Page images

opposed to unnecessary infringement of the laws of property. The right hon. gentleman then went on to state his opinion that at the present moment Great Britain was longing to be just and even generous to Ireland. He thought it would be wise on the part of the landowners not to reject a measure which might possibly hereafter be followed by one that they would not like any better. What was wanted in Ireland was a measure securing adequate rent to the landlord, and adequate security to the tenant. These, he strongly believed, would be secured by the present bill. What we want to do by this bill,' said Mr. Bright, is to drive famine, and poverty, and suffering, and discontent from Ireland. I believe it can only be done by measures such as this. We have in the past history of Ireland just this on the one side repeated confiscation, penal laws, Acts in restraint of the constitution, Coercion Acts in their many hurtful forms : we have had a recent and unhappy acquaintance with them. On the other side, we have suffering, and discontent, and crime, and I am sorry to say, in some cases, crime such as the records of savages (if savages had records) could hardly excel for darkness and cruelty. These are things which ought to shock the members of the Legislature, and draw them with an irresistible impulse to find some mode of changing the condition of the people, which has not been creditable to the Government of the country.'

Mr. Bright said the House could not rest with matters as they were. They must either go forward, as they proposed to go, or go back. Going back meant that they must govern Ireland with a constabulary and with a great army. They would be very soon driven to suspend trial by jury, to abolish freedom of the press, and the freedom of public meeting. It is said,' continued the right hon. gentleman, 'that the bill makes concessions to tenants. Nobody denies that, least of all those who have taken pains to frame the bill. It does make concessions to tenants, and at the same time—and that is the supposed cause of its intricacy—the bill contains some safeguards, placed so that, as far as it is desirable or possible with justice to the tenant, the interests of the landlord should be preserved. Now, the idea of the English system is a complete delusion -I speak of Ireland; I am not speaking of the English system in England. It will remain in England until Parliament by public opinion thinks it necessary to make changes. (Cheers.) I have no idea, and no belief, and no suspicion that it will be ever needful in Great Britain to make changes such as those this bill is intended to make in Ireland. But in Ireland you have the question of race, you have the question of religion, you have the question of absenteeism; you have the circumstances of great estates managed continually by agency, and, in fact, everything in Ireland is at war with the English system. Therefore you are condemned to have recourse to laws which are very different from what we have in England, and which I trust and hope never will be necessary in this country. In a very forcible passage, Mr. Bright added : 'To the complaint that the bill gives so much to the tenants and takes it all from the landlords, I should make this answer: If at this moment all that has been done by the tenant in Ireland were gone, imagine that—if all that the tenants have done were gone, and all that the owners have done left—(Liberal cheers)—that is the picture, the sort of map I should very much like to see; it would be charming; it would finish this debate in five minutes—(Liberal cheers and laughter)—if this map were drawn; then, over nine-tenths of Ireland the land would be as bare of houses, of barns, of fences, and of cultivation, as it was in prehistoric times. It would be as bare as an American prairie where the Indian now roams, and where the foot of the white man has never yet trodden.' (Hear, hear.)

Being interrupted by Col. Tottenham, and asked for figures, Mr. Bright said he was stating no more than what was stated thirty-five years before by the greatest of all the Commissions—the Commission presided over by Lord Devon. In the matter of rents, landlords had in hundreds, probably thousands of cases received over and over again the value of that which tenants had placed upon their farms. For himself, he had a special affection for that part of the bill which tended to convert to a very large extent the tenant-farmers into farmers who were owners of their land. If land was to be made secure in Ireland, it must be by a system which, dividing and dispersing the land, would furnish it and its rights with a multitude of defenders.

That was exactly what one of the principal portions of the bill was intended to secure to landed property in Ireland. Mr. Bright's peroration, which in the outset dealt with the Emigration question, was as follows:

'The hon. member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) found some fault in his speeches outside the House with regard to the bill. He objected to what was said about emigration, and that nothing was said about the labourers. The bill indicates nothing of the kind that any single Irish man or woman will be compelled or lured to leave the country and cross the Atlantic. No less than ninety-five thousand persons emigrated from Ireland last year—(cheers); and if the reports we see in the papers are correct, it seems that now emigration is going on at a greater rate than it was at this time last year. I put it to the hon. member for Cork if the great mercantile steamers were to anchor at Cork or Galway, and to offer free passages to the families of all the population of Connaught, how many would remain behind ? Probably he would say the whole of the population of Connaught; but I have not the least doubt the half of them would find their way in a very short time to the United States. That is a country which opens its door to everybody. The Minister of the United States in this country (Mr. Lowell), a man who has put as much wisdom as wit into his poems, in describing that country, says

“Whose very latch-string never was drawn in

Against the poorest child of Adam's kin." (Cheers.) Therefore, whilst the bill does not propose to offer


inducement, except such as the population now have, to any single Irish family to emigrate, yet I am bound to say I believe it would be far better for a great number of those families to be settled in the better parts of Canada and the United States than to remain where they are, or to be removed from where they are to any of those tracts of land which at a certain expense, not easily ascertained—(hear, hear,)-might in Ireland be made fit for habitation. So that I trust that these families that will go, and that are going-notwithstanding the violent passions that are excited in America by statements that are—some of them not true, and some of them wildly exaggerated, -I trust there are persons going to the United States who before long will find, and will hear from the old country that her miseries are abating, and that justice is being done, and that the disloyalty and the suffering that we have had so much to regret are in a great part removed. (Hear, hear.) And with regard to the labourers, to whom the hon. member for Cork has referred, I believe nothing will do so much good for them as anything that will induce farmers to cultivate their land better. (Hear, hear.) What shall I say about this bill ? If the portion of it which deals with the relations of landlord and tenant is worked with fairness, if the other portion—the purchase clauses and powers—is worked with energy, I dare to hope and believe we shall find it a measure of healing and blessing to the Irish people-(loud cheers); and I ask hon. members on every side of the House not to imagine that the bill was not framed with a great intention, and honestly, and with a great purpose. (Hear, hear.) Let them support, as far as they can, the bill, and the Government which has introduced it to the House. This night, and every night, the House prays in language that always strikes me as very touching and very beautiful. As the representatives of the nation we pray to Heaven for the peace and tranquillity of the realm. It is for the peace and tranquillity of the realm that this bill has been drawn up and

proposed to the House ; and it is with the hope that if it passes it will tend to that end, that we, with great confidence and not with fear, ask for it the acceptance and the sanction of Parliament.' (Loud cheers.)

The second reading of the Irish Land Bill was eventually carried on the 19th of May, an amendment by Lord Elcho being defeated by the large majority of 352 votes to 176. In Committee, the discussions were renewed, and at one time it seemed almost impossible that the bill could be sent up to the House of Lords in time to be carried during the current session. After many delays, however, the measure passed the Commons amid enthusiastic cheering, and was despatched to the Upper House.

On the 8th of August, Mr. Bright was amongst the guests present at the Ministerial banquet at the Mansion House. Mr. Gladstone responded with happy eloquence and effect to the toast of the evening, 'Her Majesty's Ministers;' and after the Marquis

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »