HC Deb 09 April 1891 vol 352 cc200-15

Considered in Committee. (In the Committee.),

Clause 1.


The Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. B. Robertson) would leave the clause without meaning. The Amendment could not be inserted, except as part of a series of Amendments.


Yes, Sir, I had that in view, and I will give by-and-bye the words I propose to substitute. The first sub-section runs thus:—

"Every advance under the Land Purchase Acts after the commencement of this Act, except for the purpose of such prior proceedings as hereinafter mentioned, shall be made by the issue of a sum of Guaranteed Stock equal in nominal amount to the advance."

The Land Purchase Acts here referred to consist of eight separate statutes, which are, I believe, unknown to the vast majority of the Members of the House. The right hon. Gentleman promised before the Easter Recess that copies of those Acts should be provided for the use of Members. The copies have not been provided, and consequently the Committee has to consider this Bill as much in the dark as the House was when it considered the Resolutions which have now been carried. My objection to this sub-section is that the proposed advance is not a straightforward, honest grant of the money. The object of the Bill is said to be to provide further funds for the purchase of land in Ireland. I invite the attention of the Committee to the remarkable absence of straightforwardness in the manner in which the thing is done. I do not see whore the grant comes in. Sub-section 1 says that every advance under the Land Purchase Acts shall be made by the issue of Stock. That is to say that, instead of money as authorised by the Ashbourne Acts, we are going to have a new Stock. Not a single farthing of money is granted by Sub-section 1. Sub-section 2 of Section 6 does, I suppose it will be contended, enlarge the limits of the Ashbourne Acts, which, as they stand, authorise the advance of £10,000,000, and not more. Subsection 2 of Section 6 runs thus:— The advances under this Act for the purchase of holdings in any county shall not, except in so far as is hereafter provided, exceed 25 times the share of the county in the Guarantee Fund. That is, no doubt, a county limit, the-maintenance of which would be perfectly consistent with the retention of the Ashbourne limit of £10,000,000. My contention is that with these words-we could not, even when this Bill passes, grant in any county more than 25 times the capital value of the share of the county in the Guaranteed Stock, and further we could not grant more than the £10,000,000 sanctioned by the Ashbourne Acts. There is only one other part of the Bill which bears on this-question at all, as far as I can find out, and that is Sub-section 1 of Section 7-That sub-section says— " The Guaranteed Land Stock shall from time to time, as required for the purposes of this Act, be created by the Treasury.

That, no doubt, is a grant of power to-the Treasury to create Guaranteed Stock for the purposes of this Act; but I maintain that there is nothing there which expunges the aggregate limit of £10,000,000 fixed by the Ashbourne Acts of 1888. I do not pretend to say that legal ingenuity or judicial astuteness may not interpret these clauses, taken together, as equivalent to a new grant to the limit specified in Clause 6.. But even if that interpretation can be put upon the clauses as they stand, I maintain that that is not an honest, straightforward, direct, or respectful way of asking Parliament to advance this enormous sum of money out of the Public Funds. I propose, therefore, to-ask the Committee to revert to the more-honest, direct, and straightforward proposal which was made by the Government about a year ago, and to substitute for Sub-section 1 of Clause 1 of the present Bill the proposal of the Bill of last year, which is that if the landlord and tenant of a holding in Ireland make an agreement for the sale of the holding to the tenant, and such agreement provides for an application to the Land Department to make an advance for the payment of the purchase, the Land Department May make an order for carrying the same-into effect, and may, in manner provided by this Act, make the said advance.

The other enacting words in Sub-section 1 of Section 4 of the Bill of 1890 The Land Department shall make an-advance under this Act for the purchase of a holding by issuing out of Stock placed at their disposal, in pursuance of this Act, an amount of Stock equal in nominal amount to such advance. Now, what I propose is to substitute in place of Sub-section 1 of this Bill the words in the Bill of 1890, to which I have referred. I ask the Attorney General to give attention to the legal aspect of the Bill as now drafted, and I ask him whether ho has any objection to the words in the Bill of last year, which I have read? Last year we were asked, in terms, to authorise the Government Department to make an advance, and to make it by issuing Guarantee Stock. We are not asked, now, to do anything of the kind. The whole thing is done indirectly, and by allusion and reference to Acts that are not before the House, and by a tortuous construction of the clauses of the Bill. Very hard things have been said below the Gangway to-night about the draftsmanship of the Resolutions that have engaged attention so long this evening. I cannot say the same with regard to the present Bill; but one thing which it occurs to me to say about the measure is this: that it seems to me that the learned Attorney General for Ireland, in doing his best for the Government, has thought it the safest thing to do to draft the Bill on the lines of the least resistance. It seems to me that the 40 clauses which, in honest, bad English, were supposed to carry out the desire of the Government last year have been reduced to 10, and that the effect of that is doubly shown in the 1st sub-section of that clause.

