§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central) moved "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, Huntingdon)
said he rose to move the rejection of the Bill. He did so with great reluctance. He and his friends had hoped that they might have had a Bill which would pass through the House with the consent of all parties. They had felt that it was advisable that some Bill should be passed—a Bill moderate in its character, which would place on a fair and right footing certain doubtful points in the working of previous Land Acts, but which would not trench still further upon the properties of the landlords which had been so much reduced in value by the land legislation of the past quarter of a century. The advantages that were fair to the tenants under the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887 were undoubtedly great, and it was perfectly natural that tenants who were excluded from the operations of those Acts should desire to share in their benefits. But, so far as he could judge, there had been no general desire for anything like a far-reaching Land Bill, and that the idea of introducing any Land Bill, even of the most modest character, at the end of the first judicial term had not been contemplated by any large body of tenants. The agitation was originally started in Tyrone and Antrim by a small body of men. It was then taken up by his hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), who proceeded to fan the flame, and to persuade people in Ireland and people in that House that there was a serious agitation in progress, and that something great must be done. The hon. Gentleman induced the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose—the late Chief Secretary—to appoint the Land Acts Committee of 1894. If real grievances existed, the landlord party was at that time perfectly ready to help to redress them. He was always of opinion that a small, 939 simple Bill would have done good; but this Measure went much further than was necessary. Then he and his hon. Friends thought that, when the Government had heard what they had to say, Amendments from them might have been accepted; but their Amendments had been universally rejected, while those of hon. Gentlemen opposite had been largely accepted. Although the operation of previous land legislation had been cruel towards the landlords, and their property had been cut down far more than justice required, yet the landlords had loyally accepted the position. They did not anticipate that this Bill would be the reward. Of course, while he thought hon. Gentlemen opposite took an extreme view, it was possible that he and his hon. Friends also took an extreme view; and when once proposals had been made in a Bill, and advantages had been dangled before the eyes of any class, it was very difficult to withdraw them. But, nevertheless, the offers which had been made to the landlords had been withdrawn. He did not believe that the representatives of the tenants ever expected a Unionist Government to introduce so far-reaching a Measure. There was one fact which showed that such a Bill was unnecessary for the protection of the tenants, and that was that the prices of the tenant-right all over the country kept at a high and ever-advancing figure. While the farmers of Ireland were prepared to pay such sums for the tenant-right, there could not be any sound reason for giving them further privileges and for further reducing rents. The English public must not suppose that farming in Ireland was the miserable business that it was in the eastern counties of England. Unless the Irish farmers were fools in paying high prices for the tenant-right, it must be a very profitable business. In 1883, Mr. Gladstone, speaking on Mr. Parnell's Bill, said that, looking to the sacrifices which had been exacted from certain classes in Ireland, it would be wrong to demand from them further sacrifices which justice did not require. Yet this Bill altered the law throughout to the detriment of the landlord and the advantage of the tenant. He feared that the Measure would tend to increase litigation, because it would upset all the old decisions of the courts. All the old 940 cases would have to be fought out again in the light of this new legislation. One of the great objects of the Government was to promote the policy of purchase; and this Bill would make purchase much more difficult. By Clause 22, for instance, if the court thought the title was not fully established, the property was taken from the landlord, and the capital was locked up for several years while the title was being proved. During that time the landlord received 2¾ per cent. on the money, while he would have to pay 5 or 6 per cent. to his mortgagees; and at the end it might be held that his title was bad. With such a provision no sane man would sell his property unless he had an absolutely clear title and unchanged estates; and such conditions were very scarce in Ireland. The Improvement Clauses went too far; the Turbary Clause was unjust and indefensible; and Clause 31, which embodied the principle of compulsory purchase, was most objectionable to the landlords. They could not accept this Bill, though they would have accepted a Measure for the advantage of the community generally. They must make one final protest against the Bill, and he therefore moved to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
seconded the Motion. On the Second Beading he had stated clearly the attitude which he intended to adopt towards this Measure. He thought he might appeal to Her Majesty's Government to justify him when he said that in moving these Amendments the Irish Landlord Party were not actuated by hostility to the Bill itself in its main principles, and that those Amendments were not of an obstructive or captious character. The moderation of the proposals that were made during the course of the discussions was clearly shown from the fact that the Government themselves embodied in two clauses the views that he and his Friends took upon the main objections. Those two clauses, the 13th and 4th, clearly showed what the mind of the Government was, but they were withdrawn for reasons which he need not dilate upon. Pressure of some kind from some quarter caused the Government to withdraw them lest they should imperil the passage of the Bill through 941 the House. No one, on the Treasury Bench at all events, had got up and said that he disapproved of those Amendments, and that they were withdrawn because they would have spoilt the Bill. What principles ought to have guided the Government in bringing in this Bill? In the first instance they ought to have brought in a Bill which did not break up or injure or threaten the settlement of 1881; but in the present Bill that main guiding principle was entirely absent. The Leader of the House last night, or rather that morning, told them that the clause they were then discussing was a corollary of the Act of 1881. At that moment they were discussing a proposal to filch away from the Irish landlords the right to regulate the bog in Ireland, which, up to the present, belonged to them. He could not conceive a Unionist Government looking upon it as necessary to bring in a Bill which his right hon. Friend had described as a corollary of the Act of 1881, meaning the further plunder of Irish landlords. When they looked into the Bill they soon saw that the settlement of 1881 had been wantonly disturbed. The part dealing with exclusions was an absolute uprooting of the settlement of 1881. ["No!"] The first wanton alteration they came to was the raising of the £50 rating to £100, for which no reason worthy of the name was given to the House. The £50 limit was a settlement arrived at under the guidance of Mr. Gladstone, with the consent of Mr. Parnell himself.
§ * COLONEL SAUNDERSON
No; but he stated that a man holding a farm worth £50 a year did not require protection.
§ * COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I have not the reference here, and I was not in the House at the time, but I read the statement.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I was present through all those Debates, and I never heard Mr. Parnell make any such statement.
§ * COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I hope the hon. Member will for once sit still and be quiet. Then in the same clause they came down to the third sub-section, when the absurdity about incorporeal 942 hereditaments was burst as a surprise on the House of Commons. Let the House consider what this sub-section meant. Suppose a man hired, let to a tenant for £100, a certain extent of land which included a right of shooting, the Bill provided that if the tenant claimed to have a fair rent fixed on that land a Sub-Commissioner should come down and segregate this incorporeal hereditament from the land itself. It meant that this land was let for £100 including shooting. The gentleman who took this farm applied for a fair rent, and the Commissioners would hand over the farm which he hired, and hand back to the landlord this "incorporeal hereditament;" and it was to be conferred in the usual way by the Sheriff. How would the Sheriff become possessed of the "incorporeal hereditament?" Would he take the snipe and the grouse and hand them back to the landlord? [Laughter.] The whole thing was absurd, and to deliberately introduce such a monstrosity as this clause in the Bill indicated that the Measure was drawn up, he would not say hurriedly, but recklessly, interfering wantonly with the security of property in a way unheard of in our Parliamentary history. Then they came to the clause which dealt with turbary and other easements. How were the landlords met on that occasion? They had argued the point at great length, but this provision in Clause 6 was not one which really affected to any very great extent the tenure of land in Ireland by the tenants. It was a clause which might have been dropped. It was a concession which the Government might have made to the Irish landlords without injuring the principle of their Bill or interfering with the claims which the Irish tenants might make for a Bill dealing with the tenure of land. The Government also on this clause, and nearly on every proposal the landlords had made, did not argue the points or give reasons why the rights which owners of property enjoyed—the right to do as they pleased with their own—should be taken from them. But, making use of a composite and strangely assorted majority, they absolutely refused to listen to their arguments or to make this concession to those who represented the owners of property in Ireland. Other points were debated at considerable length. The recovery of rent in the 943 case of sub-division had also introduced a strange principle in the Bill. Then they came to the Procedure Clauses. He said that the Government, in bringing in a Land Bill this year, ought to have been influenced mainly by the view of taking advantage of 15 years' experience of the Act of 1881 to amend it where necessary, and to do away with the defects which that lapse of time had discovered. ["Hear, hear!"] But one of the chief objections to the Act of 1881 was the expense involved to both landlord and tenant in procedure under that Act. The Government ought to have been largely influenced in the method they adopted of constructing this Bill by an attempt to abolish this defect, and in making procedure under the Land Act a cheap and easy process. He thought that the Chief Secretary, in his speech introducing the Measure, said that this was one of the objects he had in introducing it, and it was one with which he sympathised. In Clause 13, which the right hon. Gentleman put on the Paper and afterwards withdrew, he acknowledged that, in his opinion, that amendment of procedure improved the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman believed it to be right, just, and expedient. Now all the expense and difficulty to both landlord and tenant still remained unchanged, and the great blot of the Act of 1881—namely, the millions of pounds lost in fixing fair rents—remained unredressed, though the Government had a great opportunity to wipe it away. In proposing, as the landlords had done, Amendments in the direction he had indicated, he thought he was justified in saying that they were reasonable Amendments, and that they were not proposed to impede the Measure. Why was it that they had failed to carry out by their Amendments what the right hon. Gentleman believed to have been an improvement on his Bill? It was that they had been practically closured by the position in which time had placed the House. If his right hon. Friend had moved that this Bill should be placed before the House in compartments, or to report it on a certain date, it could not have been more effectually closured than it had been by the hand of time. ["Oh, oh!"] No one could deny that this was the 29th of July. [Laughter.] When hon. Members 944 sat through a day and a half they were not certain about the days, and the hon. Member seemed to be uncertain whether it was yesterday or tomorrow. [Laughter.] But the House had to rise somewhere about the middle of August, and therefore the difficulty was that the Government were placed in this dilemma:—If we accept Amendments which we acknowledge to be just and to be an improvement on the Bill, hon. Members opposite have nothing to do but to pull out the spigot and turn on that flood of eloquence always capable of charming the House and destroying the Measures proposed by successive Governments.