§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
It is many years since any representative of the Irish National Party in this House has moved an 806 Amendment to the Address under the circumstances and conditions which, for the moment at any rate, happily apply to the attitude of the Irish people to the Government of the day. Irish Amendments to the Address almost invariably have been protests against the refusal of successive Governments to deal with admitted Irish grievances. But on this occasion the Amendment which I desire to move, and which stands in my name on the Paper, is not to be regarded as in any sense a hostile demonstration, but rather as a friendly warning and advice to men who we hope and believe are engaged in the task of framing a great measure of justice and appeasement for Ireland. Our hopes and belief are founded on the declarations of the Government themselves, on the declarations of the Chief Secretary, on the most remarkable speeches of the Lord Lieutenant, and on the remarkable speech recently made by the new Under Secretary for Ireland, as well as upon the words put by the Cabinet in the King's Speech, where the Sovereign is made to declare that the forthcoming measure is one which will complete the process of abolishing dual ownership in Ireland. Neither must this Amendment be taken as an attempt to extract from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary any premature statement on this matter. All that I think we can fairly ask from him or expect from him at this moment is that he will give us a. general assurance that he is engaged in an honest attempt to give effect in his forthcoming Land Bill to the general conclusions of the recent Land Conference. We are content, difficult though perhaps it may be for us to bide our time in patience, to give the right hon. Gentleman every fair and legitimate opportunity for the careful preparation of his measure. The situation in Ireland is too delicate and too critical, and the issues at stake are too vast and too vital, for any man, and especially anyone speaking in the name of the Nationalist Party in this House, to take the responsibility of saying or doing anything at this moment to increase the difficulties of the position. My object is the exact reverse. I desire to assist the right hon. Gentleman in coming to a just conclusion, and I desire to do so by making plain to the House of Commons the main facts of the 807 situation which exist in Ireland at this moment, by explaining to hon. Members how vast and far reaching are the issues at stake, how an unexpected and unparalleled opportunity has arisen for a great measure of constructive statesmanship, and how easily and how safely this most thorny and difficult of Irish questions can be settled under the circumstances which exist at this moment in Ireland.
One of the great disadvantages that Ireland suffers under by being governed by this House is that whatever may be the intentions of hon. Members from Great Britain, and however great may be their goodwill, they still come to the consideration of all Irish problems with very vague and imperfect knowledge. Confusion of mind on Irish questions, misunderstandings of Irish views, and an imperfect knowledge of the real facts of the situation—all these things are, it seems to me, necessarily inherent in an assembly constituted as is the House of Commons. Of the meaning and consequences of recent events in Ireland there is in this country—it is manifest from the comments in the public journals—considerable misunderstanding, and, of course, that misunderstanding exists in this House also. The great event which distinguishes the present political situation in Ireland from every situation which has existed since the Union, is the recent agreement which has been come to between the representatives of the landlords and the representatives of the tenants as to the final settlement of the Irish Land question, and it cannot but be to the advantage of this House—it cannot but be of advantage to the right hon. Gentleman in the task that is before him, that the House of Commons should be made clearly to understand how this Conference came about; what authority it had to speak on the question, what were exactly the proposals that it made, and how those proposals have been received in Ireland by the two great classes concerned in this question of the settlement of the land. When the idea of holding such a Conference was first put forward, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary published a most remarkable statement—a statement which every one at once recognised was bound to have far reaching effects on the future of this question.
808 He said that no English Government could settle this question, but that the settlement must depend upon an agreement between the landlords and the tenants, and that the function of the Government was to afford facilities for the carrying out of any such agreement. These were his words—No Government can settle the Irish Land question. It must be settled by the parties interested. The extent of useful action on the part of any Government is limited to providing facilities in so far as that may be possible for giving effect to any settlement arrived at by the parties.The agreement of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke has been arrived at in Ireland, and it now remains for him to fulfil his part of the great work in providing in his Bill the facilities that will be necessary to carry that agreement into effect. How, Sir, did this conference come about? A few short years ago, indeed I think I might safely say a few short months ago, the idea that the two contending parties in this terrible conflict could be brought together and could agree upon terms of settlement of the dispute seemed wild and almost insane. Unfortunately these two parties have boon separated by a lamentable history. They were separated to a large extent by race, creed, and political aspirations. They were separated by memories of sufferings, bloodshed and crime, by memories of eviction and depopulation, and the scattering of the Celtic race all over the world. They were in addition separated by the belief—a belief which for my part I never entertained at all—they were, I say, separated by the belief which was current in Ireland even until the other day, that their interests were really divergent. But in recent years events have travelled very fast in Ireland, and the minds of men have widened. The landlords in Ireland have come to recognise the hard fact that the days of their ascendency and power have gone for ever, while the tenants have come to recognise the fact and, in my judgment, not one moment too soon, that the indefinite continuation of this land war meant the industrial ruin of their country, and each side thus has come gradually but surely to the conclusion that peace is the highest interest of both. Whatever opinions may have been held, whether the landlords believed that the continuation of the struggle for 809 another generation would see the final scattering of the Celtic race, or whether, on the other side, the tenants believed that the fourth fixing of judicial rents would ruin, destroy and exterminate the landlords, whatever views might have been held on these points in the past, both sides have now come to the conclusion that their highest interest is to bring this conflict to a speedy end. The whole country is sick and tired of peddling and tinkering with this question. Only to-day I read a letter in one of the London papers from an Irish landlord who wound up by using these emphatic words—"For God's sake let us have no more peddling Land Bills." The feeling strongest in the minds of the Irish people of all classes is that this question should be settled, and it seems a strange thing to me to be able to say that I am convinced that the measure of the right hon. Gentleman of last year has been the final influence in bringing both classes together at this moment. He may not, perhaps, take that as a compliment, and, honestly, it is not intended as one. But both sides in Ireland denounced his Bill of last year; both landlords and tenants. And why? Because they saw in it no hope whatever of a settlement of the land question. They only saw in it one more attempt to approach this question, and they made up their minds that the only hope in the near future of obtaining a measure to settle the Irish land question was to unite their forces, and to press upon the Government terms which would be fair to each side, and which would effect a complete and final settlement of this war which, for so many centuries, has devastated and desolated their country.
How the conference came about may be very briefly stated. A respected Irish landlord, Mr. Talbot Crosby, made a proposal that a conference should be held between the representatives of the landlords and of the tenants. He made his proposal to what was called the Landowners' Convention, which is an organisation adopted quite recently, and, so far as I know, is the authorised mouthpiece of the landlords in Ireland. He proposed to this Landowners' Convention that they should agree to the principle of a conference, if the suggestion came to them from the tenants. He did not ask the landowners to take 810 the initiative. He only asked them to agree to meet the representatives of the tenants if the tenants so desired. That moderate suggestion was rejected with scorn by the Landowners' Convention, and, as far as my information goes, it did not receive a seconder. At any rate it was unanimously rejected, and the proposal fell to the ground. Then Captain Shawe Taylor, the son of a landlord in the West of Ireland, with a directness and audacity which took away men's breath in Ireland, issued in his own name an invitation to representatives of the landlords and tenants. He said "Why go to the Landowners' Convention, or why go to the United Irish League? I will invite a conference myself." He accordingly issued an invitation to Lord Barrymore, to the Duke of Abrcorn, to Lord Clonbrock, and to the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, as representing the landowners, while as the representatives of the tenants he invited the hon. Member for Cork, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Member for South Tyrone, and myself. When that proposal was made we, on the tenants' side, felt ourselves in somewhat of a difficulty, because on the one hand we did not know what authority he had to make such a suggestion, and on the other hand we recognised that the landlords, names could be taken as representatives of their class, and we felt that it would be a very grave responsibility to refuse on the part of the tenants to meet those gentlemen. Accordingly we accepted the invitation, but the landlords refused to meet us, and this proposal, like Mr. Talbot Crosby's, fell absolutely to the ground. Public opinion, however, had been moving in Ireland in the meantime, and a number of independent landlords who did not believe that their class was adequately represented by the Landowners' Convention came together and formed a Committee, of which Lord Dunraven was elected Chairman. They at once took steps to test the real opinions of the landowners of Ireland. They issued voting papers to every landlord who owned over 500 acres, and they put to him the question, "Are you for or against a conference? "The result was, certainty to me, most surprising. By a majority of nearly three to one, the landowners of Ireland voted in favour of a conference, although, as I have pointed 811 out, landowners who owned less than 500 acres, a class of men who, because they were small and poor would naturally have been most anxious to vote in favour of a conference, were excluded. It at once became evident that the Landowners' Convention did not really represent the opinions of the mass of the Irish landlords, and, emboldened by that knowledge, Lord Dunraven's Committee took measures to bring about a conference. They issued an invitation, not to individuals but to the Irish Parliamentary Party as a body. I received a letter asking me to bring the question before that Party, and to invite it to elect delegates on behalf of the tenants to meet representatives who would be so elected on behalf of the landlords. The Irish Party selected the Member for Cork, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and myself, and they suggested in addition that, in order that the tenants in the North of Ireland should be adequately represented, the Member for South Tyrone should also be one of the delegates. The Landowners' Convention was asked to assist in the selection of the Landlords' delegates, but refused. And Lord Dunraven's Committee itself have made the selection, choosing Lord Dunraven, Lord Mayo, Colonel Poer, and Colonel Everard to meet the tenants' delegates. Certainly it was a strange and fateful meeting. I well remember the feelings I heard expressed on all sides in Ireland at the time; men shrugged their shoulders with incredulity, and poured ridicule on the idea that such a gathering could, ever come to a unanimous decision. Extreme men on all sides scoffed at the idea that any good could come out of it. But in the end the doubters were put to silence by the production of a unanimous report—a unanimous report arrived at by compromises, and by the large concessions, both of interest and sentiment, made by both parties for the sake of peace. And here let me say one word to the right hon. Gentleman, which I think it necessary to say. The compromise agreed to at the conference was a compromise agreed to in view of the coming Land Bill. If the coming Land Bill rejects the report of that conference, then the compromise goes. Nobody suggests that that compromise is a compromise which is to stand for ever. No. If, in a moment of inconceivable folly and unreasonable timidity, 812 the right hon. Gentleman and the Government reject that compromise, then each side is relegated back to its position. The position then will be that the peace negotiations are at an end, and the peace negotiators will be free to go back to their individual hostile camps.
What was the nature of the compromise which was arrived at? With subsidiary matters I do not intend to deal. I think it would be foolish, and perhaps injurious, to do so, even though they may raise such acute and important questions as that of the evicted tenants, and similar matters which naturally arouse the keenest anxiety in the popular mind in Ireland. Sir, figures, calculations, percentages, the number of years' purchase, and matters of that kind, I put at present on one side; I want simply to impress on the House of Commons the broad, vital facts of the situation as they now are. It was agreed at that Conference that on the one side the landlords in the settlements should receive such financial treatment as would substantially leave them their net second term rentals—their net rental as fixed after the second revision of rents, under the Act of 1891, and thus they would be enabled to sell their estates, and still be in a position to continue to live in the country. It was agreed, on the other hand, that the tenants should be enabled to buy at much the same price as they had been buying in the immediate past under the existing Land Acts, so that, with no indefinite prolongation of the transaction, they should obtain an immediate reduction of a most substantial character in their annual payments in comparison with their twice revised and twice reduced judicial rents. This is not the time or place to go into details. It is enough for me to state generally that that was the nature and substance of the agreement come to. But it is necessary that I should say something more.' It is necessary for me to state that the compromise agreed to in that room has been accepted by both parties all through the country. Naturally, there has been the keenest interest in this matter and widespread discussion. Practically every representative public board in Ireland has discussed this 813 matter, and, in my personal recollection of Irish politics, I have never seen such a unanimous declaration of opinion. The Irish Parliamentary Party, which, of course, is a party elected in the main by tenant farmers, unanimously endorsed the findings of this conference, and accepted, on behalf of the tenants, this compromise. The United Irish League—on which however the Chief Secretary and I may differ as to its power, is, he has admitted, a body containing 1,300 or 1,400 branches, almost entirely composed of tenant farmers—has, through its governing body, unanimously accepted this compromise. The County Councils all through the country, north, south, east, and west, have passed unanimous resolutions accepting the compromise on the part of the people. The District Councils have done the same, and, so far as I am concerned, I have not seen any single expression of opinion rejecting this compromise coming from any body of tenants in any part of Ireland. And now, what about the landlords? The Landowners' Convention, which had obstructed the conference up to the very last, and which, when it was actually sitting in the Mansion House derided it and scoffed at it, has unanimously passed a resolution thanking the conference for its work, and accepting the compromise which has been arrived at. So far, therefore, as Ireland is concerned, so far as all classes are concerned, they have come to an absolute agreement to accept this compromise at this conference between landlords and tenants.
