HC Deb 05 December 1890 vol 349 cc667-76

Order for Committee read.


I have to rule that the Motion which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) That it be an Instruction to the Committee to reserve a head-rent for public purposes in all cases of purchase by State aid, is not in order.

(4.26.) SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

May I be allowed to amend it? [Cries of "Order!"]

(4.27.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)

, in rising to move— That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills, and to consider first Part II., Congested Districts, and to report the same separately to the House, said: I ask the indulgence of the House while I explain the reasons which induce me to move this Instruction. The main object of this Bill is to commit the House and the country to an expenditure of £100,000,000 of public money upon a small section of Her Majesty's subjects. Notwithstanding the importance of the measure, it has by means of the closure been read a second time without a single word of debate being said upon its principle. I allude to that dramatic performance of Mr. Deputy Speaker, not for the purpose of complaining of it, but simply to ask that in future Her Majesty's Ministers, and particularly the President of the Board of Trade, abstain from making remarks in regard to the independence of the Chairman of Committees. I am precluded on the present occasion from discussing the principle of the Bill, but I wish to point out that the measure, which is divided into two distinct parts, should be divided into two separate Bills, and that the second one, which is of minor importance and is non-controversial, should be disposed of in the first place, leaving the first measure, which is of great importance and which involves many matters of controversy, to be discussed at a future time. So much for the machinery of the Bill. In the next place, I object to the form and shape in which the mèasure has been introduced. The first part comes before us in such a questionable shape that I think we ought not to be induced to accept it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has told us that he finds it easier to pass a short Bill than a long one, and he has consequently divided the original Bill into two parts, and has greatly condensed the clauses of each, the result being that whereas Bill No. 1 only contains 19 clauses, the corresponding portion of the Bill of last Session consisted of 40 clauses. The Chief Secretary seemed to think that this was a remarkable feat in legislative condensation; but I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has only made it easier for himself by making it much more difficult for the House. The right hon. Gentleman has described the measure as one which grafts the Land Purchase Scheme on the Ashbourne Act. What he has done has merely been to put the "new wine" of his own Land Purchase Bill into the "old bottles" of the Ashbourne Act. He has brought down the dimensions of his Bill by resorting to two devices, each of which is most objectionable in its character. In the first place, he has not taken care to express the terms of his proposals with sufficient directness; he has not put his meaning into plain, straightforward English, but has relied on references to previous Acts of Parliament. In the second place, he has devolved an immense portion of what ought to be the business of this House on outside authorities, or external officials, over whom the right hon. Gentleman may have control, but over whom we have none. The most important word in this measure is the word "prescribed," the meaning of which would seem to be that the work we ought to do is being turned over to clerks and officials. In point of fact, the main, broad result of what the Chief Secretary has done has been to make the Bill a chaos, perfectly unintelligible to the Members of this House. The measure professes to be one to provide further funds for the purchase of land in Ireland. I would respectfully invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland to the point I am about to submit to the House. I have been unable to discover in the whole of Part I. any direct grant of money for Stock at all. The only operative clause I can see in Part I. is the last part of Clause 1, which says that every advance for Land Purchase under the Bill shall be made on the issue of Guaranteed Land Stock, which shall be equivalent to the amount of the advance. Consequently, what is advanced under this measure is not a grant, and, in point of fact, I find nothing in the nature of a grant in Part I. Now, Sir, I think we have a right to complain that in so important a matter as this, involving as it does not merely the £33,000,000, which is the sum named by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, but in all probability £100,000,000, if not a much larger amount, we ought to have the text of the proposal placed before us in plain English, so that every Member of the House may know what is intended. I am not asserting that there may not be within the four corners of the Bill some obscure clause or provision that may not by human ingenuity be tortured or twisted into a grant of £33,000,000; but I do unhesitatingly say that, looking at the Bill as I have been enabled to understand it, I think hon. Members will fail to find anything in it in the shape of a grant beyond the £10,000,000 limit established by the Ashbourne Act. This, Sir, is the result produced by the condensing process of the right hon. Gentleman, who avowedly has resorted to that method to render his work easier than it would have been if he had stated his intentions in plain, straightforward English. I will give the House an example of the difficulty to which I have alluded. A great deal was said last Session about the Guarantee Fund, which we were told was a most essential feature of the old Bill and one of its most valuable securities. In the old Bill the provision as to the guarantee deposit occupied two pages of print, and was composed of some nine or ten sub-sections, carefully drawn, and although elaborate and not quite easy of comprehension yet calculated to carry out the purpose intended to be served. I wonder how many hon. Members can read this new Bill and be aware what parts of it have been copied from the elaborate provisions of the old Bill, especially those introducing the most important proposals as to security. The House will probably be very much surprised to hear that the guarantee deposit provided for in the old Bill has totally disappeared from the new. There is, in point of fact, no provision in regard to guaranteed deposit unless it is contained in the clause I am about to read.


