§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
I rise for the purpose of supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope I shall not be considered wanting in proper courtesy to the two gentlemen who have given notice of opposition to the Bill if I do not treat their notices as very serious. One stands in the name of the hon. Member for South Molton, who gives certain reasons for his opposition which are not given by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent. So far as that Motion is a protest against the policy of land purchase in Ireland, I respectfully say that it is at this time of day an absurdity. For good or for evil that policy has been adopted by both Parties of the House. The Liberal Party, with which the hon. Gentleman is associated, by the action of its responsible leaders and their votes in the Division Lobby have made themselves responsible for a policy of land purchase. So, too, has the Unionist Party. Under the operation of that policy close upon 100,000 farmers have been converted into owners, and the State has advanced the sum of £22,000,000 for the purpose, not a single sixpence of which has been lost. Under these circumstances it does seem to me almost puerile to suggest a reversal of that policy at this time of day. The Motion also alludes to what the hon. Member calls large gifts of public money. But the hon. Member, of course, is aware—as he is a well-informed man—that the 1207 money proposed to be given is Irish money. The Chief Secretary, in introducing the Measure, candidly and honestly told the House that this sum of £12,000,000 would be more than recouped by economies which could easily be effected, and had, in fact, been already partially effected in the cost of the administration of Ireland; and I respectfully submit to the hon. Member that when he finds Irish representation on both sides of the House absolutely united as to the particular allocation of purely Irish money, he might let his conscience be at rest, and console himself with the reflection that, after all, this is none of his business. Everybody who seriously regards his present situation knows perfectly well that an opportunity has unexpectedly arisen—an unparalleled opportunity—of making an attempt to lay the foundation of social peace in Ireland, and I do not envy the responsibility of hon. Members on either side of the House whose sole contribution to the situation is to propose a Motion, which, if carried, will drive the Irish people back into a perfect hell of conflict, passions, and disappointed hopes, and will destroy the best chance English statesmanship has had for the last hundred years of converting Ireland into a peaceful and prosperous country. It was my duty on the night when the Bill was introduced to speak immediately after the Chief Secretary, and to state there and then the impression the measure made on my mind; it was indeed a difficult task, and I necessarily spoke with the greatest possible reserve and caution. But, speaking now after full consideration of the measure, and after it has been subjected to most searching criticism in Ireland, I may be allowed to congratulate myself on the fact that I have nothing to change and very little to add to what I then said. The general impression, which was created the night the Bill was introduced—the general impression then gathered of the object, the purpose, and the principle of the Bill—was perfectly accurate, and the blots in the Bill which I then and there, in the name of my colleagues, pointed out and condemned, were the very points which have been universally condemned by public opinion in Ireland during these anxious weeks of the close examination of 1208 this Bill. I may say that of the real vital defects in this Bill there was scarcely one which was not instantly detected by my hon. friends who sit around me on these Benches, and at once denounced by me in their name. I and my friends and public opinion in Ireland recognise that in purpose and principle this is a great measure—that it is the greatest measure of land purchase reform ever seriously offered to the Irish people, and that it is intended to contain, and may quite easily be made to contain, all the elements of a settlement of the Irish agrarian difficulty, and the ending of the Irish land war, the permanent unity of all classes in Ireland and the laying broad and sure of the foundations of social peace. This impression of the general purpose and principle of the Bill and its possibilities has been intensified by the examination of the measure which has taken place in Ireland. So also has been intensified our conviction that there are defects in the measure of so grave a character that they are calculated, if left without remedy, largely to destroy and defeat the entire purpose and object of the Bill. The presence of those defects in the Bill is a repetition of the old story of the British belief in their superior wisdom, knowledge and experience of the wants of Ireland. In the Land Conference landlord and tenant came together and put forward their mature judgment as to what was necessary for the settlement of this question. But unfortunately, as usual, those who are responsible for this measure thought they knew what was wanted in Ireland better than Irishmen themselves, and the terms of the Land Conference Report have been seriously departed from, and the Bill offered not what the united wisdom of landlord and tenant asked for, but something different.
The Nationalist Convention held the other day in Dublin passed as its first Resolution a declaration from which I wish to read the following words—That we congratulate the Irish race on the introduction by a British Ministry of a measure which for the first time in the history of land legislation in the Imperial Parliament, with the common assent of all parties in Ireland, accepts the principle that dual ownership in Ireland must end, and that, after centuries of struggle, the land of Ireland should he restored to the people of Ireland; that the acceptance of this principle promises the removal of the uncertainty, turmoil, and antagonism which have so long rendered peace or contentment 1209 impossible in Ireland; that we feel it our duty at the same time to declare that the measure require serious amendment in various points of vital importance; and in the earnest desire to make it acceptable to all classes in Ireland, and to be put into a position to present it to our people as a final settlement of the land struggle, we request the United Irish Party to press with all their power for the amendments which this Convention may propose on these points; and that in the confident expectation that the Bill will be largely and favourably amended in Committee, this Convention entrusts to the Irish Parliamentary Party the power and responsibility of deciding the attitude to be adopted towards the measure in the subsequent stages.I have read that portion of the Resolution in order to show the House of Commons the spirit in which the Nationalist representatives approached the subject of Amendments to this Bill. Our object and the object of the Government is precisely the same. Both want a settlement of this question. Both want peace between classes in Ireland. Both want a financial arrangement which will be sound and safe alike to the State and to the tenant. Both want the landlords, after they have ceased to be landlords, to have the opportunity, if they desire, to live in their own country and take a share in the management of Irish affairs. We want the whole race to set to work in an earnest effort to repair the ravages of the past. Therefore, our object and the object of the Government are precisely the same, and let me say that we will propose no Amendment in Committee on this Bill hostile to the general purpose and spirit of the measure. We will propose no Amendment that in our judgment is not absolutely necessary in order to carry out the avowed intention and purpose of the Bill, none which, in our opinion, are not really as much in the interest of the landlord as in the interest of the tenants. For my part, I may be allowed to express my earnest hope, and indeed my belief, that there will be found scarcely one of our Amendments which will not receive in the House the support of the representatives of the Irish landlords. I think I know the proper limits of a discussion on the Second Reading of a Bill, and I have therefore no intention whatever of going: seriatim through the Amendments which we intend to propose, and which w believe to be necessary in order to make the measure a final settlement. But 1210 there are certain defects in this Bill of so far-reaching and fatal a character that I must be allowed shortly to deal with them. First there is the question of the price which the tenant is to pay and the amount the landlord is to receive. Then there is the exclusion from the operation of the Bill of certain classes of tenants, questions of the interference of this Bill with existing rights of tenants, questions of administration and the important question of the congested districts.
I put the question of price in the forefront, because it must be manifest to everyone that it is absolutely vital to the success of the Bill, to the welfare of the individual purchaser and the future welfare of the State. The Bill provides a minimum price which every tenant must pay unless he is to be excluded from all the benefits of the Act. We protest against the fixing of a minimum price, holding it to be altogether out of place in a voluntary Bill. We claim that perfect freedom of bargaining must be left under the Bill to the landlords and tenants of Ireland. Clause 1 provides that the purchasing tenant must pay as his purchase instalment instead of rent. 70 per cent. in one class of sale, and at least 60 per cent. in another class of judicial rents. The largest reduction a tenant can obtain under the purchase clause is 30 per cent. in the case of one class of tenants, and 40 per cent. in another. But under the existing purchase system we know that, whatever the average price may have been, there have been cases of reduction as far as 40, 45, and 50 per cent. It may be said that these are extreme cases, in the sense that they are cases of poor holdings on bad land; but no one knows better than the Chief Secretary that such cases are by no means confined to congested districts. There is scarcely an estate in the whole of Ireland, even in Ulster and the richest parts, where you will not find a certain number of these poor holdings. But the Bill only deals with them where they are in great numbers on an estate. The right hon. Gentleman has recognised that it would be ridiculous where a large portion of an estate is made up of such holdings to put the limitations of the Bill as to price in operation, and these limitations are 1211 entirely removed in the congested districts, defined as estates, where one-half of the holdings do not exceed ten acres in area and £5 in rateable value, or are of mountain or bog land. But where the holdings of this character are only a third of the estate the limitations will be imposed, with the effect either that the poor holders will be forced to buy at a price which has been proved to be extravagant, or else the Bill will fail by its exclusion of the very class of tenant whose condition constitutes the evils and the dangers of the Irish land system. If this provision remains in the Bill it will, in my opinion, seriously threaten either the security of the State, by forcing these unfortunate tenants to buy at an extravagant price, or else it will threaten the success of the measure by excluding these men from its operation. The Bill abolishes altogether the decadal system of reduction, the system established in 1896, whereby tenants were enabled to get further reductions every ten years after the first thirty. But the retention of this decadal system is that advocated by all parties in Ireland, and I hope that under these circumstances it will be possible to recast the Bill so as to give effect to this general opinion. It might be done by reducing interest from 2¾ to 2½ per cent. The right hon. Gentleman dissents from that, but it is worth his while to consider the matter. A resolution by Lord Dunraven's Committee suggested that economies in Irish administration should be ear-marked, and, instead of going to the reduction of charge for the bonus, should be used go set up the decadal reduction system. This is not the time to press that matter in further detail, but I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to take note of the fact that all parties—every section of the landlords and all the representatives of the tenants—desire this decadal reduction system to be maintained. I hope he will be able to see some way out of this difficulty.
While I am on the question of finance, let me point out that the Bill provides that the bonus is to be distributed in inverse ratio to the amount of the purchase money. The effect of this will be to keep large estates out of the market, because in such cases, as far as the bonus is concerned, there will cease to be absolutely any inducement to 1212 sell at all. Public opinion in Ireland has taken a very decided course on this matter. The National Convention, the Landlords' Convention, and Lord Dunraven's Committee are absolutely at one in urging the desirability of having a uniform bonus, of making that bonus 15 per cent. all round on the purchase money from the beginning, provided that no landlord shall get the advantage of a bonus who does not initiate proceedings for the sale of his estate within five years. I ask the House to note the significance of the fact that, step by step, I am able to quote the recommendations of the landlords, as well as of the tenants, for my suggested alterations in the Bill I hold a very strong opinion as to the necessity for a time limit if this Bill is to work at such a rate as will afford any prospect of the settlement of this question in our lifetime.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
Will the hon. and learned Member state where the landlords of Ireland agreed to a time limit?
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
Yes, I have got it here. It is paragraph No. 3 where they state—We consider that the grant-in-aid should, he distributed at a uniform rate of not less than 15 per cent. and by transactions initiated by the landlord within a period of five years after the passing of this Act.I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I am too old a tactician to attempt to secure a point by making a false statement. Upon all these points I am quoting, not only the opinion of the tenants, but also of the landlords. Allow me now to address a few words on the subject of the evicted tenants. I am most anxious not to rake up any subject of past conflict, controversy, or bitterness, but I ask the House of Commons, composed as it is in the main, I am certain, of fair-minded men, can they expect that we upon these Benches, who have been connected with this Irish land struggle for the last twenty years and have been connected with these evicted tenants, can possibly be expected to accept as a final settlement of the Irish Land Question any scheme which excludes from its operation these men, who have risked and lost everything in the 1213 land struggle. Does any sane man inside this House dream that this measure can succeed in its great object of bringing permanent peace to Ireland if it leaves here and there over the country centres of grievance, trouble and disaffection, in the persons of disaffected tenants excluded from the Bill? No sane man can take such a view. Speaking through the mouth of those who sat on the Land Conference and upon Lord Dunraven's Committee, which speaks in the name of a large majority of the landlords, and proved by a very large vote taken some months ago that they are not hostile upon this question. They recognise that you cannot expect to have social peace if these men here and there are discontented, and I cannot conceive for a moment that the Government hold any such insane idea. In answer to an inquiry, it was with great relief to my mind that Sir Antony Macdonnel wrote to me to the effect that it was not the intention of the Government to exclude any evicted tenants from the benefits of this Bill. There are limitations in Clause 2 which, if left in the Bill, must exclude a large proportion indeed of evicted tenants. I take it when we come to the Committee stage there will be no objections to absolutely removing these limits and putting the evicted tenants exactly upon the same footing as other persons, so far as limitation of amount is concerned.
I have referred to the evicted tenants for the purpose of emphasising another point, because I take it for granted that the limitations must go. The Bill provides nothing at all in the shape of powers to the Estates Commissioners or anybody else to facilitate friendly arrangements to enable old tenants to get back on to the farms which are now in the possession of new tenants; but, vastly important as this is, it is a small and circumscribed question. There are not many such cases, and I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to put compulsion into his Bill. I am not asking that, although I think under the circumstances it would be a wise thing to do. What I am asking is to give to the Estates Commissioners sufficient powers and sufficient money to enable them to facilitate friendly arrangements whereby many of these tenants might get back their old homes. Their number is 1214 very small. I know it is very small, although I would not like to commit myself to the exact numbers. We know also from our experience that many of these tenants are not really agriculturists at all, for they are kept there at great expense by the landlord, simply as part of the land war, and we know that the Estates Commissioners, if they were practical and sensible men, if they had the powers and a small sum of money, would be able to effect friendly relations in a great majority of these cases. A suggestion was made, which struck me as a very useful one, by the Freeman's Journal. That journal suggested that the reserve fund should be used partly for this purpose. I may explain to the House that the reserve fund is part of the guarantee fund under the Land Act of 1891, that it was abolished by the Land Act of 1896, and at the time it was abolished it amounted, I think, to about £200,000; and now it amounts probably to not far short of £250,000. What is done with that sum under this Bill? It is given to the Land Commissioners for a purpose analogous to the one I am dealing with. It is given to the Land Commissioners for improvement works where they purchase an estate, and where they enlarge the buildings and so forth, before giving it back to the tenants. I think the suggestion is an admirable one that these Commissioners should have the power of using this £250,000, not only to improve farms before reselling, but also for the purpose of endeavouring to bring about these friendly settlements. The amount required would be very little. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose introduced an Evicted Tenants Bill he proposed £100,000, and he proposed to take it from the Church Fund. As time has gone on the area affected by this question has undoubtedly diminished, and if £100,000 was all that was necessary then a considerably less sum would be all that would be necessary now. I think it only a fair thing to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this power to the Commissioners, and use this fund for this purpose, as well as that of the improvement and enlargement of buildings.
This is called a voluntary Bill, and yet in one portion of it there is contained com- 1215 pulsion of the most serious and objectionable character upon certain classes of tenants. It is provided that where an estate is sold to the Estates Commissioners, and where three-fourths of the tenants agree to buy their holdings back from the Commissioners, that then the remaining one fourth shall be compelled to buy at a price that, presumably, they think unfair, or else in the alternative they lose once and for ever all their rights to have fair rents fixed under the Act of 1881; but it does not stop there, for it goes on to say that in every case that the Lord Lieutenant approved of, the same thing can take place where a bare majority are in favour of the sale. That has only, I think, to be stated to show what a monstrously unjust proposal it is. The landlord makes a bargain with the Estates Commissioners and sells his estate to them, and out of 100 tenants perhaps fifty-one are willing to buy their holdings at the price named by the Commission; but forty-nine think it exorbitant, and they would be beggared if they paid it. The result will be that the fifty-one men will buy and the forty-nine are deprived of the right of having their rents fixed under the Act. Here again the Irish landlords take the same view that we do. I have the resolution here, if I am challenged, where they declare that Clause 17, to which I am alluding, imposes unjust and oppressive restrictions upon the tenants and constitutes in point of fact compulsion. I think perhaps I ought to quote the words, for they are very short—While recognising that sales and purchase should not be impeded by the unreasonable action of small minorities, we recommend that Clause 17 of the Bill involves compulsion upon tenant to an unwarrantable extent.I cannot conceive that the right hon. Gentleman will hesitate for a moment to remove this blot from the Bill. When I complained of this on the first night when this Bill was introduced, the Chief Secretary answered, by means of an interruption by saying, that there was a precedent in the 40th Section of the Act of 1896; but really that is not so, because the 40th Section of that Act is entirely different. What it provides is that where three-fourths of the tenants agree to buy, the remainder, if they refuse the terms, shall be treated as if they had bought, 1216 and called upon to pay their instalments on the same basis as if they had bought; but there is no interference at all, except in that way, with their right to get a fair rent fixed under the Act of 1881. What is proposed here? The compulsion is not to compel men to buy if they refuse, the penalty is not that they should pay regular instalments on the basis of purchase, but that they shall remain as tenants, but as tenants deprived of their right under the Act of 1881 to have a fair rent fixed. Everyone must admit that it would be a monstrous thing if a little handful of tenants were able to block the purchase or sale of an estate. We all recognise that some provision of that kind ought to be in the Bill, but we protest most vehemently against giving the power to a bare majority to compel the rest. We protest against even a majority of three-fourths, and we say, whatever the proportion arrived at may be, that penalty ought to be similar to the penalty under the 4th Section of the Act of 1891 and not as provided in this Bill.
Now I want to say a word or two on the question of administration. There never was a measure proposed which so absolutely depends upon administration as this Bill. On the first night I innocently fell into a very great mistake on this matter. Understanding from the right hon. Gentleman that the administration of this Bill was to be in the hands of a non-judicial tribunal, where the members would be all on an equality, where their salaries would be on the Estimates, so that we could discuss them and criticise them on the floor of the House, I rose and congratulated him heartily on the administration which he proposed in the Bill. I will not say that I was deceived, but I was under an entire misapprehension. It is perfectly true that, so far as two of these gentlemen are concerned they are on an equality, and their salaries are to be on the Estimates and we can discuss them. But the third member of the Commission is not to be on an equality with t lie other two, and whether he is called President or Chairman is a very small matter. He is, as the Bill stands, the superior, the boss of the tribunal. The two gentlemen are to have salaries of £2,000 a year, I think it is, and their salaries are to be on the Estimates and we can all discuss 1217 them. But the third gentleman is to have a salary of £3,000 a year, and his salary is to be on the Consolidated Fund, like that of a judge. And who, forsooth, is this gentleman? The one man in all Ireland, I believe, whom the Government could have found, against whom both landlord and tenant object. We have had considerable experience of Mr. Wrench, both on the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board, and we object to his nomination on its merits, even if he were on an equality with the other two. But when he is put in a superior position—in an unassailable position—where, if we want to attack him, all that we can do is to attack Mr. Bailey, or Mr. Finucane on the floor of the House, his position becomes absolutely intolerable, and I feel sure that we will be able to make a united effort in Committee on this point which will show the right hon. Gentleman the absurdity of the position he has put in the Bill. Mr. Wrench is still to be a member of the Congested Districts Board, another most objectionable thing. Mr. Wrench, in the belief of many of us, has been the evil spirit of the Congested Districts Board. In the opinion of many of us Mr. Wrench has been responsible for the dilatoriness, and lack of initiative and courage of that Board, but now he has to be in a dual capacity. He is to be the sacrosanct member of a non-judicial tribunal, whose salary is to be on the Consolidated Fund like that of a judge on the one side, and he is to remain a member of the Congested Districts Board at the same time. The positions are inconsistent. If the right hon. Gentleman values his work on the Congested Districts Board so much, in God's name let him keep him there But if he is to be put into the position of a Land Commissioner he certainly must be taken off the Congested Districts Board.
In passing from administration, let me in a word call attention to what I cannot help characterising as an exceedingly petty, and an exceedingly mean, action on the part of those responsible for this Bill. There are at this moment besides Judge Meredith, as Land Commissioners, Mr. Wrench, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Fitzgerald, and Mr. 1218 Murrough O'Brien. Will it be believed by this House that one of these gentlemen is to be picked out to be penalised, so to speak, by this Bill? Mr. Lynch is under the ordinary law certain of pension rights. Mr. Wrench gets his pension rights under the Bill, Mr. Fitzgerald gets his pension rights under the Bill, but Mr. Murrough O'Brien, neither under the existing law nor this Bill, is entitled to any pension whatever. Now who is Mr. Murrough O'Brien? He has been a public servant for thirty-three years, and a Land Commissioner for ten years, and I am speaking what everybody connected with Ireland knows is absolutely true, when I say that he is the one member of the Land Commission who, in the past, has had the confidence and goodwill of the tenants. It is a most audacious thing. I do not know who. drafted the clause. It could not have been the right hon. Gentleman himself; he would not have brought petty malice of this kind into the Bill, but somebody in Ireland is responsible for this. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: The Attorney General.] It is a monstrous thing that a clause should be drawn in this way: that ample pensions are provided for three of the Commissioners, and one is deprived of any pension at all, and he the only one who has the confidence and good-will of the Irish tenants. Now let me pass from that matter, simply saying that I feel certain the House of Commons is too fair-minded an assembly to tolerate the exclusion of Mr. Murrough O'Brien when we come to deal with this matter in Committee.
Let me come now to deal with the question which is the most important and far-reaching of all. I mean the question of the congested districts. There was no portion of this Bill that to me was such a crushing disappointment as the portion dealing with the congested districts. I think now that the House pretty well understands what these congested districts are. Certainly the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary understand the question. They know as well as any man living that to talk about a settlement of the Irish Land Question which does not settle the Connaught question is a rank absurdity. Let me say in two sentences 1219 what our view is about the congested districts. I do not believe that you will do any good to the congested districts until you enlarge the constitution of the Congested Districts Board, until you enlarge the powers of the Board, until you give them compulsory power in some cases, and until you schedule the whole of Connaught. One of the resolutions passed by the Nationalist Convention was to the effect that the County Councils of the Congested Districts ought to be given some representation on the Congested Districts Board. That is a suggestion. I do not pin myself to one suggestion, and to one only, but I do say that I am convinced that the constitution of this Board requires to be enlarged and strengthened, that the whole procedure of the Board requires to be accelerated, and animated with a new spirit and new life, and that initiative must be instilled into that Board if it is to do any good. On the question of enlarged powers I think it will be worth my while once again to read what I have read more than once in past years—the unanimous Resolution of the Congested Districts Board themselves, passed in the year 1895, on this question of compulsion. The last time I quoted this I quoted the then Chief Secretary, who is now the President of the Board of Trade, and also the Prime Minister, as having been in favour of this Resolution because their names were signed to it. They interrupted me and said that they signed the Report, but that they did not intend the signature to carry the idea that they were in favour of this Resolution. It will be understood that I read these two names subject to that explanation. The Resolution was as follows—That the Congested Districts Board is in possession of information through their inspectors that there are large tracts of land that could be used to enlarge the holdings of small occupiers and promote schemes of migration in congested districts. The Board are, however, of opinion that it will be impossible for them to give effect to this important department of their work unless more funds are placed at their disposal, and compulsory powers given to them to acquire such lands at their just value.The signatures appended to that declaration are, Mr. Gerald Balfour, Sir David Harrel, Mr. Charles Kennedy, the Most Rev. Dr. O'Donnell, Mr. Frederick W. Price, Mr. Horace Plunkett, Mr. James 1220 H. Tuke, Mr. Frederick Wrench, Mr. A. J. Balfour, Rev. W. S. Green, and the Rev. Denis O'Hara. I have never heard a satisfactory answer given to this claim. It is quite a different claim from the claim for the settlement of the Land quation all through Ireland by compulsion. This is strictly confined to a small area, and the compulsion is only to be for the purpose of taking possession of lands that are not in possession of people living on, and working on, them, but simply for the purpose of taking possession of great tracts of grazing land where no human beings live at all, and on the very borders of which humanity is seething in misery and wretchedness on the bog and on the mountain. Let me enforce what I have said by a more recent declaration than the one from the Congested Districts Board. Here are two resolutions adopted by a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of the Province of Connaught. Of course everyone who is acquainted with Ireland knows that you could not get information on a question of this kind from that part of Ireland more valuable than information coming from those Prelates. They live there amongst the people and know the facts. Scarcely any of them are political partisans of ours. They do not look at things through political spectacles, but simply look at this question and speak upon it from their own experience of their daily life among the people. Here is the Resolution passed on the 9th of April—That, whilst recognising the immense value of the Land Bill now before Parliament, and earnestly hoping that, in an amended form, it will become law, we desire to record our conviction that the proposals outlined in the Bill for dealing with the great question of congestion, and the cultivation of vast tracts of prairie land in the West of Ireland, are quite inadequate; larger and more extensive powers should be conferred on the Congested Districts Board throughout the entire Province, similar to the powers granted to the Crofters' Commission for Scotland.That is a modified kind of compulsion.And, above all, no landlord should be enabled, with the public money, practically to purchase from himself any land outside his residential demesne, nor should any persons be allowed to purchase non-residential holdings except on condition of making them residential, and the money granted for this purpose should not, in any case, exceed£1,000. We feel it our duty to declare that if the Government will not take these, or similar 1221 measures to deal with this great question in a thorough-going way, the Land Question will not he settled in the West, nor the tide of emigration checked; nor can peace and contentment be restored until the grazing lands, taken from the people in that part, be given back to the men who are able and willing to work them for the maintenance of themselves and their families.That resolution is signed by John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam (in the Chair); Francis Joseph MacCormack, Bishop of Galway; John Lyster, Bishop of Achonry; John Conmy, Bishop of Killala; and John Clancy, Bishop of Elphin. I do not think it is possible for me to exaggerate the importance to a wise Minister who has charge of an Irish Bill of paying attention to a declaration of that kind. Again, we are on the same ground as the landlords in our demands Here, again, I can quote the Irish landlords, because in the Land Conference Report, agreed to by the representatives of the landlords as well as by us, there is a paragraph referring to the congested districts, and outlining almost precisely, what is claimed here now on our behalf at this moment. I must guard myself from wearying the House, and pass from the Congested Districts Board with the simple declaration that its constitution ought to be enlarged and strengthened, its powers increased, and the whole of Connaught ought to be scheduled within its jurisdiction.
In regard to the Irish labourers in connection with this Bill, I really do not know what to say. Honestly, I cannot fathom the reason which induced the right hon. Gentleman to put his name to these clauses in the Bill. If he had said to us that this was a great measure, and that he could not deal with two or three different subjects at the same time, and that he would leave over the labourers question to be dealt with in a separate Bill, we could have understood the position. But what he has done is to put into this Bill clauses dealing with the Labourers Acts which are absolutely worthless and futile. I say that if the labourers were to be asked to take these clauses as they stand, or nothing at all, they would say, "Strike them out." These clauses are a mockery of the claims of the labourers; they are almost adding 1222 insult to injury; and I am convinced that, whoever put them into this Bill, they do not represent the full mind and the intention of the right hon. Gentleman on the labourers question; and I cannot fathom why they were placed in the Bill, unless he is prepared to accept a series of new clauses, which we propose to submit, totally changing the character of these proposals, taking them right out of the Bill, because as they stand they are little better than a mockery. There are innumerable other questions on which I might speak at some length, some of them of vital importance. There is the question of the perpetual rent-charge against which the opinion of Ireland is practically unanimous. There is the question also of making quite sure the position of future tenants and of caretakers, although on that point I am satisfied from declarations which have been made, that the shortcomings of the Bill will be remedied, and that the right hon. Gentleman has no purpose of excluding them from the benefits of the Bill. There are innumerable other points of vital importance which must stand over until we come to consider them in Committee, for it is manifest that it is impossible for me to dwell upon them now at any length. The hon. Member for East Mayo, who, I am glad to say, is back amongst us in restored health, will speak on these questions if he gets the opportunity before the Debate closes to-night, and he, I feel sure, will repair the omissions I have made, and will probably speak more fully and with greater force upon some of the important questions I have dealt with. I must therefore leave the matter at the point to which I have come.
Let me in conclusion address a few words of advice, and a few words, if I may be allowed to do so, of serious warning to the Chief Secretary. Never before—let him never forget that—since the Act of Union has an English Minister in Ireland the chance that he now has of successfully dealing with this Irish agrarian difficulty. Ireland to-day is united in her demands in almost all essentials. As I have pointed out, landlords and tenants are in agreement. Both sides have made concessions for the sake of peace. The 1223 advisers and the leaders of the tenants have incurred great risks and exposed themselves to much misrepresentation; they have undertaken very grave and serious responsibility in their efforts to save their country from a continuation of the land war which for so long has desolated Ireland, and in behalf of peace. They have made many concessions, and I ought to be the first to admit with gratitude and with pride that the people have stood by them with magnificent loyalty. Well, we have come back here now from our country with the mandate of our people on this Bill, and fortified by a vote of complete and absolute confidence. We are asking nothing unreasonable. We are only asking for Amendments on those matters which I have indicated. It is more probable that we Irishmen, the persons concerned, the landlords and tenants combined, take a right view on these matters than you Englishmen. We ask you only to make concessions to the practically united demands of the Irish people of all classes, whose interest in this matter is the same as yours, and must be deeper and higher than yours in the settlement of this question and the pacification of Ireland. I would say to the right hon. the Chief Secretary—"If you listen to the voice of Ireland this matter will be settled, and unborn generations of Englishmen and Irishmen alike will through all time applaud your wisdom and your statesmanship. Do not, I entreat you, lose heart in your efforts. Other efforts of English statesmanship have failed again and again in the past just because they fell a little short of what was necessary to settle the problem. Let it be the glory of the Chief Secretary to be thorough. For the first time in the history of the connection between England and Ireland be thorough in your policy." I am bound at the same time to say that if the right hon. Gentleman rejects the advice which comes to him from the landlords and the tenants alike; if, like so many of his predecessors, he rejects and despises Irish public opinion, and refuses the reasonable Amendments which will come to him with the sanction of both parties to the contest, then I warn him that we shall be forced to wash our hands of all responsibility. Under such circumstances as that, the right hon. Gentleman may pass this measure un- 1224 amended into law, but he will be the first to admit that a measure passed under such conditions will not only not close this question, but will only add one more to that long list of well-intentioned but futile efforts to settle the Irish problem by the force of English public opinion and English judgment. With all my heart I pray that that state of things may not arise. I think it would be, in truth, little short of a tragedy if now, under the blessed circumstances of this moment, the right hon. Gentleman were, either through failure to appreciate the various forces at his back and the enormous power he wields, with all classes united behind him, or through an unbending and unreasonable defiance of Irish public opinion—it would be little short of a tragedy if the Government were to throw away this golden opportunity which, once lost, in all human probability will not recur in the lifetime of this generation. If this happens the guilt will not rest on the Irish National representatives. We will go into Committee on this Bill in a friendly, practical, business-like, and reasonable spirit, and I beseech the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to meet the claims which we put forward in a spirit of reason and conciliation.
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent)
I beg to move that "This Bill be read this day six months." After listening to the hon. Gentleman for an hour, finding fault with it and discovering so many blemishes in it, I did expect that he would move this Resolution himself. When the Bill was brought before the House for its First Reading, I called at ten ion to the proposed free gift of£12,000,000, and complained of it from the point of view of the British taxpayer; and I wish to speak on behalf of the British taxpayer in dealing with the principles on which this Bill ought to be discussed on its Second Reading. I must say that so far as the free gift of£12,000,000 goes that is a mere bagatelle compared with the loan of£150,000,000, and it is on that loan of£150,000,000 that I wish to dwell now. The right hon. the Chief Secretary told us in bringing in the Bill that he is of Irish descent. He need not have done so; I think we should have discovered that from his statement that we had only two 1225 parties to deal with in this matter—the Irish tenants and the Irish landlords. It never seemed to occur to the right hon. Gentleman that he omitted to mention the most important party interested—the general taxpayer. More truly we were told that we ought to bear in mind the union of hearts, This union of hearts we all most earnestly desire, but who would have supposed for a moment that the hon. Member for Donegal and the Chief Secretary had the same end before them although they were travelling by slightly different roads, and that my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Armagh, instead of calling hon. Members opposite moonlighters, assassins, and murderers, now finds in the Irish Members his warmest, closest, and best friends. This is a blessed and very gratifying incident in a situation which is altogether embarrassing and bewildering.
We have heard this afternoon of the Convention at Dublin. I was not impressed by the proceedings of that Convention. I fully recognise that it was got up with a great deal of solemn theatrical display for the benefit of the very gullible English public. I have seen too much of National Conventions in Ireland, and the conclusions they have come to, to be very much impressed by this one. We are told this Bill is to work a revolution in Ireland—I believe that is admitted on all hands—if this Bill is passed. But I have always understood that it is extremely foolish to bring about a revolution in any country when that country is absolutely quiet and reasonable. Moreover, when a revolution is started it is not easy to stop it. Ireland is, at present, in a state of prosperity which has never been equalled in her history. Indeed, Ireland may be said to be booming. The price of agricultural produce is higher than it was, and the banking and railway statistics show that the prosperity of the country is greater now than at any other period of her history. I do not want to weary the House by quoting all the figures; but I should like to call attention to the returns of the Joint Stock Banks. In 1882 the profit and cash balances of these banks were £32,000,000; and in 1902 they amounted to£44,000,000. That is an 1226 increase in twenty years of£12,000,000. The importance of that increase is not to be measured by the figures themselves, as all the time the population of Ireland was steadily decreasing, and, consequently, each man, woman and child had an additional amount of wealth distributed between them. In the Post Office Savings Banks we find exactly the same thing. We find the deposits largely increasing; and again I must remind the House of the diminished population of the country. Further, the railway traffic has been steadily increasing for twenty years. Surely all this is evidence of prosperity which is not to be put on one side. We also know that Ireland is shortly to receive the honour of a Royal visit; and, further, that the great motorcar contest is to be held in Ireland, which means a great influx of capital into the country, an excellent thing for the benefit of Ireland. Then we have been told by the Chief Secretary that certain citizens are to take over a large part of the roads of Ireland, a function which is performed by the ratepayers on this side of the Channel. Last, but not least, we are told that an Institute of Industry is to be established, which, I venture to say, is a brighter augury for the future of Ireland and a better omen, than all the Land Bills which an enthusiastic but visionary Chief Secretary might introduce.
