§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to question [4th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time,"1453
Which Amendment was—
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the question to add the words 'upon this day six months,'"—(Mr. Coghill.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)
I have intervened in this debate because I did not want to give a silent vote in the division which is coming on, and because I do not wish it to be thought the English Liberal Members of Parliament sitting on the back benches are not in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill. I therefore desire to give one or two reasons why I shall vote in favour of the Second Reading. I do not think we ought to run away from this Bill in a fright. The people of this country appear to be in a quiescent state, I have had no letters complaining of the Bill or any adverse petitions of any kind. That is not because the British elector has no interest in this matter, or knowledge. He has both knowledge and interest in granting to the Irish freedom from the present impossible position in regard to Irish land. I want to show, according to my own view at any rate, what is the feeling and sentiment of the elector, and what is in his mind with regard to the Second Reading of this Bill. He knows Ireland has been for many years in a disturbed and discontented condition. He thinks that is from two causes; first, because it has been misgoverned for many years—and that is politically true—and that, as a chief result of that misgovernment, Ireland of to-day—whatever it once was, or might have been if it had had fair play—is now almost purely agricultural. He knows that, except in the north-east corner of the island, there is no industry but that of agriculture, and he concludes that if its people are to live by work they must work on the land, the cultivation of the land being the chief trade. The British elector knows that those who owned the land have always been in a strong position when the Irish people sought to hire it and to try to live out of it. The English elector thinks that the landlords availed them- 1454 selves of the great demand for land and a limited supply of it to rack-rent the tenants for many years past. Then, again, he is familiar with such terms as "moonlighting," "agrarian outrage," "rack-rent evictions;" all these he credits to the land system. He is familiar with the consequent conflicts between the Government and the participators in these offences and their sympathisers. He has seen soldiers called out to evict tenants from their holdings, and the Government thus acting on the side of the landlords, and for some years he has asked himself what is the cause of all this, and why should the Government help the strong against the weak, and he has come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that in most cases high and impossible rents have caused these troubles. He naturally associates landlords with high and impossible rents. He then asks himself why are rents high and impossible in Ireland and not in England? and finds his answer, first, because in Ireland there is practically no occupation but that of tilling land; and an Irish peasant must have land, or starve, or emigrate. Second, because there are more applicants for farms than there are farms, that therefore, the demand exceeds supply, and the rents become impossible.
Then the British elector remembers that tenants have done all the improvements on the land; that they built houses and fences, and made drains; that they reduced wild bog land into cultivable soil; and not only paid rent for these improvements, but paid increased rent because of them. The British elector is, after all, an intelligent person, and he knows a real hardship when he sees one. He recognises this Irish case as one. Then he sees political risings—"1848,"—Fenianism,—perpetual Coercion Acts, aggressive Land Leagues, and no-rent manifestoes, and all these matters he connects with the land wrong. That is why he accepted land legislation which interfered with the so-called sacred right of contract. He doubted the existence of a free contract. He does not trouble himself as to how far this particular Land Act goes. He recognises that the evil is not yet cured, and he says, "What's the use of nibbling at this cherry? Let me see if you cannot present to me a cherry that I can swallow whole. I recognise that the land is the 1455 chief cause of most discontent in Ireland. Show me a plan to put an end to that once and for all, and I will listen sympathetically to your suggestions." He starts, therefore, with a strong inclination to accede to a plan which shall have this effect. He asks himself, "Will this Bill remove the chief causes of irritation?" The answer is that it will abolish landlordism at any rate. "So far so good," says the British elector. "But what about the gilding of that cherry that I have to swallow whole?" And then he is faced with a loan of£100,000,000 and a free grant of£12,000,000. I think what sticks in his gills most is the£12,000,000. But when he is told all this money will not be wanted at once, and that some of it can be found by saving in Irish administration, in consequence of this proposal, he is, I think, easier in his mind. Again, he does not like legislating for sixty-eight years. He begins to reckon that he is leaving a legacy to his great-grandchildren. And he knows that a thousand things may happen in sixty-eight or seventy years. Here again he is consoled by being informed that in sixty-eight years the payments will cease and the liability of the tenants be wiped out, and that he need not fear repudiation, for that under similar Acts, now in operation for some years, the Irish tenant has faithfully paid his rent. Then he draws upon his own common sense, and argues that if landlordism is removed the tenant will gradually become the owner. Then will begin the natural workings of conservatism. The tenant will have something to conserve for the first time in his existence, and he will take care of it. The full support of law and order are the best means to that end, and he knows it. If I dare be a prophet I would say that this legislation, added to the natural conservatism of the Roman Catholic faith, will build up in Ireland the most conservative peasantry in the world. The British elector thinks that he may safely leave moonlighters and agrarian outragers to the tender mercies of the new owners of the little farms themselves. On the whole, therefore, I conclude that the British elector would say, "I will agree to your principle, so read your Bill a second time, but I shall require you in Committee to satisfy me that your financial schemes are correct, and that I shall get an honest return for my money." Therefore I shall vote 1456 for the Second Reading of this Bill. I shall expect the Government and supporters of the Bill to confirm in Committee their contentions that the Irish tenants are not called upon to make unfair sacrifices, that the money which the State is going to lend shall be really and truly secure, that the£12,000,000 is to be gradually expended, and that the savings from Irish administration will really provide the bulk of it and that the landlords shall be reasonably recompensed for their land, but not extravagantly, as the present proposal appears to provide.
§ MR. WOOD (Down, E.)
I venture to detain the House for a few moments while I endeavour to offer a few observations upon this Bill. [Cries of "Speak up," from the NATIONALIST Benches.] I do not propose to give my support to this measure because of any official position I may occupy on this side of the House. I do not intend to give it only a minimum of support, although, as a fact, the adoption of such a measure will be to me a very striking and very great pecuniary loss. In that respect I differ from the position occupied by the Solicitor-General of England in this matter, because whatever happens to this Bill four quarter days in the year will remain for him. This is a Bill which, at least in my constituency, has not received very much enthusiasm. It is a Bill that is recognised by the farmers and labourers of Ulster to be but a feeble effort on the part of the Government to meet the position in Ulster, and, indeed, in Ireland; but we recognise that the Bill is an attempt on the part of the Government to clear away obstacles to progress, and that the near future will see us free of the curse which has hung over us for centuries. At the same time, I admit the Bill possesses many merits. It provides for universal occupier ship in Ireland, and it provides money for the purpose of getting rid of the landlords. I can recognise the difficulty the Government must have had in introducing such a Bill as this When we remember on this side of the House that there are in the Government five Irish landlords, the difficulty of the Government must have been extreme to meet this question in a way which was 1457 fair and reasonable to the Irish, tenant farmers and to the labourers, but it is a remarkable fact that there is no Member returned to this House from loyal Ulster who dare go and ask for the support of the men of Ulster in the agricultural constituencies, who did not declare himself in favour of universal and compulsory sale. There is not a Member, except the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh—whose illness I regret there is not a single Member for Ulster on this side of the House who is not in favour, at least at election times, of compulsory sale.
In the last election, when the hon. Member for North Fermanagh was returned to the House, we had an Ulster landlord contesting the seat, and his motto was "Vote for Craik and the land for the people," but the electors preferred occupying ownership to the land for the people, and they preferred to send my hon. friend here because they believed he was with them, of them, and would look after their interests and secure them in the ownership of their land. The Bill provides a substantial sum to carry the programme into effect; it lends the money at a rate of interest reasonable and fair, and for that the Irish tenant is obliged and grateful to the Government. In addition to that it provides a sum of£12,000,000 to help to bridge over the gap that exists between what the tenant can afford to pay and what the landlord can be reasonably asked to take. It does more—it may seem strange speaking from this side of the House for an Ulster representative, representing a loyal Ulster constituency, to say we are as anxious as any hon. Member on the Irish side of the House to see substantial justice done to the old soldiers of the land war. They have at last attained their majority, and it is quite time that the Government that had put them out of their holdings should aid in putting them back, because, remember, it is by their suffering and sacrifice that we in Ulster are here. We recognise that and know the benefits we have received through their sacrifice and suffering. So for as we are concerned, and I speak for my Party, we are prepared to aid and assist the representatives of the evicted tenants and to help them to procure a settlement of the great question which has so long agitated that part of Ireland.
