§ Order for Second Reading read.1413
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
I rise to a point of Order. I wish, Sir, to ask your judgment on the question whether this is not a Money Bill, and cannot therefore be discussed now. The Bill provides that certain expenses which will be incurred shall be charged upon the Irish Church Surplus. Clauses 6 and 9 particularly raise this point. But the Commissioners as the Bill is framed are bound to make the payments before they can charge any money upon that fund; therefore they must obtain it from some other source, and it therefore seems a necessary inference that that source must be the public funds. It might be said that the difficulty he had raised would apply only to such clauses of the Bill as made a charge on public funds, but it had been laid down by a predecessor of Mr. Speaker that the clauses of a Bill proposing to make a charge on public funds should be printed in italics, & regulation which had not been complied with in this case. For these reasons he urged that the Bill was out of Order.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is quite true that the 6th clause, as well as the 9th clause of the Bill, provides for charges on the Irish Church Temporalities Fund, but that fund is within the disposal of Parliament already. There is therefore no new charge imposed. Bills imposing charges upon the Irish Church Temporalities Fund have even been brought in in the House of Lords before coming to this House. On November 19th, 1888, I gave a full ruling on the Laud Purchase (Ireland) Bill, which dealt with the whole question of advances for the purchase of land in Ireland, explaining why no preliminary Money Committee was necessary. The Act of 1891 was similarly brought in without a preliminary Committee, and on the consideration of that Bill as amended a clause was inserted, on the Motion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), which provided for the purchase of their former holdings by evicted tenants. That clause involved a charge upon the Guaranteed Land Stock, but it was not thought necessary to obtain the sanction of a preliminary Committee for it. Because there is a clause in this Bill making a charge on the fund it cannot, I think, be maintained that this is a Money Bill.
§ MR. P. A. M'HUGH
congratulated the hon. Member for Preston on having consumed another ten minutes of the time of the House. The point of Order which he had raised had been ruled, he was informed, 40 or 59 times before. He rose for the purpose of moving the Second Reading of the Bill for the reinstatement of the evicted tenants in Ireland. As that was the first occasion on which he had the honour to address the House, and as the Bill was likely to be dealt with in the present Debate by Members of the Irish Party much bettor acquainted with the subject than he could pretend to be, he would not attempt to inflict upon the House a detailed or exhaustive statement, but would confine himself to a general survey of the circumstances which necessitated the introduction of this Bill, and to a brief exposition of the proposals for which he asked the acceptance of the House. To the people of Ireland, and to their Representatives in the House, the subject of the Bill was a matter of the gravest and the most supreme importance; and to those who held in their hands the honour and the fortunes of this empire it could not fail to be a matter for grave and serious consideration. It concerned the peace, the order, and the good government of Ireland, and he would, for that reason, appeal to honourable Members, on both sites of this House, to approach its discussion with minds unbiased by party prejudice. The evicted tenants might be taken under two heads, those that were not, and those that were, made the subject of special inquiry by the Evicted Tenants Commission. From the Report of the Commission it appeared that the total number of applications received from evicted tenants or their representatives on estates other than those specially inquired into by the Commissioners was 2,755. Of the 2,755 evicted farms, 1,298 were represented as occupied by new tenants, 960 as used or cultivated by the landlord, and 497 as derelict. With regard to this class of evicted tenants the Commissioners admitted, in paragraph 3 of their Report, that they merely obtained what information they could from the police as to the present condition of the farms and the former tenants. It was possible the information might not be in all respects reliable, but he saw no reason to think 1415 that, for the purposes of the present discussion, it should not be regarded as substantially accurate. The total number of evicted farms, on the 17 estates specially inquired into, was set down at 1,350, of which 15 were represented as occupied by new tenants who made arrangements with the old tenants, 235 as occupied by new tenants without such arrangement, 414 as occupied by the old tenants, 482 as used by the landlord, Land Corporation, or some similar body, and 204 as lying derelict. Deducting from 1,350 the 15 farms occupied by new tenants, with the approval of the old tenants, and the 414 occupied by the old tenants, they had 921 farms in dispute on the estates specially inquired into. These 921, added to the 2,755 farms not specially inquired into, place the total of evicted farms in dispute in Ireland at 3,676. Assuming for a moment that the landlords were ready to receive back the old tenants on the 1,442 farms which the landlords themselves cultivate, and on the 701 derelict farms, the number of farms in dispute would be reduced from 3,676 to 1,533, which was not a large number, although it was in his opinion vastly in excess of the number of farms held by new tenants who are bonâ fide occupiers in the spirit of recent Land Legislation for Ireland. The Bill asked the House to appoint a Commission with power to deal with the cases of these evicted tenants. These proposals would, he believed, meet with opposition. In the debate on the report of the Evicted Tenants Commission, the hon. Member for South Tyrone declared, in his most harrowing and intemperate fashion, that any attempt to give legislative effect to the recommendations of the Commission would be fought inch by inch by himself and the other Orangemen from Ulster who sat in the House as the champions of Irish landlordism. The hon. Member's views on the Irish Land question appeared to be as unsettled as was his allegiance to political parties in this House. The hon. Member would oppose this Bill, and in doing so he would make himself the Champion of Lord Clanricarde, whom he had denounced some time ago as a danger to the public peace and whose compulsory expropriation he had recommended; but if there must be a fight over this Bill, from whatever quarters the attack might 1416 come, the party to which he had the honour to belong would be prepared to meet it. They would fight and they would defeat any opposition, from whatever quarter it might come, to the proposals contained in the Bill. They said that the House was responsible for the present condition of the evicted tenantry of Ireland; they said the evicted tenants were the victims of delay in the passing of recent Land Acts, and the victims of a policy of vengeance pursued against them for political purposes by the right hon. Gentleman, the present Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. He would not enter into details in regard to the system of landlordism in Ireland. That system had been described by the Chief Secretary for Ireland as "a wretched and a monstrous system." The Reports of the Devon Commission in 1843, of the Richmond Commission in 1874, and of the Bessborough Commission in 1880, showed that the epithets used by the right hon. Gentleman were fully justified, and yet every proposal made by the Representatives of Ireland to amend that system had met with opposition in the House. The Bill would be opposed. The cry of confiscation would be raised. They would be told, in the language of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, that the Bill was a proposal to revise the decalogue. The decalogue followed by the landlords of Ireland needed revision. They struck the "not" out of that portion of the decalogue which says "Thou shalt not steal." They confiscated the tenants' improvements. They stole the tenants' property, with the sanction of laws enacted by that House. In his speech on the Irish Land Act of 1881 the late John Bright said:—If all that the tenants have done were swept off the soil, and all that the landlords have done were left upon it, the land would be as bare of house and barn, fences and cultivation, as it was in prehistoric times. It would be as bare as an American prairie where the Indian now roams, and where the white man has never trod.Speaking in this House on the 18th of November, 1888, the Tory Solicitor General for Ireland said:—Any one acquainted with Ireland knew that in a large number of eases the interests of the tenant exceeded the interests of the landlord.1417 And yet hon. Members would get up in the House and talk as if they believed the Irish tenants had no interest in their farms. They talked about the confiscation of the landlords' property. The confiscation of the tenants' property is proceeding in Ireland at the present time. It has not been stopped by recent land legislation for Ireland; if it had been stopped this Bill would not have been now before the House. Even the hon. Member for South Tyrone must admit that large numbers of Irish tenants, pressed down with arrears of rack-rents, had been unable to avail themselves of the benefits of recent land legislation. Speaking in this House on the 21st of March, 1888, the hon. Member said:—By not dealing with these arrears the tenants were absolutely deprived of the very legislation passed for their benefit. They were never allowed to go into Court. They were threatened and bullied by the agent before they went in, and these arrears were held over their heads as a whip to prevent their going into Court and getting the fair rent that the House designed and intended for them.Yet the hon. Gentleman would get up in his place in the House and would oppose the reasonable and moderate demands made on behalf of men who were now evicted from their farms, simply and solely because, in the words of the hon. Gentleman, theyWere absolutely deprived of the very legislation passed for their benefit.Even those tenants who were able to go into Court were met with the decision of the Court of Appeal, as in the case of Adams against Dunseath, and found that even the Land Act of 1881 did not effectually stop the confiscation of the tenant's property by the landlord. As Mr. J. G. Barry said at the Cowper Commission, the judges killed the Act. Therefore, he contended it was abundantly clear, even from the public utterances of their bitterest opponents, that the vast majority of those tenants evicted since 1879, whose cases were not specially inquired into by the Commission, were evicted through no fault of theirs, but because they were unable to take advantage of the Land Acts passed for their benefit, or because those Acts were interpreted and administered adversely to the tenants. With regard to the Plan of Campaign tenants, he declared that they were driven into the 1418 combination known as the Plan of Campaign by the action of the late Tory Government. If that Government had accepted the Bill introduced in this House by the late Mr. Parnell on the 20th September, 1886, the Plan of Campaign would never have been heard of. Mr. Parnell foresaw the danger approaching. He warned this House of it. On the 21st January, 1886, he drew attention in this House to the fall that had taken place in the prices of agricultural produce, and declared that the judicial rents fixed in the four preceding years could not be met by the tenants. On the 20th of September, 1886, he introduced his Tenants' Relief Bill. The Prime Minister declared that he would never consent to the revision of judicial rents; the Solicitor General for Ireland said it was impossible Mr. Parnell's Bill could be accepted by any responsible Ministry. The same Ministry, in 1887, adopted as their own the proposals made by Mr. Parnell in 1886. In the course of his speech on the 20th September, 1886, Mr. Parnell made use of the following words:—I think we have a right to say that the Irish tenants shall not be left defenceless and at the mercy of the landlords during the coming winter.They were not left defenceless. My hon. Friends, the Members for East Mayo and for Cork City, were not yet imprisoned by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. [Cheers.] Their representatives in Parliament had been told that their statistics were bogus, and that the tenants were well able to pay their rents. Only one means of preserving themselves from ruin and starvation lay open to the Irish tenants, and to that they had recourse. They entered into an agrarian combination for their own defence. A great deal of hypocritical cant had been talked in this House about the immorality of the Plan of Campaign. It had been referred to as a system of organised embezzlement. It was a pity the landlords of Ireland and the hon. and learned Gentlemen who represented them had been afraid to state their case before the Evicted Tenants Commission. Had they been honest enough to do so it would have been seen on which side was the embezzlement. No great combination ever entered into by men for their 1419 own protection, and for the redress of grievances has been wholly immaculate. The Plan of Campaign might not have been wholly immaculate; but it was not the tenants who took part in that combination, nor those who acted as their leaders throughout the struggle, who were to blame. [Cheers.] Whether the Plan of Campaign was