§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:—
In page 1, line 15, to leave out from the word 'advance,' to the end of Sub-section (2), and insert the words 'provided that the purchase annuity payable under this Act will be, to the case of the purchase of a holding, subject in a judicial rent fixed or agreed to since the passing of the Act of 1896, not less than 15 per cent. below the existing rent, and in the case of the purchase of a holding subject to a judicial rent fixed before that date, or of a holding which is not subject to a judicial rent, but the tenancy in which is one to which, in the opinion of the Land Commission, the Land
Purchase Acts apply, not less than 25 per cent. below the existing rent.'"—(Mr. John Redmond.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word 'or' in line 18, stand part of the clause."
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said two remarkable features in this debate must have impressed themselves upon the mind of everyone who followed the course of the discussion on the previous day. They were, firstly, that up to the present moment, after a debate on what I might describe as the most important single Amendment on the Paper to this Bill; not one Member representing an Irish constituency had risen to oppose it. The second remarkable feature to which he alluded was the speech delivered by the hon. Member for York, who had in the course of that debate put himself forward as the chief spokesman of the irreconcilable section of the Irish landlords. At that stage they were entitled to put to themselves the question, if the Government should be so badly advised as to resist this Amendment and they were forced to go to a division "How will the Irish vote go." He said without the slightest doubt, that if they were forced to decide on that question in the Division Lobby—and he trusted they would not be—they would have, in favour of the Amendment, at least ten to one of the Irish representatives. The Government, if they opposed this Amendment, would not have in their Division Lobby, outside the two Irish law officers, four Irish Members. On what ground was this Bill being recommended to the people of Great Britain; on what ground had it received an almost unparalleled endorsement from the House of Commons? It was on the ground that it was a great measure, drafted not at the bidding, or at the demand, of one or other party in Ireland, but for the purpose of promoting a great and peaceful settlement of this war which had desolated Ireland for generations, and that it would be made, if it was not already, a measure acceptable to and approved of, practically speaking, by all sections of the Irish population. With what face would 1062 the Government continue to recommend their Bill to the people of this country if upon this vital Amendment—the most important that now stood upon the Paper—if at the very outset of the discussion they forced a conclusion upon the House against ten to one of the Irish Members. The position was an impossible one, and he refused to believe that any Irish Minister who wished, as he admitted the Chief Secretary did, to signalise his administration by a real attempt to settle this great question upon lines acceptable to all sections in Ireland, would inaugurate the discussion upon the Bill by such an extraordinary position as that. If this most important Amendment from the Irish benches was defeated in the lobby by English votes with the overwhelming preponderance of the Irish representatives in favour of it—if this Amendment, proposed by the Leader of the Irish Nationalist Party and supported by a majority of the Irish Unionists in this House, were to be defeated by an English vote, he asked the Chief Secretary to consider what would be the effect of such a proceeding upon the tone and the temper in which the further consideration of this Bill would be carried on. He considered that a matter of vital importance. If this Bill was to be made a great measure of appeasement and peace in Ireland, as he hoped it would, it was essential that the discussion should be on lines of conciliation and goodwill in all parts of the House, and it would be a most deplorable thing that the opening days of the debate on the Bill should be marked by a clash of feeling in which the almost unanimous will of Ireland on a vital point was set aside and overcome by uninformed English opinion. Could anything be more calculated to spoil the hope of the Bill being received in Ireland in that spirit which was essential to its success if it was to be a measure of peace and appeasement? Let them remember that it was not only necessary that this Bill should be framed in this House in accordance with the views of Irishmen who understood the question, but it was also necessary that it should be received in Ireland with goodwill on both sides, and worked not in a spirit of partisanship for bitterness, but as a measure of appeasement.
1063 He did not go quite so far as some hon. Members in saying that if this Amendment were carried practically all differences of opinion would be settled. Nor did he go so far as the hon. Member for South Tyrone in saying that the first clause was practically the whole Bill. In his opinion there were other questions of vital importance to be considered—such questions, for instance, as the reinstatement of evicted tenants and the resettlement of the West, without which no Land Bill could be accepted in Ireland as really satisfactory, and also the omission of Clause 17 and Part 3 of the Bill, all these, he thought, were matters of vital importance. But he admitted that this was undoubtedly a most vital and essential Amendment, and it had this peculiarity about it—it was the only Amendment on which a certain small irreconcilable section of the Irish landlords had chosen to take up a position in connection with which they said their interests were vitally affected. He felt bound in justice to himself to say that so far as he was concerned he favoured the old procedure of land purchase in Ireland. He believed—and he had not been converted from his opinion by any of the arguments he had heard in this debate—he believed that the Ashbourne Act was the best Act ever passed by this House for the settlement of the Irish land question by the purchase system. He still believed in the old system of the inspection of holdings as the only effective protection for the taxpayer in England. He denied that this old system of the inspection of holdings had been or need be the main source of any serious delay in the process of carrying out land purchase. It was merely a question of appointing a sufficient staff. The delays which occurred in the past under this system, were really due, not to the necessity of inspecting the holdings but to legal questions which arose. Whenever they touched the law they were immediately plunged in delays, the end of which no man could see. It was the questions of title and legal questions affecting various interests that really caused the delay and not the inspection of holdings. Even where the necessity of determining whether the holdings were full security 1064 for the advance was done away with, they could not do away with the necessity of inspection for other purposes, for they had got to map the holding, to determine the boundaries, and in many cases to correct the boundaries. They had to go on the holding to determine another vital question, and that was the question whether the tenant was really in possession. Otherwise the advance could not legally be made. He knew of a case where, owing to the neglect of that important investigation, the advance was made and the holding sold to a man who was only a middleman and had sub-let the holding, and was not really in possession at all. That man was now grinding the real tenant, having purchased an estate of which he was not really in possession at all. There were also questions of turbary rights and other easements of that kind to be considered. All these questions must be properly determined, and they could be determined only by the system of inspection. He held, therefore, that no matter what they did by abolishing inspection they could not get rid of the necessity of ascertaining and fully determining all the rights to which he had referred. No delay need arise from such a procedure, for it was all a question of appointing an adequate staff, and that by no means an expensive staff. He passed, however, from that subject, for he recognised the decision of the National Convention in Dublin on it, a Convention which was amply representative of the tenants of Ireland, and at which they were represented as they never were before, on a great question like that. That Convention decided in favour of this Amendment, and he with all his heart accepted the position. He rose to support the Amendment. Had he been able to be present at the Convention he would have pleaded his own view, but now he heartily accepted the decision that was arrived at there.
But important and vital as this Amendment was, he held that its importance had been increased enormously by the almost brutal frankness with which the hon. and learned Member for York gave expression to the ideas and plans of those for whom he spoke in that House. The hon. and learned Member 1065 said yesterday, and he said it with scorn and contempt, that eighteen years purchase was absurd, and that twenty-five years purchase was the only reasonable figure that could be considered by the Irish landlords. That statement, coming from the hon. and learned Member for York, speaking for the irreconcilable section of Irish landlords, was rendered the more remarkable by certain words which occurred in a letter published in the Dublin newspapers of the 23rd April last, from a certain Mr. Lindsay Talbot Crosbie, who sometimes appeared to be a moderate landlord. Mr. Crosbie, said—Somewhere about twenty-eight years purchase is what the landlord requires and it is quite immaterial to him how that is made up.That was very characteristic of an Irish landlord. Mr. Crosbie went on—If the tenant can give twenty-five years purchase and the Slate three, which is about what the twelve millions will do, the transaction will go forward.No doubt it would go forward, and at a very rapid pace. But he did not know what the subsequent results would be, for the tenant on the one hand and the State on the other. He entirely agreed with what was said the preceding day by the hon. Member for Cork City that they might entirely dismiss from their minds all idea of repudiation. He believed that repudiation was entirely out of the question in Ireland. But what was not out of the question was this—that if they embarked upon any system of purchase which might reduce a considerable section of the tenants to genuine poverty, they might be face to face with the alternative of either carrying out wholesale clearances and evictions when they knew the people could not pay, or they might be called on to make reductions in the annuities at the cost of the taxpayers. They knew what the result in that case would be. Public opinion in this country would not support them in making clearances of that kind, and they would then be compelled to make reductions in the annuities, and would begin to find out when too late what the meaning was of the significant language of Mr. Talbot Crosbie when he said he did not care how the money was made up. If there was any idea in the minds of any 1066 considerable section of the Irish landlords of using this Bill as a starting point for a great rise in the price of land in Ireland, he said deliberately that this Bill, in that event, would bring not peace to Ireland but the sword. There would be no settlement of the question, and the general condition of the country would be worse than before.
Turning again to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for York, his view was that the general average ought to be twenty-five years purchase in addition to the bonus. He thought the hon. Member for Cork made the bonus out to be equal to five years purchase. He calculated it at four years purchase, and he asked the Committee to note the extraordinary position taken up by the hon. and learned Member for York, who had spoken, with brutal frankness, the views of his friends. The hon. and learned Member's idea of this Bill was that the landlords were to get a bonus of four years purchase, and because they were getting that, they were therefore to raise the average price of the medium holdings in Ireland to twenty-five years purchase. Could such an idea suggest itself to the mind of any man outside the landlord class in Ireland? For twenty years they had been accepting gladly, cheerfully, and voluntarily an average of eighteen years purchase, and now, when the Government came forward, and in order to promote peace and expedite the process of sale, offered a bonus of four years purchase, the landlords turned round and said that the tenants must plank it up by seven years more, merely because the Government were giving the bonus of four years purchase. He had sought with alarm and amazement for some explanation of the extraordinary idea, that there existed the necessity of an enormous increase in the price of Irish estates in order to induce the landlords to sell. The hon. and learned Member for York said also that the number of years purchase had nothing to do with the matter. He was amazed at that statement, because the hon. and learned Member also said that the only thing which concerned the tenant was the amount of the immediate reduction he would obtain, no matter how long he might have to 1067 pay. The hon. and learned Member also said that, in his opinion, it did not matter if there was any squeezing up in the number of years purchase, because the finances of the Bill had been so manipulated as to render the system of decadal reductions impossible. That was a matter of vital importance both for the tenant and the State, because, in his opinion, no system could ever be devised more calculated to give security to the State than the system of decadal reductions. That system guarded both the tenant and the State against future fluctuations in the price of produce, and it gave the tenant a substitute for the chances he would otherwise have in the Land Courts.
He turned again to the other question which the Committee ought to ask itself, and insist on being satisfied upon, before proceeding to decide on this momentous Amendment; and that was, what was the ground upon which this claim was built up that an increase in the price of Irish land was necessary to carry on the work of sale? He enthusiastically agreed with the policy of bonus. That was the essence—that was what was at the root and foundation of this whole concordat. They were not getting a shilling of it. It meant that the landlords and tenants of Ireland, after desolating the country for generations, and after, as the Chief Secretary himself said, an army costing £1,400,000 a year had been perpetually employed in protecting the landlords' interests, they had come together and said, in effect, "Would it not be better to spend some of that money in easing the situation," and the representatives of the Nationalist Party had agreed to that. Surely their anxiety for peace—it had been charged that their anxiety had been to prolong this war—was produced by that. Not one penny of bonus would the landlords have got without the co-operation of the tenants' representatives. He thought they were entitled to claim that they had been magnanimous. He thought that the people were entitled to claim something. There was a sum of £10,000,000, or as they would have liked to have made it, £20,000,000, for it is money that must be spent in Ireland, and he said they were entitled to lay claim to some magnanimity in connection with it. They 1068 made no claim that any part of it should be applied to reducing the price of land in Ireland as they might have done. He accepted the principle laid down by the hon. Member for Cork that they were willing to close this trouble on the basis of the Ashbourne Acts, to give to the landlords the entire benefit of the bonus, paying them the same price which they had accepted in the open and free market for the last twenty years. Was not that a great concession on the part of the Nationalist Party? Afterall, £12,000,000 divided amongst a small class was no trifle. He made a calculation the other day, from which it appeared that in the case of Lord De Freyne, who had been in conflict with his tenants, if he sold under this Act for the same price would get a bonus of £40,000 over and above the price that the tenants would have given him at the same number of years purchase under the law as it stood. He asked any English landlord, supposing these terms were offered to him, would he not be content? Would he turn round and say that the Government were going to give him four years purchase, and that therefore they must give him seven more than they otherwise would, or he would not be content? What was the argument upon which this extravagant demand had been founded?
