§ LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE had given Notice to move—" That this House regrets that His Majesty's Government do not propose to pass into law during the present session the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland, which forms part of their plan for the settlement of the Irish question, and which they undertook to pass into law simultaneously with the Government of Ireland Act."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, for over a month there appeared on the Notice Paper of this House a Question in my name, to ask His Majesty's Government whether it was their intention during the present session to pass into law the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland, which formed part of their scheme for the settlement of the Irish problem. That Question has been on two occasions postponed— on the first occasion at the request of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who was anxious to consult at the last minute the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, at that moment, was in attendance on His Majesty the King in Belfast, and on the second occasion the Lord Chancellor intervened, just as I was rising to speak, not to complain of the Question which I was going to put, but to suggest to me that in view of the negotiations which were then pending, between His Majesty's Government, the Government of Ulster, and the Sinn Fein leaders, it would be advisable to postpone going into the Question in that detail which he thought it deserved, and he added that he hoped to be able to give a reasoned reply if I were to postpone the Question for a week or ten days.
§ Although I did not quite agree with the reasons which were urged by the noble and learned Viscount for the delay, I agreed to refrain from bringing forward the very weighty arguments with which I had hoped to support my Question. Again, to-day, I have received a strong suggestion from the noble and learned Viscount that, as the negotiations are still proceeding, it might be advisable further to postpone the subject. I am very sorry not to be able to corn ply with the wish of the Lord Chancellor. I think, perhaps, he hardly realises the immense importance which is attached to this question in Ireland, or the desirability, in my view, and I think in that of many other noble Lords who come from Ireland, of having some decided answer on the points which I wish to raise, 1058 before the negotiations to which I have alluded are begun. I take the line that this Question has nothing to do with any negotiations which may take place in the near future. On the contrary, it refers merely to the arrangements which have been put forward by the Government for the settlement of the Irish question, and it is, therefore, very desirable that we should hear that it is the intention of the Government to carry out the pledges which, I think I shall be able to show the House, they have made on various occasions, whether these negotiations are, as we all hope they may be, entirely successful, or whether, on the contrary, they unfortunately fail.
The noble and learned Viscount on the last occasion said that he was only able to give a very guarded reply to my Question, but he was perfectly explicit. He stated that it was not the intention of the Government to proceed with the Bill during the present session. Therefore, the guardedness was rather, as I understood, that the noble and learned Viscount did not wish to give in detail the reasons which have decided the policy to be adopted by the Government, than any objection to stating what that policy was. In consequence of this I have had to change the Question which stood in my name. As the noble and learned Viscount told us definitely that it was not the intention of His Majesty's Government to proceed with the measure, it would have been absurd to ask a Question of which I already knew the answer. Consequently, I placed upon the Paper the following Notice—
To move, That this House regrets that His Majesty's Government do not propose to pass into law during the present session the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland, which forms part of their plan for the settlement of the Irish question, and which they undertook to pass into law simultaneously with the Government of Ireland Act.
§ I have worded the Motion carefully, in the hope that His Majesty's Government may be able to accept and vote for it, because I think that, whatever may be their feelings with regard to the possibility of passing the measure at present, they must all regret— and I am sure no one regrets more than the noble and learned Viscount— that it is impossible to fulfil the pledges by which they are bound.
§ In fact, I ask His Majesty's Government to show the first sign of amendment of life by confession and contrition, and, having done so, I hope, if I am, permitted, to 1059 be able to suggest to them very simple means by which they may show that amendment of political life by repairing, as far as possible, the damage done by failure, during the last year and a half, to carry out their pledges. I do not ask for generosity to Ireland— it would be out of place at present to do so— but I do ask for justice, and if I can show your Lordships how very complete are the promises which have been made by nearly every Minister of the Crown, that this Land Purchase Bill would pass concurrently with the Government of Ireland Bill, I think there is not one member of your Lordships' House who would not say that regret ought to be expressed that those promises have not been redeemed.
§ It is said that there might be difficulty in passing this Bill through the House of Commons, owing to the opposition of the Anti-Waste Party. I understood that the policy of the Anti-Waste Party was in favour of economy of administration, and not of repudiation of our debts. I do not believe that there is any body of Englishmen, much less the British House of Commons, who would for one minute sanction the consideration of a solemn promise made by the Government as a mere scrap of paper to he thrown aside; and I feel convinced that, if this were put before them, they would realise that England is morally bound to pay this debt to Ireland, even at the cost of some money, as it is legally bound to pay our indebtedness to the United States of America.
§ I shall not at the present moment go into the merits of the various Land Bills which have been passed for Ireland. That would be taking up your Lordships' time unnecessarily, because the details are known to you all. It is perfectly well known that the Act of 1903 was one of the greatest successes of all the measures which have ever been passed for Ireland, but unfortunately it did not completely fulfil its purpose, partly owing to political, and partly owing to financial, reasons. The Act of 1909, which succeeded it, was not equally successful; in fact, it was a failure. The result was that when the Irish Convention sat in 1917 and 1918, it was thought a matter of the greatest importance to arrive, if possible, at some settlement of this Irish land question, and a Sub-Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, was appointed to consider how this could 1060 be done. That Committee, after many meetings, reported to the Convention, and the Report was unanimously adopted by the Convention. I should like to call attention to the fact that on that occasion those members of the Convention who came from Ulster found themselves in complete agreement with the other members who came from other parts of Ireland.
