§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 5.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, to leave out Sub-section 1. — (Mr. J. Morley.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'Where' stand part of the Clause."
§ (4.12.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I must remind the Committee that, 67 practically, land purchase has been in operation in Ireland for the last 22 years, and during the last five years it has been followed on a large scale upon principles which in their main features are the same as those of this Bill. I should have expected, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, in suggesting this provision, would have based it upon the results of experience, and that he would have felt it necessary to convince the Committee that the results of the system, as it is actually administered, have proved the necessity of this additional advance in the nature of insurance money. No suggestion of the kind has come from the right hon. Gentleman. But I can understand his silence, because if the Reports of the Land Commission are referred to it will be seen that the arrears which have actually accrued are so trifling—not amounting to more than 2d. in the £1 upon the annuity—that the mention of them is an argument against this sub-section rather than in favour of it; and this provision, so far from being justified by the test of experience, is proved by experience to be unnecessary. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, in the Colony of Victoria, had to frame and administer a Land Purchase Act. He tells us that the purchasers were 100,000 in number, and that the land taken up was equal in extent to the whole arable land in Ireland. The purchasers included many Irish evicted tenants, and Sir Charles Duffy testifies to the fact that ever since the initiation of the system the annuities have been fully paid up, and with remarkable punctuality. I mention this fact to show that the principle of ownership and the growth of interest with men who have been converted from tenants into landed proprietors operate so powerfully where the terms of purchase have been fair that really no default is to be apprehended. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, then, to consider this case, which is altogether analogous— [Cries of "Oh!"] I am astonished that the Representatives of the Irish landlords whom I see opposite should be excited on the subject. I maintain that if these powers are retained you will destroy the Act. In the Bill of last year you were so careful of what you call "free con- 68 tract" that you would not permit the Land Commissioners to fix the price of a holding unless both landlord and tenant agreed to refer that question to them. But in this Bill you play so fast and loose with the principle that even when the landlord and tenant are agreed, and the contract has been ratified by the Land Commissioners, you propose to allow the Lord Lieutenant, who may be—as was the case last year—an Irish landlord, to alter the terms of purchase—in fact, to turn the bargain upside down, and alter it without regard to the views of either the landlord or tenant. Such a proposal is both grotesque and indefensible. Such powers are given to the Lord Lieutenant under Sub-section 3, with reference to the holdings dealt with in Sub-section 1, as will, if passed into law, defeat the object of the Bill. It would be in the power of the Lord Lieutenant, if he asserts his right, to levy a fine upon any contract by extending the period during which the higher annuity is to be paid. You may say that he would not do so; but, on the other hand, he might, for a Lord Lieutenant can do pretty nearly anything he likes. I daresay that hon. Members opposite are not anxious to sell their own estates; but they represent the interests of those who are anxious to sell, and I hope they will join with us in insisting that this power be excluded from the Bill. I am encouraged by the very nature of the case to believe that the Government will consent to strike out this extraordinary provision. The mere existence of such a power would create enough misapprehension in the minds of the tenants to greatly restrict the sales. Even the scheme for insurance for a period of five years will unquestionably be attended by the most deleterious effects. In the first place, it will encourage purchases. There are in Ireland some 20,000 farmers who have bought under the Ashbourne Act, and these men enjoy reductions of from 36 to 45 per cent. on their old rents. If the tenants under this Bill are asked to accept a position in painful contrast to that of the purchasers under the Ashbourne Act, the tendency to purchase will be minimised. What will be the reduction under this Bill? The right hon. Gentleman puts it at 14 per cent.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I was wrong in that.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then what is really done is this: The Land Commission will find out what is the nature of the value of a holding in relation to the rent. The rates will be about 7 per cent. of the total rent, and deducting them from, say £107, the net annual value would be £100, and the tenant would pay £80. The Land Commissioners will find out the value and reduce it.
§ MR. SEXTON
If the tenant is able to secure a reduction of 10 per cent. that is enough for me. But when you take into consideration the fact that the tenant will be put to the expense of travelling to and fro in connection with the purchase, that he will further have to pay the cost of the transaction and of legal advice, and that he will also have to provide for drainage and other charges, my belief is that if you insist upon this insurance clause the relief to the tenants for the first five years will be nothing, or next to nothing. I am quite convinced that the effect of the insurance clause will be greatly to discourage purchase. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Morley) has urged that the effect of this provision will be to increase the price artificially; but the Chief Secretary says "No, because if you discourage purchase you cannot increase the price." For my own part, I think that both things may happen. If you purchase an annuity to represent the true annual payment in respect of the purchase money, everyone in Ireland will know what has been the actual rent purchased. But what will be the effect of this insurance? All the transactions all over Ireland for the next five years will be as if farms had been bought at 20 years' purchase, while the Land Commission have refused to sanction many transactions at 14 and 15 years' purchase, because they think the holding is not sufficient security for the 70 advance. It would be difficult, under such circumstances, to discover what had been the actual value of the laud as tested by the number of years' purchase given. The effect of this provision is to obscure facts, and by obscuring facts to obscure judgment. Further, it will artificially raise the price of land by making it appear that the transactions have taken place on the basis of 20 years' purchase. Moreover, the provision will create a difficulty at a most critical period. The Chief Secretary urged the other night that it would be a provision for a bad year. Undoubtedly that would be so if we could satisfy ourselves that the bad year would not occur until the five years were over. But suppose that it occurs, as is most likely, within the first five years, when the struggling owner is in special difficulties, and his credit has not yet been established, what is likely to happen? My contention is that the first five years is the most critical period, and if the tenant goes through those five years he will most likely go through all the rest. The insurance provision, instead of aiding the solvency of the tenant, in my opinion strikes a blow at that solvency. I think the scheme is a thoroughly bad one, and I am satisfied that it never proceeded from the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever else the right hon. Gentleman may be he is certainly too adroit to have drafted a scheme of this kind—one of the most clumsy that ever disfigured a Bill. Nor is it comprehensive or even in its operation. In some cases it is adequate, while in others it is absolutely oppressive. In the case of a tenancy at an annual value of £5 at 19 years' purchase, the advance would be £95, the annuity £3 16s., and the insurance 4s. a year, which, in five years, would amount to £1, in respect of annuity of £3 16s. At 10 years' purchase, which might be given for moor and mountain bog, reclaimed by the tenant, the advance would be £50, the annuity £2, or £10 in five years, so that by that time provision would have been made for five bad years. That statement is, I think, sufficient to condemn the scheme. But I lay down the principle that if this insurance is required at all, it ought to be comprehensive in every case in which it is applied, and so far as it is applied the inci- 71 dence of the charge ought to be equal, This, however, is not a system of insurance hut rather a system of fine. On the one hand, there may be cases in which the provision is most inadequate, and, on the other, there will be cases in which the impost will become most oppressive. I would suggest that a line should be drawn at £25. Below that annual value the tenants of Ireland have a very hard struggle to live, and the true principle would be to give tenants under that line the full benefit of their bargains under the Act, while you impose upon tenants above that line, and who will probably have some surplus, this principle of insurance, if you will. Then, again, instead of making the insurance increase as the rent goes down, I would suggest that there should be one uniform rate of 5 or 10 per cent. charged all round upon the normal annuity. At the end of five years such a provision would give you a sum equal to one half-yearly payment. I would not, however, make this an arbitrary rule, because there may he young tenants who would be willing and desirous of increasing the insurance rate in order to accelerate the period when they would enjoy the complete ownership of their farms. The right hon. Gentleman says that he proposes to make provision for a bad year. I think he is labouring under a fallacy. He seems to think that he can use the money of the Irish tenants better than they can use it themselves, and he believes that if they get the full value of the reductions they will not save the money. I think that experience and history teach the contrary. In America and elsewhere no other race has exhibited such brilliant examples of economy and thrift. I maintain that if you allow the Irish peasants the full advantage of the credit of the State—if you give them the full benefit of the reductions to which they are entitled, they will make use of the difference in the development of their homes. These are my arguments against this provision. I think that it should be struck out altogether; but if you retain it, then in the congested districts the tenants should be given a chance of paying their annuities, but they and all tenants who pay under £25 a year should not be obliged to pay to an insurance 72 fund. Furthermore, instead of imposing the insurance on the first five years in succession, which will be the hardest years of the tenants' struggle, let it be imposed on alternate years, so that he may have some remission and ease between. I also wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the State advance may now be more than 20 times the annual value?
§ (4.40.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I may say, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, that in the Bill of last year the State advance was limited to 20 years' purchase, and it is in view of that Bill that the present one has been brought in in the shape to which the hon. Gentleman has called attention.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No; it only says it may be any number of years' purchase for which the Land Commissioners think the security adequate. The 20 years' limit in last year's Bill is not contained in this Bill, and therefore the Return must be corrected in this respect; the advance may now be made to any number of years' purchase for which the Land Purchase Commissioners think that the security is adequate. The hon. Gentleman's objection to the scheme is based upon his experience, and he has told ns that from his experience of the Ashbourne Acts of 1885 and 1888 he does not anticipate any large number of arrears. That, I think, is true, but it must be remembered, in the first place, this is a very much larger scheme than any which has been adopted before, and therefore requires special safeguards which perhaps have not been necessary in dealing with smaller amounts. We are contemplating the operation of the scheme extending to districts where there has practically been no such thing as purchase up to the present time, as for instance, in the West of Ireland and the poorer districts. We cannot ignore the fact that tenants who purchase in those districts may find themselves, possibly from no fault of their own, in very embarrassed circumstances in a bad year, and then an Insurance Fund will be necessary. With regard to the experience of Sir C. Gavan Duffy in Australia, which the hon. Member re- 73 ferred to, I have not had an opportunity of looking into that question, but I conjecture that there the transactions have been with regard to virgin soil, bought at perhaps less than £1 an acre, where the whole value was contributed by the industry of the tenant, working on this virgin soil. In the case of Ireland the tenants, or their predecessors in title, have expended a good deal of money in bringing the land to its present state of cultivation, so that we cannot expect a large increase in the value of the asset, and therefore any financial operation based on the value of the holding without any security behind it in the shape of a Guarantee Fund must necessarily be of a much less solid kind than would be the case where the sale is one of fertile virgin soil at a very small rate of interest.