He turned to the speech the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary delivered when he was introducing the Bill of last year. In it he made some statements which he proposed now to traverse. He would base his argument upon his own Returns. Speaking of land purchase he said—If you look into these figures more closely you will see that they are not so satisfactory. You will see that there has been a diminution, I regret to say, during recent years in the amount which has been advanced for land purchase. In 1899 advances were made of £1,900,000, in 1900 £1,800,000, and last year £1,280,000. But those figures do not tell the whole tale.And he went on—Taking the last four years. The numbers of tenants who applied were 8,000, 6,000, 5,000, and last year only 3,000.That, he presumed, alluded to the year ending 31st March, 1901. That was last year—I call that an alarming decrease. What are the reasons for that?1069 And he went on to give several reasons, but he never alluded to the cost of the tenant having to go to law. He gave reasons which were sound and he gave several which were unsound, and not based upon facts. One was the fall in the price of land stock, and another was that the land sold belonged to landowners who had other sources of income, and, in the third place to landlords who had been forced to sell because they were embarrassed and their creditors urged them to that course. He would show that it was an entirely unsound argument. The landlords who sold represented in the fullest degree the whole body of landlords. They were told that the bankrupt stock was sold out and that they had now to deal with solvent landlords, who could sell or not as they thought fit. He wished he could read out to the Committee (but it would take too long to do so) the figures dealing with this subject. He would take some of them, however. The first name in the list of owners of bankrupt stock was the Duke of Abercorn. Was he of the class of "scallywags" who had been referred to by the hon. Member opposite. Then there was the Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Bath, The O'Connor Don (a pretty shrewd landlord, who knew his own interest well), and Lord Dillon. What class did the latter belong to? Was he a man of such superabundant wealth that he was not in this class. He certainly was not as indifferent to the possession of property as some of them were said to be.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
The hon. Member is impeaching the accuracy of what I said. I said the landlords must be divided into certain classes, Lord Bath, Lord Londonderry, and Lord Dillon all had other interests and other resources.
§ MR. DILLON
said he was speaking about the fact that the Chief Secretary had improved upon his own argument as to the bankrupt stock. He had now stated the case in much more moderate terms. But he referred to the right hon. Gentleman who endeavoured to induce the House of Commons to believe that the landlords who sold were ex- 1070 ceptional men in some respects. He denied that. He said that if he went through the list the hon. Gentleman would find that they were a very fair sample of the Irish landlords, and that they sold because they thought that the terms they were getting were a fair and full price, and that for one reason or the other they would rather have the money than the land. Therefore he maintained that that argument was an absolutely absurd argument, and had no foundation whatever in fact. Now he came to the statement that he based a good deal of his case upon—the figures as to the applications. Let him direct attention to what he considered to be the extremely remarkable figures in this respect. He said that the number of applications for loans were 8,000, 6,000, 5,000, and only 3,000 in the year ending the 31st March, 1901. He did not know how the right hon. Gentleman made out those figures, because on examining the last Return, he came to a totally different conclusion. According to that Return the number of applications for loans in the year ending 31st March, 1901, was 4,946, not 3,000 as the Chief Secretary said. But that did not cover the question, because the right hon. Gentleman forgot apparently that since the Act of 1896 applications for loans had been divided into three heads. They had now in this table applications for loans in the ordinary course, applications under Section 40, and applications for loans in the case of estates purchased by the Congested Districts Board and resold to the tenants. When he turned to the second, those under Section 40, he found 1,210, and he found that the total, according to his calculation, was not 3,000 as the Chief Secretary said, but 6,157. The amount in that year applied for (ending 31st March, 1901) was £1,646,000 odd. Now he came to the next year, 1902 In the Return recently issued the number of applications for loans was given at 3,430, but in the Report of the Land Commission, from which presumably these Returns were compiled, under No. 1 they were 4,051, not 3,430. That was to say, under Section 40 there were 1,100 applications, and in the case of the Congested Districts Board, 620—in all, 5,520 applications for loans instead of the 3,000 which the Chief Secretary mentioned; and the amount applied for was 1071 £1,389,000 as contrasted with £1,600,000 in the previous year. But everybody who had followed the course of land purchase in Ireland knew that there were two things which were operating to reduce the rapidity of land purchase. First of all there was the fall in land stock, which had been enormous; and secondly, they had the promise of the new Land Bill. The marvel to him, knowing the talk going on in Ireland, where everyone was waiting for the new Bill—the wonder was the great extent to which land purchase had operated. That was of vital importance, and, without accusing the right hon. Gentleman of any discourtesy, he did not think the Chief Secretary had treated the Committee quite fairly in the matter. He had left them under a misconception.
He would compare the figures of land purchase for the two years 1901 and 1902 with the two years 1894 and 1895. In 1894–95 land stock stood at 103, and therefore there was every inducement from that point of view for the landlord to sell. For the last two years it had been standing at about 92. In 1894, with land stock at 98, the number of applications was 2,299, and the amount applied for £760,000. In 1895, with land stock at 103, the number of loans applied for was 1,923, and the amount of money applied for was £566,000, as against 6,000 applied for in 1901, and 5,000 odd applied for in 1902; and even in the nine months ending December 31st last, there was applied for something like 3,000 loans, representing a sum of nearly £1,000,000 sterling as compared with the figures he had read out. Even on the very eve of this Land Bill, with land stock down to 92, land purchase was going on at a much greater pace than it was in 1894 and 1895 with land stock at 103. That was a very extraordinary state of things, and it was worth considering when they came to estimate the importance and necessity for the great increase in the price of land and the acceleration of land purchase.
What was the price of land? That was a matter which was vital for them to consider, and they had most ample information on this question of the actual price of land. First he would take the table showing the average price of 40,000 holdings sold under the Land Acts of 1891 and 1896 up to the 31st March, 1902, and in respect of which £9,600,000 had been advanced; and the 1072 average price for the whole of that period was 17.6 years purchase. The average for the year ending 31st March, 1902, was 17.9. That was the last year for which they had complete figures, and in dealing with that average they should remember that was calculated on depreciated land stock. He had calculated what that figure meant. Eighteen years purchase in land stock at its present figure was equal to about sixteen and a half years in cash, and equal to about fourteen and a half or fifteen in land stock at the figure it stood six years ago. Those figures ought to be seriously considered by the House before they decided the Amendment. They had, in addition, a record at the end of the Government Return of the average price of holdings extending over all those years, and really that average was so remarkable that he must direct the attention of the House to it. These were the average prices for land in Ireland year by year since 1885. He would not give all the years; it was enough to say that they varied from sixteen years to eighteen years purchase, and in no year from 1885 down to the last year of which there was record had the average price of land risen to above eighteen years purchase. When they looked at the table giving the highest and lowest average in counties and in each year, they found that in 1886 the highest was 23.6, and the lowest 13.8. In 1887 the highest was 20.6, and the lowest 11.5. In 1888 the highest was 19.7, and the lowest 12.4. In 1889 the highest was 19.7, and the lowest 13.2. In 1890 it varied from 19.8 to 13.2. In 1893 the highest was 20 and the lowest 10.7. These were average prices, it should be remembered, and during the three years ending 31st March, 1894, it varied from 20.4 to 12.5. Another year the highest was 20.3 and the lowest 11. In 1895 the highest was 21.2 and the lowest 6.6. In face of those figures, from a Return specially provided, they were asked to pass a law that no landlord should be asked to sell his estate for less than eighteen years purchase of first-term rents. He could have made his case stronger by showing that some of those cases must have been second-term rents; but in the Government Return there was no distinction made between 1073 first and second-term rents. With those figures behind them and with the fact that the cash price of Irish land, taken on the average for the last years they had a record of, was sixteen and a half years purchase in a fair, open market, and that at that price large transactions were going on, they were asked to pass a law that no landlord was to be allowed to sell at less than eighteen years purchase.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
asked if the hon. Member would state what was the nature of the rents and the basis on which these years purchase was calculated.
§ MR. DILLON
said he thought the hon. and gallant Member was familiar with the Return. The Report gave the number of years purchase, but not the basis of rent He had often called attention to that point. There was no distinction between first and second-term rents; but they were entitled to assume that the vast majority were first-term rents.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he did not wish to argue with the hon. Member, but as his hon. and gallant friend asked that the Committee should be in possesssion of the facts he thought he was at liberty to point out that every kind of farm was included.
§ MR. DILLON
said that that was quite so. That, however, enormously strengthened his case. He was putting it very mildly and fairly. He might have argued that a great many of these were second-term rents; but he took it they were mainly first-term rents. The right hon. Gentleman might talk about free-farm rents, and those were cases of perhaps thirty or forty years purchase. As a matter of fact, if they looked into these Returns they would be only a decimal wrong if they assumed that, as 1074 regards most of the figures he had given, they were based on first-term rents. No doubt as they came to the later years the Returns were to a certain extent modified by the inclusion of second-term rents, and if he pointed out that a good many of the later cases were second-term rents, that would add enormously to the strength of his case. There were only two other tables that he would allude to, and he alluded to them because they were unique and peculiar. They give a quite unique class of information as to the value of Irish land; and why was that so? Because they were tables of sales conducted by the Land Commission itself. The first of the tables was a Return showing the number of loans issued under Section 40 of the Act of 1896. Hon. Members would recollect that Section 40 was a compulsory section, and that the procedure was this: The land Judge referred the estate to be sold to the Land Commission, whose duty it was to go to the farm and report to him what they considered a fair price for the holding. In those cases they got the only occasion in which the Government determined the value of the holding. They knew that in many of those cases the land Judge had raised the price fixed by the Land Commission. He was convinced that in most instances in making these valuations they compelled the unfortunate tenants to purchase and pay for a large share of their own improvements on the land. What was the result of the valuation of a Government Commissioner and Government Department? The result was 17.9 years purchase of the whole of the holdings, numbering about 3,000. What better evidence could the Committee have of the opinion of the Government as to the proper valuation of the land? And those prices have been accepted with small cash additions by a land Judge in Ireland, who was not distinguished by any desire to give the tenants their holdings cheap. There could be no better guide to the opinion of the Government as to the proper valuation of land than the prices which had been accepted by the Land Court of Ireland, which certainly had no desire to cheapen the holdings. He could quote another case which came before Judge Ross, who had accepted seventeen 1075 and a-half years purchase as the average price of land which had passed through his hands. In the month of March, an estate came before Judge Ross where the landlord, the tenant, and the mortgagee were in agreement to sell a number of second-term rents. The learned Judge preached a sermon on the matter, and said he never would, so long as he was on the bench, allow second term rents to be sold at less than twenty years purchase. There was just indignation in Ireland at the judgment; but the learned Judge was far behind the House of Commons and the hon. and learned Member for York, whose lowest price was twenty-five years purchase. When Judge Ross was refusing seventeen and a-half years purchase for second-term rents, it must be remembered there was no bonus. If it had been shown to him that the landlord would, on that price, get an additional four years out of a bonus, he would have consented to the sale without the slightest hesitation. Judge Ross fixed as the highest limit twenty years purchase, without a bonus. They were now asked to fix it at twenty-two years with a bonus. He waited with the greatest curiosity to hear what defence the Government made to any such suggestion.
Would the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh be surprised to hear that, according to the most recent Return, the average price of all the holdings sold in Armagh was fourteen years purchase. This was not in Mayo, or in the wild regions, but right in the heart of loyal Armagh. In a most useful Return which was published in the early days of the 1891 Act, but, unfortunately, not continued, there was a classification of all the holdings sold, and a reference to that would show that not one of them was sold at a higher price than seventeen years purchase, and it would be seen from that Return that as the size of the holding increased the price, as a rule, decreased. It was absolutely fallacious to say that this Amendment only affected the poorest holdings in Ireland. The Nationalist Party were not concerned only with the poor holdings, they were concerned with all classes of holdings, and they entirely repudiated the 1076 idea that the value of the land ever rose to twenty-two years purchase. It had been assumed by many speakers to be a fair and reasonable thing to say that, because a man paid fourteen or fifteen years purchase for a first-term judicial rent in 1892, he should now on the top of that pay a larger number of years purchase on his second-term judicial rent. What was the good of going to the Land Court and getting rents reduced if the Government were going to take away with one hand what they gave with the other. It was a monstrous proposition. If they stood on bare and naked justice the second-term rents were entitled to be taken on the basis and price of the first-term rents ten years ago. The poor wretch who had continued to pay rent all this time and obtained a second-term reduction was now to be told he was to be robbed of that because he was to be treated differently to what he would have been as a first-term tenant ten years ago. So far as he was concerned he honestly desired peace and he did not desire to stand on the principles of extreme justice in this matter provided the tenants got reasonable justice. He earnestly desired peace and fully accepted the position laid down on the previous day by the hon. Member for Cork, that this Bill could be made a great measure of peace and prosperity to Ireland, bringing untold blessings on the people, if the Government would accept the Ashbourne prices. Those prices the people would be willing to give. But he took note of the fact that the first note of discontent and bitterness which had been introduced into this debate had been introduced by the hon. Member for York. The Nationalist Party had shown a genuine desire to make this a lasting peace, and throughout the debate no word of bitterness had come from them. He trusted that the discordant note struck by the hon. Member for York would not be followed, and that the tone and reasoning that had characterised the debate would be continued. If the Government approached this and other Amendments moved from the Irish benches with the earnest desire to meet the almost unanimous wish of the Irish representatives, then, he believed, when this Bill passed into an Act it would open a 1077 better and happier chapter in the history of Ireland.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said that as far as he understood from his speech, the hon. Member for East Mayo was absolutely opposed to this Bill and the settlement arrived at the Land Conference.
§ MR. DILLON
asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to quote a passage from his speech bearing out that statement.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said the hon. Member seemed to forget that there were only two ways of settling the Irish Land Question—compulsion and inducement. Compulsion was a very simple matter. The landlords would be given two or three years purchase and be turned out. Compulsion was the nostrum of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who had declared that if they had Home Rule the Irish people would make short work of the Irish landlords.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
did not believe the House of Commons would ever adopt a compulsory Bill. The present measure was an attempt to induce landlord and tenant to agree. The mistake of the hon. Member for East Mayo was that he went too much into detail as to the prices recently given for land. Sales in Ireland had completely ceased, and this Bill was a great sales Bill to enable the sales to begin again, and to finish, as far as the House of Commons could, the Irish Land Question. He did not for a moment say that when this Bill was passed the Irish question would cease to exist. As long as there were Irishmen there would be an Irish question. But he believed the Irish question would be settled. Hon. Members on the other side held that the passage of this Bill would further the other political end in which they were interested. He believed exactly the opposite. If he thought it would further Home Rule, he would oppose the Bill with all his power. But he 1078 believed that if the land question was settled—as he thought it would be if the Bill were passed more or less in its present shape, the vast majority of the Irish people being thereby enabled to become the owners of the soil they tilled, and the landlords to live in their native land—there would be taken away for ever from the hand of the political agitator in Ireland the lever which he always employed to further his political ends. The proposed limits were vital to the settlement. It was necessary that the transactions should be carried through as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and by a fixing of these limits the long, tiresome, and costly examinations by the Land Commission, which were the great difficulty in land purchase, would be done away with. Once landlord and tenant had fulfilled the law as laid down in this Bill, the tenant would have nothing more to say to the landlord for ever. It was absolutely essential that all the inspection and so forth, which involved incredible delay and kept the tenant out of his holding for an indefinite time, should be got rid of. The question was not what land sold for in Armagh, but what the landlords would take. Substantially they accepted the result of the deliberations of the Dunraven Conference. After his speech of yesterday, he would like to know whether the hon. Member for South Tyrone had gone back on the paper he signed at the Conference.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that if the Report of the Land Conference were embodied in a Bill, he would not only accept it but fight for it.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that made it all the more difficult to understand the hon. Member's speech of yesterday. Under the arrangement of the Land Conference a landlord with £100 a year was to be paid such a sum of money as, if invested at 3¼ per cent., would bring in £90 a year, £10 being knocked off his income for collection and other expenses. At the Conference the hon. Member for South Tyrone agreed to give the landlord £2,800 for his £100 a year; yesterday he was willing to give only eighteen years purchase, or £1,800.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said he understood the hon. Member to express his willingness to give the landlord eighteen years purchase; consequently, he concluded he had changed his mind since signing the Conference Report. The hon. Member for South Tyrone yesterday took a very peculiar line. One might have imagined that at one time he was attacking the landlords for the way they were treating the tenants, and at another time using eloquent words drawing attention to the miserable state of the small tenants in Ireland. But the hon. Member arrived at the climax of his eloquence whilst defending the prospective dangers of the British taxpayer, and the pocket of poor innocent John Bull. The hon. Member's tender desire to look after the purse-strings of the British taxpayer was quite new to him. If the hon. Member would not give the Irish landlord £2,800 for his £100 a year, and would only give him £1,800, he forgot that the additional £1,000 would have to come out of the pocket of John Bull. The line taken by the hon. Member was destructive of the very foundation of this Bill. He had spoken in tragic terms of the difficulties the British taxpayer would have to confront, but it was very strange to him that this anxiety with regard to the future of the British taxpayer should come, not from a Radical, but from a Member sitting on the Ministerial side of the House. There never was an instance in the whole history of Parliament of a Land Bill being brought in that had such universal consent, not only from the Conservatives, but also from the Radicals and the Nationalist Members of the House. The argument of the hon. Member for South Tyrone was met, not by an Irish landlord, but by an English Radical, who pointed out that, after visiting his constituency, he found that they were entirely in favour of this Bill, and in favour of treating the whole question in a generous spirit. That was a state of feeling hitherto unknown in the House of Commons with regard to an Irish Land Bill. The limits of the Bill were most important, and he hoped that the Government would stick to them. Those limits circumscribed the region for bargain. If they had no limit it would be hard to get a bargain closed. The Bill laid down limits within which a bargain could take place, and he hoped the Government would maintain 1080 those limits intact. The hon. Member for South Tyrone talked of agricultural slums. He did not know exactly what he meant by slums. He did not think an Irish tenant who lived upon a holding under £4 valuation would like to be called a slum dweller. In Ireland there were 134,182 persons living upon holdings of £4 and under, and this class would get very little assistance from this Bill. He did not think a reduction of 15 per cent. would affect them very much, but they must not forget that these men had the prospect of calling these small holdings their own. He asked how many working men there were in London, Manchester, or Leeds, or in any of their great towns, who would not be delighted to have a house and two or three acres of land for one shilling a week. [NATIONALIST groans and ironical cheers.] Hon. Members opposite need not groan at that statement.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said that General Gordon once stated that he would give £1,000 to any man who would live on one of those estates for a week.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said he would do it willingly. Any ordinary working man would look upon it as a great boon to have a house under those conditions.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that even an Irishman must have something to eat. Upon this subject the hon. Member for South Tyrone had been carried away by his own eloquence. He appealed to English common sense to judge whether, after all, the life of an Irishman who lived in a slum was altogether an unhappy one. This Bill dealt with those people and held out to them the prospect that ultimately they and those who came after them, would inherit those holdings. This Bill gave the Irish people the prospect that for all time to come they would have a grip of the land on which they and their forefathers had lived. Hon. Members opposite should remember that there were two parties to the contract. They must give fair terms to induce the landlord to sell, and fair terms to the tenant to induce him to buy. It had been said that 1081 the landlords were sticking out for a high price, and the hon. Members for Cork and East Mayo seemed to have discovered a new way of dealing with this question, and it was to reduce the second-term rent by 15 per cent. If this Bill passed the majority of Irish tenants would pay 15 per cent. less rent than they were now paying under the second-term rent. He supported this Bill as far as he could, because he believed it would remove many of the difficulties which prevented tenants from buying. He agreed that there were some things in this Bill which would interfere with the action of tenants who might desire to purchase. In order to carry out this policy they must give fair terms to the landlord to induce him to sell, and fair terms to the tenant to induce him to buy. He should support the Bill. If the main details of the Bill were carried out, as he hoped they would, the House would do more to settle the Irish question for all time than anything which had been attempted in past generations.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
said he rose to make an appeal to the Chief Secretary not to hurry his reply. He suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should weigh very carefully the considerations and the powerful arguments which had been used in favour of the Amendment. He sympathised with the appeal of the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh that if the Bill was to work in Ireland a fair price must be offered to the landlords. There was nothing in the Amendment to prevent the tenants from offering a fair price, and he failed to see anything in the arguments to show that if the Amendment were accepted the working of the Bill would be imperilled in Ireland. If the Amendment had been to turn the minimum price into the maximum price allowed, then the arguments of the right hon. Member would have been very apposite; but that was not the Amendment before the Committee. The Amendment was to leave the maximum and to remove the minimum price. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh had referred by way of illustration to a man who had a horse to sell, but in that case there was great danger that the seller and buyer would not come to a bargain at all 1082 if such a reserve price was put on the horse as to make it impossible to buy. There were really two considerations present to the mind of the Committee. One was the interest of the British taxpayer, and the other was the earnest hope and desire to see the Bill passed in a form in which it would work in Ireland. He thought that everyone on the Opposition side who supported the Second Reading made a considerable point of saying that, while they wished the Bill to go to a Second Reading, there were some points in Committee to which they attached the greatest importance, and unless they were well handled they might affect their whole attitude to the Bill; and this was the salient point which stood out in their minds.
The right hon. Member for Montrose Burghs had selected this point in his speech on the Second Reading as one to which the greatest importance should be attached. He founded himself on the opinions expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and many others. He would deal with the question of the interest of the British taxpayer first. There was no doubt that, great as the majority was for the Second Reading, a considerable amount of apprehension was expressed among Members as to the fear that the taxpayer might be landed with a bad bargain in the transaction. What they wanted to be able to say to the British taxpayer was that they had taken every possible precaution to guarantee that a fair bargain had been made for him. What was a fair bargain? It was a bargain made between a willing seller and a willing buyer, and if the Government maintained this minimum limit price in the Bill there were one or two risks. One was that the Bill might not work in Ireland, and the other was that the land hunger which existed in Ireland, and which had so often got them into trouble, was such as to drive people who were anxious to be buyers into bad bargains. These people would be restricted by the Bill to the knowledge that unless a certain minimum price was offered they could not buy at all, or they must enter into bargains which they were unable or unwilling to meet. If the hard and fast limit of the Bill was retained they would run the risk of a bad bargain being made; and with this minimum limit of price how were hon. Members 1083 in a position to defend their case to the British taxpayer, whom they had guaranteed against a bad bargain? They could not guarantee the Bill against unpopularity with the British taxpayer, and their defence must be that the taxpayer was running the least possible risk. But as long as the minimum limit remained in the Bill they could not before the constituencies meet the objection that they had possibly exposed the taxpayer to undue risk; and from that point of view so much importance was attached to the Amendment that he conceived it possible that those who supported the Second Reading might, if the Amendment was not accepted, and if this restriction remained rigid in the Bill, have to reconsider their attitude.
The point to which he attached as much importance was the good working of the Bill in Ireland. Why was the Bill supported almost universally? He believed that the real support behind the Bill arose from the impression made by the Land Conference in Ireland and by the speech of the Chief Secretary appealing to the House to take advantage of this occasion and opportunity. Accepting the view that there was now a great opportunity, the Opposition declined to be responsible in any way for spoiling it. They wished to see that opportunity taken advantage of. Now the question was—Are the Government going to spoil the opportunity? What objection could there be to the removal of the minimum price? There was one only. It was that there might be a danger of widespread combination in Ireland among the tenants to force down prices—in other words, not to bargain, but to extort sale. He did not believe that would be the case. There were two motives lying behind the Bill. First of all, both classes in Ireland were sick of the land struggle; and, secondly, there was before both classes the hope of coming prosperity and of better things, and they were reluctant to see that hope spoiled by continuing the struggle. If that was the spirit in Ireland, there was no danger of the Bill being defeated by a combination of this kind, because such a combination would defeat the working of it. A combination not to bargain but to extort, in order to force prices down would defeat the operation of the 1084 measure, and instead of the smooth working of the Bill there would occur the old land struggle in Ireland over again. A much greater danger was that this measure might pass as a timid, halting, incomplete measure. The House could not get free from this land question unless they settled it. Over and over again settlements had failed for want of sympathy or want of knowledge, or want of courage. Here again was a great chance. If the Bill was accepted in Ireland, then he thought that was a defence which he would urge with confidence on any British elector for anything in the Bill which might be unpopular. But the debate showed that the acceptance of the Bill in Ireland was imperilled if the Amendment was rejected.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick, who on two previous occasions, if not three, had intervened in the discussion on the Irish Land Bill, had that day, as on each of these occasions, made a most impressive speech. He had made a speech which appealed to all who were not less eagerly than himself interested in Ireland, and who saw some chance of making some advance towards a solution of the Irish question. The right hon. Baronet prefaced his speech by an appeal to himself. As a rule when a debate in Committee on a single Amendment had proceeded over one day and part of another, the appeal made to the Government was generally to declare finally and definitely their policy on the point at issue. But so seized was the right hon. Baronet with the gravity of this occasion that his appeal was of a different character, and he asked him not to hurry the reply of the Government, but to weigh well all the arguments adduced in this debate. That being so, it was not to be understood that he rose with the object of asking the Committee to come to an immediate decision, or in order to create the impression that the debate was over. For all that he made no complaint, it would be foolish to make any complaint either of the number of the speeches or their length. He hoped that the succeeding speeches would show the same temper and spirit in which, without a single exception, they had been delivered. It would be his hope not to form the single 1085 exception that had hitherto occurred in so satisfactory a state of affairs. But he had to go, in some detail, into the question which the right hon. Baronet had himself described as intricate. He spoke, not as the exponent of any one Party, but for the Government, who wished to find a fair solution—a compromise which would be fair to all the parties interested in this great question. The majority for the Second Reading of the Bill was a large, almost an unprecedented majority. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet in his assumption that that support was given because all who sat in the House hoped that this Bill would crown the expectations raised at the Land Conference. He hoped that their action would not injure but increase the happy effect of that Land Conference. The danger was that in this Bill they might fail in that attempt; that they might disappoint both one or the other of the parties. The fact must be kept in mind that two great interests were represented at that Conference, but it must also be kept in mind that the British taxpayer was not represented; and they must keep in mind that they ought not to minimise the fact that the great corporate bodies, which had enormous sums invested in mortgages on Irish land, were likewise not represented at the Conference. He did not think that any hon. Member would take exception to that brief description of the difficult position in which they were placed in arriving at a happy conclusion on so complicated a matter.
