§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ (5.14.) MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
I rise to propose the Amendment that stands in my name. It is one that can be very easily understood, and I do not think I need occupy the time of the House at any length. It is proposed to purchase land from the owners and to pay them in paper. The result is, that they will have to convert it into cash in the first instance so as to be able to pay off in cash their mortgages, their family charges, and any other charges there may be on the land. As far as I can understand the Bill, they will also have to pay in cash the Government charges on the land, such as the tithe rent-charge, the drainage charges, and so forth. The unfortunate proprietors may have to sell out their Land Stock at a loss for these purposes. I suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer hopes that the Stock 'will stand at par. It may or it may not, but there is a probability that, at any rate, it will very largely fluctuate. During 1890 Consols fluctuated between 92-93 and a fraction, and 98 and a fraction, while Indian Three per Cents. during the same period fluctuated between 94½ and 101↻. We may expect that the Land Stock will also fluctuate very considerably; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) comes into power again, the probability is that the Stock will go down very rapidly, as all Irish securities did when he was last in Office. We know that during that right hon. Gentleman's last administration the Bank of Ireland Stock went down from about 330 to 269. The landlords have suffered pretty considerably up to this. A great number of them purchased their estates under State guarantees, buying under the Landed Estates in open Court, under the authority of a Judge sitting on the Bench, and upon the understanding that the rents amounted to so much and were punctually paid. They found afterwards another set of officials coming in and reducing the rents very considerably. And this is not all, for the right of re- 390 occupying the ands has been taken away from them. This may be right or wrong, but, at any rate, it is not just to the Irish landlords, and I hope the Government will at this last moment, when the Irish landlords are going to sell out, see that they are paid in a currency which is not depreciated. The effect of paying in Stock which may considerably fluctuate will undoubtedly be that the landlord will be compelled to sell to the tenant at a higher price than he would otherwise be prepared to take. I hope that, under these circumstances, the Government may see their way to accept my Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 10, to leave out " nominal amount," and insert " value."—(Mr. Smith-Barry.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (5.21.) ME. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member into the irrelevant portion of his speech; but, if he is to be taken as the spokesman of the Irish landlords, those landlords have proved themselves to be a most ungrateful body. It might surely have been expected that they would have been grateful to the present Government, and not have taken up a critical attitude in reference to the Bill. Does the hon. Member forget that this is the Bill of a Government, that by its previous measures has made land in Ireland a saleable article? The hon. Member spoke as if it were in the power of the Irish landlord any day to take his land into the market and get a price for it. The landlords are told by the Bill that they will be paid for their land in a Stock which, as far as I can judge, is a better Stock than that held by the public creditors of the country—by the men or the representatives of the men who lent their money to this country in a time of need. These public creditors lent their money to the State at 3 per cent., but very recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave them short notice that they must accept 2 3/4. and that after 12 years more they must either accept the re-payment of their principal or be content with 2 1/2 per cent. Is it not extreme audacity that in the face of such a state of public finance a representative of Irish landlords should rise 391 and express discontent with 2¾ per cent. Stock? It must be remembered that the Irish landlords can obtain legal and financial advice, and that any landlord selling his estate will be perfectly well able to appreciate the fact that he is to be paid in Stock. He will, of course, make his arrangements accordingly. If the hon. Member's Amendment were accepted, the only effect would be to enable frauds to be committed on the tenants. The tenants are illiterate men, who have not the benefit of legal or financial advice. Suppose the case of a man selling his farm for £500. This is what will happen: The landlord would get Stock to the cash value of £500. If the Land Stock stood at 96, the landlord would, of course, get £520 worth of Stock instead of £500, and the tenant would find himself liable for the larger figure. In the same way, the tenant would have to pay 4 per cent. interest on the £520 instead of on the £500. Certainly, if the Government desire this Bill to work efficiently, they will reject the Amendment.
§ (5.26.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EX-CHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's, Hanover Square)
I think my hon. Friend is under some misapprehension with regard to our proposal. We have endeavoured to propose a just measure as between the landlords on the one side, and the tenants on the other; and it must be borne in mind that this is a case in which the State is mainly concerned. We consider that we have made a very fair offer of the credit of the State, and I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that we certainly do not see our way to accept his Amendment. One of the main reasons why we cannot do so is that we cannot pledge ourselves to grant funds for the purposes of this Bill without knowing what those funds will cost us. These operations will extend over a very considerable period of years, and no Chancellor of the Exchequer would be likely to assent to unlimited demands being made upon him for amounts which he could not foresee when he had no means of knowing how he would be able to raise money to meet them. I wish, also, to point out to my hon. Friend that the Bill is not compulsory. It would not be right that the Government should be forced to raise money, perhaps at 3 or 3½ per cent., 392 when they receive only 2¾ per cent. on the annuities. We have endeavoured to create Stock which might fairly stand at par. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has pointed out that, while the interest on the Land Stock will be 2¾ per cent., the interest on Consols 12 years hence will be only 2½ per cent. I do not pretend that if the interest were exactly the same, the Stock would stand on precisely the same footing as Consols, because the large bulk of Consols generally places them in a somewhat better position than would otherwise be the case. We have thought that 2¾ was as far as we could reasonably go without loss, and 1 trust I have made it clear to the Committee what are the strong financial reasons why we cannot meet the view of my hon. Friend.
§ (5.30.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
Of all proposals ever made in Committee this is, I think, about the coolest. Here is " Oliver," in the shape of an Irish landlord, asking for more. The Irish landlords ask this—the very people for whom this Stock is created, which is eventually to-be more valuable than Consols, which is to be guaranteed by the English taxpayer, and over a term of 30 years at 2¾. I can scarcely find a Parliamentary term to characterise the demand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says in a mild manner, " We have given you a Stock guaranteed for 30 years at 2¾ per cent.," but what, I ask, would be the value of that in the market to-morrow? The right hon. Gentleman knows it will be worth a good deal more than his Consols. He knows that perfectly well, and anyone familiar with the Money, Market is-a ware that Consols stand a good deal below par, very much to the disappointment of the gentlemen who, on the advice of their bankers, for 1s. 6d. were induced to believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer when they were told that they would be worth £100 or more. People who took the right hon. Gentleman's Stock when they might have had £100 can now only get £96 or £97. What is the reason of this to a considerable extent? People who are acquainted with these matters tell me it is the knowledge that these 2¾ are at a future period to fall to 2½, and people do not like Stock which is to fall in its interest value in the future. This has had the effect of making Consols a good deal less. 393 popular with investors than in former times. Now, what does the Chancellor of the Exchequer give to Irish landlords? He gives them a guarantee of 2¾ for 30 years. I do not pretend to put a value on this Irish Land Stock, but no doubt the brokers in the City will tell you how much more this Stock will be worth than Consols. Yet, with this Stock offered for their land, the typical Irish landlord comes here and moves an Amendment asking for more. It is very well that at this early stage of the proceedings we should understand both the spirit in which the Bill has been originally framed by the financial advisers of the Government and the spirit in which the Irish landlords desire to expand it.
§ (5.35.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
I do not wish to prolong this discussion further, but I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider between this and the time when we reach Clause 7 the parallel question of less wide extent which I propose to raise by the Amendment of which I have given notice. I think he will see the reasonableness of this, which does not involve an expenditure of public money.
§ MR. KNOX (Cavan,W.)
I do not wish to detain the Committee on an Amendment which finds no favour, but I would observe that if during the progress of this Bill the hon. Member intends to bring forward many Amendments like this it would be better for the Government to give him his peerage at once. To adopt such a proposal would render the Act quite unworkable. The effect would be that no tenant would know what he had to pay when he contracted to buy a farm, and the Land Commissioners would not know how much of the advance could be made without fear of the farm not providing enough security. The whole Act would be rendered unworkable.
§ (5.36.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
Under the proposal of the hon. Member for South Hunts the landlord would know the advantages of his position, but the position of the tenant is an exceedingly difficult one, because he has to pay his annuity of £4 for 49 years, and for this he receives £100 as a loan, but still he has to pay into the Sinking Fund a sufficient sum to amount at the end of 49 years to £100 cash and 4 per cent. in 394 the meantime. In exchange the Treasury floats off on him Stock worth 98½ now, and which may be worth less hereafter. Having got his £100 cash for something worth £98 10s. in the open market, there is nothing to prevent the National Debt Commissioners going into the Sinking Fund and buying up the Stock. So that really the Treasury, by issuing this Stock for £100, sweats the tenant to the extent of 30s. or 40s. That is to be dealt with by a subsequent Amendment; but this view of the case has been passed over by the hon. Member for South Hunts.
§ (5.37.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
One remark of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I take notice of, that it is the duty of the Government in this business to hold the scales evenly between the landlord and tenant. But while he thus poses before the House, the fact is these arrangements have been arrived at between the landlords and the Government, not a single Representative of the Irish Party being consulted, or even asked a question as to his view of the point. All through the winter the Irish Landlords' Committee have been holding meetings, and they have succeeded in effecting enormous changes to the prejudice of the tenant, getting the Government to cut down their Bill of last year, and bring forward this plan, and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets up and, in his balmiest manner, assures the Landlord Party that a Conservative Government must hold the scales evenly between them and us, between those whom he has had ear-wigging for the last six months, and the tenants who now have the first opportunity of saying a word on this point. In this state of facts, it is a very mild suggestion for the right hon. Gentleman to make. What is more, I do not believe we have got to the end of this business yet. We have had experience of the action of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I believe that, bad as this Amendment is, it will yet be swallowed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; but you jump before you come to the stile. There is still the House of Lords to reckon with. We shall see the result when the Marquess of Waterford and others assemble their forces to attack the Government. 395 We have seen their influence on a Liberal Ministry, and à fortiori they have greater chance with a Tory Government. The Bill, as it stands, contains a distinct grievance to the people of this country. Yon issue this Stock at 2¾, and though I do not like to pose as a financial prophet, and do not know much about these matters, I think the effect of this coming on the market will be to depress Consols another point, for it stands to reason a man will prefer Stock at 2¾ for 30 years to Stock at 2¾ reduce-able to 2½ in 15 years. The Government by assenting to this proposal to create this Stock are making a further inroad on the pockets of confiding people who consented to lease their money out two or three years ago at the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And now the Irish landlords are attempting further pressure. I might mark our sense of what this Amendment means by moving that the question be now put, but that perhaps would be too strong a course to take. I think the hon. Member for South Hunts and his friends would be well advised to take what they can get and make the least possible noise about it.
§ (5.44.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am afraid we cannot accept the Chancellor of the Exchequer as that guardian of the public purse he claims to be, because I think if he fulfilled that position we should not have this Bill at all. Allusion has been made to the astounding greed of the Irish landlords, but nothing they could ask for would surprise me, though I am considerably surprised by the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Stock was issued at 2¾ for a lengthy term of years, because it would not be so valuable as ordinary Consols, owing to it being in small quantities, I presume. Well, I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why we are to be done out of this ¼ per cent. The object is to get this money, and surely the primary duty of a Chancellor of the Exchequer is to issue his paper in such a way that it will produce the greatest amount. If he were issuing ordinary Consols we should be gainers not losers; if the view of the Chancellor of he Exchequer is correct that 2½ Consols are to be at par with the condition that in 30 years—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Yes, Mr. Courtney, but I was only answering the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I thought he was out of order when he was advancing his argument. The hon. Member for South Hunts was good enough to tell us that this was an Irish security, and he said if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian were to come into office, Irish securities would fall because they did fall when last the Liberal Party came into power. Now, the only reason why this is called an Irish security is that certain Irish guarantees are attached to it; the fact is, this thing is tainted with these guarantees, and it would be infinitely better if those guarantees did not exist. I urge this upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and perhaps he will put an end to these guarantees. The right hon. Gentleman made another mistake. He said that landlords ought to have their money in cash because if Consols fell they would be losers. The reason why Consols fall is because of the general condition of the country; when the country is not supposed to be so prosperous they fall, but then all securities fall, and if you get 92 in bad times, that represents what 100 is in good times—92 would be an equivalent for securities that in bad times would pay 100. I only point this out to show that the landlords in their reckless greed do not take the trouble to look into the question, but just call out, " More, more," no matter what comes, and I believe if they were offered 200 for 100 they would clamour for 300, and there is no hope of satisfying them.
§ (5.48.) MR. CHANCE
Is it not true that under the Ashbourne Act the tenant will have to repay to the Sinking Fund £100 for each £100 nominal Stock, and if this is not worth £100, will not the difference be a profit to the Treasury?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
There will be no such profit, the £100 goes into the Sinking Fund for the repayment at the end of 49 years.
§ (5.47.) MR. SMITH-BARRY
With the general feeling of the Committee against the Amendment, and with the Government opposed to it, I wish to withdraw my Amendment. [" No, no!"]
§ Question put, and agreed to.
The next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Elgin is applicable to the 6th clause.
