§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
, in rising to call attention to the Purchase Clauses of the Irish Land Act; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, an immediate revision of the Purchase Clauses of the Irish Land Act, 1881, is necessary, in order to give effect to the intentions of Parliament contained therein,said, he regretted that, although this Motion had been on the Order Book since the opening of the Session, he had been unsuccessful in obtaining an opportunity of bringing it forward until now, when he feared the time at the disposal of the House was insufficient to properly discuss a question of such importance. The Motion, as an abstract proposition, could scarcely meet with any serious opposition. That the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of 1881 were intended by those who passed them to be operative was as certain as that in practice they had since proved a complete failure. Neither was it in any way necessary to re-state the well-known arguments for or against the establishment of a peasant, or, what he preferred to call it, a farming proprietary. The agrarian disturbances and difficulties of the past 10 years, culminating in the legal establishment throughout Ireland of a uniform dual ownership in land, made the relative position of landlord and tenant different there to what they were in any other part of the globe. Divided ownership in land might, no doubt, have some social, and, possibly, certain economical disadvantages; but it was a system which lent itself, in a manner that no other system could, to the establishment of a farming proprietary through State aid. For the purchasing tenant in every case had, in addition to the property of the landlord which he proposed to purchase, a property of his own in the same farm, and any advance made to him rested not merely upon the security of that which he proposed to buy, but that which he had already; and, therefore, under no system was the security so good, or the margin between the amount of the advance and the solvency of the borrower so great, as under that system of dual 413 ownership which the Land Act of 1881 established in Ireland. There were two sides of the Irish Land Question. They knew, from painful experience, that in the West and in the mountain regions they had numbers of small tenants, bordering upon insolvency, whose distress and low standard of living had but too frequently forced themselves upon the notice of the House. Outside those areas the mass of the tenants were solvent, and yearly improving, both in substance and circumstances—if clothing general appearance, savings banks, and other deposits were any criteria of social condition. He proposed to deal with the latter class only, and this Resolution was meant to apply to them alone. When the Land Act of 1881 was under discussion in that House none of its provisions met with less opposition, or whose operation was afterwards watched with greater interest, than the clauses enabling the tenant, through State agency, to purchase the fee-simple of his holding. The enormous disproportion in numbers between those who received and those who paid rents in Ireland, the absence of any large or opulent middle class, were, undoubtedly, elements of social insecurity, that the events of the last three years had brought home to the minds even of the most sceptical. To reduce that disproportion, and to convert by fair and equitable terms the occupier into the owner, seemed to many the most natural and permanent solution of agrarian troubles in Ireland. The clauses had, practically, been a nullity; and the object of this Motion was, if possible, to infuse energy and life into them. The causes of failure were perfectly clear. The high rate of interest charged by the State upon the advances, and the short period allowed for the repayment, made the annual payment so heavy that there was little inducement to farmers to undertake it, especially as, in addition to this annual charge, they had to find personal security for the payment of that portion of the purchase money not advanced by the State. This made the tenants unwilling to render themselves subject to so high an annuity as the Purchase Clauses imposed upon them. In addition to this, there were collateral circumstances which were adverse to the operation of the clauses. The general feeling of insecurity which existed over a great part of the country, 414 and the vagueness of the definition of fair rent in the Tenure Clauses, coupled with the hope that, by further agitation, legislation even more favourable to the tenant could be extracted from the Government, were all elements hostile to the operation of purchase. The attitude the Government had taken up in opposition to new legislation, except upon minor details, and the greater quietude in the country, would, to a great extent, counterbalance, in course of time, these collateral impediments. Still, something more was necessary; and his object was to lay before the House ideas for which he alone was responsible, but which, he believed, would do much to give effect to these clauses. Now, in advocating a revision of the existing scheme, he could advance arguments both positive and negative—positive on behalf of the intrinsic merits of the proposal itself, and negative on account of the unrest and perpetual litigation to which all Ireland must be subject if the Land Tenure Clauses of the Act of 1881 were to be the solitary instrument for the settlement of the Land Question. He in no way wished now to attack the administration of this part of the Act; but ho would simply state the facts now underlying and determining its operations. Au Act was passed drawing au imaginary line through every holding in Ireland, to divide and apportion the relative interests of landlord and tenant in that holding; but no direction was given as to how that line was to be drawn. The leading Law Officer of the Irish Government was the first to point out, when canvassing an agricultural constituency, that the so-called judicial decisions of the Sub-Commissioners would entirely depend upon the personal predilections or prejudices of the individual appointed. This was rather unfortunate, because, from that time till now, a steady and increasing pressure had been brought to bear upon the Government by their supporters to appoint men favourable to their extreme claims, and to remove or dismiss those who were supposed to be thoroughly impartial. He put it to the common sense of the House if any Act of Parliament could work well, or smooth down the heaving and surging of a great agrarian disturbance, the operation and effect of which were to be varied and regulated by the individual opinions of the men annually appointed to administer it, 415 who, in their turn, were selected by the Government of the day? As Governments varied in their views, so would the men they selected for high office differ. The primary object of all agrarian legislation should be to establish a sense of stability and security, and that could only be obtained by definite and trustworthy settlements. The Land Tenure Clauses, from the method in which they must be worked, could never give that feeling, though, so long, as they remained on the Statute Book, they would make the profession of local attorney the most lucrative in Ireland. It was admitted that nothing tended more to strengthen the foundations of authority and social order than that a certain proportion of the population should, by holding Government securities or stock, be the creditors of the authorities to which they owed allegiance. They had a self - interest in maintaining the credit, solvency, and authority of their debtors. Reversing the proposition, it might, with equal truth, be asserted that few conditions could be more dangerous to Governments than that they should be the creditors of a large portion of their subjects, especially if those so indebted were also politically disaffected towards them. This was the great objection which had hitherto existed against a rapid conversion of tenants into proprietors in Ireland through State agency. To bring the State face to face with hundreds of thousands of tenants, to whom the doctrine of repudiation of contract was too familiar, would be a perilous position for all concerned. A plausible and material argument would be put ready-made into the mouth of the unscrupulous agitator. "Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Repudiate all connection with an alien Government, who alone prevent you from fully enjoying your own property." Was it not, however, possible, by a very simple process, to reverse the position, and, by making a proper and legitimate use of local authorities in Ireland, to put the State and tenants in their proper relation one to another, make them the creditors of the State, and thus give them the best of all political motives in supporting the Government—namely, self-interest? The ideas which ho now put forward ho advanced on his responsibility alone, although, before stating them, he had obtained a favourable opinion as to their feasibility from many 416 whose practical knowledge and experience of Ireland was undoubted. Two things were necessary for the development of his suggestions—a central and a local authority co-operating together. By central authority he meant a body in Dublin specially entrusted with the working of these clauses, and authorized, subject to certain conditions and limitations unnecessary then to enumerate, to communicate direct with the local authority, without constant reference to London. Whether this body was associated with the Land Commission, Landed Estates Court, or was a separate Commission, was immaterial, except that its primary and main duty must be the administration and development of these clauses. By local authority he meant a local body authorized to raise rates over a given area; and the area which would be the most convenient as a unit was the county, though a smaller district would do. Assuming that the not very difficult task was accomplished of forming a satisfactory central and local authority capable of co-operating, the local authority should be requested to receive any joint application from a landlord and tenant in the district over which they had jurisdiction for the sale of the interest of the landlord to the tenant. A valuation through the agency of the central authority would be then taken; and a report upon the solvency of the tenant, the value of the farm, and the price to be paid for it, would be made through an outside and impartial tribunal. If the report of the central authority—which, he assumed, would be a fair and impartial authority—were satisfactory, the local authority might, with the consent of the central authority, raise the sum in a manner which he would hereafter describe, primarily upon the security of the rates, but with the guarantee of the State for the purchase of the farm. The rates would then be liable for the amount of the interest payable upon the sum advanced for the purchase of the landlord's interest, and recouped by the amount charged annually for this advance to the tenant who had thus purchased his farm; and this sum could annually be collected with the poor rates or county cess through the machinery used for that purpose. The part of his scheme to which he attached most importance was, however, the method of obtaining the necessary 417 ways and means. Now, in order to provide those ways and means, and, at the same time, to guard the State from risk, the following course might be adopted. Upon receiving the assent of the central authority, who would be the representative in Ireland of the Treasury, the local authority might issue debentures for the amount sanctioned, which, with a State guarantee, they ought to be able to get taken up, say, bearing interest at 3 per cent, payable out of the rates; these debentures or bonds to be in very small sums, in order that they might be taken up by farmers and tradesmen of the neighbourhood, and the interest due upon them to be paid by specified banks in the locality, the bends and coupons being upon the American system, transferable by delivery. These regulations would prevent any competition between such bonds and Consols here in London; and the business connected with the circulation, issue, and payment of interest of such loans would give a general lift to local industries and enterprize. A very considerable proportion of these bends would, he believed, be taken up locally, and thus a considerable proportion of each locality would become the creditors of the local authority and the State. The landlord, moreover, might be required to take a certain proportion of his purchase money in such a shape. By this process a twofold result would be achieved. The interest being payable out of the rates, every ratepayer would become to an infinitesimal degree liable, should any farmer, who through these means had purchased his holding, repudiate his obligation to the local authority; and the reverse of that sympathy would be shown towards the defaulting ratepayer which was now often felt for a defaulting tenant. Next, a considerable number of farmers and others who held these bends would be the creditors of the local authority. By thus making the local authority the borrower with the sanction of the State, they would create a strong social and moral force in every locality in favour of fulfilment of contract and obligation, and thus combine the advantages of cheap money without any serious risk of repudiation. In connection with this scheme three questions at once suggested themselves. 1. Was the operation financially practicable? 2. Would the farmers purchase and the landlords sell? 3. Could the local au- 418 thority be trusted? As regards the practicability of the scheme, undoubtedly one of the main objects being to get these bends taken up locally, there might be some difficulty, in certain cases, in inducing the locality to do so. On the other hand, they had the high authority of Mr. Vernon, one of the Land Commissioners, who, in his evidence before the House of Lords, in 1882, stated that there was £30,000,000 on deposit in the Irish banks, and the whole of the money had only received interest at about 1⅝ per cent. The deposits both in savings banks and joint-stock banks had largely increased during the past two years. The latest Returns showed a large increase in the savings banks, a note circulation £880,000 higher than in the preceding year, and deposits and balances in joint-stock banks in 1882 of £32,746,000, being an increase of £2,600,000 over the preceding year. Owing to the rapid spread of temperance principles, the savings banks deposits were increasing so fast that Government would soon have a serious difficulty to know how to profitably invest them; and what more politic or statesmanlike use could be made of one great social movement than to utilize its savings for the sustenance of another? A certain proportion of these great sums would, undoubtedly, be available for a new and most attractive form of investment. These bends, being guaranteed by the State and easily transferable, would practically be bank notes, bearing interest at 3 per cent. Many a small hoard, of the existence of which few would have any idea, would be drawn out by the prospect of a security and interest so safe, and so easily converted into cash. Therefore, taking these advantages into consideration, he believed this mode of investment would be popular with people possessing small savings. The financial operation of raising money at a low rate of interest for the purchase of the landlord's interest had, during the last two years, been so frequently referred to that he need not re-state it. Assuming that money was raised at 3 per cent as suggested, and the period of repayment was extended to 40 years, a tenant could give 23 years' purchase of his farm, and yet pay an annuity, including repayment of principal, less than the existing rent. By amalgamating this annuity, which in no case ought 419 to exceed the existing rent, with the rates and cess already levied, no new or expensive machinery was necessary either for its collection or enforcement. The farmer would become a proprietor, repaying to his own local authority a sum advanced on mortgage on his farm. In the conveyance given to him provision might be made that the repayment should, if he wished it, be made more rapidly. The next question was, would the farmers buy? He believed it was tolerably certain that in the best and most solvent districts they would, though possibly not at first in great number, if the terms were good enough. The idea of instantly becoming his own landlord, free to do what he liked, subject only to a terminable annuity less than existing rent, would, to many well-to-do farmers, be an irresistible attraction; and if the better class of farmers led the way there would soon be many following them. The third, and, perhaps, the most important question of all was, could the local authority be trusted? Up to a certain point he thought the experiment might be made. But their borrowing powers would have to be closely watched and limited. If they in any way showed signs of untrustworthiness or repudiation