How does the hon. Member make this relevant to the Motion he has placed on the Paper?


I am contending that Part I. in its new shape is, in fact, so unintelligible that it would be more convenient to deal with Part II. first, so as to give time to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to re-cast Part I. I will, with your permission, read to the House a portion of the clause to which I have just referred. It sets forth that The issue of land stock to the prescribed counties shall be equivalent to the advance and payment of the purchase money and to the retention by the Land Commission of any sum as a guarantee deposit. Surely this is a genuine triumph of Hibernian draughtsmanship, and I merely mention it as an example of the unsatisfactory state in which the question is left. The only other point I have to urge is this—that the Chief Secretary might be enabled under the Instruction I am moving to carry a little further the process he has begun. He has already subdivided the Bill and cast out of Part I. the provisions relating to the Land Department, and I ask him to carry the process further. The provisions relating to the Land Department are more closely connected with Part I. than Part II., which has special relation to the Con- gested Districts. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to follow out the lines he has already adopted; to leave out, for the present, the consideration of Part I., and proceed to Part II., as the more urgent portion of the measure. If he will only do this I am convinced that Part II can be got out of the way in a very few days—that, at any rate, it might be disposed of before Christmas. I for one, at any rate, should have no objection to sitting here until that is done. This part of the measure is, in my view, the uncontentious portion, and having got rid of that part we might leave the other portion which is contentious to be dealt with after the adjournment. If the right hon. Gentleman refuses, I hold that we have no other alternative than to resist to the uttermost every one of the proposals he has made in Part I., and to do our best to prevent its passage. But whether the proposals in that portion of the Bill are good or bad, I maintain that they should be put before us in straightforward ordinary English, so that every hon. Member of this House may be enabled to understand them. For the reasons I have thus given, I now beg to move the Instruction that stands in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills, and to consider first Part II., Congested Districts, and to report the same separately to the House."—(Mr. Edmund Robertson.)

(4.40.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I understand, Sir, that this Debate must be of a very limited character, and in the few remarks I have to make I desire to express the astonishment with which I have heard one of the statements of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson). The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the second part of the Bill, which deals with the congested districts, as being of a non-contentious character. I am very glad to hear him say so; but I would remind the House that last Session, when that which is the second part of this Bill was before us, it was declared by many hon. Members to be the most contentious portion of the measure. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), who, by the way, is, I think, a better authority on the Irish land question than the hon. Member for Dundee, spoke against every clause of what is the second part of this Bill, and, so far from declaring that it was non-contentious, he strongly affirmed that it bristled with contentious points from beginning to end. As far as I am concerned, I really do not know what is a non-contentious measure. I do not believe that any Bill can be drawn on this subject that would be non-contentious, and, therefore, I must decline to accept the proposition of my hon. Friend that if the Chief Secretary gives way to his proposal the second part of the Bill can be passed in this House as a practically non-contentious measure. I do not intend to dispute the urgency of this portion of the Bill. Very far from it; but I assert that the problem we have to deal with in respect of the congested districts is one of the greatest problems that can be brought before Parliament. In these districts of Ireland you have, first of all, a poor soil; then you have small holdings; next you have a crowded population; you have also a defective system for the education of the people; and you have, furthermore, a passionate clinging to those patches of bog on which the people are located. When any hon. Member tells me that an attempt to solve a great problem like this, which has baffled the statesmanship of this country for generations, and has never once been fairly or squarely approached until the present moment, is a non-contentious effort, I am glad to hear him; but I should like to hear other hon. Members confirm that statement. I hope, most earnestly, that the second part of this Bill will be passed—that the whole Bill will be passed—and I am not disputing the responsibility which rests on this House in regard to it, especially at the present moment; but I wish to point out to the House that there is a sense in which the urgency spoken of does not attach to this question of the congested districts—a sense which will be appreciated by hon. Members. Where, I ask, does the trouble in regard to the land question come from? We hear a great deal every day, and we hear it with sorrow, about evictions; we hear about the police being employed at evictions; about the connection of the Royal Irish Constabulary with this question, and we hear it very frequently; but I would point out that the pressure does not come so much from the congested districts as from other parts of Ireland, thereby showing that although there may be urgency in the West of Ireland there is also urgency in other portions of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee seems to think that the small holdings are confined to the western districts, and an idea has got into the head of some people that the operations under the Land Purchase Acts have been mainly in favour of large occupiers. That is a total mistake. If anyone chooses to go to these estates which have been transferred from owner to occupier, and investigate the facts for himself, he will find that the majority are small occupiers and poor men, many of them as poor as those in the congested districts in the West of Ireland. There is, therefore, a necessity for dealing with these districts, and the Government have recognised it, and would be only anxious to meet it, were it not for the urgency of the other parts of Ireland. I do not think my hon. Friend, is quite accurate in stating that those who have thousands of pounds will get thousands of pounds added to what they have. [Mr. ROBERTSON: Might.] That is another thing. But I do not believe even that is possible. What of the £5,000 farmer? He has not a large farm. The £5,000 farmer is not considered a large farmer in England and Scotland. The holders of large farms are, however, a very small class in Ireland. According to the Registrar General's Returns for 1880, the number of farmers holding farms of more than 200 acres in Ireland is comparatively small. It is not the large but the small farmers, the small occupiers, who make the model proprietors. I hope the Chief Secretary will resist the proposal of my hon. Friend. If the House is going to take the conduct of the Bill out of the hands of the Government, if the House is going to cut and carve as it likes, then I do not quite understand what will be the character of a measure which will come out of such a process as that. I think the Bill has been wisely drawn, though I still think mischief may result from its having been divided into two parts. However, since the Bill has been drawn in this way, upon a well-conceived plan, I hope the Government will stick to that plan, and that they will carry the Bill to a triumphant issue.