1458 There are great merits in this Bill, but there are also serious defects. So serious are those defects that neither my hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone nor the hon. Member for North Fermanagh dare go back to the people of Ulster unless we have an assurance from the Government that these defects will be remedied and cleared out of the way. That is our position in Ulster to-day. The Ulster farmer has found out his strength, and he is determined to see this matter settled on fair and equitable terms. He is willing to pay an honest price, and a fair price, to get rid of his landlord, but not a farthing more, and he was not prepared to have a measure passed into law to take away the rights and privileges he at present enjoys. We recognise that Ulster landlords will not be so willing to sell as they are in the south and west; we believe that they will be the last to go; we believe that in the south and west they have been able to supply their own compulsion, but we in the north prefer or preferred to have compulsion by Act of Parliament. In that belief largely the Ulster farmer is doubtful whether or not his representatives should support this Bill and see it right through. They have actually expressed the fear that the Irish Party, having secured for the farmers in the south and west their holdings, and having got them out of bondage, they might wish not to give their aid to the farmers and labourers of Ulster. It is extraordinary that they have that great fear that the Irish Party will not continue to help them to get rid of this curse, which has enslaved them for so many years, and which is as bad in Ulster as in any other part of the country.
There is a further objection, and that is as to the interference with the Land Act of 1881. I should like to see the Attorney-General go down to North Derry and speak against the Land Act of 1881 as he did last night. I should like to hear the opinion of the "purple heroes" of North Derry upon the charge against the tenant farmers and labourers of North Derry. It is fashionable in this country for a Chief Secretary, in addressing a meeting of Primrose Dames, to abuse the Act of 1881 and the author of it, but we in 1459 Ireland, who know the benefit of that Act, and know what we have gained by it, and know the sacrifices by which that Act was placed upon the Statute-book, remember that that Act was obtained by blood; we remember the service rendered to us by the great statesman who rolled away the stone from the sepulchre which entombed the Irish farmers. The tenant farmers do not care to forget the name of Gladstone and the work he performed for them. Had the Land Act of 1881 not been placed upon the Statute-book, and had Irishmen not laboured to obtain it, the Irish landlord would have been easily settled with to-day. What did that Act do? It took account of the partnership between the landlord and tenant in the holding. Previous to that, the tenant did all the work and the landlord took all the profit. It allocated to the landlord what was his property and to the tenant what was his, and it declared that the tenant's property was not to be taxed in the interest of the landlord. It was the maladministration of that Act that caused further outrage and fresh agitation. The northern farmer has suffered as much by reason of the maladministration of that Act as the farmer of the south and west. Let me illustrate this: A farmer in North Down built a small addition to the existing house on his farm. The Land Commission took that into account as directed by the Land Act, and they came to the conclusion that the tenant's house was far too respectable for the size of the holding, and it was assessed to the extent of£25 a year. That was remedied by the Land Act of 1896. That tenant had been paying£25 more than he was justly entitled to pay upon his own property and capital. He has been looking forward to the present year when he can go back to the court and avail himself of the great Magna Charta of the Irish tenant provided by the Act.
Now there is the question of the maximum and minimum price. In the interest of the State it is necessary to fix a maximum price beyond which the landlord and tenant cannot go. But why fix so high a maximum as that stated in the Act? In the County Down, on the estate of the Marquess of Londonderry, holdings have been sold to tenants at twenty to twenty-three years purchase. 1460 The price is paid in land stock which, at the present reduction, is only valued at£90, and without bonus, and yet the Government, with full knowledge of that, propose to fix a higher price than that at which a Cabinet Minister has been selling his land. Why then has the Government fixed upon a higher price than that? To fix a minimum price seems to me to be absurd and ridiculous in the extreme. Does the Government think the Irish landlord is unable to look after his own interest? Do they think he cannot drive a hard bargain? Why not put him under the control of the Lord Chancellor, who has charge of all infants? That is the position Ulster's representatives must take on the question, and the sooner the Government know it the better. The proposal cannot be defended, and it must not be defended if the Government want to get the Bill through and to retain Ulster.
On the question of mines and minerals, why should the tenants who purchase under this Bill have these reserved? Is this a censure on the previous legislation of the Government? The tenants who are to purchase under the Bill are to give the full value of the landlord's interest in the holding. Why should they not have every right of the landlord? Besides, they are to become owners of their farms. Are they not entitled, as owners of their farms, to the enjoyment of their property—for the opening up of mines and quarries on a farm would cause the farmer to live off the farm. There would be no security or fixity of tenure for the Irish farmer. The Irish farmer must be retained in the home, which is endeared to him by many and loved recollections, and no company or syndicate must come to take down the property of his fathers, and around which there are hallowed associations. The question of the one-eighth has already been spoken of by many Members who have addressed the House. I join those who have spoken in favour of the decadal system. I ask that the Land Act of 1896 should be embodied in this Bill, so as to give the tenant the opportunity of looking forward for ten years for the purpose of getting further relief. Now, with the prices ruling for agricultural produce, he will be in a better position to pay a larger sum, and he will have the opportunity of laying up a store for the 1461 time when there may be some agricultural depression, and when the wages of the agricultural labourer will rise, as they must rise, for they are too low at the present time. The tenant must be in a position to pay the agricultural labourer a living wage. My hon. friend the Member for South Antrim will no doubt be heard on the question of the labourers. The private secretary of the Chief Secretary was sent down to the South Antrim election to promise free homes for the labourers. Where is the performance by the Government of that promise in this Bill? If the Government are sincere on the question of the labourers, let them consult the friends of the labourers and they will be glad to aid and assist them in formulating a Bill. We ask the Government to aid and assist in passing a measure for the relief of the agricultural labourer, and to place him in a position as partner in the land with the tenant and to aid and assist in working out the salvation and regeneration of our country—a country whose people are devoted to plain living and high thinking. Then you will have a people of whom you may be proud; Ireland will be a strength to the Empire and not a weakness, and you will have a nation of brave men and fair women.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG (Antrim, S.)
It is a great pleasure to me that the first words I have the honour of addressing to the House should be in support of the Second Reading of a Bill which, in my opinion, will confer incalculable benefits on my country. It is a mistake which has too frequently pervaded this House that only to hon. Members opposite belongs the right of speaking on behalf of the Irish people. We Ulster Members, on this side, claim the right to speak on behalf of the farmers and of the labourers of the north of Ireland. I entirely dispute the claim set up by the hon. Member for South Tyrone to be the representative of the north of Ireland farmer. I claim for myself, as representing an Irish constituency in the north of Ireland, as much right to speak on behalf of the Ulster farmers as either the hon. Member for East Down or his leader the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The hon. Member for East Down remarked that the Ulster farmer has just discovered his strength, and 1462 that nothing could be done in this House without his assistance in matters connected with Irish land affairs. The hon. Member will only have to call his memory back a few weeks to a certain Convention held in Belfast to discuss the terms of the Bill, to remember that on some observations made by a certain ecclesiastic gentleman who addressed the meeting, his leader, the hon. Member for South Tyrone, informed him in a very few words that they had no power at all unless they attached themselves to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong; I said nothing of the sort. What I did say was that it was necessary that the tenantry in the north and south of Ireland should move together in this matter.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG
My recollection of what the hon. Gentleman said was that without the assistance of hon. Gentlemen opposite the farmers in the north of Ireland had no power whatever.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG
If I have been misinformed I withdraw. Having disposed of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I will proceed to criticise the Bill without controversy with my hon. friend the Member for East Down. Now, Sir, I think it is admitted by everybody who has had to do with the land question in Ireland, that the system of dual ownership, which has existed from time immemorial, has done more to retard the progress of Ireland as a whole than any other thing. I am glad that every representative in the north of Ireland is agreed on that point. The partnership—if indeed one can call such a combination a partnership, in which one partner has had practically no rights beyond the right of making a precarious livelihood out of the land he tills, and in which the tenant is allowed to invest his capital and labour, but, at the same time, is liable to be deprived of both at any moment at the mere will or discretion of his landlord—is one which was bound to bring in 1463 its train all the misery and discontent which has dogged the system from time immemorial. I think that certainly every Unionist Member from the north of Ireland will accept that proposition, and then we have to add to that disadvantage a Government which, up to the time of the Union was so rotten that it was a bye-word to the whole world, and which since the Union, I am sorry to say, has not been a great deal better. Since the Union the Government of Ireland has been vacillating and uncertain, showing at one moment firmness, and when the results of that firmness had shown themselves they at once relaxed into slackness and weakness. Under those circumstances, the wonder is, not that Ireland is backward and discontented, but that Ireland exists at all. The hon. Member for East Mayo told us in his speech yesterday that the Act of 1881 converted the tenants of Ireland from bondsmen to freemen.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG
In any case, I am glad that the Act of 1881 had at least one redeeming feature, but I do not admit that that was the redeeming feature of the Act. I will tell hon. Members in a moment what I do think was the redeeming feature of it. My idea of the Act of 1881 is, and always has been, that it was one of the most unfortunate Acts ever passed for Ireland except in one particular, and that particular was that it has reduced the state of Ireland which existed prior to 1881—which was, in all conscience, bad enough—to such a chaotic and deplorable condition that at last we have come to the point when not only the Irish Members are agreed, but English Members also of all shades of opinion, that the system of dual ownership must disappear once and for all. Bad as the Act of 1881 is, it deserves our thanks for bringing about that consummation. That Act may have established a system of land tenure in Ireland, but it established such an intolerable condition of constant litigation that no words would be too strong to condemn it Prior to the passing of that Act there were landlords and tenants who looked upon each other with mutual respect, but the measure 1464 swept all that away, and from that year down to the present time there has been nothing but friction and discontent. I will not go so far as to say there has been mutual hatred, but certainly there has been mutual distrust between landlords and tenants. We have arrived at the time when that must cease, and I am glad the Government have stepped forward, and have taken the bull by the horns, and brought forward this Bill, which, I believe, will with moderate Amendments carry out this great reform in land tenure in Ireland which everybody, whether Englishmen, Irishmen, or Scotchmen, most heartily desires. I hope the Government will be able to see their way to increase the grant-in-aid from£12,000,000 to£20,000,000. If they can, I shall be quite prepared to vote for compulsion all round, but I cannot see on what principle the Government can impose penalties on the tenants without doing the same to landlords. The Bill, so far as I understand, is supposed to be a voluntary Bill, and therefore the restrictions contained in Clause 17 are to my mind absolutely inconsistent with the principle of the Bill.