But there is a third portion of the compromise, the acceptance of which does not rest with landlords or tenants, but does rest with the Government. The compromise which was arrived at by us is impossible of fulfilment without State aid. I want to be very precise and clear on this point. The basis, and the necessary basis, of the conference agreement and scheme was that State aid should be provided. I can explain this in a very few words. Our scheme provided a certain financial treatment for the landlords, and a certain financial treatment also for the tenants. But that left a gap between what the tenants might fairly be expected to pay, and what the landlords might fairly 814 expect to get. The whole basis of the compromise arrived at by us at the Mansion House was that the State should be asked to fill up that gap. It has been suggested that the gap could be filled up in some other way. It has been suggested, for example, that it could be filled up by some of those financial juggles with which the Treasury are so familiar, and which by an absurd prolongation of the term of repayment, or by some other device of that sort, would, in the end, directly or indirectly, make the tenants provide all or the greater part of the money necessary to fill up the gap. I respectfully warn the right hon. Gentleman and the Government against listening to any such suggestion as that. The unanimous spirit and intention of the agreement would be violated by any such scheme, and I have no hesitation in saying, so far as the tenant farmers of Ireland are concerned, that any attempt by financial jugglery or indirect means, to put upon their shoulders the burden of providing the money to fill up this gap, would be resented and vigorously opposed, and would most unquestionably ruin the scheme. This proposal is a voluntary proposal. If it is to be of any value in the settlement of the question, the tenants must be willing to buy and the landlords must be willing to sell, and if by any of your Treasury juggles, of which we have had some experience in Ireland in the past, you put, in any indirect way, on the shoulders of the tenant, a burden which is unjust, which he cannot bear, and which he ought not to undertake, then your Bill will be a dead letter and your condition will be worse, while the compromise suggested will be gone. This I do say, as representing the tenants, that this compromise goes to the extreme limit of conciliation and concession. Some people perhaps think we went too far. I am not one of those, lam one of those who believe that whatever happens, whether the Government introduce an adequate Land Bill or not, the exhibition of reasonableness, conciliation, and compromise, made by the tenants on this occasion, will be a valuable asset on their side in any struggle that they may have to make in the future. I say we went to the extreme limits of concession, and the agreement that we came to in the name of the tenants will, if the Government puts it into their Land Bill, 815 be accepted cheerfully by them and unanimously by us.
What, after all, is the nature of the State aid of which I am speaking? I am very glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer present. We know he is an eminently reasonable man, and I want to put this case before him and the Government. When I speak of State aid I am not speaking of the ordinary credit trans action—the use of the Imperial credit to enable the loans to be pleaded with. So far as Imperial credit is concerned, I am not called upon to argue that at all. Its policy has been decided by successive Houses of Parliament extending over the last fifteen or twenty years. For the last twenty years it has been the policy to use State credit in order to enable a transaction to be carried out. That policy has been approved by Government after Government, and Parliament after Parliament, and what is more useful to us is that the safety of the transaction has been absolutely proved. I was reading the other day a statement made in the year 1890 by the most distinguished statesman of the day, when he was opposing the Government Land Purchase Bill of that time. His chief objection was that undoubtedly there would be unpunctuality in the payment of the instalments and something in the way of repudiation by the tenants in the future. Both those statements have been falsified. What was the story the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had to tell the House as to the honesty with which this has been carried out by the tenants? Between 70,000 and 80,000 tenants in Ireland have been transformed from tenants into owners by the use of State credit, and £20,000,000 have been used for these transactions. Now how does the matter stand as regards arrears? There is not a penny due on account of arrears. A more complete proof of the safety of this policy could not be adduced. I pass from that, therefore, and say I am not called upon to argue the policy of State aid and its safety. When I speak of State aid, I mean money advanced for the purpose of filling up the gap between what the tenant can afford to pay and the landlord afford to take. Let me 816 remind the House. In the year 1898, in order to make the passing of the Local Government Bill for Ireland as they considered safe, the Government proposed to lift off the shoulders of the landlords the whole of their share of the poor rates and put it upon the Imperial fund. That amounted to £ 300,000 a year, and represented a capital sum of some millions. That was done without a murmur on the part of the great majority of the House. The British taxpayer is not invoked to protest against his money being used in this way. The whole case was met by the first Lord of the Treasury and others who had advocated it by pointing out to the English Members that this was the great national policy of conferring the right of good government on Ireland, in conformity with what had been done in England and Scotland, and in order to put out of question the safety of that transaction, this money was required, and it was forthwith voted. But is it seriously to be argued that when this large sum of money was provided without a word to grease the wheels of county government in Ireland, that a moderate and temporary use of money is to be denied to carry out the greatest national policy, which, if successful, will transform Ireland and put an end almost at once to those features which have made the history of Ireland so sad and deplorable a study in the past. Let me say from the purely Irish point of view, in making this demand, we say we are not asking you to give us one penny.
Twenty years ago Sir Robert Giffen, in those days recognised as one of your chief financial experts, declared in an interesting letter which I came across the other day that Ireland at that time was paying more in taxes than her fair share, comparing her resources with those of Great Britain, and he showed by calculations that the Imperial Exchequer, at the time, twenty years ago, was getting out of Ireland £3,200,000 more than was her due. We all know that things have not stood still since; we know that Ireland's taxes have increased by millions since that time, and it is no answer, I respectfully urge, to say the taxation of Great Britain has increased in the same ratio. Great Britain is a rich country and is able 817 to afford, if she chooses, the luxury of South African wars, but to put a proportion of that cost on Ireland inflicts the greatest hardships on one of the poorest countries in the world. Since then the Financial Relations Commission sat. I am not so foolish as to argue that question in the course of my present observations. But the fact remains that a Commission appointed by yourselves, manned by yourselves—by your greatest financial experts—declared that Ireland was over-taxed on a comparison of her wealth with that of Great Britain. The finding of that Commission has been disputed, but has not been disproved. It holds the field, and as every one who has listened to every debate upon the findings of that Commission knows, even those who dispute the accuracy of the finding, like the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, have not ventured to deny that in this matter of taxation, by reason of her poverty Ireland has been hardly treated by this country in the past. The least that we may ask is that this great chance of peace should not be jeopardised and lost by the want of a little help from the Exchequer. If this is to be of any value at all, it involves a great national policy. No man alive can put into pounds, shillings, and pence the value this great settlement will have, not only to Ireland, but to this country in the future. I know there are leaders of political parties on both sides of the House who think the disposal of this question would finally dispose of the question of Home Bule. That is not a correct view of our opinion. In my opinion, the result would be the exact reverse, but I have no hesitation in making this admission, that the settlement of this land question would undoubtedly remove almost immediately the cause of much turbulence and disaffection, and so moderate the hatred of classes, and soften the asperities of political life in Ireland, as to smooth and make easy the path towards other policies in the future.
Many years ago Mr. John Bright dealt with this question. Mr. Bright, in one sense, might be called the father of the policy of land purchase, although it is quite true he never contemplated its complete operation. He only suggested partial application of the principle of land purchase. But he made some pro- 818 posals on this question of land purchase which I am afraid have been forgotten by many of his political admirers. Among those proposals he suggested that absen tee landlords should be compulsorily bought out at 20 per cent. in excess of the market value of the land, and he proposed that that money should be provided by the Imperial Exchequer. There is another way of looking at this matter, even if you disregard the idea that this should be regarded as a great national policy. In the carrying out of this, what would be best and most economical? To take a niggardly view of the financial requirements? If you look at it simply as a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, this is not a proposal which involves any loss or risk to the British taxpayer. Ireland at present is the poorest and the most extravagantly governed country in Europe. We know the reason of the enormous cost of the Irish administration. It has been admitted by the Chief Secretary himself that the rent-fixing machinery—the land court—alone costs £150,000, and our police cost £1,500,000. We have four times the number of police in Ireland that they have in Scotland, and that is not necessitated by the state of crime, because, of course, it is a matter of universal admission that, so far as ordinary crime is concerned, Ireland compares most favourably with Scotland or Great Britain. The Chief Secretary himself admitted, with commendable candour, that the very large force of police in Ireland was due to the land question. Settle the land question, and the police of Ireland ought to cost not a fourth more than they do in Scotland. I only allude to this matter to make this point, that even if you put on one side the idea that this is a great national policy, on which the future prosperity and happiness of a whole nation depends, and regard it simply as a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, you would find the money necessary to carry your policy out would be more than met by the saving in your expenses of government in the next few years. To sum up, to carry out this compromise which has been accepted by the landlords and by the tenants, some State assistance is required. The actual amount required is, in our opinion, comparatively small, 819 and would certainly be covered by economies in the immediate future. You owe something to Ireland on the basis of taxation. May I, without offence, say that you owe something to the Irish landlords? They have been your garrison in Ireland, and if now they are in a position, with ruin staring them in the face, and there is an opportunity of rescuing them from that position, I certainly think you are in honour bound to go to their relief, at any rate to a moderate extent. But, as the great reason for the whole of this demand, I say that this is a great national policy of appeasement, the value of which no man can appraise in mere pounds, shillings, and pence.
The situation in Ireland is very strange at this moment. It is full of hope, but because it is so full of hope it contains in itself a menace of danger. To raise the hopes of a whole people to the highest pitch of expectation by the speeches of the Chief Secretary, the Lord Lieutenant, and the Under Secretary, and by a declaration in the King's Speech, and then to dash those hopes to the ground, would be neither a safe nor a sane proceeding. At this moment the hearts of the whole of the people of Ireland are filled with a confident hope; crime is unknown; coercion has been suspended; class animosities, for the moment at any rate, are at an end; a united Ireland stands at the Bar of this House to-day and asks for the concession of this great measure of justice and appeasement. The whole people are waiting in painful and strained anxiety for the realisation of the hopes based upon your own declarations. It is, in truth, a veritable truce of God. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole Irish people at this moment are thrilling with the expectation of deliverance from that which was once called by the late Lord Dufferin "the perennial desolation of a lovely and fertile island." Never in the history of this House had a Government a greater or more blessed opportunity of carrying to fruition a great and blessed policy. I would beg the right hon. Gentleman to have the courage to be thorough in his policy, to recognise that the time has passed for any further patching of, or peddling with, this question, and I am convinced that 820 if he is thorough in his policy the result in the future of carrying that policy into effect will be like the waving of a fairy wand over a distracted and poverty stricken country, calling out peace from turbulence, and wealth from poverty. If this Irish land question is settled on the basis of an occupying proprietary on the terms suggested by the Conference, a new Ireland will have been called into existence, and by the free industry of the people you will be making an addition to the industrial wealth of Ireland as surely as if you were able to call up countless thousands of rich new acres from the sea. By this policy you will be offering to the Irish people a new field at home for their industry, instead of driving them, generation after generation, as you have done in the past, to take across the ocean into other lands the strong arms, the brave and faithful hearts, and the bright intellects, which ought to be occupied at home in creating the prosperity and happiness of their own land; you will remove the enmity and hatred between classes, and inaugurate a new era of peaceful industry, and of national thrift and happiness. Do not, I beg of you, lightly throw away this golden opportunity, such as which no man living has ever witnessed before, and none of us, if it is rejected now, will see again. Do not reject it; on the contrary grant to the blessed influences of the moment, and to the united, peaceful demands of both parties concerned and of all classes in Ireland, this great measure of justice, remembering, as you ought to remember, that if you refuse this reform now, England will be forced to grant it sometime in the future, and perhaps under the pressure of such circumstances as no man can contemplate without dismay. While, as I said at the commencement of my speech, I do not expect a revelation of his Bill, I do hope the Chief Secretary will make some general declaration which will stimulate the confidence of the, Irish people that they are on the eve of a settlement of this great question. I beg to move.
