§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
, rising amidst Opposition cheers, said: Mr. Speaker, to put myself in order I ask leave to move the adjournment of the House to call attention to a question of urgent public importance—extremely, the present condition of public business.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
, having read the Motion as handed to him by the Leader of the Opposition, asked whether it was the pleasure of the House that leave be given, whereupon the Members on the Opposition side of the House rose en masse.
The pleasure of the House having been thus signified,
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
, amidst renewed Opposition cheers, moved, "That this House do now adjourn." The right hon. Gentleman said: Sir, I cannot attempt to thread the labyrinth of the statement just made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It is evidently one that requires careful consideration as to the effect of the Amendments which have been proposed and withdrawn, and the Amendments which, having been withdrawn, have been modified, and their effect on the Bill. It would not be possible, even if in order, to discuss those proposals at the present time; but I do think the House is concerned to ask what is going to be the course of public business now, when we are within a month of the time at which it is stated that Parliament is to be prorogued. That must mainly depend on the intentions of the Government with reference to the Irish Land Bill. Everybody knows it is a Bill of great complexity, which I do not propose now to enter into. But it is a Bill which, clearly, if it is to be discussed, as it should be, must take considerable time. The practical question I want to ask is, "What do the Government intend to do with reference to the Irish Land Bill?" [Cheers.] We are told that four days only are to be devoted to the Committee stage. That statement was made some weeks ago. A great deal has happened since. I am not the person who am disposed to pay much attention to the 1516 rumours of the Lobby or the Press, and I will say nothing on the subject. But it is plain that the Bill, for some reason or other, has undergone considerable transformation. I do not know whether that transformation is for good or evil. I do not propose to discuss that now. It has always been the practice, when the Government found it necessary to make serious alterations in their principal Measures or Programmes for the Session that the House should have information as to the changes and the causes that have led to them. What I ask is that the Government should be frank with the House in the matter and tell us—if they know—[laughter]—how they stand with reference to the Bill, with regard to the various sections and interests concerned in the progress of the Bill, and what opinion they have formed with reference to their relations to the parties interested in this Bill as affecting the principle of its proceedings. There is one thing I hope will not be followed—an example which I hope will not become a precedent—the example of a Bill of great importance to which, first a fortnight was devoted, then a week, and then the Bill was abandoned. The worst of all things with reference to the Bill is that we should devote a week—a fourth part of the time that still remains of the Session—to the discussion of a Bill which there is no probability that we shall proceed to an issue upon. That is really the question I desire to put to the Government on this matter. Everybody knows that we are at this time approaching the end of the Session. There is a great deal of Supply still to be taken. I am perfectly well aware that there is a guillotine which may shorten the business of Supply. But I think the time has come when the House ought to be informed what are the real intentions of the Government. A question was asked by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University, whether there would be more Amendments—a most pertinent question, because we never know what a day may bring forth on this Bill or any other. Never since the days of Proteus and his seal has there been anything like the present Government and their principal Measures. If you seize them in one form they appear in another, and it is very material with reference to the conduct of the business 1517 of the House that we should come to a clear understanding with the Government as to what is to take place during the next four weeks, which will conclude the Session. I think I have made this Motion for the adjournment for the first time in my life, but I make it because I think this is an occasion upon which we ought to have some explanation from the Government, and an explanation on which the House should express its opinion. I do not desire to raise questions of detail now, but I hope that on this Motion the Government will come forward and tell us what their real intentions are, that we may not be left in the condition of suspense in which we have been for many weeks on the subject of the Bill; and that we shall be told in a straightforward manner whether the Government do or do not intend to press this Bill; whether we have had their last words in the form of Amendments and changes in the Bill; whether in its present form they will proceed with it; how they intend to proceed with it; and what time they are prepared to devote to it. I think these are fair questions to ask the Government. We ought now to have some declaration from them how they mean to dispose of the time that has yet to elapse before the prorogation, and it is for that reason, Sir, that I have put into your hands the Motion for the adjournment of the House. [Cheers.]
§ MR. DILLON
, in seconding the Motion, said that on no occasion in recent times was a Motion of the kind more justified. It gave to the Irish Nationalist Members an opportunity of asking the Government to define their position once for all in reference to the Irish Land Bill, and the Government an opportunity, of which he hoped they would avail themselves, to inform the House and Irish public opinion—which was extremely disturbed—what it was they really proposed to do in reference to the Irish Land Bill. He had taken the trouble to inform himself carefully as to the condition of public feeling in Ireland, and the feeling in the House on the attitude of the Government and their management of the Bill. In all his experience in the House he had never known any great Government Measure, introduced as a measure of first-class importance, to be dealt with as this had 1518 been. The Irish Nationalist Party were entitled to complain of the action of the Government from the outset in reference to this Bill. It was a Bill of such magnitude and complexity that it required a speech of three-and-a-half hours from the Chief Secretary to explain it, and shortly after the Second Reading, without a shadow of justification or excuse, so far as he had been able to a certain, the Leader of the House declared, in reference to the Bill which this strong Government had introduced, that its fate was hanging in the balance. That statement was made long before the recent negotiations had begun, and for it the Leader of the House did not give a shred or a shadow of a reason. The Government also availed themselves of every conceivable excuse and device to postpone the consideration of the Bill until the end of the Session, when they knew that no adequate discussion could take place. [Cheers.] Even when the Education Bill was dropped, and the way was clear, the Government, unheeding the appeals of the Irish Members, did not do that which was manifestly within their power to do—namely, to proceed immediately with the consideration of the Land Bill. [Cheers.] It was perfectly astonishing the number of Bills that were placed in front of the Land Bill for the apparent purpose of delaying its consideration. [Cheers.] The long list of Measures included the Naval Works Bill, the Cattle Diseases Bill, the English Rating Bill, the Scotch Rating Bill, the Education Bill, the Military Manœuvres Bill, the Finance Bill, the Light Railways Bill, the Mines Bill, the Conciliation (Trades Disputes) Bill, the Locomotives on Roads Bill, and the Uganda Railway Resolution, not one of which could for a single moment be placed in comparison with the Irish Land Bill from the point of view of importance or urgency—[Ministerial laughter and Nationalist cheers]—and, therefore, in the minds of the Irish people—he was speaking now on behalf of Unionists as well as of Nationalists—[cheers]—there grow up, week by week, the suspicion that the real object of the Government was to drop the Bill or allow it to be destroyed by the House of Lords at the end of the Session. [Cheers.] The Irish Party had also grave and solid ground for complaint in 1519 regard to the attitude of the Government towards their own Amendments. It was not the custom for a Government—so far as he was acquainted with the practices of the House—to be continually changing in vital details their attitude towards a great Measure up to the very eve of the Committee of the Bill. Shortly after the Second Reading of the Bill the Government were asked to put down their Amendments in order to give the Irish Members and the Irish constituencies—who had the right to a voice in the matter—the opportunity of considering the bearings of those Amendments and making up their minds in relation to them. The Government recognised the justice of that demand, and accordingly put their Amendments upon the Notice Paper many weeks ago, and the Irish Party were then under the impression that they at last knew what the intentions of the Government really were. They had been told time after time that one of the advantages of being ruled by a strong Unionist Government was that that Government would hold the scales evenly as between landlord and tenant, and that they would not allow themselves to be influenced by any inducements or threats. But the action of the Government in regard to the Land Bill showed the fallacy of that statement. About a fortnight ago rumours about the Bill of the most incredible character began to circulate in the Lobby. The Leader of the Opposition declared that it was not his custom to attach credence to the rumours of the Lobby; but he found that Lobby rumours had generally good foundation, and in this case they turned out to be only too true. The rumours were that the Government was in constant communication with the landlord caucus, presided over or largely influenced by the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry), and that, as the result of those communications, fresh Government Amendments were to be put upon the Paper which would to a large extent disarm the hostility of the landlords. It was also rumoured—he did not know with what degree of truth—that Lord Lansdowne, a Member of the Cabinet, was a party to these communications, and even took part in the deliberations of the landlord party. [Cheers.]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
