§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
, who was received with Opposition cheers, said: Sir, it is almost twelve months ago that the late Government were put out of office, and Gentlemen opposite took their places. In those days we were told almost every day, in a phrase invented by the late Home Secretary, that we were "ploughing the sands." I submit to the House, judging from the present aspect and the prospects of this Bill, that they are day by day ploughing the sands. [Cheers.] If I recollect rightly, the figure of "ploughing the sands" was first derived from the legend of Ulysses, who desired to persuade those about him that he was mad, and he yoked an ass and an ox and ploughed the sands. They still doubted whether he was really mad, and placed on the line of the furrow and the share his own child. Sir, this afternoon a Measure is placed on the line of the furrow which, though discoloured, disfigured and mutilated, is, nevertheless, in some sort, my own progeny. [Laughter and cheers.] I may, therefore, be excused if I intervene in the Debate before hon. Members from Ireland address the House on the Bill. The question before the House this afternoon is whether any Land Bill at all shall pass this Session, rather than whether this particular Bill is a good or a bad one. The answer to that question—whether we are to pass any Bill at all—will depend upon the reply the First Lord of the Treasury gives to the question put to him a moment or two ago by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth. Now, there are four propositions to which the Government and Gentlemen opposite are committed, and they are—first, that this Parliament was returned especially to show that it is capable of making such laws as are required for the well-being and contentment of Ireland; secondly, that the right settlement 623 of the Land Question is the foundation of Irish well-being and the true secret of Irish content; thirdly, that the faults and defects of detail in the Act of 1881 have caused friction, great irritation, and prevented the smooth working of that and subsequent Acts, and are ultimately likely to give rise to a still further extension of existing demands; and fourthly, that the Purchase Act of 1891 has been comparatively and essentially a failure and needs revision. These four propositions make a complete case for legislation. ["Hear, hear!"] I would remark that it is no secret that this Bill has the authority of at least three Members of the Cabinet, who are directly interested in, and especially acquainted with, all the circumstances of the Irish Land Question—I mean, of course, the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquess of Lansdowne, and Lord Ashbourne. These three important personages, by allowing the Bill to be brought forward in their names, of course, thereby admit that the case for legislation is complete. I would remind the House, and especially hon. Gentlemen opposite, that this demand for the revision of the Land Laws (Ireland) Acts does not come from the Land League or the National League, or from those whom those organisations represent. I see that gentlemen have been writing to the newspapers trying to blind the English public by telling them that the Committee over which I had the honour to preside in 1894 was composed of Land Leaguers, and that my Bill was the mere compulsory product of a Home Rule Chief Secretary. Sir, it is no secret to any Irish representative, whatever may be the case with English Members, that in no part of Ireland is the demand for this legislation more urgent and more strong than in the province of Ulster, where the Land League and the influences it represents are not strongest, but weakest. [Cheers.] The hon. Member for Mid Armagh, when speaking in support of the Bill of the Government of last year, said that there were more than 100,000 tenant farmers in Ireland. If I may judge from communications I have received from Ireland, and very many from persons who do not sympathise with my political attitude in respect of Ireland, there must be—and doubtless the Chief Secretary will admit the fact—an 624 intense desire, quite outside the Home Rule Question, for legislation in regard to the land. Confirmation of that is to be found in the proceedings that are reported in the London newspapers this morning. There were, on Friday and Saturday, meetings of that most important body, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. A most remarkable incident occurred in that Assembly on Saturday. The proceedings throughout appear to have been of a very animated character. They began with an animated and violent discussion upon the adoption of a certain hymnal. After that question was settled, they found themselves—as almost any assembly of Irishmen must necessarily find themselves—embarked on a consideration of the Land Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. What passed? The Committee, apparently, had brought forward a "safe" resolution. They said they were gratified that the Land Bill was now before Parliament, and at the same time that they were not unaware that in certain important particulars it required amendment. It was found, however, that this would not do, and a clergyman got up and said this resolution was too weak, and that a resolution ought to be passed reminding the Government that the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887, though splendid in conception, had not safeguarded the interests of the tillers of the land owing to maladministration, and that, while the Assembly admitted that the present Land Bill would remedy several glaring abuses in administration, the Bill "is complicated in its detail, contradictory in its provisions, illusory in regard to its purchase clauses, practically ignores the existence of the Ulster custom, and denies to the tenants the right of their improvements." That was a pretty sweeping Irish-fashioned resolution. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] You think it excessive? ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, but it was passed by this Assembly, by a majority of 111 against 69.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
was understood to say that that was not final.
§ MR. MORLEY
No, because the opponents of the critics of the Government Bill were, I gather, thrown into such consternation by these proceedings that 625 they begged that a Committee should be appointed to bring in resolutions that would be accepted by the whole Assembly. [Laughter.] The Debate was still continued with much warmth, but ultimately the resolution was referred for further consideration. I think nobody will deny that that deserves to be described as a remarkable incident. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Stoke, who says he intends to move the rejection of the Bill, has put down an Amendment which does rather more than that. He wishes the House to say: "That, in view of the large number of Acts passed in recent years dealing with Irish land, and in view of the large number of questions affecting the whole of the United Kingdom on which legislation is earnestly desired, such as the alteration of the Poor Law and the provision of old-age pensions, this House declines to proceed with further land legislation for Ireland." As far as that goes, I am not aware that the Land Bill is displacing any Measure for old-age pensions. [Cheers.] We heard a great deal of that before the election, but it has disappeared, though not because of the Land Bill. The hon. Member will surely perceive that the House will ask itself, before assenting to his proposition, how it is that this large number of Measures year after year was necessary? I may remark, in passing, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, no Measure of any sort has been passed affecting Irish land for nine years.
§ MR. MORLEY
I beg pardon. Yes. Then not for five years. The hon. Member for Stoke and the House must see that the constant necessity for coming to this House time after time and year after year for Irish Land Bills, shows how badly this House, or rather, I should say this Parliament, does its business. ["Hear, hear!"] That would be the moral I should draw from the fact to which the hon. Member draws attention. I could almost wish—in fact, could wish—that the Amendment could be carried, because it no doubt expresses what is secretly in the minds of many who sit around the hon. Member. ["Hear, hear!"] The other day, I think it was the hon. Member for St. 626 Helens stated plainly that English constituencies were ignorant of the Irish Land Question—which is true enough—that they were careless of it, and that the House wanted no more Irish Land Bills. If the Amendment could be carried—of course it cannot—it would be the very strongest confirmation that could desire for my position that this House does not comprehend the needs and necessities of Ireland, and is deaf to the demand which Ireland makes, not only by the voice of her representatives, but by the circumstances which everybody responsible for the government of Ireland necessarily becomes acquainted with, for legislation of the kind which to the hon. Member appears to be a perfect superfluity. The Cabinet, I will venture to say, is against him, and there is not, I will venture to say, one Irish representative in this House who will support a proposition of the kind, or who will say that the legislation proposed, or some such legislation, is not demanded both by the voice and the necessities of Ireland. My hon. and learned Friend the senior Member for the University of Dublin would be the first person to admit that legislation is demanded. The hon. Member for South Hunts and the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh will not deny that legislation is necessary. It is possible that the more philosophic representative of Dublin University may protest, because he looks upon all of us poor pigmies in this House with displeasure and disapprobation—[laughter]—he looks with suspicion upon this House as an institution, and he looks with particular indignation upon the attempts that have been made since 1881 to remedy the evils in the Irish land system.
§ MR. MORLEY
The hon. Gentleman approves of the Purchase Act, but the Tenure Acts, beginning with the Act of 1881, I believe he thoroughly disapproves of, and I am perfectly sure we shall hear him say before the Debate closes that he thoroughly disapproves of all the propositions in the present Bill affecting tenure and fair rents. If I am wrong, of course I shall be proved so. With that possible and partial exception, there is no Irish Member, whatever constituency he represents, or whatever his 627 view may be upon sound Irish policy, who would support such an inept proposition as that of the hon. Member for Stoke. But can it be denied that the case for the Bill is hardly any better than if this sapient Amendment were carried? So dexterously and sagaciously have the Government managed the business of this House, so nicely and circumspectly have they adjusted the number of their Measures and their scope and compass to the well-known possibilities of Parliamentary time and space, that every Gentleman in the House knows that this Bill has no chance whatever of becoming law during this Session, apart from what may be done in another place, unless the Government assent—and I do not gather that they have yet made up their minds to decline it—to some such proposition as was made the other day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, or such a proposition as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth is going to offer if an opportunity is given to him before the Debate closes. I am as anxious as the Chief Secretary himself that this Bill, in an amended form—no doubt recast in some particulars—should pass, for the sake of order and contentment in Ireland for the sake of justice in that country, because, though the Bill is, as I have said, discoloured, disguised, and mutilated, I do see in the Tenure Clauses the lineaments of the modest Measure which I had the honour of bringing before the House last year. Unless the Government assent to the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend, there is not the least chance of this Bill surviving the Committee stage of the Education Bill. I would press one remark on the attention of the Government. The Government either desire to pass the Bill or they have abandoned all hope of doing so. If they desire to pass it, then it is perfectly clear that by assenting to the proposition of my hon. and learned Friend, or, if they like, to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, they will, no doubt, get the various proposals, all the technical details, and so forth, threshed out, and if that were done in a well-constituted Committee, then, and only upon that condition, is there any chance of getting the Bill through the House this Session. We will suppose, 628 for the sake of argument, that the Chief Secretary suspects, and has made up his mind in fact, that the Bill will not get through the House in time to go to another place early enough to receive the Royal Assent and become law this Session. Suppose that to be so. I do not know what line of argument my hon. and learned Friend may follow, but my argument would be that if you do not expect to carry this Bill in more than skeleton form, it would still be to your interest to have a Committee of this kind. Such a Committee would do for the present Parliament and Government what was done, and I think done well, for the Bill which I had the honour to bring in, by the Select Committee over which I presided upstairs. The Bill is either to become law or not. In either case it is expedient that it should be threshed out in Committee. If he intends to carry it a Committee is his only chance. If he does not, a Committee will help him materially in reducing and recasting this Bill, if he would introduce it next year. I do not say more on that point. I hope the Chief Secretary will be good enough to give my argument his consideration. The Chief Secretary, on the First Reading, used rather ominous language. He said:—The fate of the Bill as it stands, having regard to the state of public business in the House, will be entirely in the hands of gentlemen sitting below the Gangway.But he admitted that it would probably be criticised by the friends of the landlords not less nearly than by Gentlemen below the Gangway. That prediction has come perfectly true. This Bill shares the common peculiarity of other grand Bills of the Government. It is not merely the foes of the Government, but the friends of the Government, who, in this case, as in the case of the Education Bill, besiege and bombard The Times newspaper every day with letters beseeching the Government to recast the Bill, to drop half or three-quarters of the Bill, or bring in some quite different Bill. Whether effective resistance to the Bill comes from Gentlemen below the Gangway on his own side or in some degree from those on our side, that deliberation of the most careful kind, either by the whole House or the Committee, was absolutely necessary 629 before a Measure of this kind ought to receive the assent of Parliament. The Bill, and the Chief Secretary's speech in introducing it, show that, he has applied his mind carefully to the intricacies of this most intricate subject, and no one knows better that it would be an unfair thing, and more or less a scandal to Parliament, if these proposals did not receive, in the House or in Committee, full, adequate, careful and minute consideration, because, after all, the Bill abounds in details. It is a Bill altogether of details. I am not speaking in disparagement of the Bill, but it is full of heterogeneous matter, it bristles with legal points, and we have had 15 years' experience of what comes of the careless disregard of small legal technicalities. If more pains had been taken with, and more minute and scrupulous examination extended to, the Bill of 1881, and the Land Purchase Act of 1891, we should not have been landed in the difficulties which now beset the Government and the House. Therefore, when the Chief Secretary said it lay iii the hands of Gentlemen below the Gangway whether the Bill passed or not, he did not and could not have meant that there was to be anything like scant and hurried discussion of such an important subject. ["Hear, hear!" from Mr. GERALD BALFOUR.] I have alluded to the attitude of the landlords. I will throw out one remark for them. If they think that by staving off this Bill they will avoid a reduction of rent under the law as it now stands and is now going to be administered, they are living where so many pass so much of their time—in a fool's paradise. [Laughter.] It is perfectly certain that rents in the early period of the operation of the Act of 1881 were fixed too high. An hon. Member opposite seems amused, but I do not think the Member for Mid Armagh would deny that, or the Member for South Tyrone.
§ * THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
said that what he held was not that rents were fixed too high in 1881, but that if the rents of 1881 were to be fixed now, they would be fixed on a different basis. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that he charged the Commission of 1881 with 630 taking a wrong view of the situation at that time.