[Laughter.] The object of the Government was to carry a Bill. They had tried to carry other Bills this Session, and on one Bill a great deal of eloquence had been expended, and hon. Members had marched many miles in the Division Lobbies over it. But it had been withdrawn, and when they saw public business conducted in such a way that the Government brought forward a Measure of the magnitude of the Irish Land Bill for discussion at the extreme end of the Session, he had to say that, as far as the Irish landlords were concerned, that arrangement had not been a success. But the Government desired to carry a Bill which after all only dealt with the property of Irish landlords, and he did not think that any section of the House cared much about that unfortunate class. [Laughter.] When he saw how Liberal Unionists and Radicals dealt with Irish landlords he was inclined to paraphrase Hood's lines:—Rattle his bones over the stones,It is only a landlord whom nobody owns.[Laughter.] He objected very much to be rattled over the stones—[laughter]—and he said that the difficulty—the insuperable difficulty—in which they were placed in inducing the Government to accept moderate improvements, which, according to their own showing, would have improved the Bill, was very great. Those improvements had been refused, not because they were unjust or would injure the Measure, but simply from the fact that had they been accepted the Bill would never have passed through the House. It must strike any one who had taken part in these Debates that the 945 principal characteristic which had marked the passage of the Measure through Committee had been that almost every Amendment of the most moderate and reasonable kind proposed by the Landlord Party had been rejected, while a great majority of the Amendments proposed by hon. Members opposite had been accepted. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, a great many—[Mr. T. M. HEALY: "All drafting Amendments!"]—at least ten to one. One of the Amendments proposed the previous evening by the hon. and learned Member for Louth was accepted by the Government, but the Leader of the House said that he was uncertain as to its effect, and he would deal with it in another place.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
explained that what he had said was that the Government were disposed to take the same view as the hon. Member for Louth, but that if that view proved to be wrong they would take steps to correct the error.
§ * COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that the attitude of hon. Members opposite below the Gangway towards this Bill and the Government was remarkable. The attitude of the hon. and learned Member for Louth struck him particularly. He was never afraid of the hon. and learned Member when he frowned. [Laughter.] It was not the storm and the thunder of waves breaking on the rocks that were so perilous to the sailor; they were warnings of dangers that might be avoided. It was the song of the siren that lured the unguarded mariner to destruction. [Laughter.] He was afraid, when he heard the mellifluous accents of the hon. and learned Member in these Debates, that he might melt by his smiles the backbone of the Chief Secretary—[laughter]—a part of the political anatomy of the right hon. Gentleman which was absolutely essential in dealing with Ireland and the Irish. He warned his right hon. Friend to be suspicious of the present attitude of hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Gentleman was now told that he was able and industrious and conciliatory because he had accepted more Amendments from the Opposition side of the House than from his own side; but he would remind his right hon. Friend that it was not so very long ago that the Chief Secretary 946 was described as an "effete hawthorn bud" and a "sleuth-tiger"—[laughter]—because he had a bias in favour of the maintenance of law and of rights enjoyed in every civilised country in the world. He trusted seriously that his right hon. Friend would not be beguiled from the straight course which a Unionist Government ought to follow on the land and other questions by the changed attitude of hon. Members opposite. The Government had had a great opportunity. Irish Unionists had a right to expect that this Government at any rate would sympathise with them. It was therefore a matter of surprise to them to find that the tendency of the Government was to sympathise with hon. Members opposite rather than with them. He could say for the Party with whom he was connected that they had not attempted to get the Government to favour them in the settlement of the land question. They had left the question to the Government, believing that they were leaving it in safe hands, and that the Land Bill, when produced, would not he a Measure absolutely hostile to the class to which he belonged. The Government had disappointed them. ["Hear, hear!"] What the fate of the Bill would be in another place he could not say. It might be that the principles which appeared to have dominated the minds of the Members of the Government would be found to have infected the House of Lords, and that the Bill would return from that House almost unchanged. But he gave the House of Lords more credit for independence of action than many hon. Gentlemen did, and he believed that when the Bill came to be considered in the calmer and perhaps more funereal atmosphere of another place, common sense, and the principle of justice to all classes in Ireland would prevail. He maintained that the Amendments moved in Committee on behalf of the landlords, whilst they were in accordance with the elementary principles of justice, would not destroy or weaken the purpose of the Bill. When this Session should be over it would be a sorrowful thing if the Government could only point, when claiming to have redeemed their character as practical legislators, to a Measure which had unsettled the settlement of 1881 and given a parting kick to that class in Ireland who, whatever their 947 faults might have been, had deserved the epithet of hon. Members opposite, who had described them as the English garrison for this reason, that they had been faithful and true to British rule, and would always remain true to it, ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
reminded the House that in the Debates on the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Montrose it was practically admitted by the representatives of all parties that legislation on much the same lines as now proposed was a necessity. When hon. Members opposite complained of the action of the Government in introducing legislation of this kind, the House would surely not forget that the Government were pledged up to the hilt, before, during, and after the General Election, to deal in this way with the Land Question at the first available opportunity. He regretted that now, at the end of the discussions on this Bill, it was impossible for him to alter the opinion which he had expressed from the very first as to the general character of the Measure. He still held that the Bill in many essential particulars fell short of what the necessities of the situation demanded. He and his Friends had taken very little part in the Debates that had taken place. One reason for that was that the Amendments of which they had given notice were moved by other Members representing Irish constituencies. Those Amendments were few in number, but of vital importance. He regretted extremely that the Amendment for the shortening of the judicial term and the Amendments on the question of improvements had been rejected by the Government. At the same time be recognised that the Bill contained provisions which were worthy of acceptance on behalf of the tenantry of Ireland. He was happy that the Bill passed through the Committee stage without suffering any great injury to its character. He did not think that the Amendments proposed by the Member for Dublin University had diminished whatever of goodness the Bill originally contained for the tenants. In fact, he was not sure that the Bill might not have been improved slightly, and he did not think that they would be doing their duty if they did not congratulate the 948 Government on having stood firmly by the main provisions of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He regretted that they did not concede certain points which had been urged upon the Government. However, he thought it only right that the words uttered by the Member for Louth with regard to the Chief Secretary should be echoed by every Member of every section of the Irish Party. [Cheers.] He could not add to what the Member for Louth had said, but he did wish to associate himself with him in expressing his keen appreciation of the courtesy, ability, and the reasonable, conciliatory tone which had been observed all through by the Chief Secretary and by the Attorney General, and, indeed, when he intervened, by the Leader of the House himself. ["Hear, hear!"] He rose, however, to call attention to the closing observations of the hon. Member opposite, who had reminded the Government of how they dropped the Education Bill, and who suggested that they had to pass this Bill for fear their reputation should still further suffer. How would they suffer if they allowed this Bill to be so mutilated in the House of Lords that it would not meet even with the acceptance of the Irish people? He had all through, except on certain important points, endeavoured to give the Government encouragement and support, but he had done that on the clear understanding that they should stand by the main provisions of the Bill; if, however, the Government were to allow this Bill to be mutilated in another place, for his part he should regard the Government as guilty of gross bad faith to them and the tenantry of Ireland. [Irish cheers.] He did not believe that they would be guilty of such conduct; but, having heard the observations of the hon. Member, he thought it his duty to intervene and say that the Government were bound in honour, and, he believed, in their own interest, to stand by the main provisions of this Bill in another place, so that it might pass into law in at least not a worse condition than when it left that House. [Cheers.]