There is no foundation whatever for that statement. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. DILLON
said that the Irish Members did not at first place any credence in those rumours. They refused to believe that the Government would go behind the back of the House of Commons and enter into a fresh treaty with the Irish landlord party [Cheers.] But, as events showed, the rumour was well founded. The Government, with all their strength, were not strong enough to act independently of the Irish landlords. They had to yield to the landlords, and it was only after repeated pressure in the way of questions from the Irish Benches that the Chief Secretary announced he would place his fresh Amendments upon the Paper. Then fresh rumours began to be circulated as to another departure on the part of the Government; and, true enough, those fresh Amendments, which had been placed upon the Paper after weeks of consultation, were in great part about to be withdrawn. [Cheers.] If they could accept that declaration of the Government as final, it would bring them back practically to the position which existed on the Second Reading of the Bill. But the Government, by putting these new Amendments on the Paper, had given a most dangerous lead to the House of Lords. [Cheers.] The Government had practically said to the House of Lords, "This represents our mind; and had it not been for certain influences which are now well known, we should have proceeded with those Amendments." [Cheers.] What guarantee was there that even if the Bill was passed in the condition it was in on the Second Reading, with the Amendments of the Irish Party rejected—when, of course, it could not settle the land question or satisfy the Irish people—what guarantee was there that the House of Lords, reading the mind of the stronger section of the Cabinet, with whom they were more closely identified and whom they liked best—[cheers]—would not come to the rescue of the landlord class and introduce the Amendments which the Government had been compelled to drop? [Cheers.] The influence of the Irish landlords in the House of Lords was supreme, as the 1521 experience of the past showed; and he found the Daily Express—which spoke the minds of the Irish landlords—declaring that if the Government did not persist in their Amendments—if, as it said, the Chief Secretary slaughtered his own offspring—the House of Lords, for its own honour and dignity, would he bound to amend the Bill. [Cheers.] That was a very good index of the temper of the men who would control the action of the House of Lords, and the putting of these Amendments on the Paper by the Government was an act which could not be undone. He did not think that the hon. Member for South Tyrone need trouble himself about the opinion of the Irish landlords. In any stand which he might make on behalf of the tenants he would have such a weight of Irish opinion at his back that he might disregard such attacks. [Cheers.] The Opposition were entitled to ask the Government what they finally proposed to do with regard to this Bill—first, during its passage through the House; and, secondly, as to the condition in which they would accept it when it had passed the House of Lords. [Cheers.] They might regard him as a hostile critic; but the conduct of business, and especially in relation to the Irish Land Bill, was criticised principally by Unionists. The opinion of their supporters in Great Britain was summed up in the following words:—The concessions in the first instance to the views of the tenants, then in some measure to those of the landlords, and, lastly, to those of the tenants again with regard to the improvements clause, may be capable one by one of argumentative defence; but the Government will find it impossible to justify their shifting policy without admitting, what is too obviously true, that they did not thoroughly understand the question when they undertook to solve it. Whether they thoroughly understand it now may be doubted.[Cheers.] That was the verdict of The Times—[renewed cheers]—and he believed that it would be the verdict of all England and Ireland before the Bill was done with. He firmly believed that the placing of the last Amendments on the Paper, by which the inner mind of the Government was revealed, would in all probability be the death of the Bill. As it originally stood it was a bad Bill; and, therefore, whatever its fate might be, his mind would be but little dis- 1522 turbed. If the Bill was lost through the action of the Government, Unionist Ulster would unite with Nationalist Ireland to wrench from the Government an infinitely better Bill next year. [Cheers.] The Chief Secretary had said that he desired to have a little time before making a statement, in order to ascertain the views of Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman had taken no step whatever in that direction. No communication had reached him since those words were used. But the very well-informed, the sometimes too well-informed—Lobby correspondent of The Times, writing of the last Amendments, said:—These Amendments were drawn up after consultation with Mr. Carson and others, and although they stopped far short of the landlords' demands, they were calculated to minimise opposition from the Unionist side of the House.But there was no consultation with the representatives of the tenants. [Cheers.] No attempt was made to minimise their opposition or to secure their support. The landlords, by threatening opposition, had made their views felt; but the views of the tenants' representatives had been ignominiously rejected whenever they had been put forward; and he washed his hands of any further responsibility for the Bill. [Cheers.]
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR the COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, Birmingham, W.)
who was received with cheers, said: The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has taken a course which he admits to be unusual, in order to ask the Government questions with regard to the course of public business. Of course, I do not presume to criticise the action of the right hon. Gentleman, for which, no doubt, he had good reasons. But, at the same time, he will admit that it is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is temporarily detained by indisposition, and is not able to be in his place to give the full reply which he would have desired to give to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. In his absence, it is, of course, quite impossible for me to make any general statement as to the course of public business; although, no doubt, my right hon. Friend will do so when he is again in his place. But, with reference 1523 to one of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, I think he is mistaken in the very doleful view he takes of the present state of Government business. On the whole, we have good reason to believe that the work which we have set ourselves to do, apart from the Irish Land Bill, will be accomplished by the time which has always been named as the probable termination of the Session. And in regard to Supply, which the right hon. Gentleman says is in a backward state, I venture to differ from him. [Cheers.] I say, on the contrary, that Supply has never, since I have been in the House at least, been in so forward a state as it is to-day. [Cheers.] As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have still a number of days for Supply, according to the arrangement made by the new Rule; and, in addition, the Government have it in their power to offer three more days, if additional days should be necessary. I cannot help thinking—and the House generally will agree with me—that the operation of this new Rule has completely borne out the favourable anticipations which were expressed by my right hon. Friend in introducing it. [Cheers.] As my right hon. Friend explained, it is not a rule which gives any advantage whatever to the Government of the day. It was not intended to give the Government more time for public business, but to maintain the dignity of the House and the character of its discussions by allowing Supply to be properly discussed in the earlier part of the Session. That prediction has been fully borne out; and if the Rule should be moved again in another Session, I think that there will be very little opposition to it in any quarter of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] The main object with which the Motion before the House has been made is to obtain from the Government what the right hon. Gentleman has called "a frank and straightforward statement" with regard to the Irish Land Bill. I do not admit for a moment that the course of the Government in regard to this Bill has not been absolutely frank and straightforward from the first. [Opposition laughter and Ministerial cheers.] I have nothing to add to what has already been said; I have only to repeat it, and make perfectly clear what has been and is now the intention of the Government. ["Hear, 1524 hear!"] When this Bill was introduced into the House, it was accompanied with a statement, in view of the work which the Government had undertaken, that it could not pass in the present Session unless as a practically non-contentious Bill. It is quite true that the hon. Gentleman opposite, speaking for the Irish Members, said that this declaration put them in a bad position; and that it was an indignity to Ireland that a Measure of this kind should be put in the second place. The right hon. Gentleman and the Opposition generally are always taunting us with having made pledges at the General Election which we are not fulfilling. I do not think there is the slightest foundation for that charge. [Ironical laughter and cheers.] When the Session closes we shall be able to go to our constituents and point to the number of promises which we have already fulfilled. But one of the pledges which we gave to our constituents was this—that, as far as we were concerned at any rate, we did not propose that the whole of the time of Parliament should be monopolised, as it had been in the past, by Irish business. [Loud cheers.] We intended to claim for the predominant partner a little more of the public time. So that when we stated that this Bill was introduced conditionally, we only fulfilled the promises which we had made before the General Election. What happened upon the introduction of the Bill? Of course, no one pretends that a Bill touching a subject of such enormous complexity, dealing with a vast number of highly technical matters, and involving legal questions of the highest importance, can be introduced by any Government in a perfect form. It must be open to Amendments from both side's of the House; and the Government have sought consistently, since the introduction of the Bill, to try and bring the parties together—["Hear, hear!" and cries of "No."]