§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment to Question (4th May), "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Which Amendment was—
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.' "—(Mr. Coghill.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Cork)
I do not think it is any business of ours to find fault with any criticisms of this Bill that have come from British Members on either side of the House. I only hope that some of our good friends who sympathise with us as to the excessive price the landlords are to get, will not sympathise with us more than we sympathise with ourselves until we know precisely what terms the landlords are to receive. I think it is due that we should at once acknowledge the fairness and friendliness of the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition, following as he did in the footsteps of the right hon. Member I for the Montrose Burghs. In the earlier and still more delicate stage of these negotiations there may have been circumstances that would be a temptation to make party capital out of the present situation in Ireland, and we could not have found fault with human nature if there had been some yielding to it, but I join with my hon. friend the Member for East Mayo in the hope that the Liberal and Radical Party, following the generous example of their leaders, will have the chivalry and statesmanship to see in the present situation something higher than mere party capital, something which will hereafter reflect credit and lustre on the principles to which they have adhered with so much fortitude. 1377 And I hope the Government and the right hon. Gentleman opposite will have the glory of passing a Bill which, if it be only adequately amended, as it can be easily and safely, may bring to the Irish people blessing and emancipation that we Irishmen, with our unlucky history, almost shrink from calculating upon with too much sanguineness.
It is, I hope, a good omen for the Bill that the only serious complaint that came from the British taxpayer in the course of yesterday's debate was a complaint that will be reechoed just as seriously by the Irish taxpayer and the Irish tenant, and that is the retention of a minimum price in Clause 1. I submit that the sum and substance of yesterday's debate is that these limitations will have to go, and that nobody will be a sufferer when they are gone. I hope we are not wrong in construing the professions of the Attorney-General, of an open mind, and his somewhat perfunctory defence—if I may be allowed so to describe it—of the minimum price as an admission on his part that that minimum price is absolutely indefensible. It is indefensible from the point of view of the Irish tenant because for him it is compulsion pure and simple—a compulsion that will weigh most heavily on the poorest part of the population. It is indefensible from the point of view of the British taxpayer because it would be mere midsummer madness to have an extravagant price, such as twenty-eight years purchase, established as the tenant purchase price even as a legal possibility. The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General defended this minimum price on two grounds. First there was the suggestion of oppression of some kind by the tenants as against landlords. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have abandoned that ground almost as soon as he had stated it, as a downright absurdity, considering that there is no shadow of compulsion on the landlord to sell at all under any circumstances. The second ground, as far as I recollect it, was the desirability of securing uniformity of price. That is equally absurd, because, we know the almost infinite variety of the value of holdings and estates in different parts of Ireland, and the certainty that it is the poor and not the rich tenants who would be the sufferers. 1378 The Attorney-General, unconsciously, I am sure, but still some what ungenerously, attempted to account for the limitations in Clause 1 by a reference to the terms of the Land Conference Report, the inclusion of which, he might have explained, was the means of preventing the break up of the settlement which is the foundation of this whole Bill. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to mention to the House that Lord Dunraven's Committee, including all the landlords' representatives at the Land Conference, have since, upon more mature consideration, passed a resolution practically recognising that these limitations cannot be maintained, and recommending that the Estates Commission should have the power of dispensing with them altogether at their discretion. So that here we have an absolute agreement among the best friends of the Bill on this point. You have the British taxpayer insisting on the abolition of the minimum price for his own protection, and you have the Irish tenant also insisting on it for his own protection, while you have the majority of the Irish landlords making no objection whatever. I earnestly ask the Chief Secretary Why, in Heaven's name, he should not at once recognise the fact and drop this minimum price altogether out of the Bill right away? By doing so he would spread relief and joy throughout Ireland, and, I believe, in England as well; he would remove the last substantial reason for disquiet in the mind of the British taxpayer, and he would, practically speaking, satisfy the principal demand of the Irish people; for the amendment would ensure a practically unanimous vote on the Second Reading, and would remove the most formidable obstacle to the success of the Bill. He would, at the same time, make the tenant's bargain a bargain that would be safe for himself, and, safe for the State.
I beg the House not to be frightened by the demands of the Irish representatives changes in the Bill. The Amendments for we shall have to press in Committee will be found to resolve themselves into pro visions for securing, in the first place, that the tenant shall be absolutely free to make his own bargain, and, in the next place, that he shall not be obliged to pay a larger price for his land than has been paid by purchasers in the open market 1379 during the last fifteen years under the Ashbourne Act. The whole basis of the Land Conference was that whatever extra compensation was necessary to induce the landlords to sell should be supplied by the State, in whose supposed interest landlordism was created, and in whose real interest it is now about to be abolished. On the other hand, the tenants should not, under the pretence of offering a boon or favour to the landlords, be obliged to pay three or four additional years purchase above their 80,000 neighbours who have purchased under the Acts of 1885 and 1891. I venture to say that that is a moderate claim, and is just as essential for the safety of the State as for the safety of the tenant. It has been pointed out already that under the restrictions in Clause 1 and in Clause 17 the tenant's power of bargaining is very seriously, if not fatally, crippled. In the fourth Section of Clause 5 the tenant's power of making his own bargain is practically destroyed, and as one effect of all these restrictions the tenants will have to pay. Instead of receiving any relief from their present burdens, they will have imposed upon them an additional three or four years purchase over and above that paid by their neighbours, who have already purchased. All I can say is, that it might very easily happen that we would be driven to say, "You might as well spare yourself the pains of passing this Bill if you insist on these restrictions." But this difficulty is an exceedingly small one, as will be seen the moment it is boldly tackled. So far as this Bill has had a successful initiation up to the present, you owe it to the fact that you have followed the advice of united Ireland in its construction, and in so far as it may be a failure, your failure will arise from your not having adopted that advice in all its bearings. I think it will be found that, on almost all the Amendments which the Irish Members will have to press upon the House, there is substantial agreement among all parties in Ireland that they are vital to the successful working of the measure. Of some thing like sixteen Amendments which I had the honour of proposing and carrying at the Nationalist Conference in Dublin, it is a literal fact that, as to the organisation which represents the majority of the landlords in Ireland, they have not objected to a single one of them, and even 1380 the Landlords' Convention have only objected to one. So you have the amazing and unexampled prospect that, practically speaking, all the Amendments to be proposed in Committee on this Bill will, with one exception, be non-contentious, so far as either party in Ireland is concerned. The secret of the tremendous strength of the Bill is that for the first time in the history of Ireland the State will have the landlords and tenants of Ireland in one boat, for both the landlords and tenants of Ireland are so much at one as to what is required, that it seems almost impossible to conceive of any one, except perhaps, ex officio, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having any interest in obstructing any kind of Amendment proposed; and even as to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we all recognise that he has displayed a broad and generous spirit in dealing with this transaction in somewhat difficult circumstances. But the pecuniary risk, in this Bill is so small and the gain to the Empire so tremendous, that, if we were carrying on this debate in better times and in the normal state of the money market, the House would not hesitate a minute in doing the extremely little that is necessary to make the settlement complete and effective.
For the first time in your history you have the chance of a settlement that will protect every race, every class, and every creed in Ireland. More than that, I believe that Englishmen have begun to realise that the sacrifices which the British taxpayer will be called upon to make are a pure figment of the imagination, and one that was perhaps a little irritating to Irish feeling, considering the extent to which Irishmen and not Englishmen are called upon to make sacrifices in order to ensure this settlement. I acknowledge that the State credit is a consideration of great magnitude, but that credit is secure, and otherwise the financial arrangements of this Bill are purely an Irish affair, involving purely Irish money. If there is to be any complaint that an excessive ransom is paid in connection with the abolition of landlordism, that complaint ought to come from Ireland alone, because every pound that the landlords will receive will eventually come out of Irish pockets, and, heavy as is the price we have to pay, all we ask is to be free to devote our own money 1381 to what we believe will be a beneficent settlement, instead of having it devoted to your present wasteful and corrupt Imperial expenditure in Ireland. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that what British Members have principally to concern themselves with is whether it is possible to come to a great national settlement which would mean peace and prosperity for Ireland. If it is possible, then you will find that the matters which will have to be threshed out in Committee although of vital import ance to Ireland, are matters with which Englishmen need concern themselves very little. I go further, and say that if you are satisfied the result will be agrarian peace and good-will in Ireland, every Englishman, Scotchman, and Welshman has just as deep an interest as we have, in seeing that the bargain shall be completely satisfactory, and one which will enable the people to feel confident that in the future they will be free from obligations which might very easily depress them. Let me give one illustration to show how little need there is for alarm at the demands of Ireland. The foremost resolution passed at the Dublin Convention demanded that the evicted tenants should be restored to their homes frankly and without exception—that one section should not be restored and another section left on the road-side—as something like one third of them would be under Clause 2 of this Bill. That, as my hon. friend for East Mayo pointed out last night, would cost next to nothing except good-will, hut it would be worth millions of money in the pacification of Ireland. It may, perhaps, be thought that this is a small and sentimental question. The same thing might have been said, if, in the first year of the war in South Africa, you had been offered peace on the sole condition of handing over one man in the British ranks to the vengenance of your enemies. But it would mot have been done. Rather would you have fought to the last man. Neither will the Irish people, for any human consideration, give up one of the men whom they are accustomed to call the wounded soldiers of the campaign. But there is no real difficulty about the matter on one side or the other. The landlords have had at least as many wounded 1382 men in the land war as the Nationalists. These wounded landlords, who only two months ago were at least as hopeless and broken in their fortunes as any of the evicted tenants, will under this Bill be new men, solvent men, comparatively rich men. The Irish people do not envy them their good fortune. Their representatives have not hesitated to recommend that the provision for the wounded landlords shall be a large and generous one, and I am glad to say that the generosity has not been all on one side. Lord Dunraven's Committee proves that the mass of the intelligent landlords of Ireland—the men whose courage and foresight has made this settlement possible—will, I am satisfied, tell the Government as straightly as I do, that the cost of making a complete settlement of the evicted tenants question will be small. To leave it unsettled, or only half settled, would be to leave everything unsettled and to keep up a state of fermentation that might easily enough be fatal to the satisfactory working of the whole of the vast national settlement contemplated by the Bill. That is the first and the most passionate of the Amendments demanded by the National Convention, and in the interests of British Members in this House I hope it will be carefully and completely complied with.
The only other question is as to the miserably inadequate provision made for the congested districts. As to them, I am certain that when we come to deal with them in Committee we shall secure assent from both sides of the House to our proposition that the machinery of the present Bill is miserably inadequate in this respect. Even when adequately amended, the Bill, it must be understood, can settle nothing except the agrarian question, although it may open the way to other settlements. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent required from us some pledges of finality. So far as I know, there is no such word as "finality" known in the history of the British Constitution. There is no such thing as finality for us in this world until we are settled in our graves. What we do say, without arrière pensèe is that we recognise in the generous scope and framework of this Bill a hope and potency, and a promise such 1383 as no human being could have conceived twelve months ago, of ending once for all the land war and class war in Ireland. And what we do say to you is, that it will be no fault of the Irish people or of their representatives in this House, if that promise is not realised in its fulness. If some of the English Members who were present at the National Convention in Dublin were here they would probably tell you that there was something in the conduct of that assembly, consisting of nearly 2,500 delegates—that there was a spirit of generosity and moderation, and a determination to brush aside and put down any mere suggestion of rancour or of passion—which, if English statesmen were only wise, they would consider one of the most extraordinary consummations that all your money could not buy and that all the armed force of coercion could not have accomplished. Up to the present the English Press and Gentlemen in this House have had rather a fatal knack of misunderstanding all that occurs in Ireland. It is quite natural. I daresay they know as much about us as we know about you. This time, for the first time, apparently the English Press and the English people have begun to realise the real forces and the real currents of life in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has commenced to reduce the force of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and as I sat at that Convention I could not help thinking that if the Chief Secretary had visited it he might have come without a police escort. At that Convention he would have found the materials for a standing army of law and order which might very easily indeed have relieved him from any uneasiness about diminishing the standing army of idle mercenaries through whom you have hitherto governed Ireland, to our misery and to your cost. The hon. Member for Stoke last night said that this Bill was about to be given to a disaffected and disloyal people. Why, Mr. Speaker, the most important feature of that Convention is that it represented the Irish difficulty in all its strength and intensity, not the moderators, but the very elements, and the very men, who are the hearts' blood of disaffection in Ireland. In this, as in all the astonishing 1384 things that have occurred in the last six months, the Chief Secretary and his Government occupy a position of advantage which, unless in the case of Mr. Gladstone's great and glorious experiment, no English statesman has ever enjoyed before, and that is that you are dealing directly with the disaffected masses of the people themselves, and that you are proceeding upon the principle of attempting to conciliate and to content the people, instead of the old vicious plan of buying off a few Parliamentary leaders to desert the people. I would venture to lay some stress on that fact, because I am satisfied that if Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Welshmen could only appreciate the spirit of that Convention, and all that it might mean for the future relations between these two countries, they would learn more than if we were to go on debating this Bill for weeks.