Might he ask the Committee to go back for a moment and to go over the ground carefully and somewhat slowly. What was the position? They found that there was a universal desire in Ireland that a peasant proprietary should be created, that dual ownership should be abolished, that those who occupied the soil should own the soil. And they found that the many earnest efforts which had been made in that direction showed a decided tendency to have the very opposite effect. He must respond to the challenge addressed to him by the hon. Member for East Mayo. That hon. Gentleman went back to the debate of last year and impeached certain figures which he had laid before the House on that occasion. He was then concerned to show, as a justification for 1086 coming to the House of Commons and to the representatives of the British constituencies, that a policy, which sought to produce many good effects, was ceasing to produce these good effects. The hon. Member for East Mayo then directly challenged the figures which he gave, and he used the word "application." He was careful last year to point out that true test which was to be found in the originating notices. The figures which he gave last year and which the hon. Gentleman impeached were perfectly accurate. Then the hon. Gentleman went on to say that he did not find in that Return any confirmation of his argument. But from the Return of the last four years it would be found that the numbers were 6,300, 4,900, 3,400 and 2,300.
§ MR. DILLON
said that the right hon. Gentleman was leaving out altogether the 40th Section cases and the Congested Districts Board cases.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he would remind the hon. Member that if he had given a closer study to his speech the hon. Member would have found that the purchases had not shown a decline under the 40th Section cases or in the Congested Districts Board cases, because by these cases whole estates could be bought. He had founded his argument on the fact that any diminution in the ordinary purchase classes found no counterpart at all in the operations of the Congested Districts Board; and if he had gone further this year he could have brought the figures up to date, making the number of originating notices—the first movement towards purchase—from April to December last year 1,504, or only 2,005 if the average were taken, and from 1898 to 1899, 7,719. He thought he was bound to give that reply to the argument of the hon. Member. The figures of last year might have suffered some diminution under the shadow of some anticipated legislation this year; but the purchases under existing Acts were declining in Ireland. It was indubitable that the purchases were anything but increasing. It was indubitable that the landlords were prepared to sell if some reasonable arrangement could be arrived at. And that was the justification for this Bill. Now, if that were so, 1087 some attempt at a settlement was incumbent upon the Government. They had taken one form of settlement largely because they had gone as nearly as they could, with the resources at their disposal, to the form of settlement recommended by the Conference. But when this question of price was used for all that it was worth—viz., the number of years purchase which the tenants gave, he would remind the hon. Member that they could have had a solution perhaps not acceptable to Ireland, but still a solution, which would have absolved this Assembly from the charge of neglecting the matter altogether. They might have said that if the tenant would pay so much less than the second-term rents, the State undertook the responsibility of paying off the remainder, but that would not have been acceptable in Ireland, although it would still have been a perfectly possible manner of settling the question. They might have said to the tenantry of Ireland, "We give you what you desire, the magic of ownership and freedom from any litigation in the future; and we give that to you at a yearly sum which will enable you to survey the future with equanimity." There were very few countries in the world, with the exception of the United States, which could have ever attempted a solution on these lines. It was not many days ago that a distinguished diplomatist said to him—It is only in England that you could come forward with an offer of £100,000,000 on credit, and a bonus of £12,000,000 in addition to buy out the landlords. Elsewhere the thing would have had to be financed on other lines; probably you would have had to lay a fixed rent charge on all the holdings.Therefore, the Government had done their best in this matter to finance the situation in order to arrive at a result which, according to the right hon. Baronet, and almost every speaker, must be achieved—viz., a settlement which would be satisfactory to the landlords and tenants in Ireland.
When hon. Members spoke of the Ashbourne compromise, and wished to discuss this question on terms, he did not think that was the most convenient manner—to put it no higher than that. In the first place, the hon. Member for East Mayo had admitted that they had only averages to go on—only the averages of the counties to 1088 go on, but these averages went through every kind of rent which existed in Ireland, and that was not a satisfactory basis. The sound basis, he thought, was to consider, in respect to the landlords, what income they must enjoy in the future if they were expected to sell, and to consider, in respect to the tenants, what price per annum they could pay without any risk to themselves, and therefore without risk to the State, in order to own their land and be free from litigation in the future. He might not have taken a happy point of departure, but hon. Members would admit that he had made an honest endeavour, and that was the point of departure which the Government took. It was also the point of departure which the Land Conference took. He was not going to use the Land Conference as a dialectic weapon. It was a most important event. It represented an aspiration—an aspiration, however, which could not become concrete unless the Government gave effect to it. But he thought the hon. and learned Member pressed the counter-argument too far when he said that if the Government had sanctioned everything recommended in the Conference, there would have been no further difficulty. He admitted that they had not given to the tenants of Ireland decadal reductions, but, short of that, they had given the tenants everything recommended by the Land Conference. On the other hand, they had given to the Land Board the possibility of enabling the landlords to get far more than the Conference Report thought they should receive if they were to be expected to sell wholesale without important exceptions.
Under this Bill the immediate effect to the landlord was the loss of income, and the immediate effect to the tenant was an increase. The landlord got less, and the tenant had to pay less. He must ask the Committee to bear in mind that the terms under which money was lent for the purpose of this Bill were of such a character that the tenant could pay a higher sum to his landlord, and, at the same time, have to pay a less sum each year. There was a danger, however, in this matter that they might tempt the tenants to make improvident bargains. Many tenants in Ireland had told him that they would pay their second-term 1089 rent as long as was demanded (if they could own the land) without any diminution at all. He had taken precautions against any such bargains being made in the Bill. Under the Ashbourne Act, in order to give a landlord £2,500 for an estate of £100 rental, the tenant would have to pay the whole of his rent without any diminution at all, but, under the provisions of this Bill, the tenant would get a reduction of about 20 per cent. There was no juggling in this matter because there was no concealment. It was very material to a person wishing to buy if he could borrow money at a very favourable rate. It was an important element in the question for the tenant to be put in such a position as to be able to get the necessary sum without contracting an obligation which was risky both to him and to the British taxpayer. This Bill induced people to come to an arrangement which matured to both their advantages and enabled the landlord to receive a much larger sum than he would otherwise, without imposing greater risks upon the tenants. This Bill would not lead to bargains being sanctioned of a dangerous character to the State. The question of security was not the great question. The question of the law's delay, and of the intricacies that embarrassed and tied up all their efforts to guarantee land purchase had a more important and more direct bearing on the problem before them. In this Bill, if in any Bill, they must seek for expedition. The speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo was that of a man who was prepared to wait some years more rather than close with a bargain with which he did not altogether approve.
§ MR. DILLON
I said I would wait many more years before I would close with a bargain for twenty-five years purchase.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
retorted that that was not the Bill before the House. This Bill provided incidentally for twenty-two years purchase of second-term rents, and for something over eighteen years purchase of first-term rents. He held that the reduction of the amount the tenant was to pay was more important to the tenant than the amount which the landlord was to receive. No doubt the amount the landlord was to receive was an all-important matter to him, and it 1090 was a very important matter to the landlord's creditors—the corporate body who held mortgages on the estate. The first object of the Bill was to hasten the operation of purchase. The hon. Member for East Mayo had correctly stated that great delay was not involved in the inspection of the holdings but in the legal investigations. The point of this Bill was that they allowed the purchase to go forward, and adjourned the legal investigation, having obtained sufficient securities. The next point to be considered was the security to the taxpayer, and the third point was "congestion." He held that the Bill went a very long way towards enabling purchase transactions to be carried forward swiftly, that it gave ample security to the taxpayer, and that it attempted to deal with the problem of congestion. If there were to be no maximum reduction he was confident that they would relapse, against their will and desire, into the old procedure of the Land Estates Court. Even if an attempt were made to prevent that by positive enactment in the Bill, those who had large claims upon Irish land would say that there was no wrong without a remedy in law; and they would go to the highest Courts in the land to prevent a wrong being inflicted upon them. But there were further advantages in having a maximum price. If there were no maximum price we exposed those who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill to a great disappointment. There might be a great discrepancy between the terms upon two adjoining estates of a similar character. That was a danger against which he was bound to guard. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford did not think that was a danger. He hoped it might never occur, but let it be supposed that it did. Let it be supposed that a limited owner sold his estate for six or seven years purchase and went off to Boulogne with the bonus, and that on a neighbouring estate a landlord, equally willing to sell, but with a sense of his responsibility, stated that unless he received £2,500 or £2,600 for every £100 he could not meet the demands to which he was liable. On these contiguous estates there would be some tenants paying instalments very much lower than the payments made by others. If such trouble arose, could 1091 anything be more calculated to confirm the suspicions with which many people regarded this whole policy of land purchase in Ireland?
The hon. and learned Member's Amendment was an omnibus Amendment, and those who were anxious to pass the Bill rapidly must feel obliged to him for raising so many important points in one Amendment. In the first place the hon. and learned Member would make the minimum reduction larger. He would lay it down that the reduction on second-term rents must always be 15 per cent. instead of 10, and on first-term rents always 25 per cent. instead of 20. He could not accept that part of the Amendment. Only on Monday afternoon the Government was urged to increase the maximum sum which might be advanced from £5,000 to some higher figure in order to bring in a somewhat limited class—namely, the farmers of great tillage farms. He then declined to make that change on the ground that the taxpayer ought not to be asked to use his credit in cases where the persons to be benefited were obviously wealthy and able to make an effort on their own behalf. After what had occurred, could he deliberately alter the Bill to prevent these very men paying 10 per cent. less than they now paid if they wished to do so? He would not have a Parliamentary leg to stand on if he did so. If he gave way on that point, and possibly, having considered it, he might be able to arrive at some decision in the matter, he could not say that a man was not to pay £90 instead of £100 if he wished. Again, the argument which had been used about poor farmers being exposed to undue pressure did not agree with other arguments that had been used in Committee, because it had been urged that it was necessary to increase the maximum reduction. He had in his mind a case where the sale took place of some first-term rents in 1886 or 1887. At that time land purchase was in its initial state, and the Land Commissioners were afraid to make any advance if there was any possibility of the purchase breaking down, In that case, the Land Commissioners approved some 240 bargains, and rejected 40 or 50 others on the ground that the price was too high. Those who bought eighteen years ago secured a substantial reduction of their annual obligation, 1092 while those who were precluded from buying had obtained smaller reductions than their neighbours. The latter had remained on friendly terms with their landlords, who had joined them in a petition to have the case reopened. He hoped the Committee would think that was a serious argument. Everybody, of course, would like to arrive at an ideal solution in every case, but that was not possible. The attempt to provide a safeguard against every conceivable risk defeated one's object. The true remedy, the ideal remedy, for a really bad holding was not, he maintained, to sell it to a man a little bit cheaper, so that he paid a few shillings less a year, but to give him a better holding.