§ (5.50.) MR. KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)
I presume, Sir, you were speaking of the first of my two Amendments, and I will propose the second of these. Before moving it I desire to call attention very briefly to the conduct of the Chief Secretary in this Committee with regard to two Amendments which have already been considered, and to put myself in order I will conclude with a Motion. You are aware, Sir, that up to Friday only two Amendments had engaged the attention of the Committee, and one of these was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee; and on moving that my hon. Friend charged the Government with concealment and pursuing a tortuous policy, and the Chief Secretary replied. Then, when I ventured to press him for an answer in reference to the Guarantee Fund, he would not give a word of explanation. I do not complain much of that. But then, on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, the right hon. Gentleman very complacently said that he had already fully answered in detail all the representations which my hon. Friend had submitted. He also stated that he had last year produced certain figures to prove the solvency of his Guarantee Fund, and that the contingent portion, therefore, would not be touched; and he fearlessly stated that these figures had not been and could not be controverted. I followed him, and just as he was leaving the place I ventured to call his attention to the fact that he had omitted to answer an all-important part of my hon. Friend's speech, that part where my hon. 398 Friend showed by distinct figures that instead of the Guarantee Fund being solvent there would be an enormous deficit at the end of 40 years. The Chief Secretary came back to his place and interrupted me—an interruption to which I do not in the least degree object, but I mention it because after the interruption he left his place again. He said it was true he had omitted to reply to that most important point—the deficit in the Guarantee Fund at the end of 40 years; but still he made no reply except that it would be more convenient to speak upon it at a later stage. I then proceeded to traverse the allegation he had made that his figures had not been contested. I went over these figures in detail, and if I may say so, I tore those figures to tatters. I do not know if I should be in order in going over these figures, but if I may I will do so.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I rise to order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to go over the whole discussion of the other day. Is it possible for an hon. Member to go over his argument again on the ground that he has not been answered?
Undoubtedly the hon. Member cannot re-state his argument and get it discussed again. If he complains that his argument has been unanswered he may make a statement to that effect, but he must confine himself to that. Attempts have been made to arrest the progress of a Bill on the ground of neglect to answer an argument, but have never been favourably regarded by the House.
§ MR. KEAY
I felt I was in danger of transgressing, and was saying as much when the right hon. Gentleman rose to order. I simply confine myself to a statement of the error the right hon. Gentleman has made when he credits himself for having a fund of £1,300,000 when he will only have £229,000. I showed the importance of this, and invited the Chief Secretary to give the Committee an explanation. And what happened? The Debate proceeded, and just when I was again about to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he adhered to his figures or whether he recognised the mistake he had made in them, he stood up, and I thought was about to make an explanation; but he moved the 399 Closure, and the result was that on Friday evening the Committee divided destitute of any information from the Government, and at this moment the Committee is destitute of information from the Government as to whether the Guarantee Fund, which the right hon. Gentleman says will amount to £1,600,000 will not amount only to £229,000. On this ground, I think, I am justified in calling the attention of the Committee to the conduct of the Chief Secretary, and I trust he will give the Committee that explanation which may be fairly expected from him. To put myself in order, I now move that you, Sir, do report Progress.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Keay.)
§ (5.59.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOB IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is in order; but certainly I do not think he leaves me an opportunity of being in order in replying to him. So far as I can make out the singularly inopportune statement with which he has interrupted the progress of the Committee, he refers to a reply he gave on Friday, as, I think, an inappropriate and absurd reply, not to my speech in answer to that of the hon. Member for Northampton, but in answer to a speech I delivered on a motion for the Second Reading of the Bill in the Spring of last year.
§ MR. KEAY
The right hon. Gentleman is slightly mistaken. The whole foundation of my argument, which otherwise would not have been in order, was that words fell from him in his reply to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, on Friday, when he alluded to the figures he had given to prove the solvency of the fund, adhered to them, and said they had not been controverted.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It appears that I am correct—the complaint the hon. Gentleman makes is of a speech I delivered a year ago, and he now attacks me for not defending that speech which was not before the Committee on Friday, and figures, which by a long and elaborate process I put before the House on the Second Reading. My reference on 400 Friday was not specially to these figures to which I adhere, but to the general argument by which I defended the security of the fund. I do not know that I am in order in going so far as this in explanation, for I believe I am right in the supposition that on a Motion to report Progress we must confine ourselves to that Motion.
§ (6.0.) MR. KEAY
My only object was to try and secure some assurance from the Government that they would studiously endeavour to guide the deliberations of this Committee on a very difficult subject in a more satisfactory manner. If we are to understand the right hon. Gentleman is giving us that assurance, I have not the least desire in the world to obstruct the proceedings. I therefore ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (6.2.) MR. KEAY
I now wish to move the second Amendment which stands in my name. Originally that was in a different form, a form which I understood you (the Chairman) to intimate was not admissible. Its object was to secure that after the tenant had paid all the instalments of principal and interest, he should still be subject for a given number of years to an annual charge; you were good enough to inform me that that overstepped the point of order in regard to this Bill, and in consequence, I have so altered it as to secure that an irreducible minimum shall, for the benefit of the community, be paid to the Treasury for a period of 60 years in respect of every holding purchased by means of advances made under this Act. The annuity is to be at the rate of £4 for every £100 so advanced, and so in proportion for every less sum, the residue of which after payment of the principal and interest on the advance shall be applied in relief of Imperial and local taxation in Ireland. I need hardly say that the object of this Amendment is to obtain for the State and for the community some form of quid pro quo for the immense advantages which are conferred by the use of British credit The form of the Amendment follows as closely as possible the provisions of the Ashbourne Act of 1885, in which a similar alteration was made in the terms 401 of repayment of advances under the Irish Land Act, 1881. So much for the form of it. And now with regard to the substance of it. I may remark at the outset it is universally understood in the Committee that the State gains nothing out of this transaction for the first 49 years, for the tables which regulate the amount of the annuities have been so framed as to produce a net interest of 2¾ per cent. for the discharge of the public obligation to the bondholders, and 1 per cent. accumulating for 49 years, which goes to the payment of principal. I do not think it necessary to speak about the remaining ¼ per cent.—the county percentage—for it is a very trifling matter. Now, why have I fixed the time at 60 years? I have done so on this principle: The Sale of Land Bill, 1886, was framed, although in a different manner, with the same object as is aimed at by this Amendment. It was framed so that while the tenant had to pay the capitalised gross rental, the landlord only received the capital sum on the net rental. Thus about one-fifth part of the purchase money was retained for the benefit of the community as a quid pro quo for the vast saving effected by the use of British credit. I have been told that an enactment of this kind would give rise to political considerations; but I find that in all matters in which landlord and tenant are concerned "political considerations" do arise, and that the term is simply a substitute for " pecuniary considerations." Another objection which has been advanced is that the Ashbourne Acts, which are in full force, have given the tenant an absolute property in his holding after 49 years, and it would be unjust to spread the charge over 60 years in the case of tenants under this Bill. I cannot see that there is very much weight in that objection, because the drafting of this Bill is a confession that the tenants under the Ashbourne Act got too good terms, and that Act now having, for all practical purposes, ceased to operate by reason of the exhaustion of funds, it is impossible to say that the tenant is wronged by making purchasers under this Act pay for 60 years instead of 49 years. I should like to draw the attention of the Committee for a moment to the enormous boon which is given by the use of 402 British credit. Let me put it into figures, so that hon. Members may have clearly before them the nature of the gift they are making, apparently to the tenant, and assuredly to the landlord. I consider it is a fair way to estimate the pecuniary value of British credit if we take first the rate of interest at which landlord and tenant could themselves borrow in order to carry out this operation. I assert it is very moderate indeed to say that they could not borrow at less than 5 per cent. Therefore if we take a loan of £30,000,000 at 5 per cent. for 49 years and contrast it with a loan raised at 2¾ per cent., we see at once the difference due to the use of British credit. It is enormous; it represents a saving of £213,000,000 sterling on a transaction of £30,000,000. I admit that these figures represent a gross transaction, whereas this may be said to be a net transaction, because the whole of the money is not outstanding for 49 years. I accept the position that the instalments are payable back every year. Even then this use of British credit represents a direct and actual pecuniary saving to these persons on a £30,000,000 transaction of £67,000,000 sterling. That is the boon you are conferring on them, and to how many persons will this sum of £67,000,000 go. Calculated on the same ratio as that on which £10,000,000 was distributed under the Ashbourne Acts, you will find that the whole of this £67,000,000 will in 49 years have gone into the hands of only about 70,000 tenants. I Bay it is not fair that this enormous boon should be conferred on so small a number of tenants, and I think it would have been wiser when we were dealing with Irish land in this Bill to have secured the fee simple of the land for the State. But as we cannot do that I am proposing a very small irreducible minimum of advantage which might be obtained for the community. I hope my Irish friends will support this. I know they do not like to minimise the burden on the British taxpayer, but I ask them to support it because it is not an attempt on my part to take away from Ireland any part of the boon of which I am speaking; it is simply an endeavour to distribute the boon more fairly than it will be under this Bill as it stands, for the 70,000 persons I have referred to only represent 403 1 in 66 of the Irish population. Lastly, I do not propose that the additional payments shall be devoted to British purposes. I ask that they shall be applied to the relief of Imperial and local taxation in Ireland. I think, Mr, Courtney, you—a great authority on economic questions — have expressed yourself in favour of the principle for which I am contending, for I find that in one of your speeches you declared for the solidity of the principle, and, after describing how it would act, added, that the locality in which the purchased estate was situated would receive a lay revenue after the debt had been paid off. Again, this principle was adopted by the Committee of this House which sat on the question of small holdings. The Chairman of that Committee was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and in the Report I find it stated that as the Local Authority would borrow from the State at less than 4 per cent. it would have a margin after paying the interest to the Loan Commissioners which would constitute a Sinking Fund, so that in about 50 years the loan would be repaid, and the community, represented by the Local Authority, would then have an income from the land due to the use of its superior credit, in the shape of a perpetual quit-rent free of all charges and expenses. Now on this Small Holdings Committee there were nine supporters of the Government and six Members of the Opposition, and, therefore, I think that that doctrine having been laid down so recently by such a high authority, I may consider this Amendment of mine to be somewhat of the nature of a Government Amendment. I ask the Government to accept it, inasmuch as it gives to the tenants much easier terms than the Select Committee itself recommended with regard to small holdings in this country.
In page 1, line 11, after "advance," insert, ." With respect to advances to be made under this Act, or to be made under the Land Purchase Acts, the provisions of Section 4 of ' The Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885,' shall be amended as follows: There shall be paid to the Treasury, for 60 years, in respect of every holding purchased by means of an advance made under this Act, an annuity of £4 for every £100 of such advance, and so in proportion for every lees sum, the residue of which, after payment of the principal and interest of
the advance, shall be applied in relief of Imperial and local taxation in Ireland."—(Mr.Keay.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ (6.20.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken if he supposes that it is my desire or intention to dispute his figures. I understand his view to be that by lending the Irish farmers £30,000,000 I give them £67,000,000 without depriving the taxpayers of that sum. If there is any accuracy in those figures, the Bill is a very much better one than even I myself had supposed, and I should be very sorry to take away that boon.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
But there is one argument which is conclusive against the hon. Gentleman's proposal. Unless the Irish tenant is very different from all other men, he will very strongly object, after the debt has been paid off, to continue to pay 4 per cent. on the original amount for another 11 years. I assume, from what he said, the hon. Member will have the support of the Irish Members.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast." The hon. Member is very sanguine if he thinks that those who represent the Irish farmers will support such a proposal as this. The Amendment is not one which the Government can ask the Committee to accept.
§ (6.23.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
There is considerable force in the objection of the right hon. Gentleman. But I must say that the Amendment points to what in my judgment is one of the most serious blots in this Bill. I have never been among those who have repudiated all resort to British credit, but since 1886 I have always made it a condition that some advantage should accrue to the community at large in Ireland, and should not be exclusively reserved for the privileged class of tenants and purchasers.
405 I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has thrown away the opportunity of asserting this very wise principle in regard to the employment of British credit, and has also neglected the opportunity of reconciling to some extent the community in Ireland to the risk and liability which the Bill imposes upon the ratepayers in Ireland, and which constitute one of the gravest objections to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman claims that he confers a great boon on Ireland, but that is a mistaken description. Undoubtedly the right hon. Gentleman confers a great boon on a certain class of tenants. To the ordinary Irish citizen he gives no boon, but merely imposes a serious liability. The right hon. Gentleman argues that the risk is limited to the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund. I think we shall find as we get further on in discussing the Bill that that is not the limit. Granting, for the sake of argument, the policy of the Bill, it would have been just to accompany the risk and liability with arrangements that would have conferred an advantage on the whole community of Ireland. This plan would not only have been just, but it would also have been in an enormous degree politic, because if any movement for repudiation should arise, the Local Authorities, to whom an interest had been given, would stand as a bulwark and barrier against the spread of such a movement. It was a fatal flaw in the Bill that the opportunity has been lost of enlisting in favour of the maintenance of the bargains made by the purchasers with the State the interests of the bulk of the people of Ireland. That is not a peculiar view of the matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has strongly insisted on the necessity, as well as the expediency, of this. It may, indeed, be said that the general community is interested, because the ratepayers will be out of pocket if the annuities are not paid. But that is just the sort of interest which people would be likely to resent, because it is an unjust penalty imposed upon them for the default of persons in whose transactions they have no interest of their own. I think the Government lost a valuable opportunity of strengthening their own policy and of asserting the wholesome principle that British 406 credit is never to be used for these or other operations unless the advantage to be derived from its use is to be distributed over the whole body of those who incur the risk. Although I cannot support the Amendment I am not sorry that the question has been raised, and the protest entered. The Bill of 1886 did not carry the principle I am advocating, as far as I should now like it to be carried, but it did put the principle into effect for a period of 49 years. I think now that a riper consideration would induce me, if any proposal of that kind were made either in relation to Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom, to resist any resort to State credit unless accompanied by some benefit to the portion of the community which bore the risk.
