§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
, in rising to call attention to the Evidence and Be-port of the Committee on the Purchase Clauses of the Irish Land Act; and to move that—In view of the importance of a considerable addition to the number of owners of land in Ireland among the class of persons cultivating its soil, it is expedient that legislation should be adopted, without further delay, for increasing the facilities proposed with this object by the Irish Land Act of 1870, and for securing to the tenants of land offered for sale the opportunity of purchase, consistently with the interests of the owners thereof,said: The House will, perhaps, remember that two years ago I moved for a Committee to inquire into the causes of the failure of those clauses in the Irish Land Act which had been happily named "the Bright Clauses," after my right hon. Friend who originated them—and which had for their object facilitating tenants of land in Ireland becoming owners of their holdings, with the assistance of State loans at a low rate of interest. In moving for the Committee, I founded my case for in- 1597 quiry not merely on the failure of these clauses, but on the great success which, had attended similar clauses in the Irish Church Disestablishment Act, due to the same inspiration, which gave to the tenants of the Church lands a preferential right of purchase, and which had resulted in from 4,000 to 5,000 tenants becoming owners of their holdings. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham was like the sower who went out to sow; some of his seed fell on good ground—as where it fell on the Church land—and it sprang up and increased; but other fell among thorns; and I shall have to show how official thorns grow up and choked it, so that it produced no fruit. The Government assented to the appointment of a Committee with unanimity. The right hon. Baronet, then the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), in assenting to the Committee, stated that—No one who had carefully considered the question could doubt that it would be advantageous to Ireland, that the number of persons possessing a proprietary interest in land should be considerably increased. It was intended to bring about this result by the Land Act of 1870 and the amending Act of 1872.He went on to express the opinion that the cause of failure of the clauses was that thePersons who were now the occupying tenants in Ireland did not, as a rule, desire to buy their farms. The fact was, that those persons were so contented with the position of tenants that, though willing to give extraordinary sums for the right of occupation, they did not care to, as it appeared to them, unnecessarily waste their funds by purchasing the freehold."—[3 Hansard, ccxxxiv. 174–5.]The right hon. Gentleman will scarcely abide by this last statement, after the evidence of my Committee. But he will, I think, be confirmed in the first part of his statement. I hope it still expresses the opinion of the Government. I have put the words of the right hon. Baronet at the head of my Motion to-night. I ask the House to affirm the proposition that it is of national importance to increase the number of owners of land, and to give effect to it. The Committee sat for the best part of two Sessions, and took most valuable evidence as to the working of the clauses of the Land Act and the Church Act, and as to the general expediency of 1598 going further in the same direction. When the inquiry was concluded, the Committee rejected, by a strict Party vote, a Report which, as Chairman, I submitted to them, and adopted as the basis of their Report a mild and neutral production of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin (Mr. Plunket). When, however, the Committee came to consider the details of this Report, a change of scene took place. The force and weight of the evidence produced its effect, and Amendment after Amendment was made in the Deport, till it lost its original character. The Committee unanimously added to it the expression—That is is very desirable that increased facilities should be given to the tenants to purchase their holdings, and that when estates are offered for sale in Ireland there is a general desire on their part to purchase their holdings.A majority of the Committee then added these words—They believe that a substantial increase in the number of small proprietors would give stability to the social system, and would tend to spread contentment, and to promote industry and thrift among the Irish tenantry.On the Motion of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Law) the Committee, by majorities of 11 to 7, then proceeded to adopt Amendments which practically grafted upon the not very valuable stock of the hon. and learned Member fir the University of Dublin the conclusions of my own Report, and eventually carried it as far, if not farther, than mine; and if I recollect right, the hon. and learned Member was eventually unable to vote that his amended Report should be presented to the House. The subject thus comes before the House and the Government commended by a great weight of authority. The original clauses of the Land Act were adopted unanimously by both Houses. The Committee was agreed to unanimously. The Committee reported in favour of a substantial increase to the number of small owners. The Government, it seemed to me, was bound in honour to legislate on the subject. When, therefore, at the commencement of the Session, the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the House that the Government had no proposals to make on the subject, I was greatly surprised. They 1599 had no legislation before the House affecting Ireland, except a little Bill for the taxation of dogs. They cannot plead want of time. There is always time for a popular and good measure—as the Intermediate Education Act of last year proved. I should have thought they would be eager to meet the wishes of the Irish people on this matter, and to move in a direction so truly Conservative in its best sense as that of giving further facilities for the creation of a class of peasant, proprietors. In view of this neglect of the Government to deal with the question, I have felt it my duty to frame a Resolution on the subject; and although to many the principle of "the Bright Clauses" may appear to be admitted, I must briefly state the reasons why exceptional legislation is necessary in Ireland with this object. The reason is not far to seek—it lies in the extraordinary condition of the land-ownership of the country to which there is no parallel, as far as I know, in any part of the civilized world. It is only within the last three years we have known the exact state of landownership in Ireland, and have been able to compare it with that of England. A Return prepared by the late Government when the Land Act was under consideration, showing the number of owners of land in Ireland of above one acre, exclusive of town districts, gave a total of under 20,000. From this has to be deducted duplicate entries, glebes, &c. It may be safely stated there are about 10,000, of which 12,000 own above 100 acres each. Of owners between one acre and 50 acres there are only about 3,000, and they own between thorn 1–250th part of the area of Ireland. Of the 500,000 occupiers of land below 50 acres it may safely be said that, apart from the recent sales to tenants under the Church Act, not one in 200 is the owner of his holding. If we compare this state of things even with England, the difference is very great. England is not a country of many landowners. Many of us deplore the decrease of the Yeoman class here, and believe that it would be well for the country if land could be more within the reach of all classes. But England is a country of many landowners, compared with Ireland. It is safe to say that, taking the rural parts of Ireland and England as nearly as possible similar in condition, there are 1600 in England 10 times as many owners of land between one and 50 acres than there are in Ireland. When we compare Ireland with any other known country, the difference is more extraordinary. In the Channel Islands alone there are more Yeoman farmers holding between one and 50 acres than in the whole of Ireland, with 500 times their area. Yet Ireland is a country where there is a passion for land, whore often incredibly large sums are given for the mere right of occupation—often equal to 25 to 40 times the rent. Now, the Incumbered Estates Court was intended to do something to increase the number of owners of land in Ireland. Since its establishment, in 1848, one-fifth of the land in Ireland has passed through it, and has been sold and freed from incumbrances. It passed into the hands of about three times as many persons as owned it before. But this has not been an unmixed good. None of these purchasers were tenants. Large numbers of these purchasers were the shopkeepers and traders of the town, who have looked at their purchases from the simple point of view of screwing as much rent as they could out of the land. They entered upon their properties without any knowledge of the traditions of the former owners, or any regard for the customs of the property. This is the class of purchasers most dreaded by the tenants at will. I find, from an inquiry made through the Constabulary, at the time the Land Act was passed, that of 1,225 properties reported or known as purchased under the Incumbered Estates Acts, rents were considerably raised immediately after the purchase in 533 cases; consolidation of farms was enforced in 520; and 57 cases of agrarian outrages occurred in consequence. I ask the House, then, to recollect that it is at the moment of transition from one landlord to another, at the time when property is put up for sale in the Landed Estates Court, that the desire on the part of the tenant to protect himself by acquiring the freehold most arises. He is afraid of the entry of a purchaser who knows him not, and who will screw up the rents, irrespective of his tenant-right. If, then, we can arrange so as to secure to the tenants the opportunity of purchase at this point, not only should we do good by increasing the number of small owners, but we cut 1601 off one of the greatest sources of evil and complaint. What good might we not by this time have effected if, at the time the Incumbered Estates Act was passed, 30 years ago, and when land for many years sold at a very low price, effective clauses had been passed to enable the tenants to buy? The state of landownership to which I have called the attention of the House has two defects and dangers—the one political and social, the other industrial and agricultural. The political dangers must be palpable to everyone who merely looks at the numbers. On the one side we have 12,000 landowners, half of whom are conspicuous for their absence from Ireland; on the other 600,000 small tenant farmers, on yearly holdings—tenants who have now, under the Ballot, acquired complete political rights of independence, and who have the political representation of Ireland almost entirely in their hands. I ash whether this is a position of stable equilibrium, and a condition of things where property rights are likely to be safe, or where property is likely to have its proper influence? When I was last in Ireland, the agent for some of the largest properties there told me that he had been convinced of the absolute and pressing necessity for extending the operation of "the Bright Clauses" by the action of the Ballot. He said that in the district for which he was agent there were 6,000 to 7,000 small tenants, and but two landowners, who were seldom resident in the country. Throughout a district of 60,000 to 70,000 acres there were but two persons permanently interested as owners in the soil. Before the Ballot he said the landlords exercised a considerable political, and, therefore, Conservative, influence over their tenants; but the Ballot had absolutely destroyed this. He considered that both for Imperial and for local purposes, in the interest of Government, and order and property, it is absolutely essential to re-inforce, as much as possible, the order of landowners; and the only way of doing this is to increase, not the number of small landlords of the shopkeeper class, who make the worst of landlords, and who cause all the cases of hardship complained of, but by endeavouring to create a yeoman class, who will have all the interests of landowners. I am satisfied that this opinion is growing widely even among the class of 1602 persons who are interested in maintaining the system of landlord and tenant. There came as witnesses before my Committee three land agents for some of the largest properties in Ireland—and we must recollect land agents are a very much higher class of persons than those in England—and all gave evidence to the same effect. Major Dalton, the agent for Lord Headfort's large estates in Cavan and Meath, said—I think the creation of a class of peasant proprietors would be a most Conservative measure, not using the word in a political sense, but as giving the occupiers of land that which they have not got now—namely, an attachment to the Constitution under which they live.Mr. Vernon, the agent for Lord Bath's property, said—An increase in the number of owners wil give stability to the State, and will, in the true and highest sense of the term, be a Conservative measure.And an agent for very large properties in the South said—An increase in the number of small owners of land would give us a class of jurors who are not connected with property as tenants, and would tend to check the agitation which is going on for taking possession of the landowners' property and giving it to the tenant class.I believe their opinions represent the views of the thinking men among that class. I am constantly receiving letters to the same effect. I could have multiplied such evidence ten-fold. Lord Dufferin, on his return from Canada, expressed to me the same opinion. He told me he had urged on the present Government, in the strongest manner, the necessity for dealing with the question. It was the only means of preserving the rights of property. A speech which he made on his return from the Colony which he had governed so well, and in which he dilated on the enormous value to it of its yeomen class as giving stability to the social system and spreading content throughout the country, was evidently intended to contrast with Ireland. The other defect of the existing system is its industrial and agricultural effect. Ireland is a country essentially of small farms, as opposed to England, where large farms prevail. In Ireland there are 600,000 farm tenants, 500,000 of whom farm under 50 acres and 400,000 under 30 acres. It is not necessary that I should enter upon 1603 the question whether small farms or large farms form the best system of agriculture. Ireland has an almost universal system of small farms, and is certain to retain it. No one in their senses could contemplate the possibility of raising one out of 10 or 20 of her small tenants to the condition of the large farmers in the English shires, or of depressing the others to the condition of the Dorsetshire labourers. Now, all experience from every part of the world, all the conclusions of anyone who has considered the question, from economists, such as Adam Smith and Turgot to Mill and Bastiat, and from agriculturists, such as Arthur Young to Lavergne, are to the effect that a system of small farms can only be successful, can only produce its best results when largely combined with ownerships, when a large part of the tenant class are owners of the land they occupy, and others can live in hopes of becoming owners; and for these reasons—first, that it is only the sense of ownership, or the hope of ownership, which can supply that stimulus, and that industry, and that thrift, which will make a small farm successful; and, secondly, that where a system of very small farms prevails, it is impossible for landlords to effect the improvements—to undertake to build the farms and buildings which are so multiplied on the estates. With small farms these improvements must be effected by the occupiers, and they will not be effected sufficiently except under the security which ownership gives. I could quote hundreds of authorities on this point. I content myself with one—an authority who must carry weight with English landowners, for he was the apostle of the English system of large farms. I mean Arthur Young. Arthur Young, we all know, spent three years in travelling in France and North Italy, from 1787 to 1789, just before and at the time of the great Revolution. At that time the cultivation of great part of France was, as now, by small farmers, but the mass of them were then merely tenants; but in parts of France there was a considerable number of small owners of land. Throughout the whole of his description, we find the most marked distinction drawn between the condition of the small tenants and the small owners. Everywhere he speaks of the wretched condition of the small ten- 1604 ants. He frequently compares them with the Irish tenants. He is loud in his complaint of the neglect of their landlords, and of the miserable cultivation and wretched homes. When he was in these districts where small ownerships prevailed, his accounts are almost invariably the reverse. Speaking generally of them, he said—The unremitting industry of these small owners is so conspicuous and so meritorious that no commendation would be too great for it. It is sufficient to prove that property in land is, of all other, the most active instigator to severe and incessant labour.In the district of Dunkirk, speaking of a number of small owners who had turned the blowing sands of that country into smiling country farms, he used the expression which has become a proverb—"The magic of property turns sand into gold." Speaking of the district near Gange, he said—An industry and an activity has been here that has swept away all difficulties before it, and has clothed the very rocks with verdure. It would be a disgrace to common sense to ask the cause—the enjoyment of property must have done it. Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden. Give a man a nine years' lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert.Arthur Young, notwithstanding his own testimony as to the results, was not favourable to the system of small ownerships. He preferred the English system. He saw the danger of sub-division of these small properties in France; he believed and prophesied that this sub-division would end in a vast system of paupers. His opinion was followed by many other economists. M'Culloch, writing in 1823, said—France under such a system must become the pauper warren of Europe, and along with Ireland, have the honour of furnishing hewers of wood and drawers of water for all other countries in Europe.I need hardly point out what was the effect of the violent measures of the time of the great Revolution in France. Vast masses of tenants were converted into owners; 600,000 tenants of the Church property became owners of their holdings by purchase, paying for them in assignats; 400,000 tenants of the Emigré nobility became owners in the same way. Vast numbers of other feudal tenants were relieved of feudal charges and became absolute owners; and it re- 1605 sulted that one-half of the area of France came into the possession of its cultivators, and remained so. However deplorable the methods by which this was brought about, no one can doubt that the change from tenancy to ownership of this vast number of small occupiers has been productive of enormous benefit—that it has immensely increased the productive power of France. The industry, thrift, and saving of her small owners is the theme of all Europe. They have carried her safely through the enormous losses of the German War. This class also forms the Conservative class of France, which has saved her from the Commune. So far from having degenerated into a "pauper warren," the complaint is rather the reverse. Her population increases more slowly than in any other country in Europe, while her wealth increases more rapidly; pauperism in the rural districts is almost unknown. In the most interesting Reports from our Ministers abroad on the tenure of land, published in 1867, was to be found a paper by the Hon. Sackville West, the late Secretary of the Embassy in Paris, giving a description of the material prosperity of the small owners in France. He says—They will generally be found in easy circumstances and living always in the hope of bettering them and it is this hope which absolute possession engenders in them that stimulates them to fresh exertions, beneficial not only to themselves but to the community at large.But there is one aspect of this enormous change from tenancy to ownership I should like to bring under the attention of the House. I mean its effect upon rights of property in respect of other land. I have already pointed out that about half the area of France belongs to small owners, and is cultivated by them; the other half is let out to tenants numbering more than 1,000,000; and, as a matter of fact, there are twice the number of large farmers in France that there are in England. Mr. West, writing before the Irish Land Act, of the relation of landlord and tenant in this great area of France, says—The present relations of landlord and tenant in France resemble those in Ireland, so far as the law is concerned. Eviction can be enforced upon any contravention of the agreement, and compensation for improvement depends upon agreement, and constitutes no legal claim upon the landlord. It would seem that the Irish and 1606 French systems are identical, and what has caused in the one agrarian outrage and discontent has in the other been productive of social order and contentment. But it must be borne in mind that 75 per cent of the agricultural population in France are proprietors. In this fact consists the difference—a difference dependent upon the ownership of land by the masses as opposed to the ownership of land by a minority. Tenant-right and fixity of tenure are phrases rarely over heard in France.I have not time to follow out the changes which have been made in other countries in Europe during the last 50 years. All are in the direction of favouring the substitution of absolute ownership for tenancy of small holdings. In Prussia and the North of Germany this operation was facilitated by the establishment of land credit banks, assisted by the State, which lent money to buy out the landlords, repayable by instalments spread over a term of years. In Austria, Bavaria, and Wurtemburg, loans of the same nature were made by the State directly to the tenants, and the State purposely incurred a loss. It is interesting to observe that everywhere the first step taken was to sell the Church lands to its tenants. It is only in England that the Church property has been appropriated by the wealthy landowners. I mean in former times—not the present. Even in our own days many may remember that the Church lands in Italy have been sold, to a great extent, to the tenants; and in Sicily alone 16,000 tenants have been able to purchase Church property which they had previously occupied. The beneficial results of all these changes may be followed in the Reports of our Ministers, to which I have alluded. I will only quote one more authority on this part of the question, with reference to a country rather peculiar—Flanders—where there is a considerable number of large properties, and where there are also a great many small properties, many of which are let by their owners at rack-rents of the highest amount that can be extracted. M. de Laveleye, speaking of this country, says—The distribution of a number of small properties among the peasantry forms a rampart and a safeguard for the owners of large estates, and the peasant property may, without exaggeration, be called the lightning conductor, which averts from society dangers which might otherwise lead to great catastrophes.Can any one doubt, I ask, in the face of so much authority, as to the superior 1607 merits of a system of small ownerships to a system of small tenancies, that we should do well to move forward in Ireland in the direction I propose? We have already, as I have explained, made two such attempts. The one under the Church Act has teen eminently successful. About 4,500 tenants have been able to buy, assisted by having three-fourths of the purchase-money left on mortgage, repayable by equal annual instalments spread over 32 years. Even more would have been able to buy had it not been for a rule laid down by the Commissioners, which treated the very small tenants less favourably. The property consisted of glebes, scattered about the country, and in bad condition; and, with a tenantry below the average. The tenants have given somewhat above the average price of land for their holdings—namely, 23¾ years' purchase. About half the purchasers were able to produce the balance of the purchase money; the others obtained parts of it from their friends, or borrowed it; much money was sent from the United States, or was produced by children in service. What has been the result of the operation? There cannot be a doubt, I think, that it is already very beneficial in two respects—that it has tended to promote industry and improvement, and that it has been the source of great satisfaction to those who find themselves now secure in their holdings. In their last Report, the Church Commissioners say—We continue to receive reports of improvements effected on this land by the new owners, and another year's experience confirms the opinion we have already given as to the beneficial results of the provisions of the Church Act for creating a body of small proprietors.Mr. O'Brien, the valuator of the Church property, gave evidence of numerous improvements that are being effected already, and of the general content of the purchasers. Those who have borrowed the balance of the purchase-money have been put to great straits, but they are paying it off. I myself have had personal experience, having visited some of the tenants who have bought their farms. It was impossible not to be struck by the evidence of content and the spirit of independence which had been engendered by the purchase. Some were already effecting substantial improvements; others were 1608 only waiting till they had paid off the borrowed money. The chief feeling was that of satisfaction at having been spared the infliction of a possible landlord of the kind I have alluded to—namely, the hard-fisted trader from the town. Among the witnesses examined before the Committee was a man named Degnan, a tenant who had bought his small farm of 50 acres from the Church. He told us that, some years before, the incumbent of the living to which the glebe belonged had been made a Bishop, and his successor in the living had immediately raised the rents 50 per cent, promising not to do so again during his incumbency. This had quite taken the heart out of the tenants—If a man was seen draining a field the tenants would laugh at him, saying that their vicar would soon go away and be made a Bishop, and that then the rent would be raised.In 1870, Degnan, hearing that the tenants, under the Church Act, would have the privilege of buying at once, began to improve. He built farm buildings at a cost of £400; he then bought his farm for £690, paying down one-fourth of the purchase-money "with a better heart than he had ever before paid money in his life." He told us that the tenants of an adjoining glebe, who had bought, "were working day and night to improve the land—on a moonlight night just as well as in daylight." Now, what was the cause of the success of these clauses in the Church Act? It was undoubtedly due, in the main, to the fact that they were carried out by men who believed in the policy of the work and wished it to succeed—who were interested in carrying out the intentions of Parliament. They made the matter intelligible and simple to the tenants. They relieved them of trouble and of law expenses. All the tenants had to do was to sign a paper and to find one-fourth of the purchase money. Now, in the face of this evidence, it was impossible not to come to this conclusion—namely, that the Irish tenants are most desirous of availing themselves of the opportunity of becoming purchasers of their holdings. But when we turn to "the Bright Clauses" of the Land Act, the failure has been as conspicuous as the Church Act was a success. During six years only 600 tenants have been able to buy their holdings under it, or at the rate of 100 a-year. I am sorry 1609 to say that the cause of this failure of this part of the Act is, in a great measure, to be found in the fact that the working of it did not fall into the same zealous and careful hands as those which the Church Act fell into. There were three Departments of State interested in carrying out these clauses—the Landed Estates Court, the Board of Works of Ireland, and the English Treasury. In none of these did the measure find any friends, or any person interested in pushing them on, or in removing any difficulties which naturally arise in working a new scheme. Technical difficulties were allowed to prevail. No suggestions of amendments were ever made. In the Landed Estates Court two years were allowed to elapse before any notices were issued to tenants of properties advertised for sale in the Court. When they were issued no explanations were given. The tenants were invited to come up to Dublin on the very slender chance of having an opportunity of bidding for their holdings, and they were subjected to legal expenses. In the Board of Works Department, difficulties were opposed to the tenants obtaining the full amount of the loan offered by the Act; and in most of the early cases the proportion rarely amounted to more than one-half the purchase money, and hundreds of tenants went away disappointed at finding they could not get a larger proportion. Anyone who reads the evidence of Colonel M'Kerlie or Mr. Stack, of the Board of Works, will, I think, award the palm of official obstruction to that Office. In Colonel M'Kerlie they will recognize a splendid specimen of the official thorn—a most honest, zealous public servant; but who conceives he has done his duty by the Treasury in burking any scheme which has for its object the loan of public money. Many other difficulties I could name, especially the working of the alienation clauses, which have prevented tenants desirous of purchasing from giving security for any advances made from other quarters, and which have been construed as implying forfeiture of the holdings, even where the purchaser has bequeathed the property to his son. These, however, I say, are minor difficulties. If they had been removed possibly some, though not an important, increase of transaction would have taken place. The real difficulties 1610 in the way of working the Act are more serious. The Act contemplated two methods by which tenants might become purchasers. The one where landlords agree with their tenants by private contract for the purchase of their holdings, and facilities are given for the owners of limited estates to enter into these arrangements with the consent of the Landed Estates Court. Practically, this part of the Act has been a dead failure; only 36 cases have occurred, only two of which were tenants for life. The difficulty is partly the cost of passing such cases through the Landed Estates Court, and partly, also, the fact that limited owners are greatly restricted as to the investment of the proceeds of such sales. They can only invest in Consols, and it is not worth while to sell land paying 4 per cent and over for the purpose of investing in Consols paying 3 per cent. The other opportunity afforded by the Act was this—Under the 46th section of the Act, the Judges of the Landed Estates Court were directed, in the case of all property sold in that Court, to offer reasonable facilities to tenants desirous of purchasing their holdings, by making lots or otherwise, so far as this could be done without detriment to the interests of the owners, and they are directed to hear the Board of Works on behalf of the tenant. As nearly all the laud sold in Ireland passes through the Landed Estates Court for the purpose of getting an indefeasible title, and is sold by auction there, it was, therefore, hoped that a large number of tenants would have this opportunity of buying them. In fact, however, very few of the tenants, however willing to buy, had had the opportunity. About £6,000,000 worth of property has been sold in six years in the Court, with about 12,000 separate holdings; but only 500 tenants had been able to buy—or loss than 1 in 20. This has not been for want of desire or want of means, for hundreds of tenants have come up to the Court, and have been put to heavy expenses in attending before the officers of the Court—whose duty it was to lot the properties—in the hope of being able to bid, but have found that no opportunity was ever given to them, and have gone away disappointed. Properties have not been put up in lots so as to enable the tenants to bid. Those who have bought have paid con- 1611 siderably above the average price of land—namely, 25 years' purchase, or 2½ years' purchase above the average price of land in Ireland—and their costs have averaged 10 per cent on the purchase money. The difficulty was one created by the residues. The properties are generally put up for sale in lots corresponding with townships, and, on the average, included 12 or 14 small farms. Of these, it might be that seven or eight tenants were ready to buy; but there would remain a residue which might, perhaps, be difficult to sell, or which would cause delay, and the Judges and their officials are unable to say you must take from the tenants a somewhat higher price, and run the risk as to the remainder. I cannot but think that the experience of the Church Commissioners as to the price obtained by the residues of their estates not sold to the tenants shows that this difficulty is much less than was supposed, and that means might be found for overcoming it; but, undoubtedly, it is the fact that owners are very unwilling to break up their properties into lots, so that the tenants can buy, and the Judges will not take upon themselves any discretion in the matter; and the result has been that hundreds of tenants have come up to the Court, have attended before the Examiner of the Court, when properties were lotted, were ready to give a higher price than the average price of land or than the average for which it finally sold, but were sent back disappointed, because the officer of the Court was unwilling to run any risk in directing that the lots should be put up, so as to enable the tenants to buy. The able Judge Flanagan came to the Commissioners and explained that the 46th section had put upon his Court an impossible duty. He said—The 46th section of the Irish Land Act is one which, in my opinion, it is almost impossible to work. I mean to work, in the sense of enabling the tenants to purchase their holdings to any considerable amount. It has imposed upon the Landed Estates Court a duty which it is almost impossible to work.I do not myself appreciate the difficulties of the case so fully as they appeared to weigh upon the Judges; but it is obvious that when a judicial and administrative duty is thrown upon a Court of Law, and the Judges say that they cannot act, 1612 it is not at all probable that any result will flow from the Act, or that the intentions of Parliament will be carried out. It seems, therefore, necessary that some other scheme should be adopted. This is all the more necessary, because a recent case decided by the Court of Appeal since the Committee sat has even more completely nullified the intention of the Act, and, in the opinion of the officers of the Court, rendered impossible any considerable sales to the tenants. The Landed Estates Judges had held that where properties were put up for sale in the Court, and the tenants had notice and were summoned up to attend the sittings, and when they were ready and willing to bid for their holdings and give a higher price, the owner could not accept a lower offer from other parties. In a recent case—probably the most important in respect of the number of tenants who were ready and able to buy which has occurred since the Act passed—140 tenants of a property for sale in Cork had arranged to buy in group; they had been summoned to the Court; they had been put to great expense and trouble, and the 46th clause appeared and was intended to give them a preferential right to purchase; they were prepared to give a very large price, larger by some thousands than were other purchasers; yet the Court of Appeal, overruling the Landed Estates Court, held that the owner was justified through a mere whim in selling the property to a person who had made a much lower bid, and thus depriving the tenants of the opportunity of buying. This may be law, but it is certainly a very hard case, and. it shows the necessity for some change in the law. Now, among the witnesses before our Committee was Mr. Vernon, the Governor of the Bank of Ireland, and the agent for many of the largest properties in Ireland, and one of the most able men in Dublin. He concurred with Judge Flanagan as to the impossibility of working the 46th clause. He said—The duty imposed by it upon the Judges of the Court of selling preferentially to the tenants is an abnormal one to the true function—that of obtaining the best price for the owner.He then went on to say—Assuming that the Legislature desires to create a small proprietary or a body of small proprietors, I think that whoever sells the pro- 1613 perty to the tenant should be put in the position that the Church Temporality Commissioners were put into—that is to say, they must have absolute power. I think the property should vest in the State before it is conveyed to the tenant, and that the State should deal with the land as between itself and the tenant. I do not think it will ever work otherwise. I think you should vest the property in the State—that means presumably in some Commission appointed by the State.His plan was this—Where an estate is for sale in the Landed Estates Court, it should be the duty of that Commission to send down a proper officer to report upon the value of the property and upon the conditions under which it is held, and to see all the tenants and to learn from them what price they are prepared to give, if any, for their lots. If the tenants say 'We will not buy,' then the Commission withdraws its action altogether, and leaves them to pass under the ordinary rules of sale to any purchaser. If, on the other hand, the tenants declare to buy their lots, then let it be for the Commission to see what price they will give. Add to that a fair percentage, which shall cover the expenses of the Commission, and thon lot them become buyers in the open market, free from the vendors, either by private or public sale. The vendors would not be damnified in any way; the Judges of the Landed Estates Court would not have any conflicting duty at all; they would sell to the Commission precisely as they would sell to the outside public, and the Commission having thus bought would re-sell the property to the tenant.Judge Flanagan fully concurred in this view, and said—In the sense of enabling the tenants to become purchasers to any considerable amount, my view is that you will never have sales to tenants in any number until you adopt Mr. Vernon's suggestion. That is to say, you must sever altogether the duties of the Court as selling on behalf of the owner from the duties of the Court as selling to the tenant. You must, as Mr. Vernon puts it, have some person who would, in the interest of the tenants, be prepared to buy in globo from the owner of the property, and then that body should re-distribute the property and sell it back to the tenants, if they had satisfied themselves by previous inquiry that such a transaction would be a beneficial and a safe one to undertake.And he adds the important statement—In my opinion, it is the only way in which yon can protect the interests of the owners of property, and it is the only chance you have of selling the property to tenants.It is the essence of Mr. Vernon's plan that no transaction should be entered upon until the Commission has ascertained