§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I have deferred from day to day during the last fortnight the making of a statement in answer to certain Questions which have been addressed to me from the other side of the House. Some of those Questions relate to the Irish Agricultural Industries Bill and other Bills now on the Paper in the name of the Government having reference to Irish administration. Others are Questions relating to the policy of the Government in connection with a grant to Ireland, based on similar lines to those adopted in the Act of last year, which gave relief to the rates on agricultural land in England. These two questions may seem at first to be little connected with each other, but in the view of the Government they are really inextricably intertwined. There are two aspects of the same policy which cannot by any possibility be separately considered. The House is aware that the Government have declared that in their view Ireland possessed no claim in strict equity to the many hundreds of thousands of pounds which would be required if the rating question were to be treated on lines similar to those adopted in England. [Irish laughter.] I am stating a question of fact. The House is aware that that was, and I may add that it still is, the attitude taken up by the Government. I am conscious that I am not in agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am aware that their opinions on the subject are shared by other Irish representatives in this House and by the great mass of public opinion in Ireland. [Irish cheers.] I am not disputing the fact, and I am not arguing the question. I am merely stating that upon the question of abstract equity the Government have not changed their minds nor do they see any reason to depart from the attitude recently taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Even if we took a different view upon this question, I think hon. Members on all sides of the House would see that there would be the very greatest difficulty in giving any large subvention in relief of local rates in Ireland until the question of local government was settled. Hon. Members opposite have asked for 1041 a great deal of new wine, but they propose that it should be put into very old bottles. [Laughter.] That is a policy j which presents very great difficulties, and we are of opinion that it would not be in the power of this or any other Government to consider the question of large subventions to Irish rates apart from the question of a large modification of Irish local government. We are brought to the same result if we consider the kind of criticism levelled from more than one quarter of the House against many of the attempts at administrative reform in Ireland which have from time to time been attempted. The object of those reforms is often accepted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but they criticise the details of the Bills in which they are embodied, and object to their passage because they say, with a certain amount of force, that the machinery now in existence is of so antiquated a character—["hear, hear !"]— that it is not possible or right to throw upon it the new duties that would necessarily be thrown upon it by the Measures in question. When I say the machinery is antiquated I am expressing no new opinion. We have, indeed, never denied that, so far as county administration is concerned, the work done by grand juries has been honest work, able and economical work. ["Hear, hear!" and "No !"] But, at the same time, we have invariably admitted that both the machinery for administering county government and poor relief in Ireland belong to a class of political machinery which we have rejected in England and Scotland, and which the great majority on this side of the House are pledged to reform in Ireland also. [Irish laughter and an HON. MEMBER: "1886 !"] I hear an hon. Member say "1886 !" I do not know what 1886 has to do with local government in Ireland, but I have in my mind a Bill introduced in 1892 which did not proceed very far —[1aughter]—which, indeed, apart from the special political difficulty of that year, might not under any circumstances have received the general assent of the House, but which was an honest attempt on my 1042 part to deal with the special difficulties of Irish administration as they then presented themselves to me. What was the objection taken to the Bill? It was this —that while it had no doubt put Irish local government upon a broad popular basis as far as the franchise was concerned, it was hedged round and, as it were, crowded with elaborate precautions which were not required, in our opinion, in England or Scotland, and which had not been introduced in the English or Scotch Bills, but which we did think were necessary if we were to give local government to Ireland under the circumstances then existing. Consider, then, the apparent dilemma into which we are forced by this line of argument. We cannot, it would seem, give anything to Irish rates without reforming Irish local government. We cannot, owing to the special circumstances of Ireland, reform its local government