§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND (Lord ASHBOURNE)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: My Lords, when, a little over 981 three years ago, your Lordships were pleased to assent to the passing of the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland, it was earnestly hoped by the Government that it would prove at all events a workable Bill. The machinery of the Bill was simple, and it was proposed that it should be worked in a not ambitious way by Commissioners appointed for the purpose, and a sum of £5,000,000, not extravagant but deemed to be sufficient for the occasion, was granted by the nation for the working of the measure. The Bill was presented to your Lordships and the country as an experiment worthy of your Lordships' acceptance and worthy of a fair and reasonable trial. So many experiments had been tried before in reference to land purchase that it was unwise to speak in terms of over-confidence of what might be the future of the Bill. The idea of purchase in reference to Irish land, carried out by State aid and encouragement, was not a new one. Carefully and well considered clauses for that purpose were placed in the Land Act of 1870, and they are honourably known by the great name of Mr. Bright, around whose sick bed at the present moment centres so much of the respectful and affectionate sympathy of the nation. For reasons which it is not necessary that I should examine now, that Bill and the clauses to which I have referred were not attended with that measure of success to which they were entitled. Again an effort was made with the same good intention in the Land Act of 1881; and again, from no fault of the clauses, they failed to attract any great measure of success; in fact, they were used only to a very limited extent indeed. In 1884, in the time of the late Government, a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Sir George Trevelyan, proposing a grant of £20,000,000, not more than £5,000,000 of which should be advanced in any single year, provided that a local guarantee should be given. That Bill never passed beyond the stage of being a Bill. It was unable to survive the criticisms which were made upon the nature and the character of the security proposed—the local guarantee. I shall not discuss those proposals. I am sure they were honestly proposed; but the criticisms made at the time showed that there was no prospect of carrying the Bill, 982 and that, if carried, it was not likely to be worked out without considerable friction. Then came the Purchase Bill of 1885. That Bill was framed on simple and plain principles intelligible to all. It was purely voluntary in its character. If the tenant did not like it he had only to say so; if the landlord did not wish to avail himself of it he need not do so. I believe that any measure of success which has attended the Bill of 1885 was owing to the fact that it was so entirely voluntary. One other reason which earned for that Bill the success it has so largely achieved is the fact that it obviously held out, with transparent plainness, an inducement to the tenant to purchase, and the tenant, no matter how dull, no matter how uneducated, could see at a glance what was his present and what would be his future position—that the Bill would distinctly benefit him in a pecuniary way and his property as well. That was a circumstance which, I venture to think, substantially contributed to the success of the measure. I believe the Bill, as a whole, is more advantageous to the tenants than the landlords; and I am surprised that that consideration has not put to silence the objection so often urged by those professing to make a calm review of the working of the Bill that it may be regarded as a Landlords' Relief Bill. The £5,000,000 granted in 1885 are gone. More money is needed, and therefore I now move the second reading of this Bill. The nation has a right to ask for, and has a right to get, a full account of the working of the Act of 1885 and of the expenditure of the nation's money. But the Government and those who were responsible for the working of the Act have a right to ask that the Act should be taken on its merits, and, if it is proved that it has been a successful measure, if the management and the administration of the Act can run the gauntlet of the keenest and most searching criticism, it is not too much to ask that the further instalment of £5,000,000 which has now been granted by the House of Commons should be given frankly, openly, and ungrudingly, as being necessary for the working of this measure till a larger system is decided upon and presented to Parliament. The other House of Parliament subjected the Bill to a searching ordeal. I do not question 983 the right of the House of Commons to do so. The criticism to which the House of Commons subjected the Bill was as minute, and I may say as hostile, in many of its features as it could well be. The Bill was tested as by fire, and with what result? Day after day for almost two weeks the Bill was on the rack. Every point that could be urged against its working, its administration, its policy, and its provisions, was stated over and over again; and I ask what was the result? I venture to say that the discussions demonstrated the absolute, the entire, and the unqualified success of the Act of 1885. The testimony came from all sides and from all sorts and conditions of men—from merchants, traders, landlords, tenants, Tories, those who have the misfortune not to be Tories, and a variety of other politicians whom it is not easy to describe by any particular name. All men who have considered its working have given their testimony in favour of the working of the Purchase Act of 1885. With regard to the criticisms made in the House of Commons and in the Press, I think I am entitled to say it was conceded by all that the administration of the Act by the Commission to which it was intrusted was an honest, a capable, an upright, and a perfectly fair administration. It was cautious, it was able, it was economical, and I venture to think that during the three years and a-half in which the Act has been in operation, and during the distribution of these £5,000,000, not one single abuse, or anything verging on an abuse, has been stated or even suggested in regard to the working of the Act. If anyone should think that that statement is too wide, it is not too late to make a suggestion on the subject. Your Lordships are so familiar with the working of the Act that I should not feel it necessary to occupy your time at any considerable length. The admirable letters of The Times correspondent and the speeches in the other House have brought home to many minds a close knowledge of the working of the Act. Up to the 30th of November last there were 14,600 applications for £6,141,620. These figures show the magnitude of the operations. Of the applications, 11,920 were sanctioned for the sum of £4,922,100. Now, it is very expedient to see that the benefits conferred by such an Act are not 984 concentrated on any particular class or on any particular part of Ireland. The numbers of the advances wore as follows:—Of £100 and under that amount, 2,023; between £100 and £200, 2,059; between £200 and £500, 2,562; between £500 and£1,000,1,182; and over£1,000, 826. These figures, rightly understood and followed with any kind of intelligence of the subject, would indicate a considerable diffusion of the benefits of the Act. Again, taking the basis of rent, it will be found that the number of advances made to those under £10 rent was 3,599; to those whose rent was between £10 and £30, 3,234; and to those whose rent was over £30, 1,819. These figures show that the humbler and the middle class of tenants have received a very substantial portion of the £5,000,000. The benefits of the Act have also been diffused all over Ireland, which is a very important circumstance. Londonderry and Monaghan have made the greatest number of applications, but Kerry stands third on the list. There were 860 applications from Kerry, 572 from Tipperary, 547 from Cork, and 468 from Mayo. Connaught is a Province that is interesting owing to its economic condition, and for other reasons. The applications from Connaught are largely on the increase. In 1886 there were only 185 applications from Connaught; now there are 1,533. These figures are of the highest significance to anyone who knows Ireland and who knows Connaught in its relation to the rest of Ireland. From some of the criticisms in the other House one might be led to suppose that the sales were confined to a few great estates. There was never any greater mistake made in reference to the Act. One thousand and thirty-three different estates have been brought under the operation of the Act, and their division is noteworthy. Three hundred and fifty-one of these estates are in Munster, 308 in Leinster, 269 in Ulster, and 105 in Connaught. It is true that the largest operations have been in Ulster; but there has always been in that Province a greater desire to purchase land with the assistance of the State than exists in other parts of Ireland. Then there is this further fact, which would render it not only probable, but almost necessary, that you should find larger figures in Ulster. There are more holdings there 985 by far. The number of holdings is 200,035 in Ulster, 121,708 in Munster, 121,322 in Leinster, and 121,287 in Connaught. The security for the advances is, of course, a matter of the highest importance, for we are dealing with the money of the nation. One-fifth of the purchase-money has been retained as a deposit, and that is a great security which cannot be explained away, for it meant that that money was kept to meet any catastrophe which may happen. In only two cases since the Act came into operation has it been necessary to have recourse to this deposit. In each case it was found efficacious and satisfactory, and fulfilled its purpose admirably. Another security is what may be gathered from the punctual payment of instalments. Unquestionably the figures then speak with a trumpet-tongued voice. On the 1st of May, 1888, £90,630 accrued due from 4,070 payers. Of this sum only the small and insignificant amount of £901 now remains due, and that £901 is in course of collection. Again, taking Connaught and Kerry in consequence of their special circumstances, it is interesting to know that only £4 was due from the whole of Connaught; and from Kerry, which enjoys an admirable preeminence, there are only 10 purchasers who are found behind in the payment of their instalments. I cannot but think that these few facts are of extreme importance. The instalments due as recently as last November 1 show still more remarkable figures. The amount then due was £58,300 from 6,670 payers. There has been received the sum of £43,686. My Lords, that is an immense ratio of punctual payment. I appeal to your Lordships, who own head rents and other rents, ground rents and other kinds of property which are considered most eligible. Can any of your Lordships say that the most eligible class of rents are paid with a punctuality equal to that of the purchasers under this Act? As security for the advance the State has the entire holding; it gets the landlord's entire interest, on the most moderate estimate, to some extent at all events enhanced and enlarged by the tenant's interest in the holding. That is obviously a matter of great importance taken in connection with the fact that one-fifth of the purchase-money is retained, as your Lordships know. 986 If the price is not too high, it is hardly conceivable where there is room for risk of any serious kind. The Commission presided over by Lord Cowper, of which my noble Friend behind me was a member, and of which also Sir James Caird was a distinguished member, made this recommendation—that a discretion should be vested in the Commission to dispense with the guarantee deposit when it was satisfied of the value of the tenant's interest, and when the landlord offered sufficient security. My Lords, the Government have not accepted that proposal, and have adhered to all the safeguards found in the Act of 1885, and in no circumstance is it possible to dispense with the retention of the deposit of one-fifth, so that the highest and closest amount of caution has been taken to safeguard the interests of the State in reference to this pecuniary advance. Another circumstance which shows the security is the way in which the price is arrived at. It is not arrived at in the open market, where the element of competition enters, but by the two persons concerned alone. If the two cannot agree as to the price, there is no bargain and advance; the element of competition is entirely absent. That is a circumstance of the highest possible importance, insuring that the price given is not likely to be bloated or exorbitant. When the price is agreed upon between landlord and tenant, who are absolutely free to consider what their interest is, then comes the function of the Commissioners. A valuer goes down to perform his function, which he discharges in a very critical, very suspicious, very jealous spirit. It is thought that the valuers have been excessively and painfully suspicious in prying too closely into the contracts. But their duty, which is sometimes an unpopular duty, they fulfil with a resolute determination not to forget that they are going to give the money of the State, and must get adequate security. The Commissioners indicate in their Report the reality of the check created by the valuers' supervision, because they objected to as many as 1,377 applications for such large figures as £707,894. These were rejected with this qualification, which shows again the rigorous and searching accuracy with which the Commissioners have discharged their duty to the State and to 987 the Treasury. Five hundred and nineteen of those 1,377 rejected applications have had their loans sanctioned. Under what condition? They previously asked £243,269; they got the sanction to a State advance of £204,210, or £40,000 less than was originally asked. This shows the close and keen way in which the Commissioners have done their business in getting adequate security for every penny advanced. The work of the Commissioners has been naturally much more rapid since the Act of 1887. Your Lordships may remember that in addition to its general clauses that Act contained a few clauses facilitating land