§ Considered in Committee
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 6.
§ (4.35.) MR. KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)
moved to omit Sub-section 3, which provides as follows:—The Treasury, in communication with the Lord Lieutenant, may authorise by order addi- 499 tional advances in the county not exceeding the capital value for the time being of that part of the Sinking Fund which has been accumulated out of the Sinking Fund payments paid out of purchase annuities in the county, and such capital value shall include the capital of any guaranteed land stock redeemed by the said payments.The hon. Member said: The object of my Amendment is to secure that the Guarantee Fund shall be kept in a solvent state, so as to be able to pay off all the purchase annuities in the event of default. The object of the Amendment is strictly analogous to that which was put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the object of the Government in a statement in reply to me, which he did me the honour to make on the 26th of January. The solvency of the Guarantee Fund has been all along the boast of Her Majesty's Government—so much so that they have described its solvency over and over again as the distinctive feature of their Bill. The existence of this supposed competent Guarantee Fund formed, in fact, their sole excuse for bringing forward this Bill after having vehemently opposed the Land Purchase Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) in 1886. The reason they have assigned is that the Bill of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian had no Guarantee Fund, and they therefore objected to the British taxpayer incurring a risk. They professed to have changed all that by interposing a complete financial and arithmetical buffer between the British taxpayer and the Irish tenants in the shape of a Guarantee Fund. My contention is that the re-lendings under this sub-section will bankrupt the Guarantee Fund, relying upon the perfect stability of which the House has been induced to pass the Second Reading of the Bill. Assuming the money to be advanced and re-lent as provided by the Bill, there is the certainty of deficits increasing from year to year.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
The fallacy of the hon. Member's argument lies in the assumption that if the tenants do not pay, the Government will still go on re-lending. When deficits arise from the tenants not 500 paying, the re-lending would stop that moment.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Subject to the sanction of the Treasury. Surely the Treasury would not go on re-lending when they were not paid.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
That is a most impracticable hypothesis. No sane Government would go on re-lending when there was a universal strike, which is the only thing that would lead to a deficit. This is not practical politics.
§ MR. KEAY
I am not discussing whether it is practical politics; I am talking about what is possible under the Bill. If the power is so enormous that no Treasury would use it, why put it in the Bill? The operation under this Bill would be this: The original loan we are in the habit of roughly estimating at £30,000,000. Then I say that the operation of this clause would be to increase the lending of this £30,000,000 during the first 49 years to no less than £72,000,000 sterling of gross advances. If the powers are continued as this Bill provides for a further period of 49 years, and the re-lending is to go on, the gross advances will amount to £200,00,000 more. I limit my arithmetical argument, however, to matters affecting the more immediate operations of the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated the other day that the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) was not a good accountant, and always appeared to be in a hopeless fog when he had to deal with an array of figures. It is no part of my duty to defend the right hon. Member for Derby, but I believe I can show that the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, as well as the Chief Secretary, has become considerably fogged in regard to the arithmetical arrangements of the Bill, so far as the re-lending clause is concerned. "What is the fact with regard to the re-lending clause and its operation? Instead 501 of its being, as we have been assured, a solvent fund, the Guarantee Fund becomes utterly bankrupt on the occasion of the first re-lending of the very first sum of £300,000 at the end of the first 12 months' operation of the Bill. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to deny it, for he will neither nod nor shake his head, but I will now ask from him what I have never been able to get before, i.e., a clear reply as to hard arithmetical facts. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a Return dated the 30th January last, and I will, from calculations I have made based upon that Return, prove the assertion I have made. I assume, first, that the £30,000,000 have been lent, and that the re-lending has commenced on a full scale. The first deficit would arise in 12 months, and it would amount to £12,000, and it will increase largely year by year.
§ MR. KEAY
The sum by which the Guarantee Fund will fall short of the possible liability. What does security mean unless it is that you are contemplating some risk? I say if you put a power into this Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman confesses is so enormous that no decent Treasury would ever act upon it, then you are bound to put in an Amendment limiting it so that a properly constituted Treasury might comply with it. I am not responsible, I am glad to say, for the muddled wording of this Bill. My second reply to the right hon. Gentleman's question is this: I am contemplating a default being committed at a given date, and I say that if a total default takes place at the end of the first 12 months, there will be a deficit in the Guarantee Fund of £12,000. If it takes place at the end of the first 10 years, then, as more re-lending will have taken place, and as more unguaranteed obligations will have been incurred, the deficit in that year alone will amount to £131,000. Suppose the tenants go on paying for 20 years, and there is then a default, the deficiency will amount to £334,000. If there is a default in the 30th year, it will be £628,000. That is my calculation, although the Chancellor 502 of the Exchequer in his Return puts it at £645,000.