that all the tenants are prepared to buy, and will bind themselves to buy, or that such a proportion of them will 1614 buy as will practically make the transaction a perfectly safe one. He says it would be grossly to the discredit of the Commission if there was a loss, as they would be able to offer a sale upon more advantageous terms than anyone else—namely, that three-fourths of the purchase money would be left on mortgage. The scheme thus proposed by Mr. Vernon and Judge Flanagan to meet the difficulties of the case has met with the approval of many other important witnesses, and, finally, met with the approval of the majority of the Committee. There is some difference as to the body who should be intrusted with such duties. Judge Flanagan thinks the Landed Estate Court might be so divided that one of its Judges and a part of its staff should undertake it, and the other be left to discharge the other duties of the Court. Others think that a re-constituted Board of Works may be intrusted with it. For my part, though averse to a now Commission in Ireland, yet I believe it would be wise in the working of a now scheme—which should be worked tentatively and cautiously—to appoint a temporary Commission for this purpose, and to try it rather as an experiment with a limited sum. Such a Commission dealing with the question in this manner would at once get rid of many of the difficulties which now interpose. It would concentrate all the work now distributed between the Landed Estates Courts, the Board of Works, and the Treasury. It would communicate directly with the tenantry desirous of purchasing any property for sale; it would relieve them of any law expenses. It would rather act as brokers for the tenants, enabling them and helping them to combine together for the purchase of a property. But it would be in no sense a land-jobbing body; it would never act except upon the clear and definite condition that no loss would be realized; or unless such a proportion of tenants are prepared to buy as will make the transaction a perfectly safe one. The experience of the Church Commission as to the small difference in price between land sold to tenants and residues sold to the public shows that where there is a small residue it will be disposed of without loss. It must also be recollected that, without some such body, there are many properties which cannot be divided and sold to their 1615 tenants—properties subject to charges, annuities, rent-charges, and the like; and it is only where a paramount power can buy and free such property from charges that the tenant has a chance of buying. It is my conviction that a Commission of this kind, working cautiously and tentatively, will find a way out of the difficulties and lead to a considerable number of tenants being able to buy. It will also greatly facilitate such a transfer of the properties if the amount left on mortgage of the holdings be increased, and if the alienation clauses be repealed. In submitting to this House this method of dealing with the case, I wish to do so in no dogmatic spirit. There may be other methods of arriving at the same end, and of overcoming the difficulties; and anyone which achieves the result, or is likely to achieve the result, will be equally welcome to me. The object I aim at by my Motion is a considerable increase to the number of small owners of land in Ireland, and the giving an opportunity to tenants of purchasing their holdings when the properties are offered for sale. I may say at once that the proposals which the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin made to the Committee, though useful in their way, and most of them included in my own Report as minor Amendments, would not, I think, secure their objects. I shall be surprised if he himself ventures to say that they will secure them, I admit the difficulties of the case; but I believe they are not beyond the powers of practical statesmanship to deal with. If the Government approach this question with an earnest desire to accomplish a considerable work, if they use all the forces and influences of the State in aid of it, they will find that difficulties will disappear, that mountains will become molehills, and torrents merely summer streams. Above all, it will be necessary to commit the work, whatever it may be, to the hands of those who really believe in it, who will work with zeal and energy; and, unless this be done, the best of schemes must fail. I have only, in conclusion, to add that, whatever Government succeeds in this work, will confer a great been upon Ireland. Every fresh band of small owners will, I confidently believe, become the nucleus of a new spirit of industry and improvement—the centre of a better spirit of contentment and 1616 loyalty, and a fresh bond of union between the people of the two countries. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ MR. ERRINGTON
, in seconding the Motion, said, he would like, with the permission of the House, to touch upon one or two points. He recollected the impression which was produced in Ireland by the eloquent speech which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. John Bright) delivered in Dublin in 1866. He feared that the hindrances to the prosperity of Ireland, which the right hon. Gentleman then referred to, still existed, in spite of all the subsequent legislation. That being the case, it was not wonderful that they should hail with hope and approval a proposal like the present, which held out prospects of greatly improving the condition of the country. Those who were interested in this question naturally regarded it as twofold, and inquired, first, whether, in the present condition of Ireland, it was desirable to considerably extend the number of owners; and, secondly, if the first were answered in the affirmative, to consider how it could be done; whether it could be done with a reasonable prospect of success; and, if so, whether it would answer the objections of the opponents of this scheme? Hon. Gentlemen were aware that there was a great difference of opinion as to the relative merits of large and small cultivators; but there could be no doubt that, years ago, Ireland was a land of cottier tenants, and was still a land of small farms; it was perfectly true that after the Famine there was an enormous diminution in the number of small farms, particularly those of the smallest size, the diminution becoming less marked in the case of farms of larger size. This movement continued for several years, with a constantly diminishing rapidity, until about 1864, when the movement had practically spent itself. Since that date there had been a considerable re-action against the consolidation of farms, and the best judges were of opinion that Ireland was not suited for the system of consolidation. Moreover, agriculture was just now being threatened with very serious changes, which were making themselves felt not only in Ireland, but most painfully in England. It was too soon to form an exact opinion as to ultimate results; but the most competent judges 1617 were of opinion that it would tend to promote the re-action against the consolidation of farms. He himself thought that must be so, because there were already a considerable number of farms going a bogging. If that was so in England, where so much capital was devoted to agriculture, how much more must it be the case in Ireland, where there was not so much capital, and where large farming had never been gone in for the same way? The hon. Member referred to the proceedings of the Devon Commission of 1845, which was presided over by a nobleman of great ability and popularity, and one who possessed large estates in Ireland. The Report of that Commission, with the accompanying evidence, was not only a monument of industry, but was a most reliable store-house of information for those who were interested in the question. The Commissioners, in their Report, said—We believe that there is a large number of persons in Ireland possessing a small amount of capital which they would gladly employ in the purchase and cultivation of land, and a still larger number of persons resident in different parts of Ireland, now holding land on rent, who would cheerfully avail themselves of the opportunity of becoming proprietors. The gradual introduction of such a class would lead to a great improvement in the social condition of Ireland. There would be a much larger proportion of the population than at present interested in the preservation of peace and order, and the prospect of giving admission to this class would stimulate the farmer to increased exertions.The men who subscribed the Report had the courage of their opinions. They organized a Joint Stock Company for the purchase and re-sale of lands in Ireland in lots of not less than 30 acres, and a Private Bill was introduced in order to obtain the necessary powers. The Bill was referred to a private Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman, the present Member for Greenwich, was Chairman. The Preamble of the Bill set forth that the establishment of a permanent body of peasant proprietors, holding farms in fee-simple, would materially improve the social condition of Ireland, by promoting the better cultivation of land and the reclamation of waste lands, and by personally interesting a large proportion of the population in the preservation of peace and order; and that many persons in Ireland possessing a limited amount of 1618 capital would gladly employ it in the purchase of land if facilities were given. The venture was a failure; but the failure could be accounted for, because it was launched at a time when Ireland had just plunged into what was, perhaps, the greatest scourge that had afflicted any European country in modern times. It was, then, not a question of solving the Land Question—it was a question of how the people were to live; consequently, little or nothing was done with the scheme, and it became a dead letter; but the failure of the special machinery in no way militated against the principle on which it was founded. The evidence taken before the Committee, however, went to show that the Irish tenant had become much more prudent and thrifty than he formerly was, and that the danger of the sub-division of land had diminished immensely. The Land Act, as had been shown, was exceedingly complicated, and the wonder was, not that the Board of Works should have failed in carrying it into effect, but that it should succeed. It had been his opinion that the Board of Works should be intrusted with the power of working the Act; but subsequent consideration had led him to the conclusion that the Act should be administered by a now Body. He appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give his support to the proposal of his hon. Friend, a proposal for which he would find good reason in supporting in the speech of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, while replying to a request for the appointment of a Committee on the subject in 1877. He hoped, therefore, that the question would be referred to a Committee of the House, and that the opinion of the Committee might be judged by the unbiassed opinion of the House itself. If that was done, there were a great many hon. Members on that side of the House who would show their sympathy and good feeling towards Ireland.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in view of the importance of a considerable addition to the number of owners of land in Ireland among the class of persons cultivating its soil, it is expedient that legislation should be adopted, without further delay, for increasing the facilities proposed with this object by the Irish Land Act, 1870, and for securing to the tenants of land offered for sale the opportunity of pur-
chase, consistently with the interests of the wners thereof,"—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PLUNKET
, in supporting the Motion, said, he did not intend to detain the House at any great length. Although he was bound to disagree with some of the views expressed by the two hon. Members who had addressed the House, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Motion; but, on the contrary, to join in the hope expressed by the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Errington) that the Government would not think it necessary to resist it. Since the Motion was placed upon the Paper some additions had been made, to the effect that the Government should, "without further delay," undertake to carry out the proposition contained in the Motion. He did not know what construction was to be placed upon those words by the hon. Gentleman who introduced them; but he thought the construction put upon them by his hon. Friend who spoke last was a very sensible and fair construction. Of course, Government would desire that it should be introduced as soon as possible consistently with the state of Public Business. In that idea he quite concurred, and hoped that the delay would not be a long one. The reason why he asked the Government to support this Resolution was because it was a Resolution very moderate in its terms. It really amounted to only this—that legislation should be adopted for increasing the facilities, and for securing to the tenant an opportunity for purchasing his land when offered for sale, consistently with the owner's interest therein. He had had the misfortune to oppose, on many occasions, proposals that had been made by the hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to the land of Ireland. Those proposals he had resisted, because they would carry with them an invasion of the rights of proprietors. This Resolution, however, was certainly not subject to similar dangers. The transactions to be carried out under the Act were of an entirely voluntary character, and he did not understand that it was intended now to depart from that principle as laid down in the Act of 1620 1870. It was, under those circumstances, with great satisfaction that he found himself concurring in the proposals of the hon. Gentleman opposite. He had used these observations in reference to the terms of the Motion; but he was afraid he could not go quite so far in harmony with what had been said in their speeches by his hon. Friends. With regard to the drafting of the Reports, the hon. Member for Reading prepared one Report, which he said was discarded in favour of one prepared by himself (Mr. Plunket). He had no alternative. While evidence was being taken they were not all agreed on the Commitee; but at the end of two years they came to the time when they closed the evidence, and were to draw up a Report. The Chairman had to prepare a Report, and he did so in a very elaborate and exhaustive manner; but it was a Report in which some could not concur. Many Members of the Committee agreed with, and many differed from, the Chairman, and then he (Mr. Plunket) had drawn up a counter Report, and the two Reports were argued. He might observe during the inquiry that there were a number of proposals brought forward more or less departing from the principles of the original Act—the Act of 1870. The Report of the Chairman had a long historical review of the whole question, and also contained a great number of quotations from evidence which were selected with the view of supporting the conclusion at which the framer of the Report had arrived. But many Members of the Committee did not agree with the historical colouring given throughout the earlier portion of the Chairman's Report, nor did they consider that the extracts from evidence were such as would give a complete exposition of the testimony. It was in no spirit of disrespect that he proposed a counter Report. If they had settled down to go through every clause of the long Report of his hon. Friend, the Committee would still be sitting upstairs, and the House of Commons would not have this Resolution before it. He prepared a short Report of a page and a-half as the framework on which to proceed, and the ultimate Report now before the House was the result. He had been only induced to say this, by way of explanation, because it was not, he believed, a usual course to oppose 1621 the Report of the Chairman. What he desired was to guard himself, in the cordial and frank acceptance of this Resolution, from being supposed to adopt all the arguments of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading. He now wished to refer to the proposal that public funds should be used for the purpose of purchasing property from the landlords and selling it again to the tenants. That was a most important point of difference between the hon. Member who introduced the Resolution and himself. He was bound to say that he could not agree in the wisdom of that suggestion. In the first place, it was obviously a total departure from the policy of the original "Bright Clauses." There was no proposal at all there for establishing a sort of plan by which Government should become, in the first place, the direct purchaser from the landlord, and, what was of far more importance, become afterwards directly the seller to the tenant. Observe what would happen. Unfortunately, if they looked over the whole of Ireland, they would find a great number of very small tenants who held but a few acres of land; and who were very poor indeed. Should those tenants become proprietors under such a proposal? They were hardly able, at the best of times, to pay their rent, and certainly what would happen would be this—that, when elevated from their previous position to the position of independent proprietors, they would regard the State, which had conferred on them these farms, and to which they were responsible for the instalments, in reality, as their landlords. Indeed, they had it in evidence that many of those who already had money advanced to them from the Board of Works, although they had not received their farms from any Government authority or Office, would be under that impression. There had of late been much depression of trade and agriculture; and if they coupled the effect which that had upon the tenants with the unfortunate action of money-lending and borrowing amongst the farmers, it would be seen that tenant farmers were greatly embarrassed and weighed down, and when a hard time came they could not pay at all. What happened this year? He knew many landlords who were expecting to get very little rent, if, indeed, they expected any. What would be 1622 the position of the State brought face to face with the tenantry of Ireland, and bound, in the interests of the nation to demand the payment of those advances which had been made? He did not mean to say that this was a conclusive argument against the proposal; but it was a consideration that ought to be carefully weighed by the Government before they took part in a scheme which would, to a great extent, make the Government the landlord of a vast number of very small tenants. His hon. Friend the Member for Reading was very hard upon the Board of Works, and especially on the Chairman of the Board. But he (Mr. Plunket) had the honour of knowing that gentleman, and he confidently stated a more painstaking and conscientious public servant there could not be. The hon. Member then called attention to the draft Report which he had prepared, contending that the propositions therein contained were of substantial importance in the sense of the Resolution then before the House. There was, he said, a real foundation of difficulty about working out this part of the Act, and it was because the whole operation was put under the thumb of the Treasury. It was a most important thing, he would venture to say, that it should be conducted according to rules prepared and laid down, and not subject to constant changes. Should the Government adopt the Resolution, they would find ample material to work upon in the evidence, and abundance of suggestions contained in the various Reports of the Committee. This was not a Party question, and it ought not to be one. It was no question between landlord and tenant. He believed that when the tenants of Ireland came to understand all the benefits offered them by these "Bright Clauses" of the Act of 1870, they would avail themselves much more frequently of its advantages than was the case at present.
