§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [4th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Which Amendment was—
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Coghill.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debated resumed.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N. W.)
I am aware that not a small 39 number of my hon. friends on this side of the House feel very great repugnance to the financial provisions of this Bill, and I believe that with some of them that repugnance is so strong that they intend either to vote against the Bill or to abstain from going into the Division Lobby. I am bound to say that my repugnance to the financial proposals of the measure is quite as strong, perhaps, as that of my hon. friends, and I was at first disposed to take the course which they, supported by many weighty reasons, have decided to adopt. But I could not help reflecting that the finances of this Bill are in the main almost entirely to be found by the Irish people, and consequently I recognise what the hon. Member for Waterford, and the other able leaders of the Irish Party, who have been associated with the cause of Irish land reform for twenty years or more, have unhesitatingly affirmed, viz., that in their judgment the Second Reading of this Bill should pass. They have declared their belief that if it be passed into law, with certain reasonable Amendments, it will give an assurance of a happier era of peace and prosperity for the people of Ireland; I hope therefore my hon. friends on this side of the House will not think me presumptuous if I say that they will take a very grave responsibility upon themselves should they oppose the Second Reading because they distrust the financial proposals so far as Ireland's responsibility is concerned, and because they regard with distaste the proposed bonus, representing a capital sum of £12,000,000, together with the annual payment amounting to somewhere about £300,000. I recognise that the financial proposals of this Bill are unsatisfactory, but I try to put myself in the position of the Irish people, and this is the conclusion I have come to. By this Bill we are purchasing—it is true for a considerable sum of money—from the Irish landlord the economic emancipation of the Irish peasantry, and if the Irish landlord has the hereditary itching palm, We may well be content to pay him this money rather than that the Bill should be lost. In other words we may say to him "you may keep the change." That is the position which I take up with regard to this measure, and I propose to give it my support, subject to certain Amendments which I believe the Chief 40 Secretary for Ireland will be willing favourably to consider. I will go even farther and say that if anyone contemplates our agrarian policy in Ireland, and if anyone will take the trouble to look at the present congested condition of Connaught, he will come to the conclusion that it would not be too much if we were to make a free gift of £100,000,000 sterling to the Irish people, instead of advancing it by way of loan. I must say, under these circumstances, that I think the attitude of some of my hon. friends upon this question is incomprehensible. I do not regard the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent as incomprehensible; it would be difficult to do that at any time. He told us, in the able speech which he made, that he objected to the Bill because he thought it would facilitate Home Rule. I believe that the Government have, by their Local Government Bill, and by this Bill, laid the foundations of the structure of self-government which they or we shall finish. I hold that the Bill removes one of the main objections to Home Rule which was urged by the Unionist Party in 1886, viz., the danger of the landlords being oppressed by the grant of local government and by its employment by the Irish people. In the removal of that objection I think we have one of the strongest assurances for the future prosperity of Ireland.
I wish to draw the attention of the Chief Secretary to what will happen regarding his preposterous financial proposals. I do not vouch for the accuracy of my figures, but I have worked out the problem as best I could, as to what will be the effect of the Bill on first-term tenancies of £100 per annum. I find that for such a holding the tenant now gives twenty years purchase, and the landlord gets £2,000. He invests this £2,000 cash at 3¼ per cent., and receives £65 per annum. But under this Bill, in order to sell a similar holding, it has to be reduced by 20 per cent.; that brings it down to £80; that you capitalise at 3¼ per cent., and you arrive at £2,461. To that you add the bonus of 15 per cent., and the landlord gets £2,830 which, if invested at 3¼ per cent., brings in £92 per year. Thus the landlord gets £830 more for the holding under this Bill than he does under existing Acts, and I want to know on what principle of sound finance such an arrangement can be 41 justified. It may be said by the Chief Secretary—indeed, I think he has said it—that we have now reached the end of the willingness of the landlord to sell; that the list of all, or nearly all, of those who are willing to get rid of their estates has been exhausted, and that consequently it is necessary either to have compulsion or to give the landlords something to induce them to sell. But I should like to draw the attention of the Chief Secretary to the figures of the last Return issued by him under the Acts of 1891 and 1896. These Returns show that down to the end of December, 1902, there were 41,133 applications for loans to purchase, or an average of 3,738 per annum. But in the month of January last there were 416 applications, which works out at an average of 4,992 per annum—in other words, at the rate of an increase of 1,000 applications over the average of the preceding eleven years since the Land Act came into operation. These figures may be capable of explanation, but unless there are some exceptional circumstances which explain them, I ask what becomes of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there has ceased to be manifested by the landlords a desire to sell? If my statement be only partially true, or even if it be only inaccurate, surely there can be no justification for the proposed thirty years maximum. The Attorney-General told us that this maximum reduction was retained because there would be pressure brought to bear on the landlord by the tenants, which would interfere with the rapid and facile transaction of purchases. The right hon. Gentleman, at the same time, gave expression to his confidence in the restraining influences exercised by the leaders of the Irish Party on this side of the House, and in the honesty of the Irish peasantry. An eloquent tribute has also been paid to them by Mr. Bailey in his most interesting report, and surely the right hon. Gentleman might trust the tenant to the advice and guidance of those who have conducted this Irish land war for so many years with such startling success, and leave it to them to see that there is no improper pressure brought to bear on the landlords to sell. I find that in this Bill there is no single reference, beyond two or three ridiculous clauses, to any 42 provision being made for the labourers of Ireland. We have passed Acts of Parliament in the interests of the labourers, but those Acts are almost a dead letter in Ireland.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
Well, I have gone most carefully through the figures, and I find that down to the end of 1902 there was not a single instance, in the county of Down, where the Labourers Acts were enforced. They are under the Act to get a beggarly statute acre, but they can only get it at the whim and pleasure of the local authorities. I would like to know how many farm labourers in Ireland have obtained plots.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
The Returns presented to us do not appear to show that. Still, I will not labour the point.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
May I point out that the state of things in the north of Ireland is very different from that prevailing in other parts of the country.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
I would like to ask why the labourers are not included in this Bill? The Prime Minister, in the course of the debate on the King's speech in 1901, said—The labourers will lose heavily by the expropriation of the landlords.At this point someone dissented, and the right hon. Gentleman continued—Well, in my opinion they will lose heavily and they will come to us and say—'Does British credit exist only for the Irish tenant? Are we to have nothing out of it?' My hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone, when that day comes, may stump Ulster from one end to the other, and he may use his great gifts to agitate the passions of another class.I hope many Irish Members will be found ready to agitate in the same way, and that they will be prepared to stump the country in vindication of the just rights of the 300,000 farm labourers in Ireland in order to secure for them some small share or part in this measure. I trust too, that the right hon. Gentleman 43 the Chief Secretary, when he comes to reply on this debate, will make some reference to legislation which may be intended to meet the requirements of this class. As far as I can see, the farm labourers of Ireland are to remain helots. There is no facility afforded, as is afforded in other countries, enabling them to become the peasant proprietors of holdings which might be made available for them by judicious legislation. There is a couleur de rose about Mr. Bailey's report, but if one reads it carefully one sees there is a sinister danger that the emancipated tenants of Ireland will get over-loaded with debt. If I read one paragraph of the report I think it will enable hon. Members to appreciate the gravity of this question. Mr. Bailey, speaking of the local Joint Stock Banks in Ireland says—These banks of late years seem to have ousted the gombeen man, whose rates of interest they, however, often adopt. The obtaining of a loan from a bank is no light matter for a struggling farmer. The interest charged for a small sum often amounts to ten per cent.Again he says—If the system of purchase by State aid is to be a success in Ireland some method should be devised for supplying the small purchasers with capital on easy terms. There is undoubtedly a danger that unless an easy and satisfactory method he adopted of supplying capital, a system of borrowing and mortgaging will spring up that will entail all the disadvantages that frequently attach themselves to a peasant proprietary system. As the purchasers acquire larger interests in their holdings; as unrest, agitation, and the accompanying difficulty of recovering debts secured on land die out, it is almost certain that the moneylender, in one form or another, will again appear and gradually spread over the country.The tenants will raise future loans at higher rates, and in the end will be but in name the owners of the holdings they were enabled to purchase on such favourable terms by the aid of State credit. Let me refer to a German prototype. I have read the declaration made at the time that that edict establishing the Stein Hardenberg system was established, and the one thing that was then regarded as essential was to prevent, by some method or other, peasant proprietors from becoming sunk in debt under a landlordism worse than Irish landlordism. The first thing they did was to establish land banks to advance money to purchasers, properly secured, of course, to 44 enable tenants without capital to carry on their farming operations in a fairly successful way. The defect in this Bill is that it creates a peasant proprietary without taking any steps to preserve that peasant proprietary. I think I will have the good will of my hon. friends from Ireland behind me when I say that we ought to establish some system whereby the purchasing tenant should be prevented from falling into the hands of the gombeen man, or into the bankruptcy courts.
I cannot help thinking that the period of sixty-eight and a half years is too long. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will say that that period was selected in order that the pressure on the tenants might not be too great. But this is the first time in the history of land purchase that a period of sixty-eight and a half years has been selected by any Government to enable tenants to purchase their farms. In Germany the period was fifty-six years; but then there was a provision that if a tenant chose to pay a higher rate of interest the period should be reduced from fifty-six to forty-five years. Why could not the right hon. Gentleman adopt that? I merely throw it out as a suggestion. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman provide that where a tenant is disposed to pay a somewhat larger sum the period should be reduced in order that he might sooner have the sentiment and feeling of a peasant proprietor. I have come to the conclusion that it is right to support this Bill; and I am not at all shaken in my conviction by what was said by my hon. friend the Member for the Launceston Division. My hon. friend disparaged peasant proprietary. My hon. friend, when he rumbled the dry bones of musty political economy must have forgotten that peasant proprietary is established in almost every country, in Europe. In the last century we asked our Consuls to make reports as to peasant proprietary in European countries; and these reports established beyond doubt that peasant proprietary, properly fostered by the Government, and not throwing a lot of impoverished tenants on their holdings without capital, was the best system of land tenure. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will secure that the system of land purchase shall be effective in its inception and in its operation, so that it may be of lasting and vital benefit to 45 Ireland. Let me say in conclusion that whatever may be the attitude assumed by a few of my hon. friends, I am persuaded that the people of England will be touched by the magnanimity displayed by the people of Ireland towards the Irish landlords. They have been taught, and justly taught, to regard the Irish landlords as the agents and ministers of the present Government, and in numerous cases they have suffered from landlord extortion. Yet, notwithstanding that, they are not letting the landlords go out naked. They are going to give them not only a just but a generous compensation. And more than that, in a spirit which I am afraid my own countrymen would scarcely equal, they desire that these landlords should continue to abide among them in order to work out the great problem of self-government for their country.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
I am sure we were all pleased to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman express approval of the general principle of this Bill, absolutely and unconditionally. With his last observations, however, about Irish landlords, I cannot in the least agree; and as regards Home Rule, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, I have not a single word to say on this occasion. The hon. and learned Gentleman has voiced the view expressed by a few hon. Members representing English constituencies; namely, that under this Bill the landlords will get too much. He says that twenty years purchase of £100 of rent would only mean £2,000, but that under the Bill the landlord will get £2,800. That is to ignore the whole position of Irish affairs. Why does the hon. and learned Gentleman assume twenty years purchase to be the saleable value. I presume it is because Lord Dunraven estimated that that was the average number of years purchase the landlords had received. But Lord Dunraven qualified that estimate by the fact that the sales which had recently taken place were almost the last sales that could take place. Anyone who knows anything directly about Ireland knows that sales of land have practically ceased. Who will dispute the fact, in these circumstances, that as regards land purchase you cannot get on unless you give the landlords more favourable terms? 46 I would beg the hon. Member to remember that this is not a mere question of passing this Bill. What is wanted is a Bill that will satisfy the reasonable demands of the Irish landlords. No one wants to give them too much; what is wanted is to give them fair and reasonable compensation. I would beg the hon. and learned Gentleman to put the idea of twenty years purchase out of his mind as being absolutely fallacious. The hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to the labourers. I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman's knowledge of the labourers question is quite up-to-date; and if he happens to be in Ireland and honours me by calling on me, I will show him labourers' cottages in all directions. In a great many parts of Ireland very considerable provision has been made for the labourers: and if I am told that this Bill does not do enough for the labourers my answer is that it is not a Bill to settle the labourers' question, but to settle the landlord and tenant dispute. He has also said the tenants will mortgage and lose their holdings, but putting aside the part of the Bill which prevents that, I point out that he himself approved of peasant proprietorship. If you approve of a peasant proprietorship, how can you say these people will mortgage their holdings and disappear?
