§ [THIRTEENTH DAY.]
§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Main Question [2nd February], "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,—
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United 263 Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Hardy.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Amendment proposed—
MR. P. A. McHUCH (Leitrim, N.)
first expressed his regret that the task of moving the Amendment had not fallen to the lot of some Member more accustomed to take part in the proceedings of the House, and more competent to deal with the complex matters with which the Amendment was concerned, but he found consolation in the fact that any defect on his part in the discharge of his duty would be fully compensated for by those who would follow him. He was aware that the subject matter of the Amendment was not one which appealed to the majority of Members, many of whom considered that the raising of the question at this moment was inopportune and unnecessary. But if the House should feel aggrieved at their raising the question at the present time, he could only point out that the fault did not lie with them. They were there against their will, and the Chief Secretary had told them that they were there on a footing of political equality, having equal claims with other Parties on the time of the House. They might differ from the Chief Secretary in regard to the equality of their position, but one thing was certain, and that was that, as long as they were there, they would avail themselves of every opportunity on which they could seize in order to claim redress for the grievances under which those whom they represented were suffering. They believed it to be their duty, so far as they could to take advantage of the position in which they found themselves, and accordingly they brought forward their Amendment that day, seeing that it involved matters of the most vital and pressing importance to their constituents.
The Chief Secretary, in a speech which he delivered on the 3rd February in reply to the hon. Member for Waterford, said that while he would introduce a Bill amending the Land Purchase Act of last session he would not re-open the Irish land question. That was not an accurate way of describing the situation. They did not ask the 264 right hon. Gentleman to re-open the Irish Land Question, but the purpose of their Amendment was to show the House and the Chief Secretary that he had never closed it. It had been found that the language of the Land Purchase Act of last year was ambiguous with regard to the payment of the bonus, and when the Chief Secretary referred to that matter he was chivalrous enough to take upon himself the sole responsibility for the defective phraseology of the Bill. They, however, knew where the responsibility rested. The right hon. Gentleman said—I am honourably bound to see that the intention of Parliament is carried out in regard to the bonus.This was an important statement, for if the right hon. Gentleman was honourably bound to carry out the intentions of Parliament with regard to the payment of the bonus to the limited or other owners in Ireland, he was also honourably bound to carry out the intentions of Parliament in regard to matters of infinitely greater importance. The intention of Parliament was not limited to the granting of huge gifts to limited or to absolute owners, or indeed to any class of owner in Ireland. It was extended to the questions of fair price, of congestion, and of the evicted tenants. In regard to these matters he and his colleagues said that the intentions of Parliament had not been, and could not be, carried out under the Act as it stood, and that the Act must be amended on the lines indicated in the Amendment he was proposing. He would like to say, for himself, that he did not personally approach the discussion of this question in any contentious spirit; he did not approach it in any spirit of mere faultfinding. No one would have been better pleased than he if the realisation of the hopes engendered under auspicious circumstances last year had made the present discussion unnecessary. He had no desire to minimise the praise of, or in the slightest degree detract from, the reputation of the Chief Secretary for his conduct in charge of the Bill of last year, but they believed that the praise would be increased and his reputation would be enhanced, if by the acceptance of their proposal the right hon. Gentleman gave effect to the intentions of Parliament. Those intentions, in passing the Bill last year, were directed 265 to three objects—first, to bring about a transfer of the ownership of the land from the owner to the occupier; secondly, to provide a settlement for the evicted tenants; and, thirdly, to cure congestion. Vast sums of money were placed at the disposal of the Irish Government to enable them to give effect to the intentions of Parliament, and he asserted that the Irish Government was honourably bound to use that money in giving effect to those intentions, and if the action of the Irish landlord party rendered it impossible to give effect to them, the money should, as far as possible, be withheld.
As the House was aware, there were two land questions in Ireland—there was the general land question, and there was the question of congestion. It would be observed that his Amendment was divided into two portions—one dealing with land purchase in general, and the second with congestion. In the first place they said that serious amendment, including the abolition of the zones system, would be required in the Irish Land Act of last session to prevent the unjust inflation of the price of land in Ireland. They said that under the zones system, and as a consequence of that system, the price of land had been rushed up to a fictitious standard, and that the artificial inflation of that price threatened to render the Act inoperative, and consequently to defeat the intentions of Parliament. The intention of Parliament was that the sales should take place at the fair market value, at a price which would not place an undue burden on the purchaser, or subject the taxpayer to undue risks. In a recent speech the Chief Secretary had expressed satisfaction at the way in which the Act was being put into operation, but had urged that—It would be madness on the part of the Commissioners to attempt to raise money at a rapid pace.The danger lay not in the pace but in the price. The right hon. Gentleman had also stated that the financial clauses were the foundation of the Act, and that any minor defects in the edifice erected on that foundation could be corrected in due course. In the opinion of the Irish Party, the system of zones constituted, not a minor, but a serious defect 266 striking directly at the financial foundation of the Act. It weakened the security, and consequently the whole foundation. The sole excuse for the invention of the zones system was that it would accelerate the pace, therefore the abolition of the zones would carry out the Chief Secretary's suggestion that the pace should be retarded. Prices had been unjustly inflated, and the zones system had contributed to the result. The average price of land from 1886 to 1903 was seventeen-and-a-half years purchase, but since the passing of the new Act it had been increased by five or six years. On 9th February last he asked the Chief Secretary to state in terms of years purchase the price agreed upon by the 3,070 occupiers who had arranged to purchase under the Act, but the right hon. Gentleman refused the information on the ground that it would entail so much trouble, and deprecated the practice of calling for voluminous interim returns. That was not an answer; it was a lecture, and Irish Members did not come to this House to be lectured by right hon. Gentlemen who undertook to govern Ireland without the consent of the people of Ireland. The Question was repeated in another form, in which merely the average price was asked for, and again the information was refused. The figure was of vital importance in the present discussion, and ought to have been given to the House. Moreover, the information was not asked for on behalf of the Irish Party alone, it was required for the English taxpayer. He quite understood the difficulties of the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman was not the Governor of Ireland. Ireland was governed not through this House, or the King's Ministers, but by a handful of Irish landlords, and it would be extremely inconvenient to them if the figures asked for were given.
Of late years the value of land in Ireland had been going down, as was shown by the fact that the prices of the whole of the agricultural produce of Ireland had decreased from £34,406,856 in 1901 to £34,035,060 in 1902, and the total value of live-stock had fallen from £71,000,000 in 1902 to £69,000,000 in 1903. These totals showed a serious falling off, and he was justified in deducing from them 267 that the value of land had decreased. The same conclusion was to be drawn from the fixing of judicial rents. The reduction of second-term rents in November, December, and January last averaged 162 per cent., and the only reason why the Courts would reduce the rents was that the value of the land had decreased. In 1901 the average price of land was eighteen years purchase. Now, with the bonus, the average ranged from twenty-two to twenty-five years. While the value of the land was going down the price extorted by the landlords was going up, and this unnatural condition of price was dangerous to the purchaser, to the Irish ratepayer, to the British Exchequer, and to the financial foundation of the Chief Secretary's Land Bill. This unnatural condition of affairs was due to the intervention of the zones system. By the abolition of inspection, which was the necessary consequence of the zones system, they had given the landlords a free hand. The zones system had encouraged the landlords to demand and extort unfair prices. Under the system of sale and purchase in force from 1886 to 1903 there was no such thing as a zones system, but there was a system of inspection, and the procedure was that, when the landlord and tenant agreed to a price, the Land Commission sent down an inspector, and if he found that the land gave sufficient security for the advance claimed, then the advance was made. So that the inspection was a safeguard to the tenant, the taxpayer, and to the financial foundation of the Land Acts. No advance used to be made until the inspector had certified, and that safeguard did not exist under the Land Act of last session. No matter how-unfair the price or rotten the security, if the landlords and tenants agreed upon a price within the zones then the Estates Commissioners had no option but to make the advance. These inspectors were not acting on behalf of the tenants, and they had no bias towards the tenant, but rather the other way, and yet under the Land Acts of 1885 and 1888 they refused 3,795 applications. He was quoting from the Report of the Land Commission. Of the total number of applications received, which was 29,496, 3,795, representing £1,448,445, were refused 268 on the ground of insufficient security, irregularity, defective title, etc. When those applications were refused the average price of land was seventeen years purchase. Under the Acts of 1891 and 1896, 2,646 were refused, representing £870,105. The British taxpayer should remember, when these advances were refused, mostly on account of insufficient security, the average price of land in Ireland was seventeen years purchase, and now under the zones system, and without inspection, advances were made, although the average price of land was twenty-five years purchase. There was no security for the solvency of the purchaser or the financial foundation of the Bill. A landlord in his constituency offered a few years ago to sell his estate, at eighteen years purchase, to his tenants and this was agreed upon both by the tenants and the landlord. An application wan made to the Land Commission for an advance. The inspector was sent down, and he reported that the estate in question was not sufficient security for the eighteen years purchase, which included the interest of the tenant. He reported that eighteen years was too much. Those same tenants recently asked their landlord if he would sell under the Land Act of last year, and he replied that he would not sell to the tenants for less than twenty-five years purchase. Therefore they had the Land Commission officially declaring that the land was not worth eighteen years purchase, whilst the Estates Commissioners sitting next door would be bound to advance twenty-five years purchase if the tenants agreed to purchase. Parliament never contemplated that under the Act of last year prices would be forced up in such an unnatural and arbitrary way. He believed that the intention of Parliament was that the £12,000,000 bonus given by this House to the Irish landlords would enable them to sell at lower prices than those which prevailed under previous Acts. The prices at present demanded by the landlords appeared to them to be so extravagant that they thought an addition to these prices of £12,000,000 was a great waste of public money. If tenants were ready to pay such prices as were now demanded there would have been no need for the Land Act of last year, for the sales could have been carried out 269 under 1895 and 1896 machinery. While these exorbitant demands were being made the tenants had never sought to reduce the prices paid before the passing of the Act. They had surrendered to the landlords (1) the bonus; (2) the payment of costs; (3) the payment in cash; (4) facilities for purchasing demesnes; and (5) the advantages resulting from the clearing off of mortgages. All these rights the tenants had voluntarily surrendered to the landlords. No one expected that after receiving all those advantages the landlords would have insisted upon demanding prices far in excess of those paid from 1886 to 1902.
