§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ (6.16.) MR. KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)
Before proceeding to conclude the remarks which I Commenced on Tuesday, I desire to be permitted to call attention to one fact, and that is that I was unable to finish my speech on Tuesday evening solely owing to the obstruction of the Government and the young lions of the Tory Party. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that a great deal of time was wasted in consequence of the refusal of the Government to afford information on the most essential and fundamental points. The arithmetic of the Government 720 is all wrong, and they now know it. They consequently wish to avoid discussion, trusting implicitly to the mechanical majority which they usually keep at hand in the pellucid atmosphere of the smoking room. I only wish they would keep it there, and not bring it into the House of Commons to disturb the calm deliberations of hon. Members. The Amendment is to strike out certain words with the view of preventing the general assets of the taxpayers of this country from being pledged to secure the Land Stock. I have already pointed out to the Committee that the proposal in this Bill, namely, that the purchase price shall be a capitalisation of the gross rent of the holdings, and that the instalment payable shall be a fixed one for 49 years, must reduce the tenant purchasers to bankruptcy, but the Government, in spite of the recommendation of theirown Royal Commission which sat in 1887, and which recommended that judicial rents should be revisable every five years, now recommend that rents should not be revisable for 49 years. The Return, which on the Motion of the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. J. E. Ellis) has been issued with regard to the operations under the Ashbourne Acts, shows that a considerable number of tenants have defaulted already. I find that one poor man was made to buy at as much as 38 years' purchase, another at 37½ years, and so on. I will not go into the details of the Return, but simply remind the Committee that the average price of purchase was 25 years. What does this mean? It means simply that the instalment to be paid to the State on the extortionate sale price is as high as the Poor Law valuation. That will not be denied. These tenants who are now defaulting, and whose instalments are being paid by the British taxpayer, have defaulted because their instalments instead of being reduced from £100 to £68, which the right hon. Gentleman assured us was the scheme of his Bill—
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I never said anything of the kind.
§ MR. KEAY
I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman dispute it. He certainly took a supposititious 721 average of 17 years' purchase, but that is exactly where my point comes in. I say that when I take an average of the actual cases of default under the Ashbourne Acts, the average turns out to be, not 17 years, but 25 years' purchase. The right hon. Gentleman said that looking to the general average of 17 years' purchase at which the tenants would get their land, the result would be that the tenants who paid £100 now as rent would pay £68 of normal annuity under the Bill. I hope I have convinced the right hon. Gentleman that I am right, and he is wrong, in regard to the words he used on 24th March of last year. There is not a single clause in this Bill that is of a character to check or prevent the indefinite enlargement of this evil of the systematic over-valuation of holdings, and the consequent bankruptcy of the tenants. That I hold to be a most urgent reason why the risk of the British taxpayer should be eliminated from this Bill. Moreover, the Consolidated Fund is brought in for the purpose of making a " temporary advance." I hold that in the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill the idea of a temporary advance is perfectly illusory, impossible, and absurd. I am prepared, in the face of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Committee, to prove that fact by the hardest possible arithmetic. We must consider what the word " temporary " means, and I would urge gentlemen on the Treasury Bench to analyse it and tell us what it means. I endeavoured in February last to ascertain this by a certain question addressed to the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his reply to me laid great stress on the alleged temporary character of the advance; so much so, indeed, that he told me I had " suppressed the fact" of its temporary character, and had by so doing suppressed a material fact. He said that the Consolidated Fund would be "at once recouped" from the Guarantee Fund. Now, I say that this is an arithmetical impossibility. The right hon. Gentleman at the instance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) promised a Return showing the working of the Sinking Fund as connected with the Guarantee Fund, and I have that Return 722 here. He first made it for 10 years only, but very kindly, at our suggestion, he extended it to 30 years. I am sorry to say, however, that he positively declined to extend it to the whole 49 years, although I represented to him that the fresh advances to be made increased between the 30th and the 49th year immensely more than between the 1st and 30th year. I have, however, made a Return for the 49 years myself. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be very costly to produce such a Return, but I had it made by a clerk at an expenditure of about £2. The right hon. Gentleman shows, however, on page 4 of his own Return, that at the end of the 30th year there will be due from the tenant purchasers instalments amounting to £1,845,000. But the whole of the Guarantee Fund of the right hon. Gentleman has a fixed annual income for 49 years of, in round numbers, £1,200,000. The matter is one, therefore, of simple subtraction: you have only to subtract £1,200,000 from£1,845,000, and there-suit is a deficit of £645,000 arising in the 30th year alone, which deficit the Consolidated Fund has got to pay. The right hon. Gentleman has asserted that the Guarantee Fund covers all the risk, and that these advances from the Consolidated Fund are to be merely temporary. But assuming that he can get in the whole of the £1,200,000, that is, both the cash portion and the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund, a so-called temporary advance will have to be made from the Consolidated Fund of £645,000 on that year's operations, and each year the deficit thus made up will be added to. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to solve this arithmetical puzzle arising out of his own Bill. I say the Government are declaring that they are going to do impossibilities. I will take the figures a step further. In the 40th year, supposing repudiation does not take place till then, the deficit will have risen from £645,000 to £1,055,000 on that 40th year's transactions alone, and thus the Consolidated Fund will have to go on increasing its advances year by year until at the end of the 49th year the sum owing to it will be something like £10,000,000 sterling, or even double that amount, if the re-lending is still 723 continued. I hope I have made myself clear to the right hon. Gentleman. As he cannot make up these vast yearly deficits out of the current year's income of the Guarantee Fund the deficit in the Consolidated Fund will necessarily increase year by year, instead of being temporary and reducible, as asserted by this clause. I ventured the other night to say that the right hon. Gentleman was disregarding the old saying that it was impossible to put a quart of water into a pint pot, but the Government hydraulic machinery is so powerful that he has apparently succeeded in getting it in, and now, in this clause, he is preparing to take it out again. There is only one remark to be made with regard to this network of securities, and that is that it is a network in the sense that a net holds no water. But another, and in fact the crowning, monstrosity of this enormous finanical scheme is exposed by my Amendment, for the words which I propose to leave oat must be read alongside of Clause 6, Sub-section 3. I think the effect of so reading them will surprise the Committee very much, and I think it would have surprised the right hon. Gentleman had I not already taken so much trouble to educate him. The advances which are to be made from the Consolidated Fund are necessary to pay up all the different Sinking Funds as well as to pay the dividends to the public. Supposing that the tenants have, through famine or repudiation, committed default, and the Consolidated Fund has had at the end of the 40th year to provide a sum of £1,055,000, the Bill provides that while the British taxpayer is to go on year after year meeting the deficits and swelling the Sinking Funds with new British money, this new money is to be re-lent in the same way to another set of rotten landlords and rotten tenants year by year. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman is able to laugh at this. I asked a plain question on the subject and got a straightforward, honest answer. I asked if it were true that the new moneys thus forced from the British taxpayer were to be re-lent, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 5th February admitted that it was so, but qualified the answer by what? By the astounding statement 724 that it would always be optional to and not compulsory on the Treasury to sanction these additional advances of the resources of the British nation. It actually comes to this, therefore, that the House of Commons is asked to resign to the Treasury its duty of looking after the public money. I decline to be a party to any such breach of trust. And I believe that no one in this House would dare to face his constituents on such an issue. We know that all this is painful to the Chief Secretary to listen to, because he has not got his young lions here to interrupt me, and my task of explaining the Amendment has consequently been made so much the easier. If the right hon. Gentleman will give me a fair hearing and will keep his young lions in order, I will promise to occupy as little time as possible in discussing this Bill. I think that even he will admit that this is a grave matter. As all reply has been deliberately withheld up to this time, I shall, in order to secure an answer on the present occasion, conclude with these four pointed questions to the Chief Secretary. (1) Is there any precedent for purchasing a fixed property at a price based on capitalising the gross instead of the net annual income, and can any such purchase be a safe transaction to be guaranteed by the State? (2) Have not the defaulters under the Ashbourne Acts, by paying an average of 25 years' purchase, now saddled themselves with instalments to the State about 20 per cent. higher than they would have paid of judicial rent to their landlord if they had not bought at all, but instead of buying had gone into the Land Court? Hon. Members opposite may laugh at that, but the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that the thesis on which he has all along defended his Bill is that the tenants will not fail to pay because they are getting £100 of rent lowered down to £68 of annuity. But Returns show that the defaulting tenants have been made to pay as annuity to the State £100; whereas, if they had gone into the Land Court and got judicial rents fixed, they would only have had to pay £80. My third question is: How will the £645,000, which is the right hon. Gentleman's admitted deficit arising on the transactions of the 725 30th year, be " at once recouped? " (4) Is it not the fact that, under this clause, read with Clause 6, Sub-section 3, the Bill provides for a continued further advance going on equivalent to the capital of the Sinking Funds, even if these Sinking Funds are filled up year by year entirely by yearly drafts on the Consolidated Fund to pay the default?
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1> line 26, to leave out from the word "paid," to the word "out," in page 2, line 1.—(Mr. Keay.)
§ Question proposed, " That the words ' as a temporary advance out' stand part of the Clause."
§ (6.49.) ME. A. J. BALFOUR
The Committee have just heard from the hon. Member a recapitulation of a speech made before, garnished with a large number of abusive comments on the Government for not having dealt with the speech on a previous occasion. The hon. Member, who is not a very old Member of this House, must be aware that undoubtedly it is the duty of the Government to lay before the Committee arguments in support of their Bill, but it is not their duty to take seriatim every point, good, bad, or indifferent— and the hon. Member's points are usually bad or indifferent—and to waste time discussing at length, not the case itself, but certain aspects of it which the hon. Member who made the speech thinks are adequate to the merit of his own performance. The Amendment, with regard to which it has pleased the hon. Member to read the Government a lecture, alleges want of security to the British taxpayer. That question was discussed on the First Reading of the Bill last year, on the Second Reading also, on the introduction of the Bill this year, and on an Amendment brought forward earlier in this Committee. If any point has been thoroughly threshed out from beginning to end it has been this. Everything that can be said on the point has been said; and, therefore, I do not think it necessary to go into the character of the security again. I may, however, point out one or two of the grosser fallacies into which the hon. Member appears to have fallen. In the first place, the hon. Member says it is impossible that a proper price should be 726 given for holdings estimated on a gross and not a net rental. The business of the Land Commissioners is to see that the price does not exceed the fair amount which the tenant may properly give for the holding, and it does not in the least matter whether they calculate on the gross rent or on the net rent. They cannot be compelled to adopt as the basis of their calculations the net rental as defined by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian in the Bill of 1886. The hon. Member has brought up an ancient mare's nest which troubled him much last year. He seems to think that directly repayments begin the solvency of the Guarantee Fund will be imperilled. This cannot be so. In proportion as the loans are paid they are let out again, and the original security is not impaired. I do not think the hon. Member raised any other point which it is worth while troubling the House with.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Member will reflect — if the security provided for the £30,000,000 is sufficient, it will be equally good for the advances to be made accordingly as the original loan is repaid. The question whether or not it should be a continuous operation does not arise under this clause. I hope I have satisfied the hon. Member.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
At any rate, I have given him the best information in my power. No doubt it is my own stupidity which is responsible, if he does not understand the explanation.