Amendment proposed,

In page 1, line 7, to leave out all the words to the word "by," in line 9, and insert the words "If the landlord and tenant of a holding in Ireland make an agreement for the sale of the holding to the tenant, and such agreement provides for an application to the Land Department to carry the sale into effect under this Act, and to make an advance to the amount specified in the agreement, the Land Department may make the advance."—(Mr. Edmund Robertson.)

Question proposed, " That the words ' every advance' stand part of the Clause."

(10.57.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has moved an Amendment which, if I may judge it from the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, is of a purely drafting character. He accused the Government of having in the framework of the Bill pursued a tortuous and deceptive policy, and endeavoured to conceal from the House the true character of the Bill. [Opposition cheers.] If hon. Gentlemen who cheer had listened to my remarks in introducing the Bill they would have observed that there has been no change in the proposals which the Government submitted to the House last year. I brought forward this Bill as precisely identical with that of last year, and the reason I alleged for the change in form was that I thought it would more easily pass in its new than in its old form. That appears to me to be common sense. It certainly is a very open policy. There was no concealment in the beginning of it, and there is no concealment now. What we have done in this Bill and what we did not do in the Bill of 1890 is to draft a new grant of money on to the machinery of the Ashbourne Acts, and by so doing we save the House the trouble and the time that would be expended in considering and quarrelling over any new machinery that might be proposed. I cannot conceive a course more straightforward, more open, more consistent with common sense. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will not press an Amendment which does not alter the substance of the Bill, but runs counter to the whole framework and the whole system on which the Bill as now proposed is founded. As a drafting Amendment, it is no improvement in the form of the Bill, which indeed speaks in almost" every clause of the Bill of 1885. I trust the hon. and learned Member will not waste the time of the Committee in discussing an Amendment which by his own confession is purely a drafting Amendment.


I never said so.


By his own speech, then. No argument of substance has been urged against the sub-section. The Amendment deteriorates the form of the Bill, and I hope the hon. and learned Member will not ask the Committee to discuss phraseology which is not in harmony with the general tenour of the Bill, or with the measures of 1885 and 1888. Ought he not to allow words to stand which, as a lawyer, he will not deny carry out the intentions of the framers of the Bill?

(11.2.) MR. J. MORLEY

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that it is laudable on the part of a Minister to try and pass a Bill, but it is equally laudable on the part of the House of Commons to satisfy itself what kind of a Bill it is before passing it. The right hon. Gentleman says that my hon. and learned Friend has moved an Amendment merely on a drafting point. Drafting may be, and often is, a matter of great importance indeed. When this Bill has to be construed by the Courts, they will not look at the speeches, but at that which the right hon. Gentleman makes so light of—the drafting of the clauses. My hon. and learned Friend read the clause in the Bill of 1890, and shewed that it differed materially from the present clause, but the right hon. Gentleman has not explained why the change has been made.


I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I have done so. I distinctly said that last year certain machinery was created, and in order to pass this Bill more easily and to shorten it, the existing machinery has been adopted.


I cannot agree that this Bill answers to the description which has been given, that old machinery is being used for the purposes of a new grant of money, and before this Bill is got rid of the right hon. Gentleman will have many opportunities of justifying that description if he can. The right hon. Gentleman should tell the Committee by what clause in the Bill as it now stands there is power given to the Treasury to advance one shilling beyond the £10,000,000 granted. The Act of 1888, no doubt, sanctioned the advance of £10,000,000 for the purposes of Land Purchase, but where can the Committee find in the present Bill a clause specifying an extension from £10,000,000 to £33,000,000 or £40,000,000? What clause gives that power? The right hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, refer us to the third Sub-section of Clause 6, but that only specifies a sub-limit and is perfectly consistent with the aggregate amount advanced being limited to the sums specified in the Act of 1888. I think my hon. and learned Friend is perfectly justified in pressing this matter. I hope he will insist on a Division, and that the Committee will appreciate the full force of his point.