§ MR. KEAY
The right hon. Gentleman calculates that the annuities will amount to £1,845,000, while the fixed income of the Guarantee Fund will only be £1,200,000. I will carry the calculations further. If there is default in the 40th year the deficiency will be £1,055,000, and in the 49th year the difference between the Guarantee Fund and what is due from the tenants will amount to £1,700,000. In every year, from the first to the 49th, there may be annually increasing deficits amounting in the aggregate to £28,000,000, and that on the re-lendings of an original loan of £30,000,000. I ask—is it not the case that the Government have concealed this fact from the House of Commons? I, and other hon. Members of greater weight than myself, have often questioned the Government on the point, but all they have done has been to deny the existence of a deficit. What did the Chief Secretary say in his speech of last year? He was speaking of the impossibility of loss to the taxpayer, and he said the funds in hand would cover any possible default; and when three days after I attempted by figures to disprove the assertion the Chancellor of the Exchequer stopped me by raising a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman could not summon the courage to analyse the figures. I saw that they were painful to him. I showed that he had given himself credit for possessing a comfortable yearly sum of £1,600,000 to meet a possible default of £1,200,000, whereas, in point of fact, the only real item on which he could count was a sum of £229,000. The right hon. Gentleman and the Committee will remember that he used a remarkable expression in defending the Bill. He said it was a mathematical impossibility that loss should fall on the British taxpayer, the reason being that he had sufficient funds in his own hands, which no one could take from him. His remark on that occasion had great weight with the House. He said—The third degree of impossibility which I may describe as a demonstrable or a mathematical impossibility is that the Treasury, which not only is precluded from advancing money 503 beyond the capitalised value of the Guarantee Fund, but which has also, in addition, the collateral guarantees, of which I have already spoken, should in any conceivable circumstances be one penny the worse.After that he went on to say—Some of these points may be open to argument, though I think not; but that it is mathematically impossible for the Treasury to suffer—this is not open to argument.No doubt the right hon. Gentleman in using such language was strictly adhering to what he believed to be the truth —to what he thought to be his book. He meant to say he had enough money in the Guarantee Fund to cancel all the tenants' obligations if default were committed.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The hon. Gentleman must not suppose that I accept his interpretation of the words.
§ MR. KEAY
I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman will accept any interpretation of his speech from me. But I am giving the words from Hansard —words which have been carefully revised and edited by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Now let me come to the effect that these words had on the House. What was the interpretation placed upon them by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. That right hon. Gentleman, it will be remembered, in 1886 opposed the Land Purchase Bill upon the specific ground of risk to the British taxpayer. But on the occasion to which I am now referring—the occasion of the Second Reading of last year's Bill—he said he was pleased to find himself, in consequence of the assertion of the Chief Secretary, able to support the Government on this occasion, because this absolutely valid and mathematically solvent Fund — the Guarantee Fund —had been interposed. The right hon. Gentleman went the length of staking his political consistency on the result. He said—The question between us now as to inconsistency is to be decided by the answer to this question—Whether there is a burden on the British taxpayer under this Bill, and not only whether there is a burden but whether there is risk of burden.And he added—If there is the slightest fraction of risk then I am inconsistent in supporting this Bill.504 Again, the right hon. Gentleman continued—I say, for the sake of this argument, you have to assume that it would not be fair to rest upon the probabilities of the case. I have, in order to make my case good, to prove that the loss is impossible. It is not enough to say it is so improbable as to be almost impossible.That was very frank. Again—Supposing you have a general repudiation, you have in your hands sufficient resources to bring you home without the loss of a penny. What have you to do? By the hypothecation of the local resources we practically capitalise a payment which we have contracted to make to the Irish Local Authorities. We are under a contract, under an obligation to pay to the Irish