without encumbering the new system with elaborate and irritating precautions. At first sight, the difficulty seems insoluble. But, on more mature reflection, it would seem that we have now presented to us an opportunity, perhaps an absolutely unique opportunity, of meeting the difficulties we have always felt in the extension of local government to Ireland, and at the same time meeting the claims which have been put forward with so much energy and eloquence by all classes of Irish opinion in the last few weeks. We believe that a plan can be devised by which both these great objects can be attained and which will secure the friendly support of every class. I do not on the present occasion intend to go into details. I am only speaking by the leave of the House. Obviously the Bill embodying such a plan cannot be introduced until next Session, but, broadly, our scheme is this. We should propose to place both the Poor Law and county administration upon a broad and popular basis—[cheers]—but, as I have explained, that can only be done if at the same time the owners of agricultural land can be relieved of the apprehension which, rightly or wrongly, they entertain with regard to the possible extravagance, perhaps unintentional, and perhaps intentional, of the new public bodies which are to be called into existence. We hold further that to attain this object the landlords must be relieved from all rural rates in the future. 1043 I make no secret at all about it. That is a wide departure from the course which we have pursued in England or Scotland. [Irish cheers.] We think it a necessary departure. Roughly speaking, the landlords' liability for agricultural land at this moment consists of paying half the poor rates. We propose to pay that half out of the Imperial Exchequer for the future. ["Hear, hear !"] We propose also to pay half the county cess. The landlord would gain by the first and the tenant by the second of these subventions, while there is this double benefit for the two classes, it will be observed that we gain our great object, that, namely, of launching local government under circumstances which would make it palatable and safe for all classes. It may, perhaps, be objected that this gift is illusory. The tenants, on the one hand, may say, "If you give half the county cess, that is all very well as long as our judicial rents are running, but what is to happen at the end of the 15 years? Will the whole of this not be put by the action of the Sub-Commissioners into the pockets of the landlord? Will, therefore, the relief nominally intended for us not, as a matter of fact, go to the landlords?" The landlords on the other hand, may say, "What we have been afraid of in giving county government in Ireland is the extravagance, intentional or unintentional, of the popular bodies to be created. How are we protected from the extravagance if at the end of the 15 years any increase of the rates which may have occurred by the action of those bodies in the interval is to be thrown on us by the action of the Sub-Commissioners?" It will be seen, therefore, that each party contemplates, and possibly contemplates rightly, that the gift which under the plan I am now proposing would be given by the Imperial Exchequer might by the natural and legitimate action of the Land Courts be taken from them and given to the other class concerned in the cultivation of the land. And again, the tenants might say, "Though the landlords anticipate that this establishment of popular local government in Ireland will lead to extravagance, we, the tenants, take precisely the opposite view. We think that the existing system has produced an unnecessary expenditure of local funds in Ireland, and 1044 that the result of the change will not be to increase rates, but to diminish them." [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Hear, hear !"] Of course, I do not prophesy which result will occur, but while I think the landlords should be protected from the possible extravagance of the new bodies, I think they should not be allowed to reap the benefits of the possible economy of the new bodies, and therefore I think we ought to introduce into any Bill for local government in Ireland provisions by which we should secure, first, that the tenant should reap the whole benefit of that part of the county cess which is to be given to him by the Exchequer, and, secondly, that he should reap the whole benefit of any economy he may introduce in the administration, or of any public improvements, roads, and the like, which may be made out of the county cess, after the new county government has been established. On the other hand, I think that equal precautions should be taken to prevent the landlords suffering from the extravagance which some prophets anticipate from either the inexperience or the design of the new County Councils and the new Poor Law Guardians. I do not know whether I have made these broad elements of our policy clear.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
There is one point I should like to mention. What is proposed to be done in the cases where the landlord now pays all the poor rate?