(11.7.) MR. MADDEN

I think I can answer the question put by the hon. and learned Member for Dundee. Both he and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle have asked under what legal authority will advances be made of the guaranteed sum. Advances will be made under the machinery provided by the Act of 1885, with this difference, that the limit of advance is prescribed by the Bill now before the Committee. The hon. and learned Member asks what is the difference between the Bill of last year and the present measure. The difference is this: the Bill of last year contained a code complete in itself dealing with Land Purchase, beginning with the agreement, the sanction of the agreement, and the advance. Rightly or wrongly, the Bill of the present year proceeds on a different basis altogether It engrafts new financial provisions with a new financial limit on the Act of 1885. The Land Purchase Acts, of course, include the Act of 1885, and every future advance under any Land Purchase Act is to be made by the issue of Guaranteed Stock. Under the Bill of last year the advance was to be made not under the Acts of 1885 and 1888, but under the Bill of last year itself. That Bill was a code in itself, and therein lay the difference between it and the present Bill. There is no necessity for a separate provision in the present Bill authorising the advances, because the machinery of the existing Acts is brought into operation.

(11.12.) SIR H. DAVEY (Stockton)

My hon. and learned Friend who moved the Amendment put a pointed question to the Government—namely, Where in the Bill is there to be found the power to increase by a single shilling the advances authorised by existing Acts? No answer has been given, and, indeed, no such power in the present Bill exists. It gives no authority to advance anything; the only advancing power is to be found in the Land Purchase Acts. Under the Ashbourne Acts the advances are absolutely limited to a sum of £10,000,000. The explanation of the Government is that they are adopting existing machinery and that the advances under this Act are to be in the form of Guaranteed Stock; but the Committee will at once perceive that in merely altering the mode in which the advance is to be made, the Government do not enlarge the authority for advances. That authority is still limited to a given amount. The hon. and learned Gentleman told us that the limit was contained in Section 7 of this Bill. What does that say?


Order, order ! It is premature to examine that question now. It is not raised by the Amendment before the Committee.


I am trying to point out that the object of the Amendment is to bring clearly before the House the power which it is intended under the Bill to give to the Treasury, and what, if any, are the limits of that power. I must say I was disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. If arguments which have been adduced from the Opposition side of the House in perfect good faith are to be met in the perfunctory and off-hand manner which has been displayed by the Government this evening, the time spent in discussing the Bill will be considerably extended. But, Sir, you have ruled out of order the observations I proposed to make on Section 7, and I will therefore resume my seat, only saying that in my humble judgment my hon. and learned Friend's point has not been answered. I will also take the responsibility of saying that if I were asked to advise the Treasury as to its power under this clause, I should find it extremely difficult to say that any advance would be legal beyond the amount authorised by the Acts of 1885 and 1888.

(11.19.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

There are two separate and distinct points raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment. The principal point is connected with the machinery of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected to the Government using the machinery of the Acts of 1885 and 1888, and to this objection I have replied that the Go- vernment believe the course they have adopted to be the most convenient on the whole. The view of the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke does not agree with that taken by my right hon. Friend the Attorney General for Ireland, but however that may be this is not the time to discuss the question. If there can be any doubt on the point the Government are willing to introduce words that are necessary to clear it up. But meanwhile I do not think we ought to waste time in discussing the point now. As the Bill ha3 been drafted on the theory I have explained, it would be a great waste of time to endeavour to reconstruct it on a different principle.

(11.22.) MR. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)

This is nothing but a legal Debate, and I have no intention of taking any part in it. I simply rise to make one remark, and to put one question to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. That one remark is with regard to the charges made, and in my judgment fairly made, by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundee. He said there is a tortuous character in the drafting of the Bill in respect to the hiding away of the extent to which borrowing powers may be exercised. In reply to that what did the right hon. Gentleman say? If he will kindly give me his attention I think he will save the time of the Committee. His reply was that there is no ground for the charge of tortuous policy or concealment because the machinery of the Ashbourne Acts of 1885 and 1886 have been used and that the Ashbourne Acts are plainly alluded to in almost every clause in this Bill. Now I want to show the Committee how little the right hon. Gentleman knows of the Bill for which he is responsible, and I will therefore, ask him to be so good as to-point out any clause in the Bill in which the Ashbourne Acts of 1885 and 1888 are even named, except one clause and one clause only, which actually forbids any further advance being made under these Acts.

(11.24.) MR. CHANCE

I will submit to the Committee that we are now considering the question of what is the meaning of the words " further advance-under the Land Purchase Acts." If the- Committee are asked to pass these words surely it is only reasonable that they should be informed as to the meaning. The right hon. Gentlemen the Chief Secretary for Ireland says it is merely a matter of form; but I submit that it is not so, and for this reason, that the words distinctly limit the amount of money to be advanced, and, therefore, when the supply of money provided under the Ashbourne Acts is exhausted, it will be impossible to make any further advance and the Bill will cease to act by reason of the lack of ammunition.

