§ [FIRST NIGHT.]
§ MR. T. W. LEGH (Lancashire, Newton),
who wore a Court dress, moved—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth;—Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness),
interposing on a point of order, said: Mr. Speaker, in the Speech you have read, the word "English" is used in reference to certain Missionaries. As these Missionaries were Scotch and Irish, and as this is the first time in this Parliament——[Loud cries of "Order."]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order. I must inform the hon. Member that that is not a point of order. It may be a question of propriety of language.
§ DR. TANNER
Why should not the hon. Member——[Loud cries of "Order," amid which Dr. Tanner resumed his seat.]
§ MR. LEGH
I venture to ask for indulgence on a double ground: first, because I have not been one of those who have trespassed unduly on the patience of the House, and, secondly, because it is a difficult task to attempt to treat a controversial matter in an uncontroversial spirit. Nor is my task rendered less easy by the character of the subject itself, for to put the matter plainly, except on one particular point, there is very little in the Speech. [Opposition laughter and cheers] This is not a matter for surprise or for disappointment. Just as the policy of the present Cabinet was to obtain a dissolution at the earliest possible moment, so the only policy they would be justified in laying before the country at the present time is that of complet- 72 ing the provision for the public service. But if little appears in the Speech from the Throne, the circumstances under which the Speech is delivered are remarkable. If for no other reason this Parliament is remarkable in the enjoyment of the melancholy distinction of being the first one for over 60 years which has been deprived of the presence of the Statesman who was its most illustrious ornament. Nor can the circumstances be overlooked that a minority has been turned into a majority of an almost unprecedented number. This fact can scarcely be ignored with propriety. Into the causes which have brought about the recent change in the House of Commons I have no desire to inquire too closely. Explanations of an ingenious character have been advanced to account for it—explanations which were ingenious, but occasionally contradictory. A few years ago the Leader of the House said that we were about to embark upon an era of small majorities, but that era seems already to have departed. I have no desire to inquire too closely into the causes which have brought about the present remarkable change of opinion; many of the theories put forward are unsound and contradictory. I do not go so far as to say that economical difficulties will be removed by a change of Government, or by legislative enactments, but Governments are more or less responsible for the promotion or alienation of confidence. I venture to express a doubt as to whether some of the measures brought forward in the last Parliament were likely to promote confidence; the measure for which the right hon. Leader of the Opposition was primarily responsible, for instance, was not likely to encourage the commercial class, and perhaps the Finance Act of 1894 would come under the same category. If confidence has been in any way alienated, it is the first duty of the Government to restore and build it up again as soon as possible. The moral of the recent Election, I believe, is, that the people are less anxious for legislation than they were supposed to be, but are anxious for sound, practical administration. The present majority is of almost an unprecedented character, and is a weapon of immense force; it is the earnest hope and expectation of all that this force may be used with discretion, 73 generosity and moderation, and that it will not be used for the furthering of paltry partizan objects, but for the benefit of the country at large. That portion of the Queen's Speech which I imagine will give most satisfaction is that which states that no internal conplication has arisen in any quarter which is calculated to endanger the peace of Europe. The Ministers of the Crown, however, are confronted with many questions in which great care is necessary. It is no disparagement to Lord Rosebery and Lord Kimberley to say that Lord Salisbury has inherited a task of great difficulty and delicacy, arid the task is rendered more difficult by the peculiar fact that there is in this country a class of politicians who seem unfortunately to prefer every other country to their own. With regard to the war between China and Japan the policy of this country has been one of strict neutrality. We may hope that the peace which has been secured may lead to the development of British enterprise and commerce in that portion of the world. Attention has been called to the atrocious outrages perpetrated upon our missionaries in China. The persons who have been murdered or plundered were British subjects, who had violated no law, and were entitled to the protection which all states calling themselves civilised are bound to provide for those living within their territory. The attacks were apparently made, not because they were missionaries, but because they were foreigners. If these outrages are allowed with impunity, all the expectations which have been held out of opening up China to British commerce will be entirely defeated. It is feared that the provincial authorities in China are not free from complicity, and it is to be hoped that prompt action will be taken to punish the offenders and exact reparation. As regards Armenia we have as a nation made this question our own for the last 15 or 16 years, ever since the First Lord of the Admiralty went on his special mission to Constantinople, but little or nothing has been done on behalf of the Armenians in Asiatic Turkey. The melancholy fact remains that, in spite of all our efforts, the country has gone from bad to worse, until events have culminated in the recent outrages which have horrified Europe. This is not a 74 Party question, and important meetings have been held to strengthen Lord Salisbury's hands. It is not a question, however, which can be settled by meetings in this country, but by our Representatives abroad acting in conjunction with the Powers, and the resources of diplomacy are not exhausted. These questions are of a difficult and complex nature, and will have to be dealt with in a careful and patient manner: but a hopeful feature about all these questions of external policy is that the principle of continuity of foreign policy has to a great extent been established. It is to be hoped that we shall no longer witness the spectacle of our Government undoing the work of its predecessor. It is too much to hope for agreement on all points, but at any rate it is within the bounds of possibility that upon all great vital issues the various parties in the State will sink their differences and unite in the common cause of national interests. That is a consummation I devoutly wish for. I belive it will form the best and surest guarantee, not only for the security of our own position amongst the great Powers of Europe, but also for the preservation of peace throughout the civilised world. In conclusion, I beg to thank the House for the patience with which it has listened to me, and to move:—That we, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.''
§ MR. T. H. ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.),
who wore a Court dress, said: Deeply as I feel the honour conferred upon me in allowing me to Second this Motion, at the present moment I feel much more deeply how much I stand in need of the indulgence of the House—an indulgence which, I believe, is never refused to a Member when he makes his maiden speech, and still less one who never had an opportunity of hearing a speech delivered within these walls until the one just made, and who is called upon to address this ancient assembly on perhaps the most historic occasion that occurs within the course of any Parliament. I 75 feel this honour very deeply, and I feel the necessity of asking for your indulgence just as much, although I know that I do not owe the position I occupy to my own merits, but to the fact that I am one of the representatives of those large East End constituencies which on this occasion have spoken with almost unanimous voice. I think I may be pardoned if I say that I consider South Hackney, which is one of the largest and most important of these constituencies, is at the same time one of the most enlightened and one of the most intelligent. It has this peculiarity, that it is the first of these Constituencies, so far as I know, to send a resident in the East End to represent it in this Assembly, and it may be natural that some of the Members here present may have been a little desirous to see what kind of a person a dweller in the East End was, especially if he had to address you on an occasion when it was necessary that he should appear in some peculiar costume. Objection may be taken to the Speech on the ground that it contains no legislative proposals for this Session. Speaking on behalf of my neighbours in the East End, I may say I feel sure that that course will commend itself to the majority of the electors in the country for several reasons. In the first place they are desirous that the period of peace and calm which was wished to you, Mr. Speaker, by the Leaders on both sides, should not be disturbed too soon; that we should not engage in contentious business sooner than was absolutely necessary, but that we should allow the turmoil of this strife to fade away, so that we might enter upon our business in a quieter spirit than we should do if we began our work immediately after the General Election. Another reason why we were anxious that time should be allowed is this. We are, most of us, earning our living in connection with great enterprises of one kind or another, and we know well that those great enterprises can only be carried to a successful issue if the plans for carrying them out are well considered before they are started. We apply the same idea to the legislation of this country, and consequently we desire that Her Majesty's Members should take all reasonable time to consider what they will propose in 76 order that they may not do anything in haste. Then there is another reason which certainly commends itself very much to me, and that is that inasmuch as this Session will be devoted to that great question of the Estimates—perhaps the most important question that comes before Parliament—it will give the new Members, of whom there is a large body, an opportunity of learning, by listening to our seniors, how the business of the House is carried on in that respect, and of preparing ourselves to take our place in these debates, and to combine the value of silence with judicious utterance on such matters as are specially within our own knowledge. It may be that many of us might think we might better employ our time in our country homes. [An Hon. MEMBER: "In the East End."] There are some of us who, in addition to our homes in the East End, happen to possess other homes, and it happens to be my good fortune to possess a house in a country which occupies a good deal of the time of Parliament, a country of which I am particularly fond, and in which I take the deepest interest—I mean Ireland. But I feel that I have undertaken a great responsibility in becoming a Member of this Assembly, and that I have a lesson to learn here. I shall do more by learning that lesson here than I could possibly do by enjoying myself in the country. The gracious Speech contains matter of the very deepest interest to us in London, in reference to our Foreign and Colonial Affairs. There is nothing in which the working classes take more interest than our foreign and colonial relations. They know that their prosperity depends upon our foreign relations being properly maintained; they know that our trade depends upon the expansion of our colonies, and upon their being well governed; and I venture to say that the elections of this country turned much more than is generally supposed upon the feeling of the people as to which Party is likely to conduct our foreign relations best. We rejoice, of course, to hear that this great war between China and Japan is over, and that Her Majesty has contributed in some measure to bring about that peace which we hope will be lasting. We regret, of course, that it is necessary to mention two classes of foreign matters in the Queen's Speech. 77 These matters have this in common, that both are atrocities, and both of them, unfortunately, are atrocities against Christian people. We see almost every day the noble work that is done by those who devote their lives for the good of their fellow creatures in our part of London, and consequently we have felt as much as any other portion of England how much sympathy is due to those people who have suffered in the manner they have done in China. We feel the injury that would be done to the cause of civilisation and religion if anything of the kind is allowed in the future—if we do not in some manner or other prevent so far as we can the recurrence of such unfortunate circumstances. In Armenia, of course, these atrocities appeal to the whole world. Certainly they appeal to the subjects of Her Majesty, and I think we may safely say that they appeal just as much to Her Majesty's loyal Mohammedan subjects in India and elsewhere as they do to us in this land. We hope and trust that the efforts which Her Majesty is making will not only result in the punishment of those who are guilty of these atrocities, but will also prevent their recurrence at any time in the future. There is but one other subject in the Speech to which I need refer at all, and that is the annexation of Bechuanaland to Cape Colony. We, on this side of the House, have been at one in our desire to have Governments loyal and united, and we are naturally pleased that theses two Colonies should at length be brought together. It is only about ten years since Bechuanaland came into the possession of the British Crown. It is directly in the centre of that point which constitutes South Africa, and points direct towards the centre of Africa. It contains practically the only large trade route from Cape Colony to the centre of Africa. Up to the present time it has been governed by the same Governor as Cape Colony, which is a guarantee to us that in this amalgamation or union the interests of Bechuanaland have been considered. Cape Colony lies now come to us and asked Her Majesty to give it this Crown Colony through which its trade route lies, and Her Majesty is graciously pleased to accede to the request, naming certain 78 stipulations which will commend themselves to everyone who has considered the matter—stipulations, for example, for the protection of the native population. It has always been a matter of pride in this country that it has cared for the native populations that have come under its management and government. I am sure we may all hope that this union which is about to take place will tend to the improvement of the trade of both the Colonies, and if it does that, it must at the same time tend to the improvement of the trade of our own country, and of my own constituency in the East End. One result may then be to diminish that great evil of the unemployed, from which we are at the present moment suffering. I thank the House very heartily for having granted me that indulgence for which I asked, pleading the novelty of the situation in which am, if I have made any observations to which this House can take exception. I beg to second the Motion for an Address.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
said: It is my first and most pleasing duty to offer to the Gentlemen who have moved and seconded this Address, my congratulations upon the manner in which they have discharged what is not an easy task. The proposer of the motion is an experienced Member of this House, and we have often heard him with satisfaction before. If I were to make any criticism at all upon his speech it would be one which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House made upon a recent occasion. There was a tendency on the part of the hon. Gentleman to introduce rather more controversial topics than usual upon an occasion of this kind. He invited me to enter upon certain matters which I do not think would tend to shorten this Debate or to abbreviate the term of this Session, and therefore I shall abstain from following him upon that ground. Both speeches, I think, were distinguished by remarkable frankness, especially the language in which the mover of the motion described the character of the contents of the Speech. I must make one or two remarks upon that part of the Speech which does contain something—namely, the part of which relates to Foreign Affairs. There is one thing in which I can entirely concur with the hon. Member who made the first of the 79 two speeches which we have heard, and that is, that it is very desirable that there should be continuity in the Foreign Policy of this country, and I am happy to see generally in the paragraphs relating to Foreign Affairs in the Speech that they are characterised by a continuity of the policy which was pursued by the last Administration. The paragraph with reference to the war between China and Japan is an approbation and an adoption of the policy pursued by the late Government. Although I am very unwilling to criticise the remarks made by the Mover and Seconder, I cannot altogether pass over the language used by the hon. Member (Mr. Legh), who is, I believe, experienced not only in this House, but in the Diplomatic Service. I refer to the language which he held with reference to Armenia. (Cheers.) I do not think that the view which he took on that subject is one which will commend itself to the people of this country or to the majority of gentlemen sitting on either side of this House. The hon. Member stated what he should have done if he had been in the place of Lord Salisbury. I am very glad in connection with the subject of Armenia that he is not in the place of Lord Salisbury. The attitude which he took up was that of condemnation of the co-operation of this country with the Governments of Russia and France in the settlement of this question.