His proposal was that under the new Act, as under the old, no advance should be made without inspection. When the average price was seventeen-and-a-half years purchase there were many failures, but there must now be much greater probability of failure when land had advanced to twenty-four or twenty-five years purchase. Under the old system the greater the amount of arrears the greater the care taken by the inspector to inquire into the security, but under the new Act the landlords had absolutely a free hand. They had no inspection to fear, and the larger the arrears the more helpless the tenant was in the hands of the landlord. The landlords were playing on the necessities of the poorest class of tenant and were exacting terms out of all proportion to the demands of justice. If the tenants failed, as in his judgment they were bound to fail if they accepted such terms, the taxpayer would be liable. The Chief Secretary said that he considered the financial foundation of the Land Act as the most important part of the measure and if the right hon. Gentleman were anxious to keep that foundation safe and solid it would be necessary for him to abolish the zones system and to restore inspection.
The second part of the Amendment dealt with the question of congestion. He maintained that the Act for last year did not provide any remedy for the evils of congestion nor did it contain any provision sufficient to secure the redistribution of land in the poorer parts of the country. Unless such a provision were inserted the Irish Land question 270 could not be settled. He and his hon. friends proposed that the power of compulsory purchase should be conferred on the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners with the additional provision, that the sales of the congested estates should only be made to the Congested Districts Board or to the Estates Commissioners. In their judgment the land question of Ireland existed in its most intense form in the province of Connaught. It was in that province that the land agitation commenced and he maintained that the Act of last year did practically nothing to remedy the evils of which they had often complained in this House. The Government had always admitted the existence of those evils; they also admitted that there was a remedy ready to their hand but they had not the courage to apply it. It was stated last year by the Prime Minister that the Irish Land Laws reflected the utmost discredit on the power of British statesmanship. If that statement were true in regard to Irish land legislation in general it was especially true with regard to the problem of congestion in the west of Ireland. He would only quote a few brief figures which he considered were relevant. In 1811 the population of Connaught was 1,118,851. Then came the famine and the clearances, and afterwards followed consequences which remained to the present day. One of those consequences was that in 1901 the population of Connaught had dwindled to 646,932 or considerably less than half what it was sixty years ago. Another consequence was' that from 1851 to 1901 617,255 persons, a number almost equal to the present population, emigrated from Connaught. That was an extraordinary fall in population at a time when the population of other parts of the United Kingdom was increasing by leaps and bounds. It was due, as the appalling exodus of the people was also due, to the land system, which was described by the Prime Minister as the worst in the world. It was also due to the negligence of the Government under a system which the Chief Secretary said conferred on Ireland political equality. In Connaught there were 41,439 holdings which were valued for rating purposes at £4 or under, and 41,851 holdings which were valued at from £4 to £10. That was to sax that 271 there were in Connaught 83,290 uneconomic holdings. It was admitted by all Parties that it was practically impossible to obtain subsistence from the land for those poor people who had to live on patches of bog, on morasses, or on mountain sides. They could not earn the rent from the land; they earned it in England and Scotland as agricultural labourers, and in many cases it was paid by remittances from America. Side by side with those small wretched holdings there were large grazing ranches from which the forefathers of those poor people had been evicted, and which at the present time were used, not for the purpose of supporting an industrial agricultural population in comfort and in abundance, but for the purpose of raising cattle and sheep for the English market. It was said some time ago by the Archbishop of Tuam that there was one cure, and one only, for congestion in the west of Ireland, and that was to plant the people on the prairies of the West, and his Grace referred to the land as being at the present moment as free from contact with agriculture as it was when men hunted the boar and the wild deer in primeval days.
The Land Conference Report, in one of its resolutions, said that the congested districts in the west of Ireland should have special treatment accorded to them in the Land Bill. He would give a few figures to show what was the meaning of the redistribution of the land which he advocated. He might add that the figures were taken from documents belonging to the Congested Districts Board, which he was permitted by courtesy to inspect. In the Swinford Union 4,768 families occupied holdings valued at £4 or under and in that union there were thirty-nine graziers and fourteen landlords who occupied grazing land to the value of £3,842. In Westport Union the total number of occupiers was 5,332, and of that number 3,041 occupied holdings of the value of £4 or under, and 150,935 acres of prime land were used for grazing purposes. In Killala Union 909 families occupied holdings valued at £4 or under, whereas seventeen graziers held land valued at £3,034. In Ballinrobe there were 4,081 residential holdings, of which 3,443 were valued at £4 or under, and 149 families occupied 272 holdings of less than one acre. Forty-seven landlords and thirty-five graziers occupied between them 61,031 acres for grazing purposes, and of the landlords thirty-four were absentees, and of the graziers sixteen were non-resident. In Belmullet there were 2,297 holdings, and of these 1,862 were valued at £4 or under, whereas twenty-two graziers occupied land valued at £1,233. In Castlebar there were 6,262 holdings, of which 4,314 were valued at £4 or under, while seventy-two graziers and thirty-five landlords occupied 28,976 acres valued at £13,118. In the Tuam Union there were 3,680 holdings, while there was grazing land amounting to 76,525 acres valued at £29,384. In Ballina the total number of holdings was 5,201, and of these 2,244 were valued at £4 or under, while grazing land in the union was rated at £9,509. The right hon. Gentleman had been through the congested districts and had. when introducing the Land Act of last year, given the House his experience of them. He then said—We want to get at the occupier of the soil to enable him to purchase an economic holding upon which a man and his family can maintain themselves. Well it is difficult in the worst parts of Ireland, perhaps I ought not to dwell on the worst parts of Ireland, but in the worst parts of Ireland, there is a state of affairs which no hon. Member who has not been through them can conceive for a moment to be possible. The tenants are living under conditions which you would not find among the Kaffirs in South Africa.That was the picture held up before the gaze of the House on the 25th March, and it excited pity and stimulated benevolence. The House said almost as one man—"Let us change the picture and take away this reproach and let there be peace, prosperity, and sunshine in Ireland." The House was asked to lend the credit of the British taxpayer for a loan of £100,000,000, and to make a free grant of £12,000,000 to settle the congested district question. He asserted that that money was given mainly to change the picture painted by the Chief Secretary, and that it would not have been given if the House had believed that after the passing of the Act the picture would have remmained unchanged. The picture was unchanged now; the reality was the same to-day, as squalid and as appalling as it was on the 25th of March last. The Kaffir of the congested districts had not been 273 touched by the Act of last year and could not be touched. In his regard the intention of Parliament had come to naught, and they were therefore entitled to ask was not this a case in which the honour of the Chief Secretary was as much concerned as it was, by his own admission, in the case of the bonus to the landowners. It was in the hope that his efforts would change the picture that the House agreed to his financial proposals. They asked him now to give effect to the intentions of the House. They made no apology for pressing this matter on the House, because in their opinion the Act of last year was incapable of giving effect to the intentions of the House. On the Second Reading of the Act the hon. and learned Member for Waterford pointed out that the provisions of the Bill dealing with the congested districts would, if they were not strengthened, prove absolutely insufficient, and that warning was repeated in Committee, but in spite of all warnings the Bill left the House in practically the same condition as it was introduced. Neither in the framing of the Act nor in the discussions in Committee did the congested districts get fair play, and in support of that contention he referred to the resolution of the Land Conference which stated—That the congested districts would require separate and exceptional treatment with a view to the better distribution of the population, and of the land as well as for the acceleration and extension of those projects of migration and enlargement of holding, which the Congested Districts Board, as at present constituted, with its limited powers, had hitherto found it impossible to carry out upon an adequate scale.The separate and exceptional treatment which, so far as it could be given, was given to the Congested Districts Board by the right hon. Gentleman was not worthy of the name, and did not increase their powers in the slightest degree. The Chief Secretary was in favour of compulsion, as was also Lord Crewe, who said he "hoped the pace would be considerably quickened." He went further and said the framers of the Act made no secret of the fact that they had not seriously attempted to grapple with this urgent problem. Lord Dunraven in the House of Lords said—I take it that the sections applying to the Congested Districts Board are more or less experimental; that is to say, that, if they do not 274 succeed in the object the Government aim at, further legislation on that subject may become necessary.They were saying that to-day. At a meeting of the Bishops of the province of Connaught this resolution was passed—We desire to record our conviction that the proposals, outlined in the Bill, for dealing with the great question of congestion, and the cultivation of vast tracts of prairie land in the West of Ireland, are quite inadequate. Larger and more extensive powers should be conferred on the Congested Districts Board throughout the entire province similar to the powers granted to the Crofters' Commission, in Scotland.and then they said—We feel it our duty to declare that, if the Government will not take these or similar measures to deal with this great question in a thorough-going sort of way, the land question will not be settled in the West, nor the tide of emigration be checked; nor can peace and contentment be restored until the grazing lands taken from the people in the past, be given back to the