§ MR. ATHERLEY JONES
No, I said these unfortunate tenants, starting without capital, would have to borrow money, and in default of other resources they would go to the gombeen man.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON
But you do not start them. From the remark of the hon. Member one would suppose that we took a certain number of persons and planted them down in a particular district without anything to commence with. That is not the position at all. We are starting persons who are actual farmers, and they have their stock. The position is this. I take the hon. Gentleman's reduction of 20 per cent. A man who is paying £100 now will have to pay £80, but he will have the same amount of stock as he had before. What necessity is there for him to go to the gombeen man? There may be people who know as much and more of Ireland than I do, who think there is some possibility of that occurring, but my own 47 view is that it will not take place to any great extent. Everybody knows that what an Irishman wants to do is to avoid losing his holding by any possibility. He will do anything rather than lose his holding, and I do not for a moment believe there is any danger of their going to the gombeen man and mortgaging and losing their property. Of course a certain number of people will do so; Ireland would be Paradise if they did not. With regard to the bonus. The reason the bonus is given to the landlords has been put most strongly by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick, and I cannot pass by his speech without thanking him on behalf of every Member for Ireland for the sympathetic tone he adopted and the knowledge he displayed. It has been said this is a bonus, dole, or gift to the landlords. I absolutely dispute that. The right hon. Baronet puts the matter in this way. If a man wants to buy a horse and has not enough money, and you lend him four-fifths of the money, that is a gift to the man who buys the horse and not to the man who sells it. But supposing that to be the wrong way to put it, I will put it in another way. The Imperial taxpayer says for this purpose he desires that the landlord shall sell to the tenant, he has a direct interest in that transaction being brought about. The tenant says, "I can only give £100 for this," and the landlord says, "I cannot sell for less than £110." That leaves £10 to be found, and if the Imperial taxpayer says, "I will make good that £10," that is not a gift either to the landlord or the tenant. It is given for carrying out a transaction which the Imperial taxpayer has, or thinks he has, an interest in seeing carried out. Now it is asked, why should demesne lands be bought from the landlord and sold back to him? The answer is simple. You must bear in mind that all Irish estates, and English estates too, I believe, for the matter of that, have charges and mortgages on them, and one thing and another. These charges and mortgages are on the demesne land as well as on the other land, and you must free the entire estate; and the Imperial taxpayer says, "In order to clear the whole estate we will buy up the whole, including the demesne lands, and as we do not want the demesne 48 lands we will sell them back." The landlord does not get much out of it, all he does is to get clear of the whole.
Now, many English Members are much afraid that if this Bill is passed the land lords of Ireland will leave the country entirely. We must acknowledge with gratitude the change of expression from hon. Gentlemen opposite with regard to the retention of landlords in Ireland. They used to speak of the landlords being driven out of Ireland altogether, but probably that was only a figure of speech, and all the time they wanted to retain the landlords. But they have now expressed the view, and have stated that it is for the benefit of Ireland as a whole that the landlords should remain there. But the question which my English friends have asked me is this: "Will not the effect of this Bill be to force the landlords to leave the country?" My answer is "No." Of course it will not bring back the absentee landlords, but in Ireland we have very large houses, we have important and agreeable demesnes attached to the houses, and the mere fact that you have sold all your land does not prevent the necessity of your doing something with the demesne lands. We are not going to leave them deserted, that is certain, and it will be extremely difficult to let them. If they can be let it does not much matter, except from a sentimental point of view, whether the old landlord goes and a new tenant, who is probably richer, comes in his place. Of course it will be a great blow to the sentiment of Ireland, because the people, there is no doubt, do like the quality who have been living among them. We shall have to live there whether we like it or not. I know of no country, if you hold no land, more pleasant to live in than Ireland. I honestly admit I should not like to own much land there, and it is a satisfaction to me not to have too large an estate at rental in the country. I have lived in Ireland with great enjoyment, and I believe that is the experience of most of us. Another point is whether the trees will be destroyed. As a matter of fact the plantations will not pass under this Bill at all. The plantations will either be kept or sold separately and will not be sold to those who will cut them all down. I myself do not believe 49 that Irishmen have such a hatred of trees as people imagine; they may not like trees spreading their roots into their fields. One of the peculiarities of Irish scenery is that when one looks over a large stretch of country it seems to be uninhabited, but those who know the country well, know that wherever there is a clump of trees there is a house. The Irishman has no dislike to trees, and there is no fear of his cutting them down when he gets possession of his holding.
Now there are a few other points in the Bill that I should like to refer to. To make this Bill work easily it is necessary that the landlord should know what he can sell, and in the first clause of the Bill there is considerable doubt as to what that is. The first clause refers to the sale of an estate, and an estate, as defined by the Act of 1885, is "Whatever the Commissioners decide to be an estate." That is not what the landlords want to know. They want, if they agree with a tenant of a holding, or a tenant of ten holdings, to sell those holdings, that to be considered "an estate." We want some certainty. You will never get a landlord to take any trouble in the matter unless he knows the transaction will be carried out. Then there is the £3,000 and £5,000 limit. That means that if the value of a holding exceeds £3,000 the holding cannot be purchased except under certain special circumstances when it is raised to the value of £5,000.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON, Londonderry, N.)
That is the limit of the advance.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON
If the value of a holding is £6,000, the old principle is to be continued that £3,000 is to be advanced. We think that that clause ought to be struck out. Our idea is that the landlord should be able to free himself from the position of a landlord, to cease to be a collector of rents at all, and to do away with his agent, and that will be impossible unless he is able to sell his large holdings, as well as the small ones, and also be able to get the entire money. The next point is 50 the perpetual rent charge. That may be said to interest the tenant far more than the landlord. But the landlords have an interest in making the Bill work, and they desire to get it framed in accordance with the sentiments of the tenants, so far as those sentiments agree with those of the landlords. The tenants have shown a marked desire not to have that one-eighth left as a perpetual rent-charge, and, after consideration, I cannot see any benefit to the Government in retaining it. It has been suggested that it will give the State some right of preventing sub-letting, mortgaging, and so forth. But to do that it is not in the least necessary to have even one penny reservation. There are any number of estates round London absolutely bound by certain covenants without any rent-charge whatever upon them. I hope, therefore, in view of the wishes of the tenants, the Government will be able to alter that clause of the Bill.
Then with regard to the 30 per cent. maximum reduction. It may be defended on two grounds—first, that it is a protection to the landlord from pressure to increase that maximum, and, secondly, that it would not be a good thing for Ireland as a whole to have any excessive reduction in any particular part. The latter may be described as the De Freyne estate argument. As to the former, I think I am justified in saying that the landlords most strongly urge the Government to retain the maximum reduction. I agree there may be cases in which it would be desirable to go below the maximum, but, on the other hand, to induce tenants to hold out for ever to get the largest sum they could by way of reduction would be an incalculable evil, and might destroy the whole benefit of the Bill. In the interests both of quick sale and of the landlords, it is desirable that the maximum reduction should be retained. As to the De Freyne argument, we have all felt the difficulty of a sudden enormous reduction in any particular district, and none of us want a repetition of the scenes on the De Freyne and the Dillon Estates. There must be a certain amount of danger if a landlord of a large estate chooses to sell below the maximum. The 30 per cent. reduction is practically one third of the rent; and I think that is sufficient to induce the 51 tenants to come in, and they are more likely to come in if they know what the maximum reduction is.
Another matter is the decadal reductions. The Chief Secretary has some objection, but personally, I think the decadal reduction might be, and it is very desirable that it should be, introduced. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford mentioned a proposition of Lord Dunraven's that there should be a further subvention calculated in proportion to the saving to the Irish Exchequer as the result of this Bill, which subvention should be used for the purpose of facilitating decadal redactions. There would be no objection to that on the part of the landlords. The decadal reduction has had an important influence for good in Ireland, and I hope the Chief Secretary will be able to re-introduce it.
Some little care will be required to retain to the landlords their fishery rights. That is of the utmost importance if it is desired to retain the landlords in Ireland, because you cannot retain them unless these rights are preserved. They are of enormous value, not only to the owner, but to the district in which they are situated. They would, however, be valueless if cut up amongst a number of small holders, and I am sure hon. Members opposite do not desire to see a property destroyed by sub-division.
I understand the first schedule is to be materially modified; therefore, I need not refer to that now. I desire to say a word as to landlords' costs. The landlords will incur a certain amount of costs, and I would suggest—I believe the solicitors in Ireland have expressed their willingness to concur in such an arrangement—that a scale should be agreed upon of the costs which the landlords would pay to their own solicitors. They would then know what they were about, whereas, under present circumstances, they would be afraid of entering on the matter for fear of the costs.
Another question is—who is to get the bonus? According to the Bill it is to be paid to the vendor. If the Bill were worked out according to the legal principle, the vendor, being only tenant for life, would be a trustee for himself and the remainder man. I feel most strongly that this money should be paid to the persons who are the actual owners of the estates. That is to say, if it is 52 settled, to the tenant for his life and held in trust for his remainder man. That seems to me only fair and equitable. If that is not done, I do not see how you are to adjust, as between the two sets of purchase money, what is to fall upon each. I must express my thanks to the Chief Secretary for having conceived and brought in this Bill. As one who knows Ireland from both the English and the Irish point of view, I am confident that this Bill, if made such a measure as induces the landlords to sell their property, will confer upon Ireland an in estimable benefit, for which that country will always be grateful.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I cannot help acknowledging the remarkable and disinterested testimony which the landlords are giving to Ireland as a happy place to live in. We are now told by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney that Ireland is a most delightful country to live in, and therefore the landlords must be preserved in their demesnes. I gather from that that the hon. and learned Member is not a victim of Mr. Gladstone's Land Bill. At any rate, I think it is greatly to be regretted that he was not at that time in the country instead of now. The tone and temper of the landlords of that day, and their descriptions of the horrible country they had to live in—how they could not stir out of doors without being shot at—were really one of the great assets of the time. Even the illustrious Empress of Austria, who used to go to Ireland to hunt, was stopped by the direct intervention of the Government of the day, only twenty years ago, on the ground that the country was absolutely unsafe. Moreover, an Indian nurse, an ayah, made a bargain with her European mistress, when leaving India, that she was willing go to any country in Europe except Ireland. I must say, having listened to all the speeches, that, with a couple of exceptions, I do not think any Irish Member has any reason to complain. I do not complain of the speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke or by the hon. Member who seconded his Motion. Certainly it is remarkable that the only two absolutely ignorant speeches delivered on the Bill came from hon. and learned Members above the Gangway on 53 the Opposition Benches. The speech of the hon. Member for Launceston could not be answered, because nobody could understand it. The hon. and learned Member for South Shields made a very able speech, but it largely took the shape of prophecy. He said the most marvellous things and made the most marvellous prophecies. Having deluged the Chief Secretary with a cold douche of predictions, he denounced this Bill first and foremost on the ground that it would practically ruin Ireland and end eventually in Home Rule. I have looked about for a prophet with which to compare the hon. and learned Gentleman. I will not compare him with Jeremiah or any of the better-known ones. I remember what the cynical Frenchman has said about the prophet Habakkuk—viz., that he was capable de tout, and certainly after the remarkable speech of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields I should think he was capable of anything in the direction of prophecy. The hon. and learned Gentleman first compared the agricultural grant in England with the agricultural grant in Ireland. One, he said, was £700,000 and the other £1,500,000, and I suppose the proportions were those of seventy-five to nine. I certainly could discover no relation in those proportions. What are the facts? Is the agricultural land of England to be compared with the agricultural land of Ireland? If you take the valuation of the two things the strict proportion is absolutely maintained. The hon. Member has said that there would be no security unless you have a local authority, and that string has been harped upon by many hon. Members. In the first place £100,000,000 means practically only £3,000,000 a year. Can the House realise that for that £100,000,000 in the sixty-eight and a half years the Irish people will have to pay something like £200,000,000? Since 1886 the taxes of Ireland have gone up by £3,000,000. Had you any scruple or shrinkage in assessing them? If you are able to enforce taxes why should you not be able to enforce your rent? Those £3,000,000 were put upon us after your own Royal Commission, presided over by Mr. Childers, a Liberal Member, had reported that our taxation was 54 £3,000,000 too high. Is it not absurd for Liberal Members—whatever may be said of Tory Members who are anxious to give Ireland some amount of relief when they know that every shilling of this money will come back from Irish sources—is it not absurd for them to make mis-statements for the sole purpose of prejudicing Conservative Members? When somebody on the opposite side of the House makes us these unexpected proposals is it right that the obstruction should come from the Liberal side? I submit that it is not right.
I may say that personally I much prefer the Bill of last year to this Bill. It was a much cheaper Bill for the Irish people, although this gives us five shillings lower interest. Yet at the same time I venture to say that England nowhere has better security for her money than she will have under this measure. Go and agitate in any district where the tenants have already bought their land. Let these tenants once make a bargain, and you will find that wild horses will not drag them out of it. I do not say myself whether I think this Bill makes for Home Rule or against it. If I were to offer an opinion of my own I might also be indulging in the region of prophecy. One may fairly say "yes" or "no," or take the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Stoke, or the opinion of Ulster Members, but is it not a remarkable thing that those who have hitherto expressed in the past the greatest objection to Home Rule—namely, the Orange Party and the Ulster Members, are every one of them in favour of this Bill. Ought they not to know the effect of this measure rather better than amateur politicians, however respectable they may be? Reference has been made to Mr. Gladstone's Act of 1881, and a very proper vindication of that Act has come from some of my colleagues above the Gangway. When the Irish landlords are complaining of the administration of that Act, and are complaining of its introduction, I would like this House of Commons to put itself in the position of that House of Commons. What was the state of things then? You had a House of Commons with a high franchise, and almost every Liberal Member was a landlord. Almost every Conservative Member was a landlord as 55 well. Take Ireland itself. There were only twenty Irish representatives with Mr. Parnell. Take the County of Leitrim, now represented by two men who have been oftenest in His Majesty's gaol. Irishmen were represented by two colonels, one of whom was Colonel Tottenham, who laid down the doctrine before the Richmond Commission that the best manure you ever put upon land was that it should be well salted with rent. There was no Closure in the House then, or naming by Mr. Speaker. There were no new rules, and you could talk as long as you liked, and the landlords did talk fairly long. I think the wildest night I ever saw in this House of Commons was when the landlords were resisting a proposal that the tenant, the man who was living in huts, should be allowed to build a new house upon the land. This was only carried by great grace and favour, and I was allowed to move an Amendment—"Except in substitution of the old one." Considering the extraordinary difficulties of that time in proposing legislation the wonder is not that the Act of 1881 was passed, but that any Act at all was carried. We advised Mr. Gladstone then, as we advised every Government from that time to the present, that the true remedy was peasant proprietors. If anybody had proposed at that time the methods that we then advocated, which are now recognised by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the landlords in a body would have taken off Mr. Gladstone to a lunatic asylum—and it is only by the long results of time and patience that the House of Commons has been educated under a different franchise. I have always said that this Conservative House of Commons is far more liberal, far kinder in its temper and spirit, than the Liberal House of Commons of that day. Therefore, it is absurd to throw any reproach upon the great name of Gladstone, whose memory for ever will live in fragrance in Ireland.
