§ Order of the Day for resuming the Debate on the Amendment to the Motion for the Second Reading, namely, That the Bill be read a second time this day ten months, read.
§ Debate resumed accordingly.
My Lords, it has been stated in the Times newspaper that I intended to be content with the remarks I made last night upon the Land Purchase and Congested Districts (Ireland) Bill. I beg leave to say I never said a, word of the sort, and that if the Government persists in the measure, and if I can get a Teller, I certainly shall divide the House if it be possible.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, the provisions of this Bill have up to the present time in this Debate been examined chiefly by noble Lords connected with Ireland. Those Irish Peers are all typical Irishmen. All of them have clung to Ireland in misfortune, as they have rejoiced in her good fortune; every one of them has fulfilled his duties as a landlord; and every one of them is thoroughly competent to speak 1530 on any subject in connection with that country. Those noble Lords have all cordially accepted the principle of the Bill on this Second Reading, and they have acknowledged the service which has been rendered by the Government in introducing it. At the same time they have referred to certain Amendments of which, no doubt, we shall hear more hereafter; but, in the meantime, they have supported the main propositions of the Government. I am going, in the very few minutes I shall address the House, to ask your Lordships to look at the Bill from an altogether different point of view. I look at it myself, not from the point of view of a person connected with Ireland, for I have no such connection, but I look at it from what may be considered, perhaps, a larger point of view, an Imperial point of view. I regard the Bill from the point of view of those who, while they maintain that one Parliament is essential for the well-being of Ireland no less than for the well-being of all the rest of the Empire, yet still maintain no less strongly that the Imperial Parliament can, and ought, and is bound to deal with the Irish question from an Irish point of view. I maintain also that the Imperial Parliament can deal, and ought to deal, with this question with a generosity and justice and authority which no Irish Parliament could possibly possess. Now, this Bill deals with what is, after all, the whole Irish question, because your Lordships all know, as everyone knows in this country, that the land question, and not any question connected with an Irish Parliament, is the Irish question. With regard to the Bill now before the House, in directing your Lordships' attention to it, I will ask you to look at it in itself. What is it? What relation has it to the rest of the difficult policy in Ireland? Is it or is it not, a great and unparalleled boon to Irish tenants? This is already the third Bill of this Government which has dealt with this Irish question; it differs from the two Bills which were connected with the name of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Ashbourne) in this—and almost in this alone—that it provides for the British taxpayer far more ample security than either of the preceding Bills. Indeed, almost the only complaint that I have heard or seen against this 1531 Bill is that it secures the British taxpayer to such an extent that it cannot be considered fair to bind Irishmen to find these securities without obtaining the assent of some local authority in Ireland. This Bill also differs from the Ashbourne Acts in this, that it extends to a much larger sum of money. But what is more important is to consider, how is this Bill regarded in Ireland? Is it regarded there as a measure of benefit and conciliation? We know that it is so. Even last year, when the Bill was under discussion, and when certain Members in another place were inclined to offer opposition, they were reminded by letters written in Ireland by prominent Nationalists that it was a Bill which was drawn in the interests of the Irish tenants, and that no Irish Member of Parliament, who had the interests of his constituency truly at heart, ought to offer opposition to it. And now, in the present Session, what have we seen during the passage of the Bill through the other House? Why, Irish Members of Parliament have all been vieing with each other in claiming the credit of having introduced or anticipated or devised this or that particular clause in the measure. Let me go now from the principle to touch very briefly on the details of the Bill. The details of the Bill have been very carefully considered by the Government in the interests of the occupying tenants in Ireland, and for the first time an attempt is made to deal in a practical manner with what is one of the reproaches of Ireland—the congested districts. There is one clause making provision for cottages for labourers under certain circumstances. There is another clause which provides for the occurrence of national agricultural calamity. There are a series of clauses dealing with the congested districts, which, as I have said, is the very first attempt which has ever been made to deal in a practical manner with what is confessedly the greatest plague-spot in Ireland. If hereafter Mr. Balfour has to rely for his credit on nothing else than this Bill, I will undertake to say that the right hon. Gentleman's name will be remembered with gratitude in the West of Ireland, as it is already known in connection with the temporary relief works during the winter that has just past. But of all the remarkable clauses in the Bill the most 1532 remarkable is Clause 12, which provides that in the case of any farm the tenancy of which has been determined since 1879, and of which the land is in the occupation of the owner, the owner may make arrangements to sell to the late tenant or to his representatives. Those few innocent words contain a great deal, because they tell us that the Government are prepared to pardon to a considerable extent those who have been the victims of the Plan of Campaign. It is quite unnecessary that I should remind your Lordships of what the Plan of Campaign has been. We all, unfortunately, have too clear a knowledge and recollection of it; but I would specially ask your Lordships to remember for a moment the incidents connected with the name of Mr. Smith-Barry and the latest and worst development of the Plan of Campaign as it appeared in Tipperary, and then to consider what it is that this clause purposes to do, and how great is the measure of forgiveness which is contained in it, in view of the events which have taken place recently in Tipperary under the Plan of Campaign. The Plan of Campaign, as we all know now—it has been proved—was a conspiracy which was devised for the purpose of compelling persons not to do that which they had a perfect right to do and which they wished to do; it was a conspiracy which was enforced by terrorism, by violence, and by crime. It was devised for the purpose of forcing unwilling tenants—because we know now that the tenants were unwilling, we see it daily in the newspapers, and we shall, no doubt, hear it more and more frequently and more and more loudly expressed as time goes on—into antagonism with the landlords whom they sincerely respected and continued to respect; and it was devised and started, not by the tenants themselves, but by Members of Parliament, and by those whom, unfortunately, some noble Lords near me are quite prepared to trust with the destinies of Ireland. What has happened is this: their dupes are ruined; they are houseless and penniless, and the Irish Members now come to Parliament and appeal to Mr. Balfour, reminding him that he is a statesman carrying a remedial measure, and imploring him to aid an unfortunate 1533 and suffering people. There is a sort of cruel irony in this; but I admit that I can perfectly understand it from these Members of Parliament. It is a mere point in the game with them—a part of the performance. The Irish Members think it quite natural that they should make applications of this sort; but what is remarkable, what is without parallel is that Her Majesty's Government have seen their way to accept this clause, by which those tenants may, under certain circumstances, return to the homes which, so far as they themselves are concerned, they have forfeited every claim to occupy. This proposal, I have said, is an unparalleled proposal. Nothing like it is to be found in history, where, so far as the tenants to be benefited are concerned, they have done everything they could to destroy law and social order, and to injure those who have done them no injury. If the matter had gone the other way; if Mr. Smith-Barry had been ruined, would your Lordships now have been considering a clause to reinstate him in his possessions, or in any way to replace him in the position which he formerly occupied? But, my Lords, while this clause appears to betoken an unlimited clemency and forgiveness on the part of the Government, yet at the same time, it appears to me to be wise and statesmanlike in the highest degree. This Bill has nothing to do with what we hear of so frequently, what at least is so frequently stated on country platforms—that this Government governs by coercion, and by coercion alone. To me this Bill seems a proof to the contrary. If this Government governs by coercion, and by coercion alone, now is the time to prove it, and I hope that noble Lords in this House who entertain that opinion will show us how it is that Her Majesty's Government is displaying here any want of conciliation towards Ireland. I myself give the most thorough and honest support to this Bill. I support it because I believe it is a most statesmanlike measure in the interests of Ireland viewed from an Imperial point of view. I daresay we have not heard the last of the difficulties of Irish landlords. I am afraid that may be so; but this I do say, that from an Imperial point of view and with reference to the position of Ireland in the Empire, this Government has taken a most wise and 1534 a most statesmanlike step; and that if the Government will only persevere in the course upon which they have entered, if they will continue to enforce law and order, and if they will also continue to deal with Ireland in the way in which they have dealt with Ireland in this Bill, I am confident that unless Irish human nature is entirely different from human nature in every other part of the world, Her Majesty's Government will create and foster a state of feeling in Ireland far more honest, far more tranquil, and far more loyal than has been for a long time the state of feeling prevalent in that country.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, before I enter upon the subject of the Debate I must, with the noble Earl opposite who introduced the Bill express their regret that my noble Friend, Lord Spencer, is not here to-night. However your Lordships may differ from my noble Friend on questions of Irish policy, I am sure you would have been glad to hear him upon this Bill, and for my own part I regret that I am to a great extent obliged to take his place. With regard to what has been said by my noble Friend who has just sat down, I desire to avoid discussion of the Plan of Campaign, not because I am afraid to repeat what I have said on the subject, as I have said before on previous occasions, but because I think it is extremely desirable that we should as far as possible in discussing this Bill, avoid subjects of controversy which will not advance what we all desire—the passing of this Bill in the best possible shape. That will be my apology for not entering upon any discussion of the Plan of Campaign; but, anticipating what I should have to say later with regard to Clause 12, I would remind my noble Friend, with regard to Clause 12, that there are tenants in Ireland who have been evicted besides those who have been evicted because of the Plan of Campaign, and the clause applies to all tenants alike. That I regard as a wise and graceful concession on the part of the Government. Before I touch upon the Bill itself I think it is only due to my noble Friend, the Duke of Argyll, who spoke last night, to notice some of the considerations which he placed before the House. His speech was of a very general nature, but still it opened up questions of great moment, 1535 questions which no doubt affect the principle of all legislation of this kind. I am almost tempted to say that at the present time my noble Friend is probably the only person who does not desire to see the creation of a peasant proprietary in Ireland. I think it is universally agreed that the whole history of the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland has been such as to render it expedient to abandon the system of dual ownership, and to try in substitution for it a system of freehold proprietors, which they will ultimately be if they purchase tinder this Bill. It is not likely that I, as a landlord, should say that the system of landlord and tenant as it prevails in this country and elsewhere has not many things to recommend it; but, on the other hand, my noble Friend appeared to forget that there are large portions of Europe where a peasant proprietary exists and thrives. I need only mention France, where, no doubt, in portions of that great country there exist landlords and tenants, but where the larger proportion by far of those who occupy and cultivate the land are themselves the freeholders of that land; and I suppose, whatever may be the opinions held as to the advantages of holdings by large as against small farmers, no one will say that to a considerable extent the peasant proprietors of Franco have not been prosperous and thriving. I should be sorry, however, to enter into the history of the relations between landlords and tenants in Ireland. That subject would, I am afraid, awaken angry feelings, and the question could be discussed now with very little profit. I will only make this remark that undoubtedly the attempt to introduce into Ireland such a system of landlords and tenants as exists in England may be said to have failed. There have been many