§ (6.56.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
There was one incidental remark made by the right hon. Gentleman which I considered to be surprising in its character. If the right hon. Gentleman has said one thing more often than another in the course of the present Parliament in connection with land purchase it is that the Land Commissioners are to regard nothing but security. But now the right hon. Gentleman says it is the duty and the business of the Commissioners to see that a fair price or value is given for the land.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
What I meant was this: The hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs says that as the holdings in Ireland are sold at the gross rent this is a method always leading to a high price. I replied to the hon. Member that this would not be the case, because it would be the business of the Commissioners to see that the security was ample. My speech must be taken in connection with the speech I answered, and it has no other meaning.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The right hon. Gentleman said that it was the business of the Commissioners to see that a fair price or value was given.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
But whether fair price or excessive price, it is one of the duties of the Commissioners to have regard to the price. He may have said it by inadvertence. I submit that it is a denial of the language used by the right hon. Gentleman during the course of the present Parliament.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I may have used the phrase, but the duty of the Land Commissioners is this: They have to see that no more money is advanced on the holdings than it will properly bear. If I did not convey that meaning I regret it. I hope that I have now made it clear.
§ (6.59.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
I shall support the Amendment, not merely on the grounds put forward by the Mover, but on the broad ground also that I object altogether to bleeding the British taxpayer in the last resort. The crux of the whole matter is the security offered by the British taxpayer. It is a tortuous and unintelligible Bill, and this peculiarity is particularly manifest in this clause. This liability of the British taxpayer is, I find, here expressed indirectly as it were, and I may say by surprise, in this apparently small provision in regard to temporary advances. If, under certain circumstances, the Land 728 Purchase Account should be insufficient, then payments to the extent of the deficiency are to be made as a temporary advance from the Consolidated Fund, and every such advance shall be repaid to the Consolidated Fund out of the Guarantee Fund as provided by this Act. I have searched the Bill through from beginning to end, and I cannot find in any other shape any arrangement in regard to these British advances. What I understand is that the British taxpayer is to make these temporary advances, and get the money back the best way he can. We are asked by this unobtrusive, innocent - looking clause to accept all the liability, and I think we are bound to take good care that we understand the effect of it and the enormous liability it brings upon the British taxpayer. It is a very serious clause. What does it mean? Two or three irremovable Commissioners are to have a statutory right to ladle out enormous sums from the Consolidated Fund for the benefit of Irish landlords and tenants. That is the meaning of the clause, and I think we should fully understand this before we pass it. I daresay these Land Commissioners—Irishmen as they are—are very respectable men, but they are Irishmen; and they would be very degenerate Irishmen if they did not ladle out this British money with a liberal hand when Parliament has entrusted them with this power under this innocent-looking clause. I confess I am rather anxious in my mind when I find the Bill does not meet with more resistance. Irish Members have accepted the Bill, and the only Amendments they will propose, so far as I can gather, are in the direction of asking for more, of doing away with the faint and illusory Irish security the Bill contains, and throwing the whole of the risk upon the British taxpayer. I must say I hoped that this tremendous burden on the British taxpayer would have been vigorously resisted by the leaders of our Party. I was surprised and distressed when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Morley) got up just now to speak to the Amendment to find that he only raised one partial point. I hoped he was going to denounce altogether this proposal to put this 729 enormous liability upon the British taxpayer, but unfortunately he has done nothing of the kind.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL
My right hon. Friend says it is settled, but I think he accepts that a great deal too easily. We are told of preliminary Resolutions that do not bind the House to any thing, and I think this point is not yet settled; it is to be settled by the clause at which we have arrived. I was in hopes that this portion of the Bill would have been vigorously resisted, but I find my right hon. Friend and other right hon. Gentlemen seem to be very easily satisfied with the belief that this question has been settled by a previous vote of the House and do not care to fight it vigorously, as I hoped and expected they would. But while I find so little resistance on the part of our leaders, I cannot help having some faint suspicion that they think that the passing of this Bill may in the future make their course easier; and leading up to their proposals in 1886, which the constituencies so strenuously resisted, I am inclined to think that if £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 are added to the Ashbourne Act, we may find that£50,000,000 or £60,000,000 will have gone for the benefit of the landlord party; and that when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) returns to power, as we hope he will, and comes to deal with the problem of Home Rule, perhaps we may find in the Home Rule Bill some innocent little clause enabling the remaining Irish landlords to claim the same privileges already given to many of them under the Ashbourne Act and by the Bill now before us.
The hon. Member is travelling very far beyond the immediate Amendment before the Committee. I may also take the opportunity of pointing out to the hon. Members for Kilkenny and Cavan that their Amendments, which are for the omission of the same words, should be discussed at the same time as this.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL
The Amendment before us is to omit the words which authorise these temporary advances out of the Consolidated Fund in 730 case of any deficiency in the payment of these loans, and in that view I venture to submit that that is not a process which will really settle this land question as we were told it might be settled. The land question will always be with us. But we can do this by the Bill: enable landlords who do not like Home Rule in Ireland to sell their estates and clear but of the country.
Instead of addressing himself to the Amendment, the hon. Member is discussing the principle of the Bill.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL
I really wish to confine myself to what seems to me to be the principle of the Bill, the burden laid upon the British taxpayer. I venture to think that is the backbone of the Bill contained in the clause we are now discussing. I am opposed to that burden. I am very much opposed to it, even while we retain the power of coercing Irish tenants to repay the advances; but I confess I am still more opposed to it in the view of a Home Rule system, under which we shall lose that power of coercion to compel payment. I am not only opposed to the clause in the Bill which throws such an enormous burden upon the British taxpayer, but I am also uneasy in my mind because the proposal is not more vigorously resisted by our Front Bench, for I am afraid it might lead to the burden being increased when we come to the consideration of Home Rule, and the appropriation of £150,000,000 or £200,000,000 to the object of enabling Irish landlords to clear out of the country.
§ (7.10.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
With reference to your ruling, Sir, as to the several Amendments, I submit to you that the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Chance) comes in after the word "as," in the last line, and he moves the omission of words for the purpose of proposing the insertion of words having directly the contrary effect of those proposed by the hon. Member for Elgin, who wishes to discharge the Consolidated Fund of all liability. My hon. Friend desires to place the liability, in case of deficiency, on the Consolidated Fund.
It is quite true that the hon. Member for Kilkenny 731 wished to insert words after " as," but that insertion in that line would make nonsense of the clause. It is associated with words in a subsequent Amendment, but his proposal to strike out the words in reference to the temporary advance is the same as that of the hon. Member for Cavan. Although the proposals after the striking out are opposite in their sense, the Debate must take place on the proposal to strike out the words.
§ (7.11.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I must have made a mistake in the form of my Amendment. It was not intended to strike out the word "as," but, adopting that, to go on with the words I propose. I submit that my Amendment has a totally different object, and I would suggest that, as a matter of form, the question should be the retention of the word " as."
It is not at all necessary. The real point is whether the words " temporary advance " should be inserted, and whether the advance should be temporary or perpetual. The question of omission must be the subject of our Debate.
§ (7.12.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
The object of my Amendment is not, as that of the hon. Member for Elgin, to prevent any advance from the Consolidated Fund, but to substitute a permanent contribution for a temporary advance. My object is to prevent any contribution being made from Irish local resources. There is a difficulty which arises owing to the wording of the clause; and though the Amendment might come in on the first line of the next page, if these words remain in the clause, it becomes nonsense, so that I am obliged first to move the omission of these words.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's, Hanover Square)
May I suggest to the hon. Member that he might attain his object by moving an Amendment to Clause 4?
The hon. Member wishes to provide that the payments shall be made once and finally out of the Consolidated Fund; and that is secured by leaving out the words " temporary advance; " and though the propositions move in divergent directions, they must be discussed on the omission of the same words. The hon. Member is now entitled to discuss his.
§ (7.15.) MR. CHANCE
I regret that it is necessary to debate two distinct propositions upon one Amendment, but it cannot be helped, and illustrates the great difficulty Members have in dealing with these matters of a highly technical character; and the Bill is drawn in a manner that does not offer facilities for discussion, and really two sets of Members whose objects are completely different are compelled to go into the same Lobby. My proposal is an exceedingly simple one; but I am under the difficulty that, while my Motion is to insert certain words, the Committee are now only cognisant of the Motion for the omission of certain words with a wholly different object to mine. My proposal is an exceedingly simple one, and I would recommend the Government to consider carefully before rejecting it. The words I would propose would come in after the word " as,'' and run as follows:—" That is to say, out of the guarantee deposits in the first place provided, and if this should prove insufficient, then by a contribution from the Consolidated Fund.The effect will be to provide that any deficiency which may arise shall be borne by the Consolidated Fund, and to strike away once for all the whole provision for local guarantees. That will leave the Bill precisely in the same position as the law stands under the Ash bourne Acts, with the one exception that, instead of advances in cash, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will advance Two and Three-quarter per Cent. Stock. I want to know why the Government have departed from the Ash bourne Acts in this matter and proposed this system of checks. It was a Conservative Government which passed those Acts, and they always maintain that they are a success. The distinction which is now made is in favour of the State. The tenant under the Ashbourne Acts gets .£100 in gold and pays back £100 in gold. But 733 under this Bill he will not get £100 worth of Stock, but only the value of £100 Stock in the open market, which may be 98½ or 99. Therefore the National Debt Commissioners, if they purchase this Stock at anything under par, will gain by it.
§ (7.20.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I am glad the hon. Member seems to have come round to my view that the higher the Stock stands the better for the tenant. Now, the hon. Member for Elgin has proposed an Amendment which is extremly bad for the tenants, and the hon. Member for Kilkenny intends to support it. That is not very consistent with the argument of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that any deficiency ought to be borne by the Consolidated Fund. It appears to me that the hon. Member should have given notice of his Amendment before the hon. Member for Elgin. If an Amendment is bad I would vote against it, and I am not prepared to vote for it because there is a good one which cannot be pat. If the hon. Member for Cavan can move his Amendment later on in Committee or on the Report stage I shall be glad, though, I think, it rather cuts at the whole machinery of the Bill, and something else would have to be substituted.
