Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Motion [26th May],
That leave be given to bring; in a Bill to amend 'The Laud Law (Ireland) Act, 1881,' and to provide facilities for the sale and purchase of land in Ireland."—(Mr. Trevclyan.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
It will be my interest and my duty to show my gratitude to the House for giving me this opportunity of making a short introduction to the proposals of the Government; and I shall not enter at any length, nor, perhaps, shall I directly enter at all, into the motives which actuated the Government in making these proposals. The pressure in the direction of an extension of facilities to tenants to purchase their holdings has come from two quarters. 1511 In the first place, there are the advocates of peasant proprietary, those who believe that there is supreme virtue in possession; that the sense of possession is a spur to labour, to thrift, to the quiet but continuous enterprize which is essential to make farming successful. Among these may be included those who look rather to the political than the economical advantages of the movement; and who hold that to be owner of his farm makes a man a good citizen, so that a large infusion of farming proprietors into the social system of Ireland would mean that there would be so many more contented and law-abiding men who could be trusted to remain such in any dangerous emergency. These ideas have been, comparatively speaking, of old standing, and one who held them most sincerely and warmly was the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). The Irish Church Act and the Land Act of 1870 both passed while he was connected with the Government; and both Bills contained an honest, and in the first case a successful attempt to promote the system which he had at heart. The same aspirations left their mark on the Land Act of 1881, and the hope that the Purchase Clauses of that measure would be among its most important provisions held a larger space in the minds of its supporters than, perhaps, they now remembered. But the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of 1870 have not succeeded, and the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act of 1881, in comparison with the hopes entertained, have failed. Only 870 tenants purchased under the Land Act of 1870 during the first 12 years of its operation, and it is doubtful whether all those could be classed as peasant or even farming proprietors. Under the Act of 1880 about 430 peasant proprietors have been created in the course of two years. If the two Acts between them have made one farmer in Ireland out of every 400 a possessor of his farm, it is the most they have done. Now, the Government believe, and earnestly believe, that the social and political state of Ireland and its agricultural conditions are such that there never was a country in the world in which it is more important that many of those who till the land should own it. They recognize that former legislative attempts to bring this about have not met the success that could be wished; 1512 and in the measure which I have the honour to lay before the House the Government have done their utmost in order to accomplish an end which, if it can be accomplished, I believe the whole House and the whole Kingdom would regard with satisfaction. And the other great class who urge an extension of purchasing facilities to tenants are those who, from private interests or on public grounds, view with anxiety the deadlock in the Irish land market. No one, I think, can deny that when the land of a country is practically unsaleable it is a great misfortune to the community and a great hardship to a very large class of individuals. And it certainly cannot be denied that such a state of things now holds in Ireland. In the year 1849 the land market in Ireland was in a state to which men look back as to a phenomenon. The distress among landowners, the burdens on property, the impossibility of realizing the value of it, was such that Parliament had resort to measures which, in considering the opinions of those days, must have seemed nearly revolutionary. And what was the state of things which induced a Parliament with the ideas of nearly 40 years ago to pass the Encumbered Estates Act? These estates were in the hands of Receivers, the rental of which was £750,000 per annum, and there were nearly 1,000 Chancery suits in which the rights of the parties had been ascertained, but in which it was impossible to realize the property. Well, Sir, at the present moment estates with a rental of £440,000 are in the hands of the Court Receivers, and there are at least 750 properties ready for sale, or ripening towards sale, if only the market were open, which cannot now be sold at all. The block in the land market of 1884 already bears comparison with the famous block of 1849; and another three years like the last would make it every bit as bad. For the state of things during the last three years has been exceptional to a degree that the public are hardly aware of. Between 1850 and 1858 the Encumbered Estates Court sold £23,000,000 worth of landed property. Between 1859 and 1879, inclusive, the Landed Estates Court sold £29,000,000 worth. The average annual sales of those 30 years were at the rate of £1,750,000 a-year. The average annual sales of the 20 years between 1859 and 1879, which it is 1513 fairer, perhaps, to take, because they represent the normal dealings of the country, were at the rate of £1,500,000 a-year. The average sales in the last three years have been as near as possible £250,000; and this does not represent the full strength of the case, for of the £750,000 of property sold in the last three years £300,000 was town and house property, and the quantity of agricultural property sold was about £150,000 in each year, as against £1,500,000 in ordinary years. The officers of the Court tell me that in an ordinary year they had about 200 estates awaiting sale. They now have, at least, 750. Between 1865 and 1881 the average of the agricultural property sold in no year fell below 20 years' purchase. In 1882–3 the little that was sold only fetched 18 years' purchase; and if sales had been pressed it is not easy to say to what figure it would have fallen. And even so, and at this price, out of 108 lots that were offered for sale in 1882, 63 remained unsold. Out of 165 in 1883, 123 remained unsold. In old days when a large estate was under the hammer the number of bidders would be such that auctions were held in the Round Room of the Rotunda or in the largest chamber at the Four Courts. Now, when auctions are held in the Landed Estates Courts, sometimes, including loungers, hardly 20 people are present. Sir, there is one cause of the deadlock which this Bill will undoubtedly remove. The Committee of the House of Lords have mentioned several obstacles in the way of the tenants purchasing; but they have not mentioned a principal one, which is that they are waiting for better terms. After so large and influential a Committee had once held out to the tenants the prospect of having the whole purchase money, it is certain that not a tenant will purchase until he knows what answer the Government would make to such a proposal. Until, as far as a Ministry can ordain it, finality is established in this matter—until the terms are clearly laid down up to which the Government will go, and up to which Parliament will follow it, the deadlock in Irish land will continue, and grow worse, if there is room for it to grow worse. And, therefore, the Government, in the measure which I beg leave to introduce, have gone to the utmost limits which the welfare of the 1514 State and the security of the Exchequer will permit; and if the Bill finds favour enough to become an Act, the Irish tenants will know the utmost which in this matter they are to expect from Parliament so long as Parliament is guided in any way by the present Government. In referring to the Exchequer, I cannot leave without mention the deep personal interest which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken in the furtherance of this question, the active initiative with which he has urged it from first to last, and the minute care which he has bestowed on the details of a scheme the unfolding of which would come more effectively from his lips. But he chooses to keep himself in the background, and I shall try to make up for my deficiencies in the only way I can—by the studied brevity which, in laying our scheme before the House, I shall endeavour to reconcile with as much clearness and lucidity of explanation as it is within my power to compass. The method I shall adopt is to state in succession the obstacles to the purchase of estates by the tenants, and the provisions by which this measure proposes to alleviate or to obviate them. These obstacles may be divided into two great classes—the legal obstacles, by which I mean the drawbacks of time, trouble, and costliness which are involved in the present state of the laws of purchase, sale, and title; and the administrative and financial obstacles, which consist in the insufficient attractiveness of the terms offered to the proposed purchaser, And, first, with regard to title. At present a tenant for life or other limited owner, if he wants to get the favourable terms of the Act of 1881, must sell to the tenants under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act by a process which does not give the purchasing tenant a complete and absolute title, and which lays on him a possibly very large and undefined cost, inasmuch as all the expenses of dealing with the purchase money, ascertaining to whom it is due, and distributing it to the right claimants, must be borne by the purchaser. This liability in itself renders it necessary for the purchaser to employ a solicitor, if it were merely to ascertain that the case was a safe and simple one; and where it is not perfectly safe and simple, no man in the rank of a plain farmer can be expected to venture to buy a property which has 1515 so serious a responsibility attached to it. To be responsible for the distribution of the purchase money under a complicated settlement, and then to have a title which may possibly be defective, is a prospect that may frighten the boldest. Well, Sir, this difficulty the Government measure will entirely obviate. That measure proposes to take advantage of the machinery of the Settled Estates Act of 1882, and enable a limited owner to make title, through the Land Commission, to the fee-simple of an estate, for purposes of sale, with as much freedom as if he were the absolute owner. We propose, likewise, that the Land Commission may give the purchaser an absolute statutory Parliamentary title. There will be no legal expenses to the purchaser, except such as may arise from his thinking it convenient to employ a solicitor to make his application, or represent him in his absence from Dublin—expenses of which the Court could not take cognizance. The stamp duty, a matter of one-half per cent on the purchase, is the most that he will have to pay. There will be little or no delay, for as soon as the seller has proved to the satisfaction of the Court that he is an owner competent to make title under this Act, a vesting order, in lieu of a conveyance, will then and there be made out in favour of the purchasing tenant, and he will not have to wait for his title until the rights as to the purchase money have been ascertained. The expense of making out his title will, of course, be borne by the owner who wishes to sell. The expense of investigating the title will be borne by the Land Commission. The tenant's part in the transaction, if he assents to the financial conditions I am going to describe hereafter, will