§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
In rising to move the Amendment which stands in my name, I would wish that the duty had fallen on some other member of the Irish party more capable of dealing with it, but the necessity for the Amendment is my apology for occupying the time of the House in considering it. Had it not been for the Tory party, I would not be moving this Amendment now. It was their opposition that prevented the passage of the Home Rule Bill, and prevented the Irish land question, instead of being discussed here, being settled by an Irish Parliament, which would understand it. I regret to say that the land legislation passed in this House for Ireland has left out a great many tenant farmers, and has given them no claim to protection. Had the Home Rule Bill been passed we would not at this time be endeavouring to get our railway companies to acknowledge the demand of the Irish farmer to have his produce properly placed on the English market. We are cut out in every respect by other nations whose railways are subsidised and encouraged by State funds. The Land Bill of 1896 was brought in with a great nourish of trumpets, but from my experience the Act has not fulfilled the expectations 1112 formed of it. It was brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, who, I regret, is not in his place to-night, and he said we might take it or leave it. There was one section in it which it was expected would benefit some of the tenants in Ireland. It was expected that under Section 4 the estates in the Landed Estates Court would pass immediately on satisfactory terms to the tenants. I regret to say that the expectation has not been realised, for the following reason. The Land Commissioners, who are not friendly to the tenants, state the value of the property that the tenants wish to purchase. In several cases they gave the bare value which it would be safe to advance, and when the matter came before the Landed Estates Court the judge said the sum was not sufficient, and unless the tenants were prepared out of their own private means to advance a certain amount in addition to that stated by the Land Commissioners the sale fell through, and the property was allowed to fall into the hands of a grabber. That is a very unsatisfactory state of things. The Act of 1896 barely touched the fringe of the land question in Ireland, and left the vital points untouched. The question of town parks was not dealt with in that Act, although the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury stated the last time the Tory party were in power that there should be a popula- 1113 tion limit of 2,000 to enable tenants to enter the Land Courts. Again, the evicted tenants were not included in the Act of 1896, although during the last Liberal administration a Bill to reinstate these tenants was passed through this House, but the will of the representatives of the people was frustrated by another Chamber. Next, the future tenants were not dealt with in the Act, and altogether there are about 5,000 tenants every year in Ireland who cannot enter the Land Courts. There must be 125,000 souls in Ireland that had no benefit from the Land Act of 1896. It cannot be said that the people of Ireland are very well treated or encouraged when you take into account the fact that the average number of them who leave home for foreign countries every year is 35,000. I submit that if the land laws were as they should be that state of affairs would not have existed owing to the splendid rule of England over Ireland. It is a terrible thing that since 1851 no less than four millions of the best men and women of Ireland have had to seek foreign lands in order to make a living. No person knows better than the Attorney General for Ireland that the effect of a recent speech of the right hon. the Chief Secretary must have been to induce the Land Commissioners not to grant fair rents. There was a case in Armagh where a tenant planted fruit trees at his own expense, hoping that in the course of time they would bring in some revenue; and the chief Land Commissioner increased the rent of that holding. It amounts to this, that whether the land is deteriorated, or whether it is improved, the landlord comes out best in the transaction. I hold that there is only one means of settling this question, and that is by a Land Purchase Bill, and I would respectfully suggest that the Government should take this matter in hand and settle it once and for all. The chief Land Commissioner and the Sub-Commissioners cost the country from £80,000 to £90,000 a year, and the worst of it is that nobody seems to be pleased. In Belfast in December last, out of forty-nine appeal cases considered by the chief Land Commissioner, in twenty-two the rents were raised, twenty-four restored, and only two reduced—of course the farce would not be complete without one or two reductions. On the same day in six cases out of eight from Cory's estate, the rent was raised. In County Down in December 1114 last, out of sixteen cases heard, thirteen were thrown out, and only three confirmed. What is extraordinary is that the chief Land Commissioner never sees the land at all, but decides on the reports submitted to him. Considering the class from which the Land Commissioners are appointed, it is impossible that they should be impartial; and their decisions are not received with any confidence; and under these circumstances the people of Ireland have become despondent. Some appeals have been no less than four years before the Sub-Commissioners, and it was only after a number of questions had been put in the House as to when these appeals were going to be heard, that the Sub-Commissioners sat upon them. Between 1891 and 1897 no fewer than 61,658 appeals have been made, and it is not to be wondered at that every landlord appeals when he sees that the the tenant comes worst out of the transaction. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said, in addressing a meeting at Leeds, after the passing of the Land Act in 1896, what a great blessing that Act had been, and that the tenant farmers were purchasing their holdings to the tune of two millions a year. Now, it would take from eighty to a hundred millions to buy out the landlords of Ireland, and at the rate mentioned by the Chief Secretary it could not be done under forty or fifty years, while in the meantime four millions would have been spent in salaries of land commissioners alone. It would be far better if a Land Purchase Bill were passed, and the question settled once for all.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
In rising to second the Amendment which has been proposed by my hon. friend the Member for South Monaghan, I may perhaps be allowed to say that I think in this debate the Irish Members labour under some disadvantage in not having the presence of the Chief Secretary in his place; and in saying that I would like to say that we regret very much the absence of the right hon. Gentleman and the serious illness to which it is due, the news of which has caused serious pain in the House. We differ from the right hon. Gentleman on several topics, and sometimes come into sharp collision with him, but in a case of serious illness such as this no one, I think, is more ready to express sympathy with his opponent than are the 1115 gentlemen who sit on these benches. My object in rising to second this Amendment is not because I have any special knowledge which would justify me in intervening in this debate, but to give expression to sentiments which I know are entertained almost throughout the land of Ireland. I represent a large portion of Clare, where the bulk of the people make their living out of the land, and as Member for such a district it is not out of place that I should second this Amendment. The real and true solution of the Irish question is not to be found in any Land Acts in force at the present time, but in an occupying owner or peasant proprietor. Whatever other subjects have disappeared periodically the Irish land question has always been a source of contention and a subject of discussion in this House. I have been here myself for something like seventeen years, and I never remember a single session during the whole of that time when the Irish land question did not crop up in the debates of this House, and did not occupy a considerable time. The same question has occupied the attention of Parliament and successive Administrations ever since 1860, when the Irish Land Act was introduced. Down to the present the Irish land question has been a subject upon which Bill after Bill has been introduced in this House, and yet at the present time, in spite of all these enactments, there is unrest and agitation in Ireland, and dissatisfaction at the condition in which the land question remains. I have often heard in this House that the land question is settled. We were told it was settled in 1867, and again in 1881, and again in 1887, and we were told as shortly ago as 1896 that the Act of that year put the finishing touch on all the Acts that had gone before. In spite of all these additions, much remains to be done in regard to the Irish land question, and the people have many legitimate reasons for complaint. In dealing with this subject of land purchase it is significant to observe that, although the land agitation of the past has not always received support from hon. Gentlemen's constituents in Ireland, the system of compulsory land purchase receives no more enthusiastic support than it does in Ulster, and that in itself should commend this matter to the Government, and urge them to take it into serious consideration. The Irish, we 1116 are told, have been the spoiled darlings of Parliament. We have been told that no people have received such privileges as those given by the Irish Land Acts. The efficiency of the Land Acts depends upon one thing, and that is whether they are administered impartially and fairly as between landlord and tenant. I am not going to make any sweeping charge of partiality against the agents who administer the Land Acts in Ireland, but this much I do say—that the operation of the Land Acts in Ireland is such that it cannot and could not command the confidence of the tenant. Many of the Land Commissioners are gentlemen who no doubt intended to act as gentlemen, but it must be remembered that they have been drawn almost exclusively from the landlord class, or from that portion of the population which sympathises with the landlord class, and therefore they cannot be expected to mete out impartial justice between landlords and tenants; but whether they have attempted to do so or not, the fact remains that they do not retain the confidence of the large body of tenants who appeal to them, and that in itself is sufficient to cause unrest in the country, and to compel this question to be brought periodically before the House. Mr. Speaker, the system whereby rents are periodically fixed and refixed, cannot, in my opinion, be satisfactorily settled or taken as a permanent incentive to real industry. There is nothing in it to make the occupiers of the soil really interested. I have noticed myself at different times where rents have come up to be refixed, the rents, instead of being lowered or instead of being confirmed, have actually been raised.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