§ Mr. J. MORLEY
That was not in the least my intention. But the hon. Gentleman must see that he brings forward the very proposition I was contending for—that if the rents of 1881 were fixed now at the rates they were then they would be too high. Therefore, my hon. Friend agrees with me, and differs from Gentlemen below the Gangway. Because it is perfectly certain rents now will be fixed lower than they were in 1881, 1882 and 1883. Now, how will the Government stand if the Session closes without this Bill being passed in some shape or form? The Bill is brought in mainly and avowedly, first of all, to admit to the benefits of the Land Act certain classes of tenants in Ireland now excluded; and, secondly, to give complete protection to all tenants who come within the purview of the Act for their improvement. The third object is to accelerate, stimulate, and facilitate land purchase. What will your position be if you leave Ireland for another year without legislation? You will keep out of the Courts a large class of tenants who by the Bill you admit ought to come into the Courts; secondly, you will be having rents fixed upon principles which you admit to be defective and faulty or you would not bring in the 4th Section of this Bill, and you will keep for a whole year at least a large body of tenants who are labouring under an admitted and very grievous injustice. I cannot conceive that the right hon. Gentleman would face a prospect of that kind with equanimity. Having said so much of my own interest in the passing of the Bill, I will trouble the House with a few observations on the Bill generally. It is very satisfactory that the Government have had the courage to fling aside that flimsy and nonsensical thing called the Minority Report of the Land Acts Committee. It is satisfactory, too, that they have thrown aside the counsels and repudiated the action of the three Members of the present Government—I see one present now—who, when on that Committee, supported propositions and put down amendments in support of propositions, most of which, if not all of which, are repudiated in the present 631 Bill. No doubt the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University will get up, and with the passionate forensic conviction of which, no doubt, he is master, will argue in favour of the very clauses which formerly he condemned. I feel that this Bill, as far as its Tenure Clauses are concerned, is in its main lineaments remarkably like the Bill the Government introduced last year. If the Bill should reach the Committee stage, my own clauses would be simple, and I should have little trouble in framing my Amendment, which would simply be to put on the Notice Paper the clause in the Bill which I had the honour to introduce, and propose the substitution of this clause for the clause in the Bill of the Government, and I hope the Secretary of the Local Government Board, who supported me so manfully both on the Committee and during that period, would not hesitate to give me his support. [Nationalist laughter.] Yes, he supported me manfully. He went to Ulster and asked them to "strengthen Mr. Morley's hands"—[Mr. SWIFT MACNEILL: "That is why he is there"]—and came down to the House and made two admirable speeches in favour of my Bill. This Amendment would remove some of the stains of walnut juice by which the gipsy has disguised the appropriated offspring and restore it to the healthy, wholesome, full-blooded complexion it had last year. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] Therefore, I should certainly not oppose the Second Reading. But there are two aspects of the Bill which are of the first importance. The first affects procedure, and the second affects the protection of the tenants' improvements. As far as procedure is concerned, the Chief Secretary has applied himself as I did—and I am sure he has done it with equal labour and desire to arrive at a good conclusion—to this extremely intricate question. For a long time I almost despaired of it, but those who were in the House last year will remember that I prepared a draft clause which I described in my speech on the Second Reading. I had it printed and circulated. The great object of our plan is to simplify and cheapen the procedure by which fair rents are fixed. In our plan, which at all events had the approval of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, 632 there were two stages. The tenant filed his application to have a fair rent fixed, and paid 1s.; and the Land Commission sent down one or two inspectors to inspect the land and to report what would be a fair rent. If there was no objection that became the rent; and, if there was an objection, then the Land Commission sent down a sub-commissioner with two valuers of the ordinary kind, and their decision as to what was a fair rent was to be final. No one will deny that that was a simple procedure. It has been said, "It is not a fair procedure, because how do we know that these two valuers sent along with the Commissioner shall not be men you have nefariously planted upon the Land Commission who will not look at the question from the landlord's point of view?" But all who looked at the plan fairly said that this was guarded against, because it was insisted that the two valuers should be of the class of men upon which the Land Commission now rely, and to whom they now resort when an appeal comes before them. That was our plan; it was a simple and fair plan, and would bear examination. But the plan of the right hon. Gentleman is most extraordinarily complex, needlessly so for his own purposes. The plan of the Bill substitutes four operations for two. First there is, as in our case, inspection by one or two valuers; they are to inquire and report as to improvements; they are to fix a fair rent; that becomes a conditional order, and, if there is no resistance to it, it is made absolute. If there is resistance the case is carried to the Land Commission in Dublin, who may hear the parties, and either confirm the order or dismiss the case or refer it to a sub-commission. [Mr. GERALD BALFOUR took exception to this statement of the effect of the clause.] These are the words of the sub-section:—(3) The landlord and tenant respectively may, within the prescribed time after the service of the conditional order, show cause against it, and the Land Commission either may, after giving the parties an opportunity of being heard, make absolute the order, with or without modification, or dismiss the application, or may remit the case for hearing to a sub-commission, of which any assistant Commissioner who reported shall not be a member.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It is to be read in this way. The Land Commission may do one of two things—either, after 633 hearing the parties, make the order absolute or dismiss the application; or, as an alternative, may remit the case for hearing to a sub-commission.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The clause is unfortunately worded, and I feel that my grammar is better than, that of the right hon. Gentleman. ["So it is!"] All I have heard speak of it have understood it as I did. ["Hear, hear!"] Suppose the case is remitted to a sub-commission and it is certified that any question of law or of mixed law and fact arose, then there may be a final hearing in Dublin, and so you have at least three processes, if not four, as I said.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Then I want to ask at what point the status of the tenant is to be examined. What is the position of the tenant? Has he any kind of status in the Court? At what point in the proceedings is it to be settled whether or not the applying tenant has got a status entitling him to apply? Is the tenant to be liable for costs if he has no locus standi?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
But afterwards, is a solicitor to be allowed? Are there to be witnesses? Suppose costs have been incurred and the tenant has no locus standi, who is to pay the costs? There is a general feeling that the costs will be heavier than they have been hitherto. A recent gathering of Ulster farmers expressed this view:—The changes in procedure are most alarming in character; they are calculated to be ruinously expensive and gravely injurious to the rights of existing tenants.The present system is familiar to both parties, and it is more popular and less expensive than the proposed changes are likely to be. The right hon. Gentleman will find it better to allow things to remain as they are than to adopt the proposed changes; and he need not be at all wounded at this, because the same thing befel me when I introduced a procedure clause, of which critics said, with one consent, it was worse than the existing system. The more crucial part of the Bill was that dealing with improvements. There are three questions—What are improvements? On what principle is 634 ownership of improvements to be decided? And what form of compensation is to extinguish a claim for improvements? I say, with regret, but without hesitation, that the section does not clear up difficulties that have perplexed landlords, tenants, and judges for the last 15 years. So far from clearing them up, it will aggravate them; and it will lead to protracted litigation, compared with which "Adams v. Dunseath" will have been mere child's play. In "Adams v. Dunseath" one of the points was whether the enjoyment of improvements was to constitute compensation which disentitled to claim exemption from rent. It is easy to chase a doubt along the technicalities of a legal claim; but here is the principle, apart from verbiage, of a fundamental and substantial inconsistency of the most serious kind. This is the proviso:—Provided that where the tenant of a holding had before the passing of the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act, 1870, made improvements on a holding held by him under a tenancy existing at that passing, the Court, in determining whether and to what extent money or money's worth has been given in respect of such improvements, shall take into consideration the time during which the tenant enjoyed the advantage of the improvements, the rent of the holding, and any benefit received by the tenant from his landlord in consideration, expressly or impliedly, of the improvements so made; but as regards improvements, whenever made, neither the letting of the land on lease or otherwise, nor the mere enjoyment of any improvement, shall of itself, apart from other considerations, be held to be money or money's worth.I submit that there is here a complete contradiction. According to the first half of the proviso time of enjoyment is to be held to be money's worth, but at the end of the proviso it is distinctly stated that mere enjoyment is not to be so held.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman does not apprehend our meaning. It is not mere enjoyment that is to be taken into consideration in determining whether money's worth has been given in respect of any improvements, but enjoyment plus such considerations as rent and benefits received by the tenant.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
My mental lucidity does not enable me to grasp how the distinction drawn can be maintained. Mark you, this is a clause which is intended to simplify matters and to 635 prevent Irish landlords and tenants from being again affected by judgments like that in "Adams v. Dunseath." At the end of the Report of the Committee over which I presided we quote some words uttered by Professor Richey. He said of the Irish land laws that they ought to be consolidated into an Act drawn up in such language, form and manner that the landlords and tenants in Ireland, or at least such of them as are reasonably educated, should, like the inhabitants of Continental Europe and of America, be able without professional assistance to understand thoroughly their respective rights and duties. Well, I do not know any landlord or tenant who would be more successful in interpreting this proviso than I have been. This obscurity is not due to any want of legal skill; it is due to a confusion of purpose and to cloudy intentions. To suppose that this will not lead to enormous legal expenditure is to show very little knowledge of Irish nature, or, indeed, of human nature. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government, we know, have brought in a Bill to relieve agricultural depression, and when I read a proviso like this I cannot help surmising that this Bill must have been brought in to relieve forensic depression in the Four Courts. [Laughter.] This is, in fact, a Bill to provide work for Irish Judges and counsel. The second sub-section of Clause 4 I also view with very great jealousy; because it opens the door to boundless litigation. The sub-section runs:—No rent shall be allowed or made payable in respect of an improvement made by the tenant in a holding, by reason only of the work constituting such improvement not being suitable to the holding.I am jealous of the phrase, "the work constituting such improvement," because that might be held to imply a definition of improvement which would limit it to work, and that, as those of us who sat upon the Committee know, is a very delicate point. The third sub-section deals with that very cardinal matter, the apportionment of margin of enhanced letting value. I cannot congratulate the Government upon the way in which this matter is dealt with. Here is the sub-section:—In fixing the fair rent for a holding where it appears to the Court that, after an allowance 636 by way of interest has been made to the tenant on account of the present value of an improvement, such allowance falls short of the return equitably due to the tenant in respect of any benefit to the holding from such improvement, the Court shall make such further allowance to him as, having regard to the nature of the improvement and the interests of the landlord and tenant respectively, and considering all the circumstances, the Court may deem just.I cannot discover upon what principle that section is based, and the words "all the circumstances" are open to most ambiguous construction. When we attempted to deal with this question last Session we proposed to use the words "special circumstances." Our intention was to enact that as a rule the whole of the increased letting value should go to the tenant—that is, that he should be exempted from paying rent upon the enhanced value. But we agreed that there might be special circumstances which would disentitle him to receive more than a fair interest on his outlay and to make any claim on the margin of enhanced letting value. This clause neither condemns our principle nor does it accept it. I regret the absence of any provision for presumption. No one can deny that the improvements have been made, generally speaking, by the tenants. We proposed last year to insert in our Bill a presumption conformable to that well-known and well-established fact. The absence of any such presumption in this Bill is a great blot. Now I must say a word or two upon another part of the Bill—a part with which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman opposite has taken enormous pains. I refer to the provision for obtaining automatic variations for rent. It is a blot upon the Bill that the statutory term is left at its present length. Nine years ago the Cowper Commission—an impartial body having no special friendliness for the tenant—expressed an opinion favourable to the reduction of the statutory term; and it does seem extraordinary that at this time of day the Government should maintain the term. But in the Bill there is a provision for varying the rent at quinquennial periods, supposing the landlord and tenant agree upon the subject. As I understand, they will go before the Land Commission, and the Commission will impose a 30 years' lease upon the tenant 637 and the landlord, and then, at each quinquennial period of that term, regard may be had to the gazetted prices of the customary products of the holding, and their relative value as compared with the gazetted prices for the calendar year in which the judicial rent was fixed, and upon that basis the rent may be resettled for the next five years. The main objection to all schemes proposing to adjust rents with regard to prices is that you leave out of account the yield. That is a well-known and obvious objection to all such plans as that of the right hon. Gentleman. This clause, however, is a voluntary one, and I am pretty sure, from all I hear from Ireland, that being voluntary it will never be accepted and never be acted upon. I am sorry to say this because, like everyone who has considered the question, I should like to see something approaching to a satisfactory automatic procedure. There are other minor, though important, points. It seems to me regrettable that the case of town parks has been left in the unsatisfactory condition in which the right hon. Gentleman found it. As the Bill now stands, as far as I can make out, all the absurdities we had in the Committee stand. Little places with 700, 500, and 360 inhabitants were held to constitute towns under the Act, and town parks and accommodation land were excluded from the operation of the Act. That this state of things should be left untouched, and this evil allowed to go on, is a great misfortune. I cannot congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his method of dealing with sub-letting. I do not think that it is an improvement upon our plan. I think also that another very grave evil is the omission of an extension of the presumption of the Ulster custom to all the holdings in Ulster. I believe that this would have been a great improvement in the Bill, and possibly next year it will be remedied. There are two omissions which in my judgment are of a very unfortunate kind. First of all, as to the limitation of the recovery of arrears of rent to two years. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech on the First Reading, and from the construction of the Bill, appears to have admitted in his mind some sympathy with the object we had in view in 638 introducing a sort of statute of limitations in respect of agricultural rent in Ireland, but I am sorry to say that as the clause now stands it is absolutely worthless for the purpose of the policy which I have always thought was the great purpose. We proposed to enact last year that no landlord should be able to recover more than two years' arrears of rent, and by that we meant that no person shall make entry or bring an action, or take any proceedings whatever to recover rent except within two years next after the payment of the rent. That is clear and intelligible. It may be wrong; but the 12th clause of this Bill is a mockery of that provision. What does it say? It is quite true that you limit the recovery by method of ejectment to two years, but then you leave the tenant exposed to other proceedings.The balance of the rent then due shall remain a debt due by the tenant to the landlord, but shall not be recovered by ejectment for non-payment of rent or distress.That is to say, though the landlord may not recover more than two years' arrears of rent by ejectment and distress, the balance of arrears for any number of years remains a debt, and there is nothing to hinder the landlord from suing the tenant in an action for the balance of the debt, in obtaining judgment for it, in putting it in the hands of the sheriff, and having the tenant sold out of the farm altogether. That is a complete mockery. The whole policy of last year, and partially of this clause, was that the tenant shall not have this millstone of heavy arrears hanging round his neck. I believe that these long arrears have been one of the main curses of Ireland, and some of the most important landlords in Ireland take the same view. Another omission in the Bill is the absence of any clause such as we had last year for converting, upon certain conditions, certain kinds of future tenancies into present tenancies. I think that this case is well worthy of the consideration of Parliament. The present tenant is the tenant who may have a fair rent fixed; the future tenant has no such right, or, having possessed it, he has lost it. From the point of view of public policy his was the case that called 639 for treatment. The future tenants for whom we were anxious to legislate last year were men who would not pay rents—whether fixed by the landlord or the Land Commission—admitted by everyone to be too high. They were put out of their holdings; they were deprived of the status of present tenants and reduced to the status of caretakers, or were afterwards admitted by a contract of tenancy to the position of future tenants. I submit that these are cases which Parliament ought to deal with. We limited strictly the class of men to whom this benefit was to be extended, and we took all kinds of security for good behaviour by insisting that the tenant should have had the holding as a future tenant under a contract of tenancy for five years. We said that if he behaved himself for five years, paid his rent, and generally satisfied the landlord, it was a fair thing to say to him in these circumstances—You shall have all the advantages of a present tenant which you lost by being unable to pay an admittedly too high rent.But the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with that question in any way whatever, satisfactory or otherwise. It would be a most equitable thing in itself, and it would be highly conducive to social order. I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will assent to some plan by which we can further consider this Bill this Session with a view of its becoming law, or at all events to its more mature consideration. I believe that the more it is considered and threshed out the more it will be seen that the proposals we brought forward last year, which the right hon. Gentleman has only partially adopted this year, will be found to further the objects that the Government and others have at heart. The Bill contains an important clause about purchase. There are two points of view from which you may regard this clause—one is the point of view of the Imperial Exchequer, and the other the point of view of the landlord and the tenant. I asked the right hon. Gentleman to be so good as to furnish the House with a Return which would show precisely the difference in figures in the operation both on the tenant and the repayment to the State of the new provisions which he proposes to introduce and the provisions of the Act of 640 1891. The right hon. Gentleman has placed the Return in my hands this afternoon; but it is very complicated, and I have not had time to consider it. There is one other detail in this connection which appears to me not likely to increase or stimulate purchase, and that is the proposal to pay the vendor in cash instead of in Guaranteed Land Stock. We know that now the vendor is able to exchange his Guaranteed Land Stock for Consols, which are 10, 12 or 13 per cent. higher than the nominal value of the Land Stock. The effect of this operation will be either that the landlord will get less or that the tenant will have to incur a heavier liability. That is clear and I need not labour the point, and it will be a longer time before the purchase price is repaid. I feel, therefore, that the purchase clause will not have the effect of stimulating or promoting purchase, which the right hon. Gentleman, in common with this side, earnestly desires.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