I would earnestly entreat the Government and this House not to misunderstand the friendliness of that Convention, or of those who, at some risk of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, laboured to increase that friendliness. If you were to do so you might easily indeed create a feeling in consequence of which we could no longer answer for our countrymen as we can answer for them now. The lesson you have lodged most deeply in the Irish minds is that whatever instalments of justice we have ever won, have been wrung from you by an uncompromising and implacable fight, and not by any effort of conciliation. [Mr. WYNDHAM indicated dissent.] The Chief Secretary shakes his head, but I am sorry to say the records are too numerous and too crushing to the contrary. Any forbearance on our part has always up to the present been treated as a sign of weakness. Whenever our people have remained quiet it has been considered safe to despise and trample on them. The Irish people and their representatives have been induced to take a different attitude owing to the unique circumstances of the present position, owing, in the first place, to the fact that we are proceeding upon a basis of common agreement with the landlords of Ireland, and owing also to the promise of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary 1385 himself, to give loyal effect to that agreement so far as possible. My hon. friend and leader the Member for Waterford, and some of his colleagues, have taken the heavy responsibility of advising our people to look rather for points of agreement than for points of antagonism, and to take up a friendly attitude towards this Bill, with the view to smoothing the way for Amendments, instead of a nagging or irreconcilable attitude which might make Amendments impossible. We have taken the not inconsiderable risk of telling our people that their moderation would not be misconstrued and would not be traded upon in the House of Commons. I may, candidly speaking, say that we did not do so without painful searchings of heart, remembering the history of our country, and, however unpopular some of us may personally be in this House, I would earnestly and strenuously ask the House not to dishonour the draft that we have dared to draw on the capacity of this House for not misunderstanding our position. There are enemies of this Bill who are watching to catch you in a blunder. We do not consider that good faith on our part is credulity. We are satisfied that in any eventuality the Irish cause will not suffer by our having done our honest best in this matter. There is no use disguising the fact that if you were to read the proceedings of the Dublin Convention as meaning that the Irish people are satisfied, or will be satisfied, with this Bill as it stands, and that you are safe in rejecting the Amendments which the Irish people have asked you to pass, then you may possibly pass the Bill, but it would have the fate of all your other unfortunate measures; you would have lost a great opportunity of establishing in the Irish mind a belief in the good faith of England, and you would perhaps find—you would certainly find—that it will be a question for this House between accepting those Amendments now, when they would mean complete satisfaction and contentment, and accepting them in an amending Land Bill in a few years to come, when all the bloom will be gone. God forbid that any evil prophecy of that kind should be realised. I quite agree with the Leader of the Opposition that this Bill will be either made, or to a large extent marred, by what is done in relation to the Amendments. I do not 1386 know whether the right hon. Gentleman, whose good intentions in this matter are transparently sincere, will in his eventful speech to-night give any indication of what the fate of the Bill may be in Committee, but all I can say is, that when we go into these discussions, if the two great English Parties in this House—and I appeal to both of them—only rise superior to the making of party capital, if you in this House only imitate the extraordinary spectacle of union among all classes and parties which is to be witnessed at the present moment in Ireland—a union which is standing the test of time—all I can say is that you will have nothing to fear, and you will have nothing to lose. You will have more, than any Member of this House can yet estimate, to gain, if you boldly give effect to the advice that both landlords and tenants in Ireland have united to give you, and if, for the first time in your history, the peaceful and friendly demands of united: Ireland are ratified by a united England.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
Of course I feel and recognise that the concern of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and of his friends, for the fate of this Bill, the hopes and fears with which they regard it are more deep and searching than those which are felt elsewhere. But my attitude towards the Bill at this stage—I say at this stage advisedly—will be much the same as that of the hon. Member for Cork. I agree with him entirely as to the natural human temptation to make party capital out of the Bill. It is a Bill which offers great opportunities in that respect. I believe with him that those opportunities ought to be forgotten, and the temptation ought to be resisted. True, the Liberal Party has suffered, in my opinion greatly suffered, in past years from, attempts to make party capital, especially out of the Irish Land Question, but that Ireland has suffered still more. On all those of us who supported Mr. Gladstone in his efforts for the conciliation of Ireland, and the solution of that question, there remains, and will ever remain, a special obligation to do our utmost to put party interests aside, and to spare no pains to understand, whether it be on land or any other 1387 question, the Irish point of view, and no efforts to support that view whenever we believe it to be in the public interest I freely admit I desire to support this Bill; and my object at this stage is to give it a helping hand. It is not a Bill which, by its own naked provisions, rouses enthusiasm. My desire to support the Bill comes from the spirit in which the people of Ireland have approached the Bill, and from the spirit in which the Government have introduced it. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, in moving the rejection of the Bill, evidently had his thoughts carried back to 1886, and compared the letter of this Bill with the letter of Mr. Gladstone's Land Bill of 1886. My thoughts have also been carried back to the Bill of 1886, not by comparing with it the letter or the text of this Bill, but carried back by the speeches of the right hon. the Chief Secretary and of the First Lord of the Treasury. It is not by the letter but by the spirit that I am reminded of Mr. Gladstone's Bill. It would be an insult, after what fell from the First Lord of the Treasury yesterday, to suppose for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman's particular objections to Mr. Gladstone's proposals, either as to the Government of Ireland or to Irish land, are in the least modified at the present day. I see no evidence from what I have read of the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman or his Government that their opinions are altered; but the spirit in which they approach this question in the Bill before the House is altered. It seems to be the same spirit which was felt to be such a new departure in Mr. Gladstone's Bill of 1886. What is that spirit? It is the penetrating consciousness of the difference between Irish and English problems, an abiding sense of the harshness and pathos of Irish history, and a real sense of the present difficulties and grievances in Irish affairs; and from these considerations spring that spirit of sympathy and chivalry in approaching Irish affairs which we have lately observed in the speeches of the Chief Secretary and the First Lord of the Treasury. That I believe to be the spirit which is underlying this Bill.
Now, the last seventeen years, I think, have left us certain convictions, and there are certain lessons to be drawn 1388 from them. One of these convictions is that you will never be able to turn your back upon Irish problems until you have advanced very much beyond the present stage. The next is that, though the Irish problem may present itself in various forms sometimes education, sometimes land, sometimes general questions of Irish government—we have got to approach it whenever and in whatsoever form it does present itself, in the spirit, the same spirit as has been lately shown on the Benches opposite, and as was shown by Mr. Gladstone. And the third is that we must work in that spirit. That is why I welcome this Bill and I shall address myself to its consideration in the spirit which underlies it. I defer to a subsequent stage criticism of its details. Let us take the principle of the Bill. I recognise, however, that a real objection on principle has been raised to the Bill by the hon. Gentleman who moved and seconded its rejection. This objection represents the extreme Unionist view of the Bill. I see the Chief Secretary shaking his head; but I would remind him that what is extreme is not typical. That extreme view, as I understand it, is that Ireland is not merely a part of the British Empire but also part of England; that the differences between Irish and English conditions are no more than the differences between town and country in England; and that you cannot consider the poverty or the social problems in Ireland without at once considering at the same time the poverty and the social problems in England. That, I understand to be in the mind of the two hon. Gentlemen. They say. "Why should we deal with the social problems in Ireland and not in England, when we have the same problems in England?" This Bill has, I believe, been put forward without any prejudice whatever, and can be discussed and passed without any prejudice whatever, to the discussion of social problems in England. What I understand the spirit of the Bill on this point to be, is that it is necessary to give a separate and special treatment to the problems in Ireland; but that is no prejudice to dealing with any English questions. And if there is a prejudice likely to arise in regard to the sympathetic treatment of these questions in England, I should say that the severe and unbending attitude of the hon. Member for Stoke is a bad augury for dealing 1389 not only with Irish questions sympathetically, but for dealing with questions at home sympathetically. In dealing with Ireland, then, you must have a plan to give these questions separate and special treatment, and not mix them up with English questions.
In the next place, taking an extreme view of the Bill, it is said that there are no special needs in Ireland needing special treatment. That is an argument always supported by a reference to Irish prosperity and the statistics of the savings banks. But the figures of the savings banks do not dispose of the Irish difficulty. I am quite sure that any one who has been through Irish controversies as long as I have been, must realise how perfectly hopeless it is to approach Irish questions in the spirit of an accountant, for that is what it comes to. I differ entirely from that point of view. The Irish question has been an enormous embarrassment to politicians, all because some men believe that because Ireland is more prosperous, or quiet, the embarrassment and trouble of the Irish question is passing. I think British electors and Members of Parliament have said that often enough now, to be quite sure that it is not true. Now, can any Government bring Ireland into the same relations and the same attitude of mind towards the central Government as the other parts of the Empire? Would not such a consummation be the greatest possible triumph to the British Government and the greatest relief to national affairs? I remember the time when it was fashionable with Members on the other side to say that the settlement of the Land Question would mean the end of political agitation in Ireland. I have never shared that view; but I do admit that the Land Question is a very great element in the social conditions in Ireland, and the political conditions, too. I do not believe that by settling the Land Question you will get a complete political settlement. I would infinitely prefer to see a political settlement, but, short of that, I believe the economic settlement of the land will be a most valuable asset to Ireland and to us. We hear of agreements between landlord and tenant, and the hon. Member for Waterford laid great stress on the unanimity of that sentiment, even in the proposed Amendments to the Bill. If anyone takes a cheap and superficial view of the matter he can say it is not hard 1390 for two parties to be unanimous on the subject of getting money from the public funds. But is that all the Irish landlords and tenantry are unanimous about? They are unanimous also about the desirability of a great transfer of property from one class to another in Ireland, of great alteration in the condition and status of the tenants; and I do believe it is a fair statement to say that underlying the unanimity is a sense of weariness of the struggle, and that the attraction which has brought landlords and tenants together is the prospect of peace and good feeling and a sense of common citizenship. Is that not an interest which, from the British point of view, it is our interest to promote? Do we owe no responsibility for the trouble in Ireland? The position in regard to Irish land has long been an impossible one; and I think in the main, it is due partly to the ignorance, and partly to the inadequacy of British legislation. I hold that some development on the lines of this Bill is an inevitable consequence of the Land Purchase Acts. If the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment supported the Ashbourne Acts, they have their share of the responsibility for the introduction of the present Bill. Surely no one can have listened to the speech of the First Lord without realising how much ignorance of Englishmen in regard to Irish history has had to do with the present position. It was years, indeed generations, before people on this side came to understand that the English and Irish land systems were different. For generations British Administrations and British legislation went on the assumption that the two systems were similar. That was believed in all good faith, but the result was bound to be injustice in Ireland, and incalculable misery and neglect in our relations with Ireland.
We are told that this Bill is unpopular. Remedies for past mistakes are not apt to be popular; and remedies for grievances not felt on our side of the water are not apt to be popular. But either this Government, or any other Government that succeeds it, will have to go on until these difficulties are got over, and will have to be prepared to face unpopularity, or else cease to be responsible for the government of Ireland, or, if they pay any attention to the condition of Ireland, 1391 they will have to do real violence to their own consciences in the matter by doing nothing. That is why I welcomed the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury last evening. I admit it dealt mainly with Irish land, and hat we have no right to draw from it any inference with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's attitude on affairs in Ireland other than the land. But, with regard to the land, the right hon. Gentleman has nailed his colours to the mast. He explained more powerfully than lean, the differences in the English and the Irish land systems. He dwelt upon these differences in a most striking and emphatic way; and he concluded by saying that the peculiarities of the Irish land system had been such as to naturally foster the sentiment of co-ownership. I take special note of that word "naturally." I take it, it means that if the First Lord of the Treasury or any one of us had been an Irish tenant we should naturally have acquired the sentiment of the co-ownership of the land. If only an understanding of that fact had been worked into other days! It is but a little way back in history since an English Prime Minister—if he was not Prime Minister at the time he was Prime Minister more than once—laid it down that tenant-right in Ireland was landlord wrong. I am quite aware that that was said from the Liberal side of the House; and I imagine it represented the opinions of both parties at that time. It was to Mr. Gladstone's great honour that he made the Liberal Party, at any rate, understand the injustice of the Irish land system. Now we have a Conservative Prime Minister stating that the peculiarities of the Irish land system naturally foster the sentiment of co-ownership, which is the exact opposite of the statement that tenant-right was landlord wrong. I am not surprised that the Irish Members take note of such a tremendous advance in progress, and I believe that the hon. Member for Cork is right in saying that progress has been made in the consideration of the Irish land question not by one side alone, but by the House of Commons generally.
There is one more difference which I might add to the differences mentioned by 1392 the First Lord of the Treasury yesterday as existing between the Irish and the English land systems. The right hon. Gentleman said that Irish land was not a marketable commodity, where as English land was. That is true; but there is something else remarkable about Irish land as distinguished from English land. That is that Irish land from the point of view of the purchase of ownership has had very little marketable value, where as in regard to letting to tenants it has had a monopoly value. Some go so far as to say that land which has no marketable value has yet a monopoly value. If that is so, it is one of the most remarkable differences between the Irish and English land systems, and needs special care in dealing with the Land Question in Ireland. Among the other things regarding which we must be on our guard, there is the possibility of monopoly value being offered for Irish land by the occupiers. Surely if the price is to be based on monopoly value we are working on an insecure foundation. Let us see how we stand with regard to the Irish Land Question at this moment. First of all, we did not recognise tenant-rights as the sentiment of co-ownership. Then came the Act of 1870, which legalised the principle provided other people were prepared to recognise it; but in the Act of 1881 that principle was imposed. It is easy to complain of the Act of 1881; and I understood the First Lord of the Treasury to say that he still remained very hostile to it; but I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that it was much easier to find fault with the Act than to say what should have been done in the circumstances. It is a very cheap part to play to find fault with the Act of 1881 unless it can be shown that there was a better alternative at the time. But we have, I admit, got beyond the Act of 1881. It was a just Act, in as much as it imposed what was a natural sentiment, and what was in accordance with the facts and ideas of co-ownership; but it seems to me to prove we must go beyond that. Having imposed the idea of co-ownership we have now got to do what we can to abolish co-ownership in order to substitute single ownership.
1393 Then we come to the question of price; and on the question of price depends the prospect of re-payment. I agree entirely with my right hon. friend who spoke yesterday, that the interests of the British taxpayer and the Irish tenant in this matter are closely bound up together. I welcome again what the First Lord of the Treasury said in regard to his opinion as to how far we may build on the willingness of the Irish tenant to repay. But the price must be a fair one. How are we to discover it? I quite see that there must be a limit at one end. We must see that an excessive price shall not be paid, because if an excessive price is paid we diminish the security of the British taxpayer. This is not a compulsory but a voluntary measure, and the interest in this limit being fixed is security for the taxpayer who lends the money. There is no danger to the security of the taxpayer if an unduly low price is paid, and I cannot see the object of the minimum limit of price. If it were a compulsory Bill, then I admit, of course, we should have narrow limits on both sides; but being a voluntary Bill there is only one object in fixing the limit, viz., public security. I cannot see why the lower limit was introduced at all, as from our point of view the lower the price the better the security, and I feel that this minimum limit is a very serious blot on the Bill—so serious that although I propose to reserve detailed criticism on it for the Committee stage it is one which, if not dealt with in Committee, may modify my attitude towards the whole of the Bill. Then there is a further fault in the Bill which I do not press, but which I think will have to betaken into consideration, if not in this Bill, then in some subsequent Bill. That is the question of larger powers for dealing with the congested districts. I am sure you will have to go further in that direction, not in the way of general but of special compulsory powers, than the Bill goes at the present time. You realise that it may be necessary to bring some compulsion to bear on the tenants who stand out, because if a fourth of the tenants stand out you propose to deprive them of certain privileges they now possess, and make their position less favourable than at present. You realise 1394 that the Bill, to be useful, must be large and comprehensive in its object. But is there no danger of a minority of landlords, perhaps one landlord, standing out, perhaps in those districts where the Bill is most needed. You will have to face the question, and even if you consider that you will launch the Bill without large powers in this direction, I think the House of Commons ought to be prepared to feel that in passing a Bill of this kind, the more largely and extensively the Bill operates the better; and you will have to take into consideration the question of dealing with special districts and special cases in Ireland.
One more point, and here I am not in agreement with what I understand to be the views of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland generally. I frankly admit that I like the rent-charge being reserved. I should like to say that the rent-charge, if maintained, will have to be reserved to an Irish local authority. I think that will have to come; and I do not cavil with the establishment of the principle that, subject to fair compensation, there is inherent in the private right of holding land a recognition of the paramount rights of the community at large. I entirely agree that if you carry out this Bill you must retain control to prevent subdivision and mortgaging. I see in the rent-charge a valuable principle underlying the right of the community with regard to the land; and in so far as it enables control to be exercised as regards subdivision and mortgaging it can have nothing but a practical effect. I rather prefer the rent-charge because it lays down a central principle when we are making a new start with regard to the land; and it is desirable it should be preserved. But there is another method of retaining control. That would be to offer the local authorities the right of pre-emption without a rent-charge and make it impossible for land to be subdivided, or mortgaged, or disposed of without the consent of the local authority, leaving the individual owner,, in all other respects, in complete control. But even those who objected to the rent-charge are agreed that something must be done to give the public authority control and to prevent these evils from 1395 arising. Now, let me come to the minor objections of principle. As to the free grant, it is an obvious retort to those who have pressed for economy to say that it is inconsistent now to advocate the expenditure of money. But in the instance cited, that of the Army Votes, we were pressing for the economy of millions; and the annual expenditure for this free grant, including the Sinking Fund, will only be £390,000; and unless the Bill operates more rapidly than is expected, that expenditure will not be reached for fifteen years. In pressing for economy on the Army Estimates, our reason was precisely that we knew that more money was needed at home. The Chief Secretary has given some figures of how money will be saved if this Bill be passed. Some of these figures may be open to question. But what is not open to question is that, directly or indirectly, if this Bill achieves only a part of its objects, the public saving with regard to Irish government will be infinitely greater than the annual interest of the free grant. In my opinion it is not fair to say that this free grant is a grant to the landlords. It is quite true that the money is to be given to the landlords, but the interest in the grant is both the landlords' and the tenants'. If the landlord gets the money, the tenant gets the land; and when we discuss the grant we ought to speak of it as a grant of money which is given, not in the interest of one class, but equally in the interest of both classes.