§ MR. J. A. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
said that he considered the proposal for the rejection of the Bill on its Third Reading was intended to have an influence outside the House, and he therefore desired to point out that there 949 was at present in Ireland a dual ownership in land which it was admitted on all hands could not continue. There was, therefore, need that some step should he taken. There were two parties having rights with regard to the land, the landlords and the tenants, and as they could not themselves agree on their respective rights, an arbitrator had to he called in, In bringing in this Bill the Government were simply acting as arbitrator, and he maintained that in that capacity they had done their work exceedingly well. If they had any bias it would naturally be to the landlord side, as five-sixths of the Government were landlords, and at least five were Irish landlords, or their direct representatives. There were Lord Lansdowne, the Duke of Devonshire, the representative of the Downshire family, the Under Secretary for War, and the Under Secretary of the Admiralty, both the latter being heirs to Irish estates, and most militant members of the landlord party in the past. If the Government were robbing Irish landlords, they were, therefore, doing so with the approval of those five Irish landlords.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I must interpose. The Cabinet and the Cabinet alone are responsible for the introduction of this Bill, and it is not fair in this connection to introduce the names of other Members of the Ministry who cannot be here to defend themselves.
§ MR. RENTOUL
said that, after the correction from the Leader of the House, he would not be justified in proceeding further along that line, but it was difficult for him to conceive that under those circumstances any injustice was being done to the landlord class. He pointed out that none of the members of the landlord party challenged a Division on the Second Reading of the Morley Bill, and he was sure, if the Members for Down or Antrim had done so they would have stood a very small chance of being re-elected. [Irish cheers.] He was elected with the full knowledge of his constituents that such a Bill was intended to be brought in if a Unionist Government were returned and that it would receive his support, and he asked what position they would have been in if they had failed to carry out their pledges. With reference to what had been said 950 by the hon. Member for South Hunts (Mr. Smith-Barry) that the hon. Member for South Tyrone had fanned a flame amongst the Ulster tenant-farmers, the flame was not one that required much fanning, and it certainly lighted very quickly indeed. Those hon. Members from Ulster who were on the side of the Government in this matter were placed in a difficult position in not being able to agree with the colleagues with whom they had acted in the past, but they felt that they had to act as fairly as they could between the two classes. He was sorry to read such a letter as that written by Lord Ardilaun to The Times, which was a distinct confession that Unionist to him meant nothing more than landlord, and that he was a Unionist simply because he thought the Unionist Party was the landlord party, and because he thought the other side was the anti-landlord party. He was gratified to find that was not the sentiment which actuated the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, but that his Unionism was as strong whether a Bill was passed of which he thoroughly disapproved or whether no Bill was passed at all. The Bill would shortly go to another place; both Houses were largely Unionist, but this House contained tenant-farmers and direct representatives of the tenant-farmers, while the other House, did not contain a single tenant-fanner or a representative of them. It was impossible to believe that the Unionist House of Lords could not trust the Unionist House of Commons. The House of Commons had gone into the Bill at great length, being composed of Gentlemen representing both parties, and representing both parties fully and fairly. The other House of Parliament did not and could not represent both parties in this matter, and he should be exceedingly sorry if there was any serious interference with the provisions of the Bill in the House of Lords. It had been said that the other House had rejected another and a most important Irish Measure during the last Parliament. Of course he should not be in order in referring to the provisions of that Bill in any shape or form, but the House of Lords had the same interest in the question of Home Rule that the House of Commons had, and had an equal right 951 to form their own judgment with regard I to it that the House of Commons possessed. But this Bill was of a totally different character. It was a money Bill, and nothing but a money Bill, which dealt with the financial relations between the landlords and tenants of Ireland, and therefore the House of Lords, who would not have the case of the Irish tenants placed before them, would trust the Government in regard to this Bill as they trusted them in regard to other matters. In his view this was a fair and a just Bill, and in framing it the Government had tried to do their best to settle the land question of Ireland. The Unionists of Ulster to a man were with them, and although they might not think that the Measure went quite far enough upon all points, they generally appreciated what the Government had done in the matter, and regarded the Bill as an honest and prudent attempt to settle a most difficult question. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said that, in the first place, he desired to compliment the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chief Secretary for Ireland upon the courtesy they had shown in the course of the discussion of this Measure. Beyond that, however, he was not prepared to go in expressing satisfaction at the action of the Government in connection with this Bill. The Government, in his opinion, had not treated the Irish Members fairly in the method which they had adopted to get the Bill through that House. On all main and vital points in which the Irish people were so deeply interested the Government had refused to accept the Amendments that had been brought forward by the Nationalist Members of that House, whereas the Amendments brought forward on behalf of the Irish landlords which the Government had accepted had been of a drastic character. Hon. Members must feel that during the discussion upon this Bill Irish representatives had not received fair play, even from the point of view of the Government. For some obscure reason which had not been avowed, this Bill, which affected so deeply the interests of the Irish tenants, had been deliberately and of malice aforethought postponed to the last days of an expiring Session. 952 ["Hear, hear!"] The Government had compelled the Irish Members, who desired to do their duty by their constituents, to sit up all night into the small hours of the morning in order to take a part in the discussion of the Bill, or else to incur the odium of having forced the Government to drop the Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] In the name of the Irish people he protested against this treatment by the Government of the Irish representatives. ["Hear, hear!"] The course which had been taken with regard to this Measure showed an utter incapacity on the part of the Government and of that House to conduct Irish affairs in a proper and statesmanlike manner. Any hon. Members who had been compelled to sit through the weary hours of last night until nearly 6 o'clock that morning in endeavouring to do their duty to their constituents would bear him out when he asserted that the proceedings with regard to this Measure were an absolute farce. [Cheers.] The Amendments to the Bill ought to have been discussed at an hour when hon. Members could have taken part in their discussion without subjecting their health to an intolerable strain. [Cheers.] Amendment after Amendment, involving the most important issues, had been brought forward by Irish Members merely in a pro forma manner, because they were told it was impossible to discuss them adequately in the early hours of the morning, and they, consequently, had to be withdrawn. He submitted that that was not the way in which a Measure of this importance should be discussed. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, in the course of a speech which he had delivered the other day, had glorified our Parliamentary institutions; but, by the proceedings which the right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to adopt in dealing with this Bill, he had done more to lower that House in the estimation of the public than had resulted from all the so-called obstruction of which they had heard so much. For these reasons he could take no part in the congratulations which had been offered to the Government for the manner in which they had conducted the discussions upon this Bill. [Cheers.] The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh and the hon. Member for South Hunts had described this Measure as 953 one of a most formidable character, and had declared that a much smaller and more simple one would have been more acceptable. Hon. Members opposite, however, had opposed the Bill of last year, which had been introduced by the right hon. Member for Montrose and which would have satisfied the people of Ireland. Why did not the Government simply reintroduce that Bill this Session? The Government had struck out the most important provisions of that Bill and had introduced into the present Measure provisions that were objectionable to the Irish people, although the Bill as it now stood did contain some valuable provisions. The Nationalist Members had done their best under circumstances of almost overwhelming difficulty to amend this Bill, but as a settlement of the Irish land question it was an absolute failure. [Cheers.] No one who was qualified by experience to speak for the Irish tenants could tell the Government that this Bill would settle the question, even for a time. ["Hear, hear!"] He had been asked, and very foolishly, "If you don't approve of the Bill, why don't you vote against it?" How could he vote against it? The Bill contained a whole string of clauses which were substantial improvements of the law. ["Hear, hear!"] It contained the purchase clauses, which, from his point of view, were a great concession; it contained the evicted tenants clause and the congested districts clause, to which he attached great importance. How could he vote against a Bill which contained such valuable clauses? As regarded the treatment the Bill would receive in the House of Lords he did not offer an opinion, but he should like to know whether there was any foundation for the rumour that the Government were going to intrust the Bill in the other House to the Marquess of Lansdowne, who was a landlord, signalised for many years as one of the leaders of the irreconcileable and extreme party of landlords. The Leader of the House declared the other day that the Cabinet alone were responsible for this Bill. Surely, after the Bill had been introduced into the House of Commons by the Government, every Member of the Treasury Bench was equally responsible. [Opposition cheers.] He went further, and declared that 954 every Member of the Government who sat in the House of Lords was equally responsible. [Loud cheers.] The Irish Members were entitled to assume that the Marquess of Lansdowne and the Duke of Devonshire and every Member of the Government in the House of Lords were bound to support this Bill, and to take up the same attitude that the Government did in the House of Commons. [Cheers.] He was astounded at the statement that every Member of the Government was not responsible. A Member of the Government ought not to retain his position unless prepared to stand by Government Measures.
§ * SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
said that they had just heard a declaration that this would not settle the Irish question. ["Hear, hear!"] This was the ninth Irish Land Bill introduced by Ministers within 26 years. The first was in 1870, and they were told it would settle Ireland. It did not. Parliament was now engaged on the ninth Bill, and they had a distinct statement from the Leader of the Irish Nationalist Party that this one did not settle Ireland. He thought that statement justified the action taken by many Members of the House. He viewed this Bill from a different point to the hon. Member for South Armagh, and his conduct was ruled by his pledges to his constituents. Ireland ought to be fairly treated, but Parliament ought not to give to Ireland what she had refused to give to Great Britain. [Cheers.] He said that Ireland had occupied too much of Parliamentary time, to the neglect of English business, and he had pledged himself to support the Party that would attend to the business of Great Britain and pull up the arrears. How came it that they were called upon to make this great sacrifice of time and temper for another Irish Measure? The Act of 1885 only provided for the fixing of fair rents for 15 years. The present Bill was, therefore, introduced. He had not opposed the Second Reading, because it was perfectly understood that certain Amendments would be made in Committee to meet his objections. But there had been a curious difference in the attitude of the Government towards Amendments from their own side and Amendments from Irish Members opposite. ["No, no!"] The English 955 Unionist Members could not be charged with obstruction. Last night there were 43 Amendments moved from the opposite side of the House, and only 11 from the Ministerial side. Considering the vastness of the interests at stake, the latter number was not unreasonable. When the Unionist Government were returned to power Irish securities rose because it was said that, at all events, for so many years there would not be anything to fear from alterations to or attacks upon the security of property. What was the result now? Since the Bill had been introduced values had gone down. Dealing with the incumbered estates clause, he observed that the Incumbered Estates Court was created by Parliament for the purpose of taking over mortgaged estates, of getting rid of men who had no money to improve or do justice to their property, and to attract English and Scotch capital to Ireland. On the basis of the good faith of Parliament millions were attracted into Ireland and invested in land. Scotch and English insurance offices were largely concerned, and, that being so, they could not say where the interest in Irish land of the English and Scotch middle classes began and ended. He must say he looked with amazement and horror upon the revolutionary proposal in this clause of the Bill to alter the fundamental character and procedure of that Court. The interest of the Land Commission by the clause would be to keep down the price given for land by the tenant, their business being to see that the State suffered no loss. They would accordingly ascertain what price the tenants were willing to pay, and in their Report that would be the price that would be indicated and recommended as the selling price of the property. That was not selling in a free and open market, and the adoption of such a system must inevitably cause depreciation of the market value of land in Ireland. The attitude he had adopted with regard to the Bill was this. Half the trouble with regard to Ireland was brought about by the imagination of the House in thinking that the only two classes in that country were the landlords and tenants. It was not merely a question of landlords and tenants. There were the banks, the Church property, and the mortgage 956 and insurance companies. Again, there were over 62,000 landlords owning 500 acres of land or less. Many of these were men who had made money in trade in neighbouring towns and then became landowners. Looking at the Bill as it would affect small owners, he contended that it would prove destructive to their interests. It would crush the small landlords by the litigation in which it would involve them, and in the same way would injuriously affect the middle classes and those who, on the faith of Parliament, had put English and Scotch capital into Irish land. To paraphrase an old saying, it might be said of such people—And, now, whereas the Radical party did lay upon you a heavy yoke, the Unionist party will, add to your yoke. The Radical party chastised you with whips, the Unionist party will chastise you with scorpions.
§ [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
said he found himself in sympathy with the Motion that the Bill be read a Third time that day three months, but for totally opposite reasons to those advanced by the hon. and gallant Member who last addressed the House. The hon. and gallant Member supported the Motion on the ground that the Bill would injure to some material extent the interests of the landlords in Ireland. He utterly failed to see the justification for that apprehension. He could no more imagine a Government of landlords, presided over by Lord Salisbury, bringing in a Bill that would do injury to the landlord interests, than he could picture to himself a Ministry of foxes promoting legislation for the protection of the henroosts of the country. He could not see how or where the Bill gave any substantial protection to or conferred any benefit upon the tenant-farmers of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hunts said that the land legislation of the last 15 years had considerably damaged the property of Irish landlords. The very opposite was the fact. In the words of the late Lord Derby, the Land Act of 1881 was a lifeboat for the Irish landlords, because while, during the last 15 years, English landlords had voluntarily abated rents to the extent of 30, 40 and 50 per cent., Irish landlords had 957 only been compelled by law to give reductions to the extent of 20 or 25 per cent. But his main objection to the Bill was that it denied justice and protection to the tenant-farmers of Ireland on the four cardinal issues of the Irish land question. The Bill would still allow Irish landlords to levy rents upon the improvments put into the soil by the tenant-farmers; it refused to abridge the judicial term of 15 years, notwithstanding the fact that all agricultural Ireland, with the exception of the landlords, was united in making the demand; it refused to do justice to the tenants in Ulster in the matter of town parks; and by the operation of the purchase clauses it would still compel the tenant-farmers to buy their own property back from the landlords. The Irish landlords' property was mortgaged to an enormous extent to English banks and English money-lenders. It was estimated that the debt upon Irish land amounted to no less a sum than £160,000,000; and what the landlords wanted to do by means of the Purchase Acts was to shift that mortgage off their shoulders on to the shoulders of the tenant-farmers. He protested, in the name of the working classes of Ireland and of the taxpayers of Ireland, against a provision which had for its object, not the ending of dual ownership, but the extension of the landlord principle throughout Ireland. He was sorry he almost stood alone on the Irish Benches in the attitude he took against the Bill. He did not question the sincerity of the hon. Member for Waterford in the support he gave to the Measure, but the hon. Gentleman would permit him to say there was a game of cross policies carried on in the House with reference to the Bill. Hon. Members on his side were damning the Bill by faint praise, while the landlords opposite were praising the Bill by faint damning, and he could not but assert that when the Bill became law it would be a landlords' Bill in every particular and would not in any way bring substantial relief to most of the tenant-farmers of Ireland. He had hoped at one time he would be able to see a good deal of the hon. Member for South Tyrone in the Bill, but he would require a very powerful microscope with which to discover where the hon. Gentleman came in. The hon. Member had been thrown out of the 958 Bill body and bones, and the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh was found in his place, surrounded by all the sacred rights of his incorporeal hereditaments. The favourite argument of the hon. and gallant Member and others of his class against honest or radical legislation on the Irish land question was that there was no need for such legislation, that Ireland was prosperous beyond all question. The hon. and gallant Gentleman supported his contention about this imaginary prosperous Ireland by quoting statistics with reference to deposits in Irish savings banks. An authority, which was generally on the side of the hon. and gallant Member and his class, said:—The savings banks never were more prosperous than in this year. What increases the marvel is that their prosperity in different districts appears to be exactly in proportion to the extent of the demands on public benevolence. The more people have wanted the more they have had. Under increasing distress there has happily existed a mine of increasing wealth, and while the Treasury has been lavishing its bounties with the right hand, with the left it has received a back current of comfortable deposits. If the Irish peasants have not such large heaps of potatoes as usual, it is clear that they have larger deposits in the bank.That was the authority of The Times of London, not of yesterday, but of November 6, 1846, a time when famine was decimating the population of Ireland. They were familiar with all this dishonest attempt on the part of the Irish landlord class to hoodwink public opinion in this country into a belief that Ireland was in the enjoyment of material prosperity. At the present time there were in Ireland over a million of people compelled to live in houses that were valued at £1 or under per year, there was more pauperism inside and outside the workhouses of Ireland at the present time than when the country had double the population. The landlords had a debt on their property amounting to £160,000,000, and if they calculated what the tenants owed in rent to the landlords and what they owed to the banks and shopkeepers, they would find that Irish agriculture was indebted to-day to the extent of about £200,000,000, or of something like £300 upon every one of the 600,000 holdings throughout Ireland. Such was the result of the working of the landlord system which was so eloquently 959 defended by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh. This Bill would become law. So had 50 other Land Bills become law during the last 50 or 70 years. After this House had spoken, when the Bill found its way to the Statute-book, the voice of Ireland would be heard. He predicted that the last word had not been said through this Bill upon the Irish land question. ["Hear, hear!"] He was convinced Ireland would repudiate the Bill and would go on persistently demanding an honest Measure, a Measure which would remove from Ireland once and for ever the curse of Irish landlordism which had brought the country to her present position of poverty and humiliation. ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. H. O. ABNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
admitted that he had no great enthusiasm for the Bill, though he had voted for all its provisions except one. He had voted for the Bill because he believed the last and the present Government had given positive pledges which made it imperative the Bill should be passed. He voted for it, in the second place, because he believed the whole tendency of past land legislation had so affected the condition of affairs in Ireland that, were the Bill not to be passed, a peculiar situation would arise which would be intolerably unjust to the Ulster tenants. He should vote for the Third Beading because the passing of the Bill was inevitable in the circumstances under which the present and the late Government were pledged to it. The whole tendency of past land legislation had so affected the condition of affairs in Ireland, that were the Bill not to pass the tenants in Ulster would be placed in a peculiar, unjust, and intolerable situation. He repudiated any sympathy with the system upon which the Bill was based, but the Bill in itself he believed would not greatly aggravate the evils of which he complained; it was a part, but not an important part, of the system. The Chief Secretary was taking a step which the inexorable logic of events compelled him to take; but starting with a clean sheet, how could he justify such a Bill as this? There did not appear to be any sympathy for the Bill in the House. Much was heard on the details of the Bill, but the discussions were thinly attended, for it was 960 one of the peculiar features of this land legislation that the discussions were carried on in a mystic language no one but an expert could understand. This was the 25th Bill since 1870 which seriously and materially concerned the tenure of land in Ireland, and the land code, which the unfortunate Irish tenant was supposed to know, covered 250 pages of the Statute-book, and these pages were supplemented to the tenth power by the conflicting decisions of Judges and Commissioners. The state of the land law in Ireland was such that no living man could be said to understand it, unless the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) occupied the exceptional position, and there was not a man alone in Ireland who had a positive knowledge of his rights under the law in the land in which he lived. If a man thinks he knows the law to-day, the chances are a hundred to one that he is convinced to-morrow that he does not know. Continual decisions had complicated the written law, and the result was that, taking the commonest commodity in Ireland, which was land, the ordinary transactions of life could not be carried on with certainty. Taking his memory back to 1881, he from that year dated a retrospect. In 1881 the great Act was passed, the whole object of which was to go some way to solve the Irish land question by introducing the system of fixing fair rents, and now at this moment this House was engaged in the Third Beading of a Bill which started the whole thing over again, and matters stood as they stood in 1881, with the difference that they were a great deal worse. Commissioners were to be appointed by the score, but they would not carry matters forward one step towards solution. A horde of Sub-Commissioners would be let loose to deliver over again nine-tenths of the tenants of Ireland to the attorneys. Of the existing lay and assistant Commissioners, he did not believe there was one who had been appointed after having had any training in the judicial faculty, and now another generation of these temporary gentlemen would be let loose on the land, all, no doubt, excellent gentlemen, but dependent on the current of public opinion, and still looking, not to the justice and equity of the case, but to the life to which they would return, 961 and from which they were tempted to emerge by the promise of £400 or £500 a year. That was an unfortunate condition in which to place any country. What was the real trouble from which Ireland suffered? It was the great want of confidence as between man and man. How were they going to restore that confidence? By making it absolutely impossible that any man who held property in Ireland should know what that property was for 24 hours time. Not even the most ingenious lawyer could draw any document under seal and signature which in Ireland would not be liable to be absolutely set aside within 12 months by this Imperial Parliament. They also wanted to bring about in Ireland that friendly feeling without which social life must be an impossibility in any country. And how did they set about it? They had these unhappy divisions, dating from years of conquest and misunderstanding, which had produced a state of things in Ireland which demanded a remedy. How were they going to do it? The Irish landlords and tenants were at issue still, and the only occasion on which the landlord would have any inducement to come into contact with his tenant was as a litigant in a Court of law. What was wanted in Ireland was that there should be respect for the law and a firm belief in the integrity of those who administered it. He did not know how it struck other hon. Members, but it appeared to him that the present method of administering the land law of Ireland was scarcely one calculated to induce respect for the law or its administrators. How was it possible to expect that men with salaries of between £500 and £600 per annum, who were made the absolute arbiters day by day and week by week of the fortunes of thousands of our fellow-subjects in Ireland, could inspire respect in the administration of the law when it was certain that their decisions, however unconsciously to themselves, must be affected by the changes in political and public opinion that occurred so frequently? There was, in his opinion, only one possible exit from the morass into which we had blundered in regard to the Irish land question. In dealing with that subject we had cast to the winds all our old notions respecting the principles of political economy, 962 and we had done many things in Ireland which, if they had been done in England, would have shocked us. The day might be dawning, however, when, perhaps, a new departure might be permissible, and when we might go back to that happy time when the principles of political economy had some existence and some value in our eyes. Ever since the passing of the Act of 1881 he had consistently protested against its principles. We could not by doing a great wrong ever bring about a great right. There was only one way out of our difficulty, and that was by the avenue of purchase. We must get rid of this competition of two diametrically opposed interests in Irish land; we must put the land of Ireland into the hands of one man only, and not into those of two men. But how was that to be accomplished? The landlords could not afford to sell their land at the price that the tenants could afford to pay, and the tenants could not afford to pay the price that the landlords were justified in asking for it. The only clauses in the Bill about which he cared one straw were those which related to purchase. But those clauses made purchase impossible by so smoothing the path of the tenants into the Law Courts that they would be tempted to try their fortune in another legal enterprise. He regretted extremely that so little was done in the Bill to facilitate purchase; but there still remained the question whether they could not now, by some combined action of that House, further this process of purchase. They had had warnings enough. They did not want the Debate of that day to tell them that on the road they were now pursuing there was no end. ["Hear, hear!"] Goodness knows they had been told that over and over again, in Parliament after Parliament. In the words of the hon. Member for Mayo—On this path there was no end, and by this light there was no salvation.["Hear, hear!"] Surely it was time they came back out of this cul de sac. He spoke as a representative of a commercial constituency. In Ireland they had but one desire in connection with this land business. They wanted to see such a system introduced as would give 963 the greatest facilities for the development of Irish industries. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought that there was a method of arriving at a solution of this problem which was worth consideration. The same difficulty had arisen elsewhere in other countries. There was a precedent which he believed might be followed. They were contemplating a great operation, which was what he might call an heroic operation, something which was in the nature of a revolution, and the only justification for the Government undertaking a revolution, was some overwhelming public necessity. It must be the safety of the public which was at stake which would justify the Government in setting aside all the elementary conditions of our life and bringing in something which he had described as a revolution. What was to be done if it was done at all must be done for the benefit of the State. ["Hear, hear!"] His authority was a distinguished Irishman who had written a book; but he understood that in some of the Continental States—in Bavaria, where it was decided that it was necessary to take the feudal rights from the owners and transfer them to those who paid them—it was felt on the one hand that it was unjust for the benefit of the State to deprive the owners of their property without compensation, and it was felt imperative in the interests of the State that those who were part owners with them should receive the entire ownership. What was done there was just and equitable. To the landlords it was said by the State, "We will buy your property at 20 years' purchase," and to the tenants it was said, "We will sell it to you for 18 years' purchase," and the difference between those figures should be the contribution of the State. He did not suggest that that would be a possible avenue of escape in the present case; but it might be an exit from the difficulties attending a cast-iron system of purchase in Ulster. He dissociated himself from everything but the expediency which necessitated the Bill. He did feel that he was justified, as a representative and a member of the community, in raising his protest at this stage. This was the first time he had ever voted for an Irish Land Bill, but if the principles of purchase adopted were what he was told they were and were to 964 be the principles of the future, it would be the last time he would ever vote for such a Measure. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think it is now time that I intervened on the part of the Government in this Debate, which has already been prolonged beyond our anticipations. ["Hear, hear!"] The speeches of my hon. friends have made certain to my mind what before I suspected, that for a large number of Gentlemen on this side of the House the real objection to this legislation is not founded upon any provisions which the Bill contains, but that it is really an echo of the far-off attempts of this House to deal with the Irish land question, which far-off attempts began in 1870 and were continued in 1881. My hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast attacked in no part of his speech a single provision of this Measure. What he did attack, and attacked with great force, was the principle of the Act of 1881, the principle of the fixing of fair rents by judicial tribunals, and the inevitable incidents that that system was bound to produce and has produced. Well, I am not responsible for the land legislation of 1881. I did my best when the Act of that year was going through the House to modify its details and oppose its principles; and, unless my memory deceives me, some of the most influential members of the then Conservative Party, who were also representatives of the interests of the Irish landlords, gave us, English Members, only a very perfunctory and lukewarm support of the action we then took. Listening to the speeches of my hon. Friends you would suppose that the effect of the Bill would be to suddenly call into existence 60 or 70 new sub-Commissioners, who would be let loose in Ireland to deal at their sweet will with the property of the landlords. It is undoubtedly the fact that the termination of the first judicial term will require the appointment of a large number of sub-Commissioners. But that has no more to do with this Bill than it has to do with the Bavarian legislation to which my hon. Friend referred. There is nothing in this Bill which will shorten the judicial term, there is nothing in the Bill to bring into the Land Courts tenants who would otherwise stay away, and the trend of the arguments of my hon. Friend 965 turned on broader questions, which have I no relation whatever to the question now before the House, which is the Third Heading of this Bill. I turn now to the criticisms passed upon the action of the Government by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hunts, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh, who have taken so active a part in the discussion of this Measure. But let me first take this opportunity of thanking both of them, and also hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, for the manner in which they have treated the Committee Stage and the Report Stage of this Bill. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House regard the Bill as a most inadequate instalment of the just rights of the Irish tenants. On the other hand, what is called the Landlord Party, think that we are interfering very unjustly with the rights of property; but though each side, from their own separate point of view, had what they considered a legitimate grievance against the proposals of the Government, they have carefully and generously abstained from doing anything which could interfere with the passage of this Bill, and for that I beg to return them, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, and also I will say on behalf of the interests of Ireland, my most sincere thanks. Listening to my hon. Friends on this side of the House, you would suppose that the proposers of the Bill were a set of revolutionists verging on Socialism [laughter]; persons with either no idea of property or with a perverted view; or at least, if not people dyed with speculative errors on the subject, at all events persons ready to throw the interests of a particular class in Ireland into the political arena, and to make political capital out of the losses which they were inflicting on the owners of land in Ireland. When I listened to that style of criticism, and hoard the epithets with which it was enforced, I really did not know whether I was standing on my head or on my heels. [Laughter.] I ask myself whether they are mad or whether I am mad. [Laughter.] I am quite sure one of the two must be. I am quite sure either they are or I am under some extraordinary delusion, or are the victims of some strange obsession. [Laughter.] I look through the clauses of the Bill in 966 vain to find even the most microscopic justification for the attacks which have been made upon it. [Nationalist cheers.] When I boil down the speeches of my hon. Friends to try to find out what is the real residuum of their complaint, upon my word I cannot discover it. [Laughter and Nationalist cheers.] I do not believe that a single one of the gentlemen belonging to what is called the Landlord Party who have taken part in the discussion of this Bill will be a penny the worse for any line, sub-section, or section of the Measure. I cannot conceive their interests being injuriously affected, and if, as I believe, this Hill will give great assistance to purchase and will carry away the roots of any possible agitation—legitimate agitation—in Ireland they will be great gainers by the Measure. Why, then, are we to be accused of this indifference to the rights of property? I took notes of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Armagh, and all I can find in those notes is that we have raised the limit of certain kinds of farms from 50 acres to 100 acres; or in other words, that we have brought in a certain number of tenants at present excluded from the Land Act, but who differ in no particular from tenants who are already excluded, and who have no resemblance whatever to the large grazing speculator to whom the authors of the Act of 1881, quite rightly, did not propose to give the benefits of that Measure. [Nationalist cheers.] Beyond that, all my hon. Friend did was to make some jokes about incorporeal hereditaments, but how my hon. Friend is going to be injured by the clause dealing with incorporeal hereditaments I am utterly unable to understand. I do not wish to deal with the turbary clause because I made a speech last night, or rather, a few hours ago, in which I put the case for legislation of this kind. I then pointed out that that clause was not a clause transferring from the landlord to the tenant things which the landlord might give or withhold from the tenant at his own pleasure. I showed that the words of the clause make it perfectly clear that the clause only deals with privileges which are an essential part of a holding.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
That I do not deny. So long as my hon. Friend admits, as he must admit, that the clause only deals with those things which, in the opinion of a Court—a Court which we are obliged to presume is competent—are necessary for the enjoyment of the holding, the whole fabric of his argument, based as it is on an insufficient knowledge of the case, absolutely falls to the ground. [Nationalist cheers.] I do not propose to go in detail through the Bill. But one point remains, and it is a fundamental point. It has been made by my hon. Friend the, member for Dublin University, and it was suggested, if not made, by my hon. Friend the member for West Belfast, in the speech he has just made. We are told by these critics, and in my opinion rightly told, that by the road of purchase, and by the road of purchase only, can we find ultimate salvation in regard to the land controversies of Ireland, and then they went on to say that, holding that opinion, they could not support a Bill which by an extension of the privileges of the tenants makes the tenants less disposed to think that argument is based on a misconception. My view of this legislation and of the Act of 1887, for which I am responsible, is that, so far as landlord and tenant are concerned, we are bound to proceed upon the lines of the Act of 1881; we are bound to make that Act a workable Act; we are bound to remove the friction and injustice which time has shown to attend its working; and we are bound to do what we can to prevent the provisions of that Act giving rise to that very kind of agitation which the Act itself was intended to prevent. Do not believe that you will ever induce the tenants of Ireland to purchase simply by leaving the position of certain of them neglected; by leaving in them a sense of injustice, or by leaving unremedied the defects of the Land Act. It is not by irritating the Irish tenants or by leaving causes of irritation in connection with the relations of landlord and tenant that you will drive the Irish tenants and the Irish landlords to meet together and make bargains of purchase. [Nationalist cheers.] That is not the method by which the great end of purchase can be attained? and the House would be entering on an utterly wrong and foolish 968 policy if they supposed that by leaving grievances unredressed they would be promoting purchase. The only motive upon which we can rely is the general desire on the part of the tenants to purchase their holdings, to become absolute owners and masters of the holdings in which their fathers lived, and in which they desire that they and their descendants should live. [Nationalist cheers.] That they shall have all the advantages of ownership, and that there shall be combined with them a diminution of their pecuniary burdens, which is actually provided by the purchase schemes of the Unionist Party. If you ask why purchase is not going on more rapidly, I should point to a large number of political causes which have been attended with disastrous results; and, in addition to those political causes there have been economic causes undoubtedly at work. Unquestionably the continuous and disastrous fall of prices has most naturally discouraged a certain number of tenants from going into Court and committing themselves to a perpetual annuity based on conditions which are changing. But this fall in prices cannot in the nature of things be permanent. Some time, I hope soon, an economic equilibrium will be reached, and as soon as the conviction that that has been reached comes home to the Irish tenant, then I believe that no agitation and no legislation, no political dreams or aspirations, will prevent the tenants from doing all they can to promote the successful working of the purchase clauses of this and of previous Acts. My hon. Friends have moved the rejection of the Bill. I confess that I have never in my Parliamentary experience heard the rejection of a great Bill like this moved on pretexts which seemed to me so absolutely flimsy. [Opposition cheers.] I know that my hon. Friends feel strongly on one or two points. They think that we have accepted Amendments from the other side of the House and have rejected Amendments from this side of the House. Sir, the Bill is now substantially the Bill which was discussed in Committee. It is true that many drafting Amendments have been accepted from both sides; but it is not true that we have accepted from the other side of the House, any more than from this, large and far-reaching Amendments. [Nationalist cheers.] 969 The Bill that we now ask the House to read a Third time is the Bill that was before the House on the first day of the discussion. Substantially it is identical; and I am bound to say that the criticisms of three or four clauses which my hon. Friend named, even if those criticisms were better founded, and it were true, as I think it is not, that those clauses are inimical to the interests of the Irish landlords, are absolutely insufficient to justify so serious a step as that of endeavouring at the last moment to prevent the House from giving the Bill a Third Reading. No, Sir, if I understand anything about the Measure introduced by my right hon. Friend, it is a Measure to which no advocate of the rights of property, however ardent, however stern in his orthodoxy, need have any objection. It is a Bill which, traversing the vast field of Irish land legislation in all its branches, does remedy a large number of generally admitted defects. As such, every man who desires the prosperity of the landed interest in Ireland, be it the interest of the landlord or that of the tenant, every man who desires peace and prosperity in Ireland, ought to do his best to see that the Bill becomes law broadly and substantially in the shape in which I hope it will now receive a Third Reading from the House. [Cheers.]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