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am extremely glad that I misapprehended the hon. Member upon that subject, because I certainly understood—of course, I accept his correction—that he objected to joint action [Mr. LEGH: "No!"], and that he thought that England had better undertake the task alone. However, I accept entirely the statement of the hon. Member upon the point. There is no doubt that the co-operation of the Powers that are most interested in the satisfactory settlement of the very dangerous questions which have arisen in Asia out of these Armenian horrors—and I observe that they are described 80 as horrors in the Speech, as they deserve to be described from the mouth of the Sovereign—there is no doubt that the remedy for that state of things must be found in the co-operation of the Great Powers who are principally interested in the satisfactory settlement of the question, and I, at all events, regard it as a matter of the highest importance and of the greatest congratulation that, differing as they may have done upon many questions, the Governments of Russia and France and Great Britain have addressed themselves to this monstrous evil. England holds a position of special obligation in this matter, having been one of the Powers mainly instrumental in maintaining the Ottoman Empire in past times, and being bound by particular treaties. It therefore belongs to her to take, no doubt, a foremost and leading part in endeavouring to stop a condition of things which is properly described in the Speech as havingmoved the indignation of the Christian nations of Europe generally, and of this kingdom especially.I trust, therefore, that this matter will not be allowed to sleep. What is stated in the Speech is that the three Powers have made a representation to the Government of the Sultan as to the introduction of reformswhich, in their opinion, are necessary to prevent a recurrence of constant disorder.Well, a representation of that kind by three Great Powers is no light thing. The Speech proceeds to say thatthese proposals are now being considered by His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, and that Her Majesty is anxiously awaiting his decision.No doubt the decision is awaited with anxiety; when the decision is taken, I trust there will be no faltering on the part of the Government of this country in insisting that those reforms which have been so recommended shall be effectually carried out. ["Hear, hear!"] Another matter referred to relates to Bechuanaland. On that I offer no criticism at all. I have no doubt that that may be regarded as a useful and politic arrangement. But this is a remarkable circumstance—there are 81 foreign events of far greater importance than the annexation of Bechuanaland, to which events there is no reference whatever in the Speech from the Throne. [Cheers.] We all know perfectly well that there has been an expedition to Chitral. The questions whether, as a result of that expedition, the frontier of India is to be altered, whether Chitral is to be occupied permanently, or whether the troops, having effected the object for which they originally went there, are to be gradually withdrawn—these are questions upon which no information is offered. It has always been usual at the conclusion of an expedition like this, above all when it has been proposed to annex new territories, to extend the boundaries of the Empire, that Parliament should be given information in the Speech from the Throne. I do not desire to raise any question regarding which the Government may consider that it would be inexpedient that declarations should be made; but there have appeared in the Press certain statements—I do not know whether they are authentic or not—upon this matter, and it is one upon which I think the House of Commons ought to be informed. ["Hear, hear!"] I therefore hope that the Government will tell us what is their policy with reference to the occupation of Chitral. Is it to be a permanent occupation or not? If it is to be a permanent occupation, what is the force which they expect will be required for that purpose; and—this is most important—will that force for the occupation of Chitral involve an increase, a material increase, of the army of India? Are the Government going—as we know would be necessary in those circumstances—to make and maintain a new road through that territory? Can they give us any information as to the cost of such occupation, and as to the means by which the Government of India will be able to meet that cost? The question of the ability of India to bear a burden of this character is a very serious question. We all know with reference to the expedition to Afghanistan that there was a large addition made some years ago to the Indian army, and that that addition to the army was among the elements which have led to the financial difficulties of India. Therefore, the House will naturally desire to 82 know whether new burdens are likely to be put on India; also the character of those burdens, and what are the means by which she will be enabled to meet them. We had hoped that it might have been possible without injury to the public service for Her Majesty's Government to make some statement upon so important a subject as that. I do not desire to trouble the House very long, and it will hardly be necessary when I turn over the page to the domestic section of the gracious Speech from the Throne. [Laughter.] It is an old saying that nature abhors a vacuum, and nature must have formed an unfavourable opinion on this occasion of the Speech from the Throne. [Laughter.] The Proposer of the Motion stated very frankly, and with great truth, that there was very little in it—that there was nothing in it. ["Hear, hear!'' and laughter] That was a very frank admission, and an explanation of the Speech in which I concur. But the Seconder was more frank still. He explained the reasons why it was that there was nothing in the domestic part of the Speech, and he said that the constituents amongst whom he lives would highly approve of the fact that there was nothing in it. He gave us as a reason, which had the advantage of novelty, that it was intended in order to educate new Members in the conduct of the business of the House. [Laughter.] I have thus got the real secret of the rather unusual character of the Speech, that it was in order that new Members might attend to the Estimates; not, I hope, too closely, so as, by this educational process, to make the protraction of the Session greater than some of us might desire. It is expressed in the Speech in a tentative method and in language which I do not recollect to have been adopted before, because the Sovereign is made to say thatit will probably be found more convenient to defer to another Session the consideration of important legislative measures."Probably" seems an odd word to put in there. It looks as if the Government have not quite made up their minds whether it was convenient or not, and they will not go further than to say it may not be convenient. I am ready to admit that it is not convenient in the 83 month of August to enter on protracted legislative measures of a controversial character; but at the same time, though we cannot undertake to pass great Bills, I think, especially as the hon. Member who opened this discussion referred to the question of the last General Election and the considerations which had influenced its results, we might have had a little more information upon some very interesting topics. [Cheers.] The hon. Member referred to the question of trade. Well, for many weeks we have heard that bad trade was entirely the work of the Liberal Party. [Cheers] That is one of the topics which are of an interesting character. It is true that trade had begun to decline before the late Government came into office. I have never quite understood why Conservative Governments, which always make good trade, do not always keep it good. [Laughter.] Why, when trade had reached the point of 1890 did they allow it to flag in 1892? ["Hear, hear!"] These are matters which I think might occupy the attention of the Government. Well, then there is the agricultural interest, which is dreadfully depressed. That was the fault of the Liberal Party and the late Administration in that they had not applied the necessary remedies for that state of things. Again, there were the textile industries. They also had suffered under a Liberal Administration, and the unemployed. If a Conservative Government had been in power, there never would have been unemployed at all. All these things have created a great hope and expectation throughout the country, and I am rather afraid that when the country is told that it probably will be found more convenient to read all these great legislative measures a first time this day six months it will be rather astonished that all these great boons that a Conservative Administration was about to confer upon it have not come a little sooner. I think it is rather a pity that the time should be so long postponed. When is the time of universal high prices and high wages to come? These are things which are being expected and which are being looked for, and, therefore, when the Government comes forward with a Speech which, as the hon. Member opposite says, contains nothing, I am afraid a little disappointment will be the result. ["Hear, 84 hear!"] I observe already that the agricultural interest is becoming a little impatient, and from accounts I saw in the papers this morning they have memorialised the Government and laid down two conditions which first of all they were disposed to impose upon the Government, but which they ended by recommending to their attention. Although we cannot expect all these measures to be carried out at once, we have some right to look to the Government, even in this short Session, to give us some idea of what view they take on these questions—how far they are disposed to accept the principles which are contended for by those who believe that at last they have discovered a method by which prosperity, which we all desire, may be restored to the depressed condition of agriculture. We have had amendments in former times. I have never been friendly to the policy of amendments to the Address. I know that Mr. Gladstone—I regret I omitted to acknowledge the manner in which the hon. Member who opened the discussion spoke of the deplorable loss which caused it to fall to my lot to speak of "Mr. Gladstone" in this House for the first time—[cheers]—I know that Mr. Gladstone always deprecated these constant amendments to the Address. We all remember, however, how in the very last Session of Parliament there were amendments calling upon the Government immediately to deal with agricultural distress, to deal with the textile industries, with the question of the unemployed, and a vast variety of matters which hon. Members seemed to consider it was the the duty of the Government at once to deal with. I have never thought, under the teaching of Mr. Gladstone, that that was the best way of dealing with questions of that kind; but that does not prevent us having a right to ask what are the views of the Government upon questions of this character, and the Government ought, I think—any Government which commands so great and overpowering a majority just returned to Parliament ought to give to the country and the House of Commons at least some light on the views and principles which they have adopted in these matters. These are not new questions. They have been calling upon other Governments to deal 85 with agricultural distress and reproaching them for not having done so, and to deal with the difficult question of the unemployed. We have had programmes, we know them very well, by which every man not employed is to have employment, and by which every man who is no longer fit for employment is to have a pension. We are entitled to have some light thrown by the Government on these subjects. ["Hear, hear!''] There is one other question on which I must ask for some information from the Government, and that is their view with respect to Ireland. [Cheers.] It is perfectly well known that in the late Parliament the former Government were prepared and felt themselves bound to deal with the question of Irish land, both as regards evicted tenants and judicial rents. It was accepted as a proposition, and not denied on the other side, that these matters were urgent, and it was known on what principles they were to be dealt with. The hon. Member for South Tyrone was extremely emphatic upon the urgent necessity of dealing with these questions. I suppose he has seen reason to change his views on the subject. We have had at present no indication of the course the Government propose to take. I know very well, of course, that the present Government stand upon a totally different footing with reference to the government of Ireland generally from that on which the late Administration stood. We know perfectly well that, at all events in Ireland, opinion on that subject has not changed. We know that the majority in Ireland in favour of Home Rule is not less than, and, if anything, rather larger than, it was before. ["Hear, hear!"] It is unfortunate, as I think, that we were not able to settle the great Irish question. The responsibility now rests with right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have undertaken to settle it on different principles. At all events, although we may not have succeeded in carrying out in legislative measures the policy which we had recommended, this we can always remember with satisfaction, that during the period of the last Administration there existed a tranquillity in Ireland which has hardly been known in any former time [cheers]; and I hope that nothing may occur which will disturb that equanimity 86 in the future. ["Hear, hear!"] It is very much in the interest of Ireland, and also of the Government, that they should let it be known what it is that they are intending to do with reference to the question of the land, a matter on which, as everybody knows, the tranquillity of Ireland very greatly depends. No man will be so foolish as to believe, with a great predominance of opinion on one side in Ireland, that the Irish question is settled simply because the last Government has been defeated. The Irish question remains, and upon gentlemen opposite rests the responsibility of dealing with it in its present condition. I am sure I am not asking of the Government that which they will consider to be an unreasonable thing when I ask them to give us some light as to the policy which they are going to pursue upon the subject of the land in Ireland. I cannot think that on this subject the Government can believe it will be a wise thing to go on for some months without explaining to the people of Ireland and to the House of Commons what are their views and their intentions. I trust that, in the remarks I have made and the questions I have put, I have not shown any desire to embarrass the Government. They have come into office with the support of a large majority, and they will have the advantage of that large majority; but, of course, their responsibility to the House and to the country remains. Although they have given us little information in the Queen's Speech; although, as I admit, it is not desirable to protract controversy in this House beyond a certain point at this time of the year; and although they have a full right to expect that they should have time to mature the measures which they will recommend to the acceptance of Parliament—I still venture to think we have a right, and that we shall have that right acknowledged by the Leader of the House, to have a little more information upon many of these points than we have been able to gather from the Speech from the Throne.
§ The FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said: In rising to reply to the speech which the Leader of the Opposition has just made, let me begin by associating myself with him in praise of the two hon. Gentlemen, friends of mine, who have undertaken the difficult, and on 87 this particular occasion the specially difficult, task of moving and seconding the Address. It is perfectly true, as one of my hon. Friends said, and as the late Chancellor of the Exchequer has reminded us, that there is no legislative programme whatever in the Speech from the Throne; therefore the Mover and the Seconder of the Address were deprived of the material which is usually supplied to gentlemen in their interesting and unfortunate position—[laughter]—and they had, in consequence, to confine themselves to the more thorny and difficult subjects presented by the paragraphs dealing with public affairs. I must say 1 think they acquitted themselves in their onerous task with very great credit, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman opposite at all went beyond the general feeling of the House in the praises he bestowed upon them. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman addressed himself, in the first instance, to the subject of Armenia, and on that he said little, or indeed nothing, with which we on this Bench cannot heartily associate ourselves. He misunderstood, it is true, some observations which fell from the Mover of the Address. My hon. Friend, so far from having suggested that any action should be taken out of accord or not in accord with the two Great Powers which have been working with us, did his best to impress upon the House the extreme desirability of our pursuing that course. On this question of Armenia, Her Majesty's present advisers are doing their best to carry out effectually the policy of their predecessors. We feel as they felt the full horror of the events which occurred in Armenia; we feel as they felt the great danger to the Turkish Empire that any system of administration which permits such horrors necessarily carries with it; and on the ground of humanity, as well as every other ground, we desire to do our best to prevent the recurrence of them in the future—to take effectual steps to prevent the recurrence in the future of such tragedies as those which have horrified the public opinion of this country. Let me add I think we should do an ill turn to the Christians in Armenia if we were to use language in this connection which suggested, even for a moment, that we were engaged 88 upon a religious crusade in which Mussulman and Christians are to be arrayed one against the other. We, at all events, do not look upon this question from that point of view at all. It is a question with us simply of mal-administration of administrative reform, and of the great benefits administrative reform, will bring with it, not to Christians alone, but to all the subjects of the Porte, to whatever religious creed they may belong. I do not suppose the House will desire mo to say another word upon that subject. The right hon. Gentleman expressed a hope that we should not allow the question to sleep, and that hope we will do our best to fulfil. Whatever difficulties may meet us in carrying out the task which is imposed upon us, we shall, at all events, I am convinced, do everything it is in the power of this country or the Government of this country to do. I pass from that subject, on which the right hon. Gentleman asked me no question, to another subject, not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, on which he took occasion to put a series of interrogatories. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly entitled to put them; but I think he will agree that the criticism he passed upon us for not having introduced into the Queen's Speech the negotiations with respect to the question of Chitral or our action with regard to it is not well founded. He led the House to suppose that the present Government, in carrying out the determination at which they have arrived not to recede from Chitral, have been extending the boundaries of the Empire, and he said that a step so important as extending the boundaries of the Empire ought not to be passed over in silence in the Queen's Speech. Well, Sir, I traverse the minor premiss of the right hon. Gentleman; I do not admit that we have, in any accurate sense of the words, extended the boundaries of the Empire; and I think I can prove, from the action of the right hon. Gentleman himself and his colleagues, that that is the case. For he will remember that the Secretary of State for India and the Government of India cannot use the troops of India beyond the boundaries of India without statutory permission. It is certain that the Government did use Indian troops in this territory of Chitral; so by their 89 own action it follows that Chitral is within, and not without, the boundaries of that Empire. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman has asked us for a justification of what we admit is a reversal of what we believed was the policy which he and his friends intended to carry out. That, my noble Friend near me (Lord George Hamilton) will be prepared to do should it prove to be necessary to deal with this subject more in detail than I propose to do. But I think I can furnish the right hon. Gentleman and the House with adequate grounds for the course we have thought it our duty to pursue. Those gentlemen who have followed the question at all are aware that Chitral is a country lying at the base of the Hindu Kush mountains. Having conquered the range of the Hindu Kush, we have hitherto kept a British Resident at Gilgit and kept control over the policy of that country, that we have taken steps to exclude all possible foreign influence, and we have thought that that was a course required for the safety of India. But it must not be supposed that the case of Chitral can be considered in isolation; the case of Chitral can only be considered in connection with the case of that part of the Kush country which adjoins Chitral in which we have already a Resident and a force of troops. We have come to the conclusion, after consultation with the Government of India, that to retire from Chitral is not a course of action that can be carried out in isolation, and it would involve with it the abandonment of the existing post at Gilgit. That is not a policy which this House would contemplate with equanimity. Both at Gilgit and Chitral our troops have made their presence felt. Chitral indeed has been the scene of one of the most heroic actions which of recent years have rendered British arms illustrious. [Cheers.] But, putting aside all questions of strategy and all questions of foreign policy, it would be a serious blow to our prestige if, having once gone to those territories, we were to abandon them. All the tribesmen in that district knows that there are two and only two great Powers they have to consider; they look to one or the other, and it may be, in certain cases, have to balance between them. So far as those operations on our side of the Hindu Kush are concerned, 90 we cannot permit of any such balancing; to us and to us alone must they look as a suzerain Power. If you put before them a great object-lesson—the British Army, after having come forward, retreating —British Administrators, after having been present, taking their departure, you will not only lose all means of controlling the foreign policy of these districts, but you will teach them a lesson which in the future may make them very reluctant to depend upon the British Throne. There are questions of strategy as well as questions of politics involved; into these matters I am not competent to enter in detail; nor do I think it is an occasion on which the House of Commons would desire the topic to be raised. I will only say that in the judgment of all the eminent soldiers who have visited the locality, and I suspect in the opinion of almost all those who have considered the question, it would be a serious menace in the case of complications on our Northwestern Frontier to have the passes of the Hindu Kush coining down to the Chitral territory not under the observation of a British authority and to permit any lodgment of any foreign Power, whether political or military, upon our side if that great range of mountains. This is a brief outline of some of the general considerations which have induced us to feel it would be a serious blow to our position in the North-West Frontier of India were we to abandon Chitral and Gilgit, which must be abandoned if Chitral is. But then come the difficulties suggested by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, Will the retention of Chitral throw on the Army or finances of India a burden which cannot be borne? Will they require a large augmentation of our Army, or, above all, any increase in the taxation of India? Are there, in fact, any considerations—allowing full weight to what I have said in favour of retaining Chitral—considerations of a financial and military character, which render our abandonment of the district obligatory? Since the right hon. Gentleman left office we have, of course, been in communication with the Government of India on the subject, and have received from them information—not at the disposal of right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they came to the decision at which I believe they arrived—which 91 leads us to believe no such serious burden as they seem to have anticipated will be thrown on India in consequence of the retention of those provinces or districts in the North-West. There will be no addition whatever to the Indian Army. As I understand, the Indian Government inform us categorically that the existing body of troops in India will suffice to meet every necessity of the case arising out of the maintenance of our position in Chitral. The garrison force at Gilgit will be diminished; there will be a redistribution of troops, but no addition will be required in order to maintain the position which we desire to take up. As regards the road, we have not, as far as I know, any precise estimate as to the cost of making it. But both as to the cost of making it and the possibility of inducing the tribes through which it passes to aid us in maintaining its security, we have the most reassuring information from the Government of India. I therefore trust and believe that the House, having come into possession of facts with which our predecessors were not and could not be acquainted, will feel we have adopted the right course in determining to maintain, up to the very edge of our dominions, that control without which those dominions cannot be described as secure from every form of foreign interference. Papers will be laid before the House before the end of next week, or, at any rate, before the Indian Budget. I think I have now dealt with all the right hon. Gentleman said on questions outside the sphere of domestic legislation. When he came to that part of the paragraph of the Queen's Speech which announces that no scheme of domestic legislation was contemplated during the course of the present Session, he made somewhat merry over the phrase "that nature abhors a vacuum," but which, I venture to think, the House of Commons does not abhor. [Laughter.] I should like to ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite with what sentiments of horror and dismay they would have contemplated a long list of important and controversial measures which would have kept us in Session all through the autumn. Instead of the badinage that the right hon. Gentleman has used he would have denounced us for this intolerable burden [laughter] which we attempted to throw 92 on the House of Commons, and he would have taken practical steps to convince us that the idea of legislating at this time of year, even with the majority to which he has referred, was one no sane Government would have undertaken. We, above all things, claim to be a sane Government. [Laughter and cheers.] We have not the least intention at this period of embarking upon any impossible programme of legislative reform. "But," says the right hon, Gentleman—if you cannot bring forward any Bills this Session, you can, at all events, map out your programme for next Session and give us a general sketch of the methods by which you mean to deal with such easy elementary subjects as Irish land, old-age pensions, employers' liability, and so forth.I do not know what proportion the right hon. Gentleman desires this debate should assume, but if I were so far to violate ancient traditions and precedents on this subject as to deal, not with what we are going to do this Session, but with what we are going to do in the Session of 1896, the Session of 1897, the Session of 1898 [laughter], and the Session of 1899 [renewed laughter]—I do not know what lease of power the right hon. Gentleman means to allow us, but if I were to sketch out the whole of our legislative policy during the term of office he means to permit us to enjoy, I think the House would feel I was provoking a debate which could not possibly serve any useful purpose. ["Hear, hear!"] Let it be remembered that the debate on the Queen's Speech, in so far as it deals with legislation, is never regarded as a proper occasion on which to discuss anything except measures which the Government mean to introduce in the Session, or measures which they ought to introduce. Well, we do not think we ought to introduce any controversial measures, and we do not intend to do so. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman,you have taken upon yourselves the responsibility of governing Ireland. You cannot govern Ireland without dealing with the land question. Therefore you are bound to tell us what your land legislation is to be;and, he added, that it was an accepted commonplace in the late Parliament that Irish land was a subject of pressing importance which brooked no delay. The importance of dealing with Irish 93 land arises, and arises simply, out of the termination of the first 15 years' judicial rents. Those judicial rents run until September, 1896, and from all the inquiries which the Irish Government have been able to make on the subject there does not appear to be any pressing necessity for bringing forward land legislation before next Session. Undoubtedly next Session it must be brought forward. Next Session this Government, or any Government, will be obliged to deal with that thorny topic, but it is not necessary to deal with it now, and, not being necessary, it would be folly on my part to attempt to adumbrate the provisions of a Bill when laid on the table. I do not know that there is any other subject I need refer to. The right hon. Gentleman in sitting down expressed a hope that nothing he had said had aroused unnecessary controversy. I gladly recognise that the canon he laid down for himself was one he fully acted on. I hope he will admit that I, on my part, have said nothing to lead to debate or embitter debate if it must ensue. It appears that what we have met for—and what all sides recognise we have met for—is to carry out the necessary financial business of the year, and nothing else. It will be our duty when next the Queen's Speech is discussed at the beginning of a Session, to lay before the House a substantive programme dealing with some topics which we have raised in the country. When that time comes hon. Gentlemen will be fully at liberty to discuss it, to complain of its omissions, if omissions there be, and press for a different course if they think the course we shall then adopt will not meet the requirements of the country. At present I would deprecate extending the limits of this Debate in any way. I hope we shall be able to get through the preliminaries of Supply as soon as possible. I trust that the Debate will not last more than a couple of nights at most. I say so not with a desire to promote the convenience of the Government so much as of the House at large. When we have gone through those preliminaries, then I trust we shall adapt ourselves, not, perhaps, altogether in the educational spirit referred to by my hon. Friend behind me, but in a spirit of zeal and energy, to give the 94 Government the necessary supplies, without which the administrative work of the country cannot be carried on. Meanwhile, I hope hon. Gentlemen who have in their minds the precedent of 1892, will feel we have not only acted in accordance with common sense, but the traditions of the House, when we have to meet in August, in confining the work which we set before ourselves to do to the narrowest limits consistent with dealing with the public necessities of the Empire. [Loud cheers.]
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
said, there was one weak point in the admirable speech of the hon. Member the Mover of the Address, of which some notice should be taken. For the last 30 years, attention had been called to the massacres in China, in the hope that Members of the House who had influence with the Missionary Bodies would induce Missionaries to avoid actions which were likely to cause these horrors to occur. In Armenia there was, perhaps, less excuse to be offered for violence which the Government might prevent, than in the case of China. His hon. Friend spoke strongly, indeed, against mob violence, which, he said, any civilised Government ought to be able to put down. But did he know that the Chinese had been hunted for their lives, their houses burned, and their property violently taken from them by mobs in portions of the British Empire, and this country had not been able to perform its treaty obligations towards China? He mentioned this, because at moments when public opinion was naturally aroused, it was just as well to put in a word of caution and to show there was something to be said for tenderness and care in dealing with the matter. Missionaries, in going to China, ought, by every possible means in their power, to conform to the general customs of the country, and not raise a feeling against them. There was some evidence, he was afraid, on the Missionary side which threw some doubt upon that point. He was glad to find that the Leader of the House had used language with regard to Armenia which had lifted the subject completely out of the region of party politics in a manner that had met with the approval of both sides of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to Chitral, he 95 gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that the Government were acting on the advice of the Government of India. He did not know whether the latter Government were unanimous or whether any dissent had been recorded.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON,) Middlesex, Ealing
The Government of India is absolutely unanimous. ["Hear!"]
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that that would carry his vote on the subject. It seemed to him that on a matter of this kind Ministers here could not possibly have the knowledge possessed by the Govenment of India, and, seeing that that Government was absolutely unanimous, it was the duty of the hon. Members to accept their view and to assist to carry it into effect. ["Hear, hear!"] Our relations with foreign Powers, although generally of a pacific character, were undoubtedly strained in some parts of Africa, and in Siam. There had appeared lately an account of an expedition which had gone out from Uganda in the direction of that undefined sphere which we possessed on one bank of the Nile. As he understood, a portion of that territory was still leased to the Congo State, and he believed that the expedition had penetrated to what was territory of that State. He desired to know whether the Government, in the course of the present Session, intended to submit a vote for the construction of the Uganda railway. The late Government had announced their intention of making such a railway, but had not asked for a farthing in respect of that undertaking. He thought that the House ought to know whether a special or supplementary Estimate was to be proposed, because no money was asked for in the present Estimates for that purpose.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
An Estimate for the Uganda Railway will be submitted to the House. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that, if that were so he would ask whether the plan for the railway to Uganda was to be that recommended as the result of the survey the report of which the late Government had laid before the House? It would be well if Her Majesty's Government could give the House 96 some information as to their policy with regard to Siam. He knew that negotiations were pending, but the Government could tell them whether their policy would continue on the lines of their predecessors or whether they had seen reason to modify those lines. No reference had been made in the Queen's Speech to matters of home administration. Two very important matters relating to the administration of the War Office must immediately come up for consideration, and he thought that it would be more convenient that the matters should be dealt with on the Address than upon any separate Vote. It had been stated in a newspaper that the Lord President of the Council had been given powers in relation to the Army and the Navy which had never before been conferred upon a Minister in this country. That appeared to him to be a subject on which the Government ought to announce their intentions and the grounds upon which those intentions were based. They had been informed that on October 1st next the Commander-in-Chief of the Army would retire, and the late Government had stated the arrangements which they proposed to make in consequence. Those arrangements were new and interesting, and the House ought to know at the earliest possible moment whether the present Government intended to adopt the scheme of their predecessors, and whether the proposed changes would come into effect on October 1st or would be delayed. He entirely shared the view that the Government could not introduce Bills during the present sitting, but there was an alternative between that course and the introduction in February next of Bills that could not be discussed until March. He knew that the House did not like autumn sittings, but they would be driven to them sooner or later. [Cries of "No."] The country did not like to see the entire business of the Session crowded into a few months and the Estimates got through hastily. Although there might be an indisposition to over-legislation, yet the country liked its legislation good and carefully matured, and not hurried at the last. This was not a party question. The late Government were as blameworthy in this matter as any other Government, and he was sure that there would be a considerable 97 amount of fooling now, as in1892, against postponing legislation till March. Certain matters urgently needed legislation. The subject of truck, promised to be dealt with by the late Government, came home nearly to the workmen of this country: and there were other social questions awaiting legislation. People would doubtless inquire why the middle of next year should be, perhaps, reached and passed before any English legislation was seen. He entered his caveat against its being supposed that to postpone legislation in August necessarily involved postponing it till March.
§ MR. H. SETON-KARR (St. Helens) rose to make one short appeal to Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Baronet had, he said, alluded to the kind of legislation which the country liked, and he readily approved of the sentiments of the right hon. Baronet on the subject, though surprised to hear them uttered by a supporter of the late Ministry. The House was now considering the Address to a Speech which contained no legislative programme, and he and other Members on the Ministerial side were not the only persons who looked on that fact with relief. He wished, however, to ask the Government, of whom he was a faithful supporter, when they came to consider their programme, to take into consideration also the apportionment of the time of the House between the Government of the day and private Members, which had prevailed during the past few years. This was not a premature allusion, for, as a matter of fact, this was the only opportunity they would have to call the attention of the Government to the subject. He asked the Government not to frame their programme in such a way that private Members would be absolutely annihilated and squeezed out. He made this appeal to the Government now, at a time when their minds were open on the subject of their programme, to observe the rights and privileges possessed by private Members. About 300 or 400 Members would probably ballot for places at the commencement of next Session, and he asked the Government to remember that, in the result, this balloting had been reduced to a humbug and a farce. He had always consistently opposed the 98 infringement of private Members' time, asserting, as he did, that they had a right to their time, at any rate up to Easter. He maintained that private Members had made good use of their time, and that some of the most important legislation had been originated by them. ["Hear, hear!"] He trusted that the present Government were in for a long spell of power, and when he looked at the Treasury Bench he was lost in admiration—[Opposition laughter]—and felt that it was a subject for pride to be a supporter of such a Government. But, as a private Member, he protested against the process which had turned them all into voting machines. As this Government was strong, so he hoped they would be merciful, and would leave private Members in undisturbed possession of their time. In conclusion, he congratulated the Government in returning under such happy auspices.[cheers.]
§ * MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said that, upon the whole, nothing could have been more amiable than the tone of this Debate down to the present. As a believer in social reform, and glad to get it from any party, he was gratified to see new blood infused into the Conservative headquarters, and in the presence of the Member for West Birmingham he hoped they might recognise the change which had come over that party and the alteration in its principles. The right hon. Gentleman was not a dweller in the barren atmosphere of negation; he was a man of faith—[Laughter and cheers]—and, with his belief in programmes and his firm conviction that some of the institutions of the country had somewhat outgrown their form, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not only succeed in dispelling some of the gloomy doubts of the First Lord of the Admiralty, but would succeed in shaking the foundations of unbelief even in the case of the First Lord of the Treasury. [Cheers.] The great bulk of hon. Members who sat on the Ministerial benches had, for the first time, he believed, been elected with a large working-class vote at their backs. The working men of this country had had the Franchise for some 10 years, and, no doubt, they thought they had discharged their obligations of gratitude to the Party which gave it to them. The speeches of the hon. Members 99 opposite to their constituents had been of a very remarkable character. There were two things which the Conservative Party might have done at the date of the Election: they might have argued that there had been enough of meddling with existing institutions and ill-considered legislation [Ministerial cheers]; but, although hon. Members cheered that expression, that was not what they did. They went to the constituencies with a very different programme. He would take the case of his own constituency as an illustration. His opponent, who held unimpeachable Conservative principles, was the son of a well - known Conservative peer, and what was more to the point, was actually nominated as well as powerfully supported by the First Lord of the Treasury; and yet his programme included an Eight Hours Bill for miners, with no contracting out [cheers]; a shorter residential qualification for the exercise of the Franchise; statutory holidays for farm servants [laughter]; old-age pensions; and what was called equitable temperance reform, based on the recognition of no legal right to compensation. That programme was not an isolated one, and it showed that tins old policy of letting things alone was one which the Conservative Party could no longer pursue. The Government would not, on these subjects, encounter any opposition if they came forward in the spirit shown in the election speeches. Some promises were also put forward less easy of fulfilment; they were told that trade might improve, that something could be done for agriculture, and in short that they were at the commencement of something like the new millenium. The expectations of the electors had become very high, and he could not help wondering at the fact that some steps towards the realisation of the more moderate elements of their programme had not been hinted at in the Queen's Speech. At all events they had almost the right to claim that the Conservative party should in the future take the progressive line. The late Government did not wait until the following Session to enter upon their administrative work, but showed their spirit almost from the first. With regard to the great question of Temperance, a Bill had been brought forward 100 which, he thought, was very much misunderstood. The evil which existed was one upon which all parties were agreed, and hon. Members opposite professed to be Temperance reformers. He believed the Government recognised the evils and desired to grapple with them, and they had now a great opportunity. Why should they not, in the interval of the Recess, appoint a Royal Commission or Committee to inquire into this question, and get together information, which would enable them to take in hand some effective mode of temperance reform? If ever a Commission was justified, the one he proposed would be. There was another subject with which the Government was face to face, of graver import, the old question of the future of Irish Government. He could not help thinking that they were near the last trial of the old system, and that the time was come when they should recognise that there two ways only of dealing with the matter, either to govern Ireland in accordance with the wishes of the majority of 82 of its representatives, or to disfranchise them. He did riot believe they would be able in the next session to deal with much else besides the Irish question. He believed the late Government had done useful work, and raised the level of administrative records and of legislation. The Conservative Party of to-day was no longer the party merely of the landlord and the parson, but embraced within itself every kind of individual and special interest; they were practically a single-Chamber party, having the House of Lords—if he might use the expression—in their pocket, and had thus a great opportunity. He believed the functions of the Opposition were something more than to oppose, and that they might prove to be functions of co-operation. He, for one, so far from offering opposition to what might be good in the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite, would wish them godspeed in their best endeavours to carry out that policy.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said he was aware that it was not customary for an ordinary supporter of the Government to occupy time by speaking on the Address, but desperate diseases required exceptional remedies. [Opposition cheers.] He desired to ask the Government 101 whether they would take into consideration the possibility of introducing exceptional legislation for that part of East Anglia which was in such a desperate condition at the present moment. Things were infinitely worse in Essex to-day than they were a year ago. Owing to the drought wheat was not worth £1 an acre, and oats and other crops had had to be practically destroyed; and although he was bound to say that, when the present Government's majority became an accomplished fact, they got some rain—[Loud laughter]—practically that was not of very much use. Last year a motion for adjournment on the question of the destitution and misery then apparent in nearly every part of Essex was made by his colleague, Captain Naylor Leyland, now Sir Henry Naylor Leyland. He congratulated the Opposition on their recruit; he did not bring them much luck, but he might be useful at the next General Election. [Laughter.] At that time land was going out of cultivation by farms, now it was going out of cultivation by parishes, and the question was: How were the agricultural labourers, their wives, and children to be fed through the coming winter? There were precedents for exceptional legislation. Thirty years ago exceptional legislation was introduced with reference to Lancashire; the Leader of the House introduced exceptional legislation with reference to the congested districts of Ireland four years ago; and Mr. John Morley, not six months ago, initiated a vote of £35,000 in order to relieve agricultural distress in the west of Ireland. He knew Ireland pretty well, and he could assure the House that the distress which existed in some parts of South-East Essex now was quite as bad as that which existed in Clare and Kerry when he knew them. He did not ask for any extraordinary measures. It had been suggested that in those parts of East Anglia which were now going out of cultivation a bonus should be given on the growth of wheat in order simply to find bread for the agricultural labourers. He did not suggest that the proposal was practicable; but at any rate they could take off taxation on land rated under 10s. an acre, and they could lend money to landlords to pay off the tithe rent-charge. Whether the Government initiated exceptional 102 legislation or not, he had done his duty, and though he had been returned to give a general support to the Government, there were thousands of people in Essex who would wish him and the other representatives of the county to support that party which would endeavour to raise them from their present state of destruction and destitution.
MR. JOHN REDMOND rose to move as an amendment to add to the Address:—
Humbly to represent to your Majesty that this House is of opinion that it is the duty of her Majesty's Ministers to declare without delay their policy with regard to the questions of Home Rule, of land law reform, including amendment of the existing Land Acts, of compulsory land purchase, reinstatement of the evicted tenants, and the industrial condition of Ireland, in all which matters an overwhelming majority of the Irish people are vitally interested.
His object, he said, was to ask from the Government a declaration of policy on those great and burning questions upon the proper settlement of which the overwhelming majority of the Irish people believed that the future welfare, peace, and freedom of their country depended. First and foremost stood the question of Home Rule. So far as Ireland was concerned the demand for national self-government still held the field. Every Irish election turned upon it; five-sixths of the electors declared in favour of it; and even if there were no English Home Rule Party in existence at all, such a demand could not be ignored by any Parliament or any Government majority. Believing that that demand was just in itself, and founded upon reason and sound policy, and that upon its concession depended the freedom and happiness of Ireland and the general welfare of the Empire, they were bound to seize the earliest opportunity of calling upon the Government to face the question and deal with it. He was aware that the present majority was opposed to Home Rule, but he protested against the statement repeatedly made that the verdict at the recent General Election was a verdict against Home Rule. Many representatives of Ireland in the last Parliament did their best to compel the late Government to dissolve Parliament when the Home Rule Bill was defeated. They
believed that Home Rule was almost the only question upon which the various sections of the Liberal Party were absolutely united, and they had reason to know from the past history of Parliament that a clear and distinct verdict from the constituences of the Three Kingdoms in favour of Home Rule would have ensured the settlement of that question even by a reluctant and unwilling House of Lords. But other counsels prevailed. The policy of hanging up Home Rule, and going on with Disestablishment, Local Veto, and a hundred other questions upon which the Liberal Party were divided among themselves, was adopted. The result was that the Liberal Party met with shipwreck and disaster at the polls. Immediately before the Election Lord Rosebery declared to his party that the contest was not to be on the question of Home Rule, but on the question of the House of Lords and on the items of the Newcastle Programme. But whether the Election turned on Home Rule or not, it was the demand of the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, and would have to be faced, and he desired to warn the Government that, do what they might with their big majority, they would find, just as English statesmen had already found in the past, that Ireland could not be satisfactorily governed from Westminster—[Cheers]—and that the only cure for Irish ills was the restoration of the rights of national self-government which had been safely conceded to different portions of the dominions of the Queen throughout the world, and which had everywhere been found to be productive of peace, prosperity, and happiness. So far as they knew the policy of the Government it was founded on the belief that, without Home Rule the Imperial Parliament had the will, the time, and the capacity to govern Ireland properly. This was their alternative policy to Home Rule—a just, a constitutional, and a competent government of Ireland from Westminster. Since the date of the Union there had been no such government of Ireland from Westminster. [Cheers.] Of that there could be no dispute; and there was the one broad indisputable fact that, while ruling Ireland from Westminster had meant for Great Britain prosperity, happiness, and freedom, it had meant
for Ireland increased poverty, depopulation, industrial ruin, a suspension of constitutional freedom, and a widespread disaffection among the population. He was aware it was argued that the alternative policy to Home Rule had never had a fair chance. If that be so, then this alternative policy never had such a good chance of trial as it had now. So far as he was concerned he trusted that the Government would give every test to that alternative policy. The Government had their opportunity now. They enjoyed unexampled power; they had an unparalleled majority; and therefore, as far as he was concerned, the more they tested that alternative policy during their tenure of office the better pleased he should be. Let the Government enter on their task of showing that they had the will to govern Ireland well and constitutionally, and that Parliament had the time and the capacity to deal properly with Irish reforms. The Government had enormous power, and the object of his Amendment was to ask them how they were going to use that power. He was not afraid to see the testing of this alternative policy of the Government. In the process of testing it, Ireland might obtain some solid advantages which she had not obtained and could not obtain from the late Government; but, so far as the ultimate result was concerned, in his opinion it was beyond doubt that, do what they would, they could not destroy that which was indestructible—namely, the passionate demand of the overwhelming majority of the Irish people for autonomy. Neither could they perform the impossible—namely, to govern a nation successfully in opposition to the will of the vast majority of the governed. In the opinion of the Nationalist Members, Home Rule was the only solution of this problem; and whether it came soon, or whether it came late, to that and to that alone could Irish Nationalists look for the ultimate salvation of their country. Surely, therefore, they were entitled at the earliest moment to some information as to the alternative policy of the Government. Why should the Irish people, who were eagerly asking for various pressing reforms, be left between now and February in absolute ignorance as
to what the Government were going to do? The hon. Member for the Southern Division of County Dublin declared the other day, in an election speech that—
A strong Unionist Government is now in power, and I think it is a Government which realises the fact that no Irish policy could have any hope of success unless there is some weight of Irish opinion at its back.''