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
That is the well-known case of where the rent is £4 and under. I rather avoided that as being a detail, but it is a detail of such importance that the hon. Gentleman is no doubt justified in asking me across the floor of the House a question relating to it. The present idea of the Government is in that case, as in the other, that half the poor rate should be paid by the State, and that the other half of the existing poor rate should be automatically subtracted from the rent now paid by the tenant to the landlord. Let it be noticed that if the poor rate remains as it is, no charge will be thrown upon the tenant under £4. Half the charge will be borne by the State and the other half borne by the landlord in the form of a fixed subtraction, not a varying subtraction, from his rent, depending, of course, upon the amount of the poor rate existing 1045 at the time that this reform was carried into effect. I hope I have made that fairly clear to the House, and that they will see that that very important point has not escaped the attention of the Government. Now I feel I have trespassed upon the House—[general cries of "No, no !"]—not so much indeed by the length of the statement, which I think has been as concise as the circumstances admit—["hear, hear !"]—but by asking the attention of the House to legislation which is not yet in being, and which cannot possibly be brought to their attention until we meet again in another Session—[An HON. MEMBER: "Next Session?"]—next Session. It is, of course, a most unusual proceeding, for which I think an apology is required, but the House will see my reason. The reason is that as we have adopted this policy, the two essential elements of which are relief of rates in Ireland—general relief of rates on agricultural land in Ireland—and the establishment of popular local government in Ireland under circumstances which would prevent any of the financial abuses which have caused such widespread alarm among important sections of the community, the House will see that the policy consisting of these essential elements had to be explained before I could justify to the House the further announcement which they will no doubt have anticipated—namely, that the Irish Bills of my right hon. Friend, the Agricultural Industries Bill and the Poor Law Bill, cannot be proceeded with in the course of the present Session. We have adopted an alternative policy —[Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Hear, hear !"]— inflicting, indeed, an incomparably larger charge upon the common Exchequer, but a charge which I am perfectly certain the country at large, and the' Unionist Party in particular, will not grudge if they can see their way to carrying out the reform to which we are all pledged, the making of that change in Irish county government which certainly cannot be longer delayed, although it may take place under circumstances far less favourable than those which exist at present. Sir, I think that, for these reasons, the landlord and the tenant, the reformer, the politician, the Englishman, the Irishman, every class of the community, whether specially connected with Ireland or not, will be disposed to regard 1046 with favour—[Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Hear, hear!"]—what I cannot but think will prove to be, all things considered, one of the greatest reforms carried out in the safest manner which have ever been suggested to the attention of this House. [cheers.] I am, of course, ready to answer, if Mr. Speaker permits it, any question so long as it is not a question of detail, but in the meanwhile I hope I have with sufficient lucidity explained the general lines of the Government policy with regard to Ireland, and I cannot help hoping with some confidence that on all sides of the House that policy will meet with approval. [cheers.]
§ MR. EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University),
rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely,"the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury made this day with regard to the withdrawal by the Government of legislation proposed in reference to Ireland;The pleasure of the House having been signified,
§ MR. CARSON
said that every person who had listened to his right hon. Friend's statement would admit that in its bearing upon Ireland and the relations of this country with Ireland, no more important statement had been made in recent times. He wished to deal with that generous and sympathetic statement in the manner in which his right hon. Friend had made it. He would not discuss now the right hon. Gentleman's remark that Ireland in strictness had no claim to the money that he had announced he was prepared under certain circumstances to give in relief of the rates; it was enough for him to know that Ins right hon. Friend was prepared to give the money. But he thought anybody who had followed the course of events in Ireland since the recent Division on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry, must have come to the conclusion that the Government had taken a wise course in reconsidering their position upon the question. That was a question upon which Irish Members of all sections were unanimous, and it was a question upon which public opinion in Ireland was also 1047 unanimous, and it would be received with much gratification to-morrow that at length the Government had agreed to give Ireland the same amount of relief in agricultural rates as they gave last year to England and Scotland. ["Hear, hear !"] He supported the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry upon the ground that he thought that as far as possible England ought to treat Ireland as one country with herself. The First Lord of the Treasury had said that if this money were given it could not be given with what he called the existing antiquated machinery. Speaking as a Unionist, he would like to see the same legislation apply to both countries as far as possible, but he should be very sorry if this antiquated machinery should be a reason for refusing this great relief to those engaged in agricultural pursuits in Ireland. The question of local government in Ireland was. one that had, no doubt, been looked upon with great apprehension by many Unionists in that country, but he thought his right hon. Friend was perfectly correct when he said that a great deal of the resistance to the proposal hitherto made was made because no solution had been come to by which those who would be unrepresented would not have to pay the greater portion of the taxation levied by the local bodies. He now understood that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to remove that apprehension by practically enacting that those who would be to a large extent, if not altogether, the representatives of the local bodies would be the persons who would have to bear the burden of the taxation. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be a narrow policy for Unionists to adopt to say they would offer any hostility whatever to the proposals for local government to Ireland. He agreed with his right hon. Friend that the present system of county government in Ireland had worked well and, he thought, economically, but he admitted it was out of date—["hear, hear !"]—and that sooner or later they must have local government in Ireland. In 1892, when his right hon. Friend proposed his Bill for the local self-government of Ireland, he spoke publicly in Ireland in favour of some such system, and he was glad his right hon. Friend had hit now upon some system by which they could, at 1048 least, look forward to having a Local Government Bill for Ireland which would not be cavilled at as putting any unnecessary safeguards upon it. He thought the time had come when they could look upon these proposals in a generous way. So far as he was concerned he should, in speaking of and discussing this question, do all he could to have an effective and proper Measure of local government in Ireland. ["Hear, hear !"] He hoped the announcement his right hon. Friend had made as to the withdrawal of the Agricultural Industries Bill for Ireland did not mean that they were not to have that Bill in some form in the future. ["Hear, hear!"] He would suggest to him that when he was framing his Local Government Bill, and when he was reconsidering the position as regarded the Agricultural Department and Industries Bill, he might find his local councils in Ireland of very great use in enabling him to establish a more satisfactory system. He could only say that, upon such consideration as he had been able to give to the proposals of his right hon. Friend, they seemed to him to be not only statesmanlike, but entirely in accordance with Unionist principles, and it was as a Unionist Member that he would gladly support them. [cheers.]
