§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Duke of DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, I have had some difficulty in considering what kind of statement I ought to make in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. The Bill is a very long one, extending to 100 clauses. It contains constant references to the existing Irish land law, and many of its clauses are of a highly technical nature. Some of them are, indeed, necessarily of a complicated character, and I am not sure that I fully understand the exact bearing of all of them. Therefore I certainly should despair of being able to make them all intelligible to any one who did not already possess a very complete knowledge of the subject. All I can attempt to do, therefore, will be to explain some, and only some, of the main reasons which have induced the Government to produce this Bill; and in discharging this task I thought that it might conduce to the saving of your Lordships' time, and enable me better to condense what I have got to say, if I were to prepare some notes of what I want to lay before your Lordships at the risk of exposing myself to the possible charge of reading my speech.
If I were to follow strictly the former precedents I conceive that I ought to introduce this measure by entering into some review of the history of Irish Land Acts during a period of now more than thirty years. I ought, perhaps, to enter into a general, if not detailed, description of between thirty and forty Acts of Parliament, Acts dealing with the statutory position of owners and occupiers of land in Ireland, in regard to compensation for disturbance, fixity of tenure, right of sale, and, above all, the determination of rent. I ought, perhaps, also to attempt to describe the machinery which has been set up, and which has been repeatedly amended, for settling those relations, for determining them in the first instance and for deciding on appeals when the determination has proved in the first instance unsatisfactory to either party. I might also be expected to give some account of the extent to which these various Acts have fulfilled the intentions of those who carried them through 1156 Parliament; and it might be my painful duty to touch on the history of such subjects as the "No Rent" manifesto, the Plan of Campaign, the agitation carried on by the Irish Land League, the evicted tenants question, and, last of all, perhaps, on the agitation in Ulster. I ought further to describe the succession of Land Purchase Acts, ranging from the Bright clauses contained in the Act of 1870, which provided for the advance by the State of two-thirds of the purchase money, to later Acts, which advanced that amount to three-fourths of the purchase money, down to the Act known as the Ashbourne Act, which permitted the advance of the whole sum.
I shall not attempt to enter upon any such task. In the first place I feel that I should not be competent to perform it with any approach to completeness. It is quite true that many years ago I was rather closely connected with Irish land legislation, and subsequently to that period that I have had from time to time occasion to interest myself in some incidents relating to it. But it is now a very long time since I was closely associated with Irish administration, and I confess that my acquaintance with some of its later developments is very far from complete. I think it may be enough for me to say that this series of Land Acts for regulating the relations between landlord and tenant, the most important of which have been those dealing with the fixing of rents—that series which was originated in 1881 by Mr. Gladstone in an Act with which the noble Earl opposite and myself were closely connected—as amended or altered by other enactments, although they may have prevented worse evils, have not succeeded in establishing either agrarian peace or agricultural prosperity in Ireland. They have not prevented the constant recurrence of agitation, sometimes culminating in violence, and, even in the absence of open agitation, they have not prevented the continuance of the rent war which has been carried on up to the present day, and, I am afraid, even in a greater degree than ever at the present day, in the Courts of law.
This perpetual recourse either to agitation or litigation, rather than to the exercise of their skill and energy, has paralysed, and is paralysing, the chief Irish industry; and, as Mr. Wyndham said in another place, the Irish landlords 1157 are being financially, and the Irish occupiers morally, ruined by the continuance of this state of things. The burden on the public Exchequer for the maintenance of machinery for carrying on this litigation and for the repression of open disorder is a burden which has been constantly increasing up to the present time. I shall not now enlarge on that; but I wish to point out specially with regard to this matter that Irish land purchase legislation has so far proved uniformly successful. For some reason or other, however, the progress of this policy of occupying ownerships seems to have been arrested and is not likely to succeed as things are, although there have been 80,000 purchasers.
I turn now to the attitude of public opinion in Ireland during last autumn and winter. The Bill introduced last year in the other House of Parliament was rejected by the leaders of the Nationalist Party as inadequate, and the Government were unable to give time for its discussion as a contentious measure, and the Bill had accordingly to drop. Subsequently, attempts were made, without very much success, to revive an active land agitation. At the same time there was a dissentient minority in the Nationalist Party which was openly attacking the leaders for the rejection of that measure. It was known that throughout Ireland there did exist a large body of feeling in the same direction and that a real, strong, although somewhat vague desire pervaded all classes, a desire that some means should be found to end this land, or rent, war. Perhaps the first public expression of this feeling took place at the meeting of Irish landowners convened in October last year. I shall not quote at length the resolutions passed at that convention and will give the effect of only a few of them. The resolutions made it clear that the landlords had abandoned all hopes of obtaining compensation for injuries they thought they had suffered from past legislation. They declared on behalf of those they represented that landlords who had not yet sold were resolved not to part with their estates on terms in which additional loss would be incurred, and they called for the introduction of a comprehensive land purchase measure, the introduction of which had twice been announced in the speech from the Throne. They further indicated the conditions by which this 1158 change, though not of their own seeking, might be carried through without expense or additional loss to themselves, and in order to make these acceptable to the tenants they suggested that the purchase instalments should be reduced from 4 to 3¼ per cent. They made detailed recommendations with which I need not trouble your Lordships.
Still more important was a meeting held last winter, known as the Irish Land Conference, at which representatives of both landlords and tenants took part. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Dunraven, who presided over that conference with so much ability and whose exertions in this cause we recognise, deserves the thanks of all who are interested in the welfare of Ireland. I am sure Lord Dunraven would not himself say that the report of the proceedings at this conference, or the resolutions passed at the conference, contained, or professed to contain, a definite and complete scheme. The importance of that conference consisted in the fact that both parties, as represented there, assented to principles the assent to which is essential to any settlement. Their acceptance of these principles did not in itself constitute a scheme, or even make any scheme possible, but without that acceptance of these principles no scheme at all would have been possible. I shall, as regards the conference, as with the convention, only give the effect of some of the most important resolutions. They said a satisfactory settlement of the land question could only be effected by the substitution of an occupying proprietary in lieu of the existing system of dual ownership. They said that, subject to certain exceptions, settlements for this purpose should be between owners and occupiers. They said it was desirable in the interests of Ireland that present owners of land should not he, as a result of a settlement, expatriated or find no object in remaining in Ireland. They said to obtain such a result an equitable price ought to be paid to owners on a basis of income, and they defined that basis of income as second-term rents, or their fair equivalent, and they agreed that the capital sum for that income should be, obtainable without capital outlay on their part such as would be involved by further charges. As an inducement for owners to continue to reside in Ireland, extended provision, they said, should be made in 1159 the Land Bill for the re-sale of mansions, demesne lands, and home farms, and also for the re-sale of land to enlarge neighbouring tenancies. The amount of purchase money payable by the tenant should extend over a series of years at the rate of principal and interest that would at once secure a reduction of not less than 15, and not more than 25 per cent. reduction on second-term rents. They recognised that these proposals might involve some assistance from the State beyond the use of State credit. These resolutions, as I have said, did not constitute a scheme; their importance consisted in the fact that some of them were obviously directly in the interest of landlords, and others obviously in the direct interest of tenants, but they were unanimously agreed to by the representatives of both.
Now I go on to attempt to describe the scheme of the Bill and then to show how far it goes to meet the principles accepted at the Landowners' Convention and at the Land Conference. The purchase of entire estates by the Land Commission for the purpose of re-sale, in recent Acts at all events, has been recognised in theory as the policy of the law, but the policy has hitherto remained entirely inoperative. Sales by owners to tenants have been in almost every case sales of separate holdings, though in some cases they have been made on a very considerable scale. The object of the first twenty-five clauses of the Bill is to make the policy of sales of entire estates an operative policy, and to encourage and facilitate the sale of entire estates by holding out increased advantages to landlords to sell and tenants to buy.
One of the most important provisions in the Bill is the constitution of a new authority, to be called the Estates Commission, for the purpose of exercising functions of the Land Commission, so far as they relate to the sale and purchase of estates. The Commissioners will be an administrative body, they will act under the Irish Government, and the Irish Government will be responsible to Parliament for their action. Their function will be, not to impede, but to facilitate transactions of this character, so far as that can he done consistently with maintaining security for advances made by the State. In these transactions, no existing rights are withdrawn, individual bargains between landlords and tenants may still go 1160 on, subject to the present examination by the Land Commission, but the Bill contemplates that, in future, in the majority of these transactions, transactions will take the form of sales of entire estates. The Commissioners will have power to define an estate, and it will not necessarily be the whole of the property of a landlord, and may mean an area, which, taken alone or in conjunction with land at present untenanted and which it may be expedient for economic reasons to add to the tenanted part of an estate, can be dealt with as a whole. These transactions will remain voluntary and may be carried out in either of two ways. The landlord may make his own bargain or arrangements with his tenants, and if the arrangements fall within the policy of the Bill, they will only have to go before the Estates Commission to he sanctioned. On the other hand, the landlord may approach the Commissioners and may apply to them to purchase with a view to re-sale, but whichever method is adopted the purchase either in respect of holdings or of untenanted land must come within the limits laid down in the Bill. In either of these cases it will be the ordinary, but not a universal condition that some reduction should take place in the amount of instalments payable to the Government as compared with the existing rent—the judicial rent. That condition, which is necessary in all ordinary cases, is in the interest both of the State and of the tenants. It is necessary in the interest of the State because it is essential that the State should have a fair margin of security. It is necessary in the interest of the tenant, because in entering into a transaction extending over a long period of years it is essential that from the outset the transaction should be safe and secure. It is necessary, also, because experience has, I believe, proved that in the case of the 80,000 sales which have already taken place there has invariably been a reduction in the instalments as compared with the rent. It would be impossible for the State to enter into a bargain with a very much larger number of tenants and to place them in a worse position than the purchasers under previous Acts.
I will try to explain how the provisions of the Bill will affect both tenants and landlords. I have quoted some of the most important resolutions of the conference. We have not been able to go the whole length of those resolutions. In our 1161 opinion that would involve excessive and also indeterminate charges upon the Exchequer. The conference proposed that the normal reduction of instalments, as compared with rent, should range from 15 to 25 per cent. We have endeavoured to meet that proposal by a system of zones. We have adopted the mean reduction suggested by the conference—that is 20 per cent.—and we have enlarged the limits from 15 to 25 per cent., and from 10 to 30 per cent. The conference used the expression of the fair equivalent of second-term rents. We have endeavoured to translate that recommendation into practice by adopting a different zone for first-term rents, and extending the limits of reduction to reductions of from 20 to 40 per cent. The chief subject of contention in this Bill in the other House of Parliament has been the subject of these zones. The representatives of the tenants endeavoured in the House of Commons to get rid of the maximum limit of reduction, but on this point we were not able to make any concession. The zones will remain as they were introduced in the Bill as the limit within which bargains will be accepted by the Commissioners without question. But we did accept Amendments which, in the first place, excluded non-judicial rents altogether from the zones, and, ill the next place, made the adoption of zones optional as between the parties.
Bargains may still be permitted which are not within the limits of the zones; but in their case the transaction must undergo a full examination by the Commissioners. We regret that this concession was found necessary; but we believe that the practical effect of it will not be extensive, and that it will not extend much farther than the special treatment of some inferior holdings. The transactions within the limit of the zone will be so much more frequent and easily effected than those outside the limit, that we believe they will be the rule in all ordinary cases. These Amendments were assented to by the Government, and were also assented to by the representatives of the landlords in the other House of Parliament. I believe that those representatives were wise in accepting these Amendments in order to preserve and to maintain the impression that both classes were still working in concert in order that the measure might pass, and I 1162 believe they were right in thinking that such an impression, if it was to prevail, would do more to facilitate rapid settlement and fair bargains than could be done by the most perfect legislation. I have no doubt this House will hear a good deal further on this point, but I will reserve any further observations for a later period.
I have spoken so far of the conditions chiefly which affect the tenant. Now I come to the point how far that principle of the recommendations was met which laid down that the landlord's income should not he reduced by transactions of this kind by more than 10 per cent., which was the estimated cost of the collection of the rent. This representation cannot be absolutely accurate; a great deal must depend on the character of the estate. It is partly met by a provision in the Bill which substitutes payment in cash for payment in stock. It has been met so far as we have found it possible by a reduction of the rate, at which the annuities payable by the tenant will be calculated. The tenant now pays £4 for every £100 advanced to him. This will be reduced by the Bill to £3 5s. The ten years reductions are abolished, and the period of the annuity will be sixty-eight and a half years. The effect of these changes taken together is that the State will be able to advance a larger sum than at present on a reduced instalment. To these sums is also added the bonus. That also was a suggestion mentioned in the conference. Here again we have been unable to go the, length winch was suggested. As placed before us, the suggestion was that the State should find a sum of money to bridge over the gap between the landlord's and the tenant's price—between the sum that the landlord could afford to accept and the sum that the tenant could afford to give, If that principle had been adopted in that shape it would, in our opinion, have involved unreasonable demands on one side, or perhaps the rejection of reasonable offers on the other. But we do admit that, this transaction not being one of the landlord's seeking, there is some consideration due from his point of view. We admit that we are not legislating wholley for the present owners, but also for those who are to succeed them, and we consider that it would not be just that the necessary cost of these transactions should be thrown entirely on the present life owners of these estates.
1163 We have, therefore, thought it equitable to provide a sum of £12,000,000, which will be distributed in addition to the purchase money at the rate of a 12 per cent. addition. That may be fairly taken as a provision which would cover, perhaps more than cover, the expenses of the transaction. We have asked Parliament to provide this bonus of £12,000,000, the interest on which will fall upon the annual Estimates. The charge will be a small one at first, but will undoubtedly, as the process goes on, be an increasing one; but we have asked Parliament to consent to take upon itself this charge all the more willingly because we believe that the charge will be partial at first, and will subsequently he compensated for by the economies which Parliament will be able to make both in the expenses of the judicial machinery for settling land disputes and in the cost of the establishments provided for maintaining public order in Ireland. The bonus will go directly to the owners, and it will constitute a substantial increase of price which they may expect to receive for their property from the direct application of the credit of the State.
The actual amount to be received by the landlord, arid the future income, consisting of interest on that amount, must, as I have said, depend within certain limits on the terms which he is able to make with his tenants. The advantage to the landlord will vary in different cases. It will depend to a considerable extent on the condition of Ins property, on the embarrassed or unembarrassed condition of his estate, and also on the manner in which he will be able to invest the capital sum which he will receive. In the case of heavily encumbered estates where it will be possible to pay off encumbrances bearing in some cases a very high rate of interest, the relief will be very great; and the appointment of a public trustee, and the enlargement of the investments which are permitted under the Acts, which is also provided for in this Bill, will enable investments to be made in many cases at a better rate of interest than 3¼ per cent. It is impossible, therefore, to say in every case what will be the future assured income of the landlord who sells, but it is possible to give an example of what he may expect to receive in what I may call normal cases and cases coming within the zones to which I have referred. In the case of 1164 a landlord selling £100 on second-term rents, if the landlord and tenant agree on instalments of £85—that is to say, 15 per cent.—this will produce to the vendor £2,615. To that is added a bonus of 12 per cent., which is £314. The total of £2,929 will produce at 3¼ per cent. an income of nearly £95. On the other hand, if landlord and tenant agree on instalments of £75—that is to say, nearly the lower limit, or 25 per cent.—the price will be £2,308, the bonus will be £277, and the income produced by the total of £2,585 will be £84. Those are normal cases, and the advantage I have already pointed out will be very much greater in the case of an encumbered owner, who can pay off his mortgages, or of an owner who is able to invest at a higher rate of interest than 3¼ per cent.
There is another principle which has also been recognised in former Acts, and which has up to the present time been also wholly inoperative. That is the principle which enabled advances to be made for the sale of untenanted land. This Bill empowers and directs the Estates Commissioners to make these provisions operative. The owner who sells that portion of his estate which is occupied may find himself left with a certain amount of unoccupied land. It may be grass land, let on what are called eleven months tenancies, which have not come within the scope of the Acts. The owner cannot sell land of this description unless he can find a purchaser who can advance the cash, and the tenant cannot buy the additional land which may be necessary for the improvement of his holding unless he is in a position to find cash for that purpose. Advances for the sale of such land and for re-sale to certain classes of tenants and others are provided for under the second clause of the Bill. I think the advantages of this power to the landlord must be obvious, and the advantages to the tenant are not less great.
There are estimated to be in Ireland 490,000 agricultural holdings, and of these there are 278,000 winch are under £10 valuation, and 134,000 which are under £4 valuation. I do not say that the whole of these small tenancies are uneconomic holdings. It may be that where the tenant can obtain employment as a labourer a very small holding of this description may add to his comfort and that of his family very materially. But in cases where the estate consists almost 1165 entirely of such holdings, where there is no field for other occupation, it is almost impossible to conceive that holdings of this character can be such as to provide decent subsistence for a man and his family. There may also be in the neighbourhood of estates sold under the Act congested districts, for the inhabitants of which holdings ought to be found. This provision then, I think, is one of the greatest importance, as it enables existing holdings to a great extent to be improved by the advance of the purchase money for an addition to them, and it also provides for the resettlement of some people in the congested districts.
There is another provision to which I believe the conference attach considerable importance. That is a provision relating to the advance to owners in respect of their demesne lands, including the mansion house. Such advances may be made under this Bill provided that they do not exceed the limit of either £30,000 or one-third of the value of the whole estate, whichever sum may be the smaller. These advances will increase the capital sum which may be received by the owner for his whole estate, and they will enable him to retain his demesne lands and his house upon the payment of a moderate annuity. The provision will be of especial value to the owners of small and encumbered estates, inasmuch as they will be able to substitute for mortgages carrying very heavy charges an annuity of a very moderate character. At the same time they will be able to retain the house in which they have resided, and so much of their property as they may desire to keep in their own hands.
I have said nothing, and I do not think it is necessary that I should say anything, in regard to the financial proposals of the Bill. I conceive that it would not be within the power of this House to alter the chief financial provisions, and in those circumstances I conceive that your Lordships will not desire to discuss them. Those provisions have been accepted, not without question, but with the support of a very large body of opinion in the other House, and unless this debate should show that there is any anxiety to enter upon that particular question, I do not think it necessary for me to waste your Lordships' time by saying anything on the subject. I have thus attempted to explain only one or two or three of the 1166 main provision of the Bill. There are a vast number of subsidiary provisions into which it is quite impossible for me to attempt to enter. I said at the outset that it was impossible for me to relate the full history of the Irish land question. It is equally impossible for me to give full details of the suggested settlement. But if there were time, and if I were competent to undertake the task, I do not think it would be necessary for me to do so for my present purpose. It would be, I think, only affectation on my part if I were to suggest to your Lordships' House that this measure comes before it for consideration de novo. There are many occasions on which your Lordships are invited to initiate legislation, and I believe legislation in relation to this very subject has been initiated in this House; but in the present case the functions of this House are essentially those of a second Chamber. It is in your Lordships' power either to confirm or to reject this Bill. It is open to you, within certain limits, to amend it or to suggest amendment; but it is not open to you, without running serious risk of the loss of the measure, substantially to alter its main provisions.
My Lords, very ample preparation has been made for the introduction of the measure. Preparation has been made for it by the Bill of last year, and by the discussion to which that Bill gave rise. Preparation has been made for it, as I have reminded your Lordships by the conference which took place last autumn, a conference in which the leading part was taken by men who were qualified to speak, not, indeed, in the name of the whole of the classes whom they represented, but of very large numbers of them, and men who were in a position to recommend with authority the conclusions to which they came and the proposals which they made. The measure which followed upon these preparations has met with an unusual amount of acceptance in the other House. It has been accepted by those who must be held to represent, if not the universal Irish opinion, at least—if there is any virtue at all in representative institutions—the opinion of the vast majority of the occupiers of the land. It has been accepted by the scanty number of representatives of the Irish landlords who are to be found in the other House. More important than all, it has been accepted by the great majority of 1167 the representatives of England and Scotland, by the assistance of whose credit and whose cash this measure can alone be carried into effect.
These, my Lords, are the credentials with which this measure comes before you. Here, fortunately, it will find a fair and adequate representation of the other party whose loyal, if not enthusiastic, acceptance of this measure is as necessary to its success as that of the tenants' party. This measure is presented as a treaty or instrument of peace, to the working of which the consent of one party is as necessary as the other; and if, as I expect, the landlords' representatives are prepared to accept this measure in the same spirit as that in which it has been met in the other House, I cannot doubt that the great majority of the English and Scottish Peers who compose the larger proportion of this House will, not by a Party vote, but by a unanimous vote, accept the principle of the Bill. But your Lordships must remember that the Bill is, as I have said, in the nature of a treaty or instrument of peace. It has been arrived at by negotiation. Its main principles are indissolubly connected, and while your Lordships will have a perfect right to reject it, if you think it unwise or unstatesmanlike, any serious alteration of its main provisions would release the contracting parties to this treaty from the obligations which they have mutually undertaken.
After the failure of so many previous attempts, it would be rash to prophesy that this Bill will offer a final settlement of the Irish land question. But I think we are justified in entertaining a strong hope and a firm trust that it will go far to do so. In our opinion this Bill violates no economic principle. That can hardly be said of all its predecessors. The attempt to settle the fixing of the rent of land by legal procedure in a country where competition for the occupation of land is so keen as it is in Ireland—although, as I have admitted, it may have been necessary in order to stave off still greater evils—was never a hopeful enterprise. Now it is abundantly proved that it cannot be the basis of a final settlement. But I do not know of any economic objection to the employment of the credit of the State in an attempt to relieve the two classes mainly interested 1168 in the soil of Ireland from an unsound and an intolerable position. This experiment has already been tried on a limited scale and has met with such success as might be anticipated on that limited scale and under the restrictions to which it was exposed. It will now be tried on a larger scale, and under conditions more liberal both to the owners and to the occupiers. Above all, this experiment is now going to be tried at a time when a new spirit of reason and conciliation appears to prevail in Ireland. Formerly attempts have been made to impose the will of Parliament upon conflicting and contending interests. These attempts have generally been strenuously, and even bitterly, opposed by the representatives of one or other of those interests; sometimes they have been opposed by both. Never before, I believe, have the representatives of those interests approached you with a joint petition that you should give your sanction to a settlement the main principles and provisions of which they have themselves suggested. Therefore I say that this measure comes before us fraught with better hopes for the future of Ireland, for the peace and prosperity of Ireland, than on any previous occasion we have dared to entertain. I move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read, 2a.—(The Duke of Devonshire).
THE DUKE OF ABERCORN
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this Bill, not in any contentious spirit, but in support of it. I rise with feelings of grief mixed with pride—grief in thinking of the extinction that is about to take place under this Bill of what is called the landlord class in Ireland, and the consequent separation that has for so many generations existed between the landowners and their tenantry, and of pride in being connected with that class that has suffered so much and so patiently under the land laws of Ireland. I think it only right that I should publicly recognise the great liberality of the financial provisions of this Bill, the cordiality with which they were received and voted by all political Parties in the House of Commons, and the many expressions of friendly feeling and goodwill towards Ireland, which they have called 1169 forth not only in the other branch of the legislature, but at many public meetings and in almost every important organ of public opinion throughout Great Britain.
My Lords, I believe I may safely undertake to speak not only for the Irish landlords, but also for the Irish tenants, and for all classes of people in Ireland, in saying that Ireland greatly appreciates and heartily reciprocates these proofs of a friendly interest in her welfare from the people of Great Britain. Whether this Bill proves to be a success or a failure as a measure of land purchase, the good effects of these internal expressions and feelings of friendship will endure, and will hear good fruit in many directions in the future. The prospects of the Bill as a measure of land purchase seem to me to depend partly upon the methods and spirit in which it may be administered, and partly upon its being recognised by the Irish tenantry that even the highest prices sanctioned by the Bill would give them better terms than they can expect from a continuance of the rent-fixing system, and that, on the other hand, the great majority of landlords will be unable to sell, unless they receive prices which when invested in trustees' securities will produce at least 90 per cent. of what is called a second-term rental.