their powers would at once terminate. Power must, of course, be taken by the State to declare any local authority in default if they in any way declined to recognize their obligation; and the Government, in such instances, might have the option of nominating a new authority, or transferring their powers to Government officials. With the existing machinery for collecting and enforcing the payment of rates, backed by the whole civil and military powers of the Crown, there ought to be little difficulty in bringing any recalcitrant local authority into immediate subjection. He had not attempted to enter into any details, nor did he pretend that this idea would settle the whole of a Land Question with au annual rental of many millions. But it would give a fillip to the Purchase Clauses by bringing an attractive and feasible scheme before both landlord and tenant. It was preferable to local land banks, whose credit without a State guarantee would be nil, whose operations could not be checked without an enormous staff, who must trade for profit, and who would have behind them only 420 their shareholders in place of the whole mass of the ratepayers. Assuming that the Government were able to obtain a small sum, comparatively speaking, through the agency of the local authorities, they would have a sum which would be perpetually applicable to the purpose of converting tenants into proprietors. This sum would be an increasing one, and one which the increase of deposits in savings banks would tend to swell. He felt the difficulty in which he was placed as the son of an Irish landlord. Any one who came forward to make a suggestion for developing these Purchase Clauses naturally laid himself open to the suspicion that he was prompted by personal motives, and was endeavouring to pledge the credit of the taxpayers for the purpose of obtaining good terms for himself and for other landlords similarly situated. As regarded himself, he was so fortunate as to live in a county in which not, during even the worst times of disturbance, any district had been proclaimed. There was no part of the United Kingdom where the people were better conditioned, more loyal, or better behaved. So long as rent was paid in any part of the United Kingdom, it would be paid in the county he was connected with. His reason for bringing the question before the House was the serious risk, political and financial, which he foresaw, if some determined effort were not made to permanently settle the Land Question of Ireland. It was much better to speak plainly; the Irish Land Question was still surrounded with risk and danger. The risk of taking any forward step was so apparent that many did not see the far greater risk and peril that would occur if nothing at all were done. As regarded the financial risk to the Consolidated Fund of the scheme he had sketched, risk was a relative term. What had been the permanent charge imposed upon the taxpayers by the policy of the past few years? The Civil Service Estimates for Ireland for 1880-I amounted to £3,100,000. That was a considerable in crease upon the preceding year; but for 1883–4, they amounted to £3,677,000. In three years there was an increase of £600,000, and that was a permanent increase, for among the few things certain in this world was this, that Civil Service Estimates never went back. An increased charge of £600,000 meant interest on no less a sum than 421 £20,000,000; in other words, the National Debt or obligation had been increased by the amount of £6,000,000 a-year. Such was the financial risk of doing nothing at all. What were the political dangers? The Land Question in Ireland was practically the Alpha and Omega of Irish politics. The commercial disabilities imposed on Ireland in the last century in the interest of English manufactures had made the land, with the exception of the linen trade, the one main industry in that country. Until Land Question was settled they would have perpetual unrest and perturbation in Ireland. But that was not the only danger. The Liberal Party were pledged to certain reforms and concessions, which they proposed to extend to Ireland. If the Land Question was not settled every concession and so-called political reform, by which greater political power was given to a certain class in Ireland, would be valued and used, not for the purposes for which it was given, but because it would furnish the means of extracting more out of the property of the landlords. The Liberal Party were, therefore, in this dilemma—they must either depart from their principles, so far as Ireland was concerned, or, if they adhered to them, they would do so with the consciousness that gross personal wrong and injustice would attend their operation. He scarcely ever read an address of any hon. Member to his constituents without finding words to this effect—that, at all risks and at all hazards, the existing connection with Ireland must be maintained. He did not know whether that was an idle formula or not; but if, at all risks and hazards, the present connection of England and Ireland was to be maintained, why did the House shrink back whenever any proposal was made which would do something to cement that connection—such as the application of even a small portion of English credit to the settlement of that one question which, of all others, interested Ireland—the question of the land? There were Gentlemen who said that they had heard enough of the Land Question, who did not wish to be bothered with it any more, and who were of opinion that if they put that question altogether on one side, and passed a certain number of political reforms, all would go well. But poli- 422 tical reforms were useless until social unity was restored. He happened, not long ago, to come across a passage describing the condition of this country just previous to the Great Civil War of the 17th century, in an admirable history written by a most impartial and able man—Professor Gardiner—and he thought it so applicable to the present situation in Ireland, that he would like to read it to the House. Professor Gardiner, in his History of the Fall of the Monarchy of Charles I., said—Constitutional rules are good, because they enforce the application of the laws by which healthy societies are governed; but they cannot be made applicable to a society in which the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. The daily food of the Constitution cannot be its medicine. Law and liberty, Kings and Parliaments, are available to a society which, in spite of wide differences of opinion and character, is in substantial unity with itself. When that unity has departed, when religious and political factions glare at one another with angry eyes, the one thing needful is not to walk in the paths of the Constitution, but to restore unity."—(Fall of Monarchy of Charles I., vol. or., p. 339.)Now, he would say that until the expectations and aspirations of the Irish tenant, which had been unduly excited, could be directed into the channel of legitimate purchase, they would never have social unity in Ireland. He must apologize to the House for the great length to which his observations had run. His only object in bringing the subject forward was to impress upon the House and the Government the absolute necessity of doing something to make the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act a reality. He would appeal specially to the Prime Minister. The Government had, undoubtedly, had exceptional difficulties to deal with in Ireland; but, on the other hand, they had had unprecedented powers accorded to them, and yet he feared that the outcome of their policy had been that every political, agrarian, and social difficulty which existed when they came into Office had been aggravated and intensified. However, he honestly believed that it was still possible to evolve something like social order and permanent tranquillity out of the existing condition of things in Ireland. But whatever was done ought to be done quickly. He asked the House, therefore, to give its assent to his Resolution, 423 He did not wish any individual Member to pledge himself, in the slightest degree, to any detail of the scheme which he had described. He had merely suggested a line upon which they might safely and advantageously proceed in settling the question. He urged the Resolution upon the notice of the House, because he believed that notwithstanding the lamentable events of the past few years—events which they must all deplore—there were still in the existing condition of things in Ireland elements from which the Government, if it were wise and bold, could extract materials for the formation of a scheme conducive alike to permanent tranquillity and social order. The noble Lord concluded by moving the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he rose with great pleasure to second the Motion. He thought that everybody who had heard the speech of his noble Friend would admit that he had shown the greatest ingenuity in constructing his plan, and the greatest ability in expounding it. He was afraid, however, that the Government might be tempted to fasten on some particular provision of the scheme which they believed to be weak, and use that as a reason for rejecting the Resolution. He hoped the Government would not take so narrow a view—and he was sure they would be going against the interests both of this country and Ireland in so doing—but would look at the plan in its broadest aspect. His noble Friend had stated that the Land Question was the Alpha and Omega of Irish politics. A truer remark was never made. For nearly 40 years they had been trying so to alter the system of land tenure in Ireland as to remedy some of the political ills under which that unhappy country had been so long suffering. But in that long series of years they had not pursued a systematic course. In their first measures, the object of the House of Commons and the Ministry was to accept the system of large properties, and to make it, as far as possible, an economic reality in Ireland. The idea was to get the large estates out of the hands of insolvent owners, and to induce people to go to Ireland who would spend a large capital on agricultural improvements, and, no doubt, exact from the tenant competition 424 rents. That was the object with which the Landed Estates Court was established, and the Land Act of 1860 was passed. That policy prevailed up to the Land Act of 1870. But in 1870 there was an entire reversal of system, and that reversal was carried into final effect in 1881. The land legislation of 1870 and 1881 had been defended by very eminent Liberals, on the ground that the Irish would never become reconciled to the English methods of looking at this question; that their original land system was a tribal system, that it was an arbitrary innovation to give the landlords absolute power over their tenants, and that what should be done was to make some return to the original condition of status as distinguished from the condition of contract, which previous Parliaments had attempted to foster. Whatever might be said of that legislation, he must point out that they could not return, by an elaborate scheme, to the original condition of status. They might destroy the simple, natural proprietary right of the owner in the soil; but they could not restore tribal relations between Chiefs and vassals by an elaborate plan of land valuation, Government Courts, and all the heavy machinery by which Her Majesty's Ministers had attempted to solve the Land Question in Ireland. One thing seemed to him certain. They could not return to the old system of large proprietors and competitive rent. Neither could they maintain the artificial system of double ownership which had been set up by the Act of 1881. There was only one course open to adopt, and that was to return to an equally natural system, not based on largo proprietorship, but on a system of small holdings in fee-simple. He was no advocate of small proprietorship on economic grounds, although there were high authorities who thought it was the only sound system. He did not think that the system of small owners, as it existed in France and Belgium—still less that of Russia—was the best conceivable one. But the system established by the Act of 1881 had all the disadvantages, and none of the advantages, of peasant proprietorship. It drove out of the country all those whose wealth and education might have proved a benefit to it. Yet it left no body of 425 small owners, who might have conferred upon it other, but not less, important benefits. It was said, however, that small owners were apt to run hopelessly into debt. That was the case in France, and still more so in Russia; most of all it was the case in India. It seemed to be the natural tendency of small ownership for the owners to get gradually under the dominion of the usurer. But that danger had not been avoided by the legislation of 1881. The small tenant would still be driven to have recourse to the gombeen man. Thus, while he was alive to the objections to a peasant proprietary, he would urge that those objections equally applied to the system now established, which yet conferred upon the country none of the political advantage to be gained by the adoption of the proposal of his noble Friend. The danger from which Ireland suffered was that the political discontent which—in consequence, he was free to admit, of long periods of misgovernment—the Irishman felt, were always found in harmony with the social discontent born of poverty and of an hereditary land-hunger. Thus was generated a semi-socialistic agitation, which involved the gravest dangers to the Empire. The warmest admirers of the Land Act of 1881 would admit that, however necessary it might have been, it was, notwithstanding, looked upon by the people of Ireland as being the fruit of political agitation. Nor could anyone deny that the people of Ireland entertained the idea that by similar agitations in the future they would be able to get handed over to them a further slice of property which the landowners still looked upon as belonging to themselves. Could any one contemplate such a possibility—he would rather say such a certainty — with equanimity? The proposals of his noble Friend, if they could be carried into practical effect, would have the conspicuous merit of averting that danger. If they were carried the whole property of the landlords would be transferred to the tenants, and the very class which would otherwise be ranged against law and order in Ireland would be amongst its firmest upholders. The plan of his noble Friend involved lending not the money, but the credit of the State—a plan which 426 had never yet been tried by this country. It had been tried in Prussia, and, he believed, in Hesse-Darmstadt, with great success, and without those financial evils which the opponents of such legislation anticipated. The enormous advantage would be that an end would be put to the social agitation, in which lay the gravest danger of the political agitation. It was said, however, that one form of agitation would be substituted for another, and that the "no rent" movement would be set up against the Government instead of against the landlord. But it should be remembered that each year the tenant would be redeeming his holding, and be nearer the acquisition of the fee-simple; whereas, after he had paid rent for any number of years to his landlord, he was no nearer ownership than he was at the beginning. He did not deny, however, that there was some force in that objection. But it was far less than was the danger under the existing state of things. The annual instalments of purchase money would be paid to the local authorities with the taxes; and with each payment the imagination would be stimulated at the thought that the period of full ownership was approaching. He thought that he might appeal to the supporters of the Land Act of 1880, and that he might ask them whether they thought that the passing of that Act had not, to a certain extent, shaken the basis of property both in Ireland and in England? He believed—and the opinion had not yet become paradoxical—that the safety of society in this country absolutely depended on the solidity of those sentiments about property which were the present basis of our society. We could not materially shake this basis without doing infinite harm, not only, or principally, to landlords, but also, and chiefly, to the wage-earning classes of the community. If in 10 years' time we were going to pass another measure like the Land Act, in consequence of another agitation like that of the last three years, we should give a shock to property and credit in Ireland and in this country that would most seriously affect every class of society. He would appeal to those who had watched the course of events in the last three years whether they did not see, even in this 427 country, which had as yet no Land Act, the effects which were following the doubtless conscientious legislation of two years ago? If he was right in that idea, he did entreat the Government, while there was yet time, to make such provision in Ireland as should, at all events, prevent for ever a similar agitation, followed by similar consequences.
