§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment to Question [4th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Which Amendment was,
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Coghill.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ Mr. ASHTON
The price to be given for this land compares very strangely with the price to be given in 1886 under Mr. Gladstone's Bill. Mr. Gladstone considered twenty years would be sufficient to satisfy the claims of Irish landowners. He took twenty years as his standard. 1286 Under the Bill no landlord was to get more than twenty-two years' purchase, and he gave it as his opinion that the average price would not be more than seventeen years' purchase of the rents. That opinion is strongly borne out by the facts, because we heard this afternoon, from the Leader of the Opposition, I think, that the average purchase price under the Land Acts has been almost exactly seventeen and a half years purchase. Well, Sir, that, compared from the British taxpayers' point of view, with the price to be given under this Bill is very much smaller. The price to be given under this Bill is more generous in two ways. In the first place it gives: a bonus to the landlords, and in the second it gives a much larger number of; years' purchase, the total result of the two combined being to give be tween twenty-five and thirty-three years' purchase on the present rental of the land. That is a very large order indeed, and I think it requires some justification at the hands of the Government when we know that land in Ireland under ordinary circumstances is sold at seventeen years' purchase, and when we know that agricultural land in this country will not sell without amenities at anything like that price. We are told we must give this large price in order to induce the landlords to sell. But if we are to give this bonus and these favourable terms we have a right to demand that the landowners shall be coerced into selling; if we are to give these terms we ought to be given the right of compulsory purchase, and I do not believe that this Bill will work satisfactorily unless it provides that this land shall be purchased compulsorily from the landowners. Unless it is made compulsory, I feel sure there will be a large number of landowners who will hold back in the hope that if they hold back long enough better terms will be offered to them. Why could we not have compulsion in this matter? We have compulsion now a days for the purchase of property for the public good; we have admitted on this side for years that where it is in the interest of the public that property should be taken it should be taken at a fair price and no more, and I 1287 am glad to notice that in the last year or two the Conservative Party has accepted this view.
In the session of last year this House thought it was desirable, in the interest of London that the water companies should be purchased, but what was the principle of purchase in that case? They took the companies' property by compulsory purchase, but they provided that no sum was to be given in compensation for compulsory purchase. Again, we have another Bill in the interests of London, under which it is proposed that the property of the dock and pier companies shall be taken, because it is believed it will be for the benefit of London, and there a fair price without compensation is to be given. If that is to be the way in which English property owners are to be treated, I fail to see why Irish owners should be put on an entirely different footing. Why is it right that English owners should have their property taken from them compulsorily, without any bonus being given, and on the other hand, Irish landowners, who are not even compelled to sell, should receive a bonus? I think that requires from the Government some explanation to the taxpayers. Some 'explanation should be given as to why Irish owners are to be put in a superior position to owners of property -in this country. I have tried to see why this difference should be made, and I confess I have been driven to the conclusion that though you might get justice for the landowner and the tenant in Ireland and the taxpayers of this country in this House, when this Bill goes to the House of Lords you cannot get it through unless you give a good bribe to the landowners, and I look on this £12,000,000 as a bribe given to the House of Lords for passing this Bill; and I believe even though we waited till—I had almost said a more satisfactory Government—a Liberal Government was in power we should never be able to get such a Bill as this through the House of Lords without giving a bribe to the owners of land in Ireland. That is the price we have to pay for getting the Bills of the representatives of the People in this House confirmed by the House of Lords.
I turn now to another part of the Bill, the question of the Demesne Lands. Mr. Gladstone in his Bill of 1886, if I 1288 remember right, left the demesne lands entirely out of his Bill. I think he was right, but in this Bill we are giving the landowners power to sell their demesne land and then to buy it back again, and also allow the landowners to have the same benefits as are given to the tenants in the way of borrowing the purchase money. You are going to advance the landowner the money to buy back his own land in sixty-eight and a-half years, and I fail to see why the owners of demesne lands should be dealt with in this way. I would willingly sell £20,000 worth of land and then buy it again in sixty-eight and a-half years. I should get the money advanced from the Government at 3¼ per cent. while I could invest in safe enough securities at 3½ per cent., and at the end of the sixty eight and a-half years I should still have the money for which I was receiving 3½ per cent. and my heirs would have the property free of all obligation. I fail to see why this advantage should be given to Irish landowners if it is not given to English, Scotch and Welsh owners in the same way. I approach this from the point of view of the British taxpayer, and I say, though we are willing to risk our money, we want to limit our risk as far as possible. I know it will be said that many of these lands are heavily encumbered, but my reply to that is, I regret to say, that in England a great many estates are also heavily encumbered. I do not see why these men should be risking their money to pay off encumbered estates in Ireland. The Government talk of a loan of£100,000,000, but I think that amount will probably be increased to £150,000,000. When Mr. Gladstone made his estimate of the cost of the land for the whole of Ireland he estimated that the amount required to be advanced would be £180,000,000. If it was £180,000,000 then, why should it be less now? I do not think even the Chief Secretary can argue that land has so fallen in value that it is now only worth £100,000,000.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON, Londonderry, N.)
There have been two revisions of rent.
§ Mr. ASHTON
Yes, but that will not account for difference of £80,000,000, and it is only some estates the rent of which have been revised twice.
§ Mr. ASHTON
Now I pass from the demesne lands to the question of mortgaging these holdings. I am glad the Government are not going to allow these small holdings to be divided, but I am sorry to see they are going to allow the small holder to mortgage his holding. We all know that one of the greatest risks run is that of the small holder mortgaging his holding and falling into the hands of the moneylender. This is the case not only in Ireland but all over the world. We have a good example of it in the case of our Indian Empire, the Government of which is never free from trying to evolve some scheme to free the ryot. I should like to see in this Bill a provision that no mortgaging of small holdings should be allowed at all. Looking into the question of mortgage in India I find there a case where a few years ago, the Government had reclaimed some land by means of irrigation and that with respect to that they passed a law that none of that land should be mortgaged at all. That shows that, in the opinion of the officials of India, it is possible to keep these holdings free from mortgages. If it is felt that there ought to be some power of mortgage I feel it would be a more satisfactory condition of things to have some provision in the Act analogous to the American Homesteads Act, so as to prevent a small holder being sold up and cleared off his land. If we are going to spend £100,000,000 in Ireland it is of immense importance to us that the small holders should be satisfied with the arrangement, and if they are to be ejected from their holdings in time to come for mortgage debts it will be a very serious blot on this Act. Therefore I should like to see some such provision as that incorporated in the American Homesteads Act, which provides that the house and a certain number of acres round it, enough to provide for the holders, shall not be taken away from the occupants for debt. It may be said if the occupiers are not to mortgage their property they will not be able to raise money to carry on. I do not think that 1290 is so. They can raise money without mortgaging their land.