I do not intend to go into the argument which has been so largely and ably handled. It is enough for me to say that I entirely adhere to the opinions which my hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) has cited in the proceedings of the Committee which this House appointed some years ago. I am very glad that the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down marks the undoubted fact 1623 that this is not a question with which any consideration of Party can possibly be mixed, and I think we need not fear anything that may be said to provoke such a construction. I rise to say a word exclusively upon a single point. I quite understand that many difficulties of detail may arise as to the mode of giving effect to this Resolution. The hon. and learned Gentleman has justly declined to hold himself bound by the particular sentiments expressed on this side of the House, and, no doubt, there is reciprocal liberty on this side of the House with regard, perhaps, to some parts of what has fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman. But, Sir, subject to that reservation, and observing that we are only dealing with the terms of the Resolution, I cannot help hoping that there is nothing in those terms themselves that can possibly cause the Government to hesitate about their acceptance. It does occur to me as possible that if they feel any hesitation whatever, it may be hesitation connected with the point to which I shall address the few sentences I mean to utter—namely, the question of finance in connection with this demand. I would observe, in the first instance, that by the Land Act of 1870 we pledged ourselves to a certain financial engagement of a limited amount. We then proposed that £1,000,000 should be applied to the purpose of making a fair experiment in furtherance of the principle that we had in view. Now, undoubtedly, Sir, as far as my recollection may be admitted into this matter, I should say that £1,000,000 at the time we proposed it was by no means regarded as the maximum, as the ne plus ultra of what might be done in this matter, particularly if the experiment was found to work well. Not nearly the whole of the £1,000,000 has been expended. [Mr. DODSON: Only £400,000.] I am informed that only £400,000 of that sum has been expended; and I am bound to say that at present—if only to the limited amount that lies between what Parliament sanctioned and what has been expended—we are under an engagement not to disappoint the hopes and expectations of the Irish Members and the Irish people on this particular subject. But I go beyond that; because, I do not know why, if we can hit upon satisfactory methods of proceeding, we should be limited even to that amount. 1624 Then comes the question—whence this money is to proceed? It has been thought possible that some Irish fund might be available, at any rate for a time, in case the application of Imperial funds should be found inconvenient. I do not know that it is impossible that some portion of the funds proceeding from the property of the Disestablished Church might not be temporarily applied in such a way. I will not say that it should be permanently applied in this way; because I think those funds ought to receive some final allocation at a proper time, and not be always employed in moving backward and forward in what is a kind of trading operation. I will go further, and allude to a subject which is, no doubt, occupying the minds of the Government and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can conceive that he is swayed in his view of the question now before us by his view of another and larger question—namely, that of the very great amount of the local demands that are now made upon the Imperial funds, and he feels a natural hesitation in enlarging those demands. I may be right, or I may be wrong; but I think it proper to give a few minutes to the consideration of this point, and as we have had no opportunity of discussing the subject in detail, I, for my part, think it right to strengthen the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government in resisting and modifying the endeavours of local Bodies to make the Imperial credit subservient to their own local purposes in what is, after all, a mere matter of pecuniary economy. I am afraid that inconvenience may arise from the prolonged and indefinite continuance of very large subventions to local Bodies even for purposes of great value and utility. The regular employment of the public credit for borrowing in the money market with a view to lending again is, I think, a practice that requires the very careful consideration of Parliament. It is attended with a good deal of inconvenience, and I look upon it with much jealousy. I almost hope for Parliament to say that the natural limit of the lending power of the Government for parochial and local purposes would best be found in the amount of those funds which the Government receives as a banker of the savings of the country. These are very large and increasing 1625 funds which place a most useful power in the hands of the Government, and in regard to which there could be no objection whatever to their using them as bankers would prudently use their banking funds, in giving them to those who have occasion for them, and would make good use of them—in this case to be used by local Bodies for purposes approved of by the State. But I am now assuming that we have reached a point at which we find we have only limited funds at our disposal, and are not inclined to go indefinitely into the market to borrow money to enable Government to lend it again even for good purposes; and I want to look at the case from that point of view. I assume that the purpose which is contemplated by my hon. Friend may come into competition with the demands of the local Bodies in England for enabling them in the most economical manner to fulfil the purposes contemplated by various useful Acts of Parliament. I do not hesitate to say that in this competition of claims the claim which is now before us is very much the higher claim. These sanitary and other local demands are very fair and very legitimate indeed; but, after all, they come simply to a question of a certain money economy. On being entertained, they enable local communities to do a little more cheaply that which they would be perfectly able to do in some other way at a somewhat greater expense. I do not desire to charge that expense upon them; but I wish to compare with their claim, which is simply economical, the claim which is now before us, and which is by no means a simply economical claim. It is a moral, social, and political claim, connected with a purpose which goes right to the heart of the great Irish question. This is a matter in which we have all been anxiously engaged for a great length of time in endeavouring to give solidity to the social system of Ireland. I need not refer to the authorities—ample, undoubted, undisputed authorities—who recognized the connection between creating—without forcing, and provided there be a disposition to do it—a yeomanry in Ireland, a small proprietary in Ireland, and the real welfare of Ireland in its highest interests. Therefore, I earnestly hope that Her Majesty's Government will not, on financial grounds, hesitate to adopt a Resolution of this 1626 kind, moderately couched, and leaving to them the discretion as to the mode of procedure. If the only misgiving upon the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer be a misgiving lest he should find the House indisposed to support him when he makes a reasonable demand upon us to increase his control over the expenditure for local purposes from the central funds of the country, I desire, as far as I am concerned, to assure him of my disposition to give him the best support in my power; and then I feel myself better entitled to say, as I now say very earnestly, that I hope the Government will not forget the very elevated rank of this particular demand upon the pecuniary assistance of the State, because it is a demand which goes far above the region of merely economical considerations into the highest interests that belong to the State.
§ MR. SYNAN
was of opinion that the acceptance of the qualifications proposed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) would provide the Government with a shield, and would render the Resolution inoperative. The Judges of the Landed Estates Court said they found it impossible to carry out the provisions of the Land Act. They could not rob the landlords or the creditors, and they could not give priority or preference to the tenants. Therefore, the clauses of the Act became inoperative. The evidence before the Committee went to show that if this was to be made an operative Act of Parliament, they must employ machinery which would effect that purpose. The Landed Estates Court would do very well as a kind of arbitrator; but it was impossible for it to exorcise power beyond that. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) said he made certain proposals to the Committee. No doubt, he did. He suggested that certain questions should be considered; but he proposed no machinery by which they would be considered; and when the Committee came to consider its Report, they passed an amended one over that of the hon. and learned Member by a considerable majority. They said that it was found that the fundamental difficulty of the present system was to form the land into lots to be sold to the tenants, paying at the same time due regard to the interests of those whose 1627 property was dealt with. If the Government were not going to adopt that Report—and it would appear from the language of the hon. and learned Member that such was to be the case—then no substantial results could reasonably be expected from any Resolution which might be agreed to. Was it the question of expense that influenced the Government? But they need not have the expense of a new Body. They had already the Board of Works, which required to be reformed, and they had the Valuation Board, which was employed at this moment to make a valuation of certain lands. What more competent Body could there be to administer this law between the Landed Estates Court and the tenant, and bring the tenant into direct communication with the Court than the Valuation Board, who were at present employed in the valuing of lands? That Board was not likely to over-value the lands; neither were they likely to listen to any extravagant opinions which might be put forth by the tenants. He knew the tenants of Ireland well, for he had been in close relationship with them all his life, and he knew that they were aware what they were doing—that they were paying instalments to Her Majesty's Government, and that those instalments would cease at the end of 35 years. What apprehension could there be, bad even as the times were, that the money would be in danger? The valuation would be made by the Government's own Commissioners in Dublin, and they had £6,000,000 of the Church funds in their hands which could be drawn upon as preliminary if the Treasury was too much embarrassed, as it seemed to be, by its present Expenditure. What was before the House now was not the mere words of the Resolution; but whether Her Majesty's Government would accept the Resolution with the intention of carrying it into effect? Let the Government tell the people of Ireland what they meant to do—whether they meant to carry out the "Bright Clauses" in their proper sense, and not in the sense of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, which would only be a farce. The Resolution might be accepted and still remain a dead letter, or, if they pleased, the Government could bring in a Bill which would speedily become 1628 law. The only imaginable reason that could be assinged for their inaction was that they had not accepted the Report of the Committee in its integrity.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
said, he had no hesitation in giving his support to the Resolution, which was calculated to confer a real and material benefit upon Ireland by creating a class corresponding to the yeomen of England. The want of such a class was a disadvantage to any country, and, perhaps, the entire absence of such a class was felt more keenly in Ireland than it would be in any other country. There were many peculiar circumstances connected with Ireland, such as the fact that a great extent of the land was owned by large proprietors, who, unfortunately, were not resident in the country; and, inasmuch as the Resolution proposed that facilities should be afforded to encourage the growth of a class of yeomen, he could not withhold from it his support. Of course, such a Resolution, considering the source from which it sprang, would naturally be examined jealously, if not with suspicion, by Irish landlords. But having so examined it, he must say he found in it nothing which he could not adopt; but he was not prepared to go the length the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), had gone in a pamphlet he had published on the subject. He did not think the facilities for purchasing holdings should be extended to the lowest class, involving, as that was almost certain to do, eventual loss to the State, seeing that it was not likely that the whole purchase-money could be acquired by the labour of the purchaser. If a man whose labour was his only capital failed to pay his instalments, how was the State going to enforce payment of the debt? He had a great objection to placing the Government in the position of a landlord who was bound to sell-up the tenant. Unless the House was prepared to accept the fact that the purchase-money advanced to the lowest class of cottiers would be lost it would hardly be wise to make the advances. As a landlord, he did not want to ask the House of Commons for this money to afford him facilities for disposing of his property; and, therefore, it would be wise for the House to accept the spirit of the Resolution without contemplating its unlimited application. Not second in importance to the question of 1629 finance was that involved in the establishment of a cottier class and the tendency to sub-division and sub-letting in a population entirely dependent upon the soil. Anyone who remembered the condition of Ireland before the Famine would view with apprehension any encouragement of this tendency, which seemed to become stronger as the holdings got smaller. There was another view to be taken of this question. He asked those who had experience in Ireland, whether they thought it would be well to go any length in increasing cottier proprietors in that country? Those who had travelled by the Southern and Western Railway in Ireland could hardly fail to notice a district inhabited entirely by that class. Their cottages were of the most miserable description, not fit for human abodes. With a holding of two or three acres, the cost of building even a very moderate cottage decently fit for a man and his family would come very near to the fee-simple value of the land. And unless the State was willing to help the owner to build a cottage, very little good would be done. It was difficult to establish a hard-and-fast line; but whether the holding was 100, or 50, or 40 acres, it would be most important to establish a class with a direct stake in the country who would become the natural supporters of law and order. He would Be glad, now that the people were peaceable and loyal, that some generous measure, conferring material benefit upon them, should be granted by Parliament, and that they should be taught that goodwill and respect for the law were more powerful in producing measures of this kind than rebellion and crime. He was glad the hon. Member for Beading had brought forward this Resolution, and he hoped, if adopted, its action would be beneficial.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
said, that if the witnesses heard before the Committee were unanimous about anything it was on this point—that there should be no limitation placed on the quantity of land, for the purchase of which facilities might be afforded by the State, but that the purchaser of one acre and the purchaser of 500 acres ought alike to be proportionately assisted. With respect to the value of the cottier classes, he must express a very different opinion from that of the hon. Member for Car- 1630 low (Mr. Kavanagh); and before the Committee Mr. O'Brien and Major Dalton gave evidence in favour of the cottier system, as providing a means of dealing satisfactorily with the great difficulty of housing the labouring population. He happened to know of two cases—one was in the County Kildare, near Newbridge—where a considerable number of cottiers had reclaimed bog by their own labour, whose holdings varied from one to five acres, and they supplied what he might call the surplus labour of the country. He had been assured by a resident gentleman in the neighbourhood that but for the existence of these cottiers the farmers would find it utterly impossible to savet he turf, the potato, or the corn harvests. The other case was in the County of Cork, where the same class of people, without any absolute security, but merely on the moral security that they would not be disturbed, had reclaimed a barren mountain, and, by working amongst the farmers, were enabled to live comfortably upon plots of from five to 20 acres. He held in his hand the Reports on the condition of the labouring population of Ireland, drawn up in 1870, and he assumed that their condition was no bettor, if it was no worse, now than in 1870. There were the Reports of 11 Inspectors, and nine out of that number reported that the labouring population were thoroughly discontented, assigning as a reason the wretched houses in which they lived, and, indeed, the difficulty of obtaining houses at all. Mr. O'Brien pointed out that one of the causes of this had been the disinclination that had existed on the part of too many of the landlords of Ireland for the last 30 years to allow any houses whatever to be built on their property, nor was it to be expected that the farmer should go to the expense of building them, seeing it was only at particular seasons, and not all the year round, that he required the services of more than two or three men. These lived in his own house as servants, and were the most discontented and turbulent class in Ireland. Then, unfortunately, the clause moved by Mr. William Gregory, when the Act of 1870 was under discussion, giving power to tenants, without coming under the subletting penalties, to erect houses for 25 acres, fell through; and, therefore, in 1631 the majority of instances, the tenants were not allowed to build houses even if they were inclined to do so. The great bulk of the labouring population in Ireland were living in wretched cabins, or, still worse, huddled in lanes and alleys of the towns and villages. He hoped, therefore, that in any legislation which the Government might think fit to initiate upon this subject, they would not fall into the trap laid for them by the hon. Member for Carlow. He honestly believed it would be far better to reject this Motion altogether than to put any limitation upon the size of the holdings to which it should be applied. He believed that the operation of any measure of this kind must be limited. Still, if the Resolution was carried out in a liberal spirit, he thought that the House would have done its best to show the labouring population of Ireland that it took an interest in their position and desired to improve it.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
was prepared to say that had he had the honour of serving on the Committee he would have gone a little further than his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) in facilitating the purchase of small holdings by the occupiers. It was a remarkable thing that during the Fenian scare, in the part of Ireland in which he was resident, there was hardly a single man renting above 10 acres of land who was a Fenian. The reason was this—They had heard that when the Fenians took possession of the country they would parcel it out in farms of 10 acres each; and, therefore, every man who held 11 acres was an opponent of Fenianism. If, as rent-paying tenants, they were so loyal as that, how much more so would they be were they owners of the land? He thought that in all cases the purchasers should be assisted to the extent of three-fourths of the purchase money; and where a man had shown certain business qualities in earning money and then expending it in a proper way, he would help him to the extent of four-fifths, nor would he prevent the borrower, when he did come to re-pay, from accumulating his instalments, thus enabling him to get clear of his indebtedness as soon as possible. The work would, of course, have to be carried out gradually—say, at the rate of 1,000 1632 tenants per annum; and although, in all these matters, the interests of the tenants were usually spoken of as the only thing to be considered, yet he considered the landlords were also much interested in the subject, and he, as one of them, would say that they would be very willing to have their outlying property taken off their hands in the way proposed. There was in some parts of Ireland what was called the Spencer system, under which money prizes were awarded to those small tenants under £8 valuation, who laboured to improve their domestic condition, and it was wonderful how much that slight stimulus to industry had accomplished, as was to be seen at Balla-haderreen, in the counties of Roscommon, Sligo and Mayo—a wild region of 12 miles square, on which there was not a resident gentleman's house, but where the peasant proprietors lived in contentment and comfort, and the more the comforts of the people were increased the greater would be the advantage to the Government and to the Revenue, for the more they raised the people the more would be raised their consuming power. He trusted that the Government would give effect to the Resolution freely, not grudgingly, and would remember that this was a measure of justice which would go to the heart of every man in Ireland.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
, having served on the Committee, wished to say that although the Resolution had certainly been accepted by all the speakers who had up to then taken part in the debate, yet the tone which had been adopted on the other side of the House had not been altogether what he would wish. Still, he had no doubt whatever that after the speeches which had been delivered from the other side the Government would accept the Resolution, which was not a very strong one. No one could, however, find fault with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman); but he must say that the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), who led what he might almost call the opposition, was not of a very encouraging character. As to the speech of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), it was good as far as large holdings of from 100 to 500 acres went. The hon. Member was in favour of establishing 1633 that class of men in Ireland; but he (Major Nolan), expressing as far as he knew the feeling of his constituents, would say at once that he should not vote for any measure of this kind if it were limited to holdings of from 100 to 500 acres. The hon. Member for Carlow had given the House one instance of the condition of small proprietors. He said that on the South Western Railway, in the County of Kildare, there was a number of small proprietors who lived in wretched dwellings, and were altogether very unfavourable specimens of what they might expect small proprietorship created in greater numbers would be in Ireland. He had no doubt that the people to whom the hon. Member referred were those near Kilcullen, and their wretched condition was easily explicable. They were not small proprietors in the proper sense of the word. They were squatters, who took possession of a common, and who were obliged to build their houses in one night, so that they could not have started with very good houses. They had not got any legal title, and, consequently, could not sell their holdings; and he fancied that they must have been a lot of vagrants, when they finally squatted. It would be unreasonable to take them as a fair specimen of what small proprietors in Ireland would be, who had paid a considerable proportion of the money for their holdings, and had good houses to start with. The opponents of any change in the present law were very anxious to prove that the few small proprietors at present in Ireland were in a bad condition; but the balance of the evidence adduced before the Committee went to show that they were, on the whole, in a better condition than their neighbours. However this might be, they ought not to judge of the future by the present class of small proprietors. At present, a small proprietor could not transfer his holding except at an enormous cost, and therefore a system of cheap transfer was much to be desired. He did not believe that if this Resolution were carried, and even if the Government went upon the lines of the Resolution, they would have achieved any very great object. But what he wanted to see established in Ireland was a cheap system of transfer of land, and it was in connection with such a system that this Resolution was of im- 1634 portance. If land could be sold in Ireland with about the same facility as stock was sold at a fair, in half a century or a century they would have got rid of all their difficulties about tenant-right, and they would no longer be troubled with a Land Question. He maintained that in order to bring up the arrears left by bad legislation, it would be right that assistance should be given to tenants to purchase their holdings; and he was convinced that if four-filths of the purchase-money was advanced to solvent tenants—and it was not proposed to advance money to other than solvent tenants—there would be enough security for the advances made by the State. It was, indeed, said that there would be a sort of general strike against the payment of the instalment of the purchase-money, or against any steps taken to enforce its payment against the tenant purchasers; but he did not believe that anything of the kind would occur. No objection was entertained to selling-up a tenant for non-payment of rent, and it was clear that the public opinion in those who had paid up several instalments would be favourable to the enforcement of the instalments against newer purchasers. Of course, after a few instalments had been paid, the security of the Government would be ample, and would be of increasing validity. He trusted that the Government would give no grudging support to this Motion. Such a support as had been given to it by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin would be of no value. What they required was such support as had been given by the right hon. Member for Greenwich; for it was clear that the difficulties with which he admitted that the question was surrounded could only be surmounted by those who had a real and earnest confidence in the system to which the Resolution referred, and were determined to spare no effort to give effect to it.