Motion made, and Question proposed,That, in the opinion of this House, an immediate revision of the Purchase Clauses of the Irish Land Act, 1881, is necessary, in order to give effect to the intentions of Parliament contained therein."—(Lord George Hamilton.)
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he must congratulate the noble Lord opposite the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) on having obtained such a full House for the discussion of his Motion. The subject was one of great and, under certain circumstances, of immense importance, as they were all agreed that a considerable and a larger infusion of occupying proprietors among the landlords of Ireland would be of great advantage to the State. Hitherto they had attempted to arrive at this advantage by methods well tried by experience; but he was willing to confess that those methods had only had a limited success. Still, those methods contained the germs of great future success, if certain changes to which the noble Lord had referred were made. The Government certainly did not view the noble Lord's Resolution, as it stood on the Paper, with anything but very considerable favour, if one alteration of words, which he would describe very soon, were made. Those methods, he thought, might lead to a very considerable development of the purchase of estates by the Irish farmers if the changes to which he had alluded were made; but if we were to leave those methods altogether, we should pass from what we knew very well to what we did not know anything at all about yet. But before we took that step there must be full discussion, which might be said to have begun to-night, and the country must know thoroughly what it was about to do. The measures hitherto taken had all contained certain principles in common, and to these he invited attention. The Church Act of 428 1869, by far the most successful of these measures, allowed three-fourths of the purchase money to remain on mortgage—either a simple mortgage of no less than 4 per cent, or a mortgage extinguishable in 32 years. The success of these clauses was very remarkable. Out of 8,380 tenancies, only 2,326 had to be bought by the public; but upwards of 6,000 tenants bought their holdings. And the average rate of purchase was very satisfactory, because it was for 22⅔ years, or not much less than that named by the noble Lord. The tenants purchased eagerly, and they paid their instalments well; and he was gratified to be able to inform the House that they continued to pay those instalments very well. Last year, out of £120,000 due to the Land Commission, only £4,000 remained unpaid. Encouraged by the success of these sales to tenants of particular estates, Parliament resolved to extend these measures to the whole of Ireland. And then came the Bright Clauses of the Land Act. In that case two-thirds of the purchase money was advanced by the Board of Works; and it was advanced in the shape of a terminable mortgage at 3½ per cent, repayable in 35 years by a payment of £5 on every £100. The success of the Bright Clauses, as generally known, was very small. The loans in 10 or 11 years were only 871, and the amount of the purchase money was only £853,000. The cause of the failure of the Purchase Clauses of the Act of 1870, as compared with those in the Church Act, was carefully examined into; and no one went more closely into the question than his right hon. Friend who was sitting near him. In some respects the terms offered by the Bright Clauses were less favourable than those under the Church Act; but this was not owing to the terms being less favourable. It was because, under the Church Act, certain estates were offered for sale as a whole; while in the case of the Bright Clauses the individual tenant was left to make his bargain with the individual landlord. In 1881 it was considered that more equitable terms ought to be given; and, consequently, terms as good as those of the Church Act were given with regard to interest and the time of repayment of instalments; but the success did not follow which was expected. At this moment 429 only 330 loans had been sanctioned, representing holdings to the price of £213,000. The result of all this legislation was that out of the 500,000 tenants in Ireland 7,250 had bought their holdings, or less than a hundredth, and probably considerably less, of the value of the lands of Ireland.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, the rate of purchase under the Church Act Clauses was 22⅔ years. The rate of purchase under the Bright Clauses was 19.8, or a little under 20 years. The causes of the want of success of these various Purchase Clauses had been examined into. He wished hon. Members to bear in mind, in discussing this Resolution, that it was possible one hon. Member, in referring to a particular feature of the case, might mean one thing, while another hon. Member might mean another. He had no doubt that the causes which ho was about to mention would be agreed to by all. The first reason was that, in many cases, the tenant was perfectly satisfied, as a tenant under a judicial rent, with practical security of tenure, and did not care to become an owner, when he would have to pay an increased rent during the whole of his life, and pay that share of the poor rate which would fall on the owner. Indeed, that held good not only in Ireland, but in England also. He had heard of a very good English landowner who offered each of his tenants the liberty of purchasing their farms at a moderate price; but not one of them would do so. A few, however, thinking the estate was about to pass into other hands, wished to bespeak certain other of the farms. Another cause of the failure of these clauses was the bad seasons, which had taken the heart out of the farmers of Ireland as well as of England. The Land Commissioners informed him, however, that there was a small but perceptible increase in the number of farmers now proposing to purchase their farms. But, undoubtedly, the third and most important reason why the tenants would not purchase on the present terms was because they expected better terms. The tenants fully expected that both Parties in both Houses of Parliament would, as it were, compete with each other to lay 430 down better and better terms, which would bring landlord and tenant together. This was a very real and serious reason indeed, and it ought to make them think very seriously what they were about, and not hold out any hopes which could not be fulfilled without danger to the State, and without more danger to the Exchequer. Some of the causes which told against the Purchase Clauses were causes which the Government were very willing to remedy; and they were set forth with very great ability in the Report of the Lords' Committee of last year. The Report mentioned that in the case of land under settlement—and very much land was under settlement in Ireland—the purchase money must be invested under the Court of Chancery in some Government stock, so that an income of £1,000, reduced by the expenses of collection to £800 a-year, would only realize upon sale or investment an income of £600 a-year. The Committee recommended that the trustees should have the ordinary powers of investment in guaranteed and preference stock, and then very little loss of income would accrue. Another difficulty, which he was informed privately was a very serious one, was the technical difficulty of head rents and quit rents issuing as they did, in many cases, out of the whole property, and the Committee had recommended that they should be apportioned. Then there were all the difficulties, which land reformers knew so well, relating to the examination of title and the transfer and conveyance of estates; and if they undertook to remedy them in Ireland there was no reason why they should not attempt the same in England also. If the Government attempted this legislation, they should be prepared to do it boldly; and if the noble Lord was willing to purchase the favourable consideration of the Government by striking out the word "immediate"—[" No, no!"]—because the noble Lord knew it was perfectly impossible for the Government to think of bringing in a Bill that year—the Government would be perfectly ready to accept so much of his Resolution in the sense which he had explained it. The noble Lord said he felt very much that one of the principal of the failures of the Purchase Clauses was that there was no intermediate body between the 431 landlord and the tenant to buy the estates and retail them, as it were, to the tenants; and he did not regard the Land Commission in a favourable light for that purpose. He thought the noble Lord underrated the importance of estates being taken over bodily, and of being sold piecemeal to the tenants. He (Mr. Trevelyan) now came to the most serious features of the noble Lord's Resolution. They were two, and they appeared to be, first, that he wished to raise local debenture stock, to which farmers and traders in the neighbourhood might subscribe, and the interest of which should be payable, first, out of the rates, and be guaranteed by the Imperial Exchequer. The second feature of the noble Lord's scheme, as far as he could gather, was that the tenant should practically have the purchase money lent him at the rate of 3 per cent, and that, having the money so lent him, he would be able to buy property from the landlord, the noble Lord thought, at 22 years' purchase. He (Mr. Trevelyan) had already described to the House the methods by which Parliament had tried to secure the purchase of those farms by the tenants. The House must observe that those methods contained two important propositions, and they must act very cautiously before they abandoned them. Those propositions were—first, that the purchasing tenant should lay down a substantial part of the purchase money; and, secondly, that the time in which he engaged to repay the same should not be an unlimited one. Unless these conditions were observed the Government had no assurance that he was a bonâ fide purchaser, and that he valued the sense of proprietorship. They had no assurance that he was the sort of man that the State could accept, or that the noble Lord could accept, as a tenant. They had no assurance that the purchaser really wanted to buy his holding, but only that the owner wanted to sell it. The second condition, relating to the term over which the repayment extended, was also vital. If the payment was a very small one the purchaser came to regard himself merely as a rent-paying tenant; whereas, if he saw a substantial part of the purchase money discharged year by year, if he found himself gradually becoming very near being a landed proprietor, the case was entirely different. Unless these two 432 conditions were fulfilled, they had no assurance that the estate would not be sold for a great deal more than its value. If the buyer found part of the price, and had to pay the rest steadily and promptly, ho would take care not to buy the property for more than it was worth. But if all the money was to be provided by the State, you would have no individual self-interest called forth in fixing the price of the estate; you would have to fix it by a Government Department; and no Government Department in the world was ever to be trusted to fix the price of estates.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
If you fix rents under the Land Act, why should you not fix the price of estates?