criminal or not, it was due to the refusal of the Tory Government to accept, in 1886, the Tenant Relief Bill brought in by Mr. Parnell. The Plan of Campaign was vindicated by the Tory Government in the following year, when the Report of the Cowper Commission showed that the statistics given by the Irish representatives in 1886 wore correct, and when the very proposals rejected in 1886 were embodied in the Irish Laud Bill of 1887. In every case but one in which the Plan of Campaign was adopted, the tenants entered into the combination for the purpose of securing an abatement. It is generally admitted by all parties that the demands made by the tenants were just and reasonable. That some abatement was needed will appear from the collection of facts. The percentage of reductions over the whole of Ireland amounted in the years 1881–5, to 19½4; the percentage in 1885–6, rose to 24½1; and in 1886–7, reached 31½3; the abatements on judicial rents under the Act of 1887 were in many cases almost as high as the abatements asked by the tenants; the percentage abatement on judicial rents fixed in 1881 amounted to 17¾ on the Ponsonby estate; abatements were made by neighbouring landlords, which were, in many cases, more than those asked for by tenants who had combined. Numerous instances, with which I need not trouble the House, will be found in the Minutes of Evidence. Finally the demand for abatement was justified by the low price of stock which prevailed in 1886 and 1887. At Page 457 of the Report would be found a table compiled by Mr. Richard M. Barrington, showing the average price of oxen, heifers, ewes, and wethers at the great fair of Ballinasloe from 1832 to 1893. Now, Sir, I would ask the House to remember that Ballinasloe prices constitute the best gauge of the general prices for stock in Ireland, and I would also ask the House to remember that rent is usually met in Ireland by the sale of stock. Now I 1420 will compare the prices for the years 1880 and 1887. In 1880 the prices were, oxen, £18 5s.; heifers, £18 7s. 6d.; ewes, £2 6s. 3d.; and wethers, £3 0s. 3d. The prices in 1887 were, oxen, £11; heifers, £11 13s. 1d.; ewes, £2 1s. 9d.; and wethers, £2 2s. 7d., showing, in 1887, a fall of over 35 per cent. from the prices of 1880. He thought from those facts it must appear to every reasonable mind that the tenants were entitled to reductions, and that as they possessed no other means of obtaining reductions but combination, they were justified in having recourse to combination. Even the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for West Bristol, was so impressed with the justice of the claims made by the Clanricarde tenantry and with the harshness of Lord Clanricarde's action, that he intimated to his Lordship that the use of the forces of the Crown in Ireland for eviction purposes—Would be retarded by the pressure of other claims, and would, most probably, be postponed to the utmost extent permitted by the law.And in his charge to the Jury in the case of Joyce against Clanricarde Chief Baron Palles showed clearly what he thought of the struggle between Clanricarde and his tenantry.What," he asked, "would have been the result of granting a reasonable reduction? It would have avoided eviction from their little homes. It would have avoided unfortunate and painful prosecutions of those unhappy tenants.Yet these "unhappy tenants," after eviction from their little homes on this and the other campaign estates, were deliberately shut out from the benefits of the Act of 1887 by eviction and other processes for the sole purpose of making examples of them, and of discrediting! my two hon. Friends the Member for East Mayo and the Member for Cork City. They asked the House then, in no partizan spirit, but with an earnest desire to consult for the peace and good government of Ireland, to enact a measure that will make provision for the reinstatement in their holdings of evicted tenants in Ireland; we ask you i to give us the means to bring to an end a long and a bitter struggle. They proposed that the Land Commission should be constituted an arbiter for the settlement of disputes between landlords 1421 and evicted tenants in Ireland. The machinery was ready at hand, and it was, in their opinion, of such a character that it cannot be reasonably objected to on the part of the landlords. Of the farms now in dispute, 701 were derelict, and 1442 are used or cultivated by the landlord or by the Land Corporation, or some similar body. In regard to the derelict farms they said the landlord and the evicted tenant should come to terms; and that in the event of their failing to do so the Commission should have power to make a compulsory arbitration and to reinstate the tenant on such terms as they may think fit. He did not see what reasonable objection the landlords of Ireland or their friends in the House could offer to this proposal. He did not believe the landlords of Ireland would object to it, unless they were driven to do so by those whose action has rendered so many farms in Ireland vacant, namely, by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and his friends. But even if the landlords of Ireland objected to this proposal, it would still be the duty of the House, in the public interest, to give it legislative effect. The Report said:The present condition of these evicted farms, on many of the estates, is deplorable. The land has gone to waste. Fields once cultivated and fairly productive, are now-covered with furze and weeds. Tracts reclaimed by the industry of the tenants from the bog or mountain, are returning to their original condition. The former tenants, with little or no occupation, hang about their old farms, and have never relinquished the hope of reinstatement.The tenants never would relinquish the hope of reinstatement, until the hope was realised. Where the evicted farms were used by the landlord himself, or by the Land Corporation or some similar body, the procedure would be practically the same as in the case of derelict farms, and we anticipate that settlements would, in all such cases be easily arrived at, as the landlords and the Land Corporation were rather losers than gainers by the occupancy of the evicted farms. They give the landlord, in all cases of settlement under the Act, the option of requiring the evicted tenant to purchase the holding under the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Acts; and for the purpose of assisting the tenant to start on fair terms after he has purchased, they 1422 propose that the payment of the first instalment of the purchase money may be postponed by the Commission to such a date as may seem just, and which shall be specified in their order. The period of repayment was also left to the decision of the Commission. It would be evident to anyone who took the trouble of reading the Bill that they offered better terms to the landlords than they could ever hope to realise without legislative interference. The enactment of this measure was to them and to the people of Ireland a matter of the most vital importance; and they had taken care, in order to leave no reasonable excuse for opposing, or even for delaying, its enactment to make it, on the whole, a practically non-contentious measure. Accordingly, they offered the landlord better terms than they believed he was entitled to; they made no proposal that new tenants should be disturbed, except with their own consent, even where they were in the enjoyment of property created by the evicted tenants. They made provision for the payment to the landlord of a sum which they would never touch, directly or indirectly, unless this Bill passed into law—namely, a sum not exceeding two years' rent, in respect of arrears due on the evicted farm at the termination of the tenancy and in respect of costs incurred by the landlord in connection with the termination of the tenancy. He did not think he would further detain the House with an analysis of the proposals of this measure. These proposals were, he ventured to say, too clear and too simple to need elucidation. They were to a great extent an embodiment of the recommendations made by the Evicted Tenants Commission. And now he asked the House to accept the measure unanimously, in the interest of peace, in the interest of economy, and because both sides of this House are committed to the principle of reinstatement of the evicted tenantry of Ireland. In the interest of peace, because the continuance of such a state of things as at present prevails in Ireland is dangerous to the peace, to the good order, and the good government of the country:—The fact," Fays the Report, "that there has been so little crime since 1880 in the districts in which the evictions have taken place, would 1423 seem to be in a great measure clue to the hope entertained by the tenants of restoration to their homes.The Plan of Campaign prevented agrarian crime. It was the confidence of the people in their leaders, it was their hope of redress, their hope of reinstatement in their little homes, which prevented the use of the revolver and the rifle. All the crime lay with the administration of the right hon. Gentleman, the present Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. Three men wore shot down in the streets of Mitchelstown; Patrick Larkin was done to death in Kilkenny Gaol; Hanlon was run through the body on the Ponsonby estate; a boy, named Heffernan, was shot down in Tipperary; and the brother of his hon. Friend (Mr. Mandeville) the Member for South Tipperary, was, according to the verdict of the Coroner's Jury, wilfully murdered in Tullamore Gaol. These were some of the holocausts offered up under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman to glorify Coercion and to break the Plan of Campaign, while the victims of the landlord combination stood firm and peaceful, waiting for the message of hope and encouragement which I ask this House to send them over the sea to-night. I say, further, this measure should be adopted in the interests of economy. The Report says:—The economic effect of leaving the evicted tenants without the means of a livelihood, and of permitting large tracts of country to lie idle and almost entirely unproductive, cannot be ignored; and the failure to settle this question is injurious alike to the material interests of landowners, tenants, and the community. The heavy charges hitherto incurred in protecting life and property will have to be continued, and unless a remedy can be found, possibly increased.The total cost of evictions and proceedings in connection with evictions since 1st May, 1879, on the 17 estates specially inquired into, amounts to £115,418 2s. 7d., a sum considerably in excess of the sum we ask to have placed at the disposal of the Land Commission for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of this Bill; and it should be remembered that this sum represents only a very small part of the costs to the Exchequer and the local rates of the evictions in Ireland for the period mentioned. 1424 The total cost of all evictions in Ireland for that period is not given, but I observe from the minutes of evidence that my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo has estimated the annual cost at £120,000. Would the House refuse £100,000 to stop for ever an annual expenditure of £120,000? He had said that both sides of the House were committed to the principle of this Bill. He did not think there could be any doubt as to the Government side of the House. They ask the Government not only to support this Bill but to secure its immediate enactment. Last year 20 Members of the present Ministry supported the Evicted Tenants Bill introduced by his hon. Friend Mr. O'Kelly. That Bill was a much stronger measure than the one now before the House. According to the hon. Member for South Tyrone it had been said that although Mr. O'Kelly's Bill was lost, the Front Opposition Bench was "bagged." Certainly, if by that expression it was meant to convey that the present Government, then in Opposition, was pledged up to the hilt to support a measure for the reinstatement of the Irish evicted tenants. But they had been pledged to that policy long before the introduction of Mr. O'Kelly's Bill. Some of them, notably the First Commissioner of Works, had taken as high ground in connection with this question as either of his hon. Friends the Member for East Mayo or the Member for Cork. With regard to the Conservative Party in the House, he said they could not consistently oppose this measure. The Leader of the Opposition is committed to the principle of reinstatement both by his land legislation of 1891 and by his statement made in this House that he should wish to see peace restored and the evicted tenants, under certain conditions, reinstated in their ancient homes. The hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith Barry) committed himself to a similar view on the 2nd January 1891 in language recently quoted by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he thought, under such circumstances, he might reasonably express the hope that this measure will be accepted without opposition. But if it did meet with opposition, it might be as well to have it distinctly understood that, no matter from what 1425 quarter the opposition may come, it would be met by the Irish Party. They regarded the measure as little, if at all, inferior in importance to the Home Rule Bill. The reinstatement of the evicted tenantry was dearer to the Irish Party than their political existence, and, so far as he was personally concerned, he might be permitted to say that he would rather abandon the hope of ever again beholding the shores of Ireland than abandon the hope of helping to secure for the evicted tenantry their reinstatement in their ancient homes.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, W.)