The rents that have been raised are the rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners in the second period. These have sometimes been raised on appeal.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
At all events they have been raised. What we want in Ireland is a system which exists with very beneficial results in very many Continental countries, and that is that the occupiers of the land, the tillers of the soil, shall be in reality the owners of the land upon 1117 which they live. Thus placed they will be encouraged to renewed industry in the knowledge that the more work they put into the land the more benefit will they get for themselves and their families. Now, Sir, the question of compulsory sale is no doubt a very difficult question. It involves the expenditure of a large amount of capital; but that it is not an altogether impossible question, and not a question which has failed altogether to enlist the sympathy and interest even of English statesmen, is to be found in the fact that Mr. Gladstone himself, concurrently with his Home Rule proposal, formulated a scheme of peasant proprietary in Ireland. That scheme failed, and no doubt surprised people in this country; and a very strong protest was made against the embarkation of English capital to buy out the Irish landlord. The system which has grown up and been so disastrous in Ireland for so many generations is that which is the outcome of the government of Ireland by this country. It is the outcome of a system of confiscation practised century upon century by successive Governments in Ireland. We are told that the Irish occupiers of the soil are not to be trusted; and it may be urged that to embark an amount of British capital in reorganisation of the land system in Ireland would be to risk the loss of a large sum of money. But we can only reason by results. Under Lord Ashbourne's Act down to the present time, as far as I can gather from the figures, between 40,000 and 50,000 tenants in Ireland have, with the assistance of the State, bought under this purchase Act, and become practically the purchasers of their own land. The result has been most surprising to many doubting Englishmen. These 40,000 or 50,000 tenants have met their engagements in the most punctual way, and not the slightest complaint has been made of their defaulting or failing to keep their engagements in regard to the repayment of the instalments advanced, while the change in their condition from tenants to owners has been attended with the best results to themselves and to the districts in which they lived. That being the result, so far, of the attempts made to create a peasant proprietary in Ireland, is it unreasonable to ask that the system should be extended? We are told that there is great difficulty in fixing 1118 the amount of the purchase-money. That is not the real difficulty. I don't believe that where a landlord is willing to sell and the tenant is willing to buy, the question of the amount to be paid is allowed to break down the negotiations. There have been difficulties and delays, but in most cases there has been a settlement of the price and the conditions. What, then, is the difficulty in extending the system of peasant proprietary, which so far has been a success? The real difficulty is what I must call the obstinate determination of certain landlords in Ireland not to meet the wishes of their tenants in this respect; and therefore it is that in the recognition in Ireland and in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Tyrone—as well as in the Unionist portions of Ulster more than anywhere else—of the system of peasant proprietary, it is absolutely necessary, to give it a fair chance, to exercise a certain amount of compulsion towards these unreasonable landlords. I think if we all live long enough we shall see the time when this Act will be unnecessary. Slowly and surely the idea is gaining ground amongst landlords in Ireland that it would be more satisfactory for themselves, and more beneficial to their tenants, to accept a fair price for their land. I can understand the feeling of certain landlords who say "Well, this land has belonged to my father and my grandfather, and these acres have been in the family for generations." I confess to a certain amount of respect for sentiment of that kind; but sentiment of that sort in the nineteenth or twentieth century must give way to the interests of the general community, and in obedience to public opinion. Take the case of the landlord with a large number of tenants. He may be an obstinate landlord. The result is friction and agitation and disputes as to the amount of rent to be paid, and the consequent expense of going to the land courts. Would it not be very much better for the landlord to receive in hard cash the equivalent for his land? Would it not be very much better for the tenants in that district to become their own landlords, so that every additional turn they gave to the plough would mean more money, not for the landlord, but for themselves? How is this worked abroad? It is a pleasure to travel in France and Belgium, and to see the thrift and industry 1119 which the occupiers of the soil put into their work; it is a marked contrast to visit Ireland and see the signs of discontent and unrest in the tenants, who know not whether their rents may be raised or what may happen to them. The paramount feeling in the breasts of the Irish people is that the land question is a deep-rooted grievance. Let this be remedied and that discontent will pass away. I believe that in this lies the solution of the Irish problem. We have had Act after Act passed, and legal machinery of the most complicated kind devised to meet the case, while vast sums of money have been expended on litigation in Ireland, and yet the land question remains unsettled. This proves that dual ownership cannot settle it; and if you want to finally allay the spirit of agrarian agitation you will have to break up the dual ownership and give the people the absolute possession of their own farms. The late Mr. Parnell thought the solution of the Irish land question was to be found in the establishment of a peasant proprietary. That view has been consistently held by all prominent Irish politicians down to the present day. It is a view which has been gaining and gathering support day by day and year by year, until now it is not merely the representatives of the Nationalist party in Ireland, but those of the Unionist and Orange parties in the province of Ulster, who urge Parliament to take it up. I am really tired of week after week and month after month receiving complaints and letters and remonstrances on the subject from every part of my large agricultural constituency. First of all, their cases have been listed for so many months, and in some instances almost for years, and they have not come up for hearing. Then they bitterly complain that the Commissioners sent down to value the land have been men who, from their antecedents, surroundings, and associations, they could not believe would do them justice and fair play. These reasons for discontent, whether well founded or not, come to every Irish Nationalist Member, and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite will be the last to deny that there has been a great deal of blocking and regrettable delay in connection with the matter. Whether the complaints of the personnel of the Commissioners and of delay are right or wrong, there can be no doubt that from one cause or another the people are unrestful and discontented, and there 1120 is a general feeling of uncertainty and irritation connected with the present Land Court and everything appertaining to it. For that reason we are entitled to come here and ask the Government to cut this knot once and for ever, to do away with these irritating legal complications, to give the landlords whatever in the sight of Heaven is their due, and at the same time to establish the people on the soil and make them owners of their land. That is the first reason which impels us to bring this matter forward. The second reason is that we are entitled to demand that the people of this country shall make some serious effort to give rest and peace to our people. We are sometimes described as being mere agitators, as men who thrive on discontent, and as being never happier than when voicing grievances in this House. I do not believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite sincerely believe that. It is a matter of the utmost displeasure to us personally to have to come here year after year and voice the eternal complaints of our agricultural constituents. It would be a source of infinite satisfaction and rest to us if a solution of this question was come to which would free us from the unpleasant position of always seeming to complain. It is an irksome duty, but we are entitled to ask that the Government and the people of this country shall do something to restore peace and harmony to Ireland, which were driven from our shores when the present land system was first established. I do not for a moment say that the relations between landlord and tenant must necessarily be unpleasant and strained because the landlords are mostly of one race and of one religion, while the tenants are of another. We do not, and I hope never shall, pay any attention to religion or race with regard to the landlords as long as they behave fairly. But this I do say, that it is proved in other countries, and in other times, that where the dense mass of the tillers of the soil are of one race and of one religion, and the owners of the soil, to whom they are obliged to pay tribute, are of another, the result is unsatisfactory and unpleasant for both parties. I say that, in common fairness and justice, you are bound to take some pains to remedy the result of your own misgovernment, and to give the people of Ireland a system of secure land tenure. The expenditure of British credit would 1121 not be accompanied by any risk whatever. If you do this thing for the tenant farmers of Ireland they will keep their share of the bond honestly and fairly, and not a single shilling would be lost to this country. On the other hand, you would give peace and contentment to the agricultural population, you would relieve the landlords from an awkward and unpleasant position, and before many years you would see the people of Ireland—naturally still devoted to the national cause, but increasing in thrift and industry, growing prosperous and well-to-do, simply because they would be the owners of their land, and upon themselves, not upon the caprice of a Land Commission or the generosity of a landlord, would depend whether they lived in comfort and happiness with their families on the soil, or whether they missed their opportunities and went back to the system under which they have lived, unfortunately, in the past.