(11.27.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

It now appears that the right hon. Gentleman has had this Bill drafted in an obscure manner. We are able to gather that the intention of the Government is to apply a sum of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 belonging to the people of this country for the purposes of this Bill, and the more we study the measure the more puzzling does it become. I think we are entitled to further consideration of this extremely obscure Bill. It is impossible at this time of night that we should understand it, and in order that we may have a fair opportunity of realising what it is, I think the best plan would be for me to move to report Progress. I therefore beg to do that.


Order, order! I cannot receive that Motion, because I regard it as an abuse of the Rules of the House.

(11.30.) MR. H. H. FOWLER

The further this discussion proceeds, the clearer does it become that these are the governing words of the whole Bill; and I think we are perfectly entitled to raise the question as to the extent of the advances to be made under the Bill. As my hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, a blunder has confessedly been made in the drafting of the measure, and the right hon. Gentleman does not deny that.


The accusation against the Government was that it had pursued a tortuous policy in regard to the Bill; and this is what I do deny.


I do not intend to impute to the right hon. Gentleman anything in the nature of a tortuous policy. But I think, after the candid statements we have heard from him and from the Attorney General for Ireland, that it has been made abundantly clear that if this Bill were to pass to-morrow unamended, no lawyer would advise the Treasury to advance one single sixpence over and above the £10,000,000 already authorised to be lent under the Ashbourne Acts. That I take to be the clear effect of Section 6.


Order, order ! The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to discuss that point. It is anticipating the interpretation to be placed upon a subsequent clause. The Amendment before the House does not raise that question.


Of course, Sir, I see the force of your ruling; and I will not ask as to the meaning of these words in advance. But I may inquire do the words " other advances " apply to the £10,000,000 already authorised?




Then I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us to what they do apply, and, when we reach a later stage of the Bill, will make the whole matter clear to us.

(11.33.) MR. MADDEN

I am clearly of opinion that the new limitation contained in this Bill is substituted for, and repeals by implication, the limitation contained in the existing financial provisions. Those provisions have been altogether superseded by the different financial arrangements of the present Bill. But if any hon. Member feels any doubt on this point I do not think we should be justified in taking up the time of the House in arguing this, especially as the introduction of a few words at the proper time would obviate all necessity for a Debate. When Section 6 of the Bill is reached, words will be introduced which will put the matter about which hon. Members opposite feel difficulty beyond the reach of doubt. It would be ex tremely unsafe to accept the Amendment before the Committee, as it would dislo cate the framework of the Bill which has been deliberately adopted. I can only repeat that the point of difference is this, the Bill of last year embodied a complete Code in itself, whereas this Bill engrafts the machinery of the Act of 1885.

(11.35.) MR. J. MORLEY

The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite used a rather extraordinary expression. He used the word "implied."


Repeal by implication is a phrase well understood among lawyers.


Well, I venture to say that when this House is dealing with an immense loan of money mere implication is not sufficient. Now I ask the Government will they state plainly what words they are prepared to introduce in order to carry out their avowed intention. If they do that, then my hon. and learned Friend may be well advised in withdrawing his Amendment. But we must know exactly what words the Government will put into the clause in order to carry out their intention. Another point to which I wish to draw attention is this—in the Bill of 1890 it was laid down that the Land Commission should only begin operating where agreements had been arrived at between landlord and tenant, but this preliminary condition is not mentioned in the present measure. Ought it not to be specified in the clause; or is it merely left out for drafting purposes? This preliminary agreement is to my mind an important part of the whole operation.

(11.39.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

As far as I can gather the views of hon. Members opposite will be met, if the first portion of Sub-section 2 of Clause 6 is amended so as to read as follows:— The advances under this Act for the purchase of holdings in any county may he made to the amount of, hut shall not exceed, except in so far as is hereafter provided, 25 times the share of the county in the Guarantee Fund. I think that will leave no doubt as to what the intentions of the Government are.

(11.40.) MR. KEAY

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted words which he says will, if added to Clause 6, define the limit of advances. But I want to ask him how the alteration of that clause will make it possible.


Order,order! It is quite irregular to discuss in advance what would be the effect of the alteration of the clause. We are now concerned "With an Amendment to the 1st clause.


The right hon. Gentleman says that advances to the extent of £30,000,000 may be made under the Ashbourne Acts. I say that will be impossible.


Order, order !


