§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
I regret sincerely to be obliged to interfere with this interesting Debate to which we have been listening. I feel the difficulty of calling attention at this moment to one or two very important matters with reference to Ireland, and I can only say that under the present system of doing Irish business, or rather of suppressing any discussion whatever of Irish business, there is no course open to us except to avail ourselves of such inconvenient opportunities as this. In the first week of the Session, I pointed out to the Prime Minister that far and away the most important question and the question of most immediate urgency to Ireland, was the question of land purchase, and I pressed him for a day to consider this matter. The Prime Minister said that he recognised quite as strongly as myself the urgency and importance of that question, and he said that the request was a most reasonable one, and he promised to consider it. But we have now passed through a pretty long Session without that promise being fulfilled. Last night we had, I think, something like £3,000,000 of Irish Estimates rushed through without a single word of discussion. The only really effective day that was given, and the only Irish discussion that took place during the Session was one no doubt of importance, and of very considerable educational importance, but a question of not nearly so vital a character to the great masses of the Irish people as land purchase. And this I am 1992 entitled to say; that I am afraid it is not altogether uncharitable to at least suspect that that arrangement was made in order to prevent and to burk any discussion of this question of Land Purchase, which is an awkward topic for the seventy Gentlemen who are at present in the position to dictate the Government attitude.
At all events, the result was that we were refused any effective opportunity whatever, except the few words we may utter to-night in protesting against what I believe to be the greatest blunder, and I had almost said the greatest crime, in the whole history of the British Government in Ireland, and that is the destruction of an Act which in five years enabled the people to get possession of half of the entire land of Ireland and which would have enabled them to get possession of the entire land of Ireland at this moment if the Purchase Act of 1903 were only given fair play. We are unable even to give any detailed proof of what I think would be very easy to prove, namely, that that repudiation by England of her solemn treaty in the Act of 1902, that frightful wrong to the people of the country was committed under the utterly unfounded impression that Land Purchase meant some crushing expense to the British Exchequer. The fact being, as I elicited from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a question within the last two or three days, that, with the exception of the Land Purchase Aid Fund and of the cost of the huge army of new officials, the magnificent work of Land Purchase in Ireland has practically speaking, cost the British Exchequer and ratepayer nothing at all, although their expenses in other respects have been going up by leaps and bounds. What we complain of is that the Government of England has deliberately broken and deliberately repudiated their treaty to purchase out the whole land of Ireland and to find the purchase money. I am sorry to say Irish Members themselves were the first to protest against a poor, impoverished Liberal Government being asked to find the half a million or so a year that would finance the whole Land Purchase of Ireland, although the Government found no difficulty whatever in finding £40,000,000 for increased armaments. The case is even worse, because the Government did find £500,000 a year, but they used it in a wrong way, and even in a mischievous way. The Chief Secretary, I think, admitted the other day in reply to a question of mine that the cost of the Land Commissions in Ireland had 1993 been increased from £130,000 to £540,000. Therefore, the £500,000 a year is being spent, but I am sorry to say not in settling the Irish land question, but in keeping it open and preparing a hell upon earth for the whole of us by and by in Ireland. The other night my hon. Friends and myself were lectured by representatives of Ireland, as if Ireland were under some deep debt of gratitude to the Government and to the Treasury for raising tenant annuities, for destroying the bonus and for keeping something like 200,000 tenants out of their purchase money and keeping something like 190,000 more tenants without any chance of purchase at all outside the congested districts. Let me for a moment trouble the House with a sentence or two from a letter I received from a responsible tenant. She says:—Though not knowing you personally … I appeal to you as a friend of the oppressed farmers of Ireland to tell you my case, and to ask you is there any chance of land purchase in the near future.After mentioning that her farm is held at a yearly rent of £130, and that there is a large family to support, she goes on to say:—Seven years ago we were offered purchase and were getting fair terms enough—about 6s. in the £—but