I sympathise with the desire to see the evicted tenant question dealt with as comprehensively as possible. We are told that in money and in the numbers of persons affected it will be a comparatively small matter. But in sentiment it is a large matter. There is sentiment underlying all these questions; and it is at least a subject for consideration whether it would not be wise, considering the great gain in sentiment and spirit, to re-open the question in Committee. As to the working of purchase, we have experience to go on, and we know what the effect of the Bill is likely to be in Ireland. Mr. Bailey's report says that the holdings of tenant purchasers have largely improved; that in many districts the actual carrying power of the land has been increased, 1396 largely by good management; that the tendency to sub-let and sub-divide has to a great extent disappeared, and that the tendency to sell has diminished; that the general solvency and credit of the tenant purchasers has much improved; that the Gombeen man has to a great extent disappeared; and that the standard of comfort has risen considerably within the last generation. That is a body of evidence drawn from experience which does make the prospect of a new Land Purchase Bill attractive. Because Ireland has depended mainly on agriculture, she has suffered with exceptional severity from what I think, was a right fiscal policy and from economic causes which could not be helped. Lately there has happily come into the Irish government a recognition of the fact that agriculture is an industry which must be conducted on scientific lines and with modern organisation. That that has been done better than in England is largely, if not entirely, due to the courage and persistence of Mr. Horace Plunkett. The hon. Member for Stoke held up Mr. Plunkett's political opinions to opprobrium. I do not care what his political views are, in view of the practical value of his work in Ireland. Ireland has now a prospect, which she has never had before, of being a good model of successful agriculture; and we are asked to get rid of this blighting system of the dual ownership of land When, for the first time within living memory, Ireland has a prospect of being commercially successful, surely that time is opportune for removing this obstacle to agricultural prosperity. Irish Members have thought it right to declare that, in dealing with the agrarian question, we must not hope to settle the political question; and the First Lord said that the Bill was not intended to alter people's convictions. We all of us entirely accept that position. We used to be told that to settle the Land Question was to settle the political question. We must be ready to abide by the result; but we must not regard the political question as in any way prejudiced. In my opinion, this Bill is not going to solve the political question in Ireland. It is not going to abolish Irish demands for more self-government. But it is going to introduce composure and reason into the future discussion of this question. It is going to enable the British electors, 1397 provided that it operates on the large scale that is hoped, to deal for the first time with the Irish political question on its merits, and to discuss Irish demands unbiased by all the misapprehension, bitterness, and ill-feeling to which the struggle for the land has given rise. I agree that it would be desirable to have introduced the Irish local authorities into the working of the land purchase system. I am sorry it is not in the Bill. It would have been an extra guarantee of the good and successful working of the system. But I am deeply impressed by the experience of recent years, with the futility of attempting too much at once. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the introduction later on, of the Irish local authorities as parties to the working of the system The Bill has difficulties enough before it in Committee. I do not regard it as an unpopular and disagreeable necessity. I see at the present moment a great opportunity of dealing with Irish land, and an attempt in the Bill to use that opportunity for good. It may be so handled in Committee that our attitude to it will be entirely changed. But I wish to see the Bill sent to Committee with the best encouragement we can give to it; and I hope to see it emerge as an active measure. That being so, as far as I am concerned, to vote against the Second Reading or to withhold my vote in favour of the Second Reading would be to take upon myself the responsibility of risking being a party to the doing of a mischief both to Ireland and to our relations with Ireland, which it would be beyond the power of the Liberal Party, or I think of any Party, to repair.
§ SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Staffordshire, Handsworth)
For a good many years I have taken the greatest interest in Irish land legislation, and on this account I think I may claim the indulgence of the House. The question of land tenure is one which, in all ages, has been attended with the very greatest difficulty. There are two or three main obstacles which have prevented princes and rulers from getting a good system of land tenure. The first difficulty which has to be encountered is, that as soon as a system gives any tenant fixity of tenure 1398 in his land, he is able to borrow, and it is this facility for borrowing which has rendered the system so unsatisfactory. In England, though farming families continue for many generations, it is very seldom that the yeoman owning his own land continues for long, because the fatal facility for borrowing makes it necessary for him to sell his farm. Then when the individual had no permanent interest in any particular piece of land, when it was held by the village in common, as it has been in Russia and elsewhere, they were met by the difficulty that the land was so badly cultivated that it would only support a very small population. When the period for re-distribution approached, whoever cultivated a certain piece of land would take all he could out of it and put nothing into it, because he knew he would not have the opportunity of cultivating it any longer. The result of this system was that land went into an extremely bad state of cultivation. Hon. Members will probably ask, what is a good system? Although I know the hon. Member for East Mayo will not agree with me, I assert that, as far as I can see, the English system of farming at present is as good a one as we can find. The farmer in England does not want to buy the land, and it would not pay him to do so. Suppose a man possessed £800 capital. If he were to buy the land he would be lucky if he could get twenty acres of good land with house and buildings for £600, and that would leave him only £200 for stock, and to put the house and drainage in order. But if he got twenty acres he would be a very small man indeed. Instead of doing this he uses the a hole of his money as working capital. He takes a farm with a house, with buildings and fences and roads provided and everything in a good state, and he has not to lay out one penny on these things. Consequently he is able to keep the whole of his money for stocking the farm. The result is that he gets a farm of 100 to 150 acres instead of twenty, and in that way he manages to live extremely well. The first question I may be asked will probably be, why cannot the English system be adopted in Ireland? The reason is that the holdings in Ireland are so extremely small that the landowners could not afford to build a house upon them. On a holding of £35 a year 1399 how could you expend £150 upon a house and buildings—and I am sure you could not provide them for less. And if they were provided the tenant is not willing to pay any more rent. In cases where the tenant has built his own house, of course it is only right that he should have a certain amount of compensation.
I approved of the compensation clauses in the Act of 1870, but I entirely disapprove of the Act of 1881. In order not to introduce any unnecessary irritation I will confine myself to the economic objections to that Act. To begin with, you ensure that every new tenant shall always be rack-rented. A man leaving his farm and going to America or to the Antipodes has no interest in his successor on the farm, and, naturally, he extorts the last farthing. The result is, that, by allowing tenants to sell to successors at the highest price, you ensure that every future tenant will always be rack-rented. The next objection I have to the system is that it does not ensure good cultivation, because when the fifteen years rent revision is approaching the tenant wants his farm to look as wretched as possible so that the Commissioners will fix a lower rent. Therefore you give to every tenant an inducement to cultivate the land badly. As the result of the working of the Acts which have been passed upon this question, I came to the conclusion, before the speech of the Prime Minister, that we had got into as bad a state of land tenure in Ireland as could possibly be arrived at. The small holdings of £5 a year, and so on, have been the greatest curse to Ireland, because they are not large enough to employ the energies of a man and his family. The Acts we have passed have tended to perpetuate these small holdings, and they have also given full powers of borrowing money, although as yet those borrowing powers have not been exercised so much as we might have expected. We have now arrived at an impossible position, and the question is, what is to be done? We are not starting afresh, but we are facing an impossible position created by successive Acts of Parliament. If we were starting from the year 1869 I believe we might make a better scheme. What we have now got to do is to find a scheme that will work, and find a way out of the present deadlock. It seems to me that if we do not pass this Bill we are going to get in- 1400 to very great difficulties. Re-valuations are now going on, rents are being again enormously decreased by the Commissioners, and loud complaints are being made that there has been no fall in prices since the last valuation sufficient to justify reductions in rent averaging about 22 per cent. In my part of the world the farmer is always complaining that the price of Irish store cattle always goes up, and the dealers say that the price of horses in Ireland goes up. Therefore, I do not see how the Government, if this Bill is not passed, can refuse a very searching inquiry as to whether the reduction of rents is not being made unfairly. I do not see how any just Government can avoid inquiry into this question. Supposing it is found that the rents have been reduced too much. Are we to have the whole question of land Commissioners and Sub-commissioners and their system of fixing rents fought out in this House? Take another case. Prices cannot always go down. If they did we should get eventually to nothing, and then, instead of selling your produce, you would have to pay some one to take it away. Supposing prices went up all round for agricultural products. If prices go up, then, of course, if justice is to be done, rents must go up too. Tenants have got into their heads that re-valuation means reduction, and if they were raised I think we might have all the difficulty over again. I agree with every word that has been said by the hon. Member opposite as to the tone and spirit in which we ought to approach this question, and as to the great opportunity which now presents itself for solving the problem once for all. It is no use for me to pretend that I approve of the Act of 1881, or that Members on this side of the House approve of it. We do not. But that is no reason why I should not try to find the best means out of the difficulty, or to find a scheme which commends itself to Members on this, as well as to Members on the other side of the House. Having given the most careful attention to the subject, I can honestly say that I mean to do my best to help the Bill through in a conciliatory spirit, and I hope it may do all the good that is expected of it.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)
Everyone who has listened to this debate must have noticed the difference between the spirit in which the leaders of the Liberal Party have approached this great subject, and that in which the Unionist Party dealt with the measure in 1886, when every kind of misrepresentation was used. Yesterday the Leader of the Irish Party was good enough to criticise an Amendment I had placed on the Paper objecting to this free gift to Irish landlords as an inducement to sell their land at prices in excess of its value, and I was practically told that it was none of my business. It was an excellent instance of the hon. Gentleman having become gamekeeper of the landlords' preserves. He warned me off, but he has himself been a poacher on those preserves for a great many years, and he affords a good illustration of the saying that an old poacher makes a zealous gamekeeper. As to this being none of our business, I only wish the hon. Gentleman had acted on that principle last year in connection with the English Education Bill. But I will pass from that. I am absolutely astonished at the attitude of hon. Members opposite when they tell us we may, with perfect security, invest £100,000,000 in Irish land, and that we can expect the Irish tenant to repay that money with regularity and punctuality—in fact, that the Irish tenant, in his dealings with the British Exchequer, will be one of the most punctual and honourable of men. They almost invest him with a pair of wings, but when it comes to a case of Irishmen dealing with Irish affairs in Ireland, then it appears that they are invested with a double dose of original sin, and cannot be trusted to manage their own affairs. I do not quarrel with the attitude of the Government; all I hope is that they will carry their principles a little farther, and let Irishmen have an opportunity of managing their own affairs in their own country.
I come now to what, after all, is the main point of this Bill—namely, the price which you are going to pay to Irish landlords for their land. When Mr. Gladstone introduced his Bill in 1886, we had pictures at the election of 1402 truck-loads of gold going into the Irish landlords' pockets. But what wag the price Mr. Gladstone proposed to pay! He did not propose to pay, as is proposed in this Bill, something like twenty-five years purchase of the first-term rent, but to pay sixteen years purchase, that is to say, instead of £2,500, he proposed to pay £1,600.
§ MR. LAMBERT
The Act had been in operation for four years, and Mr. Gladstone distinctly stated that he would take the first-term rents or a fair equivalent, and he proposed to give sixteen years purchase upon that basis. Was that a generous offer to the Irish landlord? The present Colonial Secretary, speaking on 20th April, 1886, said—I do not know if the Irish landlords will think it a sufficiently advantageous offer; I should, if I were in their place.That was the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman then. In June he said—There are 10,000 individuals in Ireland who are cared for; they have no cause to complain of the proposals made for their benefit. So far as they are concerned, the protection is complete. The 10,000 landlords in Ireland are to be protected at the cost and risk of the British taxpayer.I ask, if the Irish landlords were well paid by sixteen years purchase of the first-term rents in 1886, why is it they have to be paid this larger sum to-day? I will take the Chief Secretary's own figure of £4,000,000 second-term rents. If we take twenty years purchase, it will be found that Mr. Glad tone proposed to give the Irish landlords £80,000,000 for their £4,000,000 of rental, but this Bill proposes to give them £112,000,000. What real reason is there for giving the Irish landlords to-day £32,000,000 more than Mr. Gladstone proposed in 1886? I will go further. What has been the price of Irish land on second-term rents? I can take no better authority than Lord Dunraven, 1403 who, writing to the Freeman's Journal on 11th April, said that the average price of second-term rents had been nineteen and a half years' purchase. On £4,000,000 of rent that would work out at £78,000,000. Why are we called upon to make an advance of £112,000,000 for that which is admittedly worth only £78,000,000? We were told last night by the Prime Minister that the landlords never spent a single penny on their estates. If that is so, why are they to have twenty-five years purchase, plus three years as a bonus, making twenty-eight years purchase altogether? That is the question I want to ask. and it is the question, I think, which follows up the argument of the Leader of the Opposition. It is all a question of price, and you are giving the landlords too much. If I possessed the incisive eloquence of the Colonial Secretary, I should call this a bribe; instead of that, I will call it a kind of solatium to the Irish landlords—a slight token of our esteem for what they have done in the past. What have they done in the past? My own impression is that they have been the cause of a great deal of the agrarian strife in Ireland, because they have extracted, or attempted to extract, impossible rents from the tenants. The Chief Secretary said, "Oh, yes, but the police in Ireland are required largely because of the illegalities born of agrarian unrest." That is a pretty euphemism for "attempts to extract impossible rents from Irish tenants." It seems to me that we have very topsy-turvy ideas as to the position of Irish landlords. We seem to imagine that their position is a very unenviable one. The Chief Secretary described to us an Irish landlord being supported in the workhouse by the rates of his tenants. If the Irish landlord was so harassed an individual, one would have thought that he would be very glad to sell at a fair price. But not a bit of it. We were told by Lord Dunraven on April 24th that the great majority of landlords were not anxious to sell. Why are they not, if their position is so precarious? We have been told that they were like corks drifting on seas of litigation.
§ MR. LAMBERT
Oh, no! Prime Minister made a very different statement from that. He said that in Ireland there was a system under which, for historical reasons—and historical reasons go back farther than 1881—the landlord did not spend a shilling on his property. Why is the credit of the Imperial taxpayer to be pledged to give to Irish landlords an enormous benefit, which I think they hardly deserve? We were told at the Landlords' Convention that the Irish landlord was to receive a sum which would bring him in something like 3¼ per cent. I really do not understand why the Chief Secretary should value Irish land at this enormous figure. Moreover, I will try to show that this bonus of £12,000,000 is in reality £32,000,000. I take twenty years purchase, which, according to Lord Dunraven, is more than the average price of second-term rentals. Does the right hon. Gentleman dissent from that?
§ MR. LAMBERT
But you have £20,000,000 wrapped up in the Bill about which you say nothing. The landlords are to get all their legal expenses paid—that represents a considerable sum—and they are generous enough to suggest that all economies in administration in Ireland shall go towards the relief of the tenants' instalments. We heard a great deal of the Act of 1881. One would believe the Irish landlord's position prior to 1881 was a bed of roses, that no Irish landlords were intimidated, no agents were shot, and that there was no difficulty at all in obtaining the rents. Now the effect of that Act was to reduce first-term rents by 20 per cent. and second-term rents by 17½per cent., therefore you have a reduction in Ireland of 37½per cent. I can point to hundreds, of cases in England where landlords have made all the improvements and the reduction has been 37½ per cent. and 1405 more. British land ought to be as valuable as Irish land, but can you find estates in England where you can get a twenty-eight years' purchase. What are the results of the Act of 1881? I find that whereas in 1881 there were 3,000,000 cattle in Ireland the number had increased in 1891 to 4,600,000; during the same period sheep had increased from 3,200,000 to 4,300,000, and whereas in 1881 5 per cent. of the people were living in mud cabins, I am glad to say that in 1891 the figure had decreased to l.4 per cent., and I hope that number will soon disappear altogether. Then there is the tremendous bonus as regards their demesne land, and it gives the demesne owner the advantage of British credit, and enables him to clear off a mortgage, and put money in his own pocket as well. It was proved the other day in a letter to The Times that if you had demesne to the value of £10,000, of which £6,000 was on mortgage at 4½ per cent., the landlord would get the mortgage cleared off in sixty-eight and a half years and put £85 into his own pocket. That is the excessive price you are going to pay for this Bill.