§ MR. SEXTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to draw his attention to Sir Gavan Duffy's words, which were to the effect that the fact of allowing the annual rent to count as part of the purchase money constituted a powerful inducement to the purchaser to make regular annual payments.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was not referring to that particular argument; I am far from desirous of undervaluing the effect which the feeling of proprietorship may have on the purchasers, but we may, I would point out, anticipate less of that feeling in Ireland because legislation in the past has been such as to give security of tenure. The hon. Gentleman opposite attacked the provision in Sub-section 3. I think there are very strong reasons in favour of that provision which I will give when the sub-section is reached. I am aware my hon. Friend the Member for South. Tyrone does not concur as to the wisdom of the provision. The principal argument advanced against the sub-section is that under Lord Ashbourne's Act a purchasing tenant gets off 30 or 40 per cent, of his rent, while under the provisions of this Bill he will only get off 20 per cent., the difference of 20 per cent. representing a further obligation thrown upon the purchaser. The Committee, however, must see that this obligation is not of the same character as the obligation to pay the annuity. The latter is an absolute obliga- 74 tion, independent of all good or bad fortune; but the obligation to pay this additional 20 per cent., which represents the tenant's insurance fund, is an obligation capable of modification if the tenant suffers from undeserved misfortune. If any scheme of land purchase is to work smoothly, and is not to be accompained by extremely hard cases, some provision, not materially different from this one, is necessary. I now come to the criticisms passed by the hon. Gentleman on his scheme of insurance. The hon. Gentleman pointed out objections to which, he said, his own scheme was not open. The hon. Gentleman proposes that there shall be an ad valorem insurance of 10 per cent. on the annuity. In the case of tenants who buy at less than 20 years' purchase, that will have the extraordinary effect of making the duty greater than the rent they pay their landlords. Again, in the case of a tenant giving 25 years' purchase to the annuity, which is equal to his former gross rent, the hon. Gentleman desires to add another 10 per cent. It seems to me that while the scheme in the Bill is open to criticism, the hon. Gentleman's plan would operate far more harshly and far more unjustly. I will go further, and say that an ad valorem fund is not the proper mode of insurance. Companies who insure against fire have different rates, according to the character of the buildings insured, and life insurances differ in the same way, and so it is clear that the insurance on these holdings ought to be increased exactly in proportion to their liability to difficulties and misfortunes. The plan adopted in the Bill, being automatic, will of course not be justified in every instance, but, broadly speaking, I believe it will be thoroughly justified. The tenant in the West of Ireland is, owing to climatic conditions and the poverty of the soil, peculiarly liable to misfortunes, and surely it follows that the insurance fund should be larger in that case than in the case of a man whose holding is worth 15, 17, or 20 years' purchase. It appears to me that the holdings the hon. Member would exclude from the operation of the fund are precisely those which ought specially to be included. It is exactly in the cases in which the tenants have a hard 75 struggle, in which a year of potato failure, of drought, or excessive wet produces a catastrophe in their affairs, that I wish to have the insurance fund large in order to prevent the unpleasant and odious necessity of turning them out of their holdings. Nothing that the hon. Member has said, or that the right hon. Member for Newcastle said on Friday night, leads me to doubt the wisdom of the provision in the Bill or to suggest that it should be modified.
§ (5.3.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I admit there is great force in some of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman; but, on the other hand, from the point of view of the tenants, I contend that the particular provision under discussion will tend to raise the price of holdings in Ireland and put into the hands of the landlords a potent weapon which they may use in negotiations for purchase to induce the tenants to give a larger number of years' purchase than they would otherwise do. Before, however, I deal with this point, let me say with reference to the principle of tenant insurance that the Chief Secretary has hardly estimated the inequalities of the plan he proposes as between the smaller and the larger tenants. In the case of a tenant at 18 years' purchase, I calculate that such a tenant would in the course of the five years have paid a sum equal to a half-year's instalment of the amount due to the Exchequer. If he gives 16 years' purchase at the end of five years he will have found an additional one year's instalment; if 14 years' purchase two years' instalments; and if 12 years' purchase, four years' instalments, and if at 10 years' purchase five years' instalments. I venture to ask the Chief Secretary whether it is at all necessary to require such a large proportion as that in the case of holdings bought at a low rate of purchase. I would suggest to the Government, if they carry the principle of this clause, that they should, at all events, limit the deposit of the tenant to one year's or half a year's instalments. That would be much fairer to the class of small tenants. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary twitted us with inconsistency in opposing this proposal, when we have so often used as an argument 76 against the Bill that it created glaring inequalities between the purchases under it and those who are unable to purchase. For my own part, I have often used that argument. I believe it will be totally impossible in the future to maintain two classes of occupiers in Ireland, one paying rent for ever, and the other paying 30, 40, or 50 per cent. less than their previous rent in the shape of their instalments. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to get rid, to some extent, of the glaring inequality by raising the instalments in the first five years. But will this provision really affect the financial position of the two classes? I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman rather deceives himself on that point; at all events, after five years the full effect of the reduction will come into force, and the inequality will then be apparent to everyone. The real objection to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is, that it will enable the landlord to use a very potent argument with the tenant who is negotiating with him for the purpose of raising the price of the land. Let us suppose the landlord is prepared to accept 20 years' purchase, and the tenant is only willing to give 15 years' purchase. The landlord would argue that at the lower rate of purchase the tenant would have to pay an increased instalment for five years, and that even after five years the Lord Lieutenant would have power to continue the increase. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: No.] That is what the clause provides.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will not argue with the right hon. Gentleman whether the drafting of the clause exactly carries out our intentions, but our intentions are that there shall be no interference with the bargains entered into, although there may be with future sales.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
Well, that is certainly not the apparent meaning of the sub-section. At all events, it will be possible, I understand, for the Lord Lieutenant in the case of future purchases to extend the increased instalments. The landlord will be able to say to the tenant, "If you can pay 80 per cent. for five years, why not continue to do so for a little time longer, so as to 77 give me a somewhat higher rate of purchase." Only yesterday I saw a landlord from County Cork, who told me that in his opinion this particular clause would have the effect of minimising purchase. My opinion is, therefore, that viewing this proposal from the tenant's point of view, it is an extremely unwise one. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will at all events consent to make the clause less objectionable than it is at present.
§ (5.16.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
This is a clause to which I attach the greatest importance. I venture to think that there is no clause about which so much has been said throughout the length and breadth of Ireland as Clause 5. I shall join heartily with the hon. Member below the Gangway in asking the Government to withdraw Sub-section 3, if we are right in our contention with regard to its effect. I do not think there is any analogy between the cases of Ireland and Victoria, because in Victoria there are no regularly recurring periods of distress.
§ MR. SEXTON
There are seasons of drought in Victoria, and I may say that Sir Charles Duffy, who knows both countries well, thinks the analogy perfect.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I must be allowed to differ from him. It is important to see what this clause actually does, and I may say that a stranger who heard the Debate and had not read the Bill would conclude that the insurance money was taken away from the tenant altogether, whereas the clause does not take the money from the tenant.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
No; it was not suggested. It was what the hon. Member suppressed that I object to. The clause does not take the money from the tenant. In many Building Societies there are fining down annuities, and a borrower pays higher amounts at first and lesser instalments afterwards. ["No, no."] It is so in societies of which I have knowledge. [An hon. MEMBER: They are rotten.] Anyhow, I do not see how this provision can be opposed by those who pose as the protectors of the British taxpayer. I cannot understand the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) standing up one day 78 and declaring that not one sixpence of the taxpayer's money ought to go for this purpose, and then when it is proposed to guarantee the taxpayer by means of actual cash in hand to oppose the proposal.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
I have not opposed that, and until my hon. Friend hears me oppose it he had better not make the assumption.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Well, I shall be curious to see the Division List. As I understand this clause it means that, in view of the exceptional periods that occur regularly in Ireland, some step should be taken in the Bill to provide against them. I say that is a proper and fair principle on which to act. A man whose rent is at the rate of £100 a year will be entitled under the Bill to pay, say, £68, but will have to pay £80 for the first five years, the difference going to form the Insurance Fund. The money will not be lost to him. Although I have heard a good character given to the Irish people for thrift—a character which I am not going to challenge—I say that a compulsory form of insurance is not a bad thing in itself. The money will be practically banked. I want to make one suggestion on this point to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. He is going to pay interest to the landlord on his guarantee deposit at the rate of 3 per cent. I want to know why he will make any difference with the tenant's guarantee deposit? I do not think the proposal to make an Insurance Fund is an unfair proposal. The State is doing something for the tenant, and the landlord is sacrificing something. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen who say "Oh" have not studied the Bill perhaps as much as I have. I contend that as the State and the landlord are both making sacrifices, it is not too much to ask the tenant to do this little thing—to allow a certain reserve of money to be made as an Insurance Fund for a period of distress. Although I admit that the tenants do not like the proposal, they do not want to sacrifice the Bill, and they will take the Bill with it. I am prepared to vote for it, although 9 out of 10 farmers are against it.
§ MR. SEXTON
Does the hon. Member think it fair to take five years' insurance in the case of a small tenant?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
No; I said I was prepared to support some of the proposals of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). It is on the principle of the proposal that I have been speaking, and not on its details. For the reasons I have given I will support the clause; but I hope the Chief Secretary will consider the objections that have been urged against some of its details, and will delete Sub-section 3, if it bears the interpretation that has been put upon it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the point whether it would not be wiser to amend the clause in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for West Belfast.
§ (5.26.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I think that this clause stands on a different footing from the preceding one, and is, I fancy, conceived in a spirit directly opposite to that which permeates the rest of the Bill. The other night I attempted to point out, although my remarks did not receive much attention, that the small tenants would have but little advantage as compared with the larger tenants. The Bill takes care the large tenant shall not be injured, but the smaller tenants are placed in a very different position. I agree with the hon. Member for South Antrim that we ought not to differentiate between the two classes of tenant. Even the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who has great knowledge of Ireland, says that nine-tenths of the tenants are opposed to this particular provision, and I am not surprised that they do not like it. If I may take the liberty I will make this illustration. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary set up in business as a shopkeeper in Ireland in a country town, and charged the smaller farmers a higher price than the large ones in order to have a margin against bad debts, I think he would find the small farmers very strongly objected to deal with him. Yet that is the principle of this clause. I am afraid that this Bill will have a tendency to throw the £30,000,000 into the hands of the large tenants, and that the small tenants will be prevented purchasing under it. That, I think, would be greatly to be deplored. The 80 Chief Secretary made a tour in the West of Ireland the other day. Yet I venture to say he does not know much about the country. I tell him the effect of this clause will be to prevent the small tenants buying, and I therefore strongly object to it. This is really Irish money, and not Imperial money. The whole of the money forming the guarantee, in the first instance, is from Irish funds; these form the security, and, practically, it is almost impossible that there can be any call upon the Exchequer, and yet, in spite of the protest of a large number of Irish Members—certainly the majority—the Government insist upon inflicting this fine for the first five years upon the smaller Irish tenants. Practically, the Government will be putting the Lord Lieutenant in the position of the biggest landlord in Ireland. We had a short time ago a Lord Lieutenant who was an Irish landlord, and there were continual deputations to him to induce him to reduce his rents. Those deputations ceased when he ceased to be Lord Lieutenant. But now you have the tenants continually coming to the Lord Lieutenant worrying him so to arrange the terms of repayment that their annual instalments may be reduced.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
In bad years he will have the power to reduce the payments, and the tenants will look up to him as to a landlord to obtain reductions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is a pity that discussion is not confined to the sub-section before us. The Lord Lieutenant will have no such power as the hon. and gallant Gentleman attributes to him, and it is not possible that the tenants will come to him to exercise such power.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
Well, I will defer that to a later clause, upon which there will be much to be said about the Lord Lieutenant. Anyhow, you are so treating these small tenants that in a bad year you will have to make some special arrangement by the House of Commons to meet their case. You may have to defer one instalment and distribute it over the period of future payments. You have the whole of the smaller tenants opposed to this provision, 81 and certainly the effect will be to convey the greater part of the £30,000,000 into the hands of the large farmers.