we were advised to wait and we would get better terms, and here we have waited and toiled and moiled, and we seem no nearer to purchase now than we were seven years ago, I for one am tired and sick of the struggle. I wrote to our local Member three months ago, asking if anything would be done and begging for a reply, but I have never received a line from him. I have hoped against hope. I fear our case will be one of eviction in the end. We have no energy to fight….I venture to say that is the complaint of tens of thousands at the present moment outside the congested districts. Even within the congested districts, after two years of so-called compulsory powers, the Chief Secretary has confessed that not a sod of land has been purchased under these compulsory powers. In yesterday's Paper I see an unstarred reply to the effect that only three estates have been purchased in county Leitrim. The action has been so deadly slow that after two years of compulsion they have not even arrived at making a bargain for that notorious estate owned by Lord Clanricarde. We who complain of these things are found fault with by the representatives of Ireland themselves. I do not blame the Chief Secretary himself, but we will not stop protesting in spite of any attacks upon us that England solemnly promised to buy out the land of Ireland and to find the purchase money for it. It is really the business of the English Treasury to discover the 1994 means of raising that money—whether it should be by turning Irish Land Stock into Consols.
There is another matter to which I am very anxious to draw attention. It is the extraordinary situation in which the finance of Home Rule is now left owing to the appointment of the secret Cabinet Committee, and owing to the decision of the Government to suspend the Budget until the Autumn Session. I hear the Chief Secretary is anxious to leave for Ireland to-night, and I shall not, therefore, attempt to discuss the question in detail. I wish to point out, however, that the Government have now deliberately made up their minds to refuse us any information regarding the secret proceedings of this Cabinet Committee. We have also lost any control of the Budget until the winter. In the meantime the Government will have to make up their minds as to what their Home Rule proposals are to be next Session. I am afraid it is only too certain that they will take advantage of the powers which this Committee gives them —and take advantage of the fatally misleading speech made by the Member for East Mayo—to assume the worst against the Irish financial position. Possibly the Committee themselves may make proposals which may be death to the Home Rule Bill. We are in this rather awkward position that, if we protest against the entire present financial relations of these two countries, and if we protest that unless that system is altered from top to bottom, any Home Rule scheme founded upon it would be one which Ireland cannot possibly bear, the majority of Ireland's representatives think it their duty, instead of criticising the Treasury, to sing anthems in praise of it. They have never an unkind word to say of the British Treasury. On the contrary, they rushed to its defence before the Secretary to the Treasury can get to the Table to defend himself.
All their energy and their venom are reserved for my unfortunate Friend beside me (Mr. T. M. Healy). All their spleen was directed against him because he scoffed at the Government, which has raised the cost of the civil government of Ireland from four millions to nine millions —that is, the expense has more than doubled in a poor country, the population of which has been dwindling all the time. On this Committee the financial fate of Ireland depends. I know the Prime Minister has already stated that the Cabinet will in no way be bound by the decision 1995 of the Committee, but I would like to see the Government facing the country if, on a financial question, they discarded the advice of this Committee. The Committee has been formed without taking the advice of any representatives of Ireland. At any rate, the majority of the representatives of Ireland have repudiated any responsibility. Here is this Committee sitting in the dark and transacting most vital financial business without any Irish control, except an eminent theologian, who has, fortunately or unfortunately, become a member of it. This I will say, I regret deeply that the gentlemen who were so remorseless in making the Government toe the line in other matters, were not equally remorseless in making them toe the line on this vital financial question. I will warn the Chief Secretary there is a feeling of the deepest anxiety and alarm in Ireland as to what this secret Committee is about. There is also a feeling of the strongest indignation as to the part which has been played by those who pretend to speak for Ireland.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Birrell)