No one can deny that the Debate we have listened to is interesting and instructive. It is very old history, this Debate upon the condition of Ireland and especially of Irish land. We have an old drama, but with a very new cast. [Laughter and cheers.] We have had a denunciation of the policy of the Unionist Government coming from a party which in the words of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh, are called the English garrison. [Cheers.] The hon. and gallant Gentleman objects to having the bones of the English garrison rattled by a Unionist Government. [Laughter.] Well Sir, as to the bones of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, there is no man in this House, to whatever Party he belongs, who will not wish that those dry bones may live long. [Laughter.] We have had various imagery applied by the English garrison to express their views as to the conduct and policy of the Unionist Government. We were bad enough when we chastised them with whips; but there 970 are people now who are to introduce scorpions into Ireland [laughter], and I suppose that even St. Patrick will not be able to expel them introduced under such auspices. [Laughter.] Then we had a remarkable speech, though I do not agree with it, from the hon. Member for Belfast. I confess that I was surprised to hear from the hon. Member, considering the name he bears, a denunciation of the policy of 1881. That was a policy introduced by a Liberal Government, and by a great Liberal Minister; and it is the object of this Bill to adopt and to develop the Liberal policy of 1881. [Cheers.] The hon. Member for Belfast declares that in this just treatment of the tenants of Ireland no salvation is to be found; and he is in accordance with the First Lord of the Treasury, who disagrees with the original policy of 1881, and who almost reproaches the English garrison for not having assisted him to defeat it. But the right hon. Gentleman says there is no salvation for Ireland except in purchase. What is purchase in Ireland? It is deliverance from the English garrison. [Cheers.] It is employing the resources of the State to reconcile Ireland by providing it with another garrison. That is a policy of social despair. [Cheers.] The English garrison is to be bought out; and that is what the First Lord calls the only salvation of Ireland. That is a declaration on which it is right that the House and the country should profoundly reflect. That is the outcome of the deliberations of the Unionist Government. It is a grave and serious declaration, which has a great bearing on what is called Unionist policy. The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh and his friends have spoken of this Bill with language of indignation. A man has a right to be indignant when he pleases, and with what he pleases. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the Bill also in language of surprise; and I do not think he was entitled to be surprised, because all history tells us that this is the record of Conservative Governments. [Cheers and laughter.] Their principal supporters are always surprised at what they do when they come into power. [Laughter and cheers.] If they had been speaking a century ago, they might have been entitled to be surprised. But I see sitting on the Benches opposite, with an air, if he will forgive me for saying so, of pensive melancholy, 971 the modern Gibbon [laughter], who has composed the earlier chapters of the "Decline and Fall of the English Garrison." [Renewed laughter and cheers.] He has hitherto observed the transactions of the British Parliament from a distance, and we have all read with interest and instruction his luminous pages. But I look forward with interest to the future chapter on Unionist Legislation in Ireland, which, I have no doubt, he is now revolving in his mind. [Laughter and cheers.] But what right has the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh to be surprised? He has read the works of the hon. Member for Dublin University. He knows how the greatest of all Tory Ministers had to resign because he desired to do justice to the Catholics of Ireland. He knows how the Tory Party, who were the Protestant Party, the English garrison party, ultimately, after years of contest, conceded something to the great majority of the people of Ireland in Catholic emancipation; and how they were denounced by their own friends, as they are again to-day, with the exclamation, Nusquam tuta fides. When the great Protectionist Party, with a majority considered as extraordinary as that which the Government enjoys to-day, came in and overwhelmed with defeat the Party of free trade—that Protectionist Party with its great majority affirmed the principles which it was elected to denounce and was in turn denounced by a greater master of rhetoric even than the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh. Mr. Disraeli, on these Benches, denounced the Government of that day as an organised hypocrisy, whose Leaders had bought their Party in the cheapest market and sold it in the dearest. We know perfectly well that in 1887, to come to a nearer date—Oh! I had forgotten another incident. That was the Party which denounced the lowering of the suffrage, but, once it returned to power, it introduced household suffrage. I remember hearing myself the present Prime Minister of England, from those Benches, denouncing the Conservative surrender of the Government of that day. Why, Sir, the policy of 1881 was denounced by the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends. They came in with a majority almost as great as that which they enjoy to-day in the year 1886. They were asked for a revision of judicial 972 rents in consequence of the distress of the Irish tenants. They declared that nothing would induce them to commit so immoral an act as to revise judicial rents. I read, last night I think, the language of the Prime Minister on that subject; he was outdone in moral indignation by the First Lord of the Admiralty. He then introduced a clause for revision of judicial rents, and to show the consistency of their conduct they took that clause out and then they put it back again, and so this great act of public immorality was accomplished with a decent amount of vacillation and tergiversation to give it an air of comparative morality. [Laughter.] I do not charge the present Government with inconsistency with the traditions of their Party. That is what you have a right to expect. You may be indignant if you like, but you are not entitled to say that you are surprised. [Laughter.] I observe that the Leader of the House has a comfortable doctrine for some of those Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench. It is only the Cabinet who are to be condemned, and subordinate Members are guiltless in this terrible betrayal. I am sure the Solicitor General for Ireland must feel satisfied to take shelter under that ægis—[laughter]—for this Bill cannot be said to reflect the sentiments he formerly expressed. And the benefit of the same immunity must belong to the Under Secretary for War and to the Secretary to the Admiralty. The hon. Member for Down was rebuked by the First Lord of the Treasury for introducing the names of the Dii Minores of the Government. But the Dii Minores are not entirely uninfluential in this Bill. I desire to do justice to the hon. Member for South Tyrone in this connection, though there is one point on which I think I should have to observe with reference to the part he is placed in. I do not complain of the antagonism of the Members who sit below the Government Gangway. I agree rather with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken when he said that he is unable to discover in this Bill exactly how they are hurt. I suppose they know best themselves, but they had not explained it in a manner he could understand. No doubt there seemed to be some great grievance about incorporeal hereditaments, but that was the only thing I gathered from the hon. and learned 973 Member for Armagh. For myself, as far as I understand the matter, the Irish landlords are left very much in the position in which they were before. While landlords in England have suffered, they have been protected in the enjoyment of a higher rent than the economic condition of things entitled them to by the Act of 1881. They have enjoyed a judicial rent fixed at a period—it so happens and the fact has not been noted in these Debates, that the highest level which rent reached in England, according to the Income Tax Returns was in 1880—which gave them a higher rent than they would have had but for the Act of 1881. And no doubt what the right hon. Gentleman had said was perfectly true that the Purchase Clauses are mainly for their advantage. They have been made favourable from the extreme desire of the Unionist Party to buy them out of Ireland—[laughter]—and at the public expense, and so great is the advantage of getting rid of the Irish landlords, the "English garrison," that we are told the right hon. Gentleman made great sacrifices to accomplish so great a salvation for Ireland. [Laughter.] That is the history of the Purchase Clauses. As to the Bill itself, I have said that this Bill is a disappointment. It will prove a disappointment because we have been told by all parties who know the subject best that it will be no settlement, not even a temporary settlement, of the Land Question in Ireland. I believe that to be perfectly true. What is the period upon which we are entering upon the consideration of a new Land Bill for Ireland? It is not like 1887, when you are proposing a temporary benefit to meet an occasion which has arisen. No; it is a revision after the lapse of 15 years of the system which has been in operation since 1881, and when you come to revise that system you are bound to take a full and complete view of the situation by the light of the experience you have had for the last 15 years. You are bound, in renewing a lease, to consider the conditions under the old lease, to remedy the defects that were apparent. In the same way you were bound to meet the question in a manner which might have made a settlement which, if not permanent—you cannot have a permanent settlement of this question—would, at all events, have lasted for 15 or 10 years more. 974 That is what you ought to have done. That is what, in 1885, we attempted to do. The hon. Member for South Mayo has pointed out what struck me were the four main things you wanted to be dealt with if you desired to do any good. The first thing was the question of improvements. That is a question which has perplexed Irish Judges, Irish tenants, Irish landlords; everybody desired there should be some solution of it. Nobody felt that more than the Government themselves. I have here a sentence from the Leader of the House upon the Bill of the last Government in April 1895, and he said this:—What we have suffered from is the turning of men on to land to settle judicial rents without giving them any principle whatever by which to come to a decision.How have you attempted to remedy this in the Bill? You knew it was the great difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman in opening the question in his long and able speech upon this Bill, dwelt largely upon it, and he spoke of the famous and terrible case of "Adams v. Dunseath." What has he done to make "Adams v. Dunseath" less famous and less terrible? Why, he has left it exactly where it was. [Laughter.] It was one of the most extraordinary pieces of legal subtlety, which has introduced the greatest confusion into the administration of the law. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the famous and terrible case of "Adams v. Dunseath"; he recognises that it was his business to disarm the terrors of that case, and he introduces a clause into the Bill for that purpose. What has become of that clause? It has disappeared, and the whole of this question of improvements is left exactly in the same position of disastrous confusion in which it originally was.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Where are your improvements? Where is your definition of the point? What was the difficulty? It was the apportionment of the enhanced letting value. What light have you shed on that?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But why was the case terrible except that it had left to those very persons, without any direction, the settling of judicial rents, 975 as the First Lord of the Treasury says, without giving them any principle whatever by which to come to a decision? You have done nothing to define that matter, and you leave it as it was before. The next point mentioned by the hon. Member for East Mayo was the shortening of the term. Everyone has felt that one of the great grievances of the people of Ireland is that a number of men, for want of the shortening of the term, are excluded from the benefit of the Act. We had the strongest testimony as to the feeling of the people of Ulster on that subject. We had the testimony of the hon. Member for South Tyrone how strongly Ulster feels on that subject. How have you settled that question? You leave the feeling of Ulster just as dissatisfied on the subject of the shortening of the term as it was before the Bill was introduced. I have borne testimony to the good service which the hon. Member for South Tyrone has rendered generally in favour of the cause of the tenants of Ireland on this Bill, but I must mitigate my approbation of his conduct on the subject of the shortening of the term. He made a speech last night in which, with his usual eloquence, he involved himself in his own virtues. [Laughter.] I will not say, in the language of the Roman poet, that, "When fortune turned against him he resigned her gifts"—[laughter]—but he certainly proceeded to involve himself in his own virtues and said, "Oh, I was always against this; my record is clear." I saw a quotation—I do not know whether it is correct—in a newspaper this morning of an extract from a letter written by him on March 15th 1895, in which he said:—No man could object to the proposed new period of 10 instead of 15 years; most of the witnesses before the Committee concurred in thinking that the present term was too long.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
