§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 5.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 6, line 37, to leave out the words "Reserve Fund," and insert the words "Guarantee Deposit."—(Mr. Morton.)289
§ Question again proposed, "That the words ' Reserve Fund ' stand part of the Clause."
§ (5.46.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
Before we come to a decision on the Amendment before us, which raises the question, whether, to meet the case of exceptional agricultural distress, advances should be made from the "Reserve Fund" or the guarantee deposit, I think it is desirable, after the conversation of last evening, that we should ascertain precisely where we stand. The right hon. Gentleman has declared the Government have two objects in view in introducing this sub-section—first, the object of relieving the ratepayers from a burden they would otherwise have to meet. I must confess that I am unable to discover that the interests of the ratepayers are very much concerned in it. It appears to me that when you make good the deficiency it is a matter of little importance to the ratepayers whether this is done from the Reserve Fund or the Guarantee Fund. Deficiency wherever you find it in this Bill means deficiency in the Land Purchase Account, and whether you make good the deficiency from the one fund or the other the county will be equally interested. The second object the right hon. Gentleman explained was to save the tenant from eviction in a case where, owing to exceptional calamity, he is temporarily unable to keep up the payment of his purchase instalments; but I must say that in the sub-section as drawn, I see no trace of such intention. Unless the sub-section is amended it is difficult to understand how the second object is to be effected, because the sub-section will not come into play until the deficiency has arisen in the Land Purchase Account, and such deficiency cannot arise until the Land Commissioners have exhausted their legal remedy against the tenant. Before they come upon the guarantee they are bound to come upon the holding. So that the deficiency cannot occur until the Commissioners have exhausted their power by civil action or by eviction. Now, I think it should be made clear that in cases of exceptional distress means should be taken to make good the temporary deficiency before the Commissioners proceed to worry the tenant by legal proceedings, and still more before they proceed to 290 terminate his interest by eviction. I showed yesterday that the two objects of the right hon. Gentleman could not be secured by the same means, and, therefore, he should confine himself to securing the second, the saving the tenant from eviction, the provision for the Reserve Fund being made later. The present Amendment leads up to this.
§ (5.50.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I do not know if the hon. Member has a copy of my proposed Amendment.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
To the process we propose to follow I should scarcely be in order in addressing myself on the present Amendment, as to which I can only say that to adopt it would militate against the whole scheme of the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (5.52.) MR. SEXTON
I trust the right hon. Gentleman may accept my proposal to omit the reference to the Order having the sanction of Parliament. The sub-section proposes on the Report of the Land Commission and Local Government Board to give the Lord Lieutenant power, in the case of the non-payment of the Purchase Annuities in consequence of exceptional agricultural distress, to order that the deficiency should be made up out of the Reserve Fund, but the condition is attached that the Order of the Lord Lieutenant shall lie before Parliament for 30 days without being objected to by either House before it can take effect. It is obvious that this month's suspension might cause serious delay in a case of great emergency, and, besides, there is the possibility that Parliament may not be sitting, and the delay may extend over half a year. Also let me remind the Committee that as the money in question is Irish money and no Imperial Fund is concerned, the sanction of Parliament ought not to be required. Surely, with the safeguard afforded by the representations required from the Local Government Board, and the Land Commission, there is no necessity for imposing this rate?
§ Amendment proposed, in. page 6, line 39, to leave out from the word "advance," to the word "and," in line 42.—(Mr. Sexton.).
That the words 'but the order shall not come into operation till it has lain before both Houses of Parliament for not less than 30 days, nor if,' stand part of the Clause.
§ (5.55.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot ask the Committee to adopt this Amendment. There can be no doubt that this sub-section is open to the danger of abuse. It is often most difficult in regard to Irish distress to decide whether the distress is real in the fullest sense of the word. Local pressure upon the Local Government Board and the Lord Lieutenant may be so serious that the Lord Lieutenant may find it difficult to resist the demand that a locality shall be declared entitled to the benefit of the Guarantee Fund, and it is more desirable that the Lord Lieutenant should be prepared with conclusive proof of the necessity which will be put before Parliament before the sub-section is put into operation. Though the fund is Irish it is but slightly connected with any particular county, and is drawn from the entire country, urban and rural, and under these circumstances the proper distribution of the money ought to be rigorously guarded.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The Treasury are much better guardians of their own funds than of the funds of other people. It does not involve Treasury considerations. In view of the extreme difficulty there might be in resisting the pressure that might be brought to bear, and of the character of the cry of distress, it is absolutely necessary for the sake of the Land Commission, the Local Government Board, and the Lord Lieutenant, that the assent of both Houses of Parliament should be obtained. I am very jealous, indeed, about diminishing such securities as have been introduced for the proper protection of the funds.
§ (5.58.) MR. T. M. HEALY
There are ample securities. First, there is the security of the Lord Lieutenant; secondly, the security of the Local Government Board; thirdly, the security of the Land Commission; and then the security of the Treasury. Why, then, 292 should you want to get the consent of Parliament? With regard to the distress of the present season, if there was any fault on our part, it was that we did not sufficiently urge the House with reference to it. The right hon. Gentleman denied that there was distress, and, instead of churlishly taunting him, we let him go on. When, in consequence of his visit to the West of Ireland, he found there was distress, he began to take measures. The question is whether the Lord Lieutenant, the Local Government Board, the Land Commission, and the Treasury are likely all to make a mistake unless the British Parliament, which is probably the most ignorant body that could be conceived in these matters, confirm their views. A more remarkable proposition never came from the most remarkable Chief Secretary that ever sat on the Treasury Bench.
§ (6.2.) VISCOUNT LYMINGTON (Devon, South Molton)
For my part, I think this provision a highly objectionable one. If this deficiency comes out of anyone's pocket, it should come out of the pocket of the landlord at the time the landlord sells his property.
§ (6.4.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I agree that it is most desirable to provide for the assistance of the purchasing tenants, who, in seasons of agricultural calamity, may be unable to pay their instalments; but I am strongly of opinion that every guarantee should be afforded that such agricultural calamity actually exists before the proposed relief is given. The Lord Lieutenant, the Local Government Board, and the Land Commission are all open to pressure, and the words which are proposed to be left out will provide a means of supervision and discussion in Parliament which will, I think, be found very useful. The proceedings in Ireland will be private, and the advantage of having these words in the clause is that, at all events, the peasants, in order to escape the payment of the annuity, will have to prove the distress openly, and subject to discussion in this House. I shall, therefore, support the clause as it stands.
§ (6.6.) MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The provisions of the sub-section 293 are not exactly as the hon. Member stated. Besides the Land Commission and the Local Government Board there is the Treasury, whose consent has to be obtained. It is claimed, that after the consent of the Treasury is given, the conduct of the Treasury is open to discussion in this House, and may be challenged. The effect, however, of retaining these words is simply this: that they create a possibility at some future time of having to wait for six or seven months before the consent of the House of Commons can be obtained to a particular advance. I would urge on the Chief Secretary that the Treasury is the real safeguard in this case, the right to challenge its conduct in this House is equivalent to any safeguard that can be provided by these particular words. I hope, therefore, these words will be struck out. For my part, I do not believe the sub-section will ever be used by purchasers as a means of evading their just debts, and so far the people have not made any attempt whatever to evade payment of their instalments.
§ (6.9.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
It is always painful to me to have to say anything in support of the Government; but I am bound to say, I hope they will not give way on this point. I believe in the arguments addressed to the Committee by the right hon. Gentleman as to the proneness of the people to make bogus appeals for charitable assistance. I have seen a good deal of Ireland when there has been real distress, and I can only say that my acquaintance with the people of that country convinces me that there is no more desire or tendency in the character of the people of Ireland to become demoralised in this way or to attempt to obtain charitable assistance from the State by false means than there would be in this country, or, so far as I know, amongst any other people in any other country. The people of Ireland are as upright and honourable in these respects as we are ourselves, though it stands to reason, that if you offer poor, starving people the opportunity to obtain charitable assistance they will avail themselves of the opportunity. I am not opposing the Amendment on that ground, but on the broad Liberal ground that we should retain in every part of the Bill the fullest control of Parliament over its operations. I should be sorry to see any 294 weakening of the authority of the House in the administration of this measure. It seems to me that if we retain these words we shall leave ourselves a loop hole, or an opening for most interesting discussions in the future as to the condition of Ireland, and if that has no other tendency or effect, I am sure it will show the people of this country the absurdity of the measure and the desirability of getting rid of it as soon as possible. The right hon. Gentleman inter posed just now when my hon. Friend was referring to real distress having existed in Ireland during the past winter, with the remark that statements had been made showing that there had been false representations by the people of Ireland as to the existence of distress. I think that it is a very unfair suggestion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. If he tells us that there was no real distress in Ireland, what becomes of all his arguments in favour of light railways and other relief works, and how is it that he made an appeal to charitably disposed people in this country, and got up a Relief Fund amounting to £20,000? It seems to me rather late in the day to come to the House and say that there was no real distress in Ireland in the course of the winter.
§ (6.16.) MR. SEXTON
What has been said against the Amendment comes to this, that there is a danger of the people being able to deceive the Lord Lieutenant and the Local Government Board and the Land Commission into the belief that there is distress, when, as a matter of fact, it does not exist. It would be impossible for such deceit to take place. The Local Government Board have their Inspectors who make careful inquiries and submit Reports; the Land Commission have also their Inspectors in every part of Ireland; and the Lord Lieutenant has very zealous and capable agents in every parish. It is impossible to believe that the people can deceive these three authorities as to their exact position. Whatever may be said of the Local Authorities in Ireland, you have the Imperial Treasury at Whitehall, and I should be very much surprised if they did not take means to sift the matter if there was any complaint of distress. The tendency of all Treasuries is rather to resist demands of this kind than to yield to them. Therefore, I think the right hon. Gentleman should be satis- 295 fied with, the jurisdiction and control provided. But you provide an empty form. I have been 11 years in this House, and I have never known the action of the Lord Lieutenant discredited in the other House. The form is empty; and that being so, it would invariably have the effect simply of delaying relief of distress for a long time. Distress takes place through a failure of the harvest, and it becomes cutting about the spring. These Reports would fructify just about the time that Parliament rose. The tenants would be all in a state of suspense as to what was going to be done, wondering if they would be helped to pay the annuities or not. Such a state of suspense would be most damaging to agriculture or any other industry. Taking it altogether, I think that, considering the sufficiency of the control of the Castle in Dublin, the right hon. Gentleman need not impose a delay that would be hurtful to the public interest.
