' Association in Cork on the 19th March. This is an important Association, which has been in communication with Ministers and with the Leaders of the Opposition, and is the only Association in Ireland which has not declared itself on either side. The proceedings of that Association, and the statements made at that meeting, afford strong confirmation of what I said. I have no curiosity as to the manner in which this fund has been employed; but when 268 hon. Members come to this House and ask for £100,000 we are entitled to say to them—How can you ask this House for money which is either to swell the fund which you have, or to enable you to devote that fund to purposes to which this House could never consent that public money should be devoted? I am entitled also to comment upon the fact that this Bill, taken in connection with the Bill of 2nd March, shows a complete change of front. Speaking on the former Bill, the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) argued that it was the duty of the Opposition to do what Liberals had often done before to make compulsory in one year a measure which had passed as a voluntary measure the year before. I ask the House to contrast that with what occurred last night. When a measure affects the whole body of the tenants of Ireland they refuse to make it compulsory, but when it affects the evicted tenants who have broken the law, the measure must be made compulsory. Furthermore, we have it on the authority of the late Mr. Parnell that the policy announced from the Front Opposition Bench on 2nd March by the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) has not always been the policy of the Liberal Party, and that they have made a complete change of front. I should like to know from the Front Opposition Bench when they come in—for, though that Bench is absolutely empty now, I cannot think that right hon. Gentlemen will desert their allies—what they have to say about this matter? When the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) was asked by Mr. Parnell what was to become of the evicted tenants he made, we are told, a gesture of despair, and could offer no hope of direct relief. How can that be reconciled with the attitude of the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division on the 2nd March, and what is the meaning of this sudden change of front? Whatever the explanation may be, what has been the result of the promises made from the Front Opposition Bench on the 2nd March? The result has been disastrous, and has had a most evil effect in Ireland. It has given new life to the Plan of Campaign. The Front Opposition Bench have virtually encouraged agitation, for 269 when the fire was going out they added fresh fuel. It did not suit them, on the eve of a General Election, that the one black spot in Ireland should be removed by means of a mutual agreement between landlord and tenant. But what is the attitude of the Front Opposition Bench, and how do they reconcile their absence now with previous pledges? Have his colleagues told the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division that he went too far? Have they heard the cry of exultation when it was declared by the Irish Press that the great Liberal Party had bent the knee to the Irish Members below the Gangway? Have they repented? I think it is very likely and very probable the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division had a very disagreeable quarter of an hour with the right hon. Member for Derby when they talked over the subject afterwards. Cool as was the proposal of the 2nd March, I think this is cooler still. For what purpose was the Irish Church Surplus originally intended to be used? The right hon. Member for Midlothian, in his speech on the Irish Church Bill, declared that the surplus was to be devoted to the relief of unavoidable calamity and suffering which was not provided for by the Poor Law. The late Mr. John Bright uttered eloquent words with a similar meaning, but what is the case of the evicted tenants for whom this money is asked? Do they suffer from an unavoidable calamity? Have they in any way shown themselves deserving of any help? They are the victims not of misfortune but of miscalculation. The evictions were a matter of deliberate calculation, and the tenants left their farms in obedience to advice that it was to their interest to get out of their holdings. They have found out their mistake. I believe it would be a gross misappropriation of that fund if any portion of it were given to these people who have defied both the laws of the land and the laws of their Church, and I appeal to the Government and to hon. Members who occupy an independent position not to sanction a proposal to devote a large sum of money, which was subscribed for a noble purpose, to what would practically be the endowment of a sordid conspiracy.
§ (2.34.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
We have had, during the course of this Debate, some interesting lectures on Parliamentary tactics from the hon. Member for South Derry and the hon. Member for Mid Armagh. As a young Member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, I think that the methods pursued by the Irish Parliamentary Party in this House, and out of this House, have been instrumental in getting more benefits for the tenants of Ireland in the past ten years than the methods which have been pursued by the hon. Member for South Derry would be likely to attain in two centuries. The hon. Member for South Derry tells us that we should have put our Compulsory Sale Bill first, as the Compulsory Sale Bill was the more important Bill. Well, we know that in all probability, having regard to the state of business, it would be impossible to get an opportunity for discussing any one Bill dealing with the Laud Question at any considerable length, and we thought it better, under these circumstances, to put a Bill which there was a chance of carrying, in the best position. The hon. Member for South Deny admits, I suppose, after the Division of last night, that compulsory sale is not likely to pass in this present Parliament. It is, no doubt, a somewhat sweeping proposal. I do not desire to minimise its importance. It is a proposal which will in time be carried into law, whether by an English Parliament or by an Irish Parliament; but it is a proposal which it is impossible to expect to be carried into law by a Tory Parliament, and therefore we considered it hopeless to put a measure for compulsory sale in the first place. Last night we were told our Motion was an electioneering Motion. I do not complain of the imputation for one moment; it was an electioneering Motion. It was brought forward for the purpose of ventilating an important question, which will be the most important question in many elections in Ulster, to enable the tenantry in Ulster to see what are the views of their Representatives on that question, and to give them an opportunity of sending to the next Parliament men who will represent their views better than the men who represent them to-day. I think it served its purpose. Though 271 compulsory sale may be an impracticable proposal in a Parliament constituted as this Parliament is, after the General Election, when the constituencies of Ulster have an opportunity of speaking, I venture to think that it will be found that there is such an almost unanimous expression of opinion in one direction that in the next Parliament it will not be as hopeless as it is in this. But this Bill was drawn up having regard to the conditions in this present Parliament; moderate in all its provisions and not too sweeping in its scope—essentially an amending Bill to remove imperfections in the Act of last Session which the Government might admit without in any way abandoning their main contentions during last Session. And, within these limits, I hope the Government, in spite of the speeches which have been made against this Bill, will give it a careful consideration; and if there be in this Bill any provisions which they are in favour of, I hope they will not refrain from allowing it to pass a Second Reading, even if there are a few other provisions which, in Committee, they would not accept. I venture to think that the Bill is drawn in such a moderate spirit that the Government can, without any lack of self-respect, accept it. Why, the Times newspaper even has admitted that the Land Purchase Act requires amendment in some particulars, and it is no insult to the right hon. Gentleman and the others who acted with him in pushing the Land Purchase Act through last Session to say that it requires amendment. We do not repeal the provisions relating to the Purchasers' Insurance Fund, but the Purchasers' Insurance Fund was considered not a guarantee for the British taxpayer, not a guarantee even for the county, but a guarantee for the purchaser individually; and if the purchaser, being a wise and prudent man, thinks that he can do better by putting his money into his farm, by increasing his stock, by improving his land, I venture to think the purchaser ought to be allowed to do so. The Irish tenant farmer is sometimes pointed to as an example of thriftlessness. He is not always a thriftless man. The Vast majority of them are the very hardest-working men in the three Kingdoms, and they are always proud to put their labour and what money they can 272 scrape together into their holdings, and the real security of the British taxpayer is the work and the money which a tenant has put into his holding. Of course, that applies especially to Ulster; but it does not apply only to Ulster — it applies in a large measure to all Ireland; and money invested in the holding would be more advantageous to the Government and to the tenant than money hoarded up in the Purchasers' Insurance Fund. At any rate, let the tenant judge; he ought to be the best judge. You do not direct by Bill how the tenant is to stock or farm his holding, and I venture to think if you leave him this discretion, you ought to leave him a discretion as to the particular form of saving he is to adopt. However that may be, there can be no doubt as to the opinion of the tenants throughout Ireland. There can be no doubt that a very large number of sales are hampered by the provisions relating to the Insurance Fund. We do not try, at any rate, to misrepresent the purpose of the Purchasers' Insurance Fund, and I venture to think the statements attributed to my hon. Friends on the subject were not made by them, or were made by them by an oversight. The tenants of Ireland know perfectly well what is meant by the provisions of the Purchasers' Insurance Fund, and they know it prevents these sales. There are other parts in favour rather of the landlord than the tenant. The fifth clause provides that the guaranteed Land Stock should be exchanged for Consols under all circumstance. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant stated, no doubt by an oversight, on the Address moved by the hon. Member for West Belfast, that this was so already. As a matter of fact it is not so. It is only under limits prescribed by the National Debt Commissioners that this exchange is to be made, and that limitation is one which decreases the value of the stock. I am told many people have considered that limitation is a dangerous one; and the right hon. Gentleman actually did not know the limitation existed.