§ (7.31.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
The hon. Member is in the proverbial difficulty in this matter. He cannot be in two places at the same time—both in the " Aye " Lobby and the "No" Lobby. I think it is the duty of all on this side of the House to recognise the great debt of gratitude we owe to the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Keay). I thought at first the Bill was a bad Bill, but every time my hon. Friend gets up I am more conclusively convinced that it is an execrable one. My hon. Friend has been a great deal in India, engaged in financial transactions there. He has had a great deal to do with the Hindoos. The Hindoos could not get the better of my hon. Friend, so that I can understand the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer giving up the attempt to answer the hon. Member as a bad job.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The right hon. Gentleman says " hear, hear ! " He gives it up. He says he cannot answer my hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman used a most extraordinary argument in reply to the able and exhaustive speech of my hon. Friend. He said that when a Minister prepared a Bill it was his business to lay down certain facts and not to reply to arguments made against them; and, therefore, he says he will not reply to the important facts and questions addressed to him by my hon. Friend. He went even further. When the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy was making a very valuable contribution to the discussion, the right hon. Gentleman opposite said "Divide." Apparently the Government do not intend that this important and complicated Bill shall be discussed. When cogent arguments are urged against certain provisions of the measure the right hon. Gentleman calls " Divide," as much as to say, " I despise you so much that I am not going to argue with you." That is not the way in which a Bill like this should be dealt with. One thing the right hon. Gentleman did say which shows me that my hon. Friend's observations did have some effect upon him. Previously he has stated that the estimate is to be made on the net rental, but to-day, when the hon. Member insisted that it is on the gross rental, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that that was so. He contradicts himself. He says at one time that the thing is black and at another that it is white, just to suit the exigencies of his position. For my part I hold that the views of the hon. Member for Elgin are very sound, and if the hon. Member goes to a Division I shall support him as a humble follower. I promise to do the same every time the hon. Member, who so thoroughly understands the Bill and whose views with regard to it are so sound, brings forward an Amendment.
§ (7.36.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Northampton on his new leader. The Committee, I think, are now in an awkward position, because those who wish to throw the loss caused by any possible default upon the Exchequer, and those 735 who wish to throw it upon the locality concerned, are apparently going to vote in the same Lobby. I address myself to the Members of the first Party—those who wish to throw the default, if default there be, upon the Exchequer. The hon. Member for South Kilkenny asks why the Government have not adopted the provisions of the Ashbourne Acts in the present instance. There are two reasons why they have not done so. When the last Ashbourne Act was passed pledges of the most specific character were given by the Government that the £5,000,000 asked for should be the last 45,000,000 that the House would be asked to grant on the terms specified in the measure. Therefore, if the Government were to take the course suggested by the hon. Member they would violate their pledges. But there is a second reason. If hon. Members desire to have Land Purchase in Ireland they can only have it by assistance from the British Exchequer. The Member for Bradford told us that money borrowed on Irish security could not be borrowed for less than 5 per cent., and that being so an Exchequer guarantee is necessary. Well, it is impossible for the British Exchequer to give this additional loan of £30,000,000, except upon terms which will absolutely secure the public from loss. I believe that Ireland can and will pay, and that there will not be any serious conspiracy against the payment of the instalments; but my own opinion upon the point is not in question. The fact which has to be faced is, that the British public will not pledge its security for the purchase of Irish land except upon terms that will safeguard it against loss. However much hon. Members opposite may desire to remove all risk from the shoulders of the local taxpayer, and to put it upon the shoulders of the British taxpayer, the idea does not come within the sphere of practical politics. The hon. Member put this dilemma to me. He said, " If the tenants do not pay it will be because the Land Purchase Commissioners have permitted too large a price to be given for the holdings." Without going into controversial matter, I would say that the hon. Member must be aware that, rightly or wrongly, the British public are of opinion that there is such a thing 736 possible in Ireland as conspiracy against the payment of rent and annuities. That is possible, but not probable.
§ MR. CHANCE
The guarantee deposit would intervene to prevent loss, and all the Commissioners would have to do would be to make the guarantee large enough. You are deliberately throwing away the best security.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The guarantee deposit could not be made to cover the advance, unless you exact such terms from the landlord as would really prevent sales taking place.
§ (7.42.) MR. KEAY
I think it is my duty to say a few words after the extraordinary statement we have heard from the other side, as to the four points referred to by me. I promise not to jump upon the Chief Secretary now that he is down, and he is undoubtedly " down " now that these financial matters are being discussed. I do not intend to be hard on him. I must, however, say this, that it is too bad for the right hon. Gentleman, when he feels himself in utter despair and confusion, to avail himself of the absurd and ancient doctrine which was written on a brief, "No defence; abuse the plaintiff's attorney." I do not say he was positively offensive, but he was on the verge of it. He certainly went much nearer to it than I have ever done with regard to him. Speaking of my four points, he said, " The hon. Member's points are usually bad points." Now, when the right hon. Gentleman is laboriously engaged in admitting that he cannot reply, it is too absurd for him to abuse my points. If the right hon. Gentleman finds it impossible to reply, the inference is that the points are good points. I may not be able as efficiently to support the prominent position I have been reluctantly compelled to assume in regard to the financial part of this Bill as I should like; but I think it will be admitted, even by hon. Members opposite, that it is absurd to call my points bad points, and to refer to them as " what the hon. Member is pleased to call points." The right hon. Gentleman has been guilty of an erroneous statement in addition to many omissions. He has said that the point as to the 737 insolvency of the Guarantee Fund, and the certainty of danger to the Consolidated Fund was threshed out in the Debates on the first and Second Reading of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken. [Cries of "Divide ! "] I, and I only, attempted to raise the question on the Second Reading, knowing that the guarantee portion of the measure was rotten. And what a reception I got! The Under Secretary for India came and sat opposite, below the Gangway, and positively jeered, hoping thereby to discourage me from touching this raw spot. Moreover, I myself was unable to prosecute the argument owing to an error of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, who omitted, to tell us that the Ashbourne Act moneys had been taken out of this Bill. Later on I obtained the proper figures, and on the main question of the Second Reading I endeavoured to put my case before the House, but was closured. [Cries of " Divide ! "] The right hon. Gentleman did me the honour to say be despaired of getting the real arithmetical facts of the case into my head. Well, I do not despair of being able to get the arithmetical facts of the case into the head of the right hon. Gentleman. [Renewed cries of " Divide ! "] I will tell him where the crux lies. The Bill is so complex, that the financial part of it is a sort of Frankenstein to the right hon. Gentleman. The point he does not understand is this—and if he gets up the fact it will save him hours in Committee. He truly says that the amount of the first loans will be £30,000,000, that there will be a partial repayment, and that the money repaid will be re-lent, but he utterly forgets that with every re-lending there will be an increase of the aggregate annual amount of the instalments due from the tenant purchasers. He must remember that in connection with the £30,000,000 there is only one Sinking Fund, and that in connection with every annual advance there will have to be another Sinking Fund, all the payments to which will have to come out of the Consolidated Fund in case of default. Does he not see that if you have 49 Sinking Funds all running parallel to each other, all having run for different terms of years, and all demanding that 738 their annual 1 per cent. should be paid into them, it must take more money to fill them up than it would take to fill up the one original Sinking Fund only?
§ (7.53.) MR. KNOX
It will be admitted that " this matter has not been dealt with from the Irish point of view at inordinate length; and that we are within our rights in asking the House to bear with us while we continue the discussion from that point of view. We have no spmpathy with the attitude of the hon. Member for Elgin on this subject. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy spoke of us as " Irish " in a tone of unutterable contempt. The word " Irish" seemed to convey to his mind the same meaning as the word "jobbery." He said the Commissioners would be Irishmen, meaning that they might be expected to job away the public money. Well, I must protest against that treatment of Irishmen. I would remind the hon. Member for Elgin and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy of a story told of Dr. Johnson. It is said that he was once discussing with an Irishman the question of the Union, and he said to the Irishman—Do not unite with us. If we unite with you it will be to rob you. We should have robbed Scotland if she had had anything to take.I consider that Dr. Johnson's prophecy has come true. The Union has been brought about, and we have been robbed in consequence, and now we want to get back a little of that which has been stolen from us. I do not find Irish Members continually making protests when money is proposed to be spent on Scotland; but Scotch Members are continually raising such protests when it is proposed to give money to Ireland. They protest against the principle of the Bill, although some of them have had the frankness to declare that if it were proposed to apply it to Scotland they would not oppose it. If hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway take up an attitude thoroughly and deliberately selfish we can understand it; but we cannot understand the point of view of hon. Gentlemen who rise to protest against the use of the Imperial guarantee in the Bill while they never raise any protest against the use of Imperial money or 739 guarantee in case of their own improvements. I did not know whether the House is aware that the principle of Imperial guarantee in the case of English allotments was allowed to go through the House without protest from these Benches. The Public Works Loan Commissioners have the right to lend money for the purpose of providing allotments in villages in England—that is to say use Imperial credit. Ireland, as well as England, is to provide allotments for the English agricultural labourers. Well, no Irish Member rose to protest against that, and we do ask that if hon. Gentlemen object to the use of Imperial credit in the manner set forth in the Bill they should, at least, spare us insult at the same time. I support the Amendment from the Irish point of view, and protest against the local guarantees which the Government have devised. Our position on this point is clear. We candidly admit that if we had Home Rule in Ireland it would be necessary for us to deal with the land question out of our own resources. But we protest against having these resources pledged for us while we are denied the right of self-government. The guarantees provided by the Government are described in some quarters as trumpery. It is supposed that they are of no real value. It is supposed that no real damage could be done to the Irish taxpayer. I believe the risk to the taxpayer has been greatly exaggerated by minimising the amount of the Irish security pledged by this Bill, and I believe there is great and imminent risk to the Irish cesspayer in the mortgaging of the rates, and I believe also that the great and imminent risk to the Irish cesspayer in the mortgaging of the rates has likewise been greatly minimised. The Government propose, firstly, that certain cash sums usually paid to Ireland shall be mortgaged without in any way consulting the Local Authorities. The first of these is the Probate Duty Grant. The Probate Duty Grant consists of £5,000 paid annually to the Royal Dublin Society for improving the breed of horses, and also about £200,000, excluding the exempted cities, which is paid partly in relief of the county cess and road rates, and partly in relief of the poor 740 rate. Last Session, in order to explain the Bill of that year, the Government published a Return showing the amount of the resources in each locality in Ireland which are pledged by the Bill. Although those figures may not now be correct, owing to certain changes that have since been made, I may use them for the purposes of argument. I find that the cash portion of the Guarantee Fund amounts to £200,000 of Irish securities. I say it is a serious thing to pledge Irish securities to that amount without consulting the Local Authorities, because they will need the money, and do already grievously need it in many cases. The Chief Secretary as President of the Irish Local Government Board is aware of the great difficulty experienced by the Local Authorities of the West of Ireland in making both ends meet. He knows that in certain cases, Vice-Guardians have had to be appointed because the Poor Law Guardians through no fault of theirs, had found that the Unions were practically insolvent. Of the sum I have mentioned more than half is county cess. There might have been some fairness in it had the poor rate only been charged, because the poor rate is paid partly by landlords and partly by tenants, whereas the county cess is paid only by the tenants. So that, while the landlord gets the major part of the benefit conferred. by the Bill, the tenant has to find the greater part of the security. We, therefore, object to this part of the Bill, and we point out that the difficulties attending the collection of the county cess in certain contingencies do not apply to the cash guarantee, because in that case the money, if needed, will come directly from the Probate Grant, and the Local Authorities will simply have to do without it, they not being in a position to resist. We are, however, somewhat reconciled to the contingent portion of the guarantee, because we know that if an attempt were made to raise the money by county cess, at something like an extra 3s. in any Irish county, we could,; without difficulty, organise such hostility to that action, that the Government would have to spend more in police and other military forces than the sum they might attempt to recover. We know we have enormous power in. 741 our hands in that matter, and can insist that, in the end, the consent of the Irish people shall be given before the money is so taken; but as regards the cash portion of the guarantee, we have not the same security. If the Bill is passed, we shall have no way of resisting the non-payment of these sums; they would simply be stopped. We say, therefore, that this provision ought not to he made, unless, as was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, it was accompanied by some means of obtaining the assent of the Local Authorities. In introducing the Bill this year, the Chief Secretary suggested, as a possible way of getting the assent of the localities, that after the cash portion of the Guarantee Fund had been paid, the consent of the people might be asked before the contingent portion came to be paid. But we say