I share to the full with the hon. Member who has just spoken the deepest regret that the time of this House has not allowed, for the present, sufficient opportunity for discussing the position of land purchase in Ireland. I recognise the importance of the matter, and I am under the conviction that never has any Minister standing at this Table had a clearer record and a better defence of the course I, and the Government, have taken in regard to this matter. The hon. Member has not done more than open his case. It is one which requires a good deal of time, many figures, and a great deal of consideration. I am more sorry than I can say that the opportunity is not sufficient, but I have done all that an individual can to secure a day. But it is not always in that way full consideration is given to the subject. Speeches are reported and read in Ireland, although the Government may not be equally successful in obtaining the attention of this overworked and harassed House of Commons. I understand the hon. Member's point of view as being that I found the land purchase scheme in full operation and that I deliberately, and animated by malice, stuck my stick into the machine which was working exceedingly well and stopped it.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
I have never made such a statement. I have said the Chief 1996 Secretary followed the constitutional advice of the majority of the representatives of Ireland, and that it was bad advice.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
No, no. I followed no man's advice in this matter at all. I was as anxious as any human being could be to continue to the full the operation of the Act. I have never denied that it was a beneficent Act, that it was a good and worthy Act, and that it worked well so long as the financial position admitted. But its financial basis was destroyed before I came upon the scene and found land purchase lying dying on the floor of this House. The only way to revive it was to tear up the Parliamentary bargain contained in it and pour in fresh wine and oil from the Treasury of the United Kingdom. I was never advised by any hon. Member opposite to fail in my efforts to get the best terms I could from the Treasury to save this beneficent Act of Parliament from complete destruction. It is all very well to say I did not get as much money as I might have done. At any rate I got as much as I possibly could, and I got a great deal. We departed from the whole basis of the Act of 1903, and the general British taxpayer assumed a responsibility which by the express provisions of that Act was cast upon the ratepayers of Ireland, and which had it been enforced against the ratepayers would have destroyed not only all the good we hoped to do, but would have destroyed with regard to £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 the position of tenants who had become under pending agreements, prospective proprietors, and who had left off paying rent and were paying interest in lieu of rent. But for the fact that the Treasury had come to some extent to their assistance they would have been relegated to their former position of tenants, and we should have got into trouble indeed. I did the best I could. I ask the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. William O'Brien) to believe that no human being from Ireland; ever did anything more than urge me, and prompt me, and prick me, and adjure me to get the most I could. I got a great deal. I have figures, but I will not trouble the House with them.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
That, after all, is only a figure of speech. You may say an hon. Member lies in wait without casting any imputation upon his veracity. We transferred £7,500,000 of excess stock from the ratepayers to the Treasury. The whole basis of the Act of 1903 was based upon a false assumption, namely, that land purchase stock would be about par. But it never was anything like par. The average was about £85, and for every £100 cash you had to issue £113 10s. of stock, and that was excess stock. The only observation which Mr. Ritchie, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, made during the whole progress of the Land Bill Debates of 1903 was this pregnant one. He said:—If this land purchase stock is not at par, the whole scheme breaks down.It has broken down, and I found myself in the position of having to finance, pending agreements, to the amount of £30,000,000. More than that, I had to induce the Treasury to take upon themselves this obligation in defiance of the Act of Parliament, and contrary to the express language of that Act, and I asked them to come in between the ratepayers of Ireland and the absolute ruin of land purchase. The hon. Gentleman says there was a bargain—a noble treaty. All I can say is the next time he attempts a bargain or a treaty, either with this Parliament or with your own, let him be careful to see that it is expressed in the words of an Act of Parliament. The treaty in this Act of Parliament was directly contrary, and it imposed upon the ratepayers the obligations which I had transferred to the Treasury.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
The Prime Minister, in a public speech, declared that no party in this House had ever dreamed of giving effect to such a liability on the part of the Irish ratepayers, and that no Cabinet would ever dream of enforcing it.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