The last point on which I wish to touch is the question of the labourers. There is an old story, I cannot vouch for the truth of it, that when the Almighty was creating this world and came to the Sahara Desert he was so weary that he stopped work when he had half finished it. I think the same story might be applied to the right hon. the Chief Secretary who has expended all his energies on the purchase clauses of the Bill, and when he came to the question of the labourers he was too fatigued to finish it. I agree with several hon. Members in saying that it would have been better not to include these three scanty sections dealing with the labourers or to have invited some Member of this House who is more intimately connected with the labourers question than he is, to deal with it. The three sections are absolutely inadequate, and there can be no settlement of the Land Question which does not include the settlement of the labourers question. The Chief Secretary, in introducing the Bill, said that the 1465 labourers question was, after all, a minor one. I admit that it is a minor question, but it is one of the greatest importance, and I have myself pledged to see that it is properly dealt with in the Bill. There is at present on the Statute-book a long series of Acts dealing with labourers in Ireland. They were meant to enable decent houses to be provided for the labourers. The same defect runs through them all, too many formalities are required before they can be brought into operation, and it costs as much time and trouble to erect a labourer's cottage in Ireland as to carry through a Strand improvement. There are certain things in the different Acts which are wrong, and which should he amended in the present Bill. What is more important, however, is the simplification of the procedure by which the Labourers Acts can be put into force. I hope the Chief Secretary will accept the Amendments which will undoubtedly flow in upon him in a proper spirit, and incorporate them in the Bill. I wish to touch for a moment on the question of the evicted tenants, although this is a class of people with which we in the north of Ireland are directly interested. Seeing that this is a great conciliatory measure which is intended to settle the Land Question once and for all, I would join with my Ulster colleagues most heartily with hon. Gentlemen opposite in asking the Government, I do not say to reinstate the evicted tenants, for it is impossible in every case, but to help them. This would complete the measure and heal, once and for all, all sores. We Unionist Members are therefore willing to support hon. Gentlemen opposite in their Amendments on this part of the Bill, provided they in no way interfere with the men who are at present in the evicted holdings. The question of Home Rule has been touched upon fey several Members. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have told us very plainly and frankly that they do not consider this Bill, when passed into law, will check Home Rule, but, on the contrary, will act as a step towards Home Rule. They must be allowed to act on their own Opinions, as we on this side of the House must be allowed to have ours. I believe that if this measure is passed into law it will push back Home Rule, as the Ulster Members understand 1466 it, still further into the distance, if it does not render it impossible, and dispose of the question for ever. I am glad, however, that at this early stage of the discussion of the Bill, it has been made absolutely clear, whether it staves off Home Rule or not, that the measure is to be discussed on its merits. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer—the graduated scale of bonuses proposed to be applied. I believe that that finds as little favour on this side of the House as on the other. The chief object of the Bill, I imagine, is to induce the large proprietors to sell their properties, and to create as many tenant proprietors as possible. If that is so, I do not see for what reason the Government have proposed this graduated scale of bonuses. The £12,000,000 to be given as bonuses should be applied equally to all landlords, whether they hold land producing £500 or £20,000 per anuum.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
I think the House of Commons is to be congratulated on the additions which have been made to the Irish ranks in our midst, and if I may presume to do so, I congratulate my two hon. friends opposite on the speeches which they have just delivered. I notice that diverse historical views have been expressed as to what has led up to the situation in which we find ourselves; but I wish to say at once how very cordially I agree with the hon. Member for East Down in the view he has taken of a very considerable defect in the Bill, that is, the section dealing with sporting and mineral rights. This Bill proposes to abolish dual ownership of the land in Ireland; but to abolish dual ownership of land and preserve dual possession, by this confusing reservation of sporting and mineral interests, is an absurdity, even in Ireland; and I hope that that absurdity will be eradicated from the measure. I have considered and reconsidered this Bill with all the interest born of a sincere desire to do my best to promote the industrial interests of Ireland and the social peace of that country. For the importance of the measure lies not only in regard to its bearing on the social peace of Ireland; but also in regard' to the economic prosperity of that island. What has been the occasion of this Bill? It has been, in a single word, 1467 the violent contrasts which have been experienced in recent years in Ireland between the lot and the rights of those who have acquired their property under the Purchase Acts, and the lot and rights of those in their immediate neighbourhood who find themselves in a situation lower in legal status, and worse in financial position through no fault of their own. In introducing the Bill the Chief Secretary said that "an overwhelming majority of the landlords and tenants in Ireland desire that the system of purchase shall be universally extended." That testimony is all the more important from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman gave it when he was bringing in a Bill which, I fear, does not practically effect anything of the sort. My sympathy is with the object and principle of the Bill; and I, for one, could not take upon myself the responsibility, in view of the social conditions of Ireland, of the history of that country, and in particular in view of the recent events which have led to the present situation, of declining to give a Second Reading to a measure of this kind.
How does this Bill propose to give effect to the principle of extending the system of purchase universally in Ireland? I say without hesitation that this Bill does not extend the existing system of land purchase in Ireland; it creates for the first time a new system of land purchase in Ireland of a kind and on a scale vastly more onerous to the tenantry of that country than ever heretofore experienced; and it is not compulsory. I desire to give the result of my observations on both these points. In the main it is a purchase measure. The principle remains in so far as it gives effect to the idea of abolishing dual ownership; but when you have said that in regard to the relation of this measure to what has gone before it, you have practically said all. How can you predicate the success of a measure of this kind, if the terms proposed for the tenantry are so heavy and so burdensome as to impose upon them the risks of an enormous speculative transaction, as to which three-fourths of the rural population will be bound for two-and-a-half-generations. The safety of this measure depends upon the terms of the bargain which it imposes upon the tenantry of Ireland, and I, for one, shall do all in my power to mitigate what I conceive to be the harshness, the severity and the rigour of these terms, and put the tenants under a better scale of payment. Some- 1468 thing has been imported into these discussions which is not helpful to reaching a good result. I totally object to the. cavilling at the Act of 1881. That Statute; is one of the most enduring titles to. honour of the illustrious statesman who passed it; and to-day we are, in an increasing measure, recognising the magnitude of the task he undertook and the boon he granted. The Act of 1881 is the Charter of the tenantry of Ireland; it is the creator of tenant right. What was its great offence? It was that it, once and for ever, put an end to the system of continuous confiscation of the labour of the tenants by the landlords. Are we not all indebted even to-day to the Act of 1881 for furnishing a standard and a datum for all our calculations in regard to the Land Question down to this hour? The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth says that he supports this Bill because it is in some degree a make-weight for what he is pleased to call the "economic collapse" after 1881. I say that there was no such thing. The collapse was the collapse of an unjust right, and the substitution for that unjust right of a system of equitable possession and of the reward going to those who had earned it. I protest against my right hon. friend the Attorney-General for Ireland talking of the situation of the landlords after 1881 as one surrounded with exasperation, and speaking of the landlords going impoverished. One would have thought to hear him that prior to 1881 there had been a paradise in Ireland, so magnificently described by the last speaker, in which the landlords were the natural friends and guardians of the people of Ireland. Was there no agitation in regard to the relations between landlords, and tenants before 1881?