that this is the wrong way about. We can resist payment of the contingent guarantee, and so in a rough and lawless way show that those resources cannot be mortgaged without our consent, but we cannot resist payment of the cash guarantee. If the form of local assent is to he given at all, it ought to be given to the cash rather than to the contingent portion. We know the Government will not be content to leave the country without control over pauper lunatics, schools, and so forth, coming under the contingent branch; but the greater part of the cash portion may be cut off independently of the Local Authorities. It may be said that these guarantees are more or less on paper only, and will not be called up. I admit if the administration of the Bill were to remain in the hands of the present Land Purchase Commissioners, and we were sure that Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Lynch would not die, and the Chief Secretary would not appoint jobbers in their places, there would be very small need for any of these guarantees. But this may not always be as it is, and if the Bill is jobbed it may hereafter be possible to force the tenants to agree to prices they will not be able to meet, whereby considerable charges may fall upon the guarantee; whether the charge falls on the cash or the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund the effect will be very serious on the 742 Irish Local Authorities. The Government professes the intention to establish County Councils in Ireland. If these bodies are established it will be necessary for them to borrow money as has already been the case with the County Councils in England. What would be the position of the Irish County Councils when they go to the men they want to borrow money from? Those men would say "you need not come to us, the Government have pledged all your rates beforehand up to 3s. in the £1; you cannot come to us as you have no security to offer." What I ask would be the position of the Public Works Loans Commissioners if this Bill were passed? Could they say the security for their advances would be the same as it has hitherto been? Obviously they could not if the Government mean these guarantees to be on the same footing as other guarantees in the case of the County Authorities, such for instance as those for the light railways. I venture to say it would be impossible for the Local Authorities to borrow money for any purpose whatever. Therefore if the Bill is passed in its present form, the Irish Local Authorities would be unable to improve the country or perform any of the duties as to Public Works which the Local Authorities perform elsewhere. Why does the Government want these provisions? It admits that English credit is due to Ireland. England has maintained the nuisance of Irish landlordism, and it is only fair that England should pay the cost of abating that nuisance. We know that the Government has to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and others who have made pledges on this subject. Hon. Members opposite have broken those pledges long ago, not to allow English credit to be pledged for the purpose of buying out Irish landlords. Having broken them once, I ask them to honestly and frankly break them altogether. You admit that England owes a debt to Ireland in this matter. Why not also admit that the Irish people have a right to demand that the whole working of Local Government in Ireland shall not be hampered by these guarantees to such an extent that if this Bill be carried in its present form it would be almost impossible, within the next half century, for the Irish Local Authorities 743 to perform those beneficial functions for the improvement of Ireland, which are performed by Local Authorities in this country?
§ (8.20.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I am unable to vote for this Amendment. The House has been placed in some difficulty by the Amendment being supported from two totally different points of view. In the first place, my hon. Friend the Member for Elgin has moved the omission of certain words and has raised a difficulty as to the process of re-lending under the Bill. I think he was treated well on that point by the Chief Secretary. But a better opportunity for discussing the re-lending process will be afforded when we come to a later clause. In the meantime, as I understand these particular words in the clause, they are for the purpose of carrying out the guarantee. Although I am opposed to the whole scheme, I shall not be disposed to go into the same question again and again, whenever it is merely raised in a different form. The objects of the words proposed by the hon. Member for Kilkenny reduce the Bill to the exact form of the Ashbourne Acts. So long as the sum involved was the comparatively small amount of £5,000,000 in the first Act, and £5,000,000 in the second, I thought it was very reasonable that the country should look to the holdings themselves and to the Landlords Guarantee Fund as sufficient security. But when so large a sum as £30,000,000 is involved, danger of a totally different character arises mainly from combinations, bad seasons, or other causes, against which it is only reasonable that you should have some other security. For my part, I do not think it is unreasonable that we should look for those securities from Ireland, but I think those securities should be given with the consent of the Irish people. But that is a matter which had wetter be discussed on the Amendment of my right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Morley). If the Government refuse to make any commesssion in this direction, I for my part shall certainly vote against any additional securities being placed upon the Irish people.
§ (8.25.) ME. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
I regard the question of the Imperial guarantee differently from other hon. Members on this side of the House. I quite admit, on the Home Rule principle, with the Kingdom divided into three parts, each part should be made financially responsible. But when you approach the Bill from the Unionist point of view, then we regard the United. Kingdom as a whole, and hold that if there be any risk under this Land Purchase scheme, then the loss, if there is to be any loss, should fall, not upon the 5,000,000 of Ireland, but upon the 36,000,000 of the United Kingdom. So far as the Imperial Government is concerned, the object of this Bill is to bring peace to Ireland. With peace in Ireland, a less Constabulary Force will be required, and there will be a saving all round to the whole of the United Kingdom. It is all very well to speak of the responsibility of the British taxpayer and the British working man, but let it be known that if any loss should occur under this Bill, when it becomes law, not a single copper will fall on the the British working man. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will go to the upper classes, where the money is to be got. Why is the Government afraid to face the working classes? If their measure is a sound one—and surely it is a sound one— let them go to the working classes and tell them that it will effect a saving in Imperial charges, and that no loss can occur to them. The very fact that some of these Irish tenants would be too poor to pay their instalments, is a reason why these guarantees should not be placed upon them. I look upon this question from an Imperial point of view, regarding Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. (8.30.)
(9.2.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
(9.5.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 113; Noes 81.—(Div. List, No. 135.)
§ (9.15.) MR. SEXTON
The Committee are already familiar with the arguments on which we found our claim that this liability should be finally borne by the Imperial Consolidated Fund, and should not fall on what we 745 consider to be properly the funds of Ireland. I am anxious that the right hon. Member for Newcastle should have an immediate opportunity of moving the important Amendment that stands in his name; and, therefore, I will content myself by simply moving my Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 1, to leave out from the word " of," to the end of the Clause, and add the words "moneys to be provided by Parliament." —(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, " That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ (9.16.) MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
I take this opportunity, as being the more convenient one, to object altogether against Irish securities being used in this matter. The adoption of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle might modify the objection to the use of Irish securities, but it would not do away with the great objection. The great objection is that the Irish people whom it is proposed to tax will have no control over the administration of the money advanced. The Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman would only give the people the right of saying once for all whether they would allow the Purchase Act to be put in operation in a certain county or not, and if they decided in the affirmative they would have no control over the working of the Act. My object is not in any way to delay the progress of this Bill. The position I take up now is different to that I took up a year ago. Things have happened since then that have modified my views regarding land purchase. We have now to choose between two evils. We may not like the Government Bill— we may not think it a Bill that Ireland is entitled to; but what are we to expect from the Front Opposition Bench or the Liberal Party in regard to land purchase in Ireland? It is perfectly well known there are divided counsels in the Liberal Party on the subject of land purchase, and, therefore, we may find ourselves bound to accept a Bill such as this though we may not think it is as good as it ought to be. We may be told that in objecting to the use of the 746 Irish securities in any form, we are not consistent. It is true the Irish Party raised no objection to the use of the Irish securities in 1886, but then the Bill of 1886 was a very different one to the present Bill. That Bill proposed to settle the Irish land question; this Bill does not propose to do anything of the kind. In addition to that, in 1886 Ireland was prepared to make a sacrifice of her credit because she was getting the right to self-government. Neither of these two advantages are offered us under the present Bill. A very remarkable statement was made this evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not within the range of practical politics for any Government at the present time to propose to advance British money for the purpose of buying out Irish landlords without having adequate Irish securities. The Government have exhausted every means at their disposal to furnish Irish securities; they have furnished many securities which are unjust, and many which are absolutely absurd. But with all these securities, they cannot obtain more than will justify them in advancing more than £30,000,000 for the purchase of land in Ireland. If £30,000,000 will not settle the Irish land question, and it is not within the range of practical political politics to advance money for the purchase of land in Ireland without having Irish securities, what are you going to do when the £30,000,000 are exhausted? You intend to force us to pledge all our available securities not for a permanent settlement, not for a settlement to benefit the whole country. For a settlement that will only benefit one particular class in the country you are going to make the whole country pledge its security. That is unjust. The whole country would have benefited by the financial arrangements under the Land Purchase Bill of 1886. No one will say that £30,000,000 will buy out all the Irish landlords. One of the chief objections to the proposal of 1886 was that it was only intended to provide £50,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman who now leads the House characterised the proposal as illusory, as a very much larger sum would be required. If it was wrong to put £50,000,000 in 747 that Bill, surely it is far worse to put £30,000,000 in this Bill. I hope the Attorney General for Ireland will not tell me that as the money is repaid it will be loaned out again; and that, therefore, in process of time, when he and I and future generations of his and my family are in the grave—some 200 or 300 years hence—the Irish land question will be settled. That will not be satisfactory. What I wish to particularly point out is that by insisting that Irish securities are necessary you are putting a block in the way of the settlement of the Irish land question, because if Irish securities are necessary now they will be necessary in the future. You are going to exhaust them all now; and if you cannot ask for an advance of British money in Ireland now without Irish securities, how can you have the face to ask for an advance at any future time? You are almost pledging yourselves against doing so. There is another reason why you should not introduce into the Bill these Irish securities; and that is that you are doing it without the consent of the Irish people. It is perfectly monstrous that you should take securities for the benefit of one particular class in Ireland and that against the will of the people, without their consent, you should pledge the securities which belong to the whole nation, and do it in order to protect the British Exchequer. The Irish land question is the heritage of bad government in Ireland; it is the British Government who are responsible for the present state of the land question, and it is the British Exchequer that ought to bear the responsibility. I have no doubt that on some platforms in this country this measure will be described as one of extraordinary generosity towards Ireland. The measure displays the very reverse of generosity. It is drawn in a most niggardly spirit because you are taking from Local Authorities in Ireland every available security they have got. If you ever create them what will be the position of these Local Bodies? What credit will they have at their disposal? How will they raise money for their own purposes? If the Imperial Government are sincere in this matter they ought to be only too glad to run some small risk. The Irish question has been for a long 748 time a thorn in the side of the British Government, and Her Majesty's present Government believe, or profess to believe, that it is going to be almost settled by the settlement of the land question in Ireland. Is that not worth risking the British credit for? By pledging Irish securities against the will of the Irish people you make that settlement more difficult, you deprive the Irish people of their securities, and you do this, giving the Local Authority no controlling power over the administration of the Act, or the amount of advances made for the interest of which these local funds are to be made responsible. More than this, you remove from the Land Commissioners, who are the body who have to sanction the amount of these advances, all responsibilities in regard to repayment—that is to say, no matter how great the mistakes they may make in ascertaining that there is proper security for the amount to be advanced, they have no danger or responsibility in the matter, because no matter how unfair, however much too large the amount advanced may be for the security offered there is the local security behind them to make good the losses. So yon are going to set up in Ireland a body charged with most important functions and great responsibilities, and yet you are not going to attach to them the consequences of their action should they grossly err in the discharge of their functions. If they advance money on bad security no matter, the loss will be made good by people who have no voice in deciding whether the loan was a proper one or not. This is a monstrous principle to proceed upon, a principle in direct opposition to that upon which, up to this, we have proceeded because, under the Ashbourne Act, the first person who suffers if the Land Commissioners make an improper advance is the landlord when he has received too high a price for his land. But now the people whom you are going to make bear the loss are those who have no voice in, and who derive no benefit whatever from, the advances. This is a very serious change to make, and I think it would be time to ask the Irish people to pledge their local securities when" you are prepared to give the Irish people some control over the money to be advanced, some control over 749 the machinery by which the Act is to be administered. You might then be fairly said to be in a position to ask for these pledges, but if the House is going to take upon itself the full responsibility of making the advances, then with Parliament should the responsibility of the payment lie.