He hoped hon. Members would not think that he did not appreciate the difficulties in these cases. He had travelled in these parts of Ireland and spoken to these men. He was convinced that ten shillings a year did not better their case. He was equally convinced that the House ought in that Bill to see if it could provide that the holdings should be amalgamated and these slums should by a gradual process be dealt with. Small holdings, even though they might be on the poorest soil, did not constitute a slum; that term would be more properly applied to a number of holdings upon which the whole population were on the verge of poverty, and where a man was in such circumstances that he could not improve his condition. That was a greater problem than that of the isolated farm, and he had endeavoured to deal with it in another part of the Bill by giving to the Land Commissioners the power to define what was an estate. It would be the duty of the Commissioners to have some kind of inspection. The holdings in which these uneconomic features were pronounced could be seen by anyone who passed, and in his opinion it would be the duty of the Commissioners in such cases to make use of the liberal provisions in the Bill for putting untenanted lands at the disposal of the Estates Commissioners in order that there might be some amalgamation and migration when this evil occurred in a very acute form. That was the best plan. The ideal could not 1093 always be secured in this world. Possibly in some cases the necessary land would not be available. In such cases, rather than the men being kept out of the benefits of purchase, was it not better that they should pay possibly £3 10s. instead of £3 2s. 6d.? If the maximum reduction was abolished they would drift back into the disappointing paths of the Landed Estates Court. Where second-term rents had been fixed there was no sounder foundation for any legislation of this character. Hard cases, in which there were arrears, had been instanced. But they would be more ad rem in the case of non-judicial tenants. It might be said in those cases in which there was no basis of second-term rents to go upon that the Government did not know how many there were, or what rents they were paying, or that some of them were non-judicial tenants because they had been deterred from going to court. He did not admit that such cases were frequent; he was not aware even that they existed; but at any rate it could be urged that some non-judicial tenants were in the happy position of having kept out of Court by their landlord treating them uncommonly well. On the other hand there were non-judicial tenants who had not gone into Court because their holdings were so poor that they were not worth going to law about at all.
In the first clause of the Bill the Government had sought to embrace as much as possible for the sake of expedition and to avoid the law's delay, but they had not been able to embrace anything like every form of tenancy within the zones. There were thirteen exceptions from the Bill as at present drafted, and he would not definitely say that a case could not be made out for adding others to the list, but it would need a very strong case for that to be done. In the arguments which had been addressed to the Committee he had not been able to find any reason for departing from the principle of the maximum limit on second-term rents, or for altering that limit, but he was perfectly prepared to listen to any pleas which could be put in in the sense that there might be classes which ought to be left out of the zones and added to 1094 the list of those which were already excluded.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said the cases he had quoted were from returns embodied in the Dublin Gazette, and were marked "refused." According to the Chief Secretary they were not refused at all, but withdrawn. But even on the right hon. Gentleman's own case, here was an estate in County Limerick which the landlord agreed to sell for £11,441, but for which under the Bill the lowest price that could be taken was £13,900, while it might go up to £17,000. That clearly showed that the real object of the Bill was to improve the price of land.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
was understood to say that the parties agreed to disagree on the old terms, but agreed on the terms that the same net sum should be paid.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
contended that under the Bill the Commissioners would have to sanction the sale for £13,000 or £17,000 if that price were agreed upon; there was no power of refusal. A Bill of which that could be said was open to most serious objection, as it would tempt and allow a purchaser to pay a price not only dangerous to himself but also involving the State. The accusation of having expressed himself against the landlords getting eighteen years purchase was a gross misrepresentation of anything he had ever said either in the House of Commons or in the country. There had never been any concealment of his disagreement with the Nationalist Members as to the price the tenant ought to pay. He had repeatedly stated that ordinary second-term tenants could very well afford to pay twenty-three years purchase and yet make a good bargain. In addition to that, the landlord was to get three years bonus, and that ought to satisfy him. But he had never said anything about eighteen years' purchase. On the contrary, he had said the landlords were entitled to twenty-three years purchase of the second-term rents. With three years bonus in addition he thought the thing could be settled, the landlords would be very well off, and the State would have ample security.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
expressed his deep regret at the conclusion of the speech of the Chief 1095 Secretary. It was quite evident that, so far as this most vital point in the whole Bill was concerned, they had come to the parting of the ways. The attitude of the Irish Party, as embodied in the Amendment, was founded upon what they and those whom they represented, believed to be absolutely essential if the Bill was to carry out its great promise of affording a real settlement of this question. They were bound, therefore, to stand by the Amendment, and to support it in the Division Lobby, and to invite to its support all those Members who really desired to see the Bill settle the land question. In maintaining this attitude they could not be open to misrepresentation or reproach from any quarter of the House. The risks he and others had taken, the responsibilities they had assumed, and the lengths to which they had gone in their desire to bring about a compromise on this question, were sufficient to protect them from the possibility of being misunderstood in the attitude they were now taking up. No man living was more anxious than he to see an immediate and complete settlement of this land quarrel, and it was impossible to exaggerate the frightful consequences which must ensue in Ireland if the country was plunged back once more into the conflict which they had hoped was over for ever. No earthly consideration could induce him to take any step that would endanger the immediate future of this measure except the most profound conviction that unless some Amendment was made in this clause, the Bill would not carry out the prospects which had been held out. The Chief Secretary's speech if it meant anything meant an absolute non possumus. He listened to that speech not only with the deepest possible regret but with alarm, for he could not conceive that the right hon. Gentleman would have met this claim with a non possumus. He did not say that it was in the power of any man to propose a compromise which could meet their demand, but to meet them with a non possumus excited his amazement. He could only hope that the right hon. Gentleman, when he said that his rising was not to be taken as a desire to end the discussion, and that after he had spoken he would listen to further arguments, meant that he had given his mind to this matter in a conciliatory way, and 1096 that before the discussion ended they might hear something more from him on this point. He confessed that this refusal imperilled very seriously the prospects of the Bill, and also imperilled the hope of this measure effecting anything in the nature of a settlement. He could not conceive that the Chief Secretary's attitude had been fully developed. He knew how much the passing of this Bill meant to the Chief Secretary—he did not mean to his position, credit, and renown as a statesman, although it meant a great deal in that respect, but he knew how much it meant to him in another way. He knew the right hon. Gentleman was quite sincere in his desire to settle the Irish land question, and he knew what a poignant disappointment it would be if his Bill failed. He could not conceive that the right hon. Gentleman had developed his own mind upon this subject.
He had risen simply to point to the serious nature of the position which had arisen, and to beg all those hon. Members who would further take part in this debate to use the opportunity they had to impress upon the Government that before this debate ended they must have some further declaration on this point. They could not leave the matter as it stood at present, because what would happen would be that there would be a division in which the sharpest possible conflict of opinion would be disclosed, and upon which on one side there would be the whole Irish representation with the exception of those sitting on the Treasury bench and the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. They would have 95 per cent. of the Irish representatives declaring that this Amendment was necessary for a settlement on the one side, and on the other side they would have a majority of some sort or other made up entirely of English Members. That recalled their past lamentable history. Why was it that in fifty years they had had forty Land Bills, every one of which had failed? Why was it that all their greatest statesmen time after time had committed themselves to a settlement, as they thought, of the Irish land problem, and had had, year after year, to come forward and admit that they were mistaken 1097 and that the time of Parliament had been wasted? Simply because upon these questions Irish opinion had been overborne and disregarded, and they had acted in this matter in the belief, which was the evil at the bottom of the whole system of Government in Ireland, that English opinion was more qualified to deal with Ireland than Irish opinion. He had read a speech delivered in Sligo by the new Lord Lieutenant who, since he came to Ireland, had shown liberality and broadmindedness and an anxiety to understand the Irish question. He declared in that speech that one necessity of government in Ireland, in his opinion, was that Irish affairs should be settled by Irish and not by English opinion. In the face of that declaration was the House of Commons in its forty-first or forty-second Land Bill going to make the same mistake as in all the others, that was of disregarding Irish opinion even when it came to the bar of this House absolutely united? They found now Unionist Members from Ireland and Nationalist Members holding the same views. He did not know whether it was any use his concluding by appealing to the Chief Secretary, but he expressed his earnest desire that before this debate concluded the right hon. Gentleman would be able to add something to what he had already said, and thus relieve them from a position which, if persevered in, would make it impossible for them to represent this Bill to the Irish people as one which would settle the Irish land question. Everybody knew how he personally was committed to this Bill. Everybody knew how anxious he was to be able to make such a representation to the Irish people. Everybody knew how during the last few months he had gone to extreme lengths defending this Bill and the policy which lay at the bottom of it, and unless the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to go further he could not say truthfully to the Irish people that this Bill would fulfil the hopes which had been raised in Ireland or that it would settle the Irish land question.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said he wished to say a few words, because if the right hon. Gentleman persisted in his opposition to this Amendment there was a risk of this measure 1098 being lost altogether. He had known at least half a-dozen occasions of this kind in the House of Commons where appeals had been made by Irish Members that their views should be allowed to predominate, and in most cases that request had been ignored. Scotch Members supported this Bill on the ground that it would provide a real settlement of this question, and to achieve this they had consented to the payment of a large sum of money, amounting to no less than £12,000,000 sterling to a class of whom he wished to say no evil, but who were not any more deserving than the people of this country. They did this to purchase peace, and he believed their constituents had supported and would support them in that course. Hon. Members from Ireland objected to this proposal, and Scotch Members objected to it quite as much. For his part he had always felt that unless an Amendment of this character, which seemed to him to be vital, was accepted it would be the duty of some of them to oppose instead of support this Bill. What was wanted was that there should be behind this Bill the goodwill of the House of Commons as a whole, and surely that could not be achieved except by considering very seriously an Amendment of this kind. English and Scotch Members had looked at this matter from two points of view. In the first place they thought this Amendment was required in order to give better security for the money advanced by the British Exchequer. He understood that it was necessary to have a maximum price, but what was the value of a minimum price. A minimum price impaired the security of the British taxpayer and the prospects of peace which they hoped to achieve by this Bill. All that was asked was that the parties should not be restricted from selling at a lower price than that specified in the Bill. If the buyer and seller were content what harm could be done. The British Exchequer would be safeguarded. It has been suggested that the mortgagor might sell and leave his mortgagees unprovided for altogether. Surely they might require that notice should be given to the mortgagees. Such a case would very seldom happen. He did not think that they ought to regard the proposal of the Government as satisfactory, because the landlords appeared to be pressing the right hon. Gentleman upon this 1099 point, and they wanted to get inflated instead of real prices. He thought the British Exchequer had done more than enough already. They were giving the landlords an enormous gratuity, and many facilities for selling and then buying back their own demesnes. He did not think the prospect of this Bill ought to be jeopardised by insisting upon a limitation of that kind. He did not think the Irish landlords were so infatuated with this proposal as to refuse to come to terms even if this Amendment were accepted. The right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech said that he might be prepared to accept some modification. What did he mean by that? It was not his business to make suggestions, but did he mean that tenancies below a certain fixed value should be exempted from the operation of the minimum price? The right hon. Gentleman ought to give some further explanation, and he appealed to the Chief Secretary in as strong a manner as he could, not to lose this favourable opportunity of settling this question by unwisely adhering to a detail of this kind, which he believed was not in the least degree essential to the principle of his Bill, and the obstinate retention of which would produce most disastrous and serious results.
§ MR. WOOD (Down, E.)
expressed regret at the position taken up by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He had been one of the foremost in supporting the Amendment put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and he desired to say that the Amendment had the support of the farmers of Ulster, and that not a single farmers' representative or Ulster representative dared enter his protest against it. In Ulster, of course, they were acquainted with the attitude taken up by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. He had been true to his past career, and he was true to it to-day. They expected nothing better, and they were not disappointed. But the hon. and gallant Member represented what was practically a town constituency, and not an agricultural constituency. In Ulster they had had their difficulties. His hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone, it might be said, had gone too far in his desire to settle this question. He himself told the House, and he 1100 warned the Government, that to persist would mean in Ulster another Tipperary. Let it be distinctly understood that on this question they were not prepared to recede. Did the Government think that the people of Ulster did not know what was going on here, and that they did not recognise the death rattle in the throats of the Members sitting on the Treasury Bench. Did they think that the people of Ulster were going to accept this Bill with the knowledge that the day was not far distant when there might be a new King in Egypt, who would have no acquaintance with Joseph. They knew this, and they were determined to assert their rights, and to ask in this House the recognition of the rights and privileges to which they were entitled. This Amendment gave these. It protected the tenant from being compelled by the landlord to pay a price far beyond the reasonable legitimate and equitable price that the landlord was entitled to. This very Government in the Act of 1887 inserted a provision giving relief to tenants who were compelled to take leases at exorbitant rents. The people had had experience of landlords in the past; they were the same to-day as they were yesterday. It was true that if they were not killed their fangs were taken out by the Act of 1881, but they were able still to drive unfair and unreasonable bargains with the tenants who were in arrears with rent.
