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[N.B.-The appearance of a letter in the National Review in no way implies approval of the opinions expressed by the writer. This portion of the Review is reserved for remarks that Correspondents may desire to make upon papers which have been published in the National Review, or for letters upon such other subjects as the Editors may think deserving of discussion.]
Mr. Arnold Forster's Scheme for Ireland.
To THE EDITORs of “THE NATIONAL REVIEw.” GENTLEMEN, I do not propose to enter into a detailed or elaborate criticism of
Mr. Arnold Forster's scheme for the settlement of the Irish Question. It is sufficient for my purpose to examine briefly one or two of the principal heads of his scheme, and to point out their fallacy or impracticability, which, in my opinion, renders the whole scheme abortive.
In the first place, Mr. Arnold Forster remarks that, among other objections which he anticipates will be raised to his suggestions is the following, namely: “the State can never take the place of a universal landlord.” And he meets this expected objection by the single word connu, but offers no argument against the objection. I venture to urge precisely the same objection; and I think some sort of an answer should be given to it.
The State ought not to take the place of a universal or national landlord. It, or rather the Government which is its head and representative, ought not to be placed in the invidious position of collecting and enforcing payment of rent or a rent-charge. Such a position, such a duty or function, ought not to be assigned to a governing body; for they would inevitably incur no little odium in enforcing their claims; and it would be a powerful inducement to those Irishmen who love English rule not too well, to resist payment to the uttermost, and thus to entangle the representatives of the State in the unpleasant and inconvenient step necessary to recover arrears of payment of rent, or of the rent-charge which Mr. Arnold Forster proposes to create. I think that this objection to his scheme, which he treats so lightly, is a serious one, and cannot be easily set aside. If the ordinary and usual methods of procedure for enforcing payment of such a charge as he suggests, were not rigidly enforced before the other powers which he proposes to give the Government, or as he terms it, the State, were put into force, an outcry would be raised that the authorities were proceeding without adequate reason to steps of exceptional stringency and precipitation. If such ordinary methods were principally depended upon, they would, all past experience teaches us, fail of effect. I assume that each step taken by the authorities for recovery of rent or rent-charge would be in accordance with, and under the direction of a court of competent jurisdiction, and so would receive the sanction and protection of the law; but this would not really shield the State authorities from incurring the odium of being the instigators and prime movers in enforcing their legal rights. A still more serious objection to the scheme is that it would not have the advantage of being final, an advantage which Mr. Forster claims for it; but it would only postpone a real settlement for some few years or till the next generation. A right solution of the Irish difficulty is too urgent and important a matter to be shelved, for the consideration and ingenuity of another generation to dispose of. Mr. Arnold Forster advocates a large and comprehensive compulsory expropriation of Irish landlords; or, to use his own words, “the whole of the agricultural land of Ireland held on lease or otherwise than in fee shall be transferred from the present owners to the present occupiers, to be held by the latter in fee, subject to certain conditions as to payment of rent-charge as stated hereafter.” Let us look forward a few years. The whole of the present race of landlords will have been replaced by tenants. A race of landlords will have been created, who have, in the vast majority of cases, no other worldly possessions than their small tenements. When bad times come, as come they inexorably will, the then landlords will not have the means to tide over till better times. An impersonal non-resident landlord, the State, or the Executive Government, will demand, and in justice to the State must enforce, payment of the rent-charge, or the Irish public must suffer the imposition of a tax. But even so, the luckless landlord will not, I imagine, be exonerated or released from his liability to pay the rent-charge. No liberal landlord's ears will be open to the pitiful tale of a distressed owner. Payment will be required and must be enforced. To take yet another view of the case. Suppose the new landlord is able and willing to pay all, and does pay all. Land is a commodity, and will change hands; and, if the laws of human transactions are allowed to have their course, and liberty of dealing with one's own, and liberty of contract is not curtailed or prohibited, land will inevitably sooner or later get into the hands of a few, and the same difficulties as those now existing will recur. I believe that the substitution of one race or set of landlords for another will never solve the question ; and that, instead of the condition of Ireland being permanently ameliorated and settled by the adoption of any such scheme as Mr. Arnold Forster suggests, the last state of Ireland would be worse than the first. Any scheme saddling the State with the necessity for, and responsibity of acting as superior landlord can never work smoothly, and will introduce more jarring elements into the present conflict than are already engaged. Every step taken by the authorities, either to compel payment by the new landlord, or by levying a tax on imports, would, moreover, afford Parnellite and Home Rule members an opportunity of raising a debate on the policy of the Government, or as to the justice or legality of such proceedings; and this would prove a most fertile source of bitterness, interpellation, invective, and recrimination against any Government in power at the time. I do not believe that any such ambitious schemes as Mr. Forster's, for the compulsory expropriation of the present race of landlords in Ireland is either necessary or likely to be beneficial to that or this country. The true solution of the question lies much more, as Lord Salisbury intimated in his speech at the Guildhall, in a firm, consistent, but withal kind rule, according to law. The disestablishment of the Irish Church greatly aggravated the evils from which Ireland has long suffered; and further disestablishments, concessions, and expropriations will, I believe, have no tramquillizing or beneficial effect. Such a policy will but result in a demand for further concessions and appropriations of other men's property; and the demand for Home Rule will be in no way abated. What the present landlords have now to lose, future landlords will have in future to lose, and their tenants would have a great and inspiring example to demand concessions, the like of which a former generation of tenants had wrung from the British Government. If any such concessions are now made, I think we may expect, before long, to see history repeating itself. If the difficulties I have mentioned could be surmounted, Mr. Arnold Forster's ingenious scheme would probably be feasible; but the difficulties are initial and fundamental, and I fear insuperable. The scheme suggested by Mr. Holloway, M.P., in the National Review for last month, is in my opinion, far more feasible and practicable than Mr. Arnold Forster's. Mr. Holloway's plan contains the elements of simplicity in principle and construction and easy adaptability to the various circumstances of each case. It necessitates no extra taxation of imports, or of any Irish industries or manufactures, and does not involve the State or the Executive Government in the complications and embarrassments inevitably consequent upon its assuming the undesirable position of universal landlord, nor is the credit of the State pledged.