§ (5.40.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I think the progress of the Debate affords a most extraordinary illustration of the condition to which Parliament has been brought by successive efforts in land legislation. Anyone coming into the House a stranger to the Bill, and who did not keep in view the main object and purpose of the Bill, would imagine that Parliament was once more engaged in inflicting an injustice in addition to the endless series of grievances which has been inflicted by British misgovernment on the Irish people. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down practically asked, in a tone of mild indignation, what apology the British Government are going to make to the small Irish tenants for the iniquitous coercion of the Bill. Well, but what is it that an English Government propose to do that is so injurious to the Irish tenants? If the history of land legislation is referred to, in Ireland and in all other countries where attempts have been made to convert tenants into proprietors, what is found? The late Mr. John Bright, who may be looked upon as the author and originator of this legislation in Ireland, suggested that it was immensely desirable that the tenant should be made a proprietor; and that the tenant would think so, and be willing to pay for it. Therefore, Mr. Bright in his original proposals asked the tenant who wished to purchase to pay more than his rent. But what is the position of the injured tenants now? The Government asks 20 per cent. less than the rent, and this is the main grievance which the Government are creating by the Bill. As the hon. Member for South Tyrone has pointed out, the Government are not going to take from the tenants one single farthing; the tenants are only asked to increase their earlier payments in order that the number of payments may be fewer, and that they may become proprietors at an earlier period. It is said that these tenants are placed at a disadvantage with regard to the larger tenants. What would have been said, then, if the Government had said, "Where the reduction of rent is larger, 82 we shall expect that the term of repayment shall be short?" That would have been quite a fair stipulation, especially when it is remembered that when the reduction of rent is greater it is because the number of years' purchase is smaller and. the nature of the security is worse. In dealing with property in the congested districts, it is undoubtedly probable that the number of years' purchase will be less, because the character of the security is not so good. In these cases the Government, who lend the money and confer such great advantages, have a right to ask that their security should be increased, and that the term for which the money is lent should be shortened. The tenants so treated are at no disadvantage with other tenants, because they will get not only the 20 per cent. reduction of other tenants, but will pay their rent for a much shorter number of years. I heartily approve of the proposal of the Government, though I might have wished it to be carried further, and I claim for it two distinct advantages. In the first place, it gives a security not only in the formation of an Insurance Fund, but in the fact that the tenants will have paid the larger part of the sum owing in the earlier years. This provides a great inducement to the payment of the remaining instalments in later years. It will be admitted that, after a certain portion of the advance has been paid off, there is no longer any risk to the Government. The Bill merely asks that where the security is worse the debt should be paid earlier; and in asking this no great sacrifice is inflicted on the tenant. What is the position of the tenant? If he has to pay the same annuity for 49 years, after the first great advantage he will have no longer anything to hope for in his lifetime, and will get no further reduction of rent; he will get tired, and will begin to desire something more. But under this system there is something to hope for; as he pays a higher rate at first, therefore he has to look forward to its reduction; while, at the same time, by the term being shortened, he may expect to see himself the proprietor of his land in his lifetime. The hon. Member for South Tyrone says that the Government, if they insist on this pay- 83 ment, should give interest. But surely the Government do give interest; surely in the actuarial calculation interest is taken into account. The period at which, the payments will come to an end will be affected not only by the amounts paid, but also by the interest due upon them. A second advantage is that by this system a larger sum will be at the disposal of the Government for immediate use. Roughly speaking, they will have a sum of £30,000,000 to deal with, and will have no more until repayment begins; and then they will only have the amount of the repayments. If they can by any means increase the amount of repayment and bring it on at an earlier period, they will have more money for these transactions. Therefore, the Irish tenantry as a whole will be benefited by the earlier payment of a portion of the money. What are the disadvantages of the system? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford has told us that it is going to raise the price of land, and he has said that the Irish tenant will believe that he is going to pay the higher rate for ever. Does my right hon. Friend take the Irish tenant for a fool? I think that the Irish tenant may be relied upon to take care of himself, and not to listen to such an absurd and ridiculous argument as that. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the price is already fixed; the question is only how that price is to be paid. The price cannot be affected by this proposal. Then we are told that purchase will be discouraged. The hon. Member for West Belfast has made the extraordinary statement that the Land Commissioners will not find sufficient security in the land. But that argument loses sight of the fact that the value is in the land, and not in the question of instalments. The Land Purchase Commissioners may advance on the land without regard to the number of instalments, except that they may think that the security is better when the whole sum will be paid off in 30 years instead of 50. We have been told that this system is unfair to the small tenant, who will have to pay five, two, or, in any case, one year's rent in insurance. But what we are doing is to say to every tenant who comes under this Act, "You shall have this advance if you, will be 84 good enough to pay one-fifth less than your present rent." Really, it seems an extraordinary proposal when stated, as I have had to state it more than once, at a public meeting. It seems an astounding proposition that we go to the tenant and say, "First, you shall have a fair rent fixed, and having fixed a fair, rent, which, under present circumstances, it is right you should pay, we then go on to say, hat in hand as it were, If you pay one - fifth less than that fair rent we will make you proprietor of your land in 49 years." That is the legislation of a brutal Saxon Government. We offer the credit of the British nation, and do it not in favour of the small tenant alone, but of every one, big and small. The same advantage is offered all round—20 per cent off the rent if he prefers to become his own landlord. If he prefers to remain a tenant, he can go on paying his rent; but if he prefers to become proprietor, he can do so by paying 80 per cent. of this rent for 30 years, or at a maximum of 49 years. I contend, therefore, that the system cannot be properly represented as being unfair to any class of tenants. I understand the hon. Member for West Belfast to propose that the congested districts should be excepted and all tenants whose holdings are under £25 valuation. These are the last persons who ought to be excepted, because from the very nature of the case they are the people who can give the least security, and there, if anywhere, is the greatest risk; and, in the second place, I am not sure that it is to the advantage either of the tenants themselves or of the nation to tempt the tenants in the congested districts to buy their holdings unless they can be amalgamated in such a way that the tenant can make a living out of his holding. Merely to stereotype the present condition of things by relieving the tenants by offering them the shilling or two they pay as rent and calling them landlords will be very little good. Therefore, I do not see why special and exceptional advantages should be offered to them more than to any other class of tenant. Then the hon. Gentleman made an alternative suggestion, that, in lieu of taking this Insurance Fund from that class of tenant who will be best able to pay it, it should be 85 taken from everybody in the shape of 10 per cent. on his rent. Take the case of 20 years' purchase. A man under the Bill will pay £80 for £100; if we allow 10 per cent. as insurance he would have to pay £88, and the benefit, therefore, offered to the majority of tenants to induce them to purchase would be 12 per cent., instead of 20 per cent.—an alteration which might go a long way to prevent the tenants from taking advantage of the Act. For all these reasons, I think that the proposal of the Government is a good one and ought to be supported.
§ (5.56.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
I think we all agree with one remark of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Irish tenant is not a fool. The hon. Member for South Tyrone has told the Committee that 9 out of 10 of the tenants are opposed to this provision, and putting these two statements together, that the Irish tenants are not fools and that they are opposed to this, the inference is that this provision is opposed to their interests, that it is an obstacle in the way of the Bill effecting its object. The feeling against this provision is, I may say, unanimous, and even the hon. and gallant Member for Galway, that faithful supporter of Her Majesty's Government, is opposed to it. He says he dares not face his constituents after supporting, this proposal.
§ MR. KNOX
That it will much embarrass his position when he meets his constituents. The hon. Member for South Tyrone says that 9 out of 10 tenants are against it, and, indeed, I think the puzzle will be to find the 10th. Perhaps he might be that rare being whose interest has been championed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who is prepared to pay 25 years' purchase. The tenant who is prepared to buy at that—a tenant who, I am sure, many hon. Members opposite would like to meet—might be in favour of this provision, for it would do him no harm; he does not expect to get any reduction, is not affected by the provision, and might support it. But the great mass of tenants are opposed to it, and for good reason. If the Bill is fairly worked there is no necessity for it. The tenant's 86 interest ought to be sufficient security for the money advanced. Let me call attention to the argument of the Chief Secretary on this point. In support of the contention we advance the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast brought forward the case of the Australian settler, and showed how by the system of land purchase carried out in the colonies there was no loss to the State. The Chief Secretary, in reply, urged that the circumstances were entirely different in Australia. There, he said, the land was virgin soil, and the State looked to the value of the improvements the settler was about, to make. But is that not an extraordinary argument, for are not the improvements made by the tenant in Ireland as important as those the settler is expected to make in Australia? We know that the Irish tenant has made these improvements. If the tenant buys at a fair price the value of these improvements does not go to the landlord, and there is that additional security that the tenant will pay back the money, and the State will not lose a farthing. Further, I say, the provision as an Insurance Fund is absolutely useless. Take the case of a large tenant whose rent is £100, and who buys at 19 years' purchase, as he might. What does he pay into the Insurance Fund? Twenty pound—not enough to pay a third of the year's instalment. Is that not absurd as an Insurance Fund? I say, further, it is an injustice. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who is, of course, indifferent to the smaller details of Irish legislation, assumed that this provision would still give 20 per cent. whatever the Irish tenant was. That is not so. In the first place, the 20 per cent. will be less by 7 per cent., which is the amount of the landlord's share of the rates. [Cries of "No!"] I understood the Chief Secretary had admitted that; but whether that is so or not, there are some facts which the right hon. Gentleman did not take into account. There have been considerable reductions on the rents fixed under the Act of 1887. Even the last Schedule issued under the Act of 1887 showed instances where rents had been reduced 14½ per cent. Tenants will buy on the old judicial rents, 87 not on the rents as reduced; and the tenants who received a reduction under the Act of 1887 will not receive any considerable reduction during the first five years under this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman assumes that it is not the object of this guarantee to extend the benefit of land purchase to the small tenants in the West of Ireland, but I venture to call against him the evidence of the Chief Secretary; he said to-night it was his intention to extend the blessings of land purchase to the small tenants. How does the Bill propose that these blessings shall be extended? The effect will plainly be, and everybody who has seen anything of the actual work of land purchase will agree, to prevent the sale to small tenants. In the case of these small tenants in the West of Ireland there is a considerable difference, of course, between the nominal rent and the real rent the landlord receives, there are bad debts and there is the larger cost of collection, but I don't believe that represents the whole case. I do not think the only reason why the tenants buy so much cheaper than in any other part of Ireland is because there are bad debts, and the landlords are therefore willing to sell to get rid of the property. Another reason is the remote relation the economical value of the land has to the rent. Sir James Caird has stated that the economical value is such that if the rent approximated to it, the rent of the holding would be nearly nothing. The rent is not a share of the product, it is the sum paid for a licence to live on the land. But the Land Commission very rightly refuse to take into account mere considerations of sentiment. They have refused to make advances unless there is security in the economic value of the land, and in the West of Ireland they have sometimes refused to advance more than seven years' purchase. In such a case, the tenant under this provision will be actually paying three times, or nearly three times, as much as he would have been paying under the Ashbourne Act. I ask whether, if the Land Commission were satisfied that not even eight years' purchase could have been advanced on this land, it is possible to conceive that they will advance the purchase money when as much will have to be paid 88 during the first five years as would have had to be paid if the tenant had bought for 20 years' purchase under the Ashbourne Act? The effect of the provision will be that land purchase will be entirely stopped over the whole of the West of Ireland. It is a very serious thing if the Committee have determined to prevent the benefits of the Bill being extended to the small tenants of Ireland. Even under the Ashbourne Acts the small tenants have not got a fair share of the benefits, for the average purchase money has been £416 and the average rents of the tenants, fixed by the Land Commission, £16. If we multiply 16 by 17, which is the average number of years' purchase, we shall find that if the holdings, which have been sold to the tenants under the Ashbourne Acts, had been holdings of an average size, the purchase money would not have proved £416, as has actually been the case, but £272. We, therefore, find that even as it is under the Ashbourne Acts, the tenants who have bought have not been fair average tenants, but tenants holding larger holdings than the average. If this £30,000,000 is spent on holdings even of the same average size as those bought under the Ashbourne Acts, what will be the effect? Why, we shall find that not one tenant in eight will be able to buy until more than £30,000,000 has been advanced. The proper way to distribute the money equally is not to exclude any tenant by a cast-iron provision, but to facilitate sales to small tenants either by compulsion or by giving them exceptional facilities. I venture, therefore, to hope that if the Chief Secretary will not abandon this provision in its entirety—a provision condemned by almost all sections of Irishmen—that he will consent to modify it in some degree in the direction indicated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast. It is a provision which will prevent land purchase being availed of in those cases where every benevolent man, whatever his views in politics, would most wish to see it availed of. The hon. Member for West Birmingham said he did not wish to extend land purchase to these small tenants in the West of Ireland; but I venture to think that there were few Members who agree 89 with him in politics who agreed with him in that statement. We who wish to benefit the poorer tenants in Ireland must offer strenuous opposition to a proposal which may do some good to the rich tenants, but which will work unmitigated evil to their poorer brethren.