In the Native States of India the ryots cannot be ejected from their land, yet the moneylender is as willing to lend money in the Native States as in the British. Such a provision would get rid of a lot of rotten finance. In spite of what I may have said against this Bill I believe, in its present form, and still more if it had dealt more tenderly with the British taxpayers, it will not only be of enormous advantage to Ireland but to the Empire as a whole, and although I dislike very much some of its provisions I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading in the hope that something may be done in Committee to remedy its great defects. It will be of enormous advantage to the peasants of Ireland, who, under the hopes born of the Bill, will, I believe, turn into one of the most industrious sets of peasants in the world. When they feel that all they earn is going into their own pockets we may rest assured that industry will make Ireland a much happier and more prosperous country than she has been in the past. Another advantage that is going to be derived from the Bill is the discontinuance of the landowner as the British garrison. He has felt himself to be one of the British garrison and has placed himself in that position very largely for fear of what might happen to his land. Under this Bill he will take a very different position in Ireland to what he has taken in the past. We shall now, I think, find both working for the common good of Ireland. The landowner up to now has put his personal interest in his property first and his patriotism in the second place, but anyone who knows the Irish landowners knows, however that may be, that there is no one who is fonder of his country and more wishful for its good. I believe that there will be a large number of Irish landowners who, in the future, will take a personal interest in the affairs of their country because the tenants, having no longer any fear of them, will be willing to work with them, and the landlords will take their proper position just as the English landlords do in this country. In future it will not be so much a question of the land, but it will be a question of land Progressives and Conservatives in Ireland, and many landlords will be found to join with the Nationalist 1291 Members in their demand for the better Government of Ireland Hither to the landlords have supported the Dublin Castle system because they have looked upon it as the fortress of their land-owning rights, but when that system has disappeared the landlords of Ireland will be as anxious as hon. Gentlemen from Ireland to reform the Government of Ireland But how are you going to get rid of "Castle" rule without setting up some large form of local government—I do not say home Rule, Which stinks in the nostrils of hon. Gentleman opposite but some system of government under which you will get the landowners of Ireland joining with the Nationalists for the better government of Ireland When that time arrives it will be a happy day for Ireland and for Great Britain as well as for the Empire at large.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB
While I agree with much that has been said in this debate, many observations have been made with which I disagree Compulsion upon the landlords to sell has been advocated but if the State compels the landlord to sell it must also compel the tenants to buy, and these must be such of the Leader of the Opposition he took up his position on the top of the purchase fence; on the one side of the fence was the ditch of compulsion and on the other the sound ground of voluntary purchase, and when the right hon. Gentleman concluded I could not tell on which side of the fence he was coming down He said that the policy of the Bill altogether hung on the terms offered to the tenant, but that is not a fair way of putting it. What is more important is the terms which the landlord will accept. The principle of this Bill is voluntary purchase, and you can on l carry out that policy by offering a sufficient inducement to both sides inducement to the vendor to sell and to the purchaser to buy Therefore I cannot understand the position taken p by the Leader of the Opposition The right hon. Gentleman also objects to a fixed rent over a long period But how are you to carry out any system of State purchase but by a rent over a long period? That 1292 is an unfortunate remark because it leaves us in a state of confusion and doubt I think my interruption in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was misunderstood When he stated that the landlords of Ireland had agreed to compulsion being applied in the congested districts I ventured to ask him his authority I did not interrupt him unnecessarily and with the intention of laying a trap as he appeared to think In reply to my interruption the hon. and learned Member for Waterford read a statement made by Lord Dunraven's Committee which to the House seemed to settle the question against me That Committee was got together by the spontaneous efforts of two or three men who sent out circulars There are 10,000 or 12,000 landlords in Ireland but these gentlemen only sent out voting papers to about 4,000 Of this total something over 1,100 voted for a conference, about 300 voted against it, and 2,500 never answered at all I think those who did not vote must be regarded as mostly against the proposal because it was popular to vote for and unpopular to vote against.
The hon. Member for Waterford has stated that the landlords have agreed to sale being made compulsory in the congested districts after five years. But the statement which the hon. Member read in proof of his point was made only by Lord Dunraven's Committee, and not by the Landowners' Convention. Passing to the Bill itself this measure is introduced under most extraordinary circumstances. Be it real, deep and lasting, or simulated and superficial, the fact remains that at the present moment the Irish landlord hon. and the tenant lamb or vice versa seem more inclined to lie down in peace together than ever they have done before. I am obliged to trouble the House with some observations about myself personally. By every material and sentimental tie I am connected with Ireland; but, as the representative of an English constituency, I am bound to look on the Bill as it affects the general taxpayer. If I thought it was a bribe to Ireland to keep quiet or to give up Home Rule, I should not support it. If you once commence paying blackmail you will have to go on with it, and there has been too much tendency in the past to deal 1293 with Ireland in this way. The Act of 1881 was looked upon as a bribe to the many out of the pockets of the few. Under these circumstances it did not settle Ireland at all. That Act has had many effects. It failed to quiet the tenants and it has done more, for it has poisoned the social atmosphere of Ireland by the State fixing of rents at an artificial value, and in defiance of all economic laws; it has put a State premium upon deterioration of land and demoralised the people. In consequence of upsetting the economic conditons which exist in all other countries, the Act has had a most deplorable effect upon the artizan class in the rural districts. In the rural districts, carpenters, joiners, and every kind of skilled labourers have lost their employment in consequence, and they have fled to the large towns of this country to add to the congestion in Great Britain. As the Leader of the House stated to-day, the Act of 1881 and this State fixing of rent has made the position in Ireland intolerable. Therefore it has got to be remedied, and must be dealt with. Parliament, representing the people, in 1881 started Ireland on the road to ruin, and has brought her in twenty-one years to the edge of the j abyss of economic perdition which is now visible to all thinking men. No one who knows the real facts can deny that Ireland must be rescued, and it is vital to the interests of the United Kingdom to do this. It is not a mere question of owners and occupiers, or a question of the interests of people of any particular class, but it is the interest of the whole body politic. It was Parliament which made that terrific blunder in 1881, and it is Parliament and the people of the United Kingdom in 1903 who must pay for that blunder. The Act of 1849 was founded upon the security of property in Ireland, and in consequence of that Act millions of British money have been invested in Ireland on the security of Irish land. This Encumbered Estates Act of 1849 had for its object the attraction of British capital to Ireland, and it succeeded because in those days there was a firm faith in the Parliamentary title and rights secured by law. But the Act of 1881 changed all that, and not only repelled more capital from Ireland but locked up the capital already there. Consequently, the landlords were placed between the 1294 devil and the deep sea. They had to meet the interest on the security, while there was a constant reduction and whittling down by the State of the value of the land and of the landlords means to pay. Looking at the matter from the point of view of my constituency and the British taxpayer, it is important, not merely to Ireland but to the general public, that some means should be found of releasing that capital and enabling it to be free without disastrous losses. For general reasons, and on behalf of the general taxpayer, I strongly support that principle of this Bill. We have now to consider the remedy. The wholesale repeal of the Act of 1881 is a matter beyond the region of practical politics. That would be another breach of faith on the part of Parliament, and would make confusion worse confounded. To amend the method of State revision, procedure is a necessary palliative, but it would be no cure. Now we come to the question of dual ownership. My hon. friend the Member for Islington dealt with that point, and he showed that this Bill could not abolish dual ownership. Every occupier of a house in London who pays a head rent is a dual owner. Every weekly tenant in the east or south of London is, for the week, a dual owner, and to say that this Bill is going to abolish dual ownership is claiming for it something which is not true. What the Bill does is for sixty-eight and a-half years to make the State a dual owner, and after that period it keeps the State as a dual owner with a smaller interest. The real change proposed is that the contract between the State as a dual owner will be permanent as regards time and invariable as regards rent. The essence of the transformation to be effected by the Bill when it is completely accomplished is the invariability of rent and the abolition of interference by the State in fixing values. The system of the State fixing of values in Ireland I look upon as a real gaoler of British capital invested in land in Ireland, which, if thus released, might be applied to Irish industry but which is now locked up in Ireland and incapable of being applied to that purpose. Speaking as a Member for an English constituency, I am not frightened by the magnitude of the financial transaction involved in this 1295 Bill I am more frightened at the growing danger of the economic condition of Ireland if you do nothing at all. That is my ground as an English Member for giving my support to the Bill.