At the end of the Question to add the words, 'But we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the administration of the Irish Land Acts is not satisfactory to any class of Your Majesty's Irish subjects, and that the only and permanent solution of the Irish Land question must be found in a measure providing for the general and immediate creation of an occupying proprietary in that country.'"—(Mr. Daly.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
In the first place, I desire to join with the hon. Member for East Clare in expressing my deep and sincere regret that the Chief Secretary for Ireland is unable to be in his place to-night, and I am sure the House will be glad to hear there is every hope that his absence will be but temporary. I do not intend to travel over the vast field traversed by the hon. Member for East Clare. The Amendment, as I understand it, although it does not expressly say so, means that at once and immediately a system of peasant occupying proprietary should be created by compulsory powers. I am not concerned to defend the Land Act of 1881. The mover of the Amendment said that that Act was looked upon as unsatisfactory by all sides; but, lest that assertion might make any special reflection on 1122 that Act, he expressed his belief that any Act that had ever been, could ever be, or would ever be introduced dealing with the same subject would not give satisfaction. I am very much inclined to agree in that opinion. But those who have formed that opinion, and feel that it is almost impossible to construct a statute which will enable you to set up a satisfactory system for the purpose of compulsory valuation of rents, ought to hesitate a little before they see their way to set up a compulsory system of sale and purchase when the amount of purchase money must be settled by the very same agency which when applied to the settlement of rents is said to give no satisfaction whatever. If you cannot secure gentlemen sufficiently free from bias towards either landlord or tenant to be safely trusted to say what the rent of a particular farm should be, I do not know the process by which in the same country, dealing with the same classes, and having the same materials, you will be able to select gentlemen who will give satisfaction in settling the price of sale. It is not necessary for the purposes of this Amendment to enter into a defence of the Land Act of 1881, but it is only just and right that some misapprehensions and mistakes into which hon. Members have apparently fallen should be dealt with. The Land Act of 1881 at all events sought to gain four great objects—first, to prevent rack-renting; secondly, to prevent capricious evictions; thirdly, to secure to the tenant his interest and improvements; and, fourthly, to secure free sale. All that the Land Act of 1886 purported to do was—not to offer a panacea for all the errors and mistakes in the Irish land system, but merely to extend the provisions of the Act of 1881 to persons who were within its spirit, but without its letter, to take further steps for securing to tenants the benefit of their improvements, and to facilitate purchase. The mover of the Amendment expressed his dissatisfaction with the operation of Section 40 of the Act of 1896. He apparently expected that that section would have the effect of transferring vast tracts of land from landlord to tenant. I do not know whence the hon. Member got the notion that the section had failed, because it has been but a short time in operation, owing to a difference of view between those charged with its adminis- 1123 tration. Those differences have been settled by the Court of Appeal, and since the removal of all impediments, 802 tenant proprietaries have been created, and almost a quarter of a million of money advanced.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I do not know the exact rental. Objection was also taken to the statement of my right hon. friend in reference to the duties of the Commissioners when dealing with cases of wilful deterioration. The hon. Member seemed to anticipate that that statement would act as an instigation to the Commissioners to refuse to fix fair rents where there was deterioration. If the words of my right hon. friend arouse Sub-Commissioners to a sense of their duty to refuse to fix fair rents where they find there is wilful deterioration, can any friend of honest and fair dealing between landlord and tenant, and between man and man, but rejoice at that? There can be no greater piece of dishonesty practised by any man against his neighbour, or any person with whom he has relations, commercial or otherwise, than deliberately to deteriorate his land for the purpose of getting a lower rent fixed. It is a mean fraud, and while I am happy to think that it very seldom occurs, it is the imperative duty of every tribunal before which such cases come to endeavour to defeat the object of such a practice. The hon. Member in reference to the Appeal Court appeared to think that that court must necessarily be corrupt or inefficient unless its decisions were always on one side.
§ MR. ATKINSON
If the Appeal Court either confirms the order of the Sub-Commissioner or decreases the rent it is satisfactory and proper, but the moment it increases the rent as fixed by the Sub-Commissioner it shows that it is either inefficient or corrupt. That is not my opinion. There never was an Appeal Court which always agreed with the Court from which the appeal came. I do not see what the use of such an Appeal Court 1124 would be. The variation of a great many decisions may be accounted for neither by the corruption nor by the inefficiency of the Appeal Court, but by a greater amount of evidence being given and a more satisfactory investigation being made. Landlords, from a very mistaken view of their own interests, I think, very often do not lay their case as fully before the inferior tribunal as before the Court of Appeal. That accounts for many instances in which appeals have been made. It was also objected that the members of the Appeal Court do not go to the lands to view. That is quite true, but the hon. Member is entirely mistaken in supposing that they necessarily and always decide upon the report of their own Court valuer. They have the reports of the valuers of the parties; they have the report of the Commissioners who did value the land. With those reports, as corrected by the evidence given before them, and supplemented by the report of the Court valuer, it would appear to me that unless there is something more difficult than usual in fixing the value of land they have the materials before them on which they should be able to arrive at a correct conclusion. In reference to the speech of the hon. Member for East Clare, he has entirely misapprehended the observations of my hon. friend. On the whole, the reductions which have been made amount to close upon 40 per cent. on an average. The first reductions were 20.9 per cent., and the second reductions amount to almost the same. The rents which have been reduced have in no case been increased. On the contrary, they have almost invariably been reduced, the average reduction being about 20 per cent. What has occurred is that where the Sub-Commissioners reduced the rent, on appeal the order made by the Sub-Commissioners as to the amount of rent has been raised. [An HON. MEMBER: What about putting an increased rent on tenants' improvements?] I am sorry I did not know the hon. Member expected me to be so very fully informed on a given case as to give an answer to that question. All I can say is that both in the Act of 1881 and the Act of 1896 ample provision is made to protect tenants' improvements. Clause 8, Sub-clause 9, as the hon. Member knows, specially enacts that rent is not to be put on tenants' improvements, and if that course has been departed from 1125 the Act has not been attended to. I have not sufficient cognisance of the case mentioned to know whether that is the case or not. I can hardly believe that if the case came within the section to which I have referred the Commissioner would have disregarded the provision of these different Acts. I pass from these matters to the broad question introduced by the Amendment, namely, the propriety of setting up at once and immediately a system of compulsory purchase and sale. Attention has not been directed to the vast and almost insurmountable difficulties that present themselves in carrying out any such scheme. In the first place, no such scheme would be at all justifiable unless an overwhelming necessity required it. Even if it were desirable to adopt such a course it should be perfectly clear that it was practicable. First of all, is it necessary? ["Yes!"] Before you come to that conclusion it would be interesting for me to give to the House some few statistics in reference to the rate at which purchase is at present progressing. After all, the creation of a peasant proprietary is almost the favourite remedy of the Unionist party for the solution of the agrarian question in Ireland. Under the Ashbourne Acts, 1885 and 1888, £9,999,640 has been advanced to purchase 25,368 holdings. Under the Acts of 1891 and 1896, sales have been made to 25,100 tenants, and £7,947,580 has been advanced. In all, under those four Acts, 50,468 peasant proprietors have been created, and the sums advanced amount to £17,940,220, or practically £18,000,000. Even that is not the most satisfactory feature, because the rate of progress indicates clearly that still greater increases may be confidently looked for in the future. Contrasting the years 1897–98 with the two previous years, we find that £2,201,223 was advanced as against £1,200,000, while in the year concluded on 31st December, 1899, the enormous sum of £1,775,295, or practically £2,000,000, was advanced. Therefore the rate of progress has been such that the amount of money advanced in the one year 1899 was almost as large as in the two years 1897–98, and almost twice as large as in the two years 1895–96. There is no reason to apprehend that the amount of money available is not sufficient, by slow and steady progress, to create a large number of peasant proprietors.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can give us any information as to how the instalments have been paid?