But we are dealing with a Bill of a very different character. For my part my acknowledgments go out fully and heartily to the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I do not wish to mince words, and I say that in my opinion the right hon. Gentleman is deserving of public thanks and of Irish thanks. Those of my hon. friends who took part in the 56 Land Conference had a very difficult task indeed. I did not quarrel with them, but they made this acknowledgment—that the purchase price should be based upon income, and that for the purpose of obtaining such a result an equitable price should be paid to the owners. They were acting as counsel for the tenants and trying to make a good bargain. It would appear to me that the hon. Member for South Tyrone has taken a harsher line against the terms of the Chief Secretary's Bill than the Member for Cork or the Member for Waterford, so that, instead of having gone his way and boasted, now he is sorrowing. But, at all events, look at the situation they created for the Irish Government. Look at the situation they created for this House. Immemorial enemies in Ireland have for the first time for centuries of disagreement put their hands to a treaty which they call upon the British Government to ratify, and if they do not ratify it the Chief Secretary has not only to face a revolt of the tenants but a revolt of the landlords. I should like to have seen that revolt in other times, I should have liked to have seen the landlord party especially in the House of Lords—a very interesting lot of insurgents they would be—attacking His Majesty's Government and saying, as they very well might say—Lord Barrymore, Lord Clanricarde, and Lord Ardilaun—that "You, an English Minister, are less generous to us than O'Brien and Russell and the rest." I should like to see how long a Conservative Government would last if such a state of things was proposed. I should like to see a Liberal Government coming in to legislate upon that situation. They certainly would get great assistance from the House of Lords. Now what is it that the right hon. Gentleman had to do? I have stated that in my judgment—I am not at all complaining of others—the cheaper course—I do not say that it would be the more magnanimous course, or even the best course patriotically — but the cheaper course for the tenant would have been to have allowed last year's Bill to pass, and as years went on—because you cannot sell Ireland in a day, or a year, or five years, or ten years—the cheaper course would have been to have taken that Bill and then to have added to it and patched it as estates came into the market. But I must acknowledge that the remarkable course which 57 has been taken has very many advantages for Ireland. In the first place it was desirable to strike the national imagination. In the next place it was necessary and desirable and wholesome to show the landlord party that the tenant party were not their deadly enemies, and that they were prepared to give them just and equitable terms. And I believe, even if the tenants have to pay a little more under this Bill, the price is worth it in the better spirit which has been generated by means of this Land Conference. I do not grudge the landlord the terms he has got, nor shall I incite any tenant not to give them. On the contrary, as I say, I think the bargain was well worth striking.
Now, the question for the House of Commons, therefore, is purely, or almost purely, one of finance. Every shilling under this Bill, in my opinion, is absolutely safe. It would be absolutely impossible, in my judgment, to suggest any doctrine of repudiation. In the first place I am quite satisfied, though of course we shall object to the sixty-eight and a half years, that a solemn treaty will have been made with the British Government—a solemn treaty ratified unanimously by the Irish representatives, and if any repudiator came along to fight with the British Government he would not have leave to open his mouth for twenty-four hours. I would give him a taste of Brian Boru. Therefore hon. Members forget the very drastic means that exist in Ireland for dealing with inconvenient persons. I have not experienced it myself, but others have, and I hope they liked it. But Ireland is absolutely in the hollow of England's hand. Your system is such that if you want to know in Dublin Castle any morning what every man had for breakfast from one end of Ireland to the other you could know it. There is a police force, there are magistrates, and then, sir, such is the state of the law, that if I wanted, Mr. Speaker, to convict you of the Moat murder, which we are hearing about, with that machinery in my hands I would have no difficulty whatever in bringing you in guilty. Therefore, in a state of things like that—in a country so departmentalised, the notion that anybody 58 could start a campaign of repudiation, even if the people would listen to it, is the wildest notion. But the people would not listen to it. Why should they listen to it? Why should a man give up his house and his holding, after he has made it comfortable, when good honest money had passed on the head of it, and he had signed the bargain, and it had been ratified in this House with the complete assent of every Irish Member, when every public man in the country would be against it, and when, above all, every clergyman, Protestant, and Catholic, from one end of the country to the other, would preach against it as an abomination? Therefore, so far as this doctrine of repudiation goes, I say it is idle. But let me at the same time make this acknowledgment, for I think one should be perfectly frank, I do think there should be some provision in regard to men under £10, when a bad season, or a sudden shortage, might make the annual instalment difficult of collection, and it is well worth consideration—because we have known terrible visitations of Providence in former times—it is well worth the consideration of he Government whether they should not put in some little rainy day clause, so that, in the case of these small men—now I am speaking purely on behalf of the small men—whether some sort of savings-bank deposit could not be carved out, say a shilling or two more a year, or added on to the rent, so that if a season of dearth and distress came, the Government could at least afford to wait six, eight, or twelve months. It is fair to say that a great many small mountainous estates have been bought up. It is pretended by some that the best estates are coming into the market. That is utterly unfounded. I should rather think that it is the other way about, with the exception of the Egham estate. With that exception, the people who have bought are small humble people, and there has been nothing like loss to the Treasury. But it is fair to acknowledge that there have occasionally been processes issued on account of delay, but the moment the processes are issued, by hook or by crook the man gets the money, and he pays the Government. However, for my part, I should 59 see no reason whatever to complain if English Members, in view of the possibilities of bad seasons, though I might not think it a necessity, insisted upon a clause of that kind.
Then there is the question of decadal reduction. You have no room to give it at present. We should all like to have it. It was a remarkable invention of the right hon. Gentleman, the present President of the Board of Trade, whom we have to thank for many things in Ireland. I am very sorry indeed that now the tenuity of the position is such that there is no room to make that reduction, but, if it should be given, it can only be given by doubling the sinking fund. I would be quite satisfied if the sinking fund were increased 5s., but that is a Treasury and a Government matter. The tenant would not be hurt by it and perhaps it would be quite as well at the beginning of this business that the sinking fund might be a little higher. I am quite sure that the Government know a great deal more about this fiscal question than I do, and if the right hon. Gentleman states that, having gone into the whole actuarial position he is unable to do so, I shall for my part rest perfectly satisfied. There is another question, namely, that of the one-eighth, and I think that the reasons which have been given for retaining it are not strong and are not logical. You can prevent, as you do now, mortgaging and sub-letting without the one-eighth at all. But it is a question which may deserve consideration in the future whether something should not be done with the one-eighth, and whether a little bit of sinking fund could be put on in the way of letting the amount go to the local authority. If there is to be anything like that I would support it, but if there is not to be anything like that, I should oppose it.
The case of the labourers has been, I think, rather unfairly dealt with. One way that occurs to me of benefiting them would be to go back to the position before the Local Government Act, and relieve the labourers and the small men under £4 valuation of all their rates. I do not say that that is an ideal suggestion; and more than that, as the franchise hangs upon it, it is not very easy to handle. See what has happened under the Local Government Act. Before it came into operation Sir Roger Palmer 60 used to give one cheque in respect of £500 valuations on his estate. The rate collector to-day has twice a year to make a pilgrimage over the estate and call on these 500 men with holdings under £4 valuation. The same occurs on many other estates, so that it is evident that an enormous burden is cast on the local authorities in the shape of increased expenditure on matters like that. If the eighth is not to go for any Irish purpose that I can see, I recognise that it can only be abolished by adding it to the sinking fund, and if so, I should cheerfully accept that position. The hon. Member for Tyrone contends that this Bill does not deal hardly with the labourers. How did the Conference Report deal with the labourers? I would remind the hon. Member for Tyrone of what the Conference Report says. It says that—The failure to enforce the Labourers Acts in certain portions of the country constitutes a serious grievance, and, in the opinion of the Conference, in certain districts of the country sufficient accommodation for the labourers has not been given by the local authorities. Power should be given to the local authorities to acquire sites for labourers' cottages.But that is the law already. Mr. Ellison Macartney, the present Master of the Mint, ran a Bill through the House some time ago enabling the Local Government Board, where a labourer complained that his case had not been attended to by the local guardians, to send down an inspector, and, if necessary, to erect a house over the Guardians' heads. I have another suggestion as to what should be done to improve the condition of the labourers in addition to relief from rates. It is this: that any man who takes benefit under the Purchase Act should be debarred from contesting a decision of the Local Board entitling a labourer to a cottage on his land. I do not think that is unreasonable. If the farmers of Ireland get a large easement in the shape of this Government money from the general body of the taxpayers, it is only right that they should concede to the labourers some such measure of accommodation as I have suggested. The hon. Member for Durham says that the labourers of Ireland have been unfairly dealt with by the farmers. That is not so, except in the province of Ulster, where there are no labourers' cottages. 61 In the three southern provinces the farmers have, in my judgment, behaved us generously and as fairly to the labourers as anyone could expect, and in my opinion they are quite willing to continue to do so, although, of course, there may be an odd exception to that fair and generous treatment here and there. The labourers have a special protection; they have now under the Local Government Act the precious weapon of the franchise, by which they can return such guardians, and elect such district and county councillors as they choose. Let anyone remember the state of things before the Local Government Act was passed. It was decided by the Irish Courts that one landlord—Lord Fitzwilliam—could cast thirty-two votes for the Board of Guardians. But to-day every man, woman, and labourer in these unions has a vote, and can return the guardians of their choice. Therefore, so far as the labourers themselves are concerned, there is a complete—not a perfect, but a very valuable code by which the labourers can obtain large benefits.
Complaint has been made that the right hon. Gentleman has under-estimated the rent, and a statement has been made that, to some extent, he has misled the House. I do not think so. I think we have rather reason to complain of the narrow way in which the Bill has been drawn in this respect. All the old Ashbourne Acts admitted tenants of every kind and sort, and the Bill of last year said that no estate should be purchased which was not in the main agricultural or pastoral, or partly agricultural and partly pastoral. That is not the case in this Bill. As I understand it, this Bill only applies to tenants who have obtained the benefit of the Land Courts. Certainly the first Clause is to that effect. And if that be so then you are really importing all these minute decisions from the Land Act of 1881 into this present Act—a thing that has never been done in any previous Purchase Act. Therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of £4,000,000 is very moderate. I do not think, however, that £4,000,000 of rental can be dealt with under this Bill if these restrictions are retained, and I believe it would be most desirable indeed to get rid of them. I shall reserve to the 62 Committee stage further criticism on this first Clause of the Bill. I think the hon. Member for Waterford was well advised when he said that the Government were in a difficult position and had various interests to consider, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accede to the view expressed by my hon. friend the Member for Waterford. There is another matter to which attention must be called; it is the question of title. At the present moment, as I understand the position, something like 300 titles roll into the Lands Commission Office every year, and it is about six months before the Lands Commission officials can untie the red tape or string of these titles. If you suddenly increase that 300 to 3,000, what an extraordinary congestion you will have in the Land Estates Office. These titles at present go in to the Lands Office with every point cleared by the landlord's solicitor, and with all blots removed so far as the solicitors are concerned. But under this Bill you propose that these undigested titles shall be shovelled into the hands of clerks, who will necessarily be laymen and without any legal assistance of any kind or description. Bills which were said to be not lawyers' Bills have generally proved to be bad. There was the Workmen's Compensation Bill, which was a Bill with which no lawyer was to have anything to do. Well, that Bill, after becoming an Act, has given rise to more litigation than almost any other Act, and the decisions of the Court of Appeal have been invariably reversed by the House of Lords. No Bill will benefit lawyers so much as the Bill to do away with lawyers; and in my judgment the solicitors of Ireland, who are now crying out against these clauses, if well advised would let it alone, because in about six months there will be such a condition of things in the Lands Commission Office, or in the new Estates Office as will require a perfect Hercules to clear up. The tenants will be waiting for their titles, and the landlords will not be getting their money; nothing will be done, and you will have the tenants all over the country cursing the new Department and wondering what good they are going to get out of the Land Purchase Act. My advice to the solicitors is "Leave this Bill alone," and the whole of the landlords will take their titles to their 63 family solicitors to prepare them. That may cause a six months delay, but the solicitors will send the titles made clear, in to the new staff that must be created under this Bill. The lawyer, after all, is not an enemy of the human race. He is only a tradesman who knows a little more about certain subjects than other people; and, as George III said, if he does not know the law he knows where to find it. All those solicitors who deal with these titles are landlords' solicitors, and it is absurd to suggest that these men, with their acquaintance with old family deeds and roots of titles, will not deal as expeditiously in clearing the titles as a number of new clerks who will have to be appointed in the Land Estates Office.