—and to secure common ground by mutual concession. The hon. Member for East Mayo has mentioned to the House the fact that there have been a great number of Lobby rumours; but the only one to which the hon. Member definitely made allusion turns out to be absolutely without foundation. [Cheers.] That is not the way to treat this matter. The object of the Government has been to secure the 1525 passage of this Bill within the limits of reasonable discussion; and in order to do so, and to secure the ground, they have been willing to make any concession which, without affecting the general principles of the Bill, would have the effect of decreasing discussion. The hon. Member for East Mayo seems to think that it is a crime on the part of this Government to have taken any notice at all of the interests of the persons who at this moment are the owners of the land in Ireland. What a monstrous proposition is that! [Cheers.] The landlord may be a very bad man; but, as we are dealing with his property, surely we have a right to understand what his views are. [Cheers.] It is perfectly true that on some points which we did not believe to be of considerable importance, Amendments were proposed which would have had the effect to some extent of limiting the opposition. Although the hon. Member said no communications were held with himself or his Party, I must point out that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is always open to receive any communication which they may be able to make to him—["Oh!"]—and that, quite independently of that, there are means of knowing what the views of hon. Members are. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman is not reticent in expressing his views—[laughter]—and every effort has been made, as I have said, to meet his views, so far as they appeared to be reasonable. All this talk about changes in the Bill, when examined, only amounts to this—that the necessary negotiations which are going on, in order to see whether it would be possible to shorten discussion, have resulted in the proposal of Amendments with that object, which the Government put forward, not because they attached undue importance to them, but in the hope that they would have the effect which was desired. What are the changes which have been proposed? There is a clause in the Bill which deals with procedure. The whole object of that clause is to cheapen procedure, for the benefit of both landlord and tenant—for the benefit, in short, of everybody except the legal profession—[laughter]—and I observe with some amusement that this clause has received the strenuous opposition of the Incorporated Law Society. That is something in its favour. 1526 [Laughter.] When it became necessary to define procedure, the Government, no doubt, failed to meet the views, on the one hand, of the Irish landlords, and also those of the Party which the hon. Member for East Mayo represents. Under these circumstances, what have the Government done? What we said was, that if we can go on with the Bill we are willing to drop the clause, and the only result of dropping the clause will be that we shall not be able to make the improvement we thought to make, and we will leave procedure as it is; and as that procedure has been on the whole fairly satisfactory, the change made is not in any way a change in principle—it is only the abandonment of a hope we at one time entertained. That is the principal Amendment, and the effect of dropping it is, of course, to lighten the Bill, because this clause, whatever its importance, at all events would have required a great deal of discussion. We have therefore materially shortened the time necessary for the discussion of the Bill. There is also another change—the omission of a sub-section in Clause 4; and when I have stated those two Amendments, I have practically stated the whole Amendments which have been placed before the House. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it is not desirable, in the interests of public business, of the Government, or of the House, that we should give five days to this Bill and then find that it is either rejected by those for whose benefit it was introduced, or, if not rejected, practically talked out. Therefore it is important to know the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and we have endeavoured to acquaint ourselves with those views. What is the position of the hon. Member for East Mayo? It is absolutely inconsistent. In the first place, he tells us that the Bill will be lost in consequence of the Amendments which we placed upon the Paper and have now withdrawn. [Nationalist cheers.] Very good. That is one statement. But before the Amendments were put upon the Paper, before they were withdrawn, before the Bill was lost in consequence of those Amendments, what was the hon. Gentleman's view of the Bill as originally introduced? He spoke in Ireland on June 3rd, and he then denounced the Bill as a "rotten sham, 1527 and fraudulent Land Bill." [Laughter and Nationalist cheers.] Let there be no misunderstanding. If that is the view of the hon. Member and his Friends the Bill is gone. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] We are perfectly willing to withdraw the Bill—["Hear, hear!"]—and the responsibility will rest with the hon. Member—["Oh, oh!"]—and he cannot get out of it by saying he has changed his mind since the Bill was introduced, or that the Amendments had anything to do with his decision, because I have shown that his statement was prior to the introduction of these Amendments. The Government have been perfectly consistent with what they said in introducing the Bill. In introducing the Bill we said we can only go on with it in the present Session if it is substantially a non-contentious Bill. If, however, it is to be treated as a "rotten, sham, and fraudulent" Bill, of course it is not non-contentious, and it will be quite impossible in what remains of the Session to carry it through. I charge the hon. Member with another inconsistency. What did he say in this House? He urged the Government again and again to bring this Bill forward, and he pressed us to do so on the ground stated by him, that although it was a complicated Bill, and although the Irish Members would desire to state their views in regard to it, still the Committee would only take three days. The Government met him at once by saying that if so they would give him four days. [Cheers.] If the hon. Member is willing to repeat now what he said then—that he desired that the Bill should pass through Committee, and that the stage will not take more than the three or four days which the Government offer—then, of course, there is absolutely no reason why the Bill should not be placed upon the Statute-book this Session. I venture to say there is no ground whatever for any charge of vacillation or change of intention on the part of the Government. The intention of the Government was frankly and clearly stated on the introduction of the Bill, and we have never varied from it in the slightest degree. The fate of the Bill has always been in the hands of hon. Members opposite. It is not likely at this period of the Session that we are going to press forward 1528 the Bill if the Irish Members are hostile and adopt the view which was expressed by the hon. Member for East Mayo. I still hope and believe that this Bill, whether it be perfect or not—nothing is final in Ireland—[laughter]—is at all events a Bill which will confer great benefits upon the Irish tenantry. The hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to refer to Lobby rumours, in order to make a taunt against my hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone. Well, my hon. Friend supported the Bill as it was originally brought in. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: "Hear, hear!"] The Bill is now practically reduced again to the form in which it was brought in—[ironical cheers]—and in the form in which it was practically supported by the hon. Member for East Mayo when he promised that three days would be sufficient for its discussion.
§ MR. J. DILLON
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the hon. Member for Tyrone accepted the Bill as a full settlement of the question?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I never said anything of the kind. I say this—that my hon. Friend accepted it as a great boon and benefit to the tenantry of Ireland, and whether he considered it final or not, whether it went as far as he would go or not. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: "I said it did not."] [Nationalist cheers.]
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That is rather an absurd interrogation, because I have just said nothing is final in Ireland. As I say, this is an honest attempt to meet the situation, and it is a Bill which confers enormous advantages upon the Irish tenants. If, now, hon. Gentlemen opposite choose to throw it over by refusing to discuss it in a reasonable time, I conclude as I began, by saying that the whole responsibility must rest upon his shoulders. [Cheers.]
I think the House must have listened to the ingenious and fairly skilful statement of the right hon. Gentleman with some amazement. The right hon. Gentleman says, and says truly, that the Government from the first announced that, if this Bill was to be a contentious Measure, they would not be able to proceed with it. Surely 1529 my right hon. Friend is familiar enough with Irish affairs in this House to know that the idea of dreaming that any Irish Land Bill could he non-contentious is absurd. [Cheers.]
