§ (Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Mr. Secretary Matthews.)
§ [BILL 385.] CONSIDERATION.
§ Bill, as amended, considered.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
, in rising to move the following Clause:—(Security for Advance.)The Land Commissioners, in considering the security for the payment of the annual instalments, shall not take into account as a 460 security improvements executed by or acquired by the tenant or his predecessors in title, or any guarantee deposit within section three of 'The Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act 1885,'said, he wished to make the security of the British taxpayer a real one, and not a sham one. The Land Commissioners had reported that in 519 cases tenants had had to pay £40,000 more than the property was worth to them—in other words, they had purchased property which was already their own. A number of tenants had purchased their holdings under the Church Act, and only three-fourths of the purchase money was advanced under that Act. Yet the Land Commissioners now reported that they found a difficulty in enforcing the payment of the instalments because the purchasers were convinced that they had not been fairly treated, and that they had had to pay too high a price. In cases in which they had been obliged to take legal proceedings they had not been able to effect a sale of the purchaser's interest against his will. Therefore the Commissioners had been seriously embarrassed in dealing with the property. The one-fifth deposit under the Ashbourne Act was only security for a few years' instalments, and when the one-fifth was exhausted there was no security for the remaining instalments. In two cases the Commissioners had tried to sell the property and had failed to do so. Already there was a strong public feeling in favour of men who were believed to have been pressed into making unfair bargains. The evidence of this was that if a man failed to pay his instalment and his interest were put up for sale a purchaser could not be found. At all events, those who advanced these arguments were entitled to have them fairly met by the Government.
§ New Clause (Security for Advance)—(Mr. Mahony,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now road a second time."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
said, that surely the Land Commissioners had a most efficient security in the retention of one-fifth of the purchase money. The farm was worth more than the money advanced by the State, and at the end of five years the 461 value of the holding would be greater than before. Another argument which had been laid before the House more than once was that under the Act tenants were practically compelled by their landlords to buy that which was not the landlords', but their own. This would not stand examination. What was sold was the landlords' and nothing but the landlords'. The very essence and spirit of the Act was that the tenant was left to say how much should be given for the property. In no case had more than 18 years' purchase been given, while the average was below it. But, supposing that there were a few cases in which 18 years' purchase had been exceeded, if it were said that in these cases the tenants had been robbed by being compelled to purchase what was already their own, it must also be admitted with even greater readiness that in eases where 12 or 13 years' purchase had been accepted the landlords had been robbed. Free contract was the essence of the Bill, and the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman struck at the root of it. The Land Purchase Commissioners were administering public funds as servants of the British taxpayers, and they were making loans in the manner of the Board of Works. They were not fitted to carry on the judicial functions which were given to the other branch of the Land Commission. If the Amendment were carried into effect there would be a double jurisdiction of the two halves of the Land Commission, one half reviewing the decisions come to by the other. He did not believe that the Amendment would in any respect save the interests of the tenants, nor did he believe, on the figures given to the House, that the tenants had otherwise than largely gained in every single case where purchase had been effected.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
said, that if this direction were not given to the Commissioners, if it were not imposed on them as a duty, then the struggling tenants, whose rents were still exorbitantly high, would be forced by irresistible circumstances to make dishonest bargains with their landlords, afterwards suffering the confiscation of their entire interests.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland admitted that what the Commissioners ordered 462 their valuers to do was to value the farm as it stood, with every stick upon it. But in the opening days of the debate it had been frequently asserted from the Government Bench that these valuations were a protection to the tenant. What had become of this protection now? In no fewer than 519 cases the Commissioners refused to sanction the amount asked for on the ground that the purchase money was excessive. He had always maintained that the practice of holding one-fifth of the purchase money was a mistake, and did not increase the security of the Treasury. The one effect it had was to increase the price. The protection which the Treasury ought to look for was that the tenant should not pay for more than the landlord's interest. If you could secure that the tenant should not be forced or wheedled into accepting whatever terms the landlord offered, you would obtain perfect security for the British taxpayer and would reduce the terms of purchase. It was on the sole ground that the tenant might be compelled to pay more than the landlord's interest was worth that the whole of his opposition to this Bill was based. It was because he had seen a system going on under which the tenant was coerced to pay for more than the landlord's interest, a system under which the tenant knew he was buying at too high a rate, and was smarting under a sense of injustice, and consequently that there was a condition of things which might end in an agitation for the reduction of the instalments—it was on these grounds he considered there was insecurity for the taxpayer. It was because the Irish tenant's interest in the soil was so great that he always felt you might advance the whole of the money for the landlord's interest and obtain perfect security.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, that under existing conditions in Ireland, whether proper security existed depended mainly on this—Did the man who bought believe that he paid a fair price or not? His hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Mahony) had shown that in 519 cases, involving about £250,000 purchase money, it was found that when both the landlords' and tenants' interests were taken into account the security was not sufficient, and the Commissioners reduced the amount of purchase money. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had not 463 answered that objection. There was a certain complication in the matter owing to the fact that the landlords' and tenants' interests were in respect of the same subject. But if the tenant had a house—say in London—and the valuers took that into account, and, notwithstanding that, came to the conclusion that, the value of the landlord's and tenant's interests was not sufficient security, it would be seen at once that the tenant was paying too much. Now that we were called upon to deal with £5,000,000 more, we had no guarantee whatever that, as in the 519 cases, the tenants might not be called upon to pay for more than the landlords' interest in the land.
