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raised and to be ejected at the will of the landlord. Of these landlords a very large proportion were absentees, who spent their rents in London or Paris, or elsewhere out of Ireland.
Mr. Bright asked whether there was any remedy for the state of things which existed in Ireland. Two had been offered from Ireland: one proposed fixity of tenure with terms to be settled by a third party acting between landlord and tenant; while by the other fixity of tenure was secured by means of a permanently settled rent which the landlord was to receive, and there his connection with the land was to end, the tenant remaining for ever, or as long as this rent was paid, in the position of absolute owner. These schemes he dismissed as being inconsistent with sound principles. He himself was against sudden and heroic remedies. But, the right hon. gentleman continued, two things he would do :
* First of all, I would absolutely stop, by withdrawing all encouragement, the formation of great estates. I would say that when a man owning land died without a will, his land should be subject to exactly the same rule of division which is now applied to personal property. Well, then I would put an end to the system of entail, by which it would be rendered impossible to tie up land, through the man who lies quietly in the churchyard not having had the power of determining for long after he was dead the ownership of the estate which he himself had possessed. I would so legislate that every present generation should be the absolute owners of the land, and the next generation should be the absolute owners; but neither this nor the next should be able to dictate to future generations who should own it. I would have the compulsory registration of all landed property, so that it would be easy, at the expense of only a few shillings or pounds, to transfer a farm or an estate from one to another by an absolutely legal and definite sale. These are things that are done elsewhere, and they ought to be done here just as easily if you
would only lay hold of the landed proprietor, and lay hold of the lawyer. They tell me that this is a very difficult thing to do; but it has been done elsewhere, and it must be done here. Nay, more, if you and others like you will speak out, it shall be done here.'
Mr. Bright's second proposal he described as a mode by which the occupying tenantry, in thousands and thousands of cases, might in a very short time be made, not occupying tenants, but occupying landowners—positive owners of their farms. He admitted that the purchase clauses of Mr. Gladstone's Land Act of 1870 had been, with few exceptions, a failure ; and gave the reasons for this. After passing an eulogium upon the labours of Mr. Shaw-Lefevre as a member of the Committee appointed by the House of Commons, of which Mr. Bright himself was one, the right hon. gentleman said that that Committee found it was necessary to change the Act of 1870—to establish instead of the Landed Estates Court a separate, independent, and powerful Commission for the purpose of doing this great work amongst the tenantry of Ireland. The proposition was, that if any man wished to buy a farm which his landlord or anybody else was disposed to sell, the Treasury would find a certain portion of the money—it might be two-thirds or three-fourths. The transaction being completed, the farmer goes on paying his rent to the Commission, which is the interest on the money that he has borrowed from them; and after thirty-five years he has paid all the interest and all the principal of the advance made by the Treasury, and the farm becomes his own so long as he chooses to keep it. Now, I want the
Government—the Parliament—to pass a law which shall compel the London Companies, for example, who are the owners of great estates in the county of Londonderry, to sell their estates under an Act of this kind. I want, also, that the Commission to be appointed should have the power of taking over absolutely any estate offered them for sale which they might think a desirable estate, so that, having it in possession, as the Church Commission had their lands in possession, they might hand it over to various tenants who were willing to buy it. I don't want a Commission to go there and sit down with good salaries to do nothing. They should have a suitable staff; they should have a good lawyer on it, and men thoroughly acquainted with the condition of the land and the people in Ireland; and they should advertise and let all the Irish tenantry know that the Imperial Government has sent them to Dublin, not for the purpose of opening an office and giving salaries-establishing a new system of patronage—but that they should
there and hold out a helping hand to every honest, industrious tenant in Ireland who wishes to possess his farm; and that wherever his landlord was willing to help he would find them willing to give him a transfer.'
Mr. Bright said he believed if his plan were carried out they would find many of the Irish proprietors, now living in England, would regard it as a great good to their country. Many of these noblemen and gentlemen had no interest whatever but in the prosperous condition of Ireland, and they would be willing to aid in the transfer of estates to the tenantry, and to accept the fair and just compensation which the Government would offer to them. The right hon. gentleman thus concluded his address :
‘At present, what the Irishman wants upon his farm more than all else is to get rid of suspicion ; to get rid of the fear of injury, of uncertainty as to his tenure ; to have infused into his mind the opposite feelings of confidence and of hope. (Cheers.) If you would give to all Irish tenants that confidence and hope, every year would see them advancing in a better cultivation and a more prosperous condition. Does anybody say that hope is nothing and of no avail in the affairs of men? I might quote from the poet who has—what shall I say?-created almost an immortality for our language. He speaks of hope. He says
“ White-handed Hope,
(Loud cheers.) Bring this hope into the Irish farmer's family, and into his household, and it will have an influence as complete, as blessed, and as home-ruling as it will have in the mansions of the rich or the palaces of the great. (Cheers.) So far as I have seen Irishmen in their own country and in this, they are as open to good and kind treatment as any other people. They have been the victims of untoward circumstances, which all your histories describe. We-our forefathers—have subjugated them and maltreated them. We suffer in reputation ; they suffer in their lives through the misdoings of the past. Let us now not be weary of the attempt to bring about a reformation in that country, which I believe would quell the suspicion, and quell the discontent, and banish the disloyalty which we all lament in Ireland. As to the present distress, I hope that the duty of the Government will not be neglected. I hope they have not spent so much in endeavouring to civilize Zulus and Afghans that they are not able to do something for their poor people nearer home. (Hear, hear.) I hope, Sir, the Government, in dealing with the Irish question, will deal with it frankly, and openly, and generously; and that they, as they are now under the pressure of the present distress, will open their hands to relieve the suffering people of the West,--that they will open their hearts, and their intellects too, to the further and the greater question of what shall be done for Ireland in the future.' (Applause.)
In the course of a brief second speech, Mr. Bright
further remarked on the Irish question : 'We are coming, I presume, by all the indications and by the fact of a constitutional rule, which certain people cannot escape from-we are coming to the time of a general election. If Toryism were a good thing, Ireland would be in a prosperous condition; for there has not been a country in Europe, there has not been a population of this kingdom which has been for so long a period under the principles which Toryism is supposed to love, as Ireland itself. It has had plenty of military control, it has had plenty of feudalism with regard to its land, it has had a Church which it did not like and which insulted it, and it has had generally a treatment on the part of the Imperial Parliament in past times which might cause it to submit, but never can make it content. I hope the Liberal party will so conduct itself with regard to that country that, whatever there is of a true patriotism and a true honour among its leading men -I mean its men who are now politically leadingthat it may be possible for the two to act together on behalf of measures which are necessary, and can no longer be postponed, if we have any real interest in the well-being of that portion of the United Kingdom.'
Mr. Bright's scheme was of course variously viewed by the press, but even those journals which dissented from his proposals admitted that a revolution in Irish agriculture was inevitable. We turn from Ireland to a less debatable subject.