§ (6.31.) MR. A.J. BALFOUR
I think probably the Committee will agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be desirable to associate the Local Authorities in Ireland specifically with the advantages of this Bill. It must be noticed that to the not insignificant or contemptible extent of 5s. per cent. that has been done. If more were done in that direction, it must be at the expense of the tenant, to whom the advantage given is not so extraordinarily favourable that it can be greatly diminished. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be running together the different and not quite consistent principles that the Local Authorities should share in the benefits conferred by the Bill, and that British credit should not be given without some benefit to those who take the risk—that is, the British taxpayers in general.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
My position was that under our Bill of 1886 it was an Irish authority that would have got the whole of the benefit of the increase in the security.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Yes; I see the advantage of associating the Local Authority with the action of the tenants-in giving security, but I do not see the equity of giving more to Ireland, as a whole, than the Bill now gives. If you are to travel outside the principles we have laid down in the Bill you should give the benefit to the British people at large. I cannot for one moment admit that the benefits of that Bill are confined! to the Irish occupiers who purchase under 407 it. It is because I believe the Bill is a benefit to Ireland as a whole, and applies an effective and efficient remedy to some of the most grievous evils under which Ireland has groaned for years past, that I defend the use of British credit at all. I do not think the criticisms the right hon. Gentleman has passed on the Bill are well deserved.
(6.35.) MR. J. MORLET
I do not wish to prolong this part of the discussion, but I think the right hon. Gentleman is misusing words when he says he would not be a party to the Bill unless he thought it would confer a benefit on Ireland as a whole. The Bill will confer all the pecuniary benefits on a casual privileged class. The right hon. Gentleman says this is a matter of Imperial concern. If it is, why is there not Imperial risk? If it is a matter of Imperial concern, the whole risk of the operation ought not to fall on localities in Ireland, bat upon the Kingdom as a whole.
§ (6.37.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanarkshire, N.E.)
I think this Amendment has raised one of the most important points in the Bill, although I agree with my right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Morley) that it has not, perhaps, done so in the most appropriate form. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has said that if this money is to be given for the more general purposes of Ireland it must be taken from somebody who would otherwise be benefited, that that somebody would be the tenant, and that the tenant would not be prepared to part with any advantage he gets under the Bill. That may be true, but we Representatives of the taxpayers of Great Britain are not bound to throw ourselves exclusively into the point of view of the tenants, and I think perhaps we are able to take a more impartial view of it even than the right hon. Gentleman himself, because he may have reasons for conciliating the tenant and striking a bargain unduly favourable to the tenant. The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that there were many cases in which the annual payment from the tenant would be reduced 40 to 60 per cent., and he would be transformed at the same time from a tenant into a proprietor. These cases might be cases in which a fair rent had recently been judicially fixed. Probably my hon. Friends below the Gangway will 408 not agree with me on this point, but I say that there can be no legitimate motive for making a present to the tenant of from 40 to 60 per cent. of his rent if that rent has recently been fixed by a judicial tribunal. If the county can afford to give these terms, the benefit ought not to be given as a present to the tenant, but ought to be given to the Local Authority in the district for public purposes, and I hope this point, if it is not properly raised now, will be raised on some future occasion during the passage of the Bill through the House.
§ (6.40.) MR. KNOX
I agree, to a large extent, with what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle—that is to say, I agree there is a great deal to be said in favour of giving some greater advantage than the Government propose to give to the Irish Local Authorities as a result of these transactions. The Local Authorities, and especially those classes in the different counties who are not directly connected with the land, will run very great risk in order to make a certain number of the tenants of Ireland peasant proprietors, and, therefore, I think it is only fair that ultimately some profit should come to those classes for the involuntary sacrifice they are now making on behalf of the tenants of Ireland. But I cannot support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn. The hon. Gentleman proposes that the tenants shall get no relief whatever immediately after the expiration of the 49 years, but shallgo onfor a short time paying the same as they have hitherto paid by way of the repayment, both of principal and interest. I venture to think that if anything ought to be put on the holding after the expiration of the 49 years, it ought to be put on permanently. The tenants will, after the 49 years, get a permanent advantage. If their position, as compared with that of other tenants, is so favoured whatever is put on ought to be put on for ever. Then I object to the proposal of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, because it will have a most injurious effect upon the working of local government in Ireland. The proposal is that a casual addition should from time to time be made to the income of each Local Authority. Land purchase cannot go on equally over the whole country. The large estates 409 may be dealt with in one year in one county. When the 49 years come round a very large additional income will fall to the Local Authority for 10 years. [An hon. MEMBER: In relief of Imperial taxation.] If the proposal is that it shall not go to the Local Authority, who have borne all the risk, my objection to the proposal is very considerably increased. But if, as I assume, a large additional income will fall to the Local Authority for 10 years, there will be as bad a system of local finance as it is possible to imagine. The consequence will be we shall have grants in the nature of grants in aid which will vary very largely from year to year. The proposal will not commend itself to Irish Members on the ground that it gives relief from Imperial taxation 50 years hence. I and my hon. Friends hope that at all events in its present form the Imperial taxation levied on Ireland 50 years hence may be of such a nature that it is not worth while considering now. Speaking generally, I say that I object to the proposal, because by it the Imperial Parliament is asked to determine a question which ought to be left for an Irish Parliament 50 years hence -when the question will actually arise. Fifty years hence this specially favoured class will begin to exist, and then it will be time enough for whatever Parliament is charged with the duty to deal with the matter. I trust it will be an Irish Parliament, and I confess I heard with some astonishment the statement of the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Donald Crawford) that he, as a Scotch Liberal and not specially connected with the Irish tenants, is better able to judge impartially of this matter than an Irish Authority will be. What is the effect of the hon. Member's proposal? It is, as the Chief Secretary put it, that we take from one class of Irishmen in order to give to another. I conceive the Authority which is to determine whether we should take from one class of Irishmen and give to another should be an Irish Authority, and it will be time enough for an Irish Authority to deal with the subject in the 20th century.
§ (6.48.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
Although I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn in the exaggerated figures he 410 has given of the measure of the benefit which will accrue to the tenants of Ireland, I agree that the benefit will be very great. There cannot be a doubt that if Irish credit alone had been employed, the transactions could not be carried out at less than 5 per cent., or, including provision for the Sinking Fund, 6 per cent. as compared with 4 per cent. as at present. I am with my hon. Friend in saying that some of this enormous benefit ought to go to the general taxpayers or ratepayers of Ireland. I cannot agree with the Chief Secretary for Ireland that the whole of this benefit will accrue to the tenants of Ireland. On the contrary; a considerable portion of it will accrue to the landlords. The tenants will get the benefit of paying considerably less than their former rent, and they will be enabled thereby to give a greater number of years' purchase than they otherwise would be. The landlords get the benefit of this, and if I were to hazard an opinion I would say that the landlords get three or four years additional purchase than they would if the transactions had been carried out at a higher rate of interest. I believe the Government would have done wisely if they had associated with the Bill the proposal to give a larger benefit to the ratepayers of Ireland generally. If the example of the Bill of 1886 had been followed, a very considerable boon would have been given to the general ratepayers of Ireland, and a great deal done to enlist their influence in the direction of the ultimate repayment of the enormous advances contemplated by this Bill.
§ (6.52.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
It must be obvious to the Committee that the discussion in which we have been engaged is too large for the Amendment under which it has arisen. The Amendment strikes at the main principle of the Bill. The principle is that by the aid of British credit, the land of Ireland shall be handed over absolutely for nothing to the tenants who are now the occupiers. So far as principle is concerned, I am entirely with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I go further than he does. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle admit that part, at least, of the benefit of these transactions ought to be secured for the 411 public. I do not know it matters much whether it is the Local Authority or the people of Ireland or Great Britain; but the public interest of some sort should be reserved as part of the price at which we engage in these transactions. I enter my strenuous protest against the principle of handing over the money of Great Britain to one class of the people of Ireland. It seems to me that everything that was said by the Chief Secretary on this subject was marked by fallacy of the most elementary kind. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the tenant paying off his loan. Paying off his loan, forsooth ! The right hon. Gentleman said— "How will the tenant be satisfied if, after he has paid off his loan, you tax him for 20 years more." How does he repay it? He does it in the most Hibernian fashion—by paying 20 per cent. less than he did before. Then, again, the Chief Secretary says, "If you are going to secure this benefit for the public it can only be at somebody's expense: it can only be by taking it away from the tenant." I assert that that is not so. I cannot admit that the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn has chosen the best mode or time for submitting this question to the House. I do not know what his Amendment means. He says the provisions of Section 4 of the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act should be amended, and then he provides how it should be amended. Does my hon. Friend mean that his provisions should be substituted for the whole of Section 4 or for a portion of it, and, if so, what portion? It seems to me that the Amendment is not in a shape in which it can be conveniently discussed, and having secured his purpose by obtaining this discussion I suggest he should withdraw the Amendment, in the hope that the point may be raised at a more convenient opportunity.
§ (6.59.) MR. CHANCE
I think there is some misapprehension as to the precise scope and effect of this Amendment. This Bill, unlike the Ashbourne Act, does not enable the tenant to make terms with his landlord. The tendency of the Insurance Clause will be that only the tenant who sees some very considerable saving in the reduction of 20 per cent., will buy under the Bill. The clause will lead to the sale of the better lands, and leave on the hands of 412 a future Irish Government the duty of dealing with the poorer lands in the congested districts. It must be recollected that under this Act the cream of the tenants get the advantage, and the poorest tenants get none. Under those circumstances, I think it would be only prudent that the richer and better class of tenants should in some way be made responsible to provide funds for the Local Authorities, and thus enable those authorities to deal with the con gested districts and the poorer tenants. The Chief Secretary says if you diminish the benefit to the tenants you stop land purchase altogether. Never was there a greater fallacy. If. the benefit to the tenant is diminished, that will not affect land purchase, but simply the price which the landlord puts into his pocket. It is absolutely incontrovertible that if the tenant, instead of paying 4 per cent. by way of annuity, was only called upon to pay 2 per cent., the tenant would not be one sixpence the better. The sole effect would be that, instead of paying 14 or 15 years' purchase, he would pay double that. Anyone who knows anything about the work of the Land Commission knows this: that in a large number of cases the Commissioners refuse to advance the sum for which the tenant has bargained with the landlord, and no wonder, because the landlord has the benefit of the advice of his solicitor, the assistance of the Sheriff, and all the advantages of his position, while the poor tenant has nobody to assist him. The tenants are not even allowed to combine, and it is apparently a criminal offence to give a. tenant advice as to land purchase, and the price is fixed by reference to one consideration only, namely, what can the tenant pay. If it is a shade less than his present rent, and the Government will lend it, that he will pay, no matter what it represents in capital value. It must be recollected that it is the landlord who gets the benefit of the total cessation of payments at the end of 49 years. If the tenant, instead of paying £20, pays £15, he does not care whether it represents a capital sum of £500 or £5,000; it is £5 a year less to him, and all the ultimate benefit goes to the landlord. This point will arise on a subsequent Amendment, but meantime I ask the Committee to recollect that in 413 this matter the tenant is merely the cats-paw to rescue this chestnut for the landlord, and that it does not matter a sixpence to the tenant whether he pays 2 per cent. or 20 per cent.; that the price he pays for the land is measured simply by the annuity the Government thinks he can pay, and has no connection whatever with the capital money advanced. Therefore, I trust that in these discussions we shall not have much said about the advantage to the tenant. There is absolutely no benefit to him except a certain reduction he gets if the landlord can induce him to unlock the Treasury for the advantage of the landlord.