What did that declaration mean? Did the hon. Member mean the opinion of that small ring of Irish Unionists who had opposed not only Home Rule, but every measure proposed for the amelioration of the lot of the Irish people? Or did he not rather mean that the Government must have at its back the moral force of the support of that large section of Nationalists as well as Unionists of Ireland? What, then, were the Government going to do on the various Irish questions? What did they intend to do as to the Irish Land Question? The first point in connection with Irish land was the absolute and admitted necessity of passing some Bill to amend the existing Land Acts. The term of the judicial rents established in 1881 were expiring. The Bill brought in by Mr. Morley last Session, dealing with certain vital points, passed its Second Reading unanimously Did the Government intend to deal with this question—and when? He saw no reason why the Government should not introduce a Land Bill at once, which would practically pass by unanimous consent through all its stages, and which would not occupy a large portion of time, and which would be received by the whole agricultural population of Ireland with gratification and approval. The late Government introduced a Land Bill amending the Land Act of 1881, and it was their intention to pass it into law this year. The Leader of the House, he understood, for he had not heard him, had said that there was no urgency and that no inconvenience would arise between now and next February. He should be sorry to controvert the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, knowing that he must have information on which he based his statement. Would the representative of the Government rise in that Debate and assure them that next February, at the very first period of the Session, a Bill such as had been indicated would be introduced? There
was widespread anxiety in Ireland all through the country on this question, and it would show a very poor appreciation of their position and responsibilities with regard to Ireland if the Government allowed this Debate to close without sending to the Irish people some positive assurance that next February a Land Bill would be introduced. This land question was not confined to the amendment of Acts already passed. Dual ownership had absolutely broken down, and the only solution was to be found in the establishment of the tenant-farmers as the owners of the land that they tilled. It was a remarkable fact, and it encouraged him in the appeal he now made, that all the Land Purchase Bills for Ireland had been passed by Conservative Governments. ["Hear, hear!"] He gathered from that cheer of the Leader of the House that it was the settled policy of the Government that the settlement of the land question must take the form of purchase and not of dual ownership. Land purchase had been a failure in some respects, and a great success in other respects. The operation of the Land Purchase Acts had been partial, but the operation so far had been most beneficial to Ireland, and most creditable to the Irish tenant-farmers, who, he proceeded to show from the last report of the Irish Land Commission, had punctually paid up the instalments of their loans. The figures given in the report proved the honesty of the Irish tenants, and they proved the absolute safety of these investments of the funds of the British taxpayer. There was no danger whatever. ["Hear, hear!"] In some respects, however, the purchase system had been an absolute and dismal failure. The operations of the Irish land purchase system had practically ceased to exist. Why? Not because there was not sufficient money to carry it out, but because of the defects in the machinery which was provided for the working of the schemes. He found that in the Ashbourne Act ten millions sterling was provided for the carrying out of land purchase, and of that amount £9,900,000 had been sanctioned in loans, showing that that amount had been utilised. But what of the Act of 1891, a much more far-reaching scheme? That Act provided £33,000,000 for the purchase
scheme and the carrying out of that policy. The latest returns showed that only £1,900,000 had been sanctioned and paid out, and the whole of the rest of the £33,000,000 had been absolutely useless for the object in view. Therefore he contended the Act of 1891 had been almost a complete failure. The Government which was responsible for these Acts should not lose a moment in inquiring into the reasons of the failure, and passing an Act remedying it. ["Hear, hear!"] It was enough for him to point out these facts to urge the Government to—if he might say so—grease the machinery, so that it might act better in the future. But he urged on the Government that it was not merely their duty to grease the machinery to remedy the defects of the Act of 1891, but to provide further funds which might be necessary to complete the process of Irish land purchase. No Irish Land Purchase Bill passed on the lines of the Act of 1891 would finally settle the question. There were certain portions of Ireland that could never be dealt with under it; there were certain estates which could never be dealt with by the voluntary system of land purchase. He held that the ultimate settlement could only be reached by a system into which the element of compulsion would enter. There was nothing absolutely new in this, and gentlemen need not make wry faces over it. The principle entered into the Rent Redemption Act. He was quite willing that compulsion should be applied to the tenant as well as the landlord. Let a power be given to compel the landlord to sell, and, if necessary, let a power be given to compel the tenant to buy. He asked for a pronouncement on this question. Did the Government adhere still to the principle of purchase as the solution of the Irish agrarian difficulty? If so, let them amend the Act of 1891 so that the wheels of the machine might be made to move, and let the principle of compulsion be brought to bear in those parts of the country where a voluntary system had failed. The third matter to which he desired to refer was the question of the evicted tenants. What did the Government propose to do? They could not contemplate with equanimity the continuation of the present state of things. There were some thousands of families
living upon the roadside and dependent upon the generosity of their fellow-countrymen. They would have been reduced to absolute beggary and destitution by this time if he and some of his friends had not successfully prevented the squandering, three or four years ago, of what was known as the Paris Fund, which had now been available for some months for the sustainment of these poor people. But this money would be exhausted in no long time, and what statesman could view with equanimity hundreds of homeless families driven to desperation by the thought that there was no hope of an amelioration of their lot? In the last Parliament the present Leader of the House, the Colonial Secretary, the hon. Member for South Tyrone, the right hon. Member for Liskeard, and other prominent Members of the Unionist Party, declared that they were most anxious that the evicted tenants should return to their old homes, and that they recognised that the condition of these men was a menace to the public peace. What, then, were the Government going to do? He, of course, should prefer a compulsory scheme of reinstatement, because there were certain landlords, like Lord Clanricarde, who would never be induced to take advantage of a voluntary scheme, and on whom compulsion must be exercised before a settlement could be arrived at. He recognised, however, that a voluntary scheme, proposed and carried out by the Conservative Party, who were in sympathy with the landlord party in Ireland, and were supported by them, was a very different thing from a voluntary scheme passed by Mr. Morley, with whom the landlords were in bitter antagonism. If the present Government would introduce in good faith a voluntary scheme, and provide sufficient money for the purposes of the measure, and use their undoubted influence upon the landlords, he believed that the result would be that the vast majority of the evicted tenants would be restored to their holdings in a very short time. The Government must be anxious to preserve peace in Ireland, but how could they hope to do so unless they took measures to deal with this question effectively? Why should they not deal with it this Session? A Bill framed on the lines which he had described could, if necessary, pass through all its stages in that
House in one day, and it could be passed by the complaisant legions in another place in half-an hour. It need not cause any prolongation of the Session, for all sections of the House would agree to the passing of such a Bill. Another subject to which he wished to call attention was the demand made by men of all parties in Ireland for the creation of a Board of Agriculture. This was not a party question at all. Men of all political complexions were strongly in favour of the creation of such a board. If, as experience had proved, the establishment of a department of that kind was wise for England, where agriculture now was not the most important industry of the country, surely there ought to be a similar department in Ireland, where agriculture was the business of the overwhelming majority of the population. Upon this and the other matters to which he had referred he did expect conciliatory and, up to a certain point, satisfactory assurances from the Government. The last topic which he should touch was the industrial condition of Ireland. England for her own selfish purposes in days now gone by, had destroyed the industries of Ireland and converted it into a purely agricultural country. Having done that and fostered her own industries, England introduced the principle of free trade, an enormous boon, no doubt, to the population of Great Britain, but certainly not a boon to the purely agricultural population of Ireland. When the present Leader of the House was conducting the régime of coercion in Ireland, he fought the right hon. Gentleman foot to foot to the best of his power, but that great disagreement did not prevent him from recognising that in connection with the industrial question the right hon. Gentleman did show some appreciation of what was due from this country to Ireland in respect of past misgovernment. The right hon. Gentleman introduced a railway scheme in the west of Ireland, which, though defective, was valuable as far as it went, and he for his part looked forward to the present Government's resuming the policy of which that scheme formed part. If anything was to be done to improve Ireland's industrial condition it must be by such means. It must not be thought that he was making an appeal in formâ pauperis on behalf of his native
land. His own view was that Ireland has been robbed of millions annually since the date of the Union. Anything Ireland could get from England in sustainment of Irish industries was but the repayment of a very small portion of that money of which she had been robbed by misgovernment in the past. The right hon. Gentleman did more. He established a Congested Districts Board. That Board had not in his opinion been a success, but he could truthfully say that he believed that its want of success has been due almost entirely to the fact that it had not had at its disposal sufficient funds for the object for which it was established. The cost of working that Board would be no greater if there were put at its disposal ten times the amount they had at this moment. Then on the question of Irish fisheries much could be done by a Government which desired to be sympathetic and friendly, and he could remember one thing the right hon. Gentleman attempted to do when he was in Office about the year 1888. He made a proposal in the House for a free grant of £600,000 to be used in the drainage of certain Irish rivers. That proposal met with strenuous opposition from unexpected quarters, and was practically defeated and dropped. He mentioned these matters as instances of the direction in which a friendly attitude on this industrial question might lead to the enormous material benefit of the people of Ireland. There were many other questions such as education, the claims of the Christian Brothers, of the Municipal Franchise on which he might dwell, but he felt that he had already trespassed too long on the attention of the House. His object had been to obtain from the Government a declaration of policy in matters of vital importance to Ireland. The present Government had great and unexampled power at its back. They believed, and vainly believed that they could govern Ireland wisely and well without Home Rule. He invited them to make the experiment, but he ended as he began by expressing his firm conviction that it was in the nature of things impossible that Ireland could ever be peaceful, contented or prosperous, except under the sheltering care of a Government and Parliament which would at one and the
same time watch over its material interests and satisfy the national pride of the Irish people. In conclusion he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given notice.
§ DR. KENNY (Dublin, College Green)
said, that he seconded the Amendment proposed by his Leader, and wished to join heartily and emphatically in the declarations he had made, that, in proposing the Amendment, he was not to be taken, and the Irish people were not to be taken, as abating one jot of their demand for national self-government. The determination of the Irish people was unalterable, and, no matter what this House did in the way of ameliorative legislation, it could not take away the right, nor get rid of the claim, of Ireland to self-government. He must assume that the present Government, while it denied the necessity for Home Rule, strongly asserted that this House was capable of dealing fairly by Ireland in the matter of legislation, and that no declaration of Irish Members to the contrary would diminish the responsibility the Government had assumed. As to the question of the land, he joined with his hon. Friend in the opinion that there was scarcely anyone in the House or out of it, who would not say that in purchase lies the ultimate solution of the question. He went further and said that, owing to the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, it was becoming more and more obvious every day that the principle of compulsion must be united with the principle of purchase, and no settlement which did not combine them could be final. Any proposal or declaration of policy must go to the extent of admitting that no class of tenants shall in future be excluded from the benefits of the legislation of 1881. This condition must accompany purchase where it was optional or compulsory. It was idle to suppose you could have contentment, when a man on one side of the road was in the full enjoyment of the rights conferred by the Act of 1881, while his neighbour, on the other side, could not enter the Court to claim them. He quite admitted that the former Conservative Government did much good by the policy they adopted, but it was because its legislation was in the direction that an Irish Parliament would have taken. No one could doubt that if an Irish 112 Parliament had existed it would have dealt with such questions as those relating to railways in the west, the reclamation and utilisation of waste lands, and the development of the industrial resources of Ireland. He quite admitted that another step was taken in the right direction in the establishment of the Congested Districts Board, which, under the sympathetic direction of the hon. Member for South Dublin, had already done much good, and was calculated, with such aid, to do more. But the main stumblingblock in the way of the Board had been the parsimonious manner in which money was doled out to it for the purpose of carrying on its work. Without the provision of adequate funds it was idle to look for the board being able to confer greater benefits on Ireland than it already had done. The present Chief Secretary had not been long in office, but others who had been connected with the Government of Ireland would tell him that there was nothing more likely to give him and those aiding him a peaceful autumn and winter than a sympathetic declaration in reference to the evicted tenants. It could not be doubted that it was a constant menace to the public peace of Ireland to have large masses of men who were practically out on the road side and in a state of the most abject poverty. The Irish Members had no desire for disorder and crime in Ireland, which they abhorred as much as anyone, but they could not shut their eyes to the fact that if the Government sowed the seeds of disorder they must reap the crop of disorder in consequence. He trusted, therefore, there would be some sympathetic declaration from the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of the restoration of the evicted tenants. With regard to the development of the industrial resources of Ireland, their efforts would be unavailing unless the question of education were also dealt with, so that the people might be trained to expend their labour in an intelligent direction. The principal of compulsion should be applied to primary education, and secondly, greater attention should be paid to technical instruction. He occupied an office in Dublin which brought him into daily contact with the poorer classes of the citizens, and he was appalled by the evidences of ignorance which came before him, not in old people—for whom it might be said they had not 113 the facilities for obtaining an education which now existed—but among young young people who were of school age. Where they found children who were not reaping, and where there was no machinery to compel them to reap the benefits of education, it was safe to assume that the educational system itself was wrong. The Irish system of education being non-compulsory, was entirely defective, and until it was remedied in this respect it was hopeless for them to look up to the building up and development of Irish industries. There should be machinery to compel the attendance of children at school. The Bill of the Conservative Government of 1892 contained only the germ of compulsion, which, however, was left in so defective a state that the Act must remain a dead letter until it was amended in this regard. He urged the right hon. Gentleman to give them an assurance that the Act of 1892 should be amended so as to make the attendance of children of a school age compulsory, and which would thus result in many children who were now running wild as beggars in the streets of our large towns, receiving the benefits of an education which would help them to become useful and intelligent citizens. He had seen it stated that Ireland was insulted by the suggestion of the principle of compulsion. If that were so, then all Europe had been insulted by it. He failed to see where was the insult which said there should be a law to compel the bad parent to do that which a good parent was glad to do by his off spring. It was to education they must look for the improvement of every branch of the industrial resources of Ireland. It was the condition of industry in Ireland, and especially of the land industry, which filled its cities with the poorest and most helpless elements of the population, thereby depressing the existing standard of wages and adding to the burden of the local rates. The overflow from that very circumstance, too, also largely affected England, because, owing to the depressed condition of industry in Ireland, large numbers of labourers were obliged to migrate from their own country to England in order to obtain the means of paying their rent and purchasing the necessaries of life. This, again, had the effect of lowering the rate of the wages paid to the labourers in England as well 114 as in Ireland. He trusted they should hear from the right hon. Gentleman some declaration in the sense of the Amendment.
§ * MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin Co., South)
said, the hon. Member for Waterford whose attitude on the Irish question had found a great deal of sympathy on that side of the House had challenged him to say whether he stood by certain words he used in his election speeches. He did not remember the exact words he used, but they were to the effect that in his belief no settlement of the Irish question could be brought about by the Government now in power unless it had some regard to Irish opinion. He held strongly by those words. The hon. Member for Waterford confronted him with the fact that Nationalist Members from Ireland had come back to this Parliament 82 in numbers against 80 in the last Parliament, and from that he argued that it was a forlorn hope to look for any change of opinion in Ireland. He was fortunate enough to enjoy intimate relations with his countrymen of all creeds and classes, and he had come to the firm conviction that opinion in Ireland as to the blessings of Home Rule was rapidly changing. He believed the Irish question had to-day entered on an entirely new phase. A Unionist Government had come in with a mandate of unparalleled authority, and had a tremendous opportunity. Those who thought with him, while they entertained high hopes of what the Government might do, were not without anxiety. They had no faith that any solution of the Irish question could be final unless the Government of Ireland by England was conceived in a new spirit. By this he did not mean a spirit which had not been evinced hitherto by leading Members of the present Government, but a spirit which had never before had an opportunity of taking any practical effect. He believed it was in the power of this Government, not only to allay, but for ever to set at rest this perennial trouble. The dissensions among Nationalist Members made the opportunity of the Government far more obvious than it would otherwise be. But a few years ago a remarkable man exercised dominion over the Irish party, the like of which had not been seen in the present century. If that man had lived and had not suffered worse than death, it 115 was hard to say what he might not have achieved. He might have succeeded in ruling Ireland for a time, hut he himself maintained that that rule must have been short lived. It would have been autocracy and Cæsarism out of line with the progress of the age, and he believed it would have materially retarded the political progress of the Irish people. He believed that the dissensions he had referred to had a deeper origin than personal considerations, and that they arose out of the breakdown of the Parnell autocracy, and he expected to see the development of criticism and discrimination as between persons rapidly develop into criticism and discrimination between policies. When this occurred he considered it would be the great opportunity of the Conservative Party to show the Irish people that it was not a choice between wild and inadmissible proposals and barren denials, which all must admit often had to give way when agitation was pressed to a certain point, but that they had a real middle course and a real alternative policy. In asking his friends from Ireland to consider the present position of the Home Rule cause, was it not true to say that in Ireland itself, at any rate, it was not as active as it was a few years ago. On the Ministerial side of the House they believed the Irish people were gradually being disillusioned from chimeras in which they had indulged and were beginning to face the realities of the case. In America, which after all he believed to be the stronghold of militant nationalism, there was an ominous silence. The Colonies were apathetic and "the civilised world" was hardly worth appealing to. England, "the predominant partner," the promised convert, seemed after due deliberation to have returned to her instinctive Imperialism. Believing as he did in this alternative policy, he did not wish to associate himself with any demand for a detailed statement of that policy at present, but he asked the Chief Secretary to make some authoritative declaration on the part of the Government as to what their general opinions were as to the need of advancing the political development of the people and the material development of the country. Such a policy alone would awaken that 116 Imperial sentiment which was regarded on the Ministerial side of the House as absolutely necessary for the salvation of Ireland. Unless such a policy was adopted there would continue to be agitation for Home Rule, which he considered to be the curse of Ireland and a difficulty, if not a grave danger, to the Government of the Empire. The Leader of the House, in a recent speech, seemed to be in entire accord with the views he had expressed. Speaking at Alnwick, Northumberland, on 19th July last, after stating that he considered the sentiment of nationality to be an ennobling sentiment, and that his Unionism contemplated the broadening and deepening rather than the attenuation of that sentiment, he used this remarkable language—I learned a lesson which I shall never forget whilst I was in Ireland, that after all many of the ills of Ireland arise from the poverty of Ireland, and this poverty was, I fear, in generations now long gone by in part the work of England and Scotland. So now the prosperity of Ireland must be sought in a closer union with those two parts of the Empire which I am glad to think have entirely changed in their view what the British policy to Ireland should be. There was a time, an unhappy time, when the British Parliament thought that they were well employed in crushing out Irish manufactures in the interests of British producer. It was a cruel and it has proved to be a stupid policy. That policy, thank goodness, never will be revived. But if England and Scotland had it in their power to do a great economic injury to Ireland in the past they surely have shown that it is now in their power to confer great economic advantages upon Ireland in the future. Some efforts of that kind were made by us, by the Government of which I was a member between 1886 and 1892. I see no sufficient reason why the policy then successfully carried out to a certain point should not be continued.It seemed to him (Mr. Plunkett) that this speech must have been in the mind of the hon. Member for Waterford when he appealed to the Chief Secretary for Ireland to repeat what the Leader of the House had said. Of all the Members on that side of the House there was none whose appointment to the post of Chief Secretary met with more universal approval on both sides of the House than the appointment of the brother of the present Leader of the House. He looked forward to the new Chief Secretary becoming the true representative of Ireland, and he had no doubt that if the 117 policy he would inaugurate was given a fair chance it would succeed. The hon. Member for Waterford went too far when he stated that Ireland was robbed every year of millions in taxation by this country. It was better to reserve their judgment on the point until the Commission on the Financial Relations between England and Ireland had reported. If it reported favourably to Ireland he would be heart and hand with the hon. Member in trying to get fair redress. He believed that this much, however, would appear in the Report—that the two countries were and must ever be mutually dependent on each other, and it was folly to talk of closing the account between them. But he was sure it would strengthen the claim of Ireland upon the liberality of England. He would go further, and say that he would make allowance for the fact of having given Ireland Constitutional means of expressing her opinions, and Ireland having constantly clamoured for what England could give her. Those considerations, he thought, were a fair answer to the statement that England got nothing from the Imperial Parliament, and Ireland got everything. The hon. Member for Waterford told them that he was prepared to welcome the alternative policy, and to give it a fair trial. He must know it was inadvisable for the Government to divulge their Irish policy at this time. He was anxious for a forward Irish policy,—and hon. Members opposite agreed to allow that policy a fair chance. Did the hon. Gentleman consider it a necessary part of that engagement to do his utmost to try and keep Ireland quiet during the coming winter? Hon. Members must see that if the country was again to be disturbed it would be impossible for the Government to introduce a policy with any fair chance of submitting it impartially to the Irish people. The difficulty of getting Irish legislation through the Imperial Parliament was that it took ten times the amount of talk and turmoil to do next to nothing for Ireland [Nationalist cheers] than it took to pass legislation for England. Surely the remedy for this state of things was with the Irish Members themselves. It must be obvious to them that confronted by an enormous majority, they could not monopolise the whole time of the House, 118 or even an unfair share of it. In the immediate future the Land Bill would block the way of all other controversial legislation, but there was no doubt the House expected from the present Government a large measure of local government and an educational measure. In addition there were hosts of measures which, after consultation amongst Irish Members of all classes, might be non-controversial. Such consultation he recommended because, if Irish Members could come to some understanding amongst themselves upon measures that were urgently required by Ireland, they could undoubtedly successfully appeal to the Government for the time necessary to pass the legislation. Private Bill legislation affecting Ireland had been admitted in that House to be a matter of importance, but nothing had been done. Some years ago very prominent Statesmen on the Conservative side of the House gave it as their opinion that the acquisition of railways in Ireland was a feasible proposal, and one that ought to be worked out. He thought the time had come when Irishmen should join together to bring wise and beneficent schemes down from the shelf to which they had been relegated by wild and impracticable proposals. The hon. Member for St. Patrick's Division of Dublin wrote a little while ago, a letter to the leading organ of the Parnellite Party. In that letter the hon. Member made the suggestion that the Irish Members on both sides of the House should form themselves into a Committee to promote useful Irish legislation. That was a somewhat belated suggestion, though he was quite ready to admit the spirit of the suggestion was an admirable one. The terms in which the suggestion was couched were still more admirable. The letter began with the words, "as a nation cannot live on politics alone." Those were words he would like to see written large in the preamble of every Irish Act. He was heartily in sympathy with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Waterford, that there should be a Department of the Board of Agriculture in Ireland, as there was no doubt that the case of Ireland's greatest industry was now in a very ludicrous position. He was quite prepared to admit that the funds at the disposal of the Congested Districts 119 Board were inadequate for the work entrusted to them, and in conclusion he asserted that the Party in office were in a position to resist Home Rule for some time to come; but, he asked all Irish Members opposite to meet the Government in the spirit displayed by the hon. Member for Waterford, and give the alternative policy to autonomy a fair chance.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he rose for the purpose of proposing an Amendment to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Waterford; but, before he dealt with that Amendment, he desired to say a few words in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for South Dublin. Few would question the truth of the boast of the hon. Gentleman that his Party were now in a position to resist Home Rule for a considerable time. The Government of this country had resisted Home Rule for Ireland for 90 years; but he thought many Members of the House, even many of those opposite, doubted whether they had done wisely. Whether the present occupants of the Ministerial benches would resist the granting of Home Rule to Ireland during the period of this Parliament, was a question which they alone could decide. The hon. Member for South Dublin said he recognized that there could be no permanent settlement of the Irish question until the government of Ireland by England was carried on in a very different spirit to that in which it had been carried on in the past. The people of Ireland held that there could be no satisfactory settlement of the condition of Ireland until the government of Ireland by England, in the sense in which it had been carried on in the past, had come to an end altogether. The fact was that that House was incapable of governing Ireland. [Ironical cheers and laughter.] He saw that there were some new Members in that House who laughed at that statement, but its accuracy was confirmed by the experience of the last ninety years. [Nationalist cheers.] It was the firm conviction of the Irish Nationalist Party that Ireland could not be properly governed until the Irish Government was made responsible to the Irish people instead of to that House. He did not know whether hon. Members opposite had taken to heart the lesson furnished 120 by the late elections in Ireland, which was a most interesting and instructive one. Because, whereas in this country there had been such a swing of political opinion as almost amounted to a revolution, the Irish Members had come back to that House almost exactly as they had left it, with the exception that the result of the recent General Election was to show that the Unionists had lost ground in that country in as much as the Nationalists had won two seats from them. Indeed, he had no hesitation in saying that, had it been found possible for the Irish Nationalist Party to have pulled together during the late Election, they would have won two, or perhaps even three more seats from the Unionsts. ["Hear, hear!" and cries of "Oh!"] He did not intend to discuss that question further at that moment, he was merely stating what he believed to be the fact. It was a remarkable fact that, not with standing the unhappy dissensions and divisions that existed among the Irish Nationalists, the Unionists had lost ground in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] Those were facts which no responsible Statesman, whether Liberal or Conservative, could overlook. He hoped that the present Government would approach the question of the Government of Ireland in a very different spirit from that which had influenced the late Conservative Government. But, even if better counsels should guide the present Government, and different and more prudent ideas should prevail, he was satisfied that at the end of their long term of office, which with their majority of 152 it was very reasonable to expect they would have, they would have to acknowledge that, like all preceding Governments, they had failed to settle the Irish question, and must hand it over unsolved to their successors. The hon. Member for South Dublin (Mr. Horace C. Plunkett) had alluded to the ominous silence that prevailed in Ireland. He must remind the hon. Member that in spite of the great work of that great man Mr. Parnell, who by an almost miraculous effort had led the Irish in America to believe that the ills of Ireland might be brought to an end by constitutional means and methods [Ironical cheers and laughter] and that upon the floor of the House the liberties of Ireland might be found, there was 121 now a most ominous silence in America which he himself did not like for many reasons. That silence was a sign that the mighty work that Mr. Parnell had effected in America had been to a great extent unhappily destroyed. Mr. Parnell had ruled in a strong way a strong party in Ireland, and it was now said that if that party continued strong they constituted a danger to the Irish Unionists, and that if they were disunited they were unfit to govern the country. The hon. Member for South Dublin had told the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House in the course of a speech that he had made, had said that during his visit to Ireland he had learned a lesson, and that he had come to the conclusion, from the experience he had gained in the course of that visit, that a great deal of the difficulties of Ireland were due to the poverty of the people. If the quotation of the hon. Member for South Dublin were accurate, it proved that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House went over to Ireland in blank ignorance of the elementary facts relating to Ireland, and therefore of the needs of the country and of the proper method of governing it. As a proof that Unionism had receded in Ireland, he wished to point out that 45 of the 82 Irish Nationalists had been returned unopposed. He would now proceed to explain why he proposed to move an Amendment to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Waterford City. [Ironical cheers and laughter.] His proposal appeared to amuse hon. Members opposite. The Amendment of the hon. Member set forth that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to declare without delay their policy with regard to Home Rule, Land Reform, and so on. He was not content with that, because what he wanted was not a declaration of policy, but a Bill. He wanted something practical to result from the present Session, and he therefore proposed to omit all the words after the word "Ministers" in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Waterford, in order to insert those words—To propose immediate legislation to carry out the recommendations of the Committee of last year, for the revision of those judicial rents which have been declared by the Land Acts 122 Committee to be excessive; and to make provision for the reinstatement on equitable terms of certain evicted tenants in Ireland.That was the course taken by Mr. Parnell in the autumn of 1886, when there existed in Parliament an almost precisely similar condition of things as prevailed there now. In the spring of that year a Home Rule Bill had been introduced and had been defeated in the House, and on an appeal to the country which followed—an appeal on the question of Home Rule, and Home Rule alone—that verdict of the House was confirmed by a majority of over 122. Therefore, when Parliament assembled in the month of August, 1886, the Irish Party found themselves face to face with a majority of 122 opposed to Home Rule, and returned on the question of Home Rule alone, which he thought was hardly the case in regard to the recent General Election, and therefore, the cause of Home Rule had been worse in 1886 than it was now. On August 28th, 1886, in the course of the Debate on the Address, Mr. Parnell moved an Amendment pointing out that owing to the fall in prices in agricultural produce, the greatest difficulty would be experienced by the farmers in paying their rents during the ensuing winter, that evictions were likely to follow, urging the Government to take steps to prevent that contingency arising. He desired to follow exactly the lines laid down by Mr. Parnell in 1886. Mr. Parnell then thought it would be ridiculous to ask a Government which had been returned to power with a majority of 122 against Home Rule to proceed with a Home Rule policy, that it would only be giving the Government an unnecessary opportunity for exhibiting their majority by challenging them on the question on which the Election had been fought. But then, as now, there was a question affecting the lives of the mass of the people of Ireland, and the policy of Mr. Parnell was that they should demand of the Government, in accordance with their pledges to govern Ireland justly and wisely, and to immediately apply a remedy to a great evil, the existence of which everybody admitted. Those words applied accurately to the present time. Could anyone deny the existence of the evils complained of by the agricultural population of Ireland? 123 No one could deny it; he challenged the hon. Member for South Tyrone to stand up and deny it. No longer ago than the spring of 1894 a Bill was introduced by the Irish Party to remedy those evils. That Bill passed its Second Reading by a majority of 90, and the Government admitted that they would have passed the Bill through all its stages had it not been for the plea that an inquiry ought to take place first into the working of the Land Acts. That was the only excuse for the delay of legislation from 1894 to 1895. The Committee was appointed more than a year ago and, after an exhaustive inquiry into the whole of the Irish Land Question, a Report was presented to the House urging immediate legislation, as the fall in prices and the cost of production had made the rents fixed by the Courts between 1881 and 1885 excessive. That report showed in conclusive fashion that it was not true, as stated by the Leader of the House, that there was no necessity for legislation till next year.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
That judicial terms were coming to an end did not necessitate legislation till next year.
§ MR. DILLON
dissented. It provided for shortening judicial terms, and would have taken in all those rents which were declared by the Land Acts Committee to be excessive. [Cheers.] The hon. Member for South Tyrone went down to Ulster and came back converted. ["Hear, hear!"] These facts could not be controverted. There were in Ireland to-day, and had been for some years, about 200,000 poor families, who, on the authority of that Committee, had been subject to materially excessive rents for some years. How could Her Majesty's Government, then, go on carrying out evictions? There was this to be said for the late Government—that they were pressing forward, with all the speed they could, a measure which would have done away with this injustice and would have prevented the evictions from being unjust. He appealed to the present Government to pass such a Bill now. They could do it within a week. Congratulations had 124 been heard on the social peace prevailing in Ireland for the past three years, and if the present Chief Secretary could, by his action, impress upon the people of Ireland that they would obtain justice without having to resort to disturbance, he would be teaching them in a practical way an invaluable lesson. This was what he desired to see. In 1886 they had at the head of the Government a man who entertained a sympathetic feeling towards Ireland—the late Lord Randolph Churchill—who, when Mr. Parnell introduced his Bill, set aside a day to discuss it. He asked the present Government to follow the example set by Lord Randolph Churchill, and either to bring forward a Bill themselves or give an opportunity to the Irish Members to do so. If this appeal were rejected, he did not say that consequences similar to those which followed the rejection of Mr. Parnell's Bill would ensue on the present occasion. He was not fool enough to be blind to the dissensions in the ranks of the Members from Ireland, or not to recognise that no appeal could come with the same force so long as that dissension lasted. He would tell the Government this, that if they refused the appeal for some immediate relief to the tenantry of Ireland, they would replant in their hearts a deep and rankling sense of injustice which in the future, be it near or far, would bear sad and bitter fruit. If the Government were strong now, and he admitted they were strong, and if the Nationalist party were weak, and he for his part admitted they were weak so long as dissension tore their ranks as under, now was the time for them to show a spirit of wisdom, generosity, and true statesmanship. If they would come forward now with a generous measure for restoring the unhappy evicted tenants to their homes, and to reduce fairly and justly, or provide some machinery for reducing, excessive judicial rents, they would do a great deal to impress the Irish people with the idea that there was some chance of getting justice from the House of Commons. If not, then the Government would simply strengthen the hands of the Nationalist party. He invited the attention of the new Irish Secretary to this aspect of the case. What folly and nonsense it was to say that men could live as agitators, or work, or have power 125 as agitators, if there was not a vast mass of grievances to be remedied. [Cheers.] If the Government refused the concession he asked on behalf of the Irish people, there was not a single Member now listening to him who would not one day bitterly regret that refusal.
§ * MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.),
in seconding the Amendment of the hon. Member who had just sat down, reminded the House that in 1886, when the Unionist party came into power with a large majority, Mr. Parnell pointed out, in solemn and significant tones, the grave condition of things in Ireland, under which it was no longer possible to pay the so-called judicial rents, and he was met with scoffs and laughter and open denial on the other side of the House. He could well remember the almost solemn words with which the right hon. Gentleman now the Member for the University of Dublin warned Mr. Parnell of the awful responsibility he took upon himself in connection with the forthcoming trouble. Similarly, to-night he had no doubt the new Chief Secretary, whose widespread acquaintance and deep knowledge of Irish political life they all knew, would lecture Nationalists on daring to remind him that now, as in 1886, there was grave danger of disturbance and disorder if the existing condition of things was not grappled with immediately. The present Government, with their enormous majority, and their friends in another place, could pass a Bill somewhat similar to Mr. Morley's Bill in a very short time. The evidence taken before Mr. Morley's Committee was not the evidence of people who would be accused of undue partiality towards the tenants; it was the evidence mainly of valuers, County Court judges and Land Commissioners, a fact which ought to weigh heavily with Gentlemen on the other side, and yet the Committee, after a careful review of the evidence, reported unequivocally in favour of legislation on the lines of Mr. Morley's Bill. The Boards of Guardians all over Ireland were at present calling the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the impossibility of paying judicial rents, and asking him not to adopt the tactics of his predecessor in 1885–6. Events had shown that in 1886 Mr. Parnell had been right. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to ease the burdens of the 126 Irish tenant by means of legislation, and he hoped that he would, at any rate, bring in a Bill to deal with the judicial rents now falling due, according to the proportion of falling prices and the bad season. Hon. Members opposite might refer to the agricultural depression in England, but his answer to that was that the evidence given before the Committee, which was not contradicted, had shown that the voluntary reductions given in England were much larger than the reduction given to the Irish tenant. That being so, with what face could hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies in England refuse their demands? Something would have to be done speedily, or the Irish Members would take no responsibility for a continuance of the peace and order which had so long prevailed. The question of the evicted tenants must also be settled at once. It was an urgent question, and the majority of the evicted tenants now out on the roadside were the victims either of the law's delay or of the law's incompleteness.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,), Leeds, Central
who was received with Ministerial cheers, said: The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was one of those earnest and impressive utterances which the House is accustomed to expect from him. I am also glad to recognise its moderate and conciliatory tone. I wish I could have awarded the same praise to the speech which was delivered by the hon. Member for East Mayo, who, apparently in his deep anxiety to "go one better" than the hon. and learned Member for Waterford [Laughter], asks for immediate legislation on the lines of the Report of the Select Committee on the Land Acts, and provision for the restoration, on equitable terms, of evicted tenants to their holdings. In support of this claim he referred to the precedent set by Mr. Parnell in 1886; but the state of things in 1886 was very different to what it is at present. In 1886 there was undoubtedly very great distress, and there had been a very rapid fall in prices; at present it cannot be truly said that there is distress in Ireland. The harvest last year was good, as the harvest this year is likely to to be, in every district in Ireland [Nationalist cries of "No, no!"], and it 127 cannot be alleged that there has been, at all events within the last year or two, any heavy fall in prices. But that is not all. The remedy which the hon. Member for East Mayo proposed is one which would be on remedy for the evils which he has pointed out. He desires a measure drawn upon the lines of the recommendations of the Select Committee. How would that affect rents payable in the coming year? Of Mr. Parnell's proposal in 1886 at least this could be said, that it would have given immediate relief to tenants who found difficulty in paying their rent, for it would have given them a reduction in proportion to the fall in the prices of agricultural products. Mr. Morley's Bill of last year and the Bill on similar lines which we are now asked to introduce would only affect rents in cases of applications made subsequent to the passing of the Bill, and it could not and would not affect applications for the refixing of rents until the statutory period of 15 years had elapsed.
§ MR. DILLON
That is not so. The Bill proposed to break the statutory term in Ireland and to reduce it to ten years. That meant that every man whose rent was fixed before 1886 could come into Court and get a new rent fixed, and the new rent would run from the date of his application.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
What the hon. Member asks the Government to do is to pass a Bill drawn upon the lines of the recommendations of the Select Committee. I think he must be aware that the Select Committee declined to recommend that the statutory period should be reduced.
§ MR. DILLON
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the terms of the Amendment he will see that it calls for immediate legislation for the revision of rents declared by the Select Committee to be excessive.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
That is by no means a Bill drawn upon the lines of the Select Committee 128 which I understood the hon. Member for East Mayo to recommend to us. But I pass to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. That speech covered a very great extent of ground, like the Amendment in support of which it was delivered, and contained a large budget of questions for an Irish Chief Secretary who has held office barely a month to be prepared to answer exhaustively. I will, however, endeavour, as far as I can, at all events to explain to the House the spirit in which the Government desire to approach the solution of the many problems which undoubtedly must receive attention from any Irish Government. But there is one question on which I can give a distinct and decisive answer to the hon. Member. He has asked us what our attitude is upon the question of Home Rule. Well, our attitude upon the question of Home Rule is and will continue to be one of unchanging and inflexible opposition. [Loud cheers.] Having said so much, I do not wish to pursue the arguments of the hon. Member, or to inquire whether he is justified in his view that the late Election does not constitute a verdict of condemnation upon Home Rule; nor will I inquire how far it is true, as the hon. Member for East Mayo maintains, that the cause of the Union has been steadily receding in Ireland. I do not agree with the view of the hon. Member for Waterford, and I think a good deal might be said against the contention of the hon. Member for East Mayo. But I am anxious in my remarks to avoid as far as may be controversial topics, and therefore I shall say no more on this subject. I will pass to those matters on which I can at all events approach somewhat more nearly to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Waterford. I have been pressed to state the views of the Government upon the land question, and the hon. Member for Waterford has especially called my attention to four points on which he 129 would like to know the opinion of the Government. He starts from the admitted necessity of passing amending Land Acts, and he asks, do we intend to deal with the land question, and, if so, when; and he further asks why we do not pass some measure at once on which there might be a consensus of opinion. My own view is that if any Irish Chief Secretary was to attempt to pass a measure which really dealt with the land question as a whole, such a measure could not be one on which there would be a consensus of opinion. Any Land Bill covering the whole ground must necessarily be to a considerable extent controversial in its character; and, when we are told that the Land Bill introduced by the late Government was one which passed its Second Reading with the unanimous consent of the House. I think hon. Members ought to remember that it was expressly stated in debate that particular provisions of that Bill were of a highly contentious and controversial character, and it was stated from our side of the House that these particular provisions would meet with most strenuous opposition from the Unionist Party. I cannot expect that the provisions of any Land Bill I may introduce would be of a less controversial character, and therefore I think we may at once give up any idea of introducing at the present time and attempting to pass a Land Bill that really dealt with the problem that has to be solved. But there remains the question, Would it be possible, or is it necessary, to introduce a Bill of a provisional character to tide us over the months that must elapse before the Government are prepared to deal with the question? The hon. Member for Waterford, referring to the speech of the Leader of the House earlier in the evening, asked whether we could give assurances that, if the Land Bill was delayed till February, that would involve any risk or inconvenience to the interests concerned. I need not say 130 that that has been a subject of anxious consideration by the Government, and they have come to the conclusion that no Bill is at the present time urgent First of all there is the legal position of the tenant. There appears to be a certain doubt as to whether that legal position would continue after the statutory period had elapsed, but whether that doubt is well or ill founded, if it exists it ought to be cleared up by legislation. As, however, the statutory period does not expire until September next year, it will be clear that, so far as that difficulty is concerned, a Bill which dealt with the question in the spring of next year would be passed in sufficient time to prevent the tenant from suffering any possible harm. But there is a third question. If a Land Bill is to be passed in the earlier part of next year, what will be the position of those tenants who decline to have their judicial rents refixed before that Bill is passed? The essential point to consider in connection with the question is not really the date of the application, but the date at which judgment will be delivered. I have consulted with Mr. Justice Bewley and his colleagues on the Land Commission, and I am assured by them that, whether a Land Bill was brought in early next year or not, the decisions on the applications to refix judicial rents would not be given until the end of March at the very earliest. Mr. Justice Bewley believes that, if the provisions of the Land Bill were such as to affect the decisions in connection with those applications, it would be easy and proper for the Land Commission to instruct Sub-Commissioners to defer judgment until the Bill was passed; and of course any such Bill would contain a clause applying the provisions to pending cases.
MR. T. M. HEALY
Will the right hon. Gentleman lay on the Table his letter to Mr. Justice Bewley and the remarkable reply he has just mentioned?
MR. T. M. HEALY
On a point of Order, I wish to ask you, Sir, whether the right hon. Gentleman, having referred to an official document in which he states he has applied to the Irish Land Commission for an opinion which he has given to the House, the House is not now entitled to have that opinion as a whole.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman made any such reference to an official document as would compel its production. [Cheers.]
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I can assure the hon. Member that I have very accurately given the purport of the letter. The letter was actually published, and I do not think the hon. Member can gather very much more from it than I have stated. The hon. Member for Waterford seemed to me to have ignored the statements made by me on behalf of the Government early last month. I have already undertaken on behalf of the Government, in a speech made at Leeds, to deal with the land question early next year. In that speech I stated that while I was not prepared to accept Mr. Morley's Bill, while there was much in it we regarded with disapproval,—[ironical cheers]—we were nevertheless prepared to deal with the important questions of the legal position of the judicial tenants, the protection of the tenants' improvements, and the question of sub-letting; also the present exclusions from the Bill, the simplification and cheapening of the precedure under the Act, and those portions of Mr. Morley's Bill which were not contentious in their character—[ironical laughter];—and, lastly, the promotion of a more rapid and effective working of the Land Purchase Acts passed by the Unionist Government in 1885 and 1891. That statement in effect answers a good many of the questions put to me by the hon. Member. I now pass to the second point raised by the hon. Member for Waterford, who urges upon us that dual ownership cannot afford a solution of the 132 Irish land problem. The hon. Member preaches to the converted. That has ways been the position of the Unionist Party, and it is the position of the Unionist Party still. We have maintained that the difficulties inherent in dual ownership were such that the transference of the land from the landlord to the tenant must be ultimately the only effective solution of the land question in Ireland. The hon. Member asks us whether we are prepared to introduce legislation for the purpose of greasing the wheels of the machine. That is another of the policies explained by me on behalf of the Government at Leeds. The hon. Member further asks whether we are prepared to complete the necessary funds for the transference of the whole of the land of Ireland from the landlord to the cultivating tenants. Before we are ready to suggest any step of that kind we desire to see the £30,000,000 which are at present available spent in effecting the purchase. That answer will also apply to the other suggestion of the hon. Member, that ultimately the element of compulsion would in the case of certain schemes be proved to be necessary. Our position is that the compulsory element has not been proved to be necessary. What maybe necessary 10, 15 or 20 years hence I am not prepared to say. I think it is unreasonable to ask us to declare in favour of compulsion when, as a matter of fact, we hope that the object we have in view may be effected without compulsion and by voluntary settlement. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member referred to another point—the question of the evicted tenants. I am bound to say that in my judgment the case of the evicted tenants is not nearly so urgent as has been represented. The number of evicted farms is, as a matter of fact, under existing circumstances diminishing, and the number of evicted tenants who are making voluntary arrangements with the landlords is at the present time increasing.[Cheers.] Nor do I think 133 that any argument can be found in the attitude adopted towards this question by the late Government. Mr. Morley never dealt with it at all ill the first two years of the late Government. He dealt with it last year by a very drastic measure, and in bringing forward that Bill he talked of the terrible consequences which would follow if that Bill was not passed. These terrible consequences did not follow, and what did Mr. Morley do this year? Why, he did not bring in the Bill of last year. He attached to the end of the Land Bill a clause which practically was a re-enactment of Clause 13 of the Bill of 1891. I do not know whether the hon Member considers that the 13th clause of the Act of 1891 would afford that relief which he desires, but he suggests that it would be possible to frame a Bill which would deal satisfactorily with these tenants. If a proposal of that kind is made to the Government, we are willing to give it our consideration. I cannot undertake more than that, but I must express my own view that the re-enactment of the 13th clause, while it might do some good, would not meet anything like a pressing or urgent difficulty. ["Hear, hear!''] I therefore presume that when the hon. Member speaks of a Bill that is to settle the question of the evicted tenants he desires something that goes very much further than the mere re-enactment of Clause 13. I may say at once that the Government would see great difficulty in any proposal which would go beyond Clause 13. We say it is impossible during the present Session that we should undertake to pass any Bill that is not of a purely non-controversial character. I may pass lightly over some other points touched upon by the hon. Gentleman and others who followed him. He asked me what our views are with regard to the establishment of a Board of Agriculture, the extension of light railways, with regard to the Congested Districts Board, and to the system of State-aided drainage, 134 which was one of the proposals of the Unionist Government when it was last in power. With regard to measures of this kind I can assure the hon. Member we have the keenest possible sympathy, but it is impossible for me to deal with these questions at the present time. I am doing my very best—[cheers]—but it is impossible for me, in the short time hitherto at my disposal, to come to a decision upon any one of these points; and I therefore ask him to accept my assurance that these matters are having the attention of the Government, and that whatever will promote the welfare of Ireland will be carefully attended to. I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for South Dublin. whose work in connection with the Congested Districts Board is recognised as so valuable on both sides of the House. He has asked me whether I could state what are the general principles which would underlie any proposals which the Government might have to make with respect to Ireland. While we give credit to Nationalist Members opposite for having at heart the good of Ireland, we ask that they should acknowledge on their side that we also—it may be in their view in a mistaken way—have at heart the good of Ireland. The principles which will animate us in our Irish legislation and administration are identical with the principles which animated the Unionist Government between 1886 and 1892. [Derisive Nationalist cheers.] I understand those cheers, but I was not referring to the policy which hon. Members opposite are pleased to call coercion, but which we call the maintenance of law and order. [Derisive Nationalist laughter.] I was not referring to that, and for this simple reason, that I regard the maintenance of law and order as the elementary duty of any Government, whether in Ireland, or England, or Scotland, or any other part of the world. [Cheers.] What I had in my mind were the distinctive principles of Unionist policy 135 towards Ireland. Of course, we are not blind to the fact that a large portion of the people of Ireland are disaffected towards the Government under which they live. We do not, however, regard that disaffection as unchangeable, and, looking at the present evils which Ireland suffers, we regard them as arising from the deep-seated differences of religion and of sentiment [Nationalist cries of "No!"] between different sections of the people. We regard them as arising from the grave agrarian discontent and from the cause mentioned by the hon. Member for East Mayo—namely, the extreme poverty of large districts in Ireland. We desire to adapt our remedy to the character of the country's needs. Our desire is to hold the scales evenly between the various sections into which the people of Ireland are divided, without distinction of creed or class. [Cheers.] Our desire is to remedy every grievance from which any section of the Irish people can legitimately be said to suffer. Our desire is to establish an industrious peasantry in the ownership of the land which they at present cultivate; and in those cases where the relation between landlord and tenant is not thus done away with, to do something at least to remove the friction which, in many cases, makes the relation between them a misfortune to both. [Cheers.] Lastly, our desire is to be, not only just but generous, in promoting the industrial and material development of the country, and so to sow the seeds of future prosperity. I am encouraged to hope, from what has fallen to-night from the hon. Member for Waterford, that he, at least, will regard our efforts in this direction [Derisive anti-Parnellite cheers] with benevolent neutrality, if he does not accord us his active support. But, whether we win the support of the Irish Members or not, we intend to proceed quietly in the way we have chosen, trusting to the operation of time to vindicate our policy and to secure for us that which must be at once the 136 object and the reward of all efforts of statesmanship, the happiness and contentment of the people. [Cheers.]