men who are able and willing to work them for the maintenance of themselves and their families.That resolution was adopted on the 6th of April at Tuam, and signed by the Archbishop of Tuam, and the Bishops of Galway, Achonry, Killala, and Elphin. There was no body of men in Ireland more competent to express an opinion on a matter of this kind than the Bishops of Con-naught. They lived among the people, and they were not politicians. The Chief Secretary had not introduced a word into his defective Bill to give effect to the resolution of the Bishops. In Committee on the Bill the congested districts did not get fair play, seeing that the provisions dealing with congestion did not come forward in this House until 7th July, though the Bill was introduced on 25th March. Even at that advanced stage of the session he believed, if the Irish Government had been serious in their intention to grapple with this problem, they might have inserted provisions of a satisfactory nature, but no attention whatever was paid to the representations on the subject which were made from the Nationalist Benches. The Irish Party asked that compulsory powers should be given to acquire suitable land for the people living in the congested districts. They did not ask that these compulsory powers should extend to the whole of Ireland, but they asked for that kind of compulsion 275 which the Prime Minister considered would be necessary in 1890. They asked for that kind of compulsion which the Congested Districts Board considered necessary in 1895. They did not ask for compulsion that would injure either landlord or grazier. The Irish Party never expected that grazing farms in the West of Ireland would be confiscated. They expected that, if compulsion were applied, every interest would be safeguarded. Compulsion was anathema to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. It appeared as if the right hon. Gentleman were in the House for the purposes of protecting the interest of the graziers. He said they were an economic necessity. None of those on the Nationalist Benches would agree with him in that matter. Pre-emption was asked and refused; a reorganisation of the Congested Districts Board was also refused; a new and improved definition of "estate" was refused; a new system of scheduling was refused, although the Chief Secretary admitted that the system in existence was arbitrary and fallacious. He was satisfied to leave it arbitrary and fallacious, and it remained so at the present day. When pressed for Amendments the right hon. Gentleman declared that, as the credit and capital of the Congested Districts Board were increased under the Act, they should wait to see what would be done in the autumn and winter under the improved conditions. He did not seek to judge the Act by what had been done under it in the short period that had elapsed since it was passed. He took different ground altogether. The Act as it stood at the present time would not cure congestion in a century. If anything substantial had been done since the passing of the Act by the Congested Districts Board, he held it could have been done equally well if the Act of last year had not been passed. The right hon. Gentleman had got the autumn and winter, and what were his achievements? The right hon. Gentleman was aware that last year 13,530 migratory labourers left Connaught to earn rent in England and Scotland; he was aware that 173 per 1,000 of the adult population of Mayo were forced every year to seek employment away from their homes. For how many of these migratory tenants had he got employment on the grazing ranches. 276 He readily admitted that the Chief Secretary approached this question in a sympathetic spirit, but still the right hon. Gentleman, while deploring the malady which he described to the House on 25th March last, had shrunk from applying the remedy. In the course of a speech delivered the other day the Chief Secretary said—As a rule politicians are more usefully engaged in attacking problems which are under their noses with the resource swhich are in their hands.He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman why he did not attack the Kaffir problem in Connaught with some portion of the £12,000,000 which was given as a free gift to settle the Irish land question. In his judgment, £1,000,000 spent upon the Kaffir problem in the West of Ireland would do more to settle the land question than the £12,000,000 they were wasting in the futile effort to satisfy the landlords. Reference was made in the Amendment to the resolution of the Congested Districts Board. The resolution appeared in the Report of the Board for 1895, and was as follows—That the Congested Districts Board are in possession of information, through their inspectors, that there are large tracts of land that could be used to enlarge the holdings of small occupiers and promote schemes of migration in congested districts. The Board are, however, of opinion that it will be impossible for them to give effect to this important department of their work unless more funds are placed at their disposal, and compulsory powers given to them to acquire such lands at their just valueThat resolution was signed by Mr. Gerald Balfour, Sir David Harrel, Mr. Charles Kennedy, the most rev. Dr. O'Donnell, Mr. Frederick W. Pain, Mr. Horace Plun-kett, Mr. James H. Tuke, Mr. Frederick Wrench, Mr. A. J. Balfour, the Rev. W. S. Green, and the Rev. Denis O'Hara. The resolution had remained, up to the present, a dead letter, and he ventured to say that the failure of the Irish Government to give effect to it reflected the greatest discredit upon the powers of British statesmanship as applied to the Government of Ireland. The Irish Party now asked that the powers referred to in that resolution should be conferred on the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners acting under the Act of last year. A member of the 277 Congested Districts Board, who was a friend and admirer of the Chief Secretary, had informed him that he still adhered to the view expressed in the resolution of 1895. He asked him whether he would be good enough to give him his views as to the adequacy or inadequacy of the Act of last year to provide a remedy for the congestion in the West of Ireland. With the permission of the House he would read the statement he had received from that member of the Congested Districts Board. He said—In my opinion no solution of the congested districts problem is possible in Connaught unless the Congested Districts Board get compulsory powers to acquire, at a price that is not excessive, all the holdings suitable for agriculture over £25 Poor Law valuation, which are in the occupation of non-residential tenants, and used for grazing purposes. The Act of 1903 does not give any special powers or facilities to the Congested Districts Boards to acquire nonresidential grazing holdings, nor grass lands in landlords' hands; on the contrary, owing to the facilities afforded to owners to buy back, with the aid of a State loan, one-third of the lands, comprising estates, which were not subject to tenancies before 1903, there is practically no chance of the Board getting any of such land-in, or convenient to the congested districts, unless they pay far more than the land is worth, and they cannot pay an exorbitant price for any considerable area of such land and settle tenants upon it without incurring a loss per family for settling them on the grass area that would be considered grossly excessive. And if they give this extravagant price, they will be fixing a standard that would be altogether too high.He was informed that the Board had recently bought some untenanted land, and if the Chief Secretary referred to that fact in his reply, he should like the right hon. Gentleman to mention that price at which that land was purchased. That was a matter of vital importance. The average price of land bought by the Congested Districts Board up to 1903 was thirteen and a quarter years purchase, and the highest was seventeen and a half. The Chief Secretary had formerly said that, in his judgment, the average price which the Board would pay for land would be about thirteen years purchase. His contention was that the land must not only be acquired, but that it must be got at a fair price; and that the sales in cases of congested estates should only be made to the Congested Districts Board or to the Estates Commissioners. The Chief Secretary, in his speech of 3rd Februar, said that in 278 an amending Bill the Government intended—making all clear which was in doubt, and carrying out all the intentions that were expressed in this House and acquiesced in by all Parties.There were two points on which it would be necessary to remove all doubt, and which, from his point of view, were of the utmost gravity. In the first place, they wanted to know whether, under the new Act, a landlord who owned an estate comprising partly tenanted and partly untenanted land, could sell the tenanted portion of his estate and receive the bonus on the purchase price, while at the same time he retained in his own hands the untenanted land, which might be used for the purposes of emigration and enlargement of holdings. On that point the Chief Secretary must be perfectly clear. It was necessary to impress on the House that if such things were permitted the evils of congestion would be intensified instead of being allayed; and the intentions of Parliament would be utterly defeated. In the second place, all doubt must be removed with reference to the case of the evicted tenants. So far as the Irish Party was concerned they could never consider the Irish land question settled until decent provision was made for the evicted tenants. They wanted to know whether, in the case of an evicted tenant being restored to his holding, the Estates Commissioners would be entitled to give him free grants for restoring the farm buildings and fencing, and for restocking; and likewise compensation to the farmer who was willing to leave the evicted farm. A good deal had been said last year about the desirability of a better understanding between the classes in Ireland. The position of the Nationalist Party was perfectly simple. They had been all along for conciliation: and they believed that the proposals which they made were reasonable and moderate, and that they were necessary if effect was to be given to the intentions of Parliament when it passed the Act of last year. They contended that these proposals could not injure the landlords, but if they found, when the question came to be discussed in the House, that the landlords resisted their application for the abolition 279 of the zones, the restoration of inspection for the purpose of continuing the extortion of unfair rents, and an adequate remedy for the malady of congestion; and that they continued to deny a satisfactory provision for the claims of the evicted tenants, then the Nationalist Party would be reluctantly forced to believe that all they had heard last year about conciliation was hypocrisy and a hollow sham, and was intended merely as a means to hoodwink the House, and for the purpose of filling their pockets at the British taxpayers' expense. As far as his Party was concerned, they still offered conciliation, and they pointed out to the landlord party and the Irish Government that the 'only alternative to conciliation was continued conflict; and that while they, on those Benches, abhorred that alternative and honestly prayed that under wiser counsels it might be averted in the interests and for the good of their common country, they felt bound to say that if the continued conflict was forced upon them they should know how to meet it.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL (Longford, N.)