§ MR. JACKSON
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon; I pointed out the section of the Act which provides for the limitation.
§ MR. KNOX
Yes; but my recollection is that though the right hon. Gentleman pointed out the section, he did not quote it, but stated that the effect of it was to make these securities exchangeable on demand by the holder. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman did not say so I would beg to apologise; but I may remark that in saying it I am only following a leading article in the Times the day after, which corrected the right hon. Gentleman's statement. According to a well-known legal principle a statement in the Times would not be evidence against us, as it is hostile to us; but as it is the organ of the right hon. Gentleman it would be taken as evidence against his Party. However, the provision which we propose is not one very difficult to carry out. Section 7 is, I believe, a section which would enormously facilitate sales. I do not wish to condemn the Land Commission in this matter; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland knows that the procedure of the Land Commission in the matter of proof of title is not as satisfactory as it might be. The fact is that one of the Land Commissioners, having been trained in the Landed Estates Court, has to a large extent transferred the procedure of the Landed Estates Court to the Land Commission Court, and that procedure, it is well known, is not by any means very simple or intelligible. The most vexatious delay and extra costs are caused by the present system of requiring proof of title. Why should the Landed Estates Court or the Land Commission Court demand a longer title to be shown by a vendor in that Court than any ordinary purchaser has a right to demand elsewhere? I remember the hon. and gallant Member for North Down saying that he would not sell to a tenant unless he came to him with two years' rent at least in his pocket.
§ MR. KNOX
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman expects to get 20 years' purchase now; I hope he may. At present the delays in the Land Commission Court, owing to the long title required to be proved, are such that for two years the landlord is likely to get nothing, but is likely to have ex 274 out of pocket. That being so, I do not quarrel with the hon. and gallant Gentleman; I only quote his opinion as a practical man anxious to protect his own interest. If that be so, is it not necessary to cut down these proofs of title to some extent? No ordinary sale in England takes two years to complete, and I fail to see why it should take so long in Ireland. Then Section 8 also provides under certain strict conditions, with the permission of the Land Commission Court, to allow certain charges on an estate to abate during the process of sale. Sections 9 and 10 propose to give to tenants on mortgaged and encumbered estates a chance of buying their holdings on as good terms as any outside purchaser could buy them at. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh quoted another opinion upon this clause; and he seemed to think that by it we intended to do some injustice to the North of Ireland. There are nearly as many encumbered estates in Ulster as in any other part of Ireland. One of the worst cases of abuse of the Land Purchase Act, owing to the present state of the law, occurred the other day in respect to the Ballyhillville Estate in the County Down. And in Ulster, just as in other parts of Ireland, tenants who happen to be under encumbered landlords cannot get as good a chance of buying as tenants who are under landlords able to pay their way. At present a mortgagee with power of sale can sell to anybody else, but he cannot sell to the tenants under the Land Purchase Act. I venture to think that that is a provision which is not just. It is not to the advantage of good order in Ireland that there should be a new race of speculative purchasers coming in to own the land of Ireland, and cut out the tenants who would be the best owners of the land. The present race of landlords gain nothing by it. These are the main provisions which deal with the amendment of the law affecting existing tenants; and I do not think there is anything revolutionary in them. They are drawn not in a class spirit, but to give justice, fair play, and good administration to landlords as well as tenants, and to the mortgagees as well as landlords. Then there are other provisions dealing with the evicted tenants. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh told us that however good 275 might be the provisions relating to tenants in possession, he could not support the Second Reading of this Bill, because the Bill also proposed to confer some benefits on evicted tenants. What are the benefits which we propose to confer? The first is, I admit, a very slight benefit; it is an extension of a longer period of time for the sale, which is generally associated with the name of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. I fail to see why it is necessary, when a moderate and reasonable proposal such as that is made, to go through the whole history of every fund, apparently, which has been raised for political purposes in Ireland in the way the hon. Member for Mid Armagh has done. This is only a slight amendment of the clause of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. He must know that in these cases there is great difficulty in bring landlord and tenant together. We propose in this Bill that in these cases the landlord and tenant, should go and refer the terms to be settled to the Land Commission. We did not introduce the word "compulsion," and for this reason—that when the Motion of the hon. Member for Roscommon was submitted the other day, although supported by the Irish Representatives, it was opposed by the Government. We thought it necessary to draw a clause which would be moderate enough to be acceptable to the Government, and in accord with their expressed views. It is proposed by Clause 3 that a sum of money shall be set apart for the purpose of enabling these holdings to be brought again into cultivation. The hon. Member for South Tyrone will admit that the second great difficulty, after you have brought the landlord and tenant together in effecting a settlement, is to get these holdings back into a state of cultivation which will enable the Land Commission to advance the money. We propose to deal with that, not by means of Imperial money, but by taking a small and limited sum out of an exclusively Irish fund—the Irish Church surplus, and thus to enable these men to become as they were before their eviction—useful cultivators of the soil. The Irish Church surplus is a national fund, and I venture to contend that there is no purpose to which it could be more fittingly applied than the restoration of these evicted tenants from their holdings. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh and the hon. Members 276 who supported him on the other side of the House are very anxious to dissociate themselves from the evicted tenants, but I have not heard of any tenants in the North of Ireland who have refused to take advantage of the Act of 1887 because it was won by the Plan of Campaign. I, therefore, ask whether there could be a more religious purpose, in the best sense of the word, to which this Fund could be applied than the restoration of peace and tranquillity to the Clanricarde, to the Ponsonby, to the Alford, and to the other estates where disorder and suffering now prevails? I hold that, on every ground, it is the proper source from which this boon should be given to the Irish tenants. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh told us that there are other Irish funds to which we might first look. He said there was an Irish Tenants' Fund, which was the only Association in Ireland which did not take sides in the controversy. He stated, however, that this money was collected on false pretences.
§ MR. BARTON
I should be very sorry to suggest that the money was collected under false pretences. I said I had no right to inquire. I only called attention to the fact that hon. Members were asking for public money when there was an existing fund which could be utilised for the purpose.
§ MR. KNOX
The hon. Member certainly seemed to me to insinuate that the money had been subscribed for the purpose of the evicted tenants only in Ireland, and that it had been applied to other purposes by hon. Members sitting opposite to him. Well, I say that is not the fact. The money was subscribed for national purposes—for the purposes of the evicted tenants, and for other purposes. It was subscribed directly in accordance with the resolution that was passed; and if the hon. Member wishes to know, a very large sum has been paid over and applied out of that money for the purposes of the evicted tenants. Whatever differences of opinion there may be amongst the Nationalist Members in Ireland on the question, the evicted tenants will not be stinted, but that is no reason why the work of restoring peace in Ireland should be thrown entirely on the funds of a political Party. In many cases, as in the case of the Clanricarde Estate, there has been a serious conflict, and there are likely to 277 be conflicts which will disturb the peace for many a long year. Some previous Chief Secretaries have done something towards trying to restore peace there—the light hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade tried to do something. The present Government seem, however, to have abdicated their functions to do anything to restore peace on this estate, and the supporters of the present Government tell us that the functions of Government in restoring peace to the country should be thrown on a political Party. I venture to think that while right hon. Gentlemen are on the Treasury Bench they are responsible for the Government of Ireland, and they should do their part towards restoring peace on those estates. This Bill, drawn moderately as it is, drawn not in the interest of one class but of every class connected with the soil of Ireland, should be carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government. I venture to hope that whatever their opinion may be as to the origin of the Plan of Campaign, and the justification for it, they will allow the Bill to pass its Second Reading, because its object is an honest one.