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR and Mr. HARRINGTON rose together, but Mr. SPEAKER called upon
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
who said that he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman (the Chief Secretary) should have announced that the policy of the present Government would be the same as that of the Government of 1886–1892. No statement which the right hon. Gentleman could make would be more likely to exasperate the Irish people—[Cheers]—for it revived some of the saddest, bitterest, and most shameful memories. For his part he did not wish to revive those memories. If he did, he should have to remind the House that Tullamore and Mitchelstown were names which were still remembered in Ireland. There was one observation of the right hon. Gentleman which was, he thought, of a somewhat happier character. The right hon. Gentleman threw out a suggestion that the Government might be prepared to consider a proposal to reenact, in some form, the 13th Clause of the Land Act of 1891 with regard to the evicted tenants.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I think I ought to explain that my statement in connection with that went to this point—that we were prepared to consider any proposal laid before us for a measure of a purely non-contentious character, but if the measure proposed was of a contentious character it would be impossible to consider it.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
understood that any such proposal must be based in its main details on the 13th Clause of the Land Act of 1891. That was a very important statement, and required very grave consideration, but he would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of considering whether he could go the length of announcing to the House that he would be prepared to extend the 13th Clause in the direction 137 of the clause brought in by Mr. Morley under the late Government, many points in which he believed could be fairly described as being of a non-contentious character. He did not suppose the right hon. Gentleman could have the least objection to voluntary settlements between landlord and tenant being facilitated by grants from the Treasury. Therefore, he did feel that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, enlarged in the direction he had just suggested, was one very well worthy of consideration, and Irish Members should require at least some further explanation of it before they could be prepared to entirely reject it. He did not intend to dwell at any great length on the other points in the speech of the right lion. Gentleman. He was glad he expressed his opinion so candidly on some of the points raised. They now had a declaration of policy in regard to Ireland, and they knew exactly what they had to expect. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the attitude of the Government was one of unchanging and inflexible opposition to Home Rule. He had often heard those words before. They would be weighty enough if there was an unchanging and inflexible public opinion behind them. He was not going to explain away an electoral defeat, but this he might say, that the turn over of Members in the House was by no means represented by a corresponding turn over of votes in the country. Instead of the doctrine that the great god Chance had had a good deal to do with the electoral results being repudiated by the result of the Election, it had to his mind been more conspicuously confirmed than ever before. He would not dwell on the point on which many Tory speakers dwelt during the Election, namely, that the Election was not mainly fought on the Home Rule issue. He had had to read a good many Tory speeches—he did not speak of that as a pleasant occupation, but rather as a laborious one—and there was scarcely one of them that did not vehemently assert that the Liberal leaders and candidates before the country, on every possible occasion, put the question of Home Rule into the very backmost place. He was not going to accept or deny that statement, though he thought there was a good deal in 138 favour of accepting it and of believing that after all Home Rule might have been a far better cry on which to go to the country than some others. His point remained, that according to the assertions of the Tory Party, whether they were well-founded or not, this Election was not mainly fought on the question of Home Rule. Therefore, if he were asked to take the verdict of the British constituencies at the last Election as decisive against Home Rule, he should find the refutation of that contention out of the mouths of the Tory Party themselves. The last Election had a good many surprises, and one surprise even greater than the others. The late Government was largely driven to the country by the result of some bye-elections, and by the assistance which the Tory Party got from a body of Nationalists in the last Parliament. With one exception, the verdict of every one of those bye-elections which destroyed the late Government had been reversed at the General Election. He remembered very well the almost deafening cheers with which the then Tory Opposition received the results of those bye-elections, as additional nails in the coffin of the late Government. Inverness-shire, it was true, had not been regained, but the Tory majority of the bye-election had been reduced. Therefore, there was this most extraordinary fact—that the very constituencies which three, four, six months, or one year ago, gave a verdict against Home Rule, and thereby helped to destroy a Home Rule Government, had now given a verdict in favour of Home Rule. To ask the Irish Members, in face of the steadiness of their own people, maintained in spite of every possible obstacle—in spite of dissension, in spite of divisions and quarrels, and recriminations in their own ranks—to ask them to regard the recent verdict of the English constituencies as inflexible and final, was to ask them to forget the long centuries of struggles, and their hopes of final deliverance which were still alive. The present Government was a very powerful Government, he would not deny; but the Irish Party had faced powerful Governments before, and had beaten them. He hoped that after five years—if the present Government lasted so 139 long—they would have reduced it to exactly the same position as the Government of 1886 to 1891. As to some of the objections of the Chief Secretary to dealing immediately with the evicted tenants question, it might be supposed from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the evicted tenants question was a new one. As a Member of the Parliament of 1886, the right hon. Gentleman must know that the evicted tenants question, as far as a large body of tenants was concerned, dated from 1886, and arose from the rejection of Mr. Parnell's Bill, the moderation of which the Chief Secretary praised now, though its moderation was denounced then by the right hon. Gentleman's associates.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
stated, that the right hon. Gentleman did not perhaps praise the moderation of the Bill, but he spoke of its effectiveness. For nine years a large body of tenantry in Ireland had been living on the roadside on the charity and generosity of their countrymen; their fields were untilled, their houses were destroyed, and all the land once in their occupation was practically going to waste. A problem of this kind, so serious and grave, had surely reached in nine years the period when it was ripe to be dealt with. This question had, moreover, been the subject of several legislative proposals. The present Leader of the House attempted to deal with the question in a Bill brought in in I891. Mr. Morley dealt with the question in the Bill of 1894, and again in a clause of the Land Bill introduced in the first Session of the present year. And yet this question, nine years old, and the subject of three legislative proposals, the Chief Secretary regarded as not yet mature for settlement. The Chief Secretary would miss a golden opportunity if he did not bring in a Bill on the lines of that of his predecessor, which could be easily passed in present circumstances. If the Government were inflexibly opposed to the policy of Home Rule, the Irish Party were just as unchangeably and inflexibly determined to adhere to it.
§ * MR. TIMOTHY HARRINGTON (Dublin Harbour)
said it was necessary to explain the reasons for not accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for 140 Mayo. They had heard from the last speaker a frank and candid opinion which Members of the Liberal Party would do well to take to heart as to the effect on their fortunes, at the General Election, of the shelving of Home Rule. The Amendment of the hon. Member for East Mayo was well described by the Chief Secretary as an attempt to go one better than the hon. Member for Waterford, but it was in reality going one worse. The only advantage of adopting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mayo would be to shut out the Government from any declaration of policy, and so debar the House from hearing the Government on the questions of Home Rule and the industrial development of Ireland, and above all on the question which was daily attracting more and more attention, namely, the important question of land purchase. The effect of the Amendment would simply be to prevent the discussion of these things in the House. If the late Government intended to shelve Home Rule, the Irish Members had no intention to do so there or elsewhere. He observed the jeers with which hon. Members greeted the Chief Secretary when he expressed a hope that a policy of amelioration would command fair play. He would boldly and frankly state that, so far as he was concerned, he was fully prepared to give to any endeavour to benefit Ireland the fullest and fairest trial—["hear, hear!"]—and so far from sneering at the speech of the Chief Secretary, Irish Members ought to have recognised in the tone of it a kindly endeavour on the part of a Gentleman wholly unacquainted with Irland—an expression of his sympathy with the condition of its people and with their wants. He was as strongly convinced as anyone that there would be complete failure on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government to alienate the people of Ireland from their aspiration for National Government; but he believed it would be a foolish, and stupid, and utterly unpatriotic policy on their part to endeavour to resist ameliorative measures for the sake of bringing in a Home Rule Government, pledged to Home Rule but unable to carry it. For three years they had been pressing the Liberal Party on this question, and they had heard the declaration of one of their supporters that the 141 Election results might have been different if they had kept Home Rule more to the front. [Cries of "They ran away from it."]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must call upon the hon. Member to withdraw that expression and apologise to the House for having used it. [Cheers.]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I name you, Charles Kearns Deane Tanner, for gross disobedience to the Chair and grossly disorderly conduct.
§ DR. TANNER
On the contrary, any order which comes to me from the chair you occupy I shall only be happy to obey; but I cannot tell an untruth.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
I beg to move "That Dr. Tanner be suspended from the service of the House."
§ Question put—"That Dr. Tanner be suspended from the service of the House."
§ A division having been challenged, and the Ministerial tellers being named to tell for the "Ayes,"
§ Tellers for the "Noes" not having been named,
§ * MR. SPEAKER
declared that the "Ayes" had it. He then directed the hon. Member for Mid Cork to withdraw.
§ DR. TANNER
If the Speaker tells me to withdraw, I shall take any word that comes from the Chair, and withdraw with more pleasure than I have entered this dirty House of Commons. [Cries of "Order."]
§ The hon. Member then rose and withdrew.
Question again proposed—
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment.
§ Debate resumed—
§ * MR. HARRINGTON
observed that, while he and his friends agreed that the re-enactment of the 13th clause would not effect a complete settlement of the question of the reinstatement of the evicted tenants, they had no doubt it would go a very great distance in the direction, and give the right hon. Gentleman a better chance of success in his government of Ireland. The failure of the 13th clause of the Land Act of 1891 was due entirely to the fact that at the time the friction in the country was extremely keen. Evictions were then of frequent occurrence, the policy of the Government largely exasperated the feeling which prevailed, and the 13th clause at the outset did not receive that sympathy and support from the friends of the tenants in Ireland which were calculated to ensure a fair chance of its being effective. He would remind that right hon. Gentleman that the circumstances had since entirely altered, and that there was now in Ireland so strong a desire among the tenants themselves and their supporters to get any fair settlement of this difficult and irritating question, that he believed, even without any Amendment at all, a re-enactment of the 13th clause, with a fair extension of the time specified in it, would hold out a good prospect of a settlement of the difficulty. These evicted tenants were scattered all over the country. He was glad to learn that voluntary settlements were extending. He had not known many of them, but most unquestionably, if the Chief Secretary would introdue a short Bill re-enacting the 13th Clause of the Act of 1891, and be able to add such provisions as would make 143 purchase easier to the tenants, and give the landlords better chances of approaching the tenants for the purpose of a settlement, he had no doubt from the sympathy of Irish landlords with this Government, they would consider such a proposal. It would go far to secure a peaceful winter in Ireland by giving the tenants something to consider, and establish some means of rapprochement between them and the landlords. He wished to impress on the Chief Secretary that in the position of the evicted tenants lay his greatest peril. These men were scattered all over the country and there would be temptations to disorder among them as long as they saw their homes in the possession of others who had never paid a penny for them, and they saw planters cultivating the land they and their fathers, had so longed held. He asked the Chief Secretary to consider carefully the position of these evicted tenants, and do all in his power—if he could not settle the question—to establish means of communication between the landlords and the tenants during the next six months. He fully appreciated the difficulty of asking the Chief Secretary to introduce at the present time a Bill for the settlement of the Irish Land Question. He was not sorry that the Chief Secretary had had an opportunity at all events of making the position for himself somewhat easier by the declaration of policy he had made that night. But he had no faith in the ultimate result of the Chief Secretary's policy. However generous the best policy that could lie devised in that House by an English Parliament, it would not eradicate the national sentiment of the Irish people that they should govern their own affairs. If the Government intended to pursue a policy which would allay many evils from which the Irish people suffered, while they know it would not eradicate the desire for Home Rule, the Irish people and their representatives would extend to any experiment of the kind a fair and impartial trial.
§ MR. T. LOUGH(Islington, W.) moved the adjournment of the Debate, and hoped that after the important announcement of policy from the Chief Secretary and the unhappy incident that had taken place, the Chief Secretary would consent.144
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
protested against the idea that the Debate on the Address should be concluded that night.
MR. T. M. HEALY
remarked that it was not usual for the Debate to be adjourned at Ten minutes to Twelve on the first night of a Session. So far from that being the practice, it had been almost the invariable practice for the House to adjourn at 7, 8, 9, or 10 o'clock on the first day of the Session. This was a specimen of the leadership of this fin de siécle majority [Laughter]; they were refused by the new Leader of the House the very small concession that was asked upon an Irish Debate. He remembered that about three years ago the present Secretary for the Colonies moved the adjournment of the Debate at about a quarter past11, and protested against being squeezed into the half-hour or 40 minutes that then remained for his important speech. It would be unfair that the Leader of the House, should put his followers and the Opposition to the trouble of a division, and he hoped that, now that they had consulted the Member for South Tyrone—[A laugh]—who he understood had not resigned in consequence of the speech of the Chief Secretary—[Renewed laughter]—the spirit of sweet reasonableness would come over the views arid intentions of Her Majesty's Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he wished to convey that it was the practice for an hon. Gentleman to begin his speech, even if there was not time for him to finish it. He would, however, consent to the adjournment of the Debate. ["Hear, hear."]
§ Question—"That the Debate be now adjourned,"—put and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ One other Member took and subscribed the Oath required by Law.
§ House adjourned at Five minutes before Twelve o'clock.