Now I turn to the principle of the measure, which is designed to relieve us of this incubus of State fixing of rents. As I see the Bill, it is mainly this. It assumes as the basis of correct rental the sum of £4,000,000. The Bill proposes, by loans and cash payments from the Exchequer, to induce the owners to sell and the tenants to buy, and the process is to be this. The owners are to make their lands over to the State, and the State is to vest them in the occupiers on certain conditions. The transaction is to be purely voluntary, and, therefore, to what extent the Bill will become operative entirely depends upon the attractions it offers to both the owners and the occupiers. The terms offered to both—and I shall express my views upon them—are the essence of the Bill. These are matters which I think can be dealt with in Committee, and I shall not make any observations upon the details. What I wish to point out—and it is very important—is that the business of taking over real property from one party and conveying it to another is a tedious, intricate, and costly process. It involves heavy legal and other expenses. In private transactions of such sales of real property this expense falls on both the vendor and the purchaser alike. Under this Bill the State occupies the position of the honest broker, and all the cost and labour and anxiety of the transaction falls upon the owner, while the purchaser entirely escapes. The landlord, if he makes up his mind to sell, has to go through all the labour, toil, anxiety, and cost of putting his property be ore the Commissioners in such a form as to make it possible for them to deal with it. The tenant, having signed his agreement to purchase, has nothing more to do than to go about his farm, attend to his business, and wait until the time when, without any cost or trouble, the State vests the ownership in him. This is very important, and I think the House will see why I have mentioned it. This Bill does provide for meeting the cost of the owners by a grant of 1296 £12,000,000—that is about, roughly speaking, 10 per cent. on the total purchase money. It also provides for all the expenses of the State Broker, and the establishment, on such a scale as may be necessary, of a new department of Estates Commissioners with an army of salaried civil servants, all future claimants for pensions. The £12,000,000 grant is called a bonus. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me called it a dole and a bribe to the landlords. Well, hon. Members are entitled to call it by any name they like, but what I am endeavouring to do is to show what this really means in regard to the owners. I really think that those who use the terms "bribe" and "dole" regarding a grant which is to cover costs, are really not conversant with the facts of the position. It is not a dole, it is not a bribe, and it is not a bonus. It is a fund to provide for the payment of the lawyers, costs and conveyance expenses, which are unavoidable. Lawyers must be paid, and when they are satisfied, and the expenses met, very little, I think, will be left out of this £12,000,000 to go into the landlord's pocket as cash to provide interest for the support of his family. I think it will mostly find its way into the lawyer's pocket. Another point which I wish to draw attention to is that when the transaction is complete and the occupier has a reduced rent, having had no disturbance, and no anxiety, the landlord has the anxiety of making and watching investments, and of adapting himself to an entirely new condition of things. I think, therefore, I am entitled to say, on behalf of the landlords of Ireland, that it is neither just nor fair to talk of this twelve millions as a dole, a bribe, or a bonus to the landlords.
In looking at this Bill with reference to the future of my country the tests I apply to judge of its value are very briefly these. I think that neither time nor money will make this Bill successful unless its provisions work with and not against economic laws. In summarising the position of Ireland you may broadly classify all the land of Ireland under three heads. There are the great grazing farms, there are the large mixed pasture 1297 and tillage lands, and there are the multitudinous small holdings. The grazing farms of the big tenants are mostly in the eastern part, and the multitudinous small holdings are mostly in the west. What is the position in the west of these multitudinous small occupiers? It is that of labourers with allotments and no demand for their labour. That is really the true economic position. The grazing farms depend upon not labour, but upon cattle. The big mixed pasture and tillage farms depend upon both labour and stock. In view of the free foreign importation of grain, tillage, except in relation to stock rearing, does not pay, so stock and butter are the mainstays of Irish agricultural industry. Providence has given Ireland natural advanges which favour dairy farming and stock rearing. Given equal knowledge and equal skill Great Britain could not compete against Ireland in a given area in stock rearing and dairy produce. The smaller farmers rear calves, but these calves they must sell as yearlings, for they have not land enough to feed them afterwards. It is the big farmers who buy the yearlings, and a blow struck at the graziers and big farmers would be a blowstruck at the saleandprice of stock in the congested districts. I do attach very great importance to this particular question. When you remember that the big mixed farms require labour, and that the multitude of labourers with allotments in the West have labour to give, it will be seen that any injury done to the big farmer is really an injury to small occupiers in the neighbourhood and in congested districts. Therefore I say that the big farmer is not a man to injure but to encourage, and one condition which is a principle in the Bill, and to which I strongly object, is the exclusion of the big farmers from the operation of the measure. I think it is important to the economic position of Ireland that you should help to improve their position. I think from the point of view of labour, and from the point of view of the reciprocal economic value to the small occupier, the big farmers, who are the advance guard of agriculture in Ireland ought not to be excluded. They are the leaders of thought and example in the localities, and as a good influence 1298 for social order and economic stability they ought to be encouraged as a matter of high policy, and, therefore, when the Bill comes to the Committee stage, I shall most certainly move an Amendment to include the big farmers, and enable them to purchase under this Bill.