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he was arguing that if you removed individual interest from the purchase of estates you could not arrive at a proper price. They had the fact that whereas, in 1880, the Church lands sold for 22 2–3rd years' purchase, in 1883 the price of land was about 19 2–3rd years' purchase. He would not enter into the cause of that. It was not his business; but it showed that there was a very great variation in the price of land from the 22 or 23 years mentioned by the Lords' Committee and adopted by the noble Lord. Neither of the two important considerations he had mentioned were fulfilled by the scheme of the noble Lord. Under his scheme the whole of the purchase money was advanced by the State, and the number of years allowed for repayment was so increased that the tenant was to sit at no higher rent than at present. It was, of course, a very attractive scheme—so attractive that it was necessary to look closely into it to see what made it possible for it to produce such a magical result—that the tenant should become owner at the same rent as before, and the purchaser should obtain full value for his land. He would just ask the House to consider whether there must not be some latent danger in a scheme so remarkably attractive. The real disadvantage that underlay it was in his opinion this—that the scheme looked very well on paper. There was no doubt the State could borrow at 3 per cent; but the whole question of success and failure lay in whether it could lend safely at 3 per cent on the terms and conditions laid down in the scheme. 433 Now, if they allowed a scheme of this sort to hold, it was equivalent to transferring the land of Ireland from the landlord to the State. The tenant would naturally prefer to pay a lower rent, and have his estate as well, rather than to pay rent for it in perpetuity. What would be the consequence of this change? The noble Lord thought the local bodies, so to speak, would act as a sort of buffer between the Exchequer and the tenant. He had himself great doubts as to that. They had not many opportunities of judging; but they had one opportunity, and that was the case of the seed loans.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that in the case of the seed loans money was lent to individual tenants with the Boards of Guardians behind them. The money was lent; and, in spite of the fact that the Boards of Guardians being there to act as a buffer between the Exchequer and the tenants, the result had been that representatives from most of the Boards of Guardians concerned attended on the Lord Lieutenant, and asked him to remit the moiety of the loan which still remained unpaid. One thing they must expect, that whoever was the landlord—whether the State or the private individual—there would be applications for partial remissions of rent through the whole country in bad seasons; and in the case of people who had had individual bad times there would be individual applications. The landlords had to entertain these applications now, and the State would have to entertain them, and it would be in a bad position to do so, because the State could not make the exceptions between individual tenants which a good landlord was always ready to make in ease of need. It would either have to insist wholesale, or to remit wholesale. And thus they would be brought back to this—that the State would be obliged to employ probably the very same gentlemen who were now employed as land agents by individual landlords. If they advanced the whole of the purchase money they would put solvent and insolvent tenants on the same basis, and do away with the distinction between men who were fit for peasant proprietorship, and men who were unfit. Then there was the chance of political agitation in favour of the 434 remission of Crown rent. He did not want to say anything to which hon. Gentlemen could take exception; but they could not forget that two years ago, after the tenants had got a certain measure for fixity of tenure and fair rent promised them, it was thought by a good many of them reasonable not to pay rent to the private landlords, because a certain political measure had been taken by the Government. What would have been the case if the Government itself had been landlord during that agitation? The difficulty of enforcing payment of rent in such a general disinclination to pay on account of political causes was almost insuperable. It was said that the State would have the power to deal severely and strictly with whole districts at a time. When, however, they considered what dealing "severely and strictly" with a whole district meant, it would probably be conceded that such very unpleasant discipline would be likely to do a great deal more radical harm than peasant proprietorship could do good. The tithe agitation seemed a good case in point. The Government granted to the Irish clergy compensation for the loss by the non-payment of tithes, and the Government became by statute entitled to enforce the payment of arrears due by the occupiers. The Attorney General instituted proceedings to recover £104,000; he recovered £12,000, at a cost in law expenses of £23,000. But it would be said there were the Protestant Church tenants. He allowed that the Church tenants had paid very well; but it had to be remembered, in the first place, that the property lay, to a very great extent, in districts where all rents were better paid than in other parts of the country; and, in the next place, that the Church tenants had already been paying their instalments for 10 years before there was any agitation against paying rent on political grounds; and, therefore, they had much at stake which they could not afford, even if they had wished, to lose. Over and above all, there was the process of weeding out the less solvent, industrious, and enter-prizing Church tenants by the demand of a considerable part of the money in hand—a demand which was not made by the noble Lord. Therefore, to conclude, any scheme which involved the essential principles of the dealings which 435 had been carried on with the Church property would be favourably received by the Government. Any reforms of the nature which ho had described would be heartily accepted by the Government; and in the carrying out of those changes, which would require much and carefully-studied legislation, the time which could not be given this Session would be given at the earliest opportunity. But the Government did not see their way to assist any scheme which did not recognize those principles which he had laid down—payment of a considerable part of the purchase money in cash, a series of solid instalments for a comparatively short term of years to discharge the balance, and, as the result of those elements, a large margin of security for the repayment of the whole debt, and security, too, against political and social changes which they thought would be connected with a too liberal scheme. On these conditions the Government would willingly accept the Resolution of the noble Lord, though it would be quite impossible to accept the word "immediate," because under no circumstances could a measure of this importance possibly be introduced during the present Session. He congratulated the noble Lord on the manner in which he had brought this question before the House, and ho hoped that legislation of great benefit to Ireland would spring from that discussion.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, the concluding words of the right hon. Gentleman had considerably dashed the hopes which some parts of his speech had aroused. It ' appeared to him that the cardinal points of the scheme which the noble Lord described with so much ability consisted, first, in the advance by the State in the manner described of the whole of the purchase money; and, secondly, of the interposition of a local authority, the precise nature of which the noble Lord did not specify, between the State and the tenant, both as regarded the arrangement of the purchase and the payment of the money, the rates being taken as collateral security by the local authority for the money advanced to thorn by the State. The right hon. Gentleman had omitted to state, however, the transparently overwhelming cause of the failure of the Purchase Clauses, the neglect of the State to advance the whole of the purchase money. In the case of the Church lands, the 436 necessity for borrowing the portion not advanced by the State left the tenants at the mercy of the usurers, and reduced them to a condition of the greatest necessity. Therefore, in this case, the experiment was tried under the most unfavourable conditions. Land was then selling in Ireland at a higher rate than it ever reached before or since; and, the State advancing only two-thirds of the purchase money, the tenants had to borrow the remainder at a high rate of interest. Notwithstanding all this, the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that those tenants who became owners in this way had, almost without exception, punctually paid their rent-charges to the State or the Church Commissioners during the three years of fierce agitation, when from every tenant in Ireland who was not an owner it was exceedingly difficult, and in many cases impossible, for the landlord to obtain his rent. Going no further than that, they might almost claim that the experiment of peasant proprietary had succeeded in Ireland; and if the House would only bring itself to the task of removing existing difficulties—one of the foremost of which was this question of the advance of the whole of the purchase money by the State—they would lay the foundations for the creation of a large class of occupying owners in Ireland, and thus be able to see the approach of a successful and an honourable settlement of the great Land Question in Ireland. A variety of objections had been advanced to any large plan of this kind; and, undoubtedly, if the Bright Clauses of the Land Act were made to work successfully, they would have to anticipate the approach of a very large number of tenants for the purpose of obtaining their benefits, and the hypothecation of the security of the State to a very large amount of money; but had it, or had it not, been the policy of the Governments of this country in recent years to encourage a peasant proprietary in Ireland? He thought it had; and where they wore able to point out that the policy of the State had been frustrated through the failure of the Act, surely the vastness of the operation should not be any deterrent in the way of remedying the difficulties which were proved to have arisen. The question of the advance of the whole of the purchase money was a leading difficulty in the matter. The tenant was 437 unable, in most cases, to borrow the money he required at a reasonable rate of interest. The lender of the money necessary to make up a fourth of the purchase money was compelled to take a second charge upon the holding. Under the Land Act the landlord was entitled to become the proprietor of that second charge; but he (Mr. Parnell) could imagine that, as a rule, the landlord would not desire to trouble himself about collecting small rentals, where formerly he collected large amounts. As it had never been worth while to make two bites at a cherry, so it was scarcely worth while for the State to longer withhold the remnant of the purchase money, merely to insist on the principle that some portion of it should be advanced by the tenant. They commenced with two-thirds, and the amount then went on to three-fourths; and, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman would now go as far as four-fifths. The Committee, which was presided over in the last Parliament by the First Commissioner of Works, adopted four-fifths. But, surely, if the Government desired to give a fair trial to this great stroke of policy, why should they stop at the limit of even four-fifths of the purchase money? It was plain that they adopted this limitation from a fear that at some future time there would be a strike against Crown rent, and that the Crown would be placed in much the same position that the landlords were during the last "no rent" movement. He thought, however, that the history of that movement showed conclusively that such an attempt on the part of the Irish tenants was not at all likely to take place. But before he went into this consideration, he wished to point out that the Government were actually, at the present moment, in the very position which they seemed greatly to dread to place themselves in, for they were in the position of having to collect rents for the landlords themselves, and to use the Forces of the Crown for that purpose. They were compelled to collect those rents during the "no rent" movement, some of which had been proved before judicial tribunals to be harsh and unjust. They were in some cases compelled, pending the action of the Courts, to collect these rents still; and they collected them, therefore, at a great disadvantage. He submitted that it would make all the 438 difference in the position of the State if they adopted this scheme of peasant proprietary—he would not say exactly like that suggested by the noble Lord, because he did not bind himself to all its details; but, speaking for himself, he would say that, as far as its two main principles went—the principle of a lien on the local rates, or the interposition of the local authority, and the advance of the whole of the purchase money—he could see no objection to the former, and he approved the latter. It was a reasonable safeguard for the House and the Government to require that the local authorities or the ratepayers should undertake some of the risk in this great transaction and change; and if such a proposal in respect to peasant proprietary in Ireland were agreed to by all Parties in the House, the Government would be placed in a higher moral position, which could be justified with much more security and satisfaction than the position they now occupied, when they went to collect rents from the tenants he had referred to. The Chief Secretary referred to two examples for the purpose of showing the difficulties of collecting rents, and the disadvantages that attended the lending of money to local authorities in Ireland for the use of the tenants; but they were not, in the slightest degree, applicable to the case in hand. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman quoted the example of the seeds loans. He (Mr. Parnell) must say that he quite expected the seeds loans and the objections of some pauper Boards of Guardians in the West to be trotted out before the discussion closed; but the circumstances of that case were entirely different from this from every point of view. He admitted that the Local Boards ought to pay, and ought not to ask for remission, and he said so in 1881; but when the loans were made, it was admitted that famine was coming upon the country, and even the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) was credited at the time when the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) brought on his Motion for a supply of seed—he was credited, by well-informed persons, with the intention of bringing forward a Bill for the purpose of securing a grant for seed for Ireland. He (Mr. Parnell) brought forward another scheme of his own, which 439 very properly was adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon; but then the loan was given at that time as a means of meeting an almost unexampled period of distress in Ireland. It was granted to the very poorest of the community, to labourers, and to small cottier tenants under £4 valuation, and in such a hurried way that the ordinary safeguards which ought to be observed, and which were usually observed in transactions of this kind, were not observed. Thus, in consequence, much of the money was lent unjustifiably to persons who ought not to have got it. Much, too, of the money was spent in buying seed of an inferior quality; while all the machinery for putting this loan into motion had to be hastily devised, and consequently abuses arose which had prompted the Boards of Guardians in some of the more pauperized districts with the desire to be relieved of the necessity of paying the amount of their obligations. Now, the proposition of the noble Lord was one of a very different character. It was a loan that would be lent, not in times of great emergency, but calmly and deliberately, and not for the relief of cottiers and tenants, but that would be for the purpose of enabling perfectly solvent tenants to become owners of their holdings. Consequently, there was really no analogy between the two cases. The right hon. Gentleman had also called attention to the case of the tithe war, and in regard to which he (Mr. Parnell) might repeat what he had said with regard to the other question. Public opinion, undoubtedly, was strongly against the tithe charge, and it was supported by the Government for the time being, who brought in a Bill to remove the charge from the shoulders of the tenants to the landlords. The House must also bear in mind that the means of recovering the tithe-rent charge were, and still remained, very different from the means of recovering rent. The only way in which the Government had ever recovered the tithe-rent charge was by seizures of stock and by sales; for non-payment of rent it was possible to evict; but it was doubtful whether the soldiers of even a well-drilled and disciplined Army would be the instrument for turning the wives and families of tenants into ditches to starve. He 440 thought all careful students of the "no rent" movement must be persuaded that it was exceedingly unlikely, if not perfectly impossible, that if the change were made as suggested by the noble Lord, and the tenants were asked to pay a reduced rent charge, less than the present judicial rents, and the tenants felt they were dragging a lessening instead of a lengthening chain behind them, that there would be refusals to pay, or that any agitation or any political Party would he able to do that which they were not able to do under more advantageous circumstances in the period from 1879 to 1883—namely, to induce them to refuse paying the annual amount which was necessary for the purpose of keeping a roof over their heads. The difficulties in the way of the proposed scheme ought not to be exaggerated. It was right that the House should inquire into all the surrounding difficulties, and all the risks which might be involved and entailed in an operation of such magnitude. But he believed that the change would be carried out with no risk to the Imperial taxpayer, and that the country would be a positive gainer in the saving of the amount which it was now paying to the police in Ireland of £500,000 or £600,000 a-year, not to mention the necessity of keeping a large standing Army of 30,000 men, which must entail a corresponding swelling of the Military Estimates. The House should not deliberately exaggerate or raise up phantoms in respect to this question. A good deal of the speech of the Chief Secretary, in examining the difficulties that besot the scheme of occupying ownership, was more like the speech of a special pleader might make in opposing what ho knew to be a good case. When the Chief Secretary had had time to examine this matter more carefully, he hoped he would resume the policy of the Liberal Party when out of Office, and assist the noble Lord in endeavouring to effect a practical solution of this question. Why should there be delay? He hoped the noble Lord would not agree to such a plea, but would press his Motion to a Division, and take the sense of the House upon it. It was a non-contentious question, which only required discussion and examination by the whole House; and the only important point which had to be settled was the 441 fraction of the purchase money which the tenant should be required to pay, and he trusted that that portion might be made so small as to become almost infinitesimal. It was a question very suitable for the consideration of a Grand Committee. It was not for him to make suggestions as to the method of carrying the scheme into effect; but he would ask the Government, having listened to the debate to-night, having heard the opinion of both sides of the House, and having heard the detailed suggestions, whether this question might not be considered during the next fortnight, and be embodied by themselves in a Government Bill, which might be submitted to a Grand Committee chosen from all sections of the House? He had no doubt that the result of the labours of such a Committee would be to return to the House a Bill which would go far towards a settlement of this most difficult Irish question—a question which, if left unsettled, must constantly remain a source of danger and difficulty to the State.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
said, he thought that the Chief Secretary had raised unnecessary difficulties, and seemed to think that the proposal had departed from the lines which had hitherto been followed in similar proposals. The Government, however, wore already committed to the theory that a peasant proprietary would be a good thing for Ireland. They had committed themselves to it in 1877, on the Motion of the present Chief Commissioner of Works, and again in the Act of 1881. No doubt, the Act of 1881 had changed the aspect of the question. He was one of those who believed in that Act. There was, however, no doubt that it had given so many advantages to the tenant that the number of tenants who would be willing to purchase was not so great as it otherwise would have been. He did not agree with the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) that the majority of the tenants would wish to avail themselves of facilities for purchase. The majority of the tenants had obtained what they desired—security of tenure, and security against arbitrary raising of rent. The number, he believed, would only be a minority, though a considerable minority. That circumstance, however, 442 ought to be an inducement, rather than the reverse, in the eyes of the Government, to accept the proposal of the noble Lord, though, perhaps, not in its entirety. He saw great danger in the guarantee of Unions and County Boards, and believed that in many instances they would object to have responsibility thrown upon them. He did not believe there would be any serious default on the part of the tenants in paying the purchase money. He trusted that the Government would, as they had accepted two of the recommendations of the Lords' Committee, accept, or, at any rate, not refuse to consider favour-ably, the two last recommendations—namely, the provision of the whole of the purchase money by the State, and the extension of the time of repayment to 40 or 42 years.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he would not stand long between the House and the Prime Minister. There were few questions more important to Ireland than that which had been raised by his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton). It was impossible to overstate the interest taken in the subject in Ireland—in fact, he (Mr. Gibson) could go further, and say it was impossible to overstate or exaggerate the unanimity of feeling on the subject in Ireland. Although many people regarded the question not exactly from the same standpoint as he and some of his hon. Friends did, they all recognized that there were many practical difficulties which would have to be overcome before a solution could be arrived at. It must be recognized by anyone who considered this question that the scheme of the Land Act had been largely disturbed in its operation by what had taken place since its passing, compared, at all events, with what was stated in Parliament, and what must have been the intentions of its authors. It clearly was the intention of those who presented the Irish Land Act to Parliament that the Purchase Clauses should have a substantial operation, and that the Tenure Clauses also should have a substantial operation. It was intended, he believed, judging from the speeches which were made, that the Purchase Clauses were to be looked to to provide a final and ultimate solution of the question; and that the Tenure Clauses were 443 rather to be looked to to bridge over the interval—it might be a long one—before the final solution was arrived at. That was pointed out by the noble Marquess the present Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington), in the speech in which he referred, in the the City, to the Tenure Clauses as only supplying a modus vivendi. The Tenure Clauses, however, had had so much effect given to them, and they had been so widely appealed to, that, practically, they had driven from view the Purchase Clauses. In fact, it had been brought about that the Tenure Clauses had mainly occupied public attention in Ireland, and had mainly been appealed to; and that the Purchase Clauses had practically remained, he would not say a dead letter, but with very little operation. There was nothing novel in the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of 1881; their provisions had been before Parliament and the Government for a good number of years; and, therefore, they might take it that the principle of encouraging the growth of peasant proprietorship and an occupying proprietary in Ireland was recognized as desirable, and the failure of which was to be deplored. He did not wish to discuss the details of the plan of his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex. The Resolution which appeared upon the Paper of the House was general in its terms, and pointed to the desirability of further facilities being afforded for the working of the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act. The noble Lord was bound—indeed, it was only fair, when he came before the House with that Resolution, that he should give the ideas which were present to his own mind as matters for the consideration of Parliament and the House. The question was a wide one, and might possibly cover a great portion of the land of Ireland in the occupation of the tenantry; but he (Mr. Gibson) did not think it would be found, at all events at first, to have a very wide and universal operation. He thought it would be worked gradually and tentatively; but it was, no doubt, a great proposal, and it would have to be approached, he would not say with caution, but with great prudence, and with a statesmanlike desire to realize all the difficulties around it. He had no doubt in his own mind—looking at Ireland, with its chequered 444 and uncertain history, looking at the experience of recent years—that one of the soundest social and political policies to be applied to the country was to increase the facilities for creating a peasant proprietary, and developing into a healthy operation what were called the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act. The guiding principles that his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex had laid down, in explaining the Motion he had introduced, were these—that there should be a larger advance made to encourage tenants, and that, for the safety of the State, and to prevent any possibility of loss to the State, it would be reasonable and fair, if there was any very large increase—certainly, if there was an increase up to the full amount of what was required for the purchase money—there should be the security of the rates. Now, those were the principles which his noble Friend had laid down in outline, and they seemed not unreasonable, but worthy of the favourable and full consideration of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in his interesting speech, had practically admitted the soundness and fairness of the Resolution proposed. He had not denied at all that every syllable of the Resolution on the Paper applied, and he had only sought to qualify the time in which that Resolution might be applied; so that, practically, the House might take it that the Government conceded in principle the contention that was unanimously held by Irish Representatives on this matter—namely, that it was desirable that there should be a revision of the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act in order to give effect to the intentions of Parliament contained therein. Now, that being so, it was obvious the question could not be put aside by cavilling at the details. The broad points he (Mr. Gibson) went upon were these—that the present facilities had been found inadequate, and that further facilities for putting the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act into operation were desirable and necessary. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, practically admitting all these general assertions, took issue on the word "immediate." Well, that was all very well, of course, from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view; but he (Mr. 445 Gibson) thought the word "immediate," or some equivalent, was desirable, because it was the only word in the Resolution which suggested that it was not to be an absolutely abstract Resolution. If they struck out the word "immediate," they made it merely an abstract Resolution, and prevented it having any efficacy at all. This was no new question. On the 2nd May, 1882, Lord Granville, speaking with all the weight of his authority in the House of Lords, used these words—Your Lordships are aware that the Land Act does not deal with the question of arrears….Then there are also what are popularly known as the 'Bright Clauses' of that Act. On both those subjects the Act will require revision; and with regard to that a detailed statement will be made in Parliament at an early date."— (3 Hansard,  1923.)That was a distinct statement on the 2nd of May last year. But it did not rest there, because, on May 8, Lord Granville used those words—Your Lordships are well aware that, some days ago, I announced the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose to Parliament three measures—one with regard to strengthening the administration of justice and the security of private rights in Ireland; one affecting arrears; and another affecting what are called the Bright Clauses.' Her Majesty's Government adhere to that intention."—(Ibid.,  316.)That was a statement made a year ago by one of the leading Members of the Cabinet in reference to this particular question. They then stated that this question required revision; they then stated that they were in a position soon to announce the intentions of the Government, and that a Bill was in preparation. In the face of that statement, and in the face of what had occurred since, was it not unreasonable to expect that his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex would consent to strike out from the Resolution that which gave it life? At that time of the evening (12.10 p.m.), and having regard to the fact that the Prime Minister was about to speak, he did not think it was reasonable for him to make any further observations in reference to this extremely important subject. It was a subject which anyone must have thought of largely who had thought at all on the future condition of Ireland; and he ventured to think that, whatever might be the effect of this Resolution, the House of Commons would affirm that, in its 446 opinion, it was desirable that there should be some revision of the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act, and that that revision should be of a prompt, and not of a remote character.