At the end of the Question, to add the words: 'And we humbly represent to your Majesty that it is in the highest interest of the State that advantage should be taken of the unexampled opportunity created by the Land Conference agreement for putting an end to agrarian troubles and conflicts between classes in Ireland by giving the fullest and most generous effect to the Land Conference Report in the Irish land-purchase proposals announced in the Speech from the Throne.'"—(Mr. John Redmond.)
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
We have listened to a speech from the hon. and learned Member such as, in my recollection, which extends over not many years, but still as far back as the year 1887, has not been made in this House by any hon. Member in the position which he holds. It would be quite beside the mark, and an improper proceeding, to compliment the hon. and learned Member on what he has said. In this matter I am acting quite independently of the hon. and learned Member, and if he notes with satisfaction certain features in Irish life, I need not echo what he said. I say on my own initiative that I note those features, and I find that they are remarkable, and that they do carry with them some portents of hope. The hon. and learned Member at the outset of his speech declared that he would content himself with giving a friendly warning, and that he would not attempt to extract from me any premature statement on the Irish land purchase question. I am sorry that in his last words he went back a little from that position, and expressed the hope that although no declaration would be extracted from me, I should use some general words which would confirm—what expectation in Ireland? That is the point. In the latter part of his speech he came back very closely to the text of the Amendment, and that Amendment and the latter part of his speech do invite from me a pronouncement upon the very remarkable document to which the hon and learned Member alluded throughout his speech, viz., the report of the Land Conference. But such a pronouncement if it were at all favourable would be taken in Ireland to be an official imprimatur 822 upon the report. More than that, it would be taken in Ireland to be an official imprimatur and acceptance of any interpretation which has been placed on that report. More than that, it would be taken as an official acceptance of every deduction which has been drawn from any interpretation which has been placed on that report. As many interpretations have been placed upon it, and as many deductions have been drawn from those interpretations, every man in Ireland who holds a view as to what that report embodies, would be at perfect liberty to charge me with a breach of faith if ultimately the Bill of the Government did not embody the precise deduction which he drew from the precise interpretation which he placed upon that report.
Hon. Members who represent English constituencies were not until this afternoon, and perhaps are not even now, after listening to the eloquent speech which has been addressed to the House, fully seised of the profound impression which this report has created in Ireland. Hon. Members who sit for English constituencies read, maybe, the Irish news in the English newspapers, but they do not read all the Irish newspapers, and they probably have no conception of the fact that ever since this report was published every leading article, and from two to four columns per diem of correspondence in every newspaper have been devoted to this report, to what it means, to what may be hoped from it, and to whether it will be adopted or not. In England we do not go so far in our journalistic enthusiasm. The topic of the moment—army reform, it may be, or the unemployed—is discussed for days and weeks, but the moment conies when suddenly you find the leading article is about something else—the advent of spring or the end of the hunting season—and in the correspondence columns you find that somebody has heard a cuckoo in the month of March. But in Ireland there has been greater earnestness and persistence over the report of this conference. The papers have been discussing nothing else on the scale I have ventured to indicate. But the interpretations placed upon the Report in the newspapers and 823 the deductions drawn from those interpretations have been widely divergent. Those who have revelled in this voluminous exegesis have not arrived at identical conclusions.
Then I come back 'to the question I put first: Can I hope that any pronouncement I might make on the meaning of the report would fare better at the hands of those who in Ireland would comment upon it? Let me give an illustration of what I mean. If I said, for example, that the report was instinct with good sense and good feeling, and that it reflects great credit on all those who signed it; or if I said it was a momentous document, I should then be told that I had officially accepted the report, and it would be held that I have officially accepted every interpretation and every deduction from every interpretation upon that report. If, on the other hand, I said—and, if I did say it, it would he by way of praise and not of criticism—that it avoids altogether some of the difficulties that must be taken into account in arriving at a solution of this problem, I might awaken some morning and find the Government accused of having rejected the Dunraven Treaty. If I said the first without the second I should excite in some quarters a hope that cannot he fulfilled. If I said the second without the first, I should instil in other quarters fears which need not be entertained. If I said both—and probably if I were at liberty to make any pronouncement I should say both—I should only add to that speculative confusion which cannot be resolved until an early day when I ask leave to introduce a measure the intention of which, at all events, will be found clearly described in the gracious Speech from the Throne. I therefore respectfully decline to affix any official imprimatur to this important document, which, indeed, derives its importance from the very fact that it is in no sense official, that it is the spontaneous creation of representatives who do largely, perhaps wholly, represent two interests in Ireland which for long years have been antagonistic.
It may be argued by some that this report does not come into direct collision with any immutable facts of politics or finance; arid in so far as that may be true, it is because the direction of this report, by the design of its authors, avoids or skirts many considerations to which weight 824 must be given in any comprehensive solution of the land purchase question. It is true, because the authors of the report, very wisely if I may say so, have confined their report to considerations of a partial character, in which they were interested and which they were entitled to represent. The report is only worked out with an approach to detail in respect of two categories of facts, very important, first, in respect to what I may call the normal occupation holdings—indeed, the hon. and learned Member said the basis of the report had reference to the second term rentals in Ireland—and in the second place, to the immediate interests of two parties in these normal occupation holdings—namely, those who are in a position to sell under the Land Acts whom we often inaccurately term landlords, and the actual occupiers of the soil. It does but glance at the problem of congestion and at the position of those who have lost the right to have rent? fixed and are under agreements; it does but glance at the due allocation of such land as may be available, and which must he most carefully and cautiously considered if the tenure of agricultural land in Ireland is to be saved from existing defects and safeguarded against their occurrence in future. I say it glances off these difficulties and also off the tangled mass of legal embarrassments, and again off the effect that any system of land purchase may have on the rights and expectations of encumbrancers and remainder-men. Again—and I speak in praise not criticism—the report of the conference avoids any semblance of dictation or of menace to this House, and the taxpayers represented in this House. On that score I would most warmly congratulate the authors of the report on maintaining what in diplomacy is called the "correct attitude" towards this House.
In all these matters this House will be called to judge; and it is right that all of us in this House should come to consider these matters in a judicial frame of mind, absolutely protected, as judges and juries are, from any antecedent attempt to deflect our judgment by persuasion or coerce it by menace. We must be free in this House to view 825 the measure when it is produced, and to exercise our absolutely free arbitrament upon it, and decide whether it is a sound or unsound measure of policy, which should be accepted or rejected by the House. What then, I may be asked, is the value, in my opinion, of this report? This report has already, and for the time being—may it be for ever—accomplished a work the value of which can hardly be over estimated. It shows quite clearly what the majority—the large majority—of Irish landlords and of Irish tenants separately desire' and are mutually ready to concede. It lays down, what is a valuable fact to have stated with precision and accuracy, the direction of two forces and those the most momentous which are involved in this complicated problem; and it proves that these two forces—the force of the landlord interest and the force of the tenants' interest—are not, as many have supposed and asserted, in diametrical opposition, but, on the contrary, that they yield a resultant which does not of necessity come into collision with any of the impediments or embarrassments that beset the problem of land purchase in Ireland. That is much, and that is new.
In the vexed history of a hundred years of conflict and disillusion we have had nothing like that before. It may almost be called a portent. If I said that when the people of Ireland opened their newspapers one morning and read this report they were agreeably surprised, I should be understating the case; they were astonished, they were exhilarated, they were shaken out of the mood of restless despondency and lifted to the rarer atmosphere of calm hope. I must, however, utter a word of warning. In the very suddenness, in the very magnitude of the popular impression created by that report, there is danger. There may "be great danger that some interpretation has been placed upon it going altogether beyond the extreme verge of what is possible. A cold fit may follow a hot fit; and no one can contemplate without misgiving the application of violent alternations of temperature to an element so mercurial as Irish aspirations. Yet I would not end upon a note of despondency, because the despondency too long diffused through Ireland has been her greatest bane. I would end with a note which many would call 826 sanguine. I would say, if, as I pray and believe, the spirit of good sense and good will which animates this report is maintained, as it will be by those who signed it, and is emulated, as it will be, I am sure, by this House, why, then, it is not idle to believe that the despondency which has for so long been diffused through all classes in Ireland will be dispersed, giving place to some measure of hope for all classes, and that measure of hope for all will, and must, carry with it a measure of charity and good will between all. If that be so—and may it be so—then Ireland will at last be placed in a position to acquire and lay truly those social foundations on which alone it is possible to rear the fabric of a comprehensive and healthy national life.
Mr. JOHN MOBLEY (Montrose Burghs)
We shall all agree in admiring the tone and temper with which the Chief Secretary has approached this difficult and embarrassing subject. We admired the eloquence, combined with caution, with which he described this momentous document. I, speaking for some of those around me, may be pardoned if I imitate the right hon. Gentleman in being cautious. When the Minister in charge of the ice raises the board marked "dangerous," those who are not responsible and who are awaiting his proposal may be excused from getting to close quarters with proposals to which my hon. and learned friend has drawn attention. The Chief Secretary is undoubtedly right in saying this is a situation which is absolutely new in the history of Ireland since the arrival of Strongbow on the Irish shore.
I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh agrees fully with the Chief Secretary and myself in our view of this document. Think what a change has come over the scene since the old policy on the Irish benches was to get rid of the yoke of the landlord by making his position intolerable. To-day the policy is to get rid of that yoke, if yoke it be, by making his position tolerable.
827 I particularly value the phrase repeated by my hon. and learned friend who moved this Amendment, that this report and the Bill with which it is to some extent connected, must be regarded not as conferring a boon on one class or another in Ireland, but as a great act of State and national policy. That is the view with which I hope the whole dealing with a difficult situation will be undertaken by His Majesty's Government. It is lamentable—I am not going back into history—to think how the one great single industry of Ireland has been, if I may be pardoned for using the word, "bedevilled," by the levity and shortsightedness of Parliament after Parliament. It is perfectly clear that the right hon. Gentleman will, at all events, lend a sympathetic ear to the views expressed in the report. Of course, the whole House is well aware of what it is that produced the necessity for the report and for the proposals the Government are about to make. Everybody is aware that we have now got in Ireland two classes of tenants—one of those who by purchase pay a lower rent for a limited time, and another class of tenants who pay a higher rent apparently in perpetuity.