in seconding the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill said, the evicted tenants were the result of two causes, they were either the victims of the unjust laud system or of the tardy justice of the land legislation, which arrived too late to protect them against the oppression of rack-renting landlords. The bulk of the evicted tenants, however, were the victims of tardy or insufficient legislation. A proof of this was to be found in the history of the agricultural depression of 1886 and 1887. It was well known that large numbers of tenants were evicted during the first mentioned period at the very time when remedial legislation was passing through the House, and that large numbers of others were evicted after the Bill had passed into law, but before they could avail themselves of its provisions. It had been acknowledged that the decline in prices in 1885 and 1886 was so severe that it was impossible for the tenants to meet even the judicial rents, and the Act passed by the House in 1887 acknowledged that these judicial rents were not fixed on a basis that would enable the tenants to meet bad seasons as well as good ones. The arguments of the Irish Members in favour of a revision of the judicial rents was met by an opposition largely founded on a declaration in a speech by the First Commissioner of Works that wool had risen in price, and on that ground relief was refused, with the result that it became absolutely necessary to start the Plan of Campaign to protect the tenants. It had been said that the Plan of Campaign was not justified by the agricultural depression of the time. He would defy any man to read the evidence 1426 given by the tenants before the Mathew Commission, proving by facts and figures their statements, and not to come to the conclusion that the depression which prevailed was grave and serious. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for South Hants said "Hear, hear!" He wondered was the hon. Member near the Ponsonby estate in the autumn of 1886, when the continuous rainfall ruined what was a magnificent crop of barley, on which the people, on the failure of their receipts from cattle and butter, had hoped to pay their rents. That crop was ruined, and he himself saw the people obliged to sell it for pig feeding at prices which did not cover the cost of carting from the Ponsonby estate to Cork or Midleton, where it was sold. That was what precipitated the crisis on the Ponsonby estate, and not any political exigencies. Any man who studied the agricultural depression of that period, and who contended that the Plan of Campaign was the result of political exigencies, must ignore the patent facts of the time. The proposer of the Bill had given some facts with regard to the cost to the country which these evictions had involved. He would wish to give one or two examples in order to bring the matter more clearly before the House. On the Langford estate, in his own constituency, the annual rental on the evicted farms was £123, and the amount due was £307. The costs incurred came to £295 11s. 8d., and there was at present an annual charge for extra police of £200. But he could give a more striking case. On the Grant estate, also in his own constituency, there were two tenants evicted in 1880. These tenants demanded a reduction of 25 per cent. on the sale of 1879–80, but it was refused, and a large force of police was drafted to the place, and they were evicted, and they had to be supported since by the funds provided by the Irish people. Both these men were evicted for nonpayment of one year's rent, amounting in all to some £74 odd. He found in the Report of the Evicted Tenants Commission that there were three extra police stationed there to watch the grabber who had taken the farms, to his own know-ledge, though there were 10 extra police in the district as compared with the number before 1880. But taking the figures in the Report it meant that 1427 £4,000 had been paid by the British taxpayer since the evictions for extra police as a result of the refusal on the part of the landlord to give a reduction of 25 per cent. on a debt of £74. If the cost of all the extra police were counted it would mean a sum of not less than £7,600. On every ground then he would commend the Bill to the House. On the grounds of economy, the restoration of social order in Ireland, and on the grounds of justice and expediency, he would ask the House to send a message of peace to the evicted tenants of Ireland. The Bill would give to the landlords better terms than they had hoped for, and it would at the same time restore the people to the homes for which they were so anxiously longing, and it would restore contentment and social order in Ireland.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. P. A. McHugh.)
§ SIR THOMAS LEA
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ SIR THOMAS LEA
said, that although he rose to move the rejection of the Bill he quite willingly admitted there was something to be said in its favour. The hon. Gentleman who had last spoken stated that he commended the Bill to the House on the grounds of justice and expediency. A Bill of that sort might be expedient, but yet it might not be just. He was quite willing to admit the measure was expedient but in his opinion it was not just. He would go a little further and say that any measure which proposed to improve the condition or do anything on behalf of the tenant fanners in Ireland, or which tended to bring about a settlement of the laud question in that country, was worthy of the most careful consideration of that House. He regretted that the clause of his hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone, known as Clause 13 of the Land Purchase Bill, had not been more successful in doing away with this trouble in Ireland. That however, was a voluntary clause, quite different from this Bill, which was not founded on the basis of justice. He believed that anything which tended to 1428 settle the land question in Ireland tended to settle the Irish difficulty, and he believed after all that the question in Ireland was not the question they were going to consider after Easter, but the land question, and any measure brought before the House with the idea of removing that difficulty should receive the consideration and attention of that House. Not long ago he met an Irish parish priest, with whom he was personally acquainted, who told him that the agricultural population of that country did not care a fig whether their Parliament sat in Ireland or in Timbuctoo as long as every Irish tenant farmer was made the owner of his holding. What did the present Bill do? It started, to his mind, upon a wrong basis, upon wrong principles, and with wrong people. He himself favoured a general settlement of the question on the lines of compulsory purchase. But this Bill was impracticable. It was unfair to the landlord, and still more unfair to the honest tenant, and most unfair to the Irish Church tenant, whose property was to be brought into requisition under this Bill. The Bill he held to be demoralising in its tendencies, as it placed a premium on dishonesty. The Irish Nationalist Members had no great love for landlords, and if all Irish landlords were like Lord Clanricarde his sympathies would be with hon. Gentlemen. But whether Irish landlords were like Lord Clanricarde or not they were entitled to their due in that House. If that Bill were passed a landlord would be compelled to take back a tenant whom he had found to be a very bad tenant. The Bill was promoted chiefly to get rid of the difficulty of the Plan of Campaign tenants. It was founded upon the Report of the Evicted Tenants Commission, which was a one-sided or, at all events, a one-opinioned Commission, appointed for the purpose of relieving the Chief Secretary from a difficulty, and therefore not one that was likely to carry such weight or authority as it would otherwise have carried. The Bill was unfair to the landlords, because it compelled them to take back bad tenants, men who could have paid their rent, but who had been evicted five or six years ago because they would not pay, and who had been all these years waiting to-be restored. He would not call them 1429 loafers, because they had been compelled to loaf about awaiting the results of political agitation. Were these men, who had refused to pay rent in the past, likely, after their experience of the past six years, to make good tenants in the future? In such circumstances was it not unjust and unfair to compel the landlords to take them back as tenants? How did the Bill propose to treat the 1,000 new tenants who had entered into possession of the evicted holdings determined to pay their rent, and who were capable of doing so? They were to be turned out in favour of the dishonest tenants. The hon. Gentlemen who had moved and supported that Bill truly said that the position of the Irish tenant was a precarious one. The tenants in the North of Ireland for years past had found enormous difficulty in paying their rents; but it must be remembered that large numbers of them, notwithstanding the difficulty in which they were placed, had been honest enough to pay their rents, and those honest tenants were to be placed at a disadvantage compared with the dishonest tenants. If such a thing were done as was contemplated by the Bill, it would be nothing more nor less than placing a premium upon dishonesty. Clause 5 did something that had never been done before. Power was to be given to the Land Commission of postponing any instalments they liked, that the evicted tenants were to pay for their holdings, but nothing of the kind was to be done in the case of honest tenants. No, the man who could pay his rent and would not was to get the benefit under this Bill. The State was to find the money to enable the dishonest tenant to purchase his holding, whilst the honest tenant who, through all his difficulties, had paid his rent, and who was longing to purchase his farm, could not obtain facilities for doing so. He declared that Clause 5, under such circumstances, was a mockery to the honest tenant, and another premium on dishonesty in Ireland. It might be said with regard to the new tenant that the Bill contained no provisions for compulsorily turning them out and compelling them to surrender their holdings on which they had expended six years of labour and trouble and money in the expectation that they were to spend the rest of their days there. 1430 But indirectly it would turn them out. None knew better than hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway that the new tenants who retained their holdings would be boycotted us land grabbers, their property damaged, and cattle maimed, and that they would eventually be compelled to throw up their tenancies, with the loss of the unseen labour and value they had put into the soil for the last half dozen years. The Bill was, he submitted, most unfair to the Irish Church Tenants who purchased, to whom the measure seemed to be the grossest mockery, for the sixth clause of the Bill proposed to take the Irish Church surplus and devote it to the tenants under this Bill. Thus the money that had been exacted from the Irish Church tenants would be taken from them and given to the dishonest tenants. That was a grievous injustice. The Irish Church tenants were compelled practically by the Irish Church Act to purchase their holdings, and the purchase-money being calculated upon their old rents, they had to pay 24, 25, 26, or even more years' purchase. The State only lent them three-fourths of the purchase-money, and they had to borrow the other fourth, paying as much as 6, 7, and up to 10 per cent. for it in some instances. Notwithstanding the high interest they had to pay to the money-lender, these tenants had still regularly paid their instalments to the State in respect of their purchase-money. These were men who were examples of honesty and who deserved the sympathy and support of the House. They had created by their payments this Irish Church Surplus, and if anybody was entitled to this money, they ought to have it. He hoped some day that the House, if it did not return to them the enormous sum which they had paid, would at all events do something towards lending them the money to pay | off the usurers who had claims upon them. He supposed that as this Bill was promoted by the Irish Members, it would be taken up by the Government. But if what was proposed by the measure was a public necessity, and for the public advantage, then they ought not to go to the pockets of these men who had been so heavily mulcted in the past, like the Church tenants had 1431 been. He could quite understand that, as a matter of public policy, the Government would like to settle this matter, and if they came to Parliament and asked the House to vote a sum of money for this purpose that would be a bold and straightforward policy; but to come down on the poor Irish Church tenants and take this money which they had raised in order to give the advantage of it to dishonest tenants was the grossest possible injustice. They were now told that Preambles of Bills were most important. The Preamble of the Irish Church Act of 1869 stated that—The said property, or the proceeds thereof (the surplus) should be appropriated mainly to the relief of inevitable calamity and suffering.Would anyone contend that the costs and arrears incurred in quarrels between landlords and tenants, raised by tenants who would not pay their rent, should be counted as a calamity, to be met by the Irish Church surplus? By Clause 8, where there was a new tenant and where the landlord refused to take back a bad tenant in his place, power was given to the Land Commission, without any restriction whatever to purchase land and sell it to the evicted tenant, in order to get rid of the difficulty. This was another step taken on behalf of the dishonest tenants which would be bitterly resented by honest tenants. Hon. Members below the Gangway were no doubt in a difficulty about these tenants. On their advice the evicted tenants had been led into the Plan of Campaign; but surely hon. Members ought themselves to extricate the people who had followed their advice from the trouble into which they had fallen and not ask that House to do so. The Bill put great compulsion on landlords. If it had been a portion of one great measure for the universal compulsory purchase of land in Ireland he should not have resisted the proposal, because he was of opinion that sooner or later, in order to settle the difficulty, there must be some compulsory system of laud purchase. But it was not so. The Bill had simply been brought in for political expediency, to get rid of a difficulty. It was an entirely retrogade step, for it did not demand, as any future scheme of com- 1432 pulsory purchase must demand, that the purchasing tenants must be honest men, who intended to pay the instalments to which they were liable to the State. He was sure the people of the United Kingdom would never find money unless they were convinced the instalments were going to be paid, and anything which went to shake the confidence of the people of the country in land purchase would tend to defeat a compulsory land purchase Bill. They were going after Easter to consider the Home Rule Bill. If the House passed that measure, and the Parliament in Dublin was able to deal with the question of Irish Land were they not by this Bill setting a bad example for future legislation in Ireland? The representatives of Irish tenants would, no doubt, form a large majority in the Irish Parliament, and they would demand that the principles of this Bill, which were grossly unfair to landlords and new tenants, should be carried out to the utmost. Sympathising as he did with the people who had been led away by the advice of hon. Gentlemen opposite, unless the House showed to the tenants of Ireland that honesty was the best policy, they would do the worse act they could for the future history of that country. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