§ (9.35.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
It is not my intention to take up time at length, because the question has been dealt with in a spirit of great clearness and cogency by my hon. Friend the Member for Cavan. My own view is, that it is our duty to strenuously resist every effort to saddle this liability upon Irish local securities, and that to do so in this manner without the consent of the locality amounts to an embezzlement of those local funds. We shall have more to say upon this point on the Amendment which is to be moved by the hon. Member for Newcastle, but still I think the reasonableness of this proposition ought to command a large measure of support.
§ (9.36.) MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
It is not likely that the use of these guarantees will ever be required, they are not likely to be required at all, and so, I think, the Imperial Government might take the risk, if risk the Government think there is, though I do not believe that a halfpenny will ever have to be paid out of such guarantee. The local guarantee can well be dispensed with, it will only impede the working of the Act.
§ (9.37.) MR. CHANCE
I submit that it is a dishonest thing to attempt to seize local funds for the benefit of the landlords of Ireland. It is a novel principle that anyone should be compelled to become a surety against his will, and in my opinion a locality would not be under the slightest moral obligation to repay any moneys which it might be called upon to pay under this provision. The measure of the availability of the fund will be precisely the measure of the force by which you will be able to screw it out of the pockets of the Local Authorities. The effect will be that the Commissioners will have a larger margin to operate upon, and considering these Commissioners will have probably very pronounced views on the subject of 750 landlord and tenant, it is to be expected the sale price of holdings will be much enhanced. We have no control over the Land Commissioners; their salaries are paid from the Consolidated Fund, and they can snap their fingers at public opinion and local pressure.
(9.45.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 160; Noes . 60. —(Div. List, .No. 136.)
§ (9.54.) MR. J. MORLEY
I think it is not too much to say we now approach what the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will doubtless himself call the most difficult and critical portion of the Bill. Those who think with me hold that there are many objections to this measure, but of those objections none are so capable of being widely and generally understood as the one I now put forward, namely, that for the benefit of a small number of Irish landlords, and for a larger number, but still a comparatively small number, of Irish agricultural tenants, the Government are going to make whole Irish counties pledge a great and substantial portion of their local revenues to make good any default on the part of those casual and privileged tenants who avail themselves of the provisions of this Bill. Her Majesty's Government insist upon forciby taking for the purposes of this measure funds which belong to the different Irish counties, without the counties themselves being consulted on the matter, and without their having choice or voice in transactions that may lead to an immense aggravation of the local burdens. The proposition that forms the foundation of my Amendment is that such a policy is contrary to equity, contrary to the practice of Parliament, and wholly inexpedient. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing his first Bill on this subject, admitted all that I require for the purposes of supporting my Amendment, because he declared that he was about to treat Ireland in a manner in which he knew that the House would not have allowed him to treat England. It is certain that if political troubles arise in Ireland there would be considerable default on the part of the Irish tenants who purchase their holdings under this Bill, and in that case what do the Government propose to do? In the first place, they propose to impound that 751 part of the cash portion of the Guarantee Fund which consists of an annual £40,000 which should in every financial year be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, and of the Irish Probate Duty grant. If this cash portion of the Guarantee Fund should be insufficient to meet the defaults of the tenants, then the Treasury is to stop the deficiency out of the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund, which consists of the Government grants to local purposes. Then comes the third and undoubtedly, the most formidable provision of all, under which the Lord Lieutenant is to order a levy to be made upon the county at large in which the default has taken place, through the Grand Jury. Upon this point I should like to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman which strikes me as being one of great importance. It is this: The Government are going to bring in a Bill for local government in Ireland upon lines analogous to the Act which passed for the local government of this country, which, I presume, will create elective, popular County Councils. Do they intend, when such County Councils are called into existence, that the Lord Lieutenant should order the County Councils in place of the Grand Juries to make this levy? What will you have then? You will have the Lord Lieutenant giving an order for the levy, and you will have a popular elective body assenting or refusing to carry it out. That, especially, if the right hon. Gentleman's views as to Irish national opinion are true, will place the Lord Lieutenant and the County Authority in a position of the greatest difficulty, and will lead to extreme confusion. I put this point to the Chief Secretary, and ask him for this information parenthetically—whether in his contemplation it will be for the Lord Lieutenant to order the County Council, as he is now going to order the Grand Jury, to levy the sum necessary to make good the default of the tenants? However that may be it comes to this—that the Lord Lieutenant can order a levy to be made through a Grand Jury on the county so that the tenants whose landlords decline to sell, and will not give to their tenants the boon conferred by this Bill, will not only have to patiently bear as they best can their own unfavourable, 752 disadvantageous, and inferior position relatively to those whose landlords have been willing to sell, but also to make good the default of people whose landlords have been willing to confer this boon. I am perfectly sure that not only Ireland but England will agree that this is an intolerable injustice and a strong provocation—I will go further and say a justifiable provocation—of disaffection to a Government which imposes so unjust a burden. The Chief Secretary, I must admit, agrees that this is the position as the Bill makes it, and that it is absolutely indefensible. The right hon. Gentleman regards it as being so indefensible that he now assents, as we understood from the speech introducing the Bill, to some modification. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] Surely the right hon. Gentleman has admitted the necessity of some modification in the proposals which are in the Bill. I take it that he did so when he talked of a plébiscite, though he said,. " I declare that in my judgment I do not think it will be an improvement to my scheme as set forth in the Bill." We wish to know, after the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, what is the plan of local control which he is prepared to submit to the House. The right hon. Gentleman led the House a certain way into his plan, and said that if we had any plan of local control at all it must be by way of plébiscite to the ratepayers. He said we must put the matter of undertaking this liability and bearing this obligation, " aye " or " no," to the ratepayers under the safety of the ballot, and so take their verdict upon it. Now what is the question to which the ratepayers are to say " aye " or " no "? Are they to say " aye " or " no " to each individual transaction between a landlord and a body of tenants? Is such a plébiscite to be taken from the whole body of ratepayers in a county on each transaction in which a landlord wishes to sell his estate and has come to terms with his tenants? That would be control in the real sense. I understood from the right hon. Gentleman's utterances that he does not intend by this plan to take a plébiscite on individual transactions. That being so the right hon. Gentleman, in my opinion, rejected popular control in what I should have regarded as its most effective and prac- 753 tical shape. I do not believe that popular control would be of any great value in the administration of this Act, unless the localities had some kind of voice in individual transactions. The Chief Secretary gave as his reason for refusing this interpretation of popular control that it would never do to allow men who might, and probably would, themselves become buyers, to " bear " the market and fix the price of the article. That may be a good argument, or a bad one; but if you force a man to become surety for the repayment of purchase money without consulting him at one stage or another as to the amount of that purchase money, without taking his judgment as to the price for which he is to be made bondsman, to call such a process popular control is, in my opinion, a sheer mockery. Now, what is the question which the Chief Secretary is going to submit to the " aye " or " no " of the ratepayers by his plébiscite? It is, I understand—and he will correct me if I am wrong—to be taken on the plain question whether or not the ratepayers will assent to the mortgaging of the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund; do they agree to pledge their share in local taxation duties or local grants, or do they not? Do they agree to make good by county levy the default of tenants whose landlords have conferred upon them this immense boon? The Chief Secretary draws a distinction between the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund and the cash portion of the Fund, which, in the opinion of the right hon. Members for Mid Lothian and West Birmingham, and in the opinion, I think, of all men who have given this question impartial consideration is absolutely untenable. The right hon. Gentleman admits that there is no logical distinction between the cash portion and the contingent portion. But he says there is a sentimental distinction. What is it? The right hon. Gentleman says that there is all the difference from the point of view of sentiment between grants that the Irish community have been in the habit from time immemorial of receiving, and grants which Parliament has made to them within a very short time past. I submit that this is one of the most ludicrous, I would even say childish, defences I have ever heard 754 for a distinction which the right hon. Gentleman does not pretend to defend in logic. I will put it as the right hon. Gentleman does. In the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill the Chief Secretary said—" You may say that both are the property of the locality. They are contributions given to the locality by the free gift of the Legislature, and may be withdrawn at any moment. The claim of the locality to those contributions is based only on the fact that other localities have the same.I should have thought, for my part, that it would have been impossible to base a claim on anything much more likely to touch the sentiment of the community, than the fact that you are going to deprive them of control over a fund the full control of which is possessed by all other localities. This disputation as to the distinction between the cash and the contingent portion is not very ingenious, and is, I think, rather idle. If I understand rightly the veto of the country upon the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund, it will have the effect of stopping purchase. The right hon. Gentleman admits as much as that. But I confess that I do not understand when this plébiscite on the contingent portion of the Guarantee Fund i going to be taken.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Is it to be as soon as 25 times the cash portion of the Guarantee Fund has been exhausted and advances have been made up to that amount? Will the ratepayers then decide? Very well; that was not expressed before, and I do not think it was so understood by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian; but in any case it seems to me that it would be found an extremely inadequate form of popular control. Because—mark this—the whole of their cash portion has been taken, and therefore a very considerable step has been made in the way of purchase and in placing an imposition on the country at large without their consent having been asked. I do not think, therefore, that this plébiscite proposal really meets the foundation of our objection. I would ask the Chief Secretary to say how he proposes to arrange for his plébiscite—what clauses he proposes to introduce? It is. 755 against his own judgment; he does not think it 'will be an improvement in the Bill, but he is prepared to propose it. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] I understand that if the Chief Secretary finds a distinct preponderance of opinion in favour of a plébiscite a clause will be introduced to provide for one; but, if not, it will be interesting to know what are the objections to it, because some of the voting upon this Amendment will depend upon the satisfaction with which the proposed plebiscite is received. The Chief Secretary has offered two objections to popular control. First of all, he says that land purchase is a policy in which not merely Ireland but the whole Empire is concerned. I should have thought the answer to that perfectly simple. It was given before you took the Chair, Mr. Courtney, by the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow. The hon. Member asked, why should one part of the country—meaning the United Kingdom—be saddled with a burden for the sake of a measure which is conceived in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole? The logic of that is unanswerable, and the Chief Secretary admits it. If we are going to embark on this land purchase for the benefit of the Empire as a whole, why should not the Empire run the risk? The Chief Secretary boasts that he has taken great care to guard British credit against incurring any risk whatever; he says that he is going to throw the whole risk of default in these transactions upon Irish local resources, although he says that the purposes and objects are not merely Irish. The right hon. Gentleman is a very acute dialectician, but I defy him to explain such a paradox as this. He says that " Here is a boon given by the country at large to Ireland for the purpose of improving its social position; do not let the Local Authorities interfere with that boon, but give it freely." By all means prohibit the localities from interfering with the boon, but if you prohibit them from interfering you have no right to impose upon them the burden of the risk. The right hon. Gentleman's second objection to popular control is that the body intrusted with it might use it for political objects. Agrarian discontent, he says, truly enough, at one time or another has been used for 756 political objects, and he contends that if we introduce local control in this business we shall be intrusting the success of the land purchase policy to a body called the National League, which, he says, for its own purposes would stop the operation of the Act. That seems to me as hollow an objection as could possibly be taken. What does it prove? If the National League is strong enough, in American electioneering jargon, to " capture " the Local Authority, and to prevent the Local Authority from sanctioning a purchase, how can the right hon. Gentleman dream it will not also be strong enough with the tenants to prevent them from entering into bargains with the landlords? If the National League is the master of the Local Authority, why should not its influence be strong enough to make it master of the tenants? Then if the Lord Lieutenant orders a levy to be made by the County Council, and if the National League were hostile to the Government policy, what chance would there be that the levy would be carried out? Another objection urged by the right hon. Gentleman is that the introduction of popular control by a Local Authority is absolutely impracticable and unworkable. I have never yet been able to understand the force of that objection. The right hon. Gentleman says you cannot introduce into this Bill provisions for constituting County Councils, and that if we are to wait until a County Councils Bill is passed, at the rate at which the House of Commons does its business, we shall have to wait at least for some months. Well, I hope it is only some months we shall have to wait for the County Councils Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer cheers that, meaning, no doubt, by his cheer that the Bill may be produced any day. Yes; but we have heard that ever since 1886, and I shall believe in the existence of that Bill and in the intention of the Government to pass it, when I hear it explained from that box, and not before. The Chief Secretary says if we put into this Bill a clause saying that the County Councils are to possess a veto on its operations, we may find ourselves in the absurd position of allowing a certain number of sales to be effected, and then County Councils may step in and stop 757 the operations. I do not think that truly describes the case. I will submit to the Committee a hypothetical timetable. Let it be assumed, as stated by the Government, that the unexhausted fund at the disposal of the Purchase Commissioners under the Ashbourne Act is just short of £1,000,000, although I thought it was larger. That is plenty of money with which to continue transactions under the Ashbourne Act. At present there is usually an interval of from four to six months between the date of an application and the date of sanction, and from six to eight months are occupied in proving the title and other matters. I believe it will be June, 1892, before the fund provided by the Ashbourne Act is exhausted, and preliminaries under this Bill will occupy till November, 1892. If the County Councils Bill is to be brought in and passed by next year, there is no reason why County Councils should not have been elected by November, 1892, and be in a position to undertake the supervision of these purchase transactions. Therefore, if my hypothetical time-table be approximately correct, the third argument against the policy of my Amendment falls to the ground. Having now done my best to answer the objections of the Chief Secretary, I will now point out, merely by way of enumeration, the advantages which we who support this Amendment anticipate from its operation. The first advantage would be that we should avoid the admitted, the immense, the formidable peril of bringing the State into the relation of direct creditor with 180,000 or 200,000 tenants. I need not ransack Hansard for proofs that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have always taken that view. The second advantage is that a veto on the transactions would be given to the people in the neighbourhood, who would know far better than anybody else whether a transaction was a good one and the security sound. As it is, the Government would be at the mercy of the valuers of the Land Commissioners. I am the last person to say a disrespectful word of those valuers, of whom I know more than one to be men of great experience and thoroughly conscientious, but not even the most experienced and 758 upright land valuer can know and go into all the local circumstances and details of transactions. He does not know the character of the purchases, nor all the circumstances of the holding. On the other hand, the members of a Local Board would know. That would be a second great advantage—submitting these transactions to people who know all the conditions. The third advantage would be that if the County Council, or some other Local Authority, were to interpose, the tenants would be protected against coercion and duress on the part of the landlords. I know the Chief Secretary has said or written that that is an imaginary alarm, but in a Committee upstairs we had such a case proved by a valuer of the Land Commission concerning the tenants of one of the most powerful companies in the City of London; they had attempted to force a bargain on their tenants under circumstances which the superior officer of the Land Commission decided to be circumstances of coercion and duress. The fourth advantage would be that if the assent of a Local Authority, were secured, it would remove one of the most potent arguments for repudiation in hard times or for political reasons. If you interpose the Local Authority, you at least have got popular assent, though enormously inferior to the assent we proposed in 1886—still some sort of assent which would remove the argument that no assent had been given. The fifth advantage would be a not inconsiderable one. No other plan, except the invocation of Local Bodies to superintend the administration of that Bill, will get over its administrative difficulties. The administrative difficulties, even if the thing worked as smoothly as the Chief Secretary hoped, would be enormous. The interposition of Local Authorities would at least smooth the difficulties of administering the Bill. The difficulties of working the Act by a Central Authority in Dublin would be enormous. Let us picture what a state of confusion Ireland might be in. I agree with the Chief Secretary in hoping it would not be so, but at any rate it is not improbable if the Chief Secretary's opinion of the Irish character is the true one. Let us picture the confusion there would be after this land purchase 759 scheme has been for some time in operation. The Government would be doing three things, each enormously burdensome and calculated to spread confusion. Suppose bad times, with a certain amount of default on the part of the purchasers, the State would be recovering its debts from the defaulters in the Courts. In the second place, the State, after getting its decrees, would have to enforce those decrees by eviction, for I know no other method of enforcement; and, in the third place, it would be exacting the tax levied by the Grand Jury, by order of the Lord Lieutenant, over great districts of Ireland. There would be proceedings in the Courts and on the holdings, and you would have complex proceedings in the county, to collect what must be the most unpopular impost levied by an unpopular body—the Grand Jury. All those who have to pay would protest, and, in my judgment, rightly protest, that it was an unjust impost. Would it not be well to have a Local Authority to share all these burdens? The sixth advantage is that by giving Local Authorities control over those transactions you would take the best means to make the money go furthest. I myself have always regarded a settlement of the land question as an indispensable part of any policy which aims at giving self-government to Ireland, and of giving that self-government anything like a fair chance. This has always been my position; it is my position now. But I should be blind, if I did not recognise what I believe the Chief Secretary said in effect that this Bill gives the last £30,000,000 which Parliament will ever be likely to lend for the purpose of land purchase in Ireland. It is simply notorious that the constituencies have made up their minds on that point. That being the case, and attaching the importance I do to the land question, it is in the interests of all to take care that the money now to be advanced should go as far as it possibly can be made to go. A Local Authority would exercise a very vigilant supervision over those transactions. It would see that the money was not wasted, and that every sovereign went in the direction for which Parliament destined it. The Government are going the wrong way to work in the 760 order in which they have shaped their policy. I do not believe that Land Purchase plus Local Government will solve the Irish question, but, even taking the point of view of the Government, in placing Land Purchase before Local Government, they are moving in an inverted order. No doubt there are great difficulties in the way of the Party opposite, with their Conservative friends from Ireland especially, in the way of setting up a Local Government they do not want at all. It is easier for the Government to ask the House for £30,000,000 of British money for land purchase. They have taken what is for the moment the easy course, and have introduced one of the very worst and most dangerous Bills I have ever known introduced to Parliament. In evading these temporary difficulties they are preparing for themselves, if they remain long in Office, or their successors when the time comes, a sea of future troubles. In what sort of temper will the Irish County Councils to be created next year approach their duties when they find that a large proportion of the financial resources which they ought to have had to carry on the work of local self-government are already hypothecated and taken out of their control? Nothing is more likely to upset Local Government in Ireland than this hypothecation of local resources with which Local Government ought to be carried on. The Chief Secretary knows the great sentence of a famous divine: " Things are what they are, and the consequences will be what they will be: why, then, do we deceive ourselves? " That was said of morals, but it is just as true of politics, and the question might be put just as aptly to the Chief Secretary, Things in Ireland are what they are, and the consequences which you are bringing about by this Bill will be what they will be. Why, then, does the right hon. Gentleman deceive himself in the first place; and, in the next place, why does he deceive Parliament and the country. I beg to move my Amendment.
In page 2, line 2, at the end of the Clause, to add the words, " Provided that no Guaranteed Land Stock shall be issued by way of advance in any county for the purchase of any holding unless the making of such advance in that
county shall have been previously approved by a resolution of the County Council elected to represent the county in which the holding is situate under an Act of this or the next ensuing Session of Parliament."—(Mr. John Morley.)
" That the words ' Provided that no Guaranteed Land Stock shall he issued by way of advance in any county for the purchase of any holding, unless the making of such advance in that county shall have been previously approved,' be there added.