That brings me to the point of tenure, and I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it is by the tenants' inability to pay the instalments that we have to judge of this Bill. I would rather see the Imperial money spent in relief of the tenants of Ireland, than in the relief of the landlords of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has so fined down the instalments that he has been able to give a larger purchase price to the Irish landlords. Altogether this Bill teems with examples of how the landlord's interest has been protected. He has been swaddled in purple and fine linen. They are even better off than the people in the Rand, because they get their sovereigns for nothing, where as other people have to work for them. Then the Ashbourne Act provided for a seventeen years purchase, but under this Act you are going to give twenty-four to twenty-eight years purchase, and in order to give other advantages to the tenant you have reduced the Sinking Fund from 4 to 3¼ per cent., and made other changes. I contend that all these ingenious calculations and contrivances have been made to give the Irish landlord an extreme price for his land, and 1406 thus tend to reduce the security of the State. A recent example is that of a sale of a Waterford and Kilkenny estate which has a nominal rent of £4,300. The landlord will receive in cash about £75,000, and had agreed to the sale on those terms. Now the landlord and his representatives want to postpone the sale because they will get an infinitely better price under the Bill. They will get £107,000 instead of £75,000, and what justification is there for putting £32,000 into the pocket of that Irish landlord, who had agreed to sell under the Ashbourne Act for £75,000. I think also that this increase in the number of years instalments to be paid by the State, constitutes a great danger and blot on the Bill. What will happen? In thirty or forty years time all the tenants under the present Act—some 74,000 as far as I can ascertain—will have their land free, and will not have to pay another penny, but the tenants who buy under the Act will have to pay another thirty or forty years and will never have their land free. That arrangement will not add to the contentment of Ireland. I take also, as I have stated in my Amendment, a rather serious view of bringing the Treasury into contact with something like 400,000 tenants. There are 275,000 tenants in Ireland whose holdings are under £10 a year, and fancy bringing the Treasury into direct contact with these tenants of holdings of uneconomic value, and who, if they had their holdings for nothing would hardly get along. Mr. Gladstone in 1886 spoke of that danger, and his words are as true to-day as they were then. You are bringing the Treasury into direct contact with this enormous number of tenants in Ireland, and you cannot expect, especially in bad seasons, that your instalments will be regularly paid. Of course public opinion supports the view of punctual payments in Ireland at the present time, but it may change under pressure of events. The right hon. Gentleman says we have material security in the Bill, but does anyone believe that you can withdraw the Exchequer contribution grants from Ireland? What would be the views of the Irish members on that point? Then we are told that this Bill is intended to check the deadly stream of emigration from Ireland. The Freeman's 1407 Journal says that not for many years past has the exodus reached so high a standard as in the present year. How-are you, by giving this large grant to the Irish landlords, going to stem the stream of emigration? Under the Local Government Act of 1898, you put direct into the landlords' pocket £316,000 a year in payment of their poor rate. I opposed that Bill because it would do nothing to help the poor tenants, and it has done nothing. The emigration returns show that two years before the Bill passed the number was 32,000 and two years after it had increased to 43,000.
I agree with the Irish Members in giving more power to the Congested Districts Board, and in putting upon that Board the Chairman, and possibly others, of the County Councils in Ireland, but, in this case, where you could do some good in that way to these poor people, the Bill is miserably inadequate. The right hon. Gentleman told us he hoped this Bill would settle the Irish Question, but he did not speak with great confidence on that point. Then we had the opinion of an authority, a right hon. Gentleman who now sits on the Treasury Bench, who tells us he will look forward to the next Bill. I notice the Unionist newspapers, who give a sort of squirming support to the Government on this measure, suggested that the Solicitor-General ought to hand in his resignation to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman of course has the power in his own hands. We know that the Prime Minister dare not dismiss him from his position because, if he poured in a couple of broadsides into this Bill, it would founder the whole concern. You are giving this enormous grant to the Irish landlords—£32,000,000 more than the land is worth—and yet you are doing nothing for the self-government of Ireland, or to settle the Irish questions. It was said the other day that if the King visited Ireland he would get no official reception, and we were told last night that this is intended to make he people of Ireland loyal.
I imagine that the supporters of the Government will rub their eyes with astonishment when they read the statement of the hon. Member for East Mayo that we are going to give this enormous 1408 grant of money in order to facilitate the sale and purchase of land, and that it will not make Ireland more loyal, and that it will not turn Home Rulers into Unionists. I do not object to the system of land purchase if you carry it out under reasonable conditions and give the Irish landlord a fair price for his land, which I maintain is not more than twenty years purchase. Supposing that an English landowner is to have land compulsorily taken from him you would give him compensation of 10 per cent. There is another evil which we will have to face, especially if you give this enormous grant to the Irish landlords. The Government will be turned into an absentee landlord in Ireland. I do not know what will be the result of that, because if the landlords leave Ireland you will be turning the Exchequer into a gigantic absentee landlord for sixty-eight and a half years. I do not regard this Bill as one for purchasing peace in Ireland. I regard it more as ransoming the Irish landlords.
§ MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid.)
My right hon. friend the Chief Secretary is, I think, to be warmly congratulated upon the reception which has been given to this Bill, not only in this House and in Ireland, but, I may add, throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. There has been a general, practically a universal, recognition of the fact that its principle is sound, that its object is worthy of support, and that its scheme, both in its financial and other aspects, may reasonably be expected to go a long way towards the final settlement of the Irish land problem. I have no doubt that my right hon. friend has carefully felt the pulse of public opinion in reference to this large and generous measure which he has submitted to the House and the country. I am sure that he and this House must have been impressed by the practical unanimity of that opinion throughout Ireland, among all ranks and classes of the people, in favour of the general principle and main provisions of the Bill. Those of us who have taken advantage of the Easter recess to visit our constituents and consult with them in reference to the Bill are, I think, in a position to assure the Chief Secretary and the House that the manifestations of 1409 public opinion in conferences and conventions, in speeches and in letters to the newspapers, accurately reflect the earnest desire which permeates the minds of the Irish people that the Bill should pass into law. I desire to emphasise this fact because many points in the Bill have been subjected to criticism, but that has been only upon matters of detail. General exception has been taken to some provisions which may or may not be considered by the Government to be vital provisions. But what I wish the House to bear in mind is that there is no body of opinion in Ireland which desires the rejection of the measure; but that, on the contrary, the earnest wish of the whole people of Ireland is that it should become law. Consequently all Amendments that may be proposed will be intended only to facilitate its operation and to more effectually attain the end we all most earnestly look for—the complete and lasting settlement of the Land Question. In his speech introducing the Bill my right hon. friend expressed the belief, which events since then have fully confirmed, that possible failure would not be due either to the Irish landlord or the tenant, or to the general taxpayer. I believe with my right hon. friend that neither the Irish landlord nor the Irish tenant will place obstacles in the way of the successful working of the Bill. I believe, moreover, that the general taxpayer, both in Great Britain and Ireland, will appreciate the advantages which must accrue to the United Kingdom and to the Empire from a settlement of this question, and that the hon. Member who has moved the rejection of the Bill will have a very small following, either in this House or in the country. And it is because we are deeply anxious that there should be no failure owing to what my right hon. friend has modestly called "shortcomings in the framing of the Bill," that we who represent the cause of Unionism in Ireland submit such suggestions and criticisms as appear to us to bear in the direction of strengthening the Bill.
Now, of course, there are defects in the measure—several serious defects in my opinion, and, indeed, in the opinion of all who are conversant with Irish land problems. To some of them I should like to refer, as they are not the subject of controversy at all in Ireland, but are 1410 universally regarded as defects in this great scheme, though, I must add, not by any means incurable defects. There is, for example, the restriction contained in Clause 17 dealing with the tenant's right to have a fair rent fixed. To take away this right, as the Bill proposes to do in certain circumstances, will be resented strongly, and naturally resented, by all the tenants—certainly by all the tenants in the north of Ireland. There is no right so dearly prized by the tenant farmer. To take it away from him as the Bill proposes in certain cases, or even to suspend it, as is proposed in other cases, would inflict on him a great injustice. It is, moreover, an element of compulsion in a Bill which is intended to go upon purely voluntary lines. Besides, in the vast majority of cases there is no pressing need for it, as the great inducements offered by the Bill will be sufficient in themselves. But every tenant will be irritated by the possibility of compulsion being applied to him, and that in itself will tend to check, not facilitate, the purchase of land. I trust that the Chief Secretary will in this important matter give way to what, by this time, he must know is the unanimous feeling of the Irish tenant farmers, and that he will delete this irritating and unnecessary provision. Then as to the limits of what the Chief Secretary has described as the "zones of reduction within which bargains for purchase may take place." Irish opinion is adverse to such cast iron limits. I believe that the minimum limit should be retained, but that there should be no limitation upon the maximum reduction. This, I think, should be left to agreement. I think that at this stage we should have at least an explicit statement from the Government of the reasons for the provision of the limits of reduction of rent. Again, with regard to the perpetual rent-charge of one-eighth, this seems unnecessary and should not be insisted upon. The only reason claimed for it is that it is an effectual check upon unauthorised dealings with purchased holdings. Now such unauthorised transactions cannot take place for sixty-eight and a half years, until all the instalments of the purchase money have been repaid. The retention of the rent charge, I submit, is therefore unnecessary. Its only effect would be injurious. It takes away from that magic sense of proprietary which in all ages and 1411 countries has been the greatest incentive to industry. The Irish tenant farmer wants to buy out all other interests. He is content to pay for the long period of sixty-eight years provided he is freeing himself from the whole burden, and not merely from a portion of it. I think, therefore, that the rent-charge is calculated to check the desire for purchase, and, of course, that would be very unfortunate. I would, therefore, suggest the omission of this provision, and that the reservation of a small quit rent would effect the object which is desired.
I come now to the feature of the Bill which has much impressed the popular imagination—that is the grant-in-aid of £12,000,000. The necessity for some such grant has been amply demonstrated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, and is, I have no doubt, clear to all who know the practical difficulty that at present retards land purchase in Ireland. That practical difficulty is, of course, that the sum which the tenant can afford to give falls considerably short of what the landlord is equitably entitled to receive, and, indeed, what he can afford to accept, and some such grant is needed to bridge over that difference. I would remind English and Scotch Members of some important points in connection with that grant. In the first place the sum of £12,000,000 is a maximum, extending over many years, and which can only be reached if this Bill becomes completely successful; and I think nobody will deny that its success will far more than justify the expenditure. Then another point is that not more than £390,000 is to be charged upon the Exchequer in any one year, and of that sum, I need not remind the House, Ireland is entitled to £185,000, its equivalent for the education grant to England. Besides, if, as seems reasonably certain, the expectations of my right hon. friend are realised, and economies in Irish administration are effected to the amount of £250,000 a year in consequence of the Bill, the result would be that practically no money whatever would have to be found by the State in respect of the object of the Bill. So far as the British taxpayer is concerned the grant would practically not affect him in the least. While £12,000,000 is a generous provision I do not think it is sufficient to meet the case. What is sufficient has been variously estimated; but there is 1412 I think, a general consensus of opinion in Ireland that at least £15,000,000 or £16,000,000 would be required. I desire to know, therefore, whether there is any hope of the grant being increased. If the Government cannot see their way to give a larger bonus I hope they will seriously consider the advisability of imposing a time limit of, say, three or five years, within which only those landowners arriving at an agreement to sell their estates should be allowed to participate in the grant. This, no doubt, would form a sort of compulsion, but one that was only counterbalancing that put upon the tenants in depriving them of their fair rent rights. If the latter restriction is retained, some such pressure as that of a time limit should be applied to the landlords. But I should prefer that the inducements to landowners should be made more effective and more equitable by an increase of grant. Besides, by increasing the grant the bonus could be made uniform and at the same time increase the average. All parties in Ireland are agreed that the graduated scale of bonus should be abandoned in favour of a uniform scale. The graduated scale under the Bill does not offer sufficient inducement to large landowners to sell. I trust that the Government will give an assurance upon this matter, as there is practical unanimity in Ireland that it is desirable and necessary.
There are several other points on which the Bill might be usefully amended. For example, I think the limit of £3,000 for advances should be increased to £5,000 at least, so as to include large farms, of which there are many in the north of Ireland, and I think it would be unfair that the holders of them should be excluded from the benefits of this measure. Then the exclusion of mill farms from the present Land Acts is recognised as a great hardship, and as most of these mills are of no value, and are never likely to have any, the tenants of them are, properly speaking, only agricultural tenants. I hope some provision will be made to give-purchase powers to such mill tenants. I think that special provision is needed in the case of Church perpetuity leases and Trinity College leases. These tenants have had to submit to 1413 judicial reductions of their sub tenants' rents on two occasions, but after having submitted to these reductions no relief whatever has been made available to them in respect of their rents, simply owing to their special tenure. This hardship is one which, I believe, will be accentuated by the purchase rights granted to these sub tenants under this Bill, and ought to be met by the insertion of some provision in the Bill. There is one provision in the Bill which I regard as of some importance, viz., Clause 16, by which the sporting rights are reserved to the vendor who has purchased part of his estate. I believe this to be a very proper and useful provision. We want to encourage the present landowners to remain in the country. It will undoubtedly be to the great advantage of the farmers and trades people, and to the general community, that this loyal and independent class should not be deprived of one strong attraction to reside amongst the people.
There is another matter to which I desire to allude, and that is the provisions in the Bill relating to labourers. These provisions are good so far as they go, but they do not go anything like far enough. They only touch the fringe of what is a very important part of the land problem in Ireland. I trust that we shall have some assurance from the Government that that part of the Bill will be amended or extended, so as to confer greater benefits upon a very deserving class, or else that separate legislation will be proposed to secure a very necessary amelioration of the condition of the agricultural labourer. The points I have referred to, are, I believe, important and essential to that complete success of the scheme which we all so earnestly desire. Apart from that, however, they are in a measure subordinate to the main principle of the Bill. All we ask from the Government is that full and fair consideration may be given to them. As an Irish Unionist Member, I appeal to this House to sanction this measure I appeal to hon. Members representing the interests of the United Kingdom to join in settling this question, which has cost the Empire many times more than the grant under this Bill. The immediate and the direct benefits it will confer 1414 to Ireland, and indeed to the whole Empire, cannot be over-estimated. As Unionists we can afford to disregard the professions of the belief of some hon. Members opposite, that the removal of the Irish land difficulty will be a stepping-stone to Home Rule. On the contrary, in my opinion it would rather tend to the strengthening of the ties that bind Great Britain and Ireland together. The Land Question has been at the bottom of all the political agitations, and of the greater part of the crime, in Ireland for the last hundred years. Settle that question by establishing the Irish farmer upon his holding as the owner, and he will apply himself with an energy he never before exhibited to the cultivation of his land. And the possession of the land will destroy in him the germs of disloyalty and unrest which have hindered his prosperity so fatally in the past. Moreover, as he witnesses the steady improvement of his own position, he will more and more realise the advantages of having open to him such a market as Great Britain offers for the disposal of his produce. And from such material advantages the conviction will grow in him that his prosperity depends in a vast measure upon the maintenance of the Union. The prosperity of Ireland—the contentment of her people—the stemming of the tide of emigration which is draining Ireland of the most virile portion of her population—in short, the full development of her resources—these are the results which will follow from the settlement of the land problem; and they are surely worth the pledging of the Imperial credit, and the expenditure of a few hundred thousands a year. I shall, therefore, support the Second Reading of this Bill, knowing that I shall, thereby, carry out the unanimous desire of my constituents, and firmly believing that it will confer lasting I benefits not only upon Ireland, but upon' the United Kingdom and the Empire.