There is an important point connected with the finance principle on which this Bill is founded, and that is, that the purchase money is to be calculated on the fixed basis of the second-term rents. That is to say, it is to be based upon rents arbitrarily fixed for the second period by a method and procedure which has been condemned by the impartial Royal Commission presided over by Mr. Justice Fry. For my own part, I do not care about phrases, formulae, and theories, for in practice I believe that the question between the owner and the occupier, contemplating purchase and sale, is not the number of years purchase but the amount the owner will receive in cash, and the annual instalments the occupier will have to pay. I believe the adoption of the second-term rents as the fixed standard of computation will be a dangerous principle if the State fixing of rents is to proceed as before and now on unsold estates. By this Bill it seems that this State fixing of rents is to go on. The sanguine view of my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary is that, under the provisions of this Bill, its administration will be so easily carried out that fifteen years will see the whole of the land of Ireland transferred from the owners to the tenants. I believe that to be altogether too sanguine a view. I believe it will be nearer thirty years, and if you want to expedite it you will have to deal with the agents and the solicitors. You must recollect that they are the advisers of the landlords, and that it is not to their interest that landed property should be sold. As a practical man, I say that if you wish to expedite the transfer contemplated by this Bill you must remember what human nature is, and you must give agents and solicitors an interest in the sale and purchase. If you are going to set up the second-term rents as the permanent standard, I want to show you the position you are going to get into. You will have, side by side with this State 1299 rent-fixing method, which has been condemned by the Royal Commission, another system, and in eight years time you will have third-term rents. You will then have rents fixed 20 per cent. below the present figures. You can pretty well judge what the sub-commission courts will do with the third-term rents by what they have done on the second-term. There is no doubt that the Chief Secretary may have an answer to this, and I am only putting it forward as my view of the case. It is essential in a matter like this that all views should be put forward in order to give the Government and the right hon. Gentleman a chance of seeing where they are wrong. In eight years—that is in 1911—only one half of the tenants will, under this Bill, have purchased, that is according to the sanguine calculations of my right hon. friend, and the other half will be waiting to purchase. If, then, in 1911, 20 per cent. is taken off second-term rents, you must face the position that the half who have purchased will consider they have a grievance. The half who have not yet purchased will then expect to be allowed to do so on the basis of third-term rents, 20 per cent. less than the second-term rents. This Bill set up two competing departments, and the Government must find themselves in a position where they must choose between two courses. They now have to choose between Codlin and Short, and say whether the Land Conference second-term rent basis or the revising system of rent is the friend. I urge that this Bill ought to bar the fixing of third-term rents.
I am in general in favour of the decadal reduction principle of the Act of 1891 as really advantageous to the State. I would remark that the hon. Member for South Tyrone, like all converts to a new faith, is more violent than his new Leader in his demands. I will not congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Waterford on his recruit. The hon. Member for Waterford himself expressed his strong admiration for the principle of the Bill, and his intention to support it, and then he proceeded to name nine points he considered vital and which he will fight to have amended. And then there were many other objections which the hon. Member 1300 had to the Bill—so many that he refrained from mentioning them. That is a very-funny way of giving loyal support to the Bill. However, that is a matter for the hon. Member, and not for me. I say, on behalf of the landlords—[Laughter]—I am not ashamed to be a landlord; I have no reason to be so. I do not wish to say anything to disturb the good humour of tion. Members opposite, but I have the right to say what I consider to be the real attitude of the Irish landlords on this Bill. It is this, that they support the measure because it is the only practically possible remedy for the economic collapse of Ireland under the operation of the Act of 1881. They only demand fair play and reasonable and just consideration. They recognise the economic chaos into which the Act of 1881 has plunged their country, and they are ready to sacrifice their sentiment—it is a trial, but they are ready to do so. They, however, consider that the country and Parliament have no right or title to do the State service by robbing them and sacrificing their interests, and they will do what they can, by all constitutional means, to enforce their claims, and they trust to the honour of Parliament to do them simple justice.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
According to the Chief Secretary this is the forty first Irish Land Bill that has been introduced into the House of Commons in the last forty years, and of that number I should think at least thirty-five have been introduced since the opening of the present land war, in the year 1879. I think all those Members who were in the House to-night at the time the Prime Minister delivered his most eloquent and powerful speech will recollect that that right hon. Gentleman described the existing land system of Ireland as—I quote his exact words—As bad as could be imagined, and that there was no fault attaching to any land system which does not attach to the present land system in Ireland.That was not a very brilliant record of forty years' continuous effort to give us a good land system in Ireland. I venture to say that upon that testimony of the Prime Minister some of the withers of hon. Members opposite must have been wrung, and they must have put to themselves the question, "After all, does the House of Commons rule Ireland?" The Land Question is still unsettled in Ire- 1301 land, notwithstanding these years of effort, and now, to-night, we are asked to read for the second time a Land Bill more far-reaching and larger in its provisions than any introduced into the House of Commons since the year 1881. I ask hon. Members at this stage in this most painful and tragic history—I may add, this somewhat disgraceful history to England—why is it that throughout all these years failure has ever dogged every attempt of this House to settle the Land Question in Ireland? Why is it that after forty Land Acts we are now gifted with a system so complicated that the only men who can thrive under it are the lawyers; a system by which the industry of Ireland is cribbed, cabined, confined, ruined, and crushed, and by which poverty and social disorder are made permanent in the country? If this has been the result of all your exertions and debates, it is because that throughout these years it has been the practice and custom of Ministers to disregard and treat with contempt the opinion of those sent across the Channel to speak in the House of Commons on behalf of Ireland. There has been one exception to that long list of dismal failures to which the Prime Minister alluded—one solitary exception, as far as my knowledge goes, one Act which, so far as it went, was an unmitigated success—that was the Ashbourne Act. Why was it a success? Because, so far as I know—for I was absent from the country at the time—it owed its existence to a private arrangement made by the Irish Party with the Tory Government of the day, and because in the case of that Act alone the opinion of the Irish National Party was allowed to prevail.
I come down for a moment to the last great Land Act, the Act of 1896. When that Act was passed Ireland was peaceable, the forces of the National Party were paralysed, and the Government had Ireland completely in their hands. We were then told that the Land Question was settled in Ireland for many generations; but I myself ventured to prophesy that it was not settled for a single generation, and that as soon as the unfortunate divisions which then paralysed the National forces in Ireland passed away, as I thought they would, the Land Question in Ireland would emerge as acute and as clamorous as ever. Has 1302 that prophecy been verified or has it not? I refer to it not for the purpose of glorifying its prescience but in order to impress on Parliament the folly and the madness of attempting to settle this difficult and complicated Irish question, which goes down to the root of Irish life, and at the same time neglecting the opinion of the Irish people. Let me say a word on one great question which always crops up in these debates. The present land system is traced back by certain hon. Members to the Land Act of 1881. I have heard over and over again in this House, and it has been repeated to-night, the Land Act condemned as the root and source of all the trouble in Ireland and the disorganisation of its people. Lord Dunraven, in a speech delivered at the Constitutional Club on the 29th April, said that the Act of 1881 had had disastrous consequences to the landlord class, had demoralised the people, and had been ruinous to the main industry of the country—agriculture. His Lordship said that he could not see how it could have been otherwise. Parliament might shirk its responsibility, but it could not deny that it had, from the best motives, forced upon Ireland legislation which had proved to be demoralising to the people and ruinous to the main industry of the country. What a travesty of the truth! The Act of 1881 had demoralised the people of Ireland ! One would suppose to listen to those who condemn the Land Act of 1881 that Ireland was a paradise of peace and of social and industrial prosperity before the passing of that Act It was a hell; and I say that the Act of 1881 was the first step taken in the emancipation of our people, who before that Act was passed were nothing but serfs. It is from the Act of 1881 that dates the emancipation of our country from agrarian crime, and if to-day a considerable section of Irish landlords has happily attained to a more reasonable frame of mind it is due in large measure to twenty years' experience of that Act.