be limited to marching off with his Parliamentary title in his pocket as clear and undoubted an owner of his farm as if he had purchased it in the Landed Estates Court. Another main difficulty at present is that the purchase-money, in the case of a settled estate, can only be invested in the Government Funds or other securities yielding a very low rate of interest, or in a fresh purchase of land, the very idea of which may be dismissed as beside the question while the present condition of things lasts. Of course, in an estate of which the settlements contained selling clauses this difficulty would not exist; but those 1516 estates are very few indeed in Ireland, so strong has been the attachment of the Irish landlord to landed property, and so profound in old days was the habit of providing for younger children by burdening the property instead of by selling it. The Committee of the House of Lords describe this difficulty in very forcible terms, and suggest a remedy which our Bill adopts. We propose to authorize investments in all the securities which are sanctioned by the Settled Estates Act of 1882—East India Stock and guaranteed railways, mortgages, Stock of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and other securities; and we give the Land Commission power to appoint trustees to buy, hold, and administer these securities. We have every hope that under these arrangements the former owner and those dependent on the estate will enjoy as large an income from the produce of the sale as will be consistent with their own security. Another difficulty connected with the landlord's title arises where the land is subject to a quit rent or to a chief rent, which, the Lords' Committee informs us, is said to be the case with one-third of the land in Ireland. There is now no power to apportion this burden, and the whole rent continues to be payable out of every holding into which the estate is divided. The Bill of the Government gives the Land Commission express power to redeem the chief rent, apportioning the price of it among the holdings in arranging the instalments of the purchase-money, and they are likewise to have all the powers of the Landed Estates Court with regard to the apportioning of quit rents and Crown rents in such a manner that, where the chief rent is not brought up, the new tenant proprietor will pay his share of it, and his share only. Sir, I will venture to say that such a complete and searching proposal for the simplification and cheapening of legal proceedings never entered the mind of man—[A laugh]—not even those of the hon. Members for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) and Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold). I have listened to many speeches on the cheapening of law in this House; but I certainly have never heard one which exceeds this proposal, which, as soon as a primâ facie case for the ownership of land is established, enables the would-be purchaser to obtain an indefeasible 1517 title with no legal cost except that of the stamp duty; and I think I may call upon the hon. Member who laughs to tell me the means by which the transfer of land can be made cheaper than that. I will say a word to the English Members here, and state a fact which, I think, is a most interesting one, by which I think I prove conclusively that, besides being convenient, this plan of the Government is perfectly safe. It is impossible to abstain from a reflection of what this bugbear—the possible insecurity of landed property is—which has for generations frightened us from reforming our system of conveyancing in England. The system which I have described in principle is that which prevails in the Landed Estates Court and prevailed in the Encumbered Estates Court for a collective period of 30 years. In those 80 years £50,000,000 of property, one-fourth of the land of Ireland, has passed through the Court, and has come out with a Parliamentary title attached to it; and I am informed by the officials of the Court that there is not in their memory a single case of any rightful owner of an estate who, in the end, found himself robbed of his property. In one case the dividing line between one farm and another was in one of the Court maps drawn a few yards too much to the right or to the left, and, of course, that could not be altered, but will have to remain so until the Day of Judgment; but that is the whole sacrifice in the way of security to property which Ireland has made in order to have the ownership of one-fourth of her soil put outside the province of litigation and uncertainty. And now, Sir, I leave the legal side of the question and come to the administrative; and, without beating about the bush, I will go straight to the point, and inform the House what our proposals are. The present state of things, familiar to Irish Members, but, perhaps, not always so present to the minds of English Members, is this. Under the Land Act of 1881 the Land Commission may lend to the tenants three-fourths of the purchase money. It is lent at 3½ per cent. The tenant pays £5 a-year for 35 years for every £100 of the loan. This is the Sinking Fund, and at the end of that period accounts are wound up between him and the State. Now, Sir, I have forborne from quoting any part of the 1518 Blue Books which contain the result of inquiries into the land system of Ireland. If one once began one would never stop; for these inquiries have been conducted by highly competent men, who examine highly competent witnesses, and there is interest and instruction in every page. So now I will quote nothing in support of my assertion, but will say only that the evidence about tenants who have purchased under the various Acts goes with irresistible weight to prove this proposition — that of the tenants who have purchased their holdings, the most thriving and prosperous have been those who have paid down, out