What was my position? Here was an Act of Parliament, passed with the consent and approbation of the hon. Member, which expressed that in the event of a certain state of affairs the ratepayers were to bear that burden. That was your obligation, that was your treaty of peace, and that was what I had to go upon. I had to say to the Treasury, "The ratepayers of Ireland cannot bear this, and won't bear it. This treaty of peace requires some modification because it is absurd on the face of it." It is not always 1998 an easy thing to get people to regard an' Act of Parliament as absurd on the face of it, especially when you ask them to assume an obligation of many millions from which they are relieved by an Act of Parliament. I had, therefore, notwithstanding the language of the Prime Minister, a preliminary difficulty with the Treasury before I got them to modify this Act of Parliament. They agreed with me that it had to be modified, and modified it accordingly was in respect of the Treasury assuming an. obligation of many millions of money before the sixty-eight and a half years are out which land purchase requires, and this is many millions over and above anything contemplated by the Act of 1903. Under the Act of 1903 it was thought the Irish land stock would be at par. So we all thought, but it never has been at par. The very first issue under the Wyndham Act was £87. It has got to £83½ or something of that kind, and therefore the whole thing was at a standstill. It is unkind and unfair to represent me, of all men, as taking upon myself to destroy land purchase. The hon. Member might do me the justice to say I revived it, not to the full extent he wished, because I could not get enough money. Do you think you could have done better and extorted more money than I did?
You say I could have got more, but at any rate I got the most I could. I identified myself with the Irish cause and Irish people as if I was brimful of Irish blood, and I obtained terms which I think on the whole were as satisfactory as could be obtained by any British Minister under the circumstances. When the hon. Member tells me that land purchase in Ireland is dead, that really, if you will permit me to say so, is not the fact. With regard to the Congested Districts Board to which the hon. Member referred, under my Birrell Act, as it is sometimes called—although I deprecate these personal applications to an. Act of Parliament, because it was not my Act of Parliament, but one passed by this House—I got the best terms I could get. Under that Act we have largely increased the endowment of the Congested Districts Board. The hon. Member for Cork, who loves the West of Ireland from the bottom of his heart, and knows it well, must be perfectly well aware that the result of the endowment of the Congested Districts Board has been that they have only gone too fast rather than too slow. They have already taken proceedings for the purchase of 170 estates with 8,649 tenant pur- 1999 chasers, involving advances amounting to £1,746,000 of Three Per Cent, stock. The Congested Districts Board is meeting tomorrow, and I hope to be able to attend that meeting. We are chock-full of work, although we have not exercised our compulsory powers, and it is really because we are so full of work which we obtain by voluntary methods that we have not had yet any actual occasion to put into force our compulsory powers. With regard to the Clanricarde estate, we are in course of progress with regard to that matter. So far as the West of Ireland is concerned, land purchase has never worked owing to a variety of causes I need not now go into. All about Cork and those districts land purchase has worked wonderfully well.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I must not attribute any personal causes, because it worked as well in Kerry as in Cork, and in other parts it has worked very freely and well on the whole. But in the West of Ireland it has not, and yet it was in the West of Ireland that the whole question arose which made the Land Purchase Act possible. Of all the places in the world it was that quarter where land purchase should have worked freely from the beginning. It did not do so, but it is now doing so in consequence of the provision of this much-abused Act of Parliament. I have other facts and particulars which I could give, but I do not wish to weary the House. I quite agree that land purchase outside the congested districts is not working with the same feverish haste as it did when the landlords rushed in, knowing that the bonus under the Act of 1903 would come to an end in the five years named in that Act, not by any action of mine. The time came for a reconsideration of a 12 per cent. bonus, and that led to an abnormal rush of estates into the market. If you compare the present state of land purchase with that state of affairs I daresay you will say it is going on slowly, but it has not stopped. Hundreds of estates are being dealt with, and purchase is proceeding We have advanced more for land purchase this year than ever we did before. The £5,000,000 which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) contemplated has grown to over £8,000,000 this year. We are working the whole of the land system as rapidly and quickly as we can.