purchase. They have facilitated it, and the operations have been more rapid and the Commission has worked more smoothly. During the year ending August 31, 1888, 4,478 conveyances and vesting orders were made. That is a record of work which indicates very considerable efficiency and shows that the Commissioners have had no idle moments. It is so necessary to show that every penny is closely looked after which is spent by a tribunal so jealously scanned that I am obliged to mention one further fact. The cost of the Commission yearly is somewhat under £16,000—not a large figure for operations of such magnitude, involving so considerable a sum of money. But the Commissioners received from the stamps on conveyances and registration fees over £8,000, so that the expense of the Commission does not quite amount to £7,500 a-year. Your Lordships will see that a great effort at self-support is made in the work of the Commission. There is just one more observation I will make. Some misconception appears to exist which I am anxious to remove. It is thought by those who have not read the Bill that there is some provision preventing the payment of interest on the purchase-money between the sanction of the advance and the completion of the transaction. In all the contracts provision is made that from the time of sanction the tenant is to pay interest at 4 per cent on the purchase money, and there is nothing in the Amendment accepted in the other House which is intended to interfere with the payment of interest. I think I have stated to your Lordships—I fear at too great length—the history of the past operations of the Purchase Act, which, I think, encourages strong hopes for the 988 future. I have not been able to find a single record of disappointment. I have not heard of a single person who has been disappointed and wished to have his former position back again. I have heard of many of these purchasers who apply themselves with great heart and energy to improve their holdings, and everything goes to indicate that what people expect from the sense of property is found in the case of those who have purchased under this Act. It is obvious that the operations of this Act wherever it is applied have a great and remarkable bearing in support of law and order. I need not dwell upon that point. The peaceful operations of the Act have smoothed down many estrangements which had grown up between landlords and tenants. They have also checked angry agrarian litigation which might have arisen about the opening of leases, the re-adjustment of contracts, and the fixing of fair rents. I therefore ask your Lordships without hesitation to agree to the second reading of this Bill as one which is honestly calculated to effect some real good for Ireland and to give some real prosperity to those who avail themselves of its provisions.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Ashbourne.)
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, that the noble and learned Lord had moved the second reading of the Bill in a speech which was characteristically lucid and moderate in tone; and, although he naturally felt diffident in attempting to follow that speech, there were reasons which made it impossible for him to remain silent. The Members of the Opposition were able to give very good reasons, not only for demurring to the passing of the Bill, but why, in fact, it would be inconsistent on their part to support it. He quite admitted that the attitude which the Opposition had taken up opened the door to a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of their position. He frankly owned that he was not one who looked with distrust upon the purchase of land on State guarantee; on the contrary, he approved of the principle; but it was one thing to approve of a principle and it was quite another thing to endorse every application of it without reference to time, circumstances, or method. He did not 989 recognize any reasonableness in describing the Bill as a Landlords' Belief Bill; even if the landlords were to take more benefit than the tenants he for one would not grudge it; and as to the allegation that the Bill imposed a burden upon the British taxpayer, he had always felt that, as so many of our Irish measures had been failures, it was only fair and right that we should incur some sacrifice, if it were necessary, in order to remedy a state of things for which we were responsible. He objected to the Bill, not so much on account of what it was as on account of what it was not; it was not opportune, and it did not deal with the far more urgent question of arrears. What had been said about the urgency of arrears in connection with this Bill ought not to be regarded as a factious opposition. For the last three years the Opposition had lost no opportunity of urging the great importance of dealing with arrears. As to the Bill itself, what did it settle? The noble and learned Lord said that this legislation was preparatory to some larger and more comprehensive measure. If that were so, he could not help thinking the Bill was either too large or too small. It was larger than would be required for merely carrying on the operations of the Act of 1885 with a view to the initiation of some new and more comprehensive policy; on the other hand, it was quite large enough to have the effect of interfering with a future comprehensive measure. He should like to know where we were, or, rather, whither we were going in connection with this question of land purchase. It was not surprising to hear that payments had been punctually made by purchasers under the original Act; at least, it was not surprising to the Opposition, who for a long time had been urging that the Irish people ought to be more trusted than they had been hitherto. While he rejoiced that the facts and figures as to the operation of the Act were of a satisfactory character, he thought it would have been convenient if more figures had been presented to Parliament before the discussion of the Bill. Everyone knew that there were, unfortunately, encumbered estates in Ireland, and the figures quoted did not throw much light on the question how far these estates had been affected 990 hitherto. As to the pacifying effects which were attributed to the operation of the Act, they might reserve their opinion as to whether the more favourable disposition of the people was due to the operation of this Act or to other causes that had been concurrently in operation. He had not heard from anyone in a responsible position any complaint as to the mode in which the Act had been administered; those who were responsible for its administration appeared to have done their duty with fairness. The question involved must be regarded as part of the settlement of Ireland. The Opposition looked forward to a future for Ireland different from that contemplated by the Government. They looked forward to a time when there would be a constituted authority intermediary between the State and the tenants, and they were bound to contemplate this question with an eye to the future. For these and other reasons he felt that this Bill, whatever recommendations it might have, was not calculated, in the main, to promote the future settlement of Ireland.