So far, this does not affect His Majesty's Government in any way, but I want to point out how the Government are bound by the results of that decision. I should like to trouble the House with an extract from a letter which was written by the Prime Minister to the Chairman of the Convention in January, 1918. Mr. Lloyd George wrote as follows:—
Finally, the Government have noted the very important Report which has been prepared on the subject of land purchase, and on which a unanimous conclusion has been reached by a Committee of the Convention set up to consider this subject. if this Report commends itself to the Convention the Government would be prepared to introduce in Parliament as part of the plan of settlement"—
I should like your Lordships to listen to these words—
and simultaneously with the Bill amending the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, a measure for the purpose of enabling Parliament to give effect to the recommendations of the Convention on the subject of land purchase.It may be said that the Government did not adopt the Report of the majority of the Convention, and, therefore, that this promise of the Prime Minister fell to the ground.
We know that, instead of that, the Government adopted a policy of its own, which consisted of two parts: in the first place, the passage of the Home Rule Act, which was not liked by any Irishman of any political Party, which severed the two parts of the island, in the hope that the force of mutual attraction would eventually bring them together again; and, in the second place, the other portion, which was liked by every Irishman, which was a scheme for the completion of land purchase. I must, with the permission of the House, show how the Government was bound to this as a portion of their scheme for the settlement of the Irish question. In March, 1920, on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill, Mr. Macpherson, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, 'speaking on the subject of land purchase, said:—
The scheme which they (the Irish Convention) put forward would undoubtedly remove the
impasse and provide for speedy completion of land purchase on terms equitable and fair between landlord and tenant. The Government, recognising as it does that it is under an obligation to introduce a land purchase scheme, has decided to adopt this scheme of the Convention as its basis, and will introduce a Purchase Bill upon the lines of that scheme immediately.
This promise was confirmed a few days later by t he Leader of the House, Mr. Bonar Law, in reply to a question by Colonel Pretyman Newman.
After a couple of months, as the Bill had not been introduced, I raised the question in your Lordships' House, and, in reply to me, the noble and learned Viscount On the Woolsack spoke as follows:—
The Government, recognising, as I have already said, that it is under an obligation to bring before Parliament proposals for a land settlement as nearly concurrently as may be with its Home Rule proposals, has decided to adopt the Convention's scheme as a basis, and to introduce a Land Purchase Bill for the purpose.
Now, what has been done in this matter? Last December a Land Purchase Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, but it proceeded no further than the First Reading. This year there was a mention of a Land Purchase Bill in the gracious Speech from the Throne, and, in reply to various questions in the House of Commons, we were always told it would shortly be introduced, until a fortnight ago, when the chances seemed to be getting more and more remote, the. Lord Chancellor announced that all intention of introducing it had been abandoned. It is a case of vox et prxterea nihil I cannot help thinking that your Lordships will agree with me that the Government; forced Irishmen to swallow what was an extremely disagreeable powder with a promise of a spoonful of jam afterwards, and they now decline to give us that spoonful of jam, on the ground that the price of sugar is too dear.
§ Talking of that makes me think that one of the chief objections to this Bill is the question of the cost which it would entail on the British Government. I should like to say one word on that subject. I have not been able to secure the latest figures with regard to land purchase annuities. The latest I can obtain are those which were available to the Sub-Committee of which I was a member in 1918. It may interest your Lordships to know that at that time the annuities payable under various Land Purchase Bills amounted to £2,225,000 yearly. And of 1062 that amount how much do your Lordships think was in arrear? On the day on which the annuities fell due the total sum that was due was £25,000, and within two months of that time no less than two-thirds of that sum had been paid. That is, out of a debt of £2,225,000 the total amount that was due was £8,000. I think, if anybody had property of similarly large extent, he would be very glad to find that his debts did not exceed that figure,
§ I must say a word of warning as to what may happen if this Bill is not passed. I am sorry to state that there are ominous forebodings of a strike against rent. I have heard of it on all sides in Ireland. The farmers' unions have the greatest difficulty in restraining their more forward members from urging a campaign of this kind; and if there was a campaign against the payment of rents it is quite possible that a campaign against the payment of annuities would follow. After all, if you consider the position, it is a very trying one for those farmers who have not purchased their holdings. On two sides of a hedge you may have holdings of equal value, let us say £20 a year. On one side the tenant has purchased; on the other he has not. The man who has not purchased continues to pay the £20 a year; the man who has purchased pays, instead of £20 a year, a terminable annuity of £14, and in the meantime has almost all the rights and privileges of an owner in fee.