excellent landlords in Ireland inspired with a desire to introduce into Ireland such a system by assisting their tenants in improvements and by consolidating the farms, in fact, by acting upon such a system as we have in England, but taking the country generally that system has not been the rule, and has never taken root. In Ulster, which has been the most prosperous part of the country, a system grew up which certainly could not be compared with the system of landlords and tenants in 1536 England, and no doubt the Ulster custom contains the germ of that dual ownership of which we have heard so much. The whole course of affairs in Ireland has been to create a special, separate, and very large interest peculiar to the tenant, and that being the case, it seems to me it is in no way surprising that the solution now sought is that, as the tenant has such a large interest in the land, the landlord having become to a great extent a mere rent-charger, we should seek to convert the tenant's holding into the holding of a freeholder. I believe that is a wise policy. It is a policy which has been pursued by successive Governments in various Bills ever since the Act of 1870, and I for my own part welcome this measure generally as an indication that both parties are resolved to pursue this policy, and as wishing that this policy should be carried, as it will, I believe, have to be ultimately carried, to its full extent. Now, I think I may say that the objects of a good Land Bill must be threefold—first, to accelerate the conversion of holdings into freeholds; secondly, that in lending money to Ireland for this purpose English credit should run no undue risk, or as little risk as is compatible with the objects we seek; and thirdly—and this seems to me the most important of all the ends in view—we must desire that, as far as possible, the measure should effect, I will not say a final settlement of the question, but such a settlement as may in the future prevent agrarian grievances from aggravating political discontent. If we can succeed in that we shall have taken a long step towards ensuring the prosperity and peace of Ireland. The noble Marl opposite, in the opening sentences of his speech, touched lightly, and in the fair and conciliatory spirit which characterised the whole of his speech, on the differences between this measure and the measure introduced by the Government of which I had the honour to be a Member in 188G. I do not desire to detain your Lordships by entering into an elaborate defence of that Bill, or by making a detailed comparison of the two measures, but as it has been frequently said, and I think the noble Earl opposite said that our measure did not furnish the guarantees and securities which are furnished by this Bill, I will 1537 point out that that statement is certainly open to contradiction. We were of opinion, and are still of opinion, that our measure gave much greater security to the English Treasury than this Bill does, or than probably any other Bill could possibly do again. The noble Earl spoke of a grant being made to an Irish Parliament, but the measure of 1886 was not in any sense a grant to the Irish Government, because the Irish Government had not really the disposal of the money. A much larger sum, no doubt, than is provided by this Bill was to be devoted to the object of purchase in Ireland, and it was to be placed under the control of an Irish authority; they were to issue the money, but your Lordships will remember that our Bill constituted an Imperial Commission, which was to have the power of determining the conditions and all the details of the purchases, and which, therefore, stood between the Irish Government and the Treasury of this country. What was peculiar to the Bill was this: that the Irish authority was to become, in fact, the landlord during the term for which the annuity had to run before the holding became the property of the tenant. There were, as we thought, considerable advantages in that arrangement, because among the other provisions of the Bill was one which gave to the Irish authority this special advantage and interest in collecting the money. The instalments to be paid to the British Treasury were calculated upon the not rent, the instalments which the Irish Government were to collect from the tenants by the terms of the agreements for land purchase were to be calculated upon the gross: the result of which was that the Irish Government would have had a strong pecuniary interest in collecting the rents fully and punctually. It seems to me impossible to conceive a more perfect security than was provided, because it was a security based upon the whole of that large sum of money, which, if the measure for Home Rule had passed, must have been paid over as the share of Ireland of the Imperial revenue. If the Irish Government made default in paying over the sum due for the interest of money advanced for the purpose of land purchase, any portion of the money due to them might have been withheld. I will not pursue the matter any further, as I only 1538 wished to point out that it was our opinion then, and it is now, that the securities taken for the British Treasury under that Bill were as ample and as large as I believe could possibly be devised. Now, let me say a word as to the mode in which this Bill has dealt with this very important question of guarantees. I admit fully, as I suppose every one who has examined the Bill will admit, the extraordinary ingenuity and, I will say, fertility of resource, displayed in devising guarantees under the Hill. It is quite an exhaustive list of possible guarantees, and in that sense the measure may be said to be satisfactory; but, for my part, I cannot help thinking that the attempt to fall back upon the contingent guarantees, if ever they have to be called into play, will be attended with considerable embarrassment. No doubt it may be said that the withholding of the various sums due from the British Treasury under the clause resembles very much the withholding of the money under the Bill we introduced. I admit the similarity, but, at the same time, your Lordships will observe that in that ease the Irish Government would have had to provide out of the general resources of the country what might have been necessary in consequence of their default, whereas under this Bill you will have the Lord Lieutenant acting directly as the organ of the Government at home, who will have to call upon each particular county to make up any deficit in that county, and that will bring home in a very unpleasant manner, indeed, to the cess-payers in the county the inequality of the position which the two classes of tenants will hold in relation to the levy which is made upon them. I mean in this way: that tenants who have not been able to purchase, in consequence of their landlords not having been willing to sell, and tenants who have purchased and made no default will all be obliged to contribute transactions from which they have derived no benefit—they will have to make up indiscriminately for any default; so that the tax will fall upon those who have not been able to purchase, and it will be felt by those landlords themselves who have not sold. I admit that there are extreme difficulties in devising guarantees, but I cannot help fearing that in practical working some of these will fail, however 1539 plausible they may look on paper, and that it may be found very difficult hereafter to enforce this clause without causing widespread discontent among those who will have to pay. But I do not wish to press that matter further. I nope it may turnout that these guarantees may not have to be used, but if they are used, I think the consequences will be extremely unfortunate for this country should the guarantees, other than the Contingent Guarantees, prove insufficient. On the question of accelerating the conversion of holdings into freeholds, we had a very interesting and acute criticism from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Water-ford), and I think he showed clearly that there is considerable danger lest under the Bill the purchase operations should not be by any means as rapid and extensive as we all desire. Lord Water-ford, at the commencement of his speech, spoke with very great favour of this Bill, but later on he said such were the provisions of the Bill that they would deter landlords from selling and tenants from buying.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I think the noble Marquess carried his criticism tolerably far, and if the provisions of the Bill are such as to have anything like the effect which he fears, I think we should all be disposed to expect that the Bill would be a failure. While, however, I think the noble Marquess's criticisms well worthy of attention, I by no means go so far as he did in finding fault with the Bill. It seems to me that the 7th clause, providing aid in cases of exceptional calamity from the Purchasers' Insurance and from the Reserve Fund, contains in it the germs of considerable obstacles to the working of this Bill; and I should like to put before the House for a few moments an illustration of what the working of it would be. I will take an imaginary case. Before I proceed to the case I am about to quote, I will say this: your Lordships are of course aware that there are in Ireland a number of holdings which will not be sufficient security, or very good security, for the money to be advanced. The Land Commissioners have felt obliged in a number of cases to refuse to advance the money which has been 1540 asked for in order to effect purchases, because they have not considered the security offered by the holding sufficient to justify them in doing so. Take the case of a holding at £50 a year. Assuming it to sell at 17 years purchase, which is by no means a very low rate, the purchase money would be £850, and the annual instalment would be £34 in ordinary conditions. Now, observe what must happen. It would be absolutely essential that £40 a year should be paid for the first five years. That cannot be avoided under the clause. But, supposing that the Land Commissioners considered the security insufficient to justify them in sanctioning an advance of £850 at 17 years' purchase, but that they would be willing to sanction say an advance of £700, and that the landlord and tenant, under all the circumstances—the landlord looking, perhaps, at the chance of selling the whole of his estate, or from other considerations—were willing that £700 should be the amount allocated to this holding; notwithstanding that all parties were willing to accept this £700, the four-fifths of gross rent of the holding must be paid for five years. The result of that must obviously be to interpose serious obstacles to dealing with such holdings, and the result may even be to prevent the sale of an entire estate from the want of facilities in dealing with a weak holding. It may be that a tenant will see the advantage he will reap in the future; and that, where this four-fifths of the gross rent has to be paid for five years, the tenant will come to understand that he is thereby providing a store which may hereafter be used in case of distress; but I doubt exceedingly whether Irish tenants generally have arrived at that, degree of thriftiness and foresight: which will make that agreeable to him, and I regret that the provision has found its way into the Bill. I do not think that the additional security for the first five years will counterbalance the undoubted impediment put in the way of carrying out the transactions aimed at by this Bill. There is another point which affects weak holdings—I mean holdings which may not afford very good security—with which the Commissioners may have to deal, and it is this: In Mr. Balfour's Bill of last year there was, as it seems to me, a very valuable provision, 1541 that in any case where the landlord and tenant both desired it, the Commissioners might fix the amount of rent on which the price was to be calculated, whether it was a judicial rent or not; but by this Bill, if the rent be a judicial rent, the Commissioners have no discretion. That seems to me to be unfortunate, because, in some cases, the judicial rents having been fixed in years of greater prosperity than we have had since, both landlord and tenant might be willing to waive the judicial rent in order to facilitate purchase, and I cannot see why the Commissioners should not be allowed a discretion in the matter, as the Bill originally proposed in 1890 that they should have. I come now to the 10th clause, a very important one indeed, which relates to the allocation of the sum available for purchase in proportion to the value of the holdings, and upon that I have not the good fortune to agree with the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Waterford). I think myself that clause is a wise and proper one. It seems to me it would be unfair to deny that there are arguments, and weighty argument, to be used on both sides, and I do not think the arguments against the clause could have been ranch better put than they were by the noble Marquess. I frankly admit that it is dangerous to exclude altogether from the benefits of the Bill a considerable number of the larger tenants, and that they may use their influence to prevent the smaller tenants from purchasing. I also admit that there is this danger which cannot be avoided, that it may, from the action of this clause, be impossible for a landlord to sell the whole of his estate, and he may not be willing to sell it in small patches. Those two arguments have, I think, very considerable weight. For my own part, however, I think the arguments on the other side predominate. This measure, which pledges English credit, was specially designed to benefit the great mass of the poorer and smaller tenants in Ireland, and it would be an unfortunate result if the money advanced by the British Treasury found its way in undue proportion to the larger tenants, while in every county: there were large numbers of the smaller tenants left out of the benefits conferred by the Bill. One speaker last night 1542 alluded to a paper which has been sent round