Mr. Holloway's scheme has, on a small scale, been subjected to the test of twelve years actual existence, and he says the results of the experiment are very satisfactory. It would, if adopted, actually at once decrease the tenants' yearly payments, ensuring, nevertheless, the gradual transfer of the property to them, if the moderate payments were kept up. No one has yet suggested actually giving the landlords' property outright to the tenants, and no easier mode of transfer will probably be discovered than that suggested by Mr. Holloway. For simplifying a difficult problem bristling with pitfalls and dangers, no better scheme has yet been devised. For efficiency in actual operation no scheme at all has yet been put to the test. Simplicity in a scheme of this kind is a great guarantee of its success.
Again, if the creation of a new race of landlords is inevitable, it is advisable that they should be brought into existence by a voluntary system, or if by a compulsory system, then compulsory on both sides. A voluntary system can, of course, flourish only if the advantages of the gradual extinction of the old and the gradual creation of the new race are mutual and equal. Any scheme wanting this element of mutual benefit, even if it were compulsory, could not be equitable or just. If compulsion is employed, I fear an equal consideration for mutual or conflicting rights can hardly be ensured, or a satisfactory and final settlement of the land question be expected.
I am, Gentlemen,
Irish Land Purchase,
To THE EDIToRs of THE “NATIONAL REVIEw.” "GENTLEMEN, Will you allow me to very briefly criticise Mr. G. Holloway's
article upon the Irish Land Purchase question ?
Mr. Holloway commences by saying “it is almost universally admitted that some great scheme of land purchase would be the best and surest solution of the Irish problem.” This is tantamount to saying that all the trouble in Ireland has been caused by high rents. Everyone who has taken the trouble to look into the question in an impartial manner, or has had anything to do with land there, knows full well such is not the case.
In the first place, the agricultural distress has never really existed in Ireland to the extent it has here, because the conditions under which agriculture has been carried on, it being mainly a stock and dairy country, have been such that foreign competition has not pressed upon the Irish farmer so heavily as it has upon those of Great Britain. The Irish tenant-farmer has been making and saving (vide Savings Bank Returns) money during the whole of the twelve years that the agricultural depression has existed here. They have been quite able and even willing to pay a rent for their land, but the National League, composed mainly of paid agitators and assassins, would not allow them. It has answered these people's purpose to make the more ignorant of English voters, and the Americans who find the dollars, believe that it is the tyranny of landlords that they are fighting against; but, taking into consideration the fact that already more than half the landlords' property has been confiscated and handed over to the tenants, most people now know full well that the tenants have now nothing to complain of as regards rent, even if they had before. What the Irish agitators are aiming at, is complete separation, and that Ireland should be handed over to the tender mercies of the Parnellite crew. We might just as well give the country to Italian brigands, neither of which, thanks to those who put country before party, and the firmness (although long delayed) of the Government, is likely to take place. But supposing, for the sake of argument, some scheme for enabling Irish tenant-farmers to become their own landlords, is necessary, is Mr. Holloway's a just one 2 I think not. In the first place he asks that the landlord should forego 40 per cent. of his already reduced rental for about forty-two years, at the end of that time the property will be no longer his, and all he will receive in exchange will be £200 worth of Consols. It would not be quite so unjust if the landlord were to receive the instalments of the purchase money, but to oblige a person to sell his land at twenty year's purchase of the judicial rent, and not to allow him to receive a farthing of that purchase money until fortytwo years have elapsed, seems to me quite unfair. Mr. Holloway says his scheme is founded upon practical experience. Yes, but under totally different circumstances. Thirteen years ago, when Mr. Holloway built his cottages, wages were very high, and there was plenty of employment; we may therefore suppose that what Mr. Holloway calls ordinary rent means what this class of property would command in the district, and no doubt brought in a very good interest upon capital employed. But the judicial rent in Ireland is not what the land would command if put up to the highest bidder, supposing that would-be tenants had no fear of the National League; it is this League that has prevented them paying what the land is worth, which is considerably more than the judicial rent, and at the same time they could have been the most prosperous of any farmers in the United Kingdom. Supposing