§ But the chief ground on which I would urge on His Majesty's Government to give us some hope in this matter is the fact; which is known to everybody who lives in Ireland, that the bona fides of His Majesty's Government are called into question, owing to their action over this question. Time after time, when I have addressed Sinn Feiners or Nationalists on the subject of a possible agreement with England, the answer has always been the same— How can we trust a Government which has treated us as the present Government has over the land question? That is why I say that this question has nothing to do with any negotiations which may take place in the future. I believe that the hand of the Prime Minister would be immensely strengthened if, when he entered the Conference to-morrow, it was known, through the answer which the noble and learned Viscount may be able to give me, that some steps were to be taken to redeem the promises of the Government.1063
§ It would be ridiculous, of course, for me to ask the noble and learned Viscount to go back on what he said a fortnight ago, and to state that in consequence of my speech the Government had changed their mind and intended to proceed with a Bill which they had said they had no intention of carrying into law. But I think that something of this sort might be proposed— and that is the plea of political amendment which I venture to suggest— that the Bill shall be introduced and read a first time in the House of Commons this session, with a promise that it shall be the first:measure considered by His Majesty's Government in the coming session and will be pressed forward in that session. I am perfectly certain that this would have immense effect in stopping the discontent in Ireland on this question and also in convincing the people of Ireland of the good faith of the Government.
§ I urge the noble and learned Viscount, if he can, to give me in his reply some hope that something of the kind may he done. I feel certain it will be the best possible augury of the success of the negotiations, so deeply important for this country and for Ireland, into which the Prime Minister is to enter to-morrow, and in which I am sure every one in this House most cordially wishes him success. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House regrets that His Majesty's Government do not propose to pass into law during the present session the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland, which forms part of their plan for the settlement of the Irish question, and which they undertook to pass into law simultaneously with the Government of Ireland Act.— (Lord Oranmore and Browne.)
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two in support of what my noble friend Lord Oran more and Browne has just said. He has dealt very exhaustively with the history of the various proposals that have been made, and the Bills that have been passed, with regard to land purchase, and the promises that were made and were accepted in Ireland as indicating that what was necessary would be done to bring to completion in Ireland a system which had been found to be beneficent, I think, beyond that of any measure which has ever been introduced in Great Britain for Ireland.
Those of us who were in Ireland from 1903 to 1906 or 1907 might well have 1064 thought that for the first time there was the prospect of a golden age in that country. In my own part of the world the difference in the atmosphere was most remarkable. Old differences seemed to be dying away, and class co-operated with class in many matters in which, whatever their private relations might be, they had not been able to co-operate before that time. Indeed, our hopes were high. I do not want to raise any controversial political questions, but until, I think, 1907 there was every reason to hope that Irishmen were coming together, that all classes were likely to work together; and, although I have not suggested, and do not suggest, that the desire for Home Rule had disappeared, there was a very good prospect of that happening which was not characteristic of any previous Home Rule Bill— namely, that some measure might be worked which would come from, and not be imposed upon, Ireland. Those hopes were dashed.
Notwithstanding that, I have no hesitation in saying that from then to now the transfer of property from landlord to tenant, though it may be difficult to prove or to make people believe it, has had some steadying influence even during the present disastrous times. I only mean that it has preserved amongst the people a body of men conservative in tendencies who, silent though they have been, have maintained their longing for peace and prosperity and the co-operation of all classes in Ireland. Those Bills drew the class of landlord and the class of tenant together, once they had a common interest and were aiming at a common end; and where that was attained the relations (so, at least, it is my experience) were of a different and better character than they had been before.
I rather regretted that on June 29, when this matter was not exactly discussed but when there was a conversation about it, either so little or so much was said. If nothing had been said there would not have been much harm done. If more had been said, possibly there would have been no harm done. But in the course of that discussion two or three things were said which, although they were perfectly well understood in this House at the time, would not have been understood in Ireland. It must be remembered that, however we may complain of, or even condemn, the failure of the Government to fulfil what we conceive to be their promises in respect to this matter, we are in a position to recognise 1065 the difficulties with which they were faced, the enormous problems with which they were dealing, and the overwhelming nature of their preoccupations. But, however that may modify our complaint, it does not appeal to the people in Ireland who are concerned; they do not recognise that at all. They simply say; "The Government have promised us so and so; why do they not do it? How can we trust them if they do not?"
I most strongly support all that my noble friend Lord Oranmore has said as to the desirability if possible, of recovering the trust that I am afraid everybody must admit as a matter of fact, whatever the reasons, you have lost in Ireland. I am not at all pressing as to the particular form of the proposal, but anything would suffice that gave a really reliable assurance that this matter would he dealt with, and dealt with apart from bargaining over any other arrangement that might be made, and was a matter to which the honour of the British Government was pledged and would be carried out whatever happened. I submit to the Government that their pledges, as well as prudence and policy, point in the same direction, and that is the completion at the earliest possible moment of this most beneficient work that you have begun in the way of land purchase, which has not come to fruition for reasons which I need not go into at length.