§ MR. ATKINSON
I do not know the exact amount of money, but I think it is admitted that the purchasers under these Acts have discharged their obligations in a praiseworthy manner. I think we ought to remember that possibly the reason—and the principal reason—why they are punctual in their payments is because compulsory sale is not established. No person buys who does not wish to buy, and no person sells who does not wish to sell; and consequently we get willing purchasers who pay punctually and satisfactorily the sums they are bound to pay. I do not think hon. Members opposite have considered some of the enormous practical difficulties which stand in the way of carrying out the proposal contained in this Amendment, even if necessity called for it being put into operation. First of all this scheme of compulsory purchase—sale would be more accurate—must be reciprocal. If the tenant compels the landlord to sell, it should be possible for the landlord to compel him to buy. If it were otherwise, two or three tenants in the middle of a man's estate might come into court and compel the landlord to sell to them their holdings, leaving the balance of the estate absolutely and almost entirely worthless, and inflicting a very considerable injury upon him. We all know in the case of compulsory sales under the Lands Clauses Act and all Acts of that character, sums far in excess of the actual purchase money of the land taken have been awarded to owners for consequential injury done to the surrounding lands, although such lands still remain in the hands of the owner. So that it would be manifestly unjust if such a principle were put into operation, and it would be unjust not to make it apply to both landlord and tenant respectively. I do not know how the tenants of Ireland would regard any proposition to compel them to buy when they did not want to buy; and even if they did regard it as satisfactory I do not know where you would get the material from to construct a tribunal that would award the sum to be paid to the satisfaction of all parties. One of the hon. Members who have spoken to-night has urged that the Sub-Commissioners are unsatisfactory, and that 1127 they belong to one particular class of the community. All I can say is that the very utmost care is taken to select men who will discharge their duties satisfactorily. I must confess that there are a number of men in Ireland who are most careless and reckless about the statements they make. I think, however, we can look with confidence to the creation of an adequate system, by the free will, co-operation, and agreement of all parties. This has worked well up to the present and will work well in the future, because it is not forced upon them and they get only what they desire, and I believe this system will enable a vast number of tenants of Ireland to become the Owners of their holdings. On the other hand, I submit that a principle so novel and so wide as that indicated in the Amendment cannot be adopted. It would inflict the most cruel injury and suffering on vast numbers of proprietors. I cannot on behalf of the Government hold out any encouragement in regard to the adoption of the principles which have been advocated by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. PINKERTON
After listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I came to the conclusion that it was most regrettable, considering all the changes that have been made, that the right hon. Gentleman had not been elevated to the judicial Bench, as the speech we have just listened to gave evidence of most impartial judicial balancing. I must say that while I deeply regret the absence of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, I am not sorry that it has given an opportunity to the right hon. Gentleman, who has, in reply, made the most half-hearted apology I have ever heard. We know already that a sum of money sufficient to buy out all the landlords in Ireland has been sunk in the Modder River. We know that every shell fired in South Africa will delay a settlement of this question, and, therefore, it is all important that this subject should be settled as soon as possible. We are nearing the time when we must face our constituencies, and the right hon. Gentleman, if he was not returned as an advocate of compulsory sale, at least was elected as a very strong friend of it. I am glad to see the hon. and learned Member who represents East Down and other Unionist Members in their places. With one solitary exception, in all their election addresses they place the question 1128 of compulsory sale in the front. I can understand the delicate distinction between compulsory sale and compulsory purchase which has been drawn by the right hon Gentleman, but why did he not draw that distinction before he was elected? We have brought Amendment after Amendment from this side of the House, and it has been pretty generally agreed that landlords should be compelled to sell when the tenants are willing to buy. The right hon. Gentleman said the Act of 1881 was intended to secure occupation and the right of free sale, but he cannot sit upon that bench ingnorant of the fact that the right of free sale has been absolutely ruined. I can quote evidence to show that the right of free sale has been destroyed because the landlord claims the right of pre-emption unless the tenant is willing to add an additional sum to the annual rent, and in almost every case throughout the north of Ireland where the tenant cannot clearly prove to the satisfaction of the Land Commission that it is an Ulster Custom estate the landlord prevents the right of free sale. The hon. and learned Gentleman said if we object to the machinery for fixing fair rents how can we hope to have a satisfactory settlement of the question of compulsory sale? I am prepared to say, without fear of contradiction, that upon a close examination it will be found that Head Commissioners represent one class, and one class alone. The only gentleman belonging to the Head Commissioners who is suspected of sympathising with the tenants is Mr. O'Brien, and if he is allowed to adjudicate in any case his decision is always overpowered by the majority of his colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to a number of cases which have been satisfactorily settled under the 40th section. I know the Act is working more smoothly now than it did some time ago, when there was a considerable amount of friction. The right hon. Gentleman very fairly said that the landlords refused to come before the court of Sub-Commissioner and give their evidence because they preferred to reserve their evidence for a higher court. I think without any Act of Parliament, or without any attempt to introduce a drastic remedy, the power rests with the Government to prevent such evidence being given before a superior court. In every case neither landlord nor tenant should be allowed to amend their 1129 case, and the evidence they have refused to tender in the first instance should not be allowed to be given in a superior court. Since the Local Government Act was passed, when the Agricultural Grant was dangled before our eyes, the landlords have all pocketed their share, but the tenants of Ireland have not benefited by one single farthing. No doubt if you try to carry a compulsory purchase measure it will be argued that you must give a certain bonus to the landlords. As I have pointed out already, in the shape of the Agricultural Grant, the landlords have received a bonus which I do not think, in many cases, they deserved. With regard to the appointment of Sub-Commissioners, I would ask hon. Members opposite, why should Home Rulers not have their feelings considered in this matter as well as Unionists? Can they not discharge those duties just as well as the followers of the hon. Member for South Belfast? I do not claim that they should be elected from the political party to which I belong, but as it is purely and simply a court of arbitration, I say those Commissioners should be appointed who will command the respect of all the classes interested in this question. We have been trying year after year and session after session to have the Head Commissioners strengthened in such a way as to inspire a certain amount of confidence on the part of the tenants. The right hon. Gentleman said no one ever expected that the Court of Appeal would agree absolutely and entirely with the lower court, but I noticed the other day that in the list of cases in the Appeal Court nine-tenths or at least four-fifths of them were increased, and only a very small number—about 5 per cent.—were reduced. That is undoubtedly using the machinery and the powers put into the hands of those Commissioners not to administer justice, but for the purpose of making the Land Acts palatable to the landlord class. It seems to me most remarkable that the Head Commissioners—who have no opportunity of visiting the land—should act upon the decision of the Court valuers, who have simply taken a superficial view of the land in question, and who have had no opportunity of hearing the evidence given before the Sub-Commissioners. The Sub-Commissioners have not only the advantage of visiting the land, but they have an opportunity of corroborating or refuting other state- 1130 ments made in the lower Court. The Sub-Commissioners, by examination, see clearly, and they have ocular demonstration of the truth of the evidence given in Court and of sifting the evidence, and their opinion is better than the Court valuer who is sent out to examine the holding, and who has never heard the evidence. I can say, for my part, that no stronger argument can be advanced in favour of the abolition of the superior Court than that which has been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General, and I think they may very well ask to be delivered from their friends. There is another point, and I sympathise immensely with the landlords who are in that position. All these Acts of Parliament were unjustly framed, because no notice was taken of the mortgagee. It is very hard, for instance, for a man whose rents amount, say, to £5,000, £4,000 of which goes in payments on mortgages and other charges, that the reduction should all fall on the remaining £1,000. That leaves a man in a very unfortunate position, and I think every Act of Parliament introduced into this House should be framed in such a manner that the mortgagee would have to bear a fair share of the reduction. I do not know why a mortgagee who has advanced money on land should be treated differently to a man who has invested in a railway. At the same time it is also very hard that a stumbling block should be put in the way of land purchase in Ireland by the fact that so much of the land is subject to mortgages. It is, unfortunately, a very difficult position for the Irish landlords, but all the same it is a fact that the tenants, who are not responsible for these debts, have to pay the penalty. I can assure English taxpayers that for every penny of British money invested in Irish land, you are certain to be paid your full price. It is a good investment, better than throwing away your money to steal goldfields in South Africa.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE (Antrim, N.)