A great deal has been said of dual ownership. What we are talking about this afternoon has been produced by dual occupancy. The evils of dual occupancy are quite as great as those of dual ownership. I will not go through the report. I will not do more than touch the mere fringe of it. I am not quite sure that the House, the country, or the Press really draw the proper distinction which my hon. and learned friend drew between the two kinds of applications which are to be made to the British Treasury. One large and almost gigantic sum of money is to be loaned from the British Imperial Exchequer, but to be repaid in full. The other and smaller sum is asked to be given freely and not to be repaid. That, of course, introduces a completely new principle into all our dealings with Ireland, and makes it essential that we should look very closely at it. I should like this question to be reduced so far as we possibly can to figures. I shall not weary the House with many of them, but it is so important that we should be clear on the subject 828 that I should like to mention them. As to the rental of Ireland, which is a figure much appealed to in all the discussions I see in Ireland and England,—deal with it as you may,—it is a very speculative figure. You cannot arrive at it for a great many reasons, which all who are familiar with the Irish land question will understand. Perhaps it is a disgrace to Irish (Governments, and those with which I was concerned along with the rest, that they have not ascertained a proper authentic statement of the land rent of Ireland. I take it from a pretty careful observation of all the figures to which I have had access that the rental which you will have to deal with on the basis of second term rents is about £4,000,000 a year. My hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone, to whose manful battle for the Irish tenants a great debt is owing, has put the figure at £4,140,000, or something of that kind. Now the case is this—this is what is asked in the report: the landlords are to have a capital sum which at 3 per cent., with a deduction of 10 percent. for the cost of collection, would still amount to £4,000,000. That, I think, is the problem. How are they to get the £4,000.000? Of course, if that was capitalised on the basis of the Report that would mean a sum, I am afraid, of £130,000,000. These are details we can go into afterwards. Now there is the position to be considered of the tenants. They are to have a 15 or 20 per cent. reduction. What will that mean? I make out that they pay now £4,000,000 on the second term rents. You deduct a fifth of that in order to give them the advantage of 20 per cent., and the result is that you are to receive from them, if this transaction is carried through, a sum of £3,200,000. Therefore, what you have to do is to fill up the gap between £3,200,000 and £4,000,000. That is a fair computation. The Government will have to decide, and this House will have to decide, as to whether the difference is to be a free grant. It is an amount, if capitalised, of £22,000,000, so that what we are asked for by the report is a free grant capitalised of about £22,000,000, and a possible liability of £100,000,000 of loan. It is always useful, when considering any proposal from the landlords, to bring their request to the test of figures. I 829 submit, on the best information I have been able to get on the matter, that these figures are about correct, I make a few remarks about the figures. The first is that this liability, either free grant or loan, is not to fall upon us at once, because it will take years to work out this scheme between landlords and tenants. It is very common to hear people talk, when dealing with the Irish land question, of the two great land reformers whose names are often used by persons not very familiar with the actual nature of the case. But this is entirely different from any operations which are contemplated, or can be contemplated, in Ireland It took those two men more than twelve or fourteen years to get the great question of land reform carried out, and I do not believe that, if the present Chief Secretary remains in office for twelve years, even he will get entirely to the end of the great operation which the Report maps out for him. Therefore it is that the large sum I have mentioned will not fall upon us in the shape of a 2½ d. income tax from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his coming Budget. It will take an amount of time to examine holdings and to go over estates. It will not throw on us a burden of more than £50,000 a year. So much for that.
Then another point referred to by my hon. and learned friend was retrenchment. Of course, everybody at once fixes upon the Royal Irish Constabulary, but you will not get your retrenchment there immediately, and you would not economise if you did, because a great many of the men are in the prime of life, and if withdrawn they would retire on long service pensions. There is another favourite field of mine, if I had the power in Ireland, for retrenchment. It is the Irish judges. I am not speaking a word disrespectfully of any Irish judge, but there are twice too many of them. Their salaries amount to £04,000 a year, and each judge has registrars and others making a large sum indeed. I think you could make great retrenchment there. It has been said that the Land Commission might be reduced. I am not very sanguine of retrenchment these. But in the meantime, though those retrenchments will and must be slow, so also the demand will be slow. I shall not at all despair of the Chief Secretary being 830 able to retrench in some way which will seriously and materially reduce the proposed free grant.
I shall refer to one other point, and one only. On the 12th February the Under Secretary made a speech in Dublin and used language which, I understand, has attracted great interest in Ireland. He referred to the danger to the purchaser after he has become owner of falling into the hands of the moneylender. In that speech he re capitulates in the language of a man who has had experience and observation in other systems of peasant proprietorships those dangers. He then says—I presume, speaking the mind of the Irish Government—that he should think ill of any proposed settlement which transferred the ownership and which did not safeguard the purchasers, though perhaps against their own will, against the moneylender, and against the many temptations in Ireland to sub-division. That is a portion, I presume, of the Bill which I shall at least look forward to with the liveliest interest. I have always thought—and I have been concerned in more than one Irish Land Bill—that Parliament commits a great error in giving all the benefits of State credit to a comparatively small and select class. I do not mean to say that the Irish tenant farmers are not something more than a class. They are, no doubt, the body of the Irish people, but still there is a large body outside of them in the towns—labourers and others. In 1886, when Mr. Gladstone brought forward a large Irish scheme dealing with the whole Irish question, one of the merits of that rejected policy was that an Irish authority was to take 18 per cent. interest on the whole amount of the advances to the annuitants. I would say to the Chief Secretary, with all humility, that I should particularly like to see in his proposals, if they are to be proposals, some element which would give an interest to the punctual payment of those annuities, and thus confer benefits not only on the present occupiers of land in Ireland but on the Irish community at large. I fully agree with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, who has better knowledge than I have, that if the Government or any party of Gentlemen in this House think that the settlement of this Irish land question, in 831 connection with which, no doubt, the Imperial Treasury is probably about to be asked to undertake new liabilities, will extinguish the Irish question, I do not believe it will. You will still have a great number of men who will have an interest in keeping alive the same flame and spirit of nationality which has made the question of self-government a burning question in this country for a great many years past.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON said he did not take any part in the Land Conference in Ireland, although he was invited to do so. He thought he knew so perfectly what the views were of those who met there, and that on many points they were so acutely opposed, that he did not think his presence at that Conference would add any particular value to its deliberations. He did not think that the Conference would lead to any particularly good result. He now admitted—and all had to confess that they sometimes might be wrong—that the Conference had, on the whole, a very good effect. The landlords had certainly no right to complain of the deliberations of the Conference. If he had been told in the immediate past that he, as an Irish landowner, or any other Irish landowner, could apply for a character to the Member for Cork or the Member for South Tyrone, he should certainly have refrained from doing so. So changeable was the Irish mind, perhaps he might say so open was the Irish mind to learn the truth, that the outcome of the deliberations in the conference was that it was necessary to place the tenants in possession of their farms, and necessary to buy up the landlords at such a price as would enable them to live in their native land, and to form a fortifying and solidifying element in Irish society in which they were told in the immediate past that they were a destructive element. He thought that the landlords had every right to be satisfied with the results of the conference. The conference has brought before the minds of the British people the fact that, for the first time in the history of Ireland, the Irish tenants and Irish landlords were perfectly ready to come to an agreement. But it was very easy for a conference sitting in Dublin to arrive at that conclusion, and to offer to the tenants their holdings, and to the landlords a certain number of years 832 purchase—thirty-three years—for their Irish lands. But they had to persuade the British House of Commons, and, above all, the new Irish landlord—that well-known personage called John Bull—that his new tenants were chiefly peaceable and well-to-do, whom he might accept without fear as tenants. Now, were the Irish tenants at the present moment thrifty and prosperous, and such as they could recommend to the British Parliament as suitable and worthy of acceptance? In times gone by he had often contradicted the statements of the hon. Members opposite as to the condition of the Irish tenants. It had been their habit to draw a very dismal and unsatisfactory picture of their condition. They were described as miserable, wretched, ragged, and almost starving, but he had brought statistics before the House to prove that the Irish tenants, so far from being retrogressive, ragged and unthrifty, had been steadily improving almost by leaps and bounds—statements which had been generally received by hon. Gentlemen opposite with jeers and laughter. Now he said that it ought to be the object of every Irishman who supported this great measure to show that these statistics were accurate, and that these tenants were three times as wealthy as they were forty years ago. He did not think that any hon. Gentleman opposite would, under present conditions, contradict what he said. It would be a very strong argument on his part, and for the landlords who advocated this great change, and he was sure it would be on the part of the Chief Secretary to use when he brought in his Bill to the British Treasury, and to the Government, and to Parliament, who were to become the landlords of these tenants, that the latter had proved by their past history that they were thriving and prosperous and need not be a national danger to the British State. He thought this was a remarkable opportunity for undertaking the operation, which he believed the Government would succeed in carrying out, if it were well and generously done. The House and hon. Gentlemen opposite might not be aware that there had been no fall in agricultural prices in Ireland since 1886. In fact nearly all the main products on which Ireland depended—cattle, butter, pork, were at the present moment commanding higher prices than in 1886. There 833 was every reason, therefore, why the tenants should be in a prosperous condition, so long as they conducted their affairs with industry and attention. This had resulted from land legislation, which had led to reductions in rents, which were half they paid a number of years ago. Therefore he said that the improved condition of the Irish tenants, not the miserable, unfortunate, discontented creatures described by the hon. Members opposite, and sometimes by the Member for South Tyrone, but the man who could pay his way, as was proved by the manner in which he paid his instalments under the Land Purchase Act, removed a great difficulty out of the road of the Chief Secretary. He agreed with the hon. Member for Waterford that it had never so strongly come to the front as now that Ireland was in such a good condition of peace and prosperity, and so ready to accept a gift of this kind, not only for its own benefit but for the security of the State. If the Chief Secretary neglected the opportunity he now had, after arousing the desires and natural aspirations of the people, and disappointed them, it would be a crime. From the remarks of the right hon. Member for Montrose, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman and those who thought with him were inclined to be niggardly in dealing with this question. He had always held that buying out the landlords would not be done for the sake of the tenants, or for the sake of the landlords, but to secure for Ireland peace and prosperity and contentment, which was of material assistance to the general security of the British Empire, and therefore, as it was a State purchase, the State ought to pay for it. They ought to do it fairly and generously. Landlords were as much Irishmen as hon. Members opposite. All they asked was that they should be paid in such a way that they could live in their native land. Therefore he said that if this Rill secured that object, they would do a great deal to finish once and for ever a great and difficult question, which would bring about the peace of Ireland. He was glad that the Amendment had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Waterford, because it enabled the Chief Secretary to hear their views as to what the Bill should contain. Now, the Bill ought to induce 834 the tenants to buy and the landlords to sell. As long as the Land Courts remained, as long as the Land Commission reduced the rents, the tenants would have no inducement to buy. The tenant would have no reason to buy at all, because if he waited long enough he would get his land for nothing. He knew of a case that happened the other day in Kerry, where the rent was reduced 45 per cent., and where the tenant sold the farm a few days afterwards for forty-seven years' purchase. If they still allowed the tenants of Ireland to see before them the prospect of getting their rents reduced from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. every successive fifteen years, they would take away from the tenants a great inducement to sell. As far as the landlords were concerned, the incentive to sell was very naturally so great, and the letting of land in Ireland was so undesirable, that they required very little inducement to accept any fair offer. One thing, therefore, the Bill ought to contain, should be a provision causing the action of the Land Commission in Ireland to cease. That would get rid of extra expense, and would give such an incentive to the Irish tenants to buy as would make the Bill run. Although he was opposed to hon. Gentlemen opposite on political questions, he believed that they desired the welfare of Ireland; and he thought that they would also admit that from his point of view he desired the same, although they differed as to methods. He was sure they would believe him when he said that realising, as he did, that a great opportunity had arisen, which might never in their lifetime or in the lifetime of their children occur again, he was absolutely at one with them in striving to induce the Government to carry such a measure as would settle this long-vexed question, which had undoubtedly caused a great deal of heartburning and misery in Ireland, and he hoped that they and he, and all Irishmen, of all ranks and creeds, would see carried a measure which would bring about the permanent happiness and prosperity of their native land.
*MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said that, remarkable as was the debate which had occupied the previoustwo days, bethought the House would agree that the 835 present debate was still more remarkable, and, if possible, still more portentous. They seemed to have issued out of tempestuous and stormy weather into a period of bright and brilliant sunshine. He was not of those who believed in placing too great hope in the permanence of sunshine; and he agreed entirely with the wise counsel which fell from his right hon. friend the Member for Montrose Burghs in his speech, which, as nearly as possible, denned his own attitude on this question, namely, not to be too sanguine. They might now settle, or think they had settled, the land question; but let them not believe that they would thereby get rid of Irish affairs. Much more would remain to be done. Nevertheless when they had a period of sunshine it afforded a great opportunity. Nothing gratified him more than the eloquent and sympathetic assurance contained in the speech of the Chief Secretary that he was aware of the greatness of the opportunity and of the responsibility which rested on his shoulders. It might be asked what the situation really amounted to, and what had been gained by the conferences and agreements which had taken place. He should say that they had gained two things. They had gained a consensus of agreement upon a definite principle for the very first time; and they had reduced subsequent questions to matters of figures, which might be very important, but still were matters of figures; and which could be discussed as such without bringing in extraneous controversies on matters of principle. That seemed to him to be of the first importance. For many years hon. Members representing the majority of constituencies in Ireland had announced that the landlord system was a great evil, but they had not been able to bring forward any proposal which had been regarded as practical by the great mass of the people of England. On the other hand, they had a minority in Ireland and a great many people in England, who said that they would not get rid of the landlord system on any terms. Now there was for the first time agreement on the part of the great majority of the Irish Members to treat the Irish landlords not only justly but generously; and, on the other hand, an 836 agreement on the part of the Irish landlords to recognise the situation, and make way for a large measure of settlement. To what did they owe that situation? He thought it was in a great measure due to the new attitude towards local affairs introduced by the Local Government Act. He did not believe that the blessings of that Act had yet been fully recognised. It brought people together, and brought them to see thing3 more from more than one point of view than was formerly the case. The speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who spoke in very great agreement with his; colleagues for other Irish constituencies representing different views, showed that the time had come when the Irish people were beginning to look much more closely at the interests of Ireland as a whole, and less at the disputes which had separated political parties so long. It seemed to him that the great principle which the rubbing together of minds brought about by the Local Government Act and other causes had resulted in, was the principle which was recognised in the deliberations of the conference and its conclusions, namely, that it was advantageous to carry out land purchase on such just terms that the Irish landlords would have an inducement to sell, while the tenants would have the maximum of advantage in purchasing.
The next question was the question of price. As his right hon. friend had said, price was a matter which was apt to be not much considered in a happy period such as the present. That the price would have to be a substantial one, he himself had very little doubt; and, in connection with it, there were two very serious matters they had to consider. As to the grant, if it were kept within a moderate compass, it would be very well worth making; but the other part, the loan operation, would involve a very large use of the national credit. He saw no other way of carrying it out, except by the Government making a further issue of Consols. That might be very necessary and proper; but unless they could give the utmost assurance to investors as to the security, they would run the risk of having to borrow at a disadvantageous price, and that would tend to raise the price of things generally throughout the country. While he did not say that the operation should not be performed, it was their duty to regard it with the very closest scrutiny; and to his 837 mind the scrutiny should be more careful as regarded the loan than as regarded the grant. He recognised very strongly the force of the observation of his right hon. friend the Member for Montrose Burghs, who showed that, the operation would be gradual. At the present time, he thought that power still remained under the last Ashbourne Act to issue Consols. The transactions in which they would engage would be transactions to which they were accustomed, and from which they might conceivably learn that they might be carried out without any substantial loss to the Exchequer. He should be quite happy in his mind as to that, were it not for the magnitude of the sum to be dealt with; and, speaking for himself, he wished to maintain an attitude of reserve on the financial part of the proposals until he knew what they were likely to be. As to the lump sum to be granted, he knew that a great many people would say that it was another dole to the landlord. He did not take that view in the least. When a great industrial concern, such as a railway company, had to carry out new works, the directors went to the shareholders for the money. The shareholders might ask why their funds should be further encroached upon for, for instance, the widening of a bridge; and the answer was, because in every sort of indirect way an insufficient bridge caused in an imperceptible fashion great waste. Nothing was more striking in Irish government than the evidence everywhere of the wastefulness of the machinery, and of the economy that might be effected. If a well considered scheme of land purchase came before the House, he would not only vote for it on general grounds but that for the reason that he saw in it real economy if it were properly carried out. This matter could not be properly discussed on the meagre figures before the House. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had not given many figures, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite had given figures a wide berth and had said the proposals of the Conference were somewhat meagre. Figures after all were the work of the Government, and the business of the House was to consider what the Government put forward. When the Government, with the aid of financial experts, had really got to the bottom of the matter and enabled them to go into the figures which were the only safe materials upon which to 838 judge and come to a decision, if it happened that the financial grant was something of a reasonable amount, he would not be disposed to disapprove that the sum should be given for the purpose of facilitating the buying out of a large number of landlords. And he was not deterred in the matter because of what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, which he cordially believed, namely, that the great mass of Irish landowners did not intend to leave Ireland, but to live their lives there.
One of the greatest things about the conference had been that it had shown that the landlords had been able to take part in the government of Ireland, and might be expected and be enabled to take a greater part in the future. Therefore, this question ought to he approached, not in the spirit of this money going into the pockets of somebody who would walk away with it, but in the spirit of providing new machinery which would get rid of friction and influence affairs of Ireland in the direction of peace, and thereby enable the cost of government in Ireland to be substantially diminished. Both the nation and the House owed a very great deal to those, such as Mr. Talbot Crosbie and Captain Shawe Taylor, who had brought about this conference. The work done by the hon. Member for South Tyrone had not been sufficiently widely appreciated. It might be that his proposals wore not exactly the proposals of the Conference, but he and others who had worked indefatigably to bring about this laying of heads together, which had resulted in these proposals, deserved all praise. It might be when the figures were worked out that they would be too big to take up—he sincerely hoped they would not—it might be that there would be great difficulty in details which would disclose themselves in the Bill. He had been struck with the extraordinary circumstance that the number of small holders in Ireland did not tend to diminish, notwithstanding the tendency to raise them to a state of greater prosperity. The case of these small holders, many of them under an acre, would not be met by the moderate proposals put forward by the conference. Be that as it might, the hopeful sense that one had, that at last they had got to a stage when those matters were no longer matters of broad principle, but had been advanced a stage and become matter of financial detail, was a thing on 839 which they were to be congratulated. If that were true, though it left the final problem unsolved, they had smoothed the way and got another stage towards the solution of the problem. He had voted for every Land Bill that had been brought forward during the eighteen years he had been a Member of the House, and he hoped he should find it easy to give a vote, or at any rate support, to the Motion the right hon. Gentleman was about to introduce under such happy auspices.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Cork)
said the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had done the Irish Party an injustice in supposing that they expected him to make any disclosure of the Bill he was about to introduce. The Amendment of his hon. friend was not in the least meant to force the hand of the right hon. Gentleman. They found no fault with the Government for weighing the question well before they introduced this measure, because they knew a great deal would depend upon who had the last word. The right hon. Gentleman had undoubtedly kept his secret well, in fact rather too well, but this was too solemn an occasion to make any criticism on the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman; they must wait until they had the Bill before them. They had heard many speeches from high quarters, and one from the highest quarter, which had raised unquestionably the expectations of the people of Ireland, but the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that day had to some extent reminded them, if any reminder was necessary, that theirs was a nation of disappointments, and that they ought never to consider themselves in more danger than when they were sanguine of success. They would watch and wait, and the criticism from the Irish Benches, if it was to come, would not be hasty. They were far from desirous of criticising the right hon. Gentleman; difficulties there might be, but with the Irish Members it was difficult to conceive why there should be difficulties. It was due to the Irish Members to say that the remarks of Ministers had been a clear indication that there would be no narrow or niggard proposition from the section which might involve the Liberal Party as well as everybody else. He ventured to say with the utmost con- 840 fidence, whatever might be the result of this controversy among the great mass both of the tenants and the landlords, there was no doubt whatever as to what this settlement meant. All the difficulties, such as they were, were centred in the one financial point of the extremely limited expenditure, namely, the difference between a fair market price to the tenants, and the compulsory price of the landlord.
The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had told the House frankly, and not by way of menace, that any attempt to cast upon the shoulders of the tenants that extra price would mean the instant collapse of the entire arrangement, because unconditional State help to that extent was the corner-stone of the conference. Of the few hundreds of thousands that it would cost, at least one third would be covered by the saving on the Land Commission, which would disappear. To Irishmen it seemed almost inconceivable that Englishmen of any Party, when they were without a doubt within one short step of peace and reconciliation, should stop short, and by such niggardliness in the midst of many prodigalities, in order to effect a saving of a few hundred thousand pounds to this tremendously rich Empire, run the serious risk of confuting the promise in the King's Speech, and falsifying all the happy auguries of the Lord Lieutenant, the Chief Secretary, and the Under-Secretary, and reduce the representatives of the people once more to the alternatives of either rejecting altogether a bad Bill, or using an ungracious and halfhearted measure as a leverage for new agitation and fresh legislation. It was not pleasant to think that such folly was even possible, but unfortunately Ireland's past history forbade the rejection of the idea. Parliament and England had not yet realised all that the Land Conference meant.
It had been amusing recently to note the innocent surprise of people in England to find that Irishmen were not bereft of all reason or human feeling towards the landlords. Fighting, as they had been, on the weaker side, with few weapons and against terrible odds, they had not been able to afford to indulge in the luxury of exchanging compliments 841 with their opponents, nor could they even yet. But it showed what a perfect tragedy of muddle and misunderstanding this poor world of ours is, because during all the twenty-three years of the land war in which they had been at one another's throats, there never was a moment when even the most extreme were not just as ready as now for a sincere and honest peace and reconciliation upon the terms to which the landlord and tenant classes had agreed. The tenants' representatives had been told by some of their critics that they had allowed themselves to be hypnotised by the influence of Lord Dunraven. If so, the hypnotism was of a singularly retro-active character, because it began a quarter of a century before they set eyes on Lord Dunraven. The present was really the first occasion in Irish history when the two classes had been cordially acting together on a footing of equality, and possibly the co-operation would not be confined to the land question. They had hit upon a basis, not merely of sentiment, but of common interest, so genuine, that of the 4,250,000 of people in Ireland, there were probably not 10,000, other than land agents, clerks in the rent office, and place-hunters, who did not concur with the spirit and substance of the report.
Another very remarkable feature of the present situation was that the Government were for the first time dealing directly with the masses of the people in Ireland. They wore dealing directly with the Unionist farmers of the North, who unquestionably looked up to and trusted the hon. Member for South Tyrone as their representative; they were dealing also, directly and for the first time, with the active forces of disaffection in Ireland, through representatives who could speak for themselves, having taken their part in the struggle, and had no recantation to make. One of the things which made some representatives of the landlords shrink from the notion of the conference, was undoubtedly the fact that they would have to meet men whom they disliked and disapproved of, who, only the other day, had been engaged in a desperate conflict with the Government, and who possibly would be similarly engaged again if the present truce broke down. Rut it was just the fact that it spoke for the United Irish League, as well as for the landowners and the Unionist farmers, which gave importance to the conference.