§ (10.45.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by making a quotation from Butler to the effect that no greater folly could be committed by mankind than not looking facts in the face, and meeting things as they are. There is no more direct issue than the one raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The question really between us is, which looks at the facts of Irish contemporary life as they are; which of us sees the political forces which have been at work, are at work, and may be at work in the future in the Irish counties, as they are; which of us is deceiving himself by familiar formulae, useful on platforms, and even for perorations, but not always useful, I venture to think, for the practical conduct of great and important affairs. I shall endeavour to meet the points of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in the order in which he has raised them. The right hon. Gentleman said, and said truly, that I admitted on a previous occasion, on a Bill similar to this, that the elected County Authorities in England and Scotland would be associated with the central Government in the administration of the Bill. I adhere to that. I do not believe that any such Bill as this will be brought in for England or Scotland. It is because the condition of Ireland has happily no parallel in the rest of our dominions that we ask for the use of British credit, and for the expenditure of public money in a machinery which no Government, as far as I know, would ever have been justified in using either in England or Scotland. We have asked ourselves whether the condition of Ireland which justifies a Bill of this kind does not also justify us in not asking that the local elected bodies should help in making, or probably marring, the work of the British Legis- 762 lature. The right hon. Gentleman told us we might or might not associate these bodies; but that if we created them they would be strong enough to prevent compulsory taxation. I want to know why he thought it would be more difficult after County Councils were created than now to have compulsory presentments? Compulsory presentments exist now, and cannot be destroyed whatever system of Local Government may be started in Ireland, whether it be the circumscribed and limited Local Government, which I hope to be enabled to present to the House, or whether it be the enormous scheme of national self-government, which right hon. Gentlemen opposite hope to present under the name of Home Rule. You may think that you would have compulsory presentments for malicious injuries abolished, and that then malicious injury would become legalised. Putting that aside, you might have compulsory presentments for light railways. Are we going to abolish them when we have County Councils? The County Councils are not consulted about their being undertaken. Capital has been advanced by the country, but they could not be abandoned simply because the County Councils did not happen to like them. The right hon. Gentleman must reconcile himself to this—that whatever the form of Local Government given to Ireland, compulsory presentments will be a necessary part of the social system, and we do not throw upon ourselves an unnecessary burden when we make it an integral part of the present scheme. The right hon. Gentleman then referred to the plan by which a certain amount of local control should be given in respect to a certain part of the Guarantee Fund. I have no objection to the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman stated that scheme. I think that any such limitation of the present Bill would be a misfortune. The suggestion might not destroy the Bill, but it would make it absolutely unworkable. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to argue against the Government scheme as a compromise. The right hon. Gentleman said that an attempt was being made to distinguish between two portions of the Guarantee Fund; that each portion belonged by 763 right to the Local Authority, and that the attempt to distinguish between them was childish and foolish.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I entirely differ from the right hon. Gentleman. I think there is a distinct difference between the two portions of the Guarantee Fund. What is the cash portion consisted of? It consists of subventions to the Local Authorities from the Imperial Exchequer, which was never heard of until 1888. What is the contingent portion of the Fund? It consists of contributions from the Imperial Authority to the Local Authorities, which are, I will not say of immemorial usage, but of long standing—contributions to education and pauper lunatics. I see no absurdity in distinguishing between the two. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is illogical. Well, I never yet heard of a compromise that was logical. Almost the essence of a compromise is that it is illogical. My Bill is illogical, and I think it a good Bill. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is logical, and therefore I think it bad. I am not going into the matter in detail, for this is not the time to discuss it. The time will be on the 6th clause, which will soon come. It will then come naturally, logically—that is, I believe, the word—and I shall not now be tempted into a more close examination of it. Having discussed the Government plan, the right hon. Gentleman then went on to defend the plan which he proposes. He told the Committee that unless we associated the local bodies in Ireland with the mortgage of their rates we would practically throw the whole burden upon Ireland, and lessen the burden upon England and Scotland. I entirely differ from the right hon. Gentleman. My view has always been that we are carrying out great national objects, and that every part of the United Kingdom should aid in the fulfilment of that object. The right hon. Gentleman admits that this great object can only be carried out by the mortgaging of the rates. [Mr. MORLEY expressed dissent.] At all events, the right hon. Gentleman will not differ from me when I say that it would be quite impossible to bring for- 764 ward any scheme of land purchase which did not have some local guarantee behind the Imperial Exchequer. The Government think, and I am sure rightly think, that the British public will never consent to employ their credit unless there is some local resource behind. This is the sacrifice we ask of the Irish Local Authorities in order to carry out the present scheme of land purchase; but we do not believe the Local Authorities will be called upon to sacrifice their rates, and experience of the Ashbourne Acts warrants that confidence. They are simply asked that their funds may be used as far as security is concerned. But do not the taxpayers of Great Britain give anything on their part? They give a great deal. In the first place they give their credit, although I am bound to say that I do not believe the loan of that credit will cost the British taxpayer 6d. in money. Still, that fact does not prevent the loan being a great boon to Ireland. It is a boon which, by universal admission, no effort of Irishmen could ever obtain for themselves. I venture to say that no Irishman will get up in the House and say that, if Home Rule were granted to-morrow and Irishmen had the settlement of the land question, they could settle that question by the aid of Irish credit. It would be financially an impossible task. While, then, we have asked the Irish localities to help us in this great work by the aid of their rates, the English people, on the other hand, lend them that which they would never obtain for themselves — the solidity which is given by the use of British credit. That is not all we give. This machinery of land purchase is a costly one; it cannot be made cheap, and the whole expense of this machinery is borne, not by the localities in Ireland, not by the ratepayers whose cause hon. Members opposite plead, but by the British ratepayer, for the purpose of settling a question which moreover directly affects only a small corner of the United Kingdom. All parties admit the necessity and desirability of land purchase and that it is a great work, and I contend that under the Bill all will contribute to the great result—the Irish localities by their rates, and the British public by the aid of their credit and also by bearing the whole cost of the 765 machinery—no trifling cost either— required for carrying the scheme into operation.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I failed to catch the observations of the hon. Gentleman. So much for the criticisms the right hon. Gentleman has made, partly on the Bill as it stands, and partly on the Bill as it would be modified by the suggestion I threw out in November last. Now I come to the discussion of the right hon. Gentleman's own proposal, which is a very simple one. It is that we should wait until County Councils are created, that when created they should be required to consider each transaction between landlord and tenant and give their decision upon it, and that no purchase should be allowed to take place until the decision had been given in favour of that transaction. Now I say that such a plan is perfectly impossible. Irish Local Authorities, as far as we have had experience of them, in a large number of cases—I will not say all, but certainly the large majority—have been animated very much more by a desire to further a political cause than the particular interest of the people they represent. [Cries of "No" from the Irish Benches.] That statement cannot be denied, at least with any plausibility. I do not intend to go through all the cases I could enumerate, as hon. Members below the Gangway opposite know, to prove what I say—but what, for instance, does the Committee think of a Resolution passed on the 11th of November, 1886, by the Ennis Board of Guardians, in which the Nationalist Guardians pledged themselves to support no candidate in a future election unless he had been a member of the Irish National League for six months previous to the day of election, and unless he produced a certificate to that effect signed by the secretary and the president of the branch? That may or may not be a proper Resolution, but it is certainly a political one, is entirely alien to the administration 766 of the Poor Laws, and shows that these elected bodies in Ireland are not prepared to subordinate polities to every other consideration. I will take a later case. It is that of the New Ross Guardians, who were dissolved. It appears that Lord Emly had some controversy with his agricultural tenants; the National League interfered, and the tenants were induced to join in refusing to pay their rent. The tenants had been evicted, and the Board of Guardians established what was called a " ward of honour " for these non-agricultural town evicted tenants and gave them special and favourable terms. I am not now criticising the action; my point is that this is political and nothing but political, when an elected Board of Guardians throw themselves into a land controversy and take a decided side, with such vigour that they violate every rule that should guide their behaviour. Ultimately they were dissolved. I am not sure that the case is different with regard to the larger Board of Guardians at Cork. They were dissolved because time after time they insisted on discussing politics and political resolutions before they came to their proper business, to the neglect of that business. If I remember rightly the final cause of their abolition was that they discussed for four hours whether or not there should be a resolution of condolence with the senior Member for Cork, with regard to certain incidents of an entirely non-political character. Again, I am not criticising their action, but it shows that politics and politics alone in certain circumstances, to the exclusion of every other consideration, animate these elected bodies. In this connection I think that I shall not be out of order if I remind the Committee of an interruption made, some time ago, by the hon. Member for Longford. The question was asked who would determine the price of the land, and the hon. Member for Longford said, "The Land League." I have no doubt that as far as the efforts of the hon, Member were concerned it would be, if not the Land League, some other organisation which, acting through the Local Authority, would attempt as far as it could to determine the price at which these land transactions should be carried 767 out. I would like to ask the Committee what species of justice would be done under a Bill framed on such lines. The case of Mr. So-and-so and his tenants comes before the County Council, elected on political grounds, and animated by political motives, and perhaps with a desire that the land war should continue, The County Council says, " Mr. So-and-so has evicted tenants, he is a rack-renter," or they will say he is guilty of some of those numerous offences which popularly elected bodies in Ireland are wont to find in landlords, and the bargain will not be allowed to be concluded except on the terms of seven or 10, or 13 years' purchase. Each bargain which has to pass this Local Authority would be criticised, not upon its merits, or with a view of determining from local knowledge whether the transaction was a fair one or not, but with the view of beating down the price of land and bringing the landlord, to use the classic phrase, to his knees. Who can doubt that these Local Authorities would be used for "bearing "the price of land in Ireland, for reducing it below the normal value, and making the position of any landlord who happens to contravene the laws of the League, or whatever organisation may happen to be paramount, a difficult one by saying that unless he gave in he would not be allowed to sell an acre of land to any tenant, however willing that tenant might be to buy, and however capable he might be to pay the annuity? That seems to me to be a perfectly conclusive argument against any form of local control which would allow a popularly-elected body—that is to say, a body elected by those who wish to purchase, and not by those who wish to sell—to determine which transaction should be accomplished and which should not. If any plan is adopted I hope it will not be a plan which gives control over each particular transaction. It would make the Bill not worth passing. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that one of the great recommendations of his plan, if it is adopted, is that we shall not come into direct contact with the purchasing tenant. The right hon. Gentleman has not used the word " buffer," but I understood his argument to imply that his plan would interpose 768 between the State and the tenant, when he had bought his holding, some kind of buffer. For my own part I admit that if it has that effect there may be much to be said for it, but I cannot see how the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is to have that effect. If the Local Authorities were the persons who received the annuity, I think that there would be something in it; but the plan of the right hon. Gentleman proposes nothing of the kind. The Local Authority are simply to give their consent, and when that is given the tenant would be as directly in contact with the lending Exchequer as previously.