thought it was not a fair way to deal with the Bill on Second Reading to criticise, as the right hon. Gentleman had done, what were after all mainly Committee points; the Measure deserved to be treated in a broader and fairer spirit. There was, moreover, a certain inconsistency in the opposition to the Bill. There had been speeches made and Resolutions passed recently in Ireland describing the Bill as a fraud and an imposture—[Ironical Nationalist cheers]—but the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be eager to claim the Bill as his own. Those whom he represented preferred this Bill because it differed from the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. [Ironical cheers.] They preferred the walnut juice of equity and justice to the full-blooded perfection of prairie value and confiscation. [Laughter and cheers.] The tenant-farmers of the North of Ireland, for whom he spoke, did not want to be parties to any injustice to the landlords, and if it could be shown that injustice was done to the landlords in any provision of this Bill they did not desire to support it. The right hon. Gentleman taunted the Government that they had passed no legislation for Ireland for the last ten years; but the right hon. Gentleman himself, the friend of Ireland, had been in office from 1891 641 to 1895, and accordingly it was he and his friends who were responsible if there had been any barrenness of legislation as regarded Ireland. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "The House of Lords."] As far as the landlords were concerned he believed their views were expressed in a letter which appeared in the The Times of Saturday, and which contained a most fair statement of their case, and one which was well deserving of consideration. Speaking on behalf of the tenants, in an agricultural constituency which was deeply interested in the Bill, he had to say that, while they like the landlords had suggested Amendments and improvements, they expressed warm gratitude to his right hon. Friend for having introduced this Bill, because they believed it contained great boons and benefits for them, and it was their earnest desire that it might be passed into law. They in Ireland highly appreciated the manner in which his right hon. Friend had mastered the intricacies of the question, and in threading his way through its mazes he had endeavoured to do justice and equity to both of the great classes with whom he had to deal. The first part of the Measure contained three principles. The first was that the position of the tenant at the end of the statutory term should be made absolutely clear—[Ironical cheers]—second, that all those tenants who were within the spirit of the Land Acts but were excluded from its letter should now be admitted; and, third, that the question of tenants' improvements should be placed on a just and equitable basis. It was impossible, on the Second Reading, to discuss everyone of the exclusions, but, referring to the question of sub-letting and speaking for Ulster, he believed that tenants were unjustly excluded on the ground of sub-letting, and that the Bill would be a great boon to those tenants who were unfortunately excluded from the Land Acts owing to the cause mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman said the clause was obscure. No doubt it was, but the point to which he referred were mainly academic and rarely arose in practice. And what about the right hon. Gentleman's own clause? He had heard it described as a series of inexplicable conundrums. [A laugh.] The right 642 hon. Gentleman criticised the procedure, but what procedure was there in his Bill? From beginning to end that was one of its most remarkable omissions. With reference to the automatic procedure in this Bill, he would say, that, although it might not work at first, it contained the germ of the most important ideas. In substituting a 30 years' term for the 15 years' term it would reduce occasions for law suits between landlord and tenant. With reference to general procedure, his right hon. Friend could claim that his proposals would greatly cheapen and simplify procedure, while the right hon. Gentleman opposite never dreamt of touching that subject at all. But the part of the Bill which was by far the best and would, he believed, be most striking in its effects, was that which dealt with land purchase. That was essentially the Unionist policy as regarded the land question in Ireland. It was to such provision they looked for the solution of this question. It had already done much good in the past, and the Bill had gone further than could have been expected. It conferred benefits on the landlord by increasing the guarantee deposit both in the future and in the past, and on the tenant by giving him recurrent reductions of rent. It would be a terrible disaster if these valuable provisions were lost to Ireland by any obstruction to the Bill. Every day that these proposals were delayed was an injury to the prosperity of Ireland. He deprecated any attempt to strangle the Bill by discussing details of clauses on Second Reading. The main provisions of the Bill were cordially supported by the Irish people, who earnestly desired that the Bill should be passed into law, and who felt the deepest gratitude to the Chief Secretary for having introduced it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N)
said that he was not one of those who described the Bill as a fraud or a humbug. On the contrary, he desired to return his thanks to the right hon. Member for Montrose, as being the parent of the Measure, for the admirable manner in which he conducted the proceedings in the Committee, and for his speech that evening. It would be unfair also not to recognise the action of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, without whose support the late Government could not have 643 taken such a strong line on this question. But, at the same time, he was bound to say that, as regards the general body of the tenants of Ireland, the clauses of the Bill did not confer one shred of benefit, and in many instances they were distinctly mischievous. Anyone, however, who had to do with the cases of the excluded tenants must almost feel grateful even to a Unionist Government for conceding the admission to the right of a fair rent of a body whom he had computed at from 10,000 to 20,000 in number. Having seen the woes and miseries of these men, he was not prepared to do anything which would wreck the Bill or which would not facilitate the passing of these fair-rent sections. At the same time, the Bill fell entirely short of the Measure of the right hon. Member for Montrose, which would have conferred enormous benefits on the main body of the Irish tenantry. He would mention one cardinal instance in which the Bill fell short. He did not wish to taunt the Government with not having reopened the judicial tenancies, but he would furnish the Government with an argument which, if the Bill reached Committee, would make it inevitable that some change should be made. When the Land Act of 1881 was introduced there was a doubt as to whether judicial tenancies would begin from the date of the fixing of the rent. And who made the change which resulted in such a block in the Land Courts that many of the tenants who entered Court in December, 1881, were not heard for four years? And when they were heard their rent did not date back; and a Conservative Government, in 1877, had to introduce a Bill to provide that in all future cases the rent should date back. All that change in the law was due to the ablest advocate of the landlords who ever sat in the House of Commons, the present Lord Ashbourne—(Lord Ashbourne was at this moment occupying a seat in the Peers' Gallery)—and to him the landlords showed their gratitude by scratching the name of his brother at the Kildare Street Club. If this Bill reached Committee, how would it be possible for the Government to resist an Amendment completing their own Measure of 1887 by dealing with the cases of application before 1887? The effect 644 of that would be that all tenants whose rent was fixed in 1882, 1883, or 1884, and who applied in 1881, would have their judicial terms shortened by a period of from three to five years. As he was most anxious for these tenants, who were not first-occasion tenants, to gain the benefits which were enjoyed by the tenants who applied in 1887, he was most anxious for the Bill to reach Committee. The first flood of second applications was only beginning, and when the state of things dawned upon the tenantry of Ireland, unless some legislation were passed, there would be a boiling agitation from one end of Ireland to the other, including Ulster. There would be second-application men all over the country, with the eyes of their envious neighbours upon them, who would remember the promises of the Unionist Government, and that if the Bill of the right hon. Member for Montrose had been passed they would be in the enjoyment of that lower rent to which the present state of prices entitled them. The last staple trade of Ireland—the horse trade—had now practically gone to the dogs, owing to foreign competition. A great deal was said about "prairie value," but it was forgotten that prairie value might be a very high value indeed—£1 or £2 an acre—and what was the case with regard to tenants' improvements? The items were the tenant's house and reclamation. Did the landlords—the representatives of the greatest, the most enlightened, the most wealthy classes of the community—claim to have built the miserable hovels in which the Irish tenants lived? No, the tenants built them themselves, and why should not the law be in accordance with the fact by giving the presumption to the tenant? The Bill provided that Section 5 of the Land Act of 1870—which related to presumption—should not have effect in the case of applications connected with fair rent. In the first place it provided absolute presumption, and then it limited it by numerous sub-sections. If a landlord bought his estate, the presumption was to be that the tenant had not made the improvements. That was to perpetuate an infamous provision. [Nationalist cheers.] He remembered Mr. Gladstone describing the Landed Estates 645 Court Act in not providing for the tenant's improvements as a most deplorable and lamentable instance of the legislation of this House for Ireland. Though one-third of the land of Ireland had, in consequence of the famine, passed from the ancient proprietors—and more was the pity—to commercial-minded men who were anxious only for their 4 or 5 per cent., it was now proposed that the presumption should in all those cases remain that the landlords had made the improvements. That meant that the landlord bought the serf and his sweat with the estate. Was that a law that could be defended? [Nationalist cheers.] Sub-section 3 of the clause said that all improvements made before 1850 should be presumed to have been made by the tenant. But if the presumption was in favour of the tenant without any limit of time, as he suggested it should be, it would not hurt the landlord. It was amazing to think that any landlord should not deem himself amply protected in the matter of improvements by subsections 5 and 6, which he was willing to allow to stand. These sub-sections provided, first, that where the Court was of opinion that it had been proved that it was the practice on the holding, or on the estate of which the holding formed a part, for the landlord to make the improvements; and, secondly, that where from the entire circumstances of the case the Court was reasonably satisfied that such improvements were not made by the tenant or his predecessor in title, the presumption in favour of the tenants should not apply. Was there any fair-minded man, having regard to the notorious facts in Ireland in regard to the origin of the improvements, who did not think that those two sub-sections gave the landlords ample protection, and that all the others might well be swept away? [Nationalist cheers.] Every Member of the Land Commission was appointed by the present Tory Government. Why, then, should they not be trusted to administer the law within the scope of those two sub-sections? [Nationalist cheers.] That reasonable and moderate change would make the provisions much more workable, and, at the same time, extremely fair to the landlords. Then came the question of enjoyment. It was a miserable thing to find that, in a democratic and reformed 646 Parliament a Government supported by majority of 146 should propose to revive the idea that enjoyment of improvements constituted compensation, which an unreformed House of Commons twice solemnly negatived, despite the House of Lords, 15 years ago, when the Act of 1881 was under consideration. In Ireland the clock was always going back. [Laughter.] Where was the advance? He would only say of that enjoyment clause—to parody the phrase of the hon. Member for Mid Armagh—that it mixed the walnut juice of justice with the wine of iniquity. [Laughter.] They could see in the clause, as they saw on the battered face of a man who had passed through a prize fight, the result of the ructions in the Cabinet. [Laughter.] With one voice it declared that enjoyment was not to debar compensation, and then with another voice it said it was. [Laughter.] With the aid of this clause the Irish Chief Secretary was trying to balance himself on a tight rope, and expected to cross the Niagara of the House with his Bill. [Renewed laughter.] The Unionists were always telling the Irish people of the capacity of that House to manage their affairs. They were always telling the Irish people that, whereas if they had a Parliament in Dublin they would be ruled by a number of priest-ridden and ignorant agitators, they had at their service in that House all the great intellects of England paid at £5,000 a year. [Laughter.] Yet here was the result—that in regard to the very question about which contention centred most in Ireland—the question of improvements, and especially the question whether enjoyment was to constitute compensation—this Cabinet of all the talents proposed a clause which a master of the English language told them was not grammatical, and was not sense. [Cheers.] If that were so, how was the Bill to be passed and construed by ignorant men throughout the length and breadth of Ireland? He should say that as a whole the Bill was a very well-drafted Measure, but this enjoyment of improvements clause was one of the worst things he had ever known to emanate from any Government. [Cheers.] He saw nothing in it but a confirmation of all the injustice that had been done in Ireland, not only for the last 15 years, but for the last 200 years. [Renewed 647 cheers.] When the Irish people were told of the great and good things they could get from that House, it appeared to him like a bank vault heavily barred and well guarded, the key of which they did not possess, and the treasure of which they could not reach, except by violence in the House or violence in Ireland in the past. There had been no violence in Ireland within the last two years, or within the last five or six years, and, consequently, unintelligible clauses were introduced into a Government Measure. The number of outrages which it would take to move an English Minister to legislation could be stated in mathematical terms. [Nationalist cheers.] If the country was quiet the landlords told the Minister to do nothing, as their rents were being paid; if it was turbulent the landlords urged him not to yield to intimidation. The Bill of 1881 was intended to be a settlement, and now it came back after its 15 years' voyage through the Courts like a battered hulk, wormeaten and almost scuttled. Who had been the scuttlers? Every man who had held a gimlet was one of the ermined Judges of Her Majesty. The whole effort of the Administration in Ireland had been to filch from the tenant any little gains that the Act of 1881 was intended to give him. Now that they were being shamed by the exposures of a Committee, to which Mr. Justice Bewley was obliged to confess that the rents fixed in the earlier years were too high, the Government endeavoured to please both sides by means of these unintelligible clauses. The position was certainly an extraordinary one. A year ago the right hon. Gentleman the Irish Secretary declared that there was no necessity to pass a Land Bill in the new Session, because Mr. Justice Bewley had undertaken to write to the Sub Commissioners not to finally decide upon any fair-rent cases until the new Bill had become law. That position had been dropped, and new cases were being heard, despite that undertaking. Having declared last August that they would pass a Bill in March, did the Government propose, now that they had come to June, to postpone the matter for another year? In the meantime evictions took place as regarded the town park cases, demesne land, and all other excluded cases. If this Bill was not 648 passed, as regarded excluded tenants it would be the most mischievous Measure ever introduced into the House of Commons, because the landlords now had at their mercy a body of from 10,000 to 20,000 men whom they might evict. If the Bill were not passed eviction notices would fall like snowflakes. Of course they knew that 300,000 rents had been reduced, or rather 300,000 robberies judicially established. [Nationalist cheers.] Under the Act of 1887 there had been 33,000 eviction notices, giving an average of about 4,000 evictions per annum which they were liable to have. He would tell the Government plainly and solemnly that if the tenants of Ireland were not to get legislation they would protect themselves either by legality or illegality. [Nationalist cheers.] He had known the most miserable settlements accepted by tenants who, if this Bill had been law last year, would have had a 20 or 30 per cent. lower settlement. The Government must make up their minds on the question of procedure. The Government had upon the stocks a number of Measures which they had declared obtained precedence in their minds, and the First Lord had said that the fate of this Bill was trembling in the balance, and, shaking a warning finger across at those Benches, he had said that its fate depended on the conduct of the Irish Members. But could anyone complain of obstruction by the Irish Party or by any Irish Member during the present session? He himself had a Motion in furtherance of the policy of passing this Bill to refer it to a Grand Committee, and therefore it was the action of the Government which caused its fate to tremble in the balance. If the Government did not accept a Motion of this kind their action would be fatal, because there was only one way of saving the Bill. They had steadily and resolutely held their tongues since the Session began, the Government had a powerful majority, and it would be due to the action of the Government if the Bill were lost. Most of the matters which had to be dealt with were matters of detail for a Committee to deal with, and were wholly unsuited for Debate in the House. They did not want time for the Second Reading stage, but for the Committee stage, and accordingly, as they wished to get to the Committee stage, what he 649 would like to see the Government doing in regard to that Debate was to move, as they were so anxious to move on all other measures, the Closure. He ventured to say that it would be accepted with the general assent of the Opposition, and it would not be from those Benches that the Closure would be opposed. Would the Government send this Bill to a Committee? Would they even give time for the discussion as to whether the Bill was to go to the Grand Committee or not? If the Government closured the Motion, then they would see that the gentlemen who were anxious to prevent the discussion and passage of this Bill were members of their own household. He had told the right hon. Gentleman when he came into office that his difficulty in regard to any reforms he attempted would be, not with the Nationalist Party, but with the Orangemen. He ventured to say that the right hon. Gentleman, since he came into office, had received more annoyance from Orangemen and from his own side than from the entire Nationalist Party put together. Let them look at the action of high-placed gentlemen like the Duke of Abercorn. They were very willing to support the Government so long as the cry was that the Union was at stake, but now that it was a question of their own pockets they wanted to prevent this Bill becoming law by the old method of killing time. The late Lord R. Churchill spoke of his then leader, Sir Stafford Northcote, as "a bonnet," and the member for Stoke was the bonnet for the enemies of Her Majesty's Government sitting behind them. In regard to this Bill he warned the Chief Secretary to beware of the quasi-friends of his in the Hinterland below the Gangway. [Laughter.]