§ MR. W. P. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)
said, that the object of the Ashbourne Act had been apparently forgotten throughout the course of this debate. It was to enable one of two dual owners to become possessed of the part belonging to the other dual owner. It must be remembered that in this case, unlike most others, there was only one purchaser, the occupying tenant. The man on the next farm, the stranger, the outsider, could have nothing to do with any transaction under this Act. The State, who advanced the money, had full security—first, the land on which the advance was made; then the tenant right and improvements of the buyer; and, thirdly, one-fifth of the purchase money from the seller, for it had been arranged that 20 per cent of the money advanced should be retained by the State as an additional security. It was in the nature of transactions of that kind that the seller should have a right, which he ought to exercise, to obtain a little higher price than he would otherwise get from the buyer. [Ironical Cheers.] That was only pure commercial morality. While he would deprecate that the additional sum should be so high as to be equal to the total amount of the tenant right or anything approaching it, he thought when the security was to be found by the seller he should obtain something in the nature of a higher price than he otherwise would be bound to accept. It was found from the Reports of the Commissioners that where the interest of the landlord had been settled by the State in the form of judicial rents, the number of years' purchase money was greater than where it had not been so settled. He believed it was 464 on an average 18 years' purchase money where there were judicial rents, and 15 years' purchase money where judicial rents had not been fixed. The price to be paid was arrived at by what was called the "higgling of the market," and had to be approved by the Commissioners before any advance of money was sanctioned. He thought it might be admitted that the action of the Land Purchase Commissioners had been fair between landlord and tenant, seller and purchaser, and that the scales had been held evenly between the two. All the evidence before them pointed to the satisfaction of the tenant who had bought. It was only the other day that he received a telegram from his old constituents in Ballymoney urging him to do everything in his power to promote this Bill, and that telegram had the assent of the late Gladstonian candidate. He was himself returned originally to that House in opposition to the landlords as the tenants' Representative. He hoped he still might be regarded as the tenants' Representative—["No, no!"]—and it was because he was in some sort still a tenants' Representative that he asked the House to reject the Amendment and pass the Bill into law.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said, he was of opinion that the arguments opposed to the Amendment were not worthy of intelligent beings. This was the most important Amendment which had yet been moved. Its basis was that the tenant in Ireland stood in an exceptional position. The Chief Secretary had frequently said from platforms that the land laws in Ireland were more favourable to the tenant than in any other country. He did not admit it, but it would be quite reasonable that they should, since the tenants of Ireland had a greater property in the soil than the tenants of any other country. He would remind the House that 44 years ago the Devon Commission reported that every tangible improvement on three-fourths of the Irish holdings was the work of the tenants. That view was affirmed by the Richmond Commission, a Tory Body, and still later by the Bessborough Commission. For years, therefore, the tenants had been paying for their own improvements; and the object of the clause was to prevent the continuation of that injustice. It seemed to him that the Chief Secretary had 465 given away his whole case. The Chief Secretary said that the purchases were baaed on judicial rents, and if the tenants had not had judicial rents fixed it was their own fault. That was a most amazing statement. There were 100,000 leaseholders who could not have their rents fixed up to the beginning of this year, and oven many tenants who entered the Court two years ago were still without their rents fixed, and it was the Chief Secretary who was responsible for that. He regarded this Amendment as of such vital importance that he did not think it would be too much to devote a whole day to its discussion. Under this Bill, during the next 49 years, the tenants might be called upon to pay twice over for their own improvements.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he believed that the transactions under the Act of 1885 and this Bill would involve the State in turmoil and trouble hereafter, and if that should be so it would not be without abundant warning from the Irish Members. He at least wanted that placed on record. The number of years' purchase was no test of the equity of the bargain, the character of the rent not being defined. Why had the Chief Secretary avoided entering into figures on this question? They did not know whether it was the old rent or the new rent—the rent which was notoriously unjust or the judicial rent. In every case in which they allowed the old rent to be made the basis of purchase they would oblige the tenant to enter into a bargain the security for which was not based on the surplus produce of the farm, but on the actual means of subsistence of the tenant himself. In the 519 cases in which the landlords asked an aggregate of £240,000, and the Commissioners would not allow the tenants to give more than £200,000, the farms were not secured for more than £160,000, so that, on the theory that the tenants' interests were worth as much as the landlords', the interests of the landlords were worth only £80,000, and the tenants had made themselves responsible for 2½ times the value of the property bought. The deposit was simply security for one-fifth so long as you held it. In these 519 cases the Government were accomplices in handing over public money to landlords for that which they had not to sell, and they were confeder- 466 ates in imposing on the poor tenants a financial burden for 49 years, because they compelled them to buy something that was not the property of the landlords, but of the tenants themselves. The Government, therefore, had become assentors to a policy that would involve hereafter most dangerous consequences to the State.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET) (Dublin University)