It will not do for my right hon. Friend to refer to statements made in this quarter or in that. [Ironical cheers.] Surely, the Government have some small responsibility! [Cheers.] My right hon. Friend says that the Government took all means at their disposal to ascertain the views of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, though, so far as I know, they took no means whatever. Are we to understand, then, that the Government themselves entered upon this great question and propounded this great Measure without any views of their own? [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has, I know, devoted immense labour and pains, conscientious pains, in working out the best solution of all the intricacies and difficulties of the Irish land problem, and I for one have entire confidence in his equity and the earnestness of his desire to see this Measure passed into law. "Hear, hear!" But the Chief Secretary is not in the Cabinet, and we cannot conceal from ourselves the fact that there are forces in the Cabinet—men like Lord Lansdowne, the Duke of Devonshire, and Lord Ashbourne—who are directly and powerfully interested in this question. The Irish Executive is, in fact, powerless in the Cabinet so far as direct representation is concerned. The Irish landlords are represented in the Cabinet, and they are represented in the House of Lords The natural representative of the Executive, as I gather from his utterances and from the structure of the Bill itself, would be the Chief Secretary, but the Chief Secretary is not there to fight for his own proposals. The Secretary of State has referred to the proposals which were circulated last Friday, and which no doubt have transformed the Bill in its most important and organic part. My right hon. Friend knows a good deal about the Irish land question, or did, and I know something about it, too. I assure him that those changes which were put on the Paper last Friday did 1530 transform the Bill in that portion of it which the Irish tenants, Unionist and Nationalist, have most dearly at heart—the improvement clauses. My right hon. Friend says that they abandoned those changes announced last Friday in order to meet the views of the hon. Member for East Mayo and his friends. I submit, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that this is a very inaccurate statement. [Cheers.] Unless Lobby rumours are less veracious than usual, those changes, having been introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, were abandoned, not to please the representatives of Ireland who sit on this side below the Gangway, but to please the hon. Member for South Tyrone. [Cheers.] I can quite understand the anxiety of the Government to satisfy the claims of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, because he speaks not for himself alone, but for those in Ireland who are the warmest among the general supporters of the Government in Ireland, and to sacrifice whose interest would be the most damaging blow that they could inflict upon themselves. ["Hear, hear!"] The position of the Government from the very first has been an untenable position. The First Lord of the Treasury, whose absence we regret, said last year, in the discussion upon the Bill which I introduced on behalf of the Government of the day—I have always recognised that some Bill was absolutely necessary, or, if not absolutely necessary, was desirable,and that it was the duty of any Government to attempt to deal with those necessary questions which cropped up on the eve of the expiry of the first statutory term. [Cheers.] Here, then, is the First Lord of the Treasury admitting that a Bill dealing with Irish land is necessary, or, if not necessary, that it was profoundly desirable; and my right hon. Friend now gets up and says on behalf of the Government that the Government are pretty neutral, pretty indifferent, and that it must rest with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. [Laughter and cheers.] This is a Measure which either ought not to have been brought in at all or it ought to be persisted in to the end. Irish land has not for the first time, and not for the last, engaged the attention of the House. 1531 The quantity of time left for the discussion of this Bill in Committee really reduces that discussion to a perfect farce. [Cheers.] There I shall have with me the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway—the hon. Members for Dublin University and South Hunts—and they will all feel, as I do and as we do, that to introduce a Bill dealing first of all with the property of the landlord—which I agree with my right hon. Friend in thinking is deserving of as much protection within legitimate limits as any other kind of property—is no light matter. You have also to protect the rights of the tenant, and another person whose rights are at stake is the British taxpayer. [Cheers.] Last year, in connection with the Bill which I introduced there were only 16 clauses, dealing only with tenure, but not touching purchase; and we had three full days to the discussion of the Second Reading. Here is a Bill, however, with 44 clauses, which deals not only with tenure, but opens up the questions connected with the failure of the Purchase Act of 1891: and the Second Reading of this Bill is disposed of in less than one sitting. It was finished by agreement I admit—and I make no complaint of that—by half-past 10 o'clock, and then there was a discussion as to whether it should be referred to a Grand Committee or not. I warned the First Lord of the Treasury and the House that it was impossible to suppose this Bill could go through without the fullest discussion. It is absurd, and I think my right hon. Friend must feel that it is rather absurd, to suppose that a Bill dealing in this way with property, with intricate points of law, with the finance of the Purchase Act, is to be treated as non-controversial and to be run through the House as if it were a simple Bill like the Rating Bill. [Laughter.] My view of the Bill has not been that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo. I have always said about this Bill—and the Chief Secretary will agree—that I thought the Bill fell far short of what the situation required. I thought it absolutely well-intentioned and going a considerable way in the direction of our Bill of last year; yet, with Amendments on either side which might be introduced in Committee, the Bill would be a valuable acquisition for the Irish tenant. 1532 [Cheers.] That has been my view. I should like now to see this Bill carried, of course with amendment; but I will resist altogether the carrying of this Bill without discussion. It is absurd to say that you can compress the discussion in Committee so as to end on the fifth day. The clauses bristle with technicalities, and it is the inattention to technicalities which has landed Ireland in all her trouble. There is no subject which requires a closer, more narrow, and more persistent attention than an Irish Land Bill; and, therefore, it is absurd to say that a great Code of this kind, dealing with tenure, reconstructing the system of purchase, can all be discussed in four more sittings. This is to reduce discussion to a farce, and if the Bill were to pass without that discussion it would be only to make it more certain that, either next year or two or three years afterwards, we should have to bring in a Bill to repair the defects. [Cheers.] We were told that this was a Government, unlike other unfortunate Governments, independent of sections and groups. There is the group of the hon. Member for North Armagh; there is the South Tyrone group; there is the ordinary Conservative body, who will vote solid on Irish questions without showing any particular interest as to the points at issue. ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.] We shall see when we go into Committee on the Bill what the attendance of hon. Gentlemen opposite is and what is the sign of interest on the part of the ordinary Member; and then there is the group of the hon. Member for Stoke, who has put an Amendment down to this effect:—In view of a large number of questions affecting the whole of the United Kingdom in which legislation is ernestly desired, such as Poor Laws and old-age pensions, this House declines to proceed further with Irish land legislation.[Laughter.] I implore the Government to make up their minds whether an Irish Land Bill is or is not necessary, then to make up their minds what kind of Irish Land Bill is necessary, and then to proceed with it. The right hon. Gentleman says that in his judgment and in that of the Government the time has come for the predominant partner who has the first and main call on the time 1533 of the House. That declaration of my right hon. Friend is wholly inconsistent with the language of the Unionist Party at the elections in England, and especially in Ulster and Ireland generally. We were then assured that the Union could only be maintained by proving that this House was able to do that for Ireland which was necessary. [Cheers.] On that fundamental declaration more than any other the strength and the majority of the Government rests, but that declaration is cast to the winds. So far as Party interests are concerned, the ruin of this Bill will do us no harm. It will do us no harm in Ireland or in England; but I have had the honour of occupying the situation of the Chief Secretary, and in my view those are ill-advised in the interests of the well-being of Ireland itself who do not take a very different line with regard to this Bill from that which was taken by my right hon. Friend. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said that the House was engaged in trying to throw on one side or the other responsibility for the loss of the Irish Land Bill. Everyone in the Lobbies, whether Irish landlord, ordinary Conservative, or Nationalist, who knew anything about the Bill, believed it to be dead, and that there was no chance of passing it into law during the present Session. He, therefore, appealed to the House on behalf of the other Measures which it had to consider. If it was the case, as he firmly believed, that it was impossible, owing to the divergence of opinion with regard to this Bill, to pass it unless the House was willing, as many of them would be, to devote longer time than had been named by the Government to its consideration, then he thought the House ought to make the best use of its time, get rid of this Bill, and at the earliest possible moment go on with the Bills they could pass. The House ought to see that time was not wasted during the rest of the Session, and that the remainder of the work it had to do this year was not scamped in consequence, as he much feared it would be. The Secretary for the Colonies had referred to the result attained this year by the Supply Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think the Resolution had been a success. No doubt it had been a 1534 great success in promoting discussion on South Africa and such matters, but, as far as the Civil Service Estimates were concerned, it had not been a success in promoting discussion of the action of the administrative Departments, which the Leader of the House declared to be its main object. Up to the present there had not been any discussion of the Votes in Class II., except the Foreign Office Vote, and the discussion on that Vote had been on a special point rather than on general administration. The next two Fridays were mortgaged to Irish Supply, and there would remain only two or three Fridays for the discussion of the Votes for the Home Office, the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, the Office of Woods and Forests, and other great Civil Departments. But not only were they going to scamp Supply, Bills of the greatest importance were also apparently to be scamped. There was, for instance, the Army Reserves Bill, which had passed through the House of Lords, but which would have to be discussed thoroughly if it was proceeded with. He believed, however, that it was to be dropped, and that it was virtually dead, although its death had not yet been announced. Then there was the Military Manœuvres Bill, and also the Military Works Loans Bill, which had not even been introduced. There were also the Trades Disputes (Conciliation) Bill, the Coal Mines Bill, and the Truck Bill, which had been referred to Grand Committees, but which deserved full and careful consideration in the House itself. He had always thought that the Legislature attempted to crowd too much business into the present sessional limits, and that the House would have to recognise that it must sit longer in order to get through its work. But this Session it was understood that they were to rise at a fixed date, and, that being so, if it was the case that this Irish Land Bill must be dropped, for heaven's sake let them end the farce and get rid of the Bill at once, instead of wasting a whole week upon a sham discussion. By adopting that course more time would be obtained for the discussion of the very important subjects to which he had referred. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
thought that the House would admit that the Irish landlords had acted in a fair and 1535 straightforward way with reference to the Land Bill. No one could say that the Amendments which they had placed upon the Paper were capricious or frivolous, or that their object was to defeat the Bill. He did not suppose that the landlords liked the Bill, because every Land Bill took away a portion of their property, but the purpose of their Amendments was to make plain what the real intention of the Bill was, and to provide for the settlement of the legal difficulties which must inevitably arise when questions of this extreme difficulty and complexity were dealt with. The Irish landlords occupied a peculiar and unfortunate position. They were practically under a despotism against which they had no appeal. That House undertook in 1881 to arbitrate between the landlord and the tenant on the principle of fair play, and the result was that now the landlord was placed absolutely at the mercy of an irresponsible tribunal. Therefore it was the duty of the landlords' representatives in that House to endeavour to make their position as secure as possible. It was with that object that his hon. Friends had put down Amendments and made suggestions to the Government. He had no doubt that the Government would have been quite ready to listen to the views of hon. Members opposite below the Gangway, but he understood from the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo that he had not told the Government what his views were. On whose shoulders would rest the responsibility for the destruction of this Bill? [Ironical Opposition cheers.] They all knew that any Bill brought forward in that House could be destroyed by means which had been developed in recent years. There was a time when the House of Lords was supposed to be a drag upon legislation. Now there had been placed upon the wheels of legislation in that House a pneumatic brake. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for East Mayo condemned this Bill in Ireland before there was a thought of an Amendment. He called it "rotten" and a sham. If, then, the Bill was talked out, on whose shoulders would the responsibility rest? The hon. Member had said that he washed his hands of the Bill. [Mr. DILLON: "Of the fate of the Bill."] That was pretty much the same thing. It meant that 1536 the hon. Member refused to accept the Bill. His hon. Friends and himself were quite prepared to justify before their constituents every Amendment which they had placed upon the Paper. But when hon. Members opposite went to their constituents and said that they had defeated a Bill which would have given the tenants an opportunity of becoming the possessors of their farms on easy terms, the reception which those hon. Members would meet with would probably not be encouraging. ["Hear, hear!"] If the Bill were proceeded with he should not impede it, but would discuss it fairly from the landlord's point of view. It was true that there was not much time at their disposal, as the Session was to terminate on a certain day. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: "No, no!"] He had thought that that was really the one point on which the Government had made up their mind—[Opposition cheers and laughter]—but if the House was to be at liberty to sit till the end of August or middle of September, there was no reason why the Bill should not be passed, and the arguments of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench fell to the ground.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour Division)
said he had listened with pleasure to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down, and he trusted it would have the effect of strengthening the determination of the Government to go on with this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] His own view of the Bill was precisely that expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose. It was an inadequate Measure, it fell very far short of the requirements of the occasion, and, even if it were passed, the landlords would find themselves compelled to reconsider their position and to give their sanction at a future time to another Measure amending it. The Bill was not a sham, and it was not a bad Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] He distinctly dissociated himself from the hon. Member for East Mayo on that point, and he also denied that there was any feeling among any considerable section of the people in favour of the total rejection of the Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] He would appeal to the hon. Member for East Mayo to make his position more clear 1537 than he had done up to the present. He thought it was incumbent upon him, or some Member of his Party, to answer the challenge thrown out by the Secretary for the Colonies. The hon. Member could not afford to let that challenge rest where it was, and if in his opinion the Measure was calculated to prejudice the interests of the tenants, and to introduce a vicious principle into Irish land legislation, his clear duty was to move its rejection. [Cheers.] If, on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman thought it contained important principles which it would be useful to the tenants to have adopted, and that, though it fell far short of the requirements of the tenants, it gave important concessions which would do something to lessen the friction between landlords and tenants, then it was his duty to disavow any responsibility for the rejection or delay of the Measure. [Cheers.] The Measure as it stood was far from being as contentious as when it was introduced. Four days had been given for its consideration in Committee, though only three were asked for by the hon. Member for East Mayo; while, in addition, the 13th Clause, which was perhaps the most contentious proposal of the whole Measure—disliked by the representatives of the Irish landlords and abhorred by the representatives of the Irish tenants—had been dropped. The chances of passing the Bill in the four days allowed to it were therefore immensely improved, and the Government would do well to go on with its consideration. He thought the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh was calculated to give the Government confidence in persisting in that course. He could not himself speak for a very large section of Irish representatives, but he did speak for a very large body of tenant-farmers, and he could promise that any assistance they could give to speed the passage of the Bill through Committee would be given, reserving to themselves the right to endeavour to amend it if they could. ["Hear, hear!"] Some remarks had been made upon the action of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. He could only say that, if it was true that the Government had yielded to any pressure brought to bear by that hon. Gentleman in the interests of the tenants, they would find he had acted as their best 1538 friend. ["Hear, hear!"] He would also venture to say that, if the Irish landlords lent themselves to any course which would result in this Measure being crushed, either in that House or in the House of Lords, they would find the combinations which were likely to arise in Ireland in the coming winter would make their position much more uncomfortable, and no man who had gone through the agitation of the past 10 or 12 years in Ireland would desire to see a return of that unhappy state of things, either from the point of view of the landlords or of the tenants. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped the Government would make up their minds seriously to go on with the Bill, and that, if there was going to be any opposition to it, with a view to retard its passage, it would be made perfectly clear from what Party that opposition came. [Cheers.]