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent)
I put this notice down two months ago without any intimation from any one. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that was worthy of the hon. Member because they might regard it as the high-water mark of British Unionism. They must remember an interesting and remarkable fact in connection with the history of legislation in that House with regard to a Measure supported by a majority of 150—that a learned Judge declared that he would delay his decisions until a Bill was passed into law; so that a Bill of 650 this kind, with the weight of two Governments behind it, one of them, no doubt, supported by a narrow majority when the Bill was read a Second time without a Division, and the other, not able to secure even one Irish Member who would have the courage to put down an antagonistic Motion, had now to be declared in a waterlogged and bankrupt condition. They might propose to reject the Bill, but would they even allow them the luxury of debating the proposition. They were going to give Ireland graciously two days for the discussion of her affairs. That was the result of twelve months in office—two days. [Laughter.] Would they give adequate time to discuss it—that was the test, and by that test even Ulster would stand. There was a very remarkable passage in the resolution of the eminent divines meeting in Belfast, in which they thanked 100,000 Presbyterian and Protestant farmers for their moderation in sacrificing themselves on the altar of Unionism and not allowing themselves to be seduced into the Nationalist camp by personal and monetary considerations. That showed the pressure that was put upon those gentlemen themselves. Every wreck of their Bills in that House, whether in the shape of abortion, as in that case, or in the shape of incompetence, as in most of their other Bills—every one of those wrecks was proof of the soundness of the Home Rule position [Opposition cheers] and of their incompetence. He had never known a Measure to be granted to Ireland by that House except as a result of illegality or bloodshed; and he told the Ministry of to-day that if, instead of a peaceful and quiet Ireland, they had again to cope with the agitation of 1880–81 or 1887 it was not the mincing speeches that they had from the member for Stoke that would settle the matter; they would have the whole Irish question stalking up the floor of the House to paralyse their English and Scotch legislation once more. It was true that the Irish Members just now were a somewhat feeble force as compared with recent years. Their ranks might be broken, but the hearts of the people behind them were unchanged. [Irish cheers.] The division among the people would inevitably pass away as time changed, and again their refusals, their denials of justice, their 651 reckless setting aside of this question because they were in a hurry to deal with something else, would some day fill up the cup to overflowing. If there were any proof needed of the incompetence of the House to deal with Irish affairs it would be its inability, after two successive Governments and two successive Parliaments had pronounced upon the necessity of a Bill like this, the great English House of Commons was unable or unwilling to pass it into law. [Cheers.]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said that if any foreigner had listened to the speech just delivered he would conclude that nothing had ever been done for Irish tenants by the British Legislature. The hon. Member had called them serfs. What had been done for the serfs? Once they were told that if the Three F's were granted Ireland would be an agricultural paradise They got the Three F's, including free sale. Ninety-nine out of every hundred Englishmen were unaware of the importance of the gift made to the Irish tenants by free sale. It meant that outside a small part of Ulster where tenant-right existed no such right had ever existed in Ireland. ("Oh, oh!" and "Nonsense.") An hon. Gentleman cried "Nonsense," but he knew better. The word "Nonsense" did not deceive an Irishman. [Laughter.]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that there was another case—[laughter]—the free sale clause made an immense gift to the Irish tenants, and yet hon. Gentlemen opposite voted against it. Previously to the passing of the Act of 1881 no tenant could, without the consent of his landlord, go into the market and sell his farm to the highest bidder. The ordinary price given in Ulster for tenant-right was over 20 years' purchase. A landlord could not get 20 years' purchase for the fee simple of his estate. In former years he could not sell at all. Now, owing to the peaceable condition of Ireland and in consequence of the Irish people learning sense and learning who were their friends, property in Ireland was again becoming a saleable commodity. He remembered very well that Mr. Gladstone when he brought in the Bill of 1881 said that although a 652 great many rights and privileges were taken away from the landlords by the Bill it gave them security for their rents for 15 years. It was not Mr. Gladstone's hand that destroyed that contract; it was the hand of a Conservative Government. He forgot whether the hon. and learned Gentleman voted against that. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "No, I did not," and laughter.] After that there were the Ashborne Act and the Act of the present Leader of the House which placed £40,000,000 at the disposal of the Irish people. And yet the hon. and learned Member had the face—he believed that was a Parliamentary expression—[laughter]—the hon. and learned Member had the courage to call those people serfs and to declare that the British Parliament was incapable of doing justice to the Irish people. [Cheers.] He denied that the agrarian legislation of this Parliament had failed in Ireland. So far as the mass of the Irish people were concerned that legislation had been attended with very marked success. The price of tenant-right in the open market was a conclusive proof of the great value the Irish people placed on land in Ireland. An Irishman was ready to give 20, 25 and 30 years' purchase for a farm, and he paid that price with the intention of living and thriving on the land. What was more remarkable he succeeded. ["Hear, hear!"] Prices had not fallen to the extent stated by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Wheat was not largely grown in Ireland, but where it was grown it was a very valuable product, because the price of wheat straw had doubled. According to the returns of the Registrar-General, there had been a large increase in live stock in Ireland since 1881. Of horses and mules the average between 1881 and 1885 was 568,000; it had now increased to 614,000. The average of cattle between 1881 and 1885 was 4,076,000; now it was 4,290,000. In the average number of pigs there had been a very considerable increase, but in the case of poultry, which now formed a most valuable branch of trade in Ireland, the increase had been still greater. The average number of poultry between 1881 and 1885 was 13,500,000, but now it was 15,112,000. The average produce per acre in Ireland of oats, barley, beans, peas, and hay had gone up largely. Flax 653 had fallen, but he asserted that at the present moment the condition of Ireland was more satisfactory, commercially and financially, than it had been for many years. The people who had suffered of late, not only in Ireland but in England, were not the tenants but the landlords. ["Poor fellows!" and laughter.] How were they to test the prosperity of Ireland? The deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank were, in 1881, £1,645,000, but in 1895 they amounted to £5,330,000. In the joint-stock banks the increase was still more remarkable, for while the deposits in 1881 were £28,200,000, in 1887 they were £29,300,000, and in 1895 £37,400,000. He now came to the present Bill—["Hear, hear!"]—which was the last effort to do what was called justice to Ireland. The Bill had been criticised by his right hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, but he thought some of the criticisms the right hon. Gentleman had taken from a letter to which his (Colonel Saunderson's) name was appended. [A laugh.] Who were the authors of the Bill? Certainly the landlords were not. He could exonerate the Chief Secretary from ever having taken the landlords of Ireland into his confidence, for he asked them their opinion as far as he knew—certainly the right hon. Gentleman never asked him. But they had an account given of how the Bill was manufactured. It was given by a man whose words carried great weight in Ireland, and who happened to be sitting at the present moment not far from the Chief Secretary. They all were aware of the ability which his hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone had displayed in speaking on subjects which interested Irish tenants. In a speech at Cloyne the hon. Gentleman gave a description of how this Bill was constructed. The only objection he had to find with his hon. Friend was that in that very able speech he did not give any credit to his colleague the Chief Secretary, but gave all the credit for the Bill to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose and himself. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone said—The country, in my judgment, owes much to the Chairman of the Committee"—654 That was, to the right hon. Gentleman opposite;And, although he has not been privileged to reap where he sowed, the fact that a great and far-reaching Measure of land reform is before Parliament the year after the Report of the Committee was published speaks for itself.So far, he gave credit to the right hon. Gentleman, and then the hon. Member for South Tyrone went on to say that—On his arrival in Ireland he laid down seven propositions, to which he stated that he had received the formal assent of the Government.He did not say how the seven propositions were submitted to the Government and their assent obtained, but he supposed the hon. Member said to them, in effect—Here are these propositions; I insist that you draw up a Bill which will embody them and all that is good in the Bill of the right hon. Member for Montrose, or I will not sit on the Treasury Bench.[Laughter] He did not find fault with the hon. Member for enforcing many of those points. There was a great deal in the Bill of the right hon. Member for Montrose with which he himself agreed, but he wished to point out to the House how the Bill was framed. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had himself admitted that there were hardships connected with the Bill. At the end of the speech from which he had already quoted the hon. Member said that it was perfectly clear that when the rents under the Bill were reduced the margin on which many a landlord now lived would be taken from them. That was a pleasant prospect for the landlords under this Bill. But he thought the House of Commons would think twice and thrice before it would consent to pass legislation which would have such an unjust effect.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said the statement referred to by the hon. and gallant Member did not apply to the present Bill at all. It was made with regard to the fact that the second statutory period was being entered upon without any Bill at all, and it was shown by the cases already taken that there would be a reduction of 20 per cent, at least, which, he regretted to say, would in many cases cover the margin on which numbers of Irish landlords had to live. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
, having expressed regret that he should have misrepresented his hon. Friend, said the merits of the Land Bill depended altogether on the point of view from which it was regarded. ["Hear, hear!"] The landlords could scarcely be expected to welcome it. Since 1870 every Irish Land Bill had taken something from the landlords. But there was, he submitted, one aspect from which they viewed the Bill fairly and rightly. They contended that a Land Bill to be of any use at all must settle the question for a considerable time. Mr. Gladstone, at any rate, gave them a promise of settlement for 15 years. Did anybody pretend that this Bill gave that? It was only the other day that the hon. Member for Mayo in a speech in Ireland referred to the Bill as not even an instalment of what was required. [Irish cheers.] That showed that if the House passed the Bill under the idea that they were going to get rid of Irish Land Bills in the future, they were mating a very great mistake. [Cheers.] There were some parts of the Bill which he approved and which he believed might be made beneficial to Ireland; yet, on the whole, he could not see in the Bill itself that stamp of finality—he did not use the word in any except the Parliamentary sense, say, 10 years—[laughter]—which was desirable in dealing with the land question in Ireland. There was one point on which he joined issue with the Leader of the House and the Chief Secretary. It was their opinion, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone concurred with it, that the solution of this question was to be found in the abolition of dual ownership in land in Ireland. He denied that there was any such thing as dual ownership of land in the country; it was a mere slipshod phrase, without any foundation in fact. ["Oh, oh!"] When Mr. Gladstone brought in the Bill of 1881 he emphatically represented on this point that he did not destroy the rights of property of the owners of the land, and showed that in his view there was no such thing as dual ownership. But the view of the Government was that there was dual ownership, and that the present landlords in Ireland should be got rid of. They did not, he presumed, propose to do away with landlordism altogether, 656 but rather to replace the present landowning class by another landowning class. How extremes sometimes met! The views and the policy of Irish Members opposite had always been that the landlords, as the strongest props of English authority and rule in Ireland, should be got rid of; and they had contended that if the landlords could only be swept away the English power would be crippled in the country, and Ireland would then become free and independent. The Nationalist Members held those views still. At the same time, and in face of those facts, the Leader of the House and the Chief Secretary under the present Government also held the view that it would be good for Ireland to get rid of the present landlords. Thus, there seemed to be a common agreement between the bitterest enemies of England and Ministers of the Crown that the proper thing to secure for the peace, happiness, and prosperity of Ireland was to sweep away the very class who, it was admitted, had been the strongest supporters of the authority of Great Britain in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] But, if the present landlords were got rid of, landlordism would not be abolished. As long as there was land to be held in Ireland, so long would there be landlords, and tenants under them. When an Irish tenant bought his land and let it to another tenant, what sort of rent did he get?
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said the law did nothing of the kind. The law in Ireland never prevented a man doing what he wanted. [Laughter.] He could mention cases over and over again in which this subletting took place, and the price that the man got from the tenant whom he took in paid all the instalments which he owed to Her Majesty's Government.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that was not his business. It was the business of a lawyer. [Laughter.] The question was, according to the hon. and learned Member for Louth, whether the Government were ready to face a desperate agitation in Ireland if this Bill, which he immediately afterwards said was an abortion, was not carried 657 into law. He thought the Government might rest satisfied that, whatever else they might have to confront in Ireland, they were not at present in any danger of having to confront a violent and ferocious agitation. A Nationalist farmer in Tipperary said to a friend of his the other day—You will not have much agitation on the land question for some time to come, for the reason that the farmers are beginning to be afraid of the man who was looking over the ditch.That was to say the farmers were beginning to be afraid of the labourers and other persons who might put in a claim to the spoil. This farmer also said—We will not do much in land purchase either. We do not like to have to pay our money down. We like dealing with a landlord who can give us time, give us abatements, and, if all the rest fail, with whom we can argue by taking a shot at him.[Laughter, and cries of "Oh!"] "We cannot do that to the British Government." He knew personally that that feeling existed very strongly in Ireland, and he knew perfectly well that the Irish people at the present moment admitted that the British Parliament had already done an enormous amount to satisfy their just demands. Of course there was an extreme party in Ulster, as in other parts of Ireland, whose views, he did not think, ever would be satisfied by any British Parliament they were likely to see in their day. Their view was that 60 per cent. ought to be struck off what is called the fair rent, and on that reduced amount the landlords ought to be bought out. A little more thinning down and there would be no necessity to buy them out at all. [Laughter.] But, as far as he knew, that did not represent the views of the great majority of the Irish tenants. They asked for fair play, and he believed that if they got really fair play and justice they would be peaceful and satisfied for a long time to come. [Cheers and counter cheers.] Would this Bill satisfy the requirements of justice and fair play? He supported, and intended to support, this Bill, but at the same time he was bound to confess that it had disappointed him. He thought it might have been made a good and a 658 simple Measure, but, as far as he understood it, the Bill was a difficult and by no means a simple one. A Bill that required three-and-a-quarter hours for its explanation must be a Measure bristling with contentious matter and one which it would be very difficult to carry out during the course of the present Session. There were portions of the Bill which he approved. With regard to the purchase clauses, with certain exceptions he did not see that there ought to be much difficulty in passing them into law. With regard to the fourth clause, he believed it was a happy hunting ground for the lawyers. [Laughter.] He had inquired from the best sources at his disposal as to what the clause meant, but he could get no two lawyers to agree as to what it was intended to mean. ["Hear, hear!"] He was perfectly certain the Chief Secretary intended that the clause should have the effect of preventing the tenant from being unjustly rented on his improvements. No doubt it was a very difficult thing to put in a clause, but those best able to give an opinion on the subject admitted that they had no conception of what effect this clause would have if passed into law. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the purchase clauses he had only to say that he thought it a very ungenerous thing to pay in money what was promised to be paid in Guaranteed Stock. If Guaranteed Stock had fallen under 100 they would never have heard a word about this proposal—[cheers]—but, as Guaranteed Stock had risen above 100, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had devised a way of doing shabbily what ought to have been generously done. He hoped the Bill would go into Committee, and he and his colleagues, like the hon. and learned Member opposite, were quite willing that the Debate should finish that evening. They had already had a Debate on a very similar Bill, for the main difference between the present Measure and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs was with regard to improvements. The present Bill in many points went further than the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and was, in the words of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, a great and far-reaching Measure. When the Bill got into Committee they would 659 propose Amendments which they deemed desirable, but he protested against it being referred to a Grand Committee. It was a matter of astonishment to him that the Leader of the House consented to listen even for a moment to the proposal of the Member for Bodmin when he remembered the unqualified language in which he condemned the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he proposed a similar course. The Bill bristled with such contentious matter and the question was of such far-reaching importance that no Grand Committee could possibly discuss it sufficiently with due regard to the justice of all parties concerned. He hoped it would be considered by a Committee of the Whole House, and that it might, after Amendment, become law. But he would warn the House of this. They could if they pleased—it was in their power to—destroy a class, and on its ruins try to build up another. What they could not do, what no House of Commons or Parliament in the world could do, was ever permanently to build up the security and prosperity of Ireland or any other country on an Act of political injustice. [Cheers.]