(6.13.) THE CHAIRMAN
I think I ought to point out to the Committee that we are slipping into a novel and more than doubtful practice. In Committee the Amendments to a clause are first considered and subsequently the merits of the clause as a whole. On the last clause the hon. Member for West Belfast moved the omission of the first sub-section in order that he might state a general opinion as to the clause with a view to its probable alteration and more speedy discussion and settlement. It was obviously convenient that such a course should be adopted, and so long as the discussion is confined to the possible emendation of the clause, so as to make its passage more easy, it is convenient to allow such a discussion to be taken at the beginning. But from what we have heard of the discussion of the principle of the present clause that discussion has not been with the view of emendation to speed the passage of the clause, and, therefore to allow such a discussion to take place at the commencement and again at the close of the clause, would simply be to double the Debates in Committee.
§ (6.15.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
In considering your ruling) Sir, I am struck by one fact, namely, that much as the discussion may have proceeded on the clause, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham managed to give it considerably greater breadth, because he managed to insert or insinuate in the course of his remarks a general lecture on British bounty to Ireland which certainly did not seem, quite relevant. However, as he did so, I would only take leave to remark that the astonishing fact is this that great as your bounty is we are not in the least grateful for it. The only Act of the present Parliament in which we value in the least your bounty, is that which will enable us to 90 get your hands off our throat. I have been listening to some remarks from the Chief Secretary in defence of the 20 years' limit. He has stated, and he has been borne out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that for some extraordinary reason the more hazardous the operation is by reason of the tenant giving an enormously increased price for his holding—the more ruinous is the bargain for the tenant—the less the State requires insurance. I confess, my intellect not being of the Birmingham pattern, I am wholly unable to follow that class of thought. I should have thought that the bigger the price the tenant gave the more risk there was that the tenant would not be able to pay his instalments. That, however, is not the view of the hon. Member for West Birmingham. The man who gives 20 years' purchase for his holding has to pay a small amount of insurance, but the man who gives, say, two years' purchase, has to pay an enormous sum. That is an argument which is supposed to show us the absolute superiority of the British Legislature, and to demonstrate our own inferiority and the absolute folly of cherishing the notion that we are capable of managing our own affairs. Under the Ashbourne Act the condition of the tenant was this: He owed his landlord two years arrears. He lived under a lease which he was supposed to have taken after the passing of the Act of 1870. He was compelled to buy by reason of the threat of eviction, owing two years' arrears, at 27 years' purchase. The consequence was that his annual instalments were more than the rack rent he had been paying. What did he get, you will ask, by purchasing? He got the wiping off of two years' arrears, the staving off of the Sheriff from his door, and yet that man would not have to give the British Government any insurance. But if he buys at seven years' purchase under this clause he will have to pay you an enormous amount for the Insurance Fund. I cannot undertand that class of reasoning. The suggestion of the Government is this: the Chief Secretary has persuaded himself that the larger the price the tenant gives, and the larger the number of years' purchase, the safer the State is. He has also persuaded 91 himself that it is the small tenants who will give the smaller number of years' purchase. I ask what is his data for that conclusion? What is it founded on? We have not been told. I conceive it will be the poor man who will give the larger number of years' purchase. And why? Because he is not able to make the bargain for himself. It is the man who has arrears hanging over him who gives the most money for his land; it is that man whose bargain is of a character that requires a strict insurance by the State. It is not likely that the man of means and with the money, who can wait for the market, is going to give 20 or 25 years' purchase for his land. No; it is the man who has the crow bar of the sheriff at his door who will do that, and yet he is just the man that the Chief Secretary and the Member for West Birmingham join in saying, shall make a contribution in the shape of an insurance to the State. If there is any class of men who will pay their annuities regularly it is the small tenants. The man likely to make a default is the man with 20 cows; the man likely to pay regularly is the man with one cow. The reason is in the nature of things. The man with 20 cows has more risk. His cattle may have the murrain; the price of butter may fall. The man with 20 cows on a pasture allotment, is a man subject to fluctuations; and yet, according to the Chief Secretary, that is the man who is certain to pay his instalments regularly. I say it is not so. The man who is certain to pay is the man living on a bit of cut-out bog—the man who has made his holding himself with the sweat of his body, and whose property is almost as precious to him as his soul. The Chief Secretary with his fine English intellect, and the Member for West Birmingham with his gunsmith's knowledge—["Oh, oh!"]—well, it makes one impatient to hear men who know nothing at all about the subject dogmatising on it. I say the contention of these right hon. Gentlemen is a gross, palpable absurdity, and not worthy of the House. Has the House forgotten that the Government only dreamt of putting in tenants' insurance when they left out landlords' guarantee? What has become of the landlords 5th which you retained in 92 the Ashbourne Act? The landlords' 5th has had to go, and the tenants' 20th has to remain. It is a very remarkable thing that these two events should synchronise in the mind of the Government. Yet it is said that this Bill is intended in the interest of the tenants—that your British Government, which has alienated some millions of our race and starved some more, and which has allowed laws to continue which have made landlordism synonymous with horror all over the world, has now changed its spots and is legislating in the interest of the tenants. I will leave it to some of my colleagues from Ireland to believe in that view of the case and to greet the Saxon smile. For my own part, I take up my original position with regard to Tory government, and I do not believe in the Saxon smile. I should like to know upon what actuarial basis the Government calculated their tenants' insurance. Have they any figures to lay before us? I maintain that except under duress no tenant will give more than 20 years' purchase for his land. If there is fair play on the part of the Land Commissioners, the average number of years' purchase that would be given would be from 12 to 15 years. But the Government now appear to sanction the idea which is to go forth to the Land Commissioners that 20 years' purchase should be allowed. That is a landlord dodge in this clause. I banish from my mind the idea that this is done in the interest of the British taxpayer. I believe the fact is that the Chief Secretary has invented this 20 years' limit simply to incite the tenants to give 20 years' purchase for their land.
§ (6.30.) MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
It seems to me a pity that the Committee should discuss whether the large or small tenants are most likely to take advantage of the Bill as it seems to me that this clause is equally detrimental to the one as to the other. To my mind, the restrictions in the clause will tend to prevent land purchase under the Bill being carried out to any great extent. I believe the Land Commissioners themselves would be against the restrictions. I am sorry the Chief Secretary did not tell us in what way the definition clause will operate in favour of the tenant. It 93 appears from the clause that 80 per cent. is to be paid to the Insurance Fund. We know that the tenant will, after purchase, have to pay his share of the poor rate, which with other charges will bring his annual instalment up to 100 per cent. of his present rent. Therefore the tenant will derive no immediate benefit under the Bill. I do not believe that the clause will stop land purchase; but I say it will tend very much to prevent it, as it will deprive the tenants who purchase of the capital needed to work their farms. It seems to me, in fact, that it would be better for the Government to allow this 10 or 20 per cent. to remain in the hands of the tenants in the form of capital rather than in those of the Treasury, who cannot make so good a use of it. I have an Amendment lower down, but as I have had an opportunity of saying a word now I shall not move it. I shall be glad if the Government will give the Committee an expression of their view of the opinion of the Irish farmer on these points.