2000 I am satisfied an exceedingly good case can be made out both for myself and the Act, especially for myself. I regret as much as the hon. Member does that we have not had an opportunity of going into this question more fully. With regard to the secret committee as he calls it I have suffered terribly from that committee, and I deserve it. It is all my fault that when speaking to the undergraduates of the Oxford Union I should have mentioned the thing at all. It should never have teen mentioned. I said we were making inquiries into a portion of this subject, and that we had a number of distinguished persons coming into consultation to give us their aid upon certain points. I was very foolish to have made that statement, because it has been seized upon in Ireland and these innocent persons have been represented as holding in their hands the whole future of Home Rule and the financial destinies of Ireland. I agree that the financial aspect is one of the cruxes of Home Rule. I have never denied it. But the responsibility rests with the Cabinet, and the notion that we should in any way whatever do more than avail ourselves of the information, and it may be of the advice which these experts choose to render us is, I can assure the hon. Gentleman, a delusion. That idea is born in minds perhaps naturally not indisposed to suspect British Ministers, who are always supposed to be doing something marvellously clever and underhand, but we are doing no more than we are absolutely entitled to do, that is to ask the experts to give us advice upon certain points submitted to them by the Government. I ought never to have mentioned it. If I had never mentioned it we should never had had all this trouble about it, but I did mention it and I am sorry I did.
I can assure hon. Gentlemen that some of them are distinguished accountants. The Bishop of Ross, I confess, may be a great theologian, but I have known him in other aspects of his very admirable character, and I do not think there is a man in Ireland better acquainted with the social aspects of the people or more thoroughly alive to their interests. Although some of my colleagues are surprised that a Roman Catholic bishop should be put upon a Commission of this kind it often happens that you find amongst them men who are fully a match for laymen in their great social knowledge which it might be difficult to get elsewhere. The Bishop of Ross did an ex- 2001 tremely patriotic thing when he consented to serve. I know he will get a good deal of abuse for It, but a more useful member of the committe it would be impossible to find. Hon. Members should drive out of their heads the idea that this committee is a star chamber of mysterious persons armed with all sorts of powers coming down and saying to Ireland, "You are only to have so much and Ireland cannot have this or that and may not be trusted with that and that the Cabinet will be paralysed by their action." We shall be nothing of the kind. We have asked for their advice. We shall consider their advice when we get it. I think we shall benefit from it by the points of view they will represent to us, and we ourselves alone shall determine and accept the responsibility of the financial proposals which it will be our duty in the next Session to make.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
The right hon. Gentleman has assured us there is nothing in the nature of a Star Chamber or of a Secret Commission, but he has coupled that with an expression of great regret that he even blurted out the existence of it. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman tells us there is no Star Chamber sitting, but the mistake of his life was to ever let us know it was sitting.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I only adopted the words of the right hon. Gentleman, and he is himself learned in the law. The words "Star Chamber" were not my words. They were the words of the right hon. gentleman. His one regret was that he let us know of the existence of this Committee. If this Committee is really doing good work for Ireland I should like to know why we should not know of its existence. I should like to know why, on the eve of an important measure of the nature of Home Rule for Ireland, anybody should have withheld from them the fact that a learned body was called together by the Government to go into this question, especially when we remember what was the attitude of the majority of the Irish Members some ten years ago when the Tory party attempted to constitute a body of this kind for the purpose of revising the finding and the report of the Childers Commission. We all remember that Commission reported that Ireland was overcharged to the extent of some three millions of money. 2002 If anyone wants to know the effect produced by that at the time let him get the biography of Mr. Arnold Forster, a Conservative Gentleman, late Member for West Belfast, and for long I think Secretary of State for War in this House. They will there see the effect produced on his mind: how first he attacked the view that any such overcharge was being imposed upon Ireland, and how he admitted the fact was afterwards borne on him that this statement was well founded.