of their own resources, the margin of one-third or one-fourth which they did not borrow from the Government. The next class in prosperity are those who had credit to borrow that margin at a reasonable rate. The third, and too often most unprosperous class, are those who borrowed the margin at a high and even ruinous rate of interest—such men as those whom we are told of in the evidence of Mr. Murrough O'Brien before Lord Bessborough's Commission, who borrowed the margin at 20 per cent interest, and borrowed likewise the money to pay for the legal expenses of the conveyance and for the mortgage deed on their holdings. Now, Sir, the principle of our scheme is that we wish to have as many of the purchasing tenants of Ireland as possible in the first class, and none in the third. We hold very firmly by the belief that a man cannot invest his savings better than in the purchase of his home and homestead; and, on the other hand, we are determined that, if a tenant is fit to become a proprietor at all, he shall not have to become one by hampering himself with usurious interest. In order to induce the thrifty and saving tenants of Ireland to put a helping hand to the task of making themselves owners, the Treasury has consented to reduce the interest from. 3½ to 3¼ per cent in the case of those tenants who provide a fourth of the purchase money, and to extend the term of years—an extension which may safely be granted in the case of men who have given a sort of hostage to Providence by putting down hard cash of their own. Instead of paying £5 on every £100 for 35 years, they will henceforward pay £4 10s. for 40 years. If such a man at present pays £100 a- 1519 year rent, and purchases his farm at 20 years' purchase, his case will stand thus—he will pay on the £1.500 advanced by the Government £67 10s. The margin of £500, at £5 per cent, would come to £25. Then come the extra rates which, as a proprietor, he will henceforward have to pay. To this calculation I have devoted more hours than it will take seconds to give it to the House; and the House will, perhaps, take it on trust when I put it at 6 per cent on the rent—that is, £6; making a total of £98 10s. If such a man bought at 20 years' purchase, he would, if he provided a fourth of the money himself, become full owner of his farm at the end of 40 years, during which he would pay in interest, rent, and extra expenses somewhat less than he pays in rent now. But, besides giving an advantage to the tenant who is willing and able to contribute to the purchase, the Government desire to fulfil their object, and exempt every tenant from borrowing at usurious interest. To accomplish this end they propose two means; one very small, indeed, in comparison to the other, which I will describe in a single sentence. They propose to allow, in the case of a limited owner, that part of the purchase money may remain on mortgage on the farms which he has sold under the Act, so that arrangements may be made between tenant and landlord in a manner that would facilitate sales, give a good rate of interest to the one, and protect the other from the evils of usury. But the other proposal of the Government is indefinitely larger. The Government, after long and anxious consideration, have come to the conclusion that whatever they could be induced to do in the future they should do now and at once; and so they have arrived at the determination, under certain—as they think, sufficient—conditions and guarantees to advance to the tenant the whole purchase money. In the first place, the Land Commissioners must assure themselves that the price is a fair one, the security good, and the transaction one which will benefit the tenant and the community. When they have satisfied themselves of this they may advance to the tenant the whole of the purchase money, not, as at present, at 3½ per cent, but at 3¼. Paying £5 every year the tenant will be enabled to become full and absolute 1520 owner of his farm at the end of 33 years; and I maintain that such an offer has never been made by any State to any class or condition of its citizens. It is impossible to ask the taxpayers of the United Kingdom to show such confidence in the farmers of Ireland unless the taxpayers of Ireland evince that confidence themselves; and the liability of the tenants who have borrowed the whole sum from the State will have to be strengthened by a local guarantee which will not be required in the case of those who have borrowed only three-fourths. It is proposed—and here I must beg hon. Members to hear the whole of what I have to say before they make up their minds on a point—it is proposed to make the county cess responsible for the deficiency in the payments of the purchasers. Hon. Members must not think this very alarming, for I am glad to say that the experience of the Land Commissioners is that this liability is very small indeed. The Land Commissioners, under the unfavourable terms under which it has sold land, either itself, or as the inheritor of the Church Commissioners, easily and cheaply collects its instalments from purchasers by a very simple process of receivable orders, which I suppose are cashed in banks; and between March 1883 and March 1884 it has only increased its arrears of rent by £150 for the whole of Ireland. We may, therefore, believe that those deficiencies will be very small indeed. But where the Land Commission fails to collect these instalments—for it will continue to collect them in the case of the new loans as it has in the case of the old—the county cess will have to make them good. It would be manifestly unjust that, in an operation intended to benefit both landlord and tenant, the guarantee should fall upon a fund to which the tenant, in most cases, alone contributes; and in the payments which will have to be made in case of deficiency the cess will be divided between tenant and landlord. Again, it