§ (6.35.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am so often in the position of being under the painful necessity of opposing the Chief Secretary that it will be quite a pleasant change for me to once go into the Lobby with the right bon. Gentleman, but I feel bound to do so not for the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman in support of the clause, but for those given by the hon. Members around me, who assert that this clause will destroy the Bill, and will prevent land purchase from being carried out in Ireland. For my part, I will do nothing to prevent the Bill from being destroyed—it is my dream to destroy the Bill, because I have no desire to see land purchase in Ireland carried into effect at the expense of the British taxpayer. I would not think of voting for the omission of a single word which is likely by any possible chance to destroy the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle said that under this sub-section the number of purchasers would be reduced. Well, I hope the number of purchasers will be reduced. I am anxious that there should be as few purchasers as possible, and that there should be as little of this £30,000,000 expended as 94 possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham scoffed at this, and said they would not be reduced, and that on the whole the same amount of money would have to be advanced. But Gentlemen from Ireland replied that the Irish tenants are not fools, and that men always prefer deferred payments to payments down. Of course tenants will promise to pay in 10 or 12 years rather than pay at once in the first five years, because there is the off chance of not being obliged to pay in the end. Therefore, I think that Gentlemen on this side of the House have brought forward such sound arguments against the sub-section that I shall have to vote in favour of it. There is some point once in a way in what the Chief Secretary says. The principle of this clause is a sound one, and one which should be adopted in the interest of that unfortunate man the British taxpayer. There should be as much insurance money paid up by the purchaser as possible. I voted against the Contingent Fund; I have voted against the Cash Fund because I considered that no Irishman—certainly that no Englishman—had a right to pledge the ratepayers of Ireland to incur an obligation without their consent being first obtained. But here we deal with persons who voluntarily go into these transactions. Those who purchase their land under this Bill will obtain an immediate remission of rent to the extent of something like 20 per cent., and after the expiration of five years they will have a still greater remission, while at the end of 49 years they will become the owners of the land; and all this benefit they will derive at the risk and peril of the British taxpayer. If they do not like to do it, do not let them. I shall be delighted if they do not. But as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said, I do not see why Parliament should tempt these gentlemen to accept these gifts; and it is certainly not for them to look a gift horse in the mouth. It is said that the greater the number of years' purchase the bigger the security, but I am bound to say I do not agree with that. A small number of years' purchase means a high rent, and the rent is high because there is a strong probability that it will not be paid. 95 But the Land Commissioners will not consider the thing as a question of rent alone, but will consider whether the land is of real value, which is not the case with a number of holdings which do not bear an economical rent at all, and in which the tenants are unable to make sufficient to pay the rent and keep themselves. Am I not, therefore, right in looking at the matter, not from a sentimental point of view, but from a taxpayer's point of view, and in holding that the greater the amount of security we can get banked up during the first two years the better? Under these circumstances, though regretting to find myself in such company, I shall go into the Lobby with the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ (6.41.) MR. STOREY
I should have thought that the fact that he is about to find himself in the company of hon. and right hon. Members opposite would have convinced the hon. Member who has just sat down that he is making a mistake. Looking at the matter from the point of view of the British taxpayer, I think the provision is not unreasonable. It gives us security as the taxpayers of Great Britain, and it staves off any necessity there may be for the Government of Ireland to foreclose on defaulting tenants and sell up their holdings. Therefore in principle I cannot say that I dissent from this provision. But I would point out that the security is the worst and most unfair that could be offered to the House, for the cheaper the holding the more insurance has the purchaser to pay. The hon. Member for South Tyrone referred to building societies, but if he had known anything about such societies he would have been aware that the desire always is to put as little a burden on the borrowers at first as possible. The reason is that during the first three, four, or five years the borrower will be anxious to expend most money on the land; and that is the time when the State should make it as little burdensome on the purchaser as possible. The exception I take to the Insurance Fund is that the heaviest insurance is charged where there is least risk, and that the burden is put on the early years of the transaction. If the right hon. Gentleman will have an Insurance Fund 96 we would rather prefer the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Belfast than the proposal contained in the Bill. The figures on which I found my contention are these: If a man pays 20 years' purchase on an annual value of £5 he would have to pay a total of £100. His charge to the State would be £4 a year, and under the Bill there would be no additional guarantee to pay for the first five years. But in the case of a man who buys a 15 years' purchase at the same annual value his payment would be £3 a year, if there were no Guarantee Fund, but under the Bill his payments for five years would be £4 a year. Moreover, if he bought at 10 years' purchase without guarantee he would only have £2 a year to pay, but under the Bill with the guarantee he would pay for the first five years £4 a year. Therefore, I say that in these cases of 10 and 15 years' purchase, the right hon. Gentleman is unduly pressing on the purchasers during the earlier years of payment. The proposal of the hon. Member for West Belfast is that instead of the course provided for by the Bill there should be a guarantee charge of 10 per cent. ad valorem. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) twitted the hon. Member for West Belfast with talking nonsense, and suggested to him the case of a man who gave 20 years' purchase, and there, I think, the right hon. Gentleman was unfair in his treatment of my hon. Friend. I say let us take a common case, for instance, one of 10 years' purchase, under the Bill with the guarantee proposed by the Chief Secretary—in the case of a 10 years' purchase, where the annual value was £5, the purchaser would have to pay £4 a year. But under a 10 per cent. ad valorem charge the same man would only have to pay £2 4s. a year; he would still have something in the nature of an insurance, but he would not be so severely drawn upon as in the case of the proposal under the Bill. Again, if you take the case of a 15 years' purchase with the guarantee in the Bill, the purchaser would pay £4 a year, but under the proposal of the hon. Member for West Belfast he would have to pay only £3. I submit that it is unwise for the Chief Secretary to press too 97 hardly on the people who make these bargains, and that it ought to be quite enough if he can insure what amounts to a sufficient guarantee. I say that the proposal of my hon. Friend would be much less onerous to the purchaser and at the same time equally safe for the State. I would, therefore, suggest that the Chief Secretary should substitute the 10 per cent. ad valorem charge which has been suggested as an insurance and spread it over 5 or 10 years instead of limiting it for the first five years. If the right hon. Gentleman will do this I shall be glad to support him.
§ (6.54.) MR. SEXTON
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has just said, more especially as the primary view the hon. Member takes in these Debates is always that of a Representative of a British taxpayer. I shall press my Amendment now and at every possible opportunity on the Committee and on the House, and I think that after the speeches we have heard, not only from the hon. Member for Sunderland, but also from the only Irish supporters of the Government who assume the name of Liberals, namely, the hon. Members for South Tyrone and South Derry, the modification I have suggested in the incidence of the charge deserves some further consideration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. For the sake of compromise I should be disposed not to press my Amendment, which stands lower down on the Paper, to exempt the congested districts, although theirs is a very hard case, if the right hon. Gentleman will only agree instead of his insurance scheme to accept the proposal of an ad valorem charge of the 10 per cent. all round upon the tenants. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the scheme under the Ashbourne Act is a much smaller one than this. But my answer is that the Ashbourne Act had an equal application throughout the country, and that that is not the case in regard to this measure. Moreover the question of security is one that cannot be judged merely by the number of millions expended. You may test the security asked for quite as much in the case of £1,000,000 in the case of 100 tenants as by £100,000,000 in the case 98 of 1,000 tenants—the argument being quite as powerful in one case as in the other. Nothing has been said in the course of this Debate to disprove the manifest fact that the provision contained in this Bill will necessarily have the effect of decreasing purchase by minimising credit, and I would strongly urge on the Chief Secretary that his proposal is unjust, particularly in the case of the smaller tenants. If the insurance proposed by the right hon. Gentleman is to be exacted, it ought to be exacted equally all round. I say that all the needs of the case would be sufficiently met by providing for one bad year, or say for one half-year, and my proposal simply amounts to a half-year's rent all round among large tenants and small.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I think the case would be met if the Chief Secretary would promise to consider the matter on the Report. It would be exceedingly difficult to deal with it now or before the Report stage. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will adopt that course.
§ (7.0.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not wish to say anything which would indicate that I propose to re-model the Bill in this respect at any stage, because I should only be holding out false expectations to the Committee, although, of course, I am willing to consider anything that may be brought before me. If the hon. Member for West Belfast chooses to put down an Amendment to make the man who buys at 20 years' purchase pay as much insurance as the man who buys at 10 years' purchase we can discuss it; but it seems to me that the cases stand in the same relative position as Stocks, the prices of which rise and fall with the public estimate of their security. The hon. Member seems to assume that 20 years' purchase is an unfair price, whereas the assumption underlying the Bill is that the price is fair in all cases.
§ (7.5.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 176; Noes 102.—(Div. List, No, 175.)
§ (7.20.) MR. SEXTON
As the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary adheres not only to the principle of his 99 proposal but to the detailed mode by which it is to be carried out, I have no option to do other than persevere with the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper.
In page 5, line 34, after the word "Where," to insert the words "in the case of a holding not situate in a congested districts county, the annual value of which is more than twenty-five pounds."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think the Committee will think it necessary that I should repeat at any length the arguments I have already advanced in relation to the question raised by this Amendment. But I would take the opportunity of removing one or two misapprehensions which appear to have crept into our discussion on this subject. It was certainly never suggested by me that the small tenants in Ireland were to be treated differently to the largo tenants, as appears to have been assumed by hon. Members opposite, although no doubt there is a wide distinction to be drawn between the position of tenants in different parts of Ireland. I should have thought there could be very little doubt that, to guard against default in congested districts, a purchasers' Insurance Fund is necessary. Land in the congested districts has always sold—for the last generation certainly—for a very much smaller number of years' purchase than land in other parts of Ireland. That is an inexplicable phenomenon, unless the reason is that rent in the congested districts is more difficult to collect and is paid less readily. The British taxpayer is not affected by the compulsory insurance, except in as far as it would tend to the smooth working of the Act. The person who will be affected is the purchasing tenant. To compel the Land Commission to evict a tenant who, by hypothesis, lives in a district so poor and so liable to be adversely affected by bad seasons, on the first occasion when the instalment is not paid, would not only be unfair to the Land Commission, but cruel to the tenant. It is to escape this hardship and cruelty that the Insurance Fund is established. Hon. Members habitually talk as though the provision 100 will produce great inequality. It is just as open to me to say that what the Bill does is to give to every tenant, small or great, rich or poor, a reduction of 20 per cent., and that is equality. Arguing on this basis, the proposals of the Bill are more equal than those which it is proposed to substitute for them.
§ (7.35.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman is in error in stating that the Bill gives 20 per cent. to every purchasing tenant. It does nothing of the kind, and I am surprised that the author of the Bill should have made a statement which a moment's reflection would have shown him was not well-founded. There is nothing under this Bill to prevent purchases being made to the extent of 35 or 40 years' purchase money. Indeed; before the Ashbourne Act was in operation, I knew a case in which, under the Bright's Clauses of the Act of 1870 a tenant offered 42 years' purchase and the landlord refused to take it. The right hon. Gentleman admits that the position of the tenants in the congested districts is a very bad one; that they are living from hand to mouth, and that they are not paying their rent from the produce of the soil, but that when they do pay their rents at all they pay it from money which is earned at the English harvests, and is supplemented by receipts from relatives in America. Consequently in those districts the value of the land has nothing to do with the rents. A reduction of 20 per cent. would make very little if any appreciable difference in the position of the tenants in the congested districts. The Land Commissioners are already very slow in buying these small holdings on any terms, and I have known cases in which the Land Commissioners have refused to advance even nine years' purchase. In such cases the effect of this sub-section will be to stop the sale of these holdings altogether. This leads me to what I believe to be the view of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the subject. They desire to make this Land Purchase scheme a success as far as their own position with the public is concerned. They want to be able to go to their constituents and say, "we have advanced so many millions of money and everything 101 has gone right." To achieve this result, they have put a clause in the Bill which might well have been deliberately designed to prevent the Land Commissioners promoting land purchase at all in these congested districts. In point of fact they pick out the tit-bits on the different estates throughout Ireland and leave the unsaleable land on the landlord's hands, simply in order that they may make a show in five or six years' time, when they think they have a chance of coming into power again. If this is their design they ought at least to put it forward openly and plainly, for it would be much more honest to strike this sub-section out of the Bill and insert a clause empowering the Land Commissioners to refuse any advance in case of the small holdings in the congested districts.
§ (7.45.) COLONEL NOLAN
No doubt it is a reasonable thing to form an Insurance Fund, but I would point out that the right hon. Gentleman has already formed an Insurance Fund of 6¼ per cent. by charging £4 instead of £3 15s. 0d. per cent., and so adding an extra 5s. to the payments made by the tenants. I quite agree with the hon. Member for South Kilkenny (Mr. Chance) that the effect of this sub-section would be to materially interfere with the operation of the Bill in the case of the smaller holdings. If the Amendment of the hon. Member for Belfast were introduced, the clause would be materially improved, and the result would be that a large number of small tenants would take advantage of the Bill. This, no doubt, would have a general effect throughout the country and might be the means of enabling the Government to diminish the Constabulary Force, to reduce in some respects the number of civil servants now employed, and the number of military garrisons at present maintained, cutting down the expense of governing Ireland by £1,000,000 or £500,000, as a return for a few hundreds of thousands a year, which, however, will not fall on the Treasury, but upon the ratepayers of Ireland. I would strongly recommend the Chief Secretary to accept this Amendment, which, I am quite certain, will have a very good effect in Ireland.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
We have already decided on having an Insurance Fund. The question is, whether there should be certain exceptions in the congested districts? For my part, I hardly think it reasonable altogether to exempt a certain class of tenants, and therefore I cannot support the Amendment. I would, however, press upon the Government the expediency of making some relaxation in favour of the small tenants. I would suggest that, after the word "annuity," you might insert the words "a sum equal to one year's purchase."
§ (7.55.) SIR W. PLOWDEN (Wolverhampton, W.)
I do not see the force of the objections that have been taken by gentlemen on this side of the House. I sincerely trust that no exemption will be allowed in this measure.
§ MR. CHANCE
I assume that if the tenant pays the abnormal annuity during the first five years, he is to be evicted, and his holding is to be sold?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
He will be evicted unless the non-payment is the result of agricultural distress.