There is another blot on the Bill on which I wish to offer a remark. The right hon. Gentleman excludes what he calls holdings within the limits of a town. That may seem to Englishmen quite natural; but does he forget the great liberties of Dublin, Waterford, Galway, Limerick, and other places which extend for three or four miles out of the city. Above all, does he forget the case of Dublin, the boundaries of which were extended by a Bill two years ago so as to include a large breadth of agricultural land, on which fair-rents had been fixed, and in respect of which there is an express provision, that the extension of the city boundaries shall not affect the operation of the Land Acts. I respectfully urge the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that clause of the Bill. Then there is the question of the £3,000 limit. If you exclude the larger tenants from the benefits of this Act you exclude the men who hire and pay for labour. The small tenants do the labour on their farms themselves. Above all, this £3,000 limit will become an extremely difficult limit, because of the fact that a tenant has to give so much more money for his land than formerly. When he gave only from fifteen to sixteen years purchase for the holding, the limit might have been fair, but now that he has to give twenty-five years purchase in some cases, is it fair that the original limit of £3,000 should be adhered to? I respectfully submit that it should not.
The only other point is the composition of the tribunal, which, in this case, has given very general satisfaction. I, for my part, have expressed my opinion already, and I do not intend to say 64 anything more upon the subject. There is this difficulty which the hon. Member for Waterford partly touched upon, and it is very important; the new Commissioners are to hold their office during pleasure. Now, "during pleasure," with the possibility of a debate on their salaries in the House of Lords and in the House of Commons, is a very different thing from "good behaviour." It is perfectly right that we should have the right in this House, and that the landlords should have the same right in the other House, to debate the action of this Land Commission; but is it right when, for the first time, you will have constituted a Land Commission which meets with general approbation from the people of the country, that you should make the tenure of these men so uncertain that, as a result of a debate—perhaps, a well-informed debate—a debate of the landlords in the House of Lords, or of the tenants in the House of Commons, a Minister may become panic-stricken, and use some language in the heat of debate that would drive one of the Gentlemen out of office. Give us power to debate their conduct, and give the landlords power to debate their conduct, but give them the ordinary tenure of County Court Judges. If these men are to have dependence in their offices, I think it is vital that some greater measure of independence should be given to them, and I very strongly object to the phrase "during pleasure." I believe that it will really mean that a Minister of the day—and certainly the Lord Lieutenant—could tell a Commissioner to leave his office. At any rate, the words "during good behaviour" have the sanction of English Revolution, and of two or three centuries of well-considered precedent, and, in my judgment, they are far larger and more beneficial words to use in dealing with a Commission appointed to carry out this beneficent law. With regard to the way in which Murrough O'Brien has been treated, I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman knows one bit about it. It will take considerable diving into Acts of Parliament to have it found out, but it shows what miserable advisers he has in the Land Commission. I know as well as if I saw him here who it was drafted that clause to prejudice Mr. O'Brien. Mr. O'Brien is a Protestant gentleman; he has been thirty years in 65 office, in fact, ever since the Church Act was passed, and simply because he stated he always regretted having to make Church tenants pay thirty years purchase for their property, and that it was too high, he has been hounded down ever since, and every opportunity has been taken to depress and degrade him. And in the Act which was passed some four or five years ago—the Act which gave additional salaries to these two Commissioners of £500 a year—as soon as the right hon. Gentleman's Ministers appointed Mr. Murrough O'Brien, they would not give him the new salary created under the Act, and they docked him of £500 a year under the pretence that the Act did not apply to him. If they did that when under a Home Rule Government, what would they do with a Tory Government in power? We then had the advantage of Lord Rosebery in office, and I do protest that these little niggling and vindictive discriminations should not be allowed to create in our minds a reservoir of distrust. You see the one man who has played up to the British Government, you see him honoured, salaried, and pensioned. Take the case of Mr. Fitzgerald. Under the Bill the First Lord says that the salary of these two Gentlemen was made £3,000 a year, but if they took a pension it would only be £2,500 a year. Mr. Lynch, a wise man, took the £2,500 and his pension, Mr. Fitzgerald, with a full belief in the bounty of the British Government and Mr. Wrench, took £3000 a year and no pension, and now this Bill is to give them a pension. Who could lose faith in a British Government like that? But poor Mr. Murrough O'Brien, a man of birth and education, a descendant of ancient kings and a close relative of Lord Inchiquin, simply because he had endeavoured to do justice to the people, has, so far as this Bill is concerned, to turn out of doors without a copper. I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman knew absolutely nothing of his case. These were Land Commission clauses shovelled in upon his head—a sort of baptism of fire that he had to stand. This is the price for getting reasonable information and assistance from these men. If he had not taken their advice on these subjects they would have denied him the information he required. They would have boycotted him. He would not have been able to 66 run sweet with them, or to frame proper drafting clauses. That is the price which every Irish administration has to pay for the abominable system which they maintain.
I take my leave of this Bill. I wish it a prosperous future, I have given it my humble support as I did the right hon. Gentleman's last year's Bill. I shall hope to do the same with this measure. It is a far-reaching measure in its importance. It has been introduced under the most favourable auspices. I have never known a moment when the auspices seemed more favourable, and I can only hope that these favourable auspices will continue, and that a measure like this, presented as it is, a great measure of peace, will bring, as I hope it may, a new spirit, not merely into the heart of Ireland but into the heart of England. I believe there is at this moment an attitude between the two countries favourable to peace, favourable to a general understanding, and favourable to considerations which deeply affect the people. You cannot deal with this question merely as decimals or percentages, or as £ s. d. It strikes hard a chord in the Irish character other than the sordid note of finance, it marks a reversal of a long period of dismal oppression and awful sorrow—of a breach of treaty faith committed, it is true, two centuries ago, but having to this day left a living effect. This Bill will change more than Ireland, it will change England too, and with that change I hope to see a brighter light in the eyes of dark Rosaleen.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I desire to take a view of this measure as it appears to English eyes—not to mine alone but to many others who take an interest in it. When the hon. Member for Waterford told the hon. Member for South Molton that this business was none of his, I am sure he did not intend to refuse the right of criticism on the part of English Members. I should not rise at this moment if I did not feel that some of the considerations that have occurred to me during the criticism of this Bill deserve to be put before this House and the country. I think I am qualified in every way to be one of the greatest friends of this Bill. To see Ireland prosperous and contented is one of the dearest wishes of 67 my heart. I would rather have a contented Ireland than an expanded Empire, and I always have had great sympathy, not only with the Irish people, but with the Irish Members of Parliament. I have recognised in them useful and in some respects pattern Members of this House. They always do all they can to further the interests of their constituents; they do not neglect their work and they display great courage and acumen. When they are called rebels, as they sometimes are, I wish there were more rebels of the kind in this House. There would then be less of decadence of this House, and of tyranny of Ministers. It has been said or will be said that every vote given to this Bill is a vote for Home Rule. But that does not frighten me. When we have a score of Parliaments in this Empire I am not to be frightened at the prospect of having another added. I do not minimise the difficulties of such a system of Home Rule as would secure—and that is what I am principally concerned about—the strategic and military safety of this Island. Can that be secured? I do not know, but I believe it is not at all impossible that such a measure of Home Rule might be devised as would secure that and yet satisfy the Irish people. I have another qualification for approval of this Bill, and that is my admiration for and sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is in many respects the most remarkable figure—in some respects he is the only remarkable figure on the Treasury Bench. I cannot but admire the manner in which he has tackled a problem which has baffled generations of statesmen. Whether he will succeed or not is a question, but I have said enough to show that if I think, as I do, the Bill is a measure of very doubtful benefit for both countries it is not because I am deficient in sympathy with its objects, with the people it is intended to benefit, or with the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it. Undoubtedly, Ireland is a saddening spectacle. That beautiful island that ought to be the fairest gem in the English Crown has always been our difficulty and our reproach; and it is hard to know why. I often think of a story told to me by a Spanish priest. St. Iago, the patron saint of Spain, begged 68 from Heaven successive blessings for his country, which were all granted. Spain was granted a most splendid climate, the most beautiful fruits, the finest rivers, the women fair and virtuous, the men courageous, able and imaginative. The last blessing he asked for Spain was good government, but the reply was that this blessing could not be added to the others, because, if it were, the blessed angels themselves would abandon Heaven to live in Spain. That is the case with Ireland. If it is sad for Ireland, it is still more sad for us; and it seems to me a strange thing indeed that we should have had statesman after statesman of the highest eminence, who could manage English affairs, and even withstand the hostile nations of Europe, and who could succeed everywhere except in Ireland. Many honest attempts have been made, one after another, but they have all failed; and at last Ireland has become the grief of the patriot, the amazement of the economist, and the despair of the statesman. Now, another attempt is being made to settle the question. The right hon. Gentleman appears like a beneficent fairy literally waving a golden wand, and we are asked to believe that what has so often been attempted without success is at last to be accomplished, that the patriot is to be consoled, the economist satisfied, and the statesman relieved, that there is to be unanimity once more between the two islands, and that the angel of peace is to spread her wings over both.
It seems ungracious, and yet when I come to look at this measure I have doubts, most serious doubts. The right hon. Gentleman is making a bold attempt, but when I come to look at the measure the prospects of its success seem small to me. The right hon. Gentleman's scheme is, in many respects, ingenious. There is, in some respects, a want of simplicity about it which gives rise to some misapprehension as to many parts of it. These ingenious complications, perhaps not wholly unintentional, are unfortunate. In its essentials, however, it is simple enough. The essential part of the scheme is that there should be an unlimited loan given to Ireland. I think I am right in saying that there is absolutely no limit to the advances under the Bill. An estimate has been made, that it may be 69 £100,000,000 or it may be £150,000,000; but there is no limit. To enable the Irish tenants to buy the land cheap and the landlords to sell it dear, this unlimited loan is to be made, and then an out and out gift of £12,000,000 is to be added, in order to procure the acceptance of the loan. That represents the English view of the transaction. The reception given to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman has been strange indeed. No sooner was the gift horse led out than all parties began to look it in the mouth, none more so than hon. Gentlemen from Ireland. The hon. Member for Waterford found alarming defects in the Bill and the hon. Member for South Tyrone condemned it root and branch. The Solicitor-General for England has announced that he will give it a minimum of support because he is in office; and the Colonial Secretary has not yet declared himself. Unless he is false to all the traditions of his political history, he will give it not a minimum of support but a maximum of opposition. The First Lord of the Treasury made a speech on the Bill which dealt, not with the Bill, but with his own consistency. I think it can be shown that throughout his whole political life, the right hon. Gentleman has been consistent and faithful to one guiding principle. What that principle is I will not now say. But it is the hon. Members for Stoke and North Islington, to my mind, represent the stupid and amazed British taxpayer with regard to this measure. They were, as it were, out in the fields when they heard the rejoicings over the Bill. They heard the music and the dancing and they same and asked what it was for. They were told that the Irish prodigal son had returned, and that the fatted calf was being killed for him, and they said, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment, and yet thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends." That is the view of the British taxpayer. It certainly is the view of the British farmer, and I shall listen with great interest to the speech of my right hon. friend the Member for the Sleaford Division when, as I expect him to do, he puts in his claim, not for a kid, 70 but for the calf itself. As to the Irish Members, their attitude is quite intelligible. They represent, and have represented ably and nobly, in my opinion, a suffering people, a people who in times gone by have been oppressed in the most shameful manner by this country. I recognise all that. Representing as they do, a poor and suffering people, they cannot but receive with pleasure the prospect which the right hon. Gentleman puts before them; and when he dangles the golden apple, although some of them think, and some of them say, it is but a Dead Sea fruit, yet it is only natural that they should grasp at it. So far then as they are concerned, whatever changes may be made in the Bill, still if the unlimited loan and the gift of £12,000,000 remain, hon. Gentlemen from Ireland will accept it. I do not intend to enter now into the question of the finance of the Bill. All I will say is that the method of finance adopted absolutely amazes me. It has been said that no Patagonian can count up to twenty-one; and if I were to describe the finance of this Bill I should call it Patagonian finance. It is not only novel; it is grotesque. I am stating my own opinions, and I hope some of them may prove to be wrong. But if I am right, this is a very serious measure indeed, particularly at a time when we have just concluded the imposition of a debt burden of £220,000,000—the cost of the war and of what follows.