842 There was nothing more remarkable in the reception of the report than the fact that in the very districts, such as Mayo, Clare, Cork, and Sligo, which were the despair of Dublin Castle, the cream of the fighting msn of disaffection had accepted almost to a man this treaty for a peaceful reconciliation. They had, however, in this agreement gone to the utmost limit of generosity to their opponents. In every county and district council, and in the branches of the United Irish League in over 1,200 parishes, the terms had been endorsed with an unanimity unsurpassed in history upon any great question. Such a chance had never before been offered to any Government. But as the hon. Member for Waterford frankly stated, although agrarian troubles could be permanently removed on the terms of this report, it would not settle the question of Home Rule. On the contrary, one of the recommendations of the compromise to many men was the belief that it would remove the last serious obstacle to Home Rule by creating an absolutely united Ireland. They might be right or they might be wrong, but they believed that a settlement of the Home Rule question would be an infinitely easier matter than it was for them in the Land Conference to arrive at a settlement of the land question. They believed that they might just as well try to extract oxygen from the Irish air as to extinguish the spirit of Irish nationalism. He could not conceive why they should try to do this.
It had been said that if the land question was settled that would be the end of Home Rule and mercenary agitators. The mercenary agitators were willing to take their chance. Let them settle this question upon its own merits. Menaces had been spoken of, but they all knew that when he menaced he made no mistake about it. It was only fair, however, to bring the right hon. Gentleman face to face with this fact, that he would find in Irishmen, whether Unionist or Nationalist, unanimity in agreeing absolutely that the right hon. Gentleman could get rid of the land troubles undoubtedly and unquestionably upon the terms agreed at the conference, and that he had better never have touched the question at all if there was going to be any attempt to juggle with those terms. There was an honest and a dishonest way of meeting the report of that conference. He did 843 not for a moment assume that the right hon. Gentleman contemplated yielding to the suggestions made to him, but he believed it would have been better not to have promised any Land Bill at all than, for the sake of a niggardly saving, to ruin the prospects of this measure. Compared with the money squandered in South Africa, their demand was a mere drop in the bucket, but if the Bill was introduced without this demand being conceded, the measure would be the signal for fresh agitation, and instead of completing a series of land reform it would complete a series of follies and failures. All he could say was that if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and if British Members of both Parties in that House were only equally willing to take up their very light share of the burden, he ventured to say that deep and heartfelt would be the satisfaction of Ireland, and he was quite sure that in that House and the Empire they would never have better reason for rejoicing.
*MR. J. GORDON (Londonderry, S.)
said they had just listened to one of the most hopeful and useful discussions that had taken place in the House of Commons for many a long year. They all had their differences, but they from Ireland came to the House now, agreed as to the main features of what they asked the House to concede to their country. They were now on the eve of new legislation in reference to the land question in Ireland, legislation which would apply to three-fourths or more of the industry of the island in which they lived. The Chief Secretary would bring forward his measure, and, when he did so, hon. Members would have to put before the House the views of the different sections of the House, whether they came from Ireland or not. One thing he wished to remind the Government of. Different parties had taken different views as to the way in which the transfer of land from landlord to tenant was to take place. He knew that was not the time to discuss such a question, but they had now before the House a report in which both parties, landlords and tenants, so far as they were represented, had agreed to two great principles which Ministers had enunciated in that House. One principle which they had agreed to was that dual ownership in land should cease. The next principle, which 844 had been the policy of the Ministers of the Crown, and which had, at all events for the present, been accepted by both parties in Ireland, was that the cessation of dual ownership should be brought about on terms mutually agreed between themselves and subject to conditions which were mentioned. Those were no light matters to have been settled by the landlords and tenants.
It was perfectly true that at that conference only two parties were present, and that the third party was essential to complete the conference in order to enable the whole matter to be carried out. That third party was the British taxpayer. They did not want to shirk the question which the hon. Member for Waterford had put in the forefront, namely, that without the aid of the British taxpayer and financial assistance from the British Treasury no Bill could hope to be successful or to be carried out in a way which would satisfy either of the parties. Therefore, it was well that the Chief Secretary should have that matter brought before him, and he thought it was particularly fortunate that they should have had an expression of opinion from the opposite side of the House, not essentially binding the Opposition to the amount which might be granted, but at all events expressing the willingness of hon. Gentlemen opposite to agree to any reasonable concession of a financial kind which was necessary for the purpose of carrying out the Bill on the lines of the report of the conference After all that was the root of the matter, for they wanted to get the consent of the third party to this agreement. They wanted the Chief Secretary for Ireland to see where he stood, and to know that he would get support and encouragement from every side of the House if he dealt with this matter on broad and generous principles. After all, what they asked for was not such a large or extravagant sum. It had been put forward in the newspapers as if they were to get some enormous sum of money handed over to them at once, but that was an entire delusion. The British House of Commons ought to know that those figures were most misleading. He thought the largest sum ever likely to be required was what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had shown would in his opinion 845 be necessary. It was not necessarily intended to be a handing over of some large sum of money, but it was intended that in some way or another the money which the British taxpayer would not get back again should be applied for the purpose of settling this great question in Ireland.
The magnitude of the question itself was sufficient reason why such aid should be granted by the British Treasury. Ireland might make a strong case on the lines which had only been more or less glanced at by the hon. and learned Member who had moved this Amendment. But without touching on that question, there was one thing which, to Ills mind, would appeal strongly to the ordinary, average, fair-minded taxpayer of this country, and that was that even though they might not individually pay more in taxation than the individual taxpayer in England, yet from the necessities of the case the great spending Departments spent most of their money in England and not in Ireland. After all, the British people ought not to look upon such a concession as a mere gift. Apart from all these questions, if they settled these differences between landlord and tenant, and put an end to the continuous lawsuits and ill-feeling between the parties, and enabled industries to be carried on, and introduced conditions under which the tenants could make the most out of their land, he thought they would be getting an ample return for any sum of money which was likely to be required. He did not want to go into controversial matters, but rather to deal with those on which they were all agreed. The great central difficulty was in connection with the question of getting sufficient money to enable the Bill to be successfully carried out. He thought that could be done. He hoped and believed that the Chief Secretary would be strong enough and courageous enough to base his Bill on sufficient pecuniary assistance. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Cork in his views as to the effect of such legislation upon the question of Home Rule. He thought the Bill would largely tend to lessen the clamour for Home Rule. Leaving that question out of consideration for the moment, if any hon. Member should ask, "Is this to end all the demands, is Ireland to be satisfied now, and are we to have no more re- 846 quests for assistance?" he would reply, "Deal with each question as it arises, and as it should be dealt with—fairly, temperately, justly, and, if necessary, generously. Do not mind too much what is to come afterwards." He had no doubt that from time to time questions would arise, in Ireland just as in other parts of the Empire, but when they do arise they should be dealt with calmly and fairly, and without any suggestion that simply because they wore questions from Ireland there must be something wrong about them.
They had before them now the report of the Land Conference containing what he thought might be taken as the unanimous opinion of the country. If the Chief Secretary framed a Bill closely approaching the lines of that Report, for the purpose of carrying out what was indicated in the Gracious Speech of the Sovereign, he would have done something that would put an end to the necessity for land legislation for Ireland. Let the request for this monetary grant for Ireland not be misunderstood. He was one of a large number of people in Ireland who were not directly interested in land, either as landlord or tenant, who were simply British taxpayers, but who had the advantage of living on the spot and of knowing the necessity for something of this kind being done. Fie did not think he was exceeding the limit to which he might fairly go when he said that the vast majority of people like himself in Ireland, who were not directly interested as landlords or tenants, were perfectly willing to put their hands in their pockets and contribute with their fellow taxpayers in these countries to any reasonable extent for the purpose of having this matter ended between the two parties. In dealing with this question it was important that their fellow-subjects in England and Scotland should understand how much was to be gained in return. W hen they did so he was quite sure they would have little hesitation in supporting the Chief Secretary in any scheme he might bring forward. Expectations and hopes had not unnaturally been raised all over Ireland. The people had a fond hope that a measure would be carried through this session which would put an end to all the difficulties, quarrelling, and litigation which existed between landlord and tenant.
847 That could not be done alone by the Irish Members, but by the goodwill and common sense of the Members of this House representing the two great political parties from England and Scotland. He hoped they would give the Chief Secretary their support; and he believed that the Chief Secretary, if he were assured of substantial support, would deal generously with the question, and would produce a measure which, so far as human foresight could provide, would be a measure of finality.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
The right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh said in the course of his speech that he assumed the Chief Secretary and the Government have a Bill in incubation on the Irish land question. That being so, it might be useful to them to have from as many Members as possible this afternoon an indication of what their view on that Irish land question may be. I am prepared, as far as I can, to make them a present of my view. I say as far as I can, because, without any proposal before us, we must necessarily speak with great reservation. I am not prepared to pledge myself this afternoon to any individual proposal; but what I rise to endeavour to do is to present, as far as possible, the spirit in which I will approach the consideration of any proposal which the Government may have to bring before the House. I will not attempt to deal with the Irish land question. Everybody who has listened to the debate has seen what the delicate point in the matter is. The delicate point is whether the Government are to consider themselves bound—or, at any rate, justified—to introduce into any land purchase proposals they may make to this House something more than a loan, something in the nature of a free grant. That is the point to which I should like to address myself. Let me first put the political question out of the way. I nave heard this Irish land question advocated in this House on the ground that it would do away with political difficulties in Ireland. I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that we must discuss this question without prejudice to the development of political 848 questions in Ireland. I do not believe it is possible—and if it were possible I would not make the attempt—to make any dealings with Irish land a sort of back-door by which we might afterwards plead that we had escaped from obligations to meet fairly any political demands that were made upon us by Ireland. We will deal with these demands on their merits when they are presented. All I wish to make clear is this, that I entirely agree that, even if our deliberations result in a satisfactory settlement of the Irish land purchase question, none of us have a right to express surprise or disappointment if we find we still have to meet and consider demands for Irish self-government. Let me, therefore, put that on one side.
Well, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary must excuse me if I follow him in dealing with his speech with a certain amount of reserve. I listened to it with great pleasure, but I would treat his speech as he treated the Irish Land Conference. If I were to say that his speech was full of good sense and good feeling it might be taken that I was pledging myself to support the Bill he has now in incubation; I will therefore content myself with saying it was a remarkable speech. I will also say the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was a remarkable speech. But the two speeches taken together are more remarkable than either taken separately. And the conclusions of the Irish Land Conference are remarkable. As the Chief Secretary told us, some of us who do not read the Irish newspapers, or, for the matter of that, the British newspapers, may have our suspicions as to how far we are on solid ground in relying on the conclusions arrived at by the Land Conference in Ireland as being such as to have the permanent support of both parties to the conference throughout the country in Ireland. I believe that they are remarkable, and that they ought to have permanent results. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford has said they are on sound ' foundations. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh has taken the same view. He said there is something sound and permanent. I understand the Chief Secretary, in saying they were remark 849 able, to take the same view. My right hon. friend the Member for Montrose also looks upon them as important. If that he so, we have to ask ourselves—Do they provide an opportunity, such as no British Government has ever yet had, of dealing with the Irish land question; are we bound, or, if we are bound, are we justified in going to the length, of a grant, an annual grant, from the Imperial Exchequer in order to enable them to take advantage of that opportunity?