THE EARL OF MILLTOWN
said, that for this Bill the Government were entitled to the thanks of the tenants, whose views had been fearfully misrepresented elsewhere. As a Member of the Royal Commission which went through Ireland and examined witnesses in every position of life and of every shade of politics, he affirmed that they were unanimously in favour of the original Act. Suggestions were made as to enlarging its scope, and in order to throw more of the burden upon posterity, it was urged that the repayment of the purchase-money should be extended over a longer period. A tenant farmer said that every purchase under the Act diminished the power of the National League, converted tenants into free men, and made them loyal subjects of the Crown. An Inspector of Constabulary said that purchasers would be anxious to preserve law and order, and would become Conservatives in politics. Father O'Leary, a parish priest in Kerry, stated in evidence that he knew a man who at one time spent a great deal of his time drinking in the towns, but who, since he became a purchaser of his farm, worked like a slave on his holding. He added that the people were anxious for law and order, and 991 were tired of agitation. That was the kind of evidence which the Commission received on all hands. It had been suggested that the tenants might repudiate their liability under the Bill. This was a gross insult upon the tenants; he knew them thoroughly, and he had every confidence in them. He believed that they would pay to the fullest extent of their power, and pay regularly. He knew that when the first or second instalment had been paid they would consider that they had such an interest in their holding that nothing on earth would induce them to part with it. As to the question of security, the tenant right was of enormous value, and it exceeded in value in many parts of Ireland the fee-simple. The statements that had been made on this point by certain people were of a most astounding character. He hoped that the greater part of the money voted under the present Bill would be made use of outside Ulster. The operation of the Ashbourne Act had hitherto been confined to a great extent to Ulster. The cause of this was that the great London Companies were very glad to avail themselves of the opportunity to sell their estates. Then it was made a cause of complaint that the Act had not worked in congested districts. He might say that the two Land Commissioners, Mr. Lynch and Mr. MacCarthy, were opposed to the Act being allowed to work in the congested districts, because the small holdings would afford no adequate security to the State. The Commission, however, of which he was a Member, were not inclined to draw a hard and fast line. The noble Earl who had just addressed their Lordships objected to the Bill because it did not deal with arrears. He submitted that that question was not germane to the Bill. Mr. Gladstone's Bill of 1882, by which arrears were wiped out, was the most mischievous and pernicious of all his legislative measures. The effect of it upon Ireland was disastrous. The people who were now in arrear were the very men who had their arrears wiped out in 1882, and naturally enough they began to run up fresh scores in the hope that Mr. Gladstone would come along and wipe them out again. On the part of the honest tenant, and in the interests of law and order, he hoped that they would have no further wiping away of 992 arrears by legislative action. While expressing his thanks to the Government for bringing this Bill forward, he could not help saying that the added clauses were either mischievous or unnecessary. The third clause, as he read it, released the tenant purchaser from the obligation of paying anything whatever, once the Commissioners had agreed to the purchase. The next clause gave the Commissioners very large powers indeed in regard to subletting. The fifth clause spoke of the applications for advances exhausting the amount provided; but how applications could exhaust the amount provided he confessed he could not understand. The sixth clause relating to publication in The Dublin Gazette he regarded as perfectly useless. In conclusion, he was not desirous of selling any of his family estates, nor had he any desire to purchase his neighbours'. He had confidence in the future of Ireland now that they had at last got a man who had neither dread nor shame to govern Ireland without fear, favour, or affection, and also a Ministry honest enough to pursue that policy. Personally, he had no interest in that measure; but he believed it to be one of the greatest importance for the preservation of law and order, and that a large extension of tenant ownerships would alone extricate them from the terrible impasse into which Mr. Gladstone's legislation had landed them.
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day two months, said, he did not believe that the English people wished to see money taken away from the Exchequer to purchase property under a system by which the State might ultimately become the landlord over a large part of Ireland; and he thought it would be far better to maintain the usual relation between landlord and tenant, the landlord rendering friendly assistance to the cultivator, and the cultivator, on the other hand, placing confidence in the owner of his farm.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now,") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day two months.")—(The Lord Denman.)
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I am afraid that a debate where there is to be no Division always labours under a 993 great disadvantage; but I must ask your indulgence while I trespass on your attention for a few moments on this subject. This Bill is a very short one, but it really opens up the whole agrarian question in Ireland. I hope your Lordships will not be alarmed at that declaration, because I can assure you that I do not intend, beyond a few sentences, to touch on the general Agrarian Question. At the same time I am bound to refer to a matter which has already tonight formed part of the speeches of two of your Lordships, and which elsewhere and in the country has formed the subject of very great discussion. I mean the question of arrears of rent That is not a new subject by any means to your Lordships. In 1887, when Her Majesty's Government introduced the measure which became law, we had a discussion on that very subject under the leadership of my noble and learned Friend on my right (Lord Fitzgerald) when the Amendments from the House of Commons came up. On that occasion (August 11, 1887) my noble and learned Friend moved a clause allowing the County Court-Judges to deal with the question of arrears when the landlord and the tenant could not agree. I had the honour of addressing your Lordships on that occasion, and I made an earnest appeal to the House to accede to the proposal of my noble and learned Friend. I felt at that time that if that proposal, or a proposal on similar lines, were not entertained, there would be great danger of the measure breaking down in important particulars. Since then I have every reason to be confirmed in the opinion I then formed. I believe that if power had been taken to deal in the Act, not with general arrears, but with arrears accruing from rents which had become excessive owing to the altered agricultural circumstances, a great number of the difficulties which have taken place in Ireland since then would have been altogether avoided. The noble Marquess, in dealing recently in Scotland with the arguments to be urged in favour of dealing with arrears, had instituted a comparison between the Act passed for the relief of the crofters and the Act with regard to judicial rents in Ireland. I shall not be misinterpreting that argument by saying that the noble Marquess 994 considered the cases different, that the crofters held