§ (5.13.). MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
It is only to be expected that the Land Purchase Act will need amendment at some time or other. Every Act of such importance and magnitude must require such amendment, but hon. Members opposite have not shown any substantial reasons for the Amendments they have proposed. What experience have we had of the Land Purchase Act up to the present time? I am prepared to say that neither on this side of the House nor on that side of the House is anyone in a position to say that the Act is an absolute and convincing success; but the short experience that we have had of it goes to prove that there is every reasonable expectation of its proving a success. Statistics show that there is a great desire on the part of the tenants to avail themselves of its provisions. I have heard tenants discussing this Bill, and looking at it from all points of view; but I have never heard that the Insurance Clause has been the means of preventing them coming to an agreement with their landlords, and I submit that the argument put before the House to that effect is not a substantial argument. I should be utterly misrepresenting the views of the 278 Irish tenants whom I represent if I were to accede to the provisions of this Bill as to the relief to be given to them out of the National Insurance Fund in Ireland. They believe that the responsibility which has grown up, consequent upon the action of hon. Members opposite, both above and below the Gangway, must be borne by those hon. Members at the present time. They have led these men out into the wilderness, and it is their duty to do what they can to extricate them from the difficulty in which they now find themselves. The hon. Member who moved this Bill based his claim to the support of the House by a reference to the Clanricarde Estate. I say that neither on that nor on any other estate can there be found any reason for supporting this Bill. On the Clanricarde Estate the Plan of Campaign has broken down. Negotiations have been successfully carried out between the evicted tenants and the landlord, and I have heard that 30 tenants have been re-instated in their former holdings during the last year. In each of these cases the tenants have paid a substantial portion of their rent which was due and all the costs, and have given an undertaking to make a further payment at the end of six months. In addition to that the agent for the Clanricarde Estate has been able to dispose of upwards of 26 other farms.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
If hon. Members will allow natural causes to have their effect and permit the evicted tenants to come to terms with their landlords the whole difficulty with regard to the tenants would speedily disappear. I can say from my own knowledge that the spirit which has existed among the Irish some years ago, and of which hon. Members opposite have taken advantage, is rapidly vanishing. Hon. Members opposite can no longer rely upon the credulity of the tenants. The responsibility for the present condition of the evicted tenants rests upon them. They have advised these men to leave their farms rather than pay the rent which they were perfectly well able to pay, and they are now seeking to restore those unfortunate people to their former position at the cost of the Nation. What are the causes which have withdrawn from the hon. Members oppo- 279 site the financial support of the people of Ireland. There was a widespread feeling in Ireland that the money subscribed by the people of that country for certain purposes has not been applied entirely to those purposes, but has been used for other purposes, which were for the pecuniary advantage of those who have made political agitation in Ireland the most profitable business in that country. I will read a passage from a remarkable letter which was written by the rev. Canon Doyle in reference to both secretaries of the Irish Party. In that letter the rev. Gentleman said:—I say the lawyers we have now in the House, and some out of it, acted scandalously on the trials under the Coercion Act: that they actually transferred them into a milch cow; that they fattened on the sufferings and miseries of the poor persecuted people. The guilty are to be found in both wings of the disrupted Party. The fact—the disgraceful fact—is notorious. It is the business of the people to inquire into the characters of the men they return as their Representatives. If they return a gang of political adventurers, whipsters from newspaper offices, sharpers, chevaliers d'industrie, and understrappers of every degree, what can they expect but to be sold to the highest bidder.Now that is the deliberately expressed opinion of one of the leading parish priests, himself a Nationalist; and can hon. Members opposite be surprised that after such a condemnation their milch cow has failed them, and that there should be some reluctance in the minds of men to contribute their half-crowns on Sundays as before when they find that the funds to which they have subscribed are used not only for the purpose of the evicting tenants but for other purposes. I ask whether they will publish a statement showing how the funds have been distributed, and whether they will tell the people of Ireland which has supported them how much has gone for other purposes. If they will do that and submit their accounts to a proper audit, then I daresay they will find that the subscriptions that will come in on behalf of their cause will be much larger than they are at the present time. My constituents complain that three-fourths of the fund have not been applied to their proper purposes, and they would certainly strenuously object to see even the sum of £100,000 further applied to the use of men who have brought themselves into their present condition by having followed the advice of the leaders of a political agitation which is 280 believed to be disastrous to the best interests of Ireland. If hon. Members really want to assist the evicted tenants, let them remove the ban which has been placed on these men. Let them direct Father McFadden, of Gweedore, to cease to interfere between landlords and tenants. The Irish people are told that the best way to heal their differences is to re-unite in the fight with landlordism, but if the tenants are allowed to come to terms with their landlords, they will be re-instated in a very short time. There is no use in hon. Members coming to the House and asking for funds to relieve distress and to cure disorder, when that disorder can be removed and that distress relieved by one word from the leaders of the agitation in Ireland. Now, a speech was made in the month of November last, which was reported in the National Press—a speech of great importance, not because it was made by an Irish Member of Parliament, but because, in addition, it was made by a gentleman who is now director of the literary activity of the National Press and the Freeman's Journal. He told the people at Longford that the best way of re-uniting the people was to re-unite them in the fight against landlordism. After that speech I certainly thought something more approximating to the ideas of the general Plan of Campaign would have been contained in this Bill. But hon. Members now come forward as the benefactors of the Irish landlords. I have looked at this Bill, and from that point of view I do not think they have justified their claim. The hon. Member for Cavan dealt with Clause 9, which would place mortgagees in the same position in Ireland under the Land Purchase Act as the Irish landlords. I altogether object to that. If a mortgagee wants to be placed in the shoes of a landlord, let him foreclose his mortgage, and then he will be in a position, if he chooses, to deal with the tenants. But I altogether object to a mortgagee coming in and squeezing the landlord into terms which may cover the mortgage but which may leave nothing to anybody else. Now, Sir, as regards Clause 10, which deals with the case of the speculative purchaser, I must say that I do not see that the speculative purchaser is a man who would do any great injury in Ireland; perhaps he might facilitate operations. There might well be cases in which the landlord had his estate 281 encumbered in such a way, and to such an extent, that he could not come to an agreement with his tenants as to the terms upon which he would sell his property. But supposing a speculative purchaser walks in and says to the landlord, "I give you so much down in cash," the landlord might accept from the speculative purchaser his terms, leaving the speculative purchaser to make terms with the tenants. Having paid the landlord in cash the speculative purchaser would be entitled to make something out of the transaction, but he must make reasonable terms with the tenants, because those terms would be subject to the approval of the Land Commission. Therefore, Sir, the only effect of this provision would be to retard and to obstruct the operation of the Land Purchase Act. That being so, I shall oppose that clause. Now, Sir, as regards Clause 6, although I admit it is intended to operate for the benefit of the agricultural labourer, it does not confer upon him any benefit at all. At present, under the Land Purchase Act, he not only shares in the distribution of the county percentage but in the share of the Exchequer's contributions. As regards the proving of titles, I would be glad to do anything to shorten the time, as I think there is great hardship in the present mode. Sir, looking at this Bill in its wide and general application, having regard to the fact that it is really a Bill for the relief of the evicted tenants and to apply to them a share of national funds, I am bound to say, for myself and for those I represent, that I shall have to give it my strongest opposition.