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON, Londonderry, N.)
What I said was that the Act of 1881 had surrounded the agricultural population with exasperation and litigation.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
Well, there are worse things than litigation: there are more primitive kinds of conflict. Litigation is a kind of quarrel in which there is an arbiter who will settle the matter, but the exasperation which preceded the Act of 1881 was not an exasperation of litigation but it 1469 was an exasperation of a much more troublesome kind, and many a landlord would have been glad to substitute for that exasperation the litigation which subsequently ensued. Under the Act of 1881 an assured position had been created for the tenantry of Ireland, for they secured a re-adjustment of rents and the fresh assessment of these at particular intervals; and I do want to know—and I hope the Chief Secretary will attend to this matter, which has been mentioned at least a dozen times, when he comes to reply—what defence the Government can offer for penalising under Section 17 of this Bill a person who declines to take advantage of the operations of this measure by depriving him of his right at law under another Statute. This seems to m e extraordinary. I could understand a measure which was either optional or compulsory, but here is a kind of cross-breed between option and compulsion. It is optional to decline to take advantage of this provision, but if you decline, in the exercise of the option, you will be penalised by being deprived of most valuable rights and privileges which another Act of Parliament has conferred upon you. Coming to this Bill. I do not suppose that, out of Ireland, the transactions which are adumbrated in it would have entered the imagination. It could not be imagined, out of Ireland, that at one time, and in one place, two people should meet, and one should buy for one figure and the other should sell for another figure the very same thing at the same moment, and then in their trouble they should appeal to John Bull, whom I take to be not only an Englishman but the representative of the three countries, and it so puzzles his brain that he says to the two persons who could not equate their relations, "This is too complicated for me to understand; please don't quarrel any more about it; how much is there to pay?" That seems to me to be the principle of this Bill. I venture to approach the Bill simply as a person acquainted with valuation and having considerable experience in litigation—that much despised art—and arbitration both in this country and in Scotland. The great point with 1470 regard to valuation of interests is to get some past experience to go upon. Now you have had experience under the last Purchase Act, and it has produced an ascertainable result. On an average, seventeen and a half years purchase was the average amount paid. But then it is said, "Oh, that is an experience happening in cases only where the person was perfectly willing to sell." To which I reply that that is the experience always. Take any arbitration or litigation with regard to the settlement of the value of land. The question is, what will a willing buyer give to a willing seller, and if you have a willing buyer coming; to a willing seller during an experience of seventeen and a half year, then you have a definite datum, and can make an absolutely fair start. The next step is to transmute your moral compulsion into money, and to do this you ought just to add the usual and acknowledged 10 per cent. and no more. That is what would be done in any other country in Europe, and certainly in America, except that in America where there is a claim at the instance of a public authority they make very short work of the additional value. I want to see upon that showing how this Bill stands, and here I must dissociate myself from both sides of the House. In the first place I take the landlord's case. I must dissociate myself altogether from my hon. and learned friend the Member for South Shields, who says that we ought to drive a rigid and stiff bargain with the landlord because he has been so much favoured in recent years. I grant that he has been favoured, but I protested strongly in my place at the time against yielding to him, at the clamour of his class, a claim for £300,000 per annum, which was what lubricated the passage of the Local Government Bill. But that is now the law, and we must take the landlord as we find him. The landlord has been clothed and vested by Parliament with those rights, and I am not going back upon the principle that if I want to get at a just value I must take the men exactly in the position in which they are situated. I grant, further, that the landlord has got relief in other ways, and he has got privileges with regard to the sale of his demesne even under the provisions of this Bill; but I will take it 1471 that he has got nothing more than what the law gave him before this Bill came into being, and I find his position is neither better nor worse than the ordinary person whose property is taken from him at the instance of a public authority or a company vested by Parliament with compulsory powers. And now with regard to the tenant. Here again I dissociate myself entirely from the view that the tenant is to be put in to some kind of depreciated position because of the second-term rental having been fixed so much lower. Here again the only safe line is the line of justice and law on the basis of existing rights. The second-term rents are de facto the correct rentals for calculation with regard to purchase. And, therefore, what should I do in such circumstances except apply the ordinary provisions and practice in a situation in which a public authority, for public purposes, changes the nature of a man's interest and pays him in money for what has hitherto been his exclusive property. I start with my seventeen-and-a half years, and I add to that 1.7 years or 10 per cent., and I reach 19.2 years purchase, and that is the limit of it by the ordinary law; but make it twenty years purchase. After considering and reconsidering the matter, I cannot see that the landlord is entitled to one penny more. After considering and reconsidering the matter I cannot see that the tenant is entitled or bound to pay more than eighteen years purchase. I am taking in each case the seventeen-and-a-half years, or rather eighteen years purchase us the full price, and then I add a percentage from the State. For it is the act of the State as the undertakers because it is carrying on a large onerous public undertaking, and it is the act of the State that warrants this extra payment of two years purchase. The tenant, in short, should pay only eighteen years, and the State as the commander of this undertaking should pay only two years, making in all twenty years purchase.
Now what is the finance of the arrangement under the Bill? It is as follows. It is rather difficult to get the correct number of people affected by this but I take Act, the number to be about 490,000 holdings, less 90,000 already settled and arranged, leaving in all about 1472 400,000 holdings. This, it is assumed, gives an average rental of £10, and the result is that we are dealing with regard to this measure with a rental of £4,000,000. For that rental of £4,000,000, the State, in respect of its inaugurating this enterprise, is to give, as I have said, an extra two years purchase, and therefore the State could give a grant of £8,000,000 for purchase, and this would be for an out-and-out purchase on the very fullest terms. Now, Mr. Speaker, I ask the House, and in particular I do ask my hon. friends below the Gangway, very seriously to consider what is the result of the finance of this Bill. Instead of that eighteen years which the tenant has to pay, he has under the maximum and minimum of this Bill, to pay not eighteen years purchase but from twenty-two to twenty-eight years purchase of the second-term rent. Of course I have no knowledge anything like so adequate or great as that of my hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone on this question, but I agree with him when he says, if, instead of eighteen years purchase, you have from twenty-two to twenty-eight years purchase laid upon the tenantry, that may prove to be a load under which that tenantry will ultimately break down. With regard to the landlords' position it is still more peculiar, and it reaches the grotesque. Instead of the landlord getting only twenty years purchase he gets from twenty-three to thirty-two years purchase, with the assistance of the bonus. I will take this case at the average between the minimum and the maximum. On the average the tenant pays five years too much, that is, he pays the difference between his eighteen years which would be just and the twenty-three years which is to be charged under this Bill. And what does it mean with regard to the landlord? The landlord gets seven-and-a-half years too much, namely, the difference between the twenty years which was justly due and the twenty-seven and a half years which is the medium figure under the Bill. These figures cannot be denied and upon the footing on which I have presented them, the result is this:—the tenant is burdened with five years extra purchase, of £4,000,000 of rental equal to an extra burden of £20,000,000 put upon his shoulders, and the landlord is to receive seven-and-a-half years purchase at £4,000,000 per annum or equal to 1473 £30,000,000. In other words it is £20,000,000 too much which the tenant has to pay, and £30,000,000 too much which the landlord has to get, and that is the scheme of the finance of this Bill.