said he rose to second the Motion proposed by his hon. friend so eloquently and ably but he realised—and he was sure that every Member sitting on the Nationalist Benches and in every other portion of the House must also realise—that the hon. Gentleman had absolutely covered the whole ground of the case and that it would be absolutely impossible for any subsequent speaker to add anything to the argument which had been made for the amendment of the Land Act of last year. It was' indeed with no feeling of pleasure that Members sitting on those Benches had to come to the House of Commons to complain of the inadequacy of its legislation. As every one, on both sides of the House, knew very well the highest hopes were excited last session by the prospect held out of immediate relief for the tenant farmers of Ireland by the operation of the Land Act of last year. So far as the conduct of one side of the controversy was concerned strong efforts had been made to prevent that Act from being a failure. They heard much in last year's debates of the policy of conciliation. He had been and was now a supporter of such a policy, 280 and hoped that that policy would put an end to class conflict in Ireland and give the people a chance of settling down to the development of their material interests and thereby increase the prosperity of the country which they all loved. To that policy of conciliation there were of course two parties—the landlords and the tenants. On the one side there were the leaders of the Nationalist Party and the national movement; on the other side were Lord Dunraven and his associates in the Land Conference and also a number of landlords not concerned with the Land Conference. He asked the House to bear in mind, if complaint was made as to the attitude of the Nationalist Party, of the unreasonable character of their demands, and the inability to satisfy them on any point, that they had sought to give effect to the policy of conciliation in Ireland. The Land Purchase Act received the Loyal Assent on 10th August last year, and on 8th September a most important meeting of the tenants' representatives was held in Dublin to consider the future working of the Act and to advise, as they had the right and authority to advise, the tenants of Ireland how it should be received. At the great meeting a number of resolutions were adopted, the most important of which set forth—That wherever a readiness may be found on the part of landowners to sell at prices that will equal the prices under former Land Acts—having regard to the immense addition made to the landlords' price by the cheerful co-operation of the tenants' representatives—highest interests to conduct in spirit of utmost friendliness with an earnest desire to give the widest possible extension to the operations of the Act, so that any failure in its working may not be justly attributable to the attitude of the people, and that any amendment that may be found necessary may be brought about by the concurrence of all fair-minded men.That was their sheet anchor. They came there that evening in furtherance of the adoption of that resolution.
The whole kernel of the difficulty in Ireland was the question of price. His hon. friend pointed out with great force the difference which existed between the price now asked by the landlords and the prices which were cheerfully and voluntarily taken by them under previous Acts. What were the facts with regard to some of the most prominent advocates of conciliation on the landlord side. Let them 281 take the case of Lord Dunraven, who was one of the signatories to the treaty of peace which was to bring about the millenium in Ireland and settle all disputes. After the passage of the Act Lord Dunraven was asked by his tenants to sell his estate and he replied in a long letter. The one fact which stood out in that reply was that if his tenants wanted to purchase their holdings under what might be described as Lord Dunraven's own Act they would have to pay twenty-six years purchase. This did not include the bonus which was generally regarded as being equivalent to three years purchase in addition, whereas land in the locality had been sold under previous Acts at from fifteen to eighteen years purchase. If the Nationalist leaders had known that Lord Dunraven's tenants would be asked to pay twenty-six years purchase it would have been very difficult indeed to have induced them to recommend the Act, as they did, to the kindly consideration of the Irish people. The breakdown of the Act as far as it had gone was not due to any act covert or overt, on the part of the tenants, their leaders, or the representatives of the tenants. That breakdown should be left at the door of the landlords including Lord Dunraven. It appeared to him that when land was to be sold they were not dealing with an unfortunate rain-sodden country but with a diamond mine at Kimberley or a goldfield at Coolgardie. The landlords regarded their interest as almost as valuable as if it were situated in those favoured places.
Who would have to bear the burden if the tenants of Ireland were foolish enough to accept the baits held out to them by the landlords? He was speaking as much in the interests of the British taxpayer as the Irish taxpayer. If any deficiency occurred under the Act it would have to come out of public funds, and no doubt the Government would endeavour to make Ireland liable before touching the sacrosanct Treasury of England. He was therefore entitled to speak on this matter from an Imperial point of view, as well as from a local and national point of view. The Act was ushered in with great hopes, but up to the present it had been practically a dead letter. The right hon. Gentleman furnished a Return, which showed that 282 only 3,000 cases had been dealt with No one could contend that that was satisfactory progress. The question was—Had the tenants of Ireland endeavoured to work the Act, or had they not? From his own personal experience he knew they had. Every unsold estate in Long-for his own county, had appointed an estate committee, and had entered into negotiations with the landlords, and if the negotiations had not been successful it was entirely due to the inordinate demands of the landlords. So far, in his part of the country, only two estates had been sold, and one of those estates illustrated in a very typical manner the way in which the zones system worked, and also how the congested districts clauses had absolutely failed. He referred to the King-Harman estate in county Longford. The rental from agriculture and grazing land was £18,053 per annum. There were 647 non-judicial tenants, paying £4,471 per annum; 679 first-term tenants, paying £8,182; twenty-seven second-term tenants, paying £146; and 295 leaseholders paying £5,236. The estate was put up for sale four months ago, and a gentleman who, he understood,' took a prominent part in advising the Government during the passage of the Land Bill, was sent down to Boyle to negotiate it. This gentleman, Mr. Norris Goddard, also took a prominent part during the land war in Ireland, and was identified with the policy of the battering-ram in Kerry and other counties. He offered to the first-term tenants a reduction of 27½ per cent.; to the second-term tenants, 15 per cent.; to the nonjudicial tenants, 40 per cent.; to amicable leaseholders, 35 per cent.; and to other leaseholders, 10 per cent. The tenants met, under the presidency of the parish priest, and offered the following terms: First and second-term tenants to purchase at eighteen and twenty-one years, the landlord's terms being twenty-two-and-a quarter and twenty-six-and-a-half years, respectively, without counting the bonus. A few days delay occurred, and then the tenants received notice from Mr. Goddard that, if they did not accept his terms just as he offered them, without any alteration, he would withdraw his offer, and they would not get a chance of purchasing their holdings. So far from compulsion being put on the landlord to sell, the 283 tenants were compelled, for fear of being given no other chance of buying their holdings, to accept Mr. Goddard's terms. That case was brought before the Court in Dublin, and the Commissioners, after a great deal of persuasion on the part of the owners, agreed to accept the terms, and that estate was now going through at this enormous price. What he desired to point out in this case was the complete failure of the congested districts clauses of the Act. It had failed to change the conditions of the people who had been hunted to the congested districts in 1846 and 1847, and, if such cases as that to which he referred were to recur frequently, the passing of the Act at all must be regarded as a great waste of time. So far as Longford was concerned, the Act, except in one case, was a dead letter. That exception was the sale of the King-Harman estate, and it was sold as much for the benefit of a well-known firm of solicitors in Dublin as anybody else. The failure of this Act could be added to the many other failures in Ireland. With the failure of the Treaty of Limerick might now be added the failure of what might almost be called the treaty of Dun-raven. If the amending Bill which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to bring in, was to secure the payment of the bonus to the landlords, then, in the words of Bismarck at the Battle of Sedan—They might sizzle in their own fat.The zones, as they were, were absolutely indefensible, and they were strongly opposed at the time the Act was before the House. So far as he was concerned that was entirely the fault of the landlords. The representatives of the tenants never sought to have the zones imported into the Act, and the incorporation of them was due entirely to the influence of the landlords. He would be slow to cast any doubt on the work of the Commissioners, but the hopes entertained last session that these gentlemen would transform the business of land purchase, clean out the Augean stables of Judge Ross' Court, clear up and purchase all insolvent estates, and get rid of the army of receivers who now battened and fattened on them, were hopes that had not been fulfilled. There had not been a single case dealt with by the Commissioners, and, therefore, he was rather 284 sceptical of the value of those gentlemen. But there was no harm in reminding the right hon. Gentleman that high hopes were entertained of these gentlemen, and that they should be reminded that they had to tackle this problem of insolvent estates, and show some result for the salaries he supposed they had drawn. They had heard of no evicted tenants being restored. A scheme had been drawn up to deal with the evicted tenants, but when inquiries were made with regard to it and as to what was to be done they were told that the Commissioners must wait until some estate turned up; that if the Commissioners went after estates the price of land would be raised. Of course, no objection could be raised to that, and if the evicted tenants question was not settled it was no fault of the Commissioners. It was with no feeling of pleasure that they desired to criticise unfavourably the measure of last session; it was not because they wished to make the position of the right hon. Gentleman more difficult than it already was; it was because their hopes of the Act had been doomed to disappointment, and the men responsible for the disappointment were the landlords. The right hon. Gentleman had to determine whether he would stand by the tenants or the landlords in this matter. If he now intended to do nothing to get the land for the tenants at a fair price then they must conclude that he desired to favour the landlords, but if, on the other hand, he wished to do something in this direction the way was open to him by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leitrim, which he now had the honour to second.