§ MR. MORRIS
remarked, that any Chief Secretary for Ireland who conclusively dealt with this question would earn the lasting gratitude of the Irish people. He could not but be astounded at the wonderful unanimity with which the Resolution before the House had been received; and, therefore, he could not fail to be surprised at the fact that the debate had proceeded for so lengthened a period. Not a single argument 1635 had been adduced against the proposition which had been brought forward. Having, however, had considerable experience as an Irish land agent—a member of a class who had been spoken of as superior to the English land agents—he thought that the practical view which he was able to offer might be useful to those who had to solve that problem. He held that the settlement of that question would be the greatest blessing not only to landlords and tenants, but also to land agents in Ireland, and it would be a still greater blessing to England, inasmuch as it would tend to peace and quietude. Unless the Landed Estates Court and the Board of Works in Ireland acted together, it would not be possible to work any Bill on this subject to a practical purpose. He believed a letter was addressed every year, before the opening of the Session, by the Treasury to the Board of Works in Ireland, saying that on no measures for the improvement of Ireland should they expend more than a certain specified sum. The House would see that, while the Board of Works was thus controlled, it would be impossible to carry out any plan such as was contemplated to-night. He had listened with pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Member for Greenwich. Having come with deputations to the Treasury and the Board of Trade, he was rather surprised, however, at the liberality with which the right hon. Gentleman had advised the expenditure of money on this occasion. But if the proposed, measure were passed, it would not be a settlement of the question, though it would go some way in that direction. It struck him that he had never seen a resolution of a Tenants' Defence Association, or of a Tenant-right Meeting in favour of such a proposal. What was really at the heart of the Irish tenant was fixity of tenure. Let it not be considered for a moment that he was advocating fixity of tenure. But it might be a good plan, in the sale of landed estates, and always with the concurrence of the owner, if the tenants on the estate were willing to pay half or one-third of the fee-simple, that the Court might be empowered to give them perpetuity before the estate was sold. That plan, without imposing any expenditure on the Government, would create a large number of tenants with fixity of tenure at a reasonable rent.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, he certainly shared to some extent the feeling of wonder expressed by the hon. Member who had just sat down at the unanimity which seemed to pervade the House with respect to this Resolution. There was, however, something ominous about that unanimity; and he, until he had heard in explicit terms what the Government proposed to do, would entertain a doubt as to whether it was not rather questionable and significant. The Resolution had been but a short time before the House as one accepted by the Government, or, at least, by hon. Members in their confidence; and yet the different interpretations placed upon it, and the objections which had been raised, would show how much of it had been filtered or nibbled away. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had objected to the words "without further delay." He seemed to think—as he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) understood his meaning—it desirable that there should be considerably further delay before any serious attempt should be made to carry out the Resolution, and had also expressed a somewhat strong hope that the Government would not proceed to introduce any "large and strange measure" as the result of that Resolution. He (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) thought that any hon. Member who could believe that Her Majesty's Government were capable of carrying out any large and strange measure for the establishment of a peasant proprietary in Ireland must be possessed of a bold and poetic imagination. Again, the hon. Member for Car-low (Mr. Kavanagh) objected to what he called the spirit of the Resolution. The hon. Member approved its letter, which might mean almost nothing at all, but not its spirit. He was content that something should be done which would give an apparent, but not a real, force to the Resolution. That, too, was significant; and, although they could contrast with these expressions the admirable speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman), which seemed full of spirit and purpose, still such declarations as the House had already heard, taken in connection with the silence noticeable on behalf of the Government, might lead some to doubt whether the question was so absolutely settled as some hon. Members appeared 1637 to believe. Everything depended upon the intentions of the Government, and how soon they would set about giving effect to the Resolution. Hon. Members knew perfectly well that a Resolution might be accepted by Government in either of two ways. They could accept it with the intention of giving an honourable, true, and genuine force to its meaning; or they could accept it with the intention of smothering it, of withdrawing it altogether from the attention of the country, and allowing it to lapse out of all possibility of being carried into effect. He hoped that was not the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers. He would be sorry to compare those right lion. Gentlemen in many other ways to certain disagreeable persons known in classic history—the daughters of Phoreys, who had amongst them but one eye, which they used in turns, in order to see their way—but he had often thought that Her Majesty's Ministers resembled them in this respect—that there was but one eye in use amongst them—namely, the intelligence of the Prime Minister, who certainly had never shown himself ready to extend any "largo and strange" measure of land reform to Ireland. It must be remembered that the people of that country had long been disappointed with regard to the settlement of the Land Question. They had seen so many "settlements" which, practically, left things as they were before, that they might naturally be supposed to be a little distrustful of a new attempt to have the matter settled over again. That very Land Bill, of which the "Bright Clauses" formed a part, was undoubtedly, in great measure, a deep disappointment to the Irish people; although no one could doubt the admirable purpose with which it was introduced by the right hon. Member for Greenwich, to whom he gave the credit of being the first English Prime Minister who had honestly endeavoured, at the risk of popularity and power, to carry out, to the best of his capacity and means, all the promises which he had made to Ireland. It seemed almost superfluous to say that equal sincerity and equal strength of purpose was manifested by one of his Colleagues, whoso name was on all great occasions identified with the welfare and wishes of the Irish people—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham 1638 (Mr. John Bright). Perhaps the most splendid opportunity for the settlement of this question which the present generation had seen had presented itself when the Irish Land Bill was introduced. Burke, in one of his speeches on Fox's India Bill, paid a high tribute to the genius of Fox; but, at the same time, he gave him a warning. He praised Fox for having put to pay his case, his security, his interest, his power, and even his darling popularity, on behalf of a people he had never seen—the people of India. He (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) believed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had also risked his security, power, and popularity on behalf of a people he had then never seen—the people of Ireland. But Burke went on to say that Fox ought to be sure, when he entered upon his scheme of benevolence, to make full use of his time, and to give the whole length of the reins to his benevolence; and it had sometimes seemed to him (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) that, whatever might be the reason, the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had not given the whole length of the reins to their benevolent intentions, although they had certainly established a great principle, and made a great opening for a final settlement of the Land Question, when they endeavoured to satisfy the demands of the Irish people. He had heard it stated in Ireland, by men who understood the situation of affairs, that the Land Bill had acted in many ways as a kind of encouragement and sanction to eviction. The clauses which allowed the landlord and tenant to contract themselves out of the Act did certainly seem to give a sort of legal sanction to eviction, and to encourage the landlords to convert small farms into great ones; and, with regard to the particular clauses under discussion, hon. Members had heard it clearly explained in what way they had failed to carry out the intention with which they were framed. He had received, in reply to an inquiry addressed to a leading man in one of the Irish counties as to the working of the "Bright Clauses," a letter stating that the gentleman referred to could give no illustration of their effect, inasmuch as he had not known of a single instance in which they had been applied. Hon. Members had seen how the working of those 1639 clauses had been clogged by the machinery of officialism; how the Courts of Law seldom interpreted in favour of the tenant, but mostly in favour of the landlord; and, at last, how the clauses had become an inert and motionless principle in Irish legislation. They had seen, however, on the other hand, how similar provisions had worked under the auspices of the Church Commission. In that case, it had been shown that where the Irish people could easily avail themselves of those provisions, they had manifested a strong desire to become, whenever they could, owners of land. He referred to those points, to show that there still remained a large unsatisfied debt to the Irish people with regard to land legislation; and that it depended entirely upon the use which Her Majesty's Government made of the present Resolution whether it should be of any value in the settlement of the question, or whether it should be a mere nonentity, and an insult to the people of Ireland. He sincerely trusted that the Government would rise to the height of the situation, and endeavour to make their action genuine and effective. At the same time, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member who had said that if the Government were not in a mood to carry out the Resolution in a complete and proper manner, it would be more fair to the House and to the Irish people for them at once to give it a negative, and assume the position of genuine opponents. He could assure the House that the feeling of the Irish people was as strongly set upon some improvement of the land system as it was before the right hon. Member for Greenwich endeavoured to devise a settlement of the question; and that they would not be satisfied merely with an agreement to a Resolution which might mean something, or might mean nothing, according to the mannerin which the Ministers chose to interpret it. It had been gratifying to notice the almost total absence from this debate of that phantom of false political economy which had so long presented itself in the discussions upon Irish affairs. That sham political economy had almost all proceeded from the Conservative Benches. He knew not whether it was that the Conservative Members, having taken up the doctrines of Adam Smith at a somewhat later period than their opponents, had become more anxious to identify 1640 themselves ostentatiously with them; but certain it was that the country had learned much of the true principles of political economy by the discussions which had taken place upon Irish questions. Ireland had been used for the purposes of political dissection, in much the same way as a body was used by those who wished to understand the true principles of anatomy. It was often said that we in this country learnt geography by studying the maps on the outbreak of new wars; and certainly he must do Her Majesty's Government the justice of saying that as long as they had been in Office they had not neglected that branch of our education. He had been glad to notice that, so far, the question had not been made one of Party, and that there existed on both sides of the House a strong and earnest wish for a genuine settlement. It was gratifying, also, to see that the question had not resolved itself into one of landlord against tenant, for some of the most liberal speeches to which they had listened had come from landlords. All that looked hopeful; but whether the hope was to be realized or not depended entirely upon the action of Her Majesty's Government. Hon. Members had heard something the other day about a deathbed repentance. He had not much faith in repentances made so late; but, whatever time might still remain to Her Majesty's Ministers, they had one opportunity that night for showing that they meant the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading to be accepted in a genuine and earnest spirit. He had offered these few remarks to the House, and had made this appeal to Her Majesty's Ministers, because he might regard himself in one sense as the latest messenger sent by the people of Ireland to the House of Commons to intimate their most recent wish in regard to the Land Question; and, in the name of the people who had sent him, he earnestly urged upon Her Majesty's Government to be serious, resolute, and prompt in endeavouring to bring about a settlement. To suppose that the Resolution could be regarded as a settlement of the whole Land Question would be to give it an extravagant and exaggerated importance; but the faithful carrying out of its provisions would be a step in that direction; and hon. Members should bear in mind that land reform was essential to the very existence of the Irish 1641 people. A great French writer had stated that "the land was the love of the French peasant;" and he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) trusted that Her Majesty's Government would bear in mind that, without exaggeration, the land was the life of the Irish peasant.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
congratulated the lion. Member who had just sat down on his eloquent maiden speech; but he ventured to hope that he would have a little more forbearance towards those who might differ from him, and that he would believe that those who differed from him did so honestly and conscientiously, and that their only anxiety was that Ireland should prosper, and that, so far as they were able, they would do all that in them lay to promote the interests of Ireland. He only heard the hon. Member make one remark which touched the question before the House, when he said that the Church Commissioners had done their work well; that was undoubtedly the fact; but the hon. Gentleman must know, if he had been in Ireland recently, and had seen how this question had been dealt with, that the two cases were not in any degree analogous. The one related to the sale of globes, which were scattered over the whole country, and as to which there was little or no difficulty in the sale of their holdings to the tenants, either on account of the expense of the transfer, or on account of the tithe. The other related to the sale of private estates, on which there might be encumbrances in which there were in most cases life and other interests. The Acts referred to very different states of things. And in the case of the Land Act there were other difficulties to be contended with. They would find in The Times of that morning an account of the sale of an estate in the County of Cork, in respect of which the tenants had agreed to give 22½ years' purchase for their holdings. When, however, they came to bid at the sale, they sought to acquire the land at a reduced price. The Judge, however, most properly stated that, as they had agreed to give the amount stated, they were bound by their bargain. He had listened with pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member who brought forward the subject, and was aware of the great pains he had taken in reference to it. To one thing only in the speech of the hon. 1642 Gentleman did be object, and that was that whenever he brought forward this question he was defeated by a Party majority. The hon. Gentleman ought to know perfectly well that both sides of the House had endeavoured, to the best of their ability, to consider the Report of his Committee, with a view to giving effect to such parts of it as were calculated to improve the condition of the Irish tenant. He objected to the creation of a new Court, as proposed before the Committee by Mr. Vernon, for the purpose of carrying out the "Bright Clauses." He believed that all that was requisite could be done by means of the Landed Estates Court, if proper notice were given to the tenants and proper lots arranged, so as to enable tenants to purchase their holdings. What was the object of the proposed new Court? It was to buy, in the interest of the State, property which it was to re-sell, as land jobbers, to the Irish tenants. That would be a mischievous thing to do; because if there was a failure to re-sell, a large amount of property would be left in the hands of the State. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) knew that the clauses he had carried had been productive of much good, and there could be no doubt they would continue to be so; and he knew also that they had not been carried without great and grave deliberation on the part of his Friends, who thought that the proposals made were not wise ones. A great deal had been said about a peasant proprietary; and he quite agreed that in a country existing almost entirely, as Ireland did, upon agriculture, it was very desirable to increase the number of responsible tenants. He had known Ireland well for a very long time, and he could say that no country had improved so rapidly as she had during the last 30 years. Ireland, too, had suffered far less than England during the late depression of trade. Then, as to the Resolution—it looked a very harmless one; but if he knew anything of the hon. Member for Reading—and he knew something of him—there was a great deal more behind than appeared to the eye. It would not be honest on his part to vote for the Resolution without stating the reservations under which he would do so. He was opposed to the increasing of the aid to be derived from the Government for the purchase 1643 of holdings. It would not be a wise or prudent thing to do so. He hoped the time was far distant; but a bad time might come when the tenants who had become owners and mortgagors would be unable to pay, and what then would be the consequence of the Government foreclosing? They would, in any case, find themselves in a most unfortunate and embarrassing position. They had gone a very long way, indeed, in the interest of the tenantry of Ireland; but they should not forget another class which was very little represented on the other side of the House below the Gangway. He hoped the Government would state distinctly how far they meant to go in this matter, for nothing could induce him to have a rope tied round his neck by which he was to be drawn onwards he knew not whither. He trusted the Government would assure them that while they would do all in their power to increase the efficiency of the "Bright Clauses," they would not increase the money advances to the tenants, nor do anything in the way of altering the principle of the clauses in question. He believed it would be wise in the interests of Ireland to state exactly what their intention was, and not to pass a Resolution unless they declared how far it was intended to carry that Resolution out.