§ (7.5.) MR.R.T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
A technical objection, among others, is taken to my hon. Friend's Amendment, but the Bill is so framed by reference to a variety of Acts that it puzzles the most astute lawyer to construe many of its provisions, and to pronounce an opinion upon the form of an Amendment without very careful examination. The hon. Member for Cavan seemed to assume that it was almost an impertinence for my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark to put in an oar on this subject at all in reference to the dispersion of the funds among classes in Ireland, and that it is only a question to be regulated according to the wishes of Irish Members. For my part, I should be content to leave the whole solution to Ireland; but if we are to be concerned in giving these benefits, I think we ought to extend them to those who are in most need in Ireland. The Amendment, however, brings out a most important flaw in the Bill, and that is, that it is simply for the benefit of one or two classes—a selected number of landlords and a selected number of tenants. For these is the powerful instrument of British credit to be used. The purport of the Amendment of my hon. Friend is this: that inasmuch as an advantage is gained by tenants, and a greater, I agree, by the landlords, but by no others than these, that after they have enjoyed this for 49 years some equivalent should be gained by the Irish public at large. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle has laid down in his too short speech one of the most important propositions I think we have heard from him or from anyone for a considerable time, for he announced, as I understood, that 414 upon any future advance of British money or credit for land purchase or cognate purposes, he would require the condition of a perpetual reservation of some rental or sum of money to be payable to the State or Municipality—that is to say, municipalisation of the land as laid down by its most recent expositors. I agree with that view of the right hon. Gentleman, but I desire to point out that the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment originally had on the Paper an Amendment exactly carrying out that proposal; but, unfortunately, it was discovered that it was out of Order and inconsistent with the scope of the Bill, and thus it is that this Amendment in a more moderate form is proposed for the consideration of the Committee, and the hon. Member is obliged to restrict his Amendment to a term of 11 years. I do not know whether it could be arranged that a quit rent in perpetuity should be paid in lieu of a period of 49 years. As has been pointed out, the proposals in the Bill are for the benefit of a restricted class, and for the benefit of a certain portion of a restricted class. British credit is being invoked for a special section of a class. The Bill as it stands forms a most important precedent for advanced politicians, and a most dangerous precedent from the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because it is quite certain that if the thin end of the wedge is introduced of using British credit not for the relief of distress, but for the benefit of a particular section of a particular industry, the principle will be extended. In that sense, I think the Amendment of my hon. Friend is an eminently Conservative Amendment.
§ (7.10.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway N.)
I am astonished at the approval the Amendment has met with, and at the strange suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries. What is the proposal of the hon. Member for Elgin in its naked simplicity? That for 11 years beyond the term this Bill provides the tenant shall continue to pay 4 per cent., or 44 per cent. on the purchase money. [Cries of " No, no !"] Four per cent. for 11 years— four times 11 equals 44. Taking the actual value at the present time, it is less than they will pay at the end of the term, but, practically speaking, it is a simple matter of arithmetic. The tenant 415 may make a better or a worse bargain, but it is an outrageous proposal that the unfortunate tenant should continue to pay for at least 11 years after the term in the Bill. Then the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries threw out a suggestion for a perpetual quit rent. But we have been told ever since the time that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) initiated this subject that the object should be to turn tenants into proprietors. But this Amendment amounts to a total abandonment of this principle. A quit rent might be an advantage, and something might be said in its favour if you reduced the tenant's payment to 3 per cent.; but the proposal of the hon. Member for Elgin gives no possible advantage to the tenant of any kind or description, but simply taxes him for 11 years more for the benefit of every section of the community. It would be a great mistake to introduce anything of the kind. If you want to benefit other sections of the community do so by another Bill; this Bill is for the benefit of tenants. There are, for instance, labourers who are well entitled to such assistance; but to tax small tenants to the extent of from £5 to £15 for any other sections of the community is an absurdity. If such a proposal were included in a Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian it would be considered Tory and reactionary. But I am afraid there are some Members who, instead of trying to make this the best possible Bill, are trying to make it the best possible Bill for Party purposes. Now, I want to make it the best possible Bill for Ireland. There are some hon. Members, I am afraid, trying to run between the two. But I would urge every Irish Member to cast other views aside and simply vote on this Bill, as the Bill may be better for the Irish tenants.
§ (7.15.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
It seems to be conceded upon all hands that the question of public benefit cannot be discussed under the proceedings now going on. I have not heard one single Member say that he is prepared to vote for the hon. Member for Elgin's Amendment. It cannot now be fairly discussed, and why, then, should we waste these precious hours upon it? Why should 416 we be discussing an Amendment which refers to what may or may not be done 49 years hence? I think it is folly, for nobody now cares what may be done 49 years hence by those who succeed us. [An hon. MEMBER: 49 years in the Bill.] Yes, but the hon. Member proposes that after 49 years a sum should be continued to be paid to the Treasury in respect of holdings of a certain amount, and I say it does not matter what we now decide to do; those who come after us, 49 years hence, will decide the question for themselves. Then, I ask, why should the Local Authority get this advantage? I entirely concur with the hon. Member" for Galway (Colonel Nolan) in what he says. I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I should like to point this out, that there is one great Liberal principle in danger of perishing to-night —that Liberal principle of which we have heard so much—the government of Ireland according to Irish ideas. That Liberal principle has been in the past very loudly asserted from those Benches. There is, I say, a great danger of its perishing to-night. Irish Members represent the Irish local authority as well as the Irish farmers, and this is an Irish as well as an English question; this is Irish as well as English money. If it be English money, why should the Local Authority be benefited? The Irish Local Authority does not run the risk; but the Imperial taxpayer does, and if you. are going to give the-benefit on account of this risk, then the Imperial taxpayer should have it. But if this question is to be raised at all, I submit that it cannot be raised upon this Amendment; so let us, then, proceed to the next Amendment, which is of greater importance.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I hope that the Committee will now allow this discussion to drop. It is admitted that the Amendment finds no supporters, and in no shape can this Amendment bear fruit in relation to the very interesting question raised by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle. I hope, then, we may now proceed to another Amendment.
§ (7.18.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
The hon. Member on my right has asked two questions: Why, he said, should we be discussing what shall be done at the end of 49 years, and 417 for answer to that question he should ask the Government why we have this term in the Bill. Now, the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, upon which the attention of the Committee has been occupied for some time, is one of great interest and importance. The hon. Member reminds us of the Liberal principle, that Ireland should be governed according to Irish ideas; but the Government have brought in this Bill with an Imperial guarantee, and those who might be prepared to consider this as an Irish Bill must, so long as the English taxpayer is called upon to back it, take an interest in the Bill from beginning to end. With all deference to my hon. Friends the Members for Lanark and Dundee, I think in their forcible remarks they forgot one thing, which furnishes an answer to the question propounded— Who gets the benefit under this Bill? They forget the circumstances of Ireland at this moment, and what the Government have been doing for the past five years. The question before us is a similar one to that we have often had to consider in relation to the incidence of local taxation, and on whom does the incidence of local taxation fall? Where the supply is greater than the demand by the tenants the landlord has to pay the local rates, and where the demand is greater than the supply for houses then the tenant has to bear the taxation. So it is in Ireland. We know there is a land hunger, and that the tenant is in that position forcibly represented by the hon. Member for South Kilkenny, that he cares nothing for the amount his payment bears to the capital sum provided; it opens to him a way for preserving possession of the holding, the value of which he has himself created. Now, the Government have during the last five years to the utmost of their power suppressed the right of combination among the tenants; they have placed the Forces of the Crown at the disposal of the landlords, and they have destroyed freedom of contract so far as land purchase is concerned. Therefore, undoubtedly, the benefit of the Imperial guarantee, that is, the benefit of raising money for purchase at a low rate of interest, is appropriated in Ireland by the landlords. I think, too, we have had an indication of this in the very frank speech of the 418 hon. Member for South Hunts, that if the Government did not accept his Amendment the landlords would take another way of securing the fruits of it.
§ (7.23.) MR. LABOUCHERE
The Chief Secretary did not consult us before inserting in his Bill the proposition for engaging the public credit for one particular class; and yet when, on consideration of this Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Elgin and Nairn proposes a valuable Amendment, up rises the Chief Secretary, and says he does not quite approve of the Amendment, thinks it has been quite sufficiently discussed, and advises the Committee to proceed to something else. Now, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we really cannot accept his views either as to the Amendment or the time we should take in discussing it. Upon this, as upon most Amendments, I daresay we shall occupy more time than he would mete out to us. On the first Amendment the right hon. Gentleman moved the Closure. Let him do that when he objects to the course we are taking, but do not let him waste his time in giving us advice which we are not in the least likely to accept. Without going into details, I may say that the effect of the Amendment is simply this My hon. Friend thinks that certain persons do derive considerable advantage from the use of the Imperial credit, and that this advantage should in some sort of way be distributed so that all may have a share in it. My hon. Member has a specific plan with which I cannot say I entirely agree, though I shall support him if he carries his Amendment to a Division, because I should regard this as a sort of Second Reading decision, the acceptance of a general principle which we may afterwards modify in various ways. The advantage of the Imperial credit is as 6 ½ to 4; that is to say, that 2 ½ per cent. is gained by the use of Imperial credit. Of this a large portion of the benefit goes to the landlords, but unquestionably the tenants will derive large advantages. And why should all the gain be with these? My hon. Friend, in effect, says by his Amendment, leave it to those who succeed us 49 years hence to say whether the advantage shall be shared by the locality or by the Kingdom generally. Some such Amendment is necessary for the 419 purpose, else the tenants will be left absolute freeholders, and therefore cannot be called upon to pay in any way for the benefit conferred upon them.
§ (7.29.) MR. KEAY
I would like to make a few remarks in regard to the observations that have fallen from various hon. Gentlemen. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) says that 44 per cent. more would be charged if this Amendment were passed. I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman's arithmetic is in order. The increase is one of 20 per cent., and not of 4 per cent. The Amendment is so framed as, roughly speaking, to provide for a 20 per cent. increase of the aggregate instalments. The hon. and learned Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) said my Amendment struck at the root of the principle of absolute ownership of land which is offered by this Bill. I quite admit that; and I am very sorry to say that the Rules of this House made it impossible for me to go further than I did. My hon. and learned Friend beside me said he did not know the meaning of the wording of my Amendment. All I can say is, that it is strictly modelled on the clause of the Ashbourne Act. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Knox) objected to the form of my Amendment, but did so principally on the same score as others have done, namely, that it was impossible to insert in this Bill, as a matter of Order, an Amendment which would carry out the views we have at heart. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary adopted his usual cynical vein in dealing with us mere private Members on this side of the House, and seemed rather to pride himself on the fact of how little he had got up the subject. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was in charge of the Bill, and, therefore, was the proper referee on any point raised in the measure. He said practically that he had never read the Amendment at all, because he said I was proposing to impose not 11 but 20 years' annuity on the poor tenants, and he playfully alluded to the main argument I put forward, that the actual amount of hard cash which constitutes the boon of British credit given to those to enter into these transactions, amounts to £67,000,000. Well, I say with all 420 humility, that if I were in the right hon. Gentleman's place in charge of this Bill, I should not come forward until I had carefully calculated for myself the magnitude of the pecuniary boon offered. I assert, in face of the right hon. Gentleman's ignorance, that the boon is proved to amount to nothing more or less than a gift of £67,000,000 as compared with the amount which the tenants and landlords could otherwise perform the transactions with. There are interest tables in the library, and I should strongly, if I might humbly venture to do so, advise the right hon. Gentleman to realise whether it is a fact or not, that this is the pecuniary boon.
§ MR. KEAY
I shall be delighted at any time to argue the question with the hon. Member. The Chief Secretary said he was convinced that the tenant would not elect to pay the increased 11 years' instalment. 1 am glad to find the right hon. Gentleman taking up so openly the wishes of the tenants, as this is the most egregious flaw in the Bill, if he has the wishes of the tenants at heart. That, however, is not an argument against my Amendment. It is quite irrelevant to consider whether the Irish tenant wants a boon to the amount of £67,000,000 or £100,000,000. The question is this—is. it a boon or is it not? If it is, the givers have a right to regulate its incidence in what they believe a just and proper manner. Before I sit down I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said in bringing in the Bill Isst year. He told us to what extent the Irish tenant would be benefited by this British boon. He said—"If you have a tenant who now pays £170,. reduced to £100 by the landlords arrangement in the matter of taxes, he will be able to have his holding for £68 instead of £100.That is the extent of the pecuniary boon to be given to these tenants individually; and I say, that according to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman himself, the tenant was to live and thrive and be very happy when he got his rent of £100 reduced to £68. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill provides that that arrangement shall take place in 49 years. Why should the tenant be able to comfortably | live and thrive on paying £68 perannum 421 for 49 years only? Why should he not pay it for 11 years longer? To that question the right hon. Gentleman has furnished no reply whatever, and, therefore, I say he has opposed absolutely no argument to the Amendment now on the Paper. However, as the Amendment is so ill worded, so far as the carrying out of my own wishes is concerned, and as it was only put down for the purpose of raising a discussion, and of doing good not only in the Committee but in the country with regard to the great question decided by the Report of the Select Committee on Small Holdings, and as that object has been effected, I beg leave to withdraw the proposal.
§ (7.43.) COLONEL NOLAN
I object to the Amendment being withdrawn. It is one of those absurd and silly Amendments that ought to be put down. I think that when such an Amendment as this is brought forward, the hon. Member proposing it should stick to it.
§ SIR J. M'KENNA
I also object to the withdrawal of the Amendment, seeing that the greatest possible cruelty is shown to those interested in Ireland in raising and discussing such Amendments.
§ (7.45.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I hope the Committee will allow the Amendment to be withdrawn, because there is an alternative to the plan proposed, and that is reducing the rents still further, and making them perpetual. The question might be determined on principle in that way so as to save the necessity of moving Amendments to the Ashbourne Act. If we are forced to go to a Division we shall have to consider whether the Government are not proposing to create a new class of landlords altogether—whether they are not seeking to get rid of one injustice by establishing another. Then I should have to support the Amendment. I think we should have the Amendment raised on other grounds. I trust that under the circumstances the hon. Member will be allowed to withdraw the Amendment.