In regard to the former part of this proposal I ask hon. Members from Ireland to consider whether it is not their duty now to protest against initiating for two-and-a-half generations a scheme which, upon all the essentials of actuarial finance, seems to point to ruin rather than to prosperity. It is a preposterous bargain; it is a speculative transaction in which everybody stands to lose except the landlord, and he can disappear with this money in his pocket leaving the tenant and the State confronting each other in very awkward circumstances. The result is that we may find in the end that the tenantry will have to face a situation after the memory of the transaction has gone in which the one salient feature of the position will be that they will be paying too much per annum and paying a sum as they think harshly imposed by the Government. If the maximum is reached the figures are far worse. If you have twenty-eight years paid instead of eighteen by the tenant, he pays ten years too much, which is equal to £4,000,000 per annum or a total of £40,000,000. If the State pays thirty-two years instead of twenty years it is twelve years too much, and that is equal at £4,000,000 per annum to £ 18,000,000. The figures I have given are sufficiently startling to entitle me to say here and now that I think the Irish Members will deserve every help in this House to make the finance of this Bill more in accord with the elementary principles which ought to govern the valuation of land. I wish to say finally that in my view this stupendous excess makes too great a price to pay for non-compulsion. The effect of non-compulsion will be to widen the area of what I might call the Dillon and De Freyne trouble. All over Ireland you will have cases where bargains will be made on, I hope, the minimum terms, but bargains under which the tenantry will be transmuted into owners and become masters of their own destiny alongside of cases in which such bargains have been refused. I cannot look upon 1474 that as a state of matters that will settle Ireland. My hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General for Ireland talked in a somewhat fantastic way of the retrenchment which would be effected in regard to the Irish police, on which he said they were going to save £300,000 a year. I wonder how much he would have if the Dillon and De Freyne trouble is increased tenfold in Ireland. I see no signs of any such retrenchment in finance in that quarter, unless some scheme be devised for compulsorily taking the land in all cases where there is disorder. Fortunately Ireland gives a precedent as to what may be done in cases of social disturbance. The Lord Lieutenant appears on the scene, pronounces his fiat, suspends the constitution, and imports the police and the military. And all for the sake of not allowing the ordinary law of free meetings and the like to go on. Can we have no help with regard to this Bill from the Lord Lieutenant? I wonder if it is not possible in this Bill to add something of this kind to Section 5. I think if my hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General was only of the mind to do it he might accomplish it in two hours by adding to Section 5 a proviso that wherever there was social disturbance caused or threatened by the non adoption of the Act the Lord Lieutenant could issue his fiat and make the position such that it would be necessary for the provisions of this Bill to come into operation. It looks very simple; but you will hear more of it as years go on, and unless something of that kind is done you will have recurrent trouble in Ireland. More and more the idea of universal compulsion will come forward, and more and more men's minds will turn to some compromise between universal compulsion and a case of specific policy of intervention on the ground of social disorder—such disorder as forms an overwhelming case for particular compulsion. I present that view to the House, and I think that even under this Bill it is possible for us to rearrange Section 5 and other clauses in such a way as will at all events put the Government in the position of saying that they will adopt this principle wherever social disturbance or social crime exists. The Lord Lieutenant is now vested with authority to suspend the ordinary law 1475 and import the police, and I want him to have power to make the importation of the police unnecessary by putting in a beneficent provision such as I have indicated. Let the Government introduce a clause which will bring in the Lord Lieutenant, this time not to do what the people do not want, but to do what the people do want; let him have power not to suspend the constitution but to make this constitutional measure of healing applicable to the disturbed districts. Of course all these things seem simple as to be almost fantastic. Simple as the matter seems, and as it grows more familiar it will be more and more thought of in Ireland, and it will be found that we are not in future to treat the machinery of law and order simply for upsetting law and order, but surely also for a purpose for which it was created, viz., giving the whole tenantry of Ireland the benefit of the law in its best and most beneficent sense. Without these two things—better terms and some provision authorising some public authority to take stock of the situation and get the Act adopted in cases of social disturbance—I think the Bill may prove a leap in the dark. It may provoke even wilder jealousies in many localities than past history can show. But there are in this Bill the bones of a skeleton which, if properly clothed may be productive of great good, and if the measure is suitably amended, a happier day may yet dawn for Ireland, when industrial prosperity and social peace will take the place of the present unrest and distress.
§ COLONEL WYNDHAM-QUIN (Glamorganshire, S.)
I am prepared to support this Bill, not only on account of the national spirit, which I contend is as strong on this side of the House as it is on the other, but also on behalf of my constituents in the principality of Wales. The Government, in introducing it, have shown that while busily engaged in knitting together our ties of Empire beyond the seas they are not unmindful of the Celtic fringe on this side of the Atlantic. Some twenty years ago it was my lot to be serving with my regiment in Ireland and on the staff of the then Lord Lieutenant. It was a time of great anxiety, and from my knowledge of the country at that 1476 period and from my sad experience of the wholesale evictions which took place in the year 1882, many of which it was my duty to attend, I should never have thought it possible that anything like the conciliatory spirit now prevailing among all classes could have been brought about. I take, therefore, this opportunity of tendering my sincere thanks and congratulations, not only to the representatives of the landlords but also to those representatives of the tenants who sat in the late Conference at Dublin, for, doubtless, it is principally due to the tact and ability shown by the nominees of the people that conclusions of so satisfactory a character were arrived at. I believe it is largely owing to the work of the joint conference of landlords and tenants that this Bill has been framed and introduced. Ireland herself is to be congratulated on having, at this most critical period of her history, a Chief Secretary with the heart to resolve, the head to conceive, and the hand to execute. I shall vote for this measure, feeling that those I represent have embarked their money in a thoroughly sound business undertaking, and if any hon. Members have doubts on that score, I think they must have been reassured, not only by the admirable speech delivered by the Chief Secretary on the First Reading of this Bill, but also by the explanations we received yesterday from the Attorney-General on the financial side of the question. The right hon. Gentleman told us that out of the £25,000,000 already invested in land purchase in Ireland, only £3,000 now remained in arrears, and that it was probable a good deal of even that comparatively small sum would be received.
I repeat it should not have been stated both in the Press and on public platforms, that the sum of £12,000,000, to be provided by this country in order to ensure the passage of the Bill, constituted anything in the nature of a bribe to the landlords. Surely it is just as much a contribution to the purchase price of the tenants, for we have (1) the reserve price of the landlord; (2) the offer of the tenant, while the bonus given by the State completes the bid, a bid for the priceless possession of peace and concord in 1477 Ireland, and which may be obtained as has already been mentioned by my right hon. friend the Member for North Armagh, at about one quarter the cost incurred by the construction of one viaduct.
Sir, I conceive no good purpose would be served were I to go into the history of Land Legislation in Ireland during the last twenty years, or the unhappy results it has produced; they are too well known, not only to hon. Members of this House but also to the general public outside. I would like, however, to put one question to my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary in connection with the financial proposals of the Bill, I should like to know what position the Remainder Man will find himself in should it become law. I myself am what may be called a Remainder Man and, curiously enough, my partner in the trust with which I am connected happens to be the noble Lord who presided with so much ability and success at the recent Land Conference. My question to the Chief Secretary is this: "In the event of the vendor being tenant for life, will that portion of the bonus of the free grant which goes to him be at his absolute disposal or will it be vested in the estate trustees? "I am given to understand that my noble friend will have the absolute disposal of this sum, and if that be the case, I should like very much to know where I come in, for I clearly foresee that while my noble friend and his former tenants are waxing fat on the proceeds of the bonus, the day may arise when I, who ought to have participated in these good things, will, the only discontented man in Ireland, be wandering about the streets of Limerick soliciting alms for the poor Remainder Man.
Sir, I deplore the suggestion that this Bill has been brought forward for any political purpose or with the object of in any degree promoting the repeal of the Union. It is most unfortunate that any such statement should have been made. I am a patriotic Irishman, and the only object I have in supporting the Bill is to secure agrarian peace in my country. No one can foretell what the result of the Bill will be from the political point of view, but I hold that it will certainly bring about a more satisfactory state of things 1478 generally and a better feeling than has existed for many years past. Ireland, too, in her altered circumstances, will learn that no national independence an subsist without due regard for social organisation, the absence of intimidation, or the curtailment of individual liberty. Undoubtedly there is at the present moment a sincere desire for peace and goodwill, a sentiment which, I believe, has found an echo in the hearts of many of those living on this side of St. George's Channel, and a yearning that Parliament will set its seal on the goodwill which has already been commenced. Personally I feel with regard to this Bill that there is absolutely no alternative to offer, and if we do not adopt it, then we shall have to go back to the unhappy condition of affairs which has prevailed in Ireland for so many years in the past. I, for one, shall vote for it with a light heart and easy conscience, justified with the knowledge that I am not only acting in the best interests of those I represent, but following my own inclinations as an Irishman whose family has never been absentee but for generations dwelt on the soil it owned, which has ever identified itself with the local life of the people, and I am proud to think on the occasion of every election before the Union, contributed a Member to the national Parliament of Ireland.