by Mr. Rathbone, a very interesting paper indeed, and I think his conclusions, with a slight correction which I will make, cannot be impugned. He says that under the Ashbourne Act, and there a correction must be made, only one-third of the amount advanced has been applied to the purchase of holdings under £30 rental. I may observe that it has been presented to the House that the correct amount is 39 per cent. Now the holdings under £30 are no less than nine-tenths of the entire holdings in Ireland. If the money to be advanced under this Bill were applied in the same way, the result would be that nearly half of the larger holdings in Ireland would be purchased, while about seven-eighths of the tenants under £30 would receive no benefit from the Bill. It seems to me these figures are really conclusive, and that it is necessary that there should be something in the Bill which should insure that the smaller tenants should receive their full share of the benefits under the Bill. I do not think that the noble Marquess noticed that the clause is not without its safeguards. After all, the clause is not a hard and fast one that cannot in any way be relaxed, but very wisely, I think, there are two powers given of relaxing the clause. One is that whenever the whole of the money available for the larger tenants has been expended in any county, the Lord Lieutenant will have power to relax the stringency of its provisions. He may, by an Order to be laid before Parliament, dispense with this clause and issue further money for the larger tenants. The other power which seems to me directly to meet the objection of the noble Marquess as to the sale of an estate in patchwork, is that where it is necessary that for the sale of an estate this clause should be dispensed with as regards the larger tenants, the Lord Lieutenant will have the power to do so. With those two safeguards I think this is a very wise and right provision, and that we should at all events make an experiment with the clause. I do not say that it may not possibly be necessary hereafter to provide some variations in the direction of enabling the larger tenants to sell, but at all events at present with the experience 1543 we have of the working of the Ashbourne Acts, and with the knowledge we have of the vast number of these small holdings in Ireland, it is a wise provision to make with regard to dealing with holdings above and below £50. The noble Marquess referred to another provision which I think well deserves mention; it is, I think, a subsection of the 7th clause, which he called "the calamity clause." I certainly think that the introduction of the clause into the Bill was unavoidable, but for all that the dangers which may arise under it in the case of great agricultural distress will be very considerable. Now, that brings me to a point upon which I feel very strongly, namely, that this Bill, differing in that from the Bill introduced by the Government of which I was a Member, makes the tenant during the whole of these 49 years in point of fact the direct tenant of the English Government. That seems to me to be a serious and really grave danger, and the introduction of this clause with regard to the possible remission of the sums due in case of agricultural calamity brings you at once face to face with it. To some extent the position of the smaller Irish tenants towards the British Government will be similar to that of the Indian ryots towards the Indian Government. We know from our experience of India what has taken place there. I am well aware of it from ray own experience. What is called revenue—equivalent to rent—is due to the Government in a great part of India directly from the ryots every year, and is recoverable under the strictest powers; but when such a calamity as famine occurs the Government finds it absolutely impossible to recover those rents, and they have to strike off the Government books the sums due as revenue from the distressed districts. In like manner if you consider, even apart from such a calamity as a potato famine, that agricultural distress in Ireland, from time to time, falls hardly upon the smaller Irish tenants, does it not occur to your Lordships that it will be almost impossible for the Government of the day to resist the pressure that will be brought to bear upon them from many quarters in favour of those tenants? Your Lordships must remember, and I 1544 am not disposed to shut my eyes to the danger, that it will be a popular thing for Irish Members to press upon the Government of the day the needs, and certainly in some cases the just needs, of their constituents. Is there not a serious danger that under this clause the Government of this country may find itself in collision with a vast number of its tenants, and that we may be involved in difficulties of a character and extent which we have not yet seen even in Ireland? My Lords, I do not know that I have any other serious criticism to make upon the Bill. Your Lordships will have easily gathered that I am far from opposed to this Bill. On the contrary, I have not taken the view which was taken by so many persons in this country at the time of the last elections, that it is wrong to pledge English credit for the purpose of such a Bill as this, facilitating land purchase in Ireland. On the contrary, looking at the whole past history of that country, looking at the course of land legislation since 1870, and to the real necessity for the removal of agricultural discontent by means of some large system of land purchase, I say for all those causes I believe that English credit can never be more legitimately employed than for such a purpose as this Bill contemplates. Ireland is the weaker country; Ireland is a country which has suffered from many calamities; Ireland is a country which all Parties in the State desire to see relieved from agricultural discontent, and if possible from political grievances. Therefore it is that I think this measure is a step in the right direction, and I believe that that must be the opinion of those who desire to see Ireland relieved from permanent agrarian discontent. Your Lordships, however, will not be surprised when I say that what I lament, though I know such an opinion may not find many supporters in this House, is that this legislation does not form part of a general settlement of the Irish question. And I am afraid that, as has been the case with so many other measures that have been adopted by this country with the best intentions towards Ireland, it will be found that the boon conferred by the measure will be deprived of half its effect by our fearing to take the whole of the steps which I believe to be necessary, and which we shall ultimately be 1545 obliged to take. For those reasons I adhere to the opinion which I held in 1886—and I will say but this one word on the subject that a political settlement, which would have placed an Irish authority in immediate connection with a measure of this kind, which would have enabled the Irish authority to carry into effect its provisions, and would have made that the authority with which the tenants in Ireland would have had directly to deal, would have had a more healing effect than the measure now before us. But, at the same time, I acknowledge, and freely acknowledge, though I regret the noble Lords opposite do not entertain the views upon the subject which I entertain, that they have introduced a measure which is intended to benefit Ireland, which, though there are some defects in it, I believe will benefit Ireland, and which will pave the way to measures which must ultimately transfer nearly the whole soil of Ireland to the tenants of the country. My ardent hope is that when that shall occur there may be a new leaf turned over in this history, and that these poor Irish tenants may become useful and thrifty and loyal subjects of the Queen. But, at the same time, we must not shut our eyes to this, that we are practically eliminating the landlord class from Ireland, and that whatever faults we may have had to find with the general body of Irish landlords, there were many among them who have deserved well of their country.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
My Lords, it is, I am sure, matter of congratulation to all your Lordships that the criticisms on this very important Bill have been presented to this House in such an admirable spirit, that it has been so moderately and temperately discussed by the noble Earl who has just sat down, and by other noble Lords who have taken part in the Debate. It is obviously impossible for us to approach the consideration of any great scheme like this without having a largo regard to the special requirements of Ireland, without having present to one's mind the whole circumstances of that country and its history, and without having also considerable knowledge and all the legislation or attempted legislation connected with proposals similar to the present. It is obvious, and 1546 it has been proved to the minds of every one of your Lordships who have been present here both yesterday and to-day, that it is impossible to draw such a measure upon abstract lines or ideas, or to expect anything like the ideal of perfection in the legislation suggested, and I think that the true way of looking at it is as one dealing with the great question of the Irish land, and in that view I think that it is as good a Bill as can be produced and be expected to pass, dealing with an important and difficult question like that of Land Purchase in Ireland. The whole history of Ireland shows that the agrarian question lies at the root of the whole difficulty of the administrative government of the country. It is obvious, it has been proved to the minds of every statesman who has applied himself to the consideration of Irish affairs for many a long day, that, if we want to strike at the root of the agrarian difficulty, the way to grapple with it, to deal with it in a way which would be consistent with justice and the sympathies and interests of the people, is to approach it with a desire to increase the number of occupying owners through the agency of purchase. It is now admitted by every one who has studied the subject, that the only way of dealing with the purchase problem is by the application of Imperial credit. These are elementary topics—these are the primary considerations of the question—and really it would not be necessary to refer to them but for some controversy that has arisen, not in your Lordships' House, but elsewhere. The noble Duke who made so interesting and attractive a speech yesterday evening, alluded to the circumstance that Lord Waterford had let fall the expression of "buying out the landlords." I do not think that my noble Friend meant to conveys that he desired the removal of the Irish landlords, or that that was a policy which was expedient for us to pursue. I do not consider that under the operation of the provisions of this Bill, as presented to your notice, and as thy will be found on a calm consideration, they will lead to the removal of the Irish landlords. I would venture to hope that many of the Irish landlords, long after this Bill is passed, will find it consistent, not only with their tastes and associations, but also with their direct pecuniary 1547 interests, to remain in their homes, surrounded by the farms and domains, which they cultivate. I hope that their relations will not be unfriendly with the new class of owners, and that they will find their relations assuming that old kindliness which prevailed until recent years between Irish landlords and their tenants. For myself, I should regard it with much regret if a great measure of this kind should lead to the removal of a. large and influential class like the Irish landlords. Now, all parties who have approached this question have done so practically from the same point of view. They have all recognised that a wide measure of purchase is not only desirable, but essential. They have also recognised that Imperial credit is necessary. The question has never been approached by any responsible statesman in living memory, from any other point of view. The first name connected with this policy, as we all know, is the great and illustrious name of John Bright. Mr. Bright advocated this question earnestly and eloquently over 20 years ago. What was proposed in his day was only two-thirds of the purchase-money. That was thought sufficient liberality, but it was found that with even that liberal advance under the Bill of 1870 the number of tenants who came in was only 900. Later on the Government of Mr. Gladstone in 1881 advanced their proposals; being earnestly desirous that there should be a satisfactory settlement of the question, they approached it in no niggardly or ungenerous spirit. They desired, I have no doubt loyally and with statesmanlike earnestness, to achieve success, and with that view they proposed to increase the amount advanced from two-thirds to three-fourths. That was very large progress, and yet, my Lords, it was found that it was not a success, for the number of the purchasers under that wide measure of purchase did not reach more than 700. These are small figures, and they showed us the difficulty of grappling with this question and of operating on the Irish mind. They showed us the necessity of approaching the question with a full knowledge of the difficulties, and in a determined spirit to cope with those difficulties if we desire to make our measure a success. The measure of 1881 has been criticised—I do not 1548 propose myself to criticise it—in this Debate in a few happy and masterful sentences by Lord Waterford and by the noble Duke, but I will remind your Lordships of this: that Lord Hartington, who was a very powerful and active Member of Mr. Gladstone's Government, shortly after that Bill passed, used an expression which has become historic in regard to this question of land purchase in Ireland. The controversy was not directed to the purchase clauses. They were passed with every desire that they should work, but Lord Hartington, in reference to the whole controversy, said—That he looked upon the fair-rent clauses' which were