(4.50.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

The hon. Member for South Tyrone has challenged Members to say whether any unreasonable opposition will be given to Her Majesty's Government. If my humble assurance is anything to him, he is extremely welcome to it, and I can assure him that, so far as I am concerned, no such unreasonable opposition will be shown. On a former occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for South Tyrone said he was convinced that too high prices would be given, or too much would be risked over this Land Purchase Bill, and that were it left to the counties and districts to be security no purchases would take place.


I did not say that. I was speaking on the question of local control, and I said that if the County Council or Local Authority had control over the sales, they would have the power either of influencing the price given——


The hon. Member will address himself to the Instruction.


I am aware that I am trespassing, but I was referring to what took place formerly in illustration of what I have now to say. The hon. Member has affirmed that localities have no faith in this Act being worked without giving a larger price for the land than would be given for it under any fair and reasonable business transaction. Although I sympathise largely with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, I can see no great purpose that can be served now by taking the control of the Bill out of the hands of the Government, and I am, therefore, unable to support, his proposition.

(4.54.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

Sir, I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the second part of this Bill is free from contentious matter. I think, on the contrary, that a strong argument for the Instruction is that it will raise the most important issues relating to the settlement of the land question. I look upon that part of the Bill referring to the congested districts with a less unfriendly spirit than upon the other portions of it, to which I am absolutely opposed in every way. As to the part dealing with congested districts, I think it must be materially amended, and the Amendments, which are to be moved from this Bill, will test the sincerity of the intentions of the Chief Secretary as they found expression in his remarkable suggestion of a plébiscite to the districts of Ireland. That is a question of the first importance, and it is one on which the decision of the House ought to be taken at the earliest possible moment. With regard to the remainder of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman has, of course, control over the big battalions, and, of course, will be able to carry it though we resist to the utmost. I cordially support the Instruction of my hon. Friend.


Sir, we have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite a clear recognition of the very great urgency of the question relating to congested districts, and we have also had indication of a disposition, which we on this side of the House welcome, to deal with this question in a non-contentious spirit. I would point out that there is one conclusive argument against the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman, namely, that it is impossible. He proposes that we should consider the Congested districts scheme without having first considered Part, I. The hon. and learned Gentleman ventures criticism of Hibernian drafting. If his Anglo-Saxon drafting is ns bad as his criticism, I can only say that I prefer the worst drafting which I have seen in my native land. Has he read the Bill? If he has not, I say nothing. If he has, then has he not seen that the portions dealing with congested districts have special application to the whole land scheme, with suitable modifications. How has that fact escaped his notice? Has he not seen that one of the most important portions of the congested districts scheme has a special application to the whole land purchase scheme which is adapted with suitable modifications to the circumstances of congested districts?


I entirely sympathise with the hon. Member for Dundee, whose object is to strike out that part of the Bill which applies to non-congested districts, retaining that part of the Bill dealing with congested districts. I think it is certainly necessary to do something for the congested districts, but for the rest of Ireland it is not necessary to do anything at all. At present the tenants are extremely well off, and in an infinitely better position than the tenants of either England or Scotland. I see no reason, therefore, why the money of the taxpayers should be lavishly given in order to make the tenants of Ireland proprietors of their holdings. To my mind the tenants are already owners for all useful purposes. They do what they like with the land, and they can improve it by exercising their own industry. It is only a question of a word. In any other country but England they would be called the owners. It seems to me that in regard to land we must always have two values, one created by the industry of man, and the other—the unearned increment—given by God. Now, occupiers have a right to all property which is the result of their own industry. But they have no right to the unearned increment, which I contend ought to be devoted to State purposes. As regards the greater part of Ireland no one wants this Bill.


Order, order! The hon. Member is now arguing the merits of Part I. of the Bill.


I confess I thought that it was competent to me to do so, as the object of the Instruction is to secure that the House shall have an opportunity of considering Part II. of the Bill, and, having disposed of it, be at liberty if it choose to reject Part I. I do submit that Part I. is altogether unnecessary.

Question put, and negatived.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday, 22nd January.