MR. T. M. HEALY
said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Montrose Burghs, had, in his speech, exactly expressed his position and his views. At the same time, he thought the Leader of the Opposition was perfectly entitled to come down to the House and to probe the Government as to their real intentions. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had thereby rendered them a public service. ["Hear, hear!"] There was one point with which the Secretary to the Colonies did not deal in his speech. That was the question of the House of Lords. If they allowed this Bill to pass through that House in a particular form, when it came back from the Lords they did not want to be "Krugered." [Laughter.] They desired to have from the Government some statement as to what were their real intentions in regard to this Land Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not believe that the Bill was a rotten or a bad Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He dissociated himself utterly and absolutely from that statement, and from the Gentleman who made it. [Loud laughter and cheers.] Accordingly, he was anxious, as one who desired to see what form the Bill would take in that House, for some assurance that, if they acted with moderation, there would be, when it came back from another place, the same consideration given to their views as the Colonial Secretary stated there would be given now if they said they 1539 wished to drop the Bill. If, when the Bill came from another place, they then declared it to be a bad and rotten Bill, and that it should be dropped, would their views then have weight in the decision the Government might come to? They had heard from the right hon. Gentleman a statement which he thought was the most fatal blow to the union he had heard administered. The Government had only one crutch to lean upon in Ireland—that of the democratic Protestants of Ulster. All the rest of the country was against them. And they had now declared, in the words of the Colonial Secretary, that these men, who were hungering for legislation on this subject, who were oppressed with the burden of rack rents, and who had had a Bill read twice in two successive Parliaments with a view to give them ease, that, so little did Her Majesty's Government care as to the position and fate of these farmers, the interests of the predominant partner alone were to be considered. ["Hear, hear!"] If they were going to devote the time of the House to the interests solely of the predominant partner, and as they made such a precious muddle of it when they attempted it, he thought they really might as well be muddling with Irish questions as with English questions. [Laughter and cheers.] He would tell the Government that a state of things existed now which pressed more sorely upon the Protestant farmers of Ireland than it did upon the Catholic farmers. The Catholic farmer, as a rule, was a small man, he generally had a bad farm, and he was mostly dressed in rags. The Protestant farmer had got a decent appearance to keep up; and it was these men who had been ground by the present condition of prices, and who, in any Bill affecting the Irish Land Question, really ought to be considered. The second judicial term was coming on, and if they passed no Bill they would soon have rents lower under the second judicial term than what farmers who had bought their land were paying in instalments under the Ashbourne Acts. Fifty per cent. reductions had been given, and the Irish landlords were mistaken if they thought the dropping of the Bill would help them in fixing the second judicial terms. The law as it was passed had very little relation to the law as it 1540 was administered in Ireland. Administration was more than law. Give him the making of the Irish Land Commission, and he did not care who made the Land Laws. [Laughter.] Already the Morley Committee had had a great effect upon the mind, aye, and the judgment, of every tribunal throughout the length and breadth of Ireland; it was the first breath of fresh air they had had in the courts since 1881. The Irish tenants had now a chance of getting consideration in the Sub-Commission Courts, and he assured the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose that if he had never done anything beyond creating his Committee, and furnishing its Report, he had done a blessed and permanent service to the people of Ireland. [Cheers.] This Bill did not deserve the description of a large or an extremely complicated Bill; it was a small, moderate, and handy Bill. He did not know whether it was possible to discuss the Bill within the three days mentioned by the hon. Member for East Mayo; but he claimed that whatever time might be necessary to give to the Bill should be given to it. Irish Members were entitled to make that claim if their action was prompted by an honest desire to see the Measure passed, and if they showed their readiness to make it workable and a good Bill for the people of their country. It had been said that if the Bill was lost, Ulster would unite with Munster and Connaught and Leinster. She might unite on the platform, but, unless she was prepared to adopt the methods by which Munster and Connaught and Leinster obtained reforms in the House of Commons, platitudes on platforms and in Presbyterian Assemblies were not worth the paper on which they were stated. They heard a great deal about what would happen in the year after next. He had some experience. He had seen Ireland treated like a shuttlecock between the two parties. Irishmen had been wearing out the stones of Westminster for 15 years, and what was the present position? There was some chance of small and moderate amendments of the law being passed, and they were told, forsooth, that the amendments were bad, rotten, and futile, although some of them were actually their own. On behalf of a large section of the Irish people he claimed that they 1541 should have adequate and sufficient time for moderate and reasonable Debate in regard to the grievances of the tenant-farmers.
§ *SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
said a distinct pledge was given by the Government early in the Session that they would arrange a scheme for an adequate discussion of Supply, and also bring about an early termination of the Session. Since he had had a seat in the House, Supply had never been so thoroughly discussed as it had been this Session, and, in addition, it never had been more forward than it was to-day. It had been said that there had been no proper discussion of the Estimates. What had happened? They had had a fuller discussion of the Estimates respecting the defensive forces than they had had for many years past; there had been a discussion on the Scotch Estimates, and two nights had been given to the Irish Estimates. The whole of the Votes in Class 1 had been passed. The Votes in Class 2 had not been passed yet, but the Foreign and Colonial Votes had been fully discussed. In Class 4 the Vote relating to national education had been discussed and passed. He therefore maintained that the first part of the pledge of the Government had been amply fulfilled. He was very anxious that the Land Bill should become law, but he was as anxious that the second part of the pledge of the Government should be redeemed. He believed nothing so much injured the House in the estimation of the country than that a handful of hon. Members should sit right through August and late into September discussing questions of the most vital importance to the nation. Such a proceeding was an utter farce. Indeed, he should like to see legislation at the end of August and in September abolished once and for all. As to the condition of business, he could only assume that the pressure upon the Government on entering office had been so great from all sections of the community that they had endeavoured to pass twice as many Measures as they reasonably could. The mistake was not likely to be repeated. As to the Bill now under consideration, they all knew there was nothing more intricate or difficult to deal with than the Irish land question, and he wished to recall the attention of the House to the 1542 exact position in which the Chief Secretary stood with the House. From the first neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Government had pretended that they would press the Bill unless it met with approval in all quarters. That being so, it was most unfair to criticise the Government for the honest efforts they were now making to make the way of the Measure smooth. All that the Government had been doing was to attempt to make the Bill non contentious, and he hoped the Bill, which as of great importance, not only to Ireland but to all lovers of the peace of that country, would pass into law.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he hoped that the Debate might now be allowed to draw to a close. He could not see why it over should have been raised. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman had said that it was raised on account of the changes in the Land Bill. But what was the effect of the withdrawal of the Amendments? It was to leave the Bill as it stood, and therefore there was no justification for this Motion.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said that the bringing forward of the Amendments and then withdrawing them was an indication that the Government did not know their own minds. [Cheers.] He wanted to know what their mind was.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the Government knew their own minds from the beginning. [Laughter.] There were only two clauses—4 and 13—against which they had put down Amendments, but these Amendments did not alter the principle of the Bill. The first Amendment with regard to Clause 4 was a declaration of the law, and as regarded Clause 13 they had endeavoured to the utmost of their power to cheapen and shorten procedure as much as possible. They had endeavoured to change, not any fundamental principle of the Bill, but details which might have led to discussion making it impossible for the Bill to pass. If they had entered into negotiations with hon. Members on that side of the House, surely that could not be imputed to them as a crime. ["Hear, hear!"] He wished he had been more successful, but, as he had failed to make the Bill non-contentious, the best thing to do was to withdraw the Amendments Look at the divided opinions among the 1543 Irish Members themselves. The Member for East Mayo called it a bad Bill, a sham, and a fraudulent Bill; but that language was repudiated by the Member for North Louth and the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Harrington). The Member for East Mayo had practically entered into an alliance with the Liberal Party to prevent any Bill passing at all. [Cheers.] That was the meaning of his action to-day, but the two hon. Members had spoken in a different tone. If they had followed the example of the Member for East Mayo he should have had no alternative but to withdraw the Bill at once. As to the time to be devoted to the Bill, if, after the three days there was a disposition on the part of hon. Members to pass the Bill, they would not be tied to a minute, and he did think, if the spirit which had been shown by the two Members was displayed in Committee, there was some chance of passing the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