said, the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) had advanced an able argument from his point of view; but he did not propose to follow his reasoning, and he hoped the discussion would be allowed to close, for if the 13 new clauses on the Paper were to be discussed at length, it would be impossible to get the Bill through the House this Session. The clause might be discussed as a rival to the Act of 1885, but the object of the Bill was simply to continue and renew the Act of 1885. The one-fifth was to be treated not as a substantial security but as a collateral one. The security of the State was the value of the thing bought and sold. The general reply of the Government had already been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he adopted what they had said. The principle of the Land Act of 1885 was that an agreement should be entered into between the landlord and the tenant which should be checked and revised by the Commission in the interest of the State. This additional clause was mainly intended to operate in cases in which judicial rents had not been fixed, and therefore it would impose on the two Purchase Commissioners the most delicate of all the duties at present intrusted to the other Land Commissioners and to their Sub-Commissioners—namely, that of deciding between the tenants' and the landlords' interests. The practical answer to the demand was the low rate at which the purchases had hitherto been made and the general satisfaction produced.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 74; Noes 139: Majority 65.—(Div. List, No. 314.)
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
. in moving the following now Clause:— 467(Restriction of advances to tenancies where judicial rents have been fixed.)That the Land Commissioners shall make no advance under this Act where the judicial rent has not been fixed under the Irish Land Act of 1881,said, the Bill meant the recognition of the very worst elements of socialism, and the object of his Amendment was to protect the Irish tenant from being made to pay too high a price and the English taxpayer from being involved in a losing transaction.
§ New Clause (Restriction of advances to tenancies where judicial rents have been fixed,)—(Mr. Handel Cossham,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read the second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the object which the hon. Member had in view—namely, to increase the security of the British taxpayer—was a very proper object. He did not think, however, that that object would be attained by the present Amendment. If it were agreed to he did not understand that the tenant would be precluded from making a bad bargain any more than he was now. He perfectly understood the object which the mover of the last Amendment had in view. The hon. Member for North Meath (Mr. Mahony) thought that the tenants might be induced to make bad bargains for themselves. The Committee had rejected that Amendment, and the tenants, therefore, could make bad bargains. The security which the hon. Member believed the British taxpayer would derive from his Amendment was wholly illusory. What would occur if the Amendment were agreed to? It would absolutely preclude all those tenants from getting the advantage of the Act who happened to be contented with the rent which they were now paying, and it would render it necessary for them to go into Court. In fact it would stigmatize and disqualify precisely those tenants and landlords in Ireland who had been able to live together in peace and amity, and who could settle their contracts without going into Court. He hoped the hon. Member would not press his Amendment to a Division.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
admitted that the right hon. Gentleman had hit a blot in the Amend- 468 ment. As it stood the Amendment would preclude a tenant from going before the Land Commissioners because a fair rent had not been fixed. He suggested that the Amendment should be amended by the introduction of words to the effect that the Commissioners should have the power before they sanctioned a purchase to consider the rent which the tenant was paying and which was to be the basis of the purchase. It was largely owing to the dilatory tactics of the Chief Secretary and his Colleagues that there was now an extraordinary block in the Land Courts, and everyone knew that the Irish Members, by Question and every mode open to them, had impressed upon the Government the necessity of increasing the staff of the Land Commission in order to reduce the great mass of cases. No fewer than 61,000 tenants had to make their choice between paying unfair rents and buying at exorbitant prices.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON (Devon, South Molton)