On June 29 the noble and learned Viscount, on the Woolsack said that this was a matter that primarily concerned landowners. I venture respectfully to differ. It concerns landlords, no doubt, but, it very much concerns the tenants; and the position of the tenants— the farmers— is much the more important to the State and one which I think is the subject of primary consideration. It is perfectly obvious that there can be no contentment where something like one-third of the tenants are, as my noble friend pointed out, in a much worse position than the other two-thirds. It is impossible; it must produce, and it has produced, a movement against rent which in some parts of the country has been already extremely formidable and which presses harder on the landowner because, under the existing conditions, he is absolutely without any form of remedy of any kind. That result is riot through his fault, but it is the fact, and. it is of great importance, with the difficult negotiations you have in front of 1066 you, that you should not have them complicated by rent questions. The best way to get rid of that particular difficulty would be to persuade the tenant farmers of Ireland that this policy was to be carried to fruition in some way and somehow.
With regard to the discussion on June 29, my noble friend has dwelt very much on the only really positive statement made in that discussion— namely, that the Bill was not to be introduced during this session. I am not sure that the noble and learned Viscount really meant to put the question aside, but he did not say anything about the future. He never went beyond this session, and he did not indicate that there was a policy. I do not complain, but I think that what occurred arose from the character of the conversation.
THE EARL OF DESART
I quite follow, but as a matter of fact, owing to the somewhat informal conversation, there was no suggestion made as to anything happening in the future. We were told there was to be no autumn session, and it meant an extremely long postponement of the whole matter. I think that may be, and I hope it will be, put right to-night. I trust that we shall hear from the Government that they have something definite in view, and that they will tell us what it is. I am not particular about the form. What is wanted is something that the Irish people will believe is genuine, and will be carried out, and will get rid of the evil. I need not go through them all again, but at various times assurances have been given to us in Ireland that definite Bills would be proceeded with at certain times and in certain ways, and none of those promises have so far been fulfilled. We all know what the difficulties may be, but they are not appreciated, and never can be appreciated, by the tenant farmer of Ireland.
No man can help speaking with a great deal of anxiety and responsibility at the present moment, and every one, whatever his view, must desire, now that the step has been taken of opening negotiations, that those negotiations shall not be futile. I believe, whether I am right or wrong, that so far from such a promise as we ask for making difficulties in these negotiations it would facilitate them. There is no class 1067 in Ireland that can better be described as the backbone of that country—certainly of the South and West—than the tenant farmers of Ireland. The prospect of the possession of land is a stabilising influence — a conservative influence— which may well be much needed. That it is such an influence is illustrated in France and Italy, and other places. As a matter of justice and right, and as a matter of supreme policy, any assurance at such a juncture that was acceptable to, and accepted by, Ireland would be of very great value in helping towards the successful issue of those momentous negotiations which are about to commence. Even if the noble and learned Lord cannot give the precise assurance for which my noble friend asks, I trust that his answer will be in some form that will reassure us, and help us in this matter.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I venture to think that the position and attitude taken up by my noble friend, Lord Oranmore and Browne, is rather illogical, if he will forgive me for saying so. It seems but a few days ago that he was supporting the argument for giving complete fiscal control to Ireland, including all taxation, Excise and Customs, and even, if I understood him, giving the choice and decision to an Irish Parliament of how much of Ireland's share of the war debt should he paid by Ireland, if any was to be paid at all. Surely this is the greatest mark of confidence in an Irish Parliament that was ever made by any Unionist, and if there is this confidence in the fair-dealing of an Irish Parliament, such a domestic matter as the question of Irish land must be left to an Irish Parliament also.
I think, too, that in pressing this Motion at a time like this he is— again I speak with the greatest respect towards the inquiry— a little ill-timed. I understand that my noble friend is a most enthusiastic supporter of the present negotiations, and it cannot help the easy passage of the negotiations were His Majesty's Government to say now that they were going to reserve from an Irish Parliament one of the subjects in which every Irish Parliament must have the very deepest and most lasting interest. I know that it was agreed at the Irish Convention that land must be left as an Imperial matter, but a great deal of water has passed under the bridges since the Irish Convention, and I would remind your Lordships that the people 1068 with whom negotiations have been entered upon now are not the same people as those who took part in the Irish Convention of four years ago. I cannot think that it will help in the negotiations that are going to take place to-morrow if His Majesty's Government were to say, in advance, that such a domestic matter as Irish land must be reserved absolutely from the powers of an Irish Parliament. I regret to vote against my noble friends from Ireland, with whom I have always voted hitherto, but, if this Motion is pressed to a Division, I regret that I shall be obliged to do so.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I feel in some difficulty about this matter. My noble friend, at the instance of the Government, has on two or three occasions postponed consideration of this pledge, the carrying out of which, as noble Lords who have spoken made perfectly clear, is absolutely essential to the well-being of Ireland if any scheme of Home Rule is to be worked. The Government, undoubtedly, are in a very difficult position arising from their having given pledges, reiterated again and again, that, as a matter of honour, this question would be dealt with. Yet we were told at the end of the session that there was no prospect of a Bill being introduced. On the other hand, we all know that every hour of the time-table of the House of Commons is allotted, and, considering the weather that we are now experiencing, we could hardly ask Parliament to sit through September in order to carry this Bill. The Government no doubt feel in some difficulty, because the negotiations necessitate very careful reconsideration of the financial position between Ireland and this country. I should be very sorry to feel that this country was likely to be asked to raise any extensive loan for this purpose at the present moment. I believe it would be impossible for the Government to carry it in another place.