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford City)
said this Debate had for him only one element of interest, and that consisted in his anxiety to hear some declaration from the Government as to their future proceedings. It seemed to him a most inconvenient course for the House to enter upon a Debate without knowing what the intentions of the Government were with regard to the Bill, and in his brief remarks he desired in the first instance to enter an earnest protest against the action of the Government towards the Bill from the commencement. On the discussion last year of the Bill of the right hon Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. John Morley), the urgent necessity for a Measure of the kind was admitted by the entire Unionist Party, and as the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Saunderson) had just reminded the House, even he, as representing the extreme section of the landlord party, did not venture to take a Division on the Second Reading. When the present Government took office a year ago they pledged themselves as fully as it was possible for them to do that they would deal with the question much on the lines of the right hon. Member 660 for Montrose and deal with it at once, and in introducing the Bill this year the Chief Secretary admitted in the fullest manner possible the urgency and importance of the matter. In that speech of his, to which allusion had been made, he himself well remembered certain phrases. He declared that the whole Unionist Party in Ireland was wrapped up in this Irish land question. He said:—He hoped the House, in view of the facts to which he earnestly called their attention, would feel, quite apart from the fact that the Government stood pledged, and had been pledged ever since they came into office, to deal with the question of Irish land. Pledged or unpledged, they were hound not to neglect it. As Unionists they had always maintained that the Imperial Parliament was capable of legislating for the legitimate wants of Ireland. No measure was more keenly desired by the people of Ireland than one dealing with the defects of the Land Act, and it was their duty to give effect to the wishes and desires of the Irish people as far as possible, consistently with justice.Therefore this Government came into office having accepted as an admitted fact the urgent importance of dealing with the question. They came into office distinctly pledged to deal with it as an urgent matter, and when the Bill was introduced its urgency was in the fullest manner admitted and impressed on the House. Yet it was not introduced until the 13th of April, after Parliament had been sitting two months, after two of the most precious months of the whole time of Parliament had passed over. Then, this matter of urgent importance, having been introduced on the 13th of April, disappeared completely for two months more, and they had not heard of it until now—the 8th of June. How, he asked, had the intervening time been occupied? The Government told them frankly at the commencement of the Session that there were two great English Bills which they felt it their duty to put in front of the Irish Land Bill, and although he differed altogether from the justice of that course, and should have been delighted if the Irish Members could have compelled the Government to change it, they had to take the fact as it stood. For his part he had done nothing during the Session to interfere with the progress of the two English Bills (with one of which he was in agreement). But did the Government stop 661 there? No. They had put in front of the Irish Land Bill about half-a-dozen other Measures, not one of which, according to their declarations, was of the urgency and vital importance of this Measure dealing with Irish land. He need not detail the various Bills upon which time had been spent, yet which had disappeared. One example would be enough. There was almost enough time spent on the discussions on the Military Manœuvres Bill, which had been dropped by the Government, as would have been sufficient to go through the most important of the clauses of this Bill in Committee. Therefore they had the gravest reason to complain of the action of the Government with reference to this Bill. The result had been, and it had been a perfectly natural result, that many men in Ireland had commenced to doubt seriously the sincerity of the Government in proposing this Bill at all. That doubt in the minds of people in Ireland was, under the circumstances, perfectly reasonable. If the Government really believed in their own declarations that this Bill was urgent and of vital importance, as they declared it to be in the last Parliament, at the last election, and even in this Parliament, and if they believed it to be a matter of urgent importance, and thought, in addition, that their own Bill provided a remedy, then, he asked, what was the meaning of their action in postponing the Bill and pushing forward in advance of it other Bills of the most trivial importance compared with it, on which Parliamentary time had been wasted, and now had been allowed to disappear from the legislative Programme? He said the chief element of interest in this Debate for him was to hear some declaration from the Government of what they proposed to do. Did they mean to pass this Bill this Session or not? It seemed to him that a clear and distinct answer to that plain question ought to have preceded this Debate. It was no answer to say they would pass it if they had time. They knew their own minds at this moment perfectly well. They were able to gauge the possibilities of the Session. They knew in their own breasts how long they were going to continue this Session, what action they were going to take, what English Bills they were going to proceed with. They knew 662 at this moment perfectly well whether they intended to pass this Measure into law or not, and he thought, before asking the House solemnly to discuss the Second Reading for two nights, that they ought to be told whether this Debate was a sham and a farce, or whether it was one stage in the work of the passing of the Bill into an Act of Parliament. If this Bill was not going to pass, then this Debate was nothing more than a sham and a farce; if it was to pass into law, then let the Government say so, and upon this question he might be allowed to say, in passing, that it seemed to him, as one who had tried to look at this question from a practical point of view, that the best course the Government could adopt for the passage of this Bill would be to refer it to a Committee. He was sorry to hear the declaration of the hon. and gallant Member opposite. He did not think he would have anything to fear in its going before a Committee. The Committee would no doubt be so arranged that it would be a reflex in miniature of the parties in that House. It would be unfair if they asked that it should go before a Committee in which the minority in this House was in the majority. The Committee would represent the same numbers, in proportion, as the various parties in this House, and if the hon. and gallant Member and his friends were sufficiently in earnest to take the trouble of attending that Committee and doing their duty, he did not see what they would have to fear. There was more than that. After the Bill had left that Committee it would come to this House, and then the Government would be bound in honour to provide sufficient time for debating the necessary Amendments on Report, and really vital points and differences which were found to exist could then be settled by the whole House. He would urge the Government, in view of the serious responsibility that would rest upon them if this Bill was lost, and in view of the importance with which it was regarded even by themselves, he would urge respectfully upon them, notwithstanding the vehement protest from the hon. and gallant Member, to favourably consider this proposal which came originally from one of their most distinguished and able supporters, the Member for Bodmin, 663 His remarks, as he had said, would be very brief. It seemed to him that the fate of nearly all Second Reading stages in this House was this, that they were prolonged by Members making speeches in which they picked up the Bill, and went clause by clause through it, and on each clause deliver Committee speeches. ["Hear, hear!"] He had no intention whatever of doing that. He was glad to hear the Member for Louth suggesting that this Debate should close that night. It would be in the recollection of the Chief Secretary, and probably the Leader of the House also, that on one of those occasions when he was taking the time of the House for Government business, he said, incidentally, that he thought one night would be quite sufficient for the Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill. If ever there was a Bill which it was impossible to discuss on the Second Reading without wandering off into details only suitable for Committee, it was this Bill. On the general principles of this Bill they are all agreed—taking the statement of the hon. and gallant Member, he was in practical agreement with them on the main principles of the Bill. What was the main principle? That the tenant's property in improvements made by him and his predecessors should not be taxed in the shape of rent. The hon. and gallant Member agreed to that principle. Instead of going on making speeches that would resolve themselves into a series of minute criticisms of the clauses of the Bill, it would be a much more useful thing in the interests of the Bill itself if they were to have a serious discussion on the question as to the future course of this Bill. With regard to the broad aspects of the Bill he had got little to say, but the Chief Secretary must be gratified, and he had no doubt the House as a whole must be gratified, to learn from the interesting speech made by the Member for Louth that there was a large section of Irish Nationalists who did not regard this Bill, taken as a whole, as a sham, a fraud, and a humbug. He did not think, although he had seen some extravagant talk about this Bill in Ireland, that there were any Gentlemen on that side of the House who thought that the Bill, taken as a whole, was a sham and a fraud. [Some Opposition cries of dissent.] Apparently there 664 were, as some hon. Members had cheered the statement that it was a sham and a fraud. Any hon. Member who thought the Bill a sham and a fraud was bound in honour to divide against it. ["Hear, hear!"] They would see when the Division took place who would take the opportunity of declaring by his vote that this Bill was a sham and a fraud. What he had to say, having carefully watched the current of public opinion in Ireland in regard to this Bill, was that the opinion of the vast majority of the Nationalists in Ireland was in favour of it. It was not, of course, a Bill that the Nationalist Members would have drafted had they been in close connection with the Government of the day. This was certainly not such a Measure as the Irish Nationalist Party would have drafted, neither could they regard it as anything approaching a final settlement of the Irish land question. To talk of the final settlement of that question was absurd, because as long as Ireland was an agricultural country that question would always be coming forward in some shape or another, and would necessitate changes and development of the law. This Bill was admittedly merely an instalment of justice to the Irish tenants. What sort of an instalment was it? In his view, it was a lamentably small instalment, but at all events it was a step, however short, on the road to justice, and, therefore, he believed he was merely echoing the opinion of every reasonable man in Ireland when he said that no obstacle ought to be put in the way of its getting into Committee where it might be moulded into a better shape, and so prepared for becoming law. He advised the Nationalist Party to take the Measure for what it was worth. The hon. Member for Louth had admitted that even as it stood without any improvements the Bill would be of advantage to the Irish tenants, and that being so, it was absurd to talk of the Measure being a mere sham and a fraud. It was the duty of those who regarded the Bill as a sham and a fraud to vote against the Second Reading of the Measure, and not by their silence tacitly to give it their authority for becoming law. It appeared to him that the great object of the moment as regarded the Irish land question was to give some immediate relief to the various classes of Irish 665 tenants. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, in introducing the Bill, had emphasised the fact that during the 15 years which had elapsed since the passing of the Land Act of 1881, there had been a reduction of agricultural values which no one had anticipated, whilst, moreover, the seasons had been for the most part bad. This Bill, however, brought no immediate relief whatever to the men who had had their rents judicially fixed before that date. With regard to the question of improvements, all he desired to say was that the clause relating to them was the most extraordinary that had ever been conceived. He thought that one-half of that clause must have been devised by the hon. Member for St. Stephen's Green and the other half by the hon. Member for South Tyrone. Those hon. Gentlemen had tried to make oil and vinegar mix, but had failed in their attempt. The fact was that until the Bill got into Committee it was impossible to gauge its value as an instalment of justice to the Irish tenant. The contention of the Irish Nationalists was that the whole value of the improvements admittedly made by the tenants should be the property of the tenants, and certainly under the existing law the whole of that value did not go to them. He entirely concurred with the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs upon the procedure clauses of the Bill, and in his opinion those clauses might be cut bodily out of the Measure without doing any harm to it. If the Bill went before a Grand Committee, there would be but little difficulty in passing it into law, but if the Government declined to adopt that course they might easily provide sufficient time for passing the Measure by the ordinary means. In these circumstances he appealed to the Government most earnestly to make some sacrifices in order to pass the Bill into law. Let the Government think what would be the comment in Ireland if this Measure were to be allowed to drop. The comment would be that Irish interests were being neglected because that country was for the moment orderly and peaceful. What answer could the Unionist Government make to such a comment? What was the pressure to which that House had yielded when the 666 first Land Act of 1870 was passed?—why it was that of the Fenian movement. What were the circumstances under which the Act of 1881 was passed? They had the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies that it was passed owing to the pressure caused by the Land League, which was of a revolutionary character. Then the Act of 1887 was passed owing to the pressure brought to bear by the Plan of Campaign, which was also revolutionary on a small scale. The present Government had come into office on the policy of killing Home Rule with kindness and of showing the Irish people that when the Imperial Government had time and opportunity they would legislate for Ireland. Therefore if the Unionist Government were to say that they were compelled to drop this Bill by want of time and so to leave the majority of the Irish people to go for another year without relief, what became of their policy of killing Home Rule by kindness? Unless, therefore, the policy of the Government with regard to this Measure were to be radically changed, and they dropped this Bill in order to proceed with such English Bills as the Military Manœuvres Bill, or in order that Members of Parliament might go grouse shooting on the 12th of August, they would be running the gravest risk of endangering the peace and prosperity of the country. He had been sincerely anxious that this Bill should be discussed, amended, and passed into law, and he had done his best to bring about such a desirable result. He had seen with the deepest dismay many Irish Members assisting a certain section of the Opposition in delaying the progress of public business, because he knew that every hour so wasted diminished the chance of this Bill becoming law. It, would, however, be a strong argument in favour of Home Rule if a strong Government like the present were to excuse themselves for not passing this Bill on the ground of want of time. That argument could never be used again, because the Government had a majority independent of all sections, they had plenty of time, Ireland was absolutely peaceful, and there was no agitation of any sort there, the Nationalist forces were so broken and disorganised, that there was no reason to 667 fear from them any renewal of agitation. They had declared their policy, and they had the opportunity to give effect to it. If they continued this halting procedure they would go out of Office having done no good to the country except one—they would have deprived the Unionist Party of the last argument they had against Home Rule. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I do not rise, the House will readily believe, to discuss the merits of the Bill, or to reply to the criticisms that have been made upon it. I rise in response to statements made by both the hon. Member for Louth and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and by my hon. and gallant Friend on this side of the House who spoke earlier in the evening. They have all agreed in expressing their great desire that the Debate on the Second Reading should come to a rapid close, and have asked what course we meant to pursue with regard to the Bill. I wish to express on behalf of my colleagues our entire agreement with the view of the function of the Second Reading Debate, so far as this Bill is concerned, which has been expressed in other portions of the House. I see no reason myself why the Debate on the Second Reading should not conclude by 10 o'clock or 10.30 this evening, and that would give an opportunity to raise and dispose of the question of referring it to a Grand Committee. I do not propose to anticipate that Debate; I shall have to explain, when it comes on, the views of the Government, and I have no desire to burke the Debate; and if we can get it on to-night it will be desirable to do so. The Chief Secretary is quite ready to waive his right of reply to the criticisms made, which have related mainly to details that can be discussed in Committee. If the course suggested were pursued, I do not know whether it would be thought an absurdly extravagant proposition that we should begin Committee work on the Bill to-morrow. I reserve a suggestion of that sort till we know the issue of the Debate on the proposal to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has based upon the conduct of business during the present Session a most unmerited suggestion that the Government are not earnest in their desire to pass the Bill.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I did not make the suggestion; I said it had occurred to the minds of many men in Ireland, and naturally so; but for my own part, I believe the Chief Secretary was anxious to proceed with the Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I believe the statement was made by the hon. Member for East Mayo, who committed himself to the double contention that the Bill was a fraud and a sham, and that the Government had not any desire to pass it. The hon. Gentleman himself spoke of the road being blocked by comparatively unimportant Measures, such as the Military Manœuvres Bill. True, that Bill had been put down as the First Order on more than one occasion; but all the time that has been devoted to it on First Reading, Second Reading, and in Committee stage has been six hours and 15 minutes, various misfortunes having limited the time given to it. [Laughter.]
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
If the Irish Land Bill had been down those misfortunes would not have happened to the Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It means that a private Bill is not discussed as a private Bill, but that the discussion of it for four or five hours on one of those days was not due to the merits of the private Bill, but was due to other motives very easily detected. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that I at least have done everything in my power to expedite business; I have been accused of using unnecessarily rough and drastic methods to hurry on business. Among the principal opponents with whom we have had to deal must be included the hon. Member for East Mayo, who probably justifies his conduct by the reflection that the Bill he was doing his best to wreck, was, in his opinion a sham and a fraud. So much for the past. As regards the future it is impossible for us at this period to give any definite forecast of the course business is to take. This I will say. I have reason to believe, from reports which have reached me, that independent Members on this side of the House who 669 feel deeply interested in this Bill do not propose in Committee to raise more than three or four points of importance. If similar self-control were exercised by hon. Gentlemen opposite who are in favour of the Bill, if the House would for once consent to leave small and drafting points altogether alone, even to put on one side Amendments which may be of substantial importance, and to concentrate their attention upon two or three matters which are really in dispute, such as are involved in Clause 4, I firmly believe it would be found possible to pass the Bill this Session. Hon. Gentlemen know it is absolutely impossible to put this Measure before two Bills which I have already stated must have precedence; and if this were put before those Bills, hon. Members know enough of Parliamentary management to know that it would mean nothing but a waste of time. If the House desires to pass the Bill it can easily do it; at the same time it does offer opportunities to those who wish to raise Debate which would make it the best possible block to any Measure coming after it. I think the House will believe me when I say that the Government are earnestly and sincerely desirous to pass the Bills if Parliamentary time will allow. It is not the wish of the Chief Secretary alone; his colleagues are earnestly desirous of passing it. We believe the passing of it will be for the good of Ireland and for the good of England; the legislation will benefit Ireland, and, getting it out of the way, will facilitate legislation for England. We have every motive a Government can have for desiring to see the Bill passed. It may be impossible, but it was in the power of the House to make it possible, and I hope that power will be exercised. I believe, if hon. Members from Ireland will co-operate with the Government, if they will exercise their well-known powers of persuasion on Gentlemen sitting near them, I believe they will find no obstacle in any quarter of the House, and that we shall have a reasonable prospect of seeing this Measure become law before the Session comes to an end. [Cheers.]