§ MR. LAW
said, he had imagined, until the delivery of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who had just sat down, that the Government were prepared to accept the Resolution, at least, in the form in which it met the eye; but the hon. and gallant Member seemed to repudiate not merely the spirit of the Resolution, but even the form in which it was proposed to the House. The great difficulty in connection with the "Bright Clauses" was that the landowner would not, and ought not to be called upon to, split up his property, into lots to suit the tenants who wished to buy their holdings, at the risk of prejudicing the sale of the residue. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite meant to say that the interests of the owners and the interests of the tenants could be perfectly reconciled under the present system, the sooner they did so the better; but up to that time he had been under the impression that all parties admitted that the "Bright Clauses" had failed through the incompatibility of the two duties cast upon the same tribunal. The hon. 1644 and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken objected to the Resolution before the House, because he supposed that the adoption of the course suggested by the hon. Member who had moved the Resolution would involve a considerable expenditure by the State. But the proposal of his (Mr. Law's) hon. Friend, and of Mr. Vernon, was that some intermediate body should buy the property as ordinary purchasers in the Landed Estates Court and sell it to the tenants at such prices as would pay the cost of the commission. No one proposed that the cost of the commission should be borne by Imperial funds, or that even any risk should be thrown upon Imperial funds. To refuse, for some dogmatic reason, to adopt some such proposal as that of Mr. Vernon, when there was a very large preponderance of Irish opinion in its favour, would be to treat the demands of the people of Ireland in a very unreasonable manner. He (Mr. Law) also ventured to submit that if the Resolution was to be opposed by the Government some authoritative statement to that effect should have been made earlier in the evening. Could it, he asked, be seriously urged that landowners of 10 acres were as a class objectionable? Why, under the English Inclosure Acts the residues of manorial wastes had for the last 30 years been sold in 10-acre lots; and if it was not improper to make a man the fee-simple owner of 10 acres of land in England, on what ground could a proposition to do the same thing in Ireland be objected to? The principle, however, that the peasant proprietary of Ireland ought to be increased, had been admitted by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The difficulty was to get them to adopt the only means by which that object could be practically attained. He would not go over the ground which had been so well traversed by his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre); but he would venture to ask the House to remember that in nearly all Continental countries peasant proprietorship prevailed—that it brought comfort and happiness to the cultivators of East Prussia, as well as to the peasantry of Southern France, and that it flourished in our own, and in the Channel Islands, where even five or six acres was a respectable estate; and that being so, why should not all reasonable facilities be afforded to small farmers in Ireland who desired 1645 to buy the fee simple of their holdings? As a matter of fact, the best cultivated parts of Ireland were those where the smallest farm system existed. There was, indeed, at one time a difficulty in reference to excessive sub-division of land in Ireland, because the people could not bear to leave their native land; but that danger had all passed away owing to the spread of education, which caused Irishmen no longer to dread removing to distant parts of the world, whilst increasing numbers of them readily came to England and sought and found employment in the great commercial centres. Of late years, too, the Imperial Legislature had advanced millions to landlords to enable them to improve their estates; and he saw no reason why it should not now give help to the tenant-farmers of Ireland, in order that they might by purchase become absolute owners of their farms, instead of perpetuating the system, which had hitherto worked so badly. Hoping that the Government would now at length distinctly state their views and intentions on this most important subject, he concluded by saying that he should support the Resolution of his lion. Friend.
§ MR. BULWER
remarked that if a Division were taken he should vote against the proposition that—It was important that there should be considerable additions to the number of owners of land in Ireland among the class of persons occupying its soil.He had been a landlord on a small scale in Ireland himself; but he was happy to say that, after considerable experience in that country, he had now no connection with it as an owner of land; but from his experience of it he did not think it was desirable that the number of small landholders should be increased; on the contrary, he thought that it would be advantageous if the number of that class of small farmers who aimed at being landowners, many of them without capital, without skill, and too often without industry, were considerably diminished and their holdings consolidated. In the County of Kildare, for instance, the Duke of Leinster's property was divided into large farms, which were let out to men of capital, who used steam-engines and other appliances in order to produce the best results. It was this class of tenants that were wanted in Ireland, and not petty tenants, occupying 10 or 1646 five acres of land. Not many years since he was on a visit to a friend in Ireland, the number of whose tenants amounted to between 600 and 700, and when going out to shoot one morning he saw his friend's hall-door surrounded by a number of persons, whom he took for beggars, and he remarked that nowhere else but in Ireland would you see a gentleman's hall door surrounded by such a lot of beggars. The answer to that remark was—"Beggars! why, they are our host's tenants." He asked what they had come for, and was told that probably each of them had got a "brief" with him—that was a petition—which he wanted his landlord to head with a subscription, to replace a cow or a pig that had died, or to repair the roof of his cabin. Was it for the interest of Ireland that persons of that class should be owners of land? Was it desirable even that they should occupy land? What they ought to do was to get rid of them from that position. They were not fit persons to own or to occupy land, for without money they would not properly cultivate it. In this country they would be labourers, and they ought to be labourers there. When Irish Members spoke of "tenants" the House was apt to forget that they did not mean the same class of persons as an Englishman would mean by the same term. The gentleman of whom he had spoken was anxious to get rid of some of these pauper tenants, and to consolidate their holdings into farms of size enough to attract men of capital who could do justice to the land; but, unfortunately, the Act passed which prevented a landlord from doing this, unless he was prepared to pay the value of the fee simple of his own property. What greater difficulty, he would ask, was there in the way of buying land in Ireland than there was in England? He presumed that if land was in the market in Ireland, and a man had money to purchase it, he could do so. Why then ask for legislation to enable one class in preference to another to purchase it? And as to increasing the facilities of the pauper class of persons he had spoken of to purchase land, they might as well talk of giving them increased facilities to purchase his (Mr. Bulwer's) hat. Would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who was a manufacturer, contend that a man was to be prevented 1647 from sending his goods into the open market, and getting the best price he could from anyone? If not, why should a seller of land be deprived of the advantages of competition, and be restricted by law to sell to a limited class? and why, further, should these facilities be offered to tenants in Ireland, which were not enjoyed by tenants in England? One of the great arguments, as he understood, of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just addressed the House was that there was a strong natural feeling in a man who was brought up on a farm to remain on it. He was perfectly aware that that feeling did exist, but it was a feeling of dependence; and was it desirable that the son of a pauper should be gratified by remaining on the land where he was born, unless he could do it with advantage to himself and to the community? What did the sons of poor farmers in England do? They did not remain loafing about the farms, without shoes and stockings, in the hope of one day stepping into their father's shoes. They went out into the world and sought their fortunes; and it was thus that the influence of their country was spread far and wide in all lauds. He believed that if Englishmen would only go for their holiday to Ireland, instead of to Switzerland, they would learn much of the state of that country which would be of benefit to them, and might result in good to Ireland, for it was only their ignorance of that country that made so much pernicious legislation possible. He deprecated any legislation which fostered the feeling of dependence of which he had spoken, and gave encouragement to a pauper class to remain on land which they had not money to cultivate, in the hope that they might one day, somehow or other, by the aid of Parliament, become the owners of it. Such legislation would be bad for Ireland and bad for the United Kingdom.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
I think it is a matter of regret that, as yet, we have had no speech from the Treasury Bench. The subject is not an unimportant one; and I think that to allow the House to go on debating, for more than six hours, an important question without a single word from any Member of the Government, is not a practice generally followed by Members of an Administration. If nothing is said, I presume that 1648 we must take the last speech as an expression of their general sentiments with regard to this matter. Perhaps, if the Chief Secretary for Ireland rises after me, he will do what I think will be quite as important as endeavouring to answer anything which I can say—and that is, to answer his supporter who has just addressed the House. I think almost every hon. Gentleman who has spoken to-night has admitted how carefully prepared and how interesting was the speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre). It was an admirable speech, and must have produced a great impression upon every Member of this House who heard it, unless he is so steeped and soaked in prejudice that fact and argument were entirely lost upon him. An hon. Member on this side of the House, the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), whom I welcome here with most sincere pleasure, said, and said very truly, that the question now before us is not the whole of the Irish question connected with land. I admit that. Irish questions have been the perplexity of Governments, I suppose, from the lifetime of the oldest Member of this House. We have done a great deal, from time to time, in getting rid of a portion of them. In 1829, one measure was disposed of—Catholic Emancipation; in 1869, another great question was disposed of—the question of the Protestant Established Church. In 1870, an attempt was made to dispose of the Land Question, and a very considerable advance was made with regard to it. I do not know what the Chief Secretary for Ireland will say this evening; but I have heard him in this House, several times since he has held his responsible Office, say things which were very contemptuous of the Land Act of 1870. May I ask the House, may I ask any hon. Gentlemen who are disposed to take his view, what was the condition of Ireland at the time when that Act passed? We had agrarian violence and murders in many parts of the country. There were threatening letters passing by hand, or through the post, almost every week, if not every day. The land was full of violence and full of terror. I recollect when this very Land Bill was being discussed by the Members of the late Government, it was represented by persons well informed on Irish affairs, and not merely by 1649 Members of the Liberal Party, or supporters of the Government, that such was the state of things in Ireland at the time that it was not unlikely that before long, if no remedy were offered, there would be something like a universal combination against the payment of rent. Well, who would have undertaken to collect rents from 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 people—from 600,000 tenants scattered over the whole of Ireland? That was the sort of difficulty which presented itself to the Government of the day. The Land Act was the fruit of it; and to show that the House of Commons and the other House of Parliament know the danger which they had to encounter, the great measure passed both Houses with very little effective opposition. I will undertake to say that if had not been for the pressure of the sense of the extreme difficulty into which Ireland was brought, that measure, imperfect though some may think it, could not by any possibility have gone through both Houses of Parliament. Still, for all that, it was a great measure, and an honest effort to do justice to the Irish people. I have before now described it as a great plaister applied to a great sore. It gave relief; it soothed the patient; and, to a great extent, it calmed the country. But I have never met any Irishman, informed upon the condition of the country, and capable of judging upon political measures of this nature, who did not admit the immense gain which that Bill had been to Ireland. Now, let us consider how complicated the Act was, how great and intricate the interests affected by it, and how suffering and how irritating the condition of the country; and then I think we shall come to the conclusion that it was a great measure of statesmanship, brought into the House and carried by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, greatly assisted—and assisted beyond what most men knew—by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Chichester Fortescue), now Lord Carlingford. I have said this; but I am willing to admit that the Act itself was only partial, and the remedy was not radical, and was not complete. To my mind, it did not deal with the origin of the malady. You have a vast body of tenants face to face with a very small body of proprietors. If we look to the condition of land-holding and land 1650 tenancy in Ireland, a man must be totally unable to reason upon the question at all, if he does not see that the state of things is unnatural, is likely to be intolerable, and must be changed. I took up a little book the other day, in which I have taken some interest. It is called Letters on Free Trade in Land, by the late Mr. Joseph Kayo. I have taken from it some figures, which are few, but striking. He states, what many Members, of course, know, that Ireland contains about 20,000,000 acres of land. He says that 452 persons own each of them more than 5,000 acres; that 135 own each more than 10,000 acres; that90 own each more than 20,000 acres; that 14 own each of them more than 50,000 acres; that there are three who hold each more than 100,000 acres; and that there is one person who owns more than 170,000 acres. And he shows that two-thirds of the whole acreage of Ireland is in the possession of 1,942 persons. That is less than three times, and little more than double, the number of persons who are within the walls of this House when there is a great debate and a full attendance of Members. The result is, notwithstanding the passing of the Land Act, that we have discontent; and, unfortunately, the increasing prosperity of the country, to which the hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir Walter B. Barttle-lot) has referred, makes that discontent the greater, and, for this reason, it makes the tenants more obstinately—and I may say, frantically—cling to the land they hold; and they are more afraid of an increase of rent than at any other period, because they know that with prosperous tenants rents are more likely to be increased than when tenants are known to be dejected and suffering. The general result is what we see—a clamour nearly all over Ireland for a greater security than that offered and sanctioned by the Land Act. And there is no question like this. I appeal to Irish Gentlemen on this side of the House, and to some on the other side, and I ask them, is there any question in Ireland at this moment, or has there been for years past, that so moves the feelings of the Irish cultivating land-holding class, as this very question and kindred questions that we are now discussing? The question, for instance, of Parliamentary suffrage which we have had before us, the municipal suffrage, any question that 1651 you like to mention that has been brought forward by Irish Members of late years, there is not one of them—the Home Rule question, and I do not say how much or how little it is cared for—but I say, without fear or hesitation, that neither that, nor any other question, has the same influence on the feelings of the Irish tenants of land as this question of their security on the soil. And what can be more reasonable? Land is their only resource. It is all they have for their homes, for their comfort—indeed, for their bread; and, without it, there is nothing before them but poverty, dependence, or emigration. Now, I do not regret that I am not an Irish landlord. An Irish estate is an undesirable possession. But if I were an Irish landlord I think I could regard this question from that point of view in a very different manner, and in a very different light, from that in which I see it is regarded by many Irish landlords who sit in this House. How soon or how long do Irish landed proprietors believe that they will be able to resist the growing feeling in Ireland in favour of some greater security for their tenants? They clamour for legislation; and I admit that much of their clamour is for a legislation that, in my opinion, is neither sound nor just to other classes in the country. That I am not disposed to deny at all. But, still, that they have a ground for their clamour it is impossible to call in question. There are two great interests face to face—the few owners, and the multitude of occupiers—the 12,000 owners who have landed property, perhaps, of 100 acres or more—and I am not speaking now for anyone who has one, two, five, or ten acres; I call no man a landowner, in the ordinary sense of the word, who owns less than 100 acres. Well, you have 12,000 of these face to face with 600,000 tenants. Every tenant has his family, and his home, and his interests, and his country, and his idea of justice, and his determination to live and to prosper; and the penuriousness, if you like, of the Irish tenantry shows how anxious they are to do what they can for their families, and to provide small portions for their children. Now, what will you do, the occupiers being this vast multitude, and the owners this small section, a mere handful in the country, and the occupiers continually, by a stronger and more united voice, declar- 1652 ing that their security is not that which is just for their families, and not that which is best for their country? If it were not for the landowners of England, and the power of Britain, and for this Imperial Parliament, are you not conscious of it, that measures would be proposed and would be passed in Ireland which would be very hostile to the proprietary class, and which might be very near akin to what some of us would call confiscation? Now, what do we want in this House? We are only considering one of the propositions to-night; but, in my opinion, there are two things which this House ought to undertake to remedy the state of things in Ireland. The first should be to withdraw all the legislation which tends to the accumulation of land. There are natural forces of accumulation, and there are natural forces of dispersion. You add mightily to the power of the forces of accumulation by your law, and you thwart and baffle in every way the natural forces of dispersion. And the consequence is, that you have this catalogue of holders of land—two-thirds of the land held by 1,942 persons, and 600,000 tenants cultivating their land, paying to them rent, and, in past times, being to them, I may say, little better than in a condition of serfdom. Now, the Resolution to-night is but one branch of the subject; but what I hold to be very important is that it touches another branch of the subject, which is intended to counteract the departures, which Parliament has sanctioned for generations, from every sound principle of political economy in dealing with land in Ireland and in Great Britain. The Resolution is not new. There is not a word in it that was not introduced into the Act of 1870. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading is not offering a new principle or a new practice. He is proposing only that which the Cabinet of 1870 agreed to, and which it offered in certain clauses to Parliament, and which both House passed, I believe—though I was not present—without a Division. Therefore, he is only calling upon Parliament to do that which Parliament itself has undertaken to do; and which, in 1870, it would have effectually done, no doubt, if it had been well informed that the clauses as they passed were not likely to be effectual for the purpose for which they were intended. My hon. Friend, therefore, only asks that 1653 the House should certainly apply the in-tended legislation of the Land Act of 1870. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. J. Lowther) despises the Land Act of 1870, and expresses his contempt for it, and, for aught I know, he may do so to-night; but it was an Act passed by great majorities, and he will not say that it is not the duty of the Government of which he is a Member to make effectual that which the Parliament of 1870 intended with regard to land in Ireland. Now, the purchase clauses of the Land Act were meant to be a very successful plan, bringing about that which Parliament intended. I believe they have not been effectual. The hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir Walter B. Barttelot)—who reminded me of the remark of an American humourist, who said lately, when he was over hero, that he intended to come back some day soon from America, and that he would deliver a series of lectures upon a subject with which he was not acquainted—the hon. and gallant Baronet told the House that he thought the purchase clauses of the Land Act, on the whole, were working very satisfactorily; that it was only nine years in operation, and that £400,000 had been expended out of £1,000,000 which Parliament granted. But there are scores of thousands of tenants in Ireland at this moment who would be anxious to buy their farms; and if these clauses had been as effectual as we proposed to make them, I have no doubt there would have been by this time—in the nine or ten years—some scores of thousands of tenant-farmers in Ireland who would have been transformed into owners of their own farms, and would have added, to a degree beyond all computation, to the good of that country in regard both to its social and political condition. And wherever the Act has been effectual—that is, with regard to persons who have bought under the expenditure of that £400,000—at where-ever persons have bought under the Irish Church Commission, there is the most abounding evidence that the success with regard to the purchases has been not only encouraging but complete and delightful. There is no difference of view amongst any class of persons with regard to that fact. Our object is to extend such a state of things. My hon. Friend does not ask you to consent to anything like confiscation. The hon. 1654 and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer), in that remarkable speech, spoke as if this was a plan that would not allow a landed proprietor selling his estate to get the best price for it. Why, I nothing can be more absurd. I beg his pardon for saying so. There is nothing in this proposition—nothing intended, nothing possible—that would take one single farthing from the price of any estate that any proprietor had to sell. And he talked about "all these paupers." Well, whether they were paupers, or poor tenants struggling amid their difficulties, if I had had to speak of them, I would not have spoken of them with so much contempt. Their condition is bad enough to bear; but I think it does not become an English House of Commons that an English Gentleman, who goes over to Ireland, turning out in the morning, as he said, to shoot or to fish, should come down to this House and use the language that the hon. and learned Gentleman used to-night, speaking not only of that body that he saw at that door, but in language which intimated that he had scarcely any better opinion of the great body of the small tenantry of Ireland. Bear in mind, in regard to the hon. and learned Gentleman and others who may object to this clause, that not only is there no confiscation intended, but this clause had nothing to do with the question of fixity of rent, valuation of rents, or fixity of tenure, except this—that it will give fixity of tenure to a farmer upon his own land, not upon the land of the hon. and learned Gentleman's friend; and fixity of tenure upon a man's own land is, I think, one of the best kind of fixities a man could wish for. So that we have no confiscation, we have no fixity of tenure, we have no valuation of rents; and we shall have no feuds, no conflicts, and no violence. By the help of the State, acting in one of the ways most benevolent to its people, we shall transfer from landowners who wish to sell to tenants who wish to buy that which is to the tenant his homo, and comfort, and bread, and freedom. By doing that, the great compensation you will have will be this—that the tenant will be peaceable and loyal; and as he will be anxious that your laws should be wise and just, he will be the very last man in the country that will lift his arm to break your laws. Now, that is what we propose by the policy of this 1655 Resolution; and I venture to ask the proprietors who are here—the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman), who, I think, very warmly supports this Resolution, or any Member for Ireland on that side of the House—who are in doubt whether it would not be much better for them and for their class if there were 100,000 tenants in Ireland averaging—anything you like—from 10 acres up to 100, who could be transformed into proprietors of their farms? Is there one of the 12,000 proprietors who does not feel that his position as a proprietor would be enormously strengthened by such an addition to the array of proprietors? Does he not feel that the clamour for unsound and unjust legislation, of which we have heard a good deal, would, in all probability, subside, and that we should hear little, perhaps, no more of it? Now, the right hon. Gentleman opposite has been Chief Secretary of Ireland for a good while. I do not know anything he has done for Ireland since he has been in Office. I do not know anything that his Government has done for Ireland for the last five years. I wish they would do something for Ireland. Before the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich was in Office, I recollect speaking from that side of the House, and beseeching Mr. Disraeli, who sat on this Bench, and the right hon. Member for Greenwich, who sat on that Bench, to lay aside, if it were possible, Party feeling with regard to Irish questions, and to have an Irish Session—or more than an Irish Session—for the purpose of endeavouring to pass through Parliament some Acts of justice for the people of Ireland. I believe there never was a smaller proposition offering greater results than that which is before the House to-night. It has nothing new in principle. It is what the preceding Parliament agreed to, and without a Division. It is what men of all Parties in Ireland approve of. It is what some hon. Members on that side of the House from Ireland, and who generally do not agree with us, strongly approve of. It has in it no single element of disturbance of any man's property, position, or interests; but offers nothing but good—unmixed good. Parliament is willing, by an enormous majority, to pass it, and 1656 to pass a substantial measure in accordance with it. If the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues would only within the next fortnight, as they might easily do, draw up a Bill with a few clauses upon this question, and submit it to the House of Commons, I have not the smallest doubt that it would pass through both Houses of Parliament without a Division, as the purchase clauses of the Land Act passed. That would be hailed in Ireland as a real measure of justice and conciliation; and in 10 years—the time that has nearly gone since the Land Act passed—there could be thousands of independent farm-owning cultivators in Ireland, who would be among the best, the most loyal, and the most approved portion of the population of that part of the Empire.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
The right hon. Gentleman complains that no Member of the Government has risen to address the House; but as the subject which has been engaging our attention this evening is none other than that which is popularly known as the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act, I am sure that the House, while the right hon. Gentleman was in his place, would not have considered a discussion on this subject complete until it had heard his opinion. It was only courteous, then, as I thought, to wait until the right hon. Gentleman had spoken; for it would have been idle to have attempted to dispose of Hamlet in the absence of the Prince of Denmark. The right hon. Gentleman was very anxious to reply to me, which I feel to be a great compliment; and as the right hon. Gentleman had no speech of mine made this evening to answer, he proceeded to reply to a series of speeches which, he said, I had delivered on former occasions, and in previous Sessions. The right hon. Gentleman was so anxious, indeed, to reply to a speech of mine, that he replied to one I never delivered. He spoke of me as having alluded contemptuously to the Land Act. He alluded to me as having spoken of that measure with contempt. Now, Sir, I am not in the habit of applying terms of contempt to either things or persons with whom I do not happen to agree; although, if I adopted a different course, I might, undoubtedly, have quoted distinguished examples. It is true, Sir, I have never hesitated, on whatever side of the House I have 1657 been sitting, to express my candid opinion of the Land Act of 1870. Whether I was standing here, or standing opposite, or standing in any part of the House, I have never varied my opinions; and I have always endeavoured to state them precisely in the same way. What I have said on former occasions I repeat now. I look upon the Land Act as had; but as it has received the assent of the Legislature, I consider it to be our duty to protect those vested interests which have grown up under the Act; and I should be the last person to seek to set aside those interests, and to be a party to any suggestion for renewing the spirit of disturbance of the institutions of the country, which, I think, for so many years worked such great mischief. The right hon. Gentleman, Sir, having disposed of my opinion on the Land Act, proceeded to state his own. He said that it was a great plaister applied to a great sore. He said that it gave relief; that it soothed the patient, and, to a great extent, calmed the country. But for how long did it calm the country? Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that within 12 months of the Royal Assent being given to that enactment, which was to soothe the patient and to calm the country, that an enactment, than which, perhaps, none more repressive, though I think rightly so, was ever submitted to the Legislature—I refer to the Westmeath Act—had to be passed? That Act was introduced by the noble Lord who sits at the right hand of the right hon. Gentleman (the Marquess of Hartington), and who then, also, sat by his side. Does he remember that that Westmeath Act suspended the liberty of the subject to a degree greater than any enactment which has ever been passed through Parliament before; and that it was proposed by the Government of which he was a Member, as, I suppose, to further soothe the patient, and still more effectually to calm the country? But leaving that portion of the Land Act, which is not now immediately before the House, I should like to say a few words with regard to the subject introduced by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). With regard to the general principle of a peasant proprietary, I think the hon. Gentleman did not strengthen his case by going into it. I think if he had con- 1658 fined his speech—which I allow was one; of great moderation as well as of great ability—to Ireland, it would have been better. His reference to other countries was, in my opinion, hardly called for, and, if I may venture to say so, was scarcely likely to assist his argument. I take it as a general principle that the establishment of a peasant proprietary is most mischievous. What is its effect? It means that the capital which should be expended in the cultivation of the soil is, in the first instance, expended by the tenant in the purchase of a portion of his holding, and that he and his family are saddled with debt for the rest of their lives in order to pay the debt. I do not dwell upon that point; but that is a fact. The right hon. Gentleman talked about Free Trade in land. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, is a great advocate for Free Trade—for Free Trade in commerce, for Free Trade in disease, and for Free Trade in I do not know what else. But is this a step in the direction of Free Trade in land? I say it is exactly the contrary; and that it is Protection in its most acute form. This Act, as I understand it, is an especial provision to withdraw land from general competition. I do not think that is at all an argument against it; indeed. I think it is one of the principal arguments in its favour. To my mind, the strongest case which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leading placed before the House, endorsed as it has been by everybody since, was that under the Landed Estates Act sales take place which introduce to the ownership of land a class of purchasers which has hitherto certainly not conferred any benefit upon Ireland. It introduces, under the right lion. Gentleman's principle of Free Trade, a purchaser to whom some what hard terms have been applied. He has been called a land jobber; and myself have ventured to refer to him as a carpet bagger. You find someone brought into a district with which he has had no previous connection. He is suddenly charged with the duties of an owner of property, for which he has had no previous training; and those, I confess, are not to me a desirable class of owners to introduce. It is said that their arrival is usually followed by a rise in rent, frequently also by outrages. But I think the strongest point in the case for affording some 1659 legitimate assistance to the occupying tenants to purchase their holdings is that the system would prevent the importation into the country of persons of that class. We have been asked several times this evening what are the intentions of the Government with regard to granting further facilities under this clause? I confess that the principle of endowing the occupier with ownership is a very great recommendation in Ireland, provided that such a change can he effected without any injustice to the original owner, and without throwing any undue burden upon the State. Something has been said about agrarian outrage. That, I think, is likely to diminish when, if it is to occur at all, it must take the form of suicide. My hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Morris), a man of great ability and experience, endorses the principle advocated to-night, speaking from the point of view of an agent. We are always glad to see him in this House; and we are always sorry when his duties call him away from us; therefore, the House must rejoice at the fact that these proposals will, in addition to disposing of landlords, also abolish agents. I gathered from the speech of the hon. Gentleman who seconded this Motion (Mr. Errington), that it was framed with no idea of forcing the hand of the Government, or of inducing us to enter into any hasty engagements which we might not be in a position to carry out. The words to which he most especially referred, and which found their way into the Motion rather late in the day, "without further delay," are, I understood him to say, not to be considered as requiring any action on the part of the Government inconsistent with any engagement into which we have previously entered, or of laying aside any measures to which we stand pledged, and for which we are responsible. I will be perfectly candid with the House, and say that Her Majesty's Government certainly will not immediately lay aside all those measures to which they stand pledged, and embark on this legislation. [An hon. MEMBER: The County Government Bill.] The hon. Gentleman has suggested a measure which is in the hands of a Colleague, and not in mine; a measure for which I personally stand responsible is the Grand Jury Bill; and there are other measures to which the 1660 Government stand committed. We, must, of course, consider these measures as well as the general legislation of the country, before we should put anything aside to take up fresh Bills; but I think the hon. Gentleman will be content with my assurance that this subject shall not escape the attention of the Government. [Ironical cheers from the Opposition.] I am glad to see that hon. Gentlemen opposite approach this subject in a spirit of good humour. I can assure them I am perfectly sincere in what I say. This is a subject which cannot be hurriedly decided. It has been engaging the attention of the Government, and it is still the subject of our anxious consideration. I am also by no means without hope that, even before the termination of the present Session, it may be in our power, I do not say to carry out any of those ambitious projects to which reference has been made, but (and it certainly will be my desire) to afford to the House an opportunity of removing some of the difficulties which at present exist in the application of these clauses to holdings in Ireland. Without specifying the particular points with which we propose to deal, I would enter into this engagement with the House—that the subject shall continue to receive our attention, and that we shall avail ourselves of an early opportunity of placing before the House some measure dealing with the question. Under these circumstances, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not insist upon passing any abstract Resolution of this kind, though, if he wishes to do so, the actual form which our engagement shall take is a matter of no moment; and, therefore, I hope the hon. Gentleman will be content with this expression of opinion.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