§ (6.19.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The question raised by the Amendment is not so simple as the hon. Gentleman imagines. I can assure him from bitter and painful experience that nothing in this world is more difficult than for different persons to come to an agreement as to the amount of distress in any particular district of Ireland. I have in my mind a case where a Local Government Board Inspector sent up the most heartrending Reports of the condition of a certain district, and yet, on closer and more careful inquiries being made, it was demonstrated—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will satisfy the hon. Gentleman—that the distress was not exceptional. The parish priest of the district confessed that if public works were started in that district, where the people were represented to be starving, and wages at the normal rate found ample in other parts of Ireland were paid, nobody would come and work upon them. That is a conclusive proof of what I assert. Any one who knows Ireland is aware that in many parts of the country we have to deal with a population which, at the best of times, is poor, and looks poorer than it is. Beyond question the standard of comfort is very low, but very often it is impossible to make out how well off the people are. A mere surface or even house to house in- 296 spection, unless it is conducted with the utmost precaution, will not convey an accurate idea of the real condition of the people. That is a fact absolutely undeniable to every man who knows anything whatever about the West of Ireland. Under these circumstances, I traverse the very foundation of the argument of the hon. Gentleman. I think the Public Bodies in question, the Local Government Board, the Land Commission, and the Lord Lieutenant, should be put on their mettle; and get every available proof of the condition of the country which they propose to relieve, their responsibility should be made as wide as possible, and they should have to defend their action by laying their evidence before both Houses of Parliament. From a not inconsiderable experience of this very question I cannot conscientiously advise the Committee to alter the sub-section in the manner proposed.
§ (6.24.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I would point out that the Local Government Board by all its traditions is constantly on the look out for spurious allegations of distress, and I would far rather trust the Local Government Board in such a matter than this House in one of its sentimental moods. The provision as it stands is calculated to bring before the House discussions which will take a great deal of time and stir up considerable feeling. Moreover, this advance is not, as has hitherto been supposed, a free gift, but it is expressly a loan, and that is in itself a reason why Parliament should not be troubled with the matter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
In reply to the right hon. Member for Newcastle, I will say that if I had to choose between the Local Government Board and this House I should choose the Local Government Board, but as the clause stands we have both safeguards. The Local Government Board will feel their responsibilities all the greater if they have to carry them out in the face of public opinion. With regard to his second observation, though in the drafting of the clause it is true that the alleviation to individual buyers is by way of loan, the alleviation to the ratepayers in a district may be by way of gift, and, that being so, the second objection of the right hon. Gentleman falls to the ground.
§ (6.26.) MR. CHANCE
The difficulty in which the right hon. Gentle- 297 man finds himself is due to his stubborn refusal to let the people, whose money this is, have anything to say as to the distribution of it. If he did not deprive the Local Authorities of the control of this reserve fund, he would find his course much easier. Who would be the best guardians of that fund? Obviously some Local Authority in the county, who would consider whether they should apply the money to the benefit of the whole community in a district, or to a special class of individuals. The right hon. Gentleman says that if he had to choose between this House and the Land Commission he should prefer the latter; but I would remind him that before we got into Committee we passed a Resolution erecting the Land Commission into a judicial tribunal.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The argument of the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the Local Government Board, and not to the Land Commission.
§ MR. CHANCE
The argument applies to both. The Land Commission is one of the bodies to be consulted, and I ask how can this House pass a Resolution interfering with the act of a judicial tribunal? This fund must be unlocked by the action of the Land Commission, and for the first time in the history of Courts this House is to sit down and consider whether the judicial act of the Commission shall have effect, or whether it shall reprimand that tribunal. What is the argument of the hon. Member for South Tyrone? I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, with the greatest shrewdness, passed it off without notice. The hon. Member said, "If you allow the people a chance of getting the money by acting dishonestly, and getting up a dishonest cry of distress, you will induce them to act dishonestly." If that argument is to have any value the hon. Member for South Tyrone must have anticipated the possibility of that occurrence; but the whole principle of this Bill is that the people may be expected to act honestly. If you expect them to act dishonestly you should not advance them the money. It is only when the Land Commission is asked to listen to a cry of distress that this control is to come in. I would suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman is determined to reject this Amendment he might at 298 least substitute an Address by either House of Parliament, instead of both Houses of Parliament. Obviously, it would be absurd that an Address negatived by this House should be affirmed by the other.
§ MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
I would propose a compromise to avert the difficulty pointed out by the hon. Member for West Belfast. It is to insert, in line 29, the words "If Parliament be then sitting," in order to avoid the in convenience of a long recess. I think that will be a reasonable compromise.
§ (6.33.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's line of argument will tend to make the Bill pass through the House with facility. His words would suggest that the Irish tenants are such utter and cunning knaves they are not to be trusted. It does seem to me that Parliament ought not to resign its control. Neither the Lord Lieutenant or the Land Commission is elective, and, for my part, I think the Amendment is not of very great importance, because the Treasury will be practically the representatives of the majority of this House, and will be supported if they grant any remission. I think there is great point in the suggestion of the hon. Member, that we should not leave it entirely to the House of Lords to interpose their veto, and to prevent this remission being given if it be deemed desirable by this House.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
I am thoroughly convinced that if there is any chance of obtaining a remission, the agriculturalists of Ireland will try to get as much as they can, just as would the people of any other country. In my opinion, the Government cannot be too cautious in adding guarantee to guarantee.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I would point out that we are not dealing with public money, and that it is from the Exchequer contribution, and any money lent in this way would have to be paid back again to the Exchequer.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The people who make the gift are not the ratepayers of the district, but the rate payers of the whole of Ireland; and how possibly can we give local control of a fund which is dealt with by 36 or 37 separate bodies?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think it should be joint action. The Local Government Board would have the initiative before any representations are made to Parliament at all.
§ (6.40.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 217; Noes 130.—(Div. List, No. 198.)
§ MR. CHANCE
I have now to move the omission of the words "either House passes," in order to insert the words "both Houses pass within the same period."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not see any objection to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member, and, therefore, I shall not oppose its insertion.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 6, line 41, to leave out the words "either House passes," and insert the words "both Houses pass within the same period."—(Mr. Chance.)—Agreed to.
§ MR. SEXTON
I have now to move the omission of the words "with interest at the prescribed rate." These words are scattered over the Bill without any apparent purpose or meaning, and it will be much better that they should be omitted.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 6, line 42, to leave out the words "with interest at the prescribed rate."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot see that any important object is to be gained by the omission of these words. At the same time, I do not think it necessary to insist on their retention. I shall not, therefore, oppose the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ (6.50.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The Committee will remember that towards the end of our Sitting yesterday we got into a discussion on a part of this clause, and as the result of what then occurred, I have endeavoured to elaborate an Amendment which I am afraid is not very simple, but which is intended to carry into effect, as far as possible, the two objects which I then said were aimed at by this clause. These objects are, first, the relief of the local ratepayer, and second, the prevention of evictions consequent upon the wide spread calamity and distress contemplated by the sub-section, under dis- 300 cussion. The hon. Member for West Belfast desires to see the money given by way of gift to the purchasers in the distressed districts. The objections to this course are overwhelming. It is clear, in the first place, that if the money were given to the tenants it could not, except very indirectly, go in aid of the ratepayers. In the second place, how is the money to be distributed as a gift? Every tenant purchaser in the distressed area, whether arranged by counties or electoral divisions, would desire to have his share, but how are you going to give this share? Is this share to be estimated according to the means of the tenant, or is it to be a kind of ad valorem contribution? If the latter, it is evident that a great deal of this money, contributed by the ratepayers all over Ireland, would be given to people who are not in need of it at all. Under any circumstances, it could not be pretended that the money will be given in proportion to the needs of each case. If, on the other hand, the money were given in proportion to the needs of the tenants, a burden will be thrown upon the Commission which it was impossible that the Commission should successfully discharge. Without any adequate machinery the Commission would have to investigate all the circumstances of every tenant, the exact degree of his difficulty in dealing with the annuity, how far that difficulty is the result of the unexpected calamity, and how far it is due to other causes. If the first alternative is taken—that of the ad valorem contribution—by giving the money to the undeserving or non-necessitous, not only will there be waste, but the local taxpayers will be prevented from receiving, in case of default, the relief which the fund is intended to give. They would not be able to pay their instalments, which would have to be paid by the local ratepayers. Therefore, I think that it would be impossible for the House to give this money by way of dole or charity to the annuity payers of these counties. There are irresistible arguments against an ad valorem payment, and also against distribution according to the supposed necessities of the various purchasers. I am of opinion, therefore, that if we are to use the money to the best advantage, first to relieve the ratepayer, and, secondly, to aid the distressed tenants, we should do 301 it by way of loan to the latter. If distress occurs, it may be that long before the Commissioners would think of disturbing the tenant-purchaser, the local ratepayer might be come upon, because the Land Commission would never think of selling up a holding in a time of distress, because at such a time there would be nobody willing to purchase. Therefore, I do not in the least anticipate that the immediate result of distress will be that a large amount of tenant-purchasers will be sold up; the result will be that the local taxpayer would be come down upon, and would have to forego some of his rates, and the county rates would be proportionately increased. The effect, therefore, of this loan will be to relieve the local ratepayer from temporary pressure. What will the ultimate relief be? Where the annuity has not been paid it will be the duty of the Land Commission to sell the holding as soon as the land market is in such a state as to give any chance of the sale being successful. That could be met by the system of loans, which is contained in the additional sub-section which I have circulated. Under that provision it would be possible for the Land Commission to supplement the Insurance Fund, which the greater mass of the tenants pay, which varies with the price given for the tenancy. In some cases it would equal a whole year's instalment. We should give it primarily to those who had not got the Insurance Fund to meet the pressure. So much for the financial operation of the Bill with regard to the first six months or a year. The temporary liability of the locality has been met out of the Guarantee Fund. Whether there would be a permanent liability on the Guarantee Fund depends upon how far the Purchase Annuities are ultimately met by the purchasers. In the long run, if they can pay, there will be no charge on the local ratepayer; but, if not, then the charge would be met out of this contribution. It will be a gift to the local ratepayer if ultimately the purchaser cannot meet all his obligations; if he can, it will be a loan, first to the locality, and secondly to the tenant-purchaser. The transaction which I have attempted to lay before the Committee is one of extreme difficulty and complexity. If any point is obscure—and it may well be that there is some obscurity, since I 302 have had to draft the scheme since yesterday evening—I should be glad to answer any questions with regard to it.