§ MR. CHANCE
Then the position may be this: he may have paid his abnormal annuity for four years, so as to have practically paid eight years' rent in the four years, and in the fifth year he may fail to pay. In that case, although he has paid his instalments for three years in advance, he is to be evicted. The Land Commissioners are bound to take into account the reasonable probability of the holding being fit to pay the abnormal annuity, and ought not to make an advance if they have reason to know that it will end in five years in eviction.
§ (8.0.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman has given the case of a man who pays for four years into a large Insurance Fund, and who has no title to claim any rebate on the ground that he suffers through his own default. The Commissioners, no doubt, will consider that point.
§ MR. CHANCE
While you have this man's insurance in your hand you are going to treat him as a man who has made absolute default, although he has prepaid his rent, so to speak, for four years. I think that nothing could be more absurd. But it is admitted that 103 under such circumstances he would be turned out. The Land Commission then must certainly not make an advance on a holding without considering this point. When the Commissioners are making advances in congested districts they refuse to advance more than 8, 9, or 10 years' purchase. That being so, can any rational man on the Committee think they will advance money that will place on the holding the burden of paying 80 per cent. of the rent in the first five years?
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I should like to ask the hon. Member who has just spoken why should a man who has paid four years of this abnormal annuity stubbornly refuse to pay it for the fifth year, when he knows that at the end of the fifth year he will be relieved of the extra amount? We have been assuming to-night that the Irish tenants are not fools. The hon. Member seems to suppose they are fools. If there is to be an Insurance Fund, let it apply all round. It seems to me that it is in congested districts that an Insurance Fund is most required. I shall vote for the clause and against the Amendment.
§ (8.5.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I quite agree with the last speaker that in the congested districts default is likely to happen. I know from what I have seen in Ireland that the rent paid on these estates is not paid out of the land, but is obtained from labour in our own country, or from the labour of the children of the tenants in America or elsewhere. I have, myself, travelled over a considerable portion of these congested districts, for instance, in County Mayo and County Galway, and I made myself familiar some years ago with the condition of the Dillon estate. It is admitted on all hands that there would be no rent paid by the unfortunate tenants if the farmers did not go to Scotland for the harvest. During the five years in which this abnormal annuity is to be paid there will probably be repeated defaults, and unless the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary intends to impound the wages received by the children of the tenants as the money comes over from America, I fail altogether to see where he is going to 104 get money from the tenantry to pay even the diminished rent provided for under the machinery of this Bill, quite apart from the increase of 80 per cent., he proposes under this clause; as far as I can see, the idea of purchasing the holdings of the small tenants in these congested districts is altogether an absurd one. You will be compelling them, if they are able to pay at all, to pay not out of their own pockets but out of the pockets of their children in foreign countries, and out of earnings which have no relation whatever to the soil. You will also be compelling them to pay for property which is their own. The fee simple of hundreds and thousands of acres in congested districts is of absolutely no value. Without the labour of the tenants, the outside price would be 6d. an acre. It is possible for the landlords under this Bill to charge practically anything they like. I maintain that the whole of the price the landlords will be able to squeeze out of the tenantry—in which process they will, of course, be aided by the coercion system of the right hon. Gentleman—will be squeezed out of the money they obtain from other sources than the land.
The question is not now of authorising purchases to be made, but what is to be done in cases in which purchase has been authorised.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I will not continue that line of argument, Sir. I was only anxious to insist that the Government will have to face this probability in reference to insurance, and they will probably find that from the very start these unfortunate people will be unable to pay their 80 per cent. of the rent, and the insurance fund will fall through altogether from the first. My hon. Friend near me said just now that the object of the Government apparently is to make this system of purchase a success as far as the British public is concerned. I much doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman troubled himself at all about the British public being concerned about it. The Government take care by every means in their power to prevent loss falling on the landlords, but the application of this principle of insurance to the case of small tenants will be absolutely 105 impossible, as far as I can see, for this measure to be a success even supposing the Government are desirous of making it a success. There is another point the Committee ought to take into consideration in dealing with this matter. It has been pointed out that the Government by insisting on the application of this insurance clause to the smallest tenants in the congested districts will be introducing, if not an absolute bar, at any rate a very considerable bar or obstacle to the application of this measure to those tenants. I do not wish to impute sinister motives to the Government in this respect, but if, with their eyes open they insist on this, and thereby introduce this difficulty in the way of dealing with the congested districts, I can only say it will afford to my mind a strong presumption that they are doing it in order to get out of the second part of this Bill. If their refusal to exempt from the application of this insurance the congested districts will make it practically impossible for the Act to apply to those districts, does it not seem as though they want an additional lever to assist them in the application of the emigration provisions contained in Part 2 of the Bill? I cannot support the Government in opposing this Amendment.
§ (8.20.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)
I had not intended to intervene, but I feel bound to say that it would be the height of unfairness that tenants who make default, and who have paid six or seven years' rent instead of only four, shall be sold up. The default would be not because they stubbornly refuse to pay, but because they cannot. I believe that this will prove a great grievance, and will cause a great deal of soreness amongst the Irish tenants. The more this Insurance Fund is discussed the more its unfairness becomes apparent. It is not necessary at all to have it, but if there is to be such a fund let it be equal all round. As it has been decided to have it I support this Amendment, believing that it will to a certain degree prevent the application of the principle to a class of holdings to which it would be unjust and unfair to apply it.
§ (8.23.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 42; Noes 95.—(Div. List, No. 176.) (8.30.)106
§ (9.4.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
There is an Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Colonel Waring), upon whom, I think, you called. I do not know whether the Amendment the hon. Member for Belfast wishes to propose comes in first?
§ MR. SEXTON
Yes; my Amendment comes in first. I have to move an Amendment which raises the question of rateable insurance proportionate to the amount of purchase money and the amount of annuity. I do not know whether I may appeal to the sympathy of the Attorney General for Ireland—
§ MR. SEXTON
After the word "advance" in the first line. I have first to move the insertion of the words "is made."
In that case the hon. Member for North Down has precedence, for his Amendment in that place is on the Paper.
§ (9.5) MR. MACARTNEY
The Amendment which, on behalf of my hon. Friend, I have to move will take effect in the cases of those tenants who advance a portion of the purchase money.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (9.8.) MR. MACARTNEY
In the event of the Amendment being accepted, further words would have to be inserted after the word "holding"—
§ LORD HENRY BRUCE (Wilts, Chippenham)
I rise to order, Mr. Courtney. I believe, Sir, you have a certain discretionary power with regard to a "count." It is only about three-quarters of an hour ago since a Division was taken, and, as there were more than 130 persons present, I apprehend that it was quite palpable that a quorum was in attendance just now, when a count was called.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
In the case where the tenant has himself advanced a certain portion of the purchase money it appears to me obviously unfair that he should be called upon to contribute towards the 107 Insurance Fund, not only on the advance made by the State, but his own purchase money. I am informed that several instances have occurred under the Ashbourne Act, and, in all probability, such cases will occur under this Act. I would suggest to the Government that, having such instances in view, they should accept these words, which have no ulterior motive, but which are designed to meet the cases of those tenants who are willing and able to contribute from their own resources towards the purchase money where the advance is less than 20 times the annual value of the holding. I do not think it is necessary to elaborate the argument; the proposition is simple, and I do not know that there is any objection to it.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 34, after the word "advance," to insert the word "made."—(Mr. Macartney.)
§ (9.12.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The tenants to whom my hon. Friend refers are those who offer to pay a third of the purchase money, borrowing the remaining two thirds. Now, I doubt whether the class to which he alludes is a very large one, and probably purchasing tenants under this Act would always prefer to borrow the whole amount and use their capital in another and more productive manner. At the same time if they do decide to advance a third of the purchase money the probability is that they belong to a class from whom it is not necessary to extract an Insurance Fund. Let me, however, point out to my hon. Friend that the proposal should not be carried out by the insertion of the words here, but by proviso at the end of the sub-section. Nor do I think that the exact words proposed will carry out the intention. I think something in this way would meet his object—Provided that this sub-section shall not apply where an advance does not exceed three-fourths of the purchase money of the holding.If that would satisfy my hon. Friend I should be willing to insert it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (9.15.) MR. SEXTON
I now beg to move an Amendment after the word "advance," to insert the words "is made," 108 with a view to altering the first five lines, introducing language which instead of leaving out some tenants altogether, and taking from others a very inadequate insurance for the payment of the holding, and from others an amount in excess of the need the right hon. Gentleman describes, will apply an equal rule and exact a rateable insurance from all tenants coming under the rule, having regard to the purchase amount and the annuity. The sub-section runs thus—Where an advance for the purchase of a holding is less than 20 times the annual value of the holding as defined by this Act, then during the first five years of the term of the purchase annuity the annuity shall be 80 per cent. of such annual value.I propose that it should read—Where an advance is made for the purchase of a holding—then—during the alternate years of the first nine years on the term of the annuity the annuity shall be £4 8s. per cent. on the amount of the advance.The objection I make to the right hon. Gentleman's plan is this, he leaves out of account the tenant who ought to pay the insurance as well as others. The 20 years' tenant might pay the insurance and yet have an annuity much below the old rent, and the tenant who buys at 19 years pays only 4s. a year insurance, that is £1 on the five years. I think if we look at this it is in no sense an adequate provision against the calamity the right hon. Gentleman has in mind in pressing this Insurance Fund. In the case of the 10 years' tenant you take an insurance enough to meet a five years calamity, and it is obvious the scheme of the Bill will not act fairly. The right hon. Gentleman says he is willing to admit that 10 years' purchase may be fair, or 20 years' may be fair; he does not impeach any bargain on the years' purchase, and if he admits that, then, by inference, it follows that the tenant is entitled to such benefit as the credit of the State affords. Surely it cannot be contended that it is fair that one man should provide as insurance a quarter of an annual payment, another two years, and another five years. Why should the right hon. Gentleman require to raise a fund to meet a five years' calamity? He need not in any case ask for more than would 109 meet one year's calamity. To pile up five years' insurance will be to do what, in the first place, is unjust, and, in the second place, needless. What I suggest is not open to the charge that it leaves out some persons and hits others too hard. My proposal is, that you levy from any tenant on every alternate year for nine years, but I am willing to make it 10 per cent. for the first five years. Ten per cent. for five years would make half a year's provision, and that would be quite enough to meet the needs which the right hon. Gentleman has in view. But if it is absolutely indispensible to make a year's provision in every case I would not object to that, and it would be a better scheme for the State than the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. It would get rid of the empty coffers in the case of the 20 years' tenants, and provide a year's annuity down to any point you name. A modified scheme of this kind would meet the requirements of equity, it would appeal to a sense of justice, and show that proportion of the burden in each case to the insurance scheme, and you will leave the people to increase the Insurance Fund on their own account, as they will if you do not thrust this upon them against the equity of the case. I think, in the long run, you would get a very considerable Reserve Fund by my scheme, and I think I have made out a tolerable case, which I beg again to press on the attention of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 34, after the word "advance," to insert the words "is made."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (9.28.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of course, I admit that the plan introduced in the Bill will not produce any startling effects. The amount of the insurance depends obviously upon the danger of the insurance being required. The hon. Member seems to think that equality is attained by insisting that the purchaser of every kind of holding should pay the same amount of insurance. That could only be fair if the risk in every case was the same; but is the risk in every case the same? If it is, then the hon. Gentleman is justified 110 in his contention. If it is not, and if it is true that a holding held at 10 years' purchase is an insecure investment, while one held at 20 years' purchase is a secure investment, then to have the same Insurance Fund in both cases is obviously unjust. To have the same amount of insurance against loss for different degrees of risk is not to make it fair but unfair, not equal but unequal. I am assuming, as must be assumed, that on the whole the bargain between the landlord and tenant would result in a fair price being given. On the whole, the Bill does provide the largest amount of Insurance Fund where the largest amount of loss may arise. I am very sorry I am not able to meet the hon. Gentleman in what he proposes; and if the Committee will support me, I will adhere to the proposal in the Bill.