What happened? The now Leader of the Opposition and the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour), in order to see whether that report was well founded or not, endeavoured to constitute a fresh Committee, consisting largely of Members of this House, to go more thoroughly into the matter. I was myself approached, Mr. Knox was approached, and I have no doubt other Members were approached, but the Irish Members would have nothing of it. They said, "We rest our case on the impregnable rock of the Childers' Report, namely, that in the teeth of the Act of Union England has been robbing Ireland." The whole question of the Act of Union was raised by that Report, and the reason the Irish party of that day refused to make themselves parties to Mr. Balfour's attempt at revision was the strong position taken up by the Childers' Report. The Irish party were determined not to let go its grasp upon it. What has happened now? The right hon. Gentleman, in the first portion of his speech, confessed he is sorry he was unable to get more money for Land Purchase. Why? Because he was brought up against the adamantine wall of the Treasury. Does he suppose, when we are dealing with Home Rule, that this Committee which has been set up by the Treasury—
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I was going to say the British Government is in water-tight compartments. If you attack one branch of it that branch at once says "It is not me." The Prime Minister, I presume, is the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman confesses now that the secret committee has been constituted on the eve of an Home Rule settlement, and practically it has it in its power to do away with the effect of the Childers' Report. The first question upon which we are entitled for information I conceive is this: 2003 What are the terms of reference to this Committee? There is not a Royal Commission, or a Viceregal Commission, or a Departmental Commission constituted by any Government that the House of Commons was not immediately furnished with the terms of reference to that Commission. Here, however, is a body which is neither a Royal Commission, nor a Viceregal Commission, nor a Departmental Commission, but a half-hatched body sitting in secret, and not one of us who are vitally interested can even find out what are the terms of reference to it. I am told if a witness presents himself at its doors for examination and is asked what are the subjects upon which he is to be examined, and an official lets him know the terms of reference, Sir Henry Primrose, a gentleman. I believe, largely connected with the Treasury, and who is at the head of the committee, snatches the terms of reference out of his hands. What is this body doing? We are told we are too suspicious. We are the heirs of 700 years of mistrust, not altogether unfounded. We represent, it is true, suspicion, but how do you allay our suspicion? You ought to allay it by letting us know what are the terms of reference. That is the way to allay our suspicion? Let us know also what evidence this Commission is taking and to what subject are its interrogatories directed? What witnesses are they calling, and, also—and this is not beyond Ministerial competence—with what object has this Committee been constituted?
The right hon. Gentleman has stated, and I think he was perfectly right, that finance is the crux of the Home Rule case. I quite endorse that view. We have been for 111 years under the yoke of Great Britain, having had shouldered on to us every charge which England for her own purpose undertook. When you took us over our total payments for our Government, local and Imperial, was not more than one million of money. To-day, between local and Imperial Government, the public charges in Ireland are over fifteen millions of money. Will any man tell me that we, who are anxious for the future of our country and want to take it over as a going concern, and not as a bankrupt estate, are wrong in prodding the Government, which, be it remembered, does not contain a single Irishman? You had one Irishman in the Government, the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough), and you got rid of him. He was the only Member who had ever written on the financial relations of 2004 Great Britain and Ireland. He was not good enough for you. He had some special views on the financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland, and he was the only person, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, who was jettisoned out of the Government. Yet we are told we are too suspicious. That being so, I say that in regard to so important a question as that of finance we are entitled to know the terms of reference to this Committee, how it came to be constituted as it is, what are the subjects to be reported upon, and whether the evidence and the report are going to be laid before the House of Commons. I should especially like to know, with regard to this thorny question of land purchase, whether there is any effort on the part of this Committee to throw on the new Irish authority this liability from which the Treasury itself appears to-day to shrink.