In page 7, to add at the end of the Clause the following sub-section:—
Every such order for an advance in any year shall specify the electoral divisions in the county in which the said calamity or distress has occurred to such extent as to require the aid hereinafter mentioned to be given to the persons liable for the payment of purchase annuities, and on application to the Land Commission by any such person in respect of a holding situated in an electoral division so specified, a portion of the advance may, in accordance with regulations made by the Land Commission, be deemed to be lent to him in discharge of the whole or part of any instalment of the purchase annuity specified by the Land Commission, and the annuity shall be increased by such amount and for such, time not exceeding five years commencing from such date as the Land Commission direct, in order to repay to the reserve fund the amount so deemed to be lent. The regulations shall, so far as possible, secure that (a) no such loan shall be made to the extent to which the instalment can be paid out of the purchaser's insurance money; and that (b) if the amount of the advance is insufficient to meet all the loans applied for, such loans shall abate proportionately."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (7.18.) MR. SEXTON
I do not understand whether the right hon. Gentleman intends the sub-section to cover every case. Does he mean that one and the same order shall be a provision partly in relief of the rates of the county and partly in relief of the individual purchaser? The question whether the contribution should take the form of a grant or a loan will have, I think, to be determined by circumstances, and the right hon. Gentleman would do very well if he left the option open.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL
No doubt this Bill is becoming more unintelligible every day. I think, however, I understand something of the intention of the Chief Secretary, and I wish to ask whether, under this clause, there is to be an investigation into the case of each individual applicant, or whether assistance is to be given pro ratâ to all the applicants.
§ (7.20.) MR. LABOUCHERE
I am already reduced to a condition dangerously approaching idiotcy in endeavouring to understand the Bill, together with the explanations of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary The 303 last glimmering of intelligence I have will disappear if I attempt to understand a clause of the complex character just introduced by the Chief Secretary, and which I have not had the opportunity of seeing in print or in writing. I have no doubt the intellects of hon. Members near me are much superior to mine, and that they are able to understand what the clause does. I confess that I am not able to understand, and under these circumstances I decline to take any part in the discussion of this sub-section, or indeed to vote upon it. In fact, I may say that, under the circumstances, I think that at this hour I shall do best by retiring from the House.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I think, Mr. Courtney, that if ever a Motion to report Progress was justifiable, such a Motion would be justifiable now. Here is a sub-section which has been thrown upon the House without any notice to anybody. A few copies have been handed about to right hon. Members on the Front Benches, and one or two other Gentlemen. But I must avow here to night that I am utterly at sea regarding this sub-section, and, although I have great faith in the Irish Secretary and Attorney General, I decline to take any part in the discussion of a clause which I have had no opportunity of considering, and which I confess I do not understand.
§ (7.25.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I quite understand the feelings of my hon. Friend opposite, but I have no choice but to take the course I have taken. I left the House yesterday at half-past 5, which left me very little time to prepare the sub-section, and all I can say is that I have done my best. I had as many copies of the Amendment prepared as I could, and if I had been able to give my hon. Friend one no doubt he would have been able to discuss it, though I confess, as it reads, the clause is not remarkable for its clearness and its obviousness. I have no wish to rush the sub-section through the House, and if anybody really thinks they do not know enough about it to discuss it in a reasonable spirit I would suggest that it should be deferred to the Report. ["No, no!"] At all events, that is the course I am prepared to take if hon. Members desire it. I am in the hands of the Committee. I, at all events, do more or less understand my own Amendment, and it s only in deference to the views of those 304 who say they cannot discuss it that I make the suggestion. I wish it to be understood, however, that in bringing the Amendment forward in this way I had no choice in the matter, seeing that I did not leave the House last night until half-past 5.
§ MR. KNOX
There is one point which makes me think the Amendment now proposed inconsistent with the words which already stand part of the Bill. I understand it is intended by the Amendment to provide that the payments are to be paid back to the tenant by the Reserve Fund. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the end of Sub-section 5 he will find that the money is to be paid back out of the Reserve Fund, and also from an entirely different source. That is to say, the money is to go out of the Reserve Fund into the pockets of the tenants, and is to come back to the Reserve Fund out of the pockets of the tenants, while the same money is also to come back to the Reserve Fund from the Exchequer contribution year by year. The whole sub-section proceeds on the assumption that a calamity has fallen on the district. I think it would be better to leave it to the discretion of the Commission and not to lay down any hard and fast rules limiting their action.
§ (7.31.) MR. SEXTON
I do not say it may not be best in nine cases out of ten to give it by way of loan, but in many cases it may be manifestly best to give it as a grant. I admit that a grant is a thing to be slowly approached, and all I ask is that you should reserve the option to make a grant.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that grants are impossible. If the duty were thrown upon the Commissioners of deciding whether the obligation of purchasers should be relieved by way of loan or by way of grant, their work would be increased to an intolerable extent. In fact, I doubt whether they could get through the work that would be thrown upon them, for if the right of asking for the money as a gift were conceded, everybody would probably exercise it. If another course were adopted, and if the money were distributed as a bonus amongst all the purchasers in particular districts in proportion to the annuities payable, aid would inevitably be given to many who did not really need it. There 305 would be no security that the money would be distributed in proportion to the needs of those who received it. I am utterly unable to see my way out of the dilemma, and I shall be glad to consider any suggestion. I am convinced that to proceed by way of gift, and not of loan, would either end in a waste of money or in throwing a duty upon the Land Commission, which they would be absolutely unable to perform.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The right hon. Gentleman lays great stress upon the difficulty of the Commissioners inquiring into the needs of the purchasers. Sub-section 4 entirely concerns action taken by the Land Commission in inquiring into individual cases. This is one of the objections I have always felt to this clause. How is the Land Commission to satisfy itself that the claim is a good one, and that the man has a title to relief? I do not see how the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is not just as applicable to Sub-section 4.
§ (7.35.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think the right hon. Gentleman will see at once the difference between the two cases. I quite admit that in certain cases it will be said, "Give me some of my insurance." But the Insurance Fund is the man's own. You are not dealing with the money of the State or the money of the Irish ratepayers. You are taking the man's own money; and the result of doing that is that the man will have to pay a higher annuity for a certain number of years. The consequence of his action is felt by the increase of the annuity he will have to pay. If we make a gift from the Reserve Fund, no evil consequence can happen to the man; he will not be the person to suffer. The losers will be the ratepayers over the whole of Ireland; and I think, in their interest, we must see the Land Commissioners are bound by such general but absolute rules as would on the one hand prevent them from the necessity of having minute examination thrown upon them, and on the other hand will make every individual think twice before he asks for a loan, the consequence of which would be that his annuity would be increased. I think, for these reasons, my suggestion is the best.
§ (7.41.) MR. M. HEALY (Cork)
This is the third time the Government have changed their mind on this ques- 306 tion. Originally the Bill contemplated neither gift nor loan. When we finished our discussion last night the Chief Secretary had made up his mind that gift was the only possible plan, and he pledged himself in the plainest language to the principle of gift. The night's consideration—and I do not at all blame him, because this is a very difficult question—has convinced him that neither the original plan nor his plan of last night should be adopted, but that the principle which should be adopted is that of loan. I think there is a great deal to be said for both views of the matter, and I do not say that the Chief Secretary has come to a wrong conclusion. But I do not see the force of the argument that the burden which the principle of gift—if there was to be a discriminating gift—would throw on the Land Commission would be intolerable. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to put this dilemma: Either your gift will be an indiscriminate gift, or else you will place on the shoulders of the Land Commission the duty of discriminating, and that is a duty they would be incompetent to discharge. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle has replied, "Yes, but in this very section you have placed a duty of an exactly analogous character on the shoulders of the Land Commission." Not merely in Sub-section 4 of this clause, but also in Sub-section 5, that very duty is cast upon the Land Commission. It is provided that the deficiency may be met in the way proposed "when the Land Commissioners have satisfied themselves that the deficiency arises in consequence of exceptional agricultural distress in the district." That assumes that the Land Commissioners shall, during a certain period after the annuities become due, have endeavoured to collect the annuities. It is only as regards the balance uncollected that the sub-section will come to their aid. Therefore, the sub-section casts on the Land Commissioners the burden of discriminating between the tenant purchaser who is unable to pay, and the tenant purchaser who is able to pay. But the right hon. Gentleman's own Amendment casts a still more intolerable duty on the Land Commissioners. That Amendment compels the Commissioners to inquire into every individual case—to inquire not merely whether any individual tenant 307 purchaser is unable to pay, but, if so, to what extent. The Amendment contemplates that the Land Commissioners shall only advance the balance of the annuities a man is unable to pay. However, I quite admit that the Amendment is open to the construction the right hon. Gentleman puts upon it, and I will, therefore, pass from that topic by simply drawing the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the wording of the Amendment will require some consideration. I now want to ask the Attorney General for an explanation of some passages in the Amendment which are not clear to me. What is the meaning of the last part of the sub-section, beginning "(b)," namely—If the amount of the advance is insufficient to meet all the loans applied for, such loans shall abate proportionately?The advance is to come from the Reserve Fund of the county. If the first part of the section has any meaning it is absolutely impossible that there should be such a thing as an insufficiency in the amount of the advance. There cannot be more loans than the amount of the advance.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin University
There may be more loans applied for.
§ MR. M. HEALY
Quite so; but a loan can only be applied for when the advance has first been made. I would also, on a technical point, invite attention to the words at the beginning of the clause—Every such order for advance in any year shall specify the electoral divisions in the county.There is no such thing as an electoral division of a county. The words should be—The electoral division of any Union in a county.I acknowledge that the whole subject is a very difficult one, and that the right hon. Gentleman has brought up these words in response to the desire of hon. Members. But now we have the words before us I hope we shall not let them go, and I certainly shall not be at all disposed to adopt the suggestion to postpone the sub-section until the Report stage. This will be a very good stock to graft Amendments on, and we shall have an opportunity of considering the sub- 308 section, as amended, between this and Report.
§ (7.55.) MR. CHANCE
When there is an Insurance Fund the default is to come out of it, and the question arises: How is it to be repaid? I imagine that it would be repaid by filling up the Insurance Fund again, but the annuity with which you would fill it up must commence from the very moment, and therefore the Commissioners may postpone the commencement of the payments.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We die amend Sub-section 4, so as to defer the time of the re-filling of the Insurance Fund.
§ MR. SEXTON
Is it intended that an order under this section shall have a dual operation at the same time, and in the same county?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think the hon. Gentleman will see that in every case the Land Commission must exercise discretion as to the character of the proceedings.
§ MR. SEXTON
Are there to be two orders at the same time—on to save the rates, another for the occupiers?
§ (8.0.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I take it there will be one order. I am not speaking of the drafting, but that is the intention—one order, one administrative action.