§ (3.40.) MR. SEXTON
Men of public spirit in or out of the House will be disposed to agree that this Debate would have lost nothing, and might indeed have gained much, if hon. Members who have spoken in opposition to the Bill had been content to address themselves in a spirit worthy of a deliberative Assembly to the merits of the case and to the provisions of the Bill, and had not made the Debate the occasion of importing prejudice and passion, and making offensive insinuations and leveling intolerable insults. It would have been well for the character of this Assembly and the relations between its Members, if Members generally had been content to discuss the question in the 282 spirit of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cavan—a spirit of calm and reasonable argument upon the provisions of the Bill of last year, and the Amendment now proposed. But, Sir, hon. Members, and amongst them the hon. Member who has just spoken, have chosen, with a questionable sense of the nature and the limits of the subject, to make this Debate the vehicle for insult and insinuation against certain Members sitting on this side of the House. The hon. Member who makes these imputations—
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I only quoted speeches to show the views which certain Nationalists belonging to the hon. Member's Party entertained.
§ MR. SEXTON
The hon. Member quoted speeches and drew inferences. He is one of those who take upon themselves the rôle of political scavengers and who search—and I regret that the hon. Member for North Armagh has inaugurated his career by following so vicious an example—who search throughout the Press for any speech, or letter, or phrase which might be held to convey an insult against any Member of this House, in order to introduce it into a Debate in this House to obscure the issues. I say to such men that though they may gratify an unmanly passion for the moment, they will not achieve an honourable position in this House. The hon. Member who last spoke belongs to, and is the spokesman of, a class that has plundered the people of Ireland for generations. The legislative results of our action have been that a million and a quarter sterling of money that was formerly taken annually from the people by these landlords now remains in their pockets. The hon. Member is, I say, the spokesman of a class that made life miserable for the Irish people until they were handcuffed by force of law—a class more responsible than any for offences against Christianity and civilisation—and yet the hon. Member comes forward to make imputations against a body of men who came into public life for honourable motives, and who have kept themselves free from dishonour, and of whom I say that their motives for coming into public life and remaining in it are more honourable, more free from selfishness and from personal gain than can be claimed by hon. 283 Gentlemen opposite. We are the only-Party that come to this House from motives that are impersonal, and it is intolerable that a Debate on the Irish Land Purchase Act should be turned into an arena for the dissemination of insult. Reference has been made to the National Fund. I think I have already explained that the great bulk of that Fund is devoted to the relief of the evicted tenants and is applied to no other use; that Fund is in the hands of men who hold themselves responsible for every penny that is received and spent; the accounts audited and published in due course; and I shall be extremely glad to lay a copy on the Table if the hon. Member for South Tyrone will lay on the Table a copy of the receipts and expenses of the Secret Fund he administers for the sustentation of the planters, and if the Chief Secretary will give us an account of the receipts and the expenses of the Carlton Club. I make that challenge, and until that challenge is answered I defy hon. Members to repeat these insults.
§ MR. BARTON
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. I never made any personal reflections. What I said was that this Evicted Tenants' Fund was a Party Fund, and that we were asked to supplement it by public money.
§ MR. SEXTON
Yes, Sir; but there was a certain under-current of imputation running through the speech of the hon. Member, and I say that if that is continued the dignity of the House will suffer. The order of Debate will not be advanced, and the pacific relations and the existence of good feeling between different parts of the House will be rendered impossible. The hon. Member did make reference to the existing public fund as a reason why our claim should not be met. I make bold to say that a more despicable policy never was announced in this House. It amounts to this—that those evicted tenants now constitute a charge upon the Irish people, and that you will not allow a grant of public money to be made for their relief, because the people would thus be relieved of the burden and would be able to make use of that money for political purposes. That is a deliberate avowal that the Government refuse our demands, so that the people of Ireland may be embarrassed at the forthcoming General Election in the exercise of their constitutional rights. 284 Was ever a more disgraceful policy announced? When the people of Ireland know the policy they will see its baseness. Now, Sir, we are asked to reject this Bill, on the ground—That this House, though perfectly willing to consider a reasonable Amendment of the Land Purchase Act of 1891 … declines to re-open the question of the evicted tenants, it having been previously decided this Session.Those who agree with that Amendment are bound to support this Bill, because it contains clauses which it is admitted are worthy of being considered. In the second place, the question of the evicted tenants has not been decided this Session, and for these two reasons I claim that the Bill should be read a second time. No doubt certain propositions connected with land purchase have been rejected this Session, but none of them were identical with the clauses of the Bill now before the House. The position taken up by the hon. Member for South Derry is one which is neither justified by his experience nor by his authority. This Bill deals with people out of their homes. It is, therefore, urgent. Secondly, we believe that no system of land purchase will succeed whilst the present system of insurance stands. Even compulsion would be of no service. The hon. Member for South Derry has taken upon himself to criticise the conduct of the Irish Members in the Debate last night. He developed a spirit of rancour, and spoke of this as an O'Brien and Dillon Belief Bill. He would reject this Bill not because of the dispossessed conditions of certain people, but because certain other people took an interest in them. The question before the House is whether this Bill is for the public benefit and in the interests of public order. The reason why these evicted tenants have an unimpeachable claim is this—that it was they who induced the House to pass remedial legislation. By resisting unjust demands, by going out rather than pay exorbitant rents, these men obtained all the reforms of the law that have taken place during the last ten years. The justness of the claims of these men have been admitted in the most solemn form in Acts of the greatest importance, and a moral obligation lies upon the Government and the House to see that the men who first applied the levers of justice should not be left out in 285 the cold. There was nothing more amusing than the speech of the Attorney General for Ireland last night. He spoke of our conversion to the policy of purchase. Sir, we are the originators of the policy of purchase, having been prosecuted for it. We forced it upon this House. We compelled one Party after another to accept land purchase; and if the right hon. Gentleman will ask at Dublin Castle for a copy of the card of membership of the Land League in 1879 he will find that the second of the ten objects of the League was to make every tenant in Ireland on fail terms the owner of his holding. This latest neophyte official of the Tory Party stands up in the House of Commons, in the face of us who have gone through the desert for the sake of the cause, and have brought it down to the threshold of success, and waves the torch of the true faith of our fathers. There is another question to be considered, and that is whether or not the Act of last year has succeeded? That is the fundamental question here to-day. If the Act of last year has been a splendid success, of course there is no need for amendment. But I claim with confidence that not only has the Act of last year not succeeded, but that up to the present moment the course of transactions under it may be pronounced a failure. The Attorney General said the success of the Act was so great that we were compelled to apply it compulsorily to the whole of Ireland. But we think the success of the Act was so little that it is necessary to apply compulsion in order to make it a complete success. I believe the Chief Secretary gave particulars up to the 28th March to the hon. Member for South Tyrone; but when I applied for particulars of the sums applied for, sanctioned, and issued, the right hon. Gentleman could only give me the sums applied for, but not those sanctioned and issued.
§ * MR. JACKSON
I think it a little unreasonable to press this. I did not see the question until I reached the House at twelve o'clock. It only appeared on the Paper for the first time this morning, and the information could not possibly be given without communicating with Dublin. I ask, is it reasonable to press such a point when it really would not have been possible to get the information, and when, as a matter of fact, I had not seen the question?