But what I believe we have a right to ask of the Government is that they should give us a pledge that this promise is going to be carried out, and that in any negotiations or arrangements of a financial character which may be made with Ireland generally, or with either of the new Parliaments, this question will not merely be put forward but will be settled. I do not want to add any words to the speeches of my noble friends as to the absolute importance to all classes that this question should not stand over. I do not think it need, neces 1069 sarily, cost either country a farthing. There is no question now of giving a bonus, as was the case on the previous occasion, the bonus, itself, being a capital charge, which it was hoped by the Government would he redeemed by the reduction of constabulary and other charges which have net eventuated up to the present. This measure can, I believe, be made absolutely self-supporting, though there would be a large liability to be taken in the first instance by the Government which carries it out.
I have risen to suggest that if the Lord Chancellor finds it possible to reiterate the pledge which the Government have given— namely, that they will deal with it as a matter of honour before a final settlement with Ireland, and that in no circumstances will any financial or fiscal changes be made with the new Government without this question being included— I am sure the noble Lord will be ready to consider Whether it is necessary to carry his Motion to a Division.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I so entirely agree with the observations made by Lord Arran as to the convenience of this debate, or such a Motion at this moment, that I should have been glad to leave my remarks where they were left by that noble Earl. It is true, as everyone knows, that the Government was deeply pledged, and is of course deeply pledged, on this question. But it is also clear that any undertaking of that kind must be construed in relation to the circumstances as they existed then, and as they were anticipated by most people at the time. The noble Lord who has moved the Motion is never tired of calling attention to the close association of these proposals, and of pledges given in relation to them, with our Home Rule Act. That association, indeed, was very close; it always has been very close. The noble Lord says that the "powder" of Home 'Rule was accepted by him and his friends with an accompaniment of "jam," which was represented by the proposals to which he is calling attention.
The noble Lord has described his part in the Home Rule debates as "swallowing powder," but if the noble Lord did swallow it at all— as to which I entertain considerable doubt— he swallowed it with some of the very wriest grimaces; and so far as the noble Lord can be described as having accepted these proposals at all, it 1070 was the logic and decision of the Division Lobby which influenced him rather than any arguments founded on the land proposals. We are, of course, perfectly entitled to take notice of the circumstance that many of your Lordships who did not form cheerful anticipations as to the prospects of our Home Rule proposals in the south of Ireland have, up to the present, proved to be right. So far you have proved to be right, though it was a contingency which we did not exclude from our anticipations or our speeches.
I find a great difficulty in speaking quite plainly, at this moment of all other moments, upon the observations which the new circumstances plainly suggest. The noble Lord is well aware of what has been going on in Ireland, inopportune as the present moment is for recalling what has taken place in any detail. But I suppose it is apparent that it would be right to describe Ireland during that period, and until the change which at the moment has supervened, as having been actually engaged in war against this country. In other words, supposing the operations had been even less sporadic and more organised than they were, supposing that they were comparable to the operations in the concluding stages of the war in South Africa, I imagine that the noble Lord would not contend, in those circumstances and in the actual presence of belligerent operations, for assurances which were given in the hope and expectation that our measure would meet with some degree of acceptance— assurances given, according to the express view of the noble Lord himself, in order to procure that degree of acceptance— and he would not seek to impale me on the dilemma of logic or morality in order to show that, as circumstances have so vitally changed, any Government could, as a matter of honourable obligation, be held either to the letter or the spirit of what was said in circumstances so different.
I confess I rather regret that the noble Lord did not assent to the suggestion that once again this Question might be postponed. Every reason which I urged on earlier occasions for its postponement is now operative, and operative in a higher degree. When I urged him to postpone it a week ago we did not know that these discussions were to take place. The noble Lord thinks it is now helpful— I do not share his view— that your Lordships should place on record a formal expression of 1071 regret that the Government have not during the present session of Parliament, and while all that has been taking place in Ireland is within the memories of all of us, proceeded with this legislation. If I desired to argue the case on its merits I should have a great deal to say, and should say it very plainly, as to the consequences of that which is taking place, but I conceive I should serve no useful purpose at all at this moment by doing so.
An element which requires to be considered was suggested by Lord Arran. The noble Lord who has moved the Motion may be right in thinking that these assurances ought to be carried out, but it is a very arguable matter, when the case on behalf of which the noble Lord himself was so forward some few weeks ago was that we ought, immediately, to hand over the whole of the finance of Ireland to the new Government which was to be so induced to come into existence in the South. Does the noble Lord really think that we can dismiss with a formula, or banish by a Resolution, the question as to whether or not the existing situation in relation to the Irish land question would be left quite unaffected supposing every proposition on behalf of which he contended was accepted? Supposing the result of this discussion— on which I hazard not the slightest speculation— should to-morrow prove to be that those who represent the South of Ireland indicated a road of possible accommodation which was to be reached by means of great financial concessions? I give no opinion as to what the nature of those financial concessions might be. Surely the noble Lord must see that for us to place on record, on the eve of these discussions, a solemn Motion that we regretted that the Government had done nothing in this session, would be to place the House of Lords in a situation which, I imagine, we should be extremely unwilling to occupy.