I make no complaint of tenants endeavouring to make the best possible bargains for themselves in every case, but I would remind them and their advisers in every part of the country that up to the present the tenants have received all the benefits, and the landlords have had to bear the evils of the legislation of the last twenty years. Owing to this fact the incomes of the landlords have been so much reduced that the great majority of them will be found neither willing nor able to enter into bargains which would result in any further material reduction of the incomes which they now derive from their estates. The Bill now before your Lordships is one of the most important and far-reaching that has ever been introduced into Parliament for dealing with the land question in Ireland, and for effecting a final settlement, equitable as far as possible, and satisfactory between landlord and tenant. In fact, it tends to perform a social revolution. The feeling in Ireland with regard to purchase has been slowly but gradually increasing, and the country, through its repre- 1170 sentatives in the House of Commons, has declared in an unmistakable manner that it is prepared for a great measure of land purchase.
I wish it to be clearly understood that it was not of the landlords' seeking, but circumstances over which they had no control, and unfortunate legislation in years past, which has brought them to their present position. To part with an estate that has been in your family for generations, to sever your connection with your tenants with whom you have lived on the best of terms, is an unpleasant wrench. Money, even in these days, is not a compensation for everything. Money cannot obliterate the old associations connected with family ties, and, I might almost say, with historic connections. To part with the familiar acres, and to receive in lien thereof money, the investment of which is always attended with anxiety and is never free from risk, is not a very agreeable exchange. A great many people in this country seem to believe that the Irish landlord is receiving money compensation for the injuries inflicted on him in the past, or, in other words, that the bonus under the Bill will be paid to, him on account of these injuries. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No class has been so shamefully treated by legislation as the Irish landlords, and. I believe that in no other civilised country but England would such treatment have been tolerated, and this treatment meted out to the most loyal men, and, taking them as a class, the very backbone of their country.
My Lords, just contemplate the situation. In the past you allowed the Irish landlords to believe that they were the owners of the soil, subject to terminable tenancies. You allowed estates to be bought and sold on this basis. Worse than that, you warranted the title to purchasers under the Landed Estates, Court Act. On the faith of this Parliamentary title, the purchasers advanced their money. Then, by the Act of 1881, at one blow you transfer half of the-property so guaranteed from the landlord to the tenant. I am not considering the matter from the tenant's point of view. I am merely showing how the State has treated the landlord. The case for the tenant has been ably put 1171 forward and treated in the other House by gentlemen far more eloquent than myself, but no one speaks up for the Irish landlord in this country, with very few exceptions. But, as a landlord myself, and as such deeply interested in the welfare of that country and in the affections of its people, I am endeavouring to demonstrate how the State has treated the class to which I belong, and to state that nothing in the shape of money can compensate many of them, and mainly the solvent ones, for the losses they have already sustained, and which they will further feel under the provisions of this Bill.
Do not imagine that you are heaping gold upon the landlord. Having deprived him of so much, you are mainly by your credit enabling him to use what remains with respect to money. I hope, my Lords, that it will not be inferred from what I have said that I do not join heartily in the almost universal praise which is due to the Chief Secretary for his great achievement in connection with this Bill. The ability, energy, and tact with which he initiated the measure and carried it through the other House is a proof that he possesses the mind of a great and enthusiastic statesman. That the landlord under this Bill will receive the equivalent of his reduced income is a matter upon which I have grave doubts. A great deal will depend upon the Estate Commissioners. Their behaviour will be anxiously watched from the beginning. If the owners of solvent estates see that the work is cheaply and expeditiously done and the purchase money made available they will sell. If they see the process will be slow and expensive they will not sell. That vast quantities of land will be sold I have no doubt, but the distribution of the purchase money is the difficulty, and I cannot think that this difficulty is sufficiently grappled with in the Bill therefore, it will not be surprising if the owners of solvent estates hang back for some time to see how other estates are dealt with.
There is one thing always present in my mind, and that is how are we to keep in Ireland those who have sold out. The material loss of all the money taken out will be immense, but even that would 1172 not be the worst part of the evil. I believe that the disappearance of the country gentry from the various localities in which they hitherto have lived will be an irreparable loss to Ireland. Their example has been beneficial, and their subscriptions have helped to support many institutions and charities. All these must cease, but the one thing to help to keep the Irish gentry as residents is the possession of their sporting rights. Every effort should be made in the House to maintain these, and to make their rights secure, otherwise, if these are thrown away, and the landlords have in addition lost their property, what inducement have they to remain in their country; My Lords, I give my hearty support to this Bill, but we shall move various Amendments, not in any contentious spirit, but simply to make the working of it, according to our views, more satisfactory and efficient, and thereby to carry out its intention in passing the possession of the land from one class to another.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, it cannot, I think, be disputed that in one respect, as the noble Lord has told us, this Bill presents an almost unique spectacle in the fact that it is an Irish measure of the first class, which has come here from another place, with the practical assent of the whole of the other House and with the enthusiastic support of a large majority of it. Most Irish measures of the first class within the memory of all of us have come up from the other House after a fierce struggle there, pursued, so to speak, by a shower of brickbats, and have in this House, unfortunately, been the subject of some measure of the passion which they raised in the other. But in this case this Bill comes before us with a shower of congratulations, in which I cordially join, so far as they concern the manner in which the Chief Secretary for Ireland conducted his Bill. Nothing could exceed the tact, the ability, and the patience with which Mr. Wyndham did his task. It is perfectly true that his ship had behind it a fairer wind than has generally fallen to the lot of Ministers in charge of Irish Bills, but that does not alter the fact that he showed the greatest 1173 possible skill and discretion in steering clear of the rocks and shoals which beset his course.
It is a refreshing instance of our contempt for logical politics that this measure, which has gained such a universal meed of approbation, is a measure among all others which it would be very difficult, I think, to defend on strictly logical principles. The Bill after all is in some respects a gigantic paradox. Here you have in Ireland one class of persons, the landlords, with something which they are not unwilling to sell, and another class, the tenants, who are decidedly anxious to buy that thing. Those two parties cannot come to terms, by the nature of the case. It is always difficult to strike a bargain between a landlord and a tenant, in any country, for the sale of an agricultural estate, for this reason: that the tenant, fearing the future, will not bind himself to pay an amount either by way of rent or annuity equivalent to the rent he is now paying, even though that rent be fair, whereas the landlord does not see why he, receiving a certain rent, should take less, because he hopes for the best and trusts that he may be able to maintain that rent. Consequently; in these circumstances, a third party, the Exchequer, with no direct interest in the matter, is called in to make up the amount between what the landlord is willing to take and what the tenant is willing to give. And then there are minor paradoxes in the Bill. When you come to think of it, it is a remarkable thing to buy a man's house and park from him and sell it back to him on easier terms, lending him the money to pay for it; and, later on in the Bill, you will find another strange paradox, that a great educational corporation, Trinity College, because it fears it may lose in the course of the transaction between those to whom it has let this land and those to whom the land has been sublet, is to receive £5,000 a year of Irish money. I do not say that all those things cannot be defended, although I think the last does require some very definite defence; but at the same time it cannot be denied that these are unusual features to see presented in a Bill to your Lordships' House.
This may be said to be done to some extent for the sake of peace. Peace, as we all know, is one of the most persistent and successful blackmailers that exist. Whenever we are called upon to expend 1174 some large additional sum on armaments of any kind we are always told that it is done in the sacred name of peace. I quite admit, however, that it is worth while to enter upon this singular transaction if it will, as I trust it may, secure a further measure of peace in Ireland. But I think there is another ground on which a defence of this transaction may fairly be based, namely, that we in Great Britain are definitely responsible for the Irish land system. It was we, after all, who first put the Irish landlords there; it was we who allowed the Irish land system to fall into the confusion into which it was before 1870; and it was we who have been responsible for legislation since that year, and consequently it is upon those grounds that, if I had to defend the Bill, I should be disposed to base the greater part of my defence.
I have no desire to trace back the whole course, or anything like it, of land purchase legislation. So long ago as 1868 Mr. John Stuart Mill proposed a scheme for compulsory expropriation of Irish landlords. What he considered to be fair compensation in that scheme was combated in a very interesting pamphlet by the late Lord Dufferin, mainly on two grounds—one that it was hard upon Irish landlords to remove them from their estates on any terms; and the other, that it was a dangerous thing to place the British Exchequer in direct contact with the Irish tenant. On that last point I will say a word later. I need not go through the various Purchase Acts, but I should like to say one word about the Act of 1881, although it was not a Purchase Act. That Act, in the general atmosphere of benevolence which reigned in another place during the discussion on this Bill, received lass unkindly notice from the Prime Minister than I have ever known it to receive from any member of the present Government, and I think I am right in saying that later on his view was to some considerable extent endorsed by the Chief Secretary. But, after all, this measure is in some distinct degree the child of the Land Act of 1881, because if it had not been for the system of rent fixing then introduced, it is not easy to see how the system of purchase organised under this Bill could have been brought into play. Any scheme for purchasing the whole of the land of Ireland by a system of valuation of each farm, or as the result of a particular bargain with no 1175 standard to go upon, would in my opinion have been an impossible business; and, therefore, it is only fair to say that, however much you may dislike the system of rent fixing, to a very great degree it has unquestionably facilitated the Purchase Acts that have been subsequently passed, and will also facilitate this Bill when it passes into law.
Nor, my Lords, do I wish to spend any time in discussing Mr. Gladstone's Land Purchase Bill of 1886. That measure, of course, was vitiated in the eyes of noble Lords opposite, and others of their Party, by the fact that it formed part of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule scheme, but I, at any rate, am loyal enough to the past to say that I believe that if that Purchase Bill could have become law it would in the great majority of cases have placed Irish landlords in as good a position as they are likely to be placed in under this Bill, and that it might have prevented a great many of the misfortunes which have happened in Ireland between 1886 and now. To come to the present Bill, the one point of serious interest, as it seems to me, to which one can allude on the Second Reading is this:—Will the landlords as a rule sell? because if they do not as a rule sell, I am afraid that a serious state of things may follow. The state of things which will follow will, of course, he that state of things which to some extent is existing now, and which was foretold at the time of the passing of the Land Act of 1891—namely, that you have two sets of tenants, one the pun chasing tenant and the other the tenant who has not purchased, farming identical land, and paying a rent on an entirely different scale for that land; and if this new system of purchase under this Act is only partially adopted, that difficulty will be vastly increased.
I think it cannot be denied that every landlord who does not sell, supposing his tenants desire him to sell, under this Act, will cause his estate to become a centre of present discontent and the focus of possible disturbance in the future. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords in this House arid every influential landlord in Ireland will use the utmost pressure they can upon their friends in Ireland to induce them to take advantage of the provisions of this Act, and not to allow the possibility of a new land agitation arising owing to the fact that some landlords are unwilling to sell. One knows that there 1176 are cantankerous and unreasonable people in every class, and I confess I look forward with some dismay to the possibility of what may happen if some unreasonable landlord is unwilling to sell to his tenants on grounds which to them and to the public at large seem entirely insufficient.
Now, will the landlords sell on a large scale? It appears to me that there are four reasons which in Great Britain cause the possession of a large agricultural estate to be agreeable and advantageous, and only the first of those reasons applies strongly to Ireland. The first reason is the one which was mentioned by the noble Duke who spoke last, arid whom I heard with great sympathy on that point—the unwillingness of a man who is in possession of an ancestral estate which has come down to him through many generations to sever his connection with it. I quite agree that it must be a severe wrench, as the noble Duke said, for many a man in that position. One does not like to think of historical Irish names like that of the noble Duke opposite, like that of O'Brien, Fitzgerald, Butler, and Beresford altogether severed from the possession of Irish land; but those owners, and others like them, must he content to consider that in selling their estates they are carrying out their part of a great national policy. It so happens that a great many Irish landlords are great British landlords also. Of those who own the first dozen largest valuations in Ireland more than half have an interest in land in England or Scotland, which is always considerable, and in some cases greater than their Irish interests; and therefore in severing their connection with Irish land they will not be severing their connection with land altogether.
Then I come to the second advantage of the possession of an agricultural estate in England and Scotland, namely, the pleasure which is derived from its management and administration. We know that that pleasure has practically departed from the Irish landlord. Even before 1870 it was not the custom in Ireland to take so direct a part in the management of and expenditure on Irish estates as is taken in the case of British estates, and since 1881 it may be said to have ceased altogether. Therefore, that tie to the land may be in the main struck off in the case of Irish landlords. Then the third advantage to the British landlord is the fact that the possession of a large estate 1177 still gives a certain degree of political influence. I am afraid it must be said that in Ireland that attraction has also ceased. I should hope that one of the results of the passing of this measure will be that, whereas at this moment it is not an easy matter for an Irish landlord to be elected on any Irish County Council, after it has passed he will be welcomed on the Council as one of the principal men in his district. But so far as political influence from the possession of land is concerned, that I think must also he struck off. The fourth attraction of owning a large agricultural estate is the sport to be derived from it. The one sport of all others which depends most of all upon the possession of a large agricultural acreage—I mean that of partridge shooting—is not a distinctively Irish sport; and so far as other kind of sports are concerned I sincerely trust that landlords will be able to maintain them as they have them now, under the provisions of this Bill.
The noble Duke who spoke last told us that he, as representing the landlords in this House, was prepared to present certain Amendments to this Bill. I join with the noble Duke, the Leader of the House, in hoping that these Amendments may not be of so controversial a character as in any way to imperil the passage of the Bill. Of course, I am not in any way able to foresee what form those Amendments may take, but I sincerely hope the noble Duke and his friends will not attempt to interfere with the arrangement which was reached in the other House with respect to the minimum price. It is not necessary, after the clear statement of the noble Duke, to go in any way into the question of the zones. It is perfectly clear that the retention of a maximum price is an advantageous thing from the point of view of the British taxpayer, but if a rigid minimum price was fixed it seems absolutely evident that in some eases it would interfere with the transactions taking place at all. When one considers the enormous difference in the number of years purchase at which land has been sold in Ireland—it has been sold as high as forty-five years purchase—and I remember a case of a small estate being sold on an average of nine years purchase with a minimum of six years—it certainly does seem that the adoption of anything like a fixed minimum price must interfere with certain transactions 1178 taking place at all, with the possible result of raising that ill-feeling which I mentioned just now. I am aware, of course, that the argument for limitation is the supposed possibility that some impecunious and unscrupulous landlord may fix a rather ruinous price with his tenant, collar the bonus and retire from the scene with a small amount of ready money, but I should hope that the provisions which have been placed in the Bill under the compromise will prevent the possibility of any occurrence of that kind.
With regard to sporting rights, I should not be surprised it some of the Amendments of the noble Duke opposite were directed to that point. I do not know whether he will try to secure sporting rights being left by the Bill more definitely the property of the landlord than they are in the measure as presented to us, but I should like to remind him of this, that after all the agreement which is suggested in the Bill as being the proper method of arriving at the possession of sporting rights is an absolutely necessary factor in that question. No amount of donation of sporting rights to a landlord by any Act of Parliament will give him any real enjoyment of those rights unless the people who occupy the land are willing to join in and agree with the arrangement, and consequently, although the wording of the Bill may seem to some extent to take away from landlords without compensation what they have at present, I cannot believe that that will be in ally degree the result of the passing of the Bill as it stands. I must also remind the noble Duke that the words inserted in the other House were the result of a compromise after a long debate, and that they had the peculiar distinction of being suggested by the Solicitor-General for England, forming, I believe, almost his sole contribution to the discussion during the whole time the Bill was in another place.
I confess that there are one or two points on which I should have liked to have seen the Bill amended. I should have liked, and I believe it would have met the wishes of both parties ill Ireland, to have seen a time limit fixed for the application of the bonus. I think it certainly would have placed the matter in a more satisfactory position if landlords had been obliged, in order to got the bonus, to lodge a notice of their intention to sell within, say, 5 or 6 years. I am aware, of course, of the objection that is 1179 taken to this course, and which proved fatal to it in another place, namely, the risk of the disturbance of the money market by a great rush of applications made at the same time. I do not profess to he any authority on that point, and if that objection is so strong I admit that it must be a fatal objection. I cannot help, however, shedding a tear in passing over that time limit, because I think it would have been a distinctly advantageous addition to the Bill.
I confess also that I should have been glad to see the Congested Districts Board furnished with some stronger powers than these which they possess in the Bill. No one can appreciate more thoroughly than I do the admirable work of the Congested Districts Board. It is the fashion, and I think not without some ground, to say hard things of the system of boards existing in Irish government, as compared with the single man system which we favour in this country, but if I ever join in that condemnation of boards I should especially except the Congested Districts Board, because it has been admirably composed and the work it has done has been of the highest possible value. At the same time it cannot be denied that its particular operations in assisting migration and purchase of estates have been tardy. I do not say it is the fault of the Board, but disappointment has been caused by the slowness and the small number of operations that have taken place in this direction. I should hope that under the Bill the pace will be considerably quickened, but still if some powers of stronger pressure could have been placed on the Congested Districts Board to enable them to acquire, rather more quickly, land suitable for their purpose, I should heartily have welcomed it.
I desire to say one word now from an entirely different standpoint—that of the British taxpayer. I am inclined to agree with what the Chief Secretary said, that, so far as the cash payment is concerned, it does not very much matter whether we pay cash or pledge our credit. In the existing prosperity of this country, so far as our safety and comfort is concerned, I do not know that there is very much difference between the two things; but I am obliged to say a word with regard to the fact that this Bill will place the British taxpayer in direct contact with the Irish tenant, a proceeding to which Lord Dufferin, 1180 thirty five years ago, took such strong exception. What is the security which the British Exchequer has in the case of these sales? In the first place, it has the security of the land itself, but that is the last security of which it would wish to make use, and it cannot be considered, for the purposes of the British taxpayer, as an effective security. Then it has the security of being able to withdraw the Exchequer grants now made to Ireland, but that does not seem a very practical security. By withdrawing those grants you would unquestionably create a revolution in Ireland, if you had not one there as your reason for withdrawing the grants. It is perfectly clear that to withdraw these grants would absolutely dislocate the whole system of local government in Ireland. Then it is said the Exchequer has the security of the difference between what would be the rack rent of the land and the annuity paid by the purchasing tenant. That, of course, is only a moral security. Once the tenant is gone, owing to his not paying his annuity, that security is worth nothing, for this reason, that by the nature of the case the incoming tenant would certainly be unwilling to pay anything more than the annuity, supposing, which is doubtful, you could get an incoming tenant at all.
But, as a matter of fact, I am not disposed to quarrel with the security. I believe the moral security is an exceedingly good one, and that is the real security which the Government is taking under this Bill. I am bound to point out, however, that in taking that security noble Lords opposite, and the Party to which they belong, seem to be taking a very different view of the Irish tenant from that which they have taken of him in past years. In past years the Irish tenant was apt to be described as a man whose grievance was founded partly upon a simple desire to get more money into his own pocket, and partly upon the statements of designing agitators. He was partly a knave and partly a dupe. If I believed one tithe of the things we have heard in this House, and out of it, of Irish farmers as a class, I should be very much disposed to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill; but a great deal of what was said then was said in the heat of controversy, and I hope we may be able to draw the sponge over the whole of that slate.
But the fact that you are willing to give this security has a certain bearing on 1181 another question. It was asked in the debates in another place, and it has been asked at different times in the country—What is the bearing of this great land change upon the political question of the government of Ireland? Will the concession of this measure increase the Nationalist demand in Ireland, or will it diminish it? I have no desire to argue that point There is something, no doubt, to be said on both sides. After all, the strongest and most active Nationalist agitation has always come in Ireland, not from the country, but from the towns, and I am disposed to doubt whether any settlement of the agrarian question will seriously affect that demand. From one point of view I do not know that it very much matters whether it does or not. If it does affect that demand nobody, at any rate on this side of the House, would desire to force anything in the nature of further self-government on unwilling Irishmen. If the demand is not checked by this legislation, then that demand will have to be met in some form or other. But my point is this, that in giving tins intense proof of confidence in the Irish tenant you are showing inure faith in his honesty, in his self-restraint, and in Ins good sense than if you were to confer upon him some sort of subordinate legislature to sit in Dublin. That is a fact which seems to me to be beyond dispute, and while thoroughly endorsing, as I do, the action of His Majesty's Government in conferring this proof of confidence upon the Irish farmer, I do not wish to disguise from myself what its nature is.
I cannot help feeling that the progress of the settlement under this measure may be to some extent endangered by the fiscal proposals of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, can altogether regard with a benediction the sudden action of his colleague in this matter. I am not going to argue any point of Mr. Chamberlain's proposals. As those proposals stand they come to this, that a certain preference is to be placed on articles of food coming from the colonies as against those coming from other parts of the world. What the amount of that preference may be we are not yet permitted to know, but it seems to be very difficult to escape from the proposition that if that preference is to be in any way effective it 1182 must have an effect on the price of produce in this country. That being so, the uncertainty existing as to the amount of that preference on food, and, even when we know the amount, as to whether that amount will some day be increased or decreased, is likely to retard the action to be taken under this Bill. There is no doubt that a very moderate preference on meat would be a distinct benefit to the Irish farmer. Noble Lords opposite cheer, but will noble Lords be so very ready, while the amount of that preference remains uncertain, to enter into negotiation for the sale of their land? because it certainly seems to me that is might so happen that is some years hence the price of meat was artificially raised by some proposal such as that favoured by the Colonial Secretary, noble Lords and other landlords in Ireland who had started off at once to sell might find that they had made and exceedingly bad bargain. I am very much afraid that the consciousness of that possibility in the minds of landlords and tenants may have some very appreciable effect in retarding operations under this Bill.
In the conclusion I hope that this great measure will pass very much in the form in which it is presented to your Lordships. The moment for its passage is exceedingly propitious. Nobody, I think, can have listened to or read the debates in another place without seeing the extreme desire for a settlement which exists on both sides of the House. That desire was first exemplified in the conference to which the noble Duke, the Leader of the House, referred, and I certainly desire to join in the congratulation to my noble friend, Lord Dunraven, for the part he took in presiding over that conference. The real value of the conference was by no means only in the positive propositions which it made, but in the fact that it showed the people of this country for the first time that both sides really meant business. That felling of sympathy is one good sign. We have had another very happy sign in the auspicious visit of their Majesties to Ireland, where they received a greeting which must have surpassed almost the highest hopes of those, and their number includes everybody in this country, who took a deep interest in their Majesties' visit. This measure will, I believe, go some way to realize the hopes of those, and I should wish to be numbered among them who regard 1183 Ireland and its people with special interest and affection; and I believe that beyond that it will, by pacifying that country, realise the hopes of those of your Lordships and of those all over the Empire who have no internal knowledge or special interest in that country, but who have regarded the distress and disaffection of Ireland as the one dark shadow which has been drawn across our splendid Imperial system.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, though I have some criticisms to make upon the Bill before your Lordships I wish at once to congratulate His Majesty's Government, and especially the Minister more immediately responsible for the Bill, upon having brought up to your Lordships' House a measure of so large and statesmanlike a character. The Bill, even if in some respects not as satisfactory as I and some others might desire, is, we must admit, couched in a broad and statesmanlike spirit, and is a determined effort to solve a problem which is absolutely vital to Ireland, and which, being vital to Ireland, is, I think, of no insignificant importance to the United Kingdom and to the Empire. It is greatly to be regretted that efforts have Been made in various quarters to mis-state and to entirely undervalue the importance of this Bill. It has been described as a kind of Landlords' Relief Bill, and a sort of co-operative brigandage on the part of Irishmen of all classes directed against the Treasury.
The Bill is nothing of the kind. It is a very large measure dealing with a very vast subject. The development of feudalism which took root and grew up naturally in great Britain, and which has proved satisfactory in this country, has never been deemed satisfactory in Ireland. Ireland has never been tranquil under it. For centuries and centuries she has protested against it more or less vigorously, and in my opinion one of the chief merits of this measure is that it recognises that a system which has worked perfectly well and is suitable to the physical characteristics of the people of Great Britain is unsuitable to the physical characteristics and to the genius and nature of the people of Ireland. This Bill does away with the last remnant of that system, and it does away also with the present utterly absurd system of land tenure in Ireland, a system 1184 which is disastrous not only to both classes engaged in agriculture—the main industry—but is also demoralising to the whole country.