§ MR. COGHILL
said the question to be first decided was whether they should pass an Irish Land Bill at all. The Amendment he had put upon the Paper against proceeding with further land 670 legislation for Ireland had been referred to; and he would therefore say that in putting it down he was not animated by any ill-will either to Ireland or to Irish Members. But for many years past Ireland had occupied so much of the time of the House that he thought the time had come for the turn of England and of Scotland. The action of the Government in bringing in an Irish Land Bill had astonished many of their supporters in the House and out of it. Even the Morning Post of that morning said it was little short of audacity to enter upon the consideration of an Irish Land Bill at this period of the Session. Past experience showed that such a Bill must involve protracted discussion. The chief Measure of the Session was the Education Bill; and it would meet with opposition far more persistent than that extended to the Rating Bill. They had been told that the period of sensational legislation had passed away, and that they were now to have a period of quiet and repose. But when they were repeatedly called upon to sit till 5 o'clock in the morning, and on one occasion till half past one o' clock on the following afternoon, he failed to see where the peace and quietness came in. The Government had enough on their hands already, without undertaking an Irish Land Bill. He wished to remind hon. Members of the pledges they gave to their constituents, to make legislation for England and Scotland the first business of the Session. In his part of the country—Staffordshire—the universal feeling was that there had been quite sufficient Irish legislation; and he did not think the Government were keeping faith with their supporters in introducing in this, the first Session of the new Parliament, another of these interminable Irish Land Bills. In the face of the declarations of the hon. Member for East Mayo, the Leader of the larger section of the Irish Party, it did seem to him a waste of the time of the House to go into such a controversial and complex Measure as this. The hon. Member for Waterford had said that there could be no finality to the Irish Land Question, yet the First Lord of the Treasury appealed to the House to pass one more Bill. This particular Bill was a long, difficult, complicated and weary Measure, and was introduced in a speech lasting 671 three hours, and an estimate of the amount of time it would occupy might be formed from the length of time it took to pass the Measure of 1891. He would like to know how long the First Lord of the Treasury thought the Session would last. Was the House to sit till Christmas? He was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had been too good-natured in giving way to the persistence of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. It was true that the hon. Member for Waterford had done all he could to make the way clear for this Bill, but he also reminded the House that the Party of which the hon. Member for East Mayo was the chief, had the question of their country in the hollow of the hand for three years. Why did they not get a Land Bill passed then? They were told by the Chief Secretary that the object of this land legislation was to kill Home Rule by kindness. No one had any objection to that, provided that, in doing so, the right hon. Gentleman did not do injustice to England and Scotland. But it seemed to him totally unnecessary now to kill Home Rule, because the country had had an announcement from a leading Nonconformist divine, the rev. Hugh Price Hughes, to the effect that although the Nonconformists were ever ready to respond to the prayers and entreaties made to them to support the cause of Home Rule, the action of the Irish Party on several occasions of late have had the effect of alienating that support. He had ventured in his Motion to mention some vexed questions which ought to be dealt with by the Government before another Irish Land Bill was taken in hand. First of all, there was the reform of the Poor Law of this country. There were no less than 730,000 paupers in this country, and surely it was a matter of as much importance to them that the Poor Law should be reformed as it was a matter of importance to the Irish tenants that another Land Bill should be passed. Then there was the question of old-age pensions. That took a very prominent place during the last election, and he would like to know what had become of the schemes of the Colonial Secretary. Then there was the Employers' Liability Bill. The Home Secretary told the House that that Bill was waiting to be introduced. Why could it not be taken in hand? Then 672 there was the Coal Mines Bill, a most important Bill to a vast number of the people of this country. He could not, of course, expect much support from hon. Gentlemen, opposite. They were only too pleased to see another subject placed between them and the Education Bill, and to see another Government prepared to commit the follies perpetrated by their friends when on the Treasury Bench. The Government had a magnificent majority. Where did it come from? From Ireland or from Great Britain? If from the latter, were not the Government bound in honour to do something for the people of Great Britain? The Government must remember that their great majority might be dissipated, as the great majority of 114, with which the Unionist Government started in 1886, was upset. Let the Government profit by that warning, and make a wise and discreet use of their majority in favour of those who sent them back to power.
On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent illustrated the spirit which had alienated the Irish people from the Government of their country provided by that House. When the hon. Member complained of the time taken up with Irish matters in this House, he forgot that that was not the fault of the Irish Members and people; but it was because their own Parliament had been taken away, and therefore the only thing left to them was to come here and endeavour to get their grievances redressed. In his opinion, unless this Bill was passed into law, it would be impossible during next winter to maintain order in various parts of Ireland. He, therefore, cordially assented to the Second Reading.
§ * MR. R. M. DANE (Fermanagh, N.)
approved of the Bill as a whole, but still he must admit, as the representative of an agricultural constituency, that there were blots in the Bill for which he hoped, in Committee, a remedy would be found. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had found himself unable to insert a provision dealing with those tenants who had fair rents fixed between 1881 and 1886, because hardly anybody would deny that those rents, having 673 regard to the great fall in the price of agricultural produce, were now excessive rents. He could tell the House some facts relative to some rents in Ulster that came before the Court, fixing a statutory term within the last fortnight, notwithstanding the pendency of this Bill. In one of these cases the old rent was £68 10s.; the judicial rent was fixed in 1881 at £49 10s., and the other day, when the rent for the second statutory term was under consideration, the Court Valuer reported that the fair rent, in lieu of the judicial rent, should be £36. In the second case, the old rent was £40 6s., the judicial rent fixed in 1881 was £24, and the Court Valuer reported that the fair rent now should be £18–25 per cent. reduction on the judicial rent. In the third case the old rent was £57 9s. 8d.; Judicial rent, £37 10s.; and the Court Valuer reported at £25. In the fourth and last case the old rent was £65; Judicial rent, £56; and Court Valuer's Report, £37 10s. These figures showed how important a question this was to the 240,000 tenants now waiting to come into Court to have a second statutory term fixed. The provision regarding town parks had not received the approbation of those interested in town parks in Ireland, and he would appeal to the Chief Secretary, when the Bill got into Committee, to adopt a population limit. Among town holders in small villages and towns, who were not only small shopkeepers in towns but also farmers, and who had made the villages what they were, a strong feeling existed that they had been hardly dealt with in having their little farms, by means of which they existed, placed outside the purview of the Land Acts. The clause dealing with improvements was regarded throughout Ulster as the most dangerous portion of the Bill; and he would appeal to the Chief Secretary to introduce a clause similar to that in the Bill of the right hon. Member for Montrose, providing that in Ulster, unless the contrary were proved, the holding should be deemed to be subject to the Ulster tenant-right custom. Where that right existed the difficult question of improvements was settled. Lord Chancellor Law, in Adams v. Dunseath, said:—The Ulster tenant with his custom has nothing to do with the 4th section of the Act of 674 1870.… He has the right to sell the holding, improvements and all, and for his absolute, use.In many parts of Ulster the landowners denied the existence of the custom, and it was impossible to generally define what the custom was, its incidents varied so much. The Act of 1870 simply said that the usages prevalent in Ulster should be legal. He had had much experience of these land cases in Ulster, and in but few instances had he met a landlord who could prove the execution of any improvements. As to the Procedure Clause of the Bill, he knew of no landlord or tenant who approved of it. The valuers were to be sent down to inquire, and the parties were apparently to wrangle out the case before them; and then the matter was to come before the Land Commission, which would make a conditional order. The litigation between the parties would only be beginning then. Of course, if witnesses on both sides were to be heard on oath, it would greatly modify the objection to the clause.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
A person who objects is to show cause against the conditional order, in the way every litigant in every court shows cause—by affidavit.
§ * MR. DANE
said that that was exactly what he, as representing a great agricultural constituency, objected to. It would mean that the tenant must adopt proceedings equivalent to the old Chancery proceedings. The tenants wished the initial hearing to be in open court, that the witnesses of both sides might be examined on oath, and the decision of the Sub-Commissioner given there and then. As to the Purchase Clauses he had nothing to say, except to express his regret that the provisions for compulsory purchase were limited to encumbered estates. The tenants in his constituency felt that they would get no advantage under this clause, because the landords would not sell where the tenants had always paid their rents. [Colonel WARING: "They are well satisfied."] The tenants in the hon. Member's constituency might be well satisfied; but those in his own constituency were very dissatisfied. He believed it was the object and desire of the Chief Secretary to pass the Bill. He hoped the right 675 hon. Gentleman would allow no consideration to force him to throw any portion of it overboard. The Bill, as it stood, was capable of being made an excellent Measure. It had a number of blots, but there were none that could not be cured in Committee. If the Chief Secretary stood to his guns, and by passing the Bill carried out the assurances of the Unionist Party to the loyalists of Ireland, he would receive the gratitude of those loyalists and go a long way—but not the whole way—towards settling the Irish Land Question.
§ MR. JAMES DALY (Monaghan, S.)
said the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh had stated that the Bill would take away the margin on which the greater portion of the landlords in Ireland lived. The advice he would tender the landlords of Ireland in the circumstances was to sell out to their tenants and quit the country, and he could assure them that there would be very little regret at their departure, for they were to blame for the trouble and discontent in Ireland for the past century. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also stated how loyal the landlords had always been to the Government. But he knew that the loyalty of the landlords existed only so long as their pockets were left untouched. Liberal Governments had passed Bills to enable the tenants to get fair rents fixed, and every machinery that the landlords could possibly employ was used by them in order to prevent the tenants from availing themselves of the laws passed by Parliament. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh had talked a great deal about the prosperity of Ireland on account of the amount of money in the Savings Banks. He intended to ask the Chief Secretary—though he did not know he would get an answer—whether the right hon. Gentleman could tell him how much money was lent by the banks to tenant-farmers in Ireland, and also how much was due to the shopkeepers by the tenant-farmers. If he got that return the real state of the tenant-farmers would be seen. The shopkeepers advanced seed and manure to the farmers; but the rent office was the first to get the money the farmers made, and the shopkeepers had to wait for years before their accounts were cleared off. His constituents thought 676 the Bill was disappointing. He would, however, offer no opposition to the Second Reading, in the hope that it would receive in Committee that revision which would make it of use to the tenants of Ireland. Take the question of the statutory term. As the fixing of the fair rents under the Act of 1881 had been very slow, the present Bill would only be of use to a small number of tenants. The Chief Secretary, in introducing the Bill said:—It is no doubt true that the rents fixed in 1881–1887, if now fixed, would be fixed lower than the figures at which they now stand.He hoped, therefore, that if an Amendment were moved to enable all tenants to go into the Court to have their fair rents revised, the right hon. Gentleman would support it. The fall of prices of agricultural produce had been very extraordinary. The price of butter was only 6d. or 7d. per 1b. When the fair rents were fixed between 1881 and 1887, the price was from a shilling to fourteen pence a pound. Horses were unsaleable. Oats were about 7s. a barrel or 6d. a stone. Flax, in which Ulster men were deeply interested, was almost unsaleable. In fact, there seemed nothing for the farmers in the future but the workhouse. In the barony of Farney, co. Monaghan, 150 years ago, the land was 1s. per acre. It was now 30 times that rent, the increased value having been due to the improvements created by the tenants, and yet, when a paltry 25 per cent. reduction was made in the rents, the landlords raised a cry of confiscation. Until Mr. Gladstone passed the Land Bill of 1881, the landlord had the power of fixing the rent, and of charging anything he pleased. It was only since then that the tenants had had the privilege of entering the Land Courts and having fair rents fixed. With regard to the cases of tenant and landlord being tried in Star Chamber, they had had enough, he argued, of Star Chamber procedure. The ignorant tenant-farmer, who had, perhaps, a very small farm, was not any match for a Land Commissioner in a private chamber. He considered that the clause dealing with this matter was a very bad one, and one which should be expunged from the Bill. The Attorney General for Ireland had spoken of showing cause if the rent was 677 not satisfactory to the tenant; but that meant that the unfortunate tenant-farmer must show cause in the superior courts, which was a costly business, and therefore that suggestion was absurd. He hoped the Attorney General would consider the matter with a view to expunging this clause. The present Government was no doubt a landlord Government, and the landlords of Ireland would have a great influence with them, and it was quite possible that the Commissioners who would be appointed would be anything but favourable towards the tenants. For that reason the greatest publicity in open court should be given to these cases. He objected to the withdrawal of cases from the County Court Judges in order to place them in the hands of the Commissioners. The landlords of Ireland, seeing that the County Court Judges were rather unfavourable to them, withdrew a great many of their cases. The Commissioners made a reduction of 21.52, and for leasehold tenancies 24.7, whereas the County Court Judges made a reduction of 23.4, and for leasehold tenancies 27.7. The landlords had withdrawn 10,374 cases out of 34,553. He should be sorry to see these cases taken from the County Court Judges and placed in the hands of Court Valuers and Sub-Commissioners. A large slice of the loaf with regard to the appointment of Commissioners would fall to the hangers-on of rent offices and the nominees of landlords. He understood that the leases of leaseholders of 99 years would on expiry go with their improvements to the landlords. This, he thought, was very unfair, and he hoped the Government would see their way to expunge that part of the Bill. The tenant-farmers of Ireland were in a very bad plight at the present time, and he hoped the Government would try and make the Bill acceptable to them.
§ * MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin Co., S.)