Amendment proposed—At the end of the Question, to add the words, But we humbly represent to Your Majesty that serious amendments including the abolition of the zones system are required in the Irish Land Act of last year to prevent the unjust inflation of the price of land in Ireland; and that the powers possessed under that Act by the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board for the acquisition of untenanted lands are not sufficient to provide a remedy for the evils of congestion by the redistribution of the land among the population of the poor districts of the country, without which the Irish Land Question can never be settled; and that a power of compulsory purchase of untenanted lands such as the Congested Districts Board unanimously asked for in 1895 should be conferred upon that 285 body and upon the Estates Commissioners acting under the Land Act of 1903, and that provision should be made that sales in cases of congested estates under that Act should be made only to the Board or the Estate Commissioners.'"—(Mr. P. A. McHugh.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
* MR, T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said that British Members must be considerably surprised at a debate of this kind at this time. Last session they were engaged in passing a great Land Bill, and now they were raising the whole question of Irish land afresh. Hon. Members, however, might cease their surprise at once. It was a case of history repeating itself. The Land Act of 1881 was a great measure, but some months after it had passed into law they introduced Bills to amend it. Amending Acts were passed after many sessions, just as the proposals now being put forward would be passed after much trouble. There were several hon. Members absent from that debate about whom he felt a little curious. Where was the official Ulster Unionist Party? The only hon. Member from Ulster who could claim to represent the tenants was the hon. Member for Mid Armagh. But the entire official Ulster Unionist Party was absent when the interests of their constituencies were at stake. He supposed they were rather exhausted after their effort to import the Chinese into the Transvaal. For him the Amendment raised a considerable difficulty, for it assailed the zones. The Chief Secretary would be entitled to say that the Land Conference was responsible for the principle of the zones, and so far as he was concerned he was not prepared to oppose that principle. It would be remembered that when the question of the zones was discussed they moved Amendments, and supported them, not objecting to the principle of the zones, but objecting to the terms of the zones.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
No; we moved Amendments absolutely abolishing the zones, and when we failed in that we moved an Amendment altering the terms.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said he was apparently under a wrong impression. He 286 wished to ask the Chief Secretary two questions. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce an amending Bill. He was not going to discuss that before he saw it, but he should like to know was the Bill to be confined simply to the reversal of Mr. Justice Ross's decision? He wished to know would the Bill be retrospective, and would it deal with cases that were before the Estates Commissioners now, and which might have been settled, or would it deal only with future cases? He did not complain of the bad drafting of the Bill. All he would say was that almost before the ink was dry upon the Statute-book the Solicitor-General gave a legal opinion to a great Irish land-owner who asked as to the destination of the bonus. And this gentleman, who was responsible for the drafting, gave that landowner the opinion that the least that could be said about it was that it was extremely doubtful. What business had a law officer of the Crown to give opinions upon his own handiwork? The law officers of the Crown in England were not allowed to give opinions of that kind, and the Solicitor-General for Ireland might very well have left that matter to some of his friends at the Bar, for there were plenty of them with very little to do. He agreed that the Act had not touched the real difficulty, and until the points which had been raised had been satisfactorily dealt with and solved, the land question would remain not only to trouble Irishmen, but also this House. He would assume that a landlord had an estate which was largely made up of uneconomic holdings, which did not pay any rent except that which came out of English or American labour. Would a landlord in that position, holding, say, 1,500 of such holdings, and also possessed of grass land let to graziers at a high rent—if that landlord came forward to the Estates Commissioners with agreements duly signed by those wretched tenants to purchase, but with no agreement signed for the sale or purchase of the grass land, would the Estates Commissioners in any case be bound to declare that portion to be an estate, not within the meaning of this Act, but for the purposes of this Act? He wanted to know if the Commissioners were compelled to give that decision, and 287 whether the bonus could be paid on untenanted land of that kind. Were the Estates Commissioners at liberty when a ease like that was presented, and they knew the landlord was also holding grass land which Parliament intended for the poor people—were they bound to declare, that an estate within the meaning of the Act?
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
Does the hon. Member mean the tenanted portion of the estates?
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that he did. He wished to know if the landlord was to be allowed to sell those wretched holdings and keep the grass land. Take Lord De Freyne's estate. They were now dealing with the interest of these poor people, and they were not dealing with Chinese or Kaffirs, but with the subjects of the King at home. Just imagine Lord De Freyne asking twenty-four or twenty-five years purchase for those wretched holdings which had never yet paid one farthing of economic rent. Not only this, but he would be getting from the Irish taxpayer a bonus of 12 per cent. for his great kindness in selling these uneconomic holdings at fancy prices. The thing was perfectly ridiculous, the Chief Secretary for Ireland must place himself alongside this question, and these men must be told that they were not at liberty to harass and punish these poor people whom the English Government had placed at their mercy.
What was the state of affairs in Ulster? When he spoke a few nights ago he had left his documents at home, but he would like now to show what the Ulster landlord was capable of. He did not complain that thirty-two great landowners had refused to sell. They were acting within their right under the law for which the House was responsible. They were entitled to refuse sale, and thirty-two Ulster landlords had already refused. They were not men of no account, for they included such landlords as the Marquess of Downshire, Lord Deramore, the Marquess of Donegal, Lord Dufferin, and Sir Francis MacNaghten. 288 There were no less than thirty-two of this class of landlords who absolutely refused to sell to their tenants at any price. What happened? He wished to put it to the House whether a state of affairs like that could last. What did Parliament mean in passing the Act? Simply that landed property in the possession of the Irish landlord should pass to the occupiers on fair terms, and what Parliament considered to be fair terms was this: the Irish landlord's income was to be decided by the second-term rents fixed by the Land Court, and it was decided that whatever was done the landlord should receive his second-term net income. That did not mean his present income, and that was what the landlords as a whole accepted. Did anyone think that they were going to allow one class of tenants to obtain possession by State aid and leave another class out. A state of affairs like that could stand in no country, and it would not do in the province of Ulster. He would show the House what had been done. Thirty-two small estates had been sold in Ulster, and he wished to show the reasonableness of the tenants in the prices they had given where sales had taken place, Thirty-two small estates had been sold in Ulster at an average price of 21½ years purchase of the first-term rents, 25 years purchase of the second-term rents, and 22½ years purchase of the non-judical rents. These prices were in excess of the economic value of the holdings, so that no one could say that the landlords were not getting fair terms. He would give the highest prices. For first-term rents it was twenty-three years, second-term twenty-seven, and non-judicial 27¾. The lowest was first-term seventeen, second 21½ and non-judicial twenty years purchase. He would show the reasonableness of the tenants. In over seventy-nine estates where sales had not taken place the average offer by the landlords of first-term rents was 23⅜ years, on second-term over 117 estates 26½, and on non-judicial rents 22¾. Of course these did not include the bonus, which would be added. The tenants' offers in cases where sales did not take place were on sixty-six estates an average of 19¾ on first-term, 22¾ on second-term, and over 108 estates twenty-three, and on non-judicial the average offer was nineteen years 289 purchase. In twenty cases the landlords refused the tenants' terms, and in forty-five cases the tenants refused the landlord's offer. The net result was that thirty-two small estates had been sold, and that in thirty-two cases the great landowners of Ulster had refused to sell on any terms, and he had noticed from the newspapers that negotiations had almost come to a standstill. He knew that Lord Belmore and another nobleman were negotiating the sale to some tenants, but that was all. That was a most serious condition of affairs. If the Chief Secretary had accepted Mr. Redmond's Amendment, the landlords would not have asked for these terms, but now they were standing behind the zones, and it was impossible to dislodge them. Parliament would not act now, but it would have to before long. That was the whole history of Land Bills. As regarded Ulster this differential treatment by landlords would not do. The landlords were entitled to reasonable and even generous terms, but they were not entitled to make a chess-board of Ulster, and say what estates should be sold, and what should not.
He went into the Land Judge's Court in Dublin the other day, and anything like it could not be found elsewhere in the civilised world. They had an able Judge in Judge Ross, and he did not wish to assail him. He was told he was a partisan of the landlords, but everyone in Ireland was either a partisan of the landlords or the tenants. That Court was established to sell bankrupt estates, but the sale of an estate was the last thing it did. It had become a huge rent office. There were £16,000,000 of property in that Court. There were 80 or 100 receivers all over the country receiving rents, and scores of attorneys and lawyers making motions every day upon these wretched estates to make them more wretched still. This would not cease until this House dealt with it. Did they imagine that these receivers were going to give up their income, or that the lawyers who were fattening upon these estates were going to close the Court and deprive themselves of a handsome revenue. He saw one estate sold but the whole thing was a ridiculous imposture. He asked the Chief Secretary, was it to go on for ever. Judge Ross he did not blame. He 290 was mastered by his officials and receivers. This Court ought be cleared right out. As to the Estates Commissioners he had nothing to say against them. Whatever they could do they would do, but were they in a position to do anything? The Chief Secretary had lodged them in a seven-roomed house in Merrion Street where it was absolutely impossible for them to find accommodation, so much so, in fact, that Mr. Wrench was in another house on the other side of the street. How could they expect the work of a great Department to be carried on in these rooms? He knew the lack of accommodation was because the Treasury, acting on the advice of the Board of Works, would not allow more. Was there a staff commensurate with the work? Everyone knew there was not, and they had thus the greatest ameliorative Act ever passed by this House for Ireland administered in rooms which were not sufficient for the Commissioners, much less the staff. What financial arrangements were going to be made for carrying out the work under the Act? That required money, but he did not believe a shilling had been got yet.