Under the present system it is impossible, of course, for any landowner to lay out any capital on the land, because it is out of the question that he can ever get any value for it or any interest upon it. It is practically compulsory upon the tenant to produce his farm at the expiration of every statutory term in the most dilapidated condition in which it is possible to produce it. What is the inevitable result? To cheek nearly all enterprise and nearly all industry. It is demoralising to the tenant farmers because it forces upon them a system of deception: it is ruinous to the landlords, and it is of no benefit whatever to any class or individual in the country. Whether the Act of 1881 and the subsequent Acts are to he considered as satisfying a necessary transitory condition of things, or whether we are to look upon them as utterly and entirely had, is a question I will not argue, because I do not suppose that any Member of this House, or scarcely any person outside a lunatic asylum, would deny the proposition that the present system is unutterably had in Ireland.
The Bill aims at abolishing a system which Ireland has protested against for centuries and centuries, and it aims at abolishing the present system which everybody admits to be entirely bad. Of course, in such a large operation as the transfer of practically the whole of the agricultural soil of Ireland from one class to another, accomplishing a great, peaceable and beneficial social revolution, the financial requirements must be very large. My noble friend Lord Crewe has alluded to the effect on the British taxpayer. I do not quite know why the "British" taxpayer specially, because Irishmen pay taxes and are just as much involved in this matter, so far as their numbers and taxable capacity go, as the inhabitants of England, Scotland and Wales. I think your Lordships need be under no misapprehension whatever as to the security which the taxpayers of the United Kingdom have for this great loan of £112,000,000. After all, the best way in which you can possibly judge of the value of their security is by the fact that large sums of money have already been lent on security of precisely similar character. 1185 You must remember that something like, I think, 80,000 tenants have purchased, that there has not only been not the slightest indication of any desire of repudiation, but that the deficit form what I may call purely natural causes has been practically nil. I do not believe for a moment that the Irish tenant farmer will ever evince any desire to repudiate, but even suppose for the sake of argument that he is not influenced by a sense of his moral obligations, you have 80,000 men, the great majority of whom have paid off a large proportion of their debt, and many of them are approaching the period when they will become the owners of their farms. It is impossible to conceive that those men would countenance anything like a general repudiation, and precisely the same state of things will grow up under this new loan.
However well the Act may work, a considerable time must elapse before the whole transfer can be accomplished, and in the meantime the men who buy early will every year be coming nearer and nearer to the redemption of their debt, and every year their property will be becoming more and more valuable; and even if you do not consider that the Irish tenant farmer has any particular moral sense about him, repudiation is, I think, out of the question. They dare not do it. The risk of losing valuable property would be too great. The main question, I think, before us to-night is: Will the Bill as it stands effect those great objects which it is intended to carry out? I need not point out to the House that the Bill will be a dead failure unless the large majority of both classes interested are satisfied. If it is not worth while for the tenant to buy, the Bill will be a failure, however willing the landlords may be to sell; and if, on the other hand, the landlords will not sell, the fact that the tenants are ready to buy will be of no avail whatever.
The noble Duke who introduced the Bill made some allusion to the report of the Land Conference, and he said, what was perfectly true, that that conference made no attempt to formulate a definite scheme. I think they were very wise not to do so. It was not one of their functions to draw out an absolutely definite scheme, and to do so they would have been obliged to take upon themselves the some-what presumptuous duty of dictating to the Treasury the exact terms and amount 1186 of the loan, and so on. They contented themselves, therefore, with laying down general propositions, and, as has been pointed out, the great value of that conference was that it showed that men who knew something about the business they were attending to, who knew something about the requirements and necessities of the classes they represented, came to unanimous conclusions as to the main principles which they drought were necessary for successfully instituting a system of peasant proprietary.
The Report of the Laud Conference—said and this indicates the general idea that the conference had as to what was necessary for both occupiers and tenants—that for the future welfare of Ireland, and for the smooth working of any measure dealing with the transfer of laud, it was necessary, first, that the occupiers should be started on their new career as owners on a fair and favourable basis ensuring reasonable chances of success; that in view of the responsibilities to be assumed by them, they should receive some inducement to purchase; that owners should receive some recognition of the fact that selling may involve a sacrifice of sentiment, and also of the fact that they have already suffered heavily by the operations of the Land Acts, and should be encouraged to sell; and that for the benefit of the whole community it was of the greatest importance that the income derived from the sale of property in Ireland should be continued to be expended in Ireland. Acting on those principles certain recommendations were made by the conference. I say at once that I regret that the Bill does not carry out those recommendations in their entirety, because I am perfectly confident that if it had been possible to carry them out they would have made a final settlement of this question without any difficulty whatever. But that is past praying for.
The Bill does not quite come up to the requirements of the Land Conference Report, and we have got to consider how nearly it comes up to it both in respect to the tenants and the owners of the land. There is a great difference after all between the suggestions of the conference and the proposals in the Bill. The conference suggested a system of periodical decadal reductions. The Bill does not provide that, and I regret it, because if a man finds himself in difficulties through a bad season or otherwise, it would be an 1187 immense encouragement to him to, feel and know that in the course of a comparatively short time he would get relief by a reduction of his instalments. However, I do not pursue that, because that also is out of the question. I very thankfully admit that the Bill does offer very substantial inducement to tenant farmers to buy. I should imagine that tenant farmers will naturally, in considering whether to buy or not to buy, contrast their position if they do not purchase with their position if they do. It is, of course, impossible to say what reductions may be made on a third or fourth valuation of land in Ireland. All the data we have to go upon are that rents have been reduced by something like, I think, 42 per cent., that the bedrock must be reached some time or other, and that rents coming up recently for revision have received scarcely any reduction at all.
I will assume, for the sake of argument, what I think is an exaggeration, that rents would be reduced 10 per cent. on third valuation, and 10 per cent. again on fourth valuation, and I will assume that a tenant buying gets the average reduction contemplated in the Bill of 20 per cent. off his second-term rent. Take the case of two men who have had the second-term rent recently fixed. One does not buy and the other does. The man who does not buy will have to wait at any rate thirty years before he gets 20 per cent. off his second-term rent. At the end of forty-five years he will be still paying rent 20 per cent. below his second-term rent, and I think it is safe to assume that he will not have the shadow of a chance of getting any further reduction, and he will still he a tenant under a landlord without any prospect whatever of becoming the owner of the fee-simple of the land. The other man who buys will get his 20 per cent. reduction at once. In forty-five years he will have paid off two-thirds of his loan and will be within measurable distance of acquiring the fee-simple ownership of his farm, and his farm will have increased enormously in value if he wants to sell it or to raise money upon it. I think the advantages to the purchaser are enormous, and I believe that the tenant farmers of Ireland will recognise it, and admit that though the Bill does not come up to their expectations with respect to containing a system of decadal reductions, it is not very far short of the recommendations and suggestions of the Land Conference.
1188 As to the landlords, I am bound to say that I do not think the advantages to them are quite so clear, and I should like to state what the position of the landlord is and what I think is due to them. The noble Duke observed in the beginning of his speech that landlords had given up any idea of compensation for the losses inflicted upon them by legislation. I daresay that is so. They have given up any idea of compensation because they find there is no chance of getting it; but, so far as I am concerned, I admit that Irish landlords were treated with the grossest and most iniquitous injustice. All the sophistry of all the sophists who have lived cannot get over the hard fact that solid property—property which had been freely bought and sold, which had been used as security for loans—was taken away from one set of men and given to another without one farthing of compensation. But I put that point on one side. I want to consider the situation as it now is. I have seen it often said that the Bill is extremely favourable to owners of land because under it it is possible, and perhaps certain, that they will get a larger price for their property than the average selling price which landlords' interests have obtained in the past. That is a very plausible argument, but an entirely false one.
I do not want to allude to the National League and other combinations and organisations of that kind, but I must do so to the extent of saying—and I am sure every one of your Lordships w ho has held the responsible position of Viceroy in Ireland will bear me out—that it is absurd to say that there has been any open and really free and unrestricted market for landlords' property in Ireland for the last thirty years. The primary object of all these combinations was to make the landlords' position untenable and his property unsaleable. I do not argue the point whether the value of the landlords' interests has been or has not been reduced below their true intrinsic value. That is arguable; but I contend that it is impossible to say that the average selling price of landlords' interests has proved to be a fair price because it has been obtained in an open and unrestricted market. The market has not been open, has not been unrestricted, and it would he perfectly idle to imagine that the great majority of landlords now left in Ireland would be prepared to sell 1189 at anything like the price that has hitherto been obtained. As a matter of fact, bankrupt stock has been sold out in a restricted market, and at a price which certainly cannot be called its true competitive value. The only way in which the value of the landlord's property can be estimated is the way in which it is estimated in the Bill, and in which it was suggested it ought to be estimated in the Land Conference Report, and that is by the income derived from judicial rents.
I think I should mention to such of your Lordships as are not conversant with Ireland, that there is a great difference between land in Ireland and land in England in two respects. My rent in England is a very precarious one. It may be varied in any year, almost any day, but my rent is fixed for me by a Judicial Court in Ireland, and is absolutely invariable for many years; and there is this point, that if my rent goes down in England, the selling value of the farm has decreased at least proportionately, but in Ireland the value may not have decreased at all. I think there are other circumstances which ought to be taken account of in considering the position of the landlords. Ought no account to be taken of the enormous sacrifice of sentiment that they will have to make? Is it reasonable to tell me that the Irish landowners are the only Irishmen who attach no importance and have no love for the soil? No man will part with a light heart, or with anything lint a very sore and sad heart, with broad acres which have descended to him from father to son for generations and centuries. The landlords will cling at least as tenaciously as any other Irishman to the soil and to the traditions that cluster round the soil, and it is a heavy sacrifice that the Bill asks of them to ask them to sell.
It may he said: If landlords attach so much importance to ownership, why are they willing to sell at all? They are willing to sell because the present system in Ireland is a system not only ruining them, but ruining and demoralising the whole country, checking and crippling her industry, and smothering all her aspirations. It is an intolerable state of things, and that is the reason why landlords are willing to make this great sacrifice of sentiment and to sell, but it is not fair and reasonable to ask them also to make an actual sacrifice of income. You cannot 1190 expect men to ruin themselves and those dependent upon them. Your Lordships must remember that the very great majority of landowners in Ireland are poor men—men living or trying to live upon a very small margin of income, and they cannot sell at any price that involves a serious loss of income. It would be useless to ask them to do so. What sense would there he in asking a man to sell and make a loss of income because, if he did not, his rents might be reduced in 15 years time? The latter is a possibility, of course, and I dare say a probability; butt there is always the off-chance of his rents being increased and not reduced. But in any case if you are asking a man to go to the workhouse now, and he has an alternative of not going for 15 years, I think it is probable that he would select the latter course.
This Bill gives the landlords certain collateral advantages, such, for example, as the power to sell and re-purchase their demesne lands, and it contains the grant-in-aid, and the grant-in-aid to my mind is the key of the whole situation. Why the grant-in-aid has been called a gift to landlords I have not the least idea. In the first place, it is not a gift at all, but a loan which will be repaid; and, in the second place, why to the landlords? If I want £100 for a horse, and one of your Lordships wants to buy it, and can only offer me £90, and a beneficent fairy trips on the scene and offers a bonus of a ten-pound note, I should have thought the bonus would have been generally considered to have been given to the purchaser and not to the seller. It matters very little which way you take it, but the grant-in-aid is an absolutely necessary grant to bridge over the gap which must exist between the price that the willing seller can take and the willing purchaser can give, and it is immaterial whether you look at it as a gift to the landlord to enable him to take the price the tenant can give, or to the tenant to enable him to offer the price which the landlord will take.
The only criticism I have to make on the grant-in-aid is that it is not quite big enough. If it had been a little bigger it would have been much wiser. It would, I believe, have been truer economy, because after all the success of this Bill is the true measure of value received for this gigantic loan that the State is making, 1191 and a little stouter and a little stronger bridge would have settled the question without any difficulty. As it is, my Lords, I am bound in honesty to say that I have some doubts whether, under the provisions of the Bill as it stands, it will be possible for the great majority of landlords to give such reduction of rent as a reasonable and prudent tenant ought to receive without making a loss of income which the landlord cannot stand.
I do not want to worry your Lordships with figures. Your Lordships can work it out for yourselves But if you will assume that the tenant is to receive the average reduction contemplated in the Bill of 20 per cent.; if you assume that the cost of collection is 5 per cent.—and I do not think, as a matter of fact, it ought to be taken at more than 5 per cent., for although the average cost of collection over large estates is 7½ per cent. (5 per cent for agents' fees and 2½ per cent. for other expenses), in a great number of small estates there are no agents at all, with the result that if you want to get at the real effect which the Bill will have on landlords, you ought not to knock off more than 5 per cent. for collection—if you assume that the cost of collection is 5 per cent., and assume a 20 per cent. reduction, and, further, that the purchase money has to be invested in trust securities, and will not bring in more than 3¼ per cent., you will find that the result to the landlord will be a loss of £10 on every £90 of income. And that is too large. It will take, roughly speaking, the whole of the grant-in-aid and the 3½ per cent. investment to enable the landlord to give 20 per cent. off second-term rents and not make a loss. I am not sure that under the Bill as it now stands that can in the great majority of cases be done.
I do not propose to allude to large portions of the Bill—those which apply to the Congested Districts Board or to labourers. I take it that the sections applying to the Congested Districts Board are more or less experimental; that is to say, that if they do not succeed in the objects the Government aim at, further legislation on that subject may become necessary; and it is admitted that the portions of the Bill dealing with the labourers are more or less of a provisional character, so I will not touch upon them 1192 at all. The two points I do wish to bring before the House are, first, the uncertainty that exists as to the amount of legal expenses which will have to be deducted from the grant-in-aid; and, secondly, the rate of distribution of the bonus. I do not understand what the Bill proposes to do about legal expenses incidental to proving title to the purchase money, and if any Member of His Majesty's Government intends to speak on this Bill and will explain what the various clauses which deal with the subject mean I should be very grateful, for I do not understand them. It is obvious that some portion of these legal expenses are to be chargeable to the expenses of the Land Commission, but what portion, and how much, nobody knows.
Is it not obvious that the one thing more than another likely to deter landowners from selling is the uncertainty as to the income they will have after selling, and I do beg of His Majesty's Government to most seriously consider whether it is not possible, without increasing the money required, to relieve the landlords, not only of the legal expenses incidental to proving title to the land, but also of the legal expenses incidental to proving title to the purchase money, and if that is impossible, at any rate to make it perfectly clear what proportion of those expenses will be chargeable as expenses of the Land Commission. Of course, I do not mean that the State should take over all the legal expenses. There will, of course, always be private legal expenses in connection with the sale, which should be borne by the land lord; but if this measure is to be as successful as we all hope it will be, the requirements of the Land Commission ought to be satisfied by the Land Commission and be chargeable to the expenses of the Land Commission.
I would remind your Lordships in connection with that, that a not inconsiderable slice has been cut off from the landlords in the other House of Parliament. The instalments are the basis and foundation of the whole transaction, and as the Bill was introduced on the instalment, whatever it might be, a certain advance was made based on the fact that seven-eighths of the loan was to be liquidated in years; but as the Bill comes up to your Lordships' House the whole of 1193 the loan, and not seven-eighths of it, has to be liquidated in 68½ years, and, as a necessary consequence, the advance to he made on any instalment, whatever it may be, is proportionately less. That amount, whatever it may be—something between 2 millions and 3 millions—must come out of the landlords' pockets and must go back into the pockets of the Treasury. Well, half of that, or not so much as half of it, would certainly be sufficient to ensure that no portion of the expenses incidental to proving title to land should he borne by the selling landlord. The grant-in-aid is, as I say, the great factor of the situation. It is the one thing that will enable landlords and tenants to come together; and as long as there is this indefinite mortgage hanging over the grant-in-aid, I am afraid that a very serious drag will exist to prevent sales.
Then I object to the grant-in-aid being distributed at the rate of 12 per cent. The bonus is a definite sum of £12,000,000. The capitalised value of the whole of the property to he dealt with is estimated by His Majesty's Governmentat £100,000,000, and £12,000,000 on £100,000,000 is 12 per cent. Therefore the bonus is to be distributed at the rate of 12 per cent., but there is about £20,000,000 worth of property in the hands of the Land Judge's Court, which is not eligible to receive any bonus at all. The £12,000,000 is therefore distributable on £80,000,000 and not on £100,000,000, and £12,000,000 on £80,000,000 is 15 per cent., and not 12 per cent.; the initial rate of distribution ought, therefore, to be 15, and not 12 per cent. I admit that it may be found after a time that the capitalized value of the property to be dealt with has been underestimated. I admit, too, that it may be found that the value of the property in the Land Judge's Court has been overestimated. I do not think so. But what I would point out to your Lordships is this that the rate of distribution is variable every five years, and if it is found after five, ten, or fifteen years, that the £12,000,000 will not go round, the rate of distribution can be diminished. I do not want one farthing more money from the Treasury. All I want to be certain of is that this £12,000,000 is not only receivable, but is received; and to make sure of that you must commence with an initial rate of 15 per cent. If you find, after five years, that that is too much, you can reduce it 1194 to whatever is necessary. That would be a perfectly just, fair, and reasonable thing to do. But if you begin at 12 per cent., it would be manifestly unjust to landlords who had sold to increase it, and it would be offering a distinct inducement to landlords not to sell, but to hold on until they could get more than 12 per cent., and it would tend to destroy the whole value of the operation of the Bill.
I would ask His Majesty's Government to consider that matter, and see whether, without making any further demand upon the Treasury, which I do not for a moment propose to do, it is not advisable that the initial rate of distribution should be 15 per cent. I believe if the Bill can be amended in that direction it will work smoothly and satisfactorily. If it cannot be so amended, I am bound to say I have some fear that it may prove disappointing to those who, like myself, desire to see a clean, business-like, final settlement of this vexed question. It has often been asked whether this Bill, if successful, will settle the Irish question; and it has been stated that whether the Bill passes or not there will always be an Irish question. I sincerely hope so. But of one thing I am pretty sure, that if this Bill does make a final and amicable settlement of questions of land tenure, the majority of those questions will be settled without any very great difficulty. I should be sorry to prophesy, but I should not mind saying that if this question is finally and amicably settled, all other questions will be approached and discussed and debated in Ireland in a very different spirit from that which has obtained up to the present.
Whether it will settle the land question depends, I think, to a considerable extent on whether the Bill can be amended in the directions I have indicated. It depends, also, of course, upon the view taken of the Bill, and the attitude assumed towards it, by the two classes mainly interested—the landlords and the tenants. If the landlords are exorbitant in their demands the tenants will not be able to buy, and the Bill will he a failure; if the tenants are exorbitant in their demands the landlords will not be able to sell, and the Bill will be a failure. If, as I believe, the vast majority of both owners and occupiers of land desire to treat each other fairly in this matter, and are honestly anxious to understand each other's position 1195 and each other's requirements and difficulties, and will act in that spirit, then the Bill is capable of settling the land question, and, if it does, it would be impossible to exaggerate the good effect that would be produced in Ireland. The Bill is capable of relieving Ireland from the kind of nightmare under which she has struggled for centuries; it is capable of giving her a system of land tenure suitable to the characteristics of the country and to the character and genius of the people; it is capable of acting as a healthy, wholesome stimulus to the main, and almost the only industry of Ireland—agriculture—and, by fostering a more manly, self-dependent spirit, of encouraging Ireland to labour energetically and successfully in developing whatever other industries she is capable of supporting. I believe the Bill has it in it to convert the people of Ireland from a sad and despondent frame of mind to a healthy and energetic one; to foster a real, manly, self-dependent national spirit among them; and if the Bill has that effect it will do even a great deal more than accomplish the regeneration of Ireland—because, although the British Empire is very wealthy and very vast, and Ireland is very small and very poor, still it must not be forgotten that in these islands the heart of the Empire lies.
* THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, although not so closely interested as many of your Lordships in this Bill, I venture to take part in this discussion as an Englishman who nevertheless takes a very deep and sympathetic interest in the affairs of Ireland. The subject of this Bill is not really a political one; it is essentially an economical one. Nevertheless, it is the political consequences which it may have which loom large in the minds of those who are discussing it. Is it going to be final? Does it mean peace? Is it going to terminate that ancient feud between the landlords and tenants of Ireland which has hitherto proved so disastrous to the interests of their common country? How will it affect the question of Home Rule? Will it make the government of Ireland more easy or more difficult in the future? All these are questions which have been very freely debated in this country since the introduction of the Bill, and they are questions round which attention has been concentrated, even, I think, to the exclusion of the real issue, which is the effect 1196 the Bill will have on the economic situation in Ireland. For it is with the Irish land system that we are really dealing, and the main subject for consideration is the present system of land tenure in Ireland as compared with the system winch, encouraged by this Bill, is going, we hope, to take its place.
It is no more possible in this House than it was in the House of Commons to have a perfectly disinterested economic discussion, because those of your Lordships who are Irish landlords cannot ignore the effect which the Bill will have upon themselves personally, and they cannot fail to look to their own interests in this matter. But I feel, and I say it with all deference, that the main interests of the landlords of Ireland are bound up with this Bill. The noble Duke who presides over the Landowners' Convention said that no money could compensate the landlords for the sacrifices of sentiment which they were going to make, and the noble Lord who has just spoken also referred to the position in which the landlords stood. I say at once that I feel the greatest possible sympathy with Irish landlords and with the sacrifices which they may have to make. But are there then no drawbacks to the present position of an Irish landlord, and will there be no compensation if this Bill, as I think it does, affords them an opportunity which they have never had before, of associating themselves with a great national movement, of assuming their rightful position as the leaders of Irish opinion and sympathisers with Irish aspirations, and of surrounding themselves with those feelings of affection and of confidence which, unfortunately, the circumstances attaching to their present position have prevented them from enjoying? For, my Lords, this Bill marks a current of events, an evolution of circumstances, which is absolutely inevitable.
I do not think that any of your Lordships will defend on economic grounds the present system of dual ownership of land in Ireland. However necessary the Act of 1881 may have been politically, no one, I think, will urge that a system under which it is the interest both of the landlord and the tenant to neglect the land is the best possible system which can he devised in the interests of agriculture generally. The system of periodical revision of rent by a judicial body has 1197 done incalculable damage to agriculture in Ireland. It has impoverished the soil, embittered still more the relations between landlord and tenant, and the only outcome of this system has been perpetual litigation and unrest. What, then, are you to do? You cannot take away from the tenant the part ownership of his land which he already enjoys. You cannot sweep away the Act of 1881 and establish in its place a system of tenure such as we have in England, a system which is based on a free and generous competition between landlord and tenant. Past history shows that such a system as that is not workable in Ireland, because such competition is only possible where those who compete for the land have other pursuits to fall back on where they are unsuccessful, and this is not the case in Ireland. There are no other pursuits in that country. The Irish peasant is obliged either to cultivate his land or else to leave the country, and that circumstance alone is sufficient to make the system which we have in England impossible in Ireland. But at the same time you cannot be content with the present situation. You cannot stand still, you must go forward; and the only way out of the present situation is, therefore, by means of purchase.
We have not to consider what would be an ideal system of land tenure if we were free to choose. The problem with which we are faced is what system is best adapted to existing circumstances, and, therefore, whatever the disadvantage may be of the system of peasant proprietorship, it is the only possible alternative, and that is why we are asked to pass another Land Purchase Bill. I am perfectly aware that there are already some twenty-eight Land Purchase Acts upon the Statute-book, but as compared with this Bill t hey are all tentative and inadequate. This will be the first Act which really aims at making purchase universal upon a voluntary basis. Its provisions for simplifying the proof of title, for the purchase of estates in globo, for the repurchase by owners of their demesne land for dealing with the problem of congestion, these, as well as the cash bonus, all go far beyond anything attempted under any former Act.