said that everyone who had listened to the Debate must congratulate themselves on having heard perhaps the most satisfactory Irish Debate that had taken place for the last ten years in the House of Commons, and it really looked as if the older Members of that House were going to have the joy of seeing an Irish Question settled in the Imperial Parliament upon its merits before they died. [Nationalist laughter.] He also 678 congratulated the hon. and Gallant Member for North Armagh, who spoke with high authority for the landlords of Ireland, on the extremely moderate tone of his speech. His own position was somewhat peculiar, as he was neither landlord nor tenant. But, as the Bill was not yet quite safe, he wished to add his appeal to the House and the Government in favour of its passage. He would not go into the details, although he might perhaps be allowed to express a general approval of its provisions; he wished, also, to thank the Chief Secretary for the honest labour that he had bestowed upon what was, he thought, the most difficult question that ever came before that House. It had been said that the Bill was unnecessarily complicated, but everybody who had studied the state of tenure in Ireland must be aware that it was absolutely impossible to introduce a non-contentious or simple Measure to deal with Irish land. In fact, it seemed to be generally admitted that tenure in Ireland had got into such an inextricable muddle that purchase was the only way out. The two great questions were—would the landlords sell, and would the tenants buy. He believed that, if the present spirit evinced by Members representing all classes in Ireland continued, the tenants would certainly buy. He thought it would have been better perhaps if the Bill had provided, instead of the highly ingenious, and on logical grounds entirely satisfactory, provision for the decennial reduction of instalments, a uniform reduction to commence from the first payment. As to the question whether the landlords would sell, he did not believe that the landlords were as a rule very anxious to retain their property for its enjoyment. He used the term in the sense in which they spoke in Ireland of "enjoying" bad health. [Laughter.] They would, he thought, be very glad to be relieved of their properties if they could accomplish that without serious financial loss, and without, in many cases, the disappearance of the margin upon which they lived. The real difficulty was that the landlords were so heavily encumbered that they could not possibly sell unless they had some assistance. There was no doubt that family charges stood in a different position to loans acquired by landlords; the Government 679 had reduced the income of landlords subject to such family charges; and he thought that the Government ought to afford some sort of compensation. It might be said that injustice would be done to third parties, but they must have known what they were doing when stepping into the shoes of the original holders of such charges. That, however, was a matter which could easily be settled by the lawyers. There were other reasons why landlords should receive some consideration; their properties were often held in trust, and they had to invest their money, and this took away a portion of the margin upon which they had to live. He did not think that hon. Members below the Gangway would all like to see the landlords of Ireland ruined; he considered that it would be a very great calamity if the advantages of refinement, of education, and grace of life, and the traditions of an aristocracy were destroyed. [Laughter from Irish Members.] He was convinced that any country was all the poorer for the absence of an aristocracy. [Laughter, and Mr. MICHAEL DAVITT: "How about America?"] There was a landowning class in America, and he referred the hon. Member to Henry George's works on the relations existing between the American landowner and the American tenant, and asked him to consider if they were not less favourable to the latter class than those subsisting between Irish landowners and their tenants. He felt it would be far better for Ireland and in the long run for England if some compensation were given to the Irish landlords if it were felt desirable to expropriate them. In the matter of the tithe rent he thought it should be extended to cases where dnal ownership existed. He desired, however, to take a broad view of the Bill. He had not great faith in legislative help alone for a country, but he knew that one of the greatest objects of the present Government was to restore so far as it could prosperity to Ireland. He himself had done what he could to assist in the promotion of self help by way of industrial undertakings. The Committee which had been formed to consider Irish questions had caused an examination to be made into the relations of nine European Governments with regard to the cultivation of the soil and those engaged in it, and the result of the 680 inquiries made had been to show that the success of agriculture in each of those nine countries was largely due to the existence of a peasant proprietary. They desired to see that prevail in Ireland. They were pledged in their election addresses to do what they could to bring Ireland into line with English prosperity and progress. He was aware that hon. Members opposite believed that nothing was to be got out of the Imperial Parliament except by agitation. [Irish cheers.] After that cheer he need not labour the point—[laughter]—but this he would say, agitation never cowed England into making concessions, but he admitted that over and over again agitation had called attention to real grievances—[renewed Irish cheers]—which would otherwise have been ignored, but when the agitation had called attention to those grievances, they had been remedied. [More Nationalist cheering.] But the present Government had nothing to fear; for the first time since the Act of Union they had a Government which was able to do its duty to Ireland without the appearance of being compelled. They were afraid of the chances of the passing of the Bill; he did not consider that the suggestions of either Mr. Courtney or Mr. Timothy Healy would assist them in passing the Bill into law, but it did not follow that it would be lost if the issues could be narrowed by extra Parliamentary discussion and negotiation. They ought to agree as to what portions were contentious and what portions were non-contentious. He believed the portion of the Bill which would not be missed if it were dropped was the sliding scale and automatic system for revising rents. He did not think that the system would be adopted if passed into law, and in that view he agreed with Mr. John Morley. It had been stated that there were only four or five contentious clauses in the Bill, and he believed that these could be easily disposed of; and with that desire he hoped that the conciliatory tone which had already characterised the discussion would continue. ["Hear, hear!"] If they could narrow the issue, there was no reason why the Bill should not be got through in the ordinary way. Personally, ho felt it was of enormous importance to the prosperity of Ireland that the Bill should pass, and he earnestly hoped that the conciliatory tone which 681 had prevailed during the Debate would continue until the Measure was placed on the Statute-book.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said that the hon. Member for South Dublin had expressed the hope that now, after the lapse of nearly a hundred years, the House would deal with this Irish Question upon its merits. That was not a very large claim for an ardent supporter of the Union to make. He thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member that an Irish Question had never been dealt with on its merits. He rather inclined to the view which the hon. Member deprecated, that it would be dealt with in proportion to the amount of agitation. The hon. Member knew perfectly well that, if Ireland had been convulsed with crime and bloodshed, this Bill would not have been put behind every other Measure in the Government programme. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to take what he described as a broad view of this question What was his broad view? It was that the people of Ireland would be exceedingly sorry to lose the landlords. He was astonished to hear a man who professed to know Ireland express the view that the prospect of losing the landlords would excite very deep or widespread regret amongst the Irish people.
§ MR. DILLON
supposed the hon. Member would therefore describe his reference to the landlords as a narrow view. The hon. Gentleman said the Irish landlords had always represented and did now represent education, and the sweetness and refinement of life. The people of Ireland who lived under those landlords thought they had never represented anything of the kind. There might be a few honourable exceptions, but it was felt that, as a class, the landlords represented cruelty, harshness and oppression, and the action of the House of Commons had over and over again confirmed that view. The condition of Ireland during the last 96 years was a complete answer to the statement of the hon. Gentleman who summed up in those words the philosophy of Irish life. The hon. Member went on to say that this was the first opportunity that had been offered to the House of Commons since the Union of 682 doing justice to Ireland and of settling the Irish Question. Why was it the first opportunity? What had there been to prevent the House of Commons settling the Irish Question and doing justice to Ireland at any date between 1800 and the present day? Now, early in the evening, a very strange and unusual course was given to the Debate by the appeal which came from the Irish Benches to allow the Debate to close to-night. He would be very happy to consent to the Debate closing to-night if they had obtained from the Government any quid pro quo for such a concession. Would the Government consent, for instance, to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee? ["Oh, oh!" and "No, no!"] At an earlier stage of the discussion the Leader of the House expressed his readiness to discuss a Motion to refer the Bill to such a Committee, and then the right hon. Gentleman made an observation which convinced him that the right hon. Gentleman had made up his mind not to consent to anything of the sort. What was the use of discussing such a Motion? To his great surprise, the hon. Member for South Dublin expressed the hope that the Bill would not be referred to a Grand Committee. To-night and to-morrow night had been allocated to the discussion of the Bill. Would the Government give an undertaking, if the Second Reading was agreed to now, that they would proceed with the Committee stage forthwith? [Ministerial cries of "No, no!"] For his part he would rather carry on the discussion in Committee than on the Second Reading. But if they gave up a night, were they going to get nothing in return? Were they to be relegated for the next discussion to some indefinite period after the Education Bill had been disposed of? If so, it would be more consistent with their duty to their constituents to continue the Debate on the Second Reading, futile as it might be.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think the hon. Member's request absolutely reasonable. [Mr. JAMES LOWTHER: "Monstrous!"] Two nights were set apart for the Second Reading of this Bill. If the Second Reading finishes in one night, the second night ought to be given for the Committee stage.
§ MR. DILLON
said he was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It would very much curtail the remarks he wished to make. He felt bound to reply to some observations made with reference to himself by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman charged him with indirectly obstructing the Land Bill, and with describing the Bill as a sham and a fraud which the Government had no honest intention of passing. As regarded the first of these charges, it was absolutely unfounded. It was monstrous to say that because he opposed the English Rates Bill he was indirectly obstructing the Irish Land Bill. He opposed, and would continue to oppose, the Rates Bill, because he considered it a Measure which robbed Ireland of £300,000 or £400,000 a year. With whom lay the responsibility for putting the Rates Bill before the Land Bill, which was much more urgent? To tell a Member that he was not entitled to oppose a Bill to which he honestly and sincerely objected because he might be charged with obstructing another Bill behind it was an old trick which would be perfectly well understood. It was for the people of Ireland to denounce his conduct if they believed it to be wrong. But from the length and breadth of Ireland, even from the supporters of the hon. Member for Waterford himself, not a single word of denunciation of his action on the Rates Bill had come. He challenged any man to go before an Irish audience and debate the question with him.
§ MR. DILLON
, proceeding, said he could not agree that the questions they had to discuss were questions of detail. He would mention the main points on which the Bill failed to satisfy the demand of the Irish people. First, there was the question of the statutory term. The shortening of the statutory term and the breaking of the statutory term would afford immediate relief to a body of between 200,000 and 300,000 tenants, whose rents had been proved by the 684 recent judgments of the Courts to be enormously excessive. What had been the experience of the few tenants whose statutory terms had expired? Reductions of the old judicial rents that varied from 20 to 40 per cent. And as the rents fixed in 1882, 1883 and 1884 were higher than the rents fixed in 1881, we may reasonably assume that there are multitudes of cases at present in Ireland where the statutory rents are 40 or 50 per cent, over the fair rents. Were they going to say that that was a question of detail? When they knew that evictions were going on at the rate of 2,000 a year in Ireland, the House would understand the enormous magnitude of this cruel injustice. Under the head of improvements there were a great number of points none of which could be dismissed as matters of detail. There were, in the first place, the questions of protecting the tenants' improvements and of presumption. Then there were the questions of the Ulster custom and of bringing in future tenants under the Act—a point that affected a considerable body of tenants who had been unjustly deprived of their rights by the "Eviction-made-easy" Clause of the Act of 1887; the question of arrears, of the right of pre-emption, the repeal of the "Eviction-made-easy" Clause, and of the evicted tenants. All these questions excited the keenest possible interest in Ireland, and involved large matters of principle. He should like to say that the clauses dealing with the evicted tenants were a great advance and improvement upon anything a Conservative Government had yet proposed on this issue. Some Amendments were required to make them really effective, but the matter could not be dismissed as one of insignificant detail. It was one of very great importance. The second charge made against him by the First Lord of the Treasury was that he had denounced the Bill as a sham and a fraud, and that he had said he did not believe the Government really meant to pass it. In all these matters the context of one's speech should always be taken. What he said was that it was a great comprehensive Bill put forward by the Government as a final settlement of the Irish Land Question—that was the declaration of the Chief Secretary—and he went on to say that, having carefully 685 studied the unbiassed and uninfluenced opinion of the farmers of Ireland of all sections, he regarded the Bill, if put forward as a settlement of the Irish Question, as a sham and a fraud, and he stood by those words. It was no settlement of the Irish Land Question, and it was in that sense that he used the words "a sham and a fraud." In the same speech he said there were many clauses of the Bill which they could pass, and which he desired to see passed into law—such as Clauses 6, 7, 8, 10, a portion of 12, a great many of the Purchase Clauses, and the Evicted Tenants' Clauses—even in their present shape, if they failed to amend them. He believed that the words he used, in the sense he had explained to the House, expressed the deliberate judgment of the people of Ireland. The resolution passed by the Presbyterian Synod put in somewhat more polite and Parliamentary language the feeling he had expressed in briefer and somewhat rougher language. He was entirely in favour, and had been all along, of bringing this Bill into Committee as soon as possible, and of amending it if they could succeed in doing so; but if they failed in passing any of the Amendments on which the people of Ireland had set their hearts, then he thought the Government would find an expression of feeling from them which would leave them in no doubt as to what they thought of the Bill. He had always distinguished between the Tenure and the Purchase Clauses of the Bill, and, though there were some matters which he would like to see amended, he recognised that the Purchase Clauses were a great improvement in the law. There was this peculiarity in dealing with purchase in Ireland—that, to a very great extent, the interests of the landlords and the tenants were in common agreement. The common ground was this—that both the Irish tenant and the Irish landlord wanted to get all the cash they could out of the British Exchequer. That was the reason why the purchase portion of the Bill had commanded a large amount of assent from the Irish tenants. On the other hand the Irish tenants, particularly in the province of Ulster, had in innumerable resolutions declared that they were not inclined to go on with 686 purchase until a basis had been first determined in the shape of a fair rent. That view was also borne out and enforced by the declaration of the Irish landlords, which was published in The Times. The one great obstacle which lay in the path of the scheme of purchase, of the policy of which all parties were agreed, was the uncertainty of the rental, and until they satisfied the people that they got their land at a fair-rent, there would always be an inclination on the part of tenants to hang back and not to come to terms of purchase, and he did not think that the people, having had previous experience, were unwise in taking up that position. There was not a Member on those Benches who was not, at the present moment, deluged with applications from all the purchasers under previous Land Acts, imploring him to take that opportunity of pressing upon the Government the necessity of giving them some relief from the intolerable burdens which had been placed on their shoulders under those Acts. He submitted, in conclusion, that until fair rent was arrived at in Ireland, they would not have a thoroughly successful scheme of purchase carried out.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
said the landlords in Ireland disliked the Bill very much. They believed it went much further than such a Bill ought to, and in the south and west of Ireland they considered that the Bill, if passed as now drafted, would mean little less than ruin to them. He did not wish to raise any unnecessary obstacle to the passing of the Bill, but he strongly protested against the Committee stage being taken to-morrow and the opponents of the Bill therefore not having time to put down Amendments which they considered essential. The First Lord of the Treasury said that, after the Second Reading of the Bill, the Committee stage of the Education Bill would be taken. That, it was thought, would occupy considerable time, which would afford ample opportunity to prepare the Amendments which wore absolutely essential if the Bill was to be anything like fair or just to the landlords of Ireland. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Mont-rose that the Bill would cause considerable litigation; and under the rule 687 as to procedure contained in the Bill, the rents of the landlords would be cut down unfairly and unjustly, causing ruin to them. No one doubted that the Chief Secretary had done his best to introduce a Bill which would be fair and just to all parties, but the landlords, who had the advice of many leading lawyers acquainted with the working of the Sub-Commissions, assured them that the clauses of the Bill would work out differently from what the Chief Secretary anticipated. His right hon. Friend was anxious that purchase should take place as largely as possible under the Bill. But the more he gave the tenants and the more rents were cut down, the less the chance of his purchase proposals being carried out. He did not say that purchase was a bad thing, but he himself, like many landlords, was not particularly keen about purchase. They did not want to leave the country, but to remain in it. They did not want to be parted from their properties if they could help it. He strongly protested against their being rushed into Committee on the Bill without having time to prepare Amendments which were essential unless grievous wrong was inflicted on the landlords of Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
wished to make an explanation of his former remarks during the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo. If the Second Reading were concluded on the first of the two nights allotted to the Bill, it would be a pity that the second night should be wasted. The fact, also, that if the Committee stage were taken to-morrow, those who wished to prepare Amendments they considered essential would not have time to do so was also worthy of consideration. There was a simple method of reconciling these difficulties. He suggested that to-morrow they should deal with the parts of the Bill which were not seriously contentious. The plea that time had not been allowed to prepare Amendments considered essential should also be indulgently heard. He was told on good authority that there were not more than three or four important points with which the representatives of the landlords desired to deal, or many which hon. Members opposite desired to discuss. So it was manifest that there was much common ground on which there 688 would be no serious opposition, and he imagined, therefore, there would be no objection to taking the Bill at short notice.
§ MR. DILLON
suggested that the Irish Estimates might be taken tomorrow, and Friday devoted instead to the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said that he was much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, which offered a way out of the difficulty they found themselves in. He certainly had not thought of the course which the hon. Member had suggested. The suggestion was a good one, and he was quite willing to adopt it. With the permission of the House, he would move that the Committee upon the Bill should be fixed for Friday next, as an exception to the rule for taking Supply on Fridays, and would propose that Supply should be taken to-morrow when the Irish Estimates would come on for discussion.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
Of course the right hon. Gentleman is assuming that the Motion of the hon. Member for North Louth to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee on Law will be unsuccessful.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he wished to know at once whether it was to be understood that under no circumstances was the Bill to be sent to a Committee upstairs. He wished to be quite sure upon the point. If the Bill were to go before a Committee of the Whole House he should be willing to assent to it being read a Second time, but he should like to know clearly whether that was the course which the Government proposed should be adopted.
§ Bill read a Second time.
MR. T. M. HEALY moved:.
That the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Courts of Justice, and Legal Procedure.