§ DR. THOMPSON (Monaghan, N.)
Mr. Speaker, everyone must admit the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Land Bill of 1903 has done so in as able an address as was possible, considering the weakness of his case. His speech abounded in assertions, but not in facts, 1415 and certainly not in logic. He demanded if the Land Bill becomes law-similar privileges for English tenants and labourers, and he asked was it a wise policy to yield to threats of violence and continual agitation, if the demands of the Irish representatives are any longer refused. As regards the other statements of the hon. Member, the argument contra is the simple but effective one that the circumstances of the Land Question in both countries quite different, and that a law which would be manifestly necessary and fair in one country would be unjust and uncalled for in the other. Prior to the famine time the old class of Irish landlord, although possessed of unlimited power, was as a rule generous and kind to his tenants, and seldom increased the rent. It was the advent of the Encumbered Estates Court Act of 1851, and a new race of landlords, which produced the state of confusion prior to 1881, and which is responsible for most of the troubles which have so grievously afflicted Ireland for the past fifty years. In the county in which I live landlords like the Duke of Abercorn, Lord Belmore, the Earl of Castlestuart, Sir James Strong, Lords Powerscourt, Ranfurly and Charlemont, and many others, were always kind and indulgent to their tenants, whose rents had not been increased for generations. When the Land Bill of 1881 became law they suffered quite as much reduction in rent as the landlords who had bought under the Act of 1851, most of whom had doubled or trebled the rents, and had in consequence enjoyed 10, 15 or 20 per cent. on their outlay for twenty or thirty years. I know a case where a property was bought to pay 5 per cent., which was immediately doubled, and the landlord received the increased income for thirty years. When, in 1881, the rent was reduced by 30 per cent., he took the matter philosophically, and remarked that he had not fared so badly after all. In another instance a noble Lord bought a small property for £10,000, revised and increased the rent, and immediately resold it for £15,000; again, a wide-awake solicitor, hearing that a well-known physician was anxious to become a landlord, with a view to civic honours in a northern city, bought a large property in the Encumbered Estates Court, doubled the rents, sold half of it to the doctor for a larger sum than he had paid for the 1416 whole estate, and kept the other half, thus clearing a profit of 100 per cent. without spending a shilling of his own money. These are only a few examples within my own knowledge of what was a common practice, and one which was suggested and encouraged by a British Act of Parliament. What excuse has the hon. Member to make for a law, the evil consequences of which British statesmen must, or rather should, have known, and which they allowed to exist for thirty years without taking any action to remedy. If the same conditions had been allowed to exist in Great Britain, the British people would have soon solved the difficulty by a revolution, and they would have been justified in doing so.
When times were fairly good, the poor Irish people had to submit to all those evil results emanating from British misrule; but in 1878 and 1879, prices fell away and the sufferings of our people became so great that flesh and blood could no longer tolerate the wrongs they were obliged to suffer. The result was the terrible uprising of an oppressed people, followed by that great act of reparation, the Land Act of 1881, introduced and passed by the greatest British statesman of the century, whose memory will always remain fresh and green in the hearts and minds of the Irish people. This Act was hailed with enthusiasm, it gave new life and freedom to an enslaved race; but as year after year its beneficial effects became more apparent, so also did its injustice and defects. It reduced rents indiscriminately, treating the old race of landlords in the same way as those who had purchased under the Estates Court Act. The Act of 1881 undoubtedly interfered with the known laws of political economy, and statesmen recognising in future years its baneful results introduced Purchase Act after Purchase Act, and also amending Land Acts, each doing some good, but still not curing the evil, and producing in those who could not purchase bitter feelings at their unequal treatment. In the West also the condition of the people, notwithstanding the efforts of the Congested Districts Board, became more menacing and intolerable These poor people live a miserable hand-to-mouth existence, and are often on the verge of starvation. 1417 Their condition is a standing danger and disgrace to the British Government. Discontent being therefore rife in the land, it was not hard in 1898 to stir up agitation once more; but the effort was feeble in comparison with former efforts, and was controlled by the decisions in the Taff Vale and Tallow and other cases, which prevent village busybodies and boycotters from carrying on their nefarious trade of stirring up local and general strife and profiting themselves by the turmoil they produce. The Roman Catholic Clergy also, and notably the patriotic Bishop of Elphin, condemned in the interests of their country the wiles of these disturbers. Ireland in certain parts became, however, so unsettled that the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary, had no alternative except to enforce an exceptional law which everyone hates. Although strong, however, he was gentle and sympathetic, and while he showed that he would not allow Ireland to be ruined by feebleness and irresolution, at the same time he was determined to do all in his power to heal her open wounds. With this object in view he introduced into the House of Commons the great Land Bill of last year, which at first was received on all sides with approval, and which was a much better Bill in many respects for the tenants than the Land Bill which to-day is receiving its Second Beading. Only two clauses were objected to, viz: the 16th and 36th. The first was certainly bad; the second contained within it excellent germs which could have been made to bear good fruit. This Clause ordained that any landlord or tenant who wished to sell or buy could apply to the Land Commission to fix a purchase price, which he could either accept or reject. If the price was considered fair no doubt the landlord would have sold, in which event the tenant was obliged to buy or else forfeit his right to go into the Land Court to have a fair rent fixed. This was undoubtedly unfair, but if the Land Bill had been submitted for consideration to a Grand Committee, composed chiefly of Irish Members, it could have been easily amended and made to work admirably. No seller would sell a cow or a horse or other article without knowing the price a purchaser will give for it. Neither could a landlord be expected to part with his estate to the Land Commission with- 1418 out knowing what he was going to get for it. The very fact, however, of a landlord applying to the Commission showed clearly he wished to sell, and also' that he could not expect to get more than, at the very highest, twenty years purchase of his first-term rent, which would have been one year more than the average price. Supposing, then, an original rent of £100, reduced by 20 per cent. to £80 as a first-term rent, was sold at twenty years' purchase, the landlord would have received a capital sum of £1,600. The Bill of last year proposed to lend the cash at 3¾ per cent. I have every reason to believe the terms would have been reduced in Committee to 3¼ per cent., the same as in this year's Bill, and if this had been done, then, in the example I have taken, a first-term rent of £80 would have been reduced by £28 to £52, or a reduction of 35 per cent. Under the Bill of this year the minimum is placed at 20 per cent. of a first-term rent, which would make the future rent £64, or £12 annually worse for the tenant than in the Bill of last year. In addition the landlord will receive 15 per cent. bonus, or £295 on the capitalised value of the property, viz., £1,970, which will give him a lump sum of £2,265, and an income, if the cash was invested at 3¼ per cent., of £73 12s. in lieu of an uncertain rent of £80. A landlord, therefore, is £21 12s. better off in such an example, and the tenant loses £12.
Again, under the Bill of this year if the first-term rent is £80, reduced by 40 per cent. to £48, it continues for 68J years, and its present capitalised value is £1,497 6s. Under last year's Bill the average of the lowest reductions would probably be seventeen years, and in this case the rent would be £51, terminable in forty-nine years, the capitalised value of which would be £1,336 2s.; the tenant is, therefore, even in this instance, £161 4s. to the bad. Under the old Bill, even if the interest had remained at 3f per cent., the highest rent a tenant would have had to pay would have been £60, and this sum, capitalised and terminable in forty-nine years, would: amount to £1,572. Under the Bill of this year the capitalised value of a rent of £64, terminating in sixty-eight years, is £1,996 8s., and the tenant loses £424 8s. Either way, therefore, 1419 the new Bill is looked at, whether the rent is the highest or the lowest possible, the tenant is a heavy loser when compared with the Land Bill of last year. He must, however, accept the situation unless he determines to reject the Land Bill of this year, which, although not nearly so beneficial to him as the Act of 1902, still possesses sufficient attractions to render its rejection a simple act of madness, which no one having his country's interests at heart could ever dream of for a moment. The fact is, the Taff Vale decision, the Tallow judgment, the decisions of County Court Judges making the boycotters and village tyrants and other evil counsellors responsible for their acts, and in addition, the general apathy of the Irish people, who are really sick of agitation and recognise the injury it has done to their country and themselves, as well as a general industrial revival, and the strong opposition to all their ways of a determined but intensely patriotic band of Independent Nationalists, to whom the country owes a deep debt of gratitude, forced the hands of those who had been prominent in the agitation. Hence the Conference under Lord Dunraven and the proposals which emanated from it, including the toast of His Majesty King Edward VII, which doubtless all the Nationalist Party will join in honouring as soon as the Land Bill becomes law, thus acknowledging, as they have a right to do, if all we hear is true, the warm sympathy His Majesty has for our country and his desire to make the Irish people as happy and contented as the other countries embraced within the British Empire. Last year eight or nine Nationalist Members of Parliament dared to attend the Coronation of our King, and for doing so were abused and slandered in various newspapers. Six months afterwards the very same journals were praising His Majesty to the hilt, and several of the leading Members of the Nationalist Party, as well as a great teetotal advocate, were pleasantly engaged in pledging the good health of the King in flowing bumpers of champagne. It is a blessed change in sentiment and policy, and one which in the near future will bear ripe fruit. The fault of those who advocated a different 1420 policy lies, or rather lay, in their want of the faculty of detachment, by reason of which until the last few months they seemed unable to understand Ireland's altered and improved condition, which required very different treatment to that accorded to the patient In 1879 and 1880. All honour, however, to the man and men who, however late in the day, have at last diagnosed the conditions and applied the necessary remedy. Our country has a price to pay for the mistake, but under all the circumstances it will I believe be cheerfully rendered.
I have referred to the 36th Clause of last year's Bill; I have shown that the opposition to it was inconsiderate and wrong. No landlord would have applied under it unless he was prepared to accept at the most twenty years purchase of the second-term rent, which was above the average price prevalent in Ireland, and I have demonstrated that under it the tenant would have received a reduction of 35 per cent. in his rent. This, then, was the compulsion he was to be afflicted with, viz.: that he was obliged to change a rent of £80 for one of £52, which latter included repayment of the Sinking Fund equal to a further reduction when compared with the former rent of £8, and he was told that if these terms were not accepted he would continue as the tenant of the Government, and would not be allowed the doubtful privilege of again applying to the Land Courts for a further revision of his rent. Fancy pitying a buyer of a cow or horse who was offered the animal at 35 per cent. less than its supposed value; and let us picture the terrible compulsion that we all would suffer if we had a similar offer made to us; and yet it was over a clause having this effect that the hon. Member for South Tyrone almost went into hysterics in denunciation of a perfidious Government, which dared to harbour such malicious intentions. It is a pity the Irish people can be so easily misled, but they trust without question some of their leaders, and in doing so of ten suffer from serious delusions. Probably the lesson they have recently learned will teach them to think for themselves, which will have good results in the near future. When the Bill of last year was in serious danger, in common with others, and notably the 1421 hon. Member for North Louth, some of the Nationalist Members tried to stem the torrent of abuse with which it was assailed. In a series of four letters to the Press I showed the great benefits which the Land Bill of 1902 offered to the tenants. First in Ireland by many weeks; I suggested a Conference between landlords and tenants. I asked Questions on this subject in this House, as the records of Hansard can prove. The way for the Conference had been thus well paved when Captain Shawe Taylour appeared on the scene and made his brilliant and daring suggestion, actually naming the members who should compose the Conference, and calling upon them to come together and arrange the Land Question in the only satisfactory way it could be settled, by a friendly discussion between the opposing leaders. The proposal was certainly startling, because no one in Ireland believed there was a room in Dublin large enough to hold such discordant elements. Unfortunately, the Landlords' Convention did not rise to the occasion, but there were others of the class who were not so easily discouraged, who gladly met the representatives of the tenants, and produced a series of suggestions, many of which are embodied in the present Land Bill, which we all hope will soon become the law of the land, and prove a firm foundation upon which to build a future for Ireland of peace, progress, and prosperity.
The Land Bill of 1903 is a great measure which contains eighty nine clauses; its chief characteristics as compared with the Land Act of 1902 are the cheapness of the loan, the offer of a free gift of £12,000,000, the enlargement of the investing power of trustees, and the power given to both landlords and tenants within certain limits to arrange their own terms of sale and purchase. There is also a clause providing in some measure, hut not sufficiently, for the evicted tenants. Most of the other clauses in the Bill are merely repetitions of the many excellent provisions in the Land Bill of last year, and relate to simplification of the landlord's title, local registration, the appointment of a public trustee, arrangements about bogs, reduction in legal expenses and on sale, protection of sporting rights, enlargement of the powers of the Congested Districts Board, and the division of the purchase instalments into a seven-eighth terminable 1422 annuity, and one-eighth quit rent. From all I have been able to gather from frequent interviews with solicitors and others, there can be no doubt that the framework of the Bill is excellent, and that the value of most of its provisions and their liberality is striking and original. The blot on the Bill is the small notice taken of the labourers, which, in the present state of the labour market and its importance to the welfare of the farmer, should not be overlooked. It would seem to me a valuable provision if power could he given to the County Council to buy up vacant farms and divide them into allotments for the labourers, building on each a comfortable cottage, and allowing the labourer to become the owner of his home much on the same terms as the farmer. Some such arrangement as this would enable the labourer to be well housed. Where a cottier house at present exists, and is in the occupation of a labourer, if unsuitable and insanitary it should be rebuilt by the District Council, and an acre of land purchased for the holding as a right. As regards the other clauses of the Land Bill most of them are sufficiently explicit, and require little amendment. Clause 1 defines the minimum and maximum reductions above and below which the purchaser cannot, on an estate with encumbrance not exceeding two-thirds of its value, go. I see no reason why the landlord and tenant should not be allowed to agree to a greater reduction, if they so please. It seems to me the lower the future rent the greater the State security. There is some objection to the quit rent. The amount is considered excessive. There can, however, be no reasonable doubt that a small charge, say of 10 per cent., would he a benefit to the country, and should be made a permanent Government charge. The difficulty will be in the collection of this tax. A very efficient and simple plan would be to make the tax collectors of each county include this quit rent in the county collection, and earmark it for useful county purposes, industrial development, secondary education, and the better housing of the working classes.
The clauses dealing with sporting and riparian rights should be amended, so as to give the whole power over the surface of his farm to the tenant; the 1423 Government retaining for the benefit of the State all mineral rights. Moors, bogs, and mountains should be excepted, and the shooting and sporting rights over them, as well as riparian rights, reserved to the Land Commission or County Council for the public benefit. Since the tenants have become so largely their Own masters Ireland has suffered severely by the ruthless cutting down of timber. I believe the trees on each farm should be preserved to the State and placed in each county under the control of the county surveyor. Every effort by suitable clauses should also be made to re-afforest waste lands. Very little mention has been made of future tenants, or those who possess mills. I believe both parties should be allowed to participate in the benefits of this Act, and should be granted the privilege of considering their present rent as a first-term rent, and purchasing under the same terms as other tenants. If some arrangement of this sort is not made, it is hard to see how the landlords can dispose of their estates as a whole to the Land Commission, as there are future and mill tenants on nearly all of them. Another matter of consequence is the position of the middle-man tenants; hitherto they have been left out in the cold, and it would seem only fair to allow them the same privileges under this Bill as other tenants. Great objection has been taken to the clause which allows a simple majority of tenants on an estate to dictate terms to a minority which might be only one less than the majority, and which hinders the minority if they refuse to buy, from seeking the benefit of the Land Act of 1881. If a three-fourths majority was required the objection would not be so strong; but there can be no doubt that any compulsion or deprivation of the rights of the tenants under the Act of 1881 is strongly disapproved of. The remedy, however, is easy. Allow the dissenting tenants to remain as tenants of the Land Commission and leave them all the rights they now possess; in a very short time the tenants would see the folly of their action, and understand it was hardly to their interest to remain any longer than absolutely necessary the tenant of the party which has the power of appointment of both the Sub and Chief Land Commissioners.