§ MR. DILLON
said it could not be expected that he should express any opinion on the proposals which had just been submitted to the House by the First Lord of the Treasury. He entirely agreed with the Member for Dublin University that the statement of the First Lord was one of the most important they had listened to from an Irish point of view for many a long day. [Cheers.] He refrained from expressing any opinion as to the important proposals submitted until he had had the opportunity of consulting with his colleagues and ascertaining their views. They were, as the First Lord had told them, to have until next Session to consider his very remarkable statement, and, therefore, there was no reason for being in a hurry to commit oneself for or against the proposals. He would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions. He would like to know what he proposed to do with the money which had already been ear-marked for Ireland, and which was known as the equivalent grant. This was now suspended between heaven and earth, with- 1049 out, apparently, being allocated to any object. He would also like to know whether he proposed to apply the principle of an equal or really equivalent grant to Ireland in the present year, or whether he intended that Ireland should be content, so far as the present year went, with the sum of twice £75,000. With regard to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, he desired to point out that of course the landowners of Ireland would get what he thought might very fairly he described as the lion's share of the grant in relief of rates.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOB IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
Less than one-half.
§ MR. DILLON
said he supposed it would have been considerably more, but he reserved his judgment on the point until a future occasion, lint he desired to say that he should be prepared to make a considerable financial sacrifice for the sake of arranging a really democratic and liberal system of local government, in Ireland. [General cheers] Until they knew what kind of local government they were going to get, however, it was absolutely impossible for any Nationalist to state what would be his attitude towards the proposals. His own position would be largely influenced by the nature of the local government which was going to be offered, and if, as the price of a really democratic system, and one such as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman pointed to, they were asked to make some sacrifice which appeared to them even an unfair arrangement, with regard to the landlords, he should be sorry to offer any opposition. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh. N.)
said, the statement of his right hon. Friend was one of the gravest character and, as far as he could see, without pledging himself in any way, he thought he and his colleagues would view it with satisfaction. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought he could speak for some part of Ireland, and he felt that a scheme of county government such as had been adumbrated by his right hon. Friend would give very great satisfaction. [Cheers] The only regret he had was that his right hon. Friend did not promise, on the part of the Government, to bring in a Bill next year on the lines of the one brought in by the Chief Sec- 1050 retary for Ireland this Session. He thought a Bill of that kind would have a very considerable effect in promoting the material prosperity of their country, and he hoped the First Lord of the Treasury would not think that because it would be necessary for the Government to bring in a Bill next year, perhaps of a complicated character, they would be forced to abandon the other Bill. ["Hear, hear !"] He expressed his thanks to the Government for their promised scheme, which he believed would give great satisfaction. [Cheers.]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
thought the First Lord of the Treasury might congratulate himself both on his statement and on the character of its reception. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought everyone in the House would cordially endorse what the hon. Member for East Mayo had said — that, while the landlords would receive a substantial share of the bonus from the Government, there would be no opposition on that side of the Mouse to their getting it on the understanding that the English system of franchise was conferred upon the people of Ireland. He should like to make one suggestion to the landlord party while that frame of mind continued—whether they could not fairly inaugurate the new era which they had opened up by the manner of the reception of the First Lord's statement by showing, in regard to those evicted tenants, who had been such a difficulty in the country, a slightly different temper from what they had done in the past. ["Hear, hear !"] He would like to make one further remark to the landlord party. He was not grudging them the relief they would get. On the contrary, they helped them to get this relief, and he did not see why they should not share in the profits. [Laughter.] But he would impress on the Government that it would be well to drop this Inquiry into the Land Acts, seeing that the landlords were getting so large a sum as they wove, and practically were getting it with the free will of that side of the House. His further remark was that, having struck a solid vein of common sense— and, as it was said, having struck it rich—he would suggest that the powers conferred on these local bodies should not only be large and ample in the English sense, but that they should be powers 1051 especially applicable to the case of Ireland. He thought the form of county government to be set up would enable them to deal with questions such as would have otherwise arisen under the Agricultural Board Bill, and now that Bill had been dropped he thought a great change would be made in the character of their policy. ["Hear, hear!"] The only other remark he would like to make was this. He believed that large economies could be made in the management and administration of Irish affairs. There were 159 Poor Law houses in Ireland, and in his opinion the number could be well cut down to 30 or 40. In Scotland there were only about 60. He believed that enormous reforms could be made by an improvement in, the mode of collection all over the country, which was at present under a dual system; and he believed that the tenants would gain largely under the system proposed by the Government. He could only say that during his brief tenure of his seat in that House he had never known a Tory Government produce such a hopeful and auspicious statement of policy. [cheers.]