Very well, Sir, I will not discuss that matter any further. So much has been said as to the possibility of defining the amount in this Bill that I may point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he will have a very difficult task in framing words which will secure the end we desire. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has not answered one question I put to him. He has defended the Government against the charge of having pursued a tortuous policy in regard to this Bill, solely by alleging that the Ashbourne Acts are named in every clause of it; but he has not pointed out any single clause in which the Act of 1885 and l888 are mentioned, except that in which their operation is terminated.

(11.43.) MR. E. ROBERTSON

The right hon. Gentleman very courteously said he did not suppose that I intended to obstruct the Bill. That is true, and as I have succeeded in gaining my point, I will withdraw the Amendment. In the words suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, there are, I think, possibilities of great dangers similar to those I have pointed out to the Committee; and, therefore, the words ought to be carefully considered. The right hon. Member for Newcastle has mentioned an important point, which I omitted to notice, and that is that the Bill of last year required a preliminary agreement between landlord and tenant, which preliminary agreement has disappeared from this Bill. My object is to force upon the Committee the duty of facing this grant in direct words, to which they can say " Yes " or " No," and it will not be contended that there are any such words in the Bill as it stands.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I do not think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dundee has done good service, because he has awakened hon. Members to the precipice over which they were rushing. I wish to absolve myself from any charge of obstruction, and I propose that you should at once pass every clause of the Bill without Amendment. I gather that the result would he we should pass a Bill which would be absolutely worthless for the objects for which it was framed, to which objects I strongly object. If this course were adopted we might read the Bill a third time to-morrow.

(11.47.) MR. CONYBEARE

I have now to move an Amendment, the effect of which would be to limit the risk of loss to advances under this Bill. If hon. Members will refer to the definition clauses under the Bill they will find that the expression " Land Purchase Act" is given a very wide interpretation indeed, for it includes Acts passed in 1870, 1872, 1881, 1883, 1885, 1888 and 1889. I regard the whole proposal under this Bill as essentially objectionable, and I desire to limit its operation as far as possible and to reduce the mischief and risk of loss to the ratepayers of this country to the lowest possible limit. I therefore propose that no previous Acts shall be brought within the purview of this Bill, and that its operation shall be strictly limited to loans granted under it. I am not going to trouble the Committee at this moment with any further remarks in support of the Amendment. I shall be happy to hear what answer the right hon. Gentleman has to make to the Amendment, and if necessary—if I am forced to do so by the perfunctory character of his reply—I will take leave to address myself again to the Committee.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 7, to leave out the words "the Land Purchase Acts after the commencement of."—(Mr. Conybeare.')

Question proposed, " That the words ' the Land Purchase Acts' stand part of the Clause."

(11.50.) MR. T. M. HEALY

There is no reason why the ,£500,000 remaining unadvanced under the Ashbourne Acts should be clogged by the very objectionable proposals imported for the first time into this Act. Let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary what the Amendment of the hon. Member for Camborne involves. You have on two occasions advanced £5,000,000. The first amount was in 1885 and the second in 1888. Nine millions of that money has been already spent. Are you now going by the rejection of this Amendment to declare that that money has been misspent, or that it has been advanced without proper checks and safeguards, which it has taken you all these years to discover? Why, I ask, do the Government seek to go back upon the grant which Parliament has already made, and made so long as six years ago in one case and three years in the other? Are you now going to say that your whole Ashbourne policy was a mistake, and that your disbursements under the 1885 and 1888 Acts were made without proper precautions? Have you suddenly discovered that the whole principle on which you acted in this matter was wrong? If you have not, then why do you adopt this cheeseparing and niggardly way of dealing with the question? I think that, bearing in mind the fact that the Land Purchase Commission is a new body, and also not forgetting the view of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway, that the tenants with but few exceptions will pay their instalments without being coerced by the crowbar into doing so, that this is a case in which the Government might fairly yield. I think they would act sensibly in doing so.

(11.56.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

The Government cannot accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Camborne, as it would cut this Bill off from the parent Act of 1888. The hon. Member who has just sat down raised quite a distinct point—a point which I have considered a great deal, and on which I think there is a good deal to be said on both sides. There is a small balance of £900,000 still remaining under the Act of 1888, and the question is whether that sum should be administered under this Bill, or be used up under the Acts of 1885 and 1888.' On the whole, the Government think it would be simpler to have only one system of land purchase. If the hon. and learned Member opposite wishes this balance to be spent under the old Act I have no objection to that; but the proper way to do it will not be by omitting the words the hon. Member for Camborne proposes to omit, but by introducing words which will modify a subsequent section of the Bill. That can be done by introducing in their proper place the words "for the purpose of such prior proceedings."

It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow, at Two of the clock.