With regard to the£12,000,000 we have to find, we have been told that it is to be a golden bridge to get over the gap between the demands of the landlords and what the tenants are prepared to pay. How is that amount to be spent? As far as I can make out, it will go entirely into the pockets of the legal profession. With regard to the savings which the Chief Secretary hopes to effect, he has told us that he expects to make a large saving on the Land Commission; but it will be apparent that the Land Commission must go on for a considerable period yet; and I do not think that the Land Commission will allow itself to be disestablished all at once. Then the Chief Secretary also expects to effect a large saving on the police. But the police will be the very people who will be called upon to collect the instalments under the new Land Bill. So far from effecting any saving in regard to the police, the right hon. 1227 Gentleman will want more police than ever before. The savings put forward by the right hon. Gentleman are entirely illusory. Then there is the equivalent grant of£185,000; and, as regards that, I merely wish to say that I do not understand why Ireland should have the grant, inasmuch as all the education in the country is paid for out of the Consolidated Fund. The Chief Secretary told us that the grant is to be used to make good the loss to be incurred in issuing land stock. Surely that is a brilliant investment for the British taxpayer. Now, I want to come to my main objections to this Bill. My first objection is that there is no originality in the proposals of the Chief Secretary; because this Bill is exactly the same Bill as was brought in by Mr. Gladstone in 1886, only that it is much worse. I opposed Mr. Gladstone's Bill in 1886, and I oppose this now. I suppose such consistency is exceedingly shocking; indeed, I gather from the English Press that it is very painful. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich told us that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury was an enlightened opportunist.
§ MR. COGHILL
It is difficult to understand the position of the First Lord of the Treasury, and I look forward with interest to see how he will defend his enlightened opportunism on this occasion. Mr. Gladstone, when he brought forward the Bill of 1886, was absolutely right, from his point of view, when he said that the land question and Home Rule must go together. I entirely agree with Mr. Gladstone. You cannot separate the two subjects. You cannot possibly bring in a Land Bill and then say you are not going to introduce a Home Rule Bill. Might I ask the First Lord of the Treasury pointedly whether the Government mean to bring in a Home Rule Bill or not? We have seen a great deal about it in the papers recently; a great many direct statements have been made that the Government have that intention. May I ask whether the Government intend to bring in a Home Rule Bill or—and that "or" is very important—a modified form 1228 of self-government. If I had been asked if the Government were going to bring in a Land Bill based on the lines of Mr. Gladstone's Bill I should have replied in this way: "You are at liberty to say that the story is a fantastic fabrication, which could never have occurred to anybody in the smallest degree acquainted with the opinions, to say nothing of the character, of any single one of His Majesty's present advisers. "The Chief Secretary spoke of the policy of Pitt and Castlereagh; and I think a great many people felt some alarm as to how far the right hon. Gentleman was going in connection with these two statesmen. It reminds me of the celebrated letter written by Mr. Gladstone to one whose name was also George—it was not addressed to the Chief Secretary—in which he spoke of the baseness and blackguardism by which the Union was passed.
§ MR. COGHILL
As a matter of fact that is not the case. When we try to ascertain whether the Government have any intention of bringing in a Home Rule Bill or not, we have to look at the indications given by the Government. I may remind the House that, since the last election there has been a Gentleman in Dublin, who, in my opinion, is a Home Ruler. I mean Mr. Horace Plunkett. He has never been disavowed by his colleagues, and still remains a Member of the Government. Mr. Plunkett has not been supported whenever he stood as the Unionist candidate; he can hardly be reckoned as a Member of the Unionist Party any longer, though he is still a Member of the Government. I do not care whether the First Lord of the Treasury tells me whether it is the intention of the Government to introduce a Home Rule Bill or not. My point is this, that by this Bill the Government are giving Home Rule to Ireland. That is the point I wish to impress on the House. If this Bill is once passed it will be impossible for us to refuse Home Rule, or anything else the Irish people demand. This Bill is, from my point of view, giving Ireland Home Rule, not in a straightforward way, which would enable us to oppose it, but by a 1229 side wind. That is the chief ground of my opposition to the Bill.
Again, I fail altogether to find any security for the loan of£150,000,000 which we are asked to advance. I want to know where the security for the loan is. We are told there is the land; but who will guarantee the successors of the present leaders of the Irish Party. They may be quite willing to maintain the bargain they are making with the Government; but what about their successors? Remember the period for which this loan is to be guaranteed is no less a period than sixty eight years—nearly three generations. How are you going to maintain the guarantee during that period? I do not think that the Irish tenant will have such an interest in his grandchildren that he will go very much out of his way to protect their interests when more immediate interests come ready to his hand. Suppose another no-rent agitation is started in Ireland—another plan of campaign. Are you to go to war with the whole of Ireland; are you to evict a whole country-side? It is impossible, and cannot be done. I need not refer to that because it was put in a more able way than I can ever put it by the Colonial Secretary. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said on this very point:—Bear in mind this—you working men of England and Scotland will be the Irish landlords; you will have to evict the tenants; you will have to collect the arrears at the point of the bayonet; and I refuse to be a party to such a transaction.These words are as true to-day as when they were spoken.
There is just one letter I should like to quote—As long as the land exists it must have landlords, and it is only a matter of replacing one class of such by a much worse, or more ignorant, or more greedy one. Again, how is a general strike against Government rents or annuities, to be guarded against, as you cannot evict a whole country-side? When reference is sometimes made to the present annuities being well discharged, it is forgotten that these are all cases carefully selected, many would-be purchasers being rejected as bad security.That is the opinion of an Irish landlord [Cries of "Name."] I cannot give the name because I do not know it. Then we are told that besides the land there is another security, and this is the most 1230 wonderful security of which I have ever heard. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife said, "Besides the land there is a moral security." I wonder how much the right hon. Gentleman would lend of his own money on "moral security." I do not think very much. The right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton are never tired of going about the country and denouncing the Government for their extravagance, and I think when an opportunity is given to them to take some steps in favour of economy they might give a vote against this enormous sum of£150,000,000, to say nothing of the£12,000,000, and that the speeches of both right hon. Gentlemen outside the House ought to bear some relation to the votes they are going to give in the House.
There is no finality with regard to this. If it was a really final Bill I daresay most of us, much as we dislike it, would feel compelled to vote for it, but I do not believe for a moment, nor, I believe, does anybody else, that this is a final Bill. But I need not labour that point, because it has been answered by a very able Member of the Government. Speaking at Oxford last Saturday night the Solicitor-General said—He would give it the minimum of his support; he should do so because of his official position, and for the simple reason that he knew of no alternative; having said so much he passed away from the Irish Land Bill, and having so passed away from it, he looked forward to the next Bill.The hon. Member for South Tyrone, speaking of the gift of£12,000,000, said very candidly that he thought£12,000,000 was inadequate. He wanted more, and thought the gift ought to be£16,000,000. Under those circumstances there is not much danger in forecasting that in the next Land Bill before this House we shall be asked to reduce the amount of the instalments, and for another loan of£12,000,000. But there is one vital objection to this Bill. We have not the money to carry it out. However benevolent we may feel, there is no money for a Land Purchase Bill. At the present time we are spending£34,000,000 on our Army, and£34,000,000 on our Navy. Where is the money to come from? The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not, if I may 1231 say so, deal with this matter in a fair and candid manner. In introducing the Budget he referred to the various demands that had been made upon the Exchequer, but he totally forgot to mention the demand which was going to be made by this Bill. That was not quite candid. Then I may point out that under this Bill we get nothing back whatever. We are told it is to be a final settlement between ourselves and gentlemen in Ireland. They do not abate one jot of their demands. They are willing to take this Bill now, but then they go on for Home Rule as merrily as ever. Where, then, does this conciliation, this settlement, come in? The hon. and learned Member for Waterford deprecated the subject of Home Rule being mixed up with land purchase. I quite see why. We, the simple English people, are to swallow the bait of land purchase, conciliation, and peace, and are not to see the Home Rule hook. On the 9th of April, speaking at Dublin, the hon. Member for Waterford said—I thought it was best for us not to attempt to mislead or hoodwink English public opinion, and I declared emphatically, on the part of the Irish Members of the House of Commons and, as I believe, of the whole nation at home, that a satisfactory settlement of the land question would not mean a settlement of the national question. We believe that a settlement of the land question will remove the most formidable obstacle in the path to Home Rule. We believe a settlement of the land question will mean an enormous step along the road of Home Rule.I am against Home Rule, but I agree with the hon. and learned Member. The hon. Member for Clare put the matter still clearer. He said—Twenty-one years ago England denounced the Land League as existing for the purposes of plunder, but now the most powerful Tory Government of modern times had introduced a Bill, every line of which was composed on the platform and programme of the Land League, started in Mayo by Michael Davitt. But though the Government was doing what the Irish Party wanted on the land question, there could be no compromise on the question which stood first of all, the right of Ireland to govern herself.How can we believe, in the face of such declarations, that this Bill is going to bring about any settlement in Ireland. So long as hon. Gentlemen take that view it is illusory to tell us there is going to be a final settlement. [An IRISH MEMBER: On the Land Question.] All I can say is that there is no peace, 1232 no conciliation, no final settlement, and that the British taxpayer receives back absolutely nothing for the£150,000,000 he is now called upon to find.
What I want to know is: Why has so much been done for Ireland and so little for England? It is due to the excessive representation which Ireland has in this House. No matter which side is in office, both make a bid for the Irish vote. I know no reason why so much should be done for Ireland. I think the other parts of the United Kingdom have an equal claim, and if we are to have a land nationalisation system let us have it all round, in England, Scotland, and Wales, as well as in Ireland. Looking round this afternoon, I naturally asked myself who would be on my side against the Second Reading of this Bill. First of all I should hope to have the support of the Labour Members. Then we have those who are known, I think as the Fourth Party, who follow the lead of the hon. Member for Whitby. [Cries of "No, no!" and "Greenwich."] Well, whoever they follow, they waxed very eloquent lately on the subject of economy in the Army, and so far as that economy is concerned it is only a question of thousands, while it is in this case a question of millions. I should hope they would be as earnest in this case as they were in favour of economy in the Army. I hope also for the support of all those who were returned to this House in 1886, because this is the same Bill as that which they denounced then. Then I appeal to all those who call themselves Liberal Imperialists—those gentlemen who have wiped Home Rule from their slates. They need not be afraid of giving a straightforward answer to this question, though I am afraid they will have to re-write Home Rule on their slate, even if they have to go to Lord Penrhyn to borrow a slate for the purpose. I do not wish to detain the House too long. There are only one or two questions I wish to ask in conclusion; Right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are never tired of pointing the finger of scorn at the right hon. Member for Montrose Burghs, but I want to know if, after all these seventeen years of contest and vexation, we are to undergo the shame of feeling that after all the right hon. Member for Montrose 1233 Burghs is right. All I can say is, I hope not. I hope there will be no departure from the great principles which have animated the Unionist Party in the past. I hope we shall show ourselves as steadfast on this question as we were in 1886, and that there will be no hauling down of our colours.
The last question I wish to ask is: If the Bill goes through, will the country be consulted about it? That was the precedent set in 1886. The Bill was referred to and emphatically condemned by the country. Although the verdict was taken on two Bills—the Home Rule Bill and the Land Purchase Bill—everybody knows that the Bill which did the greater damage to the Party opposite was the Land Purchase Bill. I know very well what the feeling was. I myself had a very difficult battle to fight, and I am convinced that the Home Rule Bill, backed by the great authority of Mr. Gladstone, would have undoubtedly been passed had it not been mixed up with this Irish Land Question. Therefore, I say that if this great revolution—as the Chief Secretary himself has called it—is to be passed, the precedent of 1886 ought to be followed, and the country consulted about it. In conclusion, I venture to say that this Bill is a bad Bill. Its finance is utterly unsound and will not stand examination. It is a Bill based on false hopes, false expectations, and false sentiment, and I believe, though it may be too late, that the British taxpayer, when he finds that he has parted with his money and lost control of his millions, will recognise that, by the very men whom he placed in office to safeguard and defend his interests, he has been duped, deluded, defrauded, and betrayed. I beg to move "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months."
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY (Islington, N.),
in seconding the Amendment, said: As a Unionist I feel bound to associate myself with my hon. friend in this matter. The Bill concerns England very largely, and therefore we, as the larger taxpayers, have a right to express our opinion. If I thought that this Bill would lead to the prosperity, contentment, happiness, and loyalty of Ireland, I, for one, would certainly support it, feeling that its enormous cost would be 1234 absolutely unimportant compared with those great advantages. I am sure that my constituents would willingly pay their large contribution to this fund if the results I have mentioned were likely to be secured. But, as my hon. friend has pointed out, this is not the first time we have had such a measure to deal with. I have been a Member of this House for many years, and when this Bill was introduced I looked up my election address of 1886. I know that in some quarters consistency is not considered of much importance, but some of us, at any rate, try to be consistent, and I cannot help thinking that, when such a measure as this is introduced, it is right we should look back and see what promises we have given on the matter. These are the words of my election address of1886—The heavy additional burden of taxation which the policy of the Government involves, in buying out the Irish landlords, seems to me to be both unjust and unnecessary to the English, Scotch, and Welsh taxpayers. To add even£50,000,000 to our National Debt—though it will probably be nearer£150,000,000—with a most uncertain return of even the interest on that enormous sum, in these distressed times, seems to me to be quite unwarranted.The circumstances now are the same, or worse; taxation is considerably heavier; the National Debt is much larger; and I want to know, seeing that we held those views in 1886, what has changed to make it desirable that we should now depart from them. It is true that the words I have quoted were a statement of my own opinion, but that opinion was shared by the present Government; it was the "authorised version;" and we were emphatically told by our leaders that it was the policy of the Party on this side of the House. What circumstances have so completely changed that the course we held to be absolutely wrong and unfair to the English taxpayers in 1886 should now be the right policy to adopt? We are bound to ask ourselves why we should burden our constituents with this great charge. The Chief Secretary in his speech—to which I listened with interest and admiration—dealt graphically with the condition of many congested parts of Ireland, and from his remarks one would suppose that this Bill would amend that state of affairs. There is not a Member of this House but 1235 would do his utmost to achieve such an end. But these people are trying to live upon small patches of ground from which it is impossible to get a living, and all that this Bill will do is probably to reduce their rents. Nobody will say that a system of reducing rents can possibly make these people permanently prosperous. If we were to give them their holdings for nothing it would not place them in the condition in which we wish them to be. This Bill, by reducing the rents and placing an enormous burden on the people of this country, will do nothing to bring about the condition we desire, and I do not think it is quite candid to bring up this question, when the enormous advance of£150,000,000 will do practically nothing to go to the root of the evil in these congested districts. That being so, one of the greatest sources of satisfaction in any land scheme is taken from us.
Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to emigration, and said it was likely to be stopped by this Bill. He said it would "staunch the fatal stream of emigration." It seems to me that in these districts migration and emigration are the only means by which anything can be done. No doubt migration is at present more fashionable than emigration, but emigration has done a great deal for both Ireland and England. Why should the Irish Secretary, in order to gain a certain amount of superficial applause, run down a source from which, I think, Ireland has derived enormous benefit? Emigration exists in this country. Many of our own friends have gone abroad. Last year about 205,000 persons left Great Britain and Ireland, of which number only 40,000 were from Ireland. There is no doubt that emigration has done, is doing, and will do, a great amount of good, and it seems to me it is a mistake to run it down, seeing that this Bill cannot possibly solve the problem of the congested districts. What will be the result of the Bill for the small men paying about£5 a year rent? It will reduce their rent by about 20 per cent. Will anybody contend that, by reducing their rents by about 5d. per week, and enabling them to buy their holdings in sixty-eight years, you will make them successful and prosperous tenants? Such a small reduc- 1236 tion cannot altogether change a man, and make him really prosperous. Is it reasonable or desirable, therefore, that this country should be called on to bear this heavy burden to achieve so small a result? Then take the larger holders, paying£40 or £50 a year rent. No doubt the reduction to them represents an appreciable amount, but I would ask: Are not these the men who do not really require it? They have shown their power of combination and of mutually arranging to look after their own interests, and I say emphatically it is not to the interests of the country that a large sum from public taxation should be applied to the reduction of the rents of that class. There are many people in our own districts who are far worse off, and who yet will be asked to contribute largely for the benefit of these men. I have worked it out carefully, and I find that the poor district which I have the honour to represent will have to guarantee about£500,000 of this money. It is neither fair nor reasonable that the English taxpayer should be asked to find money for this class of the peasantry of Ireland. I will go even farther. If, by reducing rents, you gave prosperity and happiness to Ireland, if that were the whole point of the Bill, I should say-very little about it, and even the cost to the general taxpayer would not be considered so serious. But we know that that is not the whole point. There is the great question of re-sale. That seems to me to be at the bottom of this subject. I think we may ask fairly how this has worked in the past. To an Englishman it seems an extraordinary system by which to endeavour to improve the condition of Ireland. A man for generations has paid£40 a year rent as tenant; he has paid it willingly and is a fairly prosperous man. Mr. Gladstone's Bill came in and created fair rents, re-sale, and so on, and this man's holding was at once reduced to£28. What happened a short time afterwards? He sold his holding to a third party for£475 cash. What does that mean
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY
That is no part of the argument. The man was paying£40 a year, and he said he was 1237 so rack rented that he could not live. The Land Bill reduced the rent to£28, but the successor to that man was paying not only the£28 but£19 in addition, and for all practical purposes he has been, and is, paying£47 a year. I ask, in what way has that individual tenant benefited by Mr. Gladstone's Act. I could give other cases, but that is unnecessary. There have been twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty years purchase, and if that has been the case under the last Act what will be the effect under the present Act? If you further reduce those rents by 20 per cent. the£28 will be reduced to£23; the tenant will give about£200 more for his tenant-right, and 4 per cent. on that will make his rent£31. Surely that is no benefit to the individual tenant. It will not make Ireland more prosperous; it will not improve the tenants or prevent them being more rack-rented. In fact, every Act of this mistaken legislation goes further to increase the burden on the unfortunate tenant, and I, as a practical man, ask, in what manner is a man benefited who under Mr. Gladstone's Bill paid£47 and will now pay£55. Is it worth while for us to embark£150,000,000 of the capital of this country to bring about such a state of things? The next generation of Irish tenants will purchase or they will borrow money on the holdings. Practically speaking this will do no good, and we are encouraging them to borrow on their holdings, and that indebtedness will make them in a worse position than before. Is it therefore worth while to embark an enormous sum of popular credit to increase this evil? Mr. Gladstone's measure no doubt satisfied the Irish people for a short time, and this one may last for a few years. It may last the time of the present Secretary, but it cannot finally settle or put right this question. If you are going on a wrong basis you cannot make it right by a system such as this, and although I know I am speaking quite uselessly I must enter my protest. The hon. Member for Waterford said this is not a settlement, that he wanted a number of things, and that this was regarded as a step to Home Rule—a step this Party will always resist. I say again, as an English Member, is it desirable that we should embark this 1238 enormous sum of money when the leaders of the Irish people recognise that it is not a settlement? Even Lord Dunraven's speech suggests the same view. I venture to think that what is wanted in every nation is for the people to make an effort to improve their condition. In this country, if a man is paying£20 a year rent and wants to buy we say to him—"Make an effort and instead of paying£20 pay£25," and in twenty or twenty-five years time the property becomes his own. There is no great merit in a man buying unless it produces greater energy and exertion and industry in the individual. In England we do this class of business in a common sense way, and that effort is the making of the man. It is the thing which induces a tenant to feel every year that he will live to see the time when he has bought his house through his own effort and industry. That improves the man and makes him a better citizen, a better man in every way. But in Ireland we do not adopt a system like that. We say to a man, "Do you want to buy" and he answers, perhaps, that he is not particular. We say, "You are paying£20 a year, and instead of that you shall pay£15 a year for sixty-eight and a half years." It is no inducement to them, because neither he nor his children are likely to take the same interest in looking forward to the end of the term, and it is fatal to do away with that interest. It is a wrong system entirely. If you could get an Irish tenant to pay a higher rent for twenty-five years you would do some good for him and make him a better citizen and a better man, even if he still held to Home Rule.
Then it is said that this Bill is going to do away with what is recognised as a great evil that was introduced by Mr. Gladstone—that of dual ownership. No doubt that would be a great advantage, but does the Bill do away with it? Certainly it does not do it for sixty-eight and a half years, and what is the difference whether a man pays to the landlord or to the State. He is not the owner until the end of the period. The present landlord is not what can be called a real landlord, as Mr. Gladstone's Bill provided for a rent-charge. In my opinion, 1239 this will not get rid of dual ownership, I and we are only living in a fool's paradise if we think it does. You are doing away with the real use of this system of purchase, because if you can induce a tenant to pay a higher rent for a shorter period it would be a bonâfide purchase. I would ask, what will be the consequences of the Act? It is said that 80,000 or 100,000 persons are now purchasing under existing Acts. That is true; but 80,000 or 100,000 persons is a very different thing to the whole of the Irish people. We have heard of a "No Rent" manifesto, and it seems to me quite conceivable that we might have a similar manifesto here. We know when the law is called upon by the present landlords to enforce an eviction what a state of things is created; and is it conceivable that a system like that will be allowed to go on when the State is the landlord. It seems to me that this is an impossible position. Mr. Davitt says most emphatically that he wishes to see the whole matter left as it is; that no one has proposed, or will propose, outside a political lunatic asylum, that the British Government can be got to put itself in the position of a rent collector. When the Irish tenant cannot, or will not, or does not choose to pay his rent, the Imperial Government knows perfectly well that to have tenants evicted by the Government of the day would be a perfectly impossible thing. Then there is the question of saving of expense. We could not stop the police or the judges. And again I ask, is it wise to run the enormous risk of this gigantic sum of money on security such as this, which will not tend in any way to improve the Irish people, but will land us in a very serious position?
Now I come to another point. How are we to judge of the position of Ireland at the present time? Are we lending Ireland money for the common good of the Empire? No doubt we hear now in Ireland words of pleasantness, but only a few months ago, when we had a war in South Africa, every Irish Member was doing his best against us, and, with this fact before us, surely it is reasonable to hesitate before making an enormous advance to a country which boasts and claims to be disloyal in every possible way. I will refer to the speech of the 1240 hon. and learned Member for Waterford upon the occasion of the proposed visit of His Majesty. Surely that is not a satisfactory state of things in a country to which we are proposing to lend these millions. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford said that to the Nationalists the King represented a system of government which they regarded as usurpation, and that he was not their constitutional Sovereign; and in his judgment they were absolutely debarred from extending to the King any official reception. Knowing that Home Rule is not abandoned, and that this position of disloyalty is still maintained, it does seem to me, as an Englishman, an extraordinary policy to grant to Ireland£150,000,000 of money with these facts before us. As regards the financial position there is no doubt that the expenditure of this country is growing by leaps and bounds, and we now seem to go out of our way to spend money. I should agree to any expenditure which would have a tendency to make Ireland prosperous, contented, and peaceful, but, considering the points I have raised, it does seem to me an extraordinary thing that we should embark, after the enormous expenditure we have been put to, upon this large sum under the circumstances I have referred to. I represent a constituency, part of which contains people as poor as any of the constituencies in Ireland, and many of them find it hard to live at the present time; and, therefore, to impose upon my constituency another half-million of money is a very large thing to propose. If this sum would make things peaceable in Ireland my constituency would agree to it, but although they are willing and anxious to be generous they do think that there should be a reasonable prospect of success before the Government embark upon this large expenditure of public money. Looking at the past and at the result of the recent measures upon this question, and seeing that this Bill does not promote any self-effort amongst Irishmen but rather tends to prevent it; seeing that it runs the terrible risk of making the State the landlord over a disloyal area, I cannot see why my constituents should alter the decision they arrived at in 1886, by an enormous majority upon this question. I have always put this question forward, 1241 and whenever I have done so in my own constituency, I have been enthusiastically supported when I said that we could not run this enormous risk for Ireland. In view of the circumstances I have referred to, and looking to the condition of Ireland and her gradually increasing prosperity, financial and otherwise it does seem to me wrong that we should go out of our way to inflict this enormous burden upon the English, Scotch and Welsh constituencies, and although I should be willing to vote for any sum of money to make Ireland more prosperous, I say that by this Bill we are departing from those rules upon which alone a country can grow, namely, by promoting self-effort and self-reliance, and the only way we can do this is not by reducing the rents but by making them try to pay a higher rent for a short time, by which means alone you can test whether they are willing to make that effort. Under these circumstances I venture with great regret to differ from the Front Bench, I cannot see any circumstances which have happened since 1886 to change my view, and at that time my view was supported by the present Leader of this House. Therefore I am bound to adhere, in order to be consistent, to the position I then took up.
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 proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
It is by no means the first time that I have asked the House to listen to observations of mine on the subject of Irish land and on the subject of Irish land purchase. I rise thus early in the debate because on this occasion, unlike some other occasions, it is not I who am in charge of the Bill, and therefore, it is not I who will have to deal with its details. My right hon. friend the Chief Secretary, who is responsible for the framing of the Bill, and whose admirable speech on its introduction is still fresh 1242 in the minds of hon. Members, will, of course, conclude the debate on behalf of the Government. Therefore, if at this early stage I trespass upon the time of the House, it is not for the purpose of dealing with the criticisms of the Bill contained in the able speech of the hon. Member for Waterford. That hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that the critical part of his speech was directed, not to the principle of the measure, but to its details. That was what he began by saying, and ended by saying. But, although criticisms coming from such a representative quarter, and couched in terms of such admirable lucidity, give proper food for reflection, I venture to say that their adequate discussion and final solution must be reserved for the Committee stage of the Bill, and cannot be properly dealt with at the present time. It is otherwise with the speeches which followed. The two hon. Gentlemen who rose on this side of the House expressed objections to the measure, based, not upon this clause or upon that, based not upon this or that aspect of the Bill, but cutting down to its very root and affecting its very essence. It is to deal with these broader objections to our scheme that I rise, rather than with the relatively unimportant points which are likely to be raised by Irish Members, because, as I understand, all parties in Ireland are agreed that this Bill is, at all events, of such sufficient merit that it is right and proper to consider it in Committee. But the hon. Members with whom I propose to deal do not allow the Bill even that modest merit, and they think that, even at this early stage, its life should be cut short. Owing to causes over which I had no control, I was obliged to be away during parts of the speeches of the mover and seconder of the rejection of the Bill. They both aimed at the same object, and, as far as I have been able to judge, they both used many arguments of a similar kind. But unless the specimens of the two speeches which I heard very inadequately, conveyed their general tenor, the spirit which moved the seconder appeared to be very different from the spirit which animated the eloquence of the mover. I do not mean 1243 to go into this matter in any controversial fashion, nor do I mean to bandy repartees with the hon. Member for Stroke-upon-Trent. But I should like, in the few observations I propose to make, to address myself to the essence of the case; and I hope I shall be able to convince both hon. Gentlemen that the party, of which they are such distinguished ornaments, does not deserve the obloquy which they seemed desirous of pouring upon it.
If I rightly understood the arguments of the seconder of the Amendment, he seemed to think that the Government in asking him to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill are asking him to vote precisely in contradiction of the policy which that same Government, or many of its members, asked him to support in 1886, when the Home Rule Bill and its accompanying measure of land purchase were before the country. My hon. friend is really quite mistaken. It makes me feel how old a Member of the House I am getting when I find the history of land purchase in Ireland so totally misunderstood by friends of mine on this side of the House. What is the history of land purchase in Ireland, or, rather, let me ask, What is the history of the use of the credit of the country in aid of land purchase in Ireland? Its Parliamentary history, so far as I know, began in 1883. [OPPOSITION cries of"1869."] What national credit was given in 1869? [OPPOSITION cries of "The Church money."] The Church money? But I am dealing with the use of the credit of the country, not of any Irish fund in aid of land purchase; and I say it began, so far as my memory serves me, in 1883. I happened to be concerned in what I believe to be the initial procedure of land purchase, based on the credit of the State; and the fact, therefore, lives in my memory. In 1881 Mr. Gladstone carried out to its extreme issue the policy inaugurated in 1870 with regard to Irish land. The principle of free contract as between landlord and tenant, which was altered by the Act of 1870, was in 1881 wholly destroyed. I am not going to criticise the Act of 1881. Even its most bitter enemies—and I am afraid I must count myself one of them—must in historical fairness 1244 admit that the Government of that day had to deal with a crisis of extreme and rpessing difficulty. It is easy to say that the Bill was founded on utterly unsound principles—principles which were seen to be unsound at the time, and which experience has shown year by year to be even more unsound than was anticipated. It is much easier, however, to say that than to say what I should have done, or anybody else should have done, had they been suddenly made responsible for the government of Ireland in 1881, in the middle of the great land revolution. Therefore, I do not approach the subject in any polemical spirit, or with any desire to rake up old Parliamentary controversies. But the Act of 1881 was passed against the strong feeling and the vehement criticism of the Party to which I belong; and we, or some of us, saw that the only possible way of bringing these evils to an end was by promoting land purchase, and that the only way to promote land purchase effectually was to employ the credit of the State to carry out that great national object. In 1883 my noble friend the present Secretary of State for India moved a Motion on a Tuesday afternoon which I had the honour of seconding. He went into the details of a particular scheme and I contented myself with laying down the broad principles, which have stood the test of time and which have been embodied in every land purchase measure since. I claim no credit for it, only it does surprise me to be accused of inconsistency when I reflect that just twenty years ago I began to preach the cause which I am now pleading to the best of my ability. While the Party to which I belong were in opposition we advocated the principle. We came into power in 1885, for the first time after the system of Court-regulated rents was carried into action by the Act of 1881, and in 1885 we passed the first practical measure of land purchase with the use of State credit which is on the Statute-book. That was passed by the present Lord Ashbourne, and by a Ministry of which some on this Bench and, certainly, I was a member.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
You have to make a beginning. And I suppose the 1245 hon. Gentleman's constituents were concerned even with a sum of£5,000,000. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that to lend even£5,000,000 in 1885 might naturally be regarded as a far more risky transaction than lending twenty times that sum now? That was the beginning of the policy of land purchase by the aid of British credit during our short Administration. It lasted, I think, only about seven months. In the Spring of 1886 Mr. Gladstone came in with his Home Rule Bill, and it is quite true that he then proposed, in addition to his Home Rule scheme, to lend£150,000,000 on British credit.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, I do not quarrel over that. I understand every landlord could require his tenants to purchase, and all the agricultural land in Ireland, not merely the land dealt with in this Bill, came within the scope of that Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Twenty years purchase on the first-term rents. Mr. Gladstone's proposal involved a potential burden—I do not put it higher than that—on British credit up to the total capital value of every species of agricultural land in Ireland. It is perfectly true that we opposed that proposal; and if such a proposal was made again I should oppose it to the best of my ability. For what was that proposal? It was part of a Home Rule scheme; and one reason, or one great reason, why I think it was right to oppose it was that, even putting aside Home Rule, it gave every landlord the power to compel the tenant to buy at a certain price, whether the tenant wanted to or not, if the landlord wished to sell. Well, I do not think that is a very good basis for the security of a national loan. If you compel a man to borrow from the State, whether he wants to borrow from the State or not, you have less right to complain if you ultimately find that he does not want to pay. That was the first vice in Mr. Gladstone's land purchase scheme. But the second vice was a far greater one. It was 1246 associated with Home Rule. What we were lending to was the Irish Government, a separate Irish Government—an Irish Government which by the very fact that we became its creditor had a new motive for quarrelling with us. I confess I still think that, though that Bill was undoubtedly brought forward with the very best motive—I mean the motive of preventing any possible injury to the Irish landlords by the passage of the Home Rule scheme—though the motive was excellent, I think the method was absolutely and essentially vicious, partly because the money was lent on a radically wrong system, and partly because it was inextricably bound up with a system of Home Rule which was not only bad in itself, but which made the security become bad in our view. What is the difference between that scheme and the scheme of my right hon. Friend? I do not want to say a word more against Mr. Gladstone's scheme than I am obliged to, because I do not wish to quarrel with any Gentleman on the other side But surely even the brief outline I have given to the House shows how deep and wide is the difference which separates the present plan from the vast plan which Mr. Gladstone conceived, at the same time fundamentally altering the constitution of the country, and buying out all the landlords of whatsoever character and degree, and having this done by the tenants compulsorily. It is curious that my two hon. friends, who have dwelt so much on the 1886 Bill, which is no parallel to this measure, have absolutely forgotten the 1891 Bill, which is an exact parallel.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Yes, there was another Bill passed in 1888. That was passed by a Unionist Government. The true parallel, however, to this Bill is the 1891 Bill, to which I have not heard a single word of reference from my hon. friends. I am perfectly sure no hon. Member would get up and speak on the subject of land purchase who had not so far mastered the subject as, at all events, to know something of the 1891 Bill; and I am surprised to 1247 hear a charge of inconsistency put gently and kindly by my hon. friend the seconder, and put not gently nor kindly by the mover of the Motion. I am amazed to find such a charge brought forward by hon. Members who surely must have known that this Bill is exactly on all fours with, and, indeed, is simply an extension of, a measure I had the honour of bringing in first in 1890, and then of carrying through the House in 1891.