§ MR. MOULTON (Cornwall, Launceston)
I fear that what I have to say will be somewhat out of sympathy with most of the speeches which have been delivered in this debate, because, whether they have been in favour of or opposed to the Bill, there has been manifested in them a tendency to regard this measure as a very great and noble effort, coming at a particularly favourable crisis. I cannot regard the Bill in any such light. Its appearance did not surprise me. It seems to me that a Bill, or I ought rather to say a proposition, of this kind, which would very likely be taken up by a Unionist Government, must have been felt to be inevitable by any person who studied the history of economics in Ireland during the last ten years. It has been suggested—and I confess I was touched by the eloquent language of the hon. Member for East Mayo on this point—that it is the result of some 1479 wonderful spell of peace that has come upon Ireland as though breathed by an angelic ministrant. But when one comes to consider what it is to which that language is applied, one feels that such language may be spared. The origin of the measure is found to be a meeting of representatives of tenants and landlords in Ireland, at which resolutions were come to that the landlords should, if they chose, be paid a large price for land which was to be sold to the tenants, if they elected to take it at a price which required much smaller annual payments than they are now paying as rent, and that the burden of the arrangement should be borne by an absent party. Bear in mind that in each case it is an option, not an obligation. Really, I think it is not a wonderful thing that the representatives of these two parties should vote in favour of these valuable options without obligations being given to them when the burden is to be borne by a third party, namely, the British nation.
As a representative of the nation which will not benefit by this proposal, but which will have to bear the burden, I have always watched Irish questions with the deepest sympathy, and I have found with great regret that they are always discussed in this House either with passion or with sentiment—both quite fatal to good legislation. If sentiment means a desire to consider the feelings of those whom the legislation touches, then sentiment ought always to be present in our debates; but if sentiment means yielding to a vague feeling of desire, not educated by knowledge, it is a bad guide. I feel satisfied that when we come to consider this subject quietly and clearly we shall find two things: first, that this is not a crisis which we ought to seize for the purpose of making a gigantic experiment, unknown in the history of the world, in order to get what I think will be a doubtful good; and, secondly, whatever be our opinions about the Bill, that it is very unfair that this measure should be passed without consulting those who are to bear the expense, viz., the British nation. And this second point goes to the root of the Motion that is now before the House. What is the meaning of this Bill being brought in 1480 now? The Bill is one which will only slowly be put into force. It is an optional Bill. If the desire to avail of the option does not last with the tenant or with the landlord, the Bill in future years will be barren. Why, then, can you not wait until the nation has been consulted, before you bring in a Bill the working of which will depend on the temper of the people, not at the present moment but some years hence? I will tell you why. It is because no Government could go to an election with the weight of this Bill on its shoulders. It is said that the English nation do not understand Irish questions. That is the best of all reasons for not risking £140,000,000 upon a suggested solution of an Irish difficulty. The nation would want to know whether the change to be effected was of such paramount importance that a vast outlay and risk of this kind must now be incurred in precedence of all other wants of the nation, and I doubt whether you would be able to give a satisfactory answer to such a question to the electorate of England.
I want to examine quietly but thoroughly the desirability of this Bill, from the point of view of what now exists in Ireland, and what you are going to make this gigantic experiment to settle.
I have listened with the greatest interest to the references to the Act of 1881. The greater part of those references have alluded to the Act as though it were a temporary nuisance that fortunately is now to be swept away. Such is not my view, and I was glad to hear the hon. Member for East Mayo speak of it as the commencement of legislation in favour of the tenants. It is far more than that. It fixed those very rights which we are now thinking of commuting, and it did it in such a way that by no manner of means can the property of the Irish tenant in his land be either diminished or transferred to another by any act of his landlord. By that Act the Irish tenant became as definitely and completely an owner of his land in the sense of being free from the fear that the product of his labour or the land on which he expended it would be taken from him as though he had been made a freeholder. I quite admit there have been abuses of the Act, but I think I shall be able to show that those abuses were not due to any defect of principle, but to a radically bad system 1481 of administration. After long consideration, I have come to the conclusion that, if you want a free and unencumbered peasantry, the very best thing is to have fixity of tenure, with a rent fixed by an external power that fixes it on the principle of a fair rent. The proposed scheme of land purchase does not effect this. I know that the picture that is always drawn of the Land Purchase Acts is that of a man paying his instalments year after year, and then, when the last instalment is paid, having the unencumbered freehold of the land. Is that the result of land purchase? Long before that time comes, one generation at least will have passed away. Probably the whole of the savings of the man have been invested in the farm, and he has to leave, not to one, but to each of his children, some portion of the little he has thus put by. That little is to be found in the farm. The consequence is that the farm has to be burdened or sold. You cannot make a peasantry permanently wealthy; you can make them permanently entitled to the possession of land and the right to cultivate it, but you cannot make them permanent unencumbered freeholders.
What is the difference between the ultimate position when they have purchased their land under the proposal of this Bill and the position under the rights given them by the existing Land Acts properly administered It is this. A tenant under the Land Acts properly r administered has a permanent right to cultivate his land without the expense of purchasing his farm; but a tenant under a system of freehold proprietorship, whether it is a peasant proprietor or any other, can cultivate his farm only after he has purchased or rented it and—if you are going to prevent renting, only after he has purchased it. But if there is a difficulty in regard to adequate cultivation under a system of small holdings, it is that the tenants have not the capital necessary to get the full result from the land. Are you going to better that by a system of tenancy under which they have to acquire their land before they can cultivate it, when, if only properly administered, they already have a system whereby they have not first to acquire in order to cultivate? I 1482 can assure hon. Members that if they carefully consider the position of peasant cultivators under the two tenures they will find that the probability is that those under a freehold tenure will be in a far inferior position to those holding land on the principle of fair-rents. One speaker lamented the fact that where you have small holdings you have mortgages, and he thought that that might be restrained. Why, without mortgages small holdings would be impossible. Where would the tenants get the money to acquire their holdings?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Member, but I should derive much more information from his speech if he would address himself to the point that the instalments by which the tenant is to acquire his holding are less than the rent.
§ MR. MOULTON
I can assure the Chief Secretary that I have not forgotten that point, and I am going to deal with that presently. What I am pointing out is this: You are asking England to go into a huge experiment, risking, as I have shown, £120,000,000, and giving £12,000,000, for the purpose of changing the tenure from the right to cultivate at a fair rent, without using capital to acquire the freehold into a universal or quasi-universal tenure under which the tenant will have the freehold, but he must pay for it by mortgaging the property, or borrowing the money in some other way. I say it is, at all events, a very grave question whether the tenure under the Act of 1881, properly administered, is not far better than that of the encumbered freehold, as it must been cumbered, in the hands of a peasant proprietary. The encumbrances on small freeholds, especially when, as in this Bill, there is a limited right of mortgage, will be due to money borrowed, either to acquire the land or to cultivate it, and the interest that will have to be paid on that money, especially when you are prevented from giving the land as a security for the money, must always be at a high percentage. It has been found in connection with almost every system of peasant proprietary that there have been mortgages and liabilities to money-lenders- which have produced 1483 grievous financial and economic difficulties. At all events, it must be admitted that it is a very debateable question whether the proposed system is better than the existing system if properly administered, and certainly the continuation of the present system involves no expenditure or risk of national capital.
Let us, for a moment, consider whether the defects of the Act of 1881 are such as to justify universal condemnation. My feeling about it is that, if properly administered, it gave at one stroke the complete charter of the Irish peasant. What is more, even though under this Bill you may have, dotted all over Ireland, patches of land held under other tenures, the security that the tenant will never fall back into the position of an over-rented man will always be the 1881 Act. The defect of that Act was that instead of adopting the principle of fixing the fair rent in kind, so that when you had once got the rent of the holding settled it would automatically adjust itself with the price of produce, you allowed free litigation at the end of every fifteen years, just as if the plot had never been valued before. If a system had been adopted by which the natural produce of the land under tillage was noted, and the variations in price of such produce automatically fixed the rent, substantially the whole of this litigation would have been obviated. The condition of the land at the end of the fifteen years ought to affect the rent neither for good nor for evil. If you raise the value of the land by cultivation the rent ought not to be raised, and if you neglect it the rent should not be lowered. If such a system as that which I have described, had been adopted all through Ireland, there would have been a fair rent determined from time to time automatically and without litigation, the payment of which would have rendered the tenant as secure in his holding as if he had been the freeholder. I know the Chief Secretary believes that by this reduction he is going to put the tenant in a better position than he would be in under a fair rent, because he is going to take off, he says, 10 per cent., I say 25 per cent., of the second term judicial rents. But even thus he does not give to the tenants the security of a fair-rent tenure. He is going to take it off once for all, and who would 1484 say what the price of agricultural produce will be twenty years hence? Prices may go down so much that the rents fixed to-day will be as crushing as were the rents of old. The only ground on which the Irish representatives, of the tenants are right in accepting this Bill, is that they get an immediate reduction of 25 per cent., and they know perfectly well, just as we know, that if the price of produce falls, so that the instalments are too heavy for the tenants to pay, England will not dare enforce payment no matter what arrangements had been made. Therefore, the bargain we are asked to enter into is to consent to an enormous immediate reduction of rent, without any security that it can be paid. Of course the proposal is gladly accepted by the Irish tenants. No wonder the Bill is popular in Ireland—it ought to be. No wonder the Irish representatives fight for it—they ought to. But I speak on behalf of a part of the United Kingdom that is not in Ireland. You are asking us to go into this huge land speculation with the certainty that if prices go up we cannot raise that which the tenants will have to pay, and with the certainty that if prices go down, we dare not exact that which they promised to pay, and no man can look ahead for sixty years and say that that is a prudent bargain for the British nation to make.
