Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Amendment proposed to Main Question [15th August]—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Legh.)
And which Amendment was, at the end of the Question, to add the words—
And humbly to represent to Your Majesty that this House is of opinion that it is the duty of Your Majesty's Ministers to declare without delay their policy with regard to the questions of Home Rule, Land Law Reform (including amendment of the existing Land Acts and compulsory Land Purchase), Reinstatement of the Evicted Tenants, and the industrial condition of Ireland, in all which matters the overwhelming majority of the Irish people is vitally interested."—(Mr. John Redmond).
And the Amendment to the proposed Amendment was to leave out all the words after the words "Ministers to," to the end thereof, in order to add the words—
Propose immediate legislation to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee of last year upon the Irish Land Acts, for the revision of those Judicial Rents which have been declared by the Committee to be excessive, and to make provision for the restoration on equitable terms of certain Evicted Tenants in Ireland to their holdings."—(Mr. Dillon).
§ * MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
resuming the Debate, remarked that further time might well be afforded to discuss the important statement made by the Chief Secretary last night. The House then witnessed two parties, both representing the national aspirations of the Irish people, engaged, to a certain extent, in rivalry, and they saw an English Minister taking advantage of that difference between them. He urged the Irish Members to unite once more, so that the great cause which they all had at heart might be prosecuted with enthusiasm. Last night the Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated what were the Unionist intentions with regard to legislation for Ireland. The recent Elections had shown a great contrast between Great Britain and Ireland. London, and the nine surrounding counties were, even in the last Parliament, the backbone of the Unionist Party. From that district there were, in 1895, about 140 Members returned, only some 12 or 13 of whom were favourable to the principle of Home Rule. He did not think that that was very unnatural, because the Metropolis desired to keep the business which might, in the event of Home Rule, be transferred to Ireland. The feeling in England, Scotland and Wales had altered to a large extent from what it was in 1892. They had had now four Elections, all to some degree on the subject of Home Rule: so far as Great Britain went, in 1885 more or less favourable, in 1886 hostile, in 1892 favourable, in 1895 hostile. But in Ireland there was a tremendous contrast; including in Ireland the Election of 1880, on every occasion on which the Irish people had had an opportunity of expressing their wishes they had shown their devotion to Home Rule, and more decidedly in 1895 than in 1892. There was a different opinion entertained in these two islands upon this matter. The moral to be drawn was that the Irish case was more strongly and clearly presented now than it had ever been before. After all, the political arrangements between these two islands did not rest upon the opinion of one island. When the present union was arranged it was consummated first in Ireland and then in Great Britain, and so in the long run it must be. Existing arrangements cannot continue 180 against the persistent hostility of one party to the contract. The statement of the Chief Secretary was of a most interesting character. To sum it up, the contrast between the Unionist and the Liberal policy was that the Liberal policy consisted of a great constitutional change, the Unionist of recognising the poverty of Ireland and doing what could be done to remedy that poverty. So far as he was concerned, he recognised with gratitude the sympathetic spirit which the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, and his brother had displayed in regard to this question. He believed that poverty lay at the root of the Irish question, and he admitted this all the more freely because he believed that the question of poverty could not be dealt with without dealing with the constitutional question also. There was a great contrast between the two islands: Great Britain was the richest country in the world, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Europe—["no, no"]; that was his opinion at all events. The returns for Income Tax purposes, the statistics of pauperism, and the facts which had been laid before the Royal Commission on the Financial Relations between Great Britain and Ireland, showed the great contrast between the two countries. The income of Great Britain was increasing at the rate of about 50 millions a year, and, after supporting the population, there was a margin of a thousand millions a year available to be drawn on for purposes of taxation; while in Ireland there was only a margin of 12 millions a year. Attention had been called in this Debate to the poverty of Essex, and a comparison had been drawn between that county and Ireland; but the population of Essex between 1881 and 1891 had increased by nearly 40 per cent., while the population of Ireland had decreased. Prosperity in England was the rule; in Ireland suffering and poverty were the rule. One of the hon. Members for Belfast had called attention to the prosperity of that city; but its prosperity had not succeeded in extending even as far as the two counties in which it was situated, the population of which during the last 56 years, including the City, had considerably decreased. The Leader of the House 181 had said that the poverty of Ireland was "caused, in generations long gone by, by the action of England;" which the Chief Secretary traced it to "deep-seated differences of religion and sentiment," but they must look rather, he contended, to present conditions. Speaking broadly, the poverty or wealth of any country depended on its "harvests." One would find a full explanation of the poverty of Ireland in a consideration of the questions how much was the annual harvest of Ireland, and what becomes of it. The annual harvest of Ireland, after providing for the living of the population and the payment of rent, came to something like 12 millions a year. The Irish farmers made only two demands on any Government set over them: one was that there should be fair relations established between them and their landlords, and the other was that there should be fair relations established between them and their Government. Were the relations, then, that exist between the peasant farmers and their landlords satisfactory? To that question the answer of the Chief Secretary was perfectly final. The right hon. Gentleman encouraged Irish Members to bring in this Session a Bill dealing with the evicted tenants; he promised a Land Bill himself for next Session. That would be followed by a Land Purchase Bill, and then he used the expression that 10, 15, or 20 years hence the House might still be engaged in passing Land Bills for Ireland.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
I must correct the hon. Member. I did not suggest that after the Land Bill we should bring in a Land Purchase Bill.
§ * MR. LOUGH
was very glad to hear that. The Bill to facilitate the purchase of land was to be embodied in the Land Bill. That would make it a greater and longer measure, but it did not affect his point, that they were to have a Land Bill this Session and another next Session; and after that, the right hon. Gentleman said that 10, or 15, or 20 years hence this House might still be engaged in passing Land Bills for Ireland.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I must again correct the hon. Member. What 182 I said was, that there was no present necessity to consider the desirability of bringing in a Bill for compulsory purchase, and I added that what might happen 10, 15 or 20 years hence was not a subject which need now engage our attention.
§ * MR. LOUGH
I think on the whole that justifies what I said. (Laughter) When one looked back to the 50 years that had gone, that was a terrible statement to make to the House. Irish land legislation commenced in 1845; and they had Land Bills in 1861, 1871, 1881, 1886, 1887, and 1891, all dealing with the subject, and yet they were told in the most genial manner that the great question was not settled yet. It was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that the relations between the farmers and their landlords were not satisfactory. He wanted the House to consider what sum of money would make them satisfactory, because it was after all a question of reduction of rent. How much ought farmers' rents to be reduced? They stood now at about ten millions. He thought six millions would be enough. It would be admitted by all its advocates that when land purchase was completed, it would mean a reduction of at least three millions per annum in the amount that at present farmers have got to pay. That was equivalent to an admission that we were exacting out of these unfortunate people a tribute of three millions a year in excess of the rent which they might be fairly expected to pay. Did fair relations exist between the peasant farmers and the Government? Now, on this question he pointed out that the taxation of Great Britain was a bagatelle in comparison with its income. The taxation of Great Britain was one-eighth of the taxable income, the lowest of any country in the world. Ireland, on the other hand, had a taxable income of only 12 millions, and its taxation for Imperial and local purposes, came to 11¼ millions. In other words, seven-eighths of the whole annual national income of Ireland was eaten up by taxation. At questions of taxation the Englishman laughs; the Irishman winces. In 1845, the population of Ireland was 8½ millions, while the taxation was 6¼ millions, or 17s. per head. Now the population had fallen to 4½ millions, and the taxation had risen 183 11¼ millions, or 49s. per head. A more serious story of exaction could not be found in the history of the world. Had the wealth of Ireland increased during the last 50 years? To ask the question was to answer it. The annual value of the crops of Ireland were 24 millions less in 1893 than in 1853, while the annual value of the cattle were five millions less in 1893 than in 1869. Did the requirements of the country demand the institutions to which this taxation was applied? The first answer to that was that in 1845 a population of 8¼ millions was provided for out of a taxation of 6¼ millions, whereas now a population of 4½ millions had wrung from it the extraordinary amount of 11¼ millions. We preserved the same institutions to-day which existed in 1845. There were twice as many police now as 40 years ago. The fewer the people, the heavier the taxation; the greater the poverty, the more was demanded. He was quite sure he was well within the mark when he said that 5½ millions a year would be sufficient for every requirement of Irish Government, say 3 millions for central and 2½ millions for local requirements. Thus, he contended, three millions too much were exacted from the Irish farmers in rent, and six millions too much in taxation. That made an oppression of £9,000,000 a year wrung out of one of the poorest communities in the whole of Europe. The seriousness of this position became still more apparent when the depreciation in agricultural prices was remembered. The value of agricultural produce had sunk in value to one-third of what it was 50 years ago, whilst the wages which the agriculturist had to pay had doubled, so that he had to expend twice as much in labour and use twice as much land to wring out the £9,000,000 exacted from him now as compared with what it would have cost him in 1845. He congratulated the Government on their determination to go into this question of Irish poverty, and if they would only have the courage to probe it to the bottom they would obtain in it much guidance. They had in Ireland the most splendid system of collecting statistics, but when they were collected no one read them or paid any attention to the shocking facts which they disclosed. What would be the first 184 feature in a country's statistics which would illustrate such a cruel oppression as that to which he had alluded? Why, of course, the population would decrease; the people would not stay in a country to be so tyrannised. Taking the vital statistics of Ireland, had not the population decreased? In 1841 the population was 8¼ millions; in 1851, 6½; in 1861, 5¾; in 1871, 5½; in 1881, 5¼; and in 1891, 4¾ millions. There was a story of depopulation the most cruel and unnecessary that the whole annals of the world exhibited; the lower the population got the faster the people left Ireland. Between 1861 and 1871 there was a comparatively slight decrease, between 1871 and 1881 a still less decrease; but in the last decade, with all their remedial legislation upon which the Unionists prided themselves, the proportion of the decrease had doubled as compared with the previous decade. They had, therefore, got to recognise that the fewer the people who were left in Ireland the fewer were willing to stay in it. In other words the condition of those that remained was worse than was the condition of the larger population of 40 or 50 years ago. Again, the decrease of population was the greatest in the prosperous districts. He spent a large portion of each year in Ireland, in what used to be one of the most prosperous districts, namely in the County of Cavan, which was in the South of Ulster. He was perfectly familiar with the counties of Cavan, Fermanagh and Monaghan, a district as beautiful, and which would be as prosperous as any in Europe if a wise and sympathetic Government was over it. What were the statistics of these three counties? Whereas the whole of Ireland exhibited a decrease of 42 per cent, from 1841 to 1891, these three counties exhibited a decrease of 54 per cent. It appeared, therefore, that, the more prosperous was the district, the more hardly was it hit by the legislation of that House. Between 1881 and 1891, the decrease of the population all over Ireland was 9 per cent., but in these three counties it was 14 per cent., so that the general tendency of their remedial legislation was to deal more cruel blows to the prosperous districts than was dealt to the whole of Ireland. They talked of congested districts, but as fast as they dealt with 185 one congested district they were turning the rest of Ireland into another congested district. As fast as they cured one they were killing another, and when they had finished with the West Coast they would have to go to the East Coast, unless something were done to check the tendency of legislation. His second point was that pauperism had increased. In Great Britain during the last thirty years, pauperism had fallen by one half; but in Ireland, during the same period it had doubled. In Ireland in 1864 there were 52 paupers to every 1,000 of the population, but in 1874 the figures had risen to 95 par 1,000, whilst in 1889 they were 105 per 1,000. The pauperism in one country had fallen by one half and in the other country it had doubled. The figures with regard to lunacy also showed an increase. In 1851 there was I lunatic to 1,500 of the population; in 1861, 1 to 800; in 1871, 1 to 550; in 1881, 1 to 529; and in 1891, 1 to 315. They must trace this growth of lunacy to the starvation to which he had already drawn attention, and to the miserable condition of living which the Government established in that country. Take the statistics relating to marriages, and they found that the proportion of people married in Ireland was now lower than in any other country in Europe. In 1871 the proportion of people over 17 years of age who were married was 47 per cent.; in 1881 45 per cent., and in 1891 it had fallen to 42 per cent. He contended that this falling off was also attributable to the causes he had referred to. What did the Government propose to do with regard to this dreadful state of affairs? The Chief Secretary asked them to believe that he had at heart the good of the people of Ireland. He readily believed that, but in such a remark the right hon. Gentleman was not doing justice to Irish feeling on this question, or to his own intelligence. What was the principle upon which Constitutional Government rested in this country? The principle was that people were elected by the country to devise the laws under which the people lived. But the mischief in Ireland was that people were chosen by one country and put into power in another country, and then they produced the dreadful evils which he had described. Hon. 186 Gentlemen, however humane, intelligent and well educated they might be, who represented great cities in England like Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol or Manchester would never work out the emancipation of Ireland. He would rather have the most unlettered mail coming from Ireland itself, and be guided by his ideas, derived from intimate knowledge of the country, than by the ideas of gentlemen who were returned by the richest centres in this populous and prosperous country. What were the measures the right hon. Gentleman proposed? He told them that, so far as Home Rule was concerned, he was opposed in the strongest manner to any reopening of the question. The Unionist idea was that the same sort of Government that suited a rich and prosperous municipal community would also suit a poor, starved, and decaying agricultural country. The reason the expenses were growing in Ireland was because they were all along applying to a poor country the institutions properly adapted for a rich community, such as they had in Great Britain. The principle that a common system would do between the two islands would be found, when it came to be carefully examined into, to be a perfectly impossible principle upon which to proceed. He asked the Government to consider whether they must not take into account the reasonable proposal put forward under the name Home Rule. They (the Liberals) said they would establish a better union between the two countries if they gave one form of Government suitable to Great Britain and another suitable to Ireland, and not force upon the one institutions which were only suited to the other. He hoped the last word had not been spoken by the Government on this point. When they came to inquire into this largo question of poverty, they would find that doles, sops, Congested District Boards and light railways would never touch the grievances, and that they would have to do in Ireland what they did in this country, without compulsion, namely fit the burdens to the backs of those who had got to bear them, and frame out for Ireland a government and institutions suited to a poor, agricultural nation.