I should like to state that the primary object with which I was sent to this House was that of supporting Her Majesty's Government in the policy which they are carrying out. Therefore, as the passing of this Amendment would not lead to legislation and would practically amount to a vote of censure on the 1131 Government, I shall vote against it, although I agree with a great deal that has been said on this subject by hon. Members opposite. The question of the ultimate settlement of the Irish land question is one which is a very burning question, and one which has come to the front very much during the last few years. It has been said that many Irish Members sitting on this side of the House pledged themselves at the last election in favour of a final settlement of the Irish Land question more or less upon the lines indicated in this Amendment—that is, a compulsory scheme of purchase on fair terms. The hon. Member for Galway has informed the House that I was similarly pledged. It is beyond all doubt, as the hon. Member for East Clare has stated, that in the North of Ireland this is a very burning question, and one on which we are anxious that the House should know our opinions. As far as the work of the Commission is concerned I should like to say that there are a good deal of complaints on all sides about the working of the Land Commission. It has been urged by hon. Members opposite that it is packed by the landlord class, but in practice I have never found that to be the case. At present I am not aware that there are any landlord nominees on the Land Commission. I only know two Commissioners, and one of them is a cousin of the hon. Member for Galway. Regarding the manner in which the work is carried on, speaking as a neutral, I think that both tenants and landlords equally mistrust the members of the Land Commission, but I am bound to add that, taking the Commissioners all round, the Government could not have made a better selection or found better men for the work. When you have a tribunal to decide vexed questions in which so many pecuniary interests are involved, the members of that tribunal, unless they are paid salaries which render them above suspicion, will always have these charges made against them. Then there is another objection—I can see how it could be remedied, but other people may not take the same view—and that is the trouble and bother of this perpetual litigation. If the landlords and tenants of Ireland would only consent to an automatic revision of rents, that would be a great help. But the present position is that at the end of every fifteen years it is 1132 open to either the landlord or tenant to have a new rent fixed by the courts. That leads to unrest and litigation, and is very undesirable, for reasons which will appear to every hon. Member. I cannot agree at all with the attacks made on the Appeal Court or the Land Commission. With reference to the Sub-Commissioners sitting in the country, it is an objection of which I have a certain amount of experience, that although the Sub-Commissioners are supposed to take evidence in court and on oath in the presence of the legal representatives of the parties, they are too often in the habit of going on the lands and picking up evidence themselves.
§ MR. PINKERTON
Is the hon. and learned Member aware that the landlord or his agent always accompanies the Sub-Commissioners?
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE
In any event the practice cannot fail to operate on the minds of the Sub-Commissioners. They then fix a rent which I venture to say is in nearly every case from 45 to 50 per cent. less than the rent in 1881. In some cases the landlord settles with the vast majority of his tenants. I know one case where a landlord settled with all his tenants except one on the basis of 22 per cent. below the first term rent. This tenant went into court and got a reduction of 46 per cent. If the landlord submitted to that reduction every other one of his tenants would think he had sold them, and accordingly he appealed, and the reduction was decreased to 22 per cent., and the other tenants were satisfied. You could not blame the landlord for having appealed in a case of that kind. I would wish, however, that some means could be devised whereby the vexation and cost of the present delays connected with appeals could be avoided. I should now like to say a few words with reference to compulsory sale. I am bound to say that I view with the greatest suspicion the suggestions of hon. Gentlemen opposite when it is proposed to expropriate the Irish landlords. The hon. Member for East Clare went into questions of religion and politics, which seem to me to have no application in land cases at all. When hon. Gentlemen declare that their whole aim is to drive the landlords, who are described as the English garrison, out 1133 of Ireland, and to give them only prairie value for their land—[Several HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] This is the first time I have ever heard that repudiated. If hon. Gentlemen are prepared to treat the matter on business lines I am prepared to meet them. Before the Act of 1870 the Irish landlords were the absolute owners of their land, subject to the tenancies which existed under them. In 1870 the system was introduced which has landed us in all our present difficulties. It may have been right or wrong—I am not quarrelling with it, because it is not in my power nor in the power of any hon. Member to repeal that Act. It was supposed to compose all differences; it made the tenant part owner with the landlord, and created the principle of dual ownership, and although the landlord could still turn the tenant out he could only do it by paying him a fixed scale of compensation. The principle of dual ownership was still further recognised by the Act of 1881, which, instead of leaving the parties as it found them, restricted the rights of the landlords in different ways. The tenant could not be evicted if he paid the fair rent fixed by the courts, and he secured the right of selling his interest in his holding. Prior to the Act of 1881 the landlord and tenant might be described as half-owners, but after that Act the landlord had only something between a fourth and a third of the interest, and the tenant had the balance. Whenever two interests exist in that proportion they are always in conflict, and as long as that conflict continues there will be no peace in Ireland, and therefore it is the duty of every statesman to endeavour to end such a state of affairs. It seems to me the only end that can be effective is to buy out the landlords on fair and equitable terms. The landlord, being the weaker partner, will have to go. I say that with regret, but you cannot deny the trend of public opinion, and therefore the only choice of the unfortunate landlord is between confiscation and compensation, and in the interests of all parties and in the interests of the landlords themselves the sooner they get compensation the better. The Attorney General for Ireland referred to the Purchase Act of 1885. Long-headed men in Ireland when that Act was passed sold their properties and got twenty years purchase on first-term rents, but if they 1134 were about to sell now they would be very lucky if they got eighteen or nineteen years purchase on second - term rents. Land is a falling market, and it is to the interest of the landlords to sell as soon as they can. I know I shall be told by my hon. friends, on this side of the House that in advocating compulsory sale I am doing something far from Conservative doctrine. In Ireland we have not had very much Conservative doctrine from our brother English Conservatives, and although it may be said it is against the principles of Conservatism to take a man's property against his will, the Irish landlords have been suffering for the last twenty years. The Liberal Government first of all in 1881 put it into the power of a tribunal to take 25 per cent. off the landlords' rents for fifteen years without one particle of compensation. In 1887 the Conservative Government said, "The Liberals have made a reduction of 25 per cent. on ordinary rents, but we will strike 25 per cent. off the leasehold rents without any compensation whatever." It therefore seems to me that no objection can be made by English Conservatives when it is proposed to buy out the landlords compulsorily on fair terms. In the middle of the last century the Scotch lairds had certain rights which were found to be inconsistent with English law, and the English Government compelled them to give them up, but compensated them. In the early part of the present century slavery was considered to be a national disgrace, and Parliament accordingly compelled the English slave-owners in the West Indies to free their slaves, but secured them compensation. It seems to me that in buying out the Irish landlords at a fair price Parliament would be only following the policy which has been pursued for a century. If the landlords are to go, let them go without being robbed or despoiled. A great many difficulties have been suggested by hon. Gentlemen, and also by the Attorney General for Ireland, in the way of carrying this out. The very success of your Acts of Parliament providing for voluntary sale is one of the best reasons for compulsory sale. I know a property which was owned by an English absentee landlord. He sold it to his tenants with the result that they, who will be the purchasing proprietors, are year by year paying a less sum by way of instalments 1135 of the purchase money to the Government, than the tenants around them whose landlords have not sold; and the more voluntary sales there are, the more general will be the discontent. At the same time I think it would be exceedingly hard to compel the landlords to sell without fully compensating them. Take a landlord getting £1,000 a year out of his estate. He gets £18,000 for his interest, and that amount at 3 per cent. or 3½ per cent. is not an equivalent for £1,000 a year. He cannot get any more for his interest, and by one stroke of the pen his income is diminished. How can such a man be expected to submit to a reduction which would render it impossible for him to live as he had been living? You will find it exceedingly hard to persuade the Irish tenants to give more than eighteen or nineteen years purchase, and it will be equally hard to get the landlords to aceept eighteen or nineteen years purchase on second term rents. You cannot charge the tenant more than a fair price, and the Government should step in, as it compensated the Scotch lairds and the West Indian slave owners, and make up the difference. These are the views held by my constituents—as loyal as any in the United Kingdom—and by the vast majority of the Unionists in the surrounding constituencies. It is a policy to which I and other Unionist Members are pledged, and whoever gets in for Mid-Armagh is pledged to the same thing. We are all agreed that the sooner the question is settled the better, and as far as I am concerned my desire is to have it settled on terms fair to both landlords and tenants.
§ SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
One observation fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland which all the House fully received with pleasure, namely, his statement that the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would be only temporary. That announcement gave great satisfaction to everyone in this House. I think the House is indebted to the hon. Member for North Monaghan for bringing forward this Amendment, because it has been the means of eliciting from a very representative member of the Unionist party from the North of Ireland a very clear, distinct, and eloquent avowal of his adoption of the principle of compulsory purchase. We have also been told that 1136 not only the hon. Member for North Antrim, but several other hon. Members from the North of Ireland, are pledged to compulsory purchase, and that the candidates in the pending election in Mid-Armagh have also promised to support it. That was not the only matter elicited by the Amendment, because we also had it stated by the Attorney General for Ireland that the Government which he so ably and eloquently represents on this and every other occasion in which he addresses this House have long regarded the abolition of dual ownership as a panacea for the evils of Ireland. Dual ownership can only be abolished by some system of compulsory sale and purchase, and we have a great Government—great in numbers—I could not pay them any other compliment; if I did I would be open to the charge which I should least like to be laid at my door, namely, the charge of insincerity—committed to some such system. But if this is the panacea how is it that the hon. and learned Member for North Antrim—who, like the candidates in Mid Armagh, and, I suppose, the candidate who will seek to displace myself whenever the opportunity arises, is pledged to support compulsory sale and purchase—stated in his opening observations that although he agreed with every word of the Amendment he must vote with the Government?
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE
I did not use the words imputed to me by the right hon. Gentleman. What I said was that owing to my pledge to my constituents I was not at liberty to join in a vote of censure on the Government.
§ SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I beg the hon. and learned Member's pardon. I did understand that he was going to vote with the Government, although he was voting against his convictions, because if the vote of censure were carried it would lead to the resignation of the Government and to a General Election, when he would have to go over to North Antrim and repeat the sincere pledges he has already given. I thoroughly agree with the spirit of the Amendment; and speaking, of course, wholly for myself, I am in the happy position of being able to vote for the Amendment in accordance with my pledges, and not, in a Parliamentary sense, having to break my word. I believe the Amendment embodies a prin- 1137 ciple which is essential to the well-being of Ireland. I have had experience of the working of the land laws, both under the old regime and the new, and I was surprised to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General that he considers the Act of 1881 unsatisfactory. That Act was the creation of the greatest Liberal statesman that has ever existed in the country, and probably one whose like it will be a long time before we shall see again; but though it was Mr. Gladstone's Act, we must recollect that it was adopted and considerably extended by a Ministry professing the opinions put forward by the present Government. The cause of all our misfortunes in Ireland, and one of the great causes of the misery, degradation, and crime which disfigure our annals, was the unhappy state of the land laws, until Mr. Gladstone came to the rescue. If the law of landlords and tenants had been left to the operation of the English common law, the evils that sprang up in the last century, and two-thirds of the present century, would never have existed. From the time of the Union down to 1867–8, with very short intervals, almost all the land laws of Ireland were passed by Tory Governments, and these made the Irish tenants bondsmen, and left them to the tender mercies of the landlords. That state of things was rectified by Mr. Gladstone in 1881, the Act passed that year being the first to give security of tenure to a vast proportion of the tenants of Ireland. What remains to crown the edifice, to restore peace and harmony to Ireland, to abolish all those grievances which rankle so in the hearts of our countrymen, even when they are obliged to leave their homes, and the memory of which is handed down to their children from generation to generation, is to plant the tenants firmly on the soil, and make them proprietors, leaving to the landlords their mansions and their domains. The principle embodied in the Amendment would accomplish that great object. It would only do what has led to prosperity, happiness, and peace in many parts of the Continent, where the tillers of the soil are the owners. The principle of fixing fair rents and voluntary purchase has been recognised by the legislature, and I see no practical difficulty in going this further step. The Attorney General for Ireland had said that the progress made in land 1138 purchase under the Acts of 1885 and 1891 had been slow, steady, and satisfactory, that the payments had been made with the utmost punctuality, and that the whole arrears only amounted to between £3,000 and £4,000. This showed that the difficulty in getting in the rent in old times was not from deficiency of honest principle on the part of the tenants, but really because it was impossible for them to meet the exorbitant rents which ruled in many parts of the country. It may be said that that would be very hard on mortgagees; but it must be remembered that, under the Encumbered Estates Act, which really prevented a revolt in Ireland, the estates were sold for whatever they would fetch. The first mortgagees went into court and bought the property, leaving the owners without a penny. But that is no reason why justice should not be done, and an act of public policy should not be carried out, and dual ownership be abolished. I am not going to say much about the tribunals which have been raised up under the existing Land Acts. I take it for granted that every judge decides everything according to the best of his ability. We all know that in Ireland, of course, every lawyer is a politician. [Laughter.] Well, more or less. You all know that the general view in Ireland is that the Government for the time being selects the judges from their own supporters. But that is no reason why, when the judges ascend the bench, they should not leave their politics behind. It is not impossible to discharge from their minds their politics, and I have no doubt that these judges do discharge their duty to the best of their ability. But the fact remains that the circumstance of these judges having been politicians gives rise to the idea on the part of certain suitors that they deal partial justice, an idea which I am sure has no foundation in fact. But there is one thing in the system that I do deprecate. I am in a position to know, from representations I have had made to me from my own constituency, that very often a round peg is put into a square hole, and that Land Commissioners are appointed whose opinions differ as to what is fair rent. Another thing is that the Land Commissioners are more or less removable. Every man who sits upon the bench ought to have the feeling that he cannot be removed. They ought to be made per- 1139 manent. One of the great grievances of the Uitlanders in the Transvaal was that the judges were removable. The Supreme Judges in Ireland were removable until 1782, and yet that is made a casus belli in the case of the Transvaal now. Then, I think, there should be appeals from the Assistant Land Commissioners on matters of law; but on a mere question of valuation a properly constituted tribunal of Land Commissioners would be much more likely to be right than the judges of any Appeal Court. It will not be denied that it is a common practice for landlords to appeal, no matter what decision is given. I would, therefore, abolish appeals altogether, except on questions of law. That is the principle of the ordinary courts, where the decision of the jury is as a general rule final, and only an appeal is allowed on a question of law. One other point I wish to make. It is repugnant to all my ideas of judicial proceeding to have a case decided on ex parte statements. My idea is that these land courts, like every other court, should decide only on a full hearing of the evidence offered on both sides, and with a full opportunity to the representatives of both sides to cross-examine. But as I understand the working of the system in ninety cases out of a hundred, no matter what evidence may be produced, the land court takes the valuation of the court valuer, of which only a copy has been supplied to the suitor, and on that valuation the court acts. I trust that the Government will deal with this subject either this session or the next. I am quite sure there is statesmanship enough among the occupants of the front bench to enable them to conceive some method which will abolish dual ownership and will satisfy all parties in Ireland, including the right hon. Member for North Armagh.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
The right hon. Gentleman, in his very impassioned peroration, wanted practically to get rid of the Irish landlords, and that these should be compelled to sell their estates at prairie value.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I thought so much from the speech of the right 1140 hon. Gentleman. I am not going to vote for the Amendment, for two reasons—first, because the object of any Amendment to the Address is to make it a vote of want of confidence in the Government; and, second, because I disapprove of it. [Laughter from hon. Members on the Irish benches.] I have the advantage which hon. Members opposite do not possess, that I voted for the Land Bill of 1870 when many of them were in arms. I voted for that Bill because I remember Mr. Gladstone, in a very eloquent speech, said that it was a final measure, and to give a final settlement to this long-vexed Irish question. Not very many years after, Mr. Gladstone brought in another Bill, which was absolutely to settle the question for ever and ever. The object of that Bill was to give the Irish tenants the "three F's," which was then their ultimate aspiration.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not correct in that. The Land League, which then represented the views of the Irish tenants, strongly advocated peasant proprietary, or compulsory purchase, as a final settlement of the land question.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I did not include the Land League. The Land League wanted to get rid of the landlords without compensation.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