said, he was opposed to the Amendment. He did not profess to have any knowledge of the relations between the Lord Lieutenant and his tenants, but it seemed to him that the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had not strengthened his case by bringing forward statements as to the management of the Lord Lieutenant's estates. The hon. Gentleman had stated that the Lord Lieutenant had granted an abatement of 20 per cent on his rents, and that the tenants had demanded that that abatement should be permanent. In reply to that, Lord Londonderry said his tenants might either go to the Land Court or purchase their holdings.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
My point was that the Lord Lieutenant refused the tenants the alternative, and would not allow them to go to the Land Court.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
asked, how Lord Londonderry could prevent his tenants going into Court? Whether tenants ought to give as much as 20 years' purchase was a matter of voluntary arrangement between the landlord and the tenant, and the bargain would be reviewed by the Commissioners on behalf of the English taxpayer. Putting it on the ground of security alone, he should be sorry, in the interests of the English taxpayer, if the Amendment of 469 his hon. Friend were accepted. It was to the interest of the taxpayer that tenants who paid small rents, and lived upon properties which were well and generously managed, should purchase their holdings. The very small properties would have to be dealt with on a totally different basis. The effect of the Amendment would be that all those estates where the landlords had been anxious to avoid friction and trouble with their tenants, and had met the tenants out of Court, would be excluded from the operation of the Act. The point was the security for the English taxpayer, and in that regard it was well to encourage the operation of the Act among the most prosperous tenants, and on the most prosperous properties in Ireland. He failed to see why the Commissioners should be instructed, before agreeing to any sale, to fix a judicial rent. The number of years' purchase must depend upon the rent paid. If it were a high rent the number of years' purchase would be small, and vice versâ. The Commissioners were bound to consider whether the price asked was one that could be easily recovered, and consequently there was no need to fix judicial rents. It was for these reasons that he hoped, in the interests of the tenants, and in the interests of the British taxpayer, the Amendment would not be accepted.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
hoped that no restriction would be put in the Bill to prevent tenants whose rents had not needed revision from purchasing their holdings under the Act.
§ MR. HAYDEN (Leitrim, S.)
remarked that the noble Viscount could not have been in his place when the Chief Secretary stated that the tenant was at liberty to make a bad bargain. He should support the Amendment.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
contended that it was possible for landlords to prevent their tenants going into the Land Court. Moreover, the Courts were closed to a considerable number of tenants of various classes, and especially to tenants in arrear. In his opinion very little danger would result if the Amendment were left as it stood.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said he would venture again to appeal to hon. Members to make progress with this Bill. The Go- 470 vernment had previously given an indication of their desire, as far as possible, to meet hon. Gentlemen from Ireland in modifying the provisions of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, and, in order to show that they were still desirous of doing so, he might state that they had a Bill already drawn to deal with the questions proposed to be raised by the hon. Member for the Eastern Division of Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) (certificate of title to be issued to tenant purchaser in lieu of a conveyance, such certificates to be recorded under Record of Title Act, and estates so placed on the record of title to become recorded estates), and they were prepared to accept substantially the first clause to be moved by the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) (referring to sub-lettings to labourers and others), and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) (providing for notice of applications in certain cases). Hon. Gentlemen with any knowledge of law would know that to attempt to deal with questions of the registration of title in a Bill of this character would be utterly unsatisfactory. He made this announcement in the hope of economizing the time of the House, because they had a great deal of other business, for which, he feared, adequate time would not be allowed if the discussion of this Bill were to be further prolonged. He recognized the gratifying spirit which was exhibited last evening when an understanding was come to that the measure should be disposed of to-day. [Mr. SEXTON: There was no such understanding.] While the Government desired, as he had said, to meet hon. Members below the Gangway opposite as far as it was possible to do so, they also asked, in return, facilities for the transaction of Public Business which they themselves would not be unwilling to render.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he must repudiate the statement that there was an understanding come to last night; all the Irish members agreed to was that the remaining Amendments in Committee should be taken upon the Report stage, and the Chief Secretary expressed a hope that the Amendments on Report might be disposed of to-day.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