These considerations take away any enthusiasm I might otherwise feel for a system of land purchase. It is costly and risky to the British nation and is not so good for the tenants as the present system if properly administered. If half the ability that has been shown by the representatives of the Irish constituencies, and if the skill which they have thrown into piloting through systems of land purchase had been thrown into getting rid of the two real mischiefs of the administration of the Act of 1881—first the de novo valuation after each fifteen years, and secondly, the crowd of officials, surveyors and lawyers who live on that Act, and keep up litigation—if they had expended half that ability and skill in the working out of that Act, which I consider gives a more perfect system of protection for the poor peasant, I feel satisfied that, so far from being glad to get rid of the Act of 1881, the peasants 1485 would feel that it was in very truth, as intended by Mr. Gladstone, the real defence of the poor.
So much for the question as it affects the tenants. Now, let me turn to the landlords. Here is a Bill introduced only a few months after the suggestion of the scheme it embodies was first made. It is introduced in the middle of a Parliament which, at its election, never dreamt of such a thing as this. This Bill as brought in is framed as a Landlords' Relief Bill and not as a Tenants' Relief Bill. The terms it secures to the landlords are such as they could never get by free bargaining. I am satisfied that if the British nation at an election had to pronounce upon these terms, there would not be the slightest chance of getting them accepted. Let me ask the Chief Secretary what defence there can be for a Bill for promoting the purchase and sale of land in Ireland, the very first enactment of which is that not only shall not one penny of the bonus go, but not one penny of the money to be lent under this Act shall go to carry out a purchase from a landlord who does not insist upon twenty-two years purchase. That is the very first enactment in this Bill. Unless he insists upon twenty-two years purchase not a single penny of this £12,000,000 shall go to assist a landlord to sell his land. And yet the average number of years purchase in sales under previous Land Purchase Acts has for many years past varied between seventeen and eighteen. In the face of this do you think that any argument will persuade the British people that this is not a Bill for the purpose of preventing the landlord from selling his land cheap? How can you get over this? Why should the Bill say that you are not to use that public money which we are asked to provide except in the case of bargains which are five years more than the average of free bargains? I know that in a debate like this one must restrain one's self, but if you look closely into this question you can see plainly that this Bill has to be rushed through in order that landlords may get large prices for their land. These 1486 prices I have shewn are far beyond those obtained by landlords who came in under the former Land Purchase Acts. Why should anyone have better terms than those settled by free bargain. Nothing could be stronger than the long succession of returns issued year after year upon this point, which show that the proper number of years is seventeen or eighteen, and whenever it comes to a higher figure it is because it is reckoned in depreciated land stock. Yet here we have a Bill that insists upon these terms being exceeded on the part of the landlords before it gives them the assistance of any public money.
I understand the support that is given by the Irish Party to this Bill, and I do not blame them at all, and least of all do I attempt to criticise politically their conduct. I feel that in political management and in understanding how to take advantage of the weakness and the strength of a representative system we are all amateurs compared with the Irish Party. We have seen them during all these years supporting a cause against which was arrayed the whole of the wealth and power of England. We have seen them bit by bit getting their own way, and now they have come to obtain the last and final triumph of their skill. They know perfectly well that this Bill cannot work out to the injury of the tenant, for they know well that if it results in payments which oppress the tenants their serried ranks will soon get the terms altered. In other words it greatly benefits the tenant at the moment, and it cannot be maintained in the future if it hurts him. Otherwise they would protest against the absurdity of the land tenure that is contemplated. The land tenure is to be this: That the holdings of to-day are to be stereotyped. They are not to be sub-let, sub-divided or mortgaged unless you get leave from a Government official. In other words, the whole administration of these small holdings will be in the hands of Government officials, and if anybody thinks that this will be a tolerable system of land tenure in the circumstances under which these officials work, representing in the eyes 1487 of the peasants an alien Government, he must be of a singularly sanguine frame of mind. That is the land tenure you propose to set up. Nor am I surprised at the support that the Bill receives from the Irish landlords and their friends. The future success or failure of the arrangement with the tenants does not concern them. The money which is going to be paid to the landlords for the whole purchase is; going to be cash, and when once you have paid the cash away you may whistle for it, but you cannot recall it. This bargain is one which they naturally support. But those who have regard for the interests of the British nation ought to insist, at all events, upon time being given to the nation to consider this Bill. When I think of the needs of England, when I look at the wants of our towns and of the dwellers in slums, and the way in which any assistance they have has to be borne, not by the general taxpayer but probably by a very over burdened town through its rates—when I see how the most niggardly and stern economy is shown even in connection with such a thing as stimulating thrift by allowing good interest on the savings of the people, when, not only is no mercy shown but even harsh finance is insisted on in these and other like matters, I say to myself what justification is there, when we have given to the Irish peasant certainty of tenure and security against being over-rented—what justification is there for asking Parliament now to place this huge burden on the shoulders of the nation? What justification is there for entering on this enormous borrowing at a time when Consols in three or four years have fallen 20 per cent., when our expenditure is so high and the difficulty of borrowing so great that it looks as if this 1488 money would be lent to Ireland at less than it costs us to raise it? I no justification for it, and I am satisfied that the country will not either. Those hon. Members who sit on the opposite side will support the Government because it is the Government, but that is a very different thing from getting the support of the nation. The nation has never been asked its opinion of this proposal, and the only time a similar Bill was put before them the people at once stamped it with their disapproval. Feeling as I do how many other things there are which are more pressing, I say that if you have no better scheme than this, if you have no other scheme whereby this tenure will be set up on more reasonable terms without making this demand on the national credit, then you ought to wait. I am satisfied that the constituencies of this country will say that we should not cripple powers of dealing with other national needs simply to jump at a bargain whereby the landlords of Ireland are so grossly overpaid.
§ Mr. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)
I am certain that the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman will not convince the House, and I am equally confident that the hard-headed farmers of the Launceston Division will know very much better on that point than the hon. and learned Member. Knowing that the present condition of things cannot fail to cause unrest and dissatisfaction, surely it is the highest statesmanship to endeavour to remove it. The hon. Member for Launceston has trotted out again the accusation of this measure being a Landlords' Relief Bill. We heard a great deal of that sort of thing during the last session of Parliament 1489 Only yesterday we heard the hon. Member for Bedfordshire call it a landlords' dole. Unfortunately, whenever there is a proposal in this House to promote the welfare and the interest of the tenant farmer, hon. Members opposite can always be found ready to hinder the passage of such a measure of justice by crying "landlords' dole." I do not stand here as an advocate for preferential treatment to either landlord or tenant. It may be that under this Bill too favourable terms are proposed for the landlord, but if that is so I venture to submit that is a question to be dealt with in Committee, and not upon the Second Reading. I rose principally in this debate for two purposes. In the first place, as a British agriculturist I wish to congratulate the Irish farmers upon having within their reach a settlement of the Land Question on the principles laid down in the Bill before the House, and I venture to say that though good security to the tenant farmer is valuable security, the ownership is still more valuable, and more likely to call forth the greatest capabilities of the occupier in the development of his holding. My second purpose is to tender to the right hon. Gentleman my congratulations for the courage and statesmanship which he has shown in introducing this great measure. Never, in my judgment, has such an opportunity occurred to settle this difficult problem on a permanent basis. Owners and occupiers, and, in fact, the united Irish people, are anxious for a settlement on just and equitable lines, and I cannot think that this House would be justified in refusing to approach the question with a determination to settle it on a satisfactory and just basis. There are details in the Bill which I think will require considerable amendment, but that 1490 is a matter for Committee rather than for the Second Reading. I confess that I listened to the various Amendments foreshadowed by the Leader of the Irish Party with considerable apprehension, but I believe that if we approach these matters in Committee with moderation the difficulties which present themselves at first sight will be overcome, although I feel that while my constituents are anxious for a settlement of this question, they will not consent to assume the responsibility that will devolve upon them under this Bill unless it offers a fair prospect of being a permanent settlement. I will not attempt here to review previous land legislation for Ireland, for I admit that land purchase under the Ashbourne Acts has been successful. Nearly 80,000 tenants who have purchased their holdings under that Act are prosperous, and, as shown by the statistics given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick, these tenants have greatly increased the productive power of their holdings, and they possess better dwellings and enjoy increased prosperity. I think that we should be neglecting our responsibilities if we did not use this tangible proof of prosperity to further extend the system. If the agrarian difficulty in Ireland is to be settled this Bill is inevitable. I am convinced that there is no alternative, and because I believe that this Bill will promote the prosperity of Ireland I support it, and I do so also because I dread to think of the consequences that may follow if the hopes that have been engendered by the very moderate discussion of this question in Ireland are dashed to the ground.