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said that though the important statement made by the First Lord of the Treasury primarily, of course, affected Irish Members, it also concerned England and Scotland. He congratulated his right hon. Friend on the manner in which his statement had been received by leaders of various Irish Parties, and he hoped it might not be out of place to say that he believed he would also have the support of Unionist Members representing English, and, he hoped, also Scotch constituencies. He should like to ask one question. He understood that the grant was fixed on the basis of' past expenditures, so that any increase would fall on those responsible for it. [Mr. BALFOUR assented.] He was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman assent, because that, of course, was very important as a protection to the Imperial Exchequer. Of course, they could not now go into details, but he believed the proposals of the Leader of the House would receive the cordial and sympathetic support of Gentlemen representing English constituencies.
§ MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
desired to say just a few words. When the Local Government Bill of 1892 was brought before the House, he was much interested in it. He travelled over nearly 1052 the whole of Ireland, and met Grand Jurors of every one of the chief counties, and he put before them the nature of the English Local Government Bill, and asked each one of them: —Supposing this Bill were offered to you exactly as it stands, what would you suggest in the way of safeguards and changes?He took down the answers of those Grand Jurors, and in every county he found that, with the exception of one single man, there was not a Grand Juror who would not have accepted the English Bill without a single safeguard of any sort, save in one particular, and that was in reference to the rates. They were afraid of that one thing. They found, for example, to take one Barony, which would probably be the area, of the Local Government elections, that in this Barony there would be 35,000 electors, while quite one-half of the rates would be paid by 26 people. That being so it was perfectly clear that it was of the utmost importance to large ratepayers that economy should be exercised in the County Council. The one fear of those Grand Jurors—who were all landlords, he need not say—had been removed by the statement of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. They would have taken the English Bill without a single safeguard if it had been safeguarded in that one particular, namely, that the new County Council should not be allowed to strike' a higher rate than the average rate say, of the preceding three or five years, or something of that sort. Now that fear, their sole fear, had been entirely taken away, as they themselves would not have to pay, as he understood, a single penny of the rates to be laid out by the County Councils. He hoped that when this Local Government Bill was brought in it would not contain a single safeguard that was not to be found in the Scotch or English Bill; that, in. point of fact, the people of Ireland would be given to see that the local bodies were to be largely in the hands of the tenants, who would be the ratepayers, and that the landlords would have nothing to fear as regarded their own pockets. He agreed with the hon. Member for North Armagh in hoping very earnestly, though he was not pure they had much ground for hoping, that the Bill which had been promised by Government—the Agricultural Industries Bill— would not be dropped, but that they might have that been also. He certainly 1053 would be glad for their own sakes if those who insisted on a Commission to try the Land Commissioners would accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Louth and would drop their demand for that Commission. ["Hear, hear !"] It was in the landlords' own interest entirely that he made the suggestion, because he firmly believed that the new Commission would be only a pat on the back for the present Land Commissioners, and that the reductions of rent they made after the Commission had reported would be greater and heavier than at present. He hailed with delight the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury, and he felt that, there was not a single agricultural constituency in Ireland, whether Conservative or Home Rule, that would not gladly welcome it.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