The whole question of arrears was becoming serious. He noticed that constantly and everywhere, when the landlord or his agent and the tenant had agreed as to the price the question arose as to what was to be done with the arrears. Then the arrears or the greater part of them were added to the purchase price agreed upon. That was not only a serious matter for the purchasing tenant, but for this House. Nothing was more certain than this, that if this went on the Act would break down. The hanging gale, which would never have been paid, had been, for instance, piled upon the back of the purchasing tenant. He did not wish to deprive the landlord of all arrears, but the landlord should be willing to accept a composition of arrears and not stipulale for the whole amount. He noticed that in the engagements which were being made the landlords were wholly forgetting to allow for purchase on the second-term rents. There was a tendency all over the country to jumble every kind of rent together, and to give a reduction on that. The thing was getting into such a state 291 that, if something were not done to correct it, confusion would result, and the effects which were expected from an Act passed with great hopes of benefit to the tenantry of Ireland would be lost. He still cherished the hopes which were entertained at (he time the Act was passed. They had been told that they should think Imperially. He wished the Government would think locally. He believed that things would come right if only the Chief Secretary would boldly grapple with the evils.
He saw no great difficulty about the question of the zones. He considered that he was bound by the principle agreed upon by the Land Conference. When they consented to a reluclion varying from 15 to 25 per cent. he thought, they established the principle of the zones. He was going to cling to the Land Conference as long as he could. He believed that on the principle of the Land Conference this was a thing that could be settled, but he did say that the landlords in Ulster were grossly abusing the zones. They were asking prices nobody could ever have contemplated. The Conference when they passed the report believed that the mean between the 15 and 25 per cent. reduction would be accepted generally all over the country. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: No.] He must say what he thought. He stood for the decadal reductions as strongly as anybody. He stood for it when the Bill was before the House, but he was not going to argue that, because the Government refused to provide for the decadal reduction in the Bill, they had any right to say that the landlord should pay it. He believed the whole of this question would be settled in Ireland if the mean of the Conference terms and the mean of the zones were adhered to. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: No.] He would not say in the whole of Ireland, but he would say it would settle the question in the province of Ulster. But the landlords were in no frame of mind to accept either the Conference or the zones. They wanted the highest prices the zones allowed, and the bonus as well. Some of them were not even civil. Here was a letter addressed to the tenantry of an estate on 30th October last. He would not state the name, but he would give it 292 to the Chief Secretary if he desired to know—Dear Sir, If you wish to buy the rent, I sell nothing. I require thirty years purchase on second term rents. Lord … is getting thirty years; a man at. … twenty-seven; two men in … twenty-six. This estate is more peaceable than either. In England where land is sold with timber on it it is valued down to a shilling a stick. I must be one of the valuers. You may get another if known as a person who understands timber. I do. I reserve all quarries, mines, minerals, brick, clay, and marls, and coal. I reserve for my friends and my heirs the right of going on the land with servants, dogs, and guns, to kill and carry away any game they may find. I enclose a postage stamp for reply[An HON. MEMBER on the IRISH Benches: A most generous man.] If the Chef Secretary wished to see the letter he might. The House of Commons would observe in whose interests this was carried on. Ireland was not governed for the benefit of the people of Ireland, and it never had been. It had been governed in the interests of a class. That class represented England and English power up to a given date. There was no doubt about it, and the Government of Ireland was unquestionably in their interest. They had a Church established by law. They paid nothing for their religion. They got their land for nothing. They managed the whole local affairs. Local government was entirely in their hands and managed in their own interests. He admitted that they did it well. What was the use of going on with that system any longer? The Church had been disestablished; and now they had to pay for it; and they did it, and they were a great deal better off for doing it. The local government of the country had passed out of their hands; they were not even safe on the petty sessions bench. They were outmanned and beaten there. The land was passing from their grasp; not passing as it passed in the long ago out of the hands of people, when it was taken from them for nothing. No, they were getting honest sovereigns for it. Why carry on that policy? Why should they not govern Ireland openly in the interest of the whole people of Ireland, and say manfully to these Gentlemen: "This thing has gone on too long; we cannot have this country in a perpetual 293 state of ferment, and the Imperial Parliament dealing with your wrongs and grievances! Why not give these men their ducats and let them go, and let the people govern themselves." He did not think himself that it would be good for Ireland if they did go; but he maintained that there was no use in governing the country by that class of men. They were to be paid honestly for their land, and why should they be allowed to keep the prosperity and the progress of the country back? Give them, if they would go, honest and fair terms and let the way be cleared in Ireland for all the great moral, social, and some political reforms that were thundering at its gates and required the concentrated attention of its people.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
said he quite understood the desire of the hon. Member for South Tyrone not to make public the name of the writer of the letter which he had read to the House. The writer, however, had only expressed in very clear and candid language what most of the landlords of Ireland really meant. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had said one thing which ought to be noticed, and that was his comment on the condition of the business which was left to the Irish Parliament at West-minster. But at the end of this debate hon. Gentlemen representing English constituencies would flock in from other parts of the House and vote, in a division, on a subject of which they have heard not a single argument. He thought it was rather risky to put faith in such an Irish Parliament. If these hon. Gentleman had favoured them with their attendance and their attention during the debate, they might have learned a great deal which it was well for them to know from the instructive speech of the hon. Member for North Leitrim. That speech was most moderate and instructive on the two great topics with which the Irish people were concerned. His hon. friend showed that, from whatever cause, there was no doubt that during the last six months the price of land in Ireland had been enormously increased. A great many landlords were willing to sell at eighteen or twenty years purchase a year ago, but now many of them wanted from five to ten years additional purchase. What had occurred in the interim to 294 cause that? Nothing that he could see except the passing of the Land Act. That Act was deliberately proposed by the Government to aid the tenants by reducing their annual payments from 4 per cent. to 3¼ percent., but that difference had been absolutely absorbed by the landlords. The Chief Secretary could not possibly deny that that was the case. The Government should accept the suggestion of the Amendment for the amending of the Act by legislation. There were various ways for bringing compulsion to bear on the Irish landlords to be more moderate. As the Irish head of the Irish Executive, with the Estates Commissioners as his servants, the Chief Secretary was quite entitled to give them instructions to treat the Irish landlords as they deserved.
The hon. Member for North Leitrim had referred to the problem of the congested districts and had made it perfectly plain that these districts would not be settled except by compulsion. That was his own personal belief; and he thought that almost every man connected with the government of Ireland, in his heart of hearts, agreed with that. He himself did not represent a congested district, but there was a large estate near Dublin, in the township of Skerries, owned by the trustees of Lord Holm Patrick where he meant to address a meeting of his constituents. He, however, learned that the tenants on the estate were negotiating for the sale of their farms and he refused to hold the meeting because it might have been said that he was an emissary of evil. The result of the negotiations was that the trustees refused to sell, and these tenants, to his personal knowledge, were paying now as high a rent as any man in Ireland. The landlord of that district, which might be made one of the most beautiful seaside resorts in Ireland, was deliberately obstructing the progress of the village by putting on preposterous rents. There was no remedy for a man like that, except to buy him out against his will; and he anticipated that within a few years even the Government would find it necessary to come to that conclusion. He thought the Irish Party and the House of Commons were entitled to some information from the Government, with reference to the administration of the Land Act. His hon. friend the Member for Waterford, during the recess, in a speech in county 295 Sligo referred to opinions which were reported to have been given by the law officers of the Crown in Ireland with reference to the working of the Act. A curious state of things was disclosed by the history of that incident as far as it went. One opinion, referred to by his hon. friend as having been given by the law officers, was that no money should be spent on the restoration of the evicted tenants in the way of expenditure on houses, restocking farms, and soon except by loan. It was since denied that such an opinion had been given.
§ * THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said that he had not been asked the question in any shape or form.
§ MR. CLANCY
said that personally for the right hon. Gentleman's sake he was glad to hear that, but the right hon. Gentleman's statement only made the matter more mysterious. Who gave the opinion? He thought the right hon. Gentleman had a grievance against the Government. He ought to have been asked for such an opinion and he and the Solicitor-General had apparently been passed over.