The hon. Member for Launceston makes a great deal of the cost to this country. Like the hon. and learned Member I depend for my position in this House 1491 upon the votes of the electors, and I am not afraid to go and tell the electors that the cost of this Bill will be £390,000 per annum, and at the same time we shall be saving on Irish expenditure £250,000. I have every confidence that the electors will be satisfied that to secure justice to Ireland, and secure what we hope will be a permanent settlement of the Irish Land Question, it will be well worth the expenditure of the money which I have stated. Personally I am persuaded that the security is good. I know that doubt exists upon this point, but surely this can be made quite clear in Committee. Before I sit down I should like to refer to the charge brought against Unionists of inconsistency in supporting this Bill, whereas we felt it incumbent to oppose Mr. Gladstone's Bill of 1886. In reply to that argument I would remind hon. Members that that Bill was part of a Home Rule scheme which we believe would have proved injurious to England and Ireland alike. I know there is a difference of opinion on that point, but I maintain to give effect to this scheme of voluntary purchase is to consistently carry on the Unionist method of dealing with the Irish Land Question. Hon. Members who make this charge little realise that the great hope and desire of Unionism is to help to promote the prosperity of Ireland, to join in the uplifting of the nation, and to enable the Irish people to enjoy to the full the advantages of being part of this great Empire. Therefore I feel quite justified in voting for this Bill. We intend to do everything we can to bind the Irish people to this country in bonds of loyalty and kindred association, and I think this Bill will be a step in that direction. Mr. Gladstone's Bill of 1886 1492 compelled the tenant to purchase, and there was a much greater temptation to refuse to pay the instalments there under than there will be by the voluntary purchase provided by this Bill. I maintain that the very position of things under this Bill will conduce to that end. There is truth in the statement that the Irish farmers are being offered better terms than are now enjoyed by the English farmer, but I have faith in the Unionist Party. Everything that has been done in late years for the English farmers has been done by the Unionist Party. I support the Unionist Party in this attempt to do the Irish people justice, and then look to them to do the English farmers justice also. I would like to see a system of land purchase in this country. I believe that this Bill will create in the breasts of Irishmen a sense of security, will lead to the greater development of the country, and will remove that friction between the agricultural classes which has, in the past, distressed the land and retarded progress. I intend to vote for the Bill.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
I am glad to have an opportunity to say a word in favour of this Bill, and especially so because of the opposition that has been shown on this side of the House, The hon. Member for the Launceston Division seemed to think that the Act of 1831 was the "be all and end all "of legislation on the Irish Land Question. Every one who knows anything about Ireland is aware that there is endless litigation under that Act which cannot be got through. It pleases neither landlord nor tenant. Under it the landlord has seen his rents twice reduced, and is looking forward to a further reduction. He is 1493 consequently dissatisfied, and the tenant is also dissatisfied, because, at the end of his fifteen years tenure, he is not inclined to make his holding look too good; he is always afraid to put on its best clothes, so to speak, or to put on any air of prosperity for fear of his rent not being reduced. So that dual ownership, which was necessary as an intermediate step, is breaking down. My hon. and learned friend also said that the position of the tenant under dual ownership was far better than that of the occupier of the land. He cannot have read the remarkable Report recently presented to the House. That report shows that with regard to what is produced on the land, the condition of the tenements, and the standard of living, there has been a great advance all along the line. Then, particularly on the question of encumbrance, that Report shows that instead of these occupying owners becoming more and more encumbered, they are less encumbered. In one way the landlords are getting too much under this Bill, but then the rent of land in Ireland is not like the rent of land in England. The two cases stand on very different grounds.
This Bill is a non-compulsory Bill. I wish it were a compulsory Bill; but hon. Members opposite are pledged against compulsion, and if you are to have a non-compulsory Bill, you must have terms that will induce the landlords to sell and the tenants to buy. The landlords say they must have the same income in the future as in the past. In my opinion the encumbered ones will get more, but you must level up rather than level down. If you level down this Bill will have no effect, and if you pass a Bill on these lines it must be on the line of levelling up rather 1494 than down. It is very difficult for a non technical man to arrive at the rights of the case. Some look at the number of years, but I would rather look at the actual reduction to the tenant. Is it not the case that the number of years' purchase must vary according to the terms on which the money is borrowed? I am a supporter of the principle of the Bill, and I am not what a Member of the Government called a "minimum supporter. What ever may be the Party in power this is not the time for heroic measures. There is a great deal to be said for evolution rather than revolution. The Irish question is the greatest Imperial problem that has yet to be solved. The heart of the empire must be sound, and it cannot be sound so long as Ireland is disaffected. Ireland has too long been a political nightmare and a source of unrest to us. It must be generally admitted that the differences between landlord and tenant are the chief irritants, and it must be conceded that land purchase is probably the best method of meeting the difficulties that face us in Ireland. The spirit of this Bill is accepted by all parties in Ireland. A great deal has been said about the unpopularity of the measure in this country, but on the other hand, I am quite sure that the great heart of the people of this country is sound as regards Ireland, and if they see a chance of having the question settled they will not grudge the money. On the other hand what will happen to this empire if we meet this Bill by a non possumus. Who would dare to contemplate the results that would follow such an attitude; and who would then like to be responsible for the government of Ireland? The present state of affairs has been called a "truce of God," and I am glad to think such a phrase can be used 1495 with truth for the first time in a century. I ask hon. Members on this side who oppose the Bill what is their remedy for Ireland? It is said this state of things is a mere subterfuge—a pretence to make a raid on the British Treasury. I think it is impossible to simulate unanimity except on the basis of some principle in which all believe. I do not think much about the bonus, but the loan is a very large matter, and it is right for the sake of the taxpayers that we should take every possible measure to ensure success, and to see that we have proper security. The real inducement to the landlord does not lie in the face of the Bill, as many landlords have considerable mortgages on their estates at higher rates than 3¼ per cent. The weakness of the Bill is that there is no compulsion. It is said you cannot draw a Bill containing compulsion, but you can draw one containing a penalty on the landlords not selling in the same way as is imposed on the tenants in Clause 17. I think the bonus must be equally divided whatever it is. My real doubt is as to whether the tenants will be able to pay up their instalments. Land-hunger still exists in Ireland, and where it exists it must make the tenants weak. We ought not to make the terms too high, because if we do there is a great danger of the Bill breaking down before twenty years go by. I am informed that the Land Commissioners have in the past refused to ratify bargains under which second term rents are to be reduced merely 10 per cent. Such terms have in many cases in the past been reduced by the Land Commission, and we ought to be very careful on that point in the future. I think that 10 per cent. as the minimum reduction ought to be increased, at any rate, to 15 per cent., 1496 and if the bonus we have to give on that account is more, then I would rather we gave £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 more, than that the arrangement should break down and we risk the loan of £100,000,000.
A great deal has been said as to the effect of this measure on Home Rule. If Home Rule, or a demand for autonomy, rests on the fundamental fact that there is a difference between the English and the Irish people, then something in the nature of autonomy will come, but if that is not so, the demands will die down and the matter will not trouble us, and, thank God, the bogey of Home Rule will not trouble us in the constituencies. I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which he has dealt with the difficult problems which underlie the question of Irish land, and I most heartily congratulate the Irish people on the remarkable manner in which they have come together in this matter. The present state of affairs in Ireland has been called a "truce of God." My fervent prayer is that it may not be a truce only, but a permanent peace.
§ And, it being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Don Thursday.
§ Adjourned at two minutes after Twelve o'clock.