§ (8.1.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
If there is any difficulty in understanding the details of the clause that is not due to any want of lucidity in the explanation of the Chief Secretary. I understand the main issue which has arisen between hon. Members and the Government is whether the money shall be a loan or a grant, and I am bound to say, after listening to the right hon. Gentleman, I am disposed to agree with the view he has enunciated It does appear to me there would be very great difficulty on the part of the Land Commission, or any other body who may be entrusted with the duty under the Bill, in distributing the money in the shape of small gifts to the tenants who find themselves in difficulties, and on the whole I think the Chief Secretary has adopted the wiser course. After all, the system will have a limited application, for, as I understand the clause, it will only come into effect in the event of the whole of the tenants' purchase insurance money being exhausted. This can only occur 309 in extremely exceptional cases; but I think in the form of a loan, even of the optional character suggested, it would give rise to applications whenever there is distress at all, and, therefore, I think the Government have done wisely. Should there be a widespread calamity hereafter, such as a succession of very bad seasons so that some tenant purchasers are "thrown on their beam ends," so to speak, and are totally unable to pay there would be a case for a special application to Parliament, and I doubt not Parliament would deal fairly with the application.
Several verbal Amendments to the Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment proposed, to the proposed Amendment, "to omit the words 'with interest at the prescribed rate.' "—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ (8.8.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am not at all sure that these words are not necessary. If there is not interest charged there will be a deficiency from which somebody must suffer. There will be a hole to be filled up. The loss must fall upon the general ratepayers. I think that here the words ought to be retained.
§ MR. SEXTON
I do not see that the ratepayers are particularly concerned with what is paid into the Reserve Fund. The position is changed by your term of 49 years being broken up.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If you cut out the interest the result will be the Reserve Fund will not be filled to the extent it otherwise would be, or not so soon. The amount of £200,000 provided under the Bill must be made up, and a deficiency will have to be met out of the grant to labourers' cottages or by contributions from the cess payers. We have to face the fact that the amount of the guarantee must be made up. If the hon. Member prefers that this should fall upon the cess payers I make no strong objection.
§ MR. SEXTON
The capital of the Reserve Fund will be filled up, but the income of the Reserve Fund will be interrupted. It will be filled up to £200,000, for whatever sum is taken out will be returned.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think the hon. Member is quite right in his view. Under the Bill the Reserve Fund must be £200,000, or in the way of being 310 made up to that if depleted. The process of filling up must begin and the interest must come from the borrower or it must fall on the cess payers. It is not considerable, and if the hon. Member insists on his view I do not object.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That the Amendment, as amended, be agreed to."
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I would suggest that the loans should be limited to small holdings, upon which it appears to me distress will really arise.
At the end of the proposed Amendment to add, "Provided also that such loans shall be granted only to purchasers whose holdings are of the value of £20 or under."—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre.)
§ (8.20.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I hope my right hon. Friend will not accept the Amendment. If there is agricultural distress, it falls upon no class of tenants with more severity than upon the class immediately above the limit proposed by the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
§ MR. CHANCE
I hope the Amendment will not be accepted. It would be a very hard thing to say, in a period of exceptional distress, that a man whose valuation is £19 shall have relief and the man whose valuation turns £20 shall not. It must be recollected that in many cases the money will be paid out of the Insurance Fund to which the tenant has contributed, and it would be a strong thing to say that the tenant shall be deprived of the benefit of this fund and evicted while the State has money in hand. The larger tenants work their farms on what I may call commercial principles, while the small tenants do not, and it may even happen that the small tenants benefit by the calamity which injures the larger tenants. The small tenant relies upon his harvest wages; and if the harvest is prolonged in a bad season, he earns more wages, the loss on his own crops being comparatively small. He actually may be better off from the longer duration of his harvest wages than he would be in a normal year. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment. To adopt it would give rise to most irritating distinctions.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment, as amended, agreed to.311
§ Question proposed, "That Clause 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ (8.25.) MR. CONYBEARE
I think it is desirable to give the clause a few minutes' consideration before we part with it. We have, I think, reason to complain that in a clause of this complexity, a clause which has been described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle as detestable in its general scope, and which has been contested line by line by the Irish Representatives, we really are not in a position to consider the scope of the cause in its amended form. I am sure there are very few Members who can grasp the full significance of the clause after the alterations made in complicated details, and I would suggest that in relation to future clauses we should have before us, following the plan adopted in Grand Committee, day by day a reprint of the clause in amended form, even though the preceding discussion may have broken off in the middle of a sentence. Without such aid it has been almost impossible to follow the constant juggle of the Government to avoid the difficulties that have arisen at every point because of the refusal to concede any local control in the operations contemplated under the Bill. The object which should be kept in view in such a measure is to facilitate the acquisition of their holdings by tenants with the least possible risk to the British people, who advance the money. Now, it has been shown during these discussions that the clause puts an obstacle in the way of the poorer tenants. The class of tenants we have particularly to consider are those in the most poverty-stricken part of the country, and it seems to me obvious that if you prevent them from obtaining the advantage of this Act, you will not get rid of the social sore, but will be encouraging discontent and agitation. You will, at any rate, not be affording relief where it is most needed. While a great many people are willing to sacrifice something, considering all the circumstances of the case, for the purpose of really doing something to permanently establish peace in Ireland, they are not disposed to lend themselves to the passing of a measure containing clauses which will prevent the full operation of the measure in those cases where it is most 312 required. That is the principal objection which can be made to the clause—that it offers no inducement to the small tenants to avail themselves of the Act, but places a great, in fact an insuperable, obstacle in their way. This clause offers inducement to the tenants to make the most of bad seasons, and to ask for relief when really they are not entitled to it, and, therefore, the whole policy of the clause is wrong, in so far as it does not take into account the fact that these unfortunate people are at the present time in a constant state of semi-starvation. Owing to the fact that they are unable—as has been many times pointed out—to make any rent out of their holdings, it is rather ridiculous to require that they should find a sort of Insurance Fund to be applied to their well-being in case of exceptional distress, suppose the districts where the worst distress is likely to occur will be the congested districts. The districts to which this relief clause will, I presume, be most likely to apply are those districts where, according to the best authorities, the land itself can never produce the rent—where if any rent is to be got it comes not out of what the tenants can raise from the soil, but out of funds that come to them from their own labour in this country or in Scotland, or from the labour of their children in other countries, or in other parts of Ireland. That being the recognised condition of the poorest districts of Ireland, it seems to me an absurdity to require that these people should pay any rent at all. The mountain counties and districts in Ireland outside the congested districts dealt with in the Bill contain a population who are practically in the same condition owing to the poverty of the soil, though the population may not be dense enough to be called congested. Now, if it be true that these people cannot make the rent out of their holdings, what is the use of enacting a measure of this kind to enable them to purchase their holdings at any price that the landlord may fix and may exact—aided by all the machinery of the Coercion Act? What is the use of asking them, in the first place, to pay what would be an enormously exaggerated price for their holdings; and, in the second place, to bind themselves to pay these annuities to the Government, extending over a considerable number of years; and, in the third place, meet 313 these hard payments for the first five years—or whatever the term may be— payments larger than others will be paying who are under happier circumstances? It seems to me that to require these poverty-stricken tenants to pay this additional price for the first five years is to place the burden on the weakest shoulders. I cannot see the logic or reasonableness of such a proposal as that, and I feel confident that, so far as this poorest class of tenants are concerned, the clause is likely to break down. It is said that we must have security, but I maintain that the security of the Bill is not worth any thing at all, least of all the security contained in this clause. I hold that it is not wise to obstinately persist in the retention of provisions which threaten great difficulties in the future. I still think that Sub-section 3 is unfortunate, and intrudes what, on fair consideration on the whole, must be characterised as needless complication in an already too complicated measure, and which is likely to do more harm than good. (8.45.)
§ (9.20.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I should like to say why I vote against this clause altogether. It has a marginal note that it is in aid of exceptional agricultural calamity to be met from the purchasers' Insurance Fund. That is, the tenant purchasers are to be asked to pay during the first five years 80 per cent. instead of 68 per cent., which would be the proper amount in the case of those buying at 17 years' purchase, which is said to be the average price of this class of holding at the present moment. If there is any specially bad clause in the Bill it is this, which compels the very class of holders who should be most leniently dealt with to pay an extra charge during the first five years, and it is well-known to borrowers that the first years of repayment are the hardest to bear and the years in which leniency ought to be shown. It is hard and wrong that the Government of this country and Parliament should call upon these poor tenants to pay more than a fair proportion in the first five years. As far as I can understand the clause, you are actually making the poorer class of tenants pay more than the richer. It is well-known that the holdings purchased by the richer class are worth more, and that the holdings of the poorer class have hardly 314 any rental value whatever. It appears to me that if you want to make your security better, the extra charge should be made upon the richer class of borrowers and not upon the poorer. I think Sub-section 3 of the clause is about as bad a proposal as could be made. It is likely to give land an artificial value, thus benefitting the landlords and not the tenants—a circumstance which leads me to believe that I was right in the early stages of this Bill, when I said it was a landlords' and not a tenants' Bill. The power which it gives to the Lord Lieutenant to accelerate the repayment or to prolong it is one which ought not to be conferred upon him or anyone else. Not having the clause before us, with all its alterations, it is difficult to discuss it with precision. To lend money in the manner of those money lenders who exact 40 per cent. is unworthy of the British Government; it is utterly wrong, and ought not, in my mind, for a moment to be allowed by this Committee. Sub-clause 4 has been so altered that I do not profess to understand it, and I shall, therefore, not detain the Committee by speaking upon it. We shall, of course, at another time have an opportunity of considering the effect of the Amendments, and whether or not they are in favour of the tenant, because I admit that though I object to this Bill altogether and have taken many opportunities of voting against it, I am anxious to see it amended in the interest of the tenant, so that he may have a fair opportunity of repaying the money. As to Sub-section 5, I have objected to this charge being made on the Reserve Fund, and the Committee will remember that I brought forward an Amendment, but did not press it. I have not been able to gather what is to be done with the landlord's guarantee deposit beyond this: that it is to be kept for the benefit of the landlord, and he is to have interest allowed upon it, but that it is not to be touched in any case unless there is a final sale. It seems to me that the one thing which the Government profess to do in this Bill to protect the British taxpayer does not properly protect him, except at the risk of the Irish ratepayer, whom I do not wish to see interfered with. It appears to me that they have done everything they can to protect the landlord's guarantee deposit at the expense of every other fund. Now, it 315 does occur to me that if the tenant has been induced to pay too much for his holding, that, in the first place, the landlord's guarantee deposit should be dealt with, and not this Reserve Fund, as in Sub-section 5. It is always understood as a matter of business, when there are second mortgages, the second mortgagee suffers before anybody else. In this case he is so amply protected that one would think it was done on purpose to make the landlord's deposit secure, and that, after all, the deposit of one-fifth, or 20 per cent., is a sort of sham, intended to deceive the British taxpayer into believing that there is some sort of security for him, whereas I do not believe that it properly protects him. On all these grounds I shall vote against this clause altogether, because I believe it a bad one, not at all necessary in a business of this sort, in the interests of both the lender and the borrower, and one that appears to me to put a great deal too much power into the hands of the Lord Lieutenant and the Land Commission especially, in dealing with those who pay less than 20 years' purchase. I think that even if this Bill is to pass, it would be much better that it should pass with this clause omitted.