MR. J. MORLEY"
Yes; but then in a previous Debate I expressly stated that the advantage of giving the County Council or the Local Authority an interest was so great as to be indispensable to my scheme.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It would be necessary to have some body in the position of mortgagee. But does the right hon. Gentleman really suppose that the assent of the Local Authority alone would secure us from repudiation? I would think very little of any Local Authority to be created in Ireland if they could not find a plausible excuse for any amount of repudiation. Repudiation has always been by popularly-elected bodies. [" Oh!"] They are the repudiating people of the world, and the fact that a Local Authority has stated that it would permit such a transaction to take place would be no security, moral, financial, or physical against repudiation after the transaction has been completed. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by drawing a picture of the confusion in which Ireland would be if the Government were doing its best by legal process to collect instalments and levy rates in a time of distress. I want to know how the position of things would be worse in a time of distress under this Bill than it would have been under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman? We have, at all events, contemplated the possibility?— nay the probability—that such cases will occur. Rightly or wrongly, we have provided an insurance fund by which such distress can be met. No such insurance fund existed in the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. In that scheme also there 769 would have been an authority collecting rents in time of distress, and if those rents were not collected there would have been a sacrifice of local resources. It is quite true that in our case the bodies that would be hampered would be the Local Authorities of the county, and that in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the body would have been a Parliament in College Green. But how does that make the matter better? The right hon. Gentleman appears to expect that a scheme of this kind would come to grief if a time of distress occurred. But that difficulty he was ready to throw on the shoulders of the unfortunate Irish taxpayer, and no machinery was provided for dealing with such a contingency. The right hon. Gentleman simply said, " We have to collect an additional tax. If you cannot pay it, manage your own affairs; we cut you adrift."
§ MR.A. J. BALFOUR
But that does not make the matter better. Though it is true that the scheme of 1886 gave more to the Local Authorities than the present measure, it was given at the expense of the tenant; and therefore the tenant was far less able to meet a time of distress as contemplated under that Bill than he would be under the present measure. Therefore, I say if we are to condemn this Bill, which of all others provides machinery for dealing with distress, because in such a time it might cease to work favourably, you condemn with a double and treble condemnation every Bill which has preceded it, and, most of all, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. I have now endeavoured, point by point, to meet the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think anyone will say I have failed to face the difficulties of the position, that I have shirked the material issues which have been raised, or that I have not done my best to meet the powerful but laboured argument of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ (11.24.) MR PARNELL (Cork)
We have had some interesting discussions initiated by English Members as to plans proposed for protecting the British tax payer from any loss or damage under the operations of this Bill, and I am far from 770 saying that English Members are not entitled to object to the principle of this measure and to propose every possible precaution to save the community from loss. We now come to a different undertaking, and an attempt is being made by the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) to protect the Irish taxpayer from the risk and from what I join with him in considering to be the unfair position in which the Bill proposes to place him. When I saw this very important Amendment appearing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman I wondered why it was that no Representative of the Irish taxpayer had proposed it, and that it had been left to him to protect the interests of the Irish taxpayer. In saying that I do not dispute the right of the right hon. Gentleman to move the Amendment, nor do I in any way seek to cast doubt on his bona fides in moving it. Certainly I do not undervalue the protest which the right hon. Gentleman has made against the absence of local control, for which the Bill is distinguished, and which I think is its greatest blot. The right hon. Gentleman has very justly and very eloquently shown that there ought to be local control in return for the hypothecation of Imperial grants in aid, and that, failing such local control, we are violating one of the first principles of representative self-government which you carried out in establishing County Councils for Great Britain. But the right hon. Gentleman went further, and in doing so I cannot see my way to accompany him, because the right hon. Gentleman says that until local control is given he will not allow any sales to take place under the operations of this Act. If the Amendment be accepted as it stands an absolute end will be put to all further land purchase in Ireland until County Government has been established, except with regard to the unexhausted balance of the Ashbourne Acts, and probably with regard to those sales which have been partially completed in Ireland. I have had an opportunity of learning a good deal about the wishes of the Irish tenants in regard to land purchase, and I do not believe they desire that Irish land purchase should be interrupted. I think they want to get the 40 per cent. 771 reductions which they hope to obtain under the operation of this Bill. I think it is a fact that will not be denied by any Representative from Ireland representing an agricultural constituency that there is a great anxiety on the part of the Irish tenants to get rid, to some extent, of the crushing burdens of the judicial rents which are now upon them. The Irish tenants welcomed this measure in the hope that their burdens might to some extent be relieved by its operation. The right hon. Gentleman says that Local Government may be established next year or the year after. We do not know that it will. I have been hearing of the probability of its establishment for the last 25 years; and if we placed in the Bill the proviso of the right hon. Gentleman that there should be no further land purchase in Ireland until County Government is established, and if the Liberal Party should come into Office after the next General Election, as I suppose they intend to do, how much County Government would they establish, knowing that by refusing to establish it they would prevent the advance of one single penny for land purchase in Ireland? We do not exactly know what the Liberal Programme is. We have not heard anyhow, that it is County Government. We have heard that it may be Home Rule, or " one man one vote." In more recent times the balance seems rather inclining to "one man one vote " as the pièce de resistance, at all events, for the first year. That programme, if carried out, would postpone the establishment of County Government by the Liberals when they came into Office by at least two years from the present date, assuming we get a General Election within 12 months; and, looking to the fact that during the 25 years that County Government has been spoken of as likely to be passed in a short time the Liberal Party have been mainly in Office, I do not think we are entitled to postpone land purchase indefinitely because of the prospect that it will be probably passed by the Liberal Party in the near future. The opinion of the Irish tenants will probably be found to be that " A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and while I should be glad to support the right hon. Gentleman in the attempt to obtain local control, I should not wish to go with him in saying that we shall 772 have no land purchase until we get Home Rule. With the view of improving the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman and making it coincide with the ideas I have ventured to put before the Committee, I have drafted a further Amendment. I do not know whether it will meet with his acceptance. I suppose I can hardly hope for the acceptance by him of any suggestion from me, but I offer it to him and to the Committee in the belief that it will amend his proposal in such a fashion as will enable us as far as possible to secure local control without putting a stop to the progress of land purchase. I propose to insert, after the first two words of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment—" After the enactment of any measure establishing County Councils in Ireland.The Amendment would then read thus:—" Provided that after the enactment of any measure establishing County Councils in Ireland no guaranteed Land Stock shall be issued," &c, " unless the making of such advance shall be previously approved by a resolution of the County Council elected to represent the county in which the holding is situate under an Act of this or the next ensuing Session of Parliament.Having said so much on the Amendment, I wish to express my very great disappointment that we have had no clear pronouncement from the Chief Secretary with regard to his proposed method of plébiscite for ascertaining the views of the Irish ratepayers before this measure comes into operation. May I ask from the right hon. Gentleman that before this Debate closes we shall have some more specific announcement? The Committee is entitled to so much guidance from the right hon. Gentleman before being asked to divide on the Amendment. Undoubtedly it would be advantageous if the ratepayers were afforded an opportunity of watching the operation of the Act from time to time and saying whether they will co-operate in its working. This would be a valuable concession to the principle of local control, for it would give the ratepayers the right of deciding whether their credit shall be pledged or not. If it should be found—which I do not apprehend—that popular opinion is against the operation of the Act, then the County Councils could step in and stop 773 it. Of course, the proposal for handing over to the County Boards the duty of adjudicating upon each separate sale is much preferable, and I hope that before the discussion proceeds much further the Chief Secretary will explain fully the views of the Government on this point. With regard to the larger question of the effect of land purchase upon the future settlement of Ireland and the peace of the country, I certainly think that the policy of the Front Opposition Bench is a false one. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, that the land question ought to be first settled, so that the working of Home Rule would be easier, is the true one from his point of view. It is, indeed, surprising that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to convert his colleagues to his own more sensible views. I have always been amazed that they have been able to carry the right hon. Gentleman BO far along with them as they have done. There can be no doubt that the land question will be a difficult one for any Liberal Government, and if they can get one-third or one-fourth of it out of the way, the task of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will pro tanto have been undoubtedly and materially facilitated and assisted. However, now that the scruples of the English Radical school have been voted down by the Committee on the previous Amendment, I hope that the measure will be considered from the Irish point of view, and that the Chief Secretary will express his willingness to assent to any reasonable proposals coming from the Irish Benches which will make the measure a more workable one and remove grave objections entertained by many hon. Members from Ireland to it in its present shape.
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment,
After the word " that," in line I, to insert the words " after the establishment of elected County Councils in Ireland."—(Mr. Farnell.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ (11.45.) MR. FLYNN
It seems to me that the Amendment now before the Committee would act as a premium to any Conservative Go- 774 vernment never to establish County Councils in Ireland; and for this reason: that if there were any possibility of the County Councils or Local Bodies unduly hampering the operation of a Land Purchase Act, the Tory Party would not be anxious to facilitate the creation of such bodies with such inconvenient powers. If the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork were accepted, it would act as a strong inducement to the present Government and to any future Tory Government never to establish County Government in Ireland. The speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland naturally divides itself into two parts. With characteristic dexterity he evaded the main point put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, but he addressed himself with great force and, at times, great vehemence of denunciation to a defence of the system of Local Government which he says the Tory Party are to establish next year or the year after. If I understood properly the gesture of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Government have already a Bill on the stocks, but I shall refuse to believe in its reality until I see it launched from the stocks. Why did the Chief Secretary flout and sneer at and deride the operation of Local Government in Ireland? Why did he persist in bringing forward unfavourable examples? Why did he quote cases in which Boards of Guardians had been superseded? Is that the way to recommend Local Government for Ireland? Notwithstanding the platonic affection of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for the Member for Cork, I entertain a wholesome scepticism as to the intentions of the Tory Party to establish Local Government. The Chief Secretary managed to lay delightful emphasis on the phrase which suggested that they will give circumscribed and limited Local Government. In fact, he foreshadowed that the Local Authorities in Ireland are to be shorn of nearly all power, and will, practically, be of no use whatever. I contend that the larger portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was not a defence, but a denunciation and condemnation, of Local Government in Ireland, and an attempt to demonstrate that the Irish people were utterly unfit to take advantage of 775 any legitimate or useful measure. The point which he evaded answering was as to what kind of local control he in tends to give to the Irish people. What will be the referendum to the rate payers? And it is important to know this, seeing the suspicious alliance which is now growing up under our eyes. I doubt whether, even to satisfy the Member for Cork, the Chief Secretary will give us the terms of the Reference. All he has done is to tell us in vague terms that he may or may not, in the discussion on Clause 6, outline the intentions of the Government with regard to the plébiscite. I think we are justified in calling for a distinct statement on that point, and we tell the Committee and the country that they are drifting into what may become a very dangerous condition of things by failing to deal with these matters. I contend it is absolutely essential to have Local Bodies established in Ireland in order to have some control over the question of land purchase. It is the very essence of despotism and tyranny to tax a locality for any purpose without giving that locality some voice in the management and disposal of the funds thus raised. If you do not give us the opportunity by means of a National Body established in Dublin, and if, at the same time, you refuse to give us control by means of bodies established in the various localities, then I say the Treasury and the British taxpayer will be incurring serious responsibility. I had intended to bring forward a number of cases in which purchasers under the Ashbourne Acts were already complaining of having been forced under threat of eviction to purchase their holdings on terms so onerous as to be impossible of fulfilment. Are you going to repeat that under this Act, and on a large scale? You have by coercion exhausted our country, you have stopped legitimate combinations among tenants, and I should like to know—
§ It being midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow, at Two of the clock.