But the most remarkable and most hopeful fact about the present Bill is that 1198 it is the outcome of an agreement that it is based upon a concordat between the two parties, which for so long and with such disastrous results have been irreconcilably opposed. This, at any rate, is no act of tardy justice obtained by force, grudgingly conceded on the one hand and grudgingly accepted on the other. It is a piece of legislation which both landlords and tenants have united in asking the Government to pass and winch both have been prepared in their common interests to make some sacrifices to obtain. My Lords, if the spirit that has made this Bill possible had been present in former years we should not have had to wait so long for a measure of this sort; much strife and bitterness might have been prevented, and the energy and ingenuity which has been wasted in unproductive political warfare might, if spent in the cultivation of the land, have made Ireland to-day a rich and prosperous country.
From first to last in the negotiations which have led up to the introduction of this Bill and during its passage through the House of Commons, largely, we must admit, owing to the tact and ability of the present Chief Secretary, there has been a spirit of co-operation between all parties interested. The landlords and tenants on the one hand have shown a readiness to do each other justice, and England on the other hand has proved herself willing to help Ireland to carry out a great measure of economic reform. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that nothing should he done in this House and that no note should be sounded to impair the harmony which has up to now been the most hopeful feature in in the recent transactions.
At the same time, we cannot forget that whereas the representatives of the tenants largely predominate in the House of Commons, the landlords not only predominate in this House, but the tenants are not represented at all. There may therefore be a temptation to press unduly the claim of one party, and I venture to hope that those of your Lordships who, as the Duke of Devonshire has reminded us, are loyal to the principle of this Bill and yet regard it with little enthusiasm, will remember that it rests on the basis 1199 of an agreement, and twill do nothing, therefore, which, though otherwise desirable, might injure the very foundation on which it rests.
My Lords, I cannot help feeling that this is an occasion unprecedented in the history of Irish legislation, and that the hopes that we are now on the threshold of a new period of prosperity in Ireland—a period of social peace and industrial activity—are not mere idle fancies, are not the hopes of mere ignorant enthusiasts, but are based on tangible facts and actual experience. First, we have the solid fact of the present conciliatory spirit in Irish politics—a fact which was emphasised during the recent triumphal visit of the King and Queen to Ireland. Secondly, we have the experience of those tenants who have actually bought their holdings under previous Acts.
Those of your Lordships who have read the report made by Mr. Bailey will realise how satisfactory that experience has been. I have that report here and I had intended to make some quotations from it, but as your Lordships are all aware of the nature of the experience of land purchase in the past in Ireland I shall not trouble you now by recurring to the report. But we have other examples to go upon.
We have the experience of the working of this system in Denmark. That is an essentially agricultural country, and is full of interest to students of the Irish problem. Crushed and ruined at the beginning of the century, and with nothing but her agriculture to go upon, she has gradually and with the most extraordinary spirit worked her way back into complete prosperity. In 1840 her population was only a little over 1,000,000, whereas to-day it is 2,500,000. Emigration has steadily diminished, and the figures which in 1891 were 10,000 are to-day only 4,000. Fifty years ago the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, but to-day it is not only a flourishing agricultural community, but it stands second among the nations of the world as the richest in average per head of its population. The means by which these results have been attained are so interesting in connection with Ireland that I will venture to refer your Lordships to some of the facts brought to light by a deputation which was sent out to Denmark by the Irish Department of 1200 Agriculture. The most important fact which has contributed to Danish prosperity is the establishment of a peasant proprietary, both for the large farmer and the agricultural labourer. It has been found that the consciousness of power and independence which ownership conferred upon the occupier produced a corresponding earnestness of pursuit, and enabled the Danish farmer to triumph over every difficulty. My Lords, if this Bill achieves its object we may look for similar results in Ireland.
The second factor is the adoption of co-operative methods in every department of agriculture, including credit and loan societies. The principle of co-operation is happily well understood in Ireland, and thanks to the life-work of Mr. Horace Plunkett—Sir Horace Plunkett, as we are now able to call him, and I take this, opportunity of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman upon this new distinction—the associative qualities of the Irishman are now being turned to the most profitable account.
But perhaps the most important of all the forces at work in Denmark is the splendid system of education given in the popular high schools, the influence of which is visible in every phase of the agricultural, industrial, and commercial life of that country, and which has been the chief means of preventing the excessive subdivision and mortgaging of land, which is the greatest danger attaching to any extensive system of land purchase. The education aims not only at providing practical and technical instruction, but also at the formation of character among the peasant workers, inspiring them with zeal to make the most of their newly acquired possessions, and with enlightened views of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, and above all impressing upon them the dignity which attaches universally in Denmark to agricultural employment. Such a system we have not yet complete in Ireland, but we have the elements out of which it may be formed. In the first place we have the advanced system of technical instruction given by the Department of Agriculture. Then we have the practical, sound educational work performed by the Organisation Society, and if these two systems of education can only be supplemented by and co-ordinated with a sound general elementary system of education, Ireland will have 1201 a system complete and well suited to her needs. That, my Lords, is a work for the future, but which I hope will be undertaken before very long after the passage of this Bill.
Finally there is one other feature which we cannot ignore at this moment, and which seems to bear on the remarks made by Lord Crewe. It is felt by the Danish farmer that the raw material out of which he has to make his industrial successes must belong to him just as much as does the land. He, therefore, attaches the greatest importance to the freedom from duty of imports of agricultural produce. I also find that several years ago, when the question of a general free trade policy for Denmark was discussed in the Danish Parliament, a petition in favour of it was signed by 30,000 farmers in Jutland.
My only reason for this digression is to show that all the elements which have contributed to the economic development of Denmark, are present to day in Ireland, and with that example before us we can look with some confidence to the future. If your Lordships will not only accept this Bill, but will go further and give encouragement to the carrying out of its provisions, and to the establishment of a peasant proprietary, you will have done much to hasten the arrival of the day when we can cease to look with shame on Ireland as a distracted and disunited country, a standing reproach to British statesmanship, and an abiding menace to the stability of our Empire, but can rather point to it with pride as a country at peace with others and at unity with itself, as the one land in all the British dominions where a people, unspoiled by the vanities and perplexities of modern civilisation, have found, in a cheerful devotion to honourable toil, a new national ideal which they can open their hearts to receive and give their lives to perpetuate.
* LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, it is on this House that the landlords must depend for Amendments and changes to make the Bill a workable measure. In the first place I protest strongly against the suggestion that this Bill is a boon to the Irish landlords. We have no wish to part with our property. In many cases our estates have been held by the same families for 1202 centuries, and we have the same affection for our old homes as your lordships feel for your homes in this country. We do not wish to become a sort of glorified villa residents enclosed in our own park wall, and separated in sympathy from the outer world, but we wish to live as Irishmen among Irishmen.
But to turn from sentiment to a practical point dealt with by Lord Crewe, we have been listening for the last two months to the voice of the charmer in the person of the Colonial Secretary, and many of us have thought to find in his terms an Ireland regenerated without a revolution, to find an increase of agricultural produce and stock, to such an extent as to cause even the Sub-Commissioner to increase our rents, and the tenants to pay with as much alacrity and cheerfulness as the British workmen will doubtless pay for the dearer loaf. But how will it affect the country at large? I do not wish to be a Cassandra then so many Unionists as well as Nationalists look upon the Bill as opening a new era for Ireland. I think that after this Bill is passed a great number of smaller landlords will leave the country, and I doubt whether the loss of so many men of wealth and culture will not be a serious loss to the country.
Co-operation is not a word that is very popular to the average Irishman, and yet it is co-operation alone, if we are to judge from the experience of other countries, that we must look to for the success of this system.
Again, take the climate of Ireland, it is a country of moisture-laden breezes wafted from the Atlantic. They give us that rich verdure for which Ireland is so famous, and enable us to raise stock for the English market, but continuous rain is very detrimental to tillage, and seems to point to the fact that the main parts of Ireland are more suitable to be a pastoral rather than an agricultural country.
I am prepared to vote for the Second Reading because I believe that, bad as the solution is, it is the only practical and possible solution of the Irish land question. The system of dual ownership was sown in 1881, and it has been so richly manured since by Liberal and Tory statesmen that it has borne a plentiful harvest. All that we can do is 1203 by Amendments to try and make the measure fair to all parties, and no one will be more pleased than I it that can be done with success, and my prognostications regarding the economic evil come to nothing. To make it a success, not only must the tenants be willing to buy and the landlords to sell, but that they will not be unless they are paid their price. The landlords will have £100,000,000. What will they do with it? It should be used as an asset for the development of the country. Let the Nationalists show that the land war is ended by inviting co-operation in every branch, of public life, of those who are loyal, but are not less Irishmen than themselves. Let there be a reign of law and order instead of one of terror and oppression, and they will find amongst the landlords many who are ready to help on the good work, and who are willing to sacrifice themselves if, by their sacrifice they can benefit the country to which they belong, and make, it as it has been poetically described, the first flower of the earth and the first gem of the sea.
* THE EARL OF BELMORE
My Lords, in the few observations I have to make I do not propose to discuss the general principles of the Bill, but I come to consideration of the question from a different point of view, possibly, from some who have spoken before, because I believe I.have probably as much experience as.any person in Ireland of the practical working of former Land Acts. I began to make preparations to sell parts of my estate so far back as 1881 or 1882, and I only succeeded in getting the final purchase money distributed last year. My experience extends over all the Acts of twenty years past.
The noble Duke alluded to the question of zones, and expressed the hope that no alteration would be made to them. Lord Crewe expressed the same opinion, and I concur in it. I think the Bill of this year as first introduced was a better Bill than that of last year, and it is still better as it is now before your Lordships. I have not heard any of my noble friends propose such an injudicious course as to alter the provisions of the Bill with regard to zones. The alteration made in the House of Commons on this point cuts both ways.
1204 A good many of my Irish friends are afraid they will suffer because of the possibility of the Estates Commissioners being able to sell below the lower limit. But there is another limit to be considered, and I am perfectly satisfied with the alteration made in the House of Commons.
Another point of great importance which the noble Duke touched upon lightly, about which Lord Dunraven made some remarks, was the omission of the ten years reductions. I am very sorry that these reductions have been abolished. They were first granted some years ago, and it appeared to me that it was a sort of boon granted to the tenants which it was impossible to take away. The tenants thereby knew what bargain they were making, as they knew the price would be reduced in ten years and further reduced ten years afterwards. I am told that these reductions were really a security to the State, and I think that this question is pretty sure to come up again in some future session. All the tenants under the Ashbourne Act of 1896 had a reduction of 9 per cent. The 1896 purchasers will have a reduction of 14 per cent. now, and surely the tenant who buys in the future will think it very hard when he sees his neighbour getting 14 per cent., and feels that he is shut out from the reduction clauses. Our object in passing this Bill is that it should work, and I feel certain that the system of sale reduction is one of the most important in the working of the Bill.
We come next to the question of sporting rights. In that connection many people tell me that a great many landlords will go from the country when the Bill is passed. My Lords, that is not my opinion, and I know a good deal about the smaller landlords in the North of Ireland. I am told that they will sell if they can without loss. I know the history of many families in that country having incomes ranging from £500 to £1,500 a year, and being of the small landlord class. I am sure if they leave the country and go to England, they will lose in social position, because in Ireland they may take their turns in holding public offices, such, for instance, as the High Sheriff; [which is no longer an office of great expenses], but if they 1205 go to an English watering place they would abandon those privileges.
Lord Crewe alluded to the Act of 1881, and said if that Act had not been passed it would have been impossible to bring in an Act of this kind. I do not agree with him. I regret that Mr. Gladstone in 1881 did not bring in an Act of this kind, because the ordnance valuation of that day was considerably below the letting value of the land, and even Mr. Parnell, the then leader of the Nationalist Party, would have been quite content at that period to take the ordnance surveys as the basis on which the landlords could sell and the tenants could buy. I think the landlords in the long run will sell very generally. Of course they cannot all sell at once, and it is pretty well known that the present system of deeds mid registration in Ireland make it impossible to sell at the rate of more than 1,000,000 per year. It will thus take thirty years before it will be possible for all the landlords to sell, and the thing cannot be completed in less than a generation.
Then the noble Earl regretted that there was no time limit in which the landlords should be compelled to make up their minds to sell. I think a time limit would have been quite futile, because, if the landlords in five years had not made up their minds there would have been pressure by the tenants and Parliament would then have been asked to extend the time limit.
Then with regard to the best security with regard to the tenant's improvements. I think the best security is the tenant's self interest. Lord Dunraven pointed out that when a man had repaid a portion of the loan it would be suicidal for a tenant to allow himself to be sold up by the Land Commissioners. I have had a good deal to do with tenants, and excepting one single case I never knew them to act in anything else but their self interest. The noble Lord alluded to Mr. Chamberlain's policy and said if that were carried out it would raise the value of Irish lands so that the landlords would be unwilling to sell.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I said the expectation of the value of land being raised would unsettle the minds of possible sellers arid would discourage them from selling.
* THE EARL OF BELMORE
So far as I understand Mr. Chamberlain's policy, and I am more in agreement with it than most of your Lordships, I do not think it will raise the price of food. I think we may put that argument on one side. We are not changing the method of cultivation, but are merely changing the ownership of existing farms, which will be cultivated in precisely the same manner as before. A great part of the land that has already been sold has been so treated as to be considerably improved.
My Lords, I have only one other observation to make. Lord Lytton made some remarks with regard to industrial work. He does not seem to be aware that that is much more in existence than he knows of. There is a movement going on in Ireland at the present moment for an industrial revival, and the establishment of exhibitions, and there has been introduced into Ireland what is called technical instruction in the schools. I had the honour a few years ago to be the Chairman of a Commission on Manual and Practical Instruction, and we presented a Report upon this matter. So far as I can learn about one' third of the schools in Ireland are now beginning to put the recommendations of that Report in operation and therefore I think there is every prospect of industrial education being given and industrial avocations meeting with great success in that country. In Committee I may have to move a few non-contentious Amendments, but all I need say now is that I most heartily support the Government in asking the House to read the Bill a second time.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
The subject of this Bill has been very largely discussed, and in the peculiar circumstances of the case of there being no opposition, it naturally follows that the field over which successive speakers can go is a very small one. There is one point I venture to submit to your Lordships. I say that this evening is a very remarkable one in the history of Ireland, more especially as it affects Irish landlords. For the first time we have been offered compensation for all our sufferings from land legislation in the past. What is that compensation? That is offered by Lord Lytton, and it is that we are to enter into Ireland's national aspirations. That is to 1207 say, we are to turn good disloyal Home Rulers, we are to fly the green flag, we are to have as a crest a harp without a crown, and Ireland as a nation is to be the motto for us to adopt. I confess that on first acquaintance I do not like the idea at all.
I rejoice extremely at the extraordinary unanimity with which this Bill has been received in this House and in the country. The reason is perfectly plain. It cannot be denied that this is the first real attempt to grapple with the whole evil set up by the Act of 1881. I do not wish to enter into details of the Act of 188l. The most cursory inspection shows a state of things absolutely grotesque. I do not wish to enter into a free trade discussion, but it is an undoubted fact that whereas free trade may be suited to this country, it has proved most disastrous to Ireland. At the present time the linen industry has been ruined by foreign competition, and although I do not wish to follow Lord Crewe into the future, I really believe if it were a case of a fight between free trade and protection, you w ill find a solid body of Irish farmers in favour of protection.
I do not wish to belabour a very dead horse, which has met its death through official neglect—I refer to the Report of the Financial Relations Commission. I would only remind your Lordships that there is a debt of £300,000,000 that England owes to Ireland, for which we should be very glad to receive a cheque on account. But leaving that on one side, the cardinal justification of this Bill lies in the evils of the Act of lt81, and it is a remarkable fact that, we have had a noble Lord on the front bench opposite acknowledging those evils. In the course of the discussion on this Bill very little attention has been given to the price the tenants will have to pay. An idea has grown up that sales will go through within the zones and even within the lower part of the zones. I cannot realise the truth of that. Under the Acts of 1885 and 1888 the tenants paid at eighteen years purchase for first-term rents. That is on a very broad assumption for all classes of land, and at that time the price of land stock was very high, it being £115, therefore rents, which were 20 per cent. more than they are now, were being sold, and the landlord got three years purchase more than his nominal price. That is to say, a purchaser of a similar farm now 1208 sold at a similar price would have to pay twenty-eight years purchase to give the landlord the same amount of money. The point I wish to make is that if this Bill is to work the tenants of Ireland must realise that they will have to give a fair price, and by a fair price I mean a price larger than they have grown up to the present, if they wish to profit by the unexampled conditions under the Bill.
Without going into details, as I know this is a Second Reading debate, there are two or three questions to which I wish to refer, and thus clear the ground in view of what may happen in the Committee stage. First, there is a question of sporting rights. I will ask your Lordships to consider what is the state of affairs with reference to these rights. The exact words of the clause show that they may be reserved for the landlord, and may be transferred to the tenant. What does that mean? It means that the sporting rights are to enter into the bargain to, be made between the landlord and tenant. You are entering into a bargain based on the rent price, and that is, in Ireland, nothing more than the agricultural value of the land. And yet the tenant is to, come along and say the Bill gives him the right to bargain, therefore he is going to pay three or four years less purchase if the landlord keeps these rights. I believe the object of the Bill is to carry out the present state of affairs in this respect, but the wording of the Bill as drafted by the Solicitor-General for England does nothing of the kind. The result will be that the price will tend to be lowered, and it naturally follows that the landlord who is not keen to sell will not dream of selling at the tenant's price, and in that way the Bill will defeat itself.
I hold it is absolutely necessary, in fairness to us, as well as for the good prospects and working of the Bill, that it should be absolutely laid down that the present state of affairs is not to be interfered with, and that these sporting rights are not to enter into the bargain between the landlord anti tenant. It has been said this evening that the landlords should be encouraged to stay in the country. That is a self-evident fact, for the country needs the spending class in it. But there is another thing about these sporting rights. It is to the interest of the whole of the country that they 1209 should be kept up, because they bring money into the country from outside. We have all made money over our sporting rights in letting our shooting boxes, and the shooting and fishing. I have a pleasing recollection of receiving rent for fishing in dry seasons when the foreigner was engaged in whipping the streams all day long with very poor effect.
It is essential to encourage sportsmen of all countries, and these sporting facilities as such are an important asset to the country. Who has looked to the matter in the past? The landlords have kept up the whole thing out of their private pockets and, at the present time we have an organisation ready to do it. We have the necessary keepers and trained watchers, and all necessaries for the work, whereas the tenants know nothing about it whatever. I consider the question of fox covers is particularly important, because that means hunting, and if hunting goes horse breeding goes, and if horse breeding goes the one pre-eminent Irish industry disappears; that is to say, the only thing that keeps a great many heads above water goes, and unless we have these sporting rights the sport will die out in the country. We have an organisation called the Irish Game Protection Association, and they have published a memorandum in connection with this Bill which coincides with my own experience. It runs as follows:—The almost universal experience of the members of the association has been that where the game rights have been vested in the tenants in a sale of their farms under the existing Land Acts, such game rights are utterly neglected and the game rapidly exterminated. For years past the association has been endeavouring to make the tenants realise the money loss which they were suffering by their foolish acts in this respect, but with small success.I therefore claim that it is for the good of the country that the sporting rights should be kept as our rights, and that whenever the Land Commission gets bold of them we shall have a right of preemption. I hope an Amendment on this point, if moved, will be received by the Government in a sympathetic manner.
My only other point is as to the question of mineral rights. At present, in the Bill, they are very unsatisfactory and subject to very unfair conditions. All present rights that we are now using are retained, but all undeveloped and prospective rights go to the Land Commission. 1210 In the end the Treasury is to have every thing that is at present not worked under the surface of Ireland, and is to give no payment for it whatever. We cannot blame the Treasury, but I cannot believe that the Government seriously contemplate taking them away from us in a Bill which gives the price of our possessions, calculated merely on the value of the surface of the soil, and afterwards to work under it for their own profit. There are lots of undeveloped minerals in the land, and when the Government get hold of them they are sure to be able to work them under their own conditions, and I do most strongly claim that in the event of their doing so at least 50 per cent. of the profit or rent shall go back to the pockets of the present landlord. If not what landlord with any chance of such development will ever be got to sell Ins property.
In conclusion I would only point to one thing in support of what the noble Duke said at the conclusion of his speech. There is a great difference in the treatment of the Irish Land Bill in this House and in another place. The Government, of course, is equally represented in both Houses but this Bill concerns three bodies, t he Government, the tenants and the land lords. In another place there is a great body of tenants' representation which is very well able to make its opinion heard. On our side there are four or five very stalwart representatives who do their best, but there are a few very stalwart representatives who never come near the place at all. This is the one opportunity that we have to put our case in any great volume forward, and I can only re; echo the hope expressed by the noble Duke the Duke of Abercorn that the Government will consider our Amendments sympathetically, and after what the noble Duke the Duke of Devonshire has said, I am sure he will do so. I know that the session is far advanced and that we are all very anxious to get away from London but our only object will be to make the Bill a workable measure are I hope that the Government will favourably regard our Amendments which will be put forward with that sole object.
§ LORD EMLY
My Lords, the Government have listened to and heard the landlord. They have not sent him empty away. They have listened to and 1211 heard the tenant. They have made some concessions to the evicted tenants, they have reconsidered the zone clauses, and they have effected a compromise in the matter of the game clause. The labourer has been kicked downstairs. It is as the duly accredited spokesman of the labouring poor that I venture to address you and to plead in their name that this Bill—this Magna Charta obtained by the farmers of Ireland—may not be defaced by an omission so vital and so monstrous as the total exclusion from its benefits of the artisans and labourers of Ireland. Mr. Wyndham, not very long ago, in the course of a speech delivered when he was the guest of the Manchester Conservative Club, explained that "Ireland was a country mainly agricultural, deprived of mineral wealth, without the alternative open to the rural dwellers in England." In other words that labour in Ireland is handicapped as labour is not handicapped in England; that labour is on a different footing in Ireland to what it is in England. Where is our woollen trade? Where is our cotton industry? Where is our iron trade? Where are our more complicated trades? We are not even firmly founded on jam and pickles. Mr. Wyndham took the Conservative Club into his confidence and explained the reason of all this—that England had not given justice to Ireland. Well, we will let it rest at that. In England the agricultural labourer is better paid and is better housed than in Ireland. His winter wages, his summer wages, are rising; Ids hours of work are shorter than they used to be. Yet in England the land is going out of cultivation and the rural population is migrating and crowding into the towns and cities. The enormous population of England is ever increasing. Well, what do you say to your labourers in England? You invite them to go back to the land. You have them still with you. They are there, and yet you are alarmed, and are right in being alarmed, because you foresee that the depletion of your rural population might, in certain circumstances, easily become a grave national danger. In Ireland the attenuated population is still dwindling. It is not a case of migration, but of emigration. In 1902 the number of emigrants who left Irish ports was 40,401, or 9.1 per 1,000 of the estimated population of Ireland in the middle of that year. In comparison with 1212 the year 1901 the number of emigrants, natives of Ireland, shows an increase of 577. Of the 18,893 males who emigrated no less than 14,235 were labourers. There were 774 farmers, Ulster accounting for 494 of these 774 farmers. The remaining 3,884 male emigrants belonged to the artisan class. The 21,508 female emigrants belonged to the agricultural labourer class. It is therefore very obvious what class in Ireland is being maltreated and scourged. It is the class-of agricultural labourers. Now let me return to Mr. Wyndham's speech at Manchester. "It was to our interest," he said, "that Ireland should be prolific and satisfied. It must be the desire and hope of every true Imperialist that she should become a bridge instead of as now a chasm between ourselves and Canada." The blood of Ireland has been poured out like rain. For nigh 100 years the emigration has been going on. It is by millions we count the enforced exodus of our people to the United States. Their seed has increased and multiplied; their children—a brilliant galaxy—are the shrewd, long-headed business men, the merchant princes, the millionaire bankers, the for-most statesmen of America, and while our emigrants are often unskilled in industrial labour, their children, enabled to develop their talents, are second to none in industrial success. I beg you to remember that it is the child of the exile, the child of the labourer, and the child of the artisan who has subsidised every national movement in Ireland. When Mr. Wyndham asks us to be satisfied I say, "Satisfied with what?" Is it satisfied with the back of the hand of the Government? Prolific in what? Prolific in bullocks? And when he talks about a bridge what does he mean? Oh yes, I understand. A bridge, the girders of which will be the 40,000 bright-eyed boy and girl exiles of 1902. I repeat Mr. Wyndham's words, "That Ireland is a country mainly agricultural, deprived of mineral wealth, without the alternative open to the rural dwellers in England." It is therefore to the land that we must look in Ireland. This Bill ignores even the existence of the very class which supplies our emigrants—the artisans and the labourers. They cannot live, like a. snipe, on suction. This Bill will not so much as keep one caubeen or one petticoat from the dire necessity of embarking on the emigrant ship.