As to the gift of £12,000,000, I will now say nothing. But as to the unlimited loan, it is, as I have said, to be £100,000,000 or £150,000,000, or; £300,000,000, or £400,000,000 as the case may demand. There is no limit. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said it was safe. I am perfectly sure that it is safe so far as the intention of the hon. and learned Gentleman and of his fellow Members, and the intentions of the tenants and landlords of Ireland are concerned, but that does not absolutely satisfy me. I have a financial mind, and when I hear a thing is safe I look to the security. There are said to be three securities for this loan. There is the land, there is the moral security of the character of the Irish people, and of public opinion in Ireland, and there is 71 what the Irish Secretary calls the ample absolute cent. per cent. security. Is the land of Ireland security for these stupendous sums? That can scarcely be contended, because if it were the money could be borrowed without the intervention of the State, and this Bill would not be necessary which is to make England the national gombeen man of Ireland. I think the security of the land may be certainly dismissed as inadequate. Now I come to the moral security, and to that I attach more importance than perhaps a financier ought. I attach importance to it because I believe the Irish people desire and intend to pay their debts; but it is impossible to blink the fact that circumstances may arise to make it impossible for the tenants to continue paying the instalments under this scheme. There may be another Irish famine, or successive years of bad harvests, which, entirely independent of the will or intention of those concerned, may make it impossible for them to meet their payments. That is a very serious matter, which vastly impairs the value of the moral security. Then I come to what the right hon. Gentleman called the cent. per cent. security. That is really the most amazing of all. The right hon. Gentleman estimated the payments made to Ireland at £2,548,460 annually. He asks me to lend him £152,000,000. I say I am well disposed to do so, but what "is your security?" He says, "My security is the £2,500,000 that you annually pay me." I say, "But is that a security?" and he says, "Yes, because if you multiply that £2,500,000 by sixty your product is £152,000,000, which is what I ask you to lend." That is what he calls a cent. per cent. security. I venture to think it is nothing of the sort. But supposing it were you can never realise the security supposed to be represented by this, your own payment to Ireland; you can never withhold it. Why are these payments made to Ireland? They are made for different purposes—for the Agricultural Department, for keeping up education, and for local purposes, such as the making of roads and so forth. If I can claim my security, it must be something that I may take. How can I take this? [A VOICE: You can stop the payment of it.] If I stop my payments, the result is either that education is stopped, prisons and lunatic 72 asylums closed, and roads left unrepaired, or else that Ireland is immediately crushed by extra rates. No, I say, as regards that portion of the security, it is no security at all. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury sees indeed no difficulty in this; he says that the English Government would immediately stop the whole of the fund. I see very great difficulty indeed in it. Then the right hon. Gentleman says, "But I have a fourth or supplementary security; I am going to make economies in the administration." I fail to see where the economies are to come in. What I see is that the immediate and direct result of the passing of this Bill will be an enormous increase of expenditure. You have a Land Commission at present. Can you stop that, and are you going to stop it immediately? On the contrary, it must go on and you are to add a new Land Commission to it. It seems to me that for the new Land Commission you will want an enormous staff. The hon. Member has referred, to the clerks who will be required to look into titles. I foresee that it will need an enormous staff for that purpose. Until all the land of Ireland is bought and sold, instead of fewer men you certainly will require more, which must lead to a very large increase of expenditure and no economy at all.
But this is not all. When you have made this unlimited loan and contributed this £12,000,000 of money, and when you have sold all this land and got it bought by your peasants, that is not the end of all the expenditure as I will show. You will have to provide capital to work this land in many cases if not in all, and you will have to do other things. I say at once I do not care how many millions I might contribute if I saw a real, complete, and final settlement of this Irish question, but is this to be a real, complete, and final settlement? I fear it is not. We have been especially told that one of the most important parts of the question—the political part—will not be settled at all. We are told that when we have settled the agrarian question, the political question will remain; and that the agitation for Home Rule will not end, but will continue with an increased chance for its success. But will this Bill even settle the Land Question? I have very serious doubts about that. I have here the most interesting report of Mr. Bailey on Irish land 73 purchase, and while I am struck with the testimony it offers to the honesty of the Irish peasants who have bought, and to the success in a large measure of the land purchases which have taken place under the Ashbourne Acts, I am also struck with the fact that when he comes to look at the vast experiment and project embodied in this Bill he foresees dangers and difficulties which will be most serious when this scheme is carried out. He says—Dealing with purchasers who bought with insufficient capital—and there must be many such in the past and more such in the future—we find that their subsequent history is unsatisfactory as a general rule. They struggle along, often with persistency, and working hard, but seldom with much success. Their land, owing to inadequate treatment, diminishes in value, and they finally lose heart and hope.Then he goes on to say this—he treats of what he calls the uneconomic holdings purchased by tenants, and these apparently drive him to despair—Where the entire estate consists of uneconomic holdings the case is still worse. There is no purchaser who can help his submerged neighbour. All are in the same position. All are equally impoverished. They lose hope and self-respect, become sunk in squalor and idleness, and are worse off than their neighbours under the non-purchase system.Let me not be thought to be exaggerating the matter, but that is a future possibility, and indeed a probability, under the too common circumstances shown by Mr. Bailey. Therefore it seems to me that his testimony goes to show that this cannot be a final settlement of the Land Question. But he goes farther and says—If the system of purchase by State aid is to be a success in Ireland, some method should be devised for supplying the small purchasers with capital on easy terms.So that when you have carried out your scheme you have still to supply further capital on easy terms, and therefore this Bill and this vast contribution cannot finally end the matter. I will not allude further to the town holdings, which are not included in this Bill, and which have been described by the hon. Member opposite, nor to the labourers, who have all been left outside this Bill. But you will have those grievances, as well as those of the congested distrcts and the evicted tenants to adjust, so that while this Bill will admittedly not settle the 74 political question, and as I may conclude from Mr. Bailey's report that it will not settle the agrarian question, the position of England will be this. We shall, if my anticipations are correct, find ourselves in a position of not having a settled Ireland, but an unsettled Ireland, with many of its most serious and portentous problems still remaining open. We shall be in the position of an absentee landlord unable to collect our rents in times of dearth and stress, and unable to give those reductions which a personal landlord is able to do. I hold, therefore, that this Bill offers no settlement, political or agrarian; that it will saddle us, not with £100,000,000 plus the £12,000,000 which the right hon. Gentleman suggests, not even with the £152,000,000 plus the £12,000,000, but with many other millions with, in all probability, not less than £200,000,000—the ransom paid by France to Germany after Germany had conquered her. If that is true this Bill will bring, not peace, but a sword of our own forging, and that being so, Home Rule, even of Mr. Gladstone's pattern, would be better than this. I do not know by what means the Cabinet have arrived, by what process they have been brought to arrive, at the scheme embodied in this Bill. To me it scorns a crazy scheme founded on crazed finance. I hope on further examination in Committee I shall be shown to be wrong, but if I am right, and if the scheme has the defects that I believe I see in it, then, instead of diminishing the evils and the estrangement between England and Ireland, it will only provoke greater evils and graver differences than those that have hitherto separated the two islands.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I have had the pleasure of hearing the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and what has struck me most in the course of this debate is the strength of the defence of the Bill, and the weakness of the attack. We have had many remarkable speeches on the Bill, and I note the fact that all the speeches of Irish Members, without exception, both from these benches and from those, have been unanimous not merely in praise of the Bill, but also in urging the same Amendments to the Bill in order to make it more complete. I 75 note the fact that the measure was supported by a most able and eloquent speech by the Leader of the Liberal Party, and I note above all the speech of the Prime Minister What I put to both sides of the House is this, that nobody can doubt but that the speech of the Prime Minister marked an epoch in Irish history. He pronounces the condemnation of the present system and that condemnation cannot now possibly survive. The speech was the epitaph of the present land system in Ireland. The old system is dead, and you must put something in its place. The alternatives are a great measure of land purchase, or chaos and anarchy. Therefore, when hon. Members criticise the details of the Bill—and there are many details open to criticism—we have a right to ask that they should supplement destructive criticism by an alternative policy. I have never known a Bill to be introduced into this House which could not be torn to pieces. There are some questions which cannot be settled except by something of the national sentiment between all parties, which brings into prominence the voice of statesmanship and drowns the voice of faction. In spite of all that has occurred in Ireland, the unanimity of Irish Members has come, in some respects, as a surprise. There are various sections of Unionist Irish opinion. There are the sections represented by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh and the hon. Member for South Tyrone respectively. There is also a Member who almost represents a political group by himself. The hon. Member for South Antrim was returned, one might say, as a landlords' man, against his opponent who came forward as a tenants' man. Yet we have the remarkable fact that the speech of the "landlords' man" was exactly the same as that of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. Therefore I say that in regard to this Bill we have unanimity not merely as to principles but as to details; not merely as to the measure as it stands, but as to the Amendments that are desired. It is not for me to defend either the consistency of the Tory Party on the question of land purchase or the landlords, but I will say a word on both. If I remember rightly, the very first Amendment moved to the Bill of 1881 was proposed by the right hon. 76 Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division, and its object was to take the second part of the Bill first. The second part dealt with land purchase, and the first with rent, so that the meaning of the Amendment was, that land purchase rather than rent-fixing was the proper settlement of the question. In the Lobby on the Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman was supported by every Member of the Conservative Party and also by every Member who then followed the lead of the late Mr. Parnell.
Much has been said against the Irish landlords. They have a great measure of responsibility for the present state of affairs in Ireland, but the responsibility is not unshared by this House and this country. The landlords have been the enemies of Ireland for a century, but they were not always the enemies of the rights of Ireland. We have a Saunderson here to-day who has opposed every demand for Irish reform, but in the 18th century there was a Saunderson who voted against the Union and defended the principles of Irish nationalism. Therefore I do not find fault with any portion of the Bill that recognises the right of the British or Irish taxpayer to come to the relief of the Irish landlord for the purpose of effecting a great national settlement and ending a great national conflict. I was rather surprised at some of the comments of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. If ever a transaction has been conclusively proved to be beneficent and safe it is land purchase. The Attorney-General told us the other night that £25,000,000 were already invested in Irish land purchase, that £830,000 were being paid by the Irish farmers to the State on account of those transactions, that the arrears amounted to only £3,000, the whole of which was not to be assumed to be lost When hon. Members talk of the terrible loss the State may sustain, and the great loss that may be inflicted on the Irish ratepayers by the equivalent grants being called upon, they ought to speak with due regard to that fact. It would be a terrible loss if the whole £830,000 were in arrear, but if the amount is £3,000, £6,000 or even £10,000, it is not so gigantic a burden to place upon the people for so beneficent an operation.
77 The hon. Member for King's Lynn quoted Mr. Bailey's report; I should like to make a few other quotations. It is well that the House should realise what a peasant proprietary means. Hon. Gentlemen have spoken as if this Bill was to introduce some new and untried experiment into Irish life, that it was a vast leap in the dark, a strange innovation, the result of which nobody could foretell. Peasant proprietary has been tried in Ireland with extraordinary success. Never in the whole course of political experiments has there been so triumphant or so prompt a vindication as that which has attended the experiment of land purchase. Take the question of thrift. The Irish have always been called a thriftless people—usually by those who know nothing about them. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the French, they are the thriftiest people in the world. The whole moral of Mr. Bailey's report is that land purchase has created the best method of thrift, viz., a horror of borrowing.If I borrow, the land would not produce enough to pay the instalments, and I would be swamped.On an estate in Kilkenny—Purchasers are averse to borrowing money for any purpose.In West Meath—They seem to have an abhorrence of borrowing at all, even from the Board of Works.On an estate in Mayo—It was quite like old times. The people do not ask for or want credit now; they pay in cash.All over Ireland, wherever there is land purchase, we find thrift symbolised in a horror of borrowing. Take the question of better industry. The inspector speaks of seeing the migratory labourer working upon his farm in the middle of winter. Take the question of food. Indian porridge and oatmeal porridge, which in the days of some of us were the universal diet of a portion of the tenantry, have disappeared, and English or Irish bacon has taken their place. Take the question of content. A most important outcome of land purchase is the feeling of contentment it has given to the people. Take the relations of landlord and tenant. In the county of Mayo, says this report, the best possible relations exist between the 78 purchaser and the landlord. I find in the same report an account of an estate where the inspector of police says that, before the holdings were purchased by the tenants, the police almost slept on the property, but at the present time he did not think a more honest, sober, or self-respecting body of men existed in Ireland. In a parish in Fermanagh the priest said the tenants were more industrious, and the consumption of whiskey had decreased by one-third. With regard to courtesy, Mr. Bailey in his report calls attention to the courtesy shown by the tenant purchasers. This is a rapid and hurried sketch of land purchase in Ireland, although I think it was hardly necessary to remind the House of what land purchase has done. I put it to hon. Members above the Gangway, and to the hon. Member for King's Lynn, that it is better for them to facilitate and accelerate this work of reconciliation in Ireland than to indulge in bursts of brilliant oratory.
I have spoken of the unanimity on this Bill amongst the Irish Members. I may say, however, that we are all agreed as to the insufficiency of the Bill in regard to the labourers; and I think the Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to be encouraged to amend the Bill in this respect by the fact that instead of finding any opposition he will find not only support but enthusiastic support in all parts of the House, and more especially amongst those representing Ireland. There is a far more contentious part of this Bill, upon which, much to my relief, I find the same unanimity. I allude to the question of the evicted tenants. We have yet to hear a single voice raised from Ireland against that great amnesty without which there can be no peace. With regard to the question of the congested districts, that has been entirely removed out of the sphere of party politics. I do not know any hon. Member in this House who does not agree that the state of the congested districts in Ireland is intolerable and should no longer be allowed. If there is one man who feels more strongly than another upon this point I think it is the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I think, however, that the provisions of this Bill with regard to the congested districts are regarded by everybody who has studied the question 79 with dissatisfaction, and I might almost say with dismay. This is a problem which is even more urgent than the land problem, and in saying this I believe I am speaking the feelings of Leinster and Munster. I believe that I speak the spirit even of Ulster and of all Ireland when I say it would be better that the prosperity of Ireland should wait than that this urgent and terrible problem should not be dealt with now. It is easy to settle this problem because its features are broad and plain and visible to every eye. On the one side you have congestion and on the other the desolate ranch. There will be scarcely any population at all on the fertile soil until the right hon. Gentleman takes power to divide the untenanted land amongst the people of the congested districts, if necessary by compulsion; and until he asks for such funds as are necessary to deal with this problem everything else he may do for Ireland will be blackened and overshadowed by the misery in the western portion of the country.