said, he agreed with the First Lord of the Treasury that it was very 471 desirable indeed that progress should be made with the Bill, because there were other subjects of very great importance awaiting discussion, notably in reference to military transactions into which we were about to enter, as to which there ought to be very ample opportunity afforded for the House to declare its opinion. That being so, he agreed with the First Lord of the Treasury in hoping that they might make good progress with this Bill. As far as the particular Amendment before the House was concerned, he should himself feel considerable difficulty in supporting it on the ground that it would preclude some most desirable tenants on some of the most satisfactory properties in Ireland from taking advantage of the funds which the Bill would provide. But whether his view was right or wrong, he thought this particular clause had been adequately discussed. The First Lord of the Treasury had announced very considerable and satisfactory concessions to hon. Gentlemen who had Motions on the Paper. It was most satisfactory to learn that the Government were prepared to bring in a measure dealing with the proposals of the hon. Member for the Eastern Division of Northamptonshire, and, as far as possible, carrying them out. The clauses of the hon. and learned Member for Longford and his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford were both clauses of very great importance, and there, too, the Government had, he thought, most satisfactorily given way. In these circumstances he himself should not be sorry if his hon. Friend below the Gangway would do his best to stop further discussion upon his clause, and if, with the clauses which remained after the concessions which were to be made, the Bill should be allowed to proceed deliberately but still with distinct progress.
§ MR. SEXTON
, with a view to facilitating business, asked whether the clause he had put down at the request of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork reserving minerals, mining rights, and foreshores, and vesting them in the Commissioners of Works, in the case of holdings sold under the Act, would be accepted by the Government.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, it would be beyond the scope of the Bill to allow such an Instruction, and, therefore, it was entirely out of Order.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
asked if the Government would introduce a Bill this Session for the purpose of vesting the mineral rights in the Crown.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he entirely concurred with what fell from the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast that there was no undertaking on the part of the Irish Members that the Bill should be finished to night, though a strong hope to that effect was expressed on the part of the Government.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, he was ready to do everything he could to facilitate the desire of the Government to get the Report stage finished to-night. The third reading Division might then be taken early to-morrow evening.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ New Clause (Amendment of s. 3 of Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885),—(Mr. Murphy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the said Clause be now read a second time," put, and negatived.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said, that, as he understood the Government were going to introduce a Bill embodying the principle of the new Clauses he had proposed to move with reference to registration and certificates of title, he should not press those clauses; but he would suggest that the Bill should be brought in at as early a period next Session as practicable, so as to place the new owners in the best possible position. He would also ask whether the proposed Bill would have a wider application than to purchasers under Lord Ashbourne's Act, and would extend the system of registration of title to other properties?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, he welcomed the Amendment of the hon. Member. He had a Bill in course of preparation, which he hoped to bring in at a very early period next Session. The purport of it was to provide for the purchasers under Lord Ashbourne's Act and the amending Acts a cheap system of registration of title as distinguished from registration of deeds. They had at present in Ireland an excellent system of registration of deeds; but that was too onerous, expensive, and cumbersome for those small holdings.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
asked the Solicitor General for Ireland, in framing his Bill, to consider the effect of the tenant purchaser's interest being converted from personal into real property.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
moved to insert the following new Clause:—(Sub-lettings to labourers and others.)Where a holding is sold subject to a sub-tenancy or sub-letting of any kind, the Commissioners may prescribe such terms as to rent and otherwise with regard to the part sub-let as the Land Commissioners are empowered to do in the case of sub-tenancies under section 4 of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887, and this section shall extend to, and apply to, all sub-tenancies under the principal Act, as well as this Act.He understood the Government would accept it in an amended form.
§ New Clause (Sub-lettings to labourers and others,)—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first and second time.
§ MR. MADDEN
moved to amend the clause so as to read as follows:—Where the Land Commissioners shall, after the passing of this Act, sanction an advance for the purchase of a holding which is agreed to be sold subject to a sub-tenancy or sub-letting of any kind, they may prescribe such terms as to rent or otherwise with regard to the part sublet as they think fit.
§ Amendment agreed to.474
§ Clause, as amended, added to the Bill
§ New Clause (Notice to be given when the existing fund will be exhausted,)—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre,)—brought up, and read the first and second time, and added.