That statement is absolutely incorrect. The Land League published their programme and in that very document they proposed that the landlords should be bought out at a reasonable number of years purchase—twenty years purchase.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I can only say that I judge of the objects and position of the Land League by the speeches of the gentlemen who supported it. I remember the hon. Member for East Mayo saying that he would "make short work of Irish landlords." The meaning of that phrase may be left to the imagination of the House. Mr. Gladstone himself said in this House that after all the minutest inspection made in view of the passing of this Act, the vast majority of Irish landlords had come honourably out of that severe inquest. That is very much to the 1141 honour of the Irish landlords. I never did deny that there are bad landlords; but I think if you find a man like Mr. Gladstone, who was not very fond of Irish landlords, stating that it was his conviction, after examining all the circumstances, that they had come well out of the examination, that is a very good certificate of character. I would remind the House that Mr. Gladstone said that the position of the Irish landlords after the passing of the Act of 1881 was infinitely more secure than ever before, and now we find that the Irish people are far from being satisfied. I have always opposed compulsory purchase. A great majority of the people of North Armagh have always given me their support, and I told them the reasons why I oppose compulsory purchase. First, because I look upon it as an act of tyranny and injustice, in what is called a free country, to say to me, whether I like it or not, "You must sell your land"; and to say to my tenant, whether he likes it or not, "You must buy the land." I say that is an evil principle. I told my tenants that if that principle were established, it would sweep away the right of property—which, after all, is the foundation of liberty—and the prosperity of the country. Then when are you going to stop? Do you think you can isolate an act of national injustice to Ireland? I do not think you can. Another reason why I oppose compulsory purchase is that I am an Irishman, and I am proud to be an Irishman, and have as much right to live in Ireland as hon. Gentlemen opposite. What right have you to buy my land at a depreciated value, and force me to invest the purchase money in Consols, which would render it impossible for me to live in Ireland? I say you have no right to do that. The hon. Member for Galway said that what he looked forward to was an Act which would give equal satisfaction to all parties concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: I think he said, "Do equal justice to all parties."] If you wait for that tribunal you will wait very long. I learned from my hon. and learned friend here that, although he supports the principle of compulsory purchase, he supports it with the addition that if you buy out the Irish landlords at what the courts in Ireland may consider a fair price you will add to the purchase money a sum which would 1142 really make up to him the loss he would sustain.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I have not read his election address; I never read election addresses. What I ask myself is this: Who is going to pay that additional money? The British taxpayer, I suppose. The British taxpayer and the Government representing the British taxpayer would naturally ask this question: Is it worth while to pay this money? I can conceive a Government reasoning in this way: Here is Ireland, not exactly what you would call a particularly loyal country or an extremely easy country to govern. Would it be worth our while to supplement the price to be paid to get rid of these Irish landlords in order to bring about that "peace which we all desire," as my hon. and learned friend terms it? Can anyone imagine for one moment that if all the Irish landlords were bought out it would have the slightest effect on the views taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite—for instance, with regard to the war in South Africa? Would it make them loyal subjects of the Crown? [An IRISH MEMBER: No.] Of course it would not. They are above bribes. They are not going to sacrifice their patriotic aspirations in order to buy out Irish landlords. If the British taxpayer would buy out the Irish landlords without taking any money at all from Ireland they would never consent to sacrifice the aspiration of that part of the race to which they belong, the aspiration which they have always stated as kicking the English out of Ireland and to reign themselves supreme. That is the object which they say is the highest aspiration of their lives. Therefore, I conclude that a British Government, to whichever side it might belong, would say that it was not worth while sacrificing the taxpayers' money to buy up these landlords and still leave Ireland in as bad a state as it was before. I cannot conceive the sense of justice, which to my mind is one of the prominent features of the British people, permitting a Government or the House of Commons, in order to satisfy a momentary exigency which may arise, to perpetrate what I would look upon as an act of absolute and unbounded injustice. 1143 I quite admit that it might be far more to my interest to consent to sell my land at twenty years' purchase than to allow fifteen years to elapse, when I or my successors might be possessed of a diminished income, and be much poorer than would have been the case had I consented to sell. As representing a family who have lived in Ireland for hundreds of years, I say that no matter how much you whittle down my income I will never sell my land. I may be looked upon as very foolish, but I intend to live in Ireland, and I hope that those who come after me may live in Ireland. From the aspect of the House I believe that this Amendment will be rejected by a very large majority, though I cannot conceive the House of Commons being influenced by the arguments which have been urged from the opposite side of the House, and, indeed, from some Members on this side. The House must reason in this way: Which is the class who have always come forward to assist in the maintenance of law and order in Ireland? The class of all others is the landowning class. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, of course, will not accept that, but I should like them to prove the contrary. Who are the people who have come forward to help the Irish in distress? The men who have done more than any others in Ireland have been the landlords. Who now in Ireland are subscribing the most money for the relief of the suffering caused by this war? The landlords. There is one thing, at any rate, I am proud to say, in which all classes in Ireland join, and that is in furnishing Her Majesty the Queen with the bravest men who have ever fought in her Army. Now, I have done. I have tried to show that the landlords in Ireland probably refuse to sell because they wish to continue to live in their country. That is the reason which animates me, and that is the main reason why I shall vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)
As far as I know the sentiments of any gentleman on this side of the House there is no desire whatever to drive the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh out of the country in which he expresses a desire to live. He has a perfect right to live there, and it is stretching the argument against this Amendment very much too far to suggest that because we ask 1144 the Government to pass a compulsory Land Bill for Ireland he and his class must necessarily take their departure from the country. There would be a considerable proportion of private property still left in their hands; they would not be deprived of their demesne lands or of their residences, while as regards his patriotism in wishing to remain in the country there is no reason why, because he is compelled to sell his holdings, he should take his departure. Several speeches of a very contradictory character have been delivered from the other side of the House, and I will leave hon. Gentlemen to settle their differences between them. As regards the speech of the hon. and learned Member for North Antrim, it seemed to me that he followed the example of the Attorney General for Ireland in trying to circle his argument. He was in favour of compulsory purchase, but yet he was not in favour of voting for this Amendment. He was in favour of compulsory purchase to drive out the Irish landlords, but yet he was in favour of giving the landlords better treatment than the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh expects they will ever get. The two position are entirely contradictory, and it is impossible to give effect to them. The position taken up by the hon. and learned Gentleman is the same as that adopted by his political friends in Ireland, namely, to obstruct us who by our agitation in the country have brought this land question within measurable distance of settlement, but the moment we get legislation passed they will be the first to rush into the courts to take advantage of it. The Amendment before the House naturally divides itself into two parts. One part of the Amendment very justly and properly finds fault with the administration of the Land Acts in Ireland. I listened with considerable interest to the defence of the Attorney General of this maladministration—it can be called nothing else—but I cannot by any means compliment him upon his performance. He told us, in effect, that if we had patience the operation of the land purchase department of the Land Commission would effect the purposes of this Amendment. What are the facts? He told us that in a period of fifteen years, from 1885 to the present time, 55,000 tenants have become possessors of their holdings at a cost of about £18,000,000. There 1145 are 600,000 occupying tenants in Ireland, so that it is merely a question of arithmetical calculation to discover how long it will take to convert all the tenants into the owners of their own farms. It would take 180 years, on a moderate calculation, if the process proceeded at the same rate as during the past fifteen years. I venture to hope the process will be considerably expedited. No doubt, by the decision of the Court of Appeal as regards the 40th section a considerable improvement has taken place, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that a tremendous amount of unnecessary delay takes place in the working of the Acts. I know of one small case in County Longford that took seven years to pass through the Commission Court in Dublin. It was sent about from chamber to chamber; it was put back on motions to explain delay; it was kept going about for seven long years before the tenants who signed their agreements in 1887 got their vesting orders in 1894. What was the result? Could it be said to be satisfactory to either party? The landlords were deprived of the money which they required, and for which they had sold their property, for those seven years. The tenants were compelled to pay seven years interest in lieu of rent, so that they paid that amount more than they would have done had the sale been expedited as cases will be in the future. There is a considerable amount of discontent existing in connection with the fixing of fair rents. I know perfectly well how things are done in County Long-ford. No doubt some of the gentlemen who are sent down as Sub-Commissioners come with the very best intentions, but they do not come down with the intention of hurrying on the cases in their lists. I have frequently seen them rise in the middle of the day, on some pretext or other, when there was plenty of time to hear a considerable number of other cases. There has been most unreasonable delay in the inspection of farms. It was stated to-night that these inspections were highly unsatisfactory. I know, as far as the Commissioners are concerned, whenever I have been present, notice was given to both sides and the day fixed, but it is as to the length of time that elapses with which I particularly find fault, the period invariably running from a fortnight to three, four, or six weeks as the date of visitation. There was no valid reason why the visit should 1146 not be made the next day or the day after, or at any rate before the Commissioners left that locality. In this connection the delay is the strongest part of our case against the Commissioners. It may be said there is a great deal to allow for, that a great number of these applications are coming in constantly, and that they are being dealt with as quickly as possible. I do not know how far that statement can be substantiated with proof. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman gets reports supplied to him which may to some extent refute any case I may set up as regards these tenants. But as to County Longford I have known tenants to be kept from six to sixteen or twenty months out of hearing of their case, and these tenants, so far from being treated with the consideration which litigants before any other court in the land would receive, were not even vouchsafed a reply to their requests for expedition when they wrote to the Land Court complaining of this delay.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
I will give the name of a particular estate and send the facts to the right hon. Gentleman by post. In approaching the consideration of the settlement of this question I venture to say it is not by any legal quibbling we will effect the object we have in view. The right hon. Gentleman cannot be ignorant of the fact that there is in Ireland a strong and growing agitation for the redress of the grievances of the people in this matter. He cannot be unaware of the fact that large public meetings are being held week after week—some of which the forces of the Crown are illegally, in my opinion, suppressing—for the purpose of calling the attention of the Government to the grievance of the tenants in the matter of land purchase, and to the necessity of passing legislation to compel unwilling landlords to sell. It must be, it follows from the nature of things, a matter of dissatisfaction to tenants living in a particular locality to see one estate sold to the tenants at a very considerable reduction, while the tenants on one 1147 or both sides of that estate have no prospect whatever of getting into the same position. The right hon. Gentleman may say that it is unjust and improper of us to force on this question or to expect the Government to commit the injustice of passing legislation of this character. That argument has been used from the beginning. Every effort to deal with this question, no matter in what way, has been denounced in the past, and will be denounced in the future, from the side which has an interest in maintaining the status quo. The Unionist Government, which professes to be a strong and resolute Government, able to carry out any policy to which it commits itself, could not do anything more to its credit or more to the satisfaction of the tenant farmers of Ireland than to deal in a wholesale and thorough manner with this question. The people are unanimously in favour of it; they will not be satisfied until some effort is made to remedy the grievances entailed on different estates by reason of the sale of other estates in the same locality. On higher and national grounds I would be disposed to speak more strongly on this question, but I do not want to irritate the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have expressed opinions in favour of this resolution to-night, and whose co-operation will in due time, I trust, have the effect of making the Government deal in a more liberal spirit with this question. Of one thing I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, and that is, that if he or the Government think the land question has been settled by the Act of either 1887 or 1892 or 1896 they are woefully mistaken. The people of Ireland are by no means satisfied with the progress which has been made under the existing law, and I sincerely trust that the division to be taken on this Amendment will bring home to the Government and their advisers that there is a real and vivid land question in Ireland to be settled, and that they will have no rest until it is settled.
§ MR. O'MALLEY (Galway, Connemara)
I desire to join in the expression of our regret at the absence, and its cause, of the Chief Secretary from the House. I am sure we shall all be glad to see him back again in his place. The question before the House is undoubtedly one of 1148 vital importance to Ireland. I will go further, and say that it is a question of vital importance to England. The people of this country cannot wish Ireland to go on from year to year and from generation to generation in a state of discontent and a condition of penury, and with famine periodically scourging its people. If the Government desire to do away with Irish discontent and Irish distress, and, to a large extent, Irish disloyalty, they must grapple with this land question, and grapple with it soon. If there is one thing more certain than another it is that the Land Act of 1881 and the subsequent amendments of that Act have not settled the Irish land question. We still have the tenants and the landlords at loggerheads. We have the tenants appealing, very often in vain, to have their rents fixed; years elapse from the time they apply to the court before the rents are fixed; and then in almost every case the landlords appeal, their main object being to frustrate the operation and the administration of the Act, and to defeat the tenants—not because they want to have the rents fixed by the court raised, but to put the tenants to expense, and to cause them to be in a state of rebellion. That is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. There are poor people living from hand to mouth in the west of Ireland, paying exorbitant rents for most miserable tracts of land, who, after years of weary waiting, get their rents fixed by the courts, only to have an appeal entered against the decision by the landlord. Do you mean to tell me that while that state of things continues we can have peace and comfort and prosperity in Ireland? We have been charged during the last few months with disloyalty. Is it not a matter of serious consequence to this country that the Irish people should be loyal? Have you not seen the effect of this feeling of disloyalty in America and in South Africa? and it is only too true that the Irish people for generations have been taught that England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity? Do you mean to tell me you want this state of affairs to continue? If you want to make the Irish people loyal make them contented. Get rid, I will not say of the landlords, bag and baggage, but of Irish landlordism, and then you will find that a contented and peaceful Ireland will not be the disloyal Ireland of to-day. I would strongly appeal to 1149 hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, no doubt, are anxious in their hearts to do the right thing to my country. I believe the English people, if they fully realised the facts, if they were not blinded by centuries of persecution and bigotry, would settle this question very soon. It is our duty as Nationalist representatives to bring this question before the House. You may defeat us to-night. But take care that you do not have again in Ireland, and very soon, an agitation that will stir up all the elements that we on this side are most anxious to keep down. We want to see Ireland and England as brothers together, loving instead of hating each other. But by ignoring this question, by defeating this Amendment, by giving it out to the Irish people that you will not grapple with this matter in the way it should be grappled with—that is, by compulsory purchase—you will have once more all the bad elements in Ireland up against you. And who will be to blame? This House will be to blame, because the English people would be only too glad to endorse whatever decision you arrive at. I shall not detain you longer; but I strongly urge Gentlemen opposite, even at the risk of offending those gentlemen on the Treasury Bench,
§ to yield to their consciences in this matter and support the Amendment.
§ MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
characterised the action of the Land Commissioners in Ireland as extraordinary, and gave several examples. From personal experience of the county of Kerry and surrounding counties, the hon. Member averred that the only solution of the question was compulsory purchase, with a fair price fixed for landlord and tenant alike. There were good and bad landlords in Kerry, where they had allowed a reduction of as much as 4s. in the pound; but, generally speaking, while landlords and tenants were going to war with each other, unless this House intervened by bringing in a Compulsory Purchase Bill, they would have a continuance of this bitter feud in Ireland.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—For the Amendment, 75; against, 209. (Division List No. 8.)1153
§ Main Question again proposed.