§ MR A. J. BALFOUR
No, I think you are wrong. Of course, the hon. Gentleman has a perfect right to his opinion, because it is not a thing you can mathematically demonstrate; but certainly the estimate of my right hon. friend in charge of this Bill is for£100,000,000, and not£150,000,000.
§ MR. COGHILL
I notice that at the Landlords' Convention the figure was distinctly stated at£150,000,000.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not wish to say anything painful to Gentlemen in the House on either side, but I should not always go to an Irish source for accurate information. This Bill is, then. not for£150,000,000, but for£100,000,000. The estimate of the Treasury, made two years ago, quite irrespective of this Bill, would have warranted, I think, an advance of£60,000,000, and my right hon. friend informs me that he has in the guarantee fund, without going to the land at all, absolute security for an advance of at least£90,000,000. Then my hon. friend asks, "What is the nature of the security, and can you enforce it?" I think, undoubtedly, we can enforce it under the only conceivable conditions in which it is likely to be required; and those conditions were laid down by my hon. friend himself Supposing you 1248 have a conspiracy stretching over the whole of Ireland or the whole of a county, embracing, as it would, the great majority of the population, for the purpose of defrauding the State and the taxpayers of this country who have done their best, at all events, in this matter to treat them with generosity. Do they not know that the Government of Ireland may refuse absolutely, without scruple or remorse, to give a shilling of the guarantee fund? if they will not pay their debts they must find the money to carry on their local government. I see no difficulty at all; and if you ask me about the contingency, I say that it is in the highest degree improbable. I can conjure up a gloomy picture of Ireland where the whole tenantry are conspiring to refuse to pay their debts. In these circumstances, let the tenantry of Ireland, who are the ratepayers of Ireland, manage their own local affairs without coming to the British Exchequer. If they wish to rob the British Exchequer the British Exchequer would be none the worse. But, I after all, why should we disquiet ourselves with these vague imaginings? I quite agree when the Government of 1891 brought forward what I may call the parent Bill, that then there might have been reason for these gloomy vaticinations. Then, indeed, the experience of the Ashbourne Act, satisfactory as far as it went, the experience of land purchase under the old Bright clauses, satisfactory as far as it went, leads me not to view with surprise the fact that many critics, who are now converts to a great extension of the use of British credit for Irish land purchase, looked with disquiet on such a large transaction as was contemplated in that Bill. Ireland was far more disturbed than it is now. The ground swell over the tremendous conflict of the Tithes Act had hardly calmed, and extreme bitterness of feeling raged between the two parties; and I quite understand the unnecessary gloom of any prophet who might have said that it was too great a I risk to throw on the British taxpayer. I did not agree with them then. The Unionist Party of 1891 passed the Bill of which I speak, but since then what has been our experience? Ireland has gone through many changes. Then 1249 perhaps all the hopes of hon. Members opposite were raised by the advent to power of Mr. Gladstone in 1893. They were dashed again by the defeat of the Home Rule Party in 1895; but all through that time the instalments had been paid with absolute regularity. We know, and know with a long period of experience behind us, that the public j sentiment in Ireland is not in favour of repudiating debts. We know that the view of what is honest and honourable does not include that species of repudiation. My hon. friend may say that he sees no difference between a debt to a landlord and a debt to the State. I am not disposed to disagree with my hon. friend, but that is not the view of the Irish tenants. For historic reasons, and very painful historic reasons, a state of things has grown up in which undoubtedly in the mind of the Irish tenant there is a broad difference between a debt owed to the landlord and a debt due to the State; and I have no reason whatever to think that the settled view of the Irish tenantry is likely to be disturbed in any event we can foresee, and in which it may be regarded as an honourable or tolerable transaction for the tenantry to repudiate their obligations. Let us suppose that in a county a third or a half of the tenantry repudiate their obligations. Immediately on all the rest of their brethren would be thrown the charge on the rates for carrying out local purposes, because the guarantee fund would be drawn upon automatically. No doubt the tenants would have to be sold up, not in the interests of the British creditor but in the interests of the Irish ratepayer. That is a very different thing. Every Irish ratepayer in the county would have the strongest interest in seeing that he was not burdened with a debt because his neighbour did not choose to fulfil his legal obligations.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The Estates Commission. Does not my hon. friend see that the Government would have behind them the whole sentiment of the community? And if they did not, the worst that would happen would be 1250 that the community would lose its contributions from the Imperial fund for the purpose. So I venture to say, with great respect to my hon. friends, that I have proved, or have gone far to prove, two things. I have absolutely proved one thing. We have shown ourselves consistent in this policy of land purchase. Ever since the great land difficulties in Ireland arose, ever since 1881, and explicitly since 1883 it has been the policy of the Unionist Party to substitute by land purchase a system of single ownership for that system of dual ownership established in 1881, under peculiar circumstances, but having within it the seeds of failure, seeds which have borne an abundant and most dangerous harvest. That is the first thing I have proved; and the second thing I have proved is that there is no danger to British credit or to the hon. Member's constituents for having, we think, proposed in 1903, no more than was actually proposed in 1891. There only remains for me to answer to the best of my ability one further question. It is a question raised by the seconder towards the end of his speech. He said—Here you are conferring a great boon upon a relatively small section of the British community; and what is this section? Is it a loyal or orderly section? No, it is neither loyal nor orderly. Why, then, are you to single them out for this special mark of favour? Are there not poor people in Stoke and in Islington? Why are the people in Stoke and Islington, always loyal and law-abiding, not singled out for this mark of Imperial favour, and why is it given to those who, whatever their benefits may be, are neither loyal nor law-abiding?It is a very plausible, but a very fallacious question. I remember urging on the House in some of the old controversies we had on this subject, when I was fighting side by side with my hon. friend for land purchase against hon. Member opposite, that this question of Irish land could not be regarded as a local question affecting the Irish tenant and landlord alone, it was a question which for various reasons and in consequence of many causes had become a question of Imperial magnitude. That opinion I held twenty years ago; I held it ten years ago; and I hold it now more strongly than ever.
The Chief Secretary gave some short, account of the condition of Irish land 1251 tenure in the speech in which he introduced the Bill. But I hardly know whether hon. Members who are not acquainted personally with Ireland, have in their minds the enormous difference between the land system in that country and the land system which prevails in England and Scotland. I do not believe there is a vital or important point in which these two systems are not at absolute variance. To begin with, English and Scottish land are marketable commodities. I admit, speaking as a landowner. I wish there were more purchasers, and that I could say that the turn of the market was more in our favour than it is at the present moment. But English and Scottish land always has been a marketable commodity. Irish land is not, and has not been for years, a marketable commodity. There are no purchasers for it outside the actual tenants. Why? Partly for reasons going far back into the beginnings of Irish history and the beginnings of English rule in Ireland; partly also from the direct and inevitable result of the two Acts of 1870 and 1881. Who is going to buy a commodity the value of which is settled not by the free play of supply and demand, but by three well-paid Land Commissioners whom each party thinks bear very hardly upon them, but who, at all events, never can give a verdict with which either will be content? Property held in these circumstances never can be a marketable commodity. That is one of the first great differences between English and Irish land. Another great difference closely allied with it, but worthy of separate consideration, is that about one-sixth or one-seventh of the Irish land does not in any sense belong to the landlord at all, but is managed by a Court and by a Judge. How can you manage land by Judges? The Judge may be a Solomon come to judgment, and with every qualification that a Judge can have, but the idea that one-sixth or one seventh of the whole agricultural property of an agricultural community can be and ought to be managed by a Judge sitting in a law Court is surely so absurd that if it did not happen in a country where Englishmen may think that many absurd things happen inevitably, it would not be tolerated for a moment. Another great difference between English and Irish land—and this is most vital—is that in England and 1252 Scotland the land is owned by one man, it is cultivated by another, but the capital and the instruments for cultivating it are provided partly by the owner and partly by the farmer; and even that is really a very great understatement of the case, because, speaking from my own experience, the amount of money which a Scotch landlord has to put into his farm in the shape of buildings and permanent improvements is far greater than the tenant is asked to put in. And the tenant's capital is of course recoverable. When he leaves, he takes his capital with him. In Ireland you have a system under which—again for historic reasons—the landlord does not spend a shilling on his property. There was a certain number of what were called English managed estates before 1870, but since then that landlord would be thought a very rash speculator who put money into his land; and since 1881 such a landlord would have been fit to have been shut up. Of course you cannot ask them to put money into their land, and they have not done it. But what is the inevitable result? When a tenant is evicted for not paying his rent, he cannot carry off with him his farm buildings; and there is a sense of proprietary right, which also has its origin in and which has been supplemented and fostered by many historic traditions—a sense of co-ownership which has never existed in England or Scotland, but which may be seen embodied in the Ulster custom, and any one may see it at work there. When to all these differences you add the other great difference which has been alluded to just now for another purpose, that every transaction is regulated by a Court, I declare that you have the most intolerable land system that the world has ever seen.
I can imagine no fault attaching to any land system which does not attach to the Irish system. It has all the faults of peasant proprietary; it has all the faults of feudal landlordism; it has all the faults incident to a system under which the landlords spend no money on their property and under which a large part of the land is managed by a Court. It has all the faults incident to the fact that it is the tenant's interest to let his farm run out of cultivation as the term for revising the judicial rent approaches. And while you have in the landlords a class of men admirably qualified, in my 1253 opinion, to do their duty to and be friendly with the population among whom they live—to be the leaders of thought and social improvement and of the work of local government—you have them ranged permanently in opposition to their tenants, who bring them into Court every fifteen years, to diminish their income by a formidable percentage at each operation. In addition, you have a system under which this country is burdened, and the Irish landlords and tenants are burdened, with a weight of litigation which in itself is intolerable. We have to pay,£140,000 a year for Irish Land Courts to decide rents in Ireland. But what have the Irish landlords and tenants to pay in addition to that£140,000 a year for all the mass of litigation which drags wearily on year after year, embittering both parties, and enriching no one except the lawyers? If any one is ingenious enough to find an additional fault which attaches to some other land system, and which does not attach to the Irish land system, I do not say that I will follow the fashion of the day by giving a prize, but I shall be extremely grateful for the discovery. Are we to sit and see this go on—the evils not diminishing, as Mr. Gladstone hoped, but gradually accumulating? Mr. Gladstone, when he introduced the great Act of 1881, hoped that litigation would be little used, and that when the value of the farm was settled, no further legal process would take place in respect of it, and that the land purchase clauses of that Act would prove to be of some effect. Those hopes have been utterly and absolutely dissipated by experience. The very same experience which has proved how beneficial is land purchase has also proved how pernicious are Court-fixed rents.
My hon. friend who seconded the Amendment wondered whether land purchase had produced good effects. I believe that no one who has seen the holdings which have been purchased entertains, or can entertain, a moment's doubt on that point. My hon. friend feels that the reduction offered by this Bill to the tenants—not greater than the reduction offered by other Bil's—is too large. Let him remember that a reduction is not like a rent, a thing to be modified in favour 1254 of the tenants in bad years, and may be favourable to the landlord in years of good prices. It is a thing fixed for ever. You cannot fix it, and it would be absurd to try, at anything like the rack-rent of the holding. That would inevitably lead to something like, I will not say repudiation, but inevitable failure to pay in some cases. But my hon. friend may rest assured of this—that if the purchaser of Irish land does get a reduction upon the nominal amount of the rent which he pays to the landlord, he puts into the land which is to become his own an amount of work and energy to which even the security given under the Land Bill of 1881, a security not to be despised, was quite unable to stimulate him. I do not see how any one making a survey of these circumstances can doubt the value of the procedure we initiate. But my hon. friend says—Though the plan may be good in itself, although it may have much to recommend it, why is it to be done for these disloyal people? Well, the Bill is not intended to make people loyal I admit that. It is not intended to turn Home Rulers into Unionists. I admit that. But it is intended to take away one of those sores which fester and which aggravate every political movement which might otherwise be innocuous. I do not venture to prophesy when or how soon there will be any widespread revulsion of Irish Nationalist sentiment in favour of this country. Emotions which are the result of long generations of ancient and bitter traditions are not easy to blot out. They die hard. They leave traces of bitterness long after the causes which have first produced them have become only matters of historical and speculative interest. If my hon. friend thinks that loyalty is to be promoted and the Union aided by keeping up in Ireland anything in the nature of the intolerable and absurd system which now prevails there, surely my hon. friend is mistaken. We do not recommend this Bill to the House as the means of converting any man to the political opinions which we hold. We think that good government and contentment ought to end and will end, ought to tend and will tend—I will put it in that more moderate form—to a harmony of feeling between every section of the community, whether in Ireland, Scotland, or England. But the primary object of this measure is to 1255 substitute a good system of land tenure for a bad system, and to remove some of those intolerable absurdities, partly due to evils handed down to us from ancient history, and partly due to the well-meant but erring attempts of this country to cure those evils, which resulted in making the Irish land laws a chaos and a by-word. They reflect the utmost discredit upon the powers of British statesmanship, and I trust my right hon. friend's Bill will do much to remove them.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The two speeches from hon. Members opposite to which we have listened have had the most happy effect of evoking from the right hon. Gentleman one of the most masterly vindications of Irish Land Reform that I have ever heard in this House. We could nor, help saying to one another, as the right hon. Gentleman proceeded, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" All the old arguments that were used in favour of the Acts of 1870 and 1881 were again forcibly expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. The tenant, he says, has put his all into the soil, and when he is turned out he cannot carry away his buildings. The right hon. Gentleman says that the system amounted to co-ownership.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should be polemical. What I said was that the peculiarities of the Irish system, by which the tenant did all the improvements, naturally fostered in the bosom of the tenant a sentiment of co-ownership.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
So far from being polemical against the right hon. Gentleman's present mood, I am delighted with it. The arguments which he now uses were the arguments used by the advocates of the Acts of 1870 and 1881; and the position of things which he describes was the position always denied and repudiated by the Party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs. We do not look a gift horse in the mouth; and when we find the right hon. Gentleman so entirely approving the whole line of argument which was used in defence of Mr. Gladstone's policy, we can only express our obligations to him. But the right hon. Gentleman said 1256 that notwithstanding, he was one of the bitterest enemies of the Act of 1881. Where would his Land Purchase Acts have been if it had not been for the Act of 1881? The Act of 1881 not only relieved the Irish tenant from a position of helplessness, in which he was very often harshly treated, it not only gave him fixity of tenure, it also apportioned as between landlord and tenant their respective interests in the soil, and it established Courts to determine them. We hear of first-term and second-term tenants, and it is upon the respective interests of those classes that the whole arrangement of the present Bill is based. Where would the right hon. Gentleman have been with all his Land Purchase Acts, of which he has recited a series, if it had not been for this much denounced Act of 1881? I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, even for a moment, should have thought that I was assuming a polemical tone in reply to his exceedingly conciliatory tone; on the contrary, I am delighted to find that he now appreciates, perhaps a little better than he did thirty years ago, the real situation of the Irish case. In my observations on this Bill I wish to view it from the point of view from which the mover and seconder of the Amendment view it, although I cannot come to the same conclusion. We have heard a great deal in the different conferences and negotiations that have taken place, as far as we have been permitted knowledge of them, of the point of view of the landlord and of the tenant; I want to look at it from the point of view of the Imperial taxpayer. This is the time and place where his case ought to be examined and his interests secured. The main object of this measure is to eliminate the landlord from the agrarian system of Ireland, and, at the same time, and as a necessary consequence, to establish a general system of cultivating and occupying ownership. But it will be asked, why, if the Irish landlords have become by their own faults or misfortunes either superfluous or obnoxious to the agrarian system in Ireland—why must Imperial money be given or credit used for their deliverance? The reason for that is that we are responsible for the landlords, we are responsible for their actions in the past, and if they are subjected, any of them or as a class, to popular odium, that 1257 odium attaches to us also. I have here some very plain and forcible words of Mr. Gladstone's which I think put the case very clearly. He said, in introducing his Bill in 1886—The Irish landlords have been the heirs of a sad inheritance. They have taken up, and been compelled to take up, dismal and deplorable traditions; and when oppression has wrought its very painful experience into the heart and mind of the people, it is not in a moment, not in a year, not in a generation, that the traces of that painful, and dreadful process can be effaced. We desire, by exhibiting the utmost consideration for the imperilled class—or, at any rate, for the class impressed deeply with apprehension—the Irish landlords—to do everything on their behalf which duty will allow us to do. The deeds of the Irish landlords are, to a great extent, our deeds. We are participes criminis; we, with power in our hands, looked on; we not only looked on but we encouraged and sustained. I have said that the landlords were our garrison in Ireland. Let me a little unfold that sentence. We planted them there, and we replanted them. In 1641, in 1688, and again in 1798, we re-conquered the country for them.That historical fact differentiates the position of the Irish landlord from that of ordinary landlords in any other part of the United Kingdom, and gives them a higher claim to our consideration. That argument used to be familiar to us in the old debates, which with the old arguments are now vanishing from men's minds. It is well to renew them. But, without resorting to these lofty historical reasons, I found myself upon a more humble and practical argument, which in my estimation is really the compelling force for this Bill, namely, that this policy has no alternative and that there is no escape.