in seconding the Amendment, said that no condemnation of the Bill could be more satisfactory than a clear exposition of its terms. But before going into these he would like to call attention to the conditions under which the Bill was brought before the House. At an early period of the Session he asked the Chief Secretary whether the Government intended to introduce any legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the Evicted Tenants Commission. The right hon. Gentleman told them that he was not in a position to give a reply to the inquiry. He (Mr. Arnold-Forster) concluded that the right hon. Gentleman had not had time to consult with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, otherwise he was sure they would have had some explanation before now of the fact that the measure the Government had not thought fit to introduce was to be brought in by a private 1433 Member, and doubtless was to receive the support of the Government. The House was in a singular position. Now, at what was the fag end of a Sitting, when a large number of Members were not in attendance in the House, there was brought in a Bill of the first magnitude, both as to what it proposed to do and the principles it introduced into the Legislature. If they had courage enough to support such a measure why did not the Government bring in the Bill them- selves? And if they had been aware that the measure was to be introduced under existing circumstances why had they not put the House into possession of the knowledge that they themselves possessed? He could not for a moment believe, in view of the fact that a Bill of such magnitude was only produced for examination in its present form on Monday, that it was seriously intended to press it to a Second Reading to-day. He approached this matter from a somewhat impartial point of view, for he did not hold and did not suppose he should overbold a rood of land in England or in Ireland. It could not be said that he approached the question from a landlord's point of view. He desired to discuss the Bill from the point of view of a citizen of the United Kingdom who saw a great principle about to be introduced into our Legislature which had hitherto never found a place in the Statute Book. The Government supported the Bill, and although the opponents of the Government might not be successful in stopping the Second Reading, it was still their duty to make it clear what was the nature of the Bill, and to explain the history of its coming to the House in its present form. Up to the close of the last Parliament the Bill had never been heard of or seriously contemplated by the Executive Government of this country. Mr. O'Kelly, a Member of that Parliament, then introduced a Bill on the subject, and for the first time in history they saw a majority of Members of the then front Opposition Bench endorse the revolutionary proposals contained in Mr. O'Kelly's Bill. He did not wonder that they felt themselves in a very strange position. They had had their hands tied by the unwise declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre), and felt bound, no doubt, in loyalty to their 1434 colleague to stand up for what he had committed them to (though only as an Opposition and not as a Responsible Government). The first stage was when the letter of the Chief Secretary to those who were to take part in the Evicted Tenants Commission to the effect that only evicted tenants who remained in the districts were to have the benefit of the Commission—only those who had defied authority and refused to pay their just debts. What did that mean? It meant that if there was a legal or equitable right to re-instatement, that right would be forfeited by those who had happened to go to Dublin or Belfast or London to try and earn an honest living, but would remain to those who had hung about the holdings and had necessitated the building of police huts on the borders of the holdings. The right hon. Gentleman was forced to give; a direction to the inquiry, and to say that only those persons who had shown themselves by their over-bearing acts to be in disobedience to the law and unwillingly to accept the verdicts of the Courts, would receive the benefit of the inquiry. The spirit of the Chief Secretary's recommendation animated every line of the Bill, but he was glad to find that the measure did not adopt the dishonest recommendation of the Commission—that the landlords should be compelled by statutory enactment, at their own cost, to re-stock farms of their tenants who had been evicted for dishonest refusal to pay their rent.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said the hon. Member must have seen that it was recommended that power should be given to empower the locality to raise on the security of the rates half the money which would be necessary to stock the farms of the persons who were to be put back in their holdings.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said that the incidence of taxation in many parts of Ireland was such that three-fourths of these payments would fall upon the 1435 landlords, so that the landlords would be compelled to reinstate the tenants at their own cost. This was a Plan of Campaign Bill and nothing else. The hon. Member opposite had spoken of 4,000 or 5,000 cases of eviction. He (Mr. Arnold-Forster) hoped hon. Members would not imagine that that was all the evictions since the period when the Bill was to take effect. Many thousands of evictions had taken place during the 14 years from 1878, in which the evicted tenants were quite as fully entitled to have the benefit of this act as those who applied to the Commission which sat in Dublin the other day. He saw nothing to prevent any one of these evicted tenants insisting on being reinstated. What he wished the House to understand was, that it was not for these tenants that the Bill was proposed. The measure was to benefit a small selected body of tenants—selected, he presumed, with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary. If the principle of the proposal were adopted, it would establish a revolution in the Statute Law. Some twelve years ago a Bill was brought in which entirely revolutionized the condition of agricultural tenancies in Ireland. Agreements between landlords and tenants were sot aside—a strong step in itself—and the Legislature thought it its duty to substitute for the voided contracts statutory contracts, to which were attached certain conditions. There were remedies given in case these contracts wore violated; the only cases in which evictions were permitted were specified, and it was provided, that when these conditions were infringed, the landlords had a statutory right to exercise their privilege of eviction when they had obtained the judgment of a competent Court that they were entitled to do so. Going a step further, some of the persons who had obtained judicial rents failed to comply with the conditions on which Parliament said they should retain their tenancies, and in pursuance of statutory direction, the landlords put their powers into force. They went to the properly constituted courts, and by the proper legal process, obtained judgment against the persons who were in default. What then happened? There was then set on foot a conspiracy, the object of which was to prevent the landlords from 1436 availing themselves of the statutory remedy Parliament had put into their hands. Parliament having forced upon them a new condition of things, and having prescribed for them the contract, the remedy, and the Court in which that remedy should be given, the landlords were met by organised conspiracy, which said "You shall not exercise the remedy that the law has given you." They found themselves face to face with the fact that on the one hand there was compliance with the intentions of Parliament and compliance with the Statute Law, and on the other hand there was an open infraction of both the Civil and the Criminal Law, and in this state of things they were asked, on the authority not only of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but of the Executive Government, to give their sanction to the breaking of all these undertakings and contracts made by the Imperial Parliament, and to set the seal of their approval on infractions of both Civil and Criminal Law, not in the interests of a vast body of evicted tenants, but of a selected number who happened to be political adherents and supporters of the Party opposite. They wore told that Section 13 of the Land Act of the last Parliament had something to do with this case. It had nothing whatever to do with it. The provision of the Act of last year and the present case had the difference of black and white between them. It might be said that for the sake of peace and quietness, and tranquility of the country they were willing to allow landlords and, tenants to take advantage beyond the appointed time of the statutes in existence affecting the two parties, but what was asked in the present Bill was, that landlords should be compelled, not to make agreements, but to accept agreements made for them in respect to men who year by year had been guilty of every act of persecution and dishonesty against them to the knowledge of all mankind. The Bill was merely brought before the House because Nationalist Members had given pledges to some of their adherents that they would see them harmless through acts of gross dishonesty. They had failed to keep these pledges, and now they came to the House to get them out of their difficulty. The evicted tenants had been perfectly 1437 aware of what they were doing, and he, for one, could not take the view that the tenants were deserving of the commiseration of the House. There was a disease sometimes called "kleptomania," but experience showed that that disease was better treated in gaol than in a hospital or asylum. These people were told distinctly:—" Rob your landlords, and we will hold you harmless. Refuse to pay your debt, and it will not be enforced." They believed that, and he did not know that they were so foolish for so doing, knowing, as they did, the power of hon. Gentlemen opposite in enforcing their decrees in their own part of the country. They were told:—" Put half the money you owe into a purse, and you will never be made to pay the other half." That was the promise made to these men, but it turned out that the promise could not be fulfilled, and these persons were evicted under the Statute Law. The House was told that it ought to sympathise with these men, but he submitted that it was unfair and unreasonable to ask them to waste their sympathy on men who had made a miscalculation as to an act of dishonesty. Should it go forth to the world that the Executive were prepared to establish a precedent of this sort? Surely it would be a blow to all Statute Law. The House was not asked to help a vast body of evicted tenants, but to raise one section of the community above the law, to select for reward men who stood branded before the country for their dishonest actions. Every honest, prudent, and loyal man would be left,' out, and the House was invited to say not only "We will put these fraudulent men back on the same footing as the honest and loyal," but "We will go out of our way to give them privileges, because, if they are fraudulent and dishonest, they are supporters of the Nationalist party." He contended that this would be one of the most grievous mistakes that could be committed by the Executive Government. On these grounds he seconded the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Thomas Lea.)1438
§ Question proposed, "That the word "now" stand part of the Question.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
had only a few words to say in regard to the two speeches which had just been delivered. He must say he had listened with some amusement to the statement of the hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat as to his impartial attitude in this debate—amusement, inasmuch as the hon. Member, he believed, was one of the joint authors of the mass of discredited accusations known as Parnellism and Crime.
§ MR. CLANCY ("cries of Withdraw!")
said that if the hon. Member declared that he was not one of the authors ofParnellism and Crime he (Mr. Clancy) was bound by every rule of courtesy to withdraw his statement. He was glad to find that the hon. Member was rather ashamed of Parnellism and Crime.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
said he had made no such statement as that he was ashamed of the articles referred to. He had not qualified his statement at all. The hon. Member had made an assertion, and he (Mr. Arnold Forster) had said that it was incorrect.