Sir, with regard to the Motion of the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton), and with regard to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion (Mr. A. J. Balfour), I must say this—that I do not concur in the grounds upon which they appear to me distinctly to base their proposition. I concur in the proposition itself, with the exception of the word which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan) has objected to; but I do not concur in the grounds upon which they appear to base it. They base their proposition, not upon the fact which I am bound to say the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Gibson) based his proposition—they do not base their proposition upon the great advantages of a peasant or farming proprietary; upon the soundness of the principle of such a measure; upon the security it would give for public order, and upon the unity of interest it would create between the class of peasants and the other classes of society, but upon their apprehension that more Land Bills are in preparation. It was not to confer a benefit upon the community at large, but to save the landed proprietors from more Lands Bills that this proposal was made. ["Oh, oh!"] I think I am strictly representing the entire effect of these speeches; and I must own that these statements, coming from such a quarter as they do, convey a deep impression of the unsettled state of the Land Question in Ireland at the present moment. At any rate, the hon. Member for Hartford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) will not deny that he represented it as such. I am not questioning the right of hon. Gentlemen to hold that opinion, if they think fit; but I am merely questioning the policy and the tendency of such a declaration. I doubt it; I do not agree with them. I believe that substantial justice has been done in Ireland. I believe that we have gone to the root of the matter, and have established relations, substantially just, between the landlord and the tenant; and, therefore, I am not ready to admit that the Land Question is unsettled, and I think the 447 statements of the noble Lord the Mover, and the hon. Gentleman the Seconder of the Motion were most dangerous and impolitic. I look at this proposal, therefore, from quite a different point of view—namely, from the point of view borne by the proposal itself. I do not hesitate to say that I agree that the Purchase Clauses require revision, in order to meet the intentions of Parliament; because, in stating last year that we were not prepared to re - open generally the particular clauses of the Land Act, I went on to say that I did not extend that declaration to the question of the Purchase Clauses, any more than I did to the question of arrears. I cannot agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down that my noble Friend Lord Granville ever promised, on the part of the Government, to introduce a measure into this House immediately. [Mr. GIBSON: I read Lord Granville's own words.] Yes; but they do not bear the construction the right hon. and earned Gentleman puts upon them. I should take the liberty of adhering to my own words; they were words spoken in this place, and I presume the House of Commons is prepared to accept on such subjects declarations which I may make. I can answer for these words; I cannot tell what words were used by Lord Granville, or whether the words quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite were correctly reported. We agree, in order to meet the intentions of Parliament, there ought to be a revision in these clauses; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down holds these two doctrines; he holds that the revision is to be immediate. Speaking on the 12th June, and there being no Bill before the House, and no plan before the House, except a plan for none of the details of which he will be responsible, and when the House has been sitting for about four months, the right hon. and learned Gentleman says these two things—that the revision must be immediate, and that the question involves many practical difficulties to be looked at and overcome before a solution is arrived at. This is the practical proposition of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. There are, said the right hon. and learned Gentleman, a great many practical difficulties in the way, and these difficulties 448 must be carefully looked at and overcome. There must be, he said, a careful and prudent caution, or prudence, or cautious prudence, or something like that. [Mr. GIBSON: Caution.] But there was another word; another epithet. [Mr. GIBSON: Statesmanlike prudence.] No, no. There was something much more telling and pungent than "statesmanlike prudence." Anyhow, the right hon. and learned Gentleman really thinks that all these practical difficulties can be looked at and overcome before a solution can be arrived at, and that when that process has been gone through, and a complex Bill has been framed, it can be introduced in this House so as to be passed into law during the present Session. That is the proposal ho intends to force on the Government, through the medium of an adverse vote to-night, if he is able to induce the House to go to it. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who does not propose to legislate himself in this matter, to play with edged tools. ["Oh, Oh!"] It is playing with edged tools; and it would be most culpable in the Government to give any promise to introduce a Bill in this House at the present time, unless they saw their way, in looking through all the formidable difficulties which presented themselves, to frame a measure, and obtain for it the sanction of Parliament this Session. It is not to be done; the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows it cannot be done; and, according to the announcement he has made, he is going to vote for a measure which will give a pledge that, in his own mind, he knows it would be impossible to redeem. Let us see how this matter stands. He has stated that the question is to enlarge the advance that is to be made, and to throw the security upon the rates. The question is a great deal larger than the right hon. and learned Gentleman has represented; it and the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton) fairly made it a great deal larger. The noble Lord, in his speech, fairly threw overboard the old notion of requiring the payment down of an instalment. The noble Lord based his plan entirely upon the notion of a reduction of rent, combined with the transfer of the fee simple, a reduction of the grant, not necessarily, in all cases, consider- 449 able; but the annual charge to be made on the tenant, under the plan of the noble Lord, without any proportion of the purchase money paid down in the first instance—the annual charge was to be kept within, and be below, and not above, the rent for which the tenant is now liable. The noble Lord made one most important and valuable admission. In a statement, which was couched in very emphatic terms—I will not attempt to repeat his words; but, if I use strong words, I do not think I shall use stronger words than those which fell from the noble Lord when he said he considered it would be most dangerous to place the State in the condition of creditor in the face of the peasantry and smaller occupiers of Ireland, and such a feature he proposed entirely to expel from his plan. Well, that is very important; because, if the noble Lord agrees that it is not safe to place the State in the condition of creditor before the mass of the Irish cultivators, the noble Lord must allow me to say that neither would it be safe to involve the State in pecuniary responsibility in connection with the purchase of Irish holdings with any unreal and illusory personage, placed between the State and the cultivators of the land of Ireland. Now, see what changes are proposed, and how different the scheme now before us in principle and in detail is from the schemes upon which hitherto Parliament has been content to go. I have said I cannot accept the word "immediate" in the Resolution of the noble Lord. While I recognize the duty of Parliament, I cannot consent to adopt words that I know it is impossible to act upon, and that no exertion of the Government, considering the engagements with which they are already charged, could by any possibility enable them to fulfil. Let us see what is the real bearing and effect of the main proposition of the plan before us. I am very glad to see that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) recognized the introduction of the local authority in this case. I hold that my impression is that these clauses will have to be revised; that the revision, if it is to be made, ought to be of a serious character; and if it is to be of a serious character, it would be impossible to effect it except with the introduction of a local authority. On that principle I think the noble Lord proposes to pro- 450 ceed. He has not, however, communicated to us what the local authority is to be; and there, undoubtedly, rises a question of the greatest difficulty and of the greatest importance. The principle upon which all former proposals of this kind have been based has been that, while the creation of a farming proprietary—which was the happy phrase introduced by the noble Lord himself—while the creation of a farming proprietary is very desirable, the principal plan for bringing that proprietary into existence ought to be purchase with comfort, purchase with capital, purchase with candour, purchase with qualities tested to some extent, as a general rule, by the payment down of a proportion of the purchase money. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork says we have altered the proportion of the purchase money to be paid down from two-thirds to three-fourths; but that is a slender ground for supposing that we are prepared to part with the condition altogether. How far we are prepared to go in this direction may appear at a later stage of this subject; but I do not see how it is possible to part with the application of that principle. Now, Sir, by the adoption of that principle, and by securing the higher character of our purchasers, we attained to the success we have attained under the Irish Church Act, and which we should have attained in a much larger degree under the Land Act had we not, as has been justly stated by the noble Lord and by the hon. and gallant Gentleman below the Gangway (Colonel Colthurst), removed the inducement to proprietorship in a great degree by giving to the tenant such a position, in the capacity of tenant, as conduced to his satisfaction. We then knew that by having these views of competency and character we had likewise some limitation to the extent of the transaction. Parliament would have reserved it in its power to consider, from time to time, whether these transactions ought to be relaxed. And now let us see what is proposed in substance, because, in substance, this is the common view of the proposal of the noble Lord and the hon. Member for the City of Cork. I do not say they adopt all the propositions of the Committee of the House of Lords—the Report of which Committee, by the way, contains 451 the most subversive and dangerous doctrines that were ever proposed in our time by a public body—or all the suggestions set forth by the whole work; but they abolish the payment down of any portion of the purchase money, and they say to the tenant—" You are now to become the proprietor of your holding, either with a reduction, or, at all events, with no increase of rent; you are to make no effort, you will be called upon for no payment down—in fact, we shall call upon you to pay something less than your rent for a limited number of years, and then the fee-simple will be yours." I have not made up my mind, quite irrespective of the credit of the State, that such a plan as that is defensible in principle; but it appears to me one of the broadest and most extended propositions that-was ever brought before Parliament, and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the 'University of Dublin, who is ready to vote for an immediate Bill, says, there are many practical difficulties which really require to be overcome before a solution can be arrived at. What is, then, the consequence? Every cultivator of the soil in Ireland is to be told —" We come to you now and we offer to you that, without taking any steps whatever, without entering into any new engagements whatever, with, probably, a remission of some part of your present engagements, you shall be, in a given number of years, the proprietor of the holding which you now occupy." Will not the first consequence of that proposal be that every holder in Ireland will claim to become a proprietor? A man is to make no effort, he is to do nothing; if he has been au indifferent cultivator, or even an indifferent character, as such he may continue; without any effort, or sacrifice, or engagement whatever, he is simply to make his demand, in order to come within the circle of this proposal; he is to become the proprietor of his holding, irrespective of his capital and of his character. I may state, moreover, that the proposal would involve the question of a State guarantee to the extent of several hundreds of millions—£300,000,000 or £400,000,000—
I cannot give the absolute figures; but I venture to say it would not be far short of 452 £300,000,000 of money that would require to be involved in the guarantee I am now speaking of. That guarantee, according to the noble Lord, is to be covered by the local authority.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The right hon. Gentleman is mixing up the scheme of the House of Lords with my proposal. I never proposed that the State should guarantee £300,000,000 of money.