under a different tenure to the Irish, that until very recent times they had been in a different position to what they were when the Act was passed; that in Ireland, on the contrary, the position of the tenants had been ratified by numerous Acts of Parliament, and they were therefore in an entirely different position. I confess that I do not follow the argument of the noble Marquess. My view is this. Parliament, rightly or wrongly—and I know the immense difficulties entailed in interfering with it—interfered in both cases, and decided that the question of rents in Scotland and in Ireland must be dealt with by a Commission. That being so, I think it follows as a matter of justice that if arrears accrue from the rents which were decided to be unjust in either case, the Commission should have the same power of dealing with them as was given in Scotland. I cannot see why, when Parliament interfered in Scotland irrespective of the old tenure, the same power was not extended to the Irish Land Commission. We know the argument that the Government were ready to deal with the question if Parliament dealt with the debts of the Irish tenants, but I say that it does not come home to me as a forcible argument in any way. Parliament interfered in regard to rents; it did not interfere in regard to other debts, or to the values placed on the commodities sold in Ireland. If it had interfered with the price of bread or meat or other commodities, then there might be justice in the argument; but the question of rent had been taken up by Parliament, and it decided to allow a tribunal to go into the question whether rents were unjust or not. I therefore think it is manifestly unjust not to allow the Court to deal with the arrears of rent, just in the same way as the Crofters Commission dealt with arrears. The noble Earl who served on Lord Cowper's Commission referred to the Arrears Act of Mr. Gladstone's Government in 1882, and remarked on the injustice to honest tenants which that Act had inflicted. I believe the Arrears Act of 1882 can be defended on just grounds. It was necessary to take a new departure after the terrible convulsion of society which had recently taken place, and I believe a measure of that kind was indispensable. I believe 995 that the measure was not only beneficial to the tenants, but it was a measure, to a great extent, of relief to the landlords. Dealing with arrears, however, as now advocated, was a totally different affair. In this case we do not propose that there should be a universal sweeping off of arrears; we only advocate that arrears should be dealt with which accrue from unjust rents. I feel it necessary as to the Bill itself to make some explanation, because I have on a previous occasion very often advocated land purchase in this House and elsewhere. I have been more than once quoted with reference to the measure of 1885. I admit that I made observations wishing success to the measure, and I have nothing to regret in having made them. But those who quoted that portion of my speech did not quote other portions of it in which I ventured to criticize pretty severely various provisions of the measure. I criticized the terms of the advance. They were extravagant terms, and amounted almost to bribing the tenants. But I made another and a stronger objection. I objected most strongly to there not being any Representative Body between the Imperial Exchequer and the Irish tenant. I feel the same objection most strongly now; and all the circumstances that have occurred since then have strengthened the view that I have taken on that point. I agree with the noble Earl opposite that the Irish tenants in ordinary circumstances are not likely to repudiate their debts. I do not charge them with that, but who knows what position Ireland may be in, say, under stress of circumstances—it may be bad seasons, famine, fall in prices, or it may be by intense political agitation? Then I do maintain that there is a very serious danger indeed of the State becoming directly responsible to receive what is tantamount to the rents of enormous bodies of tenantry in Ireland. We all know the unfortunate condition in which landlords are often placed when they have to demand their just rights, when they have to evict their tenants. It is always a very painful thing to do, and no doubt there are occasions when it is done harshly, and when it cannot be avoided. Bat if it is done, we all know what lamentable scenes occur in the country. The landlord has to go to the Sheriff; the Sheriff has to go to the Government, 996 and the Government sends large bodies of police, often with cavalry and infantry, to support the Sheriff; and those forces march like an army through a foreign country, and terrible scenes occur. Do we imagine that we shall avoid a similar state of things when the State has to recover the annuities which tenants have to pay under the Bill? My opinion is that the position will be very much more aggravated, and the Government may be courting an increase of the already stupendous difficulties they have to meet in Ireland by bringing in a measure of this kind, where there is no local body standing between the tenantry of Ireland and the Imperial Exchequer. I cannot conclude what I have to say on this part of the subject without quoting some words which well depict the danger of the situation. A noble Lord, a Member of the present Government, brought forward in 1883 some Resolutions in the House of Commons with regard to land purchase. That noble Lord is the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the words he used were as follows:—It might with equal truth be asserted that few conditions could be more dangerous to Governments than that they should be the creditors of a large portion of their subjects, especially if those so indebted were also politically disaffected towards them. This was the great objection which had hitherto existed against a rapid conversion of tenants into proprietors in Ireland through State agency. To bring the State face to face with hundreds of thousands of tenants to whom the doctrine of repudiation of contract was too familiar would be a perilous condition for all concerned.Those are the words, not only of a Member of the Government, but of a nobleman intimately connected with Ireland who certainly cannot be accused of not knowing the subject on which he speaks. Since the Act of 1885 was passed events have rolled on with great rapidity in Ireland. In 1886 an important land purchase measure was introduced as part of the Irish policy of Mr. Gladstone. That measure was a well considered scheme. I believe there was never more trouble bestowed on a measure than was bestowed on that Bill. It has not been much discussed, and many of its provisions are, I think, now almost forgotten. It is dead, and we do not know whether it will reappear again. Still, it represents the views of the Government of the day. As far as I am concerned, though there may be modifications 997 introduced in it, I still believe that that measure was a sound one, and I prefer many of its principles to the measure now before us. There are certain differences to which I should like to call attention between the present measure and the large Bill of 1886. The measure of 1886 was much more comprehensive, and in that respect it differed from the present Bill. Moreover, it gave much better security than will be given by the present measure for what was to be done. Then it gave to the local authority a pecuniary interest in seeing that the provisions of the Bill were carried into effect. The Bill of 1886 contained another clause, which, I think, is almost forgotten. It dealt specially with the congested districts. I believe it is almost impossible to deal with them under the provisions of the Act of 1885. One of my objections to the Bill now under discussion is that it will not enable you to deal with congested