§ MR. SEXTON
Of course, I accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. All I can say is that the hon. Member for South Tyrone appeared to revel in the information.
§ * MR. JACKSON
He applied to me in writing, and gave notice that he intended to ask the question. I was unable to get the information by Question time, or I would have given it in answer to a question across the floor of the House. When I did get it I sent it to him in the ordinary course, as I should have sent it to any other hon. Member.
§ MR. SEXTON
I put my question down last night, and the right hon. Gentleman had it this morning. There is a wire from the Irish Office to the Land Commission in Dublin, and I think it would have been reasonable if the officials of the Land Commission had this morning, in ordinary course, supplied the information by wire. They could have wired the information as they do every day. The Commissioner, who has no less than £3,000 a year—Mr. Trench—might have wired the intelligence.
§ MR. SEXTON
What in the world is the Irish Office for? The Votes and Proceedings were delivered at the Irish Office this morning at ten o'clock.
§ MR. SEXTON
The clerks could have wired the question in the ordinary way, and a reply might have been sent to the message, as is usual in such cases. However, we have to seek out the information as best we can; we have to take it at second hand, and fall back on the speech of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. But the hon. Member for South Tyrone fell into the grievous error of supposing that the success of the Land Purchase Act had been shown by coupling together the transactions under the Ashbourne system and under the Act of last year.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I gave the operations under the Ashbourne Act for the five months from August to December, 1891, and then I took the new Act, which, for all practical purposes, came into operation on the 1st July, and gave the Returns separately.
§ MR. SEXTON
That is precisely what the hon. Member did not do. On the contrary, he treated the cumulative operations under the Ashbourne Act of last year as a proof of the success of the Land Purchase Act. The grand total under the various Acts from August to December, the hon. Member said, was 1,962 applications for £769,510; therefore, he had to give the transactions under the Ashbourne system last year and the transactions under the Land Purchase Act, and he cited the cumulative facts as a proof of the success of the Land Purchase Act. But that is exactly our position. Our contention is, that the transactions under the Ashbourne Act have been more numerous than they would be under the present Act, because the former gave the tenant the full benefit of the bargain; and under the Ashbourne Act in six years there have been applications for £6,000,000. What were the applications under the new Act? Though the figures were few and slight, the hon. Member for South Tyrone was not able to carry them correctly. He told us that in October the amount applied for was £943; in November, £35,000; and in December, £79,584. But, as a matter of fact, the hon. Member gave as the transactions for December the transactions which had taken place during the whole of the three months. The hon. Member, as another argument that the Land Purchase Act had succeeded, stated that "for a period of practically three months there had been 1,253 applications for the amount of £444,612." What does he mean by practically three months, when the period he took was actually seven months? The Land Purchase Act was passed in August last year, and it was open to any tenant and landlord to agree at any time from the month of August up to the present day. And in the whole of those seven months the transactions under the Act have been something over 1,200, and the amount applied for £444,000. And it is owing to the Evicted Tenants' Clause, inserted by our pressure, that you are able to prevent the miserable appearance of the course of transactions under the Evicted Tenants' Act. How many voluntary and free transactions have occurred with evicted tenants? I should think very few. I therefore say that the great part of those 4,000 applied for is due to the clause we 288 had inserted in the Bill of last year, and if you consider the transactions which are absolutely free in regard to tenants in possession of their holding, the Act is an absolute and miserable failure. I will not go into the details of the Bill, but will say it is a Bill which proposes to benefit every class in Ireland. There is a clause for the benefit of the labourers which will give them £30,000 a year under the Land Act. Why should £40,000 a year be locked up for five years in a reserve for which there is and can be no need, whilst the labourers in Ireland, to whom this money might otherwise be applied, are living in a state of misery and in unsanitary houses? Three of the clauses are for the benefit of the landlords. I have to say, in reply to the hon. Member for South Derry, that if we had proposed in this Bill that the landlords should have cash, that would not have been allowed, because no Member of this House is allowed to propose a charge upon the Public Revenue. And I would counsel the hon. Member for South Tyrone to counsel his friend the Member for South Derry not to run into the adjudication of those matters, which are already in the hands of competent authorities. The Chief Secretary says that the landlords may have Consols instead of cash if they desire, but the National Debt Commissioners are only empowered to issue a certain amount of Consols instead of Land Stock, and no landlord would be sure that any would be available for him. This Bill would make it plain that any landlord could have Consols if he pleased. I will not deal with the clauses benefiting the tenants in detail. The Insurance Fund in many cases works unevenly and oppressively. The insurance should be voluntary, and then I believe that many of the tenants would be willing to insure; but there is something abhorrent in compulsion, and it creates a prejudice against the system which would not exist if there were no compulsion. This Bill is intended to make the Act of last year work. If you pass it, it will confer benefit on the labourers, on the tenants, and on the landlords; it will make the policy of purchase—what it is not now—a practical and workable policy. If you refuse to accept it, in the name of common sense and decency do not persist in the nonsensical argument that the 289 men who offer such Bills to you to make your policy effective are enemies of land purchase.
§ *(4.18.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I do not intend to deal with the earlier portion of the hon. Member's speech, but we must all recognise that hon. Members below the Gangway have become very thin-skinned and are greatly concerned about the dignity of debate. With regard to the working of the Land Purchase Act I wish to be very clear and very distinct. What I said last night was this, and my words are correctly reported. I said that for the five months from August to December last year the new Act was in competition with the surplus of the old Act, and that, inasmuch as the terms of the old Act were better for both buyer and seller, purchasers and vendors naturally went to the surplus of the old before going to the new Act. For those five months there were practically only something like 200 applications under the new measure. I admit that I summed up in the working for the five months the proceedings under both Acts, making a grand total of 1,972 applications, and my object was to show that during that period land purchase had been going on as rapidily as before. Then I turned to the three months, January, February, and March of the present year, bringing my figures down to the day before yesterday, through the kindness of the Chief Secretary, and I stated that during those three months, the only three months during which the Act can really be said to have been in operation, there had been 1,252 applications for £444,000.