It will be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has made. It will be difficult, at the same time, to exaggerate the delicacy and the complicated character of the problem which the Government are going to attempt to deal with. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be gratified, and let me say that in all parts of the House there will be gratification, that there appears to be opened up an avenue to something like an agreement among the different sides of Irish politics upon the subject. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not say a total agreement, but still an agreement in aim and intention; and I hope the statement will be received—I am sure I am justified in saying for hon. Members on this side of the House that we shall treat the proposals of the Government, as shadowed by the right hon. Gentleman, in no carping or grudging spirit. [Cheers.] At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman has done a thing which I imagine has never been accomplished before—he will probably acknowledge the fact himself, because he has made a great part of the Queen's Speech for next Session standing at that box in the month of May. [Laughter.] There is obviously one great advantage in thus forestalling the lapse of time. There is an admirable opportunity—and it will greatly assist, I believe, in the settlement of the matter—there is an admirable opportunity for the Government to place their proposals fully before the country 1054 before they come to be dealt with by Parliament. Of course, the success of the proposals of the right, hon. Gentleman, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo pointed out, depends largely, in fact almost entirely, upon the nature of the measure of local government to be granted to Ireland. We must all suspend our judgment upon the whole proposal until we know what is to be the character and the extent of the reform. ["Hear, hear!"] Now, would the Government be able before the end of the Session to produce a Bill for Irish Local Government—a Bill presenting their scheme, which with any modifications further experience might suggest would be the basis of their legislation next Session? There is an opportunity of doing it almost without example. The rest of this Session, as far as I understand it, will consist mostly of holiday. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will therefore be relieved from close attendance in this House. They can thus devote their powers to the elaboration of this Bill. It will then be produced before the end of the Session, and everyone will be free to criticise it during the Recess. [Laughter.] The Government being a wise Government—[Ministerial cheers]—which, of course, we assume— [laughter]—will benefit by these criticisms, and next year will be able to introduce a Measure that will pass with very little difficulty through the House. [laughter] I draw that picture for the delectation of the right hon. Gentleman, and I think he will be well advised, seriously, if he takes the earliest opportunity of putting in shape his proposals for Irish local government, as it is clear that if those proposals are kept in the background, kept in the dark, public opinion on his scheme will have to be suspended during the whole of that time. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
wished to thank the Government for having relieved him of some anxiety. He had repeatedly pledged himself to give Ireland practically the same form of local government as they had in England. That was the great battle-cry to which, since 1885, he had pledged himself over and over again; and he had always felt it to be a somewhat serious matter that they had not attempted to carry it out. 1055 He was extremely glad, therefore, that Ireland was about to be given local government, and he hoped to see it done on the English system, for that, as Lord Randolph Churchill used to say, was the real beginning of a final solution of the difficulties between the two islands. ["Hear, hear !"]
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said he thought the First Lord of the Treasury was to be congratulated on the reception his statement had met with, not only on the Front Opposition Bench, but it might be safely said that every section of opinion in the House had been heard in the same sense. Certainly his memory would not enable him to recall any statement that had been made, either by a Conservative Government or by any other Government, which had been received with so universal an expression of agreement and satisfaction. ["Hear, hear!"] He had only risen to associate himself with the comments made from the Irish Benches upon the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury. That statement was, except in one particular, entirely satisfactory. So far as it included a certain amount of money to be given in relief of the landlords, he, for one, thought it would be exceedingly well spent if in return for that they got a free system of local government for the country, and they were bound to infer from the speech of the First Lord that the system of Government which was to be offered to Ireland would be a system of government of the fullest and freest kind, because he distinctly laid it down that the only reason which made it imperative upon him, according to his view, to insert safeguards in the Bill of 1892, would be entirely removed when the landlords had been relieved from the payment of these rates. ["Hear, hear !"] The only point he regretted in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was where he seemed to give the go-by altogether to the claim which was propounded in the Agriculture and Industries Bill of the Chief Secretary. The comments on that Bill in that House and in Ireland all went in the direction of adverse criticism of its financial provisions, and if those provisions were remedied, then he thought there would be a general feeling amongst Irishmen in favour of some such Measure being carried. ["Hear, hear !"] That 1056 was the view of the Recess Committee, which had been considering this matter, and upon which were representatives of every section of Irish political opinion, and he sincerely trusted the shelving of the Bill for the present did not mean its abandonment by the Government, but that in the near future they might see their way to introduce such a scheme again in an amended form that would secure for it general support. ["Hear, hear !"]