would be unjust that a district should be burdened with a liability which it had had no voice in accepting; and consequently each purchase scheme, after being approved by the Land Commission, will be submitted for approval or rejection, and only for approval or rejection outright to a local body. The composition of that body was a subject 1521 of long and nice discussion. At first the idea was to have a Board composed of representatives elected, half of them by the owners and half by the occupiers of the county; but this idea had to be abandoned on account of its expense and complexity. The proposal now is that a Board, not less in number than eight, not more than 16, shall be appointed in the following manner:—The elected Guardians of every Union, if, as in half the counties is fortunately the case, there are between four and eight Unions, shall elect each of them one person who is either an elected Guardian or a person qualified to bean elected Guardian by property situated within the county. [Mr. SEXTON: That is, each Union shall elect one?] Yes; that is the system we shall endeavour to adopt. To these the Grand Jury shall add as many more persons, whom they themselves shall nominate. If the Unions in the county are more than eight, as is the case in four counties, the Local Government Board will be responsible for grouping them. If they are less than four, as is the case in 12 counties, the Local Government Board will be responsible for making arrangements by which at least four representatives will be returned. The Board will be elected for three years. A casual vacancy among the representatives of the Guardians will be filled by election, in the case of the representatives of the Grand Jury by co-option; and no contract will be complete unless three-fourths of the members sign their names to it. This machinery, in default of any better existing, is a very cheap and ready method of getting, not only the opinion of the county, but the opinion of both classes in the county; not only the opinion of the county as a whole, but the views, the local knowledge, the local co-operation of every corner of the district which is affected. If this Board accept the liability it will be the business of the Grand Jury to carry it out, and the Grand Jury will have against defaulting tenants all the powers at present possessed by the Land Commission, powers which I am glad to say—for it speaks very well for the Irish tenant when he sees his way to an independent position—they have seldom and almost never been under the necessity of employing. And one more point. Many of those who have taken interest in the forma- 1522 tion of an Irish peasant proprietary, have seen in it an incidental means of providing thrifty Irish tenants with a handy and lucrative class of investment, which is at this moment so sorely wanted in Ireland. The Irish peasants who place their collective millions of savings in deposit banks which pay them, one year with another, little over 1½ per cent would be glad of an Irish security easily attainable, easily transferable, the interest on which was paid down at their door, and which, when paid, was well worth their while to take. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) urged the formation of such a security in his speech of last year, the re-reading of which has been a pleasant task; and Mr. Vernon, in his admirable evidence before the Lords' Committee, described the effect which such a security, if issued in small sums and payable in Ireland, would have in promoting saving habits and in encouraging attachment to the law. The Government, entering into these views, propose that the Treasury shall have power to pay the whole or part of the purchase-money in Three per Cent Debentures of the Land Commission, issued in small amounts, by the Bank of Ireland, the interest to be payable at the Bank of Ireland out of the instalments received by the Land Commission, with a Treasury guarantee at the back of them. In the opinion of the Government, bonds issued under those conditions would, to a large extent at any rate, stay in Ireland, and provide the Irish peasant with a form of national investment which small farmers on this side of the Channel will be inclined to envy him. The staff of clerks and inspectors which will be required for carrying out these duties will, in the main, be appointed under the 45th section of the Land Act; but power will be taken to provide the Land Commissioners with such skilled legal advisers as they may require to do the work of conveyancing. And there is one still more important personal change on which a few words must be said. The work of the Sub-Commissioners is going forward steadily and satisfactorily, as far as pace is concerned, and we begin to see daylight fast approaching through the cloud of arrears of applications to fix a fair rent. In a non-argumentative speech I make no remark on any other part of their 1523 work; but we see an immense quantity of arrears being removed. But it is quite another matter with, the appeals. There the work to be done has gone fast and far ahead of the means of doing it. The Land Commissioners have laboured as men have seldom laboured. They have worked hard, and have worked conscientiously. They have rejected, as we might be sure such men would reject, all the advice that has been offered to them to shorten their labour by giving off-hand and superficial decisions. In spite of all their exertions, the work has grown so upon them that the last Report shows that out of 15,700 appeals more than 10,000 remain to be dealt with. Seven hundred and sixty came on in the month of April, against 180 that were disposed of. It is impossible for the Government to leave such a condition of things any longer without a remedy, and the remedy they propose is this. The tenure of the fourth Land Commissioner, who is a layman, lapses in August. Lord Monck