§ (9.30.) MR. CHANCE
The same error runs through all the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. He assumes that a holding sold at 10 years purchase of the rent is, in some respects, a worse security than a holding at 20 years' purchase; but the Land Commissioners must recollect that fact; and if they believe it to be a worse security, it is their duty to retain a larger deposit from the landlord. In the case of two holdings precisely alike, one tenant who is not able to make a good bargain and pays 20 years' purchase will have to pay no annuity at all; while the other tenant, a provident man and able to make a good bargain, who buys at 18 years' purchase, will have to pay five years' insurance. I cannot understand for the life of me, how a Member of this Committee usually so astute as the right hon. Gentleman should fall into an error so stupid as that of confounding the rent with the purchase annuity. Apart from the question of extreme cases, it is obvious that the more money the State advances the more security will it want. If an Insurance Company advanced £10,000 on an estate it would require a certain amount of security. If it advanced £12,000 it would require more security. But in this clause the common rule of prudence is turned upside down in an extraordinary—I might almost say Irish— 111 fashion. Where an Insurance Company calls for more security because the advance is larger, the State calls for less. I cannot conceive a more absolutely absurd position. I trust some Member of Her Majesty's Government will offer a real and intelligible argument upon the subject of this Amendment.
§ (9.37.) MR. KNOX
The Amendment is one which we venture to think the Government should at least consider. I confess I am surprised at the attitude the Chief Secretary has thought right to adopt on this clause. In the previous clause he accepted a number of reasonable Amendments, though I must admit that there had been no strong Irish opinion on them outside. We come here to a clause on which there has been a wide and unanimous expression of opinion in Ireland. There is no difference between the various sections of Irish Members on this side of the House.
The hon. Member is travelling outside the question. The only question now is the form of insurance.
§ MR. KNOX
I was trying to show how there is a general consensus of opinion among all, except the landlords, against a provision which makes the security as much as 80 per cent. of the purchase. Under this provision you will actually take from the tenant more in many cases than he previously paid. The Chief Secretary says that the landlord takes 10 years' purchase because the landlord has not been in the habit of receiving anything like his full rent. Why is the Government for the first five years to extract from the tenant something which is not much less than the full rent? According to the foundation of the Chief Secretary's argument, this provision is without argumentative justification. What is the real reason of smaller prices being given in the West of Ireland? I believe it is because of the work done by the two Land Commissioners there. They have habitually refused to make advances on those holdings in proportion to the amount previously paid for rent. They recognised that the rent was paid not out of the produce of the land, but out of money earned by the tenant elsewhere. They, therefore, made the advances on 112 the actual value of the holding; and if it be asked why the landlord accepted this valuation, the answer is that he could not get any more. I really must ask the Government to re-consider the whole question, on which there is an unanimous opinion among nearly all sections in Ireland.
§ (9.45.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 58; Noes 108.—(Div. List, No. 177.)
§ (9.52.) MR. CHANCE
I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name, the effect of which is to make this clause more conformable with the practice of business men—that is to say, to make the collateral securities larger as the advances increase. I want to deal, in the first place, with the poorer class of tenants—the tenants on whom the pressure of prices has fallen with the greatest weight—and those are the tenants living upon holdings the purchase value of which is very small. The operation of my Amendment would be, to some extent, to destroy the effect which the Government credit has had in creating an artificial market for land, and in raising the price of land, and, at the same time, to turn the benefit of the Act to the poorer class of tenants who want it most, and from the richer class of tenants who want it least. I think the operation of this clause would have a tendency to give an artificial value to the land; and if the Government decline to accept the Amendment, I hope that, at any rate, we shall be given some reason for the refusal.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 34, to leave out the word "less," and insert the word "more."—(Mr. Chance.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'less' stand part of the Clause."
§ (9.56.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know that, looking to the substance of the speech of the hon. Member, it is necessary for me to advance any argument. The hon. Member surely cannot wish me now to refute the very arguments with which I have endeavoured to convince the Committee.
§ MR. CHANCE
I do not in my Amendment make 15 years the standard. There is no reason why the amount should not be 10 or 12 years' purchase.
§ MR. CHANCE
Only last week I had before me several cases in which the Commissioners had refused to advance more than a sum equal to nine years' purchase on the valuation.
§ (10.0.) MR. STOREY
I understand the Amendment to mean this: To those who buy at 20 years' purchase there will be no difference in the annual payment; but the burden will be felt by those who buy at the rate of 10, 11, or 12 years' purchase. Now, my point is that we ought not to differentiate between the various classes of purchases, but that the insurance payment should apply to all classes equally. I therefore cannot support the Amendment.
§ (10.1.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 149; Noes 49.—(Div. List, No. 178.)
§ (10.14.) COLONEL NOLAN
In moving the next Amendment which stands in my name, I do not intend to dwell upon it at any great length, because it was incidentally discussed on the previous Amendment. But I would point out to the Chief Secretary that the cases in which 14 or 15 years' purchase is the sum agreed upon will be the majority of the cases arising under the Act. Indeed, I hold that in nearly all cases the terms will range from 16 to 20 years' purchase, and I certainly do not believe that a reduction of 20 per cent. will be considered sufficient in those cases. The right hon. Gentleman must see that the Members for Ireland have throughout been in favour of some relaxation of the drastic provisions of the Bill, and I do, therefore, urge upon him the desirability of making some concession on this point.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 35, to leave out the word "twenty," and insert the word "sixteen."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'twenty' stand part of the Clause."
§ (10.25.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have very grave doubts whether the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member will bring about the condition of affairs which he desires. I cannot but think that tenants purchasing under 114 the Ashbourne Acts have obtained more than their due proportion. But that is a question which will have to be discussed later on. I can only now say I do not think the adoption of the Amendment would foster sales to small tenants.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I differ from the right hon. Gentleman on that point. The larger tenants may be expected to give 20 years' purchase, while 25 years will probably be demanded for the smaller tenants.
§ (10.27.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
But how would the Amendment relieve the smaller tenant, who has to pay more than 16 years' purchase for liability to pay to the Insurance Fund?
§ (10.28.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 161; Noes 55. — (Div. List, No. 179.)
§ (10.40.) MR. SEXTON
I wish to draw the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland to the phrase "annual value of the holding," in line 35. Now, there was no such phrase in the Bill of last year, and I do not see any necessity for it now. I therefore move the next Amendment which stands in my name.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 35, to leave out the words "as defined by this Act," in order to insert the words "as in this Act defined as the interest the tenant agrees to buy in the holding."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
I do not see what objection there can be to the words. The annual value will be the value as defined by the Act.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ (10.45.) COLONEL NOLAN
I have now to move as an Amendment that the guarantee of the Insurance Fund shall be paid for one year instead of five years. It is of no use going over the old argument, but I do urge that if a tenant pays this extra premium of 15 or 20 per cent. for one year, it will form a sufficient 115 fund to secure against all possible loss. As the clause now stands, I am afraid the payment will not be limited to five years; it may have to go on for an indefinite period. Surely the Chief Secretary will be willing to make some concession on this point.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 36, to leave out the words "five years," and insert the word "year."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'five years' stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. SEXTON
Allow me to suggest a compromise. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary wishes five years, and my hon. and gallant Friend desires to limit the payment to one year. Why not make the period three years?
§ (10.50.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Although I agree with the Government as to the desirability of establishing an Insurance Fund, I certainly should be glad to see the right hon. Gentleman give way on this point.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I think the hon. Gentleman who proposed this Amendment has given the Committee very good reasons for not accepting it. He said no Irishman ever looked forward more than one year, and if that be so it surely cannot signify whether this payment is insisted on for one year or five years. Of course, I do not blame hon. Members for Ireland for trying to get all they possibly can, but I do think the Government would be exceedingly foolish to acquiesce in this proposal. We English Representatives have a duty to perform in the interests of British taxpayers. We are here to look after their interests, and all I can say is that, in my opinion, if there ought to be any alteration on this point, it should be in the direction of extending instead of lessening the period. I advise my Irish friends to rest and be thankful for all the good things they have got.
§ (10.55.) COLONEL NOLAN
I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton has taken up this attitude. To my mind, the British taxpayer has already been trotted out sufficiently for electioneering purposes. I hope the 116 right hon. Gentleman will make some concession in our favour.
§ MR. STOREY
It seems to me that the effect of this proposal will be to place a premium on increasing the number of years' purchase, and I do not think that we as guardians of the British taxpayer would be justified in agreeing to it.
§ MR. LEA
I think the suggestion of the hon. Member is really a good one. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) admits that his only desire is to wreck this Bill. There are two ways of wrecking it. One is to put its supporters in a minority, and the other is to render it unworkable. I trust the Government will accept the compromise with reference to the three years, and that the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway will allow the clause to go through.
§ (11.0.) MR. CONYBEARE
I really think the hon. Member who has just sat down is very ungrateful. He complains that we want to wreck the Bill by making it unworkable. Surely he has not forgotten that one of our own Party—the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson)—on the first night of these Debates saved the Government by pointing out how absolutely ridiculous the measure was as drawn, and how they might remedy its essential defect. Unfortunately, this Bill will be only too workable, and workable to the ruin of the British taxpayer. The reason why I cannot support the Amendment to make this one year instead of five is the very argument adduced by my hon. Friend in favour of such a proposal, namely, that it would bring in more purchasers and would dangle the Bill more prominently before the insolvent tenants. I want the measure to be confined within the narrowest possible limits, and I cannot support the proposal. My hon. Friend said that if we rejected the proposal, we should be removing the butter from the bread of a large number of Irish tenants. But I would remind him that it is our butter and not his. We put it on the bread. As the butter comes out of our pockets, I shall certainly think twice before I consent to facilitate the process of putting the butter on. Why, it is said, should you make the 117 limit £1,200,000 a year, when you take £200,000 a year from local resources under Clause 3, for you need not be afraid of the advances? But this goes to the whole root of the question. The right hon. Gentleman knows that this so-called guarantee is absolutely worthless, that it is a bogus—a sham—guarantee, and it never could be realised.