I am not going to enter on a discussion of Mr. Gladstone's Bill in its general merits. The right hon. Gentleman has put the Bill of 1886 aside on the ground of this and that objection. If I remember the circumstances of that day aright, the Land Purchase Bill was the more obnoxious of the two measures; and as the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent rightly said, if the Home Rule Bill had stood alone it would probably have passed into law. It was on the Land Bill that the whole hostility of the self-styled Unionist Party directed itself at that time. That Bill is, of course, no longer heard of, but the Unionist Party thereupon began their series of fragmentary and tentative Acts. What has 1258 been the result of those Acts? There are at present some 80,000tenantsunderthem paying instalments at a far lower rate than the tenants who are not purchasing their holdings. We are glad to know from Mr. Bailey's report, and otherwise, that these tenants are doing exceedingly well, and that the whole transaction is succeeding. But what is the effect of it in a locality—and to my mind this is the governing argument in the whole matter. In a locality you had two neighbours each paying the same sum in rent to different landlords. One landlord is able and willing to sell, the other landlord is either unable or unwilling; the man whose landlord can sell receives immediately a large reduction in his annual payment, and has only to pay that for a certain limited period of years and the property becomes his own. Do you expect his neighbour to go on contentedly paying the full rent with no such expectation in prospect? That is the key to the whole position, in my opinion. It has been for some time evident that a large and larger stride forward must be taken, and I have myself on more than one occasion voted for a strenuous resolution to that effect. So long as this inequality exists discontent will exist in proportion to the extent of the inequality; and my feeling with regard to this Bill is not that it is too large, but I have considerable fear whether it will really, on a sufficiently large scale, be sufficient to compel obliteration of the inequality. It appears to me that the interest of the taxpayer is not so much concerned with the landlord's part of the arrangement as with the tenant's. If the idea of compulsion is ruled out, reliance must be placed on inducing the landlord to part with his property—the same sort of gentle influence that we have heard of in South Africa. He is to be "induced"; he is to be tempted by a bonus; and, in my opinion, the amount of the bonus ought to be only sufficient, not more, to effect this object and to acquit the English people of the obligation to which I have referred, the obligation of the reasonable extrication of the landlord from his position. This bonus, of course, is plainly the interest of the taxpayer; but when the landlord has received his money and the arrangement is complete he disappears 1259 from the agrarian problem. Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit. He either lives, as I trust the great majority of them will continue to live, in his old home among his old neighbours or he seeks other climes; in any case he is gone; as far as the British taxpayer is concerned he is done with. But the tenant remains for nearly seventy years. This Bill is not merely a great financial operation for effecting an agrarian revolution; it is an international convention, to last for nearly seventy years, during which time we, the taxpayers, shall be the landlord, and the Irish peasantry will date their economical condition, whether it be one of prosperity or misery, from the year in which the terms of the redemption of their holdings were prescribed. The essential lines of such a measure, then, cannot surely be examined too closely.
I wish to impress on the House this fact, that the interest of the taxpayer is bound up in the interests of the tenant. Let me speak frankly. The people of this Island do not like this Bill—I am sure I shall not be contradicted in any quarter—they are being led quietly and judiciously up to it, but their attitude towards it is that of a shying horse. They shrink from this huge employment of their credit and this huge gift of their cash in order to oust from their property a set of men against whom they themselves have no complaint, and in order to instal in possession those farmers who happen at this juncture to be holding land. But the people of this country are well disposed towards Ireland; they have a notion that they have a duty to do to Ireland; and now they are told that, if some such great scheme as this is adopted, all classes in Ireland will be friends, old feuds will be forgotten, new prosperity and industries will arise, the government of the country will be made easy, the preposterous force of constabulary will be no longer necessary, and other proofs of peace and order and happiness will begin. What I say is, once convince our countrymen that these things will be attained, and I altogether mistake them if they will not support you in the effort to achieve them, and stretch, not one or two, but any number of points to do it. But my point is that this altogether hangs on the terms imposed on the tenants. You have got to satisfy the people of this country that what they 1260 desire will be attained. If you satisfy them of that they will support your scheme gladly. The question is, how can you satisfy them of it? You have to show them that the terms to be paid by the tenant are equitable, that they bear the test of matters of business, that they will bear the brunt of low prices and bad seasons, and that they will create substantial equality of conditions among the peasantry throughout Ireland. It will not be enough if the first impression only made on the minds of the peasantry is favourable. A reduction of something you have to pay once a year is always cheerfully taken, and, if I may twist the words of Scripture, I would say that no relaxation of rent for the present seemeth grievous, but joyous. But we have to look forward five, ten, or fifty years hence and see how matters will stand then. I am not thinking of repudiation, but of a possible breakdown. What does this scheme mean—the scheme of the payment of a fixed rent for seventy years before the joys of ownership and independence can be attained? One generation will pass away, and another will come and go, and we shall be in the middle of a third, and still the instalments will be going on; and I will ask hon. Members who have any knowledge of affairs in England and Scotland, where will you get a farmer anywhere who, paying anything that could be dignified by the name of rent, would take a lease for seventy years? In Scotland we had an immemorial system of nineteen years leases. That was almost as fixed an institution as the Sabbath day itself. Now you will not get a farmer to take a nineteen years lease. They do not wish owing to the fluctuation of prices and other reasons, to tie themselves for that time. Therefore it is on this ground that I say that, with the prospect of this long term during which a fixed instalment is demanded, it is most necessary that the terms given to the tenants should be closely looked into. It is only in Committee that this complex question can be sifted and settled; and, to my mind, it depends entirely on the result of the consideration of this and other matters in Committee whether the promises of peace, which alone can justify the demands made on the taxpayer, are secured by the Bill.
1261 Now, so far as I can judge the terms, they are not satisfactory as they are stated in the Bill. It is an exceedingly difficult matter to get at unless you go back to the old-fashioned way of calculating by the number of years' purchase. The right hon. Gentleman skillfully avoided any reference to years' purchase in his speech on the introduction of the Bill. If we take that test, and strike the mean between what we now know to be the maximum and the minimum years purchase of the first and second-term tenants, for the first-term tenant I take it to be twenty-two years, and for the second-term tenant and the non-judicial tenant twenty-five and one sixth years. How do these terms compare with the state of things under the Purchase Acts already in operation, under which there are 80,000 men paying annual instalments? They involve an enormous increase. The number of years purchase under the present Acts show, I believe, an average of seventeen years purchase; that is to say, the standard determined by the Land Court as fair to the tenant and safe for the taxpayer may have a wide range of fluctuation, but the average is seventeen years. The disparity is further aggravated when we remember that in cases under the existing Acts the purchaser acquires the fee simple of the property, whereas under this new proposal the purchaser only acquires seven eighths. Therefore, are we to understand that it is expected that the tenants should pay, and that the public Exchequer should advance many millions for a rent which is not there, which is not in the ground? They are paying on a basis, these new purchasers, as it seems to me, of a vanished rent, an imaginary rent, and, of course, we know they are not millionaires able to pay fancy prices. As we all know, sales of agricultural property have not been lively in England and Scotland of late years, but as far as they have gone they have been at about eighteen years purchase. But, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, that is eighteen years purchase of the land with all that the landlord has put into it. How does that compare with twenty-two years and even twenty-five years purchase of land into which the landlord has never put anything? Now, I have some figures 1262 which I think bring out these facts very, clearly. I take them from the Freeman's Journal and I think we know enough of the Freeman's Journal and those who conduct it to be sure that they are accurately stated. I have certainly not seen these figures challenged in any quarter, and they bring out more forcibly than any other method the vast difference between the payments that will have to be made by the new purchasers and those made by purchasers under the old Acts. I take three cases of £100 of rent. I do not mean the same £100 rented farm at the two epochs, but, as it were, three classes of people paying £100 worth of rent under whatever law or bargain it may be. Those who pay under the present system have to give seventeen years purchase—that is to say, £1,700 is paid to the landlord—and the length of the term of repayment is forty-two and a half years, the gross total of their annual payments when they have become actual proprietors of their farms being £2,895. Now, a first-term tenant who has had no reduction of his rent for the second term has to pay under the Bill twenty-two years purchase. Therefore he has to pay £2,200 to his landlord. He goes on paying for sixty-eight and a half years, and by the end of that time will have paid £4,795, as, against the first man's £2,890. The third man, the second-term tenant, a class which also includes the non-judicial tenant, has to pay twenty-five and one-sixth years purchase. His landlord receives over £2,500 and the tenant's payments extend over a period of sixty-eight and a half years, and the sum of his payments is £5,480; so that, if these figures are correct——
Sir H. CAMPBELL BANNERMAN
Well, they may be capable of alteration slightly, but they are correct in the main. They are exclusive of the landlord's bonus, and they deal merely with the question of the relations between the tenant and the landlord; and you have the startling contrast between the £2,890, the payment under the present system, and £5,480 paid by the second-term tenant. I have read pretty closely all that has passed, but I have not seen any 1263 correction of these figures. I hope there is an explanation of them, because, as they stand, they mean that the conditions proposed are altogether absurd and preposterous. But, short of that, I still doubt whether they are not oppressive. At all events, think they should be explained. If they could be justified they would alter the opinion the strongest advocates have of the arrangements. What I wish to point out is that the question of the terms imposed on the tenant is really the crucial question, not merely from the point of view of the tenant, but also from that of the taxpayer whose money is to be taken. There are one or two other smaller points to which I should like to refer. One has reference to the non-judicial tenant. They are to be treated as second-term tenants, the assumption being that as they have not gone into Court, their rents are fair. But I should imagine there are many in that position who have not gone into Court because they could not afford it. Therefore I wonder whether it is quite fair that those who have had no reduction at all, and the judicial tenants who may have had their rents reduced twice over, should be placed in the same category. Again I would ask what is the necessity of introducing first-term rents at all. I do not appreciate that point believe the Dun raven Conference recommended they should be left out of account. The present fair rents would seem to be the proper basis. If you start from any other basis you seem to make a false start, because the second-term tenant is no better off to-day than he was fifteen years ago as a first-term tenant. Circumstances are assumed to have altered since the first valuation, and, therefore, I do not see why you should refuse to take the second-term tenants' figures as applicable. Let us surely start fair. We are beginning a new partnership between the British taxpayer and the Irish tenant, and it is undesirable, as our interests are identical, to fix anything approaching to a fancy price, which would be too onerous to him and at the same time dangerous to the taxpayer.
Using the word dangerous, I come to another point, which I think is surely deserving of some attention. For seventy years the British Treasury is to 1264 be practically the landlord of Ireland, and the collector of rents in Ireland. What does this mean? It means that in any accident, any default, or in the face of a discovery after some years that the terms are more irksome than they seem to-day, it will fall to the Imperial Exchequer to enforce the payment of the instalments. It means seizure, it means eviction, it means foreclosure. Is that a pleasant or attractive picture of the work which is to be done in the future in the name of the British Treasury? I have not in my mind so much the fear of loss of money as the fear of being brought into the position of friction and conflict with the people in any respect. The Chief Secretary, no doubt, places a guard against that, as he thinks, by saying that he can lay an embargo upon money which goes in aid of local purposes. I doubt very much whether that can be done directly, county by county at all events, because it would be a strange thing to leave lunatics untended, or to allow roads to go to ruin because of this money payment not having been made. Let me contrast the proposal made in the Bill that is so often referred to, that of 1886. In the Bill of 1886 the terms were better in all respects. The number of years purchase chargeable to the tenant was sixteen, instead of twenty-two or twenty-five, and then the great point was, that an Irish State authority was created which not only collected the annual money, but retained it, and made a profit out of it, so that everybody was enlisted on the side of regular payment. Let us consider the two cases. First of all the case without an authority, that is to say, the case of the Bill. Advances are then made to several hundreds of thousands of individual tenants. There is rent collected from each one of them for seventy years. There is a liability to evict if they fail to pay. There is disorganisation of the finances and local government if grants-in-aid are abruptly cancelled. If, on the other hand, you had an authority of this kind, which, in my opinion, you ought to have, the advances would be made to one body, no responsibility would fall upon the British Treasury to collect the instalments, there would be no friction or collision, there would be absolute security by leaving the instalments 1265 in the hands of the authority in lieu of the grants in aid, and there would be the identification of Ireland with the administration of the whole scheme, and further, there would be an opportunity for this local authority to assist the poorer classes of tenants, and enable them to do better justice to the land than they can now.
There are many subordinate points of a technical kind which one could refer to, but these have been dealt with with much energy and force by the hon. Member for Waterford. I wish to concentrate my criticisms on the two principal and vital matters to which I have referred. First of all the equity, and therefore the security—because the security depends upon the equity—of the burden laid upon the tenant. And secondly, the policy, so often denounced by eminent members of the Party opposite, of leaving the British Treasury face to face, as rent collectors, with the whole peasantry of Ireland. The whole future of the harmonious working of this scheme, and therefore the contentment of Ireland, depends upon the alterations which may be made in this Bill in Committee. Let it go into Committee that these may be effected, and it will only be when it emerges from that crucible that we shall be able to judge whether it will really attain the beneficent object which undoubtedly it has in view. I have said that, in the interests of peace in Ireland, the people of England and Scotland are willing to make great efforts and even sacrifices. I was rather surprised to see that this view was scornfully repudiated the other night by a well-known former Member of this House, one of the most high-minded and patriotic of Irishmen, Mr. Horace Plunkett. He said—this great measure ought not to he regarded as a measure for the purpose of purchasing peace in Ireland. If that is the attitude of Englishmen towards the Irish question it will be an attitude undignified for England and demoralising to Ireland.I differ entirely from Mr. Plunkett. I hold that blessed in any case are the peacemakers. But it is not only peace that we seek, but the development and the prosperity of Ireland, and there is no lack of desire to see her enjoying prosperity as well as peace. What is lacking at this stage of this Bill is the certainty that we require— 1266 the confidence—that its scheme as it now stands will achieve its alleged object.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman has recalled the debate to the Bill itself. I came here prepared to discuss the Bill, and found it in great danger of being switched on to a discussion of the policy of Land Purchase. I thought that had been settled for all time long ago. When this Bill was first introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, I said, speaking with reserve as to details, that it was, in my opinion, "a great, far-reaching, and epoch-making measure." Since then, having devoted both time and attention to its study, having listened to hostile criticism in Ireland, and weighed what can fairly be said against some of its provisions, I see no reason to change the general attitude I then took up. I support the Second Reading -not because I like many of the complicated arrangements of the Bill—because I do not. I think some of them far inferior to Land purchase law as it exists at present. I support the Bill heartily at this stage because it represents to my mind the passing of Irish landlordism, the beginning of the end of as tragic a story as the history of any civilised country presents. The Bill does three great things for which men of all parties in Ireland ought, in my opinion, to speak well of its authors. We have had Land Purchase Bills before. But this is the first time a responsible Government hag ever frankly contemplated and provided for the entire abolition of dual ownership in the soil of Ireland. We have had the use of Imperial credit before now in connection with these measures. This is the first time a responsible Government has deliberately calculated the amount of the rental of Irish land, and proposed facilities, involving £100,000,000 sterling, for redeeming it. We have frequently in Ireland discussed proposals by which the State might bridge the gap between what the tenant could safely pay, and the sum which the landlord, under all the circumstances, could reasonably accept. This is the first time the proposal of a State bonus or grant-in-aid has been submitted to Parliament by a Minister of the Crown. And, because it does these three things, frankly and unequivocally, I have commended the Bill to my friends in Ulster, 1267 some of whom were, and are, disposed to overlook the good that it seeks to do in their anxiety regarding some of its undoubted shortcomings. But, fortunately, as things stand, all Ireland is practically for the Second Reading. The after stages of the Bill will be much more serious. If the right hon. Gentleman has and keeps an open mind, if he is prepared to take a reasonable view of Amendments—necessary, in some cases, to protect and secure the State as well as the tenant—all will be well. If, on the other hand, he proposes to force the Bill through practically without Amendment, then the fair promise of to-day will disappear, and future trouble is all but certain to arise.