was appointed only until August, and has done his duty under very great disadvantages. The Government propose to appoint a fourth lay Commissioner for two years certain. Moreover, it is proposed that the Lord Lieutenant may select two Chairmen of counties to serve on the Appeal Courts of the Land Commission, and out of these materials two Courts of three members each may be constituted. Judge O'Hagan would preside in the one, and the next Judge appointed to the High Court — whoever he may be — in the other; and, till that appointment is made, Mr. Litton would act in his place. Each President would have a Chairman and a lay Commissioner as his Assessors. With this addition to their sorely overworked body the Land Commission could grapple with the mass of work before them; and, when a serious impression was made on that mass, the experience of other Courts of Law which have got into arrear, and afterwards recovered themselves, is that a good deal of what remained would melt away of itself. The Government earnestly trust that on this point hon. Members will make allowances for the difficulties that must beset every scheme, and will co-operate to remove an evil which all acknowledge, and which presses heavily on everybody concerned. And now, Sir, I have referred to the main points of the 1524 measure, with one exception. It is proposed to limit the amount of money lent by the State under this Act to £5,000,000 in any one year, and to limit the total amount to £20,000,000. The measure would not be justified if the possibility was even admitted that the Government could become at one and the same time the mortgagee of the whole of Ireland. And this brings me to the consideration of a proposal which has been made by influential deputations, and important public meetings, that the Government should lend money to Irish landlords at a low rate to consolidate their mortgages. Sir, the Government cannot see how any practical distinction can be made and kept between one class of charges on land and another. They believe that the loan would extend to all mortgages on land in the country, and these in the aggregate have been roughly estimated at £100,000,000; that it would be a financial operation gigantic beyond any precedent or conception; and that it would nullify the pecuniary limit which they have laid down in the Bill, and would end practically in making the State the absentee landlord for half the value of the land of Ireland. Nor does the Government discern how a distinction can be drawn between Irish landlords and other classes, whose incomes have been diminished, and their interests affected, by public legislation. Nor, again, is it easy to resist the claim of English and Scotch landlords who have suffered as much—in my belief, at least, as much—from economical causes as Irish landlords have suffered from legislation and economical causes combined, in a manner which it will be very hard for a practical political economist strictly to define and separate. The undertaking on which we are asked to embark is absolutely unlimited in its scope. The Government would have to cut itself free from the principle which has hitherto governed all loans from the State to individuals; and that principle is that loans shall be made for purposes of public utility, or that combine a large element of public utility—agricultural drainage, sanitary works, labourers' cottages; not the mere relief of the individual from pecuniary pressure, however undeserved and however lamentable. There is another principle from which the Government cannot depart. When loans are made from the State to 1525 individuals, they are made not for an indefinite period. They are terminable within a certain fixed number of years. And when the landlords found themselves unable to pay off their mortgages, when the interest is only 5 per cent, we do not see how they could pay 5 per cent to the Government, even if by doing so they could gradually recoup their principal. And now it only remains to meet the possible objections which may be made by those who think that the Government should have adopted other methods of attaining their purpose. It may be asked why we have not taken any of the ingenious plans for the institution of a land bank as intermediary between the tenants and the Government. Sir, my answer is that in all the plans I have seen the proposed bank would be virtually a Government Department, with a body of shareholders, who would be paid by Government for bringing in their capital. There is no profit to be made by a Corporation which everyone would regard as a part of the Executive, and which would be watched by its clients, and their Parliamentary Representatives, with a determination that the money which Parliament lent should pay not a penny of toll on the way. Prussia, which has been quoted in favour of land banks, is an instance to the contrary; for the banks of Prussia are all State banks, and the rates are so adjusted that the margin just covers the State expenses, and no more. I could say more, were it not that I believe that the hon. Members for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson) and County Cork (Mr. Shaw) had brought in their proposal of a land bank because they considered that to be the form in which private Members could, with most propriety, make suggestions to Parliament, not demands on the Treasury; and that, if the object which they have so much at heart is served, they would be willing not to take exception to the precise method, even though it is not that which they might, if they had the first word in the matter, have preferred. A good deal has been written, and something said, in favour of giving over the working of the Purchase Clauses to the Landed Estates Court instead of the Land Commission. The Landed Estates Court and the Board of Works worked the Bright Clauses of the Land Act; but in 1881 it was thought