§ SIR R. PENROSE-FITZGERALD (Cambridge)
observed that the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs had asked that some Member representing an English constituency should get up and say he was prepared to recommend the scheme of the First Lord of the Treasury to his constituency. He would respond to that challenge, and say he was confident that the scheme would be received, not only in his own constituency, but by the vast majority of the constituencies in England, with approval. ["Hear, hoar !"] He said so for this reason— in the past, whether they had voted Unionist or Separatist, their main idea had been that full and free justice should be done to Ireland in all matters where it was possible. ["Hear, hear !"] He remembered going with a deputation from County Cork to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose when he was Chief Secretary, and pointing out to him that, although the deputation embraced men of all creeds and politics, there was absolute unanimity as to the object in view. The reply from the right hon. Gentleman was that he had remarked that when it was a question of money all Irishmen were absolutely united. [Laughter.] His reason for advocating this particular scheme was that this £700,000 a year was Irish money to which the country was entitled. The Grand Jury system was to be broken up, and although Grand Jurors in general had done their work with fairness, he recognised that the time had passed when they could have such a body as that, not elected by anybody, but nominated by the Sheriff. He did not look forward with any grave apprehension to the formation of these County Council Boards in Ireland and he believed that this would prove to be one of the best Measures Parliament had ever passed with regard to Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
was anxious to hear what the Government proposed to do with the money which was due this year to Ireland. He would not be particular about the form, so long as Ireland got the money, but he hoped the Government would consider the suggestions made by the right hon. Member for Dublin University and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford. Whether the Government would be able to put forward their Local Government Bill this year or not, he hoped that they would consult Irish opinion during the Recess upon many important questions of machinery and procedure, as, for instance, the organisation of a better system in connection with local loans in Ireland. If the Government would spend the Recess in ascertaining the opinions of all sections of Irishmen on these questions, it would save much valuable time when they brought this Bill before the House. The landlords of Ireland, when placed in positions of trust to represent the people, had shown themselves faithful custodians of the money and interests of the ratepayers, and he ventured to think that in many of these administrative and economic matters the Government would not do wrong in taking the opinion of the Irish people, including the landlords, before finally introducing legislation. This slightly deferred financial been which it was proposed to give to Ireland was not a small one. So far as the tenant directly was concerned, it, meant half the cess, and half the cess was more than equivalent to a reduction of 1s. in the pound of his rent. It was a reduction to be gained by all the tenants without exception, and without legal costs or proceedings. Therefore he believed that the Government would find throughout Ireland that their proposals would be received on both sides with the greatest gratification.
§ SIR JAMES HASLETT (Belfast, N.)