was pleased to find that, at the commencement of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman was in his usual good humour. There was a stage, however, when he thought the right hon. Gentleman intended to be serious; but, now that he had finished, he really did not know which was the most humorous part of his speech—the beginning, or the middle, or the end. He trusted, whatever might be the effect of that speech on hon. Members opposite, that no hon. Member representing Ireland, and 1661 knowing the feelings and wishes of that country, would imagine that the right hon. Gentleman was serious in the concluding words which he used. He could not suppose that Irish Members would be satisfied with the answer just given. Avoiding the main issue, the Chief Secretary had made a few remarks entirely beside the main question, but which might have some effect in prejudicing the minds of many hon. Members. Why was the Westmeath Act required? Because the settlement offered by the Land Act came too late. It would have been far more to the point, if the Chief Secretary had given them his opinion of the present state of the country, and told them the effect of the measure after it had been nine years in operation. Again, he had said that money which should be expended on the cultivation of the soil would be expended in the purchase of the holding, leaving the tenant impoverished and weighted with debt. But this Act really did not withdraw capital from the land. Already the State advanced three-fourths of the price; and it w as now proposed that it should advance four-fifths. If that were carried, the tenant certainly would not cramp himself for want of capital. By these transactions, a new kind of capital would be created which did not exist before, and which would be a stimulus to renewed industry. It was the stimulus given to the tenant by the knowledge that he was the proprietor of the land. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavariagh) had referred to the state of some cottier property in Kildare; but he did not say anything about the state of the cottages which the present land system in Ireland had given them. If the cottages of some peasant proprietors were poor, he knew very well that he shuddered at the state of the people in the West of Ireland, and at the wretched hovels in which they were content to live. By the lie-port of the Registrar General for Ireland, it appeared that in 1877 there were in Ireland 92,000 one-roomed houses, in which whole families, averaging six persons, lived, and went through all the operations of life. This was the condition of 92,000 tenant-farmers under the system which was so much admired by hon. Gentlemen opposite. If they wanted to know the real state of peasant proprietors, they ought 1662 not to take this solitary instance in the County of Kildare; but they ought to go to France, Belgium, or Germany, and compare the condition of the people there with that of the tenant-farmers in Ireland. Then they would arrive at something like a just conclusion. No doubt, as the hon. Member for Carlow said, it was very desirable to establish a class of yeoman farmers; but did he think that would make the remainder of the 600,000 contented? The Irish Church Temporalities Commissioners stated that the tenant-farmers who had purchased under the Act had given 23¾ years' purchase, whilst other purchasers had only given 21 years' purchase. Therefore, if the purchase of their farms by the tenants were facilitated, the result must be that the landlord would also be enabled to sell his land at a higher price. Thus, it was not merely to the interest of the tenant, but to the interest of the landlords and of the whole country, that this system should be widely spread. During 1878, according to the Commission, 380 holdings were sold to tenants, for which they paid £78,123. The Commissioners said—We continue to receive Reports of improvements effected on their lands by the new owners, and another year's experience confirms the opinion previously recorded as to the beneficial results of the provisions in the Irish Church Act for creating a body of small proprietors.This was the Report of gentlemen intimately acquainted with the subject, and written on the spot. It showed how readily the new owners gave themselves up to the improvement of their holdings. Yet, in the face of this Report, and after the Report of the Select Committee, for which they had waited two Sessions, they had the right lion. Gentleman pleading for more delay, because of his Grand Jury Bill, for which the Irish were so desirous that until that was out of the way he could not undertake more legislation. He, for one, would tell the right hon. Gentleman that he could keep his Grand Jury Bill, and that he need not set that up as an excuse for postponing legislation of a more satisfactory and thorough nature. As to what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer), of course he had a right to his opinion; but was he so unreasonable as to expect them to accept that in 1663 preference to the opinion of the Select Committee, and in preference to the opinions of the very distinguished Gentlemen who formed that Committee? He had been taunted with declaring that landlords should be abolished. Well, he wanted to make the cultivators the owners; and in that sense, and in every legitimate way, he wished to abolish the landlords. Emigration had been suggested as a remedy for the present state of things, and it was a very improper remedy. Why should the people be punished by expatriation, because, under the present system, they could not earn their living from the soil? He believed if the land of England and Ireland were in the hands of peasant proprietors, that it could be made to double its present produce. Emigration, certainly, would not settle this question, and certainly would not settle it as far as it was a political question. Economical, social, industrial, and political questions were all involved. It was, indeed, the fact that a great part of the discontent in Ireland sprang from the artificial land system. The hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had said that the Irish Members sitting on the Opposition side of the House were somewhat unreasonable in corning done one evening and asking for an equality of laws between Ireland and Great Britain, and in coming down on another occasion and asking for Ireland something which England did not possess. What had been asked for was political, not social equality. He (Mr. O'Connor Power) replied that the two peoples were dissimilar, and required dissimilar treatment; but the natural right of the Irish people to share in the Government of a country which they defended by the blood of their sons, on distant seas and in foreign fields—that was to say, their political right—did not deprive them of the social right to ask for such legislation as accorded with their position. From whatever point of view this question might be viewed, it ought to be borne in mind that after the Select Committee on which they had a large majority, and which sat during the greater part of two Sessions to collect evidence on the subject, had presented its Report, the Government had refused to be guided or influenced by the evidence so collected; and that the answer put forward that evening showed that, as 1664 far as any practicable legislation for Ireland was concerned, they had determined to take up an obstructive attitude. He hoped that steps would be taken to open the eyes of the people in Ireland to the hostile course pursued by the Government with regard to their wishes. The only reason he could discover for the Government not having given their opinion early in the evening was that they had not forgotten the approach of the General Election. Now, although it was generally understood that Irishmen were in the habit of using blarney for the purpose of deceiving others, they never allowed other people to blarney them; and he could assure the Chief Secretary, that he could expect to encounter from the Irish people and their Representatives in the House of Commons nothing but opposition, unless he and his Colleagues made up their minds to do some substantial act of justice.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, as the arguments in support of the Motion have been very fully stated, I do not think it desirable to detain the House at any length by repeating them. I only desire to make one or two observations upon the statement which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and upon the offer which he has made to the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). If I rightly understand the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, the Government does not intend to oppose the Resolution if it should be pressed by the hon. Member; but I think he also stated at the conclusion of his speech that, in consequence of the satisfactory assurance which he appeared to think had been given to his hon. Friend, it would be desirable that this abstract proposition should not be pressed upon the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, coming from York, ought to be a good judge of a bargain; but I think he must suppose my hon. Friend the Member for Reading to be deficient in this quality which distinguishes his countrymen, if he thinks he will be willing to accept his proposal. The hon. Member will not, perhaps, obtain much by insisting upon a Division; but he will obtain something. He will obtain an expression of opinion from the House that it is a matter of importance that a considerable addition should be 1665 made to the number of owners of land in Ireland, and that legislation should be adopted for increasing the facilities offered by the Irish Land Act of 1870 with that object, and for securing to the tenants of land offered for sale the opportunity of purchase, consistently with the interests of the owners thereof. Further than this, my hon. Friend will obtain from the House an expression of opinion that it is desirable that such legislation should be adopted without delay. What has the right hon. Gentleman offered to my hon. Friend? He has made a speech which was not, at all events, very much in favour of the general principle of extending the number of email proprietors. The right hon. Gentleman will, however, accept it as an alternative preferable to that of agrarian outrage. So far as I can gather, that is the warmest approval which the right hon. Gentleman can be induced to give to the proposition of my hon. Friend. Sir, I must say that, after the discussion of this evening, my hon. Friend will be ill-advised in accepting the bargain of the right hon. Gentleman; and I must also say that the impression left on my mind by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that, in his view, a Resolution of an abstract character did not require that legislation should be proposed by Government; but still, that the present Resolution had placed before them something which they could not altogether pass over, and which might probably act as a stimulant and inducement for them to bring forward some legislation at a future time. But I am certain that if my hon. Friend, acting upon the inducements which have been held out to him, should withdraw this Resolution, no legislation whatever will take place; and for that reason I think he should not accept the compromise offered, and that he ought to ask the House to express its opinion upon his Resolution.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, after the course which the discussion has taken, I think there can be no doubt that it would be in accordance with the feeling of the House that the Government should accept the Resolution of the hon. Member for Reading. At the same time, I wish to say one or two words by way of caution with regard to the inferences which may be drawn from our acceptance of the Resolution in 1666 the terms in which it has been moved, and with the explanation of it which has been given by the hon. Member who proposes it. I wish, in the first place, to observe that in making one or two remarks upon the way in which the clauses of the Act of 1870 have been administered, I do so partly because I am connected with a Department which, as the House has been reminded, takes a great share in the administration of the particular clauses to which reference has been made—I mean the Treasury, under whoso direction the Board of Trade in Ireland carries on these operations. I wish to point out that we are all agreed upon the main object in view, which is to bring about an improvement and a state of contentment amongst the agricultural population of Ireland. We cannot but feel that the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer) has given us a description of a state of things existing in that country which it ought to be our object to cure. It is but too true that amongst the agricultural class in Ireland there is a great deal of distress—a condition of things which we desire to improve and to remedy. The question is, in what way can our object be effected; how can this state of things be remedied? One method which has been tried was one to enable small tenants to become owners of land; and we are honestly desirous, notwithstanding that some of us take one view and some another of the exact improvement and the particular remedy required, to give a full and fair trial to the clauses of the Act passed in the year 1870. I am also sorry to say that those clauses, though administered in a perfectly fair spirit, have not as yet produced so great an effect as they were expected to produce. It is, therefore, reasonable and proper that we should look about to discover, if possible, some means of bringing them into fuller operation. But you cannot expect in a period of eight years a sudden transformation—a complete change—in a system which has been the growth of centuries. It has been truly said that in the case of the Church Commission the improvement has worked extremely well; but that work has been done under peculiar circumstances. It has been done by gentlemen whose object was to dispose of a large quantity of land in a short space of time, and who 1667 were influenced by considerations of a somewhat different kind from those which act upon gentlemen of property who, when they are disposed to sell, have a right to get the full value of their land. In fact, the hon. Member for Heading has admitted this, and makes it part of his case, explaining how estates may be sub-divided with a view to facilitate their sale, and recommending the proposal suggested to the Committee by Mr. Vernon. I think there is, no doubt, a great deal of ingenuity in that proposal. On the other hand, I think it is one which requires serious consideration, and to which, for my own part, as at present advised, I feel a very strong objection. But I will not trouble the House with stating my reasons for that objection at this moment. Such is the remedy proposed by the hon. Member for Beading, who says it is the cardinal point of the whole case. I am afraid that if we accept this Resolution, which is of a general and vague character, with the interpretation placed upon it by the Mover that the only way of dealing with the question is that which he has mentioned, we shall be held to be accepting the plan so much spoken of to-night. But I say, on the part of the Government, in accepting the Resolution, we wish distinctly to guard ourselves from being supposed in any shape, form, or degree, to accept the principle which it contains. I do not, however, say that something of the sort might not be considered. I admit, from the Treasury point of view, there are a good many difficulties of detail which stand in the way of the full operation of this Act; and it has been suggested that in some respects the Act should be amended, so as to facilitate its working by getting rid of those difficulties. With regard to the reference which has been made to the Board of Works, we have stated already, in the course of the Session, that its constitution must be somewhat revised; and it will be desirable, in making such revision, to provide for so strengthening the Board as to give facilities for the discharge of its duty in connection with the working of these clauses. In guarding ourselves against the principle contained in the Resolution, we do not, at the same time, accept it as an idle form; but we accept the Resolution with the intention at present in our minds of 1668 making, as soon as may be convenient, a proposal which shall, at all events, facilitate the working of these clauses. With regard to the words "without further delay," which have been subsequently introduced into the Resolution, it may be supposed that these words mean that we must lay aside all other measures in order to deal with the present one. But it must be remembered that there are a great many measures, some already on the Table, and others actually promised; besides which, we do not get on with our Business as fast as we could wish, having to spend a day or two of each week in discussing Votes of Censure. Nevertheless, I do not at all abandon the idea that even before the close of the Session we may be able to make some proposal which may advance the object of the Motion. Under these circumstances, I should have been glad if we had not been called upon to place this Resolution upon our Minutes. We certainly do not wish to divide the House against the Resolution.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put.
Resolved, That, in view of the importance of a considerable addition to the number of owners of land in Ireland among the class of persons cultivating its soil, it is expedient that legislation should be adopted, without further delay, for increasing the facilities proposed with this object by the Irish Land Act, 1870, and for securing to the tenants of land offered for sale the opportunity of purchase, consistently with the interests of the owners thereof.