I agree with that which Lord Desart has said as to the importance of giving tenant farmers and small holders that conservative stimulus which is supplied by the possession and responsibility for the cultivation of land of their own. This is a consideration which every Government which puts stability first, as all Governments must, should constantly bear in mind. I will only allow myself to observe that the immense progress which has been made in this direction in Ireland in the last thirty years, where contrasted with what has taken place in Ireland in the last 1072 eight years, does not, perhaps, afford so happy an illustration of the thesis of the noble Earl as either he or I would have desired. But that this question must be settled and will be settled, there can be no doubt in the mind of any reasonable person.
I may say at once that, as part of the general scheme for dealing with the Irish situation and for leaching an ultimate solution of that situation, whether it proceeds by the road of compromise, as all of us must hope, or whether we have to travel a longer and harder road until that solution is reached, this is one of the questions which must be dealt with, and dealt with upon the lines which the Government have already indicated. I find no difficulty at all in giving a general assent to the suggestion which was made by Lord Midleton, who has played so important and so helpful a part in recent events. I find no difficulty in assenting to his wish, if I understand it aright. I think that Lord Midleton suggested that I should make it plain that, if a settlement were reached as the result of the discussions in which the Government is immediately about to engage, that settlement must include and dispose of the matters which have been raised by the noble Lord to-day.
That is clearly and most definitely the intention of the Government, and I only add— in order plainly to reconcile the omissions of the session which is now reaching a close with the expression of intention which I have just made— that if, most unhappily and contrary to all our hopes, a settlement should prove to be out of our reach at this moment, then I reserve for myself, as I must reserve for myself, and as any responsible Government must reserve for itself, the right of meeting on their merits the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, or of anyone else who takes up the case; not, indeed, of meeting them, after assurances have been given, with the view that these assurances must not be carried out, but of meeting them with the consideration whether the actual resulting situation, whatever it may be proved to be, is one which, at that particular moment, would render it possible for the Government to deal with this question.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I shall not detain the House very long, but I should like to say a few words before I deal with the remarks of the Lord Chancellor. I think Lord Oranmore and Browne deserves the thanks of every farmer 1073 and every landowner in Ireland for having brought forward this Motion. I speak without fear of contradiction when I say that hundreds of landowners and farmers— and I may point out that the landowners and farmers are at one on the subject, which is rather an unusual occurrence— are waiting for the decision of the Government on this point.
My noble friend, Lord Oranmore and Browne, has stated in this House the promises that were made by the Government with regard to the introduction of this Land Bill. They were made by the Prime Minister, and the Bill was to synchronise with the Home Rule Bill. They were also made by Mr. Macpherson, by Mr. Bonar Law, and lastly, by Mr. Austen Chamberlain, who is now Leader of the House of Commons. They were pledged up to their necks, so to speak, to carry out this policy. I must say that this is a most unfortunate moment— and I take it the other way from the Lord Chancellor— for the British Government to try to put aside these promises, when we are about to arrive at a settlement, which I hope will be permanent, of the dreadful conditions which have existed in my country for many months. This is a question which has nothing to do with the troubles in Ireland at the present time. It is not a question that has anything to do with the settlement.
It is no good my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor, trying to put off the question in that way. The truth of the matter is that this Land Bill is part of the settlement which was promised. And if it is not introduced you will have to face, besides the present difficulties, those of a refusal to pay rent— a danger of which I know the Chief Secretary for Ireland is well aware— and, maybe, of a refusal to pay the annuities, which I may call the State rents. I do not, however, think that is likely, because the tenants have paid so much rent that they will not now be willing to lose the benefits of their payments. A good many of the sixty-nine Years, at the end of which they become freeholders, have already passed. We have been asked by our King to forgive and forget. There are thousands in Ireland who wish to observe that appeal, but I say here that we must ask His Majesty's Ministers that the promises that were made over and over again in Parliament shall not be forgotten.
Before I go any further, I should like 1074 to read a resolution, which I think the Lord Chancellor has received, and which was adopted by the executive committee of the Irish Landowners' Convention at their meeting at 4, Kildare-street, Dublin, on July 8. It says—We, the executive committee of the Irish Landowners' Convention, hereby express our profound surprise and disappointment at the postponement of the Bill for the completion of the purchase of Irish land, and the failure of the Government to pass the Land Purchase Act, which was promised to be placed on the Statute Book concurrently with the Government of Ireland Act, 1920; and we urge upon the Government the necessity of immediately introducing and passing such a measure, and thus fulfilling their definite obligations to both landowners and tenants in Ireland.It is added that a copy of this resolution has been sent to the Press. It was also previously forwarded to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and others.