I never mentioned anything of the kind. I am endeavouring to work out what I think are the consequences of the noble Lord's proposals. He asked that the payment down of a portion of the purchase money is to be dropped; and I think, under his plan, a man is to become proprietor of his holding without any payment down, but simply by paying for a moderate term of years—I think 40 years—the very same or less rent than he pays now. It is for that that I make the noble Lord responsible, not for what he stated, but for what are the necessary consequences of his proposals. The consequences of his proposals are, that every man having offered to him the fee-simple of his holding and some reduction of rent, it is absurd to ask, will that man take it, or will he not? Of course, he will take it. Therefore, you have to deal with the whole land of Ireland. ["No, no!"] I am glad to hear that straightforward recognition of the true facts of the case. At this moment I am called upon to say I will immediately carry this into effect. This is a question which would involve, as I say, a guarantee by the State of £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 of money; or, as the hon. Member for the City of Cork says, of £100,000,000 of money. The noble Lord interposes a local authority. In principle, I think that a valuable and essential feature of his plan; I do not know whether the noble Lord thinks there are local authorities existing in Ireland who can pledge the people of Ireland and the property of the country to a guarantee of £300,000,000. I do not think there are such bodies in existence, although I do not pretend to speak dogmatically and with authority on this subject. I am not aware of any local authority which can be in the mind of any man, except Grand Juries or the Boards of Guardians. The Grand Juries are totally out of the question upon the 453 present basis; and with respect to the Boards of Guardians, which were elected for entirely different purposes, and with functions of not one-fiftieth part of this scope and importance, I cannot undertake to bring in immediately a Bill for placing in their hands the obligations of a plan which is to involve this enormous, gigantic, and almost incredible guarantee. I think those are reasons which ought to show that we could not possibly go further than my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant has gone. I am determined, for myself, to preserve my own mind entirely free on the question whether it is possible to amend the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act without dealing with what I hold to be a question of extreme urgency, a question of great urgency for Ireland —namely, the question of its local institutions. I can conceive that a judicious measure of local institutions for Ireland might immensely simplify the difficulties of this measure; but this one thing more I wish to say in protesting against this enormous transaction, that if we call upon bodies quite incompetent for the purpose of entering upon vast pecuniary engagements on the part of the people of Ireland, the meaning of that is, that the whole affair will be an imposture. The interference of a local authority will only serve to cast dust in the eyes of the people in this country, and we should attain no other end than we should have attained if we had recognized at once and adopted at once the principle which the noble Lord declared to be intolerable—namely, the principle of becoming at once the direct creditors of all the cultivators in Ireland. Undoubtedly, regard for the interests of the English taxpayer is one of the motives, and probably a great one, in my mind, against the adoption of any scheme of that character; but I must say there is another motive behind it, working in the same direction, and carrying us to exactly the same conclusion, which I deem to be more weighty still, and that is a motive which must be all-powerful in the mind of every right-minded person in this country—namely, a desire to promote harmony and goodwill between the peoples of the two countries. To place the State and the Treasury of this country in the position of creditor ship is like putting a bastard premium on every attempt 454 to disturb the relations between England and Ireland. I am not sure what are the intentions of the noble Lord; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin desires to give us an order to legislate immediately on a question which, nevertheless, he ingenuously confesses is surrounded by many practical difficulties which require to be carefully looked at. I think I have shown why I cannot adopt this Resolution in the sense in which it was adopted, certainly by the hon. Seconder (Mr. A. J. Balfour), as a mere defence against the rights of property in Ireland, the security of which he thinks we have impaired and weakened, but which we think we have saved and rescued. ["Oh! oh!"] It is all very well to jeer; but these are solemn convictions; and the hon. Gentleman who is accustomed to indulge in that mode of expression, would do well to allow solemn impressions to be delivered in a proper manner, and without that description of interruption. It is my deep conviction that the Land Act of 1881 has been a great attempt, and, in the main, a successful attempt, to deal with the Land Question of Ireland, and to vindicate the liberty of property in Ireland. I cannot adopt this Resolution upon the principle that property has been shaken; but I adopt it on totally different grounds. I adopt it, without any pledge to take immediate action upon it until we can, dispose of the difficulties with which it is surrounded; I adopt it on the ground of the intrinsic merits of the policy which it contemplates in Ireland—the placing of a considerable portion of the land of that country in the hands of those by whom that land is cultivated.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, that whatever opinion the House might form of the proposal of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), he was sure those who had sat in the House during the greater part of the debate, as he (Mr. O'Connor Power) had done, would feel thankful to him for the very useful discussion which his Motion had provoked. And he was further sure they would all be glad to join the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in acknowledging the moderation with which the noble Lord had stated his views. With reference to the speech of the right hon. 455 Gentleman the Prime Minister, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) would like to call attention to two important points upon which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt. In the early part of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said he was glad to hear that his hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) had recognized the necessity for some collateral security by the local authority, if any advance for this scheme was made by the Imperial Exchequer. He wished to remind the House that, the first time in those discussions that the local authority was referred to as a satisfactory collateral security, was, sometime ago, when ho (Mr. O'Connor Power) had the honour of submitting a Motion on the question of migrating tenants from one part of Ireland to another. He was sorry the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex had not honoured him with his support on that occasion; but he was bound to say there was a decided coincidence of thought between them, because, when he mentioned to the noble Lord, privately, the method which he intended to adopt for giving collateral security, the noble Lord stated to him that he (Lord George Hamilton) had been for some time devoting considerable attention to the question, and that was precisely the kind of collateral security which ho had devised in reference to his scheme for peasant proprietorship. What ho noted particularly in the important statement of the Prime Minister was, that he had stated that should these clauses be seriously revised, a local authority must be called together. Now, he regarded that as a very important declaration on the part of the Prime Minister; and, as far as it went, it was a very satisfactory declaration. He did not say that the risk contemplated by the Prime Minister was as much as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think; that if the assent of the Government was given to any scheme of this description, the credit of the Imperial Exchequer would be pledged to the extent of £300,000,000. Of course, when the Prime Minister spoke on any financial question, it was very difficult to say a word on the subject; but he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would not object to his putting a question with all humility and with all sincerity. If it were true that, by the adoption of the noble Lord's proposal, the credit of the 456 State would be pledged to the extent of £300,000,000, he would like to know, was the credit of the State, under the Act of 1881, whereby the State was prepared to advance two-thirds of the purchase-money, pledged to the extent of £200,000,000 at the present moment? If the risk, so far as the Government had gone, were not as he had described it, he (Mr. O'Connor Power) failed to understand how the risk would be so great as the right hon. Gentleman contemplated if this proposal were carried out. He regarded the present discussion as a very important and serious one on many grounds. When he considered the position which the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, who moved the Resolution, occupied in the House, and what his relations to the landed proprietors of Ireland were; when he considered also the cordial manner in which the scheme of the noble Lord had been supported by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), ho (Mr. O'Connor Power) was inclined to regard the debate as the beginning of the end—the beginning of the end of one of the greatest agitations that had ever stirred the people of Ireland, and one which must be completely settled before anything like social or political tranquillity could be restored to that country. When the Land Act of 1881 was introduced into the House, he did not conceal his opinion regarding it. He regarded it as a great measure, and he still did so. He did not adopt the description which had been given of the measure on either side of the House as absolutely correct. It had been described, on the one side, as a settlement of the Land Question; and, on the other side, it had been described as a measure which had left the Land Question still unsettled. Now, ho thought if they were to say that the Land Question was not completely settled, they would arrive at the best and most accurate description of the state of things in Ireland. The noble Lord who moved the Resolution laid down a proposition in connection with that measure which he (Mr. O'Connor Power) certainly was not able to endorse. The noble Lord said that, notwithstanding the effort which Parliament then made, every evil which the Government had had to deal with had been aggravated and intensified. The noble Lord was looking at the Land Act entirely from 457 the landlords' point of view. The noble Lord told the House that a measure which had cut down rents by 20 per cent had aggravated the evils from which the tenant farmers had for more than half-a-century suffered. No one would persuade the farmers of Ireland that a measure which had given them such substantial relief had not gone a great way towards removing the difficulties which beset them. What was complained of was this, that the settlement originally proposed by the Representatives of the tenant farmers in Ireland remained yet untried under conditions which were likely to bring complete success. In the early stages of the Irish National Land League movement, the main proposals of the League were adopted by the tenant farmers in Ulster just as loyally and as cordially as by the tenant farmers in Connaught and the South of Ireland. Nevertheless, when Parliament came to deal with the subject, it dealt with every aspect of the agrarian question but the one aspect on which the Representatives of the tenant farmers had mainly set their hearts, and that aspect of the question was such legislation as would enable the tenant farmers to become, by honest purchase, the proprietors of their farms. The speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex was noteworthy in other particulars; but he (Mr. O'Connor Power) would like to say a few words with reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), who seconded the Motion of the noble Lord. Speaking disparagingly of the Land Act, the hon. Gentleman said that for 40 years this country had been endeavouring to settle the Irish Land Question. He (Mr. O'Connor Power) did not think that was historically true, for he believed that the first real attempt to deal with the Land Law of Ireland was made in 1870. He was aware that, in the earlier years of the present century, several Land Acts were introducted and passed; but what was their object? Why, did they think they were passed for the purpose of securing to the tenants the fruits of their industry? No, they were not; their object was simply to strengthen the landlord in the exercise of his unjust privileges, enabling him to deprive the tenant of the fruits of his industry. He contended, therefore, it was only within a very recent period that Parliament had 458 realized that the interests of property were represented by the tenant farmers of Ireland as well as by the gentlemen, who had hitherto accumulated in their own hands the whole resources of the land of the country. Well, reference had also been made to the position of the Land Act in Ireland and the position of a State tribunal, making contracts between man and man. Well, he supposed that nobody ever intended that that tribunal should be a permanent institution. He, for one, did not believe in its permanency. He looked upon it as a necessary evil—an evil rendered necessary by half-a-century of legislative neglect, and the silence by which Parliament had received the complaints of the Irish tenant farmers over so long a period. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. Trevelyan) seemed to throw some doubt upon the utility of a scheme of this kind, because he said the 'peasant proprietors were a class of men who rapidly ran into debt—["No, no!"] He believed it was the right hon. Gentleman who had made that statement—["No, no!"] At any rate, somebody had said it in the course of the debate, and it was a statement very often made in discussions of this kind. Well, what he (Mr. O'Connor Power) had to ask was, did the persons who, at the present moment, held the land in Ireland never run into debt?
§ MR. TREVELYAN
From the position I hold in Ireland, it is necessary that I should correct a statement of this kind. I hope the hon. and learned Member will allow me to remind him that it was an hon. Gentleman who spoke below him, who made the statement he attributes to me—that since the Land Act tenant farmers had continued to run into debt as much as they did before.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he would acknowledge that he had made a mistake. The truth was, the tenant farmers of Ireland, at the present moment, were obliged to run into debt. A great deal of light was thrown upon this question by the evidence collected by the Duke of Richmond's and Lord Bessborough's Commissions, as would be seen by any hon. Member who took the trouble to look at it. It would be found that large numbers of the tenant farmers of Ireland were embarrassed by debt at the present moment, and that 459 large numbers of the landlords were in the same position. To tell him that the peasant proprietors were a class who rapidly ran into debt—and be readily acknowledged it was not the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, but the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), who made that statement—was only to expose one of those evils which afflicted people in all positions and grades of society. He would ask the House to attend to one very important statement made by the hon. Member for Hertford. The hon. Member had said he admitted very freely—and his whole heart seemed to go out in the admission—that the political aspirations of the Irish people were practically the result of misgovernment. Now, that was a very important declaration, and it was marvellous how much political wisdom one could always learn in this House when listening to statesmen in Opposition. It was marvellous to hear the statement coming from the Front Opposition Bench below the Gangway. That, ho maintained, was the side of the House to which a person, anxious to complete his political education, should listen attentively. That acknowledgment, on the part of the hon. Member for Hertford, accounted for a great deal of dissatisfaction which had prevailed in Ireland for so many years, but which many of the hon. Member's Friends had been accustomed to attribute to very different causes indeed. Well, they had heard the whole objection to a scheme of this kind—namely, that a "no rent" agitation against the Government would be substituted for a "no rent" agitation against the landlords; but if such an agitation as that were to be got up, his firm belief was that it would have no possible chance of success. Where it was apparent to the whole public mind of the country that the tenant was really called upon to pay upon the property which was ultimately to become his own, but that he was not called upon, in any year, to pay a larger margin of the profits which ho derived from his farm, than would enable him to live and thrive in his own home, popular opinion would insist upon the money being paid. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the effect of this discussion would be to induce Her Majesty's Government, if not during the present Session, at any 460 rate at the earliest opportunity which would present itself, to consider this question in the serious light indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and that they might be afforded an opportunity of grappling finally with the difficulties of agrarian law in Ireland.