suggested that the Government might, by a Technical Instruction Bill, do much to assist the large industrial centres of Ireland. Notwithstanding the adverse criticism that had been passed upon the Agriculture and Industries Bill of the Chief Secretary, the general opinion of Ireland, he believed, was in favour of it. If it were possible to secure, even tentatively, until the other Boards and 1058 machinery could be set up, the money granted to Ireland, he thought it most desirable that the Government should not postpone everything until next year, but should do as much as possible in the interval. As specially representing one of the large constituencies of Ireland, he asked the Chief Secretary to consider whether he could not grant some remedial measure in connection with technical instruction, and especially in the erection of buildings. In the large centres they were confined to a rate of a penny in the pound, and that penny was not enough to pay the interest on the buildings and to equip the schools. ["Hear, hear!"] But if the Government would give some assistance for the buildings, then the rate and the voluntary subscriptions would be sufficient to carry on this most valuable means of improving the condition of the people. He did not think that the First Lord of the Treasury, who had Scotch blood in his veins, would fall into the trap of launching his Bill before the right time. He thought that the reception of the Government's proposals augured well for the future relations of the three countries.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said I that if the right hon. Gentleman were not yet convinced of the justice of the Irish claim, it was because he had not examined it sufficiently. Every reason which applied to England applied still more strongly to Ireland. He warned the right hon. Gentleman that "the antiquated system of local government" in Ireland would have to be swept away, not only in the counties, but at the centre. The control to be exercised at Dublin over the free popular bodies must be inspired more completely by Irish opinion if the bodies were to work well. He could not join other hon. Members in urging the Government to proceed with the Board of Agriculture Bill and the small Measures which they had conceived before they made up their minds to enter upon a policy of trusting the people. They should wait for the opinion of the people before setting up a Board of Agriculture in Ireland. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on having grasped with boldness an excellent principle, and the right hon. Gentleman would have his best wishes in carrying his great programme to a successful issue.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
, who was received with cheers: In a very few words I can deal with the questions which have been asked me. With regard to the money which is already allocated to Ireland, Ireland will not lose it. There is a Bill hanging up that money which still stands.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
No; it will not be applied this Session. As to the claim of the hon. Member that the money, which would have gone to Ireland if the Bill had been passed this Session, should still go to Ireland, I am afraid that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not look with favour on a suggestion of that character. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER made some, remark, and The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY turned to catch the interruption, amid general laughter and cries of "He does consent!"] I did not catch what my right hon. Friend said, but I see no sign of dissent on his part from the opinion which I have expressed. [Laughter.] There is one statement which I must make, in order that there may be no misconception, as to the nature of the relief of rating which is contemplated in the Measure, the outlines of which I have sketched to the House. We propose that the English analogy shall be followed in Ireland, and the rates dealt with will not be upon buildings, but upon agricultural land alone. [Mr. LOUGH: "Not on agricultural buildings?"] No; agricultural buildings are excluded from the English Bill; and there will be no difficulty in framing the Irish Bill to carry out all the objects which I have mentioned, and yet to confine the relief to agricultural land. Incidentally I may mention that the comparative value of Irish agricultural buildings is very much smaller than that of English agricultural buildings. ["Hear, hear !"] The right hon. Member for London University asked me whether the grant was to be a fixed grant. Yes, Sir, it is. That will save the Exchequer if the rates are to rise; and if the anticipations of the hon. and learned Member for Louth are fulfilled, and the result of this new administration is to produce economy, of course, the whole of the gain will go to the Irish occupier; and, in that event, the Ex- 1060 chequer will be paying more than half the rates, instead of the half which it will pay in the first instance. ["Hear, hear!"] I have further been asked what is to be the fate of the Agriculture and Industries Bill, and other Measures proposed by the Chief Secretary. I cannot help feeling a certain amount of surprise at the sudden affection which has been displayed for my right hon. Friend's proposals at the moment they have to be abandoned. [Laughter.] We never know how happy our lot is until it is changed; and we never value our gifts until we lose them. [Cheers and laughter.] I was a patient auditor of the Debate on the introduction of the Agriculture and Industries Bill, and I never could have conjectured that there was such enthusiasm pervading all ranks and sections of the House in favour of the Bill. [Laughter.] We still think that it is a Measure which would be very beneficial to Ireland; but now the funds for that Bill are to be allocated differently, and I can give no pledge as to the reintroduction of the scheme. The right hon. Gentleman opposite drew a rosy picture of the progress of Irish legislation next Session, if only it were given to an expectant country in the month of July this year. I do not know whether he is anxious to find a text for his autumn campaign, or whether he thinks a holiday is more agreeably spent in reading the clauses of a Local Government Bill than in—[cries of "Golf!"]—yes, than in playing golf. [Laughter.] But I can hold out no hopes that more material will be given for discussing the Irish policy of the Government than the ample fund of information which I have supplied this afternoon. The hon. Member for Londonderry expressed the hope that in the details of the Measure, especially those parts which were wholly uncontroversial, the Government would do their best to collect Irish opinion and to follow it. I can assure hon. Gentlemen on both sides that my right hon. Friend and myself will be delighted in the preparation of the Bill to receive any suggestions, from whatever quarter, which will tend to the perfection of the Measure. I think that covers the whole ground of the short and interesting Debate which we have had, and it only remains for me to thank hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House 1061 who have in so sympathetic a spirit received proposals which we have honestly put forward as being in our judgment for the interest of every class in Ireland. [cheers.]
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.