There is another point upon which we are all agreed, and that is in regard to the non-judicial rents. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman does not take a sound view of that question, for I gather from his speeches that he thinks that the existence of a non-judicial rent is a proof of the goodness of the landlord and of the prosperity of the tenant. I lay down almost the opposite proposition. I think the absence of a judicial rent is in the majority of cases the most convincing proof of the poverty and weakness of the tenants. Proof upon proof will be heaped upon the head of the right hon. Gentleman in this respect to show hardship, arrears, intimidation, want of spirit and want of knowledge, and it will be shown that all these things have kept a large number of tenants out of the Land Courts; and instead of being better rented they are more heavily rented than almost any section of tenants. I believe there are about 50,000 caretakers in Ireland. There are estates all over Ireland where the tenants are in arrears, which arrears the landlords in those particular districts take very good care to maintain. An hon. 80 friend of mine has shown me an extraordinary receipt which reads as follows:Received the 29th day of August, 1902, from Mr. Hurley, the sum Of £2. 3s., half-year's rent due the year ending the first day of November, 1897.This is a receipt given this year for arrears in 1897, leaving the tenant with five years arrears of rent. I think I have now said enough to show that this is a portion of the Bill which requires, at our hands, the most careful scrutiny, and if we are able to prove to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman that he is doing an injustice to a large body of tenants in Ireland, I think he will be willing to meet our views and amend his Bill in that direction.
Now, I come to another portion of the Bill upon which every Irish Member has expressed an equally unanimous opinion, and that is the question of the reduction of the minimum rental. It has been urged that we are not entitled to ask for an Amendment of the Bill in this respect. I take my stand upon the views expressed by the three hon. Members who represented me on the Land Conference. Roughly, it is what may be called the Ashbourne principle as to the number of years paid by the tenants plus the bonus that the State might wish to give. As to this bonus I must make this observation—that I am absolutely unable to understand how any English Member who has read the Bill and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and the figures of the whole transaction, can say that, as it stands, the British taxpayer is more likely to lose than to gain. This £390,000 is the largest sum per year that the British taxpayer can pay, and he will only have to pay that when practically land purchase in Ireland is complete, which is fifteen years hence. I shall be able to point out how the right hon. Gentleman can considerably curtail that period, but, according to his proposal, it will take fifteen years before the British taxpayer has to pay £390,000. Within a period of five years it is estimated that the British taxpayer will obtain a permanent revenue against this payment of £250,000. That is a permanent reduction. You will have to pay £390,000 a year maximum for something under seventy years, and you have your saving of £250,000 a year, in Government charges, for all time. But long before the seventy 81 years are over there will be a change in the relations between England and Ireland which will entirely change the position. I speak of the £250,000 as a minimum saving. Is there any man in his senses who would say that the Chief Secretary has gone beyond the lines of the most scrupulous caution in putting down that as the amount of the saving. There may be more people required in the shape of clerks in connection with this transaction, but there will be large savings on the cost of the police, which now amounts to £1,500,000, and law charges and prosecutions which amount to £250,000. Everybody who knows Ireland is aware—and the Chief Secretary was frank enough to state it—that these law costs and police costs are the children of the land war in Ireland. I have not the smallest doubt that before five years have passed away—especially if this Bill leaves the House in such a form that every man in Ireland will be able to advise every tenant in the country to make use of it—the right hon. Gentleman or his successor will be able to show a reduction of considerably more than £250,000 on the present law charges. If the rest of Ireland be transformed after the manner of the holdings which I have described in the words of the official report, if estates where the police almost slept have become the most orderly and law-abiding in the country, I think we can easily see what a saving in the administrative expenditure of Ireland this Bill is likely to secure.
I want the duration of the work of the Bill to be curtailed. I would like the Bill to be in such a form that every leader in Ireland, of whatever Party he may be, would be able to exercise his influence with the people in the way of advising them to take advantage of it. I would like every bishop and every priest to be able to advise the people to take advantage of the Bill. I lay stress on that, for I know that many of the best settlements have been made by the intervention of the Bishops and the priests. How is the right hon. Gentleman going to enlist on his side all that moral police which will be a great deal better than the police on which he has hitherto relied? By removing from the Bill the great blot of fixing the maximum reduction, and the minimum price on the purchase transactions. What is the 82 attitude of the tenants on this question? They are quite willing that out of their taxes—for this bonus is Irish money—the landlord should get a bonus which probably would not be given to any other class of the community. I think the tenant is entitled to take up the position that if the landlord receives this bonus he has done enough, and that the tenantry should not be further fined. That position, to me, is so much like an axiom in euclid that I am unable to understand that there should be any argument on the other side, though I will keep my mind open on the question. I find that since 1886 the average purchase price has been as low as sixteen years. I will read the figures—Taken in counties the averages during the years ranged in 1886, from 23.6 to 13. 8; in 1887, from 20.6 to 11.5; in 1888, from 19.7 to 12.4 in 1889, from 19.7 to 13.2; in 1890, from 19.8 to 13.2; in 1891, from 19.9 to 13.7: during the period from 22nd August, 1891, to 31st March, 1893, from 20.1 to 10.7; during the years ended 31st March, 1894, from 25.1 to 12.5 31st March, 1895, from 21.2 to 6.6 31st March, 1896, from 20.5 to 11.3; 31st March, 1897, from 21.2 to 12.4 31st March, 1898, from 20.3 to 11.6 31st March, 1899, from 19.8 to 15.1; 31st March, 1900, from 20.5 to 15.7; 31st March, 1901, from 20.5 to 15.1; 31st March, 1902, from 20.7 to 15.3 and during the nine months ended 31st December, 1902, from 22.1 to 16.1. In view of these figures, I ask the House whether it is rational to try to crush into uniformity such vastly divergent transactions? That is the first objection. My second objection is that eighteen years purchase would not meet the circumstances of the case. That does not tell the whole tale. I would point out that it is eighteen years of depreciated land stock, and am I not right in saying that it is eighteen years purchase with all the law charges that fall on the landlord? Is it tolerable that the Irish tenants should be able to come to their representatives and say that, in addition to helping the landlords to get a bonus out of their money, they are also to be called upon to give them a further bonus in five or six years purchase? I take another report. Here is a letter from the Bishop of Ross, in which he tells 83 what purchases he was instrumental in carrying out. He says—There were second-term tenants among the purchasers who had got sweeping reductions. By my advice those men agreed to pay eighteen years purchase. I explained to them that eighteen years purchase for them was a less price than nine, eleven, fourteen, and fourteen and a half years I had advised the other tenants to offer.In these circumstances is it tolerable that a tenant should be asked to give nineteen or twenty years purchase as a minimum? I will now give the report of the landlords themselves. I take this from a very valuable pamphlet called "The Landlords' Case," which, I would say, is of especial interest to those who are forcing the landlords' case. Referring to the tenants, the pamphlet says—Only in exceptional cases can they be induced to agree to more than from seventeen to nineteen years purchase of the existing rent.… But the trouble does not end here. When the tenant has, in spite of adverse influences, agreed to a sale and purchase even at a figure only equal to eighteen or nineteen times the rent, the Lane Commission has come in, as broker for the mortgagee, and, if its inspector took peculiar and pessimistic views of the future value of land, or of the solvency or moral character of the tenant, the advance was refused, or only granted to a less amount.I have spoken of the unanimity of the Irish people on this question. I hope we will get equal unanimity on the part of English Members on the question. I put it to hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, who are friends of the Bill, that the interests of the taxpayer and the Irish tenant are exactly the same in this matter. The tenant that gives too many years purchase for his holding becomes a dangerous creditor of the State. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters in the House will keep their minds open on this question, and that they will try not only to pass the Bill, but pass it in such a form that it will be accepted cordially and enthusiastically by all Ireland. All Ireland only yearns for the opportunity, and, therefore, our arguments on this question deserve a patient hearing from all parts of the House.
On the question of the security of the State let me say that this Bill—for reasons which I will examine presently and many of which are good—removes certain securities of the State creditor. Under previous Purchase Acts 84 the Land Commissioners did not bother themselves about the affairs and interests of the tenants and landlords as their primary consideration. They regarded themselves as the trustees of the State, and they regarded the security of the State as their first consideration. I want to say this word of caption. Even if the right hon. Gentleman stated that these limits should be kept in the Bill, and that the tenants were ready to give twenty-two or twenty-three years purchase, that would not be an unanswerable argument in favour of keeping them in. I know that I am expressing the opinion of every man around me when I say that the tenant has to be protected against himself. The land hunger still rages with its old voracity in Ireland, and perhaps that voracity has been increased by the experience of land purchase. The tenants, even if the Bill be not amended, will get a large reduction of their rents, which is an immediate advantage, while the responsibilities are remote; and thrifty as they are, the temptation is great—the sense of ownership, the idea of having something stable in the land, the idea of being rid of the blood, the bailiff and the garrison—those ghosts and spectres of Irish life for centuries—the temptation is great, and the Irish tenant would pay almost any price for the land, and it is the duty of the Irish representatives in this House to stand between him and his fighting soul. Let me say in connection with this, that some hon. Members have spoken of repudiation as a possible danger and a possible policy. I repudiate both the one and the other. It is impossible. There is no Conservative body in the world so conservative as a body of peasant proprietors. They are even more conservative in Ireland than in France, because they hold firmly by great spiritual principles in Ireland which have lost their influence in France. For myself, and on behalf of my friends, I repudiate the idea that the liberation of Ireland is to be got by making Ireland dishonest. I repeat that the tenants want protection from themselves, and the question is "Do they get that protection from the Land Purchase Acts?" Again, I go to the landlords' case. According to a paper furnished to the Fry Commission by Sir John Franks, it was stated that after the landlords and tenants had 85 struck their bargains, and after the tenants were ready to pay the money, the Land Commission stepped in and cut down the amount agreed upon under the Act of 1885, between August, 1885 and March, 1897, from £11,361,824 to £9,984,959. That is, that for the protection of the tenants the Land Commission reduced the sum they had consented and were ready to pay, by £1,376,865, or 12 per cent. I have shown that this House is bound, not merely out of regard to the tenants, but of the interests of the British taxpayer to see that these bargains between landlord and tenant are free, and not made on a price artificially inflated by Acts of Parliament. I come back to the question raised more than once, "What will be the political consequences of this measure?" As to that, we are willing to take our chance. I confess that it is worth while having given a quarter of a century of effort to get such a Purchase Bill as this. What was the favourite and popular representation given of us for more than twenty-three years? It was that we were paid agitators, living on lawlessness and disorder, and afraid of all things in the world that an end should be put to that disorder and social warfare. I am surrounded by the captains and the leaders of the land war in Ireland. And there is not one of them who does not hope, who does not pray that, if this Bill, properly amended, should pass into law, there is a parting of the ways in Ireland. The sword will be turned into a ploughshare, and the Grand Army of Irish revolution will be dispersed and disappear. We are ready to accept this peace on honourable terms to both sides; and I beseech the House to help us in that work, to listen to our reasons and arguments, and join us in making this Bill such as to open up a new era for Ireland and the Empire.
§ MR. GORDON (Londonderry, S.)