The House may be interested to know one of our reasons for suspicion of the Treasury in this matter. There were very few English Members voted against the Land Purchase Bill of 1903. Who led them into the Lobby? A gentleman named Hobhouse, the Secretary to the British Treasury. There was a little group of not more than ten or fifteen, or it may have been twenty English Members out of a House of over 400—I am speaking from, recollection after seven or eight years—and they were led into the Lobby by the present Secretary to the Treasury. Who was his chief assistant? The present Chief Liberal Whip, the Master of Elibank, who not only voted against the Second Reading of the Bill, but who also voted against the Third Reading of the Bill. Yet we are told we are too suspicious. We ought really to come down here with bated breath and whispering humbleness, and say, "You are the best people in the world. We are greatly obliged to you for running our country for seven hundred years. Will you accept some slight testimonial of our esteem?" Now what we should like to know, therefore, is whether there is any effort on the part of this secret committee to pile up information, or evidence, so-called, or whether there is anything in the form of interrogatories it puts to its witnesses or in the witnesses whom it selects which would make a case in the direction of throwing this liability and responsibility upon the new Irish authority. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. That does not shake me. I would be much 2005 obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he would say whether he has attended its meetings, whether he gets copies from day to day of its proceedings, or what that portentous shake of the head means?
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say we are not criticising him at all. I do not think there has ever been a Chief Secretary for whom we have had greater esteem or greater liking. I do not think we have ever had a Chief Secretary, except Lord Morley, so complete a genius or so affectionately regarded. We are not attacking him. We are attacking the Statute, and, when we make these criticisms, let the right hon. Gentleman suppose he is the mere ephemeral representative of Dublin Castle. Why, I have attacked more than twenty Chief Secretaries in my time, and I can say we have never had any personal feeling against any single one of them. The right hon. Gentleman has endeared himself to us all by going about the poor parts of the country, by being accessible, by being amenable, and by being what is called in Ireland a decent fellow. I hope he will not take me as offering any personal criticism whatever upon his character. What we are attacking is the machine. I do not blame any living Englishman for the position in which Ireland finds itself. You, as we, are the heirs of seven centuries; you cannot upset that, you can hardly overhaul all this great machinery which has come down to you. The system of Dublin Castle, for instance, has come down to you, and you are almost powerless except after long years, to apply a remedy. I am not complaining that by the movement of his magic wand the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to change the face of the country, but we are bound, as trustees of our countrymen, in season and out of season to raise this question.
Above all, we are bound to do so as there is in regard to this question of the land a special treaty on which we have a right to depend. Let us take that treaty. What was it? If ever there was a question which moved the country and every section, Catholic and Protestant, as well as every other section, it was the question of the land. What would be said if when there was a chance of rapprochement between two sides, the rank and file of the strikers went behind the backs of their leaders to shake hands with the masters. Yet that is what has been done in. connection with this Irish land question. But it is the masters who 2006 have gone behind the strikers We are told of the great burden placed by the Budget on the Irish ratepayers. Let us take the meanest estimate of the amount of that Budget burden, the estimate put forward by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) of £500,000 a year. That was treated as a mere fleabite on the backs, of the Irish people, and the Irish party, without the smallest consideration, voted it as a matter of course. If you can wring this £500,000 a year from our people for "Dreadnoughts" how much more ought you to be able to give us in return in order to make the Irish people masters of their own land. If £500,000 a year is a mere bagatelle when you put it in the shape of taxes, and when it is to be applied for the creation of armaments, for the provision of gunpowder and cannon, and for building "Dreadnoughts," how much more would it be justifiable to apply it to the settlement of this great land question.