§ (7.47.) MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
As the Amendment is not for the purpose of amending the Bill, but is brought forward for the purpose of ventilating a question of abstract politics, I think it should not be withdrawn. It is distinctly hostile to the interests of Irish tenants, and 422 therefore it ought to be either adopted or definitely rejected. Speaking as a Representative of the Irish tenants, I ask the House to definitely reject the Amendment. I pay no attention to the motives suggested to us by some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for South Monaghan, who spoke here not so much as a Representative of the Irish tenants as a Representative of other interests.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY
The hon. Member speaks for that portion of Irish landed property which at the present time is under the jurisdiction of Mr. Justice Munro. But I need not in any way lengthen this discussion. I will only characterise the Amendment as a mischievous one, which the Committee should not allow to be withdrawn.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ (7.50.) MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednes-bury)
I beg to move an Amendment providing that—A Report setting forth the amount and ful particulars of every such advance provisionally assented to by the Land Commission under this Act, shall be presented to Parliament by the said Commission, and such report shall lie upon the Table of the House for 30 days before the said advance shall receive the final sanction of the Treasury.In spite of our protests below the Gangway, the House has decided that the Imperial credit is to be made use of, and the question arises how this House, having regard to that fact, is to retain its full control over the financial arrangements instituted under the Bill? I would point out that, under the Act which has given rise to this Bill, no less than £9,000,000 have been expended, and though Reports have been laid on the Table of the House by the Land Commissioners or the Lord Lieutenant for Ireland containing a summary of the disposition of that amount and of the general working of the Land Acts in Ireland, most of us will agree that those Reports have been extremely meagre in detail, and give us little or no information whatever With respect to the particular estates that 423 have been dealt with by the Commissioners. It is only indirectly and by questions put in this House that we are able to obtain information of the working of the Commission, and of the particular direction in which the public money is being expended. Now, it is in order to remedy that state of things that I have put this Amendment down on the Paper. The object is that the House should continue to discharge what after all is its primary duty, namely, to control, and efficiently superintend the expenditure of public money. As, unfortunately, an Amendment to a previous Bill—an Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, which would have brought the salaries of the Land Commissioners under the control of this House—was rejected, we must seek by some other means to effect our object. I therefore propose that the Commissioners, instead of making the rather meagre Reports they present to the Lord Lieutenant, should make more elaborate Reports, giving fuller details as to their action, which Reports should be laid on the Table of the House for 30 days, during which it should be competent for Members to offer criticisms and suggestions. The necessity for such Reports is shown by the disparity between the four provinces in respect of the purchases effected in them and the circumstances that call for such transactions. Ulster, which does not appear to be very much in need of a measure of this character, has received the largest benefit under the Ashbourne Act. In Ulster 9,379 applications have been dealt with by the Commissioners in the last five years, and £2,751,000 has been advanced; in Leinster 2,088 applications have been dealt with, and £1,794,578 advanced; in Connaught 1,725 applications, and £433,431 advanced; and in Munster 3,564 applications and £2,327,999 advanced. Consequently, Ulster has received by far the largest portion of the public money devoted to land purchase in Ireland. Proceeding on the same lines, I would point out that many of the estates that have been purchased are estates on which there was no urgent need for interference. There was no special necessity for the purchase of the properties of the Duke of Aber- 424 corn, the Duke of Leinster, the Marquess of Bath, the Marquess of Waterford, and the great London Companies. My own belief is, and I think it is shared by hon. Members around me, that nearly all these purchases could have been effected without the intervention of Imperial credit. Public money, if used at all, ought rather to have been used in less fortunate parts of Ireland, such as the Clanricarde, Olphert, and Pon-sonby estates, which we all know have been deplorable centres of public disaffection and public disturbance. I do not Say the Commissioners could have controlled these matters, because it is not for them to initiate transactions; but it would be a distinct public advantage if this House could criticise the arrangements that are made, and stimulate intervention where it seems to be most required. In some instances purchases have been made under coercion, and there have been numberless transactions and purchases forced on the tenants at prices higher than the circumstances of the cases warranted. The other day an account was given of three estates of the Duke of Leinster. On two of these estates the agents were unable to exercise pressure on the tenants to purchase. But in the case of one of these estates where there were arrears they distinctly desired to force the tenants into an arrangement, and I understand the number of years purchase, 22 years, I think, was glaringly in excess of what would have been the case had there been absolute freedom of contract. These are cases which it seems to me will properly come before this House on the occasion of the Reports being presented for sanction. I believe that on the whole a very large number of transactions, which at present escape criticism, would, in view of publicity, be modified or never brought about. I have no doubt the Chief Secretary will say that this proceeding would involve considerable delay. But already the Com-missionersallow time to the parties to make investigation of the title of the vendor, with the result that the number of loans provisionally sanctioned, is far in excess of the number issued. Consequently, it does not seem to me that the effect of my proposal would be to delay the work of the Land Commission, and the delay of 30 days does not justify the criticism 425 that it would cause confusion in the work of the Commissioners. But I come to the principal argument in favour of my Amendment. The State is going to become a great landowner in Ireland, and it does seem to me a fundamental' principle of business that the State should have an account of the transactions effected in its name, and should be in a position to examine them before they become definitive. If by the decision of the majority of this House we are to give the Imperial guarantee to the amount' of £30,000,000, and probably larger sums in the future, and if we are obliged to tell our constituents that we were unable to defeat the proposal, it appears to me that we ought to be in a position to tell them that we have, at all events, provided that the Representatives of the public shall have constant supervision of the expenditure of the money, so that some of the greater evils to which this Bill will lead may be mitigated, if not altogether avoided. It is a sound constitutional maxim that the public expenditure shall be always under-public control, and, in order that such a principle may be incorporated in this Bill, I venture to move my Amendment.
In page 1, line 11, after the word "advance," to insert the words "and a Report, setting forth the amount and full particulars of every such advance provisionally assented to by the Land Commission under this Act, shall be presented to Parliament by the said Commission, and such Report shall lie upon the Table of the House for 30 days before the said advance shall receive the final sanction of the Treasury."—(Mr. Philip Stankopt.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ (8.8.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member appears to be under the impression that his Amendment carries out the ordinary conditions of Parliamentary procedure. But no doubt the hon. Member is aware that this is by no means the first Bill which has sanctioned loans in either Ireland, England, or Scotland, and in no single case has it been the practice to include a provision like this in dealing with those transactions. The transactions under this Bill will be in the nature of loans, and it is proposed to trust to the machinery which has already been instituted to see that the loans are properly made and carried out. A very large 426 number of loans have been made under the Ashbourne Acts, 52,000 I think, and I ask what possible powers this House would have of making an investigation worth anything. The Land Commissioners make the loans on the spot, the holdings are examined, and opportunities are afforded of examining all the facts of the case. For instance, the House might be asked to disallow a loan of £20 to a tenant in the wilds of Connemara, but it would be quite unable to form an adequate judgment on the point. If the House is to be asked to take into consideration the propriety of the loans made by the Commissioners it would have nothing else to do but to discuss every night after 12 o'clock an enormous mass of small transactions. The Representatives of the tenants would raise cases in which they thought there lurked a grievance, and the same course might be followed by the Representatives of the landlord interest, and the selection of cases would be discussed, not in the interest of the Treasury, but from the point of view of rival political Parties. Of course, I agree that the House should know what is being done, and the Commissioners will be ordered to make full Reports of their transactions, and the House will thus have an opportunity of seeing what is done.
§ (8.13.) MR. J. MORLEY
I am glad to hear that the Commissioners are to be asked to furnish fuller and more detailed accounts than has hitherto been the practice. More detailed Returns will not give the Land Commission much more trouble than at present, and a very slight additional expense will be entailed. If those Reports are laid before Parliament, say, once every fortnight, they will be found of great advantage, and Parliament will be placed in the position of keeping its eye on the general run of the transactions. The present Reports are meagre, and it is almost essential, if Parliament is to exercise any real supervision, to have Returns pretty constantly available of all the transactions.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
I will not anticipate my Amendment on the Paper, but I am very glad to hear from the Chief Secretary admission of the fact that there ought to be further information.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I admit that this House is entitled to the information it desires, and to enforce that desire, but that is a different matter to putting accurately into a Statute what information is required. But that is a matter reserved perhaps.
§ (8.15.) MR. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
There is necessity for some Amendment on this point, though, perhaps, not precisely on the line of that of my hon. Friend, with a view of obviating such a transaction as that which occurred under the Ashbourne Act, where five landlords, among them the Duke of Abercorn and the Marquess of Waterford, had £1,000,000 divided between them. Perhaps the Government will consider the question, confining the Returns to purchases above £5,000. We are going to advance no less than £30,000,000, but if we are to enable every tenant who wishes to purchase, we will require not thirty, but ninety millions. These Commissioners, who are entrusted with the machinery, will have to exercise a considerable amount of selection among the tenants who apply for loans. Now, it may reasonably be suspected that this is simply an attempt to buy out landlords who are supporters of the Government, inducing the tenants to acquiesce by giving them 20 per cent. under their purchase money. If that be so, and having regard to the administration of the Ashbourne Act, the House should clearly have the opportunity of requiring that full publicity should be given to these transactions, by laying Reports upon the Table of this House for discussion. I think, therefore, that some such Amendment as this is necessary. Why do I support the Bill? Simply because I have regard to the fearful poverty which exists in Ireland, and feel bound to assist to the best of my power in alleviating the condition of the Irish tenant. If I can do so by getting his house rent reduced by 20 per cent. I must do my best to facilitate that object by supporting the Bill.
§ (8.20.) MR. CHANCE
I support this Amendment, and I am not at all 428 surprised that the Chief Secretary I objects to it. All through he has shown the strongest objection not only to the control of this House, but to-publicity in this House. The control proposed by this Amendment would not be a very difficult one. It would be a sort of negative control, and so long as things were going on well the House would not interfere. The Returns-would be in much the same position as Provisional Orders used to be. The reason why I support the Amendment is that the House might find it necessary at some stage or another to make a selection between two estates of two landlords. The amount which can be advanced in each county seems to be strictly limited. It might very well be that wealthy tenants of a landlord who had got on very well with them, and the poor tenants of a bad landlord were willing, the one to sell and the other to buy. Now, if the House had any means of selection, it is obvious that it would give money to the poorer class of tenants, and where the quieting influence of the Act was most needed. I can quite understand that the Government, in its anxiety to aid a section of disturbing landlords in Ireland, would bring pressure to bear on the Commissioners to induce them to make grants to tenants who would prove bogus tenants. The landlord would put the money in his pocket and the bogus tenants would disappear, probably to act as catspaws in other districts and on other estates. If such matters came before the House, I do not believe that any Party, I do not believe the bulk of the Conservative Party would tolerate the grant of money to landlords in perfectly bogus transactions, and simply for the purpose of carrying on a land war in Ireland. It is said that the Amendment, if adopted, would lead to a waste of the time of the House. I confess I do not think so. The public control, and the light of day, ! would have the effect of stopping these transactions. The Land Commissioners would know that they would be landed into trouble by them; whereas if the Amendment be not carried, money will be advanced on certain estates which I could name, and the money will afterwards have to be paid by the county because the bogus tenants will walk away as soon as they have been paid.
§ (8.27.) COLONEL NOLAN
I do not at all class this Amendment with that moved by the hon. Member for Northampton. I look upon it as in some respects reasonable, though injudicious. Thirty days is asked for, but I would point out that Parliament might not sit for six months, and it would be that period plus 30 days. The completion of a transaction might be delayed seven months, and the Amendment would lead to wrangles between the parties, and to a great many law suits. I cannot see how bargains can possibly be completed, if afterwards they are to be made the subject of political discussion in this House. I think the Bill would be better without the Amendment than with it.
§ (8.29.) MR. M. J. KENNY
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chance) has exemplified the course attributed to us, namely, that of sailing on an even keel. He is going to vote for this Amendment; but I do not think it will secure the object which the hon. Member has in view. There is nothing in it which would stop any sale of which the House disapproved. Still, I think, it would be an exceedingly useful thing that the House should know what the Land Commissioners are doing. We want to know why the Land Commissioners should not be responsible to this House. We are to have no means of calling their conduct into question, and that is a reason why I think the House should retain some control over the matters with which they will have to deal in Ireland. I understand that an Amendment, further down, practically meets the requirements of the case. I attach no importance to the surmise of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway that the Bill might be repealed at a future date. I do not think there is any danger of such a reversal of public policy, for the principle of land purchase has been adopted by both Parties in the State. While agreeing that' the House should be fully informed of what is being done by the Land Commissioners, in the same way as was secured under the Land Act of 1881, I do not think that there is any real necessity for this Amendment. (8.32.)