In answer to the question put to me, I have to say that, if the hon. and learned Member will consult the 33rd section of the Land Act, ho will find that the whole effect and scope of the Purchasing Clauses of the Land Act are limited to the issue of the sum which Parliament may grant from year to year for the purpose.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he was very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for so kindly answering the question. Had he (Mr. O'Connor Power) not been swayed by that erroneous consideration, he should have availed himself of the opportunity of stating that the operation of the scheme of the noble Lord would never attain the magnificent proportions sketched in the speech of the Prime Minister.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, that in reference to the statement of the Prime Minister, that he (Mr. Parnell) had estimated the value of the land in Ireland at only £100,000,000, he wished to say that he had never stated anything of the kind, and had never intended to make such a statement. He had estimated that the value of the land in the occupation of tenants which the noble Lord intended to deal with—that was to say, the actual residential owners of the soil—at a sum of money per annum, which would amount, at 20 years' purchase, to £100,000,000.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, though I had not the advantage of hearing my noble Friend (Lord George Hamilton), when he brought forward his proposal, I was already aware, by previous communication with him, of the general lines of that proposal; and it appears to me that the discussion, so far as I have had the opportunity of listening to it, amply justifies the step my noble Friend has taken in bringing the matter before the House, and the general line of the argument which he has pursued. I think we may consider the matter from this point of view. The Irish Land Act was roughly divisible into two parts—that is to say, into the 461 part which related to the tenure of land, and the clauses which related to the purchase of land. I do not wish, of course, to revive all the controversies which took place with regard to the Tenure Clauses. There were great differences of opinion, and I must confess that I was very far indeed from being satisfied with the arrangements made as to the Tenure Clauses; but we always felt that the measure must be regarded as a whole, and that the Purchase Clauses were as much and as important a part of the measure as the Tenure Clauses. Such was the view also of the Government; and it was a view which they expressed repeatedly, both while the Act was under consideration in this House, and after it had become law, and questions arose as to the alteration of it. My noble Friend has brought forward, with a competent knowledge of the state of Ireland, a proposition which is, in fact and in substance, that which Her Majesty's Government have more than once told us of—that the scheme of this Act is incomplete unless the Purchase Clauses become a reality; and that the Purchase Clauses, as they at present stand, are in need of revision, in order to make them such as they were intended to be, and such as we think they ought to be. My noble Friend has made certain suggestions; and there is no doubt that, however ingenious and however well-considered those proposals may be, it is quite impossible that they should be adopted without careful consideration. Indeed, my noble Friend never proposed that anything should be laid aside, and that you should at once legislate upon the particular lines ho suggested for consideration. But what my noble Friend does propose, and does urge upon the House is, that this matter should not be put aside; that you should not say—"Oh, well, some day or other no doubt these matters may be dealt with, and must be dealt with; but we cannot take them up yet, and we don't know when we may take them up." Therefore, my noble Friend uses a word which has been made the subject of some remark—namely, immediate "revision. I do not understand that my noble Friend, by the use of the word "immediate," means that the Government should, on Thursday next say, proceed to introduce a Bill on the subject; but that Her Majesty's Government should take this 462 matter up in a practical way, with a view to the elaboration of a proposal that they would recommend to the House, and that they should introduce it with no more delay than is necessary for the full and careful consideration of the subject. In making this proposal, my noble Friend does not at all originate any idea. He only takes up an idea already thrown out, and stated to the House by the Government themselves. As long ago as the 2nd of May last year, the Primo Minister, speaking upon the Irish policy of the Government, said that there were certain points that ought to be brought forward.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
1966. The right hon. Gentleman said—I have already partially and generally opened the views of the Government on one of the most important points which we think it our duty to open—namely, the question of arrears, a point, I may say, of the most pressing and immediate importance; and I also stated that an early opportunity would arise for touching on another point of great importance and interest—the question of the Purchase Clauses."—(3 Hansard,  1966.)So that, in 1882, the right hon. Gentleman thought an early opportunity would arise for dealing with this subject; and that was not an accidental statement of the right hon. Gentleman in the heat of debate—it was no accidental, but it was a deliberate statement, made on the initiation of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and it entirely corresponded with another statement that was made in the other House of Parliament, by Earl Granville, on the same night, in which ho spoke of the revision of the Act, and said that a detailed statement would be made on the subject in Parliament on an early date. Well, all my noble Friend desires is that these statements and these promises of the Government, made in both Houses of Parliament, with deliberation and authority, should be redeemed, and that this matter should not be allowed to stand aside and be put off until a time which may never arrive; but that we should be assured that the matter is to be taken up seriously and earnestly, and without unnecessary delay on the part of the Government. If there be any difficulty about the construction and wording of my noble Friend's Motion, 463 I would suggest that he should abandon the particular word "immediate," and be satisfied to take the words suggested by the Prime Minister himself—namely, "an early revision." The Motion then would be of a character that would pledge the House and the Government to take the matter up seriously, and would not, at the same time, involve any impossible undertaking to set aside all other Business, for the purpose of proceeding with this subject, however important it may be. There can be no doubt the questions that have been raised by my noble Friend, and raised from his point of view, and put forward with very great ability, as I am sure they must have been, because I know my noble Friend has considered this matter for some time, and has elaborated a proposal which, from his position, he was well able to do — there can be no doubt, I say, that my noble Friend has made a proposal with thought, and with knowledge; but it will be necessary, of course, that such proposal should be very carefully weighed. And, though I do not myself think this Motion is open to the objections which have been urged by the right hon. Gentleman, I would prefer that it should be considered and discussed from a Ministerial and official point of view, rather than that we should take it up in the manner in which it stands, I would venture to appeal to my noble Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to know whether they could not accept my proposition to substitute the word "early" for "immediate?" It seems to me that if that were adopted we should be in substantial agreement that this is a matter of great importance, deserving of early and immediate consideration, and as of early legislation as the circumstances will admit.
I think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite not an unfair one, and I shall have no objection to accept it.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, that, as a financial question, he considered the one under notice to be one of the most stupendous that had ever been brought before Parliament; and he ventured, also, to think that, as a political question, it was of scarcely less importance. Taking the amount of money which would be required, upon the smallest scale that the hon. Member for the City 464 of Cork (Mr. Parnell) put it down at, the cost would be £100,000,000. It had occurred to him (Mr. Illingworth) while the Prime Minister was speaking, and pointing out there should be some limit to the claims put forward by the tenants of Ireland, that there was some truth in the interruptions that were made by hon. Members sitting below the Gangway on the Opposition side of the House, and who were entitled to speak for the tenants of Ireland, to the effect that all the tenants would like to come under the scheme. If that were so, the cost would be much greater than was estimated by the hon. Member for the City of Cork. It would come to this—that on £15,000,000 a-year rental, at 20 years' purchase, which was a moderate computation, it would give a sum total of £300,000,000, which would have to be provided by the Government of this country, in order that only one portion of Her Majesty's Dominions might be benefited. And he ventured to think that the question did not end there. What would the cottiers and crofters in Scotland think if they were to accede to this demand? Claims would be made, both by landlords and tenants, with remarkable unanimity. And, further, he wanted to know whether the modest Agricultural Holdings Bill, now before Parliament, and intended to meet the dissatisfaction and complaints of English agriculturists, would be, for one moment, regarded as worthy the consideration of this House? He could, therefore, only express his amazement at right hon. Gentlemen, who had been in Office, and who he could still imagine to be dreaming of the coming day when they would once more be in Office, endeavouring to bring upon the Administration these enormous responsibilities. He was amazed to see these right hon. Gentlemen absolutely discussing as to whether, in this contest, the word "immediate" or the word "early" should be used. When they were discussing the Arrears Bill, and there was a probability of the National Exchequer being called upon for a paltry sum of £250,000, they had the whole Conservative Party up in arms against it—for £250,000 was all that it was contemplated applying out of the Exchequer in regard to arrears. So scrupulously careful were the Conservative Party of the interests of the British 465 taxpayer, that there was absolute unanimity on the other side of the House against such a proposal. [An hon. MEMBER: It was a grant that was proposed.] He was coming to that question presently; but, as a matter of fact, he could see very little difference between the one thing and the other. He could see very little difference between this scheme and that with which they were only too familiar in the past with regard to loans in Ireland. He could understand why the Irish landlord should push forward this scheme, and present it to the House, under the most plausible aspect; but he confessed he expected to hear from the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and the hon. and learned Member for the county of Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) some argument, showing the proposal of the noble Lord would be of great value and importance to the tenant classes of Ireland; but he had not heard a single syllable from either one or the other of these hon. Gentlemen in that direction, and yet they were thoroughly well acquainted with the circumstances of the Irish tenants. Not one syllable had come from either of them as to the value of this proposal to the great mass of the Irish tenantry; and that should, in some degree, influence English opinion in considering this stupendous proposal. The hon. Member for the City of Cork, and other hon. Members, had declared that the reason why there had been so little interest shown in the purchasing of land under the Land Act was that the Tenure Clauses had, in the main, proved so satisfactory and sufficient that there would be very little advantage to the Irish tenantry in burdening themselves with the nominal ownership of their holdings. One-half of the tenantry of Ireland were tenants under £10 a-year valuation. Even the noble Lord himself did not expect that the annual charge, in the shape of interest, to be much, if any, less; and he Mr. Illingworth) believed it would prove an additional charge, unless the State was to suffer, as substantial as the full rent now being paid. If, on the other hand, the tenant bad an absolute security in his holding—almost fixity of tenure—as a general proposition it would be the most unwise course possible for the Irish tenantry, many of whom were now steeped in debt, and had been going through bad 466 seasons, to rush in and burden themselves with the nominal ownerships in that country. He held that there was no urgency in this matter, and that the value of the proposal to the Irish tenantry would be so small that, oven supposing the Purchase Clauses of the Act were made as easy in working as possible, and there were modifications such as had been suggested by the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he did not believe there would be above 10 per cent of the tenantry who would be considering their own interest by at once taking up nominal ownership, and burdening themselves with the obligations which that ownership would involve. But there were some other points worthy of a moment's consideration. It had been held that the State would run no risk, and that the safeguard against risk would be some intermediate body; that the Representatives of Ireland and the local authorities would act as a buffer. He, however, held that it was an essential condition for any sound scheme of this kind, that there should be a margin maintained on the part of the State, before it advanced one step towards this arrangement. Why should Ireland be an exception? Would any business-man say he knew of any banker or building society or land association in this country that did not require this elementary and preliminary security? It was needed on every ground—as a proof of good faith and an evidence of the capacity and character—the sobriety and power of self-denial on the part of the person seeking to borrow. There were many bubble schemes outside, and he hoped the House would hesitate long before countenancing a scheme which was infinitely more of the character of a bubble scheme than of anything else. It could not be said that he had been unfriendly during the last few years to any rational proposal for improving the condition of the Irish people. He had voted—and he believed every other hon. Member in that part of the House was equally ready to vote—for everything he and they believed to be in the interest of the Irish tenantry and not unjust to this country. But he was satisfied that peasant proprietorship could not be an institution of any permanence in Ireland, except by steady growth. Examples must be taken, in the first instance, of a few of the ten- 467 ants who had great energy and had some credit, and who could, therefore, provide the means of paying a fair instalment before they ventured on the rights of ownership. He thought that both the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary for Ireland had gone quite far enough in the undertaking they had given. But, even supposing that this Resolution was accepted with the word "immediate," he did not understand that the Prime Minister accepted the exposition of what the Resolution meant either by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), or the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), or the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), or even the form in which the right lion. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) had urged the proposal. What he (Mr. Illingworth) understood was, that the Government would commit Parliament to the consideration of what was possible and reasonable and fair to the Empire at large, in order to give greater effect to the Purchase Clauses. So far he (Mr. Illingworth) should be glad to operate with the Government.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he should be very glad to accept the Prime Minister's Amendment, and substitute "early" for "immediate." He wished to explain, however, that he had never meant by his proposal to borrow £300,000,000. He had stated that there were in the Irish banks £30,000,000; a small portion of which could be raised without the sanction of the Treasury, and only on the supposition that the local authorities would take the responsibility. Under the magnifying influence of the Primo Minister, that sum had become £300,000,000, to be raised and placed on the ratepayers; but he had distinctly stated, in moving his Resolution, that he accompanied it with various suggestions, which were not meant to be an interpretation of the Resolution, or to bind everyone who voted for the proposal.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, an early revision of the Purchase Clauses of the Irish Land Act, 1881, is necessary, in order to give effect to the intentions of Parliament contained therein.—(Lord George Hamilton.)