The friendly criticism, which I propose to offer at this stage can be grouped under two or three clearly-defined heads. I propose to deal with: first, the finance of the Bill, so far as it affects the price to be paid by the tenant, and the amount the landlord is to receive; second, I propose to dissent from the policy of the Bill, in so far as it puts pressure upon tenants to buy that is not equally applied to landlords to sell; third, I propose to dissent from the change of policy involved in the denial of the freehold to purchasers; and lastly, I propose to offer some criticism upon the portions of the Bill dealing with the labourers and the revision of the Land Law. I hope to be able to confine what I have to say within reasonable limits, and also to make my position clear even to hon. Members who are not familiar with the Irish Land Acts.
First, then, as to finance. Speaking in October last to a meeting of tenants in County Down, I stated what, in my opinion, were the main essentials of any scheme for the satisfactory settlement of the land question. I said—(a) That it should provide fair terms of purchase for the tenant, who in purchasing must take, in the future, the whole of the risks of Irish agriculture, whatever these may be. (b) That it should secure, so far as it is possible to do so, an equivalent to the landlord of the second term rents now being declared as fair rents by the Land Commission, (c) That it should not unduly tax the Imperial Exchequer. (d) That it should be a complete and final settlement of the question.In my judgment, and tested by this standard, the Bill goes too far—not in seeking to give the landlord a full price 1268 for his land—he is entitled to that—but in seeking to inflate the security which he is to receive in exchange for the land. Take Clause 1. It is a very difficult clause for any one not intimately acquainted with the Irish Land Question. But when it is mastered it proposes to do this. First term rents—i.e., rents that have been reduced by the Courts 20 per cent.—may be bought and sold upon terms that will reduce the terminable annuity below the rent by not less than 20 and not more than 40 per cent. In the case of second-term rents—i.e., those rents that have been reduced by the Courts 38 per cent.—may be bought and sold upon terms that will reduce the terminable annuity below the rent by 10 and not more than 30 per cent. This means—and the Irish farmer well understood—that first-term rents may be sold at from nineteen to twenty-five years purchase, and second-term rents at from twenty-two to twenty-eight years purchase. I say at once that the first effect of these proposals is to strike people in Ireland dumb. During the seventeen years of the working of Irish Land Purchase Acts, the price paid for the land has been something under eighteen years purchase of first-term rents. The tenant now asks, and naturally enough, why this extraordinary boom in the price? And he will not readily purchase at any such price.
Now there are several things to be borne in mind here by all those who desire to see a fair settlement arrived at. There is very little use in talking now about land being bought at seventeen or eighteen years purchase of the rent, and for this all-sufficient reason—that there is no more land to be sold at that price. Two classes of landlords have sold at this price in the past—those who were practically bankrupt, who were compelled by circumstances to sell and could not help it; and those who desired to get out of the country at any price, and who could afford to sell at a loss. Practically these two classes represent the sales of land that have taken place since 1885. It cannot be denied by anyone who knows Ireland that these two classes are all but exhausted. No body will now sell at this figure. There is another thing we must bear in mind, 1269 and it is, that this extraordinary demand for land has naturally tended to raise the price. Tenants have been keen to buy because the whole country has been breast high for compulsory sale, and of course the landlords have taken advantage to raise the price. This is the play of the natural economic law. We are face to face with the fact that land is not for sale in any large quantities at seventeen or eighteen years' purchase, and we must face the fact that if it were there would be no need for this Bill. There is plenty of credit standing in the Land Commission books, and I believe it amounts to something like £25,000,000 sterling, and if land could be had at seventeen or eighteen years' purchase in abundance this Bill need never have been introduced. It is on this point the right hon. Gentleman has overdone his proposals. Let the House bear in mind that these tremendous operations under this Bill are to be carried through by State aid, and at the entire risk of the State. The State is to guarantee at least £100,000,000 sterling to establish single ownership in the land.
Bearing this in mind let us see what the Bill does. We all desire on both sides of the House that the landlord should get out of his unfortunate position without loss of income. From first to last this has been my own desire, and it is now admitted to be everybody's aim. Pray bear in mind that the Bill as it stands actually contemplates a possible sale at twenty-eight years' purchase of the second-term rents, plus a bonus to the landlord of from 5 to 15 per cent. on the purchase money. The best way to show how ruinous this is to the tenant, and how extremely risky it is to the State, is to show by an accurate but simple calculation what a lower price than that will do. I take, by way of illustration, a second-term rent of £100. Let us suppose the tenant is willing to pay, not twenty-eight years' purchase, because you will get no tenant to pay that; but let us suppose that he is willing to pay twenty-three years' purchase. This means a capital sum of £2,300. Let the House remember that the landlord does not get this sum in depreciated stock as now, but he is going to get it under this Bill in coin of the realm. What is he to do with it 1270 when he gets it? This is the real difficulty of the entire situation. Probably three-fifths of Irish properties are under the Settled Land Acts, and the purchase money represented in this case must be invested in trustee securities. Sections 46 and 47 of the Bill clearly contemplated this difficulty, because they propose to widen and extend the investing powers of trustees; but however this may be, the Irish landlord, I maintain, by electing to take a 3½ per cent. investment for the purchase money, must vastly improve his present security. The most risky of such securities is safer than Irish land. And invested at 3½, his annual income from the capital sum would be £80 10s. 0d. The bonus or grant-in-aid on the capital sum taken at 10 per cent.—the mean between 5 and 15—would amount to £230. This is not part of the settled estate, and invested at 4 per cent. would produce £9 6s. 0d. per annum. The annual income accruing from the investment of the capital sum at 3½ per cent., and the bonus at 4 per cent., would therefore be £89 16s. 0d., or, roughly speaking, £90 in place of the £100 second-term rent. But if, as the landlords agree, 10 per cent. be taken off income for management expenses—and this amount by no means represents the outgoings on an ordinary estate—we get at a result which exactly supplies the equivalent for the second-term rent. We get £90 from invested capital against £90 of net income from rent. Why should the landlord get more? Why should the Government propose to give him more? Why should the Government suggest by these extraordinary limits that he ought to get more? I know the reply that will be made here. The calculation is accurate. It will stand against any amount of criticism. But the landlord insists upon getting a 3 per cent. investment. He desires a gilt-edged security for the ragged title deeds of Irish Land. And he will say further that the Land Conference of which I was a Member recommended that he should get it. I admit that it is all perfectly true. But, speaking for myself, at least, and I think for my three colleagues in this House, we made the recommendation in question on the assumption of a State bonus of £20,000,000. The State bonus stands 1271 in the Bill at £12,000,000. Let the House not misunderstand me. I am not complaining. I am not asking that it should at present be increased. But I am not willing to put a load on the tenant's back under which he must entirely break down and involve us all in disaster—in order that the landlord should get, not a fair price, but an inflated security. If there are to be sacrifices in this matter—and there must be—these must be mutual. If the State can go no further, if the tenant, by paying twenty-three years' purchase, has gone the length that is safe—surely the landlord may reasonably be asked to forego a first class security for that which is, perhaps, the most questionable security in the country.
But I must now ask the House to lift the curtain a little bit further as regards the landlord's position under the Bill. He will get first of all the full economic value of the land, and perhaps more, from the tenant. He will also get £12,000,000 of a free grant from the State in excess of value. Is this all? By no means. Right through the Bill in Sub-section after Sub-section there is a submerged bonus—all of it flowing straight in the same direction. Take the costs of transfer. The whole of these costs, or the main portion, will be borne by the State. This is an enormous bonus in itself, and when the work is completed it will probably represent two or three million pounds sterling. Take next the provision for the sale of demesne lands. A landlord, having sold his tenanted land, may sell his demesne to the Land Commission, buy it back, and pay the money, up to £20,000, in sixty-eight and a half years. He will thus have money at 2¾ per cent. to repay interest on mortgages at 4£ and 5 per cent. This is another submerged bonus. Take again the encumbered landlord—and most of the Irish landlords are in this position. I know an estate where the gross income is £ 2,000—the net is £ 500, owing to heavy interest on all kinds of incumbrances. The mere relief of getting rid of this heavy interest will be in all such cases a bonus in itself. I calculate that on this special estate the net income of the landlord instead of being £500, as now, will be £750, by merely getting rid of the high interest. Again, within the last five years, 1272 the landlord has been freed from the half of the poor rate which he formerly paid. He has, within the same period, got £1,000,000 in the matter of tithe-rent charge. And, putting all these items together, I say he leaves the battlefield not beaten and disgraced, not plundered or robbed, but with all the honours of war, his "basket full of all manner of store." He loses nothing—he gains heavily by this bloodless revolution. I do not complain. I do not denounce this measure as a landlords' relief Bill. I have advised all over whom I have influence that it is worth, their while to pay something for the relief which this Bill aims at giving. I have said in my place here that, for the State, agrarian peace in Ireland is worth untold millions to the Empire. But whilst it is right under existing circumstances that these gentlemen should receive just and even generous treatment, they have no right to escape laden with the spoils of war, no right to burden the tenant and leave a legacy of future trouble for the State. And I say now that twenty-three years' purchase of the second and nineteen years of the first-term rents from the tenant is a sufficient maximum to meet all the necessities of the case. It is as much as it is safe to place on the tenant's back. As a matter of simple fact the maximum under the Bill is a little over twenty-eight years of the second-term, and twenty-five of the first-term. Tenants I will not and ought not to give these prices. The State would incur the gravest peril were they to do so, and as such prices are not required to secure the landlord a full equivalent for his rent, I trust the Bill will be altered in this respect and that no such dangerous standard will be set up. The same alteration is necessary in Clause 1. I am afraid this is a very technical part of my criticism, but the amendment is necessary to secure the successful and safe working of the Bill. The limits in both zones as to the minimum reductions ought to be widened from ten to at least fifteen in the case of second-term rents, and from twenty to at least twenty-five in the case of first-terms. This is a matter in which the State has a vital interest. If the limit stands at ten and twenty, as in the Bill, it may well turn out that land may change hand sand a State advance be made 1273 for which no real or adequate security exists. Let it be borne in mind that all inspection of the land by skilled valuers, as in the past, is abolished. The entire safety of the State under Clause 1 depends upon the limit of reduction being sufficient.
The past history of land purchase proves that tenants will, in many cases, give more than they ought to give for the land. Applications for loans, amounting to £70,000, have been rejected upon this very ground last year. And when I tell the House that since the Act commenced applications for something like a million sterling have been rejected by the Land Commission, because the landlords and the tenants agreed to a price for which there was no security in the land, it will be seen that the whole safety of the State, apart from that of the tenant, depends upon the margin not being cut so fine as in the Bill. My contention, on the other hand, is that the limits at the other end of the zone, which establish a maximum reduction, and by so doing enforce a minimum price, ought to be altogether removed. In whose interests are these limits set up? The State proposes that the landlord shall not sell to a tenant unless upon certain conditions. The terms must be 10 per cent. under the second term and 20 per cent. under the first term rent. But they must not be more than 30 or 40 per cent. less. I would like at least an intelligent answer to the question of why this limit stands in the Bill. In whose interest is this limit enforced? Not, surely, in the interest of the State. The lower the price the greater the security of the State. Not, certainly, in the interest of the tenant. His interests are all against the fixing of a minimum price—all in the direction of the play of a free market. The limit is clearly in favour of the landlord. And why should this extraordinary weapon be used in his behalf? Is he incapable of protecting his own interests? He is not compelled to sell. Why should he be legally restrained in arriving at terms with his tenants? Why should the owner of an agricultural slum—and there are agricultural slums in Ireland—be cribbed, cabined, and confined within these limits? I may be told that the judicial rent having been fixed, the slum ought to be subject to the same purchase terms as other land. But that takes a good deal for granted in regard 1274 to judicial rents and much more than Irish Members generally will be prepared to concede. The truth is, this minimum limit is indefensible. The State has no right to fix a minimum price. Its primary, if not its sole duty is to secure the safety of the taxpayer. It has no right to inflate the price in the interest of the landlord, and by so doing to imperil the State and unduly burden the tenant.
Up to this point I have been dealing with judicial tenants. But there are, perhaps, close upon 100,000 tenants who either have not gone into the Land Court, or who have been legally barred from doing so. These tenants can purchase under the present Acts, and it is not proposed to debar them from participating in the benefits of this Bill. How are these people treated under Clause 1? They may be taken all round as the most rack-rented tenants in the country. Their unrevised rack rents are treated, for the purpose of sale, under the Bill as "the existing rent." In thousands of these cases annual abatements have been made by landlords. The rents were too much for the landlords even, and without any pressure they have made annual abate ments. No account is taken of these. All such tenants are dealt with on the basis of "the existing rent." Talk of bonuses! If we take the difference between the judicial rents and these rents, it will be found to amount to something between 30 and 40 per cent. By adhering to the Bill in these 100,000 cases we give the landlord an additional bonus to this extent. This is not just. It is not equitable. And those people, deprived of a fair rent in the past, ought not to be further penalised. These rents ought to be reduced for the purpose of purchase—they ought to be dealt with as a separate class, and the terms of purchase ought to be based upon the fact that these are rack rents. All such rents ought to be placed in a special Subsection with a minimum reduction of at least 33 per cent. I have still another point on finance before I pass to the other parts of the Bill. I desire now to draw the attention of the House to the method of repayment under this Bill. The authors of the measure appear to have been content to secure the landlord a lavish equivalent for his income, and, at the same time, by spreading the repayment over a long period, to assure the tenant 1275 a reduction in his annual rent. I do not complain of the working principle embodied in these two propositions. But I do complain of the manner in which it has been worked out. The landlord gets out of the imbroglio, as I have shown, with drums beating and banners waving. But how does the tenant fare? And pray let the House remember, what should never in these discussions be forgotten, that the interest of the State is bound up with fair terms to the tenant. If he is oppressed the State must suffer. The advance to him is made upon terms that are, it may at once be conceded, generous. He gets the whole of the purchase money at 2¾ per cent. And as the operation is calculated upon a 3¼ annuity the redemption period is sixty-eight-and-a-half years, and the Sinking Fund is ten shillings, or ½ per cent. This is one of the things in the Bill to which the more thoughtful amongst the Ulster farmers strongly object. What the Bill really does is to ensure a reduction on the annual payments by spreading these over a very long period of time. We talk of Sinking Funds to people who do not really know what the phrase covers. In this case the Sinking Fund is the tenant's own money—the money which he pays annually to redeem the loan. All the rest of his payment is interest on the advance—and interest, I admit, at a most advantageous rate. Why has the Sinking Fund been reduced in this Bill to 10s? In the Ashbourne Acts it was, I think, 17s. 6d. In the Acts of 1891 and 1896 it was £1. The higher the Sinking Fund the sooner the tenant is clear of his liability. The lower it is the longer he goes on paying—and paying interest as well as capital. I again ask—Why has the Sinking Fund been lowered to 10s. in this Bill? It is not, of course, to deceive people. £That is impossible, because nobody capable of thinking can be deceived. It has been lowered because the whole financial plan of the Bill demanded it. You could not have your results without doing so. And I maintain that by this procedure the Bill will impose a burden upon the tenant, and place the State in some uncertainty if not in actual peril. By the Ashbourne Act of 1885 everything was plain sailing. The tenant redeemed his loan by a 4 per cent. 1276 annuity in forty-nine years. In this case the Sinking Fund was 17s. 6d. No vital alteration was made by the Act of 1891, when this House voted credit to the extent of £33,000,000 for this purpose. The Act of 1896, however, did introduce a great change. It first established the principle of decadal redactions. The period of repayment was lengthened from forty-nine to seventy-three years. Stock was to be taken at the close of the first, second, and third decennial periods. Interest was only to be charged on outstanding capital, and, as a result, the reduction on the first decade amounted to 10 per cent. and two further reductions will follow in twenty years. This Bill abolishes this plan, although nearly the whole of the purchasers had elected to accept it. The plan had to be abolished. It could not be carried out with a Sinking Fund of 10s. And I ask the House to consider well this important change. We are carrying out a great revolution. Those of us who know most about Ireland are full of hope. We believe in the magic power of ownership. We believe the land will produce far more in the future than it has produced in the past. We believe that peace will pay everybody concerned better than turmoil. But it is a far cry to Loch Awe. No one can venture to say what the state of agriculture may be thirty, forty, or fifty years hence. A man may now start paying his annuity full of hope. His successor, under different circumstances, may stagger under it, may fall, and then we shall all wish we had never been born. It is on this ground I lament the abolition of the decadal reductions. They were a great encouragement to the tenant. They were a real security to the State. A man will go on amidst difficulties with relief in front. He may go down with no hope of relief. Alike, then, in the interest of the State and the tenant, I ask for the re-consideration of this matter. The Irish tenant will pay a little more cheerfully now—if he can look forward to reductions in the future. This change in the framework of the Bill will cost the State nothing. It will be, in reality, a policy of insurance against future loss. I plead for an increase in the Sinking Fund and the maintenance; of the decadal system of reductions.