§ MR. CLANCY
said he had not stated that the hon. Member had said he was ashamed of Parnellism and Crime, but that was the inference which he (Mr. Clancy) drew from the hon. Member's observations. At any rate, if the hon. Member was not one of the joint authors of Parnellism and Crime, he was a very active circulator of the charges and allegations contained in it. In the future he hoped that the hon. Member would cease writing fresh letters to The Times, or circulating old ones. In regard to the matter of the hon. Member's speech, it seemed to him (Mr. Clancy) that the reason the hon. Member was not favourable to the Bill was because he desired to keep a sore open in Ireland for the purpose of forcing on a scheme of compulsory and wholesale expropriation at a future date—no doubt as an alternative to Home Rule. He (Mr. Clancy) would not enter into the question of the policy of the Plan of Campaign, 1439 regarding that matter as absolutely decided. The hon. Member called the Plan of Campaign tenants dishonest, but he (Mr. Clancy), for his part, called them honest and brave tenants. The hon. Member talked of the landlords having been defrauded of their rents, he (Mr. Clancy) maintained that they had simply been deprived of rights which they had never had any claim to exercise. The hon. Member used vituperative epithets against the Irish tenants, and a case must be weak indeed which had to be bolstered up in that manner. One remark made by the hon. Bart (Sir T. Lea), and repeated by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, was, that it was proposed to give better terms to the Plan of Campaign tenants and to evicted tenants than to other tenants in Ireland. Well, for his part, he (Mr. Clancy) was not inclined to dispute that proposition. In his view these tenants deserved to get better terms than anybody else, for it was they who had fought the battle for the rest of the tenantry in Ireland. It had only been the loyal, the honest, the rent paying, the church going tenants of the North of Ireland who had gone on paying their rack rents, getting into debt, defrauding their families, and at the same time taking every advantage of the concessions wrung from this Parliament by the tenants who were described as dishonest. If, therefore, he preferred one set of tenants above another, it was the set which the hon. Member had described as fraudulent, but whom he (Mr. Clancy) regarded as having bravely and honestly proved their patriotism. As a matter of fact, this Bill, or some such measure, was bound to pass into law to cure the social diseases which existed in Ireland. The argument as to whether the Plan of Campaign was moral or immoral, or whether the men who had taken part in it were fraudulent and dishonest or not, was beside the question. The thing had to be settled. There were a certain number of tenants out of their homes in Ireland, and to go on keeping them out of their homes would be a standing danger to peace and order in Ireland— peace and order which, under Home Rule, the Irish Members hoped to preserve better than the Parliament of England had ever preserved it. In order to get rid of this social sore, it was necessary 1440 that some Bill like the present should be passed, whether or not Home Rule was secured. Even if the Bill for the Better Government of Ireland were rejected, he was inclined to think that one of the first measures the Front Opposition Bench, with its recent revolutionary proclivities, would pass, would be one based on the principles of the Redemption of Rent Act of 1891. The Bill before the House carried out the proposals contained in the Bill of Mr. O.'Kelly last year, and in two or three sentences he would state the differences between the two measures. They seemed to him to be three-fold. The Bill of last year proposed that the tenant should claim to buy, and that, if the landlord refused to sell, the tenant should be reinstated, with the right to have a fair rent fixed. The present Bill proposed that tenants must claim to be reinstated as tenants, but that the landlord should have the option of allowing them to buy. That proposal, which was the main proposal in the Bill, it was unnecessary to point out to an intelligent assembly, could involve no injustice to anybody whatsoever. Who would be robbed by the transaction? The landlord would not be robbed, because, in case he sold his land, he got the price which was fixed by an impartial tribunal—perhaps he ought not to say "impartial," because at the present moment the Laud Commission in Ireland could not be said to be in any sense a tenants' commission. If the landlord chose to take back his former tenant as a tenant, he would be in the same position as any other landlord Ireland, in who had to submit, under the Act of 1881, to the fixing of a fair rent on his land. Nor was the planter robbed under the Bill. The second change in the Bill from that of Mr. O'Kelly was this— Mr. O'Kelly's Bill proposed no money clause. The reason was, that Mr. O'Kelly and his friends intended that the money should come out of the Imperial Exchequer rather than out of any Irish funds. They thought that the calamities the hon. Gentleman opposite had referred to did not come within the principle of the Irish Church Act. If they had thought it expedient to apply the Irish Church surplus to such a case as this, they would have had no scruples, but they said that this calamity 1441 in Ireland was brought about by the action of the House. The promoters of the Bill of last year said that it was the act of the Imperial Government; they maintained that it was the result of imperial policy, and they therefore held that the Imperial Exchequer should pay the cost of wiping it out; but it being necessary to propose a Money Clause, they thought that, as private Members, according to constitutional usage, they would be unable to make that proposal. They fully intended, however, to raise the question, and to propose it if they could, and to compensate thereby any planters who were removed who had a substantial interest in their holdings. This Bill proposed to give compensation. The planter, therefore, was not injured. Then was the State injured or wronged? Even under the proposal of last year the State would not have been robbed, because, as the figures in the Report of the last Commission showed, it cost more to keep open the sore in Ireland than it would cost to compensate all the planters. There could be no question at all under the present Bill as to whether the State would be robbed. Some hon. Gentlemen who were not acquainted with the nature of the Irish Church Surplus might fancy that this was British money. The hon. Member who had just sat down, remarked that they (the Irish Members) were determined to give charity to the Irish tenants. But this Irish Church surplus, in the first place, was Irish money. It was as much the money of the tenants who had been evicted in Ireland as it was of those still in possession. It was the property of the Irish people as a whole, and he believed that the Irish people would not object to have even the whole of the remainder of the surplus devoted to the relief of the bravo and patriotic men to whom he had alluded. The third change was rather a larger departure from the principle of the Bill of last year than the two changes he had already mentioned. They proposed last year that in every case the evicted tenants should be reinstated, either as purchasers or tenants, and that the planters in possession should be made to make way for them on receiving proper compensation for any substantial interest they might have. The present Bill did not propose to compulsorily 1442 reinstate them in cases where the planters had a substantial interest in the holdings and refused to go out even for compensation. The proposal of the Bill was, that in that case the Land Commission should find land elsewhere for the evicted tenants. Frankly speaking, he preferred the proposal of the Bill of last year. In his opinion, so long as a single evicted tenant in Ireland was kept out of his own ancestral home, there would be a certain sense of irritation throughout the country. The result, he feared, would be that there would be some disorder, and possibly some crime in Ireland. However, he was not one of those who were unreasonable, and if there was a general concurrence with the proposal to buy land in other parts of Ireland for the evicted tenants, he would not stand in the way of the carrying out of that scheme. After all, he thought it would be better that the Irish tenants should be put into some holdings, if not their original ones, than that they should be kept on the roadside as they were now. At any rate, the matter was not one vital to the principle of the Bill; it was rather one of those details which could be settled in Committee. If he had an opportunity of doing so, he should propose an Amendment in Committee which would have the effect of restoring all the tenants in Ireland to the land they had occupied for generations. In the course of the discussion which took place recently on this question, he heard some ironical cheering at references made to the idea of the Government adopting a proposal of this character. He hoped, however, that the Government would have the courage to declare that they were not ashamed to adopt the principle of this Bill. He would point out that the principle of the measure was not new; it already had a place on the Statute Book of the Realm. The last Government, in 1891, passed an Act called the Redemption of Land (Ireland) Act, which justified every single proposal contained either in the present Bill or in that of Mr. O'Kelly. One of the reasons why he himself preferred the Bill of Mr. O'Kelly to the present measure was, that the former was, to a large extent, an actual transcript of the Redemption of Land (Ireland) Act. That Act applied to 1443 long leaseholds and free farms. The provision was that these two classes of tenants should have the power of going into Court and claiming to buy their holdings. That plan was adopted in Mr. O'Kelly's Bill, and he preferred that Bill to the measure now before the House. If, however, the present Bill, which went substantially on the lines of Mr. O'Kelly's Bill, was likely to meet with more general favour than the former measure, he was prepared heartily to accept it. He thought the Government would have nothing to be ashamed of or to fear in avowing that they deliberately adopted the principle of the Bill, as that principle was already to be found on the Statute Book, and had already found favour with a landlord minority. He could not understand how the Tory Party, and especially the Leader of the Opposition, could oppose the principle of the Bill. After the Reduction of Rent Act of 1891, all argument against the Bill was taken out of that right hon. Gentleman's mouth, because, if it was just to apply the principle to the long leaseholders of Ireland, it was equally just and expedient to apply it to other cases. He hoped the prospects of the Bill were better than he and those who acted with him had, up to that time, thought them. Since the refusal of the Government to have an Autumn Session, and to pass an Evicted Tenants' Bill during such a Session, he had felt there was grave doubt whether any legislation on the subject could be accomplished within the limits of the present Session. All he would say was that the question required to be settled. The evicted tenants had waited nine or 10 months in confident expectation that something would be done for them. He hoped they would not be disappointed, but that before the Session was over something practical would have been done towards restoring them to their holdings. This would have to be done at some time, and he was certain that if the present Government remained in office they would be found applying their energies to the solution of the question. He invited the Government to be courageous in avowing their adhesion to the principle of the measure, and to be firm in exacting the time that was necessary to pass it into law.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
1444 said this was a very far-reaching and remarkable Bill, and it had been introduced to the House in a very remarkable manner. It was only printed on Monday last, and was circulated in a revised form, with, he believed, one word altered, yesterday, so that it had been impossible for his friends on the other side of the Irish Channel to obtain a copy up to yesterday.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY
said that as this was a private Member's Bill, one had naturally imagined that it would contain the views of private Members who were unacquainted with the Report of the Commission. The Bill was read a first time on the 1st of February, and it was not until many weeks later that the Report of the Commission was presented to Members. Either the Bill was. a dummy and bogus Bill when introduced, or else hon. Members below the Gangway had been in collusion with the Commissioners, and possibly with the Government, and the Bill was the outcome of an arrangement between them. He wanted to know whose Bill it was. Was it the Bill of the Gentlemen whose names appeared on the back of it, or was it the Bill of Sir James Mathew's Commission, or of the Government? It was evident that it was Sir James Mathew's Bill, as it was based upon the Report of that distinguished Gentleman's Commission. The House must take it that the recommendations of the Commission were based on the evidence given before the Commission. What was the evidence? It was notoriously one-sided evidence. It was the evidence chiefly of evicted tenants and of clergymen of the Catholic Church who had been mixed up with the Plan of Campaign and with hon. Members sitting below the Gangway. No evidence at all was given on the other side. No landlord appeared, and none of the tenants on the Plan of Campaign estates who had stuck to the landlords and paid their rents went before the Commission. Mr. Edward Phillips, a tenant of his own, was anxious to give evidence, and wrote to the Commission offering to do so; but the Commissioners declined to hear what he had to say. The evidence taken was not given upon oath and was not sifted by means of cross-exami- 1445 nation. When Mr. Dudgeon, who had been agent for one estate, appeared, he informed the Commission that two of the witnesses previously called had been convicted at Manchester of boycotting, and had been sent to prison by an English Judge. The President was exceedingly astonished to hear this, and said he wished very much he had had the information at the time when the men were before the Commission. There was no doubt that similar information might have been given with regard to numbers of witnesses who appeared before the Commission. Since the evidence had been published, the landlords whose cases had been brought before the Commission, had answered it in detail, and, had time permitted, he could have shown how the testimony given in regard to the Ponsonby estate and Lord Landsdowne's estate had been cut to ribbons. Although the tenants' evidence was not given on oath, it had been answered by means of statutory declarations. Evidence had been given with regard to his (Mr. Smith-Barry's) estate in Tipperary. The Rev. Canon Cahill did all he could to persuade the Commissioners that the contest on the Tipperary estate was partly caused by a demand for a reduction of rent, because there was discontent on the part of the tenants with regard to the management of the estate and the rents levied upon it. The statements of the rev. gentlemen, however, were so contradicted by notorious facts, and even by facts elicited by the Commissioners themselves, that they had entirely thrown him overboard. They had reported that no question of rent was involved, and virtually that they did not concur in the view which the rev. Canon took. Then there was Mr. O'Brien Dalton, a leading member of the Tenants' Defence Committee, to whose statements he (Mr. Smith-Barry) had absolute answers on oath by himself and his agent. There was also the evidence of some of the evicted tenants, who posed not only as martyrs, but as patriots. Amongst them were Mr. John McCarthy and Mr. John Burke, who, as a matter of fact, were still indebted to him in a considerable sum of money for rent. He had put them into the Bankruptcy Court, and they had been ordered by the Commis- 1446 sioners in Bankruptcy to appear before the Court. However, they were much too sharp to give evidence on oath in substantiation of the statements they had made before Sir James Mathew, and they had consequently ever since been evading the warrants issued against them. At the present moment they were in hiding, and he believed they had fled the country. Well, this was the sort of evidence upon which the recommendations embodied in the Bill, now before the House, had been based. He wanted to know why he was to be compelled to take back on his property men who had wilfully and deliberately, at the instigation of hon. Members below the Gangway and their friends, declined to pay him their rent, who had forced him to evict them, and who had left their holdings on his hands. Before they took action against him they sent a deputation to him in London, and he warned the tenants, through that deputation, in calm but perfectly clear language, that if they entered into any such conspiracy they would have to bear the consequences. They did enter into the conspiracy notwithstanding. Later on, before the great majority of the agricultural tenants were evicted, and when there was still time for them to redeem their holdings, he determined that they should be again warned. With that view he wrote to the Archbishop of Cashel—with whom he had a very interesting correspondence —explaining that those men would be running great risks if they left their holdings, and that if they finally did so it would be to their loss and his gain. Nevertheless these men left their holdings in his hands, and he was perfectly ready and most anxious to keep them. His own property was surrendered back to him by their fault in spite of every warning. He was now occupying, cultivating, and working those lands to his own profit, and why was he to be forced under such a Bill as this to take back as tenants men who had wilfully thrown themselves out and who had shown themselves entirely unworthy of trust or confidence. On the point of the value of the evidence given before the Commission, he wished to refer to the Lansdowne Luggacurran estate. The hon. Member for South Kerry, who was one of the evicted 1447 tenants, gave lengthened evidence, in which he described the rents as too high on account of the condition of agriculture, and said that the tenants were obliged to enter the Plan of Campaign. But it was a curious thing that at a meeting of the Irish National League in Dublin in 1887 the hon. Member was reported to have said that the tenants on this estate differed from most of the other tenants, inasmuch as they were able to pay their rents, showing that their inability to do so was not the cause of their joining the Plan. He ventured to say that if Lord Lansdowne, or any one acting for him, had appeared before the Commission, and had been allowed to cross-examine the hon. Member, the value of his evidence as to the unsatisfactory condition of the tenants would have been destroyed.