(9.5.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary told us that under Lord 430 Ashbourne's Act there have been already something like 2,000 cases of sale and purchase, and that if this Amendment had been law the House might have debated every one of them. Even if one does not go as far in admiration of the House of Commons as the noble .Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) it is hardly to be supposed that the House is going to waste its time unnecessarily in discussing the Reports of Commissioners after 12 o'clock at night. Hon. Members who raise Debates after 12 o'clock always have great difficulty in keeping a House together, and I do not think it need be feared that such Debates will be of very frequent occurrence. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) seemed to think that bargains might be unduly delayed. I think that that would not be so, but that ordinary cases of bargain would be merely laid on the Table. We have heard a good deal in Irish Debates about sales conclude d under Lord Ashbourne's Act by the exercise of undue pressure and intimidation on the part of the landlords, and about the Coercion Act being used for the purpose of forcing tenants to buy at an unduly high price. It is cases of this kind that would be influenced by this Amendment, if it were passed. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary seemed to think no one would benefit by the Amendment except advocates of the landlords and tenants, who would bring the interests of their respective clients before the House. I think the taxpayers would benefit also, and it is because I think this power would be a beneficial power to have, although I think it is one that would probably have to be exercised very seldom—perhaps only once a year —that I intend to support the Amendment.
§ (9.9.) MR. P. STANHOPE
The-right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary's principal objection to this proposal was that if the Return were made to the House the comment and criticism would be so abundant that a great portion of the time of the House would be wasted, and he went on to say that there was no precedent for a proposal of this kind, and that in every case where an advance was made by way 431 of loan out of the Treasury, that advance passed entirely out of the control of the House. I say that that is an unsound system, although it is unfortunately one recently largely adopted by the Government in connection with the Naval Defence Act and Barracks Act. The Government have in their Bill designedly kept outside the purview of Parliament a largo sum which we think ought to come under annual criticism. As soon as this money has passed out of the control of Parliament it will be used just as the Land Commissioners please. I think we ought to keep the working of this Act constantly under our control, and I do not believe that the plan I suggest will give rise to inordinate criticism or Debate. When the Return was laid on the Table, gentlemen who were specially conversant with the cases dealt with might raise a Debate on it, in the same way as can now be done in the case of any Provisional Order. We have reason to think that the working of these Acts hitherto has been largely in the interest of the great territorial magnates, and very little in the interest of the email owners. On the grounds I have mentioned we intend to insist on the Amendment.
§ (9.13.) MR. ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
There is one point which requires clearing up. An hon. Member has stated that the Duke of Leinster will only treat with tenants who are in arrear in order that the arrears may be merged in the amount of money paid. I hope the hon. Member is mistaken; if not, I think there is good:and just cause for an inquiry by a Committee of the House. It is undoubtedly the fact that the prices obtained for these properties are unusual, and could never be obtained if the properties were put up at public auction. At the same time it has been shown that such transactions as are contemplated by this Bill confer a vast amount of good upon Ireland. We are, however, guardians of the public purse, and I feel that every care should be taken that cases of the kind stated should not be permitted—indeed, if they do occur, the purchases ought to be rendered null and void. I trust the Attorney General for Ireland will be able to assure the Committee that such 432 cases have no existence in fact. From what I know of the Commissioners I am persuaded they would not permit anything so unbusinesslike if they could prevent it.
§ (9.15.) MR. CHANCE
I may assure the hon. Member I have never known cases of land purchase in Ireland in which arrears of rents were not merged in the purchase money. So long as tenants are paying a solvent landlord at all punctually it is better for the landlord to go on than to sell, because in 99 cases out of 100 landlords, if they sell, find their income very considerably reduced, although they have increased security. But the usual process is this— Tenants fall into arrear; the landlord says, " This is bad business: I can not make the estate pay." He employs a man who sells estates on commission, and invariably the first inducement held out to the tenants is that if they sign an agreement, not only will their future rent be reduced, but they will also be freed from all arrears. So well aware are the Land Commissioners of this fact that lately they passed rules requiring certificates to be given by landlords showing that all arrears had been actually extinguished.
§ (9.19.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL TOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN, Dublin University)
My hon. Friend the Member for Tower Hamlets seems to think that there is some danger that a sum in addition to the amount which may be safely advanced as purchase money may be added in the shape of arrears. There is no foundation for any such alarm. We are all agreed that the interests of the taxpayer should be safeguarded, but I ask whether that will not be more effectually done by a body like the Land Commission, whose duty it is to see that a holding is sufficient security for the advance, than by the House of Commons debating the matter after twelve o'clock at night without the necessary information. There has been no appreciable loss to the taxpayer as yet, and I contend that under the existing system there is complete protection.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
I am afraid that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks he has disposed of the question of arrears he is rather sanguine. If the hon 433 Member (Mr. Wootton Isaacson), whose speech we were glad to hear, will walk into the Library—
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
I was merely adverting to the observations of the Attorney General for Ireland, and, perhaps, I may finish the sentence. If the hon. Gentleman will walk into the Library and refer to the Report on Irish Estates he will find a good deal about the question of arrears; he will find the Land Commissioners have been actually unsuccessful in preventing the practice to which he referred. The Amendment provides for control by this House, and such control is so essential that I shall be obliged to support the Amendment.
I have already pointed out that the question of arrears does not arise on this Amendment.
§ MR. CHANCE
I do not propose to discuss the question at all. I merely rise to say that the difference of opinion, to my mind, affords the strongest possible argument for the Amendment before the House, because, if the Amendment were carried, this information would be before the House in each case. And yet, what do we see? One supporter of the Government asks for information. I stated specifically one thing, and the Attorney General for Ireland specifically contradicted my statement. That shows an absolute necessity for the Amendment, because it shows that while we are here discussing a Bill to get rid of £30,000,000, there is a complete difference of opinion as to what is to happen with the money.
§ (9.25.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
If nothing else did, the great discrepancy of opinion on the important point raised by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wootton Isaacson) would induce me to vote for this Amend- 434 ment. I understand the Government to argue that there is no precedent for a proposal of this kind. There may be no precedent, but so far as I am aware, there is no precedent whatever for a Bill of this particular nature. There have been Bills to advance sums of money to the tenantry of Ireland, but there has been no Bill to land this country in what I think is pretty certain to be a dead loss of £30,000,000 sterling. There is no guarantee worth the name; all the guarantees are simply guarantees in name and not worth the paper they are written on. Therefore, I maintain it is very material in the interest of the taxpayers of this country that there should be Parliamentary control, such as is indicated by the Amendment. It is a pity the Government do not practice a little more frequently what they preach. If this Bill is an indication of the way in which they propose to protect the interests of the taxpayers of this country, the less we have of Tory protection the better. By a series of Resolutions passed a few days ago, all the salaries of the men who will have the working of the Act have been placed on the Consolidated Fund, and therefore the House of Commons will have no control over them. What opportunity shall we have of discussing the administration of this Bill? If any job is perpetrated by one of these gentlemen and we raise the question in the House we shall be told, "Oh! these gentlemen are Judges, and then Judges do not come within the purview of the House of Commons." I think when the Government claim to hold the scales fairly as between these two claimants, they should be very careful before they pose in such a way to show us that they carry out the principles that they preach. There is a further reason why such control should be secured in future Sessions by the House of Commons. There would no doubt be considerable opportunity arising under the administration of this Act to throw some enlightenment upon the abominations that may be practised under the Act, and to bring home to the people of England the disastrous position in which they have placed themselves by putting a Tory Government in office —a Tory Government pledged against a 435 Bill of this character—pledged against the use of the British credit to secure a high expenditure for the benefit of Irish landlords. All their election pledges have been broken, and I think it is well to enlighten the country upon this point, and hence it is that we wish to push an Amendment of this kind which will secure the free criticism of the House of Commons. Then the Attorney General for Ireland says, " But how much better off will you be if you only have an opportunity of raising a discussion after 12 o'clock at night, and such questions will then only be decided upon side issues, and by Members who will probably not be in the House itself while the discussion is going on." Well, there are Members on this side who certainly have studied these matters, and who perhaps might be able to convey instruction and information even to Her Majesty's present advisers. These it may be hoped, would be able to influence the judgment of the House upon any land question raised, and to point out acts of jobbery transacted for the benefit of the landlords. If we are unable to compel the Government to allow such discussion to be taken earlier, well, then we must take it after midnight. And I may also remind the Attorney General for Ireland that the existence of a Tory Ministry is not a matter of perpetuity, and probably the changes that will occur after the next General Election may induce him and his friends, when out in the cold shades of Opposition, to thank us if we had secured such an opportunity as this.
§ (9.33.) MR. SEXTON
I am in favour of full Particulars of all transactions under the Act being put before the House, and nothing but good could result from such a practice. But when the hon. Member goes on to propose that the Report shall lay upon the Table for certain days, there, I think, we reAch a point of policy very much open to question. The effect will be to expose the Act to perpetual review and also to what I may call fragmentary repeal, putting it in the power of a Parliamentary majority at any moment to cancel a particular operation under the Act. Of course, we cannot be certain but that at any particular hour a majority might occupy these 436 benches opposed to the Act as a whole, and might indulge that policy under cover of an objection to any particular transaction under the Act. It would be an evil, and, I feel, a dangerous thing if every farmer or landlord were liable to have his bargain reviewed not only by the Land Commission, but also by the House of Commons. This would introduce an element of uncertainty very likely to impede transactions, and I am desirous that every facility shall be offered and every cause for delay removed. But suppose a transaction completed in the month of August, and the House having risen in July, then, under this Amendment, it would be necessary to wait until the House met again in the January following, and then to wait for a further period of 30 days. In point of fact, the whole transaction would be kept in suspense for a period of half a year, and I cannot but think that that would be prejudicial to the working of the Act. Of course, I recognise that such an Amendment might be a protection against duress to one party in these transactions, but that I think should be secured in quite another way, and I hold that there would be ample security if the salaries of the land Commissioners were put upon the Votes and subjected to the control of this House, and that these Financial Commissioners should not be treated in the matter of salaries as if they were Judges, under this Bill.
§ MR. SEXTON
I will not argue it. I only wish to indicate that that is one way of meeting the objection. This, I think, is the wrong method of doing so, and for the reasons I have stated I cannot vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend. When the time comes, however, I shall be prepared to support a proposal for keeping the Commissioners' salaries upon the Votes before the House of Commons.
§ (9.37.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend as to the latter part of the Amendment, bat I think that the earlier portion of it well deserves consideration at the hands of the Committee, and especially in view of the light of our 437 experience, for we have had some experience under the Purchase Act. I refer especially to one case which has been put before us, namely, that of a large landed proprietor in a particular county of Ireland, who had three different estates in that county. Upon one estate the rents had been paid with remarkable punctuality, but on the other two the rents were generally in arrears. The tenants who were in arrear were allowed—I will not use a stronger term —were allowed to purchase. The tenants on the estates where they were not in arrear applied to be allowed to purchase, and they were not allowed to do so at all. The tenants who were in arrear found it to their advantage to come to terms with their landlord, whatever may have been the inducement, to bring about that conclusion. The Return which has been presented to the House shows us this result. This is the kind of thing which results from purchase, that the holdings of the tenants in arrear are purchased at 22 or 23 years, the purchase money covering the arrears. When there are no arrears, there is no means of purchase. This is how the Land Purchase Act is worked, and this is how it may be expected to work in the future. Under the circumstances, it does not appear to me unreasonable that Parliament should be furnished with information of the most detailed kind of the transactions that are allowed to take place from time to time. If a Division is taken, I shall support the first part of the Amendment, but I quite agree with my hon. Friend that the second part is one that we cannot support.
§ (9.40.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I quite agree with the hon. Member for Belfast that it is hardly desirable that we should adopt an Amendment of this character, which, undoubtedly, would throw an impediment in the way of business, and make the working of the Act almost impracticable. At the same time, I do think that information should be laid on the Table of the House as to completed transactions. There is an Amendment later on in the name of the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division, and it seems to me that this should recommend itself to the Government, and probably it might shorten the discussion 438 if the right hon. Gentleman expresses his willingness to accede to this.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I was not aware of that; but, upon that understanding, I shall vote against the Amendment now before the House.
§ (9.42.) ME. P. STANHOPE
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman should take that view. He seems to misconceive the object of the Amendment, which is to secure the continuous criticism of the House of Commons, and continual control over the distribution of these £30,000,000. Notwithstanding the comments of my friends from Ireland, I shall persist in my Amendment. I can quite understand the position of hon. Members from Ireland. They are anxious to secure in a positive and final manner this large grant of money for land purchase. They are afraid perhaps that at some subsequent period, possibly a Radical majority may be returned, and some of us may be inclined to say that we have gone far enough. That we think the book should be closed, and that we should re-consider our position. Our Irish friends are anxious that an eventuality of that sort should not occur. Now, I admit that they have claims in a financial sense upon Great Britain. There is an open and unsettled account between Great Britain and Ireland in financial matters, and I should be willing to make them a free gift of any sum which may be proved to be owing in consequence of unfair financial arrangements in the past. But I do object to this system under which Parliamentary control is to be withdrawn, and a large sum of money is to be expended upon Irish land in such form as to create a tributary charge from Ireland to England. With great respect, therefore, I must insist in submitting my Amendment to the judgment of the House.
§ (9.48.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 52; Noes 159.—(Div. List, No. 128.)