§ SIR WILLIAM PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton, W.)
, in moving the following new Clause:—(Advances to be proportionate to valuation.)The total amount of money advanced in any county by the Land Purchase Commission shall not bear to the total £10,000,000 a greater proportion than the agricultural tenement valuation of such county bears to the total agricultural tenement valuation of Ireland. Provided that this rule shall not apply retrospectively,said, the object of the Amendment was to give practical effect to the principle of equal distribution of the money throughout Ireland.
§ New Clause (Advances to be proportionate to valuation,)—(Sir William Plowden,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he could not accept the new clause as it would substitute another principle of allocation for that which now existed, and which had met with general approval in all parts of the House.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
urged that the Commissioners should wait a specified time and take into consideration the general needs and requirements of the country before they allocated the money.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
, in moving the following new Clause:—(Notice of intended advances.)The Land Purchase Commissioners shall not sanction any advance without previous notice having been given of the proposed advance in The Dublin Gazette,said, he thought it was only reasonable that they should know from time to time how much money was being spent and how it was being applied. There ought to be an opportunity for bringing Parliamentary criticism to bear upon the proceedings under the Act when there was any suspicion as to their bonâ fide nature. In his opinion, if the 475 landlords were to be bought out, it was far preferable that the money should go to Irishmen rather than to City Companies.
§ New Clause (Notice of intended advances,)—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read, a second time."
§ MR. MADDEN
said, he did not see any necessity for the Amendment, and it was contrary to all precedent. In his opinion, the Return which the Chief Secretary for Ireland had promised would supply all the information which the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, he was sorry that the Solicitor General for Ireland had not taken a more favourable view of the Amendment. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not given a single valid reason why the Amendment should not be put into the Bill; it could do no possible harm, but, on the other hand, it would be likely to do a great deal of good. The value of those notices in The Gazette would be that the Irish people and all persons interested in watching the distribution of those £5,000,000 would he able to know what was done. Each transaction would be examined and canvassed by the Irish Press, and the Irish public and the Commissioners themselves might find in those notices a great security against being led into sales which ought not to take place. He confessed that he was a little nervous that in some of the transactions under the Bill there might at times be attempts at collusion on the part of landlords and tenants for the purpose of completing a transaction which ought not to be completed, and thus to prevent transactions which were desirable. They knew that in regard to arrears there had been many cases in which transactions between landlord and tenant applying for public money in discharge of arrears would not bear strict investigation. He thought that this Amendment might to some extent tend to check collusive practices; and it might be useful if the transactions under that Act were brought under the notice of the public. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would re- 476 consider the question involved in that Amendment.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
thought that a general public notice such as the noble Lord had indicated ought to be given in regard to those transactions. The Irish intelligence published in the newspapers that morning as to a flagrant attempt on the O'Kelly estate to get a large sum which was intended to go into the pockets of London money lenders by the creation of "bogus" tenancies entirely justified the remarks which the noble Lord had made. Publicity was most valuable in respect to the transactions that were about to take place, because the public interest would suffer if public money was taken away by the creation of fictitious tenancies with no intention whatever of discharging those payments. The Chief Secretary had promised a quarterly Parliamentary Return giving information which the Solicitor General for Ireland thought would be quite sufficient. But what, he asked, was the information that was offered to them in lieu of that suggested by this clause? They ought to have an undertaking that such information would be supplied as would make the nature of the transactions, whether contemplated or completed, comprehensible to the minds of ordinary Members of the House.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said, he earnestly hoped that the Government would not accept the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Longford. It was impossible not to recognize the fact that there were other motives besides anxiety for the pockets of the British taxpayer which governed the political action of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. The proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Longford, as he understood it, was that notices should be published giving the names of tenants who wished to purchase their holdings. ["No!"] If the hon. and learned Member's proposal were adopted, the names of those who were intending to buy would be submitted to the public. [An. hon. MEMBER: No; the properties.] That was a distinction practically without a difference. Now, he objected to that on the ground of the statements which hon. Members below the Gangway had made on that subject. He would take the hon. and learned member for Longford 477 himself. Speaking at a meeting of the National League held in Dublin in September last, the hon. and learned Member for Longford said—"No Irish farmer ought to make a treaty of peace on his own account, and the man who purchased under Lord Ashbourne's Act, was making a treaty of peace behind the back of the nation as a whole." Now he ventured to say that the House ought not to recognize such a principle as that. There did exist in Ireland, he was sorry to say, an organization which had great power and influence over the tenants—no one could deny that; and if the names of those properties were given, as the hon. and learned Member proposed, and if that organization set its face against transactions under that Act, it could bring its power of intimidation to bear on tenants in order to prevent them from availing themselves of the great boon offered to them. On the part of the tenants, who would undoubtedly be placed in extreme peril, the House ought not to assent to a publication which would enable the National League to fix upon the very holdings on which it was proposed to carry out that Act. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would not assent to a proposal which, in many cases, would vitiate and destroy the boon which it was sought to confer on the Irish tenants.