1213 My Lords, the artisans and the labourers should have their share of the purchased land. The labourers should sit down at the banquet. The same facilities should be afforded to the occupiers of labourers' cottages and plots for the purchase of their cottages and plots as are contemplated to be afforded to the farming community. That is only bare justice. That is a clause which should be inserted in the Land Bill. Is the British taxpayer invited to he kind merely in order to create a new order of landlordism whilst artisans and labourers are told to stand down? Of course such a clause as I have outlined would have unfortunately only a very limited application. The administration of the Labourers Acts is at present a farce and a scandal. The unfortunate labourer, who is looking for a cottage is at the mercy of a board, publicly his sincere good friends, but privately his sincere good enemies, pulling the ropes the other way and working the oracle against him. He is sent from post to pillar like a fool on Fool's Day. He is cornered, he is cajoled, he is tricked, he is often at times threatened many ways—with loss of employment for instance. He is induced to apply for a cottage on the only site where he cannot obtain a cottage. It is the bad bit of land that is flung to him. When his application is opposed, and it is opposed on every and any flimsy pretext, he has no friend to fight his cause for love or money. The weight of officialdom is inexorably thrown in the balance against him. As a matter of fact the Labourers Acts remain a dead letter in the country. In a certain county there are no labourers' cottages, in other counties there are whole districts where there are no labourer's cottages. Where the instituted authorities so neglect their obligations towards the labourers, labourers' cottage schemes should be compulsorily adopted by a specially constituted and impartial authority. The men who have locked up every penny available for the working of the Labourers Acts should be forthwith relieved of their uncongenial responsibilities. The fox should not be left to feed the poultry. My Lords, these are the only observations I wish to make on the subject of the labourers. If I have spoken with a certain amount of heat, all I can say is that I feel very much at heart the present condition of the labourers of Ireland.
* THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I crave your indulgence because this is the first time I have ventured to address your. Lordships' House, but since this measure before you affects Ireland, and so vitally, I venture to place myself before you. The Irish land question, my Lords, is a question which, if we may judge by the forty odd Land Bills of the past forty years, is a riddle which still requires a complete solution, and unlike most riddles it cannot be given up, for each Government in its turn has to find some youthful statesman, or some statesman with the courage of youth, on whom falls the duty of trying to find a successful answer to the riddle. It has long been held that the only road toward the pacification of Ireland lies through the transfer of the freehold in Irish land from the landlord to the tenant, and I believe that this idea has at least been held by the majority of Scotch and English statesmen, who, during comparatively recent years, have, had the control of Irish affairs. I do not wish to be a marplot or to suggest any unhappy idea of the scheme before us, but we must remember that there are many men who by reason of life-long residence in Ireland can claim as much experience and knowledge of that country as anyone, and many of them hold that such a transfer, while proving a temporary panacea will yet plunge the country into, a worse condition. I do not hold either of those opinions myself, because I cannot but think that the transfer is a gigantic experiment the result of which we can only guess at. Although we have many precedents of a peasant proprietorship, the success of such a measure as this must depend upon the national characteristics, which in Ireland are different from any others on the earth. Since the, majority has decided that the transfer should take place I think the only thing that remains is to consider what form the transfer should take. I think the Government are to be congratulated on the Bill they have brought forward, in that it is the most likely to succeed of any such Bills yet presented to the public or to Parliament. They are also to be congratulated in having obtained the financial if the somewhat unenthusiastic aid, of the British taxpayer, because without such aid no such transfer could ever have been temporarily made. The Bill, when it first made its appearance in another place obtained the qualified approval of almost 1215 everyone concerned. It obtained the approval of the taxpayer, because he was assured that it would make an end of the Irish land question—the toothache which has troubled him so long; it obtained the approval of the tenant because not only did it assure him that he would obtain the freehold of his land, and for less than he ever paid for the leasehold, but also because after a few changes it opened up an even more glorious vista of possibilities; and it obtained the approval of the landlord because it did not plunder him so much as other Land Bills have done. Our Irish landlord has had to learn by bitter experience that not only must he be grateful for small mercies, but he must be grateful if the cruelties are small also.
My Lords, there is an opinion held by most Englishmen, who can scarcely have studied the question more than superficially, that the Irish landlord is a grumbling, discontented man who has not much to grumble at, but who is better off than his British neighbour. I would remind such of the forty Land Bills of the last forty years, which have tended to impoverish the landlord and have taken away from him the right to deal with his own; which have instituted tribunals which decide what rent is to be paid to him for his farms, and in the decisions of which he has no voice whatever.
My Lords, it would be idle to go into the history of Irish land legislation because the majority of your Lordships are already acquainted with it. I think it would be better to consider the measure before you and see whether it produces those conditions without which it cannot be a workable measure, the conditions that will enable the landlords to sell and induce the tenants to buy. I think there is a general feeling throughout the United Kingdom that this Land Bill, whatever else it may do, must at least make the fortunes of the Irish landlords. I do not know what reason there is for this statement; if there is a reason I should like to hear it, because I think that, on the contrary, any landlord who sells under the conditions of this Bill must of necessity make a financial sacrifice. The bonus, of which we hear so much, will do little more than replace lie amount of purchase money devoted to the expenses of sale, to the proving of title and also 1216 to providing for those employees who have lost employment thereby. Whatever the Bill may lead us to understand as to the proving of title being simplified, such is not the case. Title has to be proved as fully as ever, and at the expense of the vendor, before he can touch a penny of the money. Although the expenses of management were deducted from the landlord's income before the basis of purchase was arrived at, yet, if we may judge by a speech made by Mr. Wyndham in another place, the landlord, out of his diminished income, will have to pay for his old servants. My Lords, I mention all these things so that this Bill may not be described as the noble Lord the Earl of Dunraven said he had heard it described, as a Landlords' Relief Bill. I think, on the contrary, that every landlord who sells under it must of necessity make a pecuniary sacrifice, and I think in most cases a financial sacrifice also. It must be a matter of sentiment with most men to part with those estates which have been in their possession for generations. If the Bill passes, in order to make it a workable measure most landlords will be making the sacrifices which for the general pacification of Ireland they are willing to make.
On the appearance of the Bill in another place there were certain limits or zones which prevented any estate being sold below or above a certain figure. I cannot see what objection there could have been to these zones, because after there had been brought together the purchaser and seller they would have removed to a great extent the friction. I do not pretend that I do not think it would have been better if the zones had not been there. But since they were there the fact that they have been taken away might induce a tenant to think that the price that they enforced was too high, and since they have been removed it will lead to friction. I think there ought to be some Amendment which will provide in some way that reasons and grounds should be given for the sale of estates outside the zones. If not, in many cases the Bill will be almost inoperative. I cannot say either that they 1217 were ever unfair, because these zones made certain that a tenant should get a reduction in his rent of from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent., and perhaps give him a chance that he might receive a reduction of from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. on his present rent, and at the same time obtain the freehold of his land. That is an excellent bargain for any tenant. We must remember that Ireland was, up to a very little while ago, not in that state which we all of us so much desire, and I think we should protect the smaller landlords against the possibility, though I hope not the probability, of any recurrence of the land war.
My Lords, there are other matters that I should like to point out in the Bill. There have been comments made in various quarters against the hole and corner policy of Dublin Castle. I think there is nothing so important for the good working of the Bill that such an accusation should not be brought against it. It is for the good of every one concerned that there should be no dealings, no policies, other than the absolutely departmental regulations in the working of this Bill, that should not be open to anybody to inquire into. The power of hearing in rent-fixing cases has also been altered, and I do not know the reason why, because the alteration of this rehearing is as much regretted by the tenants as by the landlords. I do not know what reasons there are for the alteration of it, I have been told that the reason is on account of economy, but I can scarcely believe that to he the case. I suggest that before such alterations are made we should see how the Bill is going to act, because if the Bill does not act there will be just as many rent-fixing cases as before, and the machinery of the law will be desired for them as much as ever. I think this change, at least, should be postponed for two or three years.
There is another question on which every one feels deeply, namely, the question of planters. The planters have fought the battle of England in Ireland during the last twenty or thirty years, even at the risk of their lives, certainly at the expense of their own comfort and happiness, and at the expense of the comfort and happiness of their families. Although I have heard evicted tenants described 1218 as wounded soldiers of the war, yet I think these men, although not wounded I soldiers, have been the faithful servants of the Empire through a very difficult and dangerous time, and I think, that unless they are fully protected from all pressure and annoyance, it would he a betrayal of which our posterity would be ashamed. The definition of congested estates has also been altered, and under this definition there will he nearly four times the number of estates than before, estates that are in reality in a flourishing condition. My Lords; I will not delay you longer except to point out that if this Bill passes into law in a workable form, that if it produces such conditions as will enable the landlord to sell and induce the tenant to buy, his estates, I believe that the Bill will be an operative measure, and that the vast majority of estates in Ireland will be sold. I cannot be certain, and I think no one can be certain, whether such a transfer will lead towards the pacification of Ireland. I think it is a vast experiment, the result of which can only be guessed at. The chief thing I am afraid of is that it is the greatest step towards Home Rule that the country has ever seen, because I do not see how if when the whole country is in possession of the land, they ever demand Home Rule as they are demanding it now, England will be logically able to deny it to them. I am not a Home Ruler: I am a staunch Unionist, and I think this is one of the greatest dangers of the Bill. Under the altered conditions it may be possible that Home Rule would be a blessing instead of a curse, but I think that this will not be so and pray it may never come at all. Unless the Bill passes into law in a form which does not bring forward those conditions to which I have referred so many times, instead of being a measure for the pacification of Ireland it will be the cause of greater misery than we perhaps have ever yet seen.
* THE EARL OF WESTMEATH
My Lords, it is perhaps not unnatural that almost every Irish Peer in your Lord, ships' House feels that it is incumbent upon him to take some part in the momentous debates which are now about to take place, and desires to do what he can to shape this important 1219 measure in the way which will be the least disastrous to his own interests. Irish Peers have before now been placed in difficult and embarrassing situations, but I venture, my Lords, to express an opinion that never since British politicians for their own ends and to suit their own purposes, and in pursuance of their own interests, embarked on that career of confiscation and spoliation which has ever since proceeded unchecked and which has brought their victims to their present most cruel and undeserved position, never before, I believe, have the representatives of Irish landlords been called upon to make up their minds upon an issue so vital and momentous to their interests. For, my Lords, the measure which we are now considering was introduced, not as anything in the nature of an emergency, not as a temporary expedient or as a half measure to tide over existing difficulties; it was heralded with a great flourish of trumpets as a Bill which was to bring about the total abolition of dual ownership—a system utterly and universally discredited—and by healing the festering sore caused by perpetual litigation and agitation, to open up an era of universal peace and prosperity, and to convert Ireland from being the cockpit of the Empire into a sort of promised land flowing with milk and honey, where all would be peace—perfect peace—and where the Dillons would cease from troubling and the O'Briens would at last be at rest. This, my Lords, was the delightful prospect opened before our eyes when that truly remarkable gathering the Irish Land Conference took place, and an admiring public was delighted at the pleasing sight of the Nationalist hon lying down amicably beside the Unionist lamb, and was further edified by the fact that the lion apparently made no attempt to growl at, much less to devour, his confiding little neighbour. I think, my Lords, the history of this conference is fairly well known, and I need not weary your Lordships with any details concerning it. It is well known that the Irish Landowners Convention and their executive committee did not feel justified in sending representatives to this conference, and it was felt that the responsibility of agreeing or disagreeing with the 1220 Nationalist Members should be left to private and irresponsible landowners. When, however, the result of the meeting was made public, our committee was not slow to recognise that the report was a valuable addition to the various suggestions which have been made for solving this thorny and intricate question, and we had no quarrel to pick with a finding which secured to us our present net incomes, less certain deductions for costs of collection and other matters.
But, my Lords, the hopes raised by this happy agreement were not destined to last very long. The Bill made its appearance, and though we cannot but recognise that it is in many respects more generous and more advantageous to us than any of its predecessors, yet it falls far short of our expectations, and as it excludes many large tenants from its operations it cannot even lay claim to that finality which was supposed to be its distinguishing feature.
On one most important point, however, the principle of a recommendation made by the Land Conference has been adopted, and certain limits were recognised above which and below which advances could not be made to the tenants to purchase their holdings. The utility of these zones—as they are commonly called—is simply incalculable, though I have found, and have been frequently surprised to find, that their significance is not as fully understood in this country as it ought to be. But alas, my Lords, the ink was hardly dry on the signatures of the members of the Land Conference, when the Nationalist members of it began to explain away their adhesion to its most important recommendations, and to assert to their anxious constituents that they had only agreed to this concession as to limitations to prevent the conference breaking up, that in reality they I did not consider themselves bound by it, and that they meant nothing whatever when they gave their adhesion to these limitations. A great outcry was got up in the country by constituents of Members in the other House against the minimum price, and, with every disposition to be charitable, I fear it is not possible to refuse to recognise or misconstrue its significance. If there is any doubt on 1221 the subject, it would be removed and made clear by the following remarks, which I have extracted from a speech made by Mr. William O'Brien, which I feel perfectly justified in reading to your Lordships. He said—The tenant should be absolutely free to make his own bargain and should not be obliged to pay a larger price than hail been paid by purchasers in the open market during the last fifteen years under the Ash bourne Acts. The tenant should not be obliged to pay three or four years additional purchase above their 80,000 neighbours who had purchased under the Acts of 1885 and 1891.The leading Unionist organ in Ireland Comments on his speech as follows—It is no good the tenant offering so low a rice to his landlord that the latter will be unable to accept it. Yet Mr. O'Brien distinctly suggested that that should be their course of action. He wants the tenants to have perfect freedom of bargaining in order that they should pay the same number of years purchase, say, seventeen to twenty, that they have been in the habit of paying under the previous Purchase Acts. 'If the tenants are to be made to pay four or five years more that the present average' he says to the Government, 'you might have spared yourselves the trouble of introducing your Bill.' This, as we have said, is a distinct suggestion that if his Amendment, is carried Mr. O'Brien means to use his influence (and the influence doubtless of the United Irish League exercised in the traditional fashion) to prevent the tenants from offering more than the present number of years purchase. To do this would be to defeat, the object of the Bill and to render its purchase clauses a dead letter.Now, my Lords, even assuming that the responsible leaders of the Nationalist Party should wish and mean to deal fairly with us in this matter, will they always be able to control the proceedings of small elected bodies in the far West and all over the country? They have never yet been able to do so. Will they be able to curb the ardour of the fiery young political curate? I fear that past experience forbids us to hope so, and consequently, my Lords, it will ever be a matter of most profound regret to Irish landowners that the Chief Secretary, in spite of Ins strong position and his great majority, should have allowed himself to be terrified by the clamour of those, who, if he had stood firm to his guns, would never have dared to wreck the Bill. He should not have been swayed by the action of individual landowners acting, not, your Lordships may be assured, in concert with respon- 1222 sible members of the Landowners Executive Committee, but (if report says truly) after consultation with the leaders of the Nationalist Party. I can assure your Lordships that even after a Parliamentary situation of some difficulty had been created by the unfortunate action which I have referred to, we nevertheless never ceased to press upon His Majesty's Government verbally and in writing our inability to see why these zones should be departed from. We urged that the working of the Bill largely depended upon them and that there was no reason for departing from them. Even when the situation reached an acute stage all that any responsible landlord did was to say that if the Chief Secretary must make some concession on this point they preferred one had Amendment to another which was worse. This, my Lords, is, so far as I know, the only foundation for the extraordinary assertion so often made that this concession was pressed upon the Government by the combined representatives of both parties. I have entered in some detail into this question, my Lords, not from any desire to embarrass the Chief Secretary, for I fully recognise that he has had a difficult task, and his intentions I believe to have been good, but I cannot help thinking that his conduct of this Bill has at times been marked by such a lamentable want of pluck, that the kindest way to account for it seems to be to believe that he was under the influence of some spell cast upon him by the eyes of the dark Rosaleen, of whom we have heard something in another place. I do most earnestly beg His Majesty's Government not to take up a non possumus attitude in this vital matter, and not to forbid us to hope that they may consider some Amendment which will make this clause more nearly resemble its conditions before this most lamentable alteration was accepted by the Chief Secretary. I am aware that it may be difficult, if not impossible to place the matter exactly as it stood before this unfortunate alteration was made. I think there might be still some compromise on the matter, and Amendments will probably be brought forward which will enable the Government to treat us fairly in this matter.
1223 I have more than once heard it said that there are several cases in which it would be a hardship that these zones should still apply, and I have made several attempts to discover what they are, but without success. It is, however, asserted that some estates, especially in the North, are so lowly rented that their owners ought not to lose even 10 per cent. of their incomes by selling. I wonder if it was of these estates that the Nationalist Members were thinking when they fought so hard for the abolition of the zones, and if it was anxiety for the possible losses of these poor landlords that inspired them when they denounced a principle which had been approved by the signatures of their representatives. These estates in the North of Ireland may not be so numerous as to justify the departure in this matter. One of the chief dangers which we fear is that there are an undoubtedly small number of landlords who live out of the country and independent of their property, who will rush in and sell at a low price and collar the bonus, and the landlords of neighbouring estates, if not able to sell at the same price will be placed in the same position as Lord De Freyne through the spirited action of the Congested Districts Board. Situations similar to that will be created all over Ireland for which the Government cannot escape responsibility if they do not give way over this matter. One speaker. I think it was the noble Duke the Duke of Abercorn, assured the House that none of the Amendments would be of a controversial character. I heard him with some surprise. I hope he has some assurance that the Amendments we are going to move, and of which he is well aware, will all be accepted by the Government with the cheerfulness he apparently contemplates. We are, indeed, glad to hear that there is no danger of opposition. The questions of the minimum price, the protection of planters, sporting rights, minerals, the rules of procedure in rent fixing, and other most important matters are not at present in an entirely satisfactory state, and I would remind your Lordships that, owing to the smallness of our representation in another place, it is really only in your Lordships' House 1224 that we have an opportunity of putting forward our views on these vital points, and I regret very much that the shortness of the time at our disposal may prevent their receiving the full attention which they ought to receive both here and in another place. There is one clause so ridiculous that I do not think there is a single Member of the Government in this House who will have the face to get up and defend it when we move its rejection.
In conclusion, my Lords, I wish to express a hope that in discussing as we desire to discuss and to a certain extent, if possible, to amend this measure, we shall not be suspected of any wish to obstruct the Government in their anxiety to pass it into law, or to place any needless difficulties in their path. Landowners as a body have become fully converted, my Lords, to the necessity of land purchase, and have more than once officially declared this fact in public. We have not done so from any belief that its adoption will bring about any remarkable change for the better in the condition of the country or because we desire to surrender the properties which we have held in many cases for centuries. We have done so because, since the abolition of dual ownership was adopted by the Government, our position has become every day more unsatisfactory, dangerous and untenable. We are now only limited rent chargers on the properties we once absolutely owned, and that small rent charge is diminishing so rapidly that in many cases it has almost reached a vanishing point. Irish landlords have realised the force of these circumstances, and have resolved to fall in with the policy of the Government, but we ask, and I do not see how any thinking man can deny the justice of our claims, that this great change should he carried out without any further loss to us who have already lost so much, and that we should receive at least as much justice as the publican or the landowners whose property is taken in this country for military or other public purposes. His Majesty's, Government have now an opportunity of carrying out for good and all the policy upon which, whether for good or evil they have embarked, and once more I beg of them not to play 1225 fast and loose with the interests of the weaker and the losing party, but to give a sympathetic and careful consideration to the Amendments which we shall bring forward in Committee.
§ * VISCOUNT HAMPDEN
My Lords, I hardly like to strike a discordant note in the harmonious proceedings of this evening. We have heard a great deal of the interests of the Irish landowner; we have heard also of the interests of the Irish occupier, and I wish to say a few words in the interests of the British taxpayer. The noble Duke, when he addressed the House in the early part of the evening, referred to the cash and credit of the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. It is exactly their cash and credit which is to carry this Bill into operation. When he went on to say what advantages the Irish tenant and the landlord were to get I wondered who was to pay for those advantages. I myself, as an individual taxpayer, would not grudge to pay even a larger sum if the Bill were to result, as the noble Duke the Leader of the House said, in peace in Ireland; that is to say, there will be no further agitation on the land question and the landowners and tenants will remain in agreement. If that were so, then I would not grudge myself, and I do not believe any taxpayer in the United Kingdom would grudge, the money to he spent. But I do not believe anything of the kind will happen. The noble Lord the Earl of Crewe in his speech just now referred to the question whether Irish landowners would sell their lands, land, indeed, whether Irish tenants would purchase, as to which I shall have something to say presently. He asked what would happen if some Irish landlords sell and others do not. Of course, we know very well what will happen. The Hill is an optional Bill, but compulsory in its result, and what would happen would be this, that you would have De Freyne and Dillon estates all over Ireland and a fiercer agitation than ever before, until the whole of the landlords were got rid of as a curse and nuisance to the country. I am sorry to express this discordant voice in the harmony which is prevailing this evening, but I believe that will happen, and, what is more, I believe the Government themselves anticipate that it will occur. The noble Lord the Earl of Dunraven, who knows more about this question and has 1226 studied it perhaps more than anyone else, gave us his opinion of the present land tenant system in Ireland. He said it was abominable, and hardly to be borne; that it was necessary to get rid of it; that it was the ruin of the Irish landlords, and was the demoralisation of the Irish tenant. With all that I entirely agree. But the noble Lord went on to say that this Bill is going to get rid of this system. I would ask the noble Lord how he supposes that this Bill is going to do it.
This Bill is only an optional Bill. It will take years to come into operation. It is doubtful if the landlords, or many of them, will sell, and it is extremely doubtful if the tenant will buy. My contention will be this, that really the tenants under the Land Act of 1881 are in a better position than any tenant in the whole world, and I do not suppose the tenants under the Lam Act of 1681 will really be in any better position, as regards the future at any rate, than the tenants under this Act, because the tenants under this Act will get a great advantage in the immediate reduction of their rents, and they will.be finally at a risk of a fall in prices. They have now got their landlords behind them, but if they mean to keep their bargain with the State then the tenants under the Act of 1881 will be in a far better position as regards the future than the tenants under this Act. I know it requires a great deal of courage to espouse a very unpopular cause. It takes even greater courage to plead in this House for principles in legislation of sound economy, of justice, and even of morality. Perhaps these ought to have been the care of His Majesty's Government, but apparently, so far as Irish legislation is concerned, they are not so. It appears that everybody approves of this Bill. There was a consensus of opinion in the other House, with few exceptions, in favour of this Bill. I understand the noble Lords on the Front Bench (indicating the Opposition Front Bench) are supporters of this Bill, and yet I feel it my duty to enter a protest against this Bill as one which is thoroughly mischievous and corrupt, and the result of which will be a land war and an agitation more fierce and more embittered than any that has preceded it. These are strong words, my Lords, but I believe I shall be able to prove the truth of them. The owners of land in Ireland have a fair claim to compensation. I think they have. I 1227 think they have a fair claim to compensation, not because of their reduction of rent, because we in England have suffered equal reductions of rent, if not larger in some cases.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (The Marquess of LONDONDERRY)
Not compulsory reduction.