, said the right hon. Gentleman had sat down without giving any indication of what the mind of the Government was with regard to the Bill. Although they had had a prolonged Debate they did not even now know whether the Government was going on with the Bill.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said what they now gathered was that the Government was prepared to go on with the Bill with the gracious favour of the Member for Mayo. This was the attitude of this strong Government, with its majority of 140. It was hard to have any respect for a Government which did not know its own mind ten minutes in succession. ["Oh!"] It was clear that the Government were unable to make up their minds. Were they going to wait until the House had devoted three or four days to the Bill before, like the Education Bill, it was finally abandoned? ["Hear, hear"] Surely it was wasting the time of the House. It was not fair to the House that the Government, when they found they were unable to pass these Bills, should shrink from owning their responsibility, and attempt to put the blame on the Opposition. When the Member for Tyrone 1544 was addressing his constituents in Ulster he did not say that the passing of the Bill depended on the Member for East Mayo. No, he stated that he had the authority of the Unionist party to state that, if they were returned to Parliament, one of their first duties would be to pass a Land Bill in the interests of the tenants. Now they were offered three days in which to pass a Bill of this character. He charged the Government with shirking their responsibilities; they had not even the courage to admit their own mistakes. They had bungled the business of the House, and then they said it was the Opposition which prevented them going on with the Education Bill. Now, with regard to the Land Bill, they said they would do their best to pass it, if they could get the support of the Member for East Mayo. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were content with their leaders well and good, but he could not understand how they could continue to support the Government as they had done. There were 17 full working days between now and the date fixed for prorogation, and, with the days which had been appropriated, there was no chance of the Government Bills being passed. Very likely in a fortnight they would be in a bigger muddle than they were now. The Government had had more facilities given them for passing business than any other Government; they had taken Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays earlier; they had suspended the 12 o'clock rule more often, and had had more all-night sittings. ["No!" and cheers.] They had also tried to pass Bills after 12 o'clock which ought never to have been discussed at that hour. The right hon. Gentleman would not tell them whether the three days already spent on this Bill were to be wasted or not.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said the Secretary for the Colonies practically admitted that the Bill must be abandoned unless the hon. Member for East Mayo accepted the responsibility of closing the Debate in three days. They would see whether the Government were going on with this Bill in the same way in which they went on with the Education Bill, and whether, after 24 hours they would not have a new declaration that the Government were 1545 forced to withdraw the Bill. He thought the Government ought to face the difficulties of the situation, and state now what Bills they were going on with and what Bills they were going to drop. Let there be an arrangement on both sides of the House in regard to Bills of a non-contentious character, and then they might adjourn on the 12th of August. But the Government did not trouble to ascertain the opinion of any section of the House, and they had made so many blunders that they had absolutely lost the respect and confidence of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
agreed entirely with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dartford that all Ministers muddled, and that, generally speaking, they muddled a good deal more in their first Session; but his contention was that, allowing a certain amount of muddlement for every Government, this Government had muddled infinitely more than any other. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government brought in a very extensive Programme, though the same Gentlemen were perpetually complaining during the last Parliament of the late Government for doing the same thing. The last Government had only a very small majority in the House, and they had to put all their goods in the shop front in order to prevent sections of their Party from voting against them. [Laughter.] But this Government had the huge majority of 147, and were in the happy position of not being under the foot of every dozen Members who summoned them to do this or that. They could shed 40 or 50 Members, and yet a large majority would be available to them for carrying on their business. ["Hear, hear!"] Having announced a Programme which would have been sufficient to last for a couple of years, the Government said they were going to limit the time of the Session. They began the Session somewhat late and announced it as the cardinal principle of their existence as a Ministry that Parliament must be prorogued about the middle of August. Having done that, no sooner did they bring in a Bill than they withdrew it or said they were going to recast it. ["Hear, hear!"] Ten days were wasted on the Education Bill and three days had already been spent on the Irish Land Bill—13 days in all; and when he thought of the amount of 1546 valuable and useful legislation that could have been carried out in that time, it was perfectly astounding to him to think that 13 Parliamentary days should thus have been wasted.
§ SIR CHARLES DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ *MR. SPEAKER
withheld his assent, and declined then to put the Question, but reminded the hon. Member for Northampton that the question before the House was the present state of public business.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
, continuing, said that the Colonial Secretary had made an exceedingly ingenious speech, but he thought his views and statements were somewhat extraordinary. The right hon. Gentleman said the Members of the Government would go to their constituencies when Parliament was prorogued proud of their achievements, and would tell them they had fulfilled every pledge. What pledge had the Government fulfilled? He believed they said they were going to do something for the agricultural interest, and they had done something for the landlords. [Laughter.] But he did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer even could assert that to deal with the Land Tax and death dues on pictures was doing anything for the agricultural interest. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] He was very much amused with the speech of the Colonial Secretary. He saw through the right hon. Gentleman. He saw that he wanted the Irish Bill to be withdrawn so that he might be able to say that the Government had been forced to withdraw it owing to the action of the Irish Members. [Cheers.] The theory of the right hon. Gentleman was a remarkable one—namely, that if, when the Government brought in a Bill, they found it controversial, they were to enter into private negotiations with this and that Gentleman until they got rid of all controversy. He would like to know what good there was in any Bill without controversy. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government might just as well try to pacify a Kilkenny cat as to frame an Irish Bill on which the lions on their side of the House would lie down with the lambs on the Opposition side. [Laughter.] The Government of the day were 1547 responsible for the Bills they brought in and for the management of the business of the House—[cheers]—and they could not come forward, after having wasted a considerable number of days on a Bill, and say, "Unless you agree to this we are not responsible. You will be made responsible." ["Hear, hear!"] If the Government really thought that something ought to be done in order to settle, or pretend to settle, the Irish land question, they ought to have brought in a Bill knowing in their own minds what that Bill was to be. They ought to have stood to the Bill, and if they found the majority of the House of Commons against them, they ought to have resigned the Government of the country into better hands. [Cheers.] He did not pay much attention to what the Irish Secretary said, because he was waiting to hear something be did not say. [Laughter.] Members were exceedingly anxious to know whether the Government were dealing honestly with them in this matter. They had a shrewd suspicion, in which they were quite justified, that the Amendments which the Chief Secretary had withdrawn would be introduced in the House of Lords, and that the Bill would come down to the House of Commons at the close of the Session, when the Government would be able to force the Bill through without great trouble. Therefore he thought that someone on the Treasury Bench ought to tell them clearly and distinctly what would he the course of action in the House of Lords. ["Hear, hear!"] It would be said—as was said in The Times the other day—that the House of Lords was an independent Assembly. Practically, when the Prime Minister was a Member of the House of Lords and a Conservative, he could do what he liked in that House in regard to a large Government Measure, and what they wanted to know was whether, if these Amendments were put forward in the House of Lords, as suggested by the Dublin Daily Express, the Government would declare they would not go on with the Bill if such Amendments were pressed and carried in the House of Lords? He should also like to know whether, if it were not possible to get the Bill through Committee in four days, the Government were disposed to give a few more 1548 days in order to carry it through? If they found it was absolutely essential to the welfare of Ireland that the Bill should be passed, they ought to be ready to sit four or five days more, so that the Bill might become law. The Chief Secretary had attempted to show that the Member for East Mayo was opposed to the Bill, and that he wanted it to be withdrawn. He did not gather that the hon. Member was opposed to the Bill, and he hoped he would not play into the hands of the Government, but would tell them to go on with the Bill, so that if, at the end of four or five days, the Measure had not been carried through, and the Government would not give more time, he could let the Government have the responsibility of getting up in the House and saying:—"Three days more might carry this Bill, but we will not give that time." ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Armagh spoke in very dulcet tones of his anxiety that the Bill should pass, and observed that he and his friends would propose no Amendments except those which were absolutely necessary. He had gone through the Amendment Paper, and what did he find? The hon. Member for East Mayo, who, it was suggested, wanted to prevent the Bill from passing by much talking, had put down a modest seven Amendments, whilst the right hon. Member for Dublin University had put down 29. ["Hear, hear!"] Was that all the right hon. Gentleman intended to put down?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