I am quite prepared to meet the sneers of those who say that these Irishmen are always seeking to put their hands into the English taxpayer's pocket. The Land Bill, as foreshadowed by my noble friend Lord Midleton, does nothing of that sort. I admit that it pledges British credit; but if there is any rent in the world which has been well paid it is that paid by the tenants who have been paying their annuities for many years. I do not think there is any complaint by the Treasury on this point. In fact, I am certain, from what I know of the matter, that the arrears arc very small. We pay our debts in Ireland fairly well.
Now I should like to say something with regard to the speech of the Lord Chancellor. I admit that the noble and learned Viscount had a difficult and delicate task to perform. There are matters pressing on the Government with regard to Ireland which are serious beyond anything, but they are not more serious than the matters that occurred in 1798. Matters were very serious then and are very serious now, but they are not quite as bad now as they were in those times— noble Lords who have read history will no doubt bear me out in what I say— and I did not like the tone of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack when he began to find fault, with Lord Oranmore and Browne for having brought; forward this matter. I was reminded of what is often said in legal circles — namely, that when you have a bad case you are inclined to find fault with (I will 1075 not say abuse) your opponent. It is all very well for the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to try and mix up the Home Rule Bill with Land Purchase—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Earl must forgive me, but I expressly made it plain that I took the two subjects together because I wished to pay the noble Lord who raised the Question the compliment of following his argument. It was he who associated the two subjects.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I beg to apologise if I have made a mistake. First of all, what has the trouble in Ireland to do with the policy of the Government with regard to a Land Purchase Bill? Nothing whatever. It is a perfectly separate subject, and in the terrible times which we have had in Ireland the land trouble has not cropped up at all. I remember, as no doubt other noble Lords do, the time of the Land League. There has been nothing of that sort at all. It has been absolutely a question of trying to beat British rule in Ireland, and the land question has not entered into the matter at all, although it is true, and I regret it, that Protestant farmers have been killed and attempts have been made to seize their farms.
The noble Viscount on the Woolsack talked about postponing the Question. Why postpone the Question? If we postpone it, how can we go hack to our country and be told: "You are the people, you noble Lords in the House of Lords, the Irish representative Peers, you are the only people who can speak out for us." Who can speak out in the House of Commons for Ireland? No one. We are the only people coming from Ireland who spoke out freely during the debates on the Home Rule Bill, and I think it is hardly fair for the Lord Chancellor to ask us to postpone this very serious Question.
The noble and learned Viscount went on to speak of the perhaps generous financial proposals that might he granted in the negotiations which are to commence tomorrow. I wish to sweep that aside at once. As I have said before in this House, the Government cannot ride away, because they grant us extra financial provisions, from the responsibility of dealing with the question of the Irish Land Bill. I was glad to see that the Lord Chancellor said that the question must be settled. That was quite definite. But he did not say when it must be settled. He did not even fall in with the suggestion of my noble 1076 friend, Lord Oranmore and Browne, that the Bill might he read a first time this session in the House of Commons. That is possible, though I am aware that our Parliamentary procedure does not allow a Bill to be passed on to another session without a Resolution from both Houses of Parliament. There is no precedent for that, except the Port of London Bill. That I have ascertained for certain.
I will not trouble your Lordships any further. I can imagine nothing more disastrous than that this Land Bill should be shelved. Are the promises of the Prime Minister, and of other Cabinet Ministers, to go into the political waste-paper basket, to be used later on to light the fires of revolt in Ireland? That is a question which I ask myself, and which T ask this House. Affairs concerning land touch my countrymen to the quick, and I have no hesitation in saving that what I have said here to-day will he approved by both the tenant farmers, whom I know so well, and by the Landowners' Convention, of which I am an honourable member.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I regret that an important engagement prevented me from hearing the earlier part of the discussion this evening, but I had the good fortune to hear the whole of the remarks of the Lord Chancellor. I can understand that he speaks with a certain amount of embarrassment at the present moment, but, after all, there was great truth in what was said by the Earl of Mayo, that the present disorders and condition of things in Ireland have nothing really to do with the obligation resting upon His Majesty's Government to fulfil the assurance which they gave to Parliament when the Home Rule Bill was passing into law. As regards the situation in. Ireland, and what are called the negotiations, this is not the time to discuss those matters. I have my own opinion as to the discreditable position in which His Majesty's Government have placed themselves by their mismanagement of the affairs of Ireland, and I can only hope that there will be no such consequence as many people fear— namely, that the interests of this country and of the Empire, and of the loyalists in Ireland, will be sacrificed to the exigencies of policy by which His Majesty's Government find themselves faced.