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that he should not speak specifically on either Amendment suggested, 187 or follow his hon. Colleague into points and figures of controversey, but he should rather seek the practical solution, at any rate in part, of these old controversies. Except as regarded Home Rule there was a good deal in both of the Amendments before the House with which he sympathised and which he desired to see carried out. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that, although much time had of late years been devoted to the discussion of Irish subjects, and Bill after Bill had been proposed, there had been practically very little outcome, at any rate no outcome commensurate with the time expended. During the ten years he had been a Member of the House the history of Irish proposals had been a history of lost opportunities—["Hear, hear!"]—and because he felt that that was so he rose now to recall attention to one incident in last night's Debate which he thought promised to be practical, and which, if acted upon, might do more good than had been done in the past. He referred to the expression by the Chief Secretary, whose speech had been sympathetic and conciliatory, of the belief that an opportunity might be given, if there were a consensus of opinion, of re-enacting Clause 13 of the Land Act of 1891, for the purpose of enabling and facilitating the reinstatement of the evicted tenants. He hoped that that which promised something and probably much, and which might be the first step to a good deal more, would not be thoughtlessly or quickly rejected by Irish Members, but that those hon. Members would endeavour to co-operate both between themselves and with the Government in seeing what might now be done with the the evicted tenants in Ireland, and in providing at least a partial remedy for a social evil. No one could have read the proceedings and the Report of the Committee on Irish Land without feeling that there were large amendments necessary in relation to that question, for instance, in securing to the tenant freedom from being rented on his own improvements. He hoped, too, that what the Leader of the House had said to-day might be regarded as a hopeful sign that something would be done in respect to Irish municipal reform, which he himself had supported, and the rejection of which by the Lords he regretted, for the Leader of the House, 188 while feeling himself unable to introduce a Bill, almost asked or invited the hon. Member for Longford to do so. However much their conduct might be censured, however much, in some instances, they might have been, misled, he did not think anyone who had any acquaintance with their present position and unfortunate prospects could fail to have some sympathy for the evicted tenants of Ireland, or could fail to desire to mitigate their lot. The position of all political parties in reference to the evicted tenants question had undergone very important changes. At one time it was proposed that the tenants should be restored to their holdings by compulsion, and against this he had reluctantly voted out of consideration for the sitting tenant; but the late Chief Secretary for Ireland thought it his duty to propose to the House that, instead of compulsion, voluntary arrangements should be encouraged, and that funds for facilitating such arrangements should be provided; and those proposals received support from all quarters of the House. He had himself seen the evicted tenants on the Olphert and other estates, and they themselves saw the practical difficulty of compulsion, owing to the destruction of their houses and the loss of their stock, &c., and they also saw the greater hope from co-operation between their landlords and themselves and the State. The general sense of the House was opposed to an Autumn Session, but there was something hon. Members could do before they parted; there was one wound in Ireland which they could heal to a large extent if all Parties would avail themselves of the suggestion thrown out by the Government, and would try to unite upon the obviously common ground of the re-enactment of Clause 13 of the Act of 1891. His hon. Colleague in the representation of Islington had spoken of the poverty of Ireland. That poverty they all deeply regretted, but he thought that, although relatively Ireland might be a poor country, recently her position had been materially improved. His official connection with Savings' Banks enabled him to know that the accumulations in Ireland had been large, and that the habits and feelings of the people had been growing more provident, which was a good sign. Generally speaking, it might safely be said the 189 position of Ireland at present was better and more hopeful than it had been. For such a condition of things he was prepared to give credit to the last Administration, as well as to the Conservative Party, for their previous industrial legislation, which was the great cause. But all that ought to be done had not yet been done. He thought Ireland might be much more prosperous under a more collective system of agriculture. The secret of the success of Denmark was the great collective system adopted there, the dealing with the produce of the country in a manner which would make it most valuable. One of the largest exporters of produce in Denmark had told him there was one country in the world whose rivalry Denmark feared, and that was Ireland. The reason why Ireland did not, in the opinion of his friend, make the agricultural and commercial progress she reasonably might was, that, instead of a collective spirit in the people, there was a jealous spirit; instead of a united and co-operative spirit, there was a spirit of division in the country. He appealed to the various classes in Ireland to work more together in agriculture and in all other things, believing that if they did so Ireland would soon experience the blessings of peace and prosperity, and Great Britain the benefit of a more united Kingdom. The Government had only to re-enact the evicted tenants provisions of the Act of 1891, which had obtained the sanction of the country, but which had been in operation too short a time to be of much service, and they would cure an evil which all deplored; restore to their homes a large number of those unfortunate people, for whom, since he had seen them during his visit to Ireland, he felt the greatest sympathy; and, at the same time, they would have taken the first step towards that joint action and co-operative spirit which he believed to be essential to the revival of the industries of Ireland; which would effect much more, and effect it economically even for England—for the predominant partner had both an interest and a duty in helping the poorer partner, than by the reduction of industrial pursuits, by the depletion of the population through emigration (as distinguished from migration) and similar 190 means; and which, if this new opportunity were used, would be one more step towards pacification and hope of a real union of both hearts and interests.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said, it was very refreshing, in the harassing strife of Party politics, to hear the speech of the hon. Member for South Islington, and he hoped some one from the Treasury Bench would get up and endorse those humane sentiments to which the hon. Member had given, expression. The hon. Member had visited the Olphert estate in Donegal. He had seen the evicted tenants of that estate, and hence the pity he had expressed for them in a speech which did him great credit. Indeed, everyone who had seen the homes of the evicted tenants and their wretched surroundings, forgot for the moment whether they were guilty or innocent; he forgot all about political agitation, and his only thought was how he could relieve them. He might mention that some years ago he happened to be seated on the Opposition Benches beside a Conservative Member—a gentleman to whom he had never spoken before—and they talked about the miseries of the evicted tenants; and that gentleman, though he voted against a Motion subsequently made on behalf of those tenants, came up to him in the Lobby, and said, "The sufferings you described are terrible"; and, taking out his cheque-book, he gave him £100 towards a fund for the relief of those poor people. Again, one of the most remarkable things in the last Parliament was the sympathetic and striking speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), who, though utterly opposed to the Irish Party on questions of State policy, eloquently urged the House in that speech to do something, in the interest of humanity, for the evicted tenants. Those who saw the evicted tenants and their wretched surroundings could never be the same people again. The First Lord of the Treasury knew he had been often opposed to him. The right hon. Gentleman knew, too, that perhaps once or twice he had encountered him in Ireland almost beyond the bounds of courtesy; but he should say that since the right hon. Gentleman visited the congested districts a complete change had come over the spirit of his dream, and he had shown himself to be capable of treating 191 the unhappy people of those districts most sympathetically. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, still remembering the sights he saw during that tour would do something even in the present short session to relieve somewhat the great mass of suffering that existed amongst the evicted tenants. The right hon. Gentleman very truly said, in a recent speech, that the great cause of the disturbed condition of things in Ireland was the poverty of the people. The right hon. Gentleman had seen that poverty; but it was vain to know the evil without knowing also the cause, and he thought that if the right hon. Gentleman looked at some of the old Irish statutes, which he could point out to him—laws made purposely to destroy Irish trade—he would see that those poverty-stricken people, however mistaken some of their actions might be, inherited their misfortunes from the misconduct of ages past. He hoped, now that the right hon. Gentleman had the power, he would, in the interest of humanity, enable the Irish Members to co-operate with him in the development of the resources of the country. The right hon. Gentleman would not misunderstand them, nor would they misunderstand him, when they assured him that while they would stick through thick and thin to the cause of Home Rule, they would do everything to facilitate any effort he might make to ameliorate the wants of the people of Ireland. The speech of the Chief Secretary last night was a kindly and sympathetic speech, having regard to the difficulties of his position and the fact that he must necessarily be in opposition to the overwhelming mass of the Irish people. Could not the right hon. Gentleman follow up that speech by bringing in a non-contentious measure which could be passed in a short time, and which would deal even in a provisional form with some of the evils of the land system which were most glaring at the present time? If there was any opposition to such a measure it would not come from the Irish Benches; he was afraid it would come from the right hon. Gentleman's own household. It was admitted that the rents were excessive and that the people were rackrented on their own improvements. There was no controversy about that. He was very much 192 surprised that the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of the Local Government Board (Mr. T. W. Russell) was not present at the Debate in order to give the House some reason for the great hope that was in him that this Government was going to be a land-reforming Government. But they knew from recent speeches of the hon. Member what his views were on the land question. On the 31st of May last, while the late Government was in power, the hon. Gentleman attended a land conference, composed entirely of Unionists, at Belfast. At that conference a very remarkable resolution was passed. It declared that the Amendments to the Land Bill of Mr. John Morley, which were put on the paper by seven Members, whose names were set forth, were hostile to the spirit of the Bill. Those seven gentlemen were thick and thin supporters of the Chief Secretary, and several of them were now Ministers in the Government. He therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman to bring pressure to bear on those gentlemen, and, in any case, not to allow their views to thwart him in his desire to do immediate justice to Irish tenants. The Under Secretary for the Local Government Board, in his speech at the conference, declared that if the Amendments referred to were passed they would practically amend the Bill out of existence. It was said that before the hon. Gentleman agreed to enter the Government he had a long conversation with Lord Salisbury. The hon. Member for South Tyrone was reported in the newspapers to have stated to his constituents during the Election that he was authorised to declare that the Government were prepared to bring in a Land Bill. Well, there need be no difficulty. The Amendments could be arranged among the legal gentlemen in 10 or 15 minutes, and he asked that a week or so should be taken for passing such a Bill. In the speech to which he had just referred, the hon. Member for South Tyrone described his own work in getting the Land Act Committee appointed, and how he sat right through the deliberations of the Committee and took part in the Report when his Unionist colleagues withdrew. Then the hon. Member gave a description of his interview with Lord Salisbury, and the conditions which he made before he 193 accepted Office. Before the hon. Member took Office, he said he put this question to Lord Salisbury—If I am to go to Ulster as a candidate in support of the Government, what am I to way on the Land Question?He said that he was promised legislation giving complete protection to the tenants' improvements—insuring that they would not be confiscated by one process or another—and enacting the noncontentious provisions of Mr. Morley's Bill. Why not bring forward those provisions? Why not pass the clause which would sweep away the decision in Adams v. Dunseath? He asked the hon. Member, Would he repeat from the Treasury Bench what he said to his constituents as to Lord Salisbury being pledged up to the hilt, after consultation with him, to give him his own conditions as to tenants' improvements and an amended Land Act? Would he use his position as a Minister to put pressure on his colleagues not to improve or amend such legislation out of existence? The Chief Secretary had stated that many of the differences in Ireland owed their great acerbity to religious causes. He differed altogether from that statement. Anything bordering on religious dissension in Ireland was an exotic. It was not in the heart of the people to feel religious jealousies towards each other, or to foment them. The policy at one time was openly avowed in Ireland of sowing dissension between Protestant and Roman Catholic in order that both might be ridden over rough-shod. Formerly Lords Lieutenant and Chief Secretaries were mere figureheads. Ireland was ruled by ecclesiastics—by resident magistrates in lawn sleeves. A Lord Chancellor of Ireland once wrote that he was much afraid that men in the Irish Parliament no longer called themselves the Court Party and the Country Party, but called themselves Whigs and Tories; and so that all religious distinctions were gradually being destroyed. If the Irish were only left alone, religious differences would not be heard of. He could assure the Chief Secretary that though he himself differed from the vast number of his countrymen in religion, he had never had any more difficulty in getting to their hearts than if he had worshipped with them at the same altar. 194 The Chief Secretary said that the principles of his Administration would be the principles of the Government of 1886 to 1891. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would carry those principles into operation. He did not believe that the temper and tone of the people, or of the First Lord of the Treasury himself, would permit him to do it. It would be better if the Chief Secretary occupied that position in the Cabinet which had been accorded to the office for the last 10 or 15 years. There would be much difficulty now in getting answers to questions, and in criticising Irish Administration. The Lord Lieutenant's salary was not upon the Estimates, but upon the Consolidated Fund, and his action, as the representative of the Sovereign ought to be above criticism. He and his friends faced the enormous majority against them with very light hearts. They were all of one opinion in Ireland, and were all determined to work for the good of the country. They all believed that Home Rule was assured; they had no fear at all about it. He hoped that during the years in which the present Government held office they would endeavour to make Ireland peaceful and prosperous, and the Irish Members would help the Government in that attempt, and would then attempt to get their own terms.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, that though he did not doubt the sincerity of the Government's assurances in regard to Ireland, he thought on the previous evening that it would be difficult to reconcile all the different views of Members of the Government in regard to Irish land. The House knew the views of the hon. Member for South Antrim, who was now Secretary to the Admiralty; and they knew the views of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who was now Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade; and they knew that their views were diametrically opposed on many important questions connected with the land system in Ireland. He feared also that the speech of the Chief Secretary did not enlighten the House as to the character of the legislative proposals to be introduced next Session. When he thought of the difference of views of Members of the Government, he was reminded of a speech made by the right 195 hon. Member for West Birmingham in his Radical days, in which he alluded to the Tory Party as a heterogeneous faction, uniting their discordant voices to maintain themselves in place, privilege, and power. But he was glad that a different note was struck by the Chief Secretary in his speech, when the right hon. Gentleman stated that the Government were prepared to pass uncontroversial measures connected with the land question in Ireland even during the present Session. He wished to join in the appeal made by the hon. Member for Islington (Sir Albert Rollit) that, at any rate, such legislation should be introduced this Session as would deal with uncontroversial points in the Irish land question. There was a much greater probability of land legislation passing through the House if the Government themselves introduced bills dealing with the subjects which had been mentioned. He therefore, appealed to them to go as far as they could, in removing what they themselves admitted to be an injustice in connection with the land system in Ireland. The assent of the Government to Mr. Morley's Bill was an admission that they recognised the injustice at present existing in Ireland, and they also recognised that there was still an open sore in connection with the evicted tenants' question. Every historian who had been in sympathy with the aspirations of the Irish people had referred to the fact that the great cause of Irish crime in the past was traceable to bad and one-sided land legislation. Many of the evils connected with the land system had been remedied, but injustice still prevailed. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Islington stated that the history of legislation connected with Ireland, had been a history of lost opportunities. Knowing that crime had broken out in the, past, as the result of Governments refusing to redress grievances, the Government would be undertaking a great responsibility if they refused to take this opportunity of redressing grievances the existence of which they had acknowledged. The Chief Secretary had referred to certain proposals which the Government intended to introduce to promote the industrial prosperity of Ireland. Members on the 196 opposition side were glad to hear that sympathetic expression, but unhappily they did not know what the proposals of the Government were likely to be. He believed it would be impossible by the adoption of an attitude of inflexible hostility to Irish self-government to remove all the grevances from which the Irish people suffered, while it would be impossible for the Irish Government to promote at the same time the industrial welfare of that country. He protested against the statement made by the hon. Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin (Mr. Harrington) who sought to convey to the House that the Liberal Party in the country had not been true to Home Rule, that they had dropped Home Rule, or "run away" from Home Rule. ["Hear, hear!" and a voice: "Lord Rosebery's speech."] It was the absence of support from the hon. Members for Ireland which prevented the Government from selecting their own time to appeal to the country, and probably with much better effect in the interest of the Home Rule cause. Personally, he placed in the forefront of his election address the cause of Home Rule. Lord Rosebery had recently, no doubt, dwelt on the necessity of the Liberal Party dealing with the constitution of the House of Lords in preference to Home Rule; and hon. Members knew very well that they could not get Home Rule until there had been an alteration in the constitution of that House. Mr. John Morley, speaking to the electors of Newcastle on July 12, said, thatthe Irish question would remain what it was now—the most important question that English-men had to consider.At the outset of the election campaign in Newcastle the right hon. Gentleman also said, thatabove all, I make my most direct and most important appeal in favour of the bettor government of Ireland.Mr. Morley did not lose his seat on account of his views with regard to Home Rule, and hon. Members at least ought to recognise that the right hon. Gentleman had been true to the Irish cause; and in this he believed that the late Chief Secretary only reflected the views of the large majority of the Liberal Party in the country. The 197 Liberal Party was prepared to adopt as inflexible and as unchanging an attitude in support of the cause of Home Rule as it was stated the Conservative Party were prepared to adopt in resisting it; and until Home Rule was conceded no Government of Ireland could give contentment to the Irish People, and remove the disaffection which existed in that poor country.
§ MR. WILLIAM FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said, the hon. Member had stated that the issue presented at the late Election was that of Home Rule. He denied that this was the case. As an Irish Home Ruler, he said that the majority of Unionists who had been returned were not opposed by the Liberals as Home Rulers. There was the question of local veto, the abolition of the veto of the House of Lords, the items of the Newcastle Programme, and other issues placed before the electors, and he, as an independent Home Ruler, denied, from knowledge which he possessed, that the Liberals contested the Elections on the question of Home Rule. There were one or two exceptions no doubt, such as Mr. Morley; but those exceptions were being brought forward to prove the rule, and to this policy he objected. If the Liberals had taken the advice of the Irish Nationalists, and had appealed to the electors after the Home Rule Bill was thrown out of the House of Lords, they would not have come back to Parliament to-day the miserable remnant of what was once a great Party. The Liberals were indeed unrecognised by the majority of the electors of Great Britain, because they had no leader, no political programme, except one of shreds and patches, scattered over the political geography of the country; and yet they heard hon. Gentlemen like the last speaker coming forward and lecturing the Irish Members about being unfaithful to the Home Rule cause. To the Unionist Party, on the other hand, he said that he did not recognise their increased majority as a presage of the diminution of the Home Rule cause. Many hon. Gentlemen opposite were not elected because of their opposition to Home Rule, but because of their promises of all kinds of reforms to the electors. For example, one of the favourite war-cries of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was old-age pensions for the 198 poor. What had become of that cry? It was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. He understood also that many Tories promised they would find a remedy for the unemployed. Why was it that there was nothing about this question in the Queen's Speech? It appeared indeed that the political panaceas preached to the electors before the General Election had now disappeared from the political programme of the Government, with the result that they were confronted by a large majority which they were asked to take as a sign that the question of Home Rule had disappeared from practical politics. This, however, was not the case. Though the Irish Members were divided on various questions, Ireland had returned an increased Home Rule majority, and they were solid at least on the Home Rule doctrine. Unless a Land Bill was introduced, and particularly an Evicted Tenants Bill, the Government would be pursuing an unwise policy. He rose mainly in order to correct an omission of the Member for Waterford. They had directed most of their attention to the question of the land tenants. Ho had received 40 petitions from various towns in Ireland, representing that tenants' improvements in towns were not secure owing to the action of the ground landlords, a grievance which was felt in England and Scotland, as well as in Ireland. They wanted badly a town tenants' Bill, and he trusted the Government would take this matter into their consideration, for he claimed that the question was one of equal importance with that relating to agricultural holdings. As to the education question, it had not received that attention which it deserved, and in his own district of Blackrock a real grievance had arisen under the Compulsory Education Act. Next, as to Irish railways. The preferential rates for foreign products ought to be abolished, and the Irish railways ought to be taken over by the State and nationalised. Until that was done they could hive no prosperity.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said, the condition of that House after a General Election contrasted strangely with the large programme put forward by the Government. It reminded him of a booth in a country fair. Outside there were pictures of the lions and tigers prancing about, and jugglers were 199 doing extraordinary things, but when they went inside the public found that it was all a fraud. [Laughter.] Now that they were all inside some of them were disposed to take things with the greatest equanimity. They had heard from the new Chief Secretary, whose ability they all recognised, the programme of his policy with regard to Ireland. He did not himself think it was a very attractive programme from his point of view, but no doubt the Chief Secretary put it forward conscientiously. What he wished immediately to address himself to was the excuses which were given for not dealing immediately with the land question. The present Government, he admitted, had been formed under very unusual and painful circumstances, but they had now the Unionist lion lying down with the Tory lamb. They had, therefore, a great advantage in dealing with the Irish land question, but he admitted the Government contained two members who had been on the Select Committee on the Land Act. One of these gentlemen was entirely opposed to any dealing with the Irish land question. That was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Guildford (Mr. Brodrick), and he sat with the minority. The other was that revolutionary land reformer the Member for South Tyrone—[Laughter]—who voted with the Land League all the time of the Committee. Therefore there was considerable—and necessarily—difficulty in reconciling the Member for the landlords of Ireland and the Member who was in sympathy with the Land League programme in the Unionist Government. He therefore sympathised to a certain extent with the position of the Government in desiring a little further time for the arrangement of the views of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, the hon. Member for Guildford, and also the hon. Member for Antrim, who was also on the Committee, and who were now all in the Government; and if the Government had put their difficulties on that ground he should have found no reason to complain. But that was not the course the Government had taken. What had they done? Now he wished to ask the attention of the House to one of the gravest interferences with the judicial body in 200 Ireland that had yet taken place. No doubt there was a quasi precedent on the Bill of 1887, but the position of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) then was defensible. The present Chief Secretary excused himself from dealing with the land question this Session by producing—what? The opinion he gave was not that of the Attorney-General, and it was certainly not that of the Solicitor-General, for he still reposed on the Liberal Benches—[A laugh]—but he produced the opinion of no less a person than a Judge of the land. And what did the Judge of the land undertake to do—and, with all respect to Mr. Justice Bewley, he had been betrayed by Her Majesty's advisers into the falsest position ever occupied by a Judge. In his opinion the Government had adopted a course which would taint every action they took in the eyes of the farmers of Ireland, and render the position of the Land Commission still more distrusted than it was at the present moment. He called the attention of the House to this statement, and he said that if it were made with regard to an English Judge the Government which induced it to be made would be impeached and a motion made for the Judge's removal in at least one of the Houses. What was the undertaking which the Government gave for not dealing with the question in the present Session? That the Judge, in order to suit the exigencies of the Party programme, would defer judgment on the cases which might come before him. He should read the shocking statement. [Laughter.] "I have consulted with Mr. Justice Bewley." What business had he to consult Mr. Justice Bewley?" ["Hear, hear!"] Had not the right hon. Gentleman his Attorney-General to consult? Why had he selected this one member of the Land Commission? Mr. Murrough O'Brien held the same status. Why was he not consulted? The right hon. Gentleman said:—"I have consulted with Mr. Justice Bewley and his colleagues on the Land Commission." [Ministerial cheers and laughter.] Yes; he had pressed the right hon. Gentleman for a copy of the reply to his letter in older to see by whom the reply was signed, but his request had been refused. Let the right hon. Gentleman say at 201 once who the signatories were. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say—And I am assured by them that whether a Land Bill was brought in early next year or not the decisions in the applications to refix judicial rents would not be given until the end of March at the very earliest.Thus, Mr. Justice Bewley proposed to defer giving decisions until next March. The right hon. Gentleman also said—Mr. Justice Bewley believes that if the provisions of the Land Bill were such as to effect the decisions in connection with those applications, it would be easy and proper for the Land Commission to instruct sub-commissioners to defer judgment until the Bill was passed.This Bill, let the House bear in mind, was not yet introduced, and the Government had refused to reveal its contents. Did the Judge, when applications were made to him to apply the law, propose to dismiss suitors, saying, "There is a Bill before the House of Commons—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. and learned Member is now attacking Mr. Justice Bewley in respect of his conduct in Court.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I understood the hon. and learned Member to suggest that what the Judge proposed to do was to act in an improper way with reference to suitors in his Court. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