then being fought so keenly, resolutely, and vigorously, as supplying a mere modus vivendi,—that was his expression—while an achievement was being gradually worked out which all statesmen on his side of the House and many on the other side regarded as the goal which should be sought for.That was the position of things in 1881. A further development obviously became necessary, and the result was that in 1885 the Bill with which your Lordships are familiar was introduced into this House. That Bill proceeded on some very obvious considerations, which would suggest themselves to anybody. It proposed that the whole of the purchase-money should be advanced to the tenant where two-thirds, and even three-fourths, had been found ineffectual. That was the remaining step, and it was taken, and the whole advance was made. It was the great overlying governing principle which was felt to be necessary to lay the foundation of success. There was provided this safeguard: It was assumed, and experience has shown that the assumption was correct, that the Irish tenants, trusted with an advance of public money to make them owners of their holdings, would be honest, and they have shown that they can be honest. It was proposed that a portion—one-fifth—of the landlord's money should be retained, and the whole liability of the tenant was made to last for a period not exceeding 49 years. I have told your Lordships the figures as to purchase under the Bright Clauses of the Act of 1870 and the purchase clauses of the Act of 1881. Under the Act of 1885 the magnitude of the 1549 operations is shown by the fact that the purchases exceed 20,000 in number. That shows that the new departure and the further development have been successful, and how necessary it is to retain in this Bill the main and essential principle of the Act of 1885. It was a popular Bill in Ireland for obvious reasons. The elegant simplicity of an advance of the whole of the purchase-money—public money for Irish purposes—commended itself to the sense of justice which is in every Irishman's breast, and I venture to assure your Lordships that as an Irishman I share in that noble Instinct. On behalf of my countrymen, I may point this out: that the tenants of Ireland have paid back the money with splendid accuracy and precision, as was pointed out by Lord Londonderry last night. I think that of all the money which has become payable, only £2,000 remains due. Now, in this Bill, in addition to the one-fifth wisely retained, there are other securities for safeguarding the taxpayers' money. We first gave £5,000,000, and then £5,000,000 more, and then it became obvious, from public opinion and opinion in Parliament and out of Parliament, that the country was not prepared to advance further money in the same way; and therefore it was necessary, if we made fresh and larger financial proposals, to have further safeguards. Thus it is that in the present Bill we have proposals elaborately and carefully framed, but, as I venture to think, perfectly intelligible and open, in order to safeguard the Treasury in every possible aspect of the question; and I believe that it is absolutely capable of demonstration that although English credit is pledged, and necessarily pledged, it is pledged without an atom or particle of risk. The Bill has passed through the other House under the guidance of the Chief Secretary with an ability and resource which everyone recognises, and which was only to be expected from one who has a great mastery of affairs, and it has been presented to your Lordships' notice with singular clearness and force by the Lord Privy Seal. Your Lordships have heard criticisms from the Irish landlords' point of view in a speech of great power, and you have heard the criticisms from the noble Earl who has just sat down. What do these criticisms come to? I 1550 fear it would not be possible, even with the most perfect draftsmanship, to submit a Bill to your Lordships which would not be capable of being criticised. Has not this Bill stood the ordeal of public criticism? It is an important Bill, dealing with one of the vastest subjects connected with Irish life, necessarily made up in large measure of check and re-check and every form of safeguard that can be devised for the protection of the English Treasury; and I appeal to your Lordships whether you have ever known any Bill of such intricacy that has better stood the ordeal of public criticism. There has never been a suggestion of any other Bill that at the present time of day would have a chance of passing through both Houses of Parliament, and with a. chance of working. The noble Earl has referred to the Bill of 1886. I do not intend to discuss that measure; it is a measure that has not passed, and never will pass. I have to remind the noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) of one little incident of the Bill which he unkindly left out in the cold, namely, that under it the State was to become the direct landlord of the countless tenants in Ireland.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
The Irish Government would have become their landlord! I will not dwell on the interruption, though it is rather an inviting one. The noble Earl pointed out, though I was not much taken by the statement, that the contingent guarantee might lead to embarrassment. No doubt the contingent guarantee, if it came to be called upon, might cause disagreeable feelings to those who might be called upon to pay—I do not know any form of guarantee yet invented that does not cause disagreeable feelings when it is exacted; but having regard to the experience of the existing Act of Parliament and to the other safeguards, it is to the last degree improbable that under any circumstances any part of the contingent guarantee will be applied for. The contingent guarantee cannot be touched until the last of the cash guarantee is exhausted, and if it is applied for and made available at all it is obvious that it must be to a very slender extent, and there is every desire 1551 to work it out in the way that will cause the least possible inconvenience. There is one point which the noble Earl touched upon in the closing portion of his speech—and he did it so delicately and kindly that one hardly likes to offer any criticism upon it—that the effect of the measure would have been happier if an Irish authority had been worked into the business. The noble Earl prefers an Irish authority to work the Bill. Well, there is no accounting for tastes, but, at any rats, there is no prospect of an Irish authority being set up for—shall I say?—an indefinite period. If, therefore, you want to pass a Bill now on this great question which is to work, I say it must be such a measure as this, which is, on the whole, as sound and good a Bill as can be devised. I think the noble Earl might have said a word about the congested districts. I think that part of the Bill Mr. Balfour has every right to be proud of.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND
It is the first serious effort of statesmanship applied to Irish affairs that has sought to deal with the congested districts otherwise than by the in hospitable policy of emigration. That is a part of the Bill which is of the highest importance. It provides capable machinery and sufficient pecuniary resources, and I most earnestly hope and believe that it will be attended with the very best possible results for those parts of Ireland that most need assistance. Lord Waterford, whose speech yesterday was marked by such power and incisive criticism, spoke with great fairness and favour of the Bill as a whole, and that was only to be expected from one who has so great a mastery of the subject as my noble Friend. Practically, I may say, his criticisms come down to two, and two only. The first has reference to the tenants' insurance clause, which requires the tenant to pay for the first five years, if he purchases at less than 20 years' purchase, 80 per cent. of the original rent. I think my noble Friend, in his observations in introducing the Bill, was under a misconception when he spoke of this part of the scheme as complex. So far as the direct dealings of landlord and tenant are concerned, the 1552 procedure under this Bill will be just as simple and intelligible as at present. The landlord on the surface can know what he is doing; so can the tenant. There is no room for doubt as to the bargain which each is entering into. I beg to submit that consideration to the noble Lord and to other noble Lords who come from Ireland, and are closely interested in Irish affairs. It is of the utmost importance that the two parties should know every turn of each other's mind. As between the landlord and tenant there is no room for complication, doubt, or uncertainty. The only suggestion of matters of complexity is when you conic to deal with the checks that are provided to safeguard the British and Irish taxpayer against the possibility even of any chance of loss. My noble Friend the Marquess of Waterford says that this provision that the tenant is to pay not less than 80 per cent. of the original rent for the first five years will prevent the working of the Bill, and the noble Earl, using a grander phrase, said it would avoid accelerating the Bill. But I suppose both expressions mean very much the same thing: one is perhaps the more direct and Irish way of putting it, the other is the more polished expression which is to be expected from a gentleman holding the official position of the noble Earl. Well, this all rests, if I may venture to say so, on assertion and on prophecy, and I would venture to hope that the prophecy will not be found afterwards to eventuate in any successful achievement in the future. It must be borne in mind, as was pointed out by Mr. Balfour more than once in the Debates in the House of Commons, that the position of the tenant, even with this check for the first five years, is so favourable that it is difficult to conceive that a great many tenants, at all events, will not be most desirous to get the benefits of the Bill, even with this clause in it. What are the benefits? There is the solid advantage of an immediate reduction of 20 per cent. on the rent. He begins by getting a 20 per cent. reduction, and it is obvious that in consequence of paying so much at the beginning he will get a much greater reduction at the end of five years. But there is another advantage. It has been pointed out as one of the possible inconveniences 1553 of this plan of land purchase that if you put a successful purchaser in a very prosperous condition beside a property which has not been purchased you will cause great discontent and dissatisfaction. The fact that this increased payment has to be made for the first five years will prevent, for that time, at all events, any sharp and painful contrast, and enable the matter to become more a question of debate and to be more closely examined, so that they will see what this extra payment is. When they understand the question they will see the force of what is really being done. Its name is given in the margin of the Bill. I think it is called a tenant's insurance. He is not asked to pay more for anybody else—not for the State, not for the landlord, not for others. He is asked to pay higher than he would under a normal operation for the first five years to make an insurance fund for himself, and that is worked off in this way—that it will be competent for a tenant, if exceptional circumstances should prevent him from paying a substantial part of the instalment, to ask that part of this insurance money shall be applied in his own relief. That is a provision which the Irish tenant understands; and any landlord knows perfectly well that the Irish tenants are fully alive to the possibility of what are called "rainy days." But suppose that they had not exceptionally to ask for assistance. Then at the end of the time they would get the whole benefit of the fund. Therefore every farthing will go to the benefit of the tenant, either as insurance from risk for the first five years, or as a substantial reduction of his later payments. Then it has been said that this fund will weaken the punctuality which the Irish tenants have so far shown in paying their instalments. Is that so? The insurance fund, never a very large sum, is the tenant's own; he has a moderate control over it; if he can satisfy the Commissioners that the circumstances are exceptional he can derive assistance from it, but he can never go beyond the amount of the insurance fund. The other matter of exceptional distress has nothing to do with the insurance fund; that has reference to the reserve fund, and it will be found that a different mechanism has to be applied. The locality has to be considered, 1554 and independent public authority has to consider whether, under all the circumstances of exceptional distress, it deserves special consideration. But there is no remission of the amount payable by the tenants. An advance may; be made to meet the exceptional state of things out of the reserve fund to enable the instalments pro hâc vice to be paid, and then the amount so advanced is to be added on to the instalments payable upon the holding. This will show at once the care that is taken throughout the Bill to indicate to the tenants that, whether the circumstances are simply exceptional, or whether there is exceptional distress, they are not getting out of one farthing of their obligations. They will see by the provisions all through the Bill that honesty is their best policy. It must be remembered that if there are any advances out of the insurance fund or the reserve fund, these funds must be restored at the first moment to their normal amount. Several noble Lords noticed the clause which provides that a discrimination shall be made between holdings above and those below £50. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley) referred in his speech to a detail which must be looked into. I am sure that everything he has said will be carefully put down and duly weighed. He said that there was a difference made in regard to rents, that the authorities were given powers where the rents were not limited to one class of rent, but going over all rents, and that that would give some elasticity to this clause. The Marquess of Waterford was against this discrimination, and so was the Marquess of Londonderry. The teaching of experience shows that in the working of the existing purchase legislation a great proportion of the money has gone to the larger class of holdings. Of course, this clause was directed, I think with a wise and a high policy, recognising the teachings of experience, to give the smaller tenants all the benefit possible. Although it was in the past, as it would be in the future, competent to the poorer tenants equally with the wealthier ones to agree with their landlords to sell to them, yet experience has shown that the more wealthy tenants could go into-the market and make their arrangements, and it was thought desirable to be cautious and to safeguard the money 1555 available so as to give every possible chance and opportunity to those tenants who were under the £50 line to get all possible benefit from the system of land purchase. I think that is a fair, reasonable, and wise policy. This clause has been drawn with great caution and with every desire to show that a hard and fast line has not been laid down. Its elasticity has been shown by the noble Earl. It is plainly indicated that, if a sale is dependent on width of view in regarding the transaction, there is no desire to apply a harsh construction of the terms of the Bill. Then, too, a wider power is given to the Lord Lieutenant on consideration to permit operations. The Marquess of Londonderry in his too short criticism yesterday made a suggestion that if the clause stood as it was, and if it were found by experience that the money for the tenants under £50 was not used up, the Government might consider Amendments to allow the unused money to be utilised by the tenants above the £50 line. If that Amendment is put on the Paper it will be considered very carefully. The Marquess of Waterford presented figures with very great force, making a contrast between Connaught, Leinster, and Munster, of the sums which would be given under the Bill as at present drawn to the tenants above and the tenants below the £50 line. The modification which the noble Marquess proposed was to disregard the number of holders, to group all the valuations together, and contrast the valuations, as a whole, over £50 with the valuations, as a whole, under £50. Of course, all Amendments from the noble Marquess or other noble Lords which may be placed on the Paper for the Committee stage will receive the most careful consideration. A speech was made at the close of the Debate yesterday by Viscount de Vesci, and the noble Lord asked a question about the clauses which were dropped in the other House. He wanted to know whether it was intended to go on with those clauses. Of course the fact that they were dropped for a sufficient reason indicates that they are not to be persevered with here. Those clauses, which were opposed, contained the wishes and views of the Government. Some of them have found their way into the Bill as it stands at 1556 present, but it will be obvious that they cannot be introduced to any large extent in your Lordships' House. At this time of the year it would be impossible to send the Bill back to the other House with any additions to a large extent. If I have left out anything in my criticisms upon the speeches of the noble Lords who have addressed the House, I regret it. I have intended to notice all the topics which have been presented for your Lordships' consideration. In conclusion, let me say that this Bill is regarded by the Government, and by all persons who have considered the subject, as one of the highest possible importance. It is a measure presented with the earnest desire to have it considered fairly and reasonably, on its merits; and it has been presented in no aggressive or Party spirit whatever. The speech of my noble Friend in introducing the Bill to your Lordships was, I think, a model both of fairness and clearness; and the noble Earl opposite has not departed from that line. Speaking for myself, I believe that this is a good Bill, and a Bill that is wisely framed. It is eminently calculated to work; and, further, it is a Bill which, when it is passed, will substantially and rapidly add to the peace, contentment, and development of Ireland.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
I intend to trouble your Lordships with but a few observations on this Bill. If the object of the Bill, and the only result likely to ensue from it, wore to gratify the noble instinct, which my noble and learned Friend opposite shares with his countrymen, to acquire as much British money as they can lay their hands on——
§ LORD HERSCHELL
No doubt—even with that modification, I should take very little interest in the measure. I should feel equally little interest in it if its object were only to put money in the pockets of the Irish landlords. If that were the only object to be gained by such a Bill, I, for one, have no disposition to see money flowing in that direction, and I should not think that Parliament ought to intervene to provide money for such a purpose. But, although that may be an incidental result of the working of this Bill, yet undoubtedly it must have 1557 other results in view; and it is impossible to consider it fairly without having regard to the social condition of Ireland; to the relations of those who are interested, as landlords and tenants, in the land of their country; and to the sentiments of Irishmen on this subject; and I will add without having regard to the obligations imposed on us by the past legislation of Parliament. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) yesterday took a rapid review of the agrarian legislation which had been passed since the Encumbered Estates Act. He said, and I quite agree with him, that the result of contemplating that legislation and its effects must be to all of us a melancholy one. It has undoubtedly shown that, with the best possible intentions, and with every desire from time to time to pass into law such legislation as was thought best calculated to settle agrarian difficulties and produce peace and contentment, we seem to-day to be admittedly far from that goal, and some of our steps were confessedly not in the right direction. The noble Duke near me, indeed, drew a line apparently at the year 1881, and whilst he admitted that the legislation prior to that date had been beneficial, or, at all events, could be justified in principle, he appeared to contend that then there came a chasm, that principles disastrous and destructive were introduced in the Act of that year, necessitating the Act of 1887 and the measure now before your Lordships. I am not going into that question, although it seems to me that a review of the legislation that has taken place, if impartially considered, must lead to the conclusion that the Act of 1881 or some such measure was an absolute necessity, and that the Bill of 1881 was just as much the natural development and sequence to the Bill of 1870, with which the noble Duke was content, as the Bill of 1887 was the necessary sequel of the Bill of 1881. Although I should no doubt draw from the history of our legislation with regard to Ireland a somewhat different conclusion, I am not going to enter upon it to-day—it is a matter far too difficult and intricate, and it is not immediately germane to the subject we have before us; but I think it must infuse into many minds a doubt whether after all the British Parliament has not shown itself, 1558 in a measure at least, thoroughly incapable from time to time of appreciating the social condition of Ireland, its needs, and the proper remedies to be applied. It seems to me that the very failure, the admitted failure, of the legislation of the British Parliament imposes a duty upon us. It is impossible for us to be satisfied with the present condition of things, which we all admit to be unsound, unhealthy, and productive of discontent and disturbance, without looking for some remedy, and, therefore, I cannot doubt that it was the duty of the Government, or of any Government, if not satisfied at leaving the legislation passed in previous years to work out the cure, to endeavour to provide some remedy. If it believed that some other remedy must be applied, it would not be doing its duty if it did not attempt to find and apply that remedy. One word I should like to say as to the statement that this Bill has for its object the putting an end to dual ownership. I cannot altogether agree with the noble Duke near me that what he calls dual ownership in relation to this matter would necessarily be an evil, that it could not work satisfactorily under certain social conditions; nor do I feel certain that if the condition of things brought about since 1881 could have been brought about 40 years before, it might not, have proved a success, whereas in 1881 it came too late. I am not going to argue it now; but all must admit that that which might be a remedy at an early stage or in an early condition of a disease may cease to be an adequate means of cure when the disease has greatly progressed and become more and more acute. I merely put that suggestion to your Lordships, because, for my own part, I should not like to admit that the creation of such relations as were then created would necessarily, under all circumstances, be evil in their effect or unsuccessful in their working. Now, my Lords, can any one doubt that if by a magician's wand you could to-morrow turn the great mass of tenants in Ireland into occupying owners, you would produce thereby a vast change in the condition of Ireland in the direction of promoting contentment, peace, and social order? Of course, we have no such speedy means of bringing about such a result as that, 1559 but if that is a change which all would feel to be beneficial, it is only possible, with our limited powers, to bring it about by some legislative process such as is here attempted. I think in that lies the justification of a measure of land purchase. It cannot be doubted that first of all it is a mischief that property should be insecure. I think all will agree that, whatever be the description of property, there is an evil effect in insecurity of any class of property permitted by law. On the other hand, it is equally difficult to deny that when you have clashing interests, it is absolutely impossible to make a property secure, unless you have a large body, a large class of persons interested in the protection of the property. I am certain of this—that you will never secure any kind of property as to which there are conflicting interests and claims, and you will never adjust the relative rights where there are those contentions interests pressing acutely one against another, unless you have a vast number of persons interested in its protection. I do not believe you will ever do it upon abstract principles, however reasonable and right it may be to do it; and I do not think you will ever do it against a largely prevailing sentiment that wrong is done by the effort that you are making to secure it. That is to say, if a large class of persons believe that their rights and interests, where you are dealing with conflicting interests in property, are not duly safeguarded, you will find it very difficult to secure peace and contentment. Therefore, it seems to me that it is and must be expedient, and that it was the duty of the Government to endeavour to largely increase the number of owners of land in Ireland. You have had hitherto a very small number of owners in Ireland, you have had a very large number of tenants, and if you can by means of legislation such as this or in any other way bring about this result—namely, the creation of a large class of owners—you will be likely to get rid of many evils that now exist, and will do much to bring about peace and contentment in the country. It is because the Bid has that object in view that I regard it with satisfaction. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with a detailed criticism of it to-night, because, of course, there will be subsequent 1560 opportunities of dealing with the different points. There are only one or two matters on which I will touch now. The noble and learned Lord who preceded me eulogised very much the form in which the Bill now comes before your Lordships, and in what I am going to say I do not mean to detract in the least from the compliments which have been paid to the Chief Secretary, who has been in charge of the Bill, and who, of course, is in the main responsible for it; but it would be only just to say that the Bill is not now in precisely the same state in which it was introduced, and I must say that I think it has gained by the criticisms passed upon it in the other House, and that the criticisms of the Irish Members have had no small part in the result. My noble and learned Friend opposite (the Lord Chancellor of Ireland) said that my noble Friend (the Earl of Kimberley) behind me did not allude to the important part of the Bill that deals with the congested districts. I can assure him that was only one of those oversights which frequently happen. We frequently sit down without saying something we intended to say, and it often happens that the things one most particularly wishes to say have been omitted from one's speech. There is no doubt, my Lords, that that is a very important and interesting part of the Bill. Of course, it is only in the nature of an experiment, and I quite agree with my noble and learned Friend opposite that it is always extremely dangerous to prophesy as to the effect of any particular legislation, because, as he told my noble Friend Lord Kimberley, "you may prophesy anything." I shall remind him of that dictum some day when I may have again to listen, as I have listened, to prophecies which have fallen from his lips.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