§ (9.38.) MR. SEXTON
I wish to address a word or two to the Attorney General for Ireland in reference to this clause. It appears to me to be five clauses, and not one. We are under the painful necessity of making ourselves acquainted with the matter of the clause; but after the Bill becomes a Statute, anyone who has occasion to examine the clause will never learn the effect of it, or the object of it, by examining the title of the provision from the marginal notes. It is described as "Aid in case of exceptional agricultural calamity from purchasers' insurance Reserve Fund." You would imagine by that a Purchase Fund had been previously constituted. The first part of the clause constitutes an Insurance Fund; the second provides that in certain cases the fund shall be reduced; the third provides that the Lord Lieutenant may continue the imposition of the insurance beyond the five years; the fourth refers to the question of the application of the insurance money in case of default; and the fifth refers to a different subject, having nothing to do with the preceding part of 316 the clause—the circumstances under which the Reserve Fund shall be applied for the relief of counties or the relief of purchasers in certain cases therein defined. I submit that hereafter it would be inconvenient for anyone anxious to ascertain the meaning of this clause to have to go through these five sections. I think it would be better to divide the clause before we come to the Report stage. I deeply and sincerely regret the insertion of this clause in the Bill. I am convinced, and was convinced before these Debates began, and I am now more firmly convinced than I was at the beginning, that the real object of the clause is not so much to secure insurance against a season of need as to conceal the true price of land in Ireland, and to render it difficult to know at any time what number of years' purchase an estate has been sold at—to make it appear as if all estates had been sold at 20 years' purchase, they having all to pay annuities at that rate, which would make it difficult at any time to determine by the course of past transactions what was the real value of the land. I do not say that this was a sinister design on the part of the Government; but, at any rate, they are open to that imputation, and I very much regret that they did not take steps to protect themselves from such imputation. I admit the propriety and wisdom of an Insurance Fund under certain conditions, namely, that the principle should be applied all round, because if the State is the security in one case it should be in another, and the exactions should be equally imposed upon all tenants in proportion to the annuity and in proportion to the need. Now, has it been applied all round? Why, tenants who buy at 20 years and upwards are altogether exempted from insurance. Why should they be? Is it because a man pays for his farm 20 years' purchase that the bargain is manifestly such an easy one that he requires no security? I think the presumption lies in the opposite direction. In the clause, assuming that we provide security to the State, you let off the very class of tenants in regard to whom the security is most required. The tenants will be numerous, if not the majority, in Ireland who buy at less than 20 years' purchase, and they will be oppressed by the opera- 317 tion of this insurance. The man who buys at 15 years' purchase will have to pay to the Insurance Fund at the rate of two years of his annuity. The man who buys at 10 years' purchase will have to provide an Insurance Fund amounting to five years of the annuity, payable to the State. That is not fitted, to the need of the occasion, and not just. It is excessive to the point of being an actual oppression on the tenant. I therefore complain most strenuously of this insurance clause. I maintain that it is not put forward in good faith, that it is not comprehensive, and that it is not just. It leaves out tenants in regard to whom security is as much required as in the case of other tenants. It does not act equally as between tenant and tenant. If the Government had accepted a proposal I made, and had been willing, as equity dictates, to make this insurance adequate for its object, and of equal incidence all round by a levy of 10 per cent. for five years, or even for 10, they would have provided themselves with a fund containing an amount equal to one year's annuity. The tenant would have been willing to supplement that fund in many cases, and to have provided a larger amount. The sense of justice of the people will revolt against this. This clause will be the most formidable impediment to the operation of the Act, and hon. Members from Ireland who sit opposite know that no other clause in the Bill has been the subject of so much adverse criticism. If the tenants are prevented by it from purchasing, the result will be disastrous to that class of landlords who are in urgent need of disposing of their estates. The clause was bad enough as it stood in the Bill of last year; but some evil influence has been dominant in official circles, and this influence has prevailed so far as to induce the Government to propose Sub-section 3. The hon. Member for South Tyrone has not spoken against the sub-section, but as Englishmen always know what is good for Ireland better than we do, and as we Irishmen have only been born there and lived there all our lives, and know nothing about it, they have persisted in putting in this clause. The effect of the insertion of Sub-section 3 is to make 18½ per cent. the maximum amount of relief which can be received by a tenant. The Lord Lieutenant can, for any number of years, prevent any 318 tenant from having a greater relief. A man may be obliged to go on paying at such a rate that he will have paid back his purchase, not in 49 years, but in 15, and when we ventured to point this out yesterday the Chief Secretary had no reply to make, and, having no reply to make, he moved the Closure; and I must say it is an extremely convenient thing when you have no arguments in the case to get up at the Table and mumble, "That the Question be now put." The Chief Secretary is a gentleman of great intellectual pride, and when he finds he has no argument against an Amendment he gets up and moves the Closure. The Lord Lieutenant may take care that he will not apply this 1st sub-section so as practically to cancel the bargain that this Bill intends shall be made between the landlord and tenant and the State. I will make no observation on the last sub-section. It has been recently this evening the subject of debate, and, therefore, I will not return to it; but as to the clause itself, I should have assented to it, and perhaps cordially have accepted it, if it had been founded on any reasonable and equitable basis. As it is inadequate, partial, and in many cases oppressive, I protest against it, and shall vote against it.
§ (9.50.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
With a good deal of this clause I cordially agree, but there are portions which I think ought not to be made part of the measure without attention being called to the dangers which lie hidden under them. With respect to the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down, I think he has assumed a little too much. In the first place he assumed that we had come to a common mind as regards dual ownership. I do not think so. It always seemed to me an extraordinary thing that the Ulster system, which for 300 years has been held up as a model for the whole country, should now be sneered at. The hon. Member said the sound and honest opinion of the Irish tenants would be in favour of paying their just debts. In that I agree with him. But, unfortunately, the Irish tenant is not left to form a sound and honest opinion without guidance, and therefore we have not only to look at his opinion, but at what it may suit his advisers to recommend to him. Under these circumstances, I think it is a very 319 serious and doubtful question, whether this provision for exceptional agricultural calamity does not open the door to a state of affairs which will be found extremely disastrous. A great deal has been said in this House with regard to the security of the British taxpayer against any loss upon an advance made by the State, and a strong point has been made of the punctuality with which instalments under previous Acts have been paid. And what was the reason? It was because the healthy and honest opinion of the Irish tenant was that it was highly desirable to pay what he knew would be determinedly exacted. Many a sneer has been cast across the House at Irish landlords, and one of them is that they themselves have brought this state of affairs about, not always by being too severe, but frequently, because they have been too lax and lenient. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes; it has been a common sneer that the land lords have been careless of their business. Well, it appears to me that you are laying down a rule by which the State will fall into the very errors and mistakes which the landlords are accused of having committed, and that you will have to deal with artificial and imaginary difficulties, and with calamities which are very easily invented. We have had cases in point during the last four years. I do not know how many disastrous seasons I have heard spoken of by Gentlemen opposite during the last four years, and yet those who have to do with agriculture in Ireland know that the last four seasons have been, I might almost say, exceptionally good ones. I have no doubt the Local Government Board has the opportunity through its officers of ascertaining, with a considerable amount of accuracy, what is the real state of distress in the country. I am not sure that the Land Commission will be equally able to do so; but I am certain that if any real distress, such as deserved the attention of the Legislature, existed, it would be readily listened to in this House. I really think the provisions of this clause are an invitation to the Irish tenant, or his advisers, whenever it suits their political convenience, to set up a cry of distress. I am aware that in my province that will not be so. I fully believe that in Ulster there will be no attempt to make false representations. I have no objection to the earlier part of 320 the clause. I think the 80 per cent. provision is, on the whole, a beneficial one, and I do not see myself in the provision which follows it anything which affects the tenant deleteriously. If he does pay a little more in the earlier years of his annuity, he is only accumulating for himself a Reserve Fund against a rainy day, and he is certain to get the benefit of it in the shortening of the period of re-payment. I should not think of dividing against the clause, but I think I am bound to point out the serious difficulty that may arise in the future from the provision respecting agricultural calamities and to warn Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that they will find the clause a very difficult one to administer on some future occasion.
§ (9.58.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I wish to remind the Committee that I supported the principle of an Insurance Fund. I have, however, strong objections to the 3rd sub-section. I consider it a dangerous sub-section, and one that will very probably retard the operation of the Bill. But to-night something has been added to the clause which I do not profess to understand; and, inasmuch as a Member in my position may have to account for every vote he gives on this Bill, I am not going to vote for a thing I do not understand. Therefore, because I do not like the 3rd sub-section, and I do not understand the Chief Secretary's new sub-section, I shall vote against the whole clause.
§ (10.0.) MR. M. J. KENNY
I rise for the purpose of opposing this clause, which I believe is more calculated than any other part of the Bill to defeat the objects of land purchase. I have no objection to the principle of an Insurance Fund, but in this case we have a system of insurance provided where it may not be required, and just at the point where it is likely to be required it is abandoned. Tenants whose re-payments do not extend over 20 years have to insure, but in the case of tenants whose re-payments extend over more than 20 years the system of insurance ceases altogether, and the State has to take its chance of getting paid. This is a perfectly grotesque system, and it shows that the real object of the clause is not insurance, but the maintenance of a fictitious value of land in Ireland. You 321 will have side by side those who have bought under the Ashbourne Act and those who buy under this Bill, and the latter, in consequence of the artificial system you have adopted, will be paying an excessive price. Tenants will be suspicions of the effect of the Act, and I believe the consequence of passing this clause will be to a great extent to deter tenants from taking advantage of what would otherwise be a perfectly fair and proper measure. The clause will press most hardly on the poorest class of tenants. Take the case of a tenant who buys at 10 years' purchase, and pays instalments of £2, and, in addition, the rates and taxes. If he had purchased under the Ashbourne Act he would have had to pay annually £2 15s. at the out side, but under this Bill he will have to pay, in addition to his instalments, an Insurance Fund which will bring his annual payments up to £4 15s. The provision will have the effect of ruining a great many of those who buy, and of withholding the benefits of the Act from the class who most require it. I believe if the right hon. Gentleman had only the fair interests of the tenant-farmers of Ireland at heart he would never have inserted a clause bf this kind.