He said that in proposing that the Committee stage of the Bill should he taken before a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next, the right hon. Gentleman was undoubtedly actuated by a good intention, and with the object of proceeding with the Bill. He made no complaint whatever of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to refer the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House rather than to a Standing Committee. Of course, until hon. Members saw the Amendments which would be placed upon the Paper by Friday, they could not say whether the Committee stage of the Bill could be disposed of in the compass of an ordinary sitting of the Committee or not, or whether it ought to be sent before a Grand Committee. His own intention was to do everything he could to enable the Government to pass the Bill. He confessed, however, that from what he knew of the views of hon. Members opposite, that the Bill would be allowed to pass. The Measure was brought in by the Government of the day and the landlord party, who had a majority of 150 in that House, had also the whole House of Lords at their back. Of course, when the Bill emerged from the House of Lords Irish Members would know what was the low water mark of the landlord party on this question. He asked the Government for an assurance that they would not be parties to sending this Bill up to the House of Lords for the Purchase clauses of it only to be accepted. In that case he should certainly regard the Measure as a fraud.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman must confine his observations to the Motion he is making.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that he should, of course, bow to the ruling of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, but his object was to explain the reason why he desired to send the Bill to a Committee upstairs in place of allowing it to come before a Committee of the Whole House. A whole string of Amendments were about to be placed upon the Paper in reference to this Bill by the hon. Member for Trinity College and the hon. Member for North Armagh—just as a conjurer produced yards of tape from his mouth. He wished that the Government would give them an assurance that if they agreed that the Bill should be taken before a Committee 690 of the Whole House it should be an effective Committee and that they would pass the Bill this Session. Would the right hon. Gentleman leave this Motion to the judgment of the House? It was not an unreasonable demand that he should leave the Motion to the unbiassed judgment of the House. The whole Opposition was in favour of expediting the Government Bill and sending it to the quicker tribunal. It was a luxury the right hon. Gentleman ought to wallow in. On his own side of the House the right hon. Gentleman must have a number of sincere admirers, and to these he appealed to support him in his administration of the Bill and in his efforts to use the forces of the Opposition to drive forward a Government Bill. The landlord party might assert that they ought to have the attention of the full House of Commons; but that was absurd; English Members did not care a dump about the details of Irish Measures. Then the landlords had the House of Lords at their back, and it would do them justice. The hon. Members for Armagh and Trinity College need not fear that the House of Lords would do its duty. The Bill would come back from that House with a number of Amendments made by noble Lords in that ancient assembly; and they would have the House of Commons at this disadvantage, that all the Amend I merits would have to be dealt with at one stage in the month of August, when the Irish Members would be at the mercy of the Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
If I rightly understand the hon. and learned Gentleman, he requests me to say that, although I may have an opinion, I am not to act upon it; but I cannot reconcile such a course with the duty of the Leader of the House in the general conduct of Parliamentary business. I am afraid, therefore, in shortly stating my views on this question, I must ask those who in general act with me, if they can reconcile it with their conscience to go into the same Lobby with the Government. I may frankly state that at one time I hoped the Bill would be regarded, on the whole, as one of a non-controversial character; I 691 hoped there would be no clause in it which any section of the House would regard as of such a serious character that it would be improper to withdraw it from a Committee of the Whole House. These hopes have been disappointed. I find, as is sufficiently evident from the Debate to-night, that those who have some knowledge of the landlords' position in Ireland take a much stronger view than is warranted by the facts upon a single clause of the Bill; and they are opposed to the suggestion that it should be sent to a Grand Committee. The question, therefore, is whether the House ought or ought not, in the face of that opposition, to insist that the Bill should be sent upstairs. I feel, with a force increasing almost every day, that the machinery of a Grand Committee, although most valuable, is a very delicate instrument, an instrument we are very near spoiling. I have watched with some misgiving the proceedings of Grand Committees and the subsequent Report stages of Measures which wore obviously of a kind that ought to be sent to Grand Committees; and I am therefore the more anxious that we should not overstrain the machinery, that we should not send to Grand Committees questions which divide parties, which affect great interests, which touch perennial controversies, which deeply stir the hearts and affect the interests of large classes. The only test of what those questions are is the attitude taken with regard to them by the classes concerned. It is quite evident from what has passed to-night, and from what everybody is acquainted with as a matter of common knowledge, that those interested in the ownership of land in Ireland feel that they are much safer in a discussion in Committee of the Whole House than in a discussion in Grand Committee. They may be wrong; my own personal view in this case is that they are mistaken; but it is their opinion, and, that being their opinion, I do not think it consistent with my duty to force upon them a method of considering 692 this Bill to which they object. I hope it will be clear that I am acting in accordance with settled principles, which, I trust, will always animate the Leader of the House to whichever Party he belongs, and which, I believe, are absolutely essential to be maintained unless the whole system of Grand Committees is to break down. The question remains, will the rejection of the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously imperil the progress of the Bill? I am disposed to think it will not have that effect. We have seen in the course of the present Session Bills absolutely without any Party complexion that have passed the Grand Committee, and yet in the Report stage have taken, I will not say as long as they took in Committee, but certainly a much longer time than they would have been expected to take had the Committee stage been taken in the Whole House. ["Hear, hear!"] I understand that the Gentlemen on this side of the House who entertain a great mistrust of certain portions of the Bill will confine their opposition to the few points in which they feel the Bill does touch unfairly interests in which they are vitally concerned. ["Hear, hear!"] I believe they will carry out that intention, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent the occupiers will follow the example, I believe the Committee as well as the Report stage may be got through the House in not much longer time than the Report stage alone would take if the Bill were sent to a Grand Committee. Everybody knows that if the House insists on discussing the Bill in detail it cannot pass this Session. It would be mere hypocrisy on my part to contend that there is a very large margin of time for the discussion of the Bill; but I do not believe a very large margin of time is required, and, therefore, though I feel constrained to reject the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and though I reject it with regret, I do not believe that the course I feel constrained to pursue is one that will 693 seriously imperil the passing of the Measure into law. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I have heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with great regret, and all the more because he has not concealed from the House that, in his own personal view, with all his experience behind him, the proper way of dealing with this Bill would be to send it to a Grand Committee, were it not for a particular section which feels, rightly or wrongly, its interests to be endangered if the Bill were sent to a Grand Committee. It cannot be that the right hon. Gentleman wishes us to accept the principle, or rather the limitation of a principle, that where there is a small group of gentlemen——[Cheers.]
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Quite true. I do not wish to minimise the extent of the interest; but to hold that where a small group insists that a Bill shall not be submitted to a Grand Committee, though the finding of the Grand Committee would afterwards come before the House, the whole of the machinery of Grand Committees which the right hon. Gentleman would desire to resort to shall be set aside, is a very serious proposition to propound. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the group referred to, I cannot conceive that in the Grand Committee on Law, properly constituted, if their object is fair, serious, deliberate, and minute argument, they would be in any degree at a disadvantage. What would happen in Committee of the Whole House?—and that I am afraid is the reason which makes them prefer a Committee of the Whole House. In Committee of the Whole House a few Gentlemen opposite will discuss the Measure seriously, but when defeated in argument they will expect the support of English and Scotch Members of their Party who will come into the House when the Division bell is rung. In Grand Committee 694 it will be more difficult for them to arrange matters in that way, and there will be more chance of obtaining a close discussion of the various minute issues arising on this Bill. As far as the interests of hon. Members representing the landlords are genuine interests, capable of being sustained by serious argument, I believe they would have a better chance of due consideration in Grand Committee than in Committee of the Whole House. I was struck by the statement of the Leader of the House that if there was to be much discussion in detail the Bill could not pass through Committee of the House. I can only repeat that, in my opinion, if there ever was a Bill which demanded much discussion this Bill is one of that kind. ["Hear, hear!"] Why have the Land Acts hitherto so often proved inoperative? Because not sufficient attention has been given to points of detail. When we consider what issues hang upon single phrases in this Bill, it is impossible to hold that much discussion can be avoided or ought to be avoided, and the reason why I shall support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth is that those points can be more closely and sincerely discussed in Grand Committee. I should be the last man to support any proposal which in my opinion would bring procedure by Grand Committee into disrepute and endanger that piece of our machinery. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the test to apply when this procedure is proposed to be resorted to is the attitude of the parties concerned. I cannot allow that to be a sound test of the propriety of resorting to a Grand Committee, for I do not believe that the occasion will ever arise when there will not be a small group of Members who will resist this method of procedure.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said that his experiences of Grand Committees was that it was extremely difficult to get such Committees together. If this Bill were referred to a Grand Committee, 695 those who represented the landlord interest would be confronted with this difficulty; the few gentlemen representing that interest would attend, as would also the many gentlemen of undoubted ingenuity who represented the other side, but there would be great difficulty in inducing the English and Scotch Members to attend. In debating, therefore, in Grand Committee the very difficult legal points which would arise, the representatives of the landlord interest would be placed at a great disadvantage. They would be confronted by the hon. Member for North Louth and other gentlemen of great ability and ingenuity in legal affairs, whereas all the legal Members who were worth anything upon which they would be able to call, would probably be in the Law Courts. [Laughter.] A Measure of this kind was so intricate, so technical, that it was impossible for a layman, in arguing on a minute point in a clause, to see how the phraseology might have been affected by some legal decision given in the Law Courts in Ireland. It would be most unfair and unjust that a great Measure of Imperial importance such as this—only second in importance to the great Act of 1881—which might affect for years the condition of Ireland and the relations between landlord and tenant—should be discussed in Grand Committee—a body which he thought was unfit to deal with it.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM (Dover)
supported the Motion of the hon. Member for North Louth. The last speaker said that this was a Measure of Imperial importance and cast in a great mould. That was true; but it had been conceded earlier in the Debate, that throughout it was an amending Bill. [Opposition cheers.] It was a budget of little Bills, each of which amended some great Imperial Measure of the past, and in the principles of the great Imperial Measures of the past they were all agreed, or, at all events, they all acquiesced in them. There was no one so bold as to 696 say that there was any chance of repealing the Land Act of 1881. If the House accepted the fact of that Act, as well as the facts of the Ashbourne Acts of 1885 and 1888, and the Land Purchase Act of 1891, then he maintained that the present Bill was merely a number of clauses designed by the Chief Secretary in order to give precision and efficacy to those Acts which the Conservative Party had either passed themselves or acquiesced in when passed by the other side. It was a position of being able to amend a number of Acts in the past at a time when they had a consensus of opinion in favour of certain Amendments. They had never had as had been said, such a situation within the memory of the younger Members of the House within the last 15 years. That was the position, and the key of it was held by his hon. and gallant friend and those who acted with him, not because of the strength of their principles, but because of the validity of their claim to compensation. His hon. and gallant Friend had entertained the House with his wit and vivacity but the part of his speech which was directed to a criticism of the Bill was contained in a very few sentences. In extent, it was confined to the 4th Clause, and it amounted merely to a charge of obstruction against the legal drafting of that clause. For his own part, he owned that that clause was a very obscure piece of English. The punctuation of it was a nightmare. [Laughter.] Yes, but where was this section most likely to be best unravelled? In full Committee or in Grand Committee? His hon. and gallant Friend said that in this House you ring the bell and your friends drop in and vote for you. He was not at all sure that that was the case when they were dealing with an obscure sub-section in one clause in a Bill. If they did not know what was the intention of the Chief Secretary, then he did not know how they should vote. If they did know his intention they would vote here precisely 697 as they would in Committee upstairs. The only difference was that upstairs you had expert marksmen on either side, and the two teams each try to hit the bull's-eye; but down here the time was wasted by a number of people who were never likely to hit the bull's-eye at all. [Laughter.] The only merit of discussion in full Committee of the House was in order to give time for the formation of opinion upon principles, and also, if it was not revealing the secrets of the prison-house, in order to insure that the Bill would take up an adequate portion of the Parliamentary Session. [Laughter.] The alternatives were whether the Bill should run parallel to the Education Bill, or whether it should come afterwards. The Leader of the House said it was madness to put so efficient a block as the Land Bill before the Education Bill. But in the Land Bill there was no question of principle at stake, or rather there was a consensus of opinion that a Bill embodying certain principles ought to be passed this Session. They had only to decide whether it should be done upstairs or downstairs at the end of the Education Bill—that was, whether it should be done at all. And this was admittedly a golden opportunity for doing something. No one could read the history of Ireland without seeing that Irish politics were subject to a rhythm. The tide flowed in and out; and now, when it was out, was the time for building permanent works of defence against its inroads. And yet the House was not to give effect to its thought because the hon. and gallant Member thought that he would get a more favourable audience in the House than in the Grand Committee. He sincerely believed that his hon. and gallant Friend was mistaken. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I only rise to make a few observations on this Motion as it affects the business of the House. I understand the proposed arrangement of business is this—that to-morrow we are 698 to take Irish Estimates, on Wednesday a private Bill, on Thursday the Education Bill, and on Friday the Committee stage of this Bill. Such an arrangement of business—like a tesselated pavement, with a bit of one thing here and a bit of another thing there—cannot lead to the transaction of any business at all. [Cheers.] What we are determining now by this Motion is whether this Bill is or is not to go through this Session. [Cheers.] Everybody knows that if this Bill is dealt with in Committee of the Whole House, it will not, cannot, and is not intended to pass. [Cheers.] Of course, if the Government undertake that under all circumstances the Bill shall go through, it will alter the situation. But what is the use of our going into Committee on the Bill for a single day on Friday, and then taking the Education Bill, which must last for many weeks? [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The right hon. Gentleman was not in the House at the time. I pointed out that there never was or could have been a suggestion of taking the Education Bill on Friday, because that day is given to Supply. But there was a suggestion from the Irish Members that Friday's Supply should be taken tomorrow, and the Committee stage of this Bill on Friday.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this discussion of the arrangement of business does not seem to be material to the Motion before the House.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
My argument is only this. That to take this Bill upon Friday and then to go on to another great subject on Monday is a method that cannot tend to the carrying of the Bill. Everyone must know that the question at stake on this Vote is whether this Bill shall pass; for it cannot pass in Committee of the Whole House. The Leader of the House, with a great majority behind him, holds the opinion that it ought to go to the Grand Committee. 699 He has the power to take the course which he thinks right, and yet he will not take that course. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman heard my speech. He must not misrepresent me in that way. I said it would be the right course except for certain Parliamentary conditions which I specified, and which are not fulfilled. ["Hear, hear!']
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I was just going to say that the right hon. Gentleman, in his own opinion, thought the course would be right, but that there were certain Parliamentary interests opposed to it. But what are those Parliamentary interests? These Parliamentary interests are the interests of a particular section—[cries of "Who?"]—and I say that the interests of this small section, namely, the landlords of Ireland, should not be allowed to prevail against the general interests. ["Hear, hear!"] Let us understand that upon this vote we are really determining whether this Bill is or is not to become law this Session. It is quite obvious that those who desire the Bill to become law will vote for the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth; and those who do not wish it to become law, and who do not care whether or not it becomes law, will vote against it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said that the Leader of the House, even if he wished it, had not at his disposal the Parliamentary time necessary to the proper consideration of the Bill in Committee. The Land Bill of 1881 required 40 days in Committee. Then there was the Education Bill. The Education Bill of 1870 took 17 or 18 days in Committee.
§ MR. DALZIEL
thought the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken on that point. But it was reported that the Government had decided to drop important parts of the Education Bill; and if the Government had arrived at that decision it would materially affect the prospects of the Land Bill passing into 700 law during the present Session. He would therefore like to know how many days the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to give to the Committee stage of the Land Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I would advise the hon. Gentleman not to attach too much importance to absolutely unauthorised rumours. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
And I would say, in the second place, that I have never heard of any such pledge being asked of any Government in regard to any Bill. [Cheers.] I do not think it would be desirable or in accordance with precedent that we should state to the House that so many days, quite irrespective of the contingencies, chances, and changes of the Parliamentary situation, should be given to a Bill. [Cheers.]
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
, who spoke amid cries of "Divide," asked what the hon. Member for South Tyrone was going to do in regard to this Motion? Surely, if the Bill went to a Grand Committee it might be taken for certain that it would be passed into law, and if not that it would not be passed. He was greatly disappointed with the standpoint taken by the Leader of the House; he thought they had seen some signs recently that he was going to exercise a sterner discipline with regard to his followers, but now he had confessed that because a small band were hostile to this Bill he could not exercise his own judgment with regard to it. He suggested that the interests of this section, whether important or not, would be discussed much more fairly upstairs. He hoped the hon. Member for South Tyrone would explain his position. [Nationalist cries of "Russell."]
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 92: Noes, 153.—(Division List, No. 226.)
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
asked the Chief Secretary whether they would have on Friday next the entire of the substantial Amendments.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
could not undertake to put the whole of the Government Amendments upon the Paper by Friday. He would, however, put them down as soon as possible.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Friday.