To say off-hand whether or how far they came true would be, I am afraid, a difficult task. Some which I remember have certainly not come true—some possibly have, which is about as much, I think, as any prophet can expect. I think, at any rate, that the Government are to be congratulated upon having made an attempt to deal with this difficult question of congested 1561 districts, and no one will more heartily rejoice if that attempt should prove successful than my noble Friend behind me and myself, and those who think with us. I should like, my Lords, to say one word with regard to the guarantee provisions, because I do not think the criticism of the noble Earl behind me was entirely met by what the noble and learned Lord said. His only answer to the objection of the noble Earl was that it was always unpleasant to be called upon to discharge a guarantee, but ordinarily speaking the person giving a guarantee has some direct personal interest, or some voice upon the question whether he shall give that guarantee or not; whereas in the present case Parliament is imposing a guarantee in which those who may hereafter be affected by it have no direct or immediate voice. What I should like to call attention to is that, however expedient it may be to safeguard the British taxpayer, which I do not dispute, there is a danger in having among your safeguards one which will press directly and immediately on individuals, and be levied upon them at a particular place, and the more so when it is felt that an unjust burden is being imposed. Under the system proposed by this Bill, as I understand it, if the purchasers of land in a particular county are in default, there may be a deficiency which will cause a burden immediately to fall upon that county. There may be a levy for that purpose, and, indeed, if there were not a levy there would have to be some kind of taxation imposed for that purpose. But upon whom would that levy fall? It would fall obviously on all throughout the county. But the persons who may be most anxious to purchase under this Bill, and who are aggrieved because they cannot purchase, because their landlords do not choose to sell, surely will feel very bitterly aggrieved if they are called upon to pay money to guarantee the British Exchequer against the default of the other tenants who have had the good fortune to purchase. That seems to me to be a distinct danger, because you are bringing a levy upon the individuals who have not been able to purchase, without their having received any sort of equivalent, because they had no opportunity of purchasing, that is to say, doing that which has resulted in the default of 1562 others. I do not think that it is a sufficient answer to say that any person who gives a guarantee finds it very unpleasant to be called upon to discharge it. It has been urged that there is no danger of this guarantee being required; but all guarantees are created in view of some danger and some possibility of having to fall back upon that guarantee. I am sure that we all should regret if any feeling of irritation or sense of injustice should he created by the imposition of burdens which are to safeguard the British Exchequer, and I do not suppose that there will be any enthusiasm on the part of the Irish people in favour of such a provision. I do not think their "noble instincts" would respond to a call to that extent. The only other provision of the Bill to which I should like to call attention is the 10th clause. I think that some such clause—in spite of what I admit to be considerable difficulties, and strong objections made to it—is really absolutely necessary when you look at what the object of the Bill is. Let me take an extreme case. Suppose in a particular district or county, or in all the counties, if you like, in Ireland, the whole of the money provided by this Bill went to the large tenants, and none to the smaller tenants, what would be the result? You would have this Imperial guarantee in the Bill, and you would be only turning a very small number of occupying tenants into owners of the land, and leaving the great mass of the tenants in their old position. That would be, of course, to fail in the very object you wish to bring about. I have put there an extreme case merely to test the principle. Therefore, it seems to me in accordance with sound principle to make some such provision. On the other hand, I quite agree that it would be inexpedient to tie the bonds too tight, and therefore there are provisions enabling the Land Commission—where it would impede the sale of the smaller as well as larger holdings, and so the disposal of the whole estate, to adhere to this rigid rule—to depart from it, and make relaxations which will enable the whole estate to be sold. In addition to that, there is a wider provision for relaxation, without that express limitation of course, vested in the Lord Lieutenant. I cannot help thinking that this clause is likely to 1563 work well, and that it will not have those mischievous effects which some noble Lords have predicted. I hope that in my criticism I have not departed from the spirit in which those who preceded me have spoken. In conclusion, I would only say that if I shared in the belief which has been expressed—that the agrarian difficulty was the only difficulty in Ireland, and that to settle the agrarian difficulty would be to settle the whole Irish question—I should regard this Bill with more enthusiasm than is the case, entertaining as I do a conviction of a different character. I am not going to enter upon the question of who is right or who is wrong in that matter; I own that I should be willing to see and to be a party to a larger measure, and one which would impose even greater risks in connection with the British Exchequer, if I could think that it were part of a scheme which would settle the whole Irish question, though I admit that it is right and proper to endeavour to settle the agrarian question. This, at least, I can honestly say—that, in so far as this measure is successful and leads to contentment and peace, frees the country from disturbance and disorder, settles men's minds and calms their passions, and brings about a better state of feeling, no one will rejoice more heartily than I do.
§ *THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I listened with sincere admiration and with partial agreement to the powerful and eloquent speech delivered last night by the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll). I do not propose to follow his example by going into the past history of the Irish land question, or into a defence of the land system generally. If I were to indulge in retrospective criticism at all, it would only be to say this—that, so far as I have ever been able to learn, the real origin of Irish agrarian troubles has been far less in greediness on the one hand, or dishonestly on the other, than in the careless, easy-going, happy-go-lucky fashion in which for many generations tenants and landlords lived together in Ireland, without any attempt to fix or define their mutual obligations and rights. In the last century, over a large part of the country, estate were habitually let out to middlemen who did not pay a very high rent, but saved the landlord trouble. The 1564 middleman having only a terminable interest, cared nothing for what happened to the estates when his term expired, and consequently over large parts of the country the land was sub-let to a class of tenants little removed from paupers, and a great amount of mischief was done, which even to this day it has not been always possible to repair. We are paying the penalty now for evils which not so much the avarice and rapacity as the carelessness and neglect of former generations have brought about. Next, I would say that, however true it may be that we have pursued at different times an inconsistent and contradictory policy, whatever injustice may have been done now to one class and now to another, yet if you take the last 50 years you will find that the patient has suffered less from the differences between his doctors than might reasonably have been expected. Look at the result. We cannot say that the state of things in Ireland in 1890 is altogether satisfactory, but compare it with Ireland in 1840, as far as the condition of the people is concerned, and I will venture to say that no country in Europe has advanced so rapidly. You may ascribe that to what you please; yon may find what fault you will with the Parliamentary action of our time; but still, as a fact, the misery, the wretchedness which all of us can remember, have passed, or are passing away; and, therefore, while I certainly do not contend that we have any right to be proud of the past, so far as Ireland is concerned, I say that we have no cause to despair as to the future. To come to the immediate matter under discussion: there is one difficulty which I feel in defending the principle of this Bill, and that is the very serious one that it is not easy to defend what nobody has seriously attacked. As far as I can gather no one in this House has found fault with the principle upon which this Bill is based. All the objections which have been taken have been objections well worthy of consideration—often important, and perhaps in some cases valid—but they have all been objections taken on separate provisions of the Bill, and not to the general policy upon which it is based. I should have been surprised if it had been otherwise; because, however 1565 large this measure may be, yet in point of magnitude the Bill bears no comparison with the scheme brought forward by Mr. Gladstone in 1886, and I should, therefore, have been surprised if noble Lords behind me who were parties to that scheme had found any fault with the general principle of this measure. They have not done so, and I think it is manifest to all who heard them that their criticisms have been conceived and uttered in a fair and just and temperate spirit. Under these circumstances I almost hesitated to address your Lordships at all, but the policy which we are now adopting for the first time is novel, and, as no doubt great objections have been taken to it on various grounds by various persons outside this House, perhaps some few remarks, on the grounds of those objections, may not be entirely useless. That which has been most strongly urged, and not without force, is the danger, both from an economic and a social point of view in placing the State in the relation of creditor to many thousands of its citizens. It is urged that the lesson of repudiation is easily learned; that private interests and political disaffection will be equally concerned in leading the tenant owners to refuse payment, and that if any large body of them do so refuse, the State is powerless, because they cannot all be evicted. I think that I am stating the argument against the Bill fairly, and I do not deny its weight. But there is an answer to it. In the first place, what is our position now? We have regulated all Irish rents by law, and thereby we have given a double sanction, a double guarantee to those who receive them that they will be protected in their rights by the law. If a general rising against the repayment to the State is considered probable, the same state of feeling would create a general resistance to the payment of private rents and debts. In fact, as we know, it has already done so in many localities, though from various causes, not the least of which is the able administration of the Chief Secretary, the agitation has subsided. In the case of a general movement against the payment of private rent, although the pecuniary interest of the State may not be 1566 as directly concerned, its honour and duty are equally at stake. You cannot hold that so long as the national pocket is not touched it does not matter whether private obligations are observed or not. You are bound to enforce all reasonable contracts; and it is not shown, and cannot be shown, that a promise to pay is less valid in the hands of the Crown than in those of any private person. A general repudiation of debt not successfully resisted by the law would in any case be a dishonour to the State which allowed it, and, to my mind, the case is made very little worse when to that dishonour you add some pecuniary loss. But is any general repudiation to be apprehended? Remember that every year that passes makes the risk less and the position safer. When a purchasing tenant has held only for ten years, he will have already paid 20 per cent. of the value of his holding, and surely he will think twice, whatever pressure may be put upon him, before he runs the risk of losing that deposit and forfeiting his position; and the case is still stronger when you remember that these charges will begin and expire at different times. Tell a man who has wiped out half or nearly the whole of his payments that every debt is to be swept away at once, and it will not be very agreeable to him to hear that his neighbour, who has paid for one or two years only, is to be placed in exactly the same position as himself. Again, though I do not think that gratitude is a very strong factor in politics, or a feeling much to be relied upon, still it is difficult to suppose that political or national animosity will not be, at least, lessened by what is unquestionably an immense concession on the part of England. I put it in this way, if the Irish farmers are fairly well satisfied with the provision that is made for them, they will not rush into any general repudiation with a knowledge of all the trouble that will follow. If they are dissatisfied, they will at least have sense enough, one would suppose, not to adopt a method of showing their discontent, which will inevitably alienate the sympathies of the whole English people, because repudiation is a thing which the English mind can take in, and which cannot be misunderstood. I do not think, then, that there is any serious danger of 1567 a general refusal to repay. Losses in bad times there may be; some, I suppose, must be expected; but, if I understand the system proposed under this Bill, the outgoing tenant has always the power to sell his holding to another who may be better off, and in that case the losses incurred by the failure of the first tenant will be recovered, because they will be a