§ * VISCOUNT HAMPDEN
Well, but the same result has arrived from natural causes, and probably the same causes would affect yon. However, I pass by all that I say, as a matter of fact, that the reduction has been larger, at any rate as much in England as in Ireland. I was merely saying that the landlords of Ireland have a claim to compensation, not because of reduction of rent but because a certain property was transferred from them to the tenants on their land. Mr. Gladstone himself speaking on this matter said, that if in the course of years it was shown that the result of his Land Acts would be a certain discoverable loss of capital to the owner that then it would be the duty of the State to meet that loss, to meet it boldly and to face it. That is why I complain of the action of His Majesty's Government. I think they knew very well that there has been this loss on the part of the Irish landowner; but instead of meeting it face to face and dealing with it they have given the owner a I onus of £12,000,000, probably on the ground that they had dealt favourably with the tenant. It is impossible to deal with this question without referring to previous legislation. I do not want to carry the House far back in this matter, and will only go as far back as Mr. Gladstone's Land Act of 1870. That gave compensation to the Irish tenants for improvements. Shortly afterwards, in his next administration, Mr. Gladstone carried the Land Act of 1881, which might very well be called the charter of the Irish tenant. It was almost, indeed, a revolutionary measure so far as regards land tenure. It gave the tenant these advantages, firstly, leases renewable for 1228 ever at short periods of time, secondly, rents settled not by contracts but by State tribunals, and thirdly, the right to sell their interest. Along with some others who sat behind the Government Benches at that time and who took an interest in this question I endeavoured to modify the operation of that Bill by limiting its effect so far as we could to the then present tenants of Ireland, because we felt that if an unrestricted right was given to the growth of tenant right that the position of future tenants, would be absolutely intolerable, and that their burdens would be too heavy for them to bear and to carry on their farming operations successfully.
I have a particular instance in my hands which noble Lords having knowledge of. Irish land will confirm. In February, 1903, a farm was sold by public auction near Killarney containing twenty-seven acres, the judicial rent being £8. The purchaser gave £400 for the tenant's interest; thus at 5 per cent. the purchaser reckoned the rent at £28 instead of £8, the amount of the judicial rent. Although we had the support of the Party opposite at that time we were unsuccessful in getting any amendment to this Bill and. Mr. Gladstone practically carried these clauses of the Land Act of 1881 as he had drafted them. The final effect was that the owner in Ireland was turned into a rent charger or rent receiver without any interest in his estate, having really no object in spending another shilling upon it, and the tenant was turned into an owner, with the result that a certain interest was transferred from the landowner to the tenant. That being the case, and looking at the condition of the Irish tenants as compared with any other tenant in any other part of Europe, I want to know why was it necessary for the Government to deal with this question at all? The tenant under the Act of 1881 was, after all, in a position superior to that held by any occupying tenant in the world, and surely he might he left alone to enjoy his advantages. As I said before, the owner-tenant under that Act is not subject to fluctuations of prices, but the tenant under this Bill if he means to keep his bargain with the State will be subject to that risk. If it were absolutely necessary to abolish the system of dual ownership—and I do not think that that necessity can he established—why did not the Government take the more direct course, the 1229 simpler course, one which would not involve any risk to the State, or any necessity for a large loan. Taking the owners as having been created rent chargers by the Act of 1881, wily could not the State have turned them into perpetual annuitants at their present rents, or at rents fixed subsequently to the Act of 1896. What would that have meant? It would have meant no necessity to raise a loan, and no risk to the taxpayer whatever. But here is just where the comedy of this situation comes in. The representatives of the tenants say they have always paid and always will pay tinder the Purchase Acts. Upon that matter I shall have to say a few words presently. But, assuming that to be true, why should they not accept that solution? The reason is obvious. They will not accept that solution because prices may fall and the rent-charge will be too high. So that the risk which the tenant will not take, the risk which the owner will not take, is to be thrown upon the British taxpayer. I said the risk was a serious risk. I notice what was stated by the noble Lord, the Earl of Dunraven, and the Leader of the House, who stated as a defence of the Bill that annuities had always been paid under the Ashbourne Act, and under the several Acts dealing with land purchase in Ireland.
I have looked into this matter and read up the evidence given before the Fry Commission, and I must say that I think the evidence shows directly to the contrary. It shows clearly that there is an appreciable risk to the British taxpayer and that things are not quite so bright as they have been stated. Mr. Commissioner O'Brien, one of the chiefs of the Irish Land Commission, in giving evidence before the Fry Commission in Dublin on October 7th, 1897, stated that:—Of about 2,500 of that time the collection of the instalments in no less that 1,600 or 1,700 cases was then in the hauls of the solicitors.and he also put in a list of sale for default on different holdings for the previous ten or eleven years showing by the sums realised at sheriff's sales that the advances made by the State, through the Land Commissioners, had gone very near the margin of security, even under the present system of State inspection of every holding, and that in some cases nothing was got, and there were some holdings on hand. I would like to ask the noble 1230 Lord who represents the Irish Office in this House, what was the number of Civil Bill Processes for arrears for May, 1905, instalments issued against tenant purchasers at the October, 1962, Session at Moville, in the county of Londonderry. I am informed that they number several hundreds.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the ability of the Irish Secretary, for the admirable skill with which he has conducted this Bill through the House of Commons, but I say this, that no amount of skill and no amount of oratory can remove the taint of corruption from this Bill, nor can it prsvent the Bill resulting, as I believe it will result, in a land war, or in an agitation of even a fiercer kind than anything that has preceded it. The Bill is an optional Bill. The Government say that. It is optional in name, but not really in fact. The Government have evaded the responsibility of bringing in a compulsory Bill, but by this Bill they have made compulsion absolutely inevitable. It is true that the Bill is optional in the sense that a landlord need not sell. It is not necessary that they should sell. It is not compulsory on them that they should sell, but some of them will sell, and then von will have the whole business over again of the Dillon and De Freyne estates, for you will have the owner tenants side by side with the other tenants, comparing favourably with them as regards their rent. I do not see that they compare favourably in regard to the future, because there will be a risk of falling prices. The result will be another land war, another agitation, another Government making concessions, and, finally, another Bill brought into this House and your Lordships asked to pass it, dealing with the landlords as a nuisance altogether. And this is a Bill which we am asked to pass in order to bring peace to Ireland. I wish it were even possible to believe so. I do not believe it to be possible. Mr. Bright has often been quoted on this question, and, no doubt, he was in favour to a certain extent of the purchase by tenants of the land from their landlords. But this Bill, as I have endeavoured to prove, will end in compulsion, and must end in compulsion. Mr. Bright's views were not in favour of compulsory purchase. He wrote a letter on November 14th 1887, to Lord Kilmorey, which I hope your 1231 Lordships will allow me to quote, because I think it is full of wisdom. He said:—The idea of buying up or buying out the proprietary class seems to me monstrous, unnecessary, and unjust. There are hundreds, many hundreds, of proprietors in Ireland who do not wish to be bought but. They would prefer to retain possession of their ancestral mansions and estates, and have no wish to seek homes in Great Britain or elsewhere. For Parliament to insist on compulsory sale would be to gratify the disloyal leaders in Ireland. They wish to get rid of the proprietary class, and then they say, and perhaps they believe, they could unite the whole of Ireland in hostility to England. To get rid of the proprietors will be to establish a wholesale system of absenteeism, and to make the Chancellor of the Exchequer the great receiver of the rents from the great All-Ireland Absentee Estate. Is it possible that any sane statesman will consent to such a scheme, or offer to Parliament and the country so wild a policy as that involved in this? I have no affection for the system of landlordism as it has resented itself in too litany cases in Ireland. I have condemned it and urged its reform in speeches in Parliament and on public platforms, in England and in Ireland, so far back as 30 years ago. I have said there could be no security for landed property in Ireland until land as a property was made free of sale and purchase by a radical change in our laws affecting its sale and purchase and tenure. I have suggested means by which this great reform might be effected, but I have never held the opinion that Government should step in and banish the landlords and make all tenants into owners, if not at the cost, yet at the risk, of the Imperial Exchequer.If the result of this Bill is to be what the noble Duke the Leader of the House said, a successful, a free and an unencumbered peasantry in Ireland, I would join the noble Duke in the lobby if there is to be a Division, but I suppose that a Division is not to he hoped for. But does the noble Duke, and does His Majesty's Government, believe that it is possible to have a free and unencumbered peasantry in Ireland? As the Bill originally stood there was a clause which imposed a rent-charge. That was certainly more of a safeguard against the mortgaging of these lands, but that has been thrown aside in response to the Irish vote in the other House. What is left? There is actually in the Bill a clause empowering Irish tenants to mortgage their estates up to ten times the value of the instalments. What will happen? What has happened before? The Irish tenant has to deal with his family, and he has nothing but the land. He will mortgage his land and his general credit will do the rest, and then you will have the old vicious circle 1232 again, you will have got rid of the owners but you cannot get rid of ownership, and you will only have changed one set of owners for another and a worse set of owners. On the whole, looking at all these difficulties, and knowing the noble Duke will sympathise with me in that respect, because he was a member of Mr. Gladstone's Government in 1870 and in 1810—knowing all these difficulties and the trouble there has been in connection with Irish land I should have thought that His Majesty's Government would have left the Irish tenant alone. Apart from the question of the position of the Irish landlord the Irish tenant is in a position better than that of any tenant in the world, and, at any rate he can compare favourably with the tenant under your Act. I really doubt whether he will be satisfied, because although he will get a reduction of rent he now has his landlord at the back of him and will not be at the risk of any fall in the price in the market, whereas the tenant under this Act will be at the risk of a falling price if he means to keep his bargain with the State.
I will give one further reason. The landowners of Ireland, at any rate, have been a buffer between the State and the tenants of Ireland, but under this Act, if it is to be successful, if it is to operate and there is a desire of the whole of the tenantry to come into it, there will be a further and compulsory Bill establishing Land Purchase in Ireland. Then you will have the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought into direct connection with the tenants of Ireland, he will be the collector of rents in the great All-Ireland Absentee Estate. The position might become so absolutely intolerable that finally some other Government will come in and hand over to the Irish County Councils the duty of collecting the rents of Ireland and of administering the funds, and so the Government opposite, which was brought in to protect the Union in Ireland, will have sacrificed it, they will have given up the outworks, they will have surrendered the garrison, they will have made the capture of the citadel inevitable, and I believe the result of this Bill will be, and that the record of the Government will be, that they have betrayed the principal trust which was committed to their charge.
My Lords, I wish to call attention to one matter in 1233 which I think the Government have missed an opportunity, namely, that of allowing the landlords the power of rounding off their demesne lands. We are now asked to part with our properties entirely. In previous cases we have let our properties, in the first instance before the Land Acts. Then the Land Acts have been introduced and have taken away one by one our rights, and now we are asked to part with our properties entirely, and no provision is made for the rounding off of our estates. They spoil our spotting rights. The Government have lost an opportunity of assisting us, but I propose to bring in an Amendment on this subject, because I think it is a point which will induce landlords to remain in the country if they are allowed to buy up from the tenants a part or the whole of the tenancies.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I think your Lordships will agree that the discussions and debate which have taken place to-night have been of considerable interest. I think also von will agree that with one or two exceptions, there seems to be a very general consensus of opinion that the Government have acted wisely in introducing a Bill to your Lordships' House which is, at any rate, an endeavour to attempt some solution of the great Irish problem. I address you to-night as a member of His Majesty's Government, responsible to some extent for that measure, and I venture to trespass upon your attention, more especially on the attention of noble Lords from Ireland with whom I have served so long and hope to serve for an equally long period. I wish to speak as one especially interested in Ireland, who resides in Ireland, who hopes to reside in Ireland, and who has the warmest place at the bottom of his heart for the good of the country, and I say that this measure which His Majesty's Government are introducing is for the benefit and welfare of all classes of the community in Ireland. My Lords, I think you will agree with me that the speech delivered by my noble friend the Earl of Dunraven was one of enormous interest, showing a great grasp of the question, and an experience derived not only from living in Ireland, but from presiding over the Land Conference, and as such, it was of the greatest help and in- 1234 struction to us. The noble Lord proved to us beyond all doubt, in the words of his own Report, that the present agrarian situation in Ireland is intolerable. He proved to us beyond all doubt that both owners and occupiers of land are dissatisfied with the results of the operation of the Land Act of 1881. That was one of the most important items contained in the Report of the Conference.
I am not going to complain of the Act of 1881. I need not say that, as a Conservative Member in Ireland at the time, I was opposed to the 1881 Act, and, so far as I could gather form the speeches that have been delivered, not only in this place but also in the other House, there is a consensus of opinion among both sections, the Opposition and the Government, that the Act of 1881 has not realized the opinions and views that were held out, but has proved not only injurious but disastrous to the interests of the land question in Ireland. At the present moment the proof of that is very evident. If we listen to the opinion of owners of property who have spoken here we learn that they were dissatisfied. If we listen to the representatives of the tenants we hear that they are dissatisfied with the Bill of 1881, and, consequently, I venture to say that there is a general consensus of opinion that with regard to the working of the Act of 1881 it is giving dissatisfaction to owners and occupiers alike, and must be considered of a most unsatisfactory character. I ask your Lordships who are landowners to put yourselves in the position of an owner of land in Ireland. What is his position under the administration of the Act of 1881? He may perhaps see land which belonged to him before 1881, and form which, if it were his own now, he could derive a substantial income, allowed to deteriorate, or at any rate not done the fullest justice to. Seeing this, he knows full well that at the expiration of a certain time, when a reduction of rents will take place, owing to the deterioration of the land he is absolutely certain to have his income reduced. In these circum stances undoubtedly any owners of the land would feel himself aggrieved. Anyone would, and therefore he is dissatisfied with the Land Act of 1881. Then, again, the occupier of the land is dissatisfied. I 1235 sympathise with him, because he is naturally dissatisfied, and because he knows that if he improves his land and does full justice to it, when the time for his reduction of rent comes round the Commissioner will raise his rent. What is the result of that? That the owner and occupiers, who are equally interested in the land, and ought to be the richer by it, are both the poorer by it; and in addition to that they have enormous legal expenses to pay, all due to the Act of 1881. It not only makes them poorer but antagonistic, and it creates a friction which would not otherwise exist.
What has been the only alternative? One which I have myself for many years advocated—viz., to establish the principle of enabling the occupier, by a system of voluntary sale and voluntary purchase, to become the owner of his land on terms agreeable to himself, agreeable to the owner and with no appreciable risk to the State. I do not wish to deal with this matter from a personal point of view, but I have given practical proof of my adherence to this principle because I myself have sold almost the whole of my landed property to my tenants within the last fifteen nr sixteen years, and have done so with the most admirable results. This scheme which has been submitted to your Lordships by the noble Duke in a speech so clear and so explicit that I do not think I need trespass at any length upon your time in dealing with it, goes far to realise that scheme which I have propounded. At the same time the noble Lord opposite, the Earl of Crewe, raised a very pregnant, and to my mind practical, argument as to whether or not the landlords will sell. Well, the question of the owner's willingness to sell to my mind rests to a great extent on what terms the owner can get. It has been generally said by noble Lords to-day that during the past twenty years the owners of property in Ireland have suffered enromous reductions. That is not to be contradicted. The noble Lord Viscount Hampden alluded to the fact that English landowners had suffered a proportionate decrease in their rents. I ventured to say that that decrease was not compulsory, but that the English landlords had made voluntary concessions to tenants or that they could have taken the land into their own hands. I have always maintained that the condition of agricul- 1236 ture in Ireland has not been so depressed in certain parts as in England. I know the noble Lord has experience in the eastern counties and that he will say there has been a considerable depreciation of land owing to agricultural depression. The noble Lord who owns land in Cheshire will know that in the great grazing counties they have not suffered from depression. What is the position of the Irish landowner at the present moment? He cannot afford to sell unless he has reserved for him at any rate the greater part of that income which has been so reduced during, the past years, and which in many cases leaves him so small a margin, but if it is taken away from him he will eventually find himself, as I think the noble Lord, the Earl of Dunraven has said, in the workhouse.
To my mind the Chief Secretary, whose praise I am so glad to hear sung by your Lordships to-night, has propounded a scheme which, whether you agree with it or not, goes far to solve that problem. The proposal of the Government is that it is necessary that the State should intervene and advance a sum of money in order to bridge over that gap which would prevent the landowner being in a position to sell, and the tenant being in a position to give the I sum of money which the landlord could afford to take. I particularly want to deal with a certain part of the subject alluded to by the noble Lord the Earl of Crewe and the noble Lord Viscount Hampden. I think that both of them laid stress, especially Viscount Hampden, on the fact that the Imperial Exchequer was running a considerable risk in advancing a large sum of money in order to bridge over this gulf, and thus make the situation possible both for the landowner and for the tenant. To my mind there is no risk whatever to the Imperial Exchequer. I think the securities that I can show, and which I think are understood by those who have thoroughly studied the question, are so apparent and real that there is no risk whatever to the Imperial Exchequer in advancing the sum of money for this purpose. The first security that the Imperial Exchequer has is on the holding of the tenant. But it not only has the security of the holding of the tenant, but it has the additional security in the fact that the Imperial Exchequer possesses the tenant-right plus the whole of the interest. I 1237 know a good many cases, and the noble Lords from Ireland will know of a great many cases, in which the tenant's interest is far larger than the landowner's, and has fetched far more than that given for the fee-simple. But there is a second security. That is the annual Imperial grants in aid of local taxation which are already given to Ireland exactly as they are given to England. These Imperial grants amount altogether, I think, to no less than £3,000,000 per annum, out of which guarantee fund, by Section 35, Subsection 4, you will see that the amount in arrear will be charged on or made good out of. I may say that £3,000,000 a year, which is practically 3 per cent. on the amount of money you are prepared to advance, independent of the bonus, is sufficient to be an absolute security for the proposed sum even in the event of a general strike against the payment of instalments. The noble Lord has laid some stress on the question of a general strike. I venture to say that the fear of a general strike is absolutely groundless.
The noble Lord, Earl Spencer, has had experience of Ireland, and so have other noble Lords opposite, and I do not think they will contradict me when I say that there has never been a general strike against rent in Ireland as a Whole. I am not going to deny that there has been an attempt at a general strike. The noble Lord knows well that there was a no-rent manifesto in the year 1881, but he also knows full well that the no rent manifesto was supported by the strongest Nationalist Party, led by the strongest Nationalist Leader the Party has ever known, Mr. Parnell, then in the height of his power; he also knows well that the strike against rent was made against the old rent, and not against the rents settled in Court, and he knows that it was not taken up, and that it was in fact a failure. We have seen local strikes against rents—strikes under the system of the Plan of Campaign. We have seen strikes against rents on the De Freyne estate, but I venture to say that no one will contradict me when I say that these strikes have been absolute failures. I maintain, as the noble Lord the Earl of Dunraven maintained, that it is impossible that there should be a general combination against the payment of these instalments for the very reason that no two purchasers in any of the cases, past or present, have equivalent interests. 1238 The noble Lord said that some had paid bigger instalments than others for their tenant-rights. Some have been paying for a great many years past, and some are only going to begin to pay. It is impossible to believe that one man who has a great stake in his holding is likely to combine with men who may be liable to agitation, but who have only had a holding for a short time, and who invite him to join in a general strike against rent. That is my answer to the noble Lord opposite with regard to any question of repudiation of the instalments, and what he has called the future land war in Ireland. I think the noble Lord in the speech he made prognosticating a general strike against instalments has done but small credit to the honesty of the Irish tenant.
§ VISCOUNT HAMPDEN
I did nothing of the kind. I said the result of this Act would be that when tenants found that they were not comparing favourably with others there would be an agitation in the Press and in the whole of Ireland which would lead to a compulsory Act.
THE MARQUESS OF LONDON DERRY
I cannot follow the noble Lord. I think the experience of the past eighteen years, since the Ashbourne Act was introduced, will prove the honesty of the Irish tenant in paying the instalments. I myself have absolute confidence in the honesty of the Irish tenant, and I can point to the punctuality with which the instalments have been paid in the past. My Lords, I dislike troubling von with statistics, but I will quote from our experience since 1885, when you will remember that the Ashbourne Act was introduced and passed, which Act has been taken advantage of by upwards of 80,000 tenants, who are now owners of holdings of which they were previously tenants. How have these instalments been paid? The advances since 1885 for land purchase exceed £22,250,000, and the payment of the purchase instalments has been most regular. Instalments due to the half-year ending November, 1902, amount to close on £430,000, all of which, with the exception of £2,800, were paid by June last, and that is not much more than a half per cent. in arrear. I do not know what the noble Earl's experience is as a landlord, but if I received my rents with as 1239 much punctuality I should consider myself an exceedingly fortunate man. With that to guide me I cannot allow that there is any great risk of tenants in the future refusing to pay with the same punctuality as in the past. Even if there were a risk of the Imperial Exchequer having to pay a certain amount of money, I maintain that it would be only justice to Ireland that it should undertake that risk. My Lords, it is but tardy justice to the interests of Ireland. Yon who have studied the Irish question are probably fully aware that if it had not been for the action of the imperial Parliament you could not, to my mind, be asked to accept the responsibility for the agrarian difficulties brought upon Ireland by the Act of 1881, but in that unsuccessful attempt to remedy this matter Parliament was following merely the example of past Parliaments, I would recall that Ireland in the past has grievously suffered at the hands of the Imperial Parliament. There was a time in which the Imperial Parliament crushed out the great manufacturing industries in Ireland in order to benefit England. What was the opinion on the matter of Lord John Russell? I was reading only a short time ago the recollections of Earl Russell, and I came across this paragraph which struck me so forcibly that I wish to quote it to your Lordships. He said:—The soil of Ireland is especially adapted to the feeding of sheep; the price of fleece-wool in Ireland in 1733 was 5d., of combed wool 12d. per pound. In France Irish fleece-wool was sold for 2s. 6d. per pound; combed wool from 4s. 6d. to 6s. It is obvious that if the Irish had been allowed to export their fleece and combed wool to France they would have made an enormous profit by their pastoral industry, and the anarchical spirit would have been vanquished. What stood in the way of these benefits?—benefits for Ireland, benefits for England, benefits for the Empire. The English Parliament. in a spirit of detraction and selfishness resolved to build on a property of Ireland the supremacy of English law and English administration.I also read with interest some remarks of Mr. Lecky, whom your Lordships know so well. What does he say with regard to this matter:—The commercial policy of England was grossly selfish and ruinous to Irish interests. Its effects in Ireland were peculiarly disastrous, it not only aggravated the deplorable poverty of the country, but it had a permanent influence of a Host far-reaching kind. It broke down the industrial spirit which it should have been the first object of England to support. It tended to throw the whole population for sub- 1240 sistence on the soil, and thus gave agrarian disturbances the peculiarly bitter and persistent character they have ever assumed.My Lords, I have merely quoted these words to show that if your Lordships should permit the Imperial Exchequer and the country to take any risk in order to remove Irish grievances, you are only doing ordinary justice to Ireland. I venture to say that the statistics with regard to the regularity of the payments of instalments show that there has been no permanent loss to this country, I hope I have shown that the money advanced for the purpose of enabling occupiers to become owners of their land in Ireland has not only been paid with regularity but has been associated with very satisfactory results. What is the condition of purchasers in Ireland, not only from a financial point of view, but from a social point of view? You know that Mr. Bailey, who will be appointed if you pass this Bill, has recently issued a report on the condition of the tenant purchasers. In that report he says:—The result has been eminently satisfactory. It has introduced above all things a spirit of contentment among the people…The fertility of the land has been increased.…The general solvency of purchasers has been improved…The political unrest which frequently prevailed among occupiers before they came purchasers has become quite quiescent and their intellectual activities are now mainly turned to the improvement of their material circumstances.I venture to say, my Lords, that if you sanction the advance of this money to them you will receive your interest paid with punctuality, and achieve the satisfactory results mentioned by Mr. Bailey, and that the system of voluntary sale and purchase of land in Ireland will be an absolute success. These happy results will undoubtedly have been achieved by two things. By sacrifice on the part of that body of men to whom you have listened to-night, the Irish landowners. The Irish landowners have suffered great deprivations in the past, and in accepting the Bill which you are now asked to pass they will undoubtedly suffer in their feelings. I maintain no one can view an Irish landowner selling his land with anything but feelings of sympathy. The landowners will, as the noble Lord, the Earl of Dunraven said with great truth, feel the parting with land which has been in the possession of their 1241 ancestors for generations. My Lords, I am one of those singularly tenacious persons. I am singularly tenacious to the land in which I was born and bred, and I do feel this, that the landowners should not, under this measure, be expatriated. I believe that there is a general consensus of opinion on the part of all classes of the community to retain the landowners in the country in which they were born, in which they have lived, and in which they have done so much good work. I believe there is good work yet to be done, and when the friction of the question of raising or lowering of rent is removed, they will find themselves not only welcomed but placed in positions of honour amongst those with whom they dwell.