§ MR. W. MCARTHUR (Cornwall, Mid, St. Austell)
urged that it was the duty of the House to insist, as far as possible, on every scrap of information that would elucidate the working of the Act being given to the House and the country.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he thought that it was almost worth while throwing that £5,000,000 away to get the admission which had just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) as to the continued existence and power of the National League in Ireland, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Coercionist Government to crush it. They had just heard from the lips of the spokesman of the landlord party in Ireland the verdict that the National League possessed undiminished power and influence over the people of that country. Why, he asked, was the hon. and gallant Gentleman afraid to have the transactions under that Act published? They might have expected— 478 apart even from the chivalry that was characteristic of the military profession—that he would have risen superior to those fears, and withdrawn his opposition to that harmless and reasonable proposal.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, a question had been asked as to what "tenement" valuation was. It meant Griffith's valuation. He did not think any valuable information was to be derived in any particular case from knowing what Griffith's valuation was, unless you also knew the year in which it was made, the value of the property on the farm at that time, and what improvements had been made since. Griffith's valuation was made between 1852 and 1857 for the purpose of taxation alone. It was undoubtedly misleading as to the value of the land, and no distinction was made between the property of the landlord and that of the tenant. In some parts it was now far in excess of, and in other parts clearly below, the fair value of the holdings. No doubt there should be some sort of watch kept on what was done by the Land Commission. He confessed he did not think anything would be gained to the taxpayer of this country by having the transactions published before they were completed. All the useful information that could be obtained in that way was to be had from the people on the estate itself, and the Commissioners were fully alive to the danger of collusive bargains. There was no ground for believing that the information would be increased in amount if the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member were carried out, or that that information was not now available. On the other hand, he saw danger of considerable injury from such a publication as that proposed. A question had been raised as to the power of the National League. He did not propose to enter into that thorny question. He wished, however, to correct once more a misquotation from a speech of his which had been repeated hundreds and hundreds of times. He had never said that the National League was a thing of the past, but that it was so in those districts where it had been proclaimed. Whatever might be the truth about the National League, it was extremely possible that a most bonâ fide and beneficial transaction might be interfered with if it were the interest, he would not say of 479 any particular side or party, but of some isolated agitator, to keep up a disturbance in a particular district, and, were he to go down to that district, and bring to a sudden and unhappy termination a transaction which was in process of completion, and which, if it had been allowed to reach its natural conclusion, would have been a benefit, not alone to the landlord or the tenant, but to the whole district where the purchase was being effected. For those reasons he strongly deprecated the publication of these transactions before completion. He would, however, be ready to suggest that the Land Commissioners should state in the next Gazette any transactions which had been completed. This would enable hon. Members to follow what was being done, and, while it would not open the door to the dangers which had been foreshadowed, it would, he thought, legitimately satisfy all requirements.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
said, the Chief Secretary was wrong in saying the tenement valuation had not been altered since it was made. It was true that there had been no alteration made in the valuation of the land itself, but additions had been made to the value of the buildings upon it. He hoped that his hon. and learned Friend would not accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, as what was wanted was information while the transactions were in course.
§ MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
said, that in the course of the debate a number of cases of fraud had been brought forward of which day and date had been given. There were, doubtless, numerous cases of a similar kind which had not been brought before the House owing to the absence of information from the Government and want of time in which to collect it. That being so, there was reason to believe that in future operations like cases might occur. The only way in which a check could be put upon such practices was by publicity; but publicity after the fact was of no use, it would be like shutting the stable-door after the steed was stolen. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would press the Amendment, which was a most important one, to a Division.