1424 The first schedule detailing the percentages of the purchase and aid grant is unpopular with everyone except the smaller landlords; it is framed entirely on a misapprehension. It is the larger landlords—two dozen of whom own half Ireland—who should be induced to sell. Five per cent. on the capitalised value is not a sufficient inducement in their case. The aid grant of £12,000,000 should be sufficient to offer each landlord a bonus of three years rent purchase. Twenty years ago I suggested this very proposal. If this offer was only made available for three years, within which time all those who proposed to sell their properties to the State must have registered their intention, I believe when the time had closed, and with it the offer, there would be very few properties indeed left unsold. The restriction of the amount of sales to £5,000,000 in a year is a mistake. The figure should be raised to £7,000,000, or even more. The quicker the sales the better for our country and people. The speed at which sales will be effected depends upon the perfection of the machinery, and this would be greatly enhanced by the appointment in each county of an Examiner of Title. If not possible in each county, then at least two examiners should be appointed in each province. Irish solicitors complain greatly of the inconvenience, delay, and petty obstructions placed in their way in the Central Dublin Office. Again, the clause in the Bill authorising the Estates' Commissioners to appoint per sons to make title is objected to, not only as a serious interference with the rights of the solicitors, but also because these new authorities could not possibly have the same knowledge of the various estates and their peculiarities and charges as the family solicitor must necessarily possess. Another important class who must be conciliated, if the Bill is to work smoothly, is the land agents. Unless they are fairly treated sales will be few. Their knowledge of the different estates is essential to the speedy working of this great Bill. I believe they would not make any unreasonable demand, and would be satisfied if the law gave them a right to a small percentage on the completion of each sale, or else made them the receivers of the terminable annuities at half their present fees. This matter was referred to on the First Reading by the hon. Member for North Louth, and 1425 many Members on this side of the House Agree with the hon. Member, notwithstanding the recent suggestion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone that he would much prefer to compensate emergency men. The Bill requires Amendment as regards bogs. If the Government buys a landlord's estate, it should buy it as a whole and not in part; without turbary at a reasonable price the tenant is greatly handicapped. It would meet all the requirements if the Government bought the bogs with the estate, and subsequently rented to each tenant and landlord the bog holding which he formerly held. The tenants, however, have this matter in their own hands by refusing to purchase their holdings without a due allotment of turbary.
Another point upon which there seems general agreement is the folly of keeping the tenants in leading strings; they are not to mortgage their holdings, etc., and a spy is to be put upon them in these matters in the shape, under a penalty, of the tax collector. This might answer in India but is quite impossible in Ireland. Prevent subdivision without the sanction of the Land Commission, if you like though even this is a doubtful advantage, and in some countries, notably in France, subdivision has been found to act advantageously by encouraging a return to the country of those who have made money in towns and wish to spend their declining days in or near the old home: but nurse and interfere with your newly-made tenant as little as you can, or you will interfere with his sense of self-respect and self-dependence. In the working of the Land Bill of 1881 you had experience of the evil results of interference with the ascertained laws of political economy; and in attempting to throw obstacles in the way of the owner of a farm, acting as his interests dictate, you are only laying up for yourselves difficulties which you may find it hard to limit. If a farmer wants capital he will have to get it somehow and if he cannot borrow on the security of his farm he will on his disposable effects cattle, furniture, or other property; and if these go in liquidation of his debts, how can he work his farm? Besides, hard times may come, and in order to live he must borrow—you can never protect the improvident man, in time he will certainly go to the wall, and if his place 1426 is taken by someone else of more business habits, surely it is better in the end for the general interests of the country. The Irish tenant must be allowed to borrow; many of them have no capital, and they are all liable to sudden small losses. The proper plan to overcome these troubles is by education, and by the establishment in as many districts as possible of agricultural banks; which, wherever initiated, have worked well and completely met the difficulty. Another mistake in the Bill is the proposal to make one sub-commissioner do the work of two. The present system, evil as is its result, is the evolution from previous blunders, and should not be disturbed; the sooner, however, the peregrinations of the sub-commissioners are put a stop to the better, for no country could possibly flourish where such a system has long continued. That it has not long since ruined and demoralised Ireland—setting as it does, and did, a premium on idleness and lying—is simply due to the honesty of the Irish people. No one denies, of course, that some Act was necessary to protect the tenants and give them fixity of tenure, fair rents and free sale; but all this could have been accomplished, after the first rent-fixing, by a system, such as was often suggested, of allowing the rents to rise and fall automatically in a fixed cycle of years, according to the rise and fall of produce and cattle within fixed areas.
The clause relating to the evicted tenants is insufficient, and every reasonable inducement should be held out to these men to return to their homes, where their farms are still vacant. I fully understand the reasons that prevent graziers coming under this Bill. I certainly would not suggest that their landlords should share in a bonus on sale to them, but I see no reason why, with the consent of the Land Commission, the landlords and tenants should not be allowed to consider the existing rents as first-term rents, and arrange between themselves, minus the bonus, reasonable terms of sale and purchase by the State. The Congested Districts Board has done a great deal of good, and some foolish work; it should be strengthened by adding to it a few representatives of the people, nominated by the County Councils which are affected by the provisions of the Congested Districts Act. There are, of course, a 1427 great many other questions of importance raised in the Bill which require close attention. Taken as a whole the Land Bill of this year is a most comprehensive, well arranged, and well thought out measure; notwithstanding its many difficult and intricate details, its main characteristics are easily found out and understood. It reflects great credit on the Government, and especially on the Right hon. Gentleman who is its sponsor In this House, and who moved its Second Reading in one of the ablest and most sympathetic speeches towards my country I ever heard in this House or out of it. Never before has Ireland's harp been played upon by a more skilful British player; hitherto, its chords have remained untuned and unstrung, and any time they have been touched they have only given out discordant music. Yes, Sir, the harp that once reverberated through Ireland has ceased to give forth sweet music. All life and song is stayed in our country owing to the grotesque folly of successive British Governments, who from the time of the Union until the year 1869 paid no more heed or attention to Ireland than if the country had no connection with the British Empire; our manufactures you killed, our tenantry you robbed, our labourers you failed to give employment to, and your own friends the landlords you treated unjustly by an Act of Parliament which was framed with the best intentions, but was administered in such a way that the good landlords—the old Irish families who were the friends of the people in dark and troublous times, who were residents and not absentees—were plundered, while another race of landlords grew up, too many of whom were only impelled by mercenary motives, and who oppressed our people without mercy within sight of your shores, and without your British statesmen raising a finger of protest or doing anything to ease the situation or apply a remedy. Is it any wonder, under all these circumstances, that you are not loved by any parties in Ireland?
If what I have attempted to prove is true, and you can satisfy yourself on this head by referring to histories, is not the case for a settlement of the Irish Land Question by some such Land Bill as the present measure abundantly proved? If the present Irish difficulty has 1428 been produced by your bungling legislation, if the fault is yours and not that of the Irish people, is it not your duty to repair the damage you have done even if it requires a few millions of sovereigns to accomplish the desired end? Do you not owe to Ireland countless millions for your neglect and wrongdoing? Do you not owe her something for the sons she has produced who have fought your battles everywhere over the face of the earth? Have you repaid her by attention to her wants, for the statesmen who saved India, for the soldiers who fought for you in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, in the Crimea, and recently in South Africa, and for the host of Irish generals who came to your assistance in the dark days that followed the disaster at Colenso? Have you forgotten the gallant deeds of your Irish soldiers on many a stricken field throughout that campaign? Do you remember Colenso and Pieter's Hill, and will you repay all Ireland's great services to your Empire by your present Land Bill and a gift to your own people in Ireland of£12,000,000? I ask the hon. Member, in all humility, has he been satisfied in this debate that Great Britain is only giving us back a small portion of the money she owes us, or does he imagine that the Irish people are going to the British Government, hat in hand, to beg for a dole. I tell him our people would rather starve than occupy such a position. We place little dependence on British Governments, but we do rely upon the sense of justice of the British people, and we feel sure that, when they are convinced a great wrong has been done to Ireland, they will have no hesitation in accepting the proof and applying the remedy, even if it requires some millions to accomplish it.
A good deal has been said about the danger which may result in the Irish people not fulfilling their obligations. Is there in history a single example of their having failed to do so? For twenty years Purchase Acts have been in existence, large sums have been lent to the Irish people, and you have it in evidence, and especially in the recent most valuable report of Mr. Commissioner Bailey, that almost every farthing of these loans has been repaid. Indeed, if the House dived deeper into these transactions it would be found that the 1429 British Treasury has made a very considerable profit. I can vouch for it that the Irish people will honestly fulfil their obligations. I have spent over thirty years working amongst them. I know them in a way very few in this House can boast of doing. I have spent my life in the closest contact with them. I have seen them in their homes. I have sat with them for hours in their times of sorrow and suffering. I have been a witness of their love and sympathy for each other, of their patience, their pluck, their courtesy, their deep religious and high moral character; and in business transactions I can vouch for their honesty. To a people with such a character the British people need be under no apprehensions whatever. What they undertake to do through their representatives in this House, you may rely upon it they will faithfully perform, fulfil, and keep. The British people have a great opportunity. The policy of the present Government is to redress the wrongs and to bring back contentment and peace to Ireland. You have already seen the beneficial effect produced by one little touch of kindness. You know how the name of King Edward VII is revered in Ireland, because he is believed to have taken a part in trying to heal the wounds of our country, and you know the splendid Irish welcome which awaits him when he crosses the North Channel. The necessity for this great Irish Land Bill has been demonstrated to you. Will this British House of Commons reject it and plunge Ireland again into despair and agitation? I feel certain it will not do so; on the contrary, I believe in the justice of the British people now that their eyes are open to the true light, and that their statesmen are determined to see justice done. Pass this Bill then, and the beautiful prayer of the Irish Leader—when he closed the recent Convention—will be fulfilled, and the God of our fathers will fill our land with peace and plenty and bless our country and the British people.
MR. SEYMOURORMSBY-GORE (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)
I desire to say a few words on this Bill because I possess an attribute which is common to those who have lived in Ireland for a considerable portion of their lives—namely, a deep interest in the country and in the 1430 Irish people, and because in the constituency which I represent in this House there is a considerable Irish population. The last charge which can be levelled against an Irishman when he is away from his own country is that of neglect or want of thoughtfulness of those whom he has left behind. I believe that this Bill presages a new era in Ireland. I believe that any legislation framed on new and equitable principles could scarcely be worse than the system of land tenure which has hitherto obtained in that country. My hon. friends the Members for Stoke and North Islington, if they wished to object to this Bill, ought to have propounded some scheme whereby the Irish Land Question could be settled. The question must be settled. It occupies a most anomalous position; the dual ownership must cease. The recent Land Conference opened up a new vista in Irish affairs, and will go down to history as one of the greatest landmarks in the relations between England and Ireland. Before the Conference was held I do not believe that anybody anticipated any good result. The opinion in this country was very much the same as that which was held about the Bloemfontein Conference four years ago, when we imagined that one party at least to the Conference met the other only with a view to finding out the weak joints in the other's harness. It is a subject for congratulation that we were mistaken. There has never been so signal an instance of the wolf lying down with the lamb, but it would be invidious to try to discriminate as to which was the wolf and which the lamb; but I am perfectly certain if the Conference had been less successful that each party to that Conference would have claimed separately to represent the sublimer and more edible animal. I wish briefly to touch on the Act of 1881. I do not think that anyone will deny that on the whole it was a beneficial Act—at any rate to the tenants. But there were three things which it professed to do but did not do. It professed to be a final Act; it was supposed that it would establish the tenant in a perfectly happy position, so that he would live on terms of contentment and amity with his landlord; and, thirdly, the landlord was to occupy a position very similar to that of landlords in this country. Those predictions have been falsified by 1431 events. Mr. Forster, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said—If these arrangements had the effect, which we say they will not have, of converting landlords into mere rent chargers, the consequence of it would be that we should lose the advantage of a landlord class, which would be very injurious.The prophets of evil were right, and Mr. Forster was wrong. The direct consequence of the Bill of 1881 is the Bill now before the House, and I think it would have been much better if the foresight of the statesmen of that period had seen that this Bill was inevitable and had brought it in at that time. How much anxiety, sorrow, and crime, would have been obviated if that had been done. I hope that this Bill will achieve great results, but as an English agricultural Member I believe if my right hon. friend had seen his way to bring in a Bill exactly on the lines of the Land Conference it would have been still more satisfactory. I do not say that from the landlord's point of view, but I think the methods of the Land Conference would have accelerated purchase and the object we have at heart. It is true that the Conference proposals would have involved an expenditure of three or four millions more, but what are three or four millions in our vast expenditure? As compared with the scheme of the Government to impose on the British taxpayer a charge of seven millions or eight millions annually under the Brussels Sugar Convention, the whole of this is nothing more than a flea-bite.
I do not wish to delay the House, but there is one other part of the Bill to which I wish to refer, namely, the question of the one-eighth which appears to give so much displeasure to hon. Members opposite. I do not mind if it is one-eighth, or some other very small portion, if in the future it safeguards the peasant proprietary in Ireland, and ensures that we have no recrudescence of landlordism and its concomitant troubles. Safeguards are needed. What is the position of the peasant proprietors in France? They would hardly exist were it not for the existence and help of the Crédits Fonciers. Or take the land in Russia granted to serfs; that is now nearly all in the hands of Jews. I will come nearer home. 1432 There is in my constituency probably the largest cohesive peasant proprietary in the kingdom; it is about twenty miles in length and fifteen or sixteen miles in breadth. The people are the most industrious to be found in any country, and it will appeal to hon. Members opposite below the Gangway that many of them are Irish. But the large proprietors have been successful and the small proprietors rather the reverse. Up to 1810 they enjoyed a meed of prosperity, but after that date bad years and the fall in prices produced calamities there as in other parts of the world. The small peasant proprietors, having nothing to fall back upon, had to revert to the simple process of mortgaging their holdings, and thus this part of the country has become known as the "Solicitors' Paradise." I hope that safeguard will be maintained so that small holdings shall not lapse again into anything like that state.