During the last two nights we have been expressing with all our power the need for retrenchment in the cost of our defences. This afternoon we have had to deal with the question of whether or not we are going to encourage the Government in incurring extra expense in another direction. There may be a little dialectical inconvenience in the juxtaposition of the two debates, but I do not think it is a real argumentative inconvenience. We have been thinking in millions for the last two days; we are asked now to consider this question with a provisional figure in our minds of a few hundred thousands. I think we are justified if we consider that the situation in Ireland really needs a grant of that kind, and that a grant of that kind will have the effect which some hon. Members represent that it will have, in spite of anything we have said lately about retrenchment, in urging the Government to take this matter into consideration. I might add to the simile which the Prime Minister used last night, and say, Suppose a member of a household has come to the conclusion that the household expenses are far too great, if in one day he uses his utmost to impress on the household that the wine bill must be cut down by £1, he is perfectly justified in saying the next day that the bill for bread may be increased by half-a-crown. That is the sort of relation between the two debates. Now, is there justification not merely for an Imperial credit, but for an Imperial grant in order to enable a scheme of land purchase to be carried out? First of all, will there be any return for that grant? Of course, if there is a saving in the expense of the government of Ireland there will be a return. My right hon. 850 friend the Member for Montrose has told us that there was a possibility of a saving in regard to the Irish Constabulary, but he also told us that it would be some time before it came into effect, because there would be pensions to be paid. But provided that there was a prospect of a saving, even if it be deferred, and even supposing that the saving is very small, how much more does that mean than can be measured in direct money value; how much more with regard to the direct social condition of Ireland? That is one element of consideration to be set against any costly expenditure.
Another point is that whatever loss the Exchequer may incur must be taken as a set-off against any claim arising from Ireland in respect to the financial relations. I do not mean a complete set-off, but it must be taken into account. Then, to go beyond purely material considerations and dealing with the spirit in which we ought to approach the question—admitting that it is very unfortunate that the Irish land question should apparently be at a deadlock, unless there is some grant from the Exchequer—have we no responsibility in the matter? Well, Sir, I feel that successive British Governments for generations have had a responsibility for the intolerable manner in which the land system has been wrought in Ireland. And if that is so, then I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh that we are bound to go a little beyond purely economical considerations in this matter, and to consider it in no niggardly spirit. Moreover, there is present to my mind this further consideration, although I would not enlarge upon it. I believe that while Ireland will never be a separate country, she will always be a separate community. Then, the contrast between what has been the loss of that separate community in past generations while we have been extending and increasing I will not enlarge upon, because it would carry me too far; but it does affect the spirit in which I think British representatives and electors should approach this question. But what is a grant of this kind if it should be given? Some say it 851 is a grant to the Irish landlords. That is not really my view. It is the essential price you will have to pay for bringing about a voluntary arrangement of the Irish land question. I am convinced that something will be needed to bridge over the gap, and this grant will be the essential something which is necessary to bring the two parties to the scheme together by voluntary arrangement. And what alternative have we to voluntary arrangement? First, there is the alternative to leave the thing alone. I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary last session on the present condition of the Irish land question, and I am as convinced as he is that it is impossible to leave things alone. One phrase I remember was that the state of things in regard to Irish lard was such that a delay of justice meant a denial of justice; but there is no prospect that there can be improvement, so far as I can see, unless there is some radical change in the system. What other alternative is there? There is the alternative of a great compulsory scheme of land purchase at a price fixed by the State. Of course that is an alternative, but I think any Member of this House who rejects this voluntary arrangement, and says he is not prepared to go to the extent of a moderate grant to carry out a voluntary arrangement, and thinks he is in a position to tell the Irish Government and the Irish Members that he sees a reasonable prospect of carrying out a great compulsory scheme—I believe he is playing a poor part in public affairs.
I have said so much to prove the spirit in which I would approach the question. I must return again to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, when he asked us not to be niggardly in this matter. I am certainly hopeful that the House of Commons and the British electors will not be niggardly, but it is dangerous and delicate ground; and we must rely on the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, to exercise their influence, as far as they can, with their friends and those whom they represent, to see that the gap between the two streams is as far as possible bridged. And I must say this by way of caution- 852 that they, too, must do their utmost to reduce the gap in the bridge to the smallest possible dimensions. If they propose what is too high a price as the purchase price of Irish land, involving a draft on the Exchequer which seems to this country to be made unduly high, and too high a price to be given to the owners of land, I think they would very much prejudice their scheme. But though that is delicate and dangerous ground, it must be borne in mind that we, on this side of the House, cannot pledge ourselves until we see the Government proposals. I would say this afternoon that so far as the figures put provisionally before the House are concerned, should the Government Land Purchase Bill contain a provision of this kind to bridge over the gap between what the tenants and the landlords of Ireland will take into consideration, then, on principle, it should be no bar to the arrangement proposed. The right hon. Member for Haddington and I have supported every land purchase proposal made in the House of Commons since 1885. I do not know what the Government proposal will be, but it is my desire, and it is my hope, when their Bill is introduced, that we shall be able to maintain that record, in regard to Irish Land Purchase, unbroken.
*MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said he fully agreed with the hon. Member for South Deny at the opening of his speech, when he declared that this was a most suggestive debate. It was the most suggestive debate on Irish affairs he had ever listened to in the House of Commons. It was suggestive for many reasons. First of all, it was highly suggestive because of the reception which the Irish demand had received from the representatives of British constituencies. To have the right hon. Member for Montrose, the right hon. Member for Berwick, and the right hon. Member for Haddington coming forward in the spirit they had displayed was not only suggestive, but satisfactory in the highest degree. Then the debate had been suggestive because of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. It was quite true that the right hon. Gentleman skirted the question quite as successfully as the authors of the Land Conference report had done.
853 He admitted the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties were quite as great as their own. Anyone could understand what the difficulties were of the right hon. Gentleman in the position in which he was placed, and he no doubt realised the difficulties of the authors of the Land Conference report. The right hon. Gentleman had said that these gentlemen had skirted many of the great issues involved. He was not complaining of that. It was quite true. But just think of that meeting in the Dublin Mansion House on those six days on which they were gathered together. Why, many of them had never mot before save in fierce conflict. Just look at the subject they had to deal with. It was complicated with difficulties and bound up with all the passions of centuries. That was the position that those of them who met on that fateful morning were in. The wonder was that they should have agreed. He confessed that he went from his own residence to the Mansion House convinced that they should probably agree on a series of general resolutions; but that they should agree on something like a score of propositions which covered the essence of the whole question, was a thing he never conceived of when he entered the door of the Mansion House; and which very few people in Ireland believed possible. He must say this—that he thought they owed a great deal of the success of that conference to the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork. That hon. Member and he had fought many a battle inside and outside this House. That hon. Member held the seat which he now held and took from him, and they had scarcely ever sheathed the sword since that day, and, but for the moderation shown by the man who had the hardest row to hoe in the whole business—but for his moderation they never could have achieved that success which had not only impressed that House and Ireland, but had impressed the Irish people wherever they were to-day.
In many respects the whole question was one of finance. If the House of Commons could get over that bridge the question was settled for all time. The conference had first of all to consider the case of the tenant. The Landowners' Convention desired that the basis of purchase should be on present rents. The conference decided 854 unanimously that the basis of purchase should be on second term rents, and the concession made by the landlords in that was no small matter, because the difference between first and second term rents, so far as it had been fixed, was a difference of 22 per cent. Were the tenants to buy at the second term rents? That they held to be impossible. They were assuming great responsibilities, and assuming them alone. They had to face a probable increase of foreign competition, a probable fall in prices, a certain rise in the cost of labour, and a certain rise in the rates of the country. They had to look all these facts in the face, and they stipulated for and secured that the terminal annuity to be paid by the tenant purchaser should be from 15 to 25 per cent. less than the second term rent. The landlords came to be next considered. The landlords had a statutory right to the second term rent. It could not be taken from them for the next fifteen years. And if this question was to be settled within a reasonable time, it was evident that they should look the fact fairly in the face, and come to a conclusion in harmony with the matter, and that accounted for the terms that had to be offered to the landlords. They had to be induced to sell—that was the plain English of the whole matter. It was no use on the part of the tenants agreeing to any report that would not constitute in itself an inducement for the landlords to sell. That was the real reason why the landlords' terms were fixed at the rate at which they were fixed. What the tenant could give—it was not what he chose to give but what he could afford to give—was the economic value of the land. He could not be asked to give more. If circumstances compelled more to be given to the landlords—and he held they did—then the difference could not come out of the tenant's pocket; and any attempt to make him pay would result in this, that the whole scheme would inevitably break down, and confusion would be worse confounded 'before ten years were over their heads. It was quite impossible; and, therefore, they had to cast about for what they would do to make up the difference between what the tenant could afford, from the economic standpoint, to pay 855 and what the landlord, with all his difficulties—for some of which, at all events, this House was responsible—could afford to take.
That was not only a suggestive but a satisfactory debate, because it had shown no unreason on the part of the representatives of British constituencies in facing frankly the issue, and, so far as they had spoken, in appreciating it and dealing with it in a kindly spirit. Why should the British taxpayer be called upon to intervene in the matter? That question would be pressed outside if not there. He desired to give three reasons which, in his opinion, made the duty of the British taxpayer perfectly clear. There was an historical obligation resting upon England in this matter. The Irish land system, as it was called, was the English land system. It was planted in Ireland for England's purposes, and the Irish landlords were originally the creation of England. Therefore, looking at that fact—his right hon. and gallant friend was rather proud of the landlords being called the English garrison—he said they were the English garrison for centuries, and by the sheer necessities of the case the House had so legislated during the last twenty-five or thirty years that there was no work for the garrison to do. Their function had gone. The course of legislation had absolutely put them out of court, and there was therefore an historical obligation resting upon this House, in view of that fact, to see that these men, who stood by them in many bitter hours of conflict and of trial, were not unfairly dealt with.
The second point had been dealt with, and therefore he would only speak of it briefly. He was one of those who believed that the report of the Financial filiations Commission substantially stated the truth in the matter of Irish taxation. He did not wish to press it, but if this question were to be entertained this matter must be faced, and any grant given now must necessarily be taken as a partial set-off in that matter. But he thought the third reason was more powerful than the other reasons put together. Talk of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Talk of millions! Why, the peace of Ireland was worth many millions to this country 856 and to the Empire. And when he found the Member for Cork putting his hand to a document which pointed out the unexampled opportunity that there is now of reconciling classes and of securing an agrarian peace in a country that had been torn for centuries with agrarian feud—and standing up and pleading in that House for reconciliation and peace between all classes in Ireland, the peace of Ireland was worth many millions of pounds to this country, and to that House, and to the Empire at large. He did not trouble himself about what was to come after; sufficient for the day was the evil thereof. Some of his hon. friends talked to him about the danger of repudiation. Some of them said the Member for Cork was in a mood for peace to-day but he might be for war to-morrow. All he could say was this—they had got the bedrock of fact to go upon here. This was not a new proposal. Land purchase had been in operation for twenty years, or almost twenty years. Twenty-three millions had been spent upon it; 80,000 men had purchased under it. Let the Chief Secretary himself be his witness. The right hon. Gentleman had no bad debts—the very phrase he used last session.