And the Irish people are not so dead to all sense of gratitude for political wisdom exhibited towards them as not to recognise that, after our own right hand and our own organisation, they had to thank that great statesman, Mr. Gladstone, who, in spite of fierce and ferocious opposition, struck the first link from the fetters which had bound them through the ages, and recognised the right of the Irish 1303 people to property on their own soil. If to-day we are discussing a great measure which contains the potency and promise of the final emancipation of the Irish people, it is Mr. Gladstone we have to thank for clearing the road. Hon. Members opposite talk about their policy of land purchase. I must correct the Prime Minister himself in that respect. He was wrong to-night when he said that the policy of land purchase, so far as this House was concerned, took its origin in the Secretary of State for India in 1883. That is not true. The policy of land purchase, so far as this House is concerned, took its origin from John Bright during the debates on the Land Act of 1870. It was further extended by the Act of 1881; but, after all, where did the policy of land purchase as the only and final settlement of the Land Question take its real origin? It took its origin from the Land League. I would remind hon. Members that when the Act of 1881 was introduced, the leaders of the Land League declared to this House and to the country that no tinkering with rent would settle this question, and that the only policy giving promise of social peace to Ireland was the policy we are now engaged in discussing in this Bill.
And now I ask is there not a deep lesson involved in this retrospect of twenty-three years? Now, after twenty-three years of fierce struggle, after the expenditure of many millions of money in Land Courts and in prosecutions, after passing many Coercion Acts, after thousands of imprisonments and evictions, and after twenty-three years of social war you are now asked, so far as the principal object of the Bill is concerned, to carry out a policy which was condemned as socialism and confiscation twenty-three years ago. Many speakers have alluded to the remarkable circumstances under which the present Bill was introduced. No one who knows Ireland, or has been involved in the land struggle for the last score of years, will deny for a moment that the circumstances under which the Government have approached the solution of this problem on the present occasion are entirely unparalleled. There is no doubt that an opportunity presents itself to the present Ministry, such as no Irish Government ever had before, of settling this matter, and the question which everyone in Ireland is asking himself day and night with extra- 1304 ordinary and feverish interest is, "Will the Government rise to the occasion, and give us at last social peace in Ireland after all these centuries and generations of war?" The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment asked—What are we going to get, provided we give all this money and this credit? Are we going to get some political result?No, I do not think you are, from the Unionist point of view. The Prime Minister very frankly and very honourably replied—That is not what the Government are looking for; that is not what the Government ought to look for.We, on our side, are content to aid the Government, and give them every fair play in endeavouring to settle this great social war. Some Unionists think that by ending the social war in Ireland, by introducing good Government in the sphere of law and order instead of what has so long prevailed, they will strengthen the Union; but they are mistaken; the national demand will survive a land settlement. Let the Union take care of itself in the future. I do not think the Government are looking for political effects in introducing this Bill, and if they are, there is a very poor look-out for such. I believe the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary, is honestly desirous of signalising his tenure of office in Ireland by solving this question, which has proved too hard a nut to crack for many of his predecessors. Now, there are many people in Ireland who still believe that you will never settle this Land Question without the application of the principle of compulsion, and it is to me a very strange and extraordinary thing that the Government should so shrink from the application of compulsion in regard to the minor interests of land purchase, when compulsion, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, and as everybody else acquainted with the Irish Land Laws knows, has been applied for many years to the superior and middle interests. Why should they exempt from its operation the only interest in the land of Ireland which is the source of all the trouble? Now, fortunately, on the present occasion we have an absolutely authoritative expression of the will and opinion of the Irish people in regard to this Bill. That expression 1305 was given in detail by the Great Convention which assembled in Dublin on the 17th and 18th of last month. I may say of the Convention, of the character of its delegates, of the order and earnestness of its proceedings, that they extorted, even from the strongest opponents of the tenants' cause, a meed of admiration. Hon. Members will admit that taking into account the fact that the Convention was summoned of delegates belonging to an organisation, the foremost plank in the platform of which was the application of compulsion, and that they were called upon to consider a Bill which appeared to many of the delegates to contemplate an extreme price being paid for the land, it would not have been unnatural to expect strong language and strong resolutions from the Convention. I was not present, but I have read very carefully the testimony of all sections in Ireland as to the sobriety and conciliatory manner of the Convention. What was the decision arrived at? In the first place, it was manifest that the sense of the Convention was that the Bill as it stands cannot be accepted as a settlement of the Irish Land Question, or as offering any fair prospects of working out a settlement of that question. The principle and the objects of the Bill had the warmest sympathy of the Convention, and, without waiving their views as to the possible necessity of compulsion, the members of the Convention evidently were determined to give credit to the Government for honest intentions and for a generous desire for peace; and they resolved not to do or say anything calculated to prevent the Government having full fair play in their present attempt to settle the Land Question. In this spirit the Convention claims only such Amendments as seemed to them essential to make the Bill acceptable and a good working measure for Ireland. What I desire most solemnly to impress on the Government is, that these Amendments honestly represent the minimum of the popular demand. They were not put forward in any captious or critical spirit, but by a body dominated by a very strong desire to smooth the path of the Government and open the doors of Ireland to a course of peace. And if the Government should refuse to 1306 adopt these Amendments, I am convinced that the prospects of their measure will be overclouded, that its fate will be the same as those of its predecessors, and that its passage into law will be followed by fresh agitations and further Land Bills in the future.
I will not go into any elaborate details of criticism on this very complicated measure, but just recapitulate the points of vital importance on which Amendments are necessary. First of all, the maximum limit of reduction must be removed and the system of classification of second term rents. There must be provision for the protection of future tenants and caretakers, and full and generous provision for the evicted tenants, and the insertion of a time limit, after which no landlord shall initiate proceedings for sale or else lose the benefits of the Bill. There is only one other point to which I will allude, and that is the clause dealing with the Land Judges' Court. I say deliberately that no measure proposing to settle the Irish Land Question can be accepted as satisfactory or hopeful which does not contain provisions for reforming or bringing to an end that extraordinary or maleficent institution, the Land Judges' Court. One-sixth of the land of Ireland is in the hands of that Court, and it will thus be seen how vital a matter is this particular portion of the Bill.
I wish to say a few words with regard to the evicted tenants. The manner and spirit in which this subject is dealt with will have a great effect on the prospects of the Bill and the temper in which it will be received in Ireland when passed into law. From the point of view of the number of people involved this is a small question. When the Evicted Tenants Act was passed there were about 800 of these people. Half of them have since disappeared. Some have emigrated, some have been reinstated, and some have died, so that there are only about 400 families now to be dealt with. I believe the whole question could be settled in a generous way for, at the outside, £200,000, in a way that would strike the imagination of Ireland and enormously smooth the working of this Bill. If you leave any section of the people outside the scope of the Bill you 1307 will have, wherever they are, centres of ill-feeling and disturbance, which will prejudice the mind of Irishmen with regard to the working of the Bill When this Bill becomes law the evicted tenants will naturally fall into three classes. There will be those on the estates purchased by the Estates Commission; there will be those on the estates sold by private bargain between landlord and tenant; and there will, in the third place, be those on the estates of the landlords who will not sell at all, or will not sell for seven or eight years. I do urge on the Government that they should introduce a clause dealing with all classes of evicted tenants, and, furthermore, that some effort should be made to get the evicted tenants back into their homes. I believe, and I say it deliberately, that with a reasonable amount of money, and not compulsorily but with authority vested in the Estates Commissioners to approach the parties who may be in possession of these farms, friendly and amicable arrangements to this end could be made in almost every case. Just imagine what a good effect that would have on the public temper of Ireland if this were carried out successfully. We have heard a great deal about conciliation and peace—it would be a pleasant thing for Ireland—and I am waiting to see some striking proof of the desire for it. Here is an opportunity for the representatives of the landlords in this House to show a real spirit of conciliation. It will not do to say to these men that they must wait for fifteen or twenty years. The whole thing can be done in a year if properly approached, and I do hope that one result of this Bill will be to close up this source of weakness.