§ MR. KILBRIDE (Kerry, S.)
If I had been put on oath and been cross-examined I should have sworn that to my own certain knowledge the rents of that estate were paid out of capital.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY
said if the evidence in each of these cases was thoroughly sifted, the recommendations of the Commission would be made valueless. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion said that the allowances made on the Ponsonby estate were insufficient, that the tenants were in a bad financial condition, and that if proper allowances had been made the Plan of Campaign would not have been adopted on the estate. But all the details in regard to this estate, including this point, had been pretty well threshed out, and he himself had answered the point two or three times in the last Parliament. Only 27 tenants went into Court during the five years following the passing of the Land Act of 1881, the average reduction made in their rent being 11 per cent., while 18 had judicial rents fixed by agreement out of Court at an average reduction of 12⅞ per cent. The arrears due up to the year 1879–80 wore wiped out during that trying winter, and of the arrears which accumulated after that date £1,625 were wiped out under the Arrears Act of 1882. In 1885 an abatement of 20 per cent. on non-judicial and 10 per cent. on judicial rents was allowed by Mr. Ponsonby. In October, 1886, when the rents due the previous March were called for, the same abatement was 1448 offered. A meeting was, however, held, and attended by Mr. Lane, who was formerly Member for East Cork, and the hon. Member for Mid Cork, at which it was determined to demand reductions of not less than 35 and 25 per cent. on non-judicial and judicial rents respectively. That this demand was exorbitant was clearly proved by the fact that the average reduction made by the Courts in cases where Mr. Ponsonby's rents had been revised by them was only 11 9/10 per cent., and that the reduction decreed by the Land Commission in 1887 on judicial rents, as affecting the Ponsonby estate, averaged only 11½ per cent. Those figures showed that the allowances offered by Mr. Ponsonby were eminently fair and reasonable. The evidence given in the Ponsonby case was simply a rehash of the old statements that had again and again been brought before Parliament during the past few years, that had been again and again refuted, and which were now yet again refuted under statutory declaration made by persons concerned in the Ponsonby estates who had cognizance of all the facts, and chiefly by Mr. Ponsonby himself and Mr. Brunker. He wished in this connection to direct the attention of the House to the value of unsworn evidence given by men of the class of the Ponsonby tenants in the South of Ireland. Anybody who understood anything of legal proceedings or of the Law Courts in the South of Ireland, or who had dealings with the peasant class there, knew that the stories that were told required the most searching investigation before any reliance could be placed on them. The men told one story to the landlord and another to the priest, and it was always exceedingly difficult to got at the real facts. For instance, it was stated that a man named Smiddy, who was one of those who signed a memorial to the Evicted Tenants Commission, had said that he had been forced to sign an agreement to purchase on the Ponsonby estate.
§ MR. SEXTON
I rise to order. I wish to know whether on the Second Reading of the Bill the hon. Member can not only go into the details of the evidence given before the Commission, but can discuss what might have been said before the Commission if certain persons who did not appear before it had attended and given evidence.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
On the same point may I ask, whether, on a Bill which depends entirely on the Report of the Commission, it is not competent for the hon. Member to discuss the evidence given before that Commission.
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is exactly the answer I should have given. The hon. Member is perfectly in order in referring to the evidence upon which the Commission were induced to draw up their Report.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY
continuing, said that the landlord's solicitors, having heard that one purchaser, and one only— the man Smiddy—was dissatisfied with the terms of purchase, wrote to him on arch 16, 1892, and Smiddy sent a letter in reply, in which he stated that, regarding the agreement he had signed for the purchase of the farm he held on the Ponsonby estate,He was still satisfied with the conditions of the agreement, and that he approved of the terms contained therein.He also expressed a hope that the matter would be arranged as soon as possible, as he had a large number of cattle, and it was very expensive putting them out to grass. Yet that was the man who had signed a memorial to the Commission stating that he signed his agreement under duress. What was the value of such evidence? A man named John Lynch gave evidence before the Commission, and when he came back a gentleman who had tried to make terms between him and Mr. Ponsonby asked him how it was that he could have made such statements? He replied—Surely you will not blame me when I tell you that they paid me 8s. a day, took me to all the shows in Dublin, and restored me my pension of £10 a month.That was the way in which evidence was manufactured. Was that House to give John Lynch and his friends advantages which law-abiding tenants throughout the country did not possess? In 1889, when his own name came very prominently forward in connection with the estate, Mr. Ponsonby issued a circular, and if the tenants availed themselves of the terms of purchase contained in it, they would have obtained reductions of rent to the amount of 32 per cent. and 24 per cent. respectively, and they would have been the absolute owners of their farms at the end of 49 years, and £21,800 1450 in arrears would have been remitted. Why did they not accept these terms? Because hon. Members below the Gangway would not let them. Canon Keller stated in his evidence that though the judicial tenants demanded abatements of 25 per cent. they would be satisfied with 20 per cent., and if it were so, presumably the non-judicial tenants who demanded 35 per cent. would have been satisfied with 30 per cent. If, therefore, the tenants had accepted the offers of purchase contained in the circular, they would on payment of one year's rent have obtained a greater reduction in their annual payments, than would have satisfied them when they adopted the Plan of Campaign. But these terms they were not allowed to accept. Why were they out now? It was for the political purposes of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. He felt that he was detaining the House too long. Mr. Ponsonby afterwards made other offers under Section 13, a great many of which had been availed of, and more would have been availed of if the same kind of influence as he had described had not been brought to bear.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY
Nothing of the sort. There were 104 signed agreements, 68 of which were sanctioned almost immediately; in 35 cases the agreements were not sanctioned.
§ MR. SEXTON
The Land Commission refused to sanction because the price was too high, and the security was insufficient.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY
said he supposed hon. Gentlemen thought men who by their acts had been made insolvent were to be reinstated without their being any security. In 35 cases the Land Commission said that the price was too high, not that the price was too high for the laud, but in considering the amount they would have to advance they took into account not so much the value of the land as the solvency of the tenant, and his power to pay his instalments. Mr. Ponsonby told the Land Commissioners that although he considered the price he asked for the land was a fair price, he was prepared to take a smaller sum for the sake of peace and quiet. That was more than hon. Members below the Gangway had ever offered to 1451 do. Whose fault was it that the tenants had been evicted? He knew quite well that the majority of them were sorry for ever having entered the Plan of Campaign. The Prime Minister made a statement in Manchester, as Members below the Gangway had done in many places, that it was the fault of the Tory Government, who declined to accept Mr. Parnell's Bill, that these men had been driven into the Plan of Campaign. But they had got the statement of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), backed by the hon. Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin (Mr. Harrington), to the contrary effect. He had got quotations from the speeches of both hon. Members, taken from The Independent and The Freeman's Journal. The Member for Waterford said that it was far more a political than an agrarian movement; and the Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin, who claimed to be the author of the Plan, at a meeting at Kingstown, endorsed the statement of the hon. Member for Waterford. Which knew better whether it was a political movement — the Member for the Harbour Division (the author of the Plan of Campaign) or the Prime Minister? It was fortunate that they had got that admission from the hon. Members that it was not an agrarian movement, and that it had been a political movement all the time, and that it was started in order to make impossible the Government of Ireland by the present Leader of the Opposition. He would like to go carefully through the clauses of the Bill, but he felt it was scarcely necessary, because he objected upon every principle of honesty and expediency to putting back arbitrarily and compulsorily, as the Bill proposed, men who had joined the Plan of Campaign for a political purpose, who had declined to avail themselves of all the great advantages which the legislation passed by that House during the last 10 or 12 years had given them, and who had played their game and at the end found themselves losers. A majority of them at present were men of notorious impecuniosity; otherwise why were they to have more favourable terms than ordinary tenants? He objected also to the Bill because it was a monstrous and outrageous thing that men who had proved themselves dishonest, or who had 1452 failed in their business, should be put back again compulsorily. The Bill seemed to be founded on the fact that a clause was introduced into the Land Purchase Act of the present Leader of the Opposition. But that was an entirely different thing. It was purely an optional clause. It barred the cases in which farms had been let to others, it guarded the men who were called "planters," and, moreover, the operation of the clause was strictly limited to six months in order that settlements might be come to quickly. He would not, for want of time, go further into the details of the proposed measure. He objected to the Bill on principle, and on the ground that a largo sum of money was to be taken from the Church Temporalities Fund, in order that these thoroughly undeserving persons known as the evicted tenants might be put back. He wanted to know why the money required for this purpose should not be found by hon. Gentlemen who got these people into the mess. Where were the Paris Funds? Last autumn Nationalist Members went about the country declaring in their speeches that the evicted tenants were a claim on the Irish nation. In August, 1892, the hon. Member for East Mayo, speaking at a Federation meeting in Dublin, assorted the claim on the Irish nation of those evicted tenants, who, he said, left their homes at the call of duty. Then let those hon. Gentlemen find the funds. The hon. Member for Waterford, speaking on August 22nd, 1892, said that the Paris Funds should be used to reinstate the evicted tenants in cases where settlements could be arrived at, and also to support those tenants in whose cases no fair settlement could be obtained. Why, then, was the House now to be asked to sanction the payment of the money out of the Church Temporalities Fund when hon. Gentlemen had got the Paris Funds?
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY
The hon. Member for North Louth himself, in a speech dealing with the Paris Funds, asked how could they urge the claims of the evicted tenants in the House of Commons when it could be retorted that Mr. Harrington and Mr. Redmond would not give a shilling out of the £40,000 in Paris to 1453 aid the tenants. He objected to the Bill, because it was an attempt to put back a class of unworthy men; because, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite had him- self said, it was not advocated at the time the Commission was started; and because it was nothing short of an act of plunder and confiscation. The reasons given by the Irish Landowners' Convention for objecting to the proceedings of the Commission were also strong grounds for opposing this Bill. Those reasons were, that the findings were based on onesided evidence which the Commissioners refused to submit to the test of cross-examination; that they totally ignored the landlords' right of ownership by proposing the compulsory restoration of the evicted tenants; that they ignored the past history and character and solvency of the tenants, and made no effort to recoup the landlords for the losses they had sustained in obtaining possession of their land; and they offered special advantages to tenants who had refused to fulfil their contracts; and that they were intended to help the promoters and advocates of the Plan of Campaign out of a difficulty. Upon all the grounds which he had stated he was opposed to the present Bill.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. MORLEY,) New-castle-upon-Tyne
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down with very sincere and unfeigned disappointment. I had hoped that he, with his great knowledge of this question, considering the line that he has on previous occasions taken upon this very subject, and considering his authority and influence with the landlords of Ireland, I had hoped that he, at least, would have let some sentence fall that would guide this House in its deliberations upon what he admits to be a most serious and difficult subject. Instead of that, what has the hon. Member done? The greater portion of his speech, if it meant anything, meant that he and his friends made a great mistake when they refused to go and give evidence before the Commission. The hon. Member said, "We could have torn the evidence to pieces! I should have liked," he added, "to catechise some rev. gentlemen who gave evidence." Why did he not do so?