I wish to touch upon another part of the Bill, and that is that I think it is a most ill-advised proceeding on the part of the Government to graduate the scale on which this bonus is to be doled out. You want to accelerate and lubricate the wheels of purchase, and therefore I think the selling of estates in globo will prove most efficacious. If you sell the large estates the small estates will almost automatically follow. I will give a few figures. I take estates between£120,000. I take two estates of£60,000 each, three on the 6 per cent. scale of£40,000; six estates in the 10 per cent. at£20,000,. and twenty-four on the 15 per cent. at£5,000 each. The total bonus on the first group would be£6,000 or£3,000 apiece; on the second group£7,200 or£2,400 apiece; on the third group£12,000 or£2,000 apiece; and on the fourth group£18,000 or£750 apiece; On the 15 per cent. basis the first group would get£6,000 or£7,000 apiece; the second£10,800 or£3,600 apiece; the third group£6,000 or£1,000 apiece more. This shows not only the injustice of the whole system of graduation, but it will tend to wreck the whole aim and object of the Bill, which is to get purchase accelerated. Take what is almost accommodation land outside Dublin, Belfast, or Cork. That land will get 15 per cent. while the poor estates in the West, such as the 1433 Murphy and De Freyne, estates will get only 5 per cent. I am glad to see that the cost of stamps and transfer will be paid by the State. Mr. Bright in 1847 initiated that principle. Mr. Bright said it was their duty to bring in a Sale of Estates Bill and make it easy for landlords to dispose of their estates; and he further said that they should diminish temporarily, if not permanently, all stamp duties which hindered the transfer of landed property. There is another point, and that is the question of a local body being created to carry out this Bill. I cannot approve of this principle, because the great amount of the money will come from this country. I know some people can look after other people's goods and chattels very well, and even after other people's children, but I think the principal proprietor of the money should look after the money bags himself. Therefore, I shall resist any proposal of that kind. There is one other respect in which I think there is a chance of this Bill breaking down, and it is with regard to those gentlemen who were granted special provision in Scripture, and who have a knack of providing for themselves wherever they may be, the lawyers. I hope every effort will be made to cut down legal expenses under this Bill, and this measure, when amended, will become one of the greatest legal achievements that this House has ever passed. I thank the House for listening to me, and I shall support the measure which the Government has brought in as strenuously as I possibly can.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
I am sure the House has listened with pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Lincolnshire, and we were surprised at the remarkable utterance that fell from his lips, in which he said that he hoped we should not have in Ireland a recrudescence of landlordism with its concomitant troubles. The hon. Member went on apparently to express the hope that this Bill would not be used as a lever in the direction of obtaining Irish self-government. That is a subject upon which hon. Members have touched lightly. I desire, however, to direct the attention of the House to this aspect of 1434 the Bill, which is one about which we can perfectly well understand the silence that prevails among the different classes of hon. Members who are supporting this Bill. Hon. Members from Ireland desire not to complicate that wider question with this particular one, and that is a legitimate desire. We who represent English constituencies have our minds full of that, and hon. Members from Ireland would not desire that we should repress the expression of our views, upon such an important consideration, in connection with this Bill. There are two views put forward. On the one hand we have the Ministerial view, which is that by this Bill you will settle a long-standing dispute which has destroyed social order in Ireland, and having made the problem of social order so much easier to solve, they infer, not unnaturally, that Irish Government will be a simpler matter. On this ground they commend the Bill to the country as one which will make against Home Rule. There is another view put forward by hon. Members for Ireland. They think that if they achieve the object they have so long desired of abolishing landlordism in Ireland, they will have captured a position which has been very steadily contested, and promote the solidarity of different classes in Ireland, and they will proceed as a more united, and firmer and stronger force for the attainment of their final end, namely, the self-government of their country. Which view is correct? I think we should give some consideration to that problem. This is the only stage at which we can consider it. In the Committee stage we shall have passed to the details, and this subject will be totally irrelevant. Which of these two views is correct with regard to the bearing of this measure upon the wider question of self-government? For my own part I am disposed to think that the view taken by the Irish Members is correct. The Ministerial view is one which undoubtedly is supported on high authority, but when one comes to look at the views of Ministerialists, and particularly of this Ministry upon any subject, particularly any Irish subject, our experience of them does not tend to increase our confidence in their powers 1435 of prediction. They have generally been wrong, and they have never been so conspicuously wrong as upon this question of Irish Government.
Most of us, I think, listened with astonishment to the speech of the Prime Minister last night, but that speech certainly did not increase our confidence in him as a prophet. That same speech, had it been made in another country, might have come under the Crimes Act, and led to a plan of campaign. We heard for the first time from his lips, and for the first time from the opposite side of the House, that Irish landlords never put a shilling into their land. In the past the indictment was not brought up against a sect, but it was the Irish people who have been held up as the people who would not pay their debts. What did we have from the Prime Minister last night? He attributed all this to what he euphemistically described as a co-ownership. What would have been said by some of the Irish landlords, or those representing them, if, in the various struggles with the land question, when they were appealing for eversion, the Prime Minister had told them that these little characteristics were only due in a sense to co-ownership? That is a handsome tribute to the Irish people. We have already got a tribute from the Chief Secretary, who thinks that the Irish people not only pay their debts, but pay them with pleasure. That is a view which ought not to pass unnoticed. I venture to say that no Englishman has felt anything but pain and indignation at the way in which a campaign of calumny has been carried on against the Irish during all the years we have been dealing with this question. The Prime Minister went so far as to repudiate any intention to bring in a Home Rule Bill, and he had the daring to refer to the character of Ministers. It is precisely the character of Ministers which gives rise to apprehension on the part of their followers. Even this very question is a test of the accuracy and value of previous and present Ministers. Mr. Parnell proposed an Arrears Act which was declared by Lord Salisbury to be dishonest, but six weeks after that declaration the Government of that 1436 day brought in an Arrears Act. This Government, after condemning the plan of campaign, are now likely to adopt it, and I suppose that in time we shall have it expressly approved.
I pass from the character of the Ministry to the character of the Bill, and I ask, what is the influence it will have upon self-government. We are going to buy out our landlords, but some of them will remain. Those who go will, of course, cease to exercise any influence on the character of the country, but what of those who will remain? There is a very ingenious clause in the Bill which has been inserted with the intention of inducing some of them to remain. There is a provision in the Bill by which the landlord, having disposed of the land which he has previously let to farmers, may next part with his own demesne to the State and receive it back again as a tenant on very favourable conditions. The intention of that obviously is to get him to remain in the country. Why is it desired by hon. Members to keep him there? I doubt very much whether the provision in the Bill relating to sporting rights will survive the Committee stage, but if it does those rights will be but of little service to him. His duties will be very greatly curtailed and his responsibilities and functions as landlord will disappear. There will be nothing left for him but to take part in public life, and the only way in which he will be able to do that is to become a Nationalist, because he cannot take part in it under his present constitution. So long as the elective principle is left unmolested by this Government, and it prevails to any extent in Ireland, the remaining landlords, if they desire to do anything for the country, will have to range themselves on the side of the country. This will increase the solidarity of Ireland on the question of national and local self-government. Then what is the effect of the Bill on the other classes? You have 300,000 labourers for whom only the most inadequate provision is made; you have there an element which will still remain an element of unrest and disturbance. That element will appeal to the national sentiment, and on its side national sentiment will surely range itself.
Now, with regard to the farmers generally. You are going to give the land of Ireland to these tenants at a 1437 rate of purchase higher than any yet made in Ireland. An anonymous, but obviously well-informed writer in The Times shows that the second-term rents on which purchases have been made have been capitalised on the average of nineteen years purchase. Under this Bill the lowest number of years purchase is twenty-six, and it seems to me to be more like twenty-eight. But, taking twenty-six years, you have seven years purchase more to be paid under this Bill than has been hitherto paid. They are obviously paying a substantial rent for a very long number of years, but it is a commonplace of Irish politics that you have an enormous number of tenants in Ireland, out of whom you cannot extract any economic rent whatever. That condition of things will still remain. The Irish tenants will no doubt fulfil their legal obligations to the best of their ability, but now and again, in times of stress and bad seasons, they will find it impossible to fulfil them. What will happen then? You will have under this Bill no collective responsibility of control on the part of the Irish people, and, depend upon it, you will have a recrudescence of the old trouble. The State cannot make any sort of abatement which the tenant formerly got out of the landlord, who, whether a good or a bad landlord, had to make abatements somehow. The State dare not make any abatement, because if it were made in one district it would be immediately demanded in another. You will, in this way, have a new wrong created in Ireland. A large number of tenants will be called upon to pay a rate which they cannot possibly pay, and Irish national sentiment will range itself on the side of these distressed tenants. Irish sentiment has always taken advantage of such an opportunity, and it will not cease to do so in the future. The injury inflicted by the landlords on the Irish people has always been put in the forefront of the argument, and in course of time this Land Question will be revived as a weapon of attack against our system of government—not revived dishonestly, but necessarily. I am not pointing that out for the purpose of alarming hon. Members opposite. I am not 1438 pointing it out as a necessary and desirable result.
The Chief Secretary went on to say that there had been few defaults as yet on the part of the tenants. The right hon. Gentleman said that out of the 80,000 cases we have had, there had only been cases of default to the extent of£3,000, and that this amount would be diminished yet further. I should like to examine that a little. We have not been told to what extent selection and choice have been at work in the making of advances to particular tenants. They have not, I apprehend, made advances to every tenant. They have cut down not merely the amount of the advance required, but they have, I imagine, in certain cases reduced the advance to the tenant. Now, there is to be no selection in future. That, however, is not the most important consideration put now to the Irish Nationalist Party. They have assisted land purchase when a tenant has been sold up under the land purchase scheme. I do not know how many cases have been so dealt with, but there has been no accusation against a person that he was a land grabber because the Irish Nationalist Party had supported land purchase fully. How many cases there are of default we have not been told. In cases of default there has nearly always been a purchaser ready to give a price for the land. I would ask the House to consider the situation that will be created under this Bill, and to see what is likely to be the attitude of the Nationalist Party in these changed circumstances. I have asked you to conceive a condition of things in which there is an existing wrong and in which a price is demanded under this Bill, and to consider if the price is more than the tenant can fairly pay. To put the question argumentatively—who can doubt that the Nationalist sentiment will be on the side of the tenants? In that case I think you will have a recrudescence of the situation you have existing in regard to private landlords. If in Connaught you have a certain number of persons sold up because they cannot pay the rent, which public opinion pronounces to be excessive, you will have public opinion 1439 going a step farther and condemning the men who take the farms in these circumstances, under sales and the result will be that you will have, in connection with a farm which imposes an excessive rental on the tenant, an exact repetition of the situation we all condemn now.
There is a further point which I think has not been adequately considered in the debate. We were told, as if it were a light or unimportant matter, that you have twenty-five or thirty years for the whole of the transactions under this Act to be wound up. Just think what that means. You have got as a maximum£5,000,000 a year, which you are going to apply to the purposes of the Act. You have, therefore, an enormous number of tenants waiting their turn, and some of them apparently will have to wait twenty or twenty-five years, and it is not improbable that some will have to wait thirty years. Why, under these circumstances, should the land agents ask compensation? I should rather say that they should be commended to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as fit subjects for additional taxation. If some have to wait for twenty-five years that means that a large number of tenants will say, "Why should we go on paying the existing rents?" and the situation created by the Bill will be repeated all over Ireland. On the one side of the road is a man who has got the advantage of the Act, who has got an abatement, and who is paying off the purchase money on his farm. On the other side of the road is a man who is not paying off the purchase money. Is he to be expected to go on paying the same rent? He will not pay the same rent. He will say, "This is a rent which is going to be reduced. I may draw one of the lucky numbers next year." Certainly in many districts it will almost paralyse the trade of the place. Again you will be told, and rightly told, by the Irish Members "Let us manage this matter. You cannot do it, you do not understand how to do it." They will say, "Give us effective responsibility and give us effective control." You will be bound to do it, and it is not right of everyone to go on discussing the Bill as if we did not know it. Hon. Members get up and talk about peace in Ireland, and repudiate all intention 1440 of passing a Home Rule Bill, but there is not one, who takes the trouble to exercise his intelligence for five minutes, who does not know that he is helping the Home Rule cause in Ireland. Let the English public be clearly informed on the matter no matter, who it tells for. The Irish Members are not strongly in our favour at present, but they may have some strategic motive for their action. We ought to mark the meaning of this measure, and let the country know what it is about.
There is one other aspect of the Bill to which I should like to direct attention. I say that you are asking too much from the tenant. I venture to say that you are also asking too much from the British Exchequer. I am not going to repeat that part of the argument which was so much dwelt upon by hon. Members as to the number of years purchase you are demanding. I am going to draw attention to a point which has been absolutely ignored in the debate, and on which I shall carry the assent of hon. Members from Ireland. We have been speaking of the amount the Exchequer is asked to pay. Let us consider the amount England has already given to the Irish landlords under the Local Government Act. The Irish Local Government Act was passed in 1890. It is old enough to be completely forgotten. In that Act the bribe took the form of paying the rates of the Irish landlords. We made a grant of£730,000 a year, and they have got it yet. Why did we give that money? It was said that unless we paid their rates we could not expect the landlords to submit to local government. Well, I consider that that has failed. What is to become of this money? It is a large sum. Instead of suggesting that it should cease to be paid by the British Exchequer, the Chief Secretary sets up the theory of equivalent grants. He says that he is in want of£185,000 a year more, because you are educating yourselves much better in England than they in Ireland, and that you owe Ireland that amount on the principle of equivalent grants. I would like to know what equivalent grant we are getting in England for the£730,000 the Irish landlords are getting in Ireland. The bases on which these grants are allocated between the various countries in the United Kingdom are eighty to England, eleven to Scotland and nine to 1441 Ireland. Well, now, you have got under the English Agricultural Rates Acts£1,700,000. But is a ninth of£1,700,000£730,000? Of course the thing is absurd. The theory of equivalent grants should not be carried too far. We in England do not ask for this, and I hope we never shall. But, at all events, when£730,000 is given to one interest in Ireland we have a right to ask in the name of equivalent grants why you should give Ireland£185,000 more. These two sums granted to Ireland make£915,000 from the British Exchequer, the capitalised value of which is£30,000,000. The Prime Minister asked in a surprised tone—"What is£30,000,000?' I think we have reached a stage in our finances in which£30,000,000 is a very substantial sum. [An HON. MEMBER on the Irish Benches: What about the war?] That is all the more reason why we should not throw money away on Irish landlords. You have got to add that£30,000,000 to the£12,000,000 under the Bill, but I insist that the£12,000,000 under this Bill must be exceeded. It is an estimate of this Government. I believe the estimate of this Government of the cost of the South African War was£10,000,000, and that one very cautious person even estimated it at£8,000,000; but that Estimate was enlarged to£250,000,000. The rental of Ireland has been assessed at about£9,000,000, and, therefore, we may suppose that the rental of agricultural land is£4,000,000. That is an adequately small estimate. Therefore, the£12,000,000 bonus will have to be largely increased. But even the£42,000,000 which the Government have voted away to get rid of the Irish difficulty is not quite enough. We do not know what further sacrifices may not be demanded from the British taxpayer in support of the Irish landowners, who were the cause of all the difficulty. I hope hon. Members for English constituencies will consider that; and also consider it from the point of view of the future working of this Bill, which I insist is an unjust burden alike on the Irish tenants and on the British taxpayers, in favour of a class which certainly has not, hitherto, been considered as the most meritorious in the British Empire.