§ MR. CLANCY
said he did not imagine that the opinion was given by the Solicitor-General. Before his hon. and learned friend drew attention to the matter the evicted tenants on the Cool-greaney estate were informed by the Estates Commissioners that no money could be spent except by way of loan; but after his hon. and learned friend had spoken they were told the reverse, and, as a matter of fact, he was glad to be able to state that the evicted tenants on that estate were to be restored, if not to their old holdings, to other holdings, that a large demesne was to be broken up for the purpose, and money was to be spent otherwise than by way of loan. He rejoiced at that result, but he wanted to know who endeavoured to prevent it. Who gave the legal opinion to which his hon. and learned friend had referred? Whoever he was was even more mysterious than the writer of the Letters of Junius, and if he were only known he would be 296 celebrated for such a ridiculous and assinine opinion. He would also like to know who asked for the opinion. Then there was a further opinion to the effect that the Estates Commissioners or the Congested Districts Board had no power to pay a bonus for the purchase of untenanted land. Would the right hon. Gentleman say that such an opinion was not given. The right hon. Gentleman remained strangely silent and he gathered that such an opinion was given.
§ * MR. ATKINSON
said that the hon. Gentlemen must know that it was perfectly impossible for him to state what opinions had been given to the Government by the law officers of the Crown.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
asked why the right hon. Gentleman did not deny it, if it were not true, as in the case of the other opinion.
§ * MR. ATKINSON
said he could state that he was not asked for an opinion, but he could not state what opinions had been given, that was a matter for his right hon. friend to disclose if he pleased.
§ MR. CLANCY
said he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would convey to the Chief Secretary what had just happened. The opinion which had been given was either public or private.
§ * MR. ATKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman knew that his lips were closed as to any legal opinions which might have been given to the Irish Government.
§ MR. CLANCY
asked if that applied also to another opinion with reference to the definition of an estate? He hoped that the Chief Secretary would explain the matter later in the debate. It was trifling with the House to maintain that those opinions were private. The matter was one concerning the administration of a great Act of Parliament; and it was nonsense to think that the grounds on which the administrators of the Act proposed to discharge their duties were not to be stated in this House. He hoped the Chief Secretary would be able to state who asked for those opinions and who gave them. Who asked for that opinion? Was it the Estates Commissioners? If it were, having regard to 297 the fact that they were an administrative body placed outside the jurisdiction of the courts by an express Act of Parliament, they were in his opinion unfit for the position they held.
§ * MR. ATKINSON
I can ease the hon. Gentleman's mind upon that point, the Estates Commissioners never asked for an opinion of any kind, are not entitled to ask it, and, as far as I am concerned, would never get it.
§ MR. CLANCY
said that was a most gratifying statement. Could the hon. Member make such another with regard to the man in the iron mask? Of course, he did not think that Mr. Finucane or Mr. Bayley would be guilty of any such ridiculous action. If he were to express an opinion he would say it was the Treasury, and he would go further and say he believed he could put his finger on the man who represented the Treasury on that occasion. If he repeated the rumours in Dublin he would say the Secretary of the Commission, Sir John Franks, was the agent on this occasion. If the hon. and learned Gentlemen could not answer the question himself would he ask the Chief Secretary to tell the House whether it was the habit of this Mr. Franks, who had been lately knighted, to issue these ukases to a Board which he had no right to address so long as they acted within the lines of their Department. There was one other point upon which he would like information-Why were these Amendments necessary to every Act of Parlament passed for Ireland? There had already been six amending Acts to the Local Government Board Act of 1898. The real reason was that all British Governments distrusted the Irish Members; they looked with suspicion on every proposal made by them, and, as a consequence, when the most necessary suggestion was made by them during the progress of an Irish Bill through Parliament, the Government attitude became at once antagonistic; the suggestion was disregarded, and, as a result, in a few years the Act had to be amended. It was nothing less than insulting to the Irish representatives, the manner in which the Government always imputed to them sinister motives.
§ * MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said be could not help thinking the House 298 was much indebted to Mr. Justice Ross for having expressed, in the form of a judgment, an opinion on the construction of the Land Act of 1903, because it had brought to the attention of the House and the country the necessity for the amendment of this Act as to the bonus. The whole matter had been his cussed over and over again when the Act was before the House, and the right hon. Gentleman had stated he was not prepared to sanction compulsion, but thought some method of suasion such as the granting of a bonus would carry out the intentions of the Act. Mr. Justice Ross had, however, given a contrary opinion, and, that being so, the whole case ought to be reopened. He rose to ask the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers whether this amending Bill should not be framed so as to include the discussion of the other great questions involved in this Amendment, so that further amending Bills would be avoided in the future. He thought the opportunity ought to be offered, and trusted it would be offered to the House to see whether the system of zones could not be got rid of altogether. The existence of these zones would always be a great disadvantage in the working of the Act, because they had held out inducements to the landlords to insist on a price quite beyond the market price of land in Ireland. He trusted, when this amending Bill came before the House for discussion, a clause would be inserted requiring that, in every case where the landlord and tenant could not agree at once as to the price to be paid, there should be an immediate inspection of the land, and that the price should be fixed by the Estates Commissioners.
The letter referred to by the hon. Member for South Tyrone was most valuable as showing what was passing in the minds of the landlords. The English taxpayer was interested in this question, because Parliament had pledged British credit to the extent of £100,000,000 on the security of purchase annuities, and had also given £12,000,000 hard cash as a bonus. Consequently the English taxpayer was vitally interested in seeing that these annuities were not unreasonably high. If a tenant bought at thirty years purchase, and was liable to pay 3 ¼ per cent. on the purchase money, he would have imposed upon him 299 a burden which, in a bad season, or even in an average season, would render it impossible for him to meet his engagement to the State. The State would be the sufferer in the last resort. It was therefore most essential, not only for the character of the Irish people themselves, but for the prosperity of the country, and for the preservation of the country to the occupiers of the land as tillers of the soil, that they should get the land at such a reasonable price as would enable them to make an honest living from their labour; but that would be altogether impossible if the landlords were encouraged to place an undue price upon the land, or to take advantage of the ignorance, weakness, or anxiety of the tenant to impose upon him a burden which the land would not sustain. This could be guarded against only by having, as had been done under previous Acts, an inspection by a responsible officer who would make sure that the price asked was such as the tenant might reasonably be required to pay. By purchasing his holding a tenant incurred an invariable liability for sixty-eight and a half years—a liability which he could not escape from or modify, no matter how bad the seasons might be or what untoward circumstances might arise. All these considerations should be borne in mind in order that the tenants might have every possible safeguard the Legislature could create to prevent them rushing into improvident and unfortunate bargains. The state of Ireland would be worse then ever if the unfortunate occupiers were to be burdened by an exorbitant rent which they could not pay. It would end either in a revolution or in universal bankruptcy. It was therefore absolutely necessary that the right hon. Gentleman should consider, in bringing in his amending Bill, whether he would not modify the section with regard to the zones and require some such security as had been suggested.
With regard to the congested districts, one of the great objects of the Act being to relieve the congestion, it would be preposterous if the measure wholly failed in that respect. There were landlords who had fine grazing lands on their hands and a number of tenants paying up to £10 a year. They would be extremely glad to sell the mountainous parts of their estates at twenty-three or twenty-four years purchase, pocket the bonus, and 300 retain the large grass pasture lands in their hands. That would be a glorious thing for the landlords, but it was not the object for which the British Parliament had guaranteed £100,000,000 and made a present of £12,000,000. That these uneconomic holdings should be converted into fee simples at the end of sixty-eight or seventy years would be a thing at which the gods might laugh as a spectacle of absurdity and incongruity. The only way to keep these honest, decent, struggling, poor people in the land of their birth was to give them an opportunity of enlarging their farms to a living margin, and that could be done only by making the landlords who had large un-tenanted lands, sell the whole, so that the Estates Commrissioners might parcel out and resettle the estates in such a way as to give each tenant a reasonable holding. Unless the Act were amended in the manner foreshadowed by the Motion before the House it would be a mockery, a delusion, and a snare, both to the people of Ireland and to the taxpayers of this country. The experience of the year had confirmed him in the opinion that finality was remote and that they were only in the process of evolution in the settlement of the land question, and that compulsion was the ultimate resort to which the House must at no very distant date have recourse, if the evils of which they complained were to be remedied. Meanwhile, he appealed to right hon. Gentlemen to carry out the resolution of the Congested Districts-Board of 1895, for unless compulsory powers were granted to the Board the Act would be a failure, and in the meanwhile ho should vote for this Motion.
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent)
reminded the House that last session he was one of the small minority who opposed the passing of the Land Act, and if he required any justification or vindication of the attitude he then took up it would be found in the speeches to which they had listened in the course of the debate. Only seven months had elapsed since the Act passed through the House. What had become of all the hopes and expectations that were then held out? Every prediction which the minority made, had been borne out by the facts. The hon. Member for North Leitrim had declared that the 301 Chief Secretary had not closed the door on the Irish land question. But last year the right hon. Gentleman said that he was closing the door for all time, and it was in that belief to a great extent that Members on the Government side of the House supported the Bill. What had been the effect of the measure on the price of land in Ireland? Previously the price was seventeen and a half years purchase; it had now gone up to twenty-five or thirty years, and the hon. Member opposite had gone the length of saying that Ireland would have been better off without the Act unless it were amended. He had heard of an estate the landlord of which had always received his rents punctually and without reduction, and who had now obtained ho did not know how many years purchase for it and a bonus of £240,000 in addition. What did the British taxpayer get in return for that? Absolutely nothing. Surely that was not a profitable bargain for the people of this country. Reference had been made to the congested districts and the evicted tenants, and it appeared that those questions were in the same acute stage as before the Act was passed. Further, the hon. Member had spoken of the free gift of £12,000,000 as a mere waste of public money. He sincerely hoped the British taxpayer would take note of those words.