But the obligation to fulfil their assurances (which I do not understand that His 1077 Majesty's Government deny) remains, and, indeed, if anything, the course of events has intensified that obligation. I do not suppose that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will go so far as to say that the interests of the owners of property in Ireland are safer than they were at the time when the Home Rule Act was passed into law, and I would remind him, when he speaks of assurances given to my noble friend, Lord Oranmore, that the assurances were given to Parliament, and that the attitude of the noble Lord, although he is a very important member of the House, has nothing to do with the matter. The point was that when the Bill was passing through Parliament, especially in another place, certain assurances were given to Parliament, and now my noble friend asks, and we all ask, that those assurances should be fulfilled The noble and learned Viscount does not say that the Government will not fulfil them. I gather that he said they would fulfil them. But he took a good many words to say it. Apparently, as far as I can make out, there were certain contingencies in which it might not be convenient at that moment to fulfil the assurances. I am afraid I am not good at reading riddles, and 1 do not know exactly what the contingencies are to which the noble and learned Viscount referred.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am very unaccustomed, hope, to speak in the language of ambiguity, and I think that any noble Lord who reads what I say tomorrow will see quite clearly what I meant, but, if there is any ambiguity, let me now make it plain. I said, in answer to Lord Midleton, that I hoped and believed that, if a settlement was attained, the settlement would include and dispose of this; and I went even further and said that in my judgment it must. I then considered the other case— namely, that the settlement broke down— and I said it still continued to be the policy of the Government to carry out this policy, but that, if Ireland was going to be in a state of armed revolution, if a state of war was going on, if the Home Rule Act, which was the complementary policy of this, completely broke down in the South, we reserved to ourselves the most complete discretion as to the precise moment when this should be done.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Of course, if the policy of the Government comes to absolute shipwreck, no doubt 1078 different contingencies will arise, but I should imagine, in that case, they would no longer continue to be the Government. Any self-respecting Government, I think, would take that view. But, apart from that extreme contingency, I gathered that the noble and learned Viscount does recognise the complete obligation of the Government to fulfil this assurance. I hope, that being so, that it is some comfort to my noble friend on the cross benches (Lord Oranmore and Browne). I under stand that he is likely to be satisfied with that, and not to press the Motion to a Division. All I have to say is that, so far as we are concerned, though we are certainly not anxious to increase, either directly or indirectly, the pecuniary liabilities of this country, yet we do recognise that, in regard to the circumstances in which the Home Rule Act was passed last year, if that measure continues to exist, there is an obligation of honour upon the Government and upon Parliament to fulfil the correlative pledge to pass into law an Irish Land Bill.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack stated that the circumstances were entirely different at the pre sent time from those which existed at the time that His Majesty's Government made a promise to pass simultaneously a Home Rule Bill and a Land Purchase Bill. I am afraid I cannot entirely agree with the Lord Chancellor in that respect. It seems to me the circumstances are very much the same, except that they have become aggravated since that time. The same state of civil war was in existence, which the Government hoped would cease once their Bill became law. The noble and learned Viscount also rather contended that I associated too closely the two portions of the Government policy— that of the Home Rule Act and that of a Land Purchase Bill.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
I rather understood that, but perhaps I was mistaken. But I understood very distinctly, and I thought a good many people did, that one of the objects of passing a Land Purchase Bill was that the new Governments which are to be set up in Ireland should not have thrown on them at the earliest possible moment the heavy responsibility of dealing with so 1079 thorny a question, In the first place, this country would be able to do so in a very much better way than a Government which was set up for the first time, and had not the same means of borrowing, or the same credit, as is enjoyed by this country; and, in the second place, it was felt that the Prime Ministers of Northern and Southern Ireland would at once be pressed to deal with this question and that great pressure would be put upon them by the more extreme members to do so in a manner which would not be thought equitable by any Party in this country. And it was to relieve them from the temptation to yield to this pressure that the Government thought it desirable to deal with the land question at the same time that they set up these two Governments in Ireland.
With regard to the point raised by my noble friend, Lord Arran, as to the advisability of leaving this to an Irish Government, he must allow me to say that I do not accept in their entirety the views for which he gives me credit with regard to fiscal autonomy. I was rather saying that the Lord Chancellor based one of his arguments on the ground that I should not have brought this Motion forward because I was an advocate of fiscal autonomy, and that, if fiscal autonomy were to be the result of this Conference, the views as to the passage of this measure might entirely change. After the very strong speech which was made on that subject by the Lord Chancellor three weeks ago I really thought. it was impossible that the Government could be considering anything of the kind, and, therefore, I naturally did not let that enter into my calculations when making my remarks.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Will the noble Lord allow me? This I also made very plain. I said over and over again that as the price of peace, as an accompaniment of peace, there were no limits which I desired to set as to the concessions that the Government would make in financial matters. I disputed altogether the propriety and the wisdom of making any announcement, in an amending Bill, of financial alterations when there was no apparent prospect at all of peace. That is a very different proposition.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
I am very glad to obtain that very important statement from the Lord Chancellor. If I may mention the small point in which he said that we did not accept very graciously 1080 the powder that was offered to us, I think the words I used were "the powder that was forced down our throats." In view of the statement of the Lord Chancellor, however, I do not think it would be fair of me to divide the House. I cannot say that I think it satisfactory, but I have, at any rate, obtained an assurance from him that the Government have not departed from their policy of passing, at some time or other, when they think that the country is in a fit state to receive it, the corollary portion of their plan for the settlement of Ireland in the shape of a Land Purchase Bill. I still must express my deep regret that the Prime Minister is not able to enter on the Conference tomorrow with a statement from the Lord Chancellor, on behalf of the Government, that, come what may, the Government of England, whatever circumstances may change, will honour its word and carry out its solemn promise. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.