I mean why did he and his friends not go before the Commission and give their evidence? Then the House would have the advantage, which, when I advised the Lord Lieutenant to issue that Commission, I hoped the House would have the advantage of—namely, the advantage of being in possession of the full case. The contribution made by the hon. Member is, with all respect to him, of no value whatever in the issue we now have to decide. Granting that most of the evidence that he adduced would stand the test of cross-examination, which I do not profess to deny, granting that, how does it affect the question that there is a great difficulty before us, a difficulty which has been recognised by nobody more strongly than by the hon. Member himself? He has not a word to tell us, not a hint to drop, as to how far, if any way at all, he will go with the promoters of this Bill. I, myself, do not accept all the provisions of this Bill, but I feel if one of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in my place next year or this year—the moment he is in my place he will have to consider the question; and why I am disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member is, that he has shed no light whatever on the real difficulty which any Administration in Ireland would have to encounter. The hon. Member used one or two phrases —I do not like to pin any Gentleman to phrases—but he said, talking of his own property—It is my own, I am dealing with my own land, and dealing with it to my profit and satisfaction.I do not like to press that too much, but I would remind the hon. Member that it is language of this kind and the principles which that language describes which have brought about all the mischief in Ireland. I do not compare the hon. Member with the nobleman, with regard to whom I have not used any particularly bad language; I do not compare the hon. Member with Lord Clanricarde, but I say this—that Lord Clanricarde is only the reductio ad ahsurdum of the principle of the hon. Member. I want to recall to the House and to the hon. Member the extra- ordinarily different language that he used 1455 in 1891. When his own friends were in office, and when they were trying— though, unfortunately, they did not take adequate steps—to solve the difficulty which this Bill is an attempt to get rid of, did the hon. Member then use the kind of language that he has used to night about the proposals to restore the evicted tenants? I agree with him that the proposals of Section 13 were optional proposals, and therefore stand upon a different footing from the proposals in the Bill now before the House. But that is not the point. The hon. Member this afternoon has used language which indicates that these evicted tenants are a set of vagabonds who ought not to be restored to their former holdings. Did he say so in 1891? He said—I have no wish, myself, to shut the door upon any of these men who are now living outside their farms, no doubt very largely through their own fault, but still more largely through the fault of those who have lured them on to destruction. I think it possible that very recent events may lead the House to think that I am not disposed to deal harshly with those who have been in opposition to me; if a clause can be drawn which will enable the Commissioners to restore the evicted tenants on certain conditions, and provided security were given, I certainly should be very sorry to say that I should set my face against the reinstatement of such men.What has the hon. Member done this afternoon except, from the first sentence to the last, but set his face against the reinstatement of those men?
MR. J. MORLEY
That may be, and if the hon. Member came down to the House and complained of the Bill as being deficient in certain particulars, as being wrong in principle in some particulars, that is what I would expect; but remembering, as I did, the speeches of the hon. Member in 1891, and knowing, as I do, that the hon. Member has every interest in seeing this question settled, I am disappointed that he should have come down this afternoon and made a speech which is nothing but setting his face against reinstatement. I must trouble the House with one or two more sentences of the hon. Member. Two days later, in June, 1891, he said, referring to Section 13—I think it will open a very fair and proper door to evicted tenants to enable them to get back into their holdings by purchasing them under this Act. It opens a very much wider 1456 door than does the proposal of the hon. Member for West Belfast (now the hon. Member for North Kerry), for his only applies to men who have taken evicted farms, whereas the clause would bring about a settlement in the case of derelict and unoccupied farms.This is a Bill in principle for reinstating tenants of derelict and unoccupied farms. Would anybody have supposed to-day that the hon. Member had at heart the reinstatement of men in derelict and unoccupied farms? The main object of the Bill is to do exactly what in 1891 he congratulated the hon. Member for South Tyrone on trying to do more successfully than another. He talks of this as being a nefarious way of taking money out of the Church Temporalities Fund. Yes; but Section 13 proposed to make specially favourable terms for these men. On whoso responsibility? Not on that of the Irish Church Temporalities Fund, but of the British taxpayer. The right hon. Gentleman, my predecessor in the office of Chief Secretary, shakes his head. My proposition is that Section 13 gave specially favoured treatment to these evicted tenants.
MR. J. MORLEY
I will tell you. It gave them specially favoured treatment, because the effect and the object of Section 13 was to put these men back into positions of which they had deprived themselves; to put them on the footing of tenants in possession.
MR. J. MORLEY
Clause 13 was passed; but, unfortunately, it was inoperative, and failed to obtain the object of those who framed it and passed it. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill did so in a speech of very great moderation, and I observe that my hon. Friend was very careful not to lay down any broad grounds of objection to the principle of reinstatement. The hon. Baronet took the very narrow ground—for I think it was a narrow ground—that the money required for the purposes of this Bill was to come out of the Church Temporalities Fund. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion indulged in 1457 rather more angry language, but I propose to return to the lower key of the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. I will not follow any speaker who has indulged in recriminations, and in that vein I cannot follow the hon. Member who has just sat down. I am not going to say anything now about the Evicted Tenants Commission, because already we have had one long evening's Debate on it.
MR. J. MORLEY
Does the right hon. Gentleman get up to tell me that this is a proper occasion for me to go into the evidence?
MR. J. MORLEY
The right hon. Gentleman knows it is impossible to do so at 10 minutes to 5 o'clock. I will not detain the House at any great length, for very few minutes are needed, in expressing the views which I have both on my own behalf and on behalf of the other Members of the Government. There are, I have said, points in this Bill to which I take some exception. I wish to press upon the House that the foundation of the Bill, as I read it, is the erection of an arbitrating tribunal for settling these disputes between landlords and tenants. Well, von may say in answer to that that the hon. Member for South Hunts wants to do what he likes with his own. He may say he will not have people arbitrating, and that it is a monstrous thing to have a Statute coming between him and his tenants for the disposal of his laud, and telling him what terms he shall make to those who take that land.
MR. J. MORLEY
The hon. and learned Gentleman says "Hear, hear." Then the hon. and learned Gentleman is overthrowing the whole fabric of the laud system in Ireland as it now exists. The intervention of a Court comes between landlords and tenants in Ireland at every turn.
MR. J. MORLEY
I am not saying so. My proposition is that you cannot argue against this proposal on the ground that it sets up an arbitrating tribunal, because the whole system of 1458 relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland since the Act of 1881 rests upon the decision of an arbitrating compulsory tribunal. Parliament may have been right or wrong in deciding that fair rents should be fixed by the Courts— but there is nothing new in a proposal of this kind, and, therefore, it is idle to say that a compulsory arbitrating tribunal is a monstrous invasion of private rights or of the principles hitherto accepted in public policy. It is neither the one or the other. Do not think it is the Liberal Government alone who have taken this view of arbitrary interference between landlord and tenant and between gentlemen doing as they like with their own. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer was a Member of the Government which in 1887 went a step, which I admit and which I have always thought was a necessary stop, but which went a great deal further than the Act of 1881, which provided for fixed judicial rents, for it re-revised those revised rents. Then how idle it is to object to compulsory arbitration when you have such cases as the Land Act of 1881, the Land Act of 1887, and the Redemption of Rent Act of 1891. The present Bill created a compulsory arbitrating tribunal in that respect. It does not go further than the principles which have been already recognised in this House. The way in which I should like to describe the foundation of the Bill is that it is an extension, a large extension I quite agree, but an extension of that principle of equity of redemption which, I think, first appeared in a Bill of 1860, which gave equity of redemption for six months. The same principle was recognised in the Arrears Act of 1882, in order to> effect the settlement of disputes, and enable tenants who were evicted to raise money on payment of one year's arrears, and giving power to the Land Commission to extend the period of redemption. There was further power given of equity of redemption under Clause 13. There you have it in effect, not technically. I, for one, can find nothing in previous legislation indicating an invincible repugnance to the creation of a compulsory arbitrating tribunal. I am bound to say I am inclined to differ from the proposal in 1459 the Bill that the Land Commission is to be this tribunal. I think that the promoters of the Bill are in error. I believe, first of all, the Land Commission has got at least as much to do as it can well do; and, secondly, I think it would not be desirable to mix up the Land Commission, which ought to be a tribunal above all suspicion, with cases of this kind. Therefore, when this Bill gets into Committee I shall propose that it should not be the Land Commission, but a Special Commission—I mean an official Commission—who shall take those matters into consideration. I now come to a more fundamental point in the Bill, in which I am not at one with its promoters. This Bill gives the Land Commission, or whatever other body may be appointed, no discretion or option in reinstatement. They make it compulsory on the Commissioners to reinstate any tenant who cannot settle with his landlord. I regard that as a proposal open to many objections, and I think that the Commissioners ought to have the power of discriminating or exercising a discretionary power in deciding whether an evicted tenant should be reinstated or not. I think there ought to be a discretion and an option. In one of the sections is a provision enabling the Land Commission to postpone instalments. I view that not with any fundamental repugnance to the principle, but I view it with misgivings, because I believe it would tend to throw out of gear the working of the Laud Purchase Act of 1891. I for one have no desire or wish to stop the working of that Act. On the contrary I desire, in common with those who know most about Ireland, and -who care most about Ireland, that a real solution should be arrived at. I agree with policy of purchase, but I am afraid the tendency of the provision of which I am now speaking would be to throw the working of that very important Act out of gear. But these are all points on which I had hoped to be strengthened by so important a speaker as the hon. Gentleman who preceded me, because they seem to me the points which would lead to the end which we all desire, and which, I believe, the promoters of the Bill desire—namely, an equitable arrangement. The fourth point upon which I entertain some 1460 doubts is the proposal that those settlers who have not got what is called a substantial interest should be compulsorily expropriated though with compensation for disturbance. I think that would be found a very difficult thing to do. It would be a very difficult thing for the Commissioners to draw a distinction between a substantial interest and an interest not substantial. And I see also other objections. I am perfectly sure from the information that I have been able to collect for the last seven or eight months, as well as from the evidence which came out before Sir James Mathew's Commission, that there will be little difficulty in carrying out voluntary negotiations with those settlers whose interests are what is called not substantial. I except one further point, which is what is called a Treasury point. I doubt whether Clause 9 on the whole is rightly drawn. I myself would be most reluctant to see any invasion of the capital fund. I hate all invasions of capital funds, especially in Ireland, where they need all the capital funds they can get, and, therefore, I think this clause ought to have been drawn in such a form as to take borrowing powers, guaranteed, if you like, by the Church Temporalities Fund, but not touching the corpus of the fund itself. I do not know that I need say any more. These points I have raised are Committee points, but most important points, two of them of extreme importance, but still points that I believe we might come to an agreement on in Committee, and therefore what I propose to do, and what Her Majesty's Government authorise me to invite the House to do, is to read the Bill a second time. After the Second Beading of the Home Rule Bill, which, of course, must be the first work for the Government to take in hand, realizing how important it is to arrive at some settlement of this question, we will do the best we can to promote the further stages of the Bill. The hon. Gentlemen who bring in the Bill know the position of the Government; they know the difficulties of the Government. No doubt I had hoped in the first instance, as I have already stated, when I advised the issue of the Mathew Commission that the Irish landlords would for once see their real interest, and I hope even now, before we came to the Committee 1461 stage of this Bill, they will see that the proposals may be modified in such a way as to give them all that they are entitled to, and perhaps even more than many of them expect, because I consider the terms of the Bill really tolerably liberal. I believe if they will take that course we may arrive at a settlement in which their friends are as much interested as we are. It is their interest to get the question out of the way, and the earlier they expect their return to power the more willing must they be to help us to get the question out of the way. But however that may be, we shall persevere in the course I have indicated. The Bill as it stands contains some proposals to which we cannot assent, but we do assent to the fundamental principle of the Bill, realising the enormous importance of the objects which, the Bill aims at, and we will do the best we can to promote its becoming law at the earliest possible moment.