Let me point out this, that although my hon. Friends and myself are apparently only voicing the views of a small section of this House, the questions which are daily addressed to the right hon. Gentleman prove the urgency of our argument. From whom do those questions come, and what is the nature of the questions? They are questions coming from the accomplices of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter of land purchase. What are they asking? They are asking when a drowning man will be rescued, when an asphyxiated man will get a little oxygen, when the Irish tenant is likely to be made the owner of his farm? Day by day one may take up the notice paper of this House and can find that the accomplices of the right hon. Gentlemen are imploring him to set the Land Purchase Act in operation all over the country. We on these benches do not hesitate to raise this question openly and deliberately. We do not do so by means of questions which find no echo in this House. What is the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gives to these questions? It is that the matter is being inquired into. He is unable to tell his interrogators that he will be able to put the Act into operation to-morrow, next week, or next year. He is unable to say when these people will become the masters of their own holdings. I say, therefore, speaking to this House and through this House to our countrymen, the sooner the Irish people realise where they are the better. Let them realise that land purchase is dead. There was a question only to-day as to a tenant who had 2007 been unable to get his rent fixed for the third time, and speaking from recollection, the answer was that the application had been postponed for two years.
I would not have the right hon. Gentleman suppose that we are pressing him unduly in this matter or that we have no consideration for his difficulties. We do consider his difficulties, but we also have to have consideration for our own position and for the position of our country. This House has just passed an Act which in my judgment in the future will make a vital change in Irish representation. It has given the Irish Members £400 a year, and next to the extension of the franchise itself, and next to the extension of local government that will have far-reaching consequences. I think that when the Irish people see their Members are to get £400 a year they will insist that they do their work, and they will only send people here who will insist on the work being done. Should we have a General Election before very long you will get an Irish party quite as effective as the Labour party itself. We are only voicing what we believe will be the universal opinion in Ireland when that nation is represented by paid Members—Members paid not by Australia, New Zealand, or the United States of America, but paid by the taxpayers themselves. The reason why we conceive this question should be raised tonight is that the Government have postponed their Budget for three or four months, and all the promises of redress on fiscal questions which were held out last year have been, put off until the autumn. During the interval the Government will be considering the question of the finances of Home Rule, and I think they are entitled to know frankly what is the opinion of some of us. My own opinion frankly with regard to Home Rule is that unless it places the Irish people in control of their finances the measure need not be brought in. I have said in Ireland, and I say now, I claim nothing like protection between the two countries. I believe protection between the two countries would be a curse to both. I seek nothing of the kind, but we do seek the right to raise our own taxes and to expend them, making a fair and reasonable contribution to that Imperial system from which Ireland undoubtedly will get, and is getting, considerable benefits.
Whether you get that contribution in men or in money, a contribution in my 2008 opinion you are entitled to get. It might be more convenient for us if we had the country in our own hands to give that contribution in men; you would be better pleased with the men in your Army than by getting it in any other case. A contribution of some kind I conceive the Empire is entitled to, but, given that contribution, Ireland should be allowed within its own four seas to raise its own revenues and spend them; otherwise what good will our lives do us? What are we to tax? How are we to improve our rivers and our canals or our country or do anything else? The position is quite different from what it was in Mr. Gladstone's day. I heard with some qualms the hon. Gentleman (Sir Henry Dalziel) to-day bring in his Bill about Scotland, and say, after 207 years of union with this country, that Scotland has gained enormous benefits, and that he would take the Scotch contribution on the basis of the three last years. I shall be very curious to read the Bill and to see how soon it is introduced. I do not think it will be introduced before Friday next when we separate, though I hope we shall have it at all events before the recess. But in my judgment it is fairer to the English people and to the British Cabinet to let them know what the opinion of men like myself is. We may, of course, only represent an insignificant minority, but we were strong enough to kill the Councils Bill and we shall be strong enough to kill this Bill if it is not financially satisfactory to Ireland. I say that without the smallest hostility to the Government or to any human being. But in my judgment the great business of Ireland will be finance—the nurturing, the shepherding of a country long neglected and long impoverished. The finance of that country will be like a tonic medicine; control of its finance will be its main burden, and unless it gets it, I will advise the Government to keep their Bill in (heir pockets.