districts, and, apart from them, it is impossible to deal completely with the Irish agrarian question. The Bill of 1886 did deal with those districts. Of course we never got into Committee, and I do not know how the clause would have stood discussion, but at all events we inserted a clause to the effect that in the congested districts the tenants should not be put in the position of owners. Now I will touch upon another matter. I am not going to comment in any way on the fact that in certain cases large proprietors have come forward and sold their estates. But it is found that the least incumbered landlords are the persons first to come forward. That is a serious thing, because you shut out from the operation of this Act, which no doubt to a certain extent has had a good political and social effect in Ireland, you shut out from its operation those cases where there is the greatest necessity for relief. I say nothing as to the voluntary principle of this Act. I admit that in our Bill there was no compulsion, but I am not sure that when we come to consider a larger scheme it will not be necessary to take power to force sales in order to meet some of the difficulties to which I have adverted. There is another matter to which I shall briefly refer, and that is with regard to what has been called duress. No doubt there may be duress on both sides. There may be duress by 998 a combination or an association in a district, the members of which try to induce tenants not to purchase their farms; and there may be duress on the part of the landlord. It has been stated that in some cases landlords have used a real pressure in order to force on the tenants a price which otherwise they would not give. In the examination of Mr. J. G. MacCarthy before the Cowper Commission the witness was asked by the President, "How does he (the agent) exercise the pressure?" The reply was—By telling the tenant he must either sign a contract for sale or go out. I have seen letters of this class. I have a letter in my possession from an extensive land agent, telling the tenant that the Sheriff would not be put off beyond to-morrow, but that if he handed the Sheriff the contracts for purchase duly executed he would not take possession.Surely a contract signed under such circumstances cannot be free. I should like to know whether there has been any answer given to that statement, which was made by one of the Commissioners. It is alleged that duress can be exercised by means of the arrears on the tenant. Under our Bill of 1886 this could not have been done. Under the provisions of that measure the Commissioners would have had themselves to fix the price, and they would have had to go into all these matters and to meet the duress if duress took place. But under the present Bill the landlord and tenant agree as to the price, and the duty of the Commission is simply to see that the security is sufficient; in case therefore of the tenant right being of high value, it is possible that if the landlord exercised pressure he might get from the tenant a larger price than he is entitled to, and it would be covered by that part of the security which belongs to the tenant right. If the tenant cannot pay his instalments the Government will have to fall back upon the security, which will include not only the portion of the money advanced which is kept by the Commissioners, but also the value of the tenant right, which in many cases represents the actual improvements in buildings which the tenant has made on his holding. I believe that the question of duress is important, and it would be a satisfaction to know whether the Government can devise means to prevent the landlord by means of the arrears from getting a price which will make the instalments larger 999 than what he is entitled to. I see also great difficulty springing up out of the extremely favourable terms given to the tenant who purchases under this Act. Suppose there is a district where there are two estates contiguous to each other of much the same quality, and managed in the same way. In the one case the landlord has been able to come to an agreement and effects a sale, and the tenant, instead of paying, say, £ 100 a-year rent, has to pay £80 or even less. His neighbour on the adjoining farm, in other respects almostidentically circumstanced, who has not been able to make an arrangement with his landlord, will still have to pay £100, and while his neigh-Lour at the lower rent is gradually becoming the owner of his farm he is getting no nearer ownership. There is a great danger there. In these cases the landlord will be obliged to reduce his rent to the same level as that paid by the tenant who pays the annuity, or be liable to the inconveniences of having discontented tenants. I feel bound to point out the objections which I feel to the further extension of what was at the time called by myself and others the experiment of Lord Ashbourne's Act. I rejoice to hear that the Act has been successful, and that the whole £5,000,000 is spent. We are going to repeat the operation. Why should we not do so until it comes to £20,000,000 or £30,000,000? It then becomes a serious matter, and I, for one, protest against dealing with the subject in the manner in which the Bill deals with it. I wish, before I sit down, to call the attention of the Government to one matter which was discussed in the other House. I do not wish to press the matter, but if I find any encourage-on the part of the Government I desire to move an Instruction to the Committee as an Amendment. An Amendment was prepared in "another place" dealing with mines, quarries, and foreshores. It was proposed that these rights should be reserved to the Government instead of the landlord, as is the case under the Bill as it now stands. I think it would be advantageous that these rights should be reserved to the State. If you are going to divide the country up into a large number of small owners, there may be difficulty in developing any great industry if these rights are reserved to the numerous new landlords 1000 created by the Bill. I hope, before the debate closes, the Government will allude to this matter, and if any encouragement is given I shall move an Amendment dealing with the question.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, that an Act which three years ago had been accepted by all parties, and which had proved to have been, in the highest degree, successful and beneficial to Ireland, was now sought to be extended by a Bill of precisely similar character. Yet opposition was offered by the very men who accepted the Bill of three years ago. He would, however, remark that not one bit of opposition came from Ireland. The tenants had shown their appreciation of the Act, and no Petition against the Bill had come from Ireland. The opposition came from two or three different quarters, but the most thoroughgoing opposition proceeded from the Parnellite Members. The alleged cause of this opposition was certainly rather singular; when Mr. Parnell, Mr. Dillon, and Mr. Sexton expressed great anxiety on behalf of the British taxpayer, it was a little difficult to believe in their disinterestedness. The change in the position of the Home Rule Party was significant indeed; it showed not that the Act had not been working well, but that it had been going to the root of the evil, which was not the question of an Irish Parliament, but was the Land Question. If there were a Home Pule Parliament in Dublin, he believed the State would run a serious danger by passing this Bill, because the Receiver General, in collecting the instalments from the tenants, would not be supported by the Irish Parliament, which would have no interest in enforcing the debts due to England; and, in these circumstances the Imperial Treasury would be almost certain to incur a loss. He was thankful to say we had not yet got a Parliament in Dublin; and as