Mr. GOSCHEN and Mr. SEXTON rose together, but the former gave way.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
said he only wished to say one word. He wished to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the promise he had given in regard to the further stages of the Bill, and to say that in his judgment the points the right hon. Gentleman had spoken about were points that could be dealt with in Committee. He had also to say this. He told the House upon his responsibility that he thought, in a matter of infinite concern to the cause of social order in Ireland, the sense of the House should be obtained on this Bill to-day, and if the Opposition, having already made three Speeches, desired to make any further comments on the Bill, they invited them now to put forward the speaker who they intended should close the Debate.
MR. J. MORLEY
I may have been misunderstood. My right hon. Friends near me say that my statement is capable of being misunderstood—that we have promised to take up the Bill the moment the Second Beading of the Home Rule Bill is passed. [An hon. MEMBER: You said that.] If I said that I certainly did not mean to say it. I said hon. Gentlemen opposite who introduced the Bill would realise the difficulties of the Government, and what I intended to say 1462 was, that as far as those difficulties would allow us, we would go on with the Bill.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
The hon. Member for North Kerry, who rose just now, threatens us, as I understand, with social disorder in Ireland unless we pass this Bill to-day, after a discussion lasting only three hours. [Mr. SEXTON: Four and a half.] We do not look to the hon. Member for the maintenance of social order in Ireland. If such threats are to be made at all, they ought to have been uttered by the Chief Secretary, who is responsible for order in Ireland. Though we understand that the Government desire to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas, I do not think they will accept the Irish idea which has just been put forward by the hon. Member. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen, I trust, will not interrupt me. This is, by the admission of all in this House, a matter of the greatest importance, and I am bound to state my views upon it. We are threatened——
§ MR. SEXTON
said he could not allow the right hon. Gentleman again and again to associate him with any threat. He presumed, however, that those who had taken the trouble to bring the Bill forward and prepare it were entitled, in no sense of threatening, but as a warning of what they feared, to say that if the House did not decide on the principle of the Bill, it might produce an unfortunate effect.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I thought the hon. Member said that in view of those dangers we ought not to postpone the decision to-day. But how is it, if the matter is so extremely urgent, that only after three or four hours' Debate, without the land-lords or parties represented in Ireland having the opportunity of studying the Bill—I say, how is it that this matter, if it so deeply concerns social order in Ireland, has not been brought forward by the Chief Secretary for Ireland? I do not know what the feeling of other Members in this House will be. I am perfectly untouched by the suggestion, though it is not a threat, of the hon. Member. How do we stand now in regard to this Bill? Is this an essentially Wednesday Debate? It might be an essentially 1463 Wednesday Debate, on which hon. Members might fairly ask that the judgment of the House should be taken, if the Bill were to share the fate of those brought forward on most Wednesdays and take its chance; but the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland shows that the Government adopt this measure. They suggest Amendments, but they adopt this Bill, as I understand, and are most anxious to find time, and promise time, if they can, to pass it. Well, I say that puts the matter on a totally different footing. It ceases to be simply an academic Wednesday discussion. It is a matter of vital importance to various interests in Ireland. It affects the tenants, no doubt, but it also vitally affects the interests of the landlords, and, to my mind, it also affects more—it affects the future of rent-paying in Ireland altogether. For my part, I say that I believe this Bill may be looked upon as a kind of no-rent manifesto. I do not know whether hon. Members drew the Bill in this respect on purpose, but, as a matter of fact, in future the present tenants will stand in precisely the same position as the tenants who have been already evicted. While the Chief Secretary lends the police force to assist in evicting tenants, those tenants would be able to appeal to the Commission he proposed to appoint, and be re-instated by that Commission compulsorily. Is that a provision that ought to be passed without discussion? Has ever such a provision been put into an Act of Parliament before? Does it not justify me entirely in saying that if this Bill passes it means the death blow of rent altogether. Hon. Members may say that they will put that right in Committee. [Mr. SEXTON: Yes.] But would they put it right? [Mr. SEXTON: Yes.] Then, in any future Plan of Campaign tenants are not to be put on the same footing as the past have been; then, in future anyone who is evicted is to face the perils of the law, while these tenants are to be restored at the expense of the Irish Church Fund. These tenants are to be restored, it is said, but in future they are not to be restored. I ask in the interests of social order, and in those interests to which reference has been made several times to-day, what is the effect going to be, apart from evictions, upon the fulfillment of contracts in 1464 Ireland generally? The hon. Member who commenced this Debate said it was in the interests of the landlords that this Bill should be passed, and he seemed to consider that it was simply a question between landlord and tenant, and that the future effects of a policy of this kind might be entirely ignored; but I ask, what generally is going to be the effect upon the fulfillment of contracts in the future? This is the question the right hon. gentleman opposite did not deal with in a single point. What is going to be the effect in Ireland generally if it is known that everybody evicted since 1879, without distinction, without drawing any line whatever, is to be compulsorily reinstated?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Well, I will come to that point. The right hon. Gentleman at five o'clock starts three entirely new principles with regard to this Bill. He thinks that he is to have the privilege at five o'clock of stating in what respects the Government are prepared to modify this Bill. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will join in the view that the discussion of these principles on the Second Reading ought to be denied to everybody except himself. How many have had an opportunity of speaking upon this important Bill? The importance of this Bill the right hon. Gentleman himself insists upon. I would wish to emphasise what I have said with regard to the general payment of rent. As the Bill is drawn,, I understand that all the evicted tenants are to be restored. If the right hon. gentleman proposes a total revolution in the Bill, let the Government bring in a Bill on their own responsibility. It is a totally different Bill which is proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. It is a different tribunal, it is not to be compulsory, there are other distinctions, it is a totally different Bill, and all the Government proposes to do, it seems to me, is to take advantage of the Wednesday sitting to get the Second Reading of this Bill, and then practically to bring in a totally different Bill. It will be 1465 modified so in Committee that it will be a totally different Bill. Is that fair treatment of the House of Commons? I ask whether it is a proper method to deal with a matter of such supreme importance? The right hon. Gentleman has made suggestions which give a totally different character to the Bill. [Mr. SEXTON: On Committee points.] Is it a Committee point whether all the tenants or only a certain portion of them are to be restored. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill said he would not show himself in Ireland again until all the evicted tenants were restored. [Mr. P. M'HUGH: I did not say anything of the sort.] The hon. Member said he would rather not go back if the Bill was not passed. [Mr. M'HUGH: I never said anything of the kind.] The hon. Gentleman spoke of his return to Ireland under the conditions of this Bill passing. But the change suggested by the Chief Secretary is a total and entire change in the Bill, and does not carry out for one moment the pledges of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland. Are we not to know, when a Bill of this kind is to be passed, who are the tenants to be affected by it? We should be giving a vote entirely in the dark if we were to vote on this Bill in face of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. I ask another question. The right hon. Gentleman has taunted us with passing compulsory legislation. There is no doubt that some of the legislation we passed was compulsory. But that legislation was as regards long leaseholders. The whole of that class were treated alike; they had broken no contracts, they had fulfilled all their duties, there was no premium on the non-payment of rent. The right hon. Gentleman does not deal with any of those broad questions. The right hon. Gentleman was not pleased with an interjection I made with regard to the evidence of the Commission. Now we want to know, do the Government consider that this Bill is based upon the evidence? If so, why do not they and hon. Members below the Gangway attempt to make out their case? They have not brought forward the evidence which has been paid for by the taxpayers. What has the right hon. Gentleman spent all this money upon? Why has the right hon. Gentleman had this Commission if, when 1466 we are asked to legislate on the subject, neither he nor his friends quote the evidence? When we attempt to bring up that evidence, hon. Gentlemen who now seem to be qualified to be Speakers in a College Green Parliament by always rising to Order and endeavouring to assist Mr. Speaker in his duties, ask whether we are in Order in alluding to that evidence. Are we not justified in examining that evidence to see how far it bears out the vicious proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has made? Then the right hon. Gentleman not unnaturally spoke of the inroad that this proposal, as it stands, might make upon the Irish Church fund. [Interruption below the Gangway.] I think the Chief Secretary is bound to listen to these observations. There is no hurry. Looking to the facts I have mentioned I do not believe it will be proposed by the right hon. Gentleman that this debate should now be brought to a close. [Cries of "Divide."] I have stated my opinion. The right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench will be able to judge whether they think that the Irish who are interested in this matter have had a proper opportunity of considering this Bill. It was printed on Saturday, it did not reach Ireland until Monday or Tuesday, it has been impossible to place oneself in communication with Irish interests upon the subject, and, to my certain knowledge, there are a considerable number of Gentlemen closely connected with Ireland who still desire to speak upon the subject; I will add this, that I think that upon the present occasion at all events the main points in the evidence should be touched upon. We ought to be allowed to examine the evidence. I will not do so now, but I entirely reserve my right to examine the evidence in order to show how imperfectly the Commission fulfilled their duty of obtaining information upon the whole case. I have got to deal with the question of the finance of this Bill, I have got to deal with the question of the persons who will be interested by the Bill, and we have to deal with the evidence before the Commission. With regard to the finance of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared, as I understand, to put it upon the Church Fund, upon the capital side of the Church Fund. He is perfectly right. I believe 1467 the Irish Church Fund now bears as great a burden as it can possibly bear from the charges which have already been put upon it. Well, what is the alternative? Is the British taxpayer to pay?. If you have a voluntary arrangement, and if the Commission has a certain amount of discretion as to whether or not they will admit the tenants, then I think the risk will not be great; but if they are to have no discretion, if the insolvent and bad tenants are to be admitted, then I say the British taxpayer will be asked to bear a burden which will be too heavy to put upon him, looking to the fact that it is simply the reward in many cases of the refusal to pay rents. The right hon. Gentleman asserted that under the voluntary arrangement a preference was given to those who had been acting under the Plan of Campaign. There was no such preference; no differential treatment was given. There was not made the preposterous demand to the House of Commons—
§ It being half-past Five of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the Business;
§ Whereupon Mr. SEXTON rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not complain that the responsibility has been placed upon me, though I am sorry to intervene and to come into collision with any hon. Member, and still more with any large section of the House. But I am bound to consider the circumstances of the Debate. The Debate has lasted exactly four hours and a quarter, and since the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen who introduced the Bill and the Amendment only four speeches have been delivered. The Debate has appeared to open up, in my opinion, a question of great difficulty and great complication. In these circumstances I have come to the conclusion, giving the best weight I can to both sides, that the Debate should be adjourned.
§ Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday, 6th April.