§ MR. SEXTON
That is not the fact. That is the number of applications for the whole of the seven months.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Accepting the hon. Member's statement, that only reduces the number of applications by 200, but my figures were clearly understood by the House. The hon. Member said, what he does not know, that many of these applications were by evicted tenants; if so, he is forced to the conclusion that they are coming in under the 13th section of the Act. Then what is the use of this Bill? If the old Act is sufficient, and these applications represent the evicted tenants, there is the less necessity for this Bill. When I came to 290 look at the Bill the first question I asked myself was, What is the principle of the Bill? Is it a Bill to amend the Land Purchase Act of last Session, or a Bill to restore the evicted tenants? Both these ideas are in the Bill. Hon. Members opposite shut out Members like myself and my hon. Friend near me and the hon. Member for Mid Armagh (Mr. Barton), who are anxious to vote for any reasonable amendment of the Land Purchase Act, by bringing in a Bill to amend it, and putting in three or four clauses dealing with the evicted tenants, which they know that the Government and we cannot accept. And then the hon. Members pose as the tenant's friends, bringing forward impossible Resolutions one night and absurd Bills the next day. This is more an Evicted Tenant's Relief than a Land Purchase Act Amendment Bill, judging from the speech of the Mover of the Second Reading. He devoted exactly two minutes to the first clause, which deals with the Insurance Fund, and then tumbled into the question of the evicted tenants, with which he is specially acquainted and upon which he feels deeply. Judging from that speech, the Bill is one for the restoration of the evicted tenants, and for handing over to them public money to start them afresh in business after they have failed. On the question of the evicted tenants I want to ask this frankly and plainly, Who is responsible for the position of these tenants? Mr. Speaker, this is not a case of men being unjustly evicted, though everybody will admit that there may have been such cases. The Bill proposes to deal with the men who were evicted in the old Land League days, under the "No Rent" Manifesto.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Under the Manifesto, for signing which hon. Members were put into prison by right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench. It deals with the tenants evicted under the Land League and the Plan of Campaign. These were grown men, who elected whom they would serve, and they took the bad advice tendered by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. They deliberately elected to follow that advice, and in hundreds, if not in thousands, went out voluntarily on the arrival of the Sheriff or were forcibly evicted. Under these circumstances, what right 291 have hon. Members to come to this House, whose laws they broke, having given that advice, and try to throw on the House the responsibility of doing what they call justice to these men? We have heard a great deal of Lord Clan-ricarde, but the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) has dealt effectively with that. We were also told that on the Olphert Estate there were starving men and that destitution was prevalent. Mr. Olphert had 350 tenants, and they, acting under the advice of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, were nearly all evicted. They suffered nameless hardships, and 120 went back twelve months ago. I have had two letters during the last three or four days from that estate, from which I shall read extracts. In one, dated 26th March, the writer says—You will be glad to hear we have made another breach in the Plan of Campaign; about 60 tenants have accepted our terms.These are the men for whom relief was asked—These terms have been three years' rent paid down and half the legal costs, and they have gone back and are rejoicing. The most of them paid during the last two days, so we may safely suspect that a number will follow their example. Many would have paid a fortnight ago, but were invariably turned back either at Gortahork or Falcarragh. This thoughtful action on the part of their leaders has thrown miserable dupes back in their crops and wasted a week of the finest weather we have had for a long time in this country."Last night I received another letter which says—Just a line to tell you 34 more evicted tenants paid up yesterday, including three of Father MacFadden's parishioners.The gentlemen who have these agents waiting at the corner to turn back tenants who have a desire to get back to their holdings and the money in their pockets, have no right to come and ask for public money to carry out their policy. These gentlemen are responsible to the evicted tenants; they made their beds for them, and the pity is that the men who made the beds have not to be in them. The Irish Church Surplus was never intended for a purpose of this kind. I remember the Irish Church Debates, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian gave a hint that this surplus might be devoted for the relief of distress, for the blind or insane. I almost think these tenants were insane, and a case might, perhaps, be made out 292 on that ground. But I say that so long as hon. Members prevent these tenants from going back to their holdings and settling with their landlords they have no right to come here and ask for £100,000 in order to put these men back. With respect to the Insurance Clause, I hold that it was brought about by the action of hon. Members below the Gangway. It is all very well for them to complain of it now, but there was no Insurance Clause in the Ashbourne Act. What made right hon. Gentlemen opposite insist on security? It was the threat of repudiation from hon. Members below the Gangway, and because of the open promulgation of that monstrous system of robbery, the Plan of Campaign. I was in favour of the Insurance Clause on its merits. The State, in this great transaction, is called upon to run a risk; the landlord is called upon to run a risk; and is it to be said that the man who is to get the whole benefit is the only man who is to have no responsibility, and to do nothing for his own salvation? It is not too hard to ask the Irish farmer to pay higher for the first five years, in order to make an Insurance Fund which is for his own benefit and not for the benefit of other people. I was going to make an appeal to the Front Opposition Bench, but it is unoccupied. It is the most extraordinary Front Bench I ever saw. It is always one wide expanse of green leather when it ought to be filled. The hon. Member for Northampton is also absent, or I would appeal to him as a locum tenens. But if the British taxpayer sees no good in this Insurance Clause I will not plead for it. If they are willing to relinquish their security I will not insist upon it. But what I say is that this Bill has two objects. One is perfectly legitimate and perfectly necessary, and I sympathise with it, and on that ground would support the second reading and discuss the matter in Committee. But when hon. Members mix up land purchase with the case of the evicted tenants, upon which this House has already given its verdict, I agree with the hon. Member for South Antrim that it is impossible for any man representing an Ulster tenant farming constituency to vote for a measure of this kind. If we made these tenants a present of this £100,000 we should do a grievous wrong to our constituents, and I do not think we should 293 be allowed to do that more than once. I shall vote for the Amendment, and now, as before, I shall resist any proposal to re-instate men who have no claim on the sympathy of this House and far less on its generosity.
§ (4.36.) MR. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I contend that the English farmer has certainly had as many troubles as the Irish farmer, and I cannot say that I think the Irish farmer, though we hear more of him, has more claims upon this House; and, therefore, I am anxious that when the case of farmers is considered that an equal claim should be put forward for all, and that one class of farmers should not be benefited at the expense of another. I understand that this Bill is not considered by hon. Gentlemen from Ireland as a very important measure, and I gather from the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading that he himself did not attach much importance to it. I also note from speeches delivered on the other side of the House that they considered there were considerable benefits to be derived from the Act which this Bill was designed to amend—the Land Purchase Act of 1891. I was very glad to hear that, because we have been in the habit of hearing quite another thing; but as these benefits are now admitted, I ask is it worth while that that Act should be interfered with by propasals which cannot certainly be considered fair to all the parties concerned? We have heard a good deal about the evicted tenants, but I question whether we have ever had a proposal made in this House which is so unfair as this one. How would a proposal of this kind act in England? How would an English farmer like it when he had been in possession, say, two or three years, to be all of a sudden turned out because a man who, by the machinery of the Plan of Campaign—the most dishonest machinery that was ever introduced between landlord and tenant—had been compelled to give up the farm, was now to be re-instated? There is nothing fair in that proposal, and the English farmers will see that proposals of this kind are nothing more than obstacles in the way of the legitimate grievances of the English farmers being dealt with. I do not wish to speak in any spirit but one of kindness to the Irish Members, whose constituents, doubtless, have grievances as ours have; but I say to them 294 that if they bring forward proposals of this kind, which are not supported by any of the principles of justice or fair play, they not only damage themselves, but do an injustice indirectly to the English farmer. I think also that the powers conferred on mortgagees by this Bill are absurd. I am certain that they are unheard of in this country; but what guarantee have we that if this principle is adopted in Ireland it may not be brought over to England? Nothing is said in the Bill about the power of foreclosure, but the mortgagee can do anything he likes. I have every respect for the position of a mortgagee, but I would not give him such powers as are here conferred, and I am bound to ask if there is anything peculiarly exceptional with regard to the owning of land in Ireland that would make the conditions so different from what are laid down as to the conditions of owning land in England? It seems to me that some such procedure as the provision in the Land Purchase Act of 1891, relating to the insurance of the small holders who buy under that Act, is perfectly fair either in England or Ireland, because nothing is more precarious than the business of a farmer; and I think that, speaking of small farmers with farms of from 30 to 40 acres in extent, it is for the interest of the farmers as well as for the interest of the ordinary taxpayer—who I suppose has to provide the money—that a system of insurance should be set up. I see no grievance whatever in connection with that matter. My apology for interposing in an Irish Debate like this is that I take an interest in the subject. I do not think that the interests of the farmers, either in Ireland or in England, would be advanced by accepting a measure of this sort.