first charge, and, if the outgoing tenant cannot pay, the purchaser will find the money. Now, a good deal has been said outside, and something has been said here, as to the inadequacy of the securities mentioned in the Bill. We are told that you could not withdraw grants for useful public purposes—grants for education, for pauper lunatics, and the like—under any circumstances. But I am not so sure of that. It would be a strong and a harsh measure, no doubt, and one which Parliament would be very unwilling to adopt; but if a whole community or district agreed to withhold from us what its members had previously freely agreed to pay, there would be no injustice in saying to them, "You shall not, until you return to a better mind, have the assistance which we habitually give you." Then it has been argued—and the noble and learned Lord who spoke last used the argument just now—that there is hardship involved in any proposal which throws the whole burden upon a district or county to make up the shortcomings of certain persons in it. Surely that is what continually occurs, and what must occur, because collective responsibility is a necessary incident of civilised society. Take it on a large scale: if a country gets into war, I may think the war rather foolish, but I must pay the war taxes resulting, however much I may disapprove the object. And, coming down to smaller matters, a man may possibly think his County Council or his Borough Council, as the case may be, are spending money foolishly and wastefully, but his thinking so does not save him from contributing to the rate. The case seems to me the same, and the very fact that the County or the District is made liable in this way is to my mind one of the surest means of creating a healthy public opinion in the matter. Men will become acutely conscious of the dishonesty of their neighbours when they find they are called upon to pay for it themselves. Now, my noble and learned 1568 Friend said it would be very hard on a man who wanted to buy, but had not been able to buy, and therefore had derived no benefit from the Act, should have to pay for those who had failed to make good their payments. All one can say as to that is that, if such a man has not succeeded in obtaining the application of the Act to his own case, he has not lost his chance in the future, and his reasonable disappointment would be much more likely to lead him to ask for an extension of the Act than to complain of the liability which he is under. But as far as I can see there is really not much chance or danger of these securities being called into play. If I understand the machinery of the insurance fund—I am not quite sure I do, for it is rather complicated—it ought to be sufficient to make up any ordinary deficit, and it is hardly likely that the other securities will be called into operation. I will not say that the other supplementary safeguards are put there rather for the purpose of creating confidence than with any idea that they will ever be brought into use. I will not say that; but I do say that I think the prospect of their being brought into play is very remote. My noble Friend, Lord Kimberley, undoubtedly made a point when he spoke of the difficulties which might arise in the case of exceptional agricultural distress, which is provided for in one clause of the Bill. He said, and I quite agree with him, that in such a case there would be a pressure to remit rents, that there might be a strong popular feeling on the subject, and that in such a case the Government might be placed in a difficulty. Well, I do not see how we can honestly or fairly deny that, and that seems to me to be the weak point, not only of this Bill, but of every Bill brought in having a similar object. I agree with him as to the danger, but I do not see the efficacy of the remedy which he suggests. My noble Friend, as I understand him, thinks we should be very much safer if between the State which is the creditor and the individual who has to pay some local Irish authority were interposed. I do not think that would make the slightest difference. Everybody would know that the real creditor is the British Government; it is to the British Government that they would appeal.; and it is upon us they 1569 would put the pressure for any relief they might require. Then I come to another criticism of which I think some echo has reached this House. It is further contended that the passage of this Bill will be fatal, or at least dangerous, to the landowners who are not directly affected by it, since, if it succeeds, the tenants throughout the country will press for a share in its advantages. As far as the landlords are concerned, setting aside the land which they keep in their own hands, their parks, domains, woods, and the like; and speaking only of that part which is in the hands of their tenants, I cannot see that they have much to lose. Tenants who have fixity of tenure and free sale are mere debtors; they are not in any sense dependent upon the landlord; they can hardly claim any help from him; and I do not think, apart from any possible money loss, that the loss incurred in parting with an Irish estate, the residence and domain being left untouched, is a loss which any owner would be likely to feel deeply. As regards the price given under the Bill it may be less than the owner would be able to obtain elsewhere, but if it is he is under no obligation to sell. By selling, no doubt he may and he will lose something in the way of income, but he will exchange what is probably one of the worst securities in the world for one of the best, and that change is certainly worth paying for. So far as I know, there has been no inclination on the part of any person sneaking with authority to make this Bill universal and compulsory. What may happen in the future, no one can foresee, but I do not think that because the State helps tenants to buy from willing landlords it follows that the State is in any way pledged to make other landlords to sell against their wish. There may be many persons no doubt who may wish for such an extension of the measure. I do not say it may not come in time, but the very heavy increase of liability on the part of the State, to say nothing of other considerations, will act as a deterrent. Then there is one fact which we cannot overlook, for it hes at the root of the whole question. Unluckily the majority of Irish landowners, as we all know, are owners only in name; it may not be, and generally is not, their own fault, but it 1570 is the fact that their estates are generally owned, in reality, by mortgagees, and in many cases they live upon the narrow margin between what they receive and what they have to pay. When men are in that position, and nobody will deny that the majority of Irish landlords are so situated, it seems to me that for their own sakes and that of the public they should welcome a change, and that the sooner they are helped out of that position the better. I listened with interest, and in the main with agreement, to my noble Friend's praise, or rather his vindication, last night, of the landlord system; but before his ideal can be even imperfectly realised, it is necessary that a landlord should be well-to-do, that his estate should be comparatively unencumbered; that, as a general rule, be should be resident; and that he should be more or less in sympathy with his tenantry. Where these conditions are fulfilled, a tenant will hardly care to buy any more than a landlord will wish to sell. But I am afraid these conditions are not and cannot be fulfilled on the majority of Irish estates. Granted that a good landlord is better to be where he is, there does not seem to me to be any reason why a man, whom poverty has made a bad landlord because he has not the means to fulfil the duties of the position he has inherited, should not be assisted to leave it and go away when he wishes it himself. Then the question has often been raised, and will be raised again, having this measure for a precedent, whether English and Scotch tenants have not the same claim upon the British Treasury as the Irish tenants, whether they will not claim the same kind of assistance. The only answer that need be given is that we will deal with that demand when it arises. We are paying off our old National Debt at a fairly rapid rate, and for my own part I see no objection in principle to using public credit, and even using it largely to help the tenants of Scotch or English landlords. But, in fact, the cases of the two countries are entirely different. English land finds fewer purchasers in many counties now than it did even 20 years ago, and not at the same price, but still it is saleable, and while it is so the necessity for interference does not arise, but no man in his senses would be a buyer of Irish land. Again, 1571 English farms are large by comparison with those of Ireland, and as a rule, though not invariably, the tenants do not belong to the class whom this Bill is intended to help in Ireland. We have to remember farther that Ireland has a special claim upon us, because it has been the subject of so much conflicting and sometimes violent legislation. It is perfectly true, as we were told yesterday, that we swept away one class of owners by the Encumbered Estates Act; that we deprived their successors of some of their legal rights in 1870, and of more in 1881. I am not referring to these matters controversially; I only state them as facts. There has been no such violent interference with English or Scotch property at any time, and therefore, there is not the same claim to relief. The chief risk incurred by the creation of these new proprietors is the risk that they will not cultivate the land themselves, but that they will follow the old Irish fashion and sublet or subdivide it. I cannot say that that apprehension is altogether unfounded. During the last 50 years Irish landowners have set their faces against this practice of subdividing, but even when they were resident and most attentive to their duties they have not been able to stop it; it has still been carried out in disguise and on various pretexts, and it is a question whether the State will be more fortunate in preventing subdivision than private owners have been. I cannot judge upon that point; but there is this to be said: that of course when a man feels that land is his own he will be careful not to do anything to lessen its value, for I quite agree that if these very small men become landlords they will be bad samples of the class, and the land will suffer; but my Irish friends tell me that as soon as a small tenant has acquired property in his farm the tenancy to subdivision is checked, and sons, instead of being planted on the father's holding, emigrate to the colonies or America. Emigration has become more popular, the tendency to sublet has become less in consequence. I hope, therefore, that danger is not so grave as many persons think it. There is one plea in favour of the policy of this Bill which I think deserves more notice than it has had. Everybody knows the vague and wild talk that is 1572 going about as to the municipalisation or the nationalisation of land; that is to say, taking it out of the hands of its private owners, and placing it in the hands of some public authority. I do not hold a peasant proprietary to be an absolutely ideal institution, but I am quite sure it is better than any communistic scheme of that kind; and I am also sure that a peasant proprietary is the strongest barrier you can set up against any such. A man who has 10 acres will fight for those 10 acres quite as earnestly as a man who has 1,000, and that to my mind is the chief use of this Bill. Now, my Lords, we shall discuss the clauses in Committee, and therefore I will mention only one, to which the noble Marquess opposite adverted last night. Upon that point, the question which is raised, as I understand it, comes to this—Are we or are we not to give a marked preference in dealing with applicants to small holders over large holders? It it contended, on the one hand, that small holders will not come forward unless an example is set them by those who are better off, and also that these latter are fitter for the position of owners. Upon the first point I think nobody can decide. Experience only can show whether the Act will be largely taken advantage of or not. If it be not, any difficulty as between the two classes will probably settle itself. If it be largely used, a further extension of the Act will be necessary in a few years, and then the whole matter may be reconsidered. I speak with some hesitation, but I should think our first object ought to be to extend the advantages of the Act to as many persons as possible, and to make the money advanced go as far as we can. Upon that ground it is reasonable to give a preference to the smaller tenants, who are less able than larger farmers to carry out purchase by other means outside this Act. I therefore incline to think that the decision of Mr. Balfour and the Government was the right one; but the matter will require careful consideration, and I reserve my final opinion until the matter has been discussed. These are all the observations with which it is necessary or desirable I should trouble your Lordships now. I cannot end with an appeal to you not to reject this Bill, because I know there is no one in this House who has the 1573 slightest desire it should be rejected; but it is our right and duty to scrutinise it thoroughly and minutely. At the same time it is desirable not, by any unnecessary alterations, to give opponents the opportunity of delaying or damaging this legislation elsewhere. It is almost the only measure dealing with Ireland, in my recollection, which has had the peculiar good fortune to receive the support of both parties. It is, I believe, accepted by all as an earnest, honest, and hopeful attempt to improve the condition of Ireland. Pinal it will not be, for nothing is final; but I agree with my noble Friend who spoke just now that, if you can put an end to agrarian agitation and discontent, you will have very little to fear from Irish agitation arising out of any other cause.
*THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, as this Bill has been received with a universal chorus of approbation, it seems rather superfluous that I should inflict any further observations upon it on your Lordships; and it is only the feeling that, if I abstained from doing so on a Bill of such importance, I might be thought to be disrespectful, that induces me to trouble you for a very few minutes. I think that one result of the discussion in this House will be to bring more clearly before the mind of the country what our object is in passing the Bill. A good deal of vague language has been used on the subject. People have talked of abolishing landlordism; even my noble Friend behind me talks of getting rid of dual ownership. These are not the objects of the Bill, nor is any hope entertained that they will be its results. Our object is to multiply proprietors of land in a country which, owing to a great variety of causes, has come into a thoroughly unhealthy condition, and which, without the support of a class in the highest sense Conservative, of a class which has a deep and ineradicable interest in the existing state of things, cannot come back to the healthy condition in which we all desire to see it. The Bill has for its purpose the multiplication of peasant proprietors; it has no more ambitious object than that. I should be very sorry if there was any probability of its abolishing landlordism. I should be 1574 glad if it should abolish dual ownership; but that could not be possible without changing the course of legislation which we have followed, and which has been so vigorously attacked and so vigorously defended in this debate, that it is, I think, unnecessary to make any further observations upon it. Our belief that the 10th clause will add to the stability and strength of social order in Ireland is founded upon a very wide experience. I think the noble Duke was hasty in saying, or seeming to say, as he did, that the relation of landlord and tenant was anything like universal throughout the world. There are vast districts in which peasant freeholders cultivating their own holdings are common, and I should have thought it was now one of the commonplaces of politics that where such a class exists it is a sheet-anchor of the social stability of the country. There is a phase in England of that stability which has often struck me, and which I have not often heard referred to—that is, the corresponding stability which has been conferred upon other kinds of property, upon personal property, by precisely the same process. If you look back to the Radical or revolutionary literature of the beginning of the century, you will see that one of the favourite objects of attack was the National Debt. There was nothing which they were so anxious to see applied as a political method as the instrument known as a sponge, and anybody studying the attacks at that time, and judging from the fear then expressed, would have imagined that personal property in the funds were in very great danger, and would certainly be the object of revolutionary attack. But if you look at even the most extreme revolutionary literature of the present day you will find that dogma has entirely disappeared. Even the writings of Mr. Henry George contain no proposal for municipalising or nationalising funded property. What is the cause of the change? I believe that it is to be found in the fact that the very simple operations of the Savings Banks and many similar institutions have given to a vast number of persons a direct interest in funded property and in the solvency of the State, and that that has been of incalculable value, not only in supporting that solvency, but in dissipating those wild doctrines for ever. 1575 Anybody who feels inclined to make such an attack now knows that he will have in front of him such a mass of moral and political force that no agitation could hope to overcome it. When we look at the condition of Ireland we desire to effect something in the nature of that change by placing such an obstacle before the wild and fantastic agitators with whom we have had to contend in recent times, and we trust that they will find themselves met by an obstacle in the attachment which every freeholder who lives on his land conceives for that land, and in the vigour which he will bring to bear to defend at any cost or sacrifice the property which he owns. If we look at that as the object of the Bill, I think it disposes of one or two of the most important objections which have been made to it. My noble Friend was very severe upon the 10th Clause. I am quite content to go into a discussion of the details of the 10th Clause, and to see whether there is any means of dispelling that apprehension of danger which is avowed; bat unless you do secure the result which the measure is intended to produce, namely, that the small tenants are admitted to the land as proprietors of holdings too small to be any temptation to them to let their land be cultivated by other people, you absolutely fail in your object. It is the policy of the 10th Clause to secure that object, and from that policy we must not depart. Then there was one objection of the noble and learned Lord opposite which has considerable strength, that our guarantees are unjust because we call upon the tenant who may not have purchased himself to bear the cost and burden of guaranteeing the instalments of another tenant who has purchased. Of course, if you look upon it as a matter of distributing favour among the tenants, it has an appearance of injustice; but if you look upon it as a great measure for securing peace and order and promoting industry and prosperity in Ireland, then the tenant who remains a tenant is just as much interested in that great object as the tenant whose continued solvency he is called upon to guarantee. The only other objection of importance to the Bill—it is a very multifold objection—is one which is derived from the great stringency of the guarantee. My noble Friend made a 1576 very powerful speech in that sense, and we have heard the same argument repeated in various forms. I am afraid that, to a certain extent, the conditions under which we had to work made such an objection inevitable. Just look at the history of the legislation on this subject. You began with the Bright Clauses. I remember them well, for I got into great disgrace with my own Party for supporting them; but the Bright Clauses entirely failed. You had put in too stringent precautions for the protection of British credit—with the result that landlords and tenants were deterred from taking advantage of them. Your next experience was the Ashbourne Acts. You fell there into the opposite extreme. I admire the Ashbourne Acts very much, and if we have been able to act without consideration of the support which we had, to obtain, I should have preferred nothing better than to go on with the Ashbourne Acts with very slight modifications, and I believe they would have solved the problem we had in view, but we had one consideration to deal with, and that was the feelings of the British taxpayer. It was quite evident when we came to the second Ashbourne Act that the British taxpayer was getting seriously frightened and it would have been impossible to go on with those Acts. We have had to steer between those two opposite dangers all through. On the one side there was the very great danger that we should be multiplying our precautions to such an extent as to afford the land-lords and tenants but little advantage, and on the other that we should be so seriously alarming the British taxpayer, that passing the Bill through Parliament would have been an impossibility. In this Bill we may have leaned too much on the side of security. I do not know whether it is so. It is, as has been repeated more than once during this Debate, impossible to prophesy, but I think it is the side to which we were bound to lean, because the House of Commons, as the great trustee of public money, was bound to be exceedingly jealous of the manner in which these vast sums were pledged and secured. Of course we had to defer to that feeling, and I cannot say that the feeling was unjust or unreasonable. If the conditions should be found to be too severe, 1577 there are in the Bill several elastic openings by which their stringency may be relieved.; but, after all, Parliament will not be abolished after this Session, and there is always an authority to come to if any intolerable evil is found to exist; but I think that having that alternative before us, and believing that by diminishing precautions we should frighten the British taxpayer and those who represent him in the House of Commons, the latter danger was the greater danger of the two, and the danger which we were bound to avoid. There was one other objection mentioned by the noble and learned Lord opposite. It was the only time it has been mentioned in this House, but it has done a good deal of duty on platforms and in the other House of Parliament. It is what I may call the "buffer" theory—that yon ought to have a "buffer" placed between the English State and the debtor who is to pay. I am bound to express my conviction that, as a rule, that class of argument rests upon an utter misconception of the situation. I have often wondered whether the noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen who use that argument ever ask themselves what purpose that "buffer" was to serve. It is the duty of the State to enforce contracts and to secure that debts should be paid. That duty does not become less stringent because the person who suffers does not happen to be the State. According to the argument, a buffer seems to be a thing you can simply throw over, and the security to State seems to be this: That if the State thought it convenient it could throw the creditor over without itself suffering in the process. I think that is an ignoble argument, and I do not think that would have increased the security of the debt. But I think the whole of that class of argument rests upon an utter misconception. The idea is that we are so weak, so feeble in force, that unless we coax and wheedle the Irish debtor into paying his debts we have no power to enforce payment. I utterly repudiate any such view of the strength of the English Government. There is abundance of strength and force; what is wanted is the mind and spirit to use it, and I welcome—I do not shrink from that contact between the State and the debtor—I welcome it as a more direct, more 1578 honest, and more practical state of things. The one thing that we want is that the English Government—I use the word in its largest sense, including Parliament—shall be forced by imperious considerations to do its duty and to measure out justice equally between man and man, not minding whether the process involves it in disagreeable conflicts and controversies or not. As long as the "buffer" exists, as long as the private creditor exists, or the intermediate municipal or local creditor, be it what it may, so long there will be the temptation to pass the duty over and not to take all the precautions or exercise all the vigour we can in order to compel justice to be done and contracts to be properly fulfilled. But I believe when the consideration presses upon the statesmen in this building that if they once allow the sanctity of this particular debt to be broken down, once allow it to be believed that, by agitation or by clamour, the Government can be forced to relax its claim to these instalments which are its due, they will see before them the prospect of so large a financial embarrassment that they will be forced into an activity, vigour, and clearness of decision which I am afraid during a long past has been wanting both to Parliament and the Government. Therefore I do not fear any danger in this respect. For my own part I believe that these debts will be paid, as they easily can be paid; and that when they can be paid the means will be found of securing that proper measures are taken in that regard. Nothing in our recent experience justifies us in believing that the Irish people are inclined to harbour a grudge against those who carry out what their consciences tell them to be just and right with consistency; on the contrary, I believe that the moral of the last few years is that those who enforce the law and enforce the performance of contracts win the real respect of the Irish people, and that there is no real danger whatever of this imaginary conspiracy of repudiation which has been brought forward as a bugbear against the pledging of Imperial credit, and the application of the remedies this Bill contains. Those are all the words it is necessary for me to say. All that I wish to put on record is that I am not looking forward to any 1579 gigantic revolution in the social structure, in the land arrangements, or in the agrarian condition of Ireland. We shall not abolish landlordism by this Bill, but I hope that we shall create a class who will conduce to the prosperity of the country, who will bring back law and order and that confidence which is wanting now, and restore that life to commerce and to industry which recent experience in Ireland has almost taken away.
§ On Question that the word ["now"] stand part of the Question, resolved in the affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (EARL CADOGAN)
Perhaps it will meet the convenience of the House that I should say I propose the House should go into Committee on the Bill on Thursday next.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.