§ (9.59.) MR. CONYBEARE
The reason why I move this Amendment is because it seems to me that the landlords should share in the risk that these transactions would involve. So far as I have studied this complicated measure, the one class of individuals which Her 439 Majesty's Government seem anxious to protect are the landlords of Ireland. Now my object is to try and make them share the loss, for probably there will be a very large loss inflicted upon the taxpayers of the country. I presume, if the Amendments were accepted, that in certain cases the landlords would find themselves out of pocket, at any rate to the extent of the interest upon their guarantee. Now, considering the history of a great many of these landlords, it is really absurd that they alone should be protected, for it is entirely through their conduct in the Past that the necessity for a Bill of this kind has been brought about, and in common fairness we must question their claim to pocket the advantages this Bill offers without let or hindrance. I object to that principle altogether. It is because the tyranny of some landlords has put them outside the rule of consideration that I propose this Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 11, after the word "advance," to insert the words " the guarantee to be a first charge upon such advance."—(Mr. Cony-beare.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ (10.1.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I find some sort of difficulty in dealing with this Amendment, because I do not understand the purport of it. Subsection 1 refers to Guaranteed Land Stock, and the guarantee there is, of course—the guarantee of British credit. How that guarantee is to be made a first charge on the advance I cannot see, nor bow the operation is to be carried out, or what effect it will have if carried out. I am hardly in a position, therefore, to reply to the hon. Member.
§ (10.3.) MR. CHANCE
The thing is very simple. If the tenant makes a default of payment the Treasury has to pay up, and then what the Treasury has spent in paying up is made a first charge in respect of the Stock that has been paid up. Having paid up 2 ¾per cent., that 2 ¾ per cent., if it is not paid by the tenant, has to be the first charge on the Stock itself. The House has already decided that there should be some sort of guarantee, and it appears to me that 440 the effect of the Amendment, if it is carried, will be to nullify that decision.
(10.5.) THE CHAIRMAN
I think it would be better if the hon. Member for Camborne were to explain his Amendment.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I am exceedingly unwilling to trespass unnecessarily on the time of the House, but as I cannot help obeying the Chair— your command I may say, Sir—I will endeavour to explain my Amendment to the best of my ability. There are some Members of the Committee who under stand the mysteries of finance better than I can pretend to do, and I believe that those who enjoy that distinction—
I must invite the hon. Member to proceed with his explanation at once. Without an explanation his Amendment cannot be put.
§ (10.6.) MR. CONYBEARE
I will do so. In these cases a Preamble is sometimes useful; but if the Committee does not desire to hear my Preamble, I will proceed with my explanation, though it appears to me that the explanation I gave just now was ample for the purpose I had in view. Under the Bill as it stands the only party protected is the landlord. That I object to, and I wish to introduce words into the Bill which will make the landlord bear a share of any loss. So little attention was paid to my remarks when I first addressed the House that I think it is rather hard that I should be called on to repeat my arguments.
(10.8.) THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. He is not called upon to repeat any arguments, but merely to state what he means.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
If I did not convey my meaning before, I am bound to say that my intention has just been so admirably put before the Committee by the hon. Member for South Kilkenny that I should be only further obscuring the issue were I to mix up my thoughts with those of the hon. Member, and to attempt to penetrate the skulls-and minds of hon. Members opposite. THE CHAIRMAN: I call on the hon. Member to resume his seat, and I call on the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe 441 Division of Nottingham to propose his Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed,
§ In page 1, line 11, after the word " advance," to insert the words " Quarterly returns shall he made up to the end of the months of March, June, September, and December in each year, and as soon as practicable laid before Parliament, giving the following particulars respecting such advances:—(1.) Province and county; (2.) Landlord's name; (3.) Number of holdings; (4.) Area in statute acres; (5.) Tenement valuation; (6.) Rental (whether judicial or non-judicial); (7.) Purchase amount; (8.) Advance sanctioned; (9.) Name of purchaser."—(Mr. John Ellis.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ (10.11.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We had. a previous discussion on the matter, and I explained the intentions of the Government in substance. I do not know that this is the most convenient place for the Amendment; but as we have already discussed the matter, I do not see that there is any reason why we should not settle the matter at once. I accept the Amendment.
§ (10.13.) MR. CHANCE
I have a previous Amendment in No. 3. It seems to me that the information given in this form would be useless. What we want to know are the particulars of each purchase. I move, therefore, to omit the " s " from the word " holdings," so that it may cover particulars so far as each individual tenant on the estate is concerned. I think the word should be put in the singular.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, after " number of " to omit " holdings," in order to insert " holding." —(Mr. Chance.)
§ Question, " That' holdings ' stand part of the proposed Amendment," put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That the word 'holding' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.442
§ (10.15.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I would make a suggestion to the Committee. We were not aware that the Government were prepared to accept the proposal of my hon. Friend in reference to this Return. It seems hardly in the competency of the Committee at a moment's notice to amend this Amendment so as to make the Returns perfect. I would suggest that the Government should prepare what they think a suitable Return, and bring it up on Report. We should then be able to consider it on duo notice.
§ (10.16.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot accept that suggestion. The hon. Member seems to think that the Government made up their mind to accept the Amendment at the last moment, and that when they do that the Committee should be allowed time to consider the decision arrived at. That is not the way to discuss these matters. We are prepared to amend the Amendment, and I think we should now follow that course. The Amendment to No. 3 has been agreed to. I think we should now agree to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for West Belfast, which would give all the particulars the Committee desire as to each holding.
§ (10.17.) MR. MACNEILL
I think you should also include the number of cases where the Land Commissioners refuse purchase. I find that since the Ashbourne Act came into operation there have been 3,426 applications for purchase refused.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think it desirable to make statutory orders on too large a scale when arranging for a Parliamentary Return. The Committee is of opinion that the Returns should include the particulars already specified. In addition we shall have annual or biennial Reports, and in those Reports all other information not included in the Returns will be given.
§ (10.18.) MR. CONYBEARE
I do not see in the particulars any reference to arrears. I think it would be important that we should know the arrears outstanding in each case. I do not know if that occurs to the mind of my hon. Friend, but I think the matter is important, and I hope he will accept the 443 suggestion, or, if not, that the Chief Secretary will state whether or not he sees any objection to embodying the proposal in the Return.
Before proceeding to suggest further additions we should deal with the Amendments on the Paper.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment No. 6, after "rental," to insert " showing."—(Mr. Sexton.
§ Question, " That the word ' showing be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ Amendment agreed to, to omit the word " amount" in No. 7, in order to insert the word " money." — (Mr. Cfiance.)
§ (10.19.) MR. KNOX
I beg to move after No. 7, to insert " The amount of arrears due six months before the agreement of purchase." I think this will meet the difficulty suggested by the Chief Secretary in reply to the hon. Member. If we ' take arrears due immediately before the date of the agreement it will be easy for the landlord to dodge the Return by giving the arrears due just before the signing of the agreement. I have heard of a case where that was done. If we say " Arrears due six months before the date of the purchase," we shall provide against that, and shall be able to provide in a later clause of the Act that a statutory declaration shall be made giving the amount of the arrears.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, after the last Amendment, to insert the words " 8. Amount of arrears due six months before agreement."—(Mr. Knox.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ (10.21.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think that, after all, the amount of arrears is not a matter of which the Land Commission can be officially cognisant. The Commissioners do not possess the machinery to make the Return suggested. If there are any 444 questions of duress having been exercised on the purchaser, the exact amount of the arrears is immaterial, because a year's arrears would be as effective for purposes of duress as arrears for a much longer period.
§ (10.22.) ME. KNOX
My Amendment is strictly germane to the business of the Land Commission. The Commissioners have to inquire into the security for the advance afforded by the holding, and, therefore, it is necessary to know whether the tenant has or has not been able to pay the rent previously exacted. It is perfectly easy to provide by a distinct clause the machinery for obtaining this information. In the agreement the landlord and the tenant have to make certain statutory declarations, and in these declarations can be included the amount of arrears due six months previously. It is true that arrears may have accumulated merely from laxity in the administration of the estate, but even then it has always been understood between landlord and tenant that such arrears can be exacted, though in ordinary times they are not called up.
§ (11.35.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
There is another reason why it is desirable that the Chief Secretary should assent to the hon. Member's Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman undoubtedly referred to one motive—perhaps the governing one— which induced the hon. Member to press this Amendment, namely, that we should have some indication as to whether or not these sales are conducted under duress. I do not say that the answer of the Chief Secretary did not, to a certain extent, meet that reason, though I still think 'it important that we should have this information. I gather that the general object of the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division in his proposal is not quite the same as that of the hon. Member who moves the present Amendment. The hon. Member regards himself as a Representative of the country, and the country at large has a right to know what sort of estates the Government are buying for a period of 49 years. There is no single head in the suggested Return which could throw more light on the nature of the purchased property than that which shows what amount of arrears was due six 445 months before the date of purchase. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, I think, says that in some cases a large amount of the arrears comes from the fact that there is lax administration of the estates. Now, be it remembered that when the State takes over the estates it cannot afford to be as lax an administrator as the landlords. It is bound absolutely, by the conditions of the bargain, to exact the rent. It is quite useless to say that the Land Commission is not in a condition to inquire into the question of whether there are arrears or not. The Land Commission is bound to fix in each case the number of years' purchase, and the main point governing the decision is whether the rents on the property can or cannot be easily exacted. For instance, property in West Galway or Kerry will not sell for the same amount as property of the same nominal value situated in Wexford, for the reason that the nominal rental is got in with much greater difficulty in West Galway and Kerry. Therefore, it is to enable Members of Parliament, for the county which they represent, to gather whether or not these bargains are good ones, and such as they ought to sanction, that this information is asked for. There can be no information for this purpose more important than whether or not the rent has been regularly paid. I must say that these seem to me reasons why Irish Members, and still more, perhaps, Scotch Members, ought to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member.
§ (10.29.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I would suggest a way ont of the difficulty for the Chief Secretary, who no doubt finds it hard to grant the Return in the form asked for, for the reason that the Land Commissioners may say, " We do not know the extent of the arrears." His argument is that perhaps there are estates where large amounts of arrears are allowed to accumulate, but that the arrears must not be taken as a mark of pressure, but rather of condescension, on the part of the landlord. What I would suggest is this: Omit the question of arrears, but if within 12, 15, or 18 months, or any reasonable period, the tenants have been served with writs of ejectment or any legal processes of that kind previous to the agreement, that might be stated on the Return. Because 446 from that it would be possible to see what is the actual amount of the arrears. That, I think, is a reasonable way out of the difficulty. Very often a tenant does not know how much he is in arrear, and 1 myself have known scores of cases in which landlords have made it a regular practice to refuse to give receipts.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I think that the addition it has been proposed to make to the Return would be a valuable one, because it would show who are the tolerable and who are the intolerable landlords, although I do not think it would fully meet the difficulty. We require to know whether we are investing our money in a profitable speculation, and I must say that as far as I understand the Bill, I do not know a single instance in which we should be able to make a profitable investment. In answer to what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, I would point out that under the Arrears Bill of 1880,which I have in my hand, sufficient powers are given to the Commission to obtain all the information we require. By the first section of that Bill it is provided that if it be proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the yearly rent has been paid or that antecedent arrears are due, and the tenant is unable to discharge such arrears, then the Land Commissioner may make an order, and so forth. Therefore, it is perfectly competent to the Commissioners to ascertain the particulars we are asking for.
§ (10.36.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of course, it would be the duty of the Land Commission to inquire into the solvency of the tenant who proposed to purchase his holding. I have no doubt that the relations existing between landlord and occupier and the amount of rent due are matters which will be inquired into. What I wish to point out to the Committee is that the amount of arrears due is perhaps the least important matter from the point of view of future solvency of a tenant. There are many other matters which have to be ascertained. There is the amount of stock which a man has on his farm, the amount of shop debts, and his indebtedness to others than the landlord. I feel, therefore, that I shall certainly adhere to the advice I gave to the Committee not to assent to this proposal, which, I think, has been adequately discussed.
§ MR. CHANCE
Why could not the Government assent to this arrangement, when the landlord and tenant have signed the contract and put an affidavit on the back of the document, certifying certain particulars, which the tenant is bound to give. One of these particulars might be that the tenant should also state the arrears of rent in addition to the encumbrances which are already provided for. In that case, no further inquiry would be necessary. This being so, I ask whether there is anything to be gained by carrying on this discussion.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I wish to point out in answer to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that we are not considering the question of the solvency of the tenant at the present moment. What we want to know is whether the price paid for the guarantee is a fair and legitimate price. A private person wishing to make a purchase of land in Ireland would send his agent to ascertain whether the price asked represented a real or a fictitious rent — whether, in fact, the money had been paid or not, that being an essential element in the transaction. We have a duty to perform to our constituents, who, being the taxpayers, constitute the guarantee in the purchases proposed. We want these Returns in order that we may have some sort of control over these transactions, and if we find that the rent-rolls returned to us are sham rent-rolls, we have a right to protest against the action of the Land Commissioners.