explained that the circumstances to which he had adverted had not arisen; the Bill had not yet been introduced, and therefore the learned Judge was quite free from any censure in respect of what might happen in March, 1896. That the Government, in order to excuse their dalay in proposing legislation, should have gone to this learned Judge and asked his views in this way, was appalling conduct. [A laugh.] Every Irish grievance, he knew, was thought only worthy of English guffaws. The Government, for the merest party purpose, went to a Judge of the land and said, "If we do not introduce legislation this year what will you undertake to do?" and the learned Judge undertook, with respect to the tens of 202 thousands of applications which might come before him on the subject of rent, which, they all knew, lay at the root of all Irish disturbance and distress—he undertook to postpone his decisions as a lawyer and Judge in order to meet the convenience of Her Majesty's Government.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member has no right to say that a Judge will do something which it would be improper for him as a Judge to do. [Cheers.]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Then I will confine myself strictly to Mr. Justice Bewley's own words. I will read again his undertaking to the Government, and by his statement as to what he will do as a Judge, I will leave the matter. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now acting in direct opposition to my ruling. [Cheers.] He is proposing to read a passage, and he is putting an interpretation upon it which is dishonouring to the learned Judge, and which cannot be allowed. [Cheers.]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that in that case he must leave Mr. Justice Bewley's statement uninterpreted. But who were the Sub-Commissioners referred to in it? New Sub-Commissioners would be the day labourers of the Government, because they were to hold office only for one year, and these removable journeymen were the gentlemen who were to fix rents under the scheme of the Government. Why did not the Attorney-General, when he was wooing North Derry, tell the farmers that their applications in respect of rent were to be postponed for some time, and that the Government would induce an official to defer his judgments until the March gale should have become due? Why did Mr. Justice Bewley mention the month of March? Did this not seem to disclose an extraordinary acquaintance with the processes of that House and its methods of legislation? Had the Government given an undertaking to the hon. Member for South Tyrone that the cause of the forlorn Irish peasant should have precedence of old-age pensions—[Laughter]—and of those other booms which were dangled before the eyes of the British electors? Was March to see the realisation of Irish hopes? If so, when was the House of 203 Commons to meet again? Probably, after the fatigues of August and September and October, the Government would not desire to meet early in February; they had such a long programme of legislation to arrange. [Laughter.] But what would Mr. Justice Bewley say? [Laughter.] He would have instructed his Sub-Commissioners in the teeth of Magna Charta, which said that "justice is neither to be denied nor delayed——"
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. and learned Member is now using language which is directly contrary to the ruling which I have laid down. [Cheers.] He is attacking Mr. Justice Bewley in his judicial capacity, and assigning motives for his conduct. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that he should be very sorry to transgress any ruling from the Chair, but he hoped that some latitude might be allowed him, having regard to the difficulty of dealing with Mr. Justice Bewley's proposal. He took his stand upon Magna Charta—[Laughter]—which he believed still remained upon the Statute Book. It was proposed to repeal it some four years ago by the Statute Law Revision Act, but it still stood on the Statute Book in the ancient words, that "Justice is neither to be denied nor delayed to any man." He asked accordingly whether, in the case of this most pressing Irish grievance, it was proposed by the Government, for he should now throw all the blame on Her Majesty's Government, to delay justice and right to the Irish tenants. He asked for some better explanation than that which had been given, and he called the attention of the House and of the Irish farmers to the conduct of the Government when dealing with the Irish Land Question in 1887. The Government which approached Mr. Justice Bewley in the difficulties of their legislation in 1895, were not ashamed, in the year 1887, in the difficulties of their legislation to approach the then Land Commissioners. They had then got their present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who had signalised his entrance to Ireland by moving the rejection of the Municipal Franchise Bill in the House of Lords,—they got that apostle of similarity and simultaneity to work in 1887 upon the Land Bill of that year, and the 204 question of the revision of judicial rents being then, as it was now, a question of cardinal importance, and the House having sent up to the House of Lords a provision whereby yield as well as prices was to be taken into account, in order to please their landlord allies, they got Lord Cadogan to introduce words giving away the whole case for the Irish farmer and making the case of the Irish landlord. The Bill with the changed words in it came down again to the House of Commons. The present First Lord of the Treasury was then Irish Secretary, and he had to defend the House of Lords, against whom? Against the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who had declared that the House of Lords had done the blackest day's work in the Amendment they had made. The hon. Member said he had 365 Unionist engagements in the following year and he would cancel everyone of them. The First Lord was then in a great difficulty, but like many other clever artists he had a card up his sleeve. It was not the fault of the Government, it was not the fault of the House of Lords, it was nobody's fault. The right hon. Gentleman said that Parliament by this clause had handed over to three gentlemen in Dublin the settlement of agricultural incomes. They were practically a triumvirate of dictators. It was not surprising, therefore, that the three gentlemen—there were five now, by the way—should shrink from a responsibility so prodigious and unexampled—for which they got £3,000 a year—which had never been placed on any tribunal in the world, and that they should ask Parliament to put, in the clearest and most unmistakable form, the exact intention which animated the Legislature in passing the clause. The Commissioners accordingly had communicated their views on this point to the Government. What kind Commissioners! How nice of them to come down to the assistance of Her Majesty's Government against the assault of the hon. Member for South Tyrone! What was the communication? The Commissioners said that, considering the enormous responsibility thrown on the Court by the proposal with regard to the revision of judicial rents, they were of opinion that some precise guide 205 should be given under the Act of Parliament. The First Lord applauded the course the Land Commissioners took. Did he equally approve of the present proposal of the Land Commissioners? If these Gentlemen had signed the document which the Irish Secretary had refused to lay on the Table, although his predecessor did accept a Motion to lay the former document on the Table—if the right hon Gentleman was able to produce the five names signed to that letter, as his predecessor was able to produce the names of the full Land Commission I in 1887, no doubt it would be a still more instructive performance. But the course of the Government had been to make a selection of the Commissioners whom they consulted; and he did not hesitate to say that this incident, taking it as a whole, was the most painful and most suspicious of anything he had known in the relations of the Government to the Executive in Ireland. And there was this distinction to be drawn between the action of the Executive and the Land Commission in 1887, and the action of both in 1895. The fixing of rents under the clause then under discussion was not a judicial Act at all. It was a mechanical and administrative act which they determined upon, not after hearing the parties—they simply got up a number of market reports, and in their Chamber set the seal of the Land Commission to a document which was published in the Dublin Gazette. By the publication of that Order, the relations of the parties were mechanically determined. The late Mr. Justice O'Hagan and the Judges who, with him sent in that memorandum to Parliament in 1887, were giving no guarantee as to what they would do in any issue that might come before them in their Court. They were only asking, in regard to a complicated Statute, that their position should be made clear. The undertaking, as he understood it, was one made in regard to questions which must be fought out before the tribunal. Accordingly, he maintained there was a profound distinction between the action of the Executive of 1887 and the action of the Government of to-day. Passing from that subject, he asked the Government whether they imagined that the exposure of the relations between 206 the incoming Executive and the judiciary would be calculated to increase confidence in Ireland in their own action or to increase the confidence of suitors in the action of the tribunal which had to pronounce on these matters. In this stage of its career the Unionist Government had committed a profound blunder, which was bound to have far-reaching consequences, both in administration and in the confidence of the people in the land tribunal. Last night it was declared that the conduct of the Government would be animated by a desire to hold the scales evenly between the various sections of the Irish people. It was an extraordinary commentary on that declaration to hear the answers just given to questions relating to the attack on the son of a tenant. This Government, which had undertaken to hold the scales evenly, allowed its policemen to stand with their arms folded and permit Lord Clanricarde's agent and bailiffs to wound and maim this unfortunate man for doing what it was maintained the tenant had every right to do—namely, asserting his right to the lands in question. This was the first object-lesson they had had in the holding of the scales evenly by Her Majesty's Government between the various sections of the community. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said the evils of Ireland arose from deep-seated differences of religious and political sentiment. In three-fourths of Ireland, except a few landlords and their hangers-on about the rent offices and the petty sessions courts, and leaving out the towns, where no doubt there were respectable minorities, the people of Ireland were all of one way of thinking, as was testified by the results of General Elections. Even where Nationalists were keenly divided among themselves, Conservatives had no chance. What was the good of talking about deep-seated religious differences, when three-fourths of the people were Catholics and the Protestants were mainly in one corner of the island, where they could live in peace without suffering from any interference, just as the Catholic three-fourths could live in peace unaffected by the Protestants? Lord Salisbury knew better than to talk of these religious differences, because in a famous comparison he made as to the causes of misery in Ireland, he looked at Belgium, France, 207 and Italy, and recognised that, although the people of those countries were Catholics, they were prosperous and contented. ["Hear, hear!"] Before his Lordship adopted the Hottentot theory—[laughter]—he set aside altogether these deep-seated religious differences. You might go from one end of Ireland to the other, and, except in the churches, you would not hear about these religious differences. Catholics troubled very little about Protestants, and were delighted to let them take their own road to Heaven. Let the Irish Chief Secretary, at the outset of his career, peruse all the maiden speeches of previous Irish Secretaries since the Union. In them he would find a remarkable sameness, and one ray of hope to hold out to himself and to the Party who were cheering him, and that was that his predecessors looked to the efflux of time to heal those differences. Indeed, that efflux of time had been looked to ever since the days of Henry II. It reminded him of the story of the carman, who was asked by a tourist whether the rebels did not take a certain town in 1641, and, having replied in the affirmative, added, "They have got it still." [Laughter.] So much for the efflux of time in dealing with the Irish people. The Government boasted of their majority; and he looked across at it without any feeling of awe. [Laughter] It represented the fluctuating spasms of English Parties, while Irish Members represented the permanent forces of Irish nationality. [Cheers] Time would dissipate that majority, and it would crumble away as other majorities had done; but the eternal question of Ireland would remain, and by what clock would they regulate the pulsations of a national passion? It had continued through these mists of time and the varying fortunes of political parties; and now, forsooth, it was to be brought to a dead stop against a blank wall of British Tories. No, they would be defeated as their predecessors had been; and, if present attacks failed, the unaccomplished task would be passed on to be completed by worthier hands. [Cheers.]
§ * THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Derry, N.
claimed the indulgence of the House while he endeavoured to reply to portions of the impassioned speech 208 they had just heard. He occupied a position of embarrassment in addressing the House for the first time, and doing so from the Treasury Bench. The best answer he could give to the hon. and learned Member was to state the facts as to the practice of the Land Commission, because a further acquaintance with the facts would show the House that all the iniquities with which the hon. and learned Members had charged the Government, and, indeed, almost charged the Judge who presided over the Land Commission, were imaginary, and existed nowhere but in the—on this question—heated imagination of the hon. and learned Member. Now he desired to explain that under the Land Act of 1881 the judicial term in 36,000 cases where rents were fixed would end in the months of September and November 1896. It was competent for any tenant whose judicial term was about to terminate at these periods to serve notice, within the 12 months preceding, to have his rent refixed. But when re-fixed it would not begin to run until after the termination of the judicial term. Anything that took place before the period of its termination could not in any way alter the liability under which the tenant was to pay the rent that had been fixed in 1881. Now what was the proposal of the Government? They requested Mr. Justice Bewley and his colleagues to inform them what administrative arrangement could be made by which, in the event of tenants serving notice to have their rents refixed, they might not be deprived of the benefit of any legislation that might be passed by the House in the coming Session. This was conceived altogether in the interest of the tenant. (Cheers.) It might be supposed, from the remarks of the hon. Member for Louth, that there was some dark design on the part of the Government to tamper with justice and interfere with Mr. Justice Bewley and the Sub-Commissioners under him in the judicial determination of the matters that were to come before them. Nothing could be more absolutely the reverse of the fact. The Government did not attempt to interfere with the decision of Mr. Justice Bewley or the Sub-Commissioners. If they had done so they might have deserved the censure of the hon. 209 Member. All the Government asked Mr. Justice Bewley was this—Suppose the tenants come into Court and you hear their cases, and the investigation is terminated, and then an Act of Parliament is passed before the end of 1896, is there no course you can adopt before you deliver your decision whereby they will not be deprived of the benefits of the statute?Mr. Justice Bewley answered,Yes, there is. If all came in—36,000 at once—they would get no advantage by having the decision announced before the spring of 1897. Therefore we can simply postpone our final conclusion until the latter end of 1896, and if, in the meantime, some statute is passed conferring benefits upon them, we can reconsider our decision in order to give them the full advantage of it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
asked whether the Attorney-General for Ireland suggested that if in the existing state of the law the landlord was entitled to judgment on April 1 Mr. Justice Bewley would deny the landlord his rights, because this House might pass a statute which would give the tenant rights on November 1.
§ * THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND
said he did not admit the hon. Member's description at all. He contended that it was not denying a right to postpone a decision. No litigant had a right to an immediate decision, and especially when an immediate decision, if he got it, could not affect the status or liability of the tenant. No tenant would be in the slightest degree benefited by having his case decided and a decision announced in March, 1896, rather than in November, 1896. He thought that really answered in a great degree [Irish Laughter and Ministerial Cheers] the remarks of the hon. Member. The hon. and learned Member was himself aware that the Land Commission was not only a judicial but an administrative body; that it had administrative duties; that it acted in certain cases through Sub-Commissioners; so that, so far from there being anything wrong, iniquitous, or appalling in the Chief Secretary for Ireland applying to the Land Commission, not to ascertain the nature of their decisions or to suggest how they should decide, but to be informed of the nature of their administrative arrangements, it was just and right, and had in this case been resorted to for the benefit of the tenants. 210 The hon. Member's indignation was so overwhelming that he was not content with censuring the Government for making an application to the Land Commissioners in the matter of fixing fair rents, but he went so far as to deal with a matter which was at present sub judice—namely, an alleged outrage on a tenant on the Clanricarde estate. Two men were in custody for that offence, and it was absolutely impossible for him ["Hear, hear!"] to follow the hon. Member into a discussion of the merits of that case. But he could not accept his representation of the occurrences given by the hon. Member. He could not discuss what the facts really were, but he could give him an assurance that everything would be done to secure the due administration of justice and the punishment of the guilty. [Cheers.]
§ SERGEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.),
in a maiden speech, said he hoped the House would extend to him its indulgence for a short time, while he stated the grounds on which he felt himself bound to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Mayo. What he expected, and those on whose mandate he had come to the House, was that pledges given would be as far as possible fulfilled, and he came to the House as one of the 83 Members who had been sent from Ireland pledged by every promise that could bind honourable men to advocate in that House on every possible occasion the necessity for domestic legislation being extended to Ireland. The history of the century showed that it would be utterly vain or hopeless for any Government, no matter how strong, or what the legions they might have at their back might be, to stifle the aspirations of the Irish people for an independent Legislature, subject to proper checks, to secure the indissoluble union of the three kingdoms. From the fatal day on which the Act of Union was passed, 95 years ago, up to the present hour, those aspirations had been voiced, for they had always existed and kept Ireland backward. They had thrown her behind in the race with other European peoples, and it was perfectly vain for the Chief Secretary for Ireland (to whose good intentions he gave the fullest credit) to hope that by some indefinite promises of something that would be done at some undefined period, ranging between this 211 and the commencement of the next century, some slight dole of Imperial indulgence might be extended to Ireland. He did not expect, nor would it be reasonable to expect, in the short interval of time that remained in the present Session, that the great question of Home Rule could be introduced or adequately dealt with. If the advocates of Home Rule had those legions at their back it might be done, for they would only have had to reintroduce the Bill read and passed by this House, but rejected in the House of Lords—[Ministerial cheers]—and he doubted very much whether, strong and powerful as the House of Lords was, it would have ventured a second time to trample on a Bill affecting so vitally the interests of a great portion of the Empire. He only alluded to the topic of Home Rule, which was always an agitating and exciting one, to dispel the idea that in supporting the hon. Member for East Mayo he disapproved of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Waterford. He represented a large Irish constituency, and he had told his constituents what he repeated now, that the first plank in his political platform was Home Rule. [Cheers.] If he went back from that statement, he should be unworthy of the great honour that his constituency had conferred upon him in sending him to that House as their representative. ["Hear, hear!"] He, however, would now come to that which more immediately affected the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Mayo. He represented a constituency that was deeply interested in the question of the reform of the Irish Land Law, which, after long suffering and long endurance, had at length succeeded in sending to Parliament a Member who advocated the cause of the tenant-farmer. He asked from that House a very moderate boon and favour. A way to relieve the tenant-farmers of Ireland from the grievances under which they suffered had been pointed out in the Report of Mr. Morley's Committee, which showed the necessity that existed for an amendment of the Land Law of Ireland. It was absurd to suppose that a measure founded upon that Report, and which would practically embody the provisions of the Bill that had passed a Second 212 Reading in that House last Session, would take any long time to pass into law. The right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland had admitted the necessity that existed for an amendment of the Irish Land Law; and, therefore, the only question involved was the time when a measure for that purpose should be introduced. The correspondence with Mr. Justice Bewley, to which attention had been called by the hon. Member for Louth, showed that the Government were aware of the necessity for legislation on the subject. To say the least of it, the fact that that correspondence had passed required some explanation on the part of the Government, as it was a matter calculated to excite suspicion. ["Hear, hear!"] He confessed that he had listened with some astonishment to the explanation of the matter which had been given by his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for Ireland, and that he had failed to catch its point. He certainly was most anxious to see the measure the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland intended to force through that House by means of his majority of 152. ["Hear, hear!"] It appeared to him that it was most urgently necessary that legislation on this question should be proceeded with without delay. He asked the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, not to introduce his Bill during the present short Session, but that he would bring it in in an Autumn Session, to commence some time in November, and to be brought to an end somewhere about Christmas. [Cries of Oh."] He did not ask hon. Members who were just recovering from the excitement of a General Election, to prolong the present short sitting, but the 83 Irish Members did not desire that it should go forth to the enemies of this country that the motto of the House of Commons was, "Let the tenants suffer, but save the grouse." He thought that the motto should be, "Spare the grouse, but save the tenant." ["Hear, hear!"] This matter was one of vital importance to the Irish tenants, because the 15 years for which their rents had been fixed would expire next year and there would be a great rush then to get the rents revised, and it was most desirable that the tenants' improvements should not be included in 213 the valuation in fixing the rent. He did not think that this was an unreasonable demand on the part of the tenants upon the Government. ["Hear, hear!"] He was satisfied that in making that demand he was not asking too much from the representatives of the great and glorious people of England, Scotland, and Wales. If those representatives would sacrifice a small portion of their personal convenience and pleasure, and would consent to discuss a measure of the character he had indicated in the course of a short Autumn Session, commencing some time in November, they would be conferring a great boon upon the Irish tenants. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not think that it would be a reasonable excuse to the Irish people for refusing to listen to his request to say that the House of Commons did not likesitting during the Winter months He made these observations out of no disrespect to that great assembly, but because he knew that nothing would tend so much to cheer and encourage the Irish tenants and to induce them to maintain an orderly course of life as the belief that the House was going to take immediate steps to improve their condition. ["Hear hear!"] Though the English people had not made up their minds to grant Home Rule, they yet had sufficient sympathy with the Irish tenants to give up their own convenience for the purpose of enabling a measure, which admittedly must be passed next year, to be considered. If it were delayed till next year it would take up time which might be occupied by other legislation, and what time would then be left to Members of the Government for realising those promises of social reform, promises of improvement of trade, promises of bettering the condition of the working classes, and of making of England a Utopia, instead of what it was under the late Government? [Laughter and Cheers.] Even on this ground he would appeal to representatives of English, Scotch, and Welsh constituencies to concede the time that might be necessary for this great land measure. Then the Irish people would be satisfied, and the English people would in course of time be educated up to the full appreciation of their own interests as well as of what they owed to the Irish people, and would then grant them that legislative independence for which they would ever pray.
Question again proposed—
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 257; Noes, 123.—(Division List No. 2.)
That the words 'And humbly to represent to Your Majesty that this House is of opinion that it is the duty of Your Majesty's Ministers to declare without delay their policy with regard to the questions of Home Rule, Land Law Reform (including Amendment of the existing Land Acts and compulsory Land Purchase), Reinstatement of the Evicted Tenants, and the Industrial Condition of Ireland, in all which matters the overwhelming majority of the Irish People is vitally interested,' be added to the Main Question.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 113; Noes, 243.—(Division List No. 3.)
*MR. J. J. CLANCY (Dublin, N.) moved the addition of the following paragraph as an Amendment to the Address:—
And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the time has come when the cases of all prisoners convicted under the Treason-Felony Act who are, and have been for many years, undergoing punishment for offences arising out of insurrectionary movements connected with Ireland, may be advantageously reconsidered.
He said there were two reasons for restating the case for amnesty. The first was that this was a new Parliament, and very many of those who would vote tonight would do so for the first time. The second was that the Irish Nationalist Members would not be fulfilling their pledges or performing their duties to their constituents if they did not take every opportunity like the present of laying before the House of Commons and the Government of the day every reason they could think of to induce them to consent to the amnesty which they asked. The fact was that great doubts existed in the Irish public mind as to whether or not a grave miscarriage of justice had not taken place, as regarded some, at least, of the persons now undergoing imprisonment. In one case there was a positive conviction that the prisoner—John Daly
—had been the victim of a police plot. But the case had advanced beyond the stage at which it was necessary to go into a question of that kind. It would be a long and tedious process, and the case for amnesty might be successfully put on other grounds than even the innocence of the prisoners. Even if they assumed what he did not admit, that they were all guilty, he submitted that the grant of amnesty to them at the present time would be an act both of justice and of expediency. The crime of which the men were found guilty was the possession of dynamite bombs. For that crime they might have been tried under either of two statutes. They might have been tried under the Explosives Act of 1882, which was passed specially to deal with offences of the kind, and if they had been, the utmost punishment they could have received was fourteen years' imprisonment. It was true that under one section of that statute they could have been sentenced to a term of twenty years' imprisonment, but in that case it would have been necessary to find them guilty of participation in explosions, and not merely the possession of bombs, with or without felonious intent. They were never charged with participation in explosions, a point upon which too much stress could not be laid. He repeated most emphatically that there was no such charge alleged against those men, and consequently they were not convicted of having actually caused explosions. The crime of which they were accused was the possession of bombs, and the utmost sentence that could have been inflicted on them was one of 14 years' penal servitude. Such a sentence did not mean that the person on whom it was imposed was detained in prison for 14 years. He understood it was the constant practice of the Home Office where a sentence of 20 years was imposed to reduce it, if the prisoners were well conducted, to 15 years, and there would, of course, be a proportionate reduction in sentences of 14 years.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir M. WHITE RIDLEY,) Lancashire, Blackpool
The case is considered at all events.
§ * MR. CLANCY
said the prisoners were not charged under the Explosives Act, but under the Treason-Felony Act. And why? He desired to be perfectly frank in the statement of his opinions, and he had no hesitation in saying that the men were tried under the Treason-Felony Act because under that Act a sentence of penal servitude for life could be imposed, and, as a matter of fact, penal servitude for life was the sentence to which every one of those men was condemned. Was that just? He did not think any man, no matter what his prejudices on the subject might be, would say that that was just; and the belief of the people of Ireland was that this piece of injustice was perpetrated for one reason, and one reason only, namely, that the prisoners were Irishmen. They asked that that injustice should be undone by the prisoners being regarded as if they had been tried and sentenced under the Explosives Act, and not under the Treason-Felony Act. They also asked that the prisoners should be regarded as having been sentenced, not to the maximum sentence under the Explosives Act, or 20 years, which was only imposed in cases where actual explosions had been caused, but to 14 years, which was the utmost term of penal servitude they could have been condemned to under the Explosives Act, and which meant, according to the practice of the Home Office, that they would have been released at the end of 10 or 11 years. Take the case of the Walsall anarchists. They were accused of the very same offence for which the Irish prisoners were convicted. They were tried not under the Treason Felony Act, but under the Explosives Act, and being convicted the sentences inflicted on them were not penal servitude for life, or for 20 years, or even for 14 years, but sentences ranging from five to ten years. If the sentences imposed on the Anarchists of Walsall were just, how could any one deny that the sentences inflicted on the Irish prisoners for substantially the same crime were not unjust? When he moved this Amendment in the late Parliament he asked the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) how he could account for the disparity between the sentences on the Irish prisoners and the sentences on the Walsall prisoners, on any other ground 217 than that the former were tried when a strongly anti-Irish prejudice and a widespread desire to wreak vengeance on the Irishmen prevailed in England. The right hon. Gentleman, whom he did not now see in his place—indeed, it was a remarkable fact, that the entire front Opposition Bench and most of the Liberal Benches, were empty—said that there were reasons why lighter sentences were imposed in the Walsall trials than in those Irish trials. But the right hon. Gentleman did not specify a single one of the reasons, and in his (Mr. Clancy's) belief no such reasons existed. On the contrary, whatever distinction was to be drawn between the two sets of cases was distinctly in favour of the Irish prisoners. The Irish prisoners were not even accused of participation in explosions. No loss of life followed from any of their alleged crimes. Not a single human being suffered in person or property from anything these men were accused of having done. But what was the case in regard to the Walsall men? It was a notorious fact that no less than 200 lives were sacrificed by reason of the explosion in the Opera House at Barcelona, with which crime the Walsall men were shown to have had a connection, and, after conviction, they justified the use of dynamite. Was it just then that this disparity should be any longer maintained? If the disparity were removed by the reduction of the Irish sentences to the same standard as the Walsall sentences, the Irish prisoners would have been long since released. Mr. John Daly would be able to take his seat in the House as the representative of the City of Limerick; and there would have been no need for the present debate. He would only add that the continued maintenance of this disparity had created in Ireland a deep feeling of resentment, and he respectfully submitted to the Home Secretary that the removal of such feelings ought to be considered one of the first duties of any Government. He passed, then, to some considerations of expediency which he thought ought to have some weight with the House. The first was that those prisoners were political prisoners, and that in every civilised country, including England, when the prisoners were not Irish, political prisoners were regarded as different from other prisoners; 218 their motives were rightly taken into account. And although when their alleged offences were fresh in the public memory, severe punishment was often inflicted, yet invariably a time came, passions having cooled down, and the state of things which put the arm of the law into motion having passed away, when it was found to be the highest wisdom to close the chapter by amnesty. That was what had happened in America, in France, and in all civilized countries which had to deal with political prisoners. Why should it not happen in the case of the Irish political prisoners? Was not every one of those conditions under which amnesty might safely be brought about already fulfilled? The passions of 12 or 14 years ago, had cooled down; the dynamite conspiracy of that day, if it ever existed, had certainly passed away; and the time had come when, not vengeance, but magnanimity ought to be shown by the Government of the day. It had been denied that these prisoners were political offenders; but that was some time ago. In the last Parliament they were admitted to be political prisoners. The late Home Secretary practically admitted it; and Mr. John Morley expressly described them as such, no repudiation being made from the Opposition Benches of that day. There was another reason for amnesty. It was that the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland had asked for this amnesty, and passionately desired it. They had shown it in a hundred ways—by vast public meetings, by resolutions passed at meetings of representative bodies in all parts of the country, and by sending to the Bar of the House the Lord Mayor and other representatives of the chief municipal body in Ireland to petition for the release of these prisoners. Out of 103 Irish Members, 82 were returned pledged to amnesty; and, finally, the election of John Daly for Limerick City, his native place, was a proof of the earnestness and universality of the demand for amnesty in Ireland. Limerick was a city where there was a respectable Loyalist minority, which had sometimes sent a representative to the House of Commons. On this occasion, the Loyalist minority actually acquiesced in the unanimous election of Daly, and if that fact stood alone, it 219 ought to be a warning to the Government that in treating this demand of the people with the indifference and contempt which it had met with in the past, they would be acting very unwisely indeed. Could the Home Secretary suppose for a moment that there was any sympathy in Ireland with the dynamite policy such as he was bound to combat? It was not the Nationalists of Ireland alone who had made this demand for amnesty. Only a few days ago one of the Unionist Members of the Corporation of Cork, Mr. Lovell, actually of his own motion gave notice of a Resolution asking the Government to grant an amnesty. There was not the slightest doubt that that Resolution would be supported by other Unionists, and would be carried by a large majority. That was not the only sign that the minority in Ireland were not opposed to amnesty. It was a remarkable fact that at the election in Galway City the Conservative candidate made amnesty part of his programme. Mr. Morris—the son of Lord Morris—issued placards, the substance of which, he was informed, was to this effect—"Vote for Morris and amnesty." That was a sign, which could not be mistaken, that not only one class of politicians in Ireland, but all parties were anxious for amnesty, or were not at all events opposed to it, and would be glad to see it carried, if only to have the country at peace on this question. Was it wise and expedient for the Government to remain deaf to a sentiment so passionately and so widely entertained? If the Government hesitated to adopt the wise course lest they should be running counter to old and inveterate prejudices, let them remember that there was much more to be forgiven by Ireland than by England. If crimes had been committed against the Government and people of this country by Irishmen, let Englishmen not forget—and he spoke without wishing to revive ancient memories—the record of oppression, robbery and murder which they had left behind in Ireland. The Home Secretary was now in a position to carry out any policy he liked. He was not dependent, like his predecessor, on a small majority; and he carried with him the confidence of the whole of his party. As the right hon. Gentleman was entirely unfettered by pledges on the 220 question, he earnestly begged him to do something to wipe out at least part of the debt due to Ireland, to close up an old sore, and to promote a better feeling between the countries by accepting the Amendment which he submitted to the House.
§ MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Kilkenny)
said the overwhelming sentiment of the Irish people was that these prisoners had already suffered enough, and that any further punishment would be vindictive. He hoped that the Home Secretary would not be led astray by the deserted condition of the Anti-Parnellite Benches. [Parnellite cheers] Not one of the Gentlemen who usually occupied them dare appear before his constituents without pledging himself to amnesty. He regretted that they were not present. [Parnellite cheers.] It might be that they were too busy in another place endeavouring to relieve each other of the responsibility of the leadership of their party. [Laughter.] But he challenged any one of them to vote or speak against this motion. [Parnellite cheers.] The Chief Secretary had indicated that some remedy for the legitimate grievances of the Irish people might be provided in remedial legislation. In order, however, to prepare the way for its cordial acceptance by the Irish people, he said authoritatively that no legislation, not even national self-government itself, would be accepted with a good grace while those Irishmen were allowed to pine in English prisons. Several debates had already taken place on this question, and as the result of them a number of the prisoners had since been released, and no evil consequences had followed. One or two of those men were now earning their livelihood and enjoying the esteem, not only of Nationalists, but of Unionists in Dublin and elsewhere. The people of Ireland were convinced that the time had come when the Government could, without danger and injustice to anyone, release those prisoners. There was no constituency in Ireland where a Nationalist had been returned in which this question of amnesty had not been made a test question for the candidate.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
corroborated what had been said by the hon. Member with regard to the great part which amnesty had played in the late election in Ireland. The first 221 question as to which a candidate had been asked to pledge himself was that of supporting the amnesty of the prisoners. In his own constituency the electors put this question even before that of national self-government; and he found the opinion to prevail that, even if Home Rule were granted, it would not be accepted by the people with satisfaction or in a free spirit if it was not at the same time accompanied by amnesty. It was absurd to contend that in adopting this attitude the Irish people sympathised with the use of dynamite. The Irish people were just as strongly opposed to violent methods of that kind as the people of this country or of any other country were. The belief was widespread in Ireland, that whether these men were guilty or not, they had already been long enough in prison. The late Home Secretary had not answered the point raised with regard to the comparison between the sentences on the Irishmen and those of the Walsall prisoners. That question had been shirked by the late Home Secretary, and he believed the present Home Secretary would find it impossible to show why Irishmen should be sentenced to penal servitude for life while Englishmen who were convicted of worse offences received only ten years' penal servitude. That was a point which the Irish people could not understand, and he should be glad to hear some satisfactory explanation of the discrepancy. He recalled to the memory of the House the circumstances of the time when the dynamite prisoners were sentenced. Every vestige of liberty in the country had been destroyed by the Liberal Government of that day, the Constitution was wholly suspended in Ireland, the Irish Members were imprisoned without trial, and it was in these circumstances certain Irishmen were driven to despair and to adopt methods of redress of a desperate character. Some allowance therefore should be made for the extraordinary provocation given to Irishmen at that time. In England also at that time a blind rage existed against the Irish people. Irishmen were cast out of employment everywhere in this country and were pursued by a policy of hostility in every walk of life. The amnesty prisoners wore tried and condemned in an atmosphere of 222 panic and rage. The late Home Secretary practically pledged his Government that the cases of the prisoners would be reconsidered in the light of a 20 years' sentence instead of one for life, and the decision of one Minister bound to some extent his successor. The Government by being gracious in this matter would give additional satisfaction to the Irish people if they began their tenure of office by granting the release of those men. If they released these men they would give the greatest satisfaction to the Irish people, who had no sympathy with dynamite work; but if they continued them in prison they would make an impression on the mind of the Irish people, particularly the young men, that the policy of vengeance against Irishmen had not yet been given up by England.
§ SIR M. W. RIDLEY
said he did not think the Government could complain of the hon. Member for the County of Dublin for the way in which he brought this subject forward—a subject in which the hon. Member took great interest; nor could the Government complain of the manner and tone of the remarks which had been made. He was not at all surprised that upon the advent of a new Government, and having a new Home Secretary on which they could work, hon. Members opposite should ask what was the policy of that new Government. He was not prepared to dispute that there was a strong feeling in Ireland in favour of amnesty, but he hoped there was no one who believed that there was any idea of vengeance towards the Irish people, or that in dealing with these atrocious outrages any feeling of nationality entered. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped he should be forgiven if he did not go into the details brought before the House by the Mover of the Amendment with regard to the case of Daly, and the case of some others whose names were not mentioned. The hon. Member spoke of the difference of the sentences passed on those tried under the Explosives Act and those tried under the Treason Felony Act. His position was that, having recently come into office he considered it to be his duty to go thoroughly and impartially and with an open mind (Parnellitecheers) 223 into all these cases. ["Hear, hear!"] He should act upon the principle which guided the late Government in the action which they took. He looked back to the declaration made by Mr. Gladstone in 1892, that when dealing with crimes and criminals they were not to make any distinction between these crimes and any others for which long sentences were passed. His predecessor adopted the language of Mr. Gladstone, and he said over and over again that there should be no exceptional treatment in these cases, that there was nothing in them to distinguish them from ordinary cases of serious crime, and that he was prepared to deal with them on the principle generally adopted by the Home Office. That was the broad position he took up. He considered it his duty to do his best to satisfy himself as far as he could that there had been no miscarriage of justice, and he was, in fact, at the present moment engaged in looking into these cases. ["Hear, hear!"] As regarded the length of the sentences, he wished to say nothing, but he did not think it his duty to take up a policy of non possumus. ["Hear, hear!"] He had not a shadow of doubt that the decision of his predecessor was right. He was not going to argue whether these were political crimes or not. These men were tried under the Treason Felony Act, and probably that gave some reason for what had been said. He thought there was a general feeling in Ireland and among hon. Gentlemen opposite that these were atrocious crimes with which they had no sympathy, and that in dealing with the criminals we must forget alleged political motives. They must regard them as crimes against society which, if they had been successful, would have ruined and destroyed many valuable lives. Therefore, they must deal with these cases exactly on the same principle which they applied to ordinary cases. He need hardly remind the House that when long sentences were passed various considerations arose. Medical circumstances, for instance, had to be considered, and his predecessor was able to release on medical grounds several of the dynamite prisoners. There were also special circumstances which from time to time might fairly be said to arise. He did not wish to say more or to give any reason why he had formed a sort of a 224 preliminary judgment. He could only repeat that he approached this question with an open mind, and he intended to keep in mind the principle of his predecessor that these were crimes which were atrocious, that they deserved severe punishment, and that these men deserved their punishment if they were really guilty. To the idea of a general amnesty he could give no approval whatever. He did not know that he could add any more. He should consult with the eminent judge who had tried these prisoners, and whose opinion must be of great weight. He was most anxious that in this matter there should be continuity of policy. He should follow the policy of his predecessor, and whether he should be able after this lapse of time to find any circumstances which he could take into consideration he could not say. He should try to do justice, whether they were Englishmen or Irishmen. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
desired to express in the most frank manner his appreciation of the contrast exhibited by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir M. W. Ridley) to the position taken up by his predecessor, who, when this matter was brought forward in the late Parliament, met it by an absolute non possumus, and stated distinctly that he would never, so long as he was in office, deal with the question of these sentences. But the present Home Secretary was prepared to do what they were asking—namely, to reconsider these cases, and to do so with the hope that he might be able to find in the circumstances some facts which would warrant him in dealing as leniently as possible with these men.
§ SIR M. W. RIDLEY
said, he was prepared to do exactly what was done by his predecessor, who on taking Office reconsidered these cases with the utmost pains, and felt, he was sure, as he felt, a desire if possible to take a lenient course.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND,
continuing, said that the statement now made by the right hon Gentleman was very generous towards his predecessor in Office. The right hon. Gentleman's position was that he had not yet reconsidered these cases, and that he was prepared to reconsider them, and to do so with the hope and desire to find such facts as might enable 225 him to deal with them with leniency. The proposer and supporters of the Amendment had not the smallest sympathy with the crimes, and he had no desire to enter into the question whether or no these men were rightly convicted. If rightly convicted they deserved very severe punishment at the hands of society. But even if guilty they had suffered very severely. They had been in prison 12½ years, and had suffered greater punishment than if they had been convicted under the Dynamite Act of 1883. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the late Home Secretary admitted that it might be just to consider the cases of these men as if they had been sentenced for 20 years, the maximum sentence under that Act. But a 20 years sentence meant only an actual 15 years in prison, and the point, therefore, at issue was the pal try difference between 12½ and 15 years—a very small matter for a great and strong Government of a mighty Empire, but a very great matter to these men, to whom the difference of even a few months, more or less, in prison might mean the snapping of the tender thread of life. By the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors in Office, he had been permitted, as the legal adviser of these men, to visit them in prison, and he had been very careful not to outstep the conditions on which that permission was granted. ["Hear, hear!"] He might, however, say that he found these men shattered in bodily and mental health, and reduced to such a state as to render it impossible that they could constitute a danger to the Government or to society. Some had died in prison; some had gone mad; while others had been released because their health had been utterly shattered. Only ten remained in prison. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he supposed he would have heard if the health of any of those ten were endangered. He would beg the right hon. Gentleman to inquire into that matter when he came to reconsider the cases of these men, and to allow him to furnish information which was in his possession, not only as to their bodily but as to their mental condition. He had been put in possession of some information which he had been most scrupulous not to use publicly, because he obtained it in his visit to the prison; 226 but he entreated the right hon. Gentleman to allow him to furnish him with this information, as it would afford him ample means for considering whether some of these wretched men were in a fit state, from a mental point of view, to be treated as criminals any longer. The promise of the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the so cases with an open and friendly mind had come upon him as an agreeable surprise. He had been so accustomed to be met with an absolute non possumus. The claim the right hon. Gentleman had made was a fair claim. When Mr. Gladstone came into Office, and when they made a claim for amnesty on him, he said he could give no answer because it was necessary for him and the new Home Secretary to investigate the facts. They admitted that claim, and the late Home Secretary investigated the facts and pronounced an absolute non possumus. The present Home Secretary said he felt it his duty to investigate the facts, and it was desirable that he should have an opportunity of doing so, and he hoped that after this additional lapse of time he would be able, perhaps before the next Session of Parliament, at any rate at the meeting of Parliament next year, to say that he had been able to find that, from motives of humanity, magnanimity, and high State policy, it was possible for him to do away with this additional couple of years' imprisonment, and restore these unfortunate men to liberty. In these circumstances, he did not think anything would be gained by pressing this matter to a division. They asked for a reinvestigation, and that had been practically promised. All he would ask of the right hon. Gentleman in addition was that he would permit him and his friends, who thought that they had information and arguments and reasons at their disposal that would influence him, to submit to him those reasons and arguments for his consideration. If the right hon. Gentleman granted that, they would be anxious for the investigation to go on and for this question to be postponed until they could have from the right hon. Gentleman a decided answer.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, having already spoken, cannot now reply to the question of the, hon. 227 Member, but he desires me to say that, of course, he would be glad to receive any communication from any authentic source which will enable him to form a judgment upon the matter before him. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down led me to think that it is possible he may have misconstrued the view of my right hon. Friend near me. The hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that considerations of magnanimity, of public policy, and of humanity might induce my right hon. Friend to reconsider the sentences which have been passed on those persons who are now in confinement. The phrase indicated that in the mind of the hon. Gentleman, and possibly, therefore, in the minds of some other Members of the House, there was an impression that different principles were going to be applied in these cases to the principles invariably applied by those who have held the office which my right hon. Friend holds in the countless cases which the Home Secretary from month to month is obliged to examine. The view of my right hon. Friend is simply this. There are a certain number of cases of men convicted of very grave crimes. They come simply among a large number of cases of persons undergoing long sentences for other grave crimes, and there are well-established principles which are invariably applied by successive occupants of the office which my right hon. Friend holds, for the consideration, at stated intervals, of the sentences these men have undergone. These principles my right hon. Friend will extend to the cases under our consideration to-night, neither more nor less. The rigid and invariable rules always applied by the Home Office to these cases will be applied to these special cases, and my right hon. Friend will apply the principles of humanity, of public policy, and magnanimity to those special cases as much as and no more than he would apply them to every other case he has to deal with from time to time. I feel convinced that in the decision at which my right hon. Friend arrives he will have the support of both sides of the House, including, I hope, the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The hon. Gentleman endeavoured to draw a distinction between the course adopted by the late Home Secretary and that proposed by my right hon. Friend. There 228 is no such distinction. ["Hear, hear!"] The principles adopted and carried through by the late Home Secretary are the principles which will be adopted and carried through by the present Home Secretary, and though he desires me to say that he will give the most careful attention to all these cases, it will be a profound mistake for anybody to suppose that there is the slightest discontinuity of policy between the late Government and the present occupants of this Bench. In these few words, which are not intended to supplement or add to in any way what my right hon. Friend has said, but which are designed to remove the misapprehension into which possibly the hon. Gentleman has fallen—it was simply in order to remove any such misapprehension that I have troubled the House with these few words. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I have listened with attention to what has fallen from the First Lord of the Treasury and I am satisfied that in all matters of this kind it is important that we should preserve administrative continuity. I do not believe there is the faintest difference of principle or even of opinion from the other side of the House as to the principles which ought to govern the discretion of the Home Secretary in the decision of cases of this kind. For my part, I heard with some surprise from the hon. Member for Waterford some observations directed to the supposed attitude I have maintained on this question, which the hon. Member said contrasted with the attitude taken by my successor. For my part, I always laid down, and I always applied in relation to these cases one uniform principle. I did not distinguish them in the least degree from ordinary criminal cases. These crimes are said to have been committed from what are called political motives. In my opinion that is no ground for treating them with greater leniency nor with greater severity than other crimes. Following on the principles which were laid down by Mr. Gladstone before the late Government came into office, I have endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to treat them exactly on the same footing as I have been in the habit of treating all ordinary cases of crime in which appeals are made for the mitigation of sentences or for clemency of treatment on the part of the 229 Home Secretary. I do not in the slightest degree desire to anticipate the decision the right hon. Gentleman may come to when he has had an opportunity of considering the circumstances of particular cases; this is a matter which rests entirely upon his responsibility. Nothing would be more uncongenial to me than to endeavour in any way by any suggestion of mine to preclude the application of a more lenient method of treatment than that which I myself, in the exercise of my responsibility, thought it possible to apply. I am anxious to make this statement, not in the interests of one party or of the other, but in the interests of what I conceive to be a great principle of public policy. I am anxious that upon an occasion of this kind this House on both sides should clearly understand that this rule is adopted in relation to all cases of this kind, that the Home Office must proceed upon a single, uniform, and inflexible principle, to be applied without distinction to all classes of cases which come before it. I say no more except that, so far as I am concerned, I shall be prepared to acquiesce in any conclusion which, proceeding upon those principles, the right hon. Baronet may come to. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)
said that at the commencement of the last Parliament he took the opportunity of going carefully into the question of the amnesty of these so-called political prisoners with as keen a desire as any Member could have to arrive at a conclusion in harmony with that of the Nationalist sentiment of Ireland, but he came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be said in favour of amnesty on their merits. He came to that conclusion with the greatest possible regret, but, having come to it, he consistently voted against the amnesty of these prisoners. But he felt there was a strong case for amnesty, if it could be granted with justice, and it was that, while Nationalist Ireland demanded their release, Nationalist Ireland was then, as it is now, one of the most crimeless countries in the world. Cases had occurred which were supposed to be analogous to the cases of these prisoners—as, for instance, that of the Walsall anarchists—but there was really no analogy between these two classes of cases. But in May or June, 1894, there was a 230 case which was exactly parallel—that of the two Italian anarchists, Farnaro and Polti. They were in every respect as bad as the Irish cases, and in one respect they were worse; they were political refugees who had no quarrel with this country; nay, they were enjoying our hospitality, and they attempted to blow up our people with dynamite. They were tried by the same Judge as were the Irish prisoners, and it might be urged upon the Home Secretary, without the suggestion of any reflection upon the Judge, that whilst he gave life sentences to several of the Irish prisoners, he gave Farnaro 20 years and Polti 10 years, treating him as a young man who must have been the dupe of Farnaro. Would not the Home Secretary be willing to consider the Irish cases in the light of these later cases, and to say that the Irish prisoners should riot suffer longer sentences than Farnaro? His 20 years might mean 15 or 16, and that term would bring the Irish prisoners within two or three years of release. Then he believed that four out of the ten Irish prisoners were dupes as much as Polti was. Ireland was crimeless to-day, and had been so for years. The memory of the tyranny of centuries was burnt into the minds of the people of Ireland, and could not be eradicated in a moment; and it was public policy to satisfy Irish opinion as far as we could possibly do so. He asked the Home Secretary to consider the case of the Irish political prisoners in the light of the sentences passed on the Italian anarchists.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark)
said that if the case of Daly had been dealt with under the Explosives Act, instead of under the Treason Felony Act, and he had been an Englishman or Scotchman instead of an Irishman, he would not have been sent to penal servitude for more than 20 years. There was no reason in the interests of the public why leniency should not be adopted. Dynamite conspiracies had ceased, and the altered circumstances of the times should be considered. Besides, the sense of the community was against these long sentences. The Irish people, too, thought these political prisoners had suffered excessive punishment already To keep Daly in prison longer would not tend to the safety of the public; on the contrary, it would tend to arouse feelings 231 of enmity on the part of the Irish people, to exasperate them and lead them to revenge themselves in some way.
§ * SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said he entered the House a good many years ago, and he had always thought that one of the most unfortunate courses Members of the House could adopt was to take sides in matters affecting the administration of justice. Confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of those who administered justice was one of our most cherished possessions, and if the motives of our Judges were to be discussed in that House in a light spirit—was it to be supposed that Judges did not adequately weigh the force of Acts of Parliament and the bearings of those Acts?—such a course would tend to destroy the confidence which had been, and he hoped ever would be, reposed in our Judges. He ventured to hope that at the begining of a new Parliament that House would not attempt to constitute itself a Court of Review in Criminal Cases. He remembered the time when the House of Commons would refuse to listen to appeals in such matters. He thought that it would be most unfortunate if, after the statements which had been made by the First Lord of the Treasury and the late Home Secretary, that this discussion should be prolonged. He was satisfied that the House had perfect confidence in the impartiality of the learned Judges as hon. Members on the Government side had in that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He deprecated in the strongest possible manner any attempt to impute motives to learned Judges for the action they had taken in criminal cases. In his opinion this subject should go no further, because every hon. Member must be aware that the exercise of the prerogative is conducted upon settled and uniform principles irrespective of class or nationality.
§ MR. TIMOTHY HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said, that he did not intend to detain the House for more than a very few minutes. He thought that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, showed a little more kindliness and a readiness not to appear too immovable than that which the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary had exhibited on former occasions when this question 232 had been brought before the House. There was no desire on the part of the Irish representatives that the Home Office should set aside the principles which had previously regulated their conduct with regard to these cases. It was not their object to press the Home Office to adopt a new policy in these matters; but what they desired to point out was that the time had arrived when a humane view might be taken of this case. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was very much mistaken in the view he had taken of the intention of the Irish Members in relation to this subject. There was no intention on their part to abuse the Judges. The late Home Secretary had said that, in cases where political motives came in, there ought to be neither greater leniency nor greater severity shown in the sentences imposed. But every hon. Member must be aware that, in these cases, political motives had led to greater severity in the sentences—not in consequence of any bias on the part of the Judge, but because of the circumstances under which the trial had taken place. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, had entirely misinterpreted the views of the Irish Members on this question. Attention had been drawn to the political character of the case, not because they desired to attribute partiality to the Judge, but because they maintained that that political character had led to heavier sentences being passed than would have been the case had there been no political element in the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had declared that it was his duty, on entering upon his office, to bring an open mind to the consideration of the case. In their Amendment the Irish Members had merely asked that the case should be reconsidered, and that the peculiar circumstances under which the sentence was imposed should be taken into account, without intending in the least degree to impugn the motives of the of the Judge or the justice of the verdict of the jury, which was founded upon the evidence that had been laid before them. It was most natural that at a time of public terror, when the public peace was endangered and when crime was prominent, the sentences passed should have been marked with severity; but they 233 maintained that, now that that terror had passed away, and when the public peace was no longer endangered, the time had arrived when those sentences might be reviewed, and when the dictates of mercy might be allowed to prevail. That was their whole case. When the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary came to take into consideration the whole circumstances of the case, the length of the sentences, and the time of excitement and of panic when they were imposed, which cast upon the Judge the duty of passing severe sentences he thought that, now all those circumstances had passed away, the right hon. Gentleman might find himself in a position to reconsider the case. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed his readiness to take that course, and in these circumstances he would appeal to his hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment to withdraw his Amendment, as his object in moving it had been attained.
§ MR. CLANCY
said that, in view of what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, he asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
congratulated the hon. Member (Mr. Clancy) on the course which he had taken. By that course the hon. Member avoided the record of an adverse vote. He regretted that the same course was not taken three years ago, when an enormous majority of the House of Commons was given the opportunity of voting against the release of these prisoners. [Several PARNELLITE MEMBERS: "The same course was taken."]
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.) rose to move as an Amendment—
That this House begs humbly to draw the attention of your Majesty to the existing widespread depression in agriculture, and submits that it would be expedient to pass remedial measures during the present year.
He said that this Amendment had almost become a hardy annual, but in the circumstances of the present year it was entitled to special consideration. The condition of agriculture, which was bad in 1893, was worse in 1894, and was worse still now. In 1893 when a similar Amendment was proposed to the Address,
the Government of the day had a very large programme before it, and in that programme no special prominence was given to agricultural matters. The present Government was not in the same position. It was not pledged to any large programme and the supporters of the Government in the rural districts had gained their many victories by advocating strong agricultural reforms. When their constituents listened to their speeches they could hardly have imagined that they were only being promised legislation in six or seven months' time. The constituencies thought that as soon as Parliament met something would be done for the amelioration of the condition of agriculture. The disappointment in the country would be very great if a majority pledged to agriultural reform were to separate in order to amuse themselves until next year—"fiddling while Rome was burning." In that case, the indignation of the constituencies would be considerable. Was it not possible for them to have an Autumn Session? It was clear that next year the Session would be a very busy one, apart from agricultural affairs. A controversial Irish Land Bill was almost promised, which must take up a very large part of the time of Parliament, and then the financial promises to agriculturists would be redeemed in the Budget, and that would occupy a very considerable time. What opportunities then would there be for proceeding with the other parts of the agricultural programme? This year Parliament had not worked very hard. The old Members of Parliament had had a comparatively short sitting before the Dissolution, and the new Members were all eager for work and wished to distinguish themselves. He suggested that Parliament should meet again in November, and was sure that all Members representing agricultural constituencies would approve that suggestion. In the last months of the last Parliament a Land Tenure Bill was read a Second time. It was opposed, no doubt, by a considerable number of gentlemen opposite, but those who opposed it said distinctly that they did not object to the principle of the measure. Let a similar Bill be introduced for the purpose of improving the position of the tenant farmer. He did not impute to the
Government the wish not to do well to the farmer. Indeed, the Government had done very well in appointing as Minister for Agriculture a gentleman specially qualified to fill that position. He hoped that they would realise that the new Parliament was perfectly willing to work, and was not anxious to separate for six months. If they met in November they would, he believed, be able to effect something of real value for agriculturists. After a Land Tenure Bill a Pure Beer Bill could be introduced. Farmers were very anxious that a Bill of that kind should be passed, and if the Government would bring it in he had no doubt as to its becoming law. A third Bill which might well be passed would be one to prevent the fraudulent sale of foreign meat as English meat. He did not believe there was any reason why, in a short Autumn Session, the three Bills he had described should not become law, and he earnestly asked the Government in the name of his constituency to consider whether they would not strain the loyalty of their supporters so far as to bring them back in November, in order to pass some measures which would be of service to agriculture. He concluded by moving the Amendment.