§ (4.48.) MR. J. E. REDMOND (Waterford)
I think nobody could complain of the tone or spirit of the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House. I am one of those who regret very much that the opponents of this Bill on both sides of the House did not speak in an equally calm and moderate tone. I regretted very much to hear the bitterness which was imported into the Debate by some of the speakers, and I can assure the House that I will not lend myself many attempt to import into a discussion on the subject of the 295 evicted tenants in this House, or out of this House, any of the questions which for the last year have been dividing the different sections of Irish Nationalists amongst themselves. I only rose for the purpose of making it perfectly plain, although I scarcely think a word on the subject is necessary from me, that there is absolute unanimity amongst all shades of Nationalist Representatives in this House as to the necessity which we believe exists for some measure to give relief to these evicted tenants. The responsibility for these evicted tenants, I admit, to some extent, does rest upon the shoulders of the Nationalist Members. I am not at all inclined, for my part, to attempt to shift off my shoulders whatever share of that responsibility rests upon them. But, of course, the main responsibility for the existence of the evicted tenants rests upon the land system in Ireland, which for so long has been the cause of misery, and oppression, and eviction amongst the tenant farmers. At the same time, I admit that responsibility rests upon the leaders of Nationalist opinion in Ireland, who have placed themselves at the head of the tenants in the agitations which have taken place in that country. It must be perfectly plain, however, to every man, that there cannot be a settlement of the Irish Question, that there cannot be a restoration of peace and order, and contentment and goodwill in Ireland, except some means are found for restoring the bulk of these tenants to their homes. I believe that the gradual process of restoration which has been going on from one cause or another may continue, but that is a slow method and an uncertain one; and I believe it will be necessary for any English Government which tries to settle this Irish Question to deal with the question of the evicted tenants. Allusion has been made during this Debate to the state of the Front Opposition Benches, and it would be easy for me to take advantage of the deserted state of that Bench to found certain arguments thereon, but this much, at any rate, must be said: that so far as this Bill deals with the evicted tenants the Front Opposition Benches are pledged on this question without coming here at all, because my hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon introduced a Bill on the 2nd of this month of a more sweeping character for the evicted 296 tenants than the one under discussion—a Bill winch called in not only the aid of the Legislature for the purpose of assisting in the restoration of these tenants to their homes, but it actually proposed to take the planters by the neck and compulsorily put them out of the farms they had grabbed—that measure was supported in the Lobby by the full force of the Liberal Party and by all the Members of the Front Opposition Bench. So that for my part, so far as the question of the evicted tenants is concerned, I do not care very much—I am not very much concerned for the fact that the leaders of the Liberal Party are not here, because they are already pledged upon this question. So far as the remaining portion of the Bill is concerned—namely, that portion of the Bill which deals with the amendment of the Act of 1891, with the Insurance Clause, with the question of the particular kind of Stock and other subjects, I regret, I frankly say, that we have not had the assistance and advice of the right hon. Gentlemen upon the Front Opposition Bench; but I think their absence is probably natural, because I am one of those who recognise that the ultimate solution of this land question must be for them an exceedingly difficult matter. This land question was sought to be dealt with by them in a heroic spirit in 1886, but apparently the whole Liberal Party in the country revolted against the proposal to pledge British credit for the purpose of buying out the Irish landlords; and the policy of the leaders is plain. It is manifest on this subject they are not prepared to deal with this land question in a heroic manner—they are not prepared to propose a settlement of the land question based upon purchase; and I have not heard that they are prepared to settle the land question on any other lines Therefore, they are in this position, they are without a policy at all. I do not object to that. I am one of those, I admit, who would be glad to see this land question settled concurrently with the Home Rule question, if possible. I cannot disguise from myself that if an Irish Parliament is created, to turn our attention immediately to a subject like this, which has kept classes apart for generations and centuries in Ireland, it will be very difficult indeed for us to succeed in achieving that without which we cannot succeed in the Government of Ireland at 297 home—namely, the union of different classes in Ireland in a combined effort to promote the social, and commercial, and political prosperity of the country. Therefore, I should be glad if it were possible that this Parliament and the Liberal Party, in their wisdom, could see their way to deal themselves with this question, before or concurrently with the settlement of the Home Rule question. But if the Government Party which I hope will come into power after the next Election is not prepared to propose a policy of their own, and this matter must be relegated to an Irish Parliament, it cannot be left in its present position; it must be given to Irishmen in their own Parliament to settle this question in accordance with what their own judgment and conscience may seem to direct. I would urge upon the House that every day that passes with those tenants left out of their homes the difficulties of the Irish question must increase, the danger to the peace of Ireland must continue. The state of things in Ireland at the present moment may be deceptive to those unacquainted with the country; but it cannot be deceptive to the First Lord of the Treasury, who has boasted that he has restored order in Ireland. But he must know that order cannot be perfectly restored or put upon a satisfactory footing in Ireland so long as there are thousands and thousands of families out of their homes. It is nonsense, with great respect, for the hon. Member for South Tyrone to try to lead the House to believe that when we speak of the evicted tenants we mean the men who have two or three years' rent in their pockets, and who are able to pay their rent. There may be such men, but I am not aware of their existence. Of the evicted tenants there are 5,000 families at least altogether all over Ireland—some of them out of their homes since 1879—and there may be some tenants scattered here and there able to do what the hon. Member says has been done in one instance to his knowledge. But it is nonsense, and he knows it is nonsense, to allege of the vast majority of these 5,000 tenants that they are in a position to pay two years' or even one year's rent at the present moment. They are not; they are there out of their homes. The vast majority of the homes have not 298 been taken by new tenants. The vast majority of these farms are idle; they are going to waste there, a scandal to the country side, a source of loss and a disgrace to the landlords. And I do think, whether the particular proposals before the House now are perfect or not, that for the sake of the credit of the country, for the sake of the peace of the country, all parties in this House ought to unite to devise some means whereby, justice being done to the landlords as well as the tenants, these men might be restored upon fair and equitable terms to their own homes.
§ *(5.0.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. JACKSON,) Leeds, N.