§ (10.48.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I would put it to the House whether the information asked for by the Amendment would enable us to form a better judgment on the matter under discussion? I maintain that the statement of the arrears of rent on any particular property would not help us in the decision as to whether the price to be paid is too large; to render that information of any value you would have to enlarge it considerably by stating when the arrears began to accumulate, how much they amounted to in each year, what was the condition of agriculture during those years, and many other things which would render the inquiry almost interminable. All the Land Commissioners really have to 448 satisfy themselves about is as to whether the land about to be purchased is a good security for the purchase money. That is a far more important question for this House and the country than the question of the solvency of the tenant, because the value of the land is the security for the payment of the money advanced by the country and not the position of the tenant. It is, moreover, absurd to say that the question of arrears has anything to do with the question whether the rent is a fair rent or not. I have only to add that I think the tendency of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan) would be to induce those who intend to become purchasers of land in Ireland to accumulate arrears, so that they might be enabled thereby to cut down the number of years purchase they would be asked to give for the property.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY
I wish to point out that by Rule 5 the Commissioners before deciding any question relating to an agreement for purchase or making any advance are to be satisfied that the tenants' rent up to the last gale day has either been paid, satisfied or released; that Rule throws the onus upon the landlord of showing what is the amount of arrears due, and I should point out further that the servants of the Land Commission are bound to inquire what arrears are due. Therefore the Commissioners have the means of supplying the House with the information asked for. This being so I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accepting the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman will see that Rule 5 only provides that the Commissioners shall be satisfied that the rent has been paid, satisfied or released. But does not go on to say that the property shall be un-burthened by any arrears of rent.
§ (10.55.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I would ask the Chief Secretary seriously to re-consider his decision. I think it hardly fair that he should . treat our arguments in the purely dialectic manner he assumes, whereby he evades the entire point of the discussion. The right hon. Gentleman assumes that the only question the State has to consider is the solvency of the tenant 449 and his ability to pay the instalments. I say that that is not the only question. The main question is, do the contracting parties enter into the bargain with free minds? Take the case of leases in Ireland. It was declared, I believe, in 1870 by Lord Selborne that the lease in a case before him had been carried out under such duress that if taken into any Court of Equity, the document would have been set aside at once. Now what is this case? It is one in which the State advances public money to the landlord, who may take himself off next morning, having got the money in his pocket, not caring a rap what becomes of the tenants, and after that the tenant is to be saddled on to the estate for 49 years, the only thing the State has to consider being whether he is able to pay the annual instalments during that period. I should have imagined that in a matter of this kind the Government would be prepared to provide the House of Commons with the fullest means of forming the best judgment. But instead of this, the right hon. Gentleman shows that he is merely directing his attention to the best means of procuring that which the landlords, on whose behalf he is now acting, shall procure the money they require.
§ (11.0.) SIR J. COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, Bow, &c.)
I do not see that the fact of having information as to the arrears of the tenant proves anything whatever. The real question is as to the simple value of the land, and whether the bargain is good and fair. It is not as to the character of a particular tenant, or as to the amount of his arrears. I do not think it is advisable that we should have an accumulation of Returns to this House. It will not assist hon. Members in arriving at a clear decision on the question.
§ (11.2.) MR. CHANCE
Earlier in the evening I went into the question, and I showed that in the negotiations whichpre ceded purchase the first thing done was to ascertain the normal value of the land, and then to make additions according to the number of years arrears owing by a tenant purchaser. I think it would be very easy for the Commissioners to obtain Returns of the arrears owing, and I would appeal to the Attorney General for Ireland to say whether the Commissioners will have any difficulty in 450 obtaining them. Surely there is nothing in the world to prevent the Land Commission adding to the contract Schedule a statement showing what the arrears are, and there is no reason why the tenant should not answer upon oath any question which the Land Commission may desire to ask of him.
§ (11.5.) MR. MADDEN
No doubt they can obtain it, but the question is whether the information is material to the issue with which the House has to deal.
§ (11.6.) MR. CONYBEARE
When I originally proposed this Amendment I thought it was a point of which everyone in this Committee would admit the importance. The questions raised are first as to the placing the tenants under duress, and, secondly, as to the solvency of the tenant. Both of these points are connected with material safeguards under this Bill. Enormous sums of money are being voted, as is supposed for the benefit of the tenantry, and certainly they will go to the benefit of the landlords, and we shall have no right to complain if the House is ultimately placed under duress in having to evict tenants who cannot pay instalments based upon arrears as well as upon value. I should like to know what would be the value of these Irish estates if there were no tenantry to cultivate them, and if the landlords were compelled to cultivate their own acres. It appears to me that the question of the solvency of the tenant is an absolutely new element in this matter. I put it to the hon. Members opposite who seem to think this is mere nonsense, whether any reasonable landlord in considering the letting of a farm to a tenant, either here or in Ireland, would not bear in mind the question whether or not that tenant was solvent and able to fulfil the obligations which he thus took upon himself. Now this question of arrears, raised as it is on this point, must result either in the tenant being unable to pay, and therefore the land constituting a bad security, or a man being plunged hopelessly into debt by some means or other. It appears to me that the arguments against the Government on this point are absolutely unanswerable. I believe there is something behind all this. I am convinced that this is an important Amendment, and I hold that 451 it is desirable in the interests of the British taxpayer that we should make our views known. I hope hon. Members will insist on getting from the Government a more satisfactory explanation on this point.
§ (11.12.) MR. KEAY
I think the proof of the desirableness of making known the magnitude of arrears may be found in the Return recently presented to this House on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. According to the Return, the average rate of purchase under the Ashbourne Acts is about 19 years' purchase of the Poor Law valuation, but looking at the tenants now in default, and whose holdings have become worth-leas to them and dangerous to the British taxpayer, it is found by the capitalization of the arrears that the average purchase-money exacted from the poor men amounts to no less than 25 years' purchase on the Poor Law valuation. I hold that that is an instructive fact. I know the right hon. Gentleman claims that under his scheme the tenant will only have to pay £68 for each £100 value, but I venture to suggest that this high value is based mainly on the arrears.
§ (11.14.) MR. KNOX
We do not ask for anything but information; the Land Commission has to satisfy itself whether or not the arrears have been paid, and in order to do so must know when the arrears have been paid. The facts are, therefore, clearly within the cognisance of the Commission, and, even if they are not, all this information can be obtained by inserting another column in the description of the holding, which is sworn to by the tenant when he signs the agreement. I think we have a right to demand this information.
§ Sir JOSEPH M'KENNA
rose in his place, and claimed to move " That the Question be now put;" but the CHAIR-MAN withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question, because it was unnecessary, inasmuch as the Committee was willing to come to a decision without Closure.
(11.16.)The Committee divided:— Ayes 123; Noes 197. — (Div. List, No. 129.)
§ Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
In page 1, line 11, to insert after the words last inserted, " and such Stock, as between the landlord and tenant of the holding purchased, shall be accepted by the landlord as equal in value to the nominal amount thereof."—(Mr. Knox.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not believe the Amendment is necessary, but it is quite in accordance with the intentions of the Government, and I accept it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ (11.34.) MR. KEAY
The Amendment I have now to move is in line 13, to leave out " fifteen" and insert " ten." I desire that there should be. such an arrangement effected by this Bill that no one class of holders of public funds created in the present day shall have an undue advantage over any other class. I am pleased on this occasion to feel thoroughly at one with the opinions which I know have been entertained by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman in 1888 carried out what we all know was a very excellent and successful scheme of conversion. He succeeded in converting something like £500,000,000 of the National Debt practically from 3 to 2 ½ per cent. What was the reason why the right hon. Gentleman entered into that scheme? I assert fearlessly that there was only one reason, and that was that he believed as a matter of financial prophecy—and I think with the little experience I have I can thoroughly join in the prophecy—-[Cries of " Question ! "] I am speaking directly to the question; Gentlemen who call out " Question " do not understand the Bill. I say the right hon. Gentleman rightly gauged the future. His 453 sense of justice would have been revolted if he had not believed that the country would be able to borrow money, say for the next 50 years, at 2½ per cent. —in other words that the 2½ per cent. securities of the Government would stand at about par. It is of no use whatever for anyone to come forward now, as gentlemen have done to-night, and point to the fact that what are practically 2½ per cent. Consols are now at 96. The right hon. Gentleman was legislating for the century, or, at all events, for the half-century to come, when he converted the Stock, and I say that this Bill likewise makes provision for the coming half-century. I am very curious to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say to justify his creation of a higher Stock at the present moment than that which he has recently so successfully dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the effect of his proposal will be that the Land Stock will steadily rise until it reaches from 6 to 8 per cent. premium. The right hon. Gentleman is going to present the landlords with the most enormous privilege under his Bill in allowing them to fix their own price for the land. Say that a landlord fixes £100 as the price of a certain plot of land, the right hon. Gentleman puts a bit of scrip into the landlord's pocket which will sell in the market for £106 or £108. He is deliberately putting a premium of from 6 to 8 per cent. on the top of the landlord's valuation of his own land. There is, to my mind, no equity in that. Luckily for my contention the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer have shut the door upon an argument they might otherwise have brought forward. They might have argued that Land Stock, being an uncertain and unknown Stock and a new Stock, might not become a favourite in the market, and consequently it was desirable that there should be something to tempt the public to take it up. They have, however, provided that the landlords shall have the option of exchanging it at par for Consols. I say this is a most unjust and outrageous provision. It is playing against the English nation the game commonly known as "heads I win, tails you lose." What does it mean? Let us take a case: Suppose that 10 or 20 years hence the 454 Land Stock is in great favour; that the land purchases have been very successfully carried out; that the tenants are paying up very well; that this 2¾ per cent. is supposed to be as secure as Two and a Half per Cent. Consols. The result is evident. The Land Stock will be at a premium of from 6 to 8 per cent., and the landlords will not exchange for Consols. But suppose, on the other hand, that the operations of this Bill result in conclusions dangerous to the State—in tremendous political convulsions and social upheavals; what will happen then? The Land Stock, although it may bear a higher interest, will go below par, and the landlords will take advantage of this clause and exchange the Stock for Consols. I think I have said quite enough. [Ministerial cheers.] I understand those cheers; they come from the landlords sitting below the Gangway opposite. I understand what the hon. Gentlemen want. They do not want to be informed, but simply to hasten the stream of British gold into their pockets and those of their landlord friends. I have explained my Amendment as briefly as I can, and I commend it specially to the favourable consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the two separate reasons I have given.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 13, to leave out the word "fifteen," and insert the word "ten."—(Mr. Keay.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'fifteen' stand part of the Bill."
§ (11.45.) THE CHANCELLOR or THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's, Hanover Square)
The hon. Member assumes that this side of the House is composed of landlords.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
If statistics were prepared on the subject, I think it would be found there are quite as many landlords on that side of the House as on this. The hon. Member suggests that this Stock should be reduced from £2 15s, percent. to £2 10s. He seems to think that Two and Three-quarter per Cent. Stock of this kind is sure to rise Very much above par.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
There is at present Stock guaranteed as this Stock is, 455 and charged on the Consolidated Fund, and which bears interest at the rate of 3 per cent., namely, the Local Loan Stock. That Stock stands at 102. If the Local Loan Stock at 3 per cent. stands at 102 I think the hon. Member and the Committee will see that Two and Three quarter per Cent. Stock is not likely to take the position the hon. Gentleman assigns to it. What we desire is that the landlords should get par for their Stock. This Stock will stand between Consols and the Local Loan Stock. As regards the other points raised by the hon. Gentleman, he will bear in mind it is only within limits fixed by the Treasury that this Stock can be exchanged for Consols.
§ (11.50.) MR. KEAY
I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman thinks he has traversed my remarks; but, in sitting down, I specially asked him to reply to two points. He has not replied to them. Of course, when he takes the present value of the Two and a Half per Cent. Consols at 96, we all know that Three per Cent. Consols would be 102. That is just exactly [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER rose to intervene.] I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. [Ministerial cheers.] I do not think the statement is of such a character as necessarily to elicit that cheer. How does he justify his statement that he must take the present market price when his whole conduct for years past proves that, in his judgment, the legitimate price of Consols for the next half century will be par at 2½per cent.? I call upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say if it is not the case that he believed in 1888, and still believes, that in the grand future par is to be found as the measure of 2 1/2 per cent. interest on the National Debt.
§ (11.54.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I expected the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make some statement to-night as to why he invented this Stock, practically giving the Irish landlord a better bargain than the taxpayers. The landlords of Ireland have done nothing whatever except bring misery to the country, and yet he gives them a far better bargain for clearing out than he gives to the fund-holder who has invested his money with the State. I trust the fund-holding classes, who are largely Conservative, 456 and who really do not owe very many thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will take into view the different treatment the Chancellor of the Exchequer has meted out to that deserving class, to that he has meted out to a class of gentlemen who have nothing to show except a few worn-out crowbars and battering-rams.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
If the right hon. Gentleman were to issue Consols as suggested by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton at 3 ¼ per cent., reducible in 15 years to 2 ½ per cent., in all probability it is reasonable to suppose they would stand at par. The object of the Chancellor of the Exchequer surely is to get this money as cheaply as he possibly can. Will he explain why on earth he does not issue Consols?
§ MR. CONYBEARE
The right hon. Gentleman said just now that the Government are anxious to give the land lords Stock at par. I am not anxious to do anything of the kind. I have not the slightest sympathy with the object of the right hon. Gentleman-
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 o'clock.