I cordially join in the sentiments of the concluding sentences of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I think we in Ireland owe a deep debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary, for the courage with which he has faced this question, and for the time he has devoted to framing the measure before us. Of course, as in the case of 86 every great measure of reform, some of its details require to be considered carefully and amended. I must say that it was highly desirable that the right hon. Gentleman should, at this early stage, know what are the points in which Irish Members are specially interested, in order that he might consider how to deal with them. However, I wish to address myself to what is more relevant to a Second Reading discussion. The unanimity of Members, not only for Ireland, but on all sides of the House is wonderful in general approval of the Bill; and it is curious that only six or seven Members have supported the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded its rejection. And when one comes to analyse the arguments of these Gentlemen against the Bill, one can hardly fail to acknowledge their weakness and futility in comparison with the arguments put forward in favour of the Bill. One thing which amazed me was the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who began by an attack on the Prime Minister, and then went on to express his views on Home Rule. He professed great sympathy with the people of Ireland, but when he came to translate that sympathy into speech, he found nothing but objections to the measure before the House for the benefit of the Irish people. He brought to bear the great knowledge of finance which the hon. Gentleman asserts he possesses, in order to destroy the whole financial framework of the Bill. What is the hon. Gentleman's position, because it illustrates very much what is that of some other Members, and of certain people outside the House, with reference to the measure? The hon. Gentleman said that the method of the finance of the Bill absolutely amazed him. And what was the subject of his amazement? First, the gift of £12,000,000. But there need be no amazement about that. There is no mystery about it. It is a simple business transaction, which, taken at its worst, only means a gift of that sum of money; and there are good reasons to show the necessity for such a gift being made. As the hon. Member who has just sat down demonstrated most forcibly, it would, in the end, not be a gift at all. It would be more than repaid by the saving in the present expenditure on Ireland. What is the other ground of the hon. Gentleman the 87 Member for King's Lynn, for amazement? It is that the Bill offers to pledge the credit of the State to the two parties in Ireland—the landlords and the tenants—to enable them to get rid of their difficulties and the sources of these difficulties and annoyances, which in many respects are a discredit to the whole British Empire. I was surprised that the hon. Member spoke as if the British Empire were advancing that money on terms that would result in loss, because the Irish Land Commission will pay interest at the rate of 3¼ per cent., while the money can be borrowed at 2½ per cent. Instead of that being a loss, it would be a source of gain to the Empire. Then, the hon. Member exclaimed "What is the security?" Well, we are giving the security of the land; but there is another point which has not been taken note of hitherto in the debate. The security will not be the value of the landlords' interest alone, but also the value of the tenants' interest, which is often much greater than that of the landlord. Assuming that the true value of the landlords' interest is £100,000,000, that of the tenants must be something like £200,000,000. Surely that is something tangible and real. Then the hon. Member said that the next security is the moral security. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman has ever considered how much trade and commerce are carried on upon what may be regarded as moral security? Has he ever considered how many Banks in Ireland and this country lend money when the chief security is the character, the business capacity, and the honesty of the men to whom their advances are made? We can judge the future by the past. So far as I can see the financial position of this Bill is safe and secure. The money which will be advanced will be amply secured, and it is idle to talk of any real danger, any real chance of loss to the State by advancing these sums to Ireland. I am not taking into account the power under this Bill to take out of the guarantee fund any deficiency that may arise in the payment of the instalments. I think from a financial point of view the Bill is sound, and can be accepted by the House and the country.
88 It has been suggested that under the Bill the tenant can pay too much for his holding. That is a matter to be dealt with in Committee. The assumption is that the way in which the payment is to be made, and the amount to be paid by the tenant, are to be calculated upon the number of annual instalments which he will have to pay. Under the last Purchase Act eighteen years was the average, but the average after this Bill will be twenty-one and a half or twenty-two years. Nevertheless, you will have no greater instalment under this Bill than you had under the eighteen years purchase. The Act of 1881 has done a great deal of good, notwithstanding the delay in giving effect to its provisions, and, whilst fault has been found with its operation, no one has ever proposed its repeal. I do not think there would be any want of security, and I agree that there should not be a minimum price fixed for any holding. Another important matter to be taken into account is that of the necessity for this measure. The process of the Act of 1881 was necessarily slow, because it had to deal with 400,000 tenants in Ireland, and before all their cases could be dealt with we should have to go forward a century. No one either in Ireland or England can desire to see disputes between landlord and tenant prolonged for that period. If by the gift of £12,000,000 and by pledging the credit of the country for £100,000,000 you can put an end to this warfare between landlord and tenant for all time, I think all parties will desire to agree to the loan being made.
Having come to the conclusion that the Bill is necessary, the next thing to consider is, what is to be done. It must be done either by compulsion or inducement to landlords to sell. All parties who understand this question—except the hon. Member for the Launceston Division—seem to think that the occupier ought to become the owner of the land which he rents. The Government from time to time have announced that they are prepared to carry out the principle of inducement, and get rid of dual ownership. We now come to this question. If you are going to offer inducements, you have to consider first what would be a 89 reasonable inducement to get the landlord to sell, and secondly you have to see that the tenant is not asked to pay too much for his holding. Another point is as to the British taxpayer. No one thinks he is in the slightest danger. The right hon. Gentleman had before him, in fixing the minimum price, a desire to see that the landlord might have a sufficient inducement to sell, but I do think, now that he has heard the universal expression of the House of Commons, he will consider that matter, and that he will not endanger the harmonious working of this Bill. When we come to deal with the question of Amendments I hope hon. Members will show the same spirit of conciliation that has been shown equally, both inside and outside the House, towards the Bill. The principle of inducement having been accepted, there can be no opposition to the Second Reading. But what are the objections that have been offered? One does not like to use strong language, but they do appear to be unreal, unsubstantial, and inappropriate. The mover of the Amendment says that we ought not to pass the Bill because the King is going to visit Ireland in the summer, and a motor-car race is going to be held there, both of which events will cause a heap of money to be spent in the country. What has that to do with the Bill? The hon. Gentleman also asserts that everything shows that Ireland is increasing in prosperity. I must say that Ireland needs any such increase because it is the poorest place in the three kingdoms. Do hon. Members grudge any increase of prosperity? Is it not better for us all, for the British Empire as a whole, to be prosperous? Ireland is still a long way behind England in the matter of prosperity, and of that which she now enjoys a great deal is due to the various pieces of land legislation that we have had, and a great deal is due to the greater interest the tenants have taken in their farms since the Act of 1881.
Another argument advanced against the Bill was that the Unionist Members opposed the Land Purchase Act of 1886, but that was seventeen years ago, and experience shows that under this very Land Act there was increased prosperity to the Irish people. Will the hon. Member say that we are never to depart from the attitude which was taken up, rightly or wrongly, seventeen years ago. There 90 were various reasons why that attitude was taken up at that time, and I quite agreed with them. It was not a Land Bill framed on lines like this Bill, and suffice it to say that everything was different at that time. We are now dealing with the question under new circumstances, and I sincerely hope that a new attitude will be taken up by Parliament and the country. I am as strongly opposed to Home Rule as any one in this House. One of my strongest claims to election was that I was a strong Unionist, and if I thought the Union was in any danger here, not only would I not support this Bill but I would go much farther, but my belief is that the Union is not in the slightest danger; my belief is that the Union will be strengthened by this Bill rather than weakened, and I believe that a large number of those who, like myself, oppose Home Rule believe that giving the tenants an interest on their holding, and giving them to understand that they will no longer be subject to interference in their holdings or in the cultivation of them, would have a great tendency to prevent them from continuing to contribute to the keeping up of an agitation which is largely based on agrarian discontent. What is the necessity for going to the country upon this matter? I have listened to about forty speeches on this debate, and we have had Members from all sides of the House expressing their opinion, and five-sixths of that opinion is in favour of this Bill. I think the House of Commons is a fair representation of the opinion of the country on this particular measure. The other arguments are equally futile. The hon. and learned Member for South Shields discussed the question of the inconsistency of the Unionist Party. There is no inconsistency; the Prime Minister has explained the position in a way nobody could fail to understand. He has explained that for seventeen years he has been in favour of land purchase. Then we are told that a sum of money was granted to Ireland in 1898 and another last year, but it must be remembered that those were equivalent grants, granted as an equivalent to the money which England got for education; and the only reason why the Board of Agriculture got its portion was because 91 of the relation of agriculture to education in Ireland. Then there is the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston. In answer to that it is sufficient to say this—that the whole of the tenants of Ireland who are paying rent, and those who represent them, have considered this measure and have come to the conclusion that there is no comparison between the man who pays rent and the man who occupies his holding. No argument has been adduced against this Bill. The hon. Member for King's Lynn said there are other questions in Ireland, but surely we must legislate for matters as they arise, and, having legislated for this matter, if other questions arise a terwards the House will deal with them wisely and justly. The hon. Member seems to think that there is no use in dealing with any question for Ireland unless he gets a pledge of finality.
Now I wish to speak with regard to the Amendments. Might I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman a different mode of dealing with encumbered and unencumbered estates. The unencumbered estates will be the most difficult to get into the market, because the life tenants of those estates would have to invest the money they receive at a lower rate of interest than they now get, whereas the owner of an encumbered property has a ready means of investing his money at once by paying off his encumbrances, and so reducing the 4½ per cent. he now has to pay upon them. He would therefore derive far more benefit from the side than the owner of an unencumbered property, and if the right hon. Gentleman is to graduate these bonuses at all, I would suggest to him whether it would not be better to graduate them in such a way as to bring in the owners of solvent property. Now I have said all I intend to say about the question of minimum price. I hope that will be dealt with, as all the other questions, in a conciliatory manner, and with a frank desire to make the Act work properly. With regard to Clause 17, I do not think it would be desirable to put an end to the right of tenants to have fair rents fixed until the tenants have become owners. I think this Clause is capable of Amendment, and I think 92 it would be most desirable that, if the tenants should be offered their holdings at a price at which three fourths or five-sixths are willing to buy them, they should be treated as having been purchasers from that time. I think that would get rid of the difficulty that is raised, and it would not be at all an unreasonable coercion to enforce on the minority who might refuse to buy. We are all desirous, and will probably be able to come to some reasonable arrangement. The hon. Member for North Louth has referred to some Amendments which are worthy of being taken into consideration. I think it is an important matter that the Act should be got to work soon, and that everything should be done as rapidly as possible. There is one matter which has been referred to several times, and it is to my disappointment that I found nothing more substantial in the Bill with regard to labourers, and I hope that the Chief Secretary, either this session or next, will bring in a Bill dealing adequately and fairly with this question of labourers. I hope that the Bill before the House will be carried by a large majority on the Second Reading, and that we may look forward with hope and abundant expectation to a friendly passage through Committee, and to the fact that the Bill will emerge a good, useful measure of permanent benefit to the landlords and tenants of Ireland.
§ MR. COMPTON RICKETT (Scarborough)
I do not wish to interpose for more than a few moments. I merely wish to draw attention to a few of the objections which English Members have to the Bill, although I intend to vote for it. I am glad to see such a step forward towards the solution of political troubles which have struck their roots deep in social questions. My only doubt is the possibility of working this Bill to the satisfaction of those who will come under its operation. The freehold appears to me to be of a very vicarious character. One may feel some impulse of satisfaction that one's grandson or one's great-grandson may come into the freehold of the farm in sixty-eight years time, but the only advantage beyond sentiment coming to the tenant to-day, will be a reduction 93 of 10 or 15 per cent. in the rent. Such reduction will seem a great boon at the moment, but when we have a leasehold to be converted into a freehold at the end of sixty-eight or seventy years, how can we suppose the value of the land will not change considerably during the next fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years. As there is no compulsion in the matter, a bargain now may not be a bargain in twenty years time. The landlords may wish for a higher price. On the other hand, the land may decrease in value, and suffer with the whole country in some economic change, and the tenants who have already bought will be unwilling to follow the example of their predecessors. Should either of those circumstances arise, the Act will be arrested and paralysed. To meet the changed circumstances will involve an alteration in the rates already fixed for purchase, which retrospectively will destroy the Bill. There appears to me to be no satisfactory solution apart from a form of compulsion, and that compulsion can hardly be effected by a bargain between the Government of this Empire and the tenant farmers of Ireland. It might be a bargain if there were an authority in Ireland who could covenant with the Government for a scheme of compulsory purchase. Such an authority could control the tenants on the one side, and on the other the landlords would understand the full value of such a bargain and would consider it in coming to terms. If that is not done, I do not see that we are free from the danger of losing our security for the enormous sum it is proposed to advance. We cannot dissociate the question of land from the other Irish question of the government of Ireland on national and popular lines. Those two questions have been wedded in the past; they are connected to-day. It is frankly confessed that this is only a stage in the settlement of Ireland, that it will be received as an instalment, and only as an instalment, and that we must expect the agitation to go on for what Irish representatives consider to be the emancipation of their country. We are bound to remember that present Members of this House will go, and others succeed them, that other farmers will succeed the farmers of 94 to-day, and that there will be an irresistible temptation to put pressure on the Government of this country to secure more political concessions. It has been shown again and again that the Government could not resist a strike on a large scale against rent. You could not evict a country. Such a course would require a provision on a larger scale than was necessary to meet the Boers in South Africa. But though it might be considered as iniquitous, and stigmatised as a breach of agreement, such a thing is possible. The sums granted in relief of local taxation might be used as a security, had we an authority in Ireland to treat with. But supposing there was a strike for a lower rent in one county, and that in consequence the county allowances were not granted. How could you treat the Council of that county as responsible for the tenant farmers? Large numbers of the community who share in the benefit of these grants would be punished through the Council for no fault of their own. Were the contract with an authority it would be a security, but to stop grants needed for education, the repair of roads, and the maintenance of asylums would be out of the question.