It might be well for the House to understand that he had already defeated the Government in his own constituency on their proposals for land purchase, and he told the Government now that if they persisted in this conduct it would not be at all a difficult matter to defeat them at the next election. He held in his hand a letter from Mr. Somerset Ward, agent for large estates in Down, which was written to a man who had the hardihood to go into Court to avail himself of the Land Acts which formed the law of the land in Ireland. The letter was in the following terms—
§ "Estate Office,
§ "Downpatrick, 25th April, 1903.
§ "Mr. James McIlroy,
§ "Quoil, Downpatrick.
§ "Sir,—I regret to say your action in having a fair rent fixed on a holding which was let as a 1101 townpark, on the ground that your father was not a resident in the town, compels me to serve you with a notice to quit, in respect of the townpark which you hold under agreement dated 20th February, 1887.—Yours faithfully,
§ "SOMERSET WARD."
§ That was the position of an Irish landlord and his agent to-day. That was one of the gentlemen who would be asking later on for compensation at the expense of the British taxpayer. This was conduct which was still being pursued throughout his own constituency. These death warrants, as the late Mr. Gladstone called them, were being served throughout County Down, because tenants were unable to pay the first statutory rents which were fixed. They were being driven out under the Land Acts which provided such a price for the landlord that the tenants could not pay. Unless the claims of the tenants were met in a spirit of fair play and reasonableness the Government would fail, and it would not be difficult or troublesome to advise the tenantry of Ulster to refuse to purchase under this Act and to wait for the day not far distant, when a Government would come into office which would attend to their just and equitable claims.
§ MR. MOULTON (Cornwall, Launceston)
said he could not allow this debate to pass without joining his protest against the provision with which this Bill commenced. He felt great difficulty in speaking to the House upon it, because he felt so strongly that he had difficulty in moderating his language and treating it merely as a question on which two opinions could be honestly held. He sometimes thought that the introduction of this clause must have been based, on the part of the Government, upon a study of the weaknesses of mankind, and especially the intellectual weaknesses. He could not believe that they would have put forward a clause like this if they had not been certain that the point was too intricate for the English people to understand, and that they trusted this attempt to waste public money on their political supporters might pass undetected. He wanted to put a few figures to the House on what the nature of this proposal of the Government was when looked at accurately. Experience had shown that the average number of years purchase Irish land was worth, was about eighteen; that was to say, if they 1102 changed it from the number of years purchase into the rate per cent., the security of Irish land was worth about 5½ per cent. Now the Government was going to lend money at 2¾ per cent. That was just half the rate per cent. it was worth, and if there was no question but that of purchase, they would be entitled to say that the tenants must have their rents exactly halved. If the Committee looked at the figures in the Bill it would be found that the average deduction which the tenants ought to receive who purchased their land under this Act, was 40 per cent, but by this clause the Government said that they should never have more than 30, and that they might have as little as 10. In other words, this clause said that not in the extremest case should there be that deduction which arose on purchase under the Ashbourne Acts as shown by the average rate of purchase of Irish land. The lowest number of years purchase for which any penny under this Bill was to be used was twenty-two years purchase, and yet the average under the previous Acts was eighteen. Therefore the Government were giving at least four, and probably more years purchase to the landlords above what experience had shown was the fair price. He listened during the greater part of yesterday to the debate, and he had examined the speeches as reported, to find one tittle of justification for this largess for the Irish landlords out of public money on the part of the Government. If it was simply a question of throwing away public money probably a protest against a great part of the Bill would cover this; but he wanted to point out an evil which came from it which was of the gravest character.
Up to now the money we had been lending for the purchase of Irish land had been protected because the Land Commission had to be satisfied that the security was sufficient for the money that we lent. That safeguard was now removed, and yet the Chief Secretary for Ireland, when bringing in the Bill, pleaded for its acceptance because he said that, of all the money we had lent for the purpose of the purchase of Irish land, practically no instalment had failed to be paid duly at the proper time. Ah, 1103 yes, but these were instalments upon purchase money which was not too big for the security. If it was not too big for the security, there was adequate inducement and adequate means for the tenant to pay the instalments as they became due. What justification was that for the introduction of a Bill in which there was something like 25 per cent. added to the fair value of the holding, a great part of which came upon the tenant and not only on the British taxpayer? The tenants would not be subject to the protective provision of a fair rent fixed by the Courts. And so they started this Bill with an exorbitant amount lent to the tenant and an exorbitant amount required from the tenant, which would by no means lead to the same result as the equitable purchase money and instalments under the Ashbourne Acts had fortunately reached in every case up to the present. When the Government had deliberately increased by this means the purchase money which the landlord would require, it was almost incredible to think that they were going to risk £120,000,000 under circumstances which previous experience had shown brought an inadequate security. Previous experience had shown that in no less than 2,000 cases they had had to refuse the proposal for purchase because the security was inadequate. Every one of these must be acceded to if this Bill passed, and the consequence was that they were asked to lend this enormously increased sum on security that the Bill took care would be insufficient. And therefore the Bill took care that trouble should arise in the future, not because the tenants would not, but because they could not, pay the exaggerated sum which they would be required to pay because we wanted to overpay the landlord.
He asked what possible excuse there could be for such an outrageous provision. He understood the only excuse was that if they left the parties to free bargain there would be a wide difference in the prices. So there ought to be. The land in Ireland was of very various kinds and held under very various circumstances; and it was very natural that there should be differences in prices. Was it to be thought that 1104 they were going to lessen the dissatisfaction in Ireland by putting up the whole of the price the tenants were going to pay? Why did they not commence equalising the prices by putting down the prices they gave to the landlords? This was a voluntary Bill. The landlords had surrendered nothing. It was an option to them whether they should avail themselves of it, and the consequence was that if they had said that they would not spend English money on land that would be sold at over eighteen years purchase they would not have perilled the landlords one penny. What justification was it to say that they insisted that the whole benefit of the Bill should be an exaggerated price to the landlords, when they knew that there was a temptation to the tenants to accept purchase even under these onerous circumstances, because, at all events, they for the moment got a little lessening of their rents. It was true that the tenants gave up the great protection of the right to a fair rent, but he was afraid that in many parts of Ireland the struggle was so great that they dared not look forward to the future but only to the to-day or the immediate morrow; and they were bound to accept purchase if they could not get their landlords to be more reasonable, if it were at any price, trusting that some Government might arise in England equitable enough not to enforce unjust payments from them. The consequence was that if they had fixed a limit so as to lower the price that would have done no injustice; and now they had fixed it at a limit to do injustice. Another consequence was that all the landlords, whose cases were the worst would be the first to avail themselves of this Bill.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said he wished to refer to the considerations which underlay the clause. The clause itself he disliked very much, taking it as a whole. He thought it was a needless clause—a clause which never would have been heard of but for the Land Conference Report. He was not going to criticise that Report, but it was undoubtedly the case that the suggestion of zones of prices had never been dreamt of by anybody until they read it for the first time in the Land Conference Report. If they went back to the original days when purchase was first discussed; if 1105 they went back to Select Committees, although they were manned by landlords and appointed by Conservative Governments; if they went back to the Ashbourne Acts, when a more liberal spirit prevailed, never did anyone hear of or suggest any idea of zones of prices in a voluntary Bill until the Land Conference Report. Therefore, so far as the Government had sinned in adopting the zones of prices, they had sinned in the company of Gentlemen on this side of the House and on the other side—their own supporters; and its defence was, as he understood, that under the name of a voluntary Bill, this Bill must largely have compulsory effects. He agreed with the contention that it was possible that this Bill might, in some cases, have compulsory effects, and that the suggestion of zones of prices might be justified by that fact. But there was also in the Land Conference Report another principle which he took to be at the root of the position of the Government, viz., that the tenants' representatives there agreed to give the landlords their net income less 10 per cent. Now, that was a tremendous concession on the part of the tenants. He had never criticised those of his friends who were parties to that concession; but it was a concession of the utmost magnitude so far as the tenant farmers of Ireland were concerned. It was suggested—and he should like the right hon. Gentleman to absolve himself from the responsibility for it—that the tenants' representatives were, to some extent, entrapped into that position by a hint or promise, or a vague hope held out, that if the tenants' representatives agreed to give the landlords their full net income, the Government—as lord Dunraven, as he understood, was in touch with the right hon. Gentleman—would be prepared to make up the difference. But he could only say that if any such suggestion was held out to the tenants' representatives, and that they were entrapped into making the concession which they did to the landlords, then he could well understand the very serious speech which his hon. friend the Member for Waterford—whom he had always endeavoured to support in this House—had just addressed to the Committee. Now the Government, he thought, should make some allowance for the seriousness of that utterance. 1106 The tenants' representatives believed that they had gone a very long way on the road of concession. They also saw that they had exposed themselves from would-be extremists on their own side, to the charge of weakness. They felt that they had exposed themselves to the attacks and criticisms of politicians who said of the Irish the well-known phrase, that "Codling was their friend, not Short"; and that if other people had been at that conference, they would have obtained far better terms for the Irish people.
He had heartily supported the position taken up by his hon. friends, because they believed that they did their best in a very difficult and serious situation. But the Government must remember that outside this House there were journals and organs which affected to speak for the tenants, which were perpetually engaged in the flagellation of his friends on charges that they had not done their best in the interests of the tenants; that in fact the true level of price was the old Ashbourne level, that anything which increased the burden on the tenants beyond that, really amounted to a betrayal of the interests of the tenant farmers. Now, for himself, he must candidly say that as the majority of the tenants were men paying £10 or £12 rents, and as the only difference between his hon. friend in his Amendment and the Government proposal was a question of 5 per cent., which in the case of a £10 holder would only mean a few shillings, which could be made up by one hen laying a halfpenny egg additional—he should not himself, as regarded the poorer class of tenants—if they were able to discuss this question in vacuo, so to speak—attach the tremendous importance which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford had done to his Amendment in its present form. But he confessed that he did attach tremendous importance to the passing of this Bill, and to any interruption in the hopes of a settlement. He did attach very considerable importance to any conflict or division between the Irish Members and the Government, which would endanger or imperil the passage of this measure. English Members were always willing to pass coercion Bills for Ireland; they 1107 were always going down the inclined plane; but when passing remedial measures for Ireland they were unwilling to give a helping hand to pull the car up the hill. Therefore, unless the Bill was cordially accepted on this side of the House, he could well understand the apprehensions of the English people in regard to this offer of £12,000,000 to the Irish Members.
After the crisis of last week the Government might not be sitting where it was but for the fear of the Irish people that a Bill of this kind might once more be flung into the waste-paper basket. He approached this question on the one hand with a sincere desire to meet the views of the Chief Secretary on this Amendment, and on the other hand with the sincere desire that this House—which had acted kindly, courageously, and even generously from the English point of view, although the Irish people thought they were only getting their due—should do nothing in any way to impair or affect the passing of the Bill. He had listened with great attention to the speech of the Chief Secretary, and he very well knew the immense difficulties that had to be encountered. It was a great misfortune to be a lawyer. In a case like this he might know both sides. One could always agree better and more strenuously if they knew only one side, and that was the reason why he believed a well-balanced mind should never address itself to a partisan assembly like the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman had made a case that the landlord was in some instances not the landlord at all. He was a limited owner having behind him, perhaps, the remainder man, or in front of him, perhaps, the mortgagee or whatever it might be, and above him the superior or head landlord. Yet under this Bill they were not only enabling the limited owner to sell the fee simple, but also to pocket the whole of the bonus. They were giving a man who did not own the land the right to sell it; and they were paying him for doing so. Under those circumstances there must be some protection to the people who owned the other interests in the land. That might be done without a system of minimum price. If they gave notice to the remainder man, the mortgagee, and the head landlord, they would find themselves at once in a 1108 maze of intricacies which would postpone a settlement of the question for years. If any one wanted to get some idea of the hopeless, waterlogged, submerged position into which the Irish estates had gone, they ought to spend a week or a fortnight in the Irish Landed Estates Court—the most melancholy Court in the world. He thought the Government were putting too large a plaster on a small sore. The Bill was a violent interference with the landlord's rights, because it said to a man who was neither encumbered nor had a superior landlord over him, "You shall not sell your estate except at a given price."