§ MR. DILLON
said, he thought the opposition of the Government to the clause was really due to the Lord Lieutenant. The Chief Secretary had 480 raised the objection that influence might be brought to bear to break up these sales if they were made public. But on the Hammond estate, when the sales were on the point of completion, the local branch of the Land League had interfered to such purpose that the Commissioners recognized the impropriety of the sales and they were broken off. Some of the highest rents were paid in the Counties of Donegal, Tyrone, and Monaghan—and especially on the Duke of Abercorn's and the Marquess of Bath's estates. It was, therefore, most important that such a clause as that under discussion should be inserted in the Bill, if only for the protection of the tenants who might be compelled to buy their holdings at an excessive price. In Donegal, during the three years of the operation of the Act, the net rental on which the sales were completed was £1,026, while the Government valuation was only £916; and on this rental, which was 10 per cent above the Government valuation, the price was 20.7 years' purchase. Now, in Donegal, judicial rents of £2,130 were fixed on a Government valuation of £2,592. Thus the rent on which the sales were arranged was 30 per cent higher than the judicial rents, and the price paid was thus 28 years of the average of judicial rents. In the County Monaghan equally unfair sales of holdings had taken place under the Land Purchase Act, the average purchase money of a holding amounting to 26.7 years of the unrevised rents. To his own knowledge the rents in that county had been reduced fully 30 per cent by the Land Commissioners; yet people bought their holdings at the old rents, the average number of years' purchase being in excess of 26 years. He had thought that the Government would have agreed to the new clause of the hon. and learned Member for North Longford, if only to protect the tenants from such proposals as those made by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to his County Down tenantry. He did not mention this case in order to gratify any ill-feeling against Lord Londonderry. What the Viceroy proposed to his tenants was this: He said that he could not continue to allow them the 20 per cent reduction, which he felt they were entitled to, and therefore he offered to sell them their holdings at a price which would give them a reduction all round of 481 20 per cent on their present rents. No objection could have been made if the tenants had taken the initiative. But it was Lord Londonderry himself who pressed the tenants to buy—and the tenants, who had been blocked in their access to the Land Courts, had to buy on the old rents. He did not think that in this matter Lord Londonderry had acted in a proper manner; but, be that as it might, the fact was that it was only fair that such publicity should be given of transactions under the Purchase Act that the tenants would not be compelled to enter into transactions which would be ruinous, not only to themselves, but to their fellow tenants throughout Ireland.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that he would agree to the second reading of the clause if the following Amendment were accepted:—To leave out the words after "shall," and insert in their place "publish in the next Dublin Gazette notice of every completed transaction."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he did not care for the Government compromise; but it was better than nothing, and he was willing to accept it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.
§ New Clause (Duress shall prevent advance,)—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
thought that the object of the hon. and learned Member was sufficiently carried out by the anxiety of the Commissioners to prevent anything like duress taking place, and by the provisions of the existing law, by which duress would practically invalidate any bargain in which it was used.
§ MR. SEXTON
remarked that the point was that, after the tenant had signed the agreement, and before the Commissioners sanctioned the advance, it should be open to the tenant to show that duress had been exercised. The present mode of proving duress was both slow and costly.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, that following up what his hon. Friend had just said, he would like to state that the Amendment was in the interest, not of the tenant only, but also of the taxpayer. It was a most important Amendment, and would cast no slur whatever upon the Commissioners.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
suggested that the Amendment should be slightly modified, so as to make it provide that if the Commissioners should be satisfied, before sanctioning the advance, that there had been duress the advance should not be made. During the debate on tills Bill it had been stated that private and coercive arrangements might be made under the Act, and he desired that the Government should provide a simple and costless, instead of a circuitous and costly, remedy against the possibility of any such arrangements being carried out. He thought, too, that as repudiation had been spoken of, the existence of such a pretext should be provided against.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 143; Noes 194: Majority 51.—(Div. List, No. 315.)
§ Amendments made.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he hoped the third reading would be taken before the House adjourned. ["No, no!"] If it were postponed a general delay of Public Business would be caused. Of course, the third reading would have to be taken some time; and if it were not taken that day, the Government would have to obtain precedence for it next day, and that would interfere with the progress of Supply, which the Government were most anxious to make in the interests of the country.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, the right hon. Gentleman need be under no serious apprehension that the discussion on the third reading would take any long time. The only question he wished to bring forward would be as to the amalgamation of the Land Purchase Commission and the Land Commission, and upon this matter they were entitled to have a Cabinet statement; but that could not be given at a moment's notice, though it would not occupy any time on the following day.
§ Bill to be read the third time To-morrow.