And this is the Party who are exceedingly anxious that the Bill should go through. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. CARSON
I always said I was anxious the Bill should go through, if properly amended. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
had not summed up the Amendments, but, if every Irish Unionist took the view of the right hon. Gentleman, the Bill would really last until Doomsday. There were 269 Amendments on the Paper, the majority belonging to hon. Members opposite; so that, allowing but 10 minutes for each, the Bill would require 44½ hours in order to be passed. They knew perfectly well there were not 44½ hours available for one Bill in four 1549 Parliamentary days; therefore the object of the Government was to withdraw the Bill, and to throw the responsibility of withdrawing it upon the Irish Members below the Gangway. The responsibility, however, must be shared between the Government and their supporters, because their supporters would wreck the Bill if they possibly could. ["Hear, hear!"] He urged the Leader of the House to bring forward some Measure for so altering the Rules of the House as to make them more practical and capable of facilitating legislation than they were at present, and promised that if he would do so the right hon. Gentleman should have his warm support. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. CARSON
desired to intervene for one moment between the House and the Division, in consequence of the statement by the hon. Member for Northampton that he had put down 29 Amendments to this Bill. He thought he might fairly say that, as regarded the working of the Land Acts in Ireland he had had very considerable experience, and he thoroughly endorsed all that had been said by the right hon. Member for Montrose as to nothing having created greater difficulties in Ireland upon the land question than the way in which questions had been left open in that House for Irish Judges and Courts to decide. ["Hear, hear!"] However they might approve of the principles laid down in every section of the present Bill, when they remembered that what they were really doing by it was the amending of a very special Code; as that Code had been explained by the Judges, it would be at once perceived by anyone who gave fair consideration to the matter, that if they were to have a satisfactory Bill at all to carry out their intentions it must be one in which they had carefully weighed every word of those sections in relation to previous sections, and the decisions that had interpreted them. ["Hear, hear!"] When it was stated that he had put down 29 Amendments he not only openly avowed it, but he considered the number extremely moderate, and, for his part, while he was anxious that this question should be even partly settled, and while he did not oppose the policy or principles of many clauses of this Bill, he thought it would be far better for the Irish land- 1550 lord and the Irish tenant that there should be no Bill this Session at all, than that they should leave open upon every line and section of the Bill matters that would have to come before the Courts in Ireland, if not satisfactorily explained in that House. ["Hear, hear!"] It was sometimes said this litigation was a great hardship upon the tenant, and undoubtedly it was a great hardship upon the landlord.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! This is not material to the question of the state of the public business of the House.
§ MR. CARSON
bowed to the Speaker's ruling, and was merely explaining the reasons why he put down his Amendments. He would only say that, so far as he was concerned, he thought he should be failing in his duty, having regard to his previous experience of the working of these Acts in Ireland, if he had not, where he saw legal conundrums and questions being left open and propounded by the sections as they now stood, put down such Amendments as he considered were proper and necessary. ["Hear, hear!"] Whether four days would prove sufficient, or 10 days be requisite, all he could say was he should be no party to passing through that House a Bill which, to his mind, would leave the land law practically worse than it was, and throw an amount of expense upon the landlords of Ireland which he knew they could ill afford. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I will ask leave now to withdraw the Motion. ["Hear, hear!" and some cries of "No!"]
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
asked leave to say a few words before the Amendment was withdrawn. If anything were necessary to prove to the people of Ireland that it would be a fatal injury to the Irish tenants to let this Bill be killed, it had been the speech delivered by the right hon. Member for Dublin University. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as a representative of the landlords, and in that interest he said he wanted to prevent the Bill going through that House.
§ MR. CARSON
I did not say I wanted to prevent the Bill going through, but I said it ought not to go through without proper and necessary discussion.
§ MR. KNOX
said that the practical effect of the policy the right hon. Gentleman enunciated would be to kill the Bill. The majority of the Nationalist representatives of Ireland did not want to kill the Bill, and the majority of the Unionist representatives of Ulster would not dare to say they wanted to kill the Bill. He, therefore, asked the Government to go through with it, giving reasonable time for its discussion, in the confidence that in pressing forward the Bill they had in their general policy the support of a majority of Members representing Irish constituencies. It had been represented that if the Bill were dropped now and other Measures taken instead, it would help those other Measures. He felt confident that was not so. The Irish Members had taken little part in the discussion of non-Irish Measures during the Session, but if the principal Irish Measure of the Session were to be withdrawn, they would feel it their duty to display an intelligent interest in other affairs, therefore he did not think the Government would gain a day by withdrawing the Bill, but, on the contrary, would land themselves in a greater muddle than that in which they were before. He, therefore, hoped they would pursue the course they had adopted, press on with the Bill, and show they were determined to put down the obstruction of any section of landlords' representatives in either House, who wished to prevent the Bill becoming law.
§ SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)
asked the Government to consider what their position would be if they withdrew the Bill. The question to be dealt with would remain, whatever the Government did with the Bill. Did they think they could get a better Bill carried next Session? If the Government did not attempt to pass the Bill this Session the message they would send to the tenants of Ireland would be that they would only give four days of Parliamentary time to a Measure which was 1552 supported by every section of the Irish representatives. Were the Unionist tenants in Ulster to be told that they were not to look to the House for redress? Not only did the tenant-farmers of Ulster urge the necessity for the Bill, but two successive Governments and a Select Committee of the House had been in favour of it. It would be far better for the Government to say they would find three or four days extra to pass the Bill this Session and get rid of the matter than hang it up until next Session and tell all sections of Irish Unionists, as well as Nationalists, that they must first kick up a row before they could be heard. Let the Government consider the situation seriously, and not allow four or five days of Parliamentary time to be wasted in not passing the Bill when three or four days more would enable the House to pass a Bill which all sections of Irish opinion agreed would do much to settle the question. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
urged the Government to proceed with the Bill. The fact that the Bill was bitterly opposed by the landlord interest showed that it would be for the benefit of the vast majority of the Irish people. The hon. Member for North Armagh said he would not put any unreasonable impediment in the way of the Bill. But everyone knew that he and the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University, who had been identified with the landlord interest, were prepared to offer strong opposition to the Bill. The language with which the Dublin Daily Express, which was the organ of the extreme landlord party in Ireland, had condemned the Bill convinced him that if the Government declared their intention that afternoon to drop the Bill it would be received with a shout of delight by the landlords and their followers from one end of Ireland to the other. The Bill might not meet all the requirements of the Nationalist Party; but it had in it the germs of good for the people, and therefore ought not to be rejected altogether. The consistent and honourable course was to accept the Measure for what it was worth, with the understanding that in the future it should be amended in the direction of bettering the tenants, as other great Measures of land reform had been 1553 amended from time to time. If the Twelve o'clock rule were suspended on the days when the Bill was on the Paper, and the additional time promised by the Chief Secretary were given, the Bill might be fairly discussed. What he liked about the Bill was that no one could deny that it facilitated the purchase of land in Ireland.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
said he would not go into the merits of the Bill, but would urge on the Government not to allow themselves to drop the Bill, because the people in Ireland were anxious to see it thoroughly discussed and passed into law for what it was worth. ["Hear, hear!"]
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
referred to the state of the Estimates, and pointed out that 17 of the 20 days allotted by the rule of February 27 to the discussion of the Votes in Supply had already been used. There were still 80 Votes to be discussed, and the 19th and 20th days were to be passed in guillotining the Estimates that remained.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The rule says the process which the hon. Member describes as guillotining is to come into operation at 10 o'clock on the 19th and 20th days.
asked the Government to take into consideration the absolute necessity for allotting the possible three extra days before the 19th day, which was the next but one, was reached, in order to avoid what would otherwise be the automatic fall of the guillotine on that day. The Estimates that remained were extremely important, and he attached more importance to discussing the Estimates than to the debating of Bills.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.