What was the way out of the position? He disliked the whole clause. He said to himself this Bill of eighty or ninety clauses might be condensed if they adopted the French method of drafting. The whole Bill could be made to read as follows: "Article 1.—The sum of £12,000,000 is hereby allocated to facilitate land purchase in Ireland under the Purchase Acts. Article 2.—The Estate Commission are hereby constituted with power to make rules as to the repayment of purchase instalments, and the extinction of superior interests, or otherwise to facilitate sales between landlord and tenant. Article 3.—That A. B. C. and D. are charged with the execution of this duty." This form would not take the House of Commons as long to discuss as the present Bill, but by giving power to the Estate Commissioners, or some such method of escape, they would get rid of all entanglements. Unless the Chief Secretary was constrained and held by some unseen hand, why did he not come forward and yield to the general wish of the House of Commons? If there were Members of the House of Lords in the Cabinet, they had a House of their own in which they could cobble up the Bill. If Lord Londonderry were the bogey man of the situation he had a House of his own, and let him deal with it in the atmosphere which prevailed in another place. They in that House were the Commoners of England, and the Irish Members were the Commoners of Ireland, and in this matter there was no difference between the Commoners of the two countries. 1109 They had an unseen difficulty interposed, but if this was the true note of the House of Commons, there must be some compromise in this matter.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
said it was perfectly clear that the Bill was at that moment in grave peril. As one who strongly desired that the Bill should pass, he asked the Chief Secretary to consider more gravely and more concisely than he appeared to have done the position in which he and the Bill stood. In his judgment, the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a little discursive, and he did not, in his respectful judgment, address himself specifically to the Amendment before the Committee. He should have liked his hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh to have told the Committee what there was in this minimum reduction which he and his friends valued For his part, having taken the best opportunity of ascertaining that, he did not believe that it would be any good to the landlords at all. He wished the Chief Secretary had told the Committee why he attached so much value to this provision. He himself did not believe it was of any value at all to the object which the right hon. Gentleman desired to promote. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the landlord, who would pocket the bonus and march off to Boulogne. Was the reason for this provision a fear on the part of the solvent landlord that such action would tend to lower the price? If that was the ground on which this dangerous clause was being insisted upon, he thought it was a very inadequate reason, and he did not think the landlords themselves, if they had not made a kind of a shibboleth of this provision, would consider that they needed security against the tenants. Whether the provision was needed as against the black sheep of their own order he did not undertake to say, but he did not think that the Chief Secretary would press it on that ground.
On the Second Reading of this Bill, he ventured to say, and he thought he was speaking for some of his friends behind him, that their attitude on this Bill 1110 would depend materially upon the treatment which the right hon. Gentle man gave to this particular provision. But he wanted to put another point to the right hon. Gentleman. Was it really to be contemplated with patience that this Bill should run a chance of being wrecked because of this provision. If the hon. Gentlemen from Ireland would not accept this provision they could not expect other hon. Members, either on that side of the House or on this, to support the Bill. The one consideration which induced Members representing English and Scottish constituencies to support this Bill, much as they disliked its general tenor—the £12,000,000 and the £100,000,000—was that it was accepted by Gentlemen from Ireland as a real settlement. Now it was impossible after what had passed this afternoon for any one to contend that this Bill was accepted and would be worked by those who had influence in Ireland with a view to promote its successful operation. He therefore appealed to the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech this afternoon, had indicated a great willingness, if possible, to meet views of the kind he was now expressing, and admitted that there were certain classes excluded from the zone-treatment which he was willing to admit into the provision. Why should the right hon. Gentleman not extend that proposal to judicial holdings? And if there were cases where there was reason to suppose that the bargain arrived at between a landlord and tenant was not a safe bargain for the State, then let the Estates Commissioners send down and ascertain how far the bargain was reasonable and just. He hoped the Government would consider any suggestion which would extricate them and the Committee from a grave peril. It was a great peril to the State that purchasers should be placed in such a position. It was to the interest of all that a purchaser should not make a bargain he would not be able to keep. He submitted this suggestion in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would give it some consideration.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said he quite agreed that the real driving force behind the Bill was 1111 the feeling that this Bill was a fair promise of the settlement of the Irish land question. English Members were willing to accept it and pledge the British credit, and give a large sum for the purposes of this Bill, on the one condition that it should settle the Irish land question. The taxpayer would be willing to give even more money if he thought this would be a real permanent settlement of the question of Irish land, but he would not be willing to give half the money for any petty and temporary measure. If the Bill was to effect a permanent settlement it must be acceptable to the Irish people, and they had now to find out whether this Bill was satisfactory to Ireland or not. The only way to do that was to ask hon. Gentlemen representing all classes of Irish opinion. The only person in favour of this clause and not in favour of the Amendment was the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, and therefore the Committee was in this extraordinary position—that a Bill which depended for its success in this House upon Irish approval, was at this moment being imperilled because the right hon. Gentleman would not yield to almost universal Irish opinion in the matter. His hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford had said that he had encountered a large amount of political risk in supporting this measure and recommending it to the people of Ireland, but there were other Members of other Parties in the House who ran great political risk also, and never had a Bill a fairer chance on its Second Reading, supported as it was by the universal approval of all parties in the House. He had listened to almost every word of the debate during the last two days, and he had listened to every word of the speech of the Chief Secretary, in eager anticipation to hear what could be said in favour of this clause. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks had amazed him. The right hon. Gentleman had said it did not matter how many years purchase the tenant gave, whether it was eighteen, twenty, or twenty-eight for their holdings. That was language he should expect to hear from a moneylender who was trying to persuade a man to sign a bill. If the Bill passed in its present shape, and the 1112 tenants were induced to give exorbitant prices for their holdings, all the magic of property would disappear until the third generation. If a man bought at eighteen years or twenty years purchase, it might be possible, in time, for he or his son to pay the whole of the sum due to the State and become owner of the soil. The Committee stood face to face with the possibility of three generations of Irishmen being bound owing to the excessive price it was proposed to charge for the holdings. This peril was not any fault of the Chief Secretary, but was due entirely to one section of the landlord party.
He did not object to the bonus of £12,000,000 being given to the landlords, but he certainly did object to a bonus of £12,000,000, plus a second bonus of £12,000,000 in the shape of a higher number of years purchase being given to them; was it to the credit of a responsible Government to come forward with a proposition that a certain class of the landlords of Ireland, having got these large inducements given to them to sell their farms, should require a further inducement in the inflation of the value of their property by four or five years extension in the price of purchase. They were in the extraordinary position that the only benefit the tenants got by the bonus was that the value of the land was enhanced. It was a most extraordinary thing that because the landlords got money from the State they should say that the tenants should pay a higher price. He had with him a number of Returns showing that between seventeen and eighteen years was the average purchase price, and the Chief Secretary had not succeeded in breaking down the figure. Even though first and second-term rents were mixed together, that only made the argument stronger, because the number of years purchase was greater in the case of second-term rentals than of first-term rentals. Seventeen or eighteen years purchase on depreciated land stock, which had fallen from 103 to 92, represented in solid cash only fourteen or fifteen years purchase; yet under the Bill the landlords were to get in cash twenty-two and a half years purchase in the case of second-term 1113 rents, or eighteen and a half in the case of the first term, and that was taking the most favourable terms to the tenants. Many Members were falling into the error of talking of the minimum price as though it would be the normal figure of purchase. The question must be argued on the basis of the average reductions and the average price, and the Bill was being imperilled in order to secure to the landlords, in addition to the bonus, twenty-five years purchase. No defence had been made of the proposal. The interest of the tenant in getting a fair price, and that of the taxpayer in getting an adequate security were one and the same, because so far as the price paid by the tenant was inflated, so far would the security of the State be diminished. Mr. Bailey's report showed that wherever land purchase had taken place under reasonable conditions the transformation of Irish life had been magical; sobriety, thrift, home comforts, contentment—all had increased. But it also showed that where land purchase had been conducted on principles such as those in this clause, it had been, not a benefit, but an injury to the people, their last condition of hopeless despair being worse than their first. He desired land purchase to take place under conditions which would make the people prosperous, not under conditions which would lead them to bankruptcy. That was really the issue before the Committee. The Chief Secretary seemed not to have grasped the position in the matter. They were not now dealing with the "slum holdings," but with the average and normal holding, and any concession which stopped short of saving that class of tenant from bargains which would make them bankrupt instead of prosperous, could not be regarded as facilitating the progress of the Bill or tending to a real settlement of the land question.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
felt that they were at the parting of the ways on this question. He remembered the Act of 1870 being passed through the House, when thirteen Members protested against the Bill, demanding what was called "the three F's." The demand was refused, but ten years afterwards the great Minister who refused it honoured himself by granting it in full. Again, in the case of the Act of 1881, a demand 1114 for the inclusion of leaseholders was rejected, but it was complied with six years later. In the case of Bill after Bill Irish demands, backed by practical unanimity, had been refused by the House of Commons, insisted upon in Ireland, and finally, after trouble and sometimes outrage, conceded by England. What was the position on the present occasion? In the old fights there had always been an Ulster landlord party with something to say for the landlords, but to-night the landlords were left derelict except for one voice crying in the wilderness. There were fifteen Ulster Members present, but only the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh had said a word in favour of this proposal. Personally, he had never taken the line that the landlords ought to be turned out of the country; on the contrary, he had always desired that they should remain, and be recompensed for giving up their land. He was in favour of, not only an economic price, but something more being paid, and he had told the Irish tenants it would be worth their while to pay that something more in order to get rid of landlordism and all that it represented. He had gone further than hon. Members opposite in regard to the price that should be given, and he adhered to his position. He had gone in advance even of the people of Ulster in this matter; he had not all the people at his back in the concessions he had made to the Irish landlords; he had gone beyond his mandate, but if a settlement could be arrived at he would stick to his own opinions. Those opinions, however, could not be carried too far, and he appealed to the House of Commons not to shut the door upon the one chance that this generation would see of settling this eternal trouble. There was a class of holdings that had been unfairly rented. They had been rented on the tenants' own improvements, and that was his difficulty in this business, and if he could see that class protected he would be prepared to support a reasonable compromise. It was the old question of the men who knew against the men who did not know; it was the case of the men who had knowledge of the people and their customs against the English and Scottish Members, possessed of the best instincts, but lacking knowledge, and wedded to the Party feeling which would induce Members to 1115 come in from the smoking room and vote against the Amendment upon which the peace of the country depended for the next generation. It was an intolerable situation, and he hoped the Chief Secretary would have something to say which would relieve their minds.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that in response to the many appeals that had been made to him he felt bound to rise, although, judging from the earlier speeches that had been made, he regretted to say that he had no suggestion to make that was likely to carry them to a platform of common agreement. He was afraid he had found no solution in his own mind. Every hon. Member realised the gravity of the situation. They all credited each other with absolute sincerity in this matter. It was, therefore, an unmixed misfortune that they could not all agree when they all aimed at the same object. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose had said that he had not addressed himself sufficiently closely to the Amendment, that he had made a discursive speech. He did that deliberately. He wished at the outset to bring the Committee back to a sense of the enormous issue at stake, and not to jeopardise that issue upon one feature of it, even although it might be a very important feature. That was his justification. On the Amendment he did deal with the first question raised—namely, the question of the minimum reduction. He must adhere to the minimum reduction proposed. There was one other point in the Amendment upon which he had not spoken. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment, he did not say designedly, proposed to treat as the equivalent of a second-term rent any holding to which the Land Purchase Acts applied. If they accepted the Amendment as it stood they would insist that the big grazier must have a minimum reduction of 25 per cent. He was sure the hon. Member did not intend that. The Land Acts applied to certain holdings, but the Land Purchase Acts applied to many holdings to which the Land Acts did not apply, and these did not exhaust the situation, for there were some holdings which the Land Acts did not touch. The hon. Member for South Tyrone thought that a proposal he had made was that they should include inside the zone holdings to which the Land Acts did not 1116 apply and which were outside the zone. That was not so. A grazing farm of more than £100 valuation and townparks were outside the zone; and upon those holdings, even if the clause passed as the Government now presented it, it would be necessary to proceed more or less upon the line which now obtained—that was to say, the Land Commissioners would look at the bargain which had been arrived at and see whether the security was adequate, and a price might be arrived at not inside the zone. It might be higher or lower. The hon. Member seemed to suggest that there were in Ireland certain classes included within the zone as the Bill now stood which might with advantage be relegated outside the zone to the position now occupied by the classes already outside. If he had received any earlier intimation that any such suggestion would be welcome, or be of assistance towards agreement, he would have made it an hour ago. But he did not receive such intimation until the hon. Member spoke. He did not know to what class the hon. Member for South Tyrone was alluding. He spoke of those who had undergone pressure, or who might be exposed to pressure, but he assumed he was alluding to future tenants.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
explained that he had said that even among the class of second-term tenants there were men whose rents he believed to have been unfairly fixed on their own improvements. They ought not to be tied within those cast-iron rules, and the Commissioners ought to be able to give them relief.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he understood the hon. Member to be addressing himself to those classes who had not had the benefit of second-term rents. He would be perfectly ready to consider an Amendment cutting non-judicial tenancies out of the zone, but if that would not lead to agreement, he was afraid he must adhere to the clause as it stood. It would not be wise to complicate the Bill if no advantage was to be gained from it, and if it did not advance them nearer a form of solution. The basis of the Bill was the rents which had been fixed by judicial process. There they had certainty, but elsewhere they had uncertainty, and they ought to proceed on certainty. He was prepared 1117 to accept an Amendment which did not shatter the basis of the Bill, but he could not undertake to accept an Amendment which would have that effect.