§ (10.7.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
When this clause was introduced I said I should vote against it, although I would vote for every other clause in the Bill. I think it will knock off a third of the value of the Act to the small tenants. It will have the effect of preventing small tenants purchasing, and of throwing the benefits of the measure into the hands of the largest tenants. It might have been amended in two or three directions. The amount of insurance might have been reduced, or the action of the clause might have been confined to a smaller number, but none of our Amendments were accepted by the Chief Secretary, who showed himself perfectly inflexible with regard to this section. I do not say that the Bill will not be a good one on the whole, but certainly think this clause will be a considerable drawback. I hope, however, the clause may be swept away in some future Parliament. I quite agree with the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) that if it was not impossible it was very difficult to understand the Amendment introduced to-night by the right hon. 322 Gentleman the Chief Secretary. I do not suppose half a dozen gentlemen would say they understood that Amendment, and I doubt whether, if they were put in different rooms, they would give the same account of its action. I am quite sure that when it comes before the Judges they will place upon it an interpretation different from that now put on it. This clause will render the Bill much less favourable to the small tenants for the next five years than it otherwise would be, indeed many small tenants will be deterred from purchasing under the Act. I shall go into the Lobby against the clause, and very probably against no other.
§ (10.12.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)
I deem it my duty to record my protest against this clause. I was always at a loss to understand why this strange insurance system was introduced at all. It is absurd that the larger the price paid for the land the less insurance should be paid; but we all know the Chief Secretary does not want there to be too great a difference between the rents paid for land under the old system and the annual instalments under this Bill. I think there was something rather disingenuous in the introduction of such a clause in the Bill. There has been a remarkable unanimity on the part of Irish Members against the clause. When we are not united, we are reminded of the fact, and when we are united our appeals are scorned; I trust hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Benches, who do not exactly agree with our views of Irish politics, will take a lesson from these tactics. The details of this clause have been very fully discussed. The clause generally is an instance of the general confusion which is being introduced into all legislation for Ireland. You are not willing to trust us, and you desire to govern us in every matter according to your own desires. The confusion which this clause involves will have a very unfortunate effect on the Act. It will deter men from making use of the Act, and it will add to the legal burdens under which the country suffers. The cost of applying these Acts is enormous. If English Members were aware of the almost intolerable legal burdens which the Irish people have to bear they would have more sympathy with us, and wish 323 for a radical change. We have been accused of unduly delaying this legislation. I beseech the people of England to consider the position in which we are placed. If this were an Act for England little discussion would be necessary, because here it is always possible to amend an Act, besides which, an Act is here ad ministered by representative assemblies. In Ireland, however, Acts are administered by agencies out of sympathy with the people, and, therefore, it is necessary for every word and phrase to be duly considered before it is adopted. In conclusion, I hope the Government will furnish us day by day with the sub-sections as amended. If this were done it would be a great help to us in our deliberations.
§ (10.20.) MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
There is much in this clause which is very objectionable. It is a dangerous thing to point out to Irish tenants that there is a means of escaping from the payment of their obligations. Under the Ashbourne Acts the instalments have been regularly paid, because the tenants know that if they are not paid they will have to suffer the consequences. Under this Bill the purchaser will readily find out that there is some exceptional reason, for not paying. I hops the Government or the Commission will be extremely careful to see that the payments are made regularly, and that claims for exceptional treatment will be inquired into very strictly, and generally disallowed.
§ (10.23.) MR. CHANCE
If the hon. Gentleman has followed the proceedings of the Committee he must know that the only liabilities affected by this clause are liabilities arising in times of exceptional distress in a whole locality, or some; exceptional calamity happening to an individual tenant. I suppose the hon. Member would prefer that tenants should be evicted right out in times of exceptional calamity rather than that they should be relieved. What is the tempting door open to the tenant? The tenant has to satisfy the Treasury, the Lord Lieutenant, the Land Commission and the Local Government Board; and the Chief Secretary, still fearing that the door would be so tempting that whole sale repudiation would follow, by the last Amendment clapped on the House of Lords. The tenant will not be so 324 foolish as to think that any chance of escape is afforded by the machinery of the clause. My main objection to the clause is that it will operate to prevent the sale of the poorer class of land. Secondly, the clause will give the benefit of money lent at a low rate of interest for longer periods to well-to-do tenants rather than to the poorer tenants who most need aid. In the cases of the richer tenants the insurance clause will have no operation, while the poorer tenants, buying at 10 years' purchase, will have to repay one-fourth of their advances within the first five years. This provision will do much to break down the poor man before he is fairly on his legs. The third objection to the clause is that the number of years within which a loan will have to be repaid will depend upon the caprice of the Lord Lieutenant, and the result will be that if he forms the idea that land purchase is going on too rapidly in any given county he can stop it in the case of the poorer tenants, while his orders will have no effect upon the richer tenants. So you have the Lord Lieutenant in his attempt to stop or delay land purchase in any given county not affecting purchase by the richer tenants, although preventing or largely diminishing purchase by the poorer tenants. Now that, I think, is a disastrous and an absolutely silly thing to do. My last observation is this. I admit that under the Ashbourne Act there is one great fault to be deplored. If you have, as many tenants have in England, a considerate landlord, he will in periods of distress or calamity very largely aid the tenant in coming round out of his difficulties. But under the Ashbourne Act, once a tenant purchased, the State became his creditor, and the State had no option but to draw the annuity every year. The State had no power to consider any question of exceptional calamity or distress, whether affecting an individual tenant or a whole district. I fully admit this was a great blot on the Ashbourne system, and that some more elasticity is required. Now, how is that elasticity to be obtained? I do not understand why the Chief Secretary deliberately departed from the system which, under the Act of 1887, has given elasticity in certain cases—in those cases where annuities have been recapitalised, and the loans spread out again. There is nothing to prevent 325 such an elasticity, which is so much desired, being permitted to the Land Commission here — the recapitalising of the loan and letting it run over a further period of 49 years or less. The result would be, that the poorer tenant would get a longer use of the money at a low rate, and he would get a greater benefit. But the Chief Secretary has not chosen to adopt that, and with perverted ingenuity he has insisted on forcing into the Bill a clause which must act injuriously to the poorer tenant—which does not affect the richer tenant at all, and leaves the landlord with a number of poor holdings on his hands out of which it would be absolutely impossible for him to collect any economic rent.
§ (10.35.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 148; Noes 85.—(Div. List, No. 199.)
§ Clause 6.
§ (10.45.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I do not know whether the Government intend to persist with this sub-section. I rather imagine they do not. If I have any intimation to that effect I will at once sit down, but if it is their intention to persist with it I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it will raise very serious Debate. In the first place, let me point out the unscientific character of the draftsmanship employed. Under this Bill you can sell a house in Merrion Square, and as arbitrator of the Draper's Company I have sold houses to which a rood of ground has not been attached. I have sold public houses for the Worshipful Company of Drapers, and that is not prohibited in the least degree. You can still buy and sell public houses under this Bill. For some extraordinary reason the Government propose to interfere with one of the most valuable industries prevailing in Ireland, i.e., dairy farming and butter making, and the mixed farming of Meath and West Meath by their extraordinary exclusion. Why public houses are to be included, and transactions in public houses are to be possible under such a Bill, while a special sub-section is driven through the heart of it, which will practically have the effect of excluding all the holdings of Clare, Meath, and West Meath, I fail entirely to understand. This sub-section goes very far in extension of what was done in the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881. The historical aspect of the ques- 326 tion shows that the idea against grazing first found a place in land purchase Legislation in 1870. The feeling then was directed against big graziers, Scotch gentlemen who, turning out the tenants, occupied enormous tracts of country, erected a few herd houses, and commenced business with a few thousand sheep and bullocks and a cask of Scotch whisky. Then began the horror of the Irish people of grazing farmers. Mr. Allan Pollock was the King of Scotch graziers, but when his funeral passed through Ballinasloe, in 1880, not a blind was drawn in token of respect, and two years afterwards his son was bankrupt. There was a horror of big grazing farms, but even the Acts of 1870 and 1881 did not exclude grazing farms under £50 valuation. But this beneficent Tory Government have brought in a Bill excluding grass farms above £10 valuation, so that if I had three acres and a cow, I should be excluded from this Bill. What are grass farms? Nothing more strikingly exemplifies the position than the case"O'Brien v. White," the famous case in relation to the Craglands of Burren—land so rocky that it could only be cultivated by the spade. Because this land could only be used for pasture, it was held excluded from the Act by an extra ordinary decision. Because a man's land is rocky, he is excluded from the opportunity of having a fair rent fixed! But I need not dwell upon that case. Then arose the question: How much tillage should be required to bring a farm under the Act of 1881? Lord Monck was put upon the Commission, a mere excresence, but he took a liberal construction of the section; but it is still a nice legal point to decide what exactly should be the amount of tillage as a qualification under the Act of 1881. A still more extraordinary question arose in relation to hay. Hay does not seem to have struck the lay mind as having much to do with fair rent, but upon the point whether a man sold his hay or fed his cows with it turned the right of a man to have fair rent fixed. The House of Lords, with the assistance of many learned counsel, at last solemnly decided for Mr. Ellicot, that hay was a crop that might be considered a crop from the land equally with turnips or potatoes. So Mr. Ellicot was entitled to a fair rent. Then there arises the question of mountain holdings, which must of 327 necessity be pasture land. Is there any reason why to tenants of these should be denied the right to buy? When the hon. Member for Cork made his speech no doubt it was well intended, but the proposal of the Government will have the effect of excluding from this Bill all the farms of the butter-making districts. Suppose I was the owner of an estate— an extravagant assumption, perhaps — five-sixths of which were under tillage, and a sixth under pasture, would it not be unfair that I should have to keep up the staff of bailiffs, rent wardens, and others— in fact, all the customary ragtag and bob tail for collecting rents, when the necessity has disappeared? Far better would it be to carry out land purchase free from these inequalities. The details are much more entangled than the Government seem to imagine. The butter makers of Munster are deeply interested in this question. After 10 years of the Land Act, Judge O'Hagan shrank from deciding whether holdings of 20 acres used for butter making were excluded or not. The point was argued several times, but the Land Commissioners always by some loop-hole squeezed out of giving a decision. In the House of Lords, in the case I alluded to, one of the Irish Judges, Lord Fitzgerald, threw out a judical opinion that butter farms or dairy farms would be excluded from the Act, and the son of Lord Fitzgerald now sits on the Land Commission. The whole question is much more difficult than the Government suppose, and I strongly advise the Government to eliminate the sub-section. I am desirous of shutting out the great grazier whose name is odious to the people; but when Mr. Butt excluded graziers from his Bill, the Irish Courts did not take that fine view which since they have adopted, and the question stands in a very different position from when Mr. Butt drew his exclusion. The idea of grazier then was the exterminating land grabber who destroyed the homes of the people, and with two or three collie dogs and Scots herdmen managed miles of pasture in Galway and Mayo. Very different is the grazier in the eye of the law; the definition includes the small men who, when Ireland had run to waste and emigration had so thinned the population, that there were no labourers in harvest time, occupied his small farm as pasture land. 328 On behalf of these—the men who farm the sweet pastures of Meath and West-meath—I protest against their exclusion from land purchase, and move the omission of the sub-section.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 4, to leave out Sub-section 1.— (Mr. T. M. Healy.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words an advance shall' stand part of the Clause."