§ MR. GOULDING (Wiltshire, Devizes)
I cannot follow the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken in his party recriminations. I should like to know what Member of this House, whether sitting on the Unionist Benches or on the Opposition Benches, is prepared to endorse all the actions in the past of the party he belongs to in regard to the treatment of Ireland? We have to remember that Ireland to-day is the only place where your policy of constitutional government has not succeeded. Your policy of constitutional government is adopted in the colonies, where it is received with acclamation. It is the model of constitutional government in every other country in the world, but in Ireland we know that this policy is accorded a different reception. And why? Because on every single occasion when you start to e-dress a grievance in Ireland, to repair the mischief of past legislation, you have always done so with the appearance of compulsion. You have never done it as a willing gift. You have only done it as a last resort. Surely this House is not for a moment going to rest and be satisfied with that! It is a blot on the good name of Great Britain, as the mother and leader of constitutional government, if this one stain remains on her fair fame. I for one rejoice greatly that the Chief Secretary has had the courage, the foresight, and the statesmanship to devote himself to the work of this Bill, and I venture most sincerely to hope that whatever criticisms of detail may be given, his work will receive the cordial approval and endorsement of the vast majority of the Members of this House from all quarters, and not from one section. Why is there ground for distrust which some Irishmen have for your constitutional government? It is because you have too long left their grievances unredressed. Can any single man look back, through the whole history of the Catholic reform, dealing with the religion of the vast majority of the people of Ireland, and say he is satisfied with the actions of our Parliament? he must regret the vacillation and delay. Has the House, has Parliament, ever fully appreciated or realised the passionate love and attachment which the Irishman has for his own home? They have taken no 1443 practical steps, except in times of disorder, to give vent to the wishes of the people. What are the facts to-day? You have no disorder in Ireland. You have no regular statements of landlords seeking their rents in vain. You have none of those deplorable sights of evictions which, when carried on in large numbers, are degrading to the country on whose behalf they are executed. On the contrary you have peace prevalent in Ireland to-day. You have all parties represented by landlords and tenants coming together to formulate their demands for settlement on reasonable terms. Whatever individual Members on the Radical side may say, I do not think Irishmen, at all events, will ever be forgetful of the gratitude they owe to Lord Dunraven and the Leader of the Nationalist Party for what they did by bringing the claimants on one side and the other, to a common table, both of them engaged in a most difficult task and one which many thought to be impossible. The result of that Conference was that a common basis of settlement was proposed, based on second-term rents minus the amount of collection, which should not exceed 10 per cent. The hon. Member for Waterford is evidently determined from his speech to carry the same spirit of toleration to his actions in Committee, for he has told us plainly on behalf of the Nationalists that he is resolved to enter upon Committee in the spirit of compromise and common sense, and that a settlement shall be arrived at. Though I know my hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone has also occupied a worthy position in Ireland, in doing what he could to press forward the solution of this question, and was himself a member of this Conference, I cannot for the life of me understand how a man who has endorsed and signed a paper saying that these second-term rents are ample and sufficient, and should be secured to the landlord, can, on the floor of this House, say that they are imposing a rent which it will be impossible for the Irish tenant to pay. I, for one, hope that in Committee the Amendments will receive that patient consideration which I know they will from the Chief Secretary, and that the result of criticism in Committee will be to give such a measure as will justify fair hopes of settling this long-drawn- 1444 out trouble which has impregnated the Sister Isle.
What are some of the points which exist to-day in the land system of Ireland? You not only have dual ownership—which is difficult in itself—but two forms of tenancy. You have a tenant paying by instalments a rent which is to secure him the freehold of his holding, and next door you may have a tenant, paying a rent at even a greater rate per acre than his neighbour, with no prospect of ownership in the future, but with the certainty that within a period of fifteen years those rents may be revised. How can it possibly be expected that such a system will not lead to the chaos which undoubtedly prevails as regards the Land Question. How can it possibly be expected that any individual, animated in the way we all are, to do the best we can for ourselves—how can you possibly expect these tenants, when they know the period for the revision of rent is coming round, to devote the best of their time and intellect to the cultivation of the soil? Instead of that they will be turning their time and intellect to the consideration of the way in which they can get their rents reduced. That position of affairs cannot possibly go on. Therefore this Bill is introduced for the purpose of terminating that intolerable position, and of putting these tenants who desire to purchase, in the possession of their holdings, so that they may have a further inducement to cultivate and use their energies on the soil. This country is making a considerable sacrifice. Then, let that sacrifice be a generous one, and let us as far as we can remove all chances of failure. I for one, sitting for an English constituency, am willing to join hands with hon. Gentlemen opposite in trying to persuade the Chief Secretary to bring where possible the evicted tenants under the blessings of this Bill. The sacrifice we are going to make being considerable, I hope we shall endeavour to get the best security for the money we are going to spend. There is another point I would like to call attention to, and that is in Clause 1 of the Bill. I know that this is specially drawn to exclude all the great grazing holdings in Connaught and other parts, and special provision in 1445 another clause is given to enable the Land Commissioners to deal with these farms. Hon. Members from Ireland will be aware, as no doubt the Chief Secretary is aware, that there are many estates outside Connaught, which have these large grazing farms, and it certainly will not help the landlord to part with his estate unless he is assured of being able to part with the whole of the property, and not only portions dotted about the estate. Therefore I should hope that the limitations in Clause I may be removed. If my right hon. friend does not see his way, as regards these large grazing holdings, to give them the benefits of this Act as it is drawn, surely what money remains over from previous Acts might be ear-marked for the purpose of giving the occupiers of these farms opportunity of purchasing the land which they now hold.
The hon. Member for Waterford has specifically stated that he wishes the landlords of Ireland to remain in that country. If we wish that we must make every effort in our power to make the position of the landlord in Ireland such as will induce him to remain in Ireland. If you take away his occupation as regards the management and supervision of his estate, and if you hem him in to a small domain where shooting cannot possibly be carried on, what possible inducement is there for the landlord to remain in Ireland? Wedesire that he should remain. He will only remain there if you give him the same kind of conditions he has today, and if you enable him to educate his child as he comes home from school in those manly sports which he himself at present pursues. Therefore I do hope the Chief Secretary will see his way to modify the clause dealing with sporting rights. As regards sporting rights, I believe fishing rights are some of the most important of Ireland. I would like to have the fishing rights transferred to the Agricultural Board. The Agricultural Board should be compelled to offer to the landlord the first, option to lease the fishing, and the income thus derived should be devoted by the Board to local purposes. I do not believe the Land Commission have the ability to 1446 give effect to the proper preservation of these fishing rights, which constitute a great asset for Ireland, not only for the land lord but also for those who come to spend their holidays in our land. I have one other suggestion to make with regard to the Bill, and that is with regard to title. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Healy) raised a most critical point to my mind as regards the success of this Bill when he touched on the question of the agents in Ireland. The agents in Ireland are the men at present who control the situation, and they are the men whose good-will we must secure if we wish to get this Bill to work. I do not know whether the expenses provided under Section 43 of this Bill will enable the landlords to adequately compensate the agents who have acted for them for years, and in many cases have been associated with particular estates from father to son. But I will take another case—a case which Irishmen know to be prevalent in many parts of Ireland—and that is the position of an estate where the jointures and mortgages are such that the whole income of the estate is eaten up in the payment of these charges and mortgages and the management charges of the agent—the landlord has but a nominal interest.
The owners of the jointure and mortgages are not going to sell, because when they are paid off they will have to invest their money at a less return. The nominal landlord has no inducement to sell—the agent is the only man who can bring about the sale, but why the agent is to be expected to set the Act in motion when, if he is successful in selling the estate he is doing away with his own living, I do not understand. I do hope my right hon. friend will take this point into consideration in order to remove as far as possible this hindrance to the success of the measure. The fact that I sit here as an Irishman representing an English constituency as a Unionist opposed to Home Rule, does not prevent me from voting enthusiastically for this Bill. I do not believe we shall shake by it one single Nationalist from his present adhesion to his ideal of Home Rule, but I believe the Bill will give cause to the Irish people to forget some of the sorrows of the past and wipe out the memories of those wrongs committed on one side or the other connected with the 1447 land, give an opportunity to banish the differences of class and creed, and enable all to work together as Irishmen. What greater heritage can you desire? I go farther, and venture to think that as my countrymen at Ladysmith and Colenso sacrificed their blood freely for the British Empire, hon. Members opposite, in their heart of hearts are proud of their British citizenship, and as their grievances are removed one by one, will vie with us Unionists in their devotion to the Empire, and participate as Irishmen more than ever before in shaping its government and its destinies.
§ MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
As representing a rural constituency in the North of Ireland, I feel bound to state the grounds on which I shall vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. Indeed, when I recall the history of the Land Question in Ireland, I feel at a loss to know how any Member on either side of the House can oppose the Second Reading. In supporting it, I reserve the right of insisting as far as I can on a great number of Amendments in Committee, because if the Bill were to pass in its present shape I think it would be a great disappointment, and almost a calamity to the country. But I assume that ample opportunity for Amendments will be accorded. I speak with some authority; on this subject, because, although I may not rejoice in the recollection, I believe, in point of duration at all events, I have a greater experience of the Land Question in Ireland than any other person in this House. Unfortunately for myself, I can recall the time when the tenant in Ireland had no protection. As the majority of the estates were let out on tenancies from year to year, there was nothing to protect the tenant from the caprice or avarice of his landlord. When the father of a family was thrown, often in the depths of winter, out upon the roadside, when he saw the homestead which he and his fathers had built out of their own resources, and the land which had been so improved as to more than double its original value, pass into the hands of strangers, he had no protection—nothing but despair, and, too often, weak and human as he was, he yielded to desperate influences, and 1448 avenged himself by taking the landlord's life. That is the state of things I remember in the County of Tipperary, and it is that recollection that has made me watch with interest and anxiety the various steps that have been taken from time to time to remedy those evils. Whether it is pleasing or not to those who hear me, I unhesitatingly say that to Gladstone and his memory Ireland owes a greater debt than to any other statesman who figures on the pages of English history. I would remind hon. Members behind me—not referring, of course, to those below the Gangway—that John Bright was almost the first to advocate the creation of a peasant proprietary, and that the first attempt to carry out the principle of this Bill occurs, in the Act of 1870, in what are called the "Bright Clauses," by which public money was pledged for the purpose of assisting tenants in purchasing the freehold from their landlords. Therefore, those who respect the name of Bright and regard that statesman as one of the heroes of the Liberal cause, should recollect that, though he afterwards opposed Home Rule, he was always in favour of abolishing dual ownership.
We come then to the Act of 1881. That Act also contains provisions enabling the public credit to be pledged under certain conditions to assist the tenant to become the owner of his holding. That was the natural consequence of the policy of the Gladstone legislation, because Mr. Gladstone, for the first time, effaced from the Irish Code of law the terrible injustice which previously existed, viz., that all the improvements of the tenants became the property of the landlord, and that the tenant ceased to have any right or interest in them. It was to that state of things that Mr. Gladstone applied his legislation—first in the Act of 1870, by giving the tenant a statutory right to compensation for improvements which he had made, and then in the Act of 1881, by enabling a rent to be fixed in estimating which the improvements made by the tenants were to be left out of account. I do not think many English Members understand the peculiar position in which the Irish tenants stood before and since the 1449 Gladstone legislation. Having recognised that principle, the Act of 1881 created what has been called the dual ownership or co-ownership. They gave the tenant the right to hold the land in defiance of the landlord so long as he paid the rent, and in estimating the rent the improvements made by the tenant were to be excluded. The principle was just and right, and for the first time did common justice to the struggling and labouring peasantry and tenantry of Ireland. Mr. Gladstone gave certain facilities for purchase by the Act, but they were never availed of because they did not go far enough. That is an argument for this side of the House. How can any hon. Gentleman opposite refuse to adopt the principle of this Bill? In 1885 Lord Ashbourne's Act, which has done great benefit to Ireland, recognised the principle of advancing public money to enable this end to be attained. In legislation of this sort we must go by degrees, and the Act only enabled a limited sum to be advanced out of the public Treasury. That sum, being found insufficient, was afterwards enlarged, but the principle was there, and no hesitation was felt by the House of Commons of that day in pledging the credit of the nation to enable this great end to be achieved. That Act was amended in 1885 and extended, but before we come to the extending Clause, which enabled larger sums to be advanced, let me recall the attention of Liberal members in this Parliament to the fact that Mr. Gladstone in 1886 brought in the Bill which has been so often referred to in this debate. I have examined that Bill carefully to its foundation, and the principles of the Bill which is now under consideration in this House are the same in foundation and the same in principle, however they may differ in detail. That Act enabled the landlord to sell for twenty years purchase at the net rent and it enabled tenants to buy, and£50,000,000 were to be advanced out of the public Exchequer, without many of the safeguards provided by the present Bill, to enable that object to be achieved. That was, in many respects, a more risky undertaking than the present, because the interest to be paid by the purchas- 1450 ing tenant was at the rate of 4 per cent., which is heavier than is contemplated in the present Bill. With all due respect to my colleagues on this side of the House, I say that they cannot object to the principle of this Bill with any show of consistency. The fate of a Ministry depended upon that Bill, and hon. Members were willing then to risk their all in carrying the measure into law, and they did risk their all. It was somewhat disputed yesterday, but anyone who reads the history of the question knows that it was upon that Bill, and not upon the Home Rule Bill, that the Gladstone Ministry was wrecked.
Passing on from 1886 we have the Conservative Ministry in power, and the Ashbourne Act was extended, not in principle but in detail. In 1887 and 1891 greater powers were given to achieve this object, and larger sums were granted out of public money. There was no hesitation in passing the latter Bill, and I am not aware that it was seriously contested on its Second Reading. I rather believe that it was not contested, and although it was very much criticised in Committee the Bill ultimately passed; and the provisions of that Bill go very nearly as far as the provisions of the present Bill. Under the beneficial legislation with which the name of Ashbourne is associated in Ireland enormous advantages have been achieved, and we have it further, on irrefragable authority, that out of 80,000 peasant proprietors representing a payment of£350,000 a year, there has only been a default of about£3,000, showing that there is no need to apprehend that the Irish peasant proprietor will not keep faith with the public creditor. It was found that the machinery for land purchase was cumbrous and slow, and it became necessary to have an investigation and approval by the Court of the value of every farm that was sold. We all know that in the case of a vast number of farms there was a process of ascertaining by a public authority the annuities that could be properly charged upon the tenants, and this process must necessarily be slow and cumbrous. The consequence was that after four, five, or six years, only a very small proportion out of the number of agricultural tenants have derived any advantage, not from the want of will, but 1451 from the want of opportunity. Now, what is the proposal of this Bill? It proposes to advance£100,000,000 on the security of the whole of the agricultural land of Ireland, and it guarantees the security of that£100,000,000 by what is called the guarantee fund, which in round numbers amounts to£3,000,000 a year, and which would amply secure the whole of that£100,000,000. I will assume that there was a universal strike against the payment of annuities, although no sensible or reasonable man could ever contemplate such a thing. That seems to me to be the only objection that has been even hinted at by the opponents of this measure. Neither the mover nor the seconder of the Amendment rejecting this Bill, has ventured to say it would not be a great boon to Ireland to have the system of dual ownership abolished, and a peasant proprietorship substituted for it, but they endeavoured to create a prejudice by suggesting that the English taxpayer might be prejudiced at some future time. Past experience shows nothing more unlikely, and the provision of the Bill gives that guarantee fund of£3,000,000 a year which can be closed upon to meet any deficiency.
I have no hesitation in grasping this opportunity for going a step farther for the amelioration of Ireland. I should be sorry to assume that this Bill will be a final settlement of the Irish Question. I should be very sorry if I thought it would be a final settlement, but I regard this Bill as a measure that will almost remove the remaining ground of discontent and complaint so far as it arises from the relations between the landlord and tenant in Ireland, and that relation has been the bedrock of all the troubles, all the difficulties, and all the miseries which Ireland has gone through for centuries. It is a step in the direction, and an almost final step in the sense of the evolution of those principles which were initiated by Mr. Gladstone's Bill of 1870 and the measures which followed it. I claim it as such, and I am sure that the principle of it is right, and it ought to be passed unanimously and nem. con., so far as the Second Reading is concerned, by this House. But saying that, I wish to remind the right hon. Gentleman that 1452 the key to this Bill is the bonus to the Irish landlords—a more meritorious body of men never existed, and I say that fearlessly to the Irish Members below the Gangway We know that the present, and that the last generation of landlords are suffering more or less from the sins of their forebears, and for the extravagances of their forefathers, and that most of them have come into heavily encumbered estates by reason of which it is as much as they can do to keep the wolf away from the doors. I hope, and it will be necessary, to increase the dole or grant of£12,000,000 to the Irish landlords. I think it should be£20,000,000, and I am satisfied that before the Bill passes this House it will be£20,000,000. But be it£20,000,000 or£12,000,000 you must fix the purchase annuity at such a low rate that the tenant will be able to pay it for sixty-eight and a half years regardless of changes of time and circumstance. The men of Ireland will be loyal and prudent and economic. I cannot finish the sentence, I do not want to intrude upon the House after the allotted time, and therefore I must sit down.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.