We have also to remember that there are other improvements needed. A vast number of these farmers are very poor. A mere reduction of 15 per cent. in their rent is not sufficient to make them capable farmers, or to bring their land to a cultivatable condition. To suppose that we shall change the condition of the population, and effect a reformation in economic conditions simply by a reduction in rent is surely beyond the conception of any reasonable man. What is required is such an advance as will put the farmers in a position to make their land of real value. That could be done were there an authority in Ireland, and that authority made a grant for the purpose of assisting, on the security of the land, such farmers as they chose so to assist. The prohibition of mortgage really hinders rather than assists the progress of the farmers. There are also larger matters. The country is like a business that has gone down. The whole country needs a great deal of money spent upon 95 it. It is really like a colony which is not yet in hand. It needs drainage, affecting perhaps hundred of miles of country, canalising of rivers, improved access, and the deepening of harbours. All these things indirectly affect the value of land, and have a reflex effect upon it. But for such there is no provision, and it is not likely that the Government will make further grants to improve the country, and put it on a footing to attract the capital of private investors. These things can be done only by giving powers to some kind of executive—call it any name you please. That is the corollary, the natural consequence of going so far as you are going now in the enfranchisement of the tenant farmers. You cannot stop at this enormous expenditure. More money will have to be spent, and it cannot come out of the funds of the United Kingdom. The question is an economic more than a political one. You are directly fostering a system which promotes patriotism and a persistent movement in favour of an independent Government by tethering the people to the soil There will be an arrest to emigration. People will stay in Ireland on the chance of getting their share of the land. Others who are away will come home, and as the population gets larger and more active you will foster and increase the idea of Nationalism instead of stifling it. Nationalism will make a great stride forward in the direction of Home Rule. We have in this country patriotism growing more in Imperial directions. Germany has a patriotism finding her fatherland where the German tongue is spoken. In France the peasant holds to the soil with great tenacity from family inheritance; his patriotism is intensely parochial. You are creating the same state of things in Ireland by this Bill, and it is impossible to suppose that you will not have to face such a state of affairs. Better face it now than render yourself liable to greater anomalies by trying to legislate on separate lines. We have to find under this Bill a sum of £12,000,000 for Ireland. On the same ground we cannot refuse similar grants to the farmers of Essex, or to the crofters of Scotland. In the future, if this Bill passes, it will be difficult indeed to resist other grants to landowners in this country, 96 or to trades of various kinds which are essential to the welfare of this country. If that be so, why should we, not make this a grant raised upon the security of Irish land and Irish taxation, giving a guarantee for a certain number of years to some authority in Ireland? By doing this we escape from the anomaly and difficulty of voting a sum of money which we are unable to defend in the constituencies of this country.
§ MR. BUTCHER (York)
So far as I am aware this is the first time in our history in which the representatives of the landlords and tenants in Ireland have come to this House jointly asking for a land reform on which both are agreed. This is a striking and unique fact, and if anyone had ventured, even two years ago, to predict such a result, it would have been looked upon as the dream of a visionary impossible of realisation. But, Sir, it has come true, and for my part I think that this House would be undertaking a grave responsibility if it were to reject, on the Second Reading, a measure which promises so much benefit for Ireland. The hon. Member who has just sat down might, I think, even in his gloomy soul, find some comfort from the fact that the landlords, the tenants, and the whole of Ireland are agreed upon this measure. I gather that the hon. Member would prefer to postpone this measure until the country had been persuaded to grant Home Rule. I do not think it is likely that Ireland would get this money cheaper or better in any financial circles in Europe on the security of the land under Home Rule, than upon the credit of this country. One of the greatest advantages which Ireland derives from its continued connection with this country is that it will be enabled to obtain money for carrying out such beneficial changes as are contemplated by this Bill, by the use of the credit of this country. We are told that this Bill imposes onerous liabilities upon this country. I do not think they will become unduly onerous. But is this country under no obligation to Ireland? Why, Sir, her whole existing land system is the creation of British rule, and if there is one fact more than another upon which hon. Members on both sides of the House are agreed, it is that the present system of land tenure in Ireland is a disastrous and deplorable failure. 97 No hon. Member has given utterance to that view more strongly than the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, and in that view he is supported, I think, by the whole of his colleagues from Ireland. For twenty - two years these experiments have been tried, and those years have proved that the system must end in ruinous and disastrous failure. It has brought great loss to the landlords: it has not brought contentment to the tenants. It has fastened on Ireland a universal and never ending system of litigation of which both parties are heartily sick. I listened two nights ago to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor-General for Scotland, who seemed to think that in Ireland, at any rate, litigation between poor people was rather a good thing. [An Hon. MEMBER: He never said that.] He said there were worse things than litigation. I venture to say that if he consults the impoverished landlords and the poor tenants, they will not take the same view of this perpetual litigation which accompanies the rent-fixing clauses of the Act of 1881. But there is another objection to the working of that Act. It has rendered impossible the proper cultivation of the soil. There is no inducement to the landlord to advance one single shilling for the improvement of the land, while, on the other hand, there is every inducement to the tenant, during the last two or three years of his judicial term to deteriorate his land in order that he may avoid an increase of rent.
If that is the condition of things, I think we are all agreed that this is an intolerable system, and it is the duty of the Members of this House to discover a remedy. No remedy can be found except that of land purchase. Some of the objections which have been urged against this Bill might have been urged with more force eighteen years ago. They might have been urged at a time when we had no experience of the effect of land purchase by State aid in Ireland. Now we are in a different position. For eighteen years that experiment has been tried, and I will undertake to say that it is the only experiment in the reform of the land system which has ever been a success in Ireland. What has been the result of it? You have had tenants purchasing. They have 98 the knowledge that everything they put into the land, whether in labour or money, will be their own absolutely. That has stimulated the better cultivation of the land, and all this has been done without litigation, without friction, and, I will add, without any loss to the British Government. There is nothing more remarkable in the working of the land purchase system in Ireland than the fact that in these eighteen years, when large sums have been advanced, the tenants have paid their instalments regularly, without compulsion, without police, and without getting into arrears. I think I am right in saying that it has been accompanied by another remarkable result, namely, that these instalments have been paid almost entirely free of cost to this country. If this purchase system has succeeded so far, what reason is there to suppose that it will not succeed equally well in the future? I maintain that the experience we have had, leads us to believe and hope that it will succeed in future as it has in the past eighteen years.
There are one or two points in the Bill to which I should like to call the attention of the Chief Secretary. First of all, there is the provision about the evicted tenants. Now I believe myself that if this Bill is to be a success in Ireland—and that also means a success in this country—its operations must be conducted with the help and goodwill of everyone in Ireland, and I have come to the decided conclusion that if you treat the evicted tenants generously, by restoring them as far as possible to their holdings, or finding other holdings for them, you will have gone a long way to establish that harmony and goodwill upon which the successful operation of this Act depends. There is also the labourers question, which I also believe will have to be dealt with in a larger spirit than the Bill does in its present form. A question which has caused much difficulty is that of the purchase price to be paid by the tenant. There are limitations in both directions: the Bill specifies the maximum and the minimum instalments the tenant will have to pay. If this were a bargain between a landlord who was the absolute owner of the land on the one hand, and a 99 tenant who was a purchaser on the other hand, and if no other interest intervened, I cannot see what would be the object of any limitation at all. But that is not the case. In the first place, you have the interest of the State, which is making a large advance, and in the interest of the State it is necessary that there should be some limit on the amount the tenant should pay. I therefore say that there should be a certain minimum reduction. There is much difference of opinion as to the maximum reduction. There was a point mentioned in the course of the debates by my hon. and gallant friend the Member for South Glamorganshire, and that was in regard to the "remainder man." As we all know, most of the owners in Ireland who will be entitled to come and make bargains under the Bill are what you call limited owners. They have only an interest for life, and behind them are their successors, the "remainder men." Now I put this to the House—Would it be reasonable to allow a man who has only an interest for life to come and make a bargain with his tenants behind the back of the man who will come into the estate afterwards and to sell at ten years or six years purchase without considering the interest of his successor? I say it would not be fair to allow him to make that bargain without providing some protection for those who are to come after him. There may be exceptional cases where there ought to be more than 30 per cent. reduction on the existing rents, but these cases might be met by a provision in the Bill empowering the Land Commission to sanction a larger reduction. By that means the interests of all classes requiring protection would be protected. I wish to refer to a class whose co-operation is essential for the proper working of the Act; to the land agents who have a moral claim upon us. They have discharged their duties often under circumstances of great difficulty, and even great danger. It is not their fault that the system of fixing rents under the Act of 1881 has broken down and the present Bill has become necessary. They have a right to come to us and ask us to make some provision for them, and I therefore beg the Chief 100 Secretary to consider what he can do in that direction in the interests of the working of the Bill itself. I shall support the Bill as an Irishman ardently desirous of the prosperity of my native country, anxious to do justice to it, and to bring it peace. I shall vote for the Bill because it appears to me to hold out the only hope of putting an end to the hitherto interminable land-war, and of securing to Ireland not merely material progress, but, what to my mind is even more vital and necessary, complete harmony and goodwill amongst all classes who inhabit that island.
§ MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)
I have followed this debate carefully for the last two days, and the matter has been so well discussed that it is quite unnecessary for me to comment on all the vast array of figures and details which must of necessity form part of this great Act and measure of Reform, which is now before the House of Commons, an Act second to none, in my opinion, in importance for securing the peace, the happiness and prosperity, not only of Ireland but of your vast Empire. Before touching on the point I consider of vital importance in the Bill, I should like to congratulate this House on the fact that, with a few exceptions, the speeches delivered from both sides of this House have been characterised by studious moderation and by an earnest desire to forget all the bitterness that has for so many years characterised debates on Irish questions, and an apparent desire to sink passion and prejudice in order to make this Bill a measure of lasting good to Ireland, and a landmark of national and Imperial peace and goodwill. Among those speeches that I regret were made, were the speeches of the hon. Member for Launceston, and the hon. Member for South Shields. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston, who can so ably hold a brief on any subject whether he has a case or not, took a line of his own, founded on the theory that if the Bill of 1881 had been properly worked, dual ownership would have been a success, and a system of land tenure that has failed everywhere else in the world would have been, according to him, found suitable for the Irish people. The hon. Member appeared to have patented the Bill of 1881 in some extraordinary manner, and I fully 101 expected to see him produce some patent machine into which the Bill of 1881 was put on one side, and on turning a handle wealthy landlords and prosperous tenants would at once emerge from the other. I do not think the hon. and learned Member convinced either the House or himself, and I trust that the repudiation of the way in which he put his case before the House will be sufficient to deter others in following a similar course. Then we had the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who opposed the Bill as a benevolent man. I have seen the right hon. Gentleman in every possible capacity and disguise, but never in that of a benevolent man, and I do not believe that he is benevolently disposed either to the Bill or to Ireland. The hon. Member in posing as a beneficent fairy gives as his sole reason for rejecting the Bill that he desired to make an attack on the Prime Minister. He said he was a friend to Ireland, but if that is so all that I can say is "preserve me from my friends," for the right hon. Gentleman appears to spend his time in picking holes in his friends.
There are some points in this Bill that I should like to say a few words on, and I would plead with the Chief Secretary, with all the earnestness that is at my command, on the subject of the restoration of the evicted tenants, and on the subject of what is known as the "minimum price" in this Bill. As regards the evicted tenants, I should like to point out to the House that during the last twenty-five years some 9,992 tenants have been evicted, and although one of the Ulster Members stated that of evicted tenants there were none, or few, in Ulster, it might surprise him and the Members of this House, to know that Ulster heads the list with 2,657 cases. I would like to point out that 4,090 of these evicted tenants had a rent of under £10, and that in no fewer than 8,318 cases out of a total of 9,992 the rent in no case exceeded £50. As these 8,318 would apparently come under the restoration clauses of the Bill, there would be apparently only about 2,000 excluded from the benefits of this Act. Surely to restore such a large number and to exclude such a small number is absolutely indefensible, and I am certain that the Government will meet the earnest desire of the Irish people by doing all in their power to restore these 102 evicted tenants, and by giving them the same privileges that are granted to the others. As regards the "minimum price," I will plead most urgently with the Chief Secretary to give this his best consideration in order that a solution satisfactory to this side of the House, may be arrived at, and I hope we shall yet hear that the Solicitor-General for England, himself an Irishman, who promised with so much pathos at Oxford on Saturday, his minimum support to this Bill, will be able, with his great legal knowledge, to eliminate the question of minimum price from it. Notwithstanding all that has been said, it appears to me there is very little between the ideas of the various sections of the Irish community, who have come together for the first time in history, and united together to endeavour to solve the Irish land question, and to bring prosperity to their country. As regards the impression, those who have spoken against the Bill have endeavoured to convey to the House, that England will have to bear the cost of giving effect to this Bill, it has, I think, been demonstrated beyond all doubt to every unprejudiced mind that the cost of the working of this Bill will be borne by Ireland, and not by the British taxpayer, and that the maximum expenditure after several years cannot exceed £390,000 in any year. We have had several speeches from the front Opposition Bench worthy of the best traditions of English statesmanship, and among them I would like to express my gratitude for that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Northumberland. We have also had a speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Glamorgan, who appeared and brought himself to the notice of the House in the new character of a "remainder man." Long may he remain to give vent to the kindly and patriotic sentiments he spoke, and I hope the "remainder man" will insist on getting a share of the bonus. I desire before concluding to say a few words on the subject of rent charge. I think an eighth too much, and I believe that if the rent charge was handed over to an Irish central authority many of the objections to it would fade away. Surely the earmarking of Irish money and "equivalent grants-in-aid," which has met with universal approval, is a precedent for an Irish central authority having control of any rent charge that may 103 be imposed. I have endeavoured to express my gratitude for speeches made in favour of this Bill from both sides of the House, but in doing so it would be ungenerous of me not to openly express gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland who has brought this Bill forward at a time when most Ministers would have shrunk from doing so, and whose audacious courage and chivalrous persistency will, I believe, be rewarded by giving peace and prosperity to Ireland, by giving a blessed emancipation to our people, and placing this great Reform Act on the Statute-book of the House of Commons.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the Clock, the debate stood adjourned till this evening's sitting.