§ (11.8.) MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I am thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member for Longford in the distinction which he has drawn between the class of graziers which it is desirable to exclude from the operation of this Bill and the class of graziers so defined by law, as has been interpreted by the Courts and Judges of Ireland, whom We desire to see included under the operation of the Land Act of 1881, and the subsequent Acts amending that measure. And while I say that, I also say that I made this proposal originally—upon which I suppose this clause has been based—with a view of economising as much as we can the limited resources which the Government have been able to devote to the matter. I made the proposal for the purpose of securing, so far as it was possible, that the £40,000,000 available— £10,000,000 of which have been spent— shall be used for the purpose of securing as many of the Irish tenant farmers in their home steads and the houses which they occupy as is possible. That was why I made the proposal. But I am bound to say that the clause as proposed by the right hon. Gentleman goes a very long way beyond the object that I had in my mind, and certainly if the sub-section is to be retained in its present shape I shall vote against it. What I had in my mind when I made the suggestion first of all on the Second Reading of the Bill of last year, and, secondly, on the vote for the expenses of the Chief Secretary's Office later in the autumn, was this — that as regards grazing tenants—certainly all grazing tenancies where the tenant resided or usually resided upon the holding— all these should be included up to the limit in the Ashbourne Act of 1885, which I think is in the amending Act of 1887. But as regards the second holdings, occupied by such tenants, my view was that they should not be in- 329 cluded. I do not see any reason why, as the hon. Member for Longford argues, the grazing farmer, who is precluded, by the terms of his original tenancy from breaking up more than a certain portion of the land, or is prevented by the physical features of his holding from doing so, or is precluded by economic considerations connected with his holding, as in the case of the dairy land of Munster, where it pays better to farm in grass than to break it up for the purpose of producing potatoes, oats, or turnips—I do not see why, under these circumstances, a man residing or usually residing near his holding should be precluded from purchasing under the operations of this Act. But when we come to the large tract in Connaught I think we ought to make a distinction where we find the large graziers having two, or three, or four holdings, amounting to valuations of several hundreds of pounds. I think that such holders ought not to take money which might be used to enable a much larger number of smaller tenants to become the owners of their holdings. As regards the question of second tenancies, when we come down to the smaller valuations, I am disposed to think, from, my observations and from the Returns that have been given to us, and from the working of the Arrears Act of 1882, that the answer which was given by the right hon. Gentleman, the other day, to the hon. Member for Cavan is not entirely based upon good information. I think there is a very much larger number of second tenancies than has been returned to the right hon. Gentleman: but what I would suggest with regard to the second tenancies is this: that when we have two or three very small tenancies it would be, in my judgment, desirable to allow such tenants who occupy up to a total value of £20 or £30 to purchase, and I think, upon the whole, the justice and the convenience of the case would be met if we modified this clause so as to limit it to grazing tenancies where the tenant does not usually reside on his tenancy, leaving, of course, the limit of value provided by the Act of 1885 and by the subsequent Act of 1887. As regards the second holdings, we might allow the tenants of the second or third holdings to buy where the total valuation of such tenancies does not exceed £30. I have spoken as to the economic ques- 330 tion, but now I come to the question of convenience. The hon. Member for Longford has pointed out very forcibly that the landlord will naturally object to sell a portion of his estate, and to keep the rest in his own hands, and as this clause is drawn I believe it will be inoperative. If the Government decide upon sticking to the proviso at the end—Except when in the opinion of the Land Commission such advance is necessary for carrying into effect sales on the estate of the same landlord "—I think we might as well give the whole clause up altogether, because undoubtedly where an estate is put into the market, and when it is proposed to except any portion of the estate on account of grazing tenancies, or double tenancies under this, where the Land Commission refuses to sanction the sale on that ground, they will have the landlord coming to the Land Commission and saying he will not sell at all, and they will have to yield to pressure and agree to include these tenancies in the purchase. So that in my judgment, from the point of view of general policy, if the Government decide to hold on to the proviso contained in the last three lines in the sub-section, I think it will be far better for them to save the time of the Committee and of the House by withdrawing the clause altogether.
§ (11.20.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have naturally listened with great attention to the speeches just delivered, representing as they do the opinion of gentlemen very well acquainted with the subject. As the Bill was originally introduced in 1890, there were no limitations of the kind contained in the sub-section. But in the discussion on the Vote for the Office of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, speaking with the authority of his position, drew attention to the fact that the amount of money— the £30,000,000, as we are in the habit of calling it—immediately avail able under the Bill could not possibly go more than a certain part of the way towards effecting land purchase in Ireland, and that it was desirable, as far as possible, to limit the number of holdings to which this money should be applicable, in order that it might be made to go as far as possible. The Government felt themselves bound to give all weight 331 to the views of the hon. Gentleman, and they attempted to follow some of his suggestions when they introduced words into the clause which should exclude from the benefits of purchase non-residential holdings and holdings used practically for pasturage. No criticism was passed upon that part of the clause which deals with non-residential holdings.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
The hon. Member for Cork indicated a criticism with which I agreed. I did not refer to it, because it was too intricate to deal with at that time.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think the hon. Member for Cork said he was in favour of excluding holdings on which the tenant did not actually reside.
§ MR. PARNELL
Where the combined valuation of non-grazing tenancies do not exceed £30 they might, I think, be included.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then I under stand he would exclude all holdings above £3,000 value, as is done in the Ashbourne Acts; also all grazing tenancies above £30 when the tenant does not reside on them.
§ MR. PARNELL
As regards non-grazing tenancies, I suggested that more than one might be purchased if the combined value did not exceed £30. As regards grazing tenancies, I would have a qualification of residence to entitle the tenant to purchase.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then the hon. Member would exclude all holdings, grazing or non-grazing, above £3,000 value, and all non-residential holdings.
§ MR. CHANCE
May I point out that the Ashbourne Acts do not exclude all holdings above £3,000. They only provide that no more than £3,000 shall be advanced on them.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That amounts to the same thing. Then the hon. Member for Cork would exclude all grazing farms on which the tenant does not reside, and all farms, whether grazing or non-grazing, on which;the tenant does not reside if they are over £30 value. I think there is a great deal to be said for every one of the exclusions the hon. Member suggests. The real question to be considered is whether they go far enough. The hon. Member for North 332 Longford has urged strong reasons for us adopting the clause as framed and for not excluding the dairy farmers of Munster, or the grazing farmers of Clare. Some of the farmers he wants excluded are, however, also outside the limits of the Ashbourne Acts, namely, farms above £3,000 value. While I freely admit that the present sub-section cannot stand as it is, all the investigations I have been able to make during the last six months have convinced me that it is quite impossible to maintain grazing limitations in the form found in the Bill. I doubt whether the Committee will be entirely satisfied with the very small limitations which the hon. Gentleman proposes. I think if he were to calculate the amount of money that would be lost to the small tenants by the exclusions proposed he would find that the proportion is extremely small, and that practically, if the Bill is passed in the form recommended, three-fourths of the money will go to farms over £30 in valuation. That is not a prospect which can be contemplated with perfect serenity. The hon. Gentleman himself said that his desire, as it is the desire of the Committee, is to make as many occupiers as possible owners of their holdings. The limitations proposed, however defensible, and they are defensible, will not carry out that object. They will certainly lead in the future, as in the past, to the great bulk of the money going to those who, though they are deserving— and in my opinion they ought not to be excluded from land purchase— still ought not to be allowed to carry off three-fourths of the money intended to establish a peasant proprietary in Ireland. This problem is one of great magnitude. Even if the provisions of the Bill are not well suited to carry out the object we have in view, I hope the House will see, after the observations I have made, that the difficulty has not been solved by either the criticisms of the hon. Member for Longford or of the hon. Member for Cork. The Committee have, therefore, to consider whether there may not be some plan, better, perhaps, than either of the suggestions made, which will lead us out of the difficulty. There are a large number of gentlemen who have given great attention to the subject, and who have been specially exercised by the problem how we are to get 333 the money to go to the particular class of tenants whom especially we wish to serve; and I shall be grateful for any observations which may be made from any part of the House as to a question which has been largely occupying the minds of some of those most capable of dealing with the subject.
§ (11.30.) MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
I am one of those who have been greatly exercised by the fact that the great bulk of this money so far from going into the pockets of the smaller tenants, or doing the work which we intend or desire, will go in an exactly opposite direction. I believe I shall be able to show that this is most distinctly the case. I have never committed myself to the principle that it would be contrary either to justice or good policy that this country should undertake some pecuniary risk, or even outlay, if by so doing we could give peace and prosperity to Ireland. But we are bound, in taking any such risk, or making any such outlay, to secure a reasonable chance of obtaining that peace and prosperity. Now, I think I shall be able to show by actual figures and experience that, unless some such limit as I propose is introduced into the Bill, you will produce a state of matters in Ireland, worse, more dangerous, and more incurable than that which now exists; that you will increase agrarian difficulty and discontent there; that you will have extended agrarian discontent to England, Scotland, and Wales; and that you will have done this at more than double the cost necessary to accomplish the object you profess to aim at, namely, to deal with all holdings up to the extreme limit workable by peasant proprietors, i.e. by those who rely mainly on the labour of themselves and their family, and do not require any considerable amount of hired labour. From a Paper I have circulated to the Members of the House, it will be seen that by the Return of agricultural holdings in 1881, 585,000, or eight-ninths of agricultural holdings in Ireland were under £30, and only 74,430 were over that amount. The calculations in that Paper were made on the rents of 1881 and 20 years' purchase. But there has been a great fall in rent since that day, and to get at the present net rent you would have to deduct at least 30 per cent. to allow for the fall in 334 rent, and the difference between gross and net rental. We find, also, that the advances under the Ashbourne Act on such holdings have averaged 17.2 years' purchase. If you will work these figures out, you will see that to buy the whole number of holdings under £30 a year, which the above-mentioned reduction of rent will bring up to fully 600,000, would cost less than £70,000,000, the average cost of a single holding being a little over £110. But, of course, the whole of the holdings under £30 will not be sold, and it would seem from these figures that the £30,000,000 now asked for, and the £10,000,000 under the Ashbourne Act, would have practically sufficed to meet all demands for the purchase of real peasant holdings (say under £30) in Ireland, but that it would cost between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 more to purchase the larger holdings, which are not real peasant holdings at all. But now I wish to call the attention of the House to the operations that have actually taken place up to the present time under the Ashbourne Act. In the Report of the Land Commission (6,233), to which the Chief Secretary referred me for information, at page 53, you will find that during the five years ending August, 1890, 13,720 holdings, comprised in 835 estates, were sold, and the loans advanced thereon amounted to £5,758,000, and that they were sold at an average of 17.2 years' purchase. Of this sum, 3,188 loans, over £500 absorbed two-thirds of the amount, namely, £3,771,000, whereas over 10,500, that is, three-fourths of the holdings dealt with, required only £1,936,000, only one-third of the sum lent. Thus it may be estimated that an advance for the purchase of a holding rated below £30 a year, averaged £188, and for a holding above that value £1,183. Now, apply these results of five years actual experience to future purchases, estimating that the remainder of the Ashbourne grant and the £30,000,000 show similar results. As the Ashbourne Act now stands, two-thirds of the £40,000,000 which this and the Ashbourne Act furnish, will be devoted to purchasing 22,200 of the larger tenancies, and the one-third left for the smaller tenancies will only purchase 70,000 of the peasant holdings under £30 a year, I would ask the 335 Government and the House to consider whether the country will be satisfied to spend these whole£40,000,000 sterling in buying one-ninth of the peasant holdings in Ireland? And do you believe, that if they would consent to do this, it would do anything to restore peace and prosperity in Ireland? Why, for every peasant that you make a proprietor of his holding, you make the eight left out in the cold more discontented and more unreasonable than before. Moreover, by leaving the whole unlimited as it is now, you will create about 22,000 landholders, who will not be peasant proprietors, but small landlords. Assume the rest of the Ashbourne money to be spent as before. Then if the limit I propose is adopted for the whole of the £30,000,000 at the average cost of similar tenancies hitherto, and maintained in the future, the total of £40,000,000 would have purchased over 172,000 holdings, namely, 166,000 under £30 per annum and 5,500 over that rental. As a matter of fact, the number of small proprietors created would be much in excess of this, for whereas £188 has been the average price of the smaller holdings purchased under the Ashbourne Act at £111, which is the average price of the 600,000 as estimated on the above basis, the £40,000,000 would purchase 287,000 holdings under £30 a year, and 5,600 holdings above that rental. The very small holdings have not yet been purchased to a proportionate extent. Indeed, the Report of the Land Commissioners shows this to have been the case, as more than half the loans issued have been for sums between £500 and £100, a limit which would not include the preponderating class of holdings that are worth less than £5 a year. The point which I wish to press home is this, that the adoption of the limit of £30 would really, as you see, give a very large number of peasant proprietors who will presumably be, if the Bill is justifiable at all, the friends of law and order in Ireland. But on the other hand, if you deal without limit both under the Ashbourne Act and the present Bill, the whole £40,000,000 will be divided, as hitherto, two-thirds in the purchase of larger holdings, and one-third in that of smaller ones. The £40,000,000 will thus only produce a comparatively insignificant number of small peasant proprietors; but it will also produce 336 22,200, or a comparatively considerable number, of the larger landowners. Many of these would inevitably set up as land lords, for they could get plenty of small tenants who would work the farms by their own labour, paying a better return to them as landlords, with the margin which the Bill gives them, than they could get by working these larger holdings as tenants. With the intense land hunger that exists in Ireland, will any man who knows the Irish character and habits tell us that where both parties are interested and bent upon evading the law, they will not manage to do it? They do not want leases or agreements to do this, they do not want to give credit to accomplish this. Only the other day a case came before me which shows how this could be managed. An Irish landlord had kept his demesne in his own hands, and not wishing to cultivate it longer himself, or to establish a tenant right on it, he has for the last seven years put up the different fields annually, in accordance with a strange custom that seems to prevail in some parts of Ireland, for the crop, which was in rotation. One of his own tenants who had put him into the Land Court to get a reduction on 25s. per acre for precisely similar land, actually took one of these fields and put down in advance £3 per acre for it. How can you expect to prevent sub-letting, against such a land hunger of which this is only one among many instances, as every Irishman who knows anything about the subject can tell you. You will have produced in a very few years a class of men corresponding to the middlemen of the earlier half of this century, poor, grinding, hard and unscrupulous small landlords, and a set of tenants poorer, more discontented, more despairing and desperate than those who exist now. They will not even have their tenant right to fall back upon. I put it to the House whether this will not give you congested districts in every part of Ireland, with their secret societies with bitter hostile discontent, a state of things worse, more hopeless and incurable than now. I know it may be said that landowners may not be willing to sell the smaller tenancies unless they can sell the larger ones at the same time. We cannot be expected to spend £50,000,000 more to let the landlord have his property in a ring fence, and if you give him the security of the great 337 bulk of his tenants being converted into owners he may well be left to deal with the larger tenants who are in a much better position than the same class of men in England. I may point out to you that in your crofter legislation you have already recognised £30 as the true limit of a peasant proprietary. If I were not afraid of wearying the House I could show from the actual working of some estates in Ireland that £20, which the hon. Member for Cork mentioned in his evidence before the Colonisation Committee as the most practical limit of a peasant holding in Ireland, is the amount which experience has shown to be the holding on which the average peasant proprietor can live and thrive. I am satisfied that £30 is the extreme limit of a bonâ fide peasant holding. But in addition to aggravating the agrarian disturbances in Ireland, you will have extended that agrarian discontent to England, Scotland, and Wales. If you do not limit your aim to the value of holding which is the extreme limit of a true peasant proprietorship, £30, look what a precedent you are setting to other parts of the United Kingdom. If you aim at that limit the precedent is comparatively innocuous for the number of holdings under £30 is so moderate in England, Scotland, and Wales that it could be dealt with, if necessary, by a manageable amount. But if you are going to take farms of £50 a year and upwards, the whole amount of the National Debt would not settle the land question in the United Kingdom, and if you buy in Ireland those larger farms, properly so called, what answer have you to give to the farmers of England, Scotland, and Wales if they ask you why the Imperial credit, for which they are responsible, could not be used to make them owners at 20 per cent. less annual payment than their rents as you would have done this in Ireland, for holders of farms who are already more advantageously placed than they are? Statesmen in these days, when they find themselves in a difficulty, seem with a light heart to grasp at the first remedy for a pressing evil that comes to their hand, without looking where the precedent and principle will inevitably lead them. They forget, too, that the democracy which they have established will, when it comes to feel its power, be sternly logical in requiring the applica- 338 tion of such principles when its own interests are at stake. You only ask for £30,000,000 by this Bill, but if you do not put a defensible principle of limitation in your Bill you never can stop there. You will have increased discontent instead of allaying it. But I repeat, put the Bill on a safe sound principle, and you are safe. When you have satisfied the great bulk of the tenants of Ireland by making them peasant proprietors, the small minority of the larger tenants, unbacked by the mass of their neighbours, will have to be content, and the landlords will be safer, for the large tenants will not shoot, and if they do not choose to pay, will be powerless to resist the law. But I must further point out that experience under the Ashbourne Act shows that in asking this country to take the risk of the larger holdings you ask them to take a security much worse than that of the smaller holdings. The Return moved for by Mr. J. Ellis shows that up to 14th February, 1891, 34 holdings had been sold for default in payment of instalments of purchase money, and in only nine of these cases was the rent of the holding under £30 or the purchase money under £500. In other words, it has proved that the small tenant purchasers have met their liabilities better than the larger ones. The Government may perhaps say that they must have a certain margin to deal with exceptional cases. But certainly we must not continue to devote two-thirds of the amount to buying these larger tenancies, a system which has promoted and will promote the purchase of those very estates of resident landlords who have been able to some extent to prevent the extreme subdivisions of the holdings of the very landlords Ireland can least spare, and whose expropriation does least to remedy the evils complained of, and least to produce the greatest number of friends of law and order in Ireland. But if Government think they cannot accept the absolute limit of £30, perhaps they will at least accept the Amendment which I have put down later on, to restrict the amount of loans for such large tenancies to one-fifth of the total amount lent in either a county or an estate. If the qualified Amendment is accepted it will still allow £6,666,000 out of the £10,000,000 of the Ashbourne Fund, and £6,000,000 out of the 339 £30,000,000 provided by this Bill to be spent on these larger tenancies. In other words, even with the limitation to one-fifth, £12,666,000 out of £40,000,000 is spent in merely smoothing the progress of the Bill, leaving only£27,333,000 to be spent on the object and only justification of the Bill, the creation, for the sake of law and order in Ireland, of a peasant proprietary there. These are no speculative figures on which I base my calculations; they are the result of five years' experience of these purchases, and I can only conclude by repeating what my figures have shown clearly to anybody acquainted with the past history of Ireland—with the Irish and their land hunger—that if you pass this Bill unlimited, like the Ashbourne Act as to the value of holdings, you will not only fail in making any appreciable progress in what you seek to do, but you will actually in a very few years have made the state of things there more wretched, more hopelessly incurable than you found it, and the people more discontented; that you will have increased agrarian disturbance in Ireland, that you will extend it to the remaining parts of the United Kingdom, and that to do all this you will have spent about double the money necessary to make this Bill a really Conservative measure, carrying out the projects for which it is avowedly brought in. I am much obliged to the House for listening to me so patiently. I should just like to sum up for one minute the figures which I have laid before you. Two-thirds of the money under the Ashbourne Acts so far have been employed in buying up only 3,188 larger holdings, at a cost of £1,986,000. If you accept the limit which I propose for the £30,000,000 under the present Bill, then the £40,000,000 will purchase 287,000 peasant holdings, and 5,600 of the larger ones; that is, with the limit you will buy very nearly one-half of the whole tenancies of Ireland.
§ Moved, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Macartney.)
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I think there are reasons why Progress should not now be reported. I have noticed while this Bill has been in Committee, that whenever it is approaching 340 12 o'clock some hon. Member opposite moves to report Progress, and they do so just in time to snap a stage of a small Bill without proper discussion. That is not a right thing to do.
Order, order! The hon. Member must speak in relation to the Motion before the Committee.
§ DR. TANNER
I am endeavouring, Sir, to speak on the Motion to report Progress. I say that when we are dealing with a Bill like the Land Purchase Bill we ought not to waste even five minutes. I wish to protest against the way in which certain Conservative Gentlemen are acting, and sincerely hope they will not so act again.
§ Question put, and agreed to; Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.