I may perhaps be permitted to join in the regret expressed by the hon. Member for Waterford, who has just sat down, that we have not had the advantage to-day of the presence of Members on the Front Opposition Bench to hear what he had to say, and to be ready to answer some of the questions which he has put to them. It is true that on a recent occasion when a Bill of this description was before the House there were certain votes given in favour of that Bill; and in some respects that Bill even went beyond the Bill now before the House. I confess I heard the speech of the right hon. Member for Bridgeton on that occasion with much surprise, but the hon. Member for Waterford must not deceive himself by hugging to himself the belief that if the Party opposite comes into power after the General Election they will introduce measures similar to the present or the other Bill to which he has alluded. We have heard something about being in a position of greater freedom and less responsibility; but if right hon. Gentlemen on the other side were to get into a position of greater responsibility and less freedom, hon. Members would probably find that these right hon. Gentlemen will not follow up by legislation the promise of their votes. It is no doubt very desirable to encourage as far as possible the evicted tenants in coming to terms with their landlords. I am not sure that the introduction of a Bill of this kind will not tend, and has not tended, seriously to delay many settlements which would otherwise have been made. It is true that there are a good many of these farms lying derelict in Ireland; but it is true also that during the last year there has been a 299 distinct movement in the direction of evicted tenants coming to terms with their landlords, and being restored to their holdings. It has been forcibly pointed out by the hon. Member for South Tyrone that a great deal of responsibility rests upon hon. Members in regard to evicted tenants. It should be borne in mind that a very large number of the evicted tenants cannot truthfully state that they were evicted because they were unable to pay unjust or excessive rent. It was open to all of them to go into Court and to demand that a judicial rent should be fixed. It has been avowed over and over again that a great many of these evictions were carried out in consequence of men trying to break down the law and to ruin the property which had been let to them. I am afraid the real truth is that the money which has been necessary, and which is necessary, to maintain their families, has for some time past been running short. The hon. Member for West Belfast attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim for having used strong language and for having gone into matters which, he said, had no reference to this particular Bill. He hardly fulfilled the promise in his earlier sentences that he would proceed to discuss the provisions of the Bill in that calm and judicial manner which he desired to see in the hon. Member for Antrim. The hon. Member for West Belfast charged the hon. Member for Antrim with a desire that what he called the burden imposed upon the people of Ireland in relation to the tenants evicted under the Plan of Campaign should be borne in such a way as to diminish the Fund at the disposal of hon. Members opposite for election purposes when the day of election came. My hon. Friend might possibly have retorted that the object of bringing in this Bill is to give a promissory note in lieu of cash, in order to save that Fund for election purposes. The Bill is one, I think, which can hardly be accepted by this House. Reference has been made to the various clauses of the Bill, and attention has been directed to the fact that the Bill proposes to make a reduction in what is called the Purchasers' Insurance Fund. Now, it turns out that the Purchasers' Insurance Fund may operate in three ways. In the first place, it is unquestionable—although it seems to be rather doubted by some speakers—that it is a security to the State, because 300 to the extent that the purchaser pays a larger instalment in the first five years he reduces the balance due to the State, and to that extent the State is left in a better position at the end of the five years than it could be if there was no such Fund. It operates also in the direction of encouraging thrift on the part of the tenant purchaser. It may likewise operate in another way. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that when this question was being discussed, the Government were warned of the responsibility they were accepting by putting themselves into the position of landlords who might have to evict their tenants. This Insurance Fund, to a certain extent, operates in the direction of enabling a tenant to call upon its resources in the event of bad seasons coming upon him, and so protecting him against the Government having to take measures for recovery by process of eviction. I think we cannot be too careful in preserving to the utmost extent all the securities that have been given by the Land Purchase Act to the British taxpayers and to the State, and also in preserving them in their several proportions. Now, Clause 2 has been referred to. It proposes to extend the time within which arrangements may be made and bargains entered into by the evicted tenants under Section 13 of the Land Purchase Act to the 1st January, 1894. Well, in my opinion—and I speak with great diffidence on the subject—to adopt a course of that sort at the present time is rather to delay than to promote the settlement between the evicted tenants and their landlords. This clause must be taken with other clauses of the Bill, which would practically prevent dealing with the land from which tenants have been evicted. There is another clause which seems to be a very innocent one, and which is described as a clause to prevent speculators from making a profit by the sale of the estates. I think it is a clause calculated—and I presume it is intended—to restrict competition on the part of outsiders, and to prevent anyone from competing with the evicted tenants. I do not think that a Bill of this kind is one which the Government can for a moment sanction. Something has been said about Section 5, and the hon. Member for West Belfast referred to some statements of mine on a former occasion with reference to the exchange of 301 Land Stock for Consols. It is true that there is a restriction in the clause dealing with the subject which gives power to the Treasury to fix the limit within which that exchange may be made. I think that it is a perfectly reasonable power to give the Treasury, so as to protect it from being called upon to any unreasonable extent. But the position is this: The Treasury have, as a first step, authorised the National Debt Commissioners to give Consols in exchange for Land Stock to the extent of £5,000,000 a year. Now, I say that, in the present condition of things, and certainly with the number of applications already made, that that is practically giving a free hand for the exchange of all Land Stock that may be offered to them within a considerable period of time. The Treasury have distinctly stated that, whilst giving that authority for the exchange to the extent of £5,000,000 to the National Debt Commissioners, they will be prepared to give further authority should it be required. I think that I am justified in assuming that the exchange of Consols for Land Stock is unlimited for all practical purposes, and that landlords can have no doubt as to the certainty of getting Consols in exchange for Land Stock if they desire it.
§ * MR. JACKSON
I am obliged to the hon. Member for so kindly accepting that. My own impression is that the Land Stock will be the more valuable of the two, and that there can be no doubt that for the purposes of investment it will be worth the higher price in the market. The other point is the question of the Exchequer contribution. The House is aware that under the Land Purchase Act the Exchequer contribution of £40,000 a year has to be handed over as part of the Reserve Fund for a period of five years, or until the Reserve Fund reaches the sum of £200,000. The argument used to justify the proposal that this sum shall be reduced is the argument that according to present experience it will be a long time before such a Reserve Fund could be justified by the number and the extent of the applications made under the Act. Sir, I decline altogether to accept that as being either a sound or a reasonable view. I hold strongly the opinion, and I think it is a reasonable opinion to take, that owing to many causes, partly to the fact of the non-issue of rules by the Treasury, 302 partly owing to the fact that the Act was new and in some respects complicated, partly and largely from the fact that there was still a considerable balance under the Ashbourne Act—the transactions or applications under the new Act have been comparatively limited for the earlier months, but there is distinct evidence at present that there is a large movement under the new Purchase Act, and I believe it will go on at an accelerated pace within six months of the passing of so great a measure. It is altogether too early for this House to come to the decision that the applications under the new Act would not be sufficiently numerous and sufficiently important to justify the amount of the Reserve Fund. But, Sir, even if I were convinced that the operations under the Land Purchase Act would not be so numerous as I think they will be, I should still decline to be a party to tampering with or altering in any way the security that the Government and Parliament have pledged—the security upon which Parliament authorised the Government to lend £30,000,000. As a matter of principle and precedent it would be a fatal example if at this period of time we attempted in any degree or to any extent to tamper with that security. Now, Sir, there has been something said with respect to the cheapening of the conveyance and the simplifying of the procedure connected with the transfer of land. Well, Sir, I would point out to the House that there is this very important question that should be borne in mind. A Vesting Order under this Act gives to the person receiving that Vesting Order an indefeasible title, and it would be in my opinion a great mistake that the Land Commission, in dealing with property for which they are bound to give an indefeasible title, that they should slacken in any degree the necessity which they now recognise of a careful perusal of the titles, so as to avoid their accepting bad titles with regard to the property inspected, to which they are bound to give the purchaser indefeasible titles. Something has been said about placing mortgagees in the position of landlords. I would point out that the mortgagee has the power at present to go to the Court and to ask the Court to sanction a sale of the property, and I do not think it would be fair, either to 303 the second mortgagee or to persons otherwise interested, to give that power without some investigation by the Court, and without giving an opportunity to those interested in the residue of the estate—I do not think it would be fair or just to give the powers proposed in this Bill to mortgagees, and, therefore, I do not think that that clause ought to be accepted. I would beg the House to consider how serious the position is of those who hold out false hopes to the evicted tenants. It is a great responsibility, and one which I would not venture on myself. There is a power at present enabling every landlord to deal with every evicted tenant if he chooses to do so. There is no difficulty if the two parties come to an agreement. At present all the landlords have to do is to agree with the tenant as to the terms on which he will be reinstated, and when the tenant is reinstated the Land Purchase Act comes into operation as regards those tenants. Sir, I say that this Bill if passed into law in the form in which it is drawn would give no more power to the evicted tenant to make terms with his landlord than he has at present; but if the Bill becomes law it will give the evicted tenant power to harass his landlord, and give to him and to those associated with him increased power of keeping derelict farms in a derelict condition, and will give increased powers to those who may desire to maintain boycotting and intimidation, and who have in a great many instances prevented a settlement being arrived at. I may go further and say that in a great many instances those evicted tenants were not evicted because they could not pay their rents, or even because they did not desire to pay their rents, but in a great many instances they were tenants who were evicted because they dare not pay in consequence of the intimidation which prevailed.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 144; Noes 220.—(Div. List, No. 61.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ It being after half-past Five of the clock, and Objection being taken to Further Proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.