§ (11.5.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am very unwilling to interpose between the friends of Ireland and the Representatives of Ireland, for it is not for me to try to settle their quarrels; but I may explain the position in which we stand: Hon. Members opposite have openly expressed a desire to destroy the Bill, or so to injure it as to make it unworkable. On the other hand, Irish Representatives desire that the Bill should pass. I credit the hon. Members for Northampton and Camborne with the desire to induce the British taxpayer to believe his interests are in danger, but hon. Members behind them have no such apprehension, and openly press their claims against the British taxpayer. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has moved this Amendment declared earlier in the evening that the proper means of providing an Insurance Fund was a Vote of the Imperial Parliament, that if any calamity arose Parliament should certainly meet it. I have some points of agreement with the Members for Ireland, and also with the friends of Ireland, and likewise some points of difference with both. I have been pressed by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, and by hon. Friends above the Gangway, to accept a compromise, and substitute three years for five. I hope I have not shown any undue reluctance to accept Amendments which would facilitate the proper working of the Bill and facilitate progress of business, but there are reasons why I find myself unable to accept the Amendment. The average price of Irish land is something a little over 17 years' purchase. If 17 years' purchase be taken as the normal selling price of land, it will be found that at the end of the five years' period during which the tenant's insurance money is collected—in which the abnormal annuity is running—a sum will be reached which will very nearly equal the amount of one year's annuity. This 118 is about the sum that ought to be aimed at. It is true that, if you take 19½, 19, 18½, or 18 years' purchase the amount of insurance received will differ. After all, what we ought to go by is the normal number of years' purchase at which land sells, and it is not less than 17. That gives a little less than one year's annuity for the Insurance Fund, and it appears to me that what we ought to aim at is one year's purchase at the normal selling price. I therefore come reluctantly, but clearly, to the conclusion that the figure introduced in the Bill is the figure which the Committee would be well advised to keep.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I propose to withdraw the proposal for one year, that a Division may be taken on the substitution of the figure "three."
That Question will arise on the Question of inserting another word. The Question now is, the retention of "five."
§ (11.15.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 179; Noes 61.—(Div. List, No. 180.)
§ (11.25.) MR. CHANCE
The Committee have now reached a stage when a final decision has been taken that the purchase insurance annuity shall, as a rule, be exacted for five years. But though that rule has been laid down, I do not assume that it is the only rule, human or divine, to which there shall be no exception. In the belief that it should not be absolute and invariable, I propose to move an Amendment providing that during the first five years the annuity shall be such sum not exceeding 80 per cent. of the annual value and not less than 4 per cent. on the advance as the Land Commissioners may deem expedient. That is to say, the Land Commissioners may in exceptional cases, when they think it expedient to do so, diminish the amount of the abnormal annuity, or do away with it altogether. I am sure, if the right hon. Gentleman had any practical acquaintance with land purchase, he would know that cases arise on every estate which require to be dealt with in an exceptional manner; but if he retains this as an invariable rule, the Land Commissioners will make advances on two-thirds or three-fourths of 119 an estate, and leave the other third or fourth on the landlord's hands. Suppose a rent of £10 and a purchase on a 10 years' valuation under the old Act, the Land Commission had only to consider whether the holding was safe to pay £4 a year for 49 years; but under the Bill as it now stands, the Commissioners will have to consider whether the holding can pay 8 per cent. for the first five years and 4 per cent. for the rest of the 49 years, subject to a certain fining down process, and there will be cases where, although the holding is safe to pay the normal annuity, it is not safe for the payment of the abnormal annuity during the first five years, and the Commissioners may say that they are unable to entertain the purchase. There will be, I am sure, a number of cases where a holding will be safe for the payment of £6—that is to say, £4 being the normal annuity, and £2 as an abnormal annuity or temporary payment. Bat the Commissioners will have no power to fix upon an intermediate figure betwixt the £4 and the £8. If the Bill passes without my Amendment, they will in no way be able to modify this rule; and if the holding falls short by a single 1s. of being due security for the abnormal annuity during the first five years, they will have no option except to refuse to allow any advance whatever. Obviously, they could not make the advance subject to the lucky accident of the tenant being able to tide over the several charges that may come upon him in the succeeding 45 years. That, clearly, is a hardship from the tenant's point of view; and I contend that if the principle of an Insurance Fund is to be admitted in the Bill, it is well to provide a clause for enabling the Land Commissioners to deal with an estate as a whole, so that upon one estate the richer holdings may not be purchased and the poorer holdings left upon the landlord's bands, perhaps in isolated cases, here and there. If the Government do not adopt this view of mine, the position will be that upon one estate three-fourths or four-fifths of the holdings will be sold, whilst those of the worst class remain unsold, and undoubtedly this will be against the interest of the landlords as well as the tenants. I hope, therefore, that this 120 rule will not be made inflexible, but that some power of modification shall lie with the Commissioners, under proper circumstances, to deal with this abnormal insurance clause. For my own part, I am exceedingly reluctant to give such a power to the Land Commissioners, for I have no confidence in these gentlemen, and suspect they will not be favourably inclined either to the tenant, or to those Local Authorities whose funds it is proposed to hypothecate. But I am not the author of the Bill, and I cannot make my views felt. What I can do is to offer this doubtful expedient. But the Chief Secretary, the author of the Bill, places the utmost confidence in the Commissioners. He has even gone so far as to release them from the control of Parliament, therefore, I do not think I am asking much from him when I recommend that they should be trusted with this discretionary power. The right hon. Gentleman does trust them with discretionary power later on in this Bill, where they have to deal with sudden or unexpected calamity falling upon the tenant, and not caused by his own default. I appeal to the Chief Secretary to give a similar discretion upon this point, and I am sure it will assist the smooth working of the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 37, after the word "be," to insert the words "such sum not exceeding."—(Mr. Chance.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (11.34.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have every confidence in the Land Commissioners, but it is quite another thing to entrust them without guidance or rules to indicate their course in the administration of the Insurance Fund, thus throwing upon them a burden it is hardly right to ask them to bear. There is, no doubt, some analogy between this point and another question to which the hon. Member has alluded. But, in the latter case, the most careful rules to guide the Commissioners are laid down; whilst, here, the hon. Member suggests no rule or guidance whatever. One of the objects I have always felt to be attained by this insurance is one that has been rather left out of view in the Debate, but one to which I attach the very 121 highest importance. It is that by this insurance you get rid of that feeling of envy which might animate tenants who find themselves unable to purchase, when they compare the amount of rent they pay to that which is paid by tenants under contract of purchase. But this is not a point upon which the Land Commissioners are qualified to form an opinion; it is purely an administrative matter and a question of policy which cannot be left for them to determine. The hon. Gentleman appears to think there may be holdings able to bear the normal insurance, but not plus the extra insurance for five years. I do not believe there are any such. My own view is that if the Land Commissioners are of opinion that the tenant of a holding cannot, even in the absence of exceptional misfortune or distress, pay 20 per cent. less than the rent he has actually been paying for the holding, then they ought not to sell to that man. And I cannot conceive why they should. They have power to determine the annual value of the holding.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
A competent Court has determined the annual value of the holding; and if there is a tenant who, in the absence of exceptional distress, is not able to pay 20 percent. less than this value, then I say to that man the holding should not be sold at all. Where a tenant suffers exceptional distress through calamity special to the holding, or peculiar to the district, and not through any fault of his own, the Bill provides a method of meeting his case; but if a man is improvident or stupid or drunken, or in any other way disqualified for making a sum of less by 20 per cent. than the rent, then I say he is not a fit man to purchase the holding. Under the circumstances I ask the Committee not to accept this proposal, which certainly should not be made without some rule for the guidance of the Commissioners.
§ (11.39.) MR. KNOX
I do not imagine that my hon. Friend would object to any such rule for the guidance of the Commissioners, providing that the principle of his Amendment is accepted. The Chief Secretary, I think, will have observed that there is 122 almost unanimity of opinion in favour of the Amendment. From South Tyrone and from every other part of Ireland a protest is made against this provision. There is an agreement which has seldom been seen upon this question, and rightly or wrongly, undoubtedly it is the opinion of a vast number of people that this particular provision will tend to defeat land purchase in Ireland. The Chief Secretary says this will be putting upon the Land Commissioners a duty which is foreign to their position as a Judicial Body. But the right hon. Gentleman faces both ways in meeting our arguments. He tells us at times that the Commissioners are an administrative and at others that they are a Judicial Body. I say that this will certainly be a duty akin to those they have to perform. They have to see that there is sufficient security for the advance which is to be made upon the holding; and surely if the Land Commissioners are capable of judging of the amount of security the holding affords, they are also able to express an opinion as to the necessity for the abnormal amount of insurance, and may be entrusted with the discretion which will enable them to set a tenant on his legs again after a succession of hard years. I must press again on the Government, if the Chief Secretary is not philosophically indifferent to all argument, that they should re-consider the question, which I believe everybody in Ireland considers is at the root of the success of land purchase. Surely some sort of discretion should be allowed. The Chief Secretary will not give us compulsory purchase, so that it will only be where the landlords will sell that the tenants will be able to buy. In many of the congested districts the tenants have not been able to pay their rent, therefore, it may be taken that the nominal rent has been higher than it ought to have been. Surely it is a hardship to give a man no chance of becoming a peasant proprietor unless for five years he pays considerably more than he is able to pay at present. I believe the Chief Secretary does, in some degree, wish the Bill to work successfully, and I would, therefore, ask him not to erect this cast iron barrier against land purchase in Ireland. My hon. Friend allows me to say that he 123 will accept any reasonable modification, and all we ask is that there should be discretion given to the Land Commissioners in this matter.
§ (11.43.) MR. SEXTON
The objection raised by the Chief Secretary was rather more of a technical than of a substantial nature. If the Amendment is adopted it will only impose on the Commissioners a duty analogous to those they already will have to perform. If they are capable of judging of the security and its value they surely are capable of receiving the amount of the insurance money, if they are of opinion that the imposition and the full demand would prejudicially affect the solvency of the tenant or interfere with the due cultivation of the holding. How can the right hon. Gentleman say that the Land Commission is unfit to discharge the function contemplated by my hon. Friend when we remember the duties it will have to perform under Sub-section 4. When the regular annuity falls into arrear on any holding, the Land Commission will have to examine into the circumstances of the tenant and say whether or not the default is unavoidable, and I hold that that is a duty analogous to that contemplated by the Amendment. Furthermore, after they have applied the insurance money to the payment of the arrear, they then have to apply to fix the amount of the money and arrange as to time. There is, therefore, no force in the contention of the Chief Secretary, who seems to have placed himself under an honourable understanding with the landlord party, to give a common repulse to all Amendments, however reasonable. I trust my hon. Friend will press his Amendment to a Division.
§ (11.47.) MR. CHANCE
The right hon. Gentleman stated that my case assumed that a given holding might be good security for a normal annuity for 49 years and yet might be bad security or no security at all for an abnormal annuity during the first five years, and he said those were the cases we did not want to deal with under this measure. Under the Ashbourne Act when the Land Commission was satisfied, the whole amount could be advanced. Now the cases are to be subjected to the fresh consideration whether for the first five years 124 they will bear an abnormal annuity. Under that Act you made no loss, and yet the cases you exclude are the very cases in which land purchase is most needed to tranquilise the people and make the localities prosperous. It has been suggested that the right hon. Gentleman is under some contract in regard to this clause. It looks very like it. But I do not know with whom he can be under contract. It cannot be the tenants, because a certain number of tenants are excluded from the relaxation of the rule. It cannot be the landlords obviously, because by the refusal of this Amendment a certain number of cases will be left on their hands, and they will have scattered holdings all over their estates. The only interpretation I can place on it is that he wants to make this Bill a tit-bit Bill, and to say as he skips out of office "We have made no loss"—leaving the tail of the tenants to be dealt with by his successors.
§ (11.50.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 74; Noes 151.—(Div. List, No. 181.)
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.