In the speech yesterday I said nothing about the period of ten years. What I objected to yesterday was the retrospective character of the Amendment of the hon. Member breaking the statutory period now running. ["Oh, oh!"] The Amendment of the hon. Member for East Mayo was in two parts, but I looked at it as a whole. I did not treat the first part 976 of it at all; I let that alone, and I confined my observations to the retrospective character of the second point.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I have no desire to press the hon. Member, partly because I recognise the services he has rendered, and still more because the First Lord of the Treasury has stated that he has no responsibility for this Bill. [Laughter.] Then there is the third case—that of the future tenant. Here, again, you have done nothing. In the Bill of 1895 we attempted to deal with these questions—questions which are, without doubt, a source of great disquiet and great dissatisfaction in Ireland. The question of future tenant affects some 30,000 or 40,000 persons. How do you suppose that a Bill which leaves this dissatisfaction in the minds of so large a body of tenants is going to give even temporary satisfaction on the Land Question in Ireland? Next, we have the question of town parks. There, again, you decline to give a definition; you leave it in a state of absolute uncertainty; you leave it to one Sub-Commissioner to determine it in one way, and to another Sub-Commissioner to determine it in another. So great an impasse have you got into in the case of "Adams v. Dunseath" that it cannot be altered except by legislation, and you now refuse to clear it up by legislation. How, then, are you going to settle the Land Question in Ireland? You have not given a definition of what is the share of the landlord of that enhanced value of the land, and what is the share of the tenant.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But it is the critical point—as to whether the inherent capability of the land is to be admitted. You have attempted to solve it, and you say that you have failed; and so you have said of all the really difficult questions in this Bill. Why is it that you have failed to settle these difficult questions which will leave a great disturbance of the settlement of land in Ireland? Because you have not chosen to give time to the House of Commons to discuss them. [Cheers.] The difficulties in the conduct of your business have led you to drive into the last days of July a Measure which required the most careful and fullest consideration; 977 and yet the Secretary for the Colonies told the House:—Here is a Land Bill; if you like to have it in three days you may; if not, you won't have it at all.That is the spirit and the tone in which the Bill has been dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman has very properly thanked both sides of the House for the pains they have endured, what one may properly call "the intolerable strain" put upon them; but when the Leader of the House suspended the Twelve o'clock Rule he said that he did not mean to extend the sittings largely. Has he kept that promise with reference to the Irish Land Bill? [Cheers.] What is the use of discussing these difficult questions if you expect to solve them properly when time has not been given to consider the difficulties of the case? [Cheers.] What would you Gentlemen opposite have said to us in 1895 if we had said: "You must pass the Irish Land Bill in three days?" We know how proposals of that character would have been, dealt with. We know, I think, how the House of Lords would have dealt with a Bill discussed at 5 o'clock in the morning [Cheers.] You take up the most complicated and difficult problems connected with Irish land and hustle an Irish Land Bill through at 5 o'clock in the morning because you have not chosen to give proper time for the discussion of so difficult and so dangerous a question, and think that you have settled the Land Question in Ireland. Every one knows you have done nothing of the kind. What is to be done with this Bill? The Bill will be passed by the House of Commons. I am glad, for many reasons, that the Bill is going to be passed. First of all, because of the reason that the hon. Member for West Belfast is disposed to criticise it severely, and, next, because it is an acknowledgment of the absolute adoption at the end of 15 years, of the policy inaugurated by the Liberal Party in 1881. [Cheers.] That of itself is an advantage, because after the lapse of that period, and after that experience, the Conservative Party have adopted that policy. Above all, I welcome it because I take it from the mouth of the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh that it is a condemnation of the doctrine that the government of Ireland 978 should depend on what we call the English garrison. [Cheers.] The Conservative Party for years have made as the basis of their policy that they should favour, as the hon. and gallant Member said he expected they would favour in their policy, what he calls the English garrison. If it be true that the Tory Party in England has ceased to be identified with the Landlord Party in Ireland a great good will have been accomplished by the passing of this Bill. That, to my mind is the moral of this Bill, and, in my opinion, it is a very good moral to be drawn. The mischiefs in Ireland which Land Bills endeavour to correct have arisen from what has been, I think a very unfortunate system. The landlords of Ireland have not been the improvers, the makers, of the fertility of the land in Ireland, and that is what makes the great difference between the relations of landlord and tenant in England as distinguished from the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland. It is that, to a great degree, which has created all these mischiefs which we have endeavoured to remedy. Unfortunately, also, religious differences have alienated the two sections of society in Ireland, and it has been a very great misfortune hitherto that the Tory Party have leant entirely upon what he calls the English garrison in Ireland. If that is the spirit in which this Bill has been introduced; if in future you are going to look neither to one Party nor to the other for your garrison in Ireland; if you are going to make the English garrison in Ireland the bulk of the Irish people, then I think at last you will have grasped the true principles upon which Ireland alone can be reconciled and pacified.["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that the Leader of the Opposition had expressed a well-founded doubt whether the Liberal Party would have been allowed to pass a Bill of this kind through Committee in four or five days, and to sit up for the purpose until 4 and 5 in the morning. Were the Irish Members, then, to be blamed for having taken advantage of a favourable moment when, the Opposition being in sympathy with them, the Government of the day were willing to sit through the night in order to carry the Bill? If this attenuated Bill had excited the wrath of the Landlord Party in that House, in what a mauled and 979 tattered condition would a Morley Land Bill come back from the House of Lords! That was a consideration which had not been without influence upon him in his acceptance of this Measure. But there had even been threats of opposition in the House of Lords to this Bill. If there was likelihood of that in the case of so moderate a Measure, what chance of favourable consideration would there he for a Bill like that of the right hon. Member for Montrose? It came to this—when the Liberal Party were in office they passed good Measures through the House of Commons which were mauled or rejected by the House of Lords; when the Tory Party were in Office they endeavoured to effect some reasonable reforms of which, if they were in Opposition, they would perhaps be the strongest opponents. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] Reference had been made to the fact that Lord Lansdowne was to pilot the Bill through the House of Lords. If Lord Lansdowne acted, as he felt sure he would, on his responsibility as a Member of the Government, there would be nothing to regret in that circumstance. Was it not a matter of some consequence to the Nationalist Members, a feeble folk who were endeavouring to make their way through the interstices of British Parties, that a Bill of this kind should have the protection of a gentleman in the position of Lord Lansdowne, whose brother, Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice, was one of the strongest opponents of the Bill of 1881? For his part he endeavoured to cut his coat according to his cloth, and when an endeavour was being made to pass a Measure of moderate relief for the Irish people he was ready in their interests to extract from it such benefits as he might, leaving the moral to take care of itself. If it was the case that the Bill was not offered to the tenants of Ireland as a final Measure, its passage would not prevent Gentlemen of stronger views than his from agitating for further reforms. He should be curious to see a Bill drafted by the hon. Member for South Mayo. If the hon. Member should draft a Bill to carry out his views on the subject of land nationalisation, he feared that the Measure would have as much difficulty in passing through an Irish House of Commons as it would encounter in an English Parliament. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] After 15 years of 980 struggling in that House they had at last obtained some Amendments of the Act of 1881, Amendments which were pressed in vain upon the Ministers of that day. He was not prepared to wait for another period of 15 years for a better Bill than this, mindful of the French proverb which said that, "the better is the enemy of the good," and he should look back with pride and satisfaction to the support which he had been able to give to the Government in the interests of this Measure. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time; verbal Amendments made. Bill passed.