My Lords, may I be allowed to say a few words of a personal character? I have parted with most of my property, but there has ever been between myself and my predecessors, most kindly and affectionate relations with the tenants, and since I have parted with my property those feelings have in no way relaxed, for in the past three or four years there have been three cases in which my tenants la ye vied with one another in doing honour to members of my family by making them the recipients of valuable and costly presents. I believe that the landowners will find their tenants as true to them. My Lords, I do not for one moment prognosticate that this Bill will be the finality of the Irish question. I have had thirty years experience of Irish questions and politics, and the man is not alive who can declare that he will settle the Irish question. I think my right hon. friend, Mr. Wyndham, in the Bill which he has introduced, has made an enormous step, the biggest step I have ever seen, and probably the biggest step I shall ever see, towards the finality of that great Irish problem. If both classes carry it out under the auspicious circumstances in which we see the landlords and tenants acting in concert, I believe that we shall find that the Administration of the future will declare that this Government grappled with the problem, which at one time appeared insoluble, with great courage. They rely on the loyalty aril combination of the two classes of the community in Ireland to prove that there is life in the old land yet.
* LORD CLONBROCK
My Lords, almost everything that I could say with regard to this measure has been said by the noble Lord who preceded me. Before, however, entering upon the consideration of it, I wish to express my full appreciation of the sincere wish which animated the Government in introducing this Bill for the welfare of my country. I also wish to express my appreciation of the ability with which that Bill has been framed and the liberality of its, financial provisions. But for the very reason that I give full credit to the framers of the Bill I must express my great regret that it is not presented to you in the shape in which it was originally introduced into the other House. I know that this regret is shared by others having greater knowledge and experience, especially by people in the West of Ireland, from which I have only just come. It is in the interests of the Bill itself that I wish to speak. We fear that in its present shape it is not likely to be such an efficiently working measure as it was in its original shape. I allude chiefly to the relaxation of what are called the "zones." The provisions in the original Bill as to the zones one would have thought were liberal enough. They have been so fully explained that I need not go into details. It suffices to say that under the provisions of the section containing the zones the purchaser whose rent was £100 by paying a terminable annuity of £70 could obtain possession of his farm. One might call this almost an extreme case, for it is in the essence of every bargain that no agreement can come to a successful issue unless the terms are acceptable to both parties, anti if they are very favourable to one, they are not quite so likely to commend themselves to the other party. In this particular case the capital sum represented by the £70 would, when paid to the vendor with the additional grant made from the bonus, be only sufficient, in the case of settled property, to produce an income of about £75 a year instead of £100. That is a loss of about 25 per cent. If invested at 3 per cent. it would produce £72, if at 3¼, £78. Anyone who, has no other resources than landed property can hardly be expected to accept these terms. Now that the zones have ban relaxed it is to be feared that the tenant purchasers will expect still more 1243 favourable terms, and when they find they are able to get them, we fear that discontent will arise and probably agitation. There are already rumours in the air. We seem to hear ominous sounds like the distant rumbling of a coming storm. We are told on the highest authority that if the demands of the tenants are not acceded to in the smallest particular the land war will be renewed with even greater acrimony than we have experienced in the past. Those, especially from my part of the country, remember well the former war in a not very distant past, and are very naturally apprehensive that the result of this relaxation and arousing of false hopes may lead to most serious consequences. For my own part I should have been content if there had been no zones in the Bill, because there is a certain element of danger in a maximum, which was pointed out on a very different subject the other day when this House was discussing the speed of motorcars. It was then pointed out that the result would be that the maximum would immediately be taken as a minimum. It is much worse when a maximum has been introduced and is then relaxed.
With regard to the bargains outside the zones, we are told by the noble Duke that these would only occur in exceptional cases, but these exceptions have never been clearly defined and specified. The danger still remains unless clear definitions are given. My Lords, as to the attitude of the landlords in general in regard to this Bill I believe that most landlords are ready and many of them are anxious to sell, but that is on the condition that they are secured from grave financial loss. But the disposition and inclination of the landlords to sell will differ in almost every case. One may take it at one end of the scale. A man who has suffered severely from the administration of the Land Act, who has had trouble of all sorts with Iris tenants, who has no particular affection or attachment to his place or the country, might be glad to escape from his position on almost any terms. We may take another man who never had any trouble with his tenants, who has always maintained the most amicable relations with them, who is bound to them by strong personal and hereditary ties, and who would reluctantly see the connection 1244 severed. The inducement to sell in the latter case must be far greater than in the former. It has been urged outside this House that the landlords are to be guided in the price they ask by the sales that have already taken place in what is called the open market. The noble Lord the Earl of Dunraven showed clearly that an open market for rent did not exist now. He said that was based on the agitated state of the country; but one may go further, and say that ever since the Act of 1881 there has been no open market, but that the tenants on any property have had an entire monopoly. For no one else in his senses would buy a rood of Irish land. Apart from this, the market price was put at some eighteen years' purchase. That depends upon what is sometimes called the fallacious doctrine of averages, for one property may have been sold for twenty-four years' purchase and another for twelve. The noble Lord the Earl of Crewe, gave instances in which there was a difference of forty-two and ten years.
* LORD CLONBROCK
Taking my figures between twenty-four and twelve, that gives an average of eighteen years; but it cannot be contended that that is a fair rule which can be applied to any particular property. That property may be far more like the one sold at twenty-four years purchase than at any other price. Again, as was pointed out by Mr. Wyndham, land property sold at low prices for various reasons. Some landlords were forced into the market by creditor's or mortgagees, others have sold estates in one part of the country to pay off encumbrances on those in another, which amounts to an investment of the purchase money at 4½ or 5 per cent.; and again, some estates were sold when land stocks stood at 112 or higher. The price must depend upon the circumstances of every property. I feel convinced of the sympathy of the Government for Irish landlords of which we have been often assured in this House. I believe that this Bill was introduced partly in the hope of extricating them from a very precarious position. I must not omit to acknowledge one provision 1245 distinctly in their favour which admits of their selling and repurchasing demesne lands. I believe that the Government are also prepared to deal fairly with us in regard to sporting rights. I hope these provisions may result in the present owners of property continuing to reside in Ireland. It is most desirable that they should do so, for the withdrawal from any community of a large number of men of education and culture would he a grave calamity. I must observe that there is no moral obligation on the landlord to sell. It is often said outside the House that the landlord is bound to sell, but the Bill was introduced to obviate and get rid of the present system of administration of the land law in Ireland. The landlords are in no way bound to sell. They are not responsible for the state of confusion and anxiety and unrest created by the Act of 1881 and by the administration of that Act. I was glad to hear that as severely spoken of by the noble Duke as I have ever heard it spoken of in Ireland. But if the Government of 1881 were deficient in foresight, there is no reason why Irish landlords should bear the penalty and be made to play the part of the whipping boy of that Government. They have suffered severely already by that Act, and now it is urged that they are hound to sacrifice the remnants of their property. I have said the Bill was introduced as a sort of substitute for the present administration of land law in Ireland, but the misfortune is that it is not a substitute because the two systems have to go on working alongside one another. However well this Act works it is absolutely impossible that the purchases can be thoroughly finished for a considerable number of years, and during that time the same state of demoralisation on the part of the tenants, and anxiety and uncertainty on the part of the landowners must continue. It is very much to he deplored that the Government did not see their way when giving such exceedingly liberal terms of purchase to suspend the rent-fixing clauses of the Act of 1881. My Lords, I have no doubt that I, and those who think with me, will be classed in the irreconcilable section of landlords. To a certain extent this is correct. It is hard to reconcile oneself to unjust demands, to the theory that a man is to only hold property in 1246 Ireland until someone else wants it, to the proposition that a vendor is to accept ally terms which a purchaser chooses to offer. But if we are approached in a different spirit, if we are allowed that liberty of action which any man is entitled to in a free country, and if any step is suggested to us which we can fairly take for the advantage of our country and countrymen, we shall not be found irreconcilable.
§ LORD CASTLETOWN
My Lords, I wish to divide the aspects of this Bill into three parts. I will deal with the past as it appeared some years ago, I will deal with the present and then with the possible future. In the past soon after the Act of 1881 had passed, I, and I think many other Irishmen, realised that the rent-fixing clauses of that Act must land the country in chaos, legal and financial. Twenty years ago seems a long time now, but, I dare say, if what we had suggested then had been adopted it would have saved a great deal of serious loss, serious financial and legal loss. Twenty years ago I moved a Resolution dealing with this very matter. I had just left the other House, having succeeded my father. I had been a Member of the other House during the period of the passage of the Act of 1881, and I brought forward a Motion which was approved, I am proud to say, on both sides of your Lordships' House. I regret, however, to say no action was taken. I believe that after this there was certainly a period during which attempts were made to bring forward purchase Bills. I assisted with others in Ireland to produce what was eventually the Framework of the Bill which was brought in by the noble and learned Lord Ashbourne, and which was subsequently called the Ashbourne Act of 1886. Then it became daily and yearly more clear that some comprehensive measure of purchase would have to be introduced. But nothing was done except what I might call tinkering with the whole question, and very bad 1247 tinkering it was. At last we see a fairly comprehensive measure brought forward, which, so far as its main provisions are concerned, is very much on the lines suggested by myself and other Members of the House, and also by the public Press. Consequently, I hail the advent of this measure with the greatest of pleasure. But, as usual, when the best of laws come in, I am afraid this Bill, though comprehensive and full of excellent intentions, does not, and, in my opinion, will not do the really good work for which its author (and I give the greatest credit to Mr. Wyndham for the able way in which he piloted this Bill through the other House, and the intentions he brought it forward with) intended. I do not think the Bill will work unless the Government will admit of some Amendments of a non-contentious character being introduced into it in your Lordships' House. I only want to see Amendments inserted which will give alternative schemes of purchase to suit different districts and different estates, and also Amendments to give more vigorous effect to the measure, more efficacy, and more latitude generally in the provisions of the Bill. As to the purpose of the Bill I am in thorough sympathy with it.
I think on many estates it is absolutely necessary to sell, and all over Ireland it is very advisable, if not absolutely necessary, to try and re-introduce gravely, slowly and surely, freedom of contract in the only way in which it can be done, and that is by some system which will displace the rent-fixing portion of the Act of 1881. I find by reference to the figures which have been published on the sales, and of which I will only quote a few, that sales gradually progressed since 1870. The first sale was under the Church Act, and they have progressed since then regularly and progressively. There has been a check lately, during the passage of this Bill in another place, that has interfered with that progress, but that check came from certain causes, which I should like to call attention to. I do not think it was owing to the desire of tenants not to purchase, but that as many of the second-term rents were falling in, that the tenants felt that they would get a larger reduction under the second-term rents than if they purchased, and therefore they held back, thinking that they would be able to extract more from 1248 the landlord than if they purchased direct from the Government and had to pay the instalments. That is the reason, I think, of the check in the purchase market. Many of the tenants have arrived at the view that they do not want to purchase at all, and it is noticeable that when a tenant-right is put up for sale, of a tenant who is still under a landlord, that that tenant-right commands a higher price than a tenant-right of a tenant who has purchased his holding. There is also a tendency to use an Act that is brought in up to a certain point, and then the people know that whatever Government are in power will probably bring some other Act that will produce something newer and more tempting to them, and they wait for the more tempting and more fascinating meal. This has been done for a very long time, and I think it has had a very disadvantageous effect on the country, and that is why I hope that this will really be a final measure.
As to the Bill itself I have some right to criticise it, as I have sold under the Acts of 1886 and 1896, and I have experienced all the difficulties there are in selling settled estates, and all the expenses that are incurred. This Bill, no doubt, has the very best intentions, but I am very doubtful if it is not very carefully amended whether it will work as smoothly as its authors think it will. Let me take the Estates Commissioners in the first case, a new body appointed under this Bill. They have enormous powers, and I am afraid their powers being so great and so drastic, that there will be a tendency to introduce, very much as the Land Commissioners did, such rules and regulations as will interfere with free sale, in the proper acceptation of the term. I am also of opinion that is would have been wiser, if I may say so, to have entrusted such enormous power to gentlemen in no way connected with the Land Commission, and rent-fixing Department, and, if I may say so without disrespect, these should have been men of the caliber of those to whom Mr. Gladstone entrusted the working of the Church of Ireland Act in 1870. This Act worked a great social revolution in Ireland, and it is to my mind a very strong measure, and not a very wise one, to have entrusted to these gentleman who have been lowering rents 1249 a power to deal with the new departure. But the arrangement has been made, these men and their attributes have been discussed and accepted in the other House, and those in Ireland must put up with it, but I think if you had so large and so vast a scheme put forward for England or for Scotland, your Lordships would have appointed different administrators to those who have been utilised on this occasion. I wish to say nothing against the gentlemen appointed in the slightest degree, two of them are personal friends of my own, and I have a great opinion of their credit and status, and I believe the other gentleman comes of a very high Indian administrative body also. I only state what is my opinion, and that of a great many other people in Ireland. There is also a tendency under the Bill to make the Estates Commissioners a glorified second edition of the Congested Districts Board. Estates in no sense congested are to be gobbled up by them, and they are even to descend from their Olympian heights to such trivialities as dealing with fire insurance of farm buildings on those estates. It seems to me as if the Estates Commissioners are to govern, to insure, to de-police Ireland of her large body of police, and also to purchase large portions of Ireland at their own sweet will. Whether it is wise to entrust them with such wide powers is for your Lordships to decide. Personally I should be disposed to leave these powers in the hands of the Lands Commissioner, the Land Judge, and the high judicial authorities of Ireland, who are perfectly capable of dealing with them.
As to the details of the Bill, in the first place there are no alternative schemes of purchase, which, I think, is a great mistake, for the reason that in Ireland there are a large number of estates held on different terms and different conditions of possession; there are estates differing from each other as widely as the Hebrides and Devonshire; and I think it would be wise for an alternative scheme of purchase to be mentioned in the Bill, and I shall attempt to remedy this fault by proposing Amendments upon this matter when we come into Committee. Then with regard to the question of superiorinterests. I deal with those other than the superior interests 1250 of Trinity College, which are so carefully guarded by her representatives in the other House. Superior interests are of great value and average as much as £4,000 and £5,000 per annum on some estates. They are as valuable as Consols, fluctuating less, and generally charged in small amounts on large quantities of land, yet they are left in an absolute derelict state. If the landlords are to be induced to sell they must have wider powers of investment. These wider powers exist in nearly all new settlements, and I do appeal to the Lord Chancellor to see if he cannot arrange, when the time comes in Committee, that some such wider powers of investment may be permitted, so that when the Act comes into operation, as we hope it will, on a large scale, it may not dislocate all settled property in Ireland I cannot see why such a provision should not be made so that the tenants for life and remainder men should agree to such wider provision for investment. If that is done your Lordships will enable a number of properties to be sold which otherwise will not come into the market. I have spoken to many landlords in Ireland, and it all comes to the same thing: "If you give wider facilities for investment I will sell, but if you only place trustees' securities at my disposal I will not sell." Then there are the terms which should be given to a desirable class of tenants who, when purchasing, put down a fourth of the price out of their own pockets. No assistance has been given to these tenants by the Bill.
Now, as to the future. I know it is most unwise to prophesy, but I feel—and this is my opinion as an Irishman—that those who have advocated this great scheme in England have not thought out what may happen in the near future. They hope to keep the landowner, deprived of his estate and of all interest in the land, and, here I agree with the noble Lord Clonbrock in what he said, that it is to be hoped that the Bill will assist in keeping the landlords in Ireland. In my opinion the present generation may live on, in Ireland, but I cannot help thinking that the next generation will not do so. I think the old homes will then pass into the hands of others—rich merchants, rich solicitors and other persons of wealth—and it may be very good for the country, I do not say for a moment that it will 1251 not, but in any case I believe that is exactly what will happen, and then will come the great problem which will be forced upon the Government—the condition of the present proprietors that have been created under this Bill. They must be safeguarded, as I have before urged strongly in your Lordships' House, under the best Continental system where these present proprietors have existed for 100 or 150 years. You must try and learn from the Continent how to watch over the interests of these men. I have been told that a Bill will be introduced next year to do this. I strongly urge the Government to accept some Amendment to deal with the question now. Those Amendments will be put down to prepare the ground for the Bill of next year when they choose to introduce it. But it is probable that this Government may not be in power next year, and the Government which is, may not care for this subject. What then will be the result? The whole system of social life is being changed in Ireland, and the change will be more rapid the moment this Bill becomes an Act and comes into operation. Let me implore those in power now, to investigate at once the best means of avoiding what might be a greater land and legal chaos than ever. I believe the Bill will be of benefit undoubtedly, not only to the owners and the occupiers, but to Ireland as a whole. If I did not believe so I certainly would vote against it. I hope also, the great sacrifice of sentiment and love for our homes, which many of us will be called upon to make in selling estates, will be received and returned to us with some thanks and consideration by our countrymen. But the question of the future is not so much the position of the landlords of the country, but that of the tenant purchaser created under this Bill. If they and the country benefit I do not object to the action of the Government, but I ask the Government to see clearly and be mindful and careful of the future of my countrymen; and on the condition that tins measure shall not be regarded only as an expediency measure, but that it shall be treated, as I hope it will be, as a real, permanent, beneficent plan for creating and preserving a bonâ, fide peasant proprietor, I shall support it.
§ EARL SPENCER
When I look at the clock I am reminded of one of the 1252 most melancholy moments I have ever passed through in your Lordships' House. It was twenty-two years ago that at 11 o'clock in the evening I had, on behalf of the Government, to wind up the first night's debate on one of the great Irish Land Bills, And, with the exception of my noble friend behind me, I do not think there was one of your Lordships present. (Cries of "No, No.") I see two noble Lords opposite who might have been present, but I do not think those noble Lords were present, because, if I recollect rightly, the audience I had to to address on that occasion numbered only four. To-night there seems to be more interest about this great subject, and I am glad to see that greater interest taken in it. I do not think I need apologise to your Lordships, even if I did not hold the official place I hold in this House, for addressing you on the whole question, for, like the noble Duke the Lord President, I have been connected for over thirty years with a great many Irish measures for land legislation, and I have had considerable experience, I will not say more than the noble Duke has had, but I had, when I was in Ireland and he was in England, a great deal to do with the administration and superintendence of one of those great Acts. I do not think I need say much as to why the past legislation on this subject was necessary. I have had, as some of your Lordships have had, sad and grievous experience of ruling in Ireland. I have known times when there was almost armed revolution going on against the Government of the day, and the Government of the day was placed in the greatest possible difficulty. My Lords, I think those who have had similar experience to mine will agree that all the difficulties, perhaps not entirely all but a very great many of them, are to be attributed to the land tenure which prevails in that country. I have often heard people say that it came from wanton agitation. My Lords, I am not in favour or desirous of promoting agitation, but there is never smoke without fire, and there has never been a successful agitation in Ireland without great cause for discontent among the people. That discontent has to a great extent hung about the land. Now, my Lords, legislation with regard to the land is twofold; it falls in two grooves. There is legislation with regard to tenure, and also with regard to the purchase by 1253 the tenant occupier. I am not going to say much with regard to the legislation with regard to tenure, but I think it is right to say a few words, for there have been allusions to it to-night, and I could quote to you words which show what has been thought to be the line of policy of the legislation with regard to tenure. At this late hour of the night, what I would say of it is this, the words, used by Mr. Gladstone in another place and elsewhere, were to the effect that he did not attempt to legislate in any degree on any particular rule or to follow any theoretical principle, but he wished to apply in Ireland the customs which prevailed there, and those, I think, are the principles which guided him to a very great extent in the great measures which he passed.
Allusion has been made to the Act of 1881 by many speakers to-night. I was glad to hear what the noble Duke the Lord President said with regard to it. I agree with him that the legislation of 1881 probably, I may say certainly, could not be defended on the economic ground. I quite admit that, but I think that legislation was necessary to prevent greater evils coming into the country. Those were wise words of the noble Duke. They were repeated also somewhere by the Prime Minister, and allusion has been made to what he said. The Prime Minister said the difficulties were enormous in 1881, and it was difficult to say what ought to have been done by those responsible for the Government of that country, which seemed to be in the middle of a great land revolution. I wish to lay stress upon that. I entirely sympathise with a great deal that has been said about the position of the Irish landlords, and the effect this legislation has had. I lament that freedom of contract with tenants had to be interfered with. I lament that these Acts have interfered to a great extent with the power of sale in the country, but I think there has sometimes been a great deal of exaggeration as to the fall of values under the Land Act. That has been referred to to-night. I must admit that there has been a great distinction between voluntary Acts on the part of the landlords and the Acts of the Courts of the country. I also say with regard to the freedom of sale that the free sale of estates in Ireland since these Acts have come into force, based on the 1254 value of the land, depends on the rental of the land, and I do not think that Irish landlords have always considered and taken into account the great economic changes which have necessitated the lowering of rent.
Allusions have been made to the great difference of rent in this country and in Ireland. I cannot help alluding to it myself. No doubt there are a great many differences in rents in various localities, but there are districts in this country—rich and prosperous agricultural districts—where there has been an enormous fall in the value of rentals owing to the action of economic forces. I do not like to quote my own case, but I will quote that of a friend of mine, a man well known to your Lordships, I mean Lord Wantage. Lord Wantage—and all this appears in the Commission—succeeded through his wife to a very large and fine property in Northamptonshire. It was an old hereditary property which combined all sorts of farms, many of them probably in very bad order. He succeeded to property which comprised excellent land, and all the buildings on which were admirable, and in his evidence before the Commission Lord Wantage stated that the estate comprised 28,000 acres, and the gross rental was £29,000 a year. He compares that rental with what it was twenty years before, and he gives the figure for the year 1873. He says in 1873 the gross rental was £54,000, and in the year 1893 it was £29,000; that was a drop of £25,000 a year, not quite 50 per cent., but not very far off. I would call your Lordships' attention to what the net income of that estate was, and I instance that to show the difference between England and Ireland. In Ireland there are some estates which are managed on the English principle, but in most cases the tenants themselves are responsible for the permanent buildings. In England we have to maintain the buildings, the gates, the fences and the roads, and that makes the difference between the net and the gross income. I cannot give the net income for 1873, because within a few years there was a slight difference of sale and purchase, but I give it for the years 1877 and 1893. In 1877 it was £47,000 a year; in 1893 it was £12,000 a year, that is a very great—an enormous—difference in the value of an estate, and I doubt whether there are many cases in Ireland 1255 where so great a change in the value of the rental of land has taken place. As I said before, I do not wish to quote my own smaller property, but I confess, though I have not had as great difficulties as Lord Wantage, the figures I could give would very nearly agree with his. I need not dwell further upon the Act of 1881. Lord Crewe has very properly, and very truly, said that whether you like it or whether you do not, the Act of 1881 did enable, to a great extent, purchase to be taken up, because it gave the basis upon which the purchase could be carried out. With regard to the question of purchase, I have heard it said that the Unionist Party can claim purchase as their own. I deny that. I admit they have been very successful in some of these Acts, particularly that which is known by the name of the noble and learned Lord opposite, Lord Ashbourne. But purchase commenced at the time of the passing of the Church Act. We had it from the noble Marquess, who stated that what arose then had been the precursor of 1885.