§ * MR. H. BROADHURST (Leicester)
said he could bear out every word that the hon. Member had said as to the opinion of the people, so far as Norfolk was concerned. North-west, north and east Norfolk were largely dependent for its prosperity on their crops of barley and cattle raised for the market. The President of the Board of Agriculture and his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board would bear him out in saying that dry weather and plentiful sun was necessary for a successful crop of barley for malting purposes. Great depreciation inevitably followed heavy rains. Although his neighbours and friends of the farming class were mostly Conservatives, he sympathised with them in their present distress. His hon. Friend would excuse him if he did not join him in his enthusiastic demand for an Autumn Session; but he heartily joined in asking the Government to give some assurance to the agricultural interest, which had done so much for them in a political sense, that it would not be 236 forgotten in their day of prosperity, and to promise some measures to assist the farmers in their great struggle for existence. In the early part of the evening his hon. Friend submitted a question to the President of the Board of Agriculture regarding the importation of Canadian cattle, and he regretted the nature of the reply given by the right hon. Gentleman. He himself had never been a strong party politician, and had always been ready to accept measures of relief from whichever side they came. He was anxious and willing to receive such measures from the Government now, and he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not shown a larger acquaintance with the eastern part of this country in his reply. The eastern counties were concerned not in the breeding but in the feeding of cattle. [Mr. CHAPLIN: "No."] Now, the hon. Member for the eastern division of Norfolk, when he put his question to-night, was challenged by the hon. and gallant Gentleman from Ireland as to whether he was not representing specially and only the division of which he was the Member. If he only represented that division it was a great and most important part of the agricultural community, but in point of fact, his hon. Friend spoke in the name of the whole of the feeders of the county of Norfolk, and his appeal was, that Canadian store cattle now kept out of this country by Order in Council should be admitted freely—[Mr. ARCH: "Hear, hear!"]—and that the Order should be repealed. That the President of the Board of Agriculture could do tomorrow, in two minutes, by a stroke of the pen. In two minutes the right hon. Gentleman could restore a large measure of prosperity to the farmers of Norfolk, and, he believed, to other eastern counties as well. The President of the Board of Agriculture said in answer:—That is all very well. You in Norfolk and in the eastern counties are buyers of Canadian cattle, but you are only a few. The larger part of the agricultural community concerned in the cattle trade are against the importation, and thus, however just your claim may be for the repeal of this Order, we cannot listen to it, because there is a majority against it.Could anything be more unreasonable? Because two cases of disease had been detected by the tremendously clever 237 experts of the department—and he did not complain of their being too clever at all—the great farming community of Norfolk were to be ruined by the continuance of this Order. This was a very important matter for the farmers of Norfolk, who were large feeders of cattle. There was a difference between breeders and feeders. In Norfolk they did not breed, but they fed for the market. The provision for feeding this season was happily one of the best for many years past in their county at the present moment, and if the farmers were allowed to purchase store cattle freely, the existing restrictions being removed, a large measure of prosperity would, he believed, be restored to the Norfolk farmers. What they in Norfolk asked for was a measure of justice; they were speaking for nearly the whole east coast of Great Britain, and his hon. Friends from Forfarshire, Aberdeen, Dundee and the north-east of Scotland would heartily join them in the demand they were making for free trade in lean cattle in these hard times. [An hon. MEMBER: "Disease."] Oh no; they were not free importers of disease, and all they asked was that their farmers should not be robbed of this opportunity of saving themselves from ruin under the pretext of importing disease. They asked merely for a fair field and no favour.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
observed that, as last February he had the honour of proposing an Amendment somewhat similar to this, he should like to say a few words on the subject. Although the hon. Member for Norfolk had described this question as a hardy annual he would remind the hon. Member that he (Mr. Price) and Gentlemen sitting near him had voted against amendments of this character year after year. Of course the Amendment now before the House was not in the identical words of the one he proposed last February, and which was only defeated by the late 238 Government by some eleven or twelve votes; but a little lower on the paper; here was another Amendment standing n the name of an hon. Friend of the Member for Norfolk, which was an exact copy of the Amendment he (Mr. Jeffreys) proposed. Did it not reduce he whole thing to a farce, when it was remembered that when he and his party had proposed amendment after amendment during the three years the late Government were in office, hon. Gentlemen opposite who now submitted this proposal invariably voted against such amendments? The hon. Gentleman then voted against what the Conservatives proposed. What had caused him to alter his mind? There lad been a General Election, and these matters had been discussed. Two or three of the gentlemen who used to vote against the Amendment had been turned out of the county constituencies they represented. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the marking of foreign beef. He (Mr. Jeffreys) had in each of the last three Sessions introduced a Bill having such an object in view, and yet it had been blocked by one of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Mr. PRICE: "It was not blocked by me."] It was blocked by one of the hon. Gentleman's friends. One Wednesday, when the Bill came in for Second Reading, one of the hon. Member's friends said he smelt Protection in it, and talked it out. Then the hon. Gentleman said, "Why not propose a Pure Beer Bill?" and the hon. Member for Leicester went in for supporting barley. That would only affect a few counties in the whole of England. Malting barley was only grown in three or four counties, and therefore the whole of England would not be benefited. Again, the hon. Member for Leicester wished to see Canadian cattle introduced. Why, those cattle were kept out of the country in order to keep our flocks and herds free from disease. He failed to see how the hon. Gentleman's constituents would be benefited.
§ * MR. BROADHURST
said, he had not a single constituent interested in the trade. He only spoke for his Conservative farmer friends in Norfolk.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, he knew a good deal about farmers. He had the favour to be the Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and over and over again that Chamber had passed resolutions against the importation of Canadian cattle. The hon. Member for Norfolk complained that there were no proposals in the Queen's Speech to remedy agricultural depression. There were no proposals at all in the Queen's Speech. What the House had to do now was to pass the Estimates. It was not proposed to introduce this Session any measures whatever. "Oh," said the hon. Gentleman, "we ought to propose something for the benefit of the farmer." He was with the hon. Member there—[Mr. PRICE: "Well, come on."]—but what was the use of proposing measures now, when the Budget of the year had been passed? How could they reduce local taxation without a contribution from the Imperial Exchequer? A real remedy for the present state of affairs was a reduction of local taxation. The rates on agricultural land ought to be one-fourth what they were now, and to bring that about there ought to be a grant from the Imperial Exchequer. He and others had made other suggestions which they hoped might now be adopted. They had, for instance, proposed a redemption of the tithe rent-charge, but that could not be done without money. It was one of the best things that could be done, and had been recommended by a Royal Commission. Without going into other matters which he would advocate next year, he said that to have an Autumn Session on purpose to discuss agricultural questions would be as great a waste of time as the Commission on Agriculture was. If any good could be done to agriculture, he would be willing to attend night after night in the Autumn. It was a mere trick for the hon. 240 Member to pass off his (Mr. Jeffreys') Amendment as his own, and to propose it now in the hope that he would find Conservatives voting against it. Surely that was turning their Debates into a farce. If they reduced the rates it was not a few counties alone they would benefit, but the whole of the Kingdom. They all wanted to have cheap food in the country, and yet what did they do? They hampered their own home industry and got the food from abroad. If cheap food was desirable, it must be produced at home. And why was it not produced at home? Why did they not cultivate their own land and give employment to their own labourers? Why were so many acres out of cultivation at present? It was not the fault of the soil, for no land grew better corn than England. It was because the rates on land were so heavy. Land out of cultivation did not pay rates, just like an uninhabited house, and to escape these heavy rates thousands of acres were left uncultivated. He thought land should be rated on the quarter instead of on the whole. The rateable value of land was £33,650,000. Rates upon that at 2s. 6d. in the £ gave £4,200,000. If they were to rate land on the quarter instead of on the whole, they would have to make up a deficiency of £3,150,000, a sum which was nothing to a rich country like this; and if the country liked to have cheap food, the land cultivated, and the labourers employed, it would find that £3,150,000 in the next Budget. Those were the measures the friends of Agriculture had to strive for; and those measures he would advocate in the next Session. He had advocated them before, when they had been voted against by hon. Members opposite, who now proposed, as a mere political trick, a barren Amendment to the Address.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said, as a breeder of cattle, that, what cattle breeders wanted, in opposing the importation of Canadian cattle was not Protection. They desired simply to 241 preserve their flocks from disease. Successive Presidents of the Board of Agriculture had thought it necessary to exclude these Canadian cattle, and the exclusion was still very properly maintained, and would be, he hoped, until it was certain that there was no further fear of the importation of disease. Who were the people who were crying out against these precautions? A few farmers in Norfolk and a few large graziers in Aberdeen, who preferred to import cattle and disease from Canada when they could get just as good cattle, just as cheap, in Ireland. If they did not choose to go to Ireland for their cattle, the cry of "Justice to Ireland" would not sound well in their mouths.
§ * MR. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, East)
said, that the hon. Member for Hampshire complained of Members on the Opposition side of the House, making these motions and speeches. The motions were copied from those which the hon. Member himself brought forward. [An hon. MEMBER: "And which you voted against."] Exactly; and what was the hon. Member going to do, but vote against this Motion that night? This game of tu, quoque could be played ad infinitum, the object which they had in view was the same as that of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was incumbent upon the Opposition of the day to press upon the Government of the day the necessity of giving attention to measures of public importance; and that duty was only to be discharged by Members of the Opposition. It was absurd to bring forward these retaliatory charges. As to the question of Canadian cattle, there were both feeders and breeders in his constituency. The question was of course administrative, and what his constituents expected of the Government was the assurance that nothing would be done to admit these Canadian cattle while there was any risk of the importation of disease into this country. His constituents were as keen, as any other that on such risk should be run; 242 and they were prepared to support the present Board, as they supported the last, in maintaining the restrictions. All they asked was, that the President of the Board of Agriculture should keep his mind open, and, if he found in the future that there were no more diseased cattle coming into the country, that then the ports should be again opened to the free importation of cattle. But the President's primary duty was undoubtedly to see that there should be on importation of disease. There was a great deal which the officials of the Government could do in the way of administrative reform when Parliament was not sitting. During the Election the President of the Board alluded to several things which might be done, and, among others, to the improvement of postal and telegraphic facilities in rural districts. If the right hon. Gentleman would take that up, he would be doing-useful work, and would get general support. Amongst the various Bills which fell through in the last Parliament was that relating to the Crofters. The part of the Bill in which he himself was interested was the extension of the Crofters' Act to Aberdeenshire and the north-east of Scotland. The First Lord of the Treasury and his colleagues, opposed that Bill in the House and in the country; but the First Lord made a statement in the House with regard to compensation to tenants for their improvements which had been largely quoted in the country, and which was of the highest importance. The Opposition were justified in asking oil the first opportunity, not only whether the right hon. Gentleman would adhere to that statement, but whether he would endeavour, at least in the next Session of Parliament, to carry his proposal into effect. The portion of the Crofters Act they wished to see applied was the provision for a good, cheap, and thorough system of compensation for the improvements of the smaller tenants and of all tenants in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman 243 acknowledged the substantial nature of their claim, and it was the most important remedy that could be applied to agricultural depression. He asked for some assurance on this point.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
said it was impossible for him, in the time that was left, to cover the ground which had been opened up in the previous speeches. An Autumn Session had been proposed, but no reason had been advanced in favour of it, nor had anything been said as to what should be done during that Autumn Session. The hon. Member for Leicester suggested the withdrawal of the restrictions on the importation of Canadian cattle. That was a policy which, in the interest of agriculture, he would certainly not adopt, but, on the contrary, would strenuously oppose. The policy which had hitherto prevailed in his department would be maintained. There were parts of the world from which it was impossible to be certain that there was absolute safety from disease; and he held it to be part of his duty to take care that there should be, not only little risk, but that there should be no risk which could be avoided of the importation of disease among the Hocks and herds of this country. [Cheers.] It had been suggested that the Government should accept an Amendment which was now moved by hon. Gentlemen who had devoted all their time and energies in the last Parliament to oppose and vote against Amendments to the Address containing proposals with reference to agriculture, which had been submitted by supporters of the Government, and which did not meet with the acceptance of the Government of that day. ["No, no!"] The hon. Member would benefit the fatteners of stock in Norfolk by admitting disease, and he would benefit the growers of barley by pure beer; but the country was not limited to Norfolk. They had to think of the whole country, I and so far as the Government was concerned, they certainly should be prepared to propose, when the opportunity came, which was certainly not in that short Session, nor would it be in an Autumn Session, measures which would be calculated to relieve agriculture. They should endeavour to deal with that great question of local taxation: and the great burdens which fell upon laud were matters 244 of immense importance. They should see whether it was not possible to relieve the burdens which pressed especially on agricultural land. ["Hear, hear!"] There were other matters which had been alluded to. His right hon. Friend had clearly indicated that it was intended that they should devote themselves to practical measures of agricultural reform. What was the suggestion made by the Mover of this Amendment? They had been in Office one month, and they had hardly had time to become acquainted with their Departments, and they were asked to do that work which those opposite had declined to call on their Government to do. [Cheers.] There were many other matters to which he should like to refer if he had time. [Cries of "Go on; Adjourn!"] The Department over which he had the honour to preside could do a great deal without legislation. They could devote their attention to the law as it exists, and they could see that the farmers had as fair a chance as it was possible to have. They could see that he should be able to compete on fair terms, and that he should not be compelled to compete on unfair terms. Everything that could be done by careful attention to his Department should be done, in this direction, and he was confident that the Government which was now entrusted with the administration of affairs would be, ready and prepared to introduce measures which would be calculated to assist the most depressed and suffering industry in the country. This was not the opportunity to make proposals of that kind. There was no sincerity in the proposal before the House, and his answer was very simple and very straight—that when the right time came they would be prepared with their proposals and suggestions, not merely to lay them before the House, but to give them practical effect. [Cheers.]
§ On the Motion of Mr. CHANNING Debate adjourned to Monday next