Let him say to his right hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh he did not accept his brilliant picture of the state of the Irish tenants the whole country over. He had been in the West, and in Donegal and he knew what they were; and the poorest of them, and the most ragged of them, the most destitute and forlorn of them, would make as great exertions to meet their obligations under this Act, if passed, as the richest. People talked about Home Rule coming immediately after that. Very well, let them face the facts. whatever they were; clear this question out of the way; get rid of this trouble that was at the root of every Irish trouble, and the settlement of every other Irish question would be rendered easier and simpler. That was one of the greatest arguments he knew for a complete and final measure. They had other issues in Ireland besides the land awaiting solution, but nothing could be done in that country until this land trouble was got out of the way. He did not know whether the Chief Secre- 857 tary would listen to any appeal he would make, but he made it in all sincerity, and he made it in the name of tens of thousands of men for whom he had some right to speak in Ulster; he made a most earnest appeal to him that when the introduced his Bill he should take his courage in both hands, that he should manfully grapple with the question, and that he would do his best to carry out the words of the King himself in his speech, "to complete this series of Acts which has wrought such great benefit in Ireland in the past."
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said that the House of Commons might not generally recognise it, but he believed that they were on the eve of one of the most momentous changes for Ireland, and for this country, that had ever been indicated by any debate during the twelve years that he had been a Member of the House of Commons. They had been invited by the Chief Secretary, in vague and nebulous language, to lead him kindly on in the Bill he had promised. He would quote to the right hon. Gentleman, "Lead, kindly Light." If ever there was light thrown on an agrarian problem since he had sat in the House of Commons, it had been shod from different quarters by divergent interests in the most kindly, tolerant, and conciliatory way. He had only risen because the debate, excellent though it was, had been confined to men of varying shades of politics from Ireland, from Scotland, and from Northumberland. So far, no degenerate Southerner had intervened; but it was only because he believed that the Southerner, in proportion to his wealth, would not hesitate to pay his equitable, proper and just share towards the settlement of a difficult Irish problem, that he stood up as a Southerner and a Londoner, to contribute his share of responsibility to what he hoped would be the solution of a vexed Imperial question. He would ask the House to recognise what had happened in the debate. Twelve speakers had spoken; and they included men who previously were in deadly political conflict, which had made debates in the House alternately exciting and depressing.
To-day conciliation had succeeded conflict, calmness had succeeded passion, and with it he hoped peace had come for 858 Ireland and the removal forever from the floor of the Imperial Parliament of an issue which he would always have made a domestic one. He believed that this debate inaugurated a most momentous change for the benefit of Ireland. It was an agrarian experiment of great magnitude, the lines of which did not, perhaps, conform entirely with the ideals held in Radical circles, but he thought they ought to make mutual concessions in a case of this kind and abandon the strict political principle, if the result of so doing would be to terminate the terrible quarrel which for seven centuries Lad divided England and Ireland, and which had distracted their counsels to such an extent that it had become a discredit and a reproach. He supported with all his heart the kindly, forcible, and practical view taken by the right hon. Member for Berwick that afternoon. The views expressed by him and the right hon. Member for Montrose and the hon. and learned Member for Haddington shire contained a means by which a compromise could be arrived at; by which the tenant would get relief—and the landlord get no more than he was entitled to—Ireland would get rest from the trouble in which she had been so long involved, and the British taxpayer would see near his own door that happiness, peace and prosperity to secure which we had wasted hundreds of millions in the Transvaal, when, in the case of Ireland, a very few millions would have sufficed to have brought relief. If that credit was advanced for some years State control must follow. If money was advanced to the tenant for the improvement of his position by the State it was only right that State control should follow.
We had sent money to Indian famines and other cases of distress. We had been helping lame dogs over the stile in every part of the globe. It was now Ireland's turn, and if the State advanced the money to the tenants the State should see and the tenants should agree that the repayment should come with even greater punctuality than rent was paid to a private landlord. In the event of a tenant not being able either to continue his purchase or to p: iy his rent, or to properly cultivate, then the State should have a right of pre- 859 emption, and if necessary resumption. If the State was good enough to lend its credit to help a man in. difficulties the man helped would never object to that reasonable control and those reasonable safeguards which the State had a right to expect and receive in return for collective help. In this particular he hoped the Irish Members were prepared to conform to sound Radical views on the land question. If they did not they would have to do something else and make great sacrifices, and the Radical land reformers might have to make equally great concessions. He had recently visited Ireland, and he frankly stated that he did not, and could not, share the optimistic views of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. He went there with his own views upon the land question which the preventable poverty and misery of the people in some particular regions absolutely dissipated. He saw a practically derelict country; he saw too frequently illness, drink, degradation, absence of proper food and proper clothes, the ascendency of certain interests which ought never to prevail in a nation which had its own land and was economically free from those encumbrances and embarrassments which were continually met among the Irish peasants and Irish farmers, and he came home convinced that if there was a duty on the part of the British Member of Parliament, that this primary duty rested upon him, to the extent that he should put aside all preconceived notions of political economy and expense, in order to save Ireland from this derelict condition before it was too late. He was not so sure that even now this Land Bill, hopeful though it might be with all the happy promise of relief which he trusted it would bring to Ireland's social, political and moral requirements, was not being introduced fifty or sixty years too late, when reparation was impossible. He had never seen a nation whose people's life was so hard, whose people were so virtuous under such adverse conditions, so moral under such degrading conditions, hoping against hope that the British Parliament would come to their relief.
He appealed to the House to regard this question entirely on its merits and to do what had to be done as generously as possible, and not in any narrow and niggardly spirit. If the economic and 860 social condition of the Irish people could be brought home to those British members and British taxpayers who had not seen Ireland as he had seen it, he was convinced that they would subordinate any views they had and accept the responsibility of settling the Irish question in this, the only if not the best way it could be settled. Even if the Land Bill were passed it would be possible in a few generations for either the Gomheen man or the Jew to become in the process of years possessed of large tracts of Ireland, and be worse landlords than those which at present existed. Such a possibility would have to be prevented by adequate safeguards in the interests of the State as a whole. The question before the House that night was, how seven centuries of strife and bitterness between two peoples could be terminated, and the man who wished to live his life and earn his living in Ireland, in his own home, from his labour get that adequate return he ought to get for living that life which every honest man desired to live. The projected Bill promised to solve this problem, and he appealed to the Chief Secretary for Ireland not be influenced or intimidated by criticisms in that House, but to realise that it was one of the traditions of a responsible Conservative Government—and they had now the opportunity—that they should settle the land question, and they must do so on broad, generous and big lines. If they did not take that view their Bill would be a miserable failure, and upon the Government would rest the terrible responsibility of consigning four millions of people to conditions which they had endured too long, to a condition of degradation, over-taxation, and misrule to which they never ought to have been subjected, and which by the passing of a good Land Bill there was hope for a change and the possibility of that peace, happiness and prosperity to Ireland which all desired to see.
*MR. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said that many references had been made to the opportunity presented to the Chief Secretary by the present condition of affairs in Ireland, but no one could deny that that opportunity had been immensely improved by the debate to which the House had listened. From no quarter 861 of the House had a single discouraging word proceeded, by which fact the right hon. Gentleman should be encouraged to face the question in a broad and statesmanlike manner. The whole importance of the report depended on the grant to be made by the Treasury; everything else might be left on one side. All that had been done would be rendered absolutely useless unless there was forthcoming that financial assistance which would induce the landlords to sell and enable the tenants to buy. The task the conference had to face was that of devising some scheme which would substitute inducement for compulsion, and enable a voluntary and amicable settlement to be arrived at between the two parties. The price offered by the tenants was the highest possible, and would only be given to secure a final settlement, but it fell short of the amount required to induce the landlord to part with his interest in the land. Dual ownership had been condemned, and it would have been unreasonable and absurd to ask the landlords' representatives to agree to sell their land without assuring them the income they were at present receiving from it. The financial assistance the right hon. Gentleman was asked to provide was, therefore, neither more nor less than the necessary inducement to the landlord to sell. The figure given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose was considerably higher than anything entertained in the conference, so there could be no doubt that, if that figure were accepted by the Government, it would give complete satisfaction to those who signed the report and to the landlord party in Ireland. He hoped the Chief Secretary had not allowed himself to be influenced by certain criticisms which had been made. Those criticisms, so far as they were directed against the financial portion of the scheme, were based, not on the reluctance of the Irish people to tax themselves, but entirely on the belief that the Government would not give the necessary financial assistance. That difficulty had been removed by the debate on the present Amendment, as it had been made perfectly clear, he thought, that if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues made up their minds to submit a scheme such as was foreshadowed by the Land Conference, the House of 862 Commons would not only consider that scheme sympathetically, but give it its support.
On the Government was thrown the responsibility of settling this purely Irish question. The Irish people had no power to tax: themselves, or to settle the question in their own country, and if the House of Commons did not ratify a bargain struck between the two contending parties and agreed to by all classes it would be in the position of defeating the Irish people in the effort to make peace among themselves. The tenants' offer had been screwed up to the highest possible figure, but they were prepared to stand by the agreement. They were not forgetful of the fact that in working out the details there would be much difficulty and trouble, but they were not going to judge the right hon. Gentleman by those details. The one thing to which they would look would be the financial proposals of the Government. From his knowledge of the feeling in Ireland he had no hesitation in saying that if they had the power to tax themselves and deal with this question in their own country they would readily do so. Would the Government, under such circumstances, by refusing the necessary assistance, stand in the way of a settlement, which would undoubtedly bring to Ireland new hope, and inevitably lead to the happiness and prosperity of the country? Landlord and tenant would, under such a settlement mix together, and the industrial development of Ireland would receive an immense impetus. The Government had a great opportunity of ensuring peace between different classes, of securing a happier condition of the country, and enabling a greater attention to be paid to its industrial development; the price they were asked to pay was a very small one, and one which the debate had shown the House of Commons was prepared to pay.
§ *MR. SHARPE (Kensington, N.)
said that as a Metropolitan Member and a warm supporter of the government, he rejoiced at the universal satisfaction which had been expressed at the near prospect of settling this great Irish land question on a reasonable and just basis. It was also a source of great satisfaction 863 that the question was to be settled not by a local assembly but by the Imperial Parliament. He felt that this result would be achieved when they found men of all parties supporting warmly and cordially the proposals of the recent Land Conference. They did not know the facts nor the circum stances connected with the measure which his right hon. friend was bringing forward, but he felt quite sure that the English public and the English taxpayer would be inclined to deal generously with a country to which they were bound by so many ties and by sympathy. This was not a matter for niggardliness, or cheeseparing, or jealousy. The hon. Member for Batter-sea had spoken of this as being a stop in an agrarian direction, but he wished the House of Commons to lay down the great rule that they should be just and fear not. They should do what was right to Ireland in the present circumstances, and leave the future to take care of itself. He felt no apprehension with regard to the taxpayers, for he believed they would be willing to make a liberal grant to save the Irish gentry from extinction, and so settle this matter' on a true, proper, and equitable basis. If that could be done what did it matter that a large amount of money by way of free grant would be required to purchase such a magnificent result? That was the spirit in which they should approach the question, and he hoped that all sections would stand by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, if he saw his way to bring forward in a large and liberal spirit the reform which had been supported from all sides of the House.
§ MR. HUGH LAW (Donegal, W.)
said he wanted to say a word upon this question. The right hon. and gallant Member for Armagh had indicated that there was some little difference of opinion between him and Iris fellow-countrymen who sat on the Nationalist Benches as to the condition of the Irish tenant. He wished to put it to the House that it ought to be part of a statesmanlike policy in the coming Land Bill to place the poor people in the West of Ireland in such a position that John Bull might there have a solvent and prosperous people to deal with. He wished to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give a generous considera- 864 tion to the congested districts in his Bill, and not a niggardly one.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I hope the House will now permit me to withdraw my Amendment, for I feel that the object I had in view has been served.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.