The opposition to the measure was based mainly on three grounds. The first was that the moment for making the demand was inopportune owing to the great strain of the war. The present price of Consols showed that the opposition on that point was fully justified. The second ground of opposition was that the demand was not a final one, and that before long the Irish Members would come back wanting further legislation. On that ground also the opposition had been absolutely justified. The third ground of opposition was that the measure would not afford a final solution and that it would not be considered as a final settlement of the questions between this country and Ireland. The hon. Member for Waterford had always fairly and honestly taken up that position, but the same could not be said of the Chief Secretary, for the right hon. Gentleman had led the House to believe that they were approaching the period of the millenium so far as the Irish question was concerned. All that had now disappeared. 302 Even so far as the land question went they were now told that the Act could not be regarded as a solution of this question. The Chief Secretary had stated, by the way of consolation for having spent these £12,000,000 and guaranteed a further £100,000,000, that the House had the satisfaction of knowing that they had done their duty. Perhaps they had, but was it not rather an expensive way of doing their duty? He only hoped that if the right hon. Gentleman on some future occasion wanted them to do their duty he would ask them to do it at a some what lower figure. In a recent speech the Chief Secretary had said that Ireland was entitled to perfect equality of treatment with England. He had always been prepared to grant that, but he had always understood that Ireland enjoyed an excessive representation in the House of Commons, and that if 1here was any inequality it was against the British rather than the Irish people. They now wanted the Act amended. Last session he had urged the House not to pass the Act because, if they did, the Irish Members would be masters of the situation. His view was not accepted, and all he would say to the Irish Members now was that they had the matter in their own hands, and could get what they liked from the Chief Secretary. Before the Act was passed the British Members were masters of the situation. That was the case no longer, and hon. Gentlemen opposite could get what they liked. If the Act had been a success and had removed the grievances complained of he and his friends would have felt that their opposition had been unjustified, but in the light of what had taken place he could only say that their action had been entirely vindicated. He did not wish to rake up any further controversy; he would therefore merely add that it must now be recognised—he thought the right hon. Gentleman himself must now recognise it—that the solution of the Irish land question would have to remain for some other Irish Secretary who was less sanguine, less visionary, less enthusiastic, but perhaps more practical, than the present occupant of that office.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL (Kerry, W.)
expressed the hope that the Chief Secretary would be of the same opinion as 303 the hon. Member who had just spoken, with regard to the Irish Members getting the Act amended in the direction they desired. He believed that the Chief Secretary had done his best, as far as he was allowed, to remedy the great evils connected with the land question in Ireland, but, if they came to the House to ask for the amendment of the Act of last year, they did so because they knew Ireland better even than the right hon. Gentleman. The Irish tenants desired to give the fullest facilities for the working of the Act. The Irish Party as a whole did everything in their power to facilitate the passing of the measure through the House, and, when they went home to their own country, they encouraged the tenants to give prices above what they had been accustomed to give in order to show that they were serious in their desire to bring about a settlement of the Irish land question. Last year they were told, when the Act was being passed, that it would help to divide up the grazing ranches in Connaught among those who lived on the bogs arid the mountains. They were told that the evicted tenants who had been suffering on the roadside for twenty or twenty-five years, would be restored to their holdings. Those who believed in compulsory purchase for the time being waived their plea for the enactment of powers to bring that about, in order to give the policy embodied in the Act an opportunity of being tried. They had done everything they could to facilitate the policy. Had the landlords of Ireland striven honourably to facilitate the work of transferring the land to the people, and so to promote the pacification of the country? It was evident to every man who had watched the course of events during the last six months that, instead of facilitating the work, they had done everything in their power to oppose it. During the past seventeen years while land purchase had been in operation, the average price in the congested portions of the country, where the land was poor, was thirteen and a quarter years purchase. In his own county, which was more than half congested, the average price was fifteen and a half years purchase. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had quoted the highest prices in those districts under the old Act, and he thought the figures must have surprised hon. Members who heard them. He would give the 304 prices for his own district. Lord Lans-downe, Lord Barrymore, and a number of other landlords had sold their estates in Kerry at prices ranging from eleven to nineteen years purchase, the average being fifteen and a half years. These men got no bonus, and they had to pay the expenses of transfer. They had to accept payment in reduced land stock instead of cash. Tenants who lived next door to the men who had already purchased had approached their landlords asking them to sell. Lord Lansdowne, whose highest price for his best land was nineteen years purchase under the old Act, was now demanding twenty-five years purchase with the bonus under last year's Act. Lord Kenmare had demanded something like the same price. He could give numerous examples of the same kind of demand made by landlords. In the face of these facts how could it be said that they had met the tenants or their representatives fairly in this matter. He said they had not, and if this Act was failing or breaking down it was not the fault of the Irish tenants, who had increased the market value of the land. It lay with the landlords who had insisted on demanding from the tenants prices which were economically unfair. The transactions which had taken place under the Land Act should have fixed the price that might be considered the fair market value of the land. That price averaged seventeen years purchase on the rentals.
It might be said that there was not a fair field in Ireland, and that the system of arriving at the market value was not the same as in other countries—that supply and demand did not work as in other countries. From the Report of the Agricultural Commission in 1897, it appeared that one of the most eminent authorities in this country-Sir Robert Gitfen—said that it was almost impossible for the landlords of England to get eighteen years purchase on the then rentals, though in 1875 it was possible to get thirty years purchase on the then rentals. Though these rentals had been reduced in the intervening twenty years, it was almost impossible to get eighteen years purchase. In Ireland the landlords wanted twenty-five, twenty-eight, and thirty years purchase for the land, but if eighteen years purchase was sufficient for English 305 land, with the great facilities for sending produce to market and other advantages which farmers here had over those in Ireland, it was monstrous for any Irish landlord to ask thirty years purchase. Ho spoke for his own constituency when he said that, if the demand was continued, they would insist on putting a period to this hypocritical form of conciliation. The hon. Member, referring to the prices within the zones, 3aid it was natural that when the Government said they regarded twenty-seven and a half years purchase as full and sufficient security, the landlords should go in for the highest figure the Government were prepared to accept. The Government were responsible for the raising of prices. Until that system was done away with, the landlords would continue to demand prices which it would be impossible to pay, and the final settlement of the Irish land question would be postponed. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, speaking for Ulster, said he would be content with the mean of the zones. Speaking for Munster, he himself would not be satisfied with that mean. What was meant by cheap money? Was it cheap if the interest paid for his money by the farmer was not lower than the interest paid under the Act of 1896? He contended that when all the Treasury arrangements were unravelled it would be found that money was as dear under the present Act as under the old Acts of 1891 and 1896. It was said that the landlords were entitled to have their present net income. What they were now asking was an amount of purchase money for their estates which, invested in absolutely safe securities, would bring in 4 per cent., although trustees securities at the time of the Land Conference did not bring in a rate of interest of 3¾ per cent. He found from the report of the Agricultural Commission that the English and Scotch landlords only received CO per cent. of their gross rental, whereas the Irish landlords now demanded 90 per cent.
§ * MR. O'DOWD (Sligo, S.)
said that as he came from a constituency which would be more or less affected by the Amendment, he would hardly be doing his duty if he did not give his opinion of the case presented to the House by his hon. friend the Member for North Leitrim, and of the causes which had tended to render 306 the Act of last year to a great extent a failure. That Act, if it was ever to be a success, especially in Connaught, could only become so by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary accepting the recommendations contained in the Amendment now before the House. That was his opinion and that was the opinion of those competent to judge by the fullest knowledge and experience of the working of the Act. He spoke from personal knowledge of facts in his own constituency, when he said that the Act since it came into operation had been handicapped, and rendered practically inoperative, by the unreasonable attitude taken up by the great body of landlords from the first. They had refused to sell, at even any price, through the Estates Commissioners; and they had refused to sell to the tenants direct unless at prices which it would be absolutely impossible for them to pay. They refused to sell outside the zones, ignoring altogether the broad basis of years purchase on which the tenants were accustomed to buy their holdings under the Ashbourne and other Acts in the past. He knew landlords in his own county of Sligo who two years ago would have willingly sold their estates at twenty years purchase on second-term rentals. To-day these same gentlemen were demanding prices which, with the bonus added, would mean thirty years purchase. Now, he respectfully asked, what had occurred in the meantime to enhance the value of land in Ireland? Nothing, in his humble judgment. On the contrary, land had depreciated in value in Ireland during the last two years, as anyone knew who had any experience of rural life in that country. Everyone would agree that the year 1903 had been one of the most disastrous which farmers in Ireland had experienced for a quarter of a century.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.