§ MR. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
Our view is that outside the zone is outside the Bill. We want to know, if they fall back on the Ashbourne Act, will the inducement to the landlord to sell still remain?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that the holdings on which a judicial rent had been fixed, or non-judicial holdings, as it was now proposed to treat them, were inside the zone, but on the same estate there might be grazing farms of more than £100 a year. They were outside the zone, but within the estate. Therefore, the sum offered in respect of these holdings went into the corpus of the estate, and the bonus, allocated as at present suggested, applied to the whole corpus money of the estate. On a holding on which a judicial rent had been fixed, the first clause said that the Commissioners were to sanction a bargain within the limits of the zone and not otherwise. That being so, if a separate bargain outside the limits were made in respect of a particular holding to which the zone applied, then there would not be a bonus; but if the future tenant and the non-judicial tenant were thrust out of the zone, he went into the category of cases already excluded from the zone, and there would be a free bargain without the limits, and carrying a bonus with it. If he made so great a departure from the Bill, the number of exceptions would be increased by the non-judicial tenants, and he would have to introduce a clause declaring that the bargain was to be examined with a due regard to all the circumstances of the case.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said he could scarcely think that the Chief Secretary imagined that he had made anything in the nature of a substantial concession. He had proposed that non-judicial tenants should be exempt from the operation of this zone, but the judicial tenants should remain in. Why did he make that distinction at all? If it were proper that the zone should not apply to non-judicial tenants, how could the Chief Secretary argue that it ought 1118 to apply to judicial tenants? In any case the non-judicial tenants were but a minority. The great bulk of tenants in Ireland were judicial tenants, and it was with their case that they were mostly concerned. He could not concede that the right hon. Gentleman had made any reasonable concession whatever.
§ *MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
said they had been dealing with cases within the zones, and to which the question of first and second-term rents applied; they had not been dealing with exceptional cases in the general discussion; and therefore they were really still at the point, notwithstanding the concession of the right hon. Gentleman, at which they were when the hon. Member for South Tyrone sat down. He rose with the greatest possible reluctance to trespass upon the attention of the Committee for a few moments only. He rose with the deepest feeling of regret on account of the turn this debate had taken, due to the inexorable condition of maintaining this limitation in the clause. The Irish representatives were voicing the opinion of the great bulk of the whole population as well as of the tenant farmers in Ireland, because it was not the tenant farmers alone who were interested in the question of solving the Irish land problem. The whole people of the country were practically agreed on this question to an extent unexampled in the history of any country which was said to possess free institutions. It was a most extreme anomaly that, where the popular representatives of a whole nation were practically unanimous in the legislature which had to deal with their concerns, they should be told they were impotent to get their views attended to and their wishes turned into law, but that some unseen and unnamed power was to thwart the wishes of the nation, and that they were not even to have the opportunity of trying the plan which those who spoke the views of the whole nation said was necessary to procure the peace, comfort, and prosperity of the country they represented. If they were to ask him to state a possible case which should demonstrate the difficulty of governing Ireland by an external power, it would be the case presented by this House just now. Let them not even yet abandon the effort to consider where they stood. The 1119 right hon. Gentleman in that speech, which he was afraid was not inaptly described, having regard to the real crux of the position, as discursive, gave them a description of the benefits which were to be attained by both sides by the financial operations of this Bill. He owned it seemed to him his description did appertain to that class of operation which he characterised with contempt as financial jugglery. What he told them was so far true that no doubt benefits could be obtained by both parties by the extrinsic operation of the use of British credit. That alone was where they got special benefit. They obtained money at a low rate of interest. But that benefit the landlords alone would reap, for the right hon. Gentleman practically adopted the suggestion which had pervaded the discussions of those who represented the landlords' interest throughout, namely that the House of Commons was to assume that it was a matter of absolute or practical indifference how many years the annuity was to last to the intending purchaser, and that the only question he had to consider was what the amount of the annuity was to be. This was financial jugglery.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of greater benefits than ever before which would be derived under this Bill. What were the greater benefits than ever before? Was not the rate of interest the same. Was it not 2¾ per cent.? It was true that the instalment was less. Why? Because the tenant was told that they would not give up altogether—but defer payment for a certain number of years of the instalment money. Free of interest? No, of course he had to pay interest for every hour of delay. The practical result was that they were saying to the tenant. "You are going to get a reduced annual instalment of principal, and it is of little consequence to you how long you take to pay it, though you are to keep on paying interest all the while." He admitted that the right hon. Gentleman was correct in the view that a great many tenants were likely to assume, or would be disposed to assume, that there was no questioning of that argument, and that present relief would overbear in their minds the circumstance that the term would last so long, and still more would it overbear in their minds that fact because it was going to be a term far longer than 1120 the lives of the vast bulk of those who were going to become purchasers. It was a longer period than most of them would be likely to calculate. The other party to the bargain, and the Government is rightly considering their interest as well, would have all the benefit of that situation. They had all the benefit of the situation, which had been inaccurately described as a situation which conferred on the tenants benefits it did not in fact confer. The desire and anxiety to settle the question, and to have a fixed arrangement which might terminate during the life of the child or grandson in ownership, and which meantime would lessen the amount of annual rent, was a very great temptation to the tenant to pay a somewhat larger price. Why? Not only because of the length of the term and the temporary case it gave, but because of the circumstance that he had got the money at a cheaper rate than otherwise he could do by the operation of British credit. But to suggest that all the advantage was on his side, and that there was no account to be taken of the vast number of years during which this sum had to be paid, was a suggestion that did savour of financial jugglery. Again, if they were to take into account the course of financial events and conditions, and the history of the rate of interest for the last generation, they must remember, when they were arranging for a fixed rate of interest for a term so long as seventy years, that if that state of things progressed the boon they talked of with respect to the use of British credit might be a diminishing and not an increasing boon. So far as they were aware there would be a progressive decline in the rate of interest, and if there should be a decline to the extent of one-half or even one-quarter on the present rate it would be an actual burden upon the tenant to prolong the time of repayment.
The tenant was advised to make a fair and reasonable bargain, one which he was sure he would be able to keep, as against the temptation, which he admitted would be strong, to look only to the reduction in his rent. That circumstance and this scheme were the security to those who were sellers, and to the Government of the day for the 1121 view that there was no danger at all in striking out this proposal to which they objected. The danger was that they would go to a higher price and not to a lower price than they ought to pay. He remembered the suggestions made more than once by the Chairman of the Land Conference that there was a great deal too much talk about the number of years purchase, and that the annuity was not to be translated into the number of years purchase. Really the right hon. Gentleman had been adopting the same argument. It was a potent suggestion, and a great inducement and temptation, and one very likely to be used unduly to enhance prices. Would it not be a circumstance of awful solemnity if this clause should pass on the conditions on which the right hon. Gentleman had now placed it. The responsibility of those who represented the people of Ireland was of course a very serious one; it was impossible for them to tell the Irish people—if their intimate convictions were that the scheme of the Bill was such that it would not produce a settlement—it was impossible for them with honesty to tell the Irish people that it would produce a settlement. Their earnest desire was to be able to say so. If this limitation which was to prevent the attempt to bargain for a lower price, which was to limit freedom of contract, was retained, it would be impossible for the Irish representatives to act with reference to the acceptance of the Bill and its working with the same sense of hope that it would produce a settlement of the land question as if the view of the nation on that subject were accepted. The illustration given by the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh in regard to the selling of a horse put the argument of the landlord party very clearly. Would it not be a piece of high comedy if the views of the Irish representatives were to be overborne, and the freedom of bargaining should be restricted in the way proposed, when they knew that the British taxpayers would be protected by the freedom of bargaining which they wished to see retained. By the suggestion of that right hon. Gentleman, who reduced this great national transaction to the level of a horse trade, it would take a longer time to bargain, and 1122 it would be more difficult to come to a conclusion than if freedom of bargain was given in substance as well as in form, under this Bill, which was not a compulsory Bill. And on this ground, forsooth, freedom was to be denied. That argument ought not to prevail. Therefore he still hoped that those expectations which had been raised so high, and those desires, to fulfil which so many sacrifices and concessions had been made, might, not be turned into worry, anxiety, and apprehension; but that the current of Irish sentiment might yet waft the Bill to a successful passage through the House, and that its great destined work for good might not be thwarted by an inexorable adherence to a decision which was contrary to the views of the Irish National representatives.
§ *MR. GORDON (Londonderry, S.)
said that, as an Irish. Member representing an Irish agricultural constituency—he did not appear either as a landlord or as a tenant—he was sincerely anxious that this Bill should go over to Ireland in such a form as would be acceptable to both sides. That was a great matter in his mind, and what he wished to see effect given to. In Ireland there was a unanimous opinion on the part of the tenants that they should be left free to fix such prices as they and their landlords could agree upon; and he thought it would be a terrible mistake if anything should be done to prevent this measure from being acceptable to the tenants as well as to the landlords. He was one of those who believed that if the Amendment were accepted, perhaps, in the end, the prices would not be so very much different from those embodied in the Bill. Great advantages were given to the tenants, and they were very keenly anxious to become the owners of their farms. These two things would operate in their minds to induce them to give a reasonable price, the utmost limit which they could safely offer. In many cases, especially in the part of the country which he represented, he thought the commercial instincts which governed the transactions of the farmers, as well as the landlords, would be an admirable protection to the landlords when the price of the holdings came to be fixed. It had been said that an agitation might arise where subsequently one estate was sold 1123 at, perhaps, less than its true value. He thought a far more dangerous agitation might arise if this Bill went to Ireland without the goodwill, not merely of the hon. Members who represented Ireland in that House, but of the people of the country, with the whole of the Nationalist Press writing against it, and with everything being done to prevent it getting that fair play which he admitted even if the Amendments were not carried it ought to get. He wanted the Bill to be received as a boon by the people, and he did not wish there should be one single clause in the Bill which would prevent its most beneficial operation.
§ MR. HARRINGTON
said that before the division was taken he hoped they should have something further from the Chief Secretary. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman himself realised the position in which he had been placed by his adherence to the zone system in this clause. The views which had been put forward that evening on behalf of the Irish landlords against the Amendment were not the views of the selling landlords, but of those who did not wish to sell, and who wished to keep up, for their own purposes, a purely artificial price for Irish land. The caution of the House of Commons had always been directed towards securing that the price paid for a holding was such as to enable the tenant to discharge his liability, and to repay the State the money advanced to him; but under the clause as it stood there was no sufficient inquiry provided as to whether the State would have that sufficient security. The Irish Members, however, wished to address themselves in the discussion of this clause to the point of view of settling this land question once and for all. Hence it was that they urged the acceptance of the Amendment on the Government. If they were animated by the motives sometimes suggested in the House, nothing would be more easy than for them to come to the House of Commons and accept this measure as an instalment only of what they wished for; but they were really anxious that a final and satisfactory settlement should take place. They did not want to be in the position of coming back to the House two or three 1124 years hence, of recalling their utterances there to the discredit of the whole country, and asking the House of Commons to re-open a question which had disturbed the House so long. This was a settlement far beyond what the Irish landlords ever dreamt of setting, and beyond that which the representatives of the Irish landlords expected at the Conference. Many reasons had been given for fixing a minimum price. One was that pressure would be brought to bear on the Irish landlords to sell. But how could that pressure be applied having regard to the fact that every inducement was to be offered to the landlords to get the best price they could. The higher the price, the higher the bonus. If the right hon. Gentleman insisted on retaining the minimum price the great danger was that it would immediately present a frightful contrast to those who purchased under the Ashbourne Acts and those who would buy under this Bill. A contrast would also be shown in the case of the landlords who sold under the Ashbourne Acts compared with those who sold under this Bill, when passed into law. The average number of years purchase under the Ashbourne Acts was seventeen or seventeen and a half, but under this Bill, as it stood, the minimum which would be paid would be at least twenty-two years purchase, or a difference of between four and five years purchase. Then, he should like the Committee to consider the difference in the position of the landlords under the Ashbourne Acts and under this Bill. Under the former one-fifth of the purchase money was retained from the landlords, and there was no sale until the Land Commission was satisfied that there was sufficient security to the State for the price offered. The landlords, also, under the Ashbourne Acts had to bear the whole expense of the investigation as to title.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.