Now I come to the question of price. What is the object of putting into a voluntary Bill a minimum price? I have not heard throughout the whole of the discussion any reason given for this minimum. Now, let me give the House just one or two figures to show how absurd the matter is. I have here the Government Return giving the average rates of purchase in Ireland for the last several years. Here are the averages:—In 1886 the figures of purchase were 18 times the rent; 1887, the figures were 17.6; 1888, 17 years; 1308 1889. 16.4; 1890, 16.7; 1891, 17 years, and so on, the average always ranging to about 17 years' purchase of land. Down to the 31st December last the rates rose to 18.1 years; but we must remember that that was paid in depreciated Land Stock, and was really only equal to about 16½years' purchase. Now that is the average. But that is not the strongest fact. At page seventy-seven of the Report, taken in counties, the average during the year 1886 varied from 23.6 to 13.8, and so on; and from 20 to 10.7 during the three years ending 31st March, 1894, from 25.1 to 12.5, and from 31st March, 1895, from 21.2 to 6.6. Down as low as six years' purchase, and yet it is proposed to put into this Bill, which is held to be a benefit to the tenants, a minimum price of twenty five years' purchase. Was there ever such a thing heard of? The fact is that the values of these farms are infinite in variety. There are farms worth twenty years' purchase; some there are worth more than twenty years; but the vast majority of them are not worth anything like that. There are some not worth ten years, and some not worth eight years. To tell me that you can put into the Bill a bed of Procrustes is preposterous.
With regard to the maximum, let me in one word state What is the present protection. You may remember that when you start a system of land purchase such as the present system there is absolutely no protection for the Treasury unless you have some system of inspection. In the first place, tenants may be coerced by arrears or other reasons into bidding prices infinitely beyond the true value, whereupon the Treasury and the taxpayer would suffer. There is no case of repudiation, because everybody will agree there is no danger of repudiation; but what would you do if you had the people manifestly brought to poverty? What would you think if you had a quantity of people here paying more than an equivalent? Therefore the Treasury must have some sort of protection. For the last few years the Treasury must have some protection from collusive and dishonest bargains. I brought before the House some time ago the case of a bad debt in which two relatives were 1309 concerned. The mother sold to her son a farm, and made him the tenant, and then they bargained for its sale for about three times its value. The farm was inspected and sold, and the mother and son divided the bargain between them. Therefore, they could have collusive bargains and large sums might be extracted from the Treasury if you have not some procedure of this kind. Between August, 1885, and March, 1895, the advances had been cut down from £11,361,000 to £9,884,000 and more than £1,000,000 had been struck off the prices agreed to by the landlords and the tenants. In one particular instance the tenant agreed to pay £525 and the Land Commission cut it down to £400, and this action was subsequently confirmed. That is the way the Treasury has been protected, and if you abolish inspection you must have some maximum limit, because the lower the price at which the land is sold the better security there will be for the Treasury. If a landlord is willing to sell his land cheaply to the tenant, why is it the business of the State to say: "You shall not sell your property for what you are willing to accept for it?"
I will pass over the question of future tenants, perpetual rent charges, and also the subject of the Congested Districts Board, but I desire to emphasise as strongly as I can the appeal made by the Chairman in regard to grazing ranches. This is a most burning question, and if you cannot see your way to settle it then your Land Bill cannot do much good. When I heard the hon. Member for Islington declaring that land purchase was doing no good, I wondered if he had read the report of Mr. Bayley in regard to the Dillon Estate. Has the hon. Member Read that Report, which states that up to the date of the purchase of that state the cattle lived in the houses of the people? To anyone who visits that estate now the improvement is manifest, 1310 for there you will see the people in the very poorest districts responding to the slightest chance they get to make progress. I think Irish Members are about the only section of this nation who really understand and value the existence of a rural population. Your system of big farms in this country has sacrificed your rural population, and you are suffering for it now in the decline of the physique of your people. The same I thing has been going on in Scotland, and in Ireland alone the people have clung to their small holdings, with the result that it is from Ireland that you get the best soldiers in the world. In spite of emigration, poverty and starvation the physique of the people of Ireland to-day is better than the physique of the people of this country. This really is the great question of preserving the remnant of the population of Ireland and of enabling the people to live in decency and comfort. Your present Bill, however, will do nothing of the sort. The object of the Congested Districts Board is good, but if you pass this Bill in its present state the people of Connaught will be driven back again to commence agitation.
There is one other subject which I wish to emphasise, and it is in regard to the rural labourers. Upon this point I claim that we are ahead of this country, where you have sacrificed your rural population, with the result that the farmers of England are now suffering accordingly. In Ireland we have invited the labourer into our national organisation, and we have pledged ourselves to make his cause our cause, and where the farmers have shown selfishness in this matter we have brought our organisation to bear upon them, and we have insisted that the labourer shall get fair play. I claim that we are carrying on a great civilising work, but in order to effectively preserve the agriculture of our rural population you must give the labourers decent homes and make their lives worth living. I think 1311 it is deplorable that the right hon. Gentleman will not put into this Bill two or three well-drafted clauses that would solve this question of the rural labourers. This labourers question is one which will receive the support of the Ulster Members just as much as our support. The labourers clauses would pass with very little discussion, and I cannot conceive why the right hon. Gentleman does not boldly face that portion of the subject.
I have now said all that I feel it necessary to say. The situation in is undoubtedly unprecedented and amazing When I left Ireland six months ago every breeze was laden with the sound of battle, and the air resounded with shouts of battle. The prisons were getting crowded, and the leaders of our forces were being put into prison. We were then described by the Government as traitors, with whom there was to be no dealing. When I returned three months later the whole situation was changed. The war had ceased, the prison doors were open, and the leaders of all parties were using expressions of conciliation and showing a desire for peace. The change in the situation was extraordinary, and I must confess that when I came home I sometimes asked myself whether, like an historic character, I had not been asleep for a century, and I wondered whether we had not reached the year 2000. To complete my bewilderment I found myself described by the chief Secretary for Ireland as belonging to a chivalrous nation, the members of which are chiefly characterised by their ardent desire to pay their debts. This is not the time for me to speculate as to what powerful influence has been at work to produce this miraculous change. The situation has been created, and what we 1312 have got to do to-day is to deal with it and get the most out of it we can for our country. About one thing there can be no difference of opinion, and that is that the situation offers to the Government such an opportunity as has never occurred since the Act of Union was passed for settling the Irish Land Question. This is a question which you cannot ignore. When I hear men talking about rejecting this Bill, I want to know what they propose to do. Does anyone imagine, after the introduction of this Bill, and after the speech we have listened to from the Prime Minister, that the Irish Land Question can be left alone? I say that so long as it is left unsettled it will remain an ever flowing source of evil and mischief in Ireland, and an equally great source of weakness to this country. When I hear hon. Members talk about the heavy and intolerable burden this Bill will lay on the English taxpayer I reply that it will lay no such burden whatever. As regards the £12,000,000, it is rather a wrench to me to part with it, but I am afraid we should not get that sum in any other way except by combining with the landlords. But that sum is going to be spent in Ireland, and it is really no concern of ours, for that money has to be spent in Ireland in any case, and the only question is whether it shall be spent in criminal prosecutions and upon the police. In conclusion, I would say a word to my Radical friends in this House. I would say to them—I hope you will not oppose this Bill, for it is removing from your path, in that hour which is not far distant when you will cross the floor of this House, a mountain;. it is settling a question which you could not settle, and where you can do good, and where I trust you will do good, is by 1313 assisting us to obtain those Amendments which we claim in this Bill, and which will make it a real benefit and the means of restoring peace to Ireland.