§ EARL SPENCER
I know, I know; but I should like to go a little further back than the noble Marquess has gone, and if we go a little further back we shall find that before the Act of 1885, £2,450,178 had been advanced on loans, and I believe that if that large sum is added to the large sum quoted by the noble Marquess you will find a very small proportion of arrears on the part of the tenant. Under the Church Act, £674,841 was advanced, and the number of loans issued was 6,057, and within two years I will venture to say every one of those who borrowed money under that Act will be absolute owners without having any further annuity to pay. We go on, and there have been a variety of Acts of Purchase. There was the Act of 1870, of 1881 and 1885, and then the Acts of 1891 arid 1896. Now, I think, as has been said before, there had not been much done under the Bills which preceded the Bill of 1885. Up to that time the idea was this—it was Bright's idea—not to adopt in any Act the principle of 1256 making an owner of any tenant you could find, but only to take the tenants who were thrifty and would make good owners and good citizens, and in order to secure them, a considerable proportion, sometimes one-third and sometimes one-quarter of the value was left to them to pay out of their own pockets. That was the principle introduced in 1870, and that was the first Act which used the credit of the Bill. The Church Act advanced money out of the Church Funds. What happened? It was found that there were very few tenants who could pay a portion of the purchase money, and then the noble and learned Lord, in 1885, carried the first Act which proceeded on the plan of the whole of the money being advanced and for a longer period of repayment. Now I will give the noble Lord and the Government to which he belonged every credit for passing that measure, and the noble Lord will probably remember when he made his statement on its introduction that he referred to a Bill almost entirely forgotten now, which was a Bill for which I was partly responsible. Mr. Trevelyan, of that day, afterwards Sir G. Trevelyan, introduced it in the other House, the Bill of 1884. That Bill was the first Bill which proposed that the whole money should be advanced to the tenant, and it also extended the time of repayment. The Bill did not go to the length of forty-nine years for the repayment, but I believe that it went to forty, so that in the Church Act, in the Act of 1870, in the Act of 1881, and in the Bill of 1884, the principle of purchase had been adopted by the Government to which I had the honour to belong, I remember very well that on the discussions on that Bill I pointed out some of the difficulties which I knew would arise on the manner of payment. I will not read the whole of what I said, but I will read a few words because it will show that I was quite aware of the difficulty that would follow a large extension of the principle of greater assistance being given to the tenants when becoming purchasers of land.It is a new thing to spread the repayment of an advance of this kind over a period of 49 years, and I object to so long a period as it prolongs all the risk that the state must run, besides creating a new and very grave danger to the landlords who do not wish to sell and whose tenants will naturally object to pay £100 a year rent when their neighbours are 1257 only paying from £67 10s. to £87 10s. for the fee-simple of the land.That is the fons et origo of the Bill that hits now been introduced by the Government. The difficulty has been caused by those tenants who have purchased their land. By the marvellous working of the credit of the State, they not only purchase their land at a lower than their rent, but hold it at a much lower rent than if they had been simply tenants. It seems to be an extraordinary juggle, but it is a great compliment to the credit of the Government of this country that such a thing could be done. I need not now refer more to those Acts. I come now to another Bill. I cannot help alluding to it because I had a great hand in it, and that was the Home Rule Bill of 1886. I am not going to enter into the details of that great measure for Home Rule. It may have been right, and I believe that it was right. It may have been wrong. But I for one made it a condition for my supporting the Home Rule Bill that a great measure of land purchase should be introduced at the same time. I think I have been able to prove that on the great question of land purchase from 1879 to the date w hen this Bill was introduced, I have always been in favour of land purchase. I quite admit that those measures have not been quite so successful as they ought to have been, but I stand here to-night to say I staunchly believe that those defects ought to be remedied, and that if possible a complete and perfect Land Purchase Bill should be passed. I rather think the noble Duke said about that time that a cure for the difficulty of Irish land remained in purchase, and that the Bills which had been introduced had only been of the nature of a modus vivendi.
I now turn to this measure of the Government. It is a comprehensive and far-reaching measure; it sprang from a very novel and very happy circumstance which occurred in Ireland—namely, the coming together of two bodies who were always considered to be enemies that could never be reconciled, and who were generally in a state of most bitter warfare; I mean the landlords of Ireland and those who represented the tenants. I congratulate those who brought about that settlement. I have alluded on a previous occasion to the part taken in it by Lord Dunraven; he is one of those to whom great credit must be attached for 1258 bringing the conference together. But there are others to whom credit is due, I mean the Nationalist leaders of the people who joined the conference to bring matters to a conclusion. The question is whether it will succeed. I do not propose to go into the details—there are a great many—details which have been referred to and to which I might refer—but on the Second Reading of the Bill it would not perhaps be wise for me to do so, and, possibly opportunities to discuss details will be given in Committee. This measure makes a very large demand on the taxpayers of the country, and it involves very greatly the credit of the nation, and makes us incur very large risks. But the dangers of agrarian difficulties are so great, and affect so largely the prosperity of that country, that it will be worth the expenditure of a very large sum of money if those dangers can be overcome. We are asked to give a present to Ireland. I will not say whether it is to go into the landlords or tenants' pockets, but we are asked to give £12,000,000 to make it possible that the sale of the property of the landlords to the tenants can be carried out to the extent of £100,000,000. That is a very large price to be asked to pay, if we are not to buy what is worth securing. But is it to be a reality, or are we merely buying a sham. Are we really securing the peace and prosperity of Ireland, or are we securing a fleeting advantage which will be submerged before long in a fresh sea of trouble. It is impossible to answer with certainty these questions. We cannot be certain what result this Bill will have, but I will join with my noble friends behind me and venture to say I am willing to take the risk, and I believe the risk is not large.
We have been told to-night, and I have heard over and over again that out of the large sums of annuities paid, under former transactions to the extent of £800,000 a year, hardly any deficiencies have taken place; that fact alone ought to give us confidence. But then it is said, suppose agitation and turmoil should again arise, will the tenants continue to pay? My answer to that is that for thirty-three years these proposals, in a lesser degree, but in a considerable degree, have been tried in Ireland, and that the people of Ireland have had to pay these large annuities for the purchase of their land, and that they have done 1259 it through two of the fiercest agitations and land wars that were possible to take place.
My Lords, I do not think I have much more to say, but there are two or three questions which, perhaps, are rather more than details, to which I should like to refer. With regard to this gift of £12,000,000, I did not quite understand Lord Dunraven, who said it was not a gift, but that it would be repaid in the long run. I may have misunderstood the noble Lord, but all that I understood him to say was that it would be repaid to this country. Well, I understand it is a gift, but it is a noble gift. This gift is to be paid, I understand, in small sums at the rate of £350,000 a year for some time. We are told that this will not all he paid by the British taxpayer, as there will be a saving in Ireland. We are told that something like £250,000 a year will be saved; that first of all the expenditure of the Land Courts will be diminished by over £140,000 a year; but I am afraid there will be considerable expenditure. From what I know of these Acts there will be a large expenditure in administration. Then there is to be less spent on Police and other matters. I say at once I consider this idea a very noble idea, and one that we ought to praise and admire very much. But I am afraid it will he to a very great extent a dream. There is hardly anyone who has been in Ireland who has not tried to diminish expenditure of this kind. In my own humble way I tried, and in some measure succeeded, but I have a very sad recollection even now in the matter. I cut off a Judge in one of the Courts, and at the moment I left Ireland, which I did not very long afterwards, that Judge was replaced by a Conservative Government.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
The noble Lord had not cut him off according to my recollection; he had left him surviving.
§ EARL SPENCER
I am speaking of the time before the noble Lord was Lord Chancellor. I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord will introduce great changes in the salaries of the Judges and legal officers in Ireland. Anyhow, I rejoice that now a Conservative Government in Ireland propose economy. I hope his anticipations in that regard may be fulfilled. I may be wrong, and I certainly 1260 trust that the present Government may succeed in diminishing the expenditure.
There is another point to which I attribute very great importance. That is the appointment of Commissioners. Now, I am sorry to say, one of the banes of the administration in Ireland is the continual political pressure and influence that is brought to bear on the Government of the day. I do not say that one party more than another is to blame for that, both the landlords on the one side and the Nationalists on the other are implicated. I was free from that as to the Nationalists because they were not in any communication with me when I was in office, but there is that pressure brought to bear on the work of the Government of that country. I regretted it and I always endeavoured to diminish it when I had the power to do so. When these first Acts were passed and bodies were appointed, the idea of Mr. Gladstone and all others concerned, was to appoint men of the highest position and character and who were entirely removed from all political influence. I do not say who is to blame, but I am afraid your Lordships are somewhat to blame, because I remember that the Bill of 1881 had hardly begun to grow before your Lordships wished to pull up the plant in order to see how the roots were going on. That began the attack, and the Nationalist party were not slow in carrying it out, from the opposite side, and I believe that the Commissioners were a sort of shuttlecock of the parties, and I should be surprised to hear now if that has been altered. Now I readily admit that when you come to consider the positions in which these Commissioners have been placed for some years past, there is a strong desire to alter them, but how can it be done without running the greater risk of political pressure than has existed before I The Government have taken a very curious course. What do they do in this Bill? In this Bill the Chief Commissioner is a man for whom I have great regard and a man of high capacity, although not in office with me. I think he is now a Knight, although knew him as plain Mr. Wrench. His salary is on the Consolidated Fund, and he must be removed from office by an Address. His colleagues, however, the other two Commissioners, are mere servants of the Administration of the day, 1261 and I readily foresee that attacks will be raised against them in another place where they are not so particular with regard to attacks as we are in this House. This is a very difficult problem, but I wish to call attention to it and to ask for some modification, at all events of what I call the hot and cold plan adopted by the Government.
Now I have referred to the Bill of 1884 and also to the Bill of 1886, both of which were unsuccessful, but they contained a principle which I regret is not to be found in this Bill. It is what Lord Salisbury once called "the buffer" between the Imperial Government and the occupiers of land who are going to pay these annuities. In both of these Bills there was a buffer, and Lord Ashbourne pointed out that the buffer of 1884 was the cause of that Bill not going through. In the Bill of 1886 we went a great deal farther, and there was the great interest of the local authorities to get a direct benefit of the annuity. I regret in this Bill that there is no such buffer, and I think that is one of its defects.
My Lords, I have pointed out the objections to the Bill, but on the whole I support it and I heartily wish it success. I believe if it succeeds the greatest credit will be due to those who introduced it. My Lords, we have indications that there is a better feeling in Ireland with regard to all these disputes which have torn the country in halves in past years. In the other place there seems to be some inclination to accept the solution and we rejoice at the good feeling which has been displayed in Ireland during the visit of our gracious Sovereign. The tact and ability of His Majesty, combined with Her Majesty's grace and charm, has shown the people of Ireland how much they are valued by their Sovereigns. Now my Lords all these signs do not for a moment, to my mind, prove that we are to get rid of the old questions which separate parties in Ireland. There are a great many questions besides the land question which are felt deeply and strongly in that country. These questions will not be swept away by these improvements. What will happen, I hope and believe, will be that the old methods of violence and intimidation will disappear and that the people in Ireland will learn that by free and open discussion and by constitu- 1262 tional methods, they may obtain from Parliament any great changes which may be necessary for the welfare of that country.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
We who are responsible for the Bill which we ask your Lordships to read a second time have no reason to complain of the manner in which it has been received by your Lordships' House. The measure has not escaped criticism, and those criticisms have been of the most reasonable description, but I think I am right in saying that with the solitary exception of the noble Lord, Viscount Hampden, not one of your Lordships who has spoken tonight has failed to express a desire that this Bill should become law, and that it should succeed in producing the results desired for it by everyone. My Lords, that aspiration I very cordially echo, and I trust with other noble Lords to-night that the Bill will be received by both landlords and tenants in such a manner as to render it completely successful.
We have had to-night a considerable number of excursions into the regions of history—the history of that much vexed Irish land question—and into questions which on so many occasions have required attention from your Lordships' House. Nothing is further from my purpose than to revive the old controversies of 1881. No greater waste of time could take place than by an attempt to indulge in idle recriminations, as to the course followed by the legislation of that time. The noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, may be quite right when they tell your Lordships that in 1881 the condition of things in Ireland was such as to render it absolutely necessary that strong measures should be taken. We differed as to the character of those measures, but this fact at any rate remains, that the result of the legislation of 1881, has been to saddle the country with a system of land laws which has proved to be absolutely unworkable and intolerable to those who are most affected by it. My Lords, the noble Earl who spoke last rather suggested to your Lordships that the Irish landlords had no grievance, which the land owners of other parts of the Kingdom had not experienced in this line.
§ EARL SPENCER
I must differ from the noble Marquess; I did not say they had no grievance, but that they exaggerated it, and did not sufficiently know the difficulty in which the English landlord was placed.
* THE MARQUESS OF LANDSDOWNE
I think the argument was that the Irish landlords exaggerated their grievance, because the English and Scotch landlords had to submit to reductions of rent; equal to or, in some cases, even greater than those to which Irish land was subject at that time. Now, what we complain of is that not merely were our rents reduced, but we that were deprived of that power of barganing with our tenants which is enjoyed by landlords in other parts of the country.
* THE MARQUESS OF LANDSDOWNE
That is the grievance we complain of, and which remains. The system is at any rate, cordially distrusted both by the landlords and the tenants. So far as I am aware, there is no system of land tenure at all resembling it in any other part of the world. The landlords find themselves in the position of rent chargers without the security that generally accompanies a rent-charge. The tenants on the other hand have no confidence in the system, and are perpetually looking forward to reductions of rent at the hands of the Land Commission. The result is that there is no inducement to the Irish tenants to farm their land properly or to develop the resources of the country, while both landlords and tenants find themselves condemned to never ceasing litigation, the end of which no one can foresee. That is the position of the landlords and tenants, and, on the other hand, the taxpayers of the United Kingdom, find themselves saddled with the cost of maintaining this immense judicial staff, entrusted with the business of revising rents, and also with that of a large staff of police that, as we know, is generally employed in connection with disputes arising from agrarian cases.
The defects of the system are admirably summarised in the Report of the Fry Commission, a weighty document 1264 which I sometimes think did not receive all the attention it deserved. The Fry Commission say of the system which it was called upon to investigate that it is a complicated system that is characterised by great delay, that it is costly to the country and that it produces in that part of the United Kingdom, which every one knows sorely needs quiet and tranquillity, a sense of abiding unrest. I cannot conceive any stronger condemnation.
As has been pointed out several times in the course of this debate, there stands out in this great wilderness of failure one point on which our legislation has been completely and triumphantly successful. I mean that part of our system of land law which has reference to purchase and sale. That part of our land system, whether we regard it from a political point of view or with reference to its financial aspects, has been completely successful. My lords, I observe that the noble Earl was careful to point out that the Unionist Party could not claim to themselves the sole credit for having invented this system of purchase and sale. It is pleasant to see that there is a kind of rivalry for the paternity of this part of the measure, but we may at any rate claim that it was our legislation which first brought about the practical results which have attended land purchase in Ireland. The cardinal difficulty with winch purchase in Ireland had hitherto had to contend lay in this. We have been working, in two parallel grooves, namely, the groove of purchase and the groove of tenure. We I have seen that the attractions which our legislation as to tenure has offered have been so great as to render to a great extent the attractions offered by purchase nugatory and inoperative. The position of the tenant as a tenant has been so strong and advantageous that we have found ourselves obliged to offer him something like a bribe in order to induce him to abdicate that position and become the owner of his holding, instead of, as might have been expected under ordinary circumstances, finding that the tenant was willing to pay something additional in order to convert his tenancy into absolute ownership. That is the explanation, which Lord Crewe called a gigantic paradox, of the position in Ireland at this moment. We know that the stream of purchase has lately been drying 1265 up and that unless we do something to set it flowing again, purchase will become a dead letter in Ireland. This Bill is frankly a purchase measure, and it seems to me inconceivable that the inducements it offers should not have the effect of bringing in a large number of tenants.
Some doubts have been expressed as to the results of the measure. I was glad to hear the noble Lord express his entire confidence those results. I believe the public will be amply secured for the advances to be made to the tenants, and that nothing is more improbable than that there should be anything like a general movement amongst them for the purpose of withholding the payment of rent-charges they will owe to the State. I believe that the tenant farmers of Ireland areas a body of men extremely shrewd and alive to their own interests, and it seems to me incredible that the tenants in the position which they will occupy after they have purchased, owning so immensely valuable an interest, acquired on such easy terms, will be found either singly or in combination with others to risk the forfeiture of that interest. I am under the strong impression that the tenants of Ireland have realised the folly of the anti-rent movement into which some of them were unfortunately inveigled, with such unfortunate results. I doubt whether we shall see any revival of those strikes against rent, and I certainly do not expect to see any organised resistance to the performance of the obligations which will be contracted under this Bill.
One or two noble Lords lamented the fact that this Bill would lead to the extinction of the landlord class in Ireland. I think that was said by the noble Duke who spoke second, and the sentiment was re-echoed by others. That, again, is an anticipation which I do not share. I believe, on the contrary, that the Bill, as it has been framed, contains many inducements to resident owners of land in Ireland to remain in that country arid to interest themselves in its affairs. We have heard several descriptions of the inducements offered to landlords in this way. One noble Lord mentioned amongst them that the Irish landowner who continued to reside upon his property would still have an opportunity of finding himself eligible for the office of High Sheriff. I am not quite sure whether that is an inducement which would operate largely. I seem to recollect taking part in meet- 1266 ings held under the presidency of the noble Duke behind me for the purpose of pricking the sheriffs. We did not always find there was a great competition for the honour of filling that high office. But there are other and more substantial inducements in the Bill. One is the provision under which the Irish landowner is allowed to sell and then to repurchase on liberal terms his desmesne and family home. That will have the result of enabling many men, particularly those whose property is of modest extent, and who are unfortunately in the position of having to meet heavy encumbrances to remain in possession of their ancestral homes.
Another matter dwelt upon in connection with this branch of the case was the question of sporting rights. That question of sporting rights will, no doubt, be discussed in Committee, and all I will say about it now is that the Bill seems to be drawn in such a way as to enable any landlord who really has established exclusive sporting rights over his property to retain those rights. If he can show that he actually has, at the time of sale, an exclusive right to sporting, he is put in the position of retaining that right, and I really suggest to those noble Lords who have pressed this point, that unless the landlord is able to show he has established the exclusive right of sporting, he has very little to gain by endeavouring to secure the survival of partial and imperfect rights enforced against reluctant tenants who would not be likely to give him much assistance in game or fish preservation.
My Lords, some criticism has been made on that part of the Bill that deals with the question of zones, and regret has been expressed that the Bill as originally framed was not adhered to, and that it now contains a clause under which it will be possible for landlords and tenants to make arrangements outside the limits of the zones. Personally, I should have been very glad if we could have kept the Bill in its original shape, but it was impossible to resist the arguments brought forward to show that in some cases there were likely to be transactions which could not equitably be kept within the limits of the zones, and, as I think, the noble Duke told your Lordships, it is quite obvious that transactions within the zones will be much more tempting to landlords arid tenants, 1267 inasmuch as they will be of a much more simple character, and will be carried through with greater rapidity and ease. There is also this to be borne in mind, that permission given for transactions outside the limits of the zones may, upon occasion, enable the landlord to obtain a price in excess of the maximum limit specified in the zone, where the property sold is of exceptional importance or value.
My Lords, with regard to the bonus upon which the noble Earl briefly touched, he was certainly right in saying that the bonus is a free gift to the vendor, and is intended for the purpose of facilitating sales. Such an inducement is particularly needed in a certain class of cases, in which, in the past, sales have proved impossible; owing to the loss of income occasioned by the stoppage of rent and the necessity of having to pay interest on mortgages, and in which the vendor of the estate was liable to find himself for a time in extremely straightened circumstances, and many owners were no doubt deterred by this apprehension. It is in that class of case precisely that it is most desirable to encourage sales, and in that class of case the bonus will be an immense inducement to the owner to sell.
At this late hour of the evening I do not desire to take up the time of the House. We have been warned to-night, from several quarters, that we must expect proposals for the amendment of this Bill in Committee, and, no doubt, it is only right and proper that in this House, where the owners of land in Ireland are so numerous and so ably represented, that the Bill should be examined critically and Amendments moved if any weak points can be discovered, but I will venture strongly to urge on your Lordships that it will be most unfortunate if, in this House, any Amendment were to be insisted upon which could be regarded as seriously subversive of the principle on which this Bill is based. This Bill represents the result of a compromise arrived at laboriously and after much discussion between the landlords and tenants, and also between the parties concerned and the taxpayers of this country who are called upon to find the credit and cash which are necessary in order to make this Bill a workable measure. My Lords, it would be to my mind a grave misfortune if any Amendments made in this House were to disturb the careful balance upon which 1268 this Bill has been constructed in reference to those three interests.
To my mind the value of the Bill is to be measured, not only by its contents but also because it is an indication of that better understanding between Irish landlords and Irish tenants which now so happily exists, that better feeling has been again and again this evening attributed to the efforts of the Conference and of the noble Earl whose name is so closely connected with that most useful discussion. My Lords, to me it seems that any changes which might re-open a question now happily settled, or might, by substituting an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt for the environment of good feeling, good will, confidence and hope in which this measure first saw the light, would be a grave misfortune. I earnestly trust that no proceeding to which your Lordships House may be a party will have the effect of in any way diminishing the favourable prospects with which this measure has been brought forward.
My Lords, I take a very great interest in the Bill, and my excuse for intervening at this late hour is that great interest. I am one of those who are very sanguine of its going a long way towards settling the land question. In dealing with the Bill your Lordships must bear in mind the results of experience gained in previous Purchase Acts. My experience goes back to the Act of 1885, when the results were so satisfactory to the tenants who purchased that they are an encouragement to other landlords who sell under the Bill. In 1886 and 1887 I sold, in the counties of Mayo and Roscommon, holdings bringing in I some £3,000 or £4,000 a year, and the average term was nineteen years purchase. Out of the 300 purchasing tenants, 100 tenants paid me £5 or less, another 100 from £5 to £10, and a third hundred from £10 to £100. The estate was free from arrears, and rent was paid for twenty-five years punctually up to 1876, but arrears had accrued between 1876 and 1886, so that when the Land Commissioner inspected the holding he was rather alarmed and recommended that I should agree to a deposit of one half. The most encouraging part of my story is that not one of these 300 tenants failed in paying a single instalment to the State, and the guaranteed deposits were 1269 safe. Last year I attended on the estate and I found the tenants happy and contented. They were proud of the improvements they had carried out, they had largely increased their stock, and their wives and children were comfortably and tidily dressed. Out of the whole number only six of the holdings had been resold. In all cases the sellers got as much or more than they paid for the farms, and in one farm near Castlebar, which was purchased from me at £1,620 it was resold for £2,150.
With regard to the sporting rights, I may tell your Lordships that I gave them up with the properties sold, and at that time there was a considerable amount of game on the estate. When two years ago my son visited the estate for the first time all the purchasing tenants welcomed him most warmly, and offered that in the event of his returning there with his wife to live in that part of the country they would give him back the sporting rights and do their best to preserve the game. He has gone back there to live, and they have redeemed their promise. Your Lordships, I find from Mr. Bailey's report that his experience on a large scale is the same as mine, and that the improvements on these purchased estates has been generally maintained. This information is most reassuring, and we have every reason to hope that the present Bill will be even more successful in settling the land question on a large scale. Let us hope it will be the means of bringing peace and contentment to the Irish tenantry, whose future we have at heart so much. My Lords, I believe that in the near future our gracious Sovereign the King will be able to point to Ireland as being as loyal and law-abiding as any other part of his vast Empire.
§ On Question, that the Bill be read a second time,
§ Agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.