1277 To sum up on finance, I say that, first, the Bill goes too far in relief of the landlord by seeking in reality to give him a 3 per cent. security—in exchange for that which is not equal to 4 per cent. in the market; second, it does this by fixing a minimum price for the land—and by seeking to secure terms that are at once burdensome, if not impossible, for the tenant, and risky, if not absolutely dangerous, for the State; third, the landlord can get out with perfect safety on receiving a maximum price from the tenant of twenty-three years' purchase of second and of nineteen on first-term rents—which, plus the State bonus, means twenty-two and twenty-six years' purchase. Anything more is dangerous alike for the tenant and the taxpayer; fourth, the financial arrangements ought to be so re-cast as to permit of the system of decadal reductions being maintained, alike in the interest of the State and the tenant purchaser.
I come now to another vital part of the Bill, viz., the interference which it proposes to sanction with the tenant's rights under the Act of 1881. The right hon. Gentleman apparently carries the Act of 1881 on his brain. He never makes a speech in England without denouncing it. Lately he declared before some audience, more or less ignorant of the question, that by the Act of 1881 Mr. Gladstone gave Ireland litigation instead of justice. This is one of those half truths that avoid a good deal. Let me state this undoubted fact in another way. The Act of 1881 gave to the Irish tenant the right to recover for his own use the property which had been stolen from him for centuries. The Act of 1881 assessed and valued the respective interests of landlord and tenant in the land, and so made a Purchase Bill such as this possible. The Act of 1881 just enabled England to hold Ireland, and no more. This is the real truth about the Act of 1881. And I speak the mind of every holder of land in Ireland when I say that we do not mean to allow that Act to be vitally touched or interfered with until occupying ownership is an established fact. Let me show the House what the Bill proposes to do in this respect. By Clause 5 any landowner desirous of selling his estate can call in the 1278 aid of the Land Commission. The Commission thereupon makes all inquiries—thus saving him the trouble of negotiation with the occupiers. It names the price. The landlord is not compelled to accept this price. But, if he does, and three-fourths of the tenants agree to buy, a recalcitrant fourth, who then become the tenants of the Land Commission, are thereupon deprived of all right to enter the Land Court to have their rents revised. Now I do not say that a minority of tenants ought to be able to prevent, or even to endanger, the purchase of an estate. Nothing of the kind. But why is there not mutuality of treatment between the two parties? The tenants—or a minority of them—refuse to purchase on the terms named by the Land Commission. They are forthwith penalised. But the landlord, after setting the Commission in motion, and putting the country to the cost of inspection, is quite at liberty to refuse the terms. He need not sell. He is not penalised in any way. He is not even asked to pay the costs. If compulsion is to be used against the tenants who refuse to accept the Land Commision terms, why is it not used against the landlord who may be guilty of precisely the same conduct? Here you penalise the tenant. There you allow the landlord the exercise of his free and unfettered discretion. Things are even worse—for you allow in certain cases Sub-section B Clause 17 a bare majority to compel or penalise a minority—and you allow the land Judge, of all men in the world, to suspend the Act of 1881 at his will and pleasure. If I am told that such provisions are necessary because in all such cases the Land Commission would be the landlord and could not therefore fix the fair rent of such holdings, several answers may be made. The County Court Judge is, under the Act of 1881, a rent-fixing authority, and all such cases might be dealt with in that Court, or, following the precedents of the 40th Section of the Act of 1896, you might treat these tenants as purchasers. Or, better still, you could treat the consenting tenants as the estate, and leave the not contents as tenants of the landlord. The right hon. Gentleman as a thorough-going opponent of compulsion applied to the landlord to 1279 sell He does not object, however, to compel tenants to buy. Well, I say here from my place that we shall resist and fight against all these attacks, covert and above-board, on the Act of 1881. The real strength of the tenant's position lies in the fact that all these rents are liable to revision eight and ten years hence. If we cannot secure legal and direct compulsion in this House, we shall certainly not give away that form of indirect compulsion which the third fixing of the judicial rents secures to us. This is a matter which no tenant's representative can palter with. It admits of no compromise.
I now come to deal with that which is a new departure in land purchase—the denial of the freehold to the purchaser. Whatever may be said on this head, it cannot be denied that the proposal to make one-eighth of the advance irredeemable is a novelty. The 80,000 men who have already bought are freeholders. And I dare to say that it is this very sense of ownership which has been at the root of all the success that has attended the experiment. What does the Bill propose in this respect? Take a holding the second-term rent of which is £100. It is bought at a reduction of say 10 per cent., viz. £90. The tenant goes on paying £90 for sixty-eight and a half years, and for ever after a rent charge of £11 5s. This is not ownership. This perpetual rent charge establishes a new form of landlordism—that of the Crown. There is no doubt much to be said for the principle of land nationalisation. I have sat under the spell of Mr. Henry George; his was an attractive and an alluring policy. And, given a new country to begin with, I should unhesitatingly adopt the principle of nationalisation of the land, and probably of a good deal else beside. But Ireland is not a new country. You cannot put new wine into old bottles, or they will break. You cannot mend an old garment with new cloth. You must do the best you can under all the circumstances of the case that is to be dealt with, and Ireland with 500,000 tenant occupiers is not an inviting bit of ground on which to start the theory o land nationalisation I object to this provision and this new policy because (a) it perpetuates and does not abolish 1280 landlordism, (b) it destroys the sense of ownership upon which we mainly rely for success, (c) because no cause has been shown for such a radical change in policy. I am aware that it has been held to be necessary for the State to maintain control, after the loan has been repaid, over reckless mortgaging, subdividing, and sub-letting of the land. I entirely agree. At the Land Conference I contended for this principle against some of my colleagues. But this control can be secured by a nominal quit rent as effectively as by a policy which, in my judgment, would destroy to a large extent the incentive to exertion which the Land Purchase Acts contain. I trust, therefore, that the reservation of one-eighth will not be persisted in.
I have not aimed at any detailed examination of the Bill. That would be an impossibility in a speech on the Second Reading. I have tried to indicate points of crucial importance upon which much will have to be said in Committee. And before I sit down I desire to ask for information upon some points that are either not clear in the Bill or are not dealt with. In the first place, I desire to ask whether it is proposed that all holdings such as residential holdings and town parks, which can be purchased under the present Acts, should be under no disability in the new Act? Secondly, is it intended to maintain the limit of advance set up in the Land Purchase Act of 1888—a limit avowedly fixed owing to the advance for the purpose of land purchase being limited in amount? Thirdly, I wish to know whether it is proposed to make any arrangements for the redemption of drainage charges?
There are, however, two points I have not dealt with—the labourers and the Land Law. I corroborate the remark of the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford, that the Labourers Clauses are perfectly grotesque as a settlement of the question. The labourers do not require new legislation in principle. They require the present Acts to be made workable and effective. Parliament has clothed local authorities in Ireland with adequate powers. These authorities do not always show a disposition to exercise these powers. The labourer requires a decent sanitary house with a plot of ground. Before he can get this he has to go through inquiries before the District 1281 and County Councils, the Local Government Board, and finally before the Privy Council. The Acts are therefore strangled by the machinery. This is the evil to be dealt with—and as a remedy for this evil the clauses in the Bill are perfectly useless. During the recent South Antrim Election the right hon. Gentleman sent down his private secretary to announce to the labourers of that constituency, in his name, that the Government intended to drain the Bann and bring in a Labourers' Bill. The floods have not yet subsided in the neighbourhood of the Bann, and the Labourers' Bill, I suppose, is embodied in these three clauses that will do little or nothing to solve a difficult and urgent problem—the housing of the poorest class in Ireland. I have no right to give the right hon. Gentleman advice, but I say frankly that the labourers will not look at these clauses. He will be well advised to withdraw these clauses, and face the problem on the lines of the Labourers' Acts rather than in this Bill.
Then one word on the Land Law. As regards the Land Law portion of the Bill, I am not disposed seriously to cavil at it. I agree that if money is to be spent largely on land purchase the Government has a right to save it in other directions. And I confess that I shall not be sorry when the army of temporary sub-commissioners, legal and lay, is disbanded. The whole system of temporary employment in fixing rents is indefensible. These men, in the main, are invertebrates who simply follow the lead of the Chief Commissioners—a body of men who are utterly ignorant of the value of land. But I do make objection to one proposal. In Clause 80 there is a provision that an application to fix a fair rent, where the rent does not exceed £5, may be decided on the report of one sub-commissioner, and that an appeal shall only lie upon three grounds: First, that the man has no right to get a rent fixed; secondly, that the order is bad on the face of it; and thirdly, that the rent has been varied more than 20 per cent. Mark the mutuality. The landlord can appeal if the variation is more than 20 per cent., but the tenant cannot appeal if he considers the reduction inadequate. All through 1282 the Bill there is this want of mutuality. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford referred to Mr. Wrench. I do not agree with a great deal that has been said about Mr. Wrench. There must be a landlord or a landlords' representative on the Commission. I have known Mr. Wrench for a very long time. He has a great knowledge of the Land Commission work; he is a man of the world, and is quite capable of taking a broad view of things if he has to do it, and I have no doubt when he is not working with Mr. Justice Meredith and Mr. Fitzgerald large views may present themselves. But I wish to state most distinctly that while I raise no objection to Mr. Wrench holding this position, I do raise objection to his remaining a member of the Congested Districts Board. He has enough to do without troubling the Congested Districts Board. There must be one member of the Land Commission on the Congested Districts Board, and as you have so effectually isolated Mr. Murrough O'Brien, you might as well give him that position. I may as well say right out that Clause 76 (4) will be strongly resisted by myself and others. Mr. Gerald Fitzgerald, tested by his merits, has already received at the hands of the State far more than he deserved. He never had the slightest practice at the Irish Bar. In the early days of the Act of 1881 he was literally hunted out of Armagh and Tyrone as an Assistant Legal Commissioner. By methods that are well-known he was pitchforked into the position he now holds. And in that position he has done as much as any of his colleagues to keep the land fire burning and Ireland in trouble. He and his have done very well out of the country—and the Government will in his case do well to let sleeping dogs lie.
I apologise to the House for the length at which I have trespassed upon its patience. But the Bill deals with a difficult and complicated question to which I have devoted my whole time and strength for years. I have been asked over and over again since this measure was introduced whether it would settle the question. I hope I am under no illusions—and I know that 1283 "settle" is a big word, representing a great deal, and it is upon this one thing that the whole question turns. But assuming one thing—that the right hon. Gentleman keeps an open mind in Committee—that the terms of sale and purchase come through that ordeal in a possible shape, fair to tenant and landlord alike—assuming this, I believe that seven-eighths of the Irish landlords will sell. The bonus, in my opinion, will prove irresistible. That there will be a remnant who will fight on I have no manner of doubt. There is not an Irish Member who could not name some of these men. But their position will be utterly untenable. And if the bonus could be limited in time and distributed uniformly, as the Land Conference recommended, a great impetus would be given to sale in all such cases. The right hon. Gentleman thinks he can accomplish this work without compulsion. I disagree with him. This Bill has been born of compulsion. But those of us who have been the strongest in demanding this solution of the question would incur a grave responsibility if we for a moment stood in the way of a Government carrying out a great scheme such as is embodied in this Bill. What I call the remnant can, and will be, dealt with in due season.
The last point I make has reference to the position of British Members in regard to this question. If I represented a British constituency, I should think very little of the bonus of £12,000,000; but I should think much and long over the advance of £100.000,000 required to carry out this great scheme. Many Members of this House have discussed this matter with me since the Bill was first introduced. And how does the case stand? There are two risks to be run—one real, the other more or less unreal, just as people look at it. I tell the House frankly that if it places an impossible burden upon the tenant, if it induces him to purchase upon impossible terms merely to enrich landlords, then a day of disaster will inevitably come. This is the real and certain risk. If Clause 1 is not amended the House will invite disaster. As to all talk of a general disike against payment—of a combination to enforce political aims by refusal 1284 to pay in the future, I treat this as an absolutely unreal risk. It is mere surmise—the mutterings of prophets who do not know Ireland, who do not know the Irish people. Behind you have the past twenty years, with its record of honest payments; in front you have your Guarantee Fund, out of which any loss can be instantly recouped. You have the passion for the land, which is the great governing fact in this question, and, above all, you have that blessed longing for peace and appeasement and reconciliation which distinguishes the Ireland of to-day from the Ireland of the past. You have landlord and tenant, leader and led, northern protestant and southern catholic, all at one all agreed as to this policy. There is not an atom of risk save and except that which this House could itself avoid, and alike in the interest of England and Ireland I support the Second Reading of this Bill, in the confident belief that, when reasonably amended, it opens up a new chapter in the relations of the two countries—so long united in name but separated in heart, feeling and aspiration.
§ Mr. ASHTON (Bedfordshire, Luton)
This is a matter of interest to the taxpayers as well as to the landlords and tenants. I do not believe there is any great amount of risk to the British ratepayer in regard to the large loan that it is proposed to make to the tenants of Ireland under the Bill. I much prefer the system put forward by Mr. Gladstone's Bill in 1886 When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House told us this afternoon that matters are very much changed, and seemed to argue that the security was as good as it would have been under Mr. Gladstone's Bill, I, for one, did not agree with him. It appears to me that under Mr. Gladstone's Bill you not only had the whole of the security you will get under this Bill, but you had the further security in the fact that an Irish authority collected the rents, and, further, the still more important fact that the whole of the Irish revenue would come into the hands of the Imperial Exchequer before the Irish could spend a single penny, and in case the money had not been paid by the Irish tenants we 1285 should distinctly have a lien on the whole of the Irish revenue, which you will not have under this Bill. While I am not afraid of the Irish tenants not paying the instalments in case we lend them all this money. I believe there is greater security under Mr. Gladstone's Bill and the system of an Irish authority. Every year the risk of Irish tenants giving up their holdings and refusing to pay their instalments grows less and less. But leaving the question of security for the £100,000,000, I should like to say a few words about the large amount of money we are proposing to give as a dole to the Irish landlords to induce them to sell under this Bill. £12,000,000 is a sum we cannot expect the British taxpayer to give without a thorough discussion and investigation of the details of this Bill, and it appears to me, looking from the point of view of the British taxpayer, it is a very large bribe to offer to the Irish landlords under the Bill. I am entirely in favour of the principle of land purchase, and of the principle of treating Irish landlords not only fairly but generously, but I think that under this Bill a great deal more than justice is going to be done.
And, it being half-past seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.