best to alter 1526 this, and give the duty to the Land Commission; and I think the change was a right one. To carry out these clauses properly two kinds of work are necessary—work of an executive character, the making of advances, the consideration of the character of the security, the consideration whether the purchase is not improvident, and the negotiation of purchases. Then there is work of a quasi-judicial character, involving the making out the vesting order to the tenant, and the investigation of the landlord's title. The Land Judges are a branch of the High Court of Justice, and it would be a thing foreign to their functions to impose on them the duties of an executive kind just stated. The Board of Works could not exercise quasi-judicial functions; and it is manifestly convenient and conducive to expedition to intrust the conduct of the entire business to one body, and there is no body except the Land Commission qualified to exercise both executive and judicial functions. Well, Sir, that is the scheme; and the only thing that remains is to see whether it will be taken advantage of by those for whose benefit it is intended. I see that Mr. Davitt states that this Bill is introduced for no other purpose than to save some landlords from bankruptcy, and he advises the tenants to be very slow to avail themselves of its provisions. Sir, my belief is that in the course of time, if not immediately, the tenants will begin to see what a great boon is offered them; and then no advice in the world, coming from whatever quarter it may, will prevent them from taking the chance that is given them. By pledging the credit of this great and wealthy nation, we are enabled to offer to the Irish farmer such terms as no other Government in Europe has ever offered, or has, up to this time, been able to offer, or even to approach. And for the peace of Ireland, and the happiness of Ireland, it is earnestly to be hoped that tenant and landlord alike will lay to heart the conviction that the Government firmly believes that in this Bill it has gone as far as the nation, as a whole, is prepared to go, and that they will consent to regard this Bill and the Land Act of 1881 as constituting together, not a shifting and temporary arrangement, but a veritable and permanent land settlement for Ireland.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he did not wish to offer any criticism or any opinion whatever on the very remarkable and very important statement which had been made by the Chief Secretary very clearly, as he always made a statement. He did not intend to say one word on the matter, although some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, particularly towards the close, invited warm criticism. At the time at his disposal, however, it would be impossible to enter into the matter; and he only rose for the purpose of impressing on the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill should be at once printed and circulated, in order that, whether they viewed the matter from the landlord or the tenant or the English standpoint, they might have an opportunity of forming a real and clearly satisfactory judgment on what he said to-day. He would suggest the Bill should be issued during the Recess.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he did not wish to detain the House by offering any criticism on this important matter; but it would require serious consideration. All he hoped was that the Bill would not be rushed through the House in the small hours of the morning, as the Tramways and Public Companies Act was.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. CHILDERS)
said, that the Government would have the Bill printed, and circulated as rapidly as possible. Some of the clauses were already printed, and others required further consideration; but he could assure the hon. and gallant Member that the Bill would issue as rapidly as possible.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, that nobody, of course, could be expected, nor would it be right, to express any opinion whatever on the weighty proposals in the Bill which had just been explained by the right hon. Gentleman. He would only say that he wished to direct special attention to the provisions in the Bill requiring a local guarantee for the whole money where the tenant did not advance any portion of the purchase money himself. That provision was of a most momentous character, and it was one which would have to be very carefully consi- 1528 dered, and its operation weighed, since it might entail consequences resulting from too high a price being paid for the land, which would be most unfortunate for the ratepayers of Ireland. As regarded the other proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, he would not express any hasty opinion; but he would say that the constitution of the fresh Appeal Court which it was proposed to constitute was a most unfortunate one. It was proposed to bring into the Land Commission Court two County Court Chairmen; and he ventured to say that there were not three such officials in the country who were fitted to be intrusted with the impartial consideration of these contested land cases. The result would be, therefore, of a Court constituted as it was proposed to be by the Bill, that there would be a large increase in the number of final appeals, and a block still greater than existed at present in the progress of the Business, owing to the unfortunate decisions which had been given by the Land Commission already in existence. He would say nothing further in regard to the other proposals of the Bill than that they were, in his view, most important in their character, and that they would receive most candid consideration by Members representing Irish constituencies.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. TREVELYAN, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 238.]