§ MR. ATKINSON
With the exception of my hon. friends who have respectively moved and seconded this Amendment, almost every hon. Member who has spoken to-night has approved of this Bill, and has expressed his readiness to support the Second Reading. It is only natural that hon. Members should make a protest in reference to the Committee points with which they disagree, but I am sure they will not consider me guilty of any want of courtesy if I refuse upon this occasion to follow them into a discussion upon details of machinery upon which different minds may form different conclusions, and which, more properly, belong to the Committee stage of the Bill. The Government think that when the Committee stage is reached we shall be able to give good reasons for the framing of this measure as it is framed, but at the same time we are willing to give the most fair and candid consideration to every Amendment that may be moved, and to every argument that may be adduced in support of it. I do not propose, therefore, to follow hon. Members who have addressed the House in the many points upon which they have spoken, but I think English Members who speak, or profess to speak, on behalf of the English taxpayers have a right to demand from the Government any arguments that may be forthcoming to defend the financial provisions of the Bill, and to show that they are safe and wise. I do not intend to enter at all upon a discussion of the question as to whether this Bill, if passed, will promote or retard Home Rule, because I contend that if the grievance exists, and if a 1314 remedy ought to be provided for it, it is the duty of a Unionist Government, above all other Governments, to provide that remedy irrespective of the effect it may have upon the question of Home Rule. Therefore, I think it is entirely unreasonable that hon. Members who have spoken should argue that although there may be grievances, and although the condition of Ireland is unsatisfactory at the present moment, those grievances should not be remedied until the National Party of Ireland adjure Home Rule aspirations. Therefore, I shall only deal with the question of price as it affects the British taxpayer. I think that those English Members who have discussed this matter have left out of consideration a good deal of what is the actual condition of Ireland at the present moment. I do not propose to follow at all some of those hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me into the discussion of the effects of the Act of 1881, and the evils which have attended it. It may have done much good and it might have been necessary at the time it was passed, and it may have been the only way of preserving order in Ireland, but nobody acquainted with the condition of things in Ireland can deny that it is surrounded with complicated agrarian relations and with exasperating and ever-recurring litigation, that it has certainly impoverished landlords—I do not know that it has enriched tenants in the same degree—that it has evoked a spirit of hostility and suspicion between the two partners in the partnership you have created which retards and prevents improvements.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I say that it has altogether destroyed any possibility of co-operation between the two. The right hon. Gentleman disagrees with me, in that; he cannot disagree in this—that both parties, landlord and tenant, at the present moment are anxious to sever the bonds that bind them, and to escape from that position. Land purchase has been proceeding for thirty-four years. It has proceeded under the Acts of 1869, 1870, 1881, 1885, 1888, and 1891, until at the present time £24,300,000 has been lent, £830,000 is being paid in annuities, and the arrears are £3,000. The system has been an eminent success. Where there is purchase you will find the social conditions and the standards of comfort of the purchasers have been raised, agriculture has been improved, and, above and beyond all, contentment has been established and peace reigns. The result is that you have every part of Ireland, the Home Rulers of the south as well as the Anti-Home Rulers of the north, demanding that facilities should be given them to escape from the condition into which the Act of, 1881 has placed them, and to enable them to purchase the farms on which they live. No other result could be expected when one man, who is industrious, sober and thrifty, who is faithful to his obligations, can see his more thriftless neighbour on the other side of the hedge prospering as a peasant proprietor, while he himself is paying a rent much in advance of the annuity charged on the other. Something, therefore, must be done. If the system established by the Act of 1881 proceeds, you will have that deterioration which it undoubtedly encourages, and you can never hope to allay the discontent I have described. There are three alter- 1316 natives—to leave things as they are, to induce the landlords to sell, or to compel the landlords to sell. The hon. Member for East Mayo complains that we have not taken into account Irish opinion. That complaint can hardly be justified. I do not know what better expression of Irish opinion the Government could obtain before framing their Bill than was furnished by the recent Land Conference, which professed to speak on behalf of both landlords and tenants. I think the hon. Member for East Mayo, when he read all those statistics about sixteen years and seventeen years purchase, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone, when he explained that twenty-three years purchase was all that he could possibly sanction, must have forgotten the proposal of the Land Conference that the tenants should purchase at from 15 to 25 per cent. below second-term rents.
§ MR. ATKINSON
There is nothing there about seventeen or twenty-three years' purchase—and that the landlords should have such a sum as, if invested at 3 per cent. or 3¼ per cent. if guaranteed by the State, would bring them in their present income less, at the most, than 10 per cent. I really cannot understand how the Government are to proceed in the way of consulting Irish feeling if they are to be confronted with these complaints and denunciations when they have taken Irish opinion and in a great degree framed their measure thereon. I was perfectly astounded to hear my hon. friend deliver a long speech to-night, the legitimate conclusion of each part of which would be that the report of the Con- 1317 ference was misleading, and that it was one which no Government should select as the basis of their measure. Let us see what the demand is. The demand is that a sum of £100,000,000 should be advanced on loan. Is that likely to be a safe transaction? Endeavour to judge of that, first of all, from the past. If the tenants have paid in the past I think it is a legitimate inference that they will pay in the future. In the past, as I have said, although they had purchased under the different Acts to the extent of nearly £25,000,000, and the annuities amount to £830,000, they are in default only £3,000. Would any commercial business or bank consider such a business unsafe if at the end they were only £3,000 to the bad?
§ MR. ATKINSON
And even that sum does not represent irrecoverable debts. I am taking the amount drawn from the guarantee fund to meet the defaults of the year, but it by no means follows that when proceedings are taken the sums will not be recovered, and the guarantee fund recouped. Is there any reason to suppose that if £100,000,000 are advanced to create a peasant proprietary, the same class of men will not observe their obligations with the same honesty and punctuality? Then how does the matter stand with regard to the guarantee fund? The guarantee fund is now nearly £3,000,000 and £280,000 of that is the cash portion. £3,000,000 represents nearly 3¼ per cent. on the entire £100,000,000, so that if the entire loan were outstanding tomorrow, and every tenant in Ireland 1318 struck against the payment of his rent, the guarantee fund would be almost sufficient to meet the national defalcations. That is the most unlikely thing that could be conceived, so that English Members may rest assured that, as far as the financial provisions are concerned, they will incur no appreciable risk in consenting to the advance of this money on the terms proposed.
Several Members have alluded to the bonus, and objected to it, apparently because it was given to the landlords above and beyond the price of what they consider to be the price of the land sold. But hon. Members must remember that although land has been bought in the past at seventeen years purchase of the particular rent then paid, the supply of that land no longer exists. Landlords will not sell at that price, for the good and sufficient reason that they cannot afford to do so. It is no use telling an Irish landlord that Irish land is one of the worst securities in the world, that he should sell it and invest his money in 3 per cents. Gilt-edged securities are the luxury of the rich; risky securities are the necessity of the needy. It is no use telling a man who, after paying his heavy encumbrance, has only £500 or £600 a year, to sell his land, invest it in 3 per cents., from which he will get an income of £300. He will naturally say that it is better to live on £600 a year as long as he can than to starve on £300. That is the condition of almost all Irish landlords. Seventy-five per cent. of the land in Ireland is in settlement. What does that mean? It means that these funds are shut out from investment in anything but trustee securities. One hon. Member spoke to-night about getting 3½ per cent. on trustee securities. Where 1319 will you find them? In addition to that the landlords are encumbered up to nearly half their income, so that all they have to live on is half the rent they receive for the land they own. It is therefore absurd to talk about these men investing in gilt-edged securities; they cannot afford to do it; and they prefer to hold to the rent as long as it is there, rather than immediately bring themselves to comparative penury in order to provide a secure fund for those who succeed them That is one of the reasons this bonus must be offered. But it will not go entirely into the landlords' pockets. In Clause 42 it is provided that it should aid them in bearing the expense of paying off superior interests, making a title, and other matters of that description. Some of it may remain, but it will not be by any means a large proportion. The practical question is, will you induce them to sell by these offers, or will you endeavour to coerce them by a compulsory system? Hon. Members sometimes talk very light-heartedly about compulsion. Have they ever tried to draft a Land Bill on a compulsory system? Have they ever thought of attempting to compel tenants to buy, or of establishing a tribunal to fix the price with which tenants so compelled should be satisfied? Have they ever taken into account the fact that of all ways of acquiring landed property that of compulsion is the most expensive? Take as an illustration an estate, part of which is in the possession of the landlord, and part in the possession of the tenants. Are you to compel the landlord to sell what is in the possession of his tenants, and not to be able to sell what is in his own possession? If you are, unless you abandon all sense of justice from your proceedings, you will have to do as you do in every other 1320 system of compulsory sale—viz., pay for the consequential injury to what remains. You cannot cut out the best bits of an estate, or compel a man to sell his land and keep the mansion-house, otherwise he will have what is practically a worthless drug in the market. I heard an hon. Member talk of the injustice of selling demesnes, and he said he would be very happy to get an advance made to him. Really, when hon. Members stand up to discuss Irish land legislation in that manner they make the whole agrarian question different in Ireland to that in England. There is no more sense in saying that that should be done in Ireland which is done in England than to suggest that the clothes in which a man shivers in in Labrador should be put on a man that swelters near the Equator. The compulsory system, whatever may be its merits, cannot be cheap, and if it is very expensive there is a great deal of the expense which you cannot put on the purchasing tenants Assuming for the moment that a tenant is purchasing a farm close to the demesne, and that compensation is given to the landlord for the injury done to him, you cannot put that on the purchaser—it must be borne by the seller. I have some knowledge of the procedure and methods by which land is acquired by the State, and am sure that unless you adopt some very different system and banish what has hitherto been regarded as moral justice, you will not have a more costly and more irritating way of acquiring land than by compulsion. The bonus amounts to £30,000,000 at the most, and when all the purchase is carried out it can only be £12,000,000, and will be paid off every year by a Sinking Fund. My right hon. friend says 1321 he hopes to introduce economies in Ireland that will more than meet the expenditure and, in addition, bring about a spirit of peace.
In connection with the question of price the Leader of the Opposition said if the tenant were forced to give an extravagant price the security would be endangered. Several hon Gentlemen object to the limits that have been introduced into the first Clause. In regard to that I wish to remind the House that under the purchase system as it at present exists, the State is secured by the exercise of caution. They are not to advance more than can be secured. The result is that anybody who has watched this can have no doubt that loans have been refused which might with perfect safety have been made. That is conclusive, because those loans were refused at the very time that it was possible to keep the whole purchase money as a guarantee deposit if necessary. That has worked unsatisfactorily. I do not believe either landlord or tenant is satisfied with the exercise of that discretion by the Commissioners. Complaints have been made on both sides that sales have been retarded by over-caution on the part of the Commissioners.
§ MR. ATKINSON
They refused sales that might have been made with perfect safety. I do not accuse them of acting improperly, but I think they were supersensitive about incurring possible loss, and refused loans that might have been made with perfect safety.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts his own judgment against that of the Commissioners'?
§ MR. ATKINSON
I say that objection was made on both sides. I also say that they did not give satisfaction, not that they were not right.
§ MR. ATKINSON
Therefore in this Bill we have superseded that. We have deprived them of the exercise of that discretion, and we have made it compulsory upon them to advance the money. But if you make that compulsory upon them it is obvious that you must fix limits. We selected the superior limit for two reasons, the first to protect the State, and the second to protect the tenant. Although the landlord and tenant may agree, they shall not get an advance that will jeopardise the interest of the State, or that is so extravagant as to be oppressive. We selected the minimum limit to protect the landlord on his side from possible oppression and coercion of the tenant.
§ MR. ATKINSON
No. We selected the one limit to protect the tenant from coercion on the part of the landlord, and the other limit to protect the landlord from the tenant. The hon. Gentleman has said he will raise that question in Committee. If he does, of course we will be willing to discuss it, and he will not expect me to pursue it further [on this occasion. He also refers to the question 1323 of compulsion under Clause 17. I think he will admit himself that it is necessary to apply some kind of compulsion to force a small and reluctant minority of tenants not to impede sale. It is said that in those cases where the Lord-Lieutenant has dispensed with some requirements of price, it is unfair to permit a fair majority of tenants to coerce the remainder. That is also a matter for discussion, but I think it will be seen that it is absolutely necessary to select some fair proportion so as to prevent a small minority bringing things practically to a deadlock. Under Section 40 of the Act of 1896 tenants can be compelled to buy, but we do not wish to exercise any such pressure as that upon them. Under Section 40 of the Act of 1896 you have offered them a farm at a price, and the compulsion you exercise is to compel them to buy it at that price, whereas under this Section you have not offered at any price, none having been arranged. I submit that those English Members who may be apprehensive that the credit of this country will be pledged too largely, and with some risks to the Imperial taxpayers—if they will cast their minds back to what has occurred in the past, and the mode in which the purchase system has been worked in Ireland, and the fidelity with which the purchasers have discharged their obligation, they must come to the conclusion that, large as are the sums which are to be lent and given, it is a safe pecuniary transaction; no ill results will happen to this country, and there is admittedly a fair prospect of bringing peace, prosperity and contentment to Ireland.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. Wyndham, Dover)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is not here. I will convey to him what has been said, but so far as I know, he anticipates that the debate will be concluded by 12 o'clock to-morrow night.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. William O'Brien), put and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.