long as the Imperial Parliament collected the debts which were due to it through its own officers, the risk would be very small indeed. Up to the present time the arrears of tenant purchasers had been very small indeed, and this was true also of the purchases under the Church Act, the instalments of which had been paid with extraordinary punctuality under the most adverse circumstances. With our past experience, as long as we had 1001 Imperial Officers to collect the debts due to us, and as long as Ireland was under Imperial authority, he thought we might proceed tentatively in the direction of this Bill. He could hardly follow the argument that there would be less danger with an intermediate body to intervene between the State and the purchasing tenant. He should have said, on the other hand, that the Imperial Parliament would be much better able to collect its debts than any other authority. If it were meant that a small local body should be responsible for the instalments, then an issue was raised which was more than open to debate. As he understood it, the local guarantee would be the county cess, or, in other words, the joint guarantee of all the ratepayers. What reason was there to suppose that that guarantee would be given, or, if it were given, that there would be any reality in it? Why should the county authority give a guarantee for a debt due by a single person to the State? Suppose any one of their Lordships were to make a purchase in a county, and it were proposed that the county ratepayers should guarantee the payment of the purchase-money, the ratepayers would say, "You do not offer us any inducement." In the same way the Irish ratepayers would say, "You do not offer us any inducement; we shall not do it;" and in that event the local guarantee would be wholly inoperative. There was one condition under which ratepayers might undertake to give a guarantee, and that would be when a large proportion of the ratepayers were purchasing their holdings; but in that case such a guarantee would amount only to the purchasers guaranteeing the payment of the purchase-money; and that would be like asking a man who was giving a bill to write his own name on the back of it. When the original Bill was before this House, the noble Earl supported it because it was not a comprehensive measure, and said that what we required to do was to proceed gradually, in a sound way, for increasing the number of proprietors in Ireland; that we did not want to sweep into the nets all tenants, bad as well as good, but to raise up an enlightened class of small proprietors. That was the opinion of the noble Earl in 1885; and in the year 1886 he was a member of a Government that introduced a measure which did deal 1002 comprehensively with all tenants. He could not understand why, because a measure was not comprehensive, it was not to be followed up if its effects were likely to be good. He was glad that the Bill did proceed tentatively, believing that the best thing to do was to deal with the wants of Ireland as they occurred. If you attempted by one stroke to convert all tenants into owners, you were more likely to tempt them not to fulfil their obligations than if you proceeded to do so gradually by such an Act as that which was continued by this Bill.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I must apologize for troubling your Lordships at all, because it is quite evident that there is no serious opposition to this measure, and in such a case there is no great use in answering objections which have not been taken, or replying to criticisms which one has to suggest in order to refute them. The speech of the first noble Earl who criticized the Bill reminds me of a certain prophet in ancient times, who did not satisfy his employers in the discharge of the duty imposed upon him, for the noble Earl came forward to curse the Bill but instead of that he blessed it altogether. He said he opposed the principle of the Bill, but he did not grudge any benefit it gave to the landlord; he did not share the fears which some entertained on behalf of the British taxpayer, and he did not complain of the administration of the Act. These admissions seem to me to do great credit to the candour and fairness of my noble Friend, but they do not leave much ground for opposition. His only objection was that the question of arrears ought to have been dealt with, and my noble Friend behind me enlarged upon that point and said that the Bill would open up the whole agrarian question, that of arrears among the rest. To my mind, however, the question of arrears is entirely separate and distinct. No doubt it has something to do with the capacity of the Irish tenant to buy his holding, but then so have questions of public works, of the Poor Law, taxation, and whatever else may affect the condition of the tenants of Ireland. Are we not to deal with one of them because we cannot deal with all? Then my noble Friend regretted—and no doubt this is a difficult part, and one well deserving to be considered in connection with this Bill—the absence 1003 of any Representative Body which could act as an intermediary between the Imperial Government and the tenants who had to pay for their farms. I think with regard to this that there is a great deal in what my noble Friend who spoke last said—namely, that it would not be an easy thing to get a local representative authority which could be trusted to deal impartially with questions of this kind. The persons who mainly constitute the existing local authority belong to that class which is decidedly interested in buying the farms—the class of tenant farmers. If they are to be responsible they must have a voice in fixing the price, and it is impossible to suppose that they—intending purchasers—will be in a position to do so fairly. Then my noble Friend said, and I think it is quite true, that this Bill is not sufficient for the congested districts. I am afraid you will require to do something more than is done by this Bill for these districts. But after all you must not forget that the congested parts of Ireland which, by their unfortunate circumstances, attract a good deal of attention, constitute only about one-tenth of the whole country; and it is not a very damaging criticism to say that this Bill, while it works well for nine-tenths of the country, does not do enough for the remaining tenth. I readily admit that there is a good deal in what has been said about the unfortunate position of some of the owners. It is said that many of them are living on the margin between their rents and their incumbrances, and that they would lose this small margin in the process of sale. That may be so, but whether this Bill comes into operation or not, I think it is tolerably clear that these landowners will not long be able to maintain their position. They will, before long, have to sell to somebody, and under existing circumstances I do not see whom they can sell to except to the State. They will suffer in any case, but not in consequence of this legislation. Then the point is raised that a tenant who purchases under the Bill is placed in such favourable circumstances that his neighbour who is not able to purchase will be aggrieved because he does not obtain his share of the benefit. That argument cuts both ways. It may be a hardship on the landlord to be pressed 1004 to sell when he does not wish it; but there is another class of owners who are desirous of selling, and to them the Bill will be a benefit—and the more so, the more the tenants desire to buy. But the most important part of the matter is the question of public policy; and the mere fact that the tenants who buy under the Act will be envied by their neighbours, as my noble Friend says they will, is to my mind the surest guarantee that the Act will operate for the purpose for which it is framed—namely, that it will steadily create a class of peasant proprietors. I do not think that these advances involve any considerable risk, and for my part I should say, from the point of view of public policy, that even if some risk is involved it does not follow that that risk ought not to be run. It is surely worth while running some risk if we can secure the pacification, or even partial pacification, of Ireland thereby. But I believe the risks will be very small indeed, because the security is ample. It is objected that the advance of four-fifths of the purchase-money is too large a proportion; but it should be remembered that what is being paid for by the State is only the landlord's interest. Under the peculiar system of dual ownership in Ireland there are many cases where the tenant's interest is worth quite as much as the landlord's. If the tenant, therefore, fails to meet his liabilities he loses more than what the State has paid. In ordinary transactions it is generally considered that a mortgage is safe so long as it does not exceed one-half of the value of the property; and most of the loans under the Bill will be made practically upon this footing. If a landlord's interest in a farm be worth, say £1,000, the tenant's interestis probably worth£500 more. The State advances only £ 800, and has the security of the whole £1,500. Then, again, every year a part of the principal is paid off, and the tenant stands to lose more in a case of forfeiture, while the State diminishes its risk. Then it is said very often, suppose there should be a general refusal to pay the instalments on the part of the tenants? Such a remark would apply to the payment of taxes as well as to the instalments under this Bill. But I should not advise my friends who are in favour of Home Rule to rely upon an argument of this kind, because 1005 if the whole mass of Irish tenants who, of their own free will, borrow under this Act, and make most advantageous bargains, are really likely to repudiate the bargains they have made, it would be a stronger argument against their fitness for self-government than any which has been hitherto used. But I do not believe that the tenants will repudiate the bargains which they make under this Bill. They will have less to pay to the State than they are paying to the landlords. They become virtually owners of the soil, and they must know that they will lose everything by refusing to pay the instalments. Under these circumstances, I think that a general refusal to pay is really not to be apprehended. Again, it is said if Home Rule were carried, there would be no security for the money advanced. But any system of Home Rule must involve the meeting of various engagements between the British Government and the new authority. If such engagements as these are not kept, what becomes of your policy of confidence in the Irish people; and if you expect good faith will be kept in other matters, in other bargains and arrangements, why do you suppose faith will not be kept in bargains made under this Bill? Then it is said that we are pledging ourselves to an indefinite outlay in the future. I do not think we are pledged either to continue or to discontinue these advances. We ought in this, as in other matters, to be guided by experience, to see how the experiment works; and no doubt we may carry it further if we find it to be successful and think it desirable. But it is not clear to me that there will be as great a demand for the help of the State to purchase farms in future years as there is now. We are going, as we all know, through a period of transition; we want to smooth away difficulties while that period of transition lasts; but it does not follow that the same assistance of the State will be asked for or needed hereafter. Besides, the operation will be spread over a long period of years. We are all agreed that it is desirable to create a peasant proprietary in Ireland, but it could hardly be expected that it could be created in two, three, or even half-a-dozen years. We may be content if it is done in half a century. And another point which has been referred to 1006 out of doors is this. It is said that when the State becomes the landlord all the evils of absenteeism will exist in an aggravated form; but that objection does not apply in what I believe to be the majority of cases where sales take place—cases in which the landlord is at present an absentee. In such cases matters would remain exactly as before. Again, the estates of many Irish landlords are incumbered, and in many cases the landlord is only the nominal owner. In those circumstances, where there is a sale, the purchase money will go to pay off the mortgages, and the mortgages, I suppose, are almost invariably held in England. My noble Friend has adverted to the danger lest the landowners should use the power which the existence of arrears of rent gives them to compel the tenant to buy at an unreasonable price. Well, if the landlord has a claim on the tenant which the tenant is not in a position to satisfy, that may give him a considerable influence over the tenant's action, and that would be so whether this Bill passed or not. But, as I understand, before there is a sale the Government agent must be satisfied as to the bona fides of the transaction. He will be the party to judge whether the price agreed upon between the landlord and the tenant is a reasonable one. According to the hypothesis the tenant is supposed to be coerced into becoming a purchaser. If that is really the case, would it be very difficult for the tenant to convey a hint of that fact to the Government officer who comes to value the farm? In such circumstances, I am quite sure that the ingenuity which has never failed the Irish tenant in similar or analogous cases would not fail him here. I need hardly say anything about the point raised by my noble Friend as to this Act being a concession to the landlords. I think it will benefit the tenant much more than the landlord; but if it were an advantage to the landlord I would not grudge him it, because, whatever we may think of the Irish policy of the last 20 years, nobody will deny that the case of the Irish landlord has been in many respects a very hard one. The man who, under the Encumbered Estates Court Act, 30 years ago, bought an estate by the direct encouragement of Parliament to do so, and who finds the value of that estate very greatly diminished, partly, at least, 1007 as the result of legislation, has assuredly something to complain of; and I do not think the fact that he may receive some incidental advantage from an act of public policy is any reason why objection should be taken to the measure. My Lords, in the absence of all serious opposition, I will not trouble you any further; but I did not like to allow the second reading of the Bill to pass without expressing, on behalf of the section of the House to which I have the honour to belong, my conviction that this is a sound and useful measure, and one that will do more to conciliate and pacify Ireland than anything that has been done for a long time past.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
said, with regard to the suggestion of the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) he did not think it could be in any case incorporated in this measure, but he would give the matter his careful consideration. With the permission of the House, he proposed to fix the Committee stage of the Bill for Thursday; and, if their Lordships would agree to suspend the Standing Orders, they would, perhaps, allow the third reading to be taken on the same occasion.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
said, that the noble and learned Lord could move his Amendment on Thursday.
§ On Question, that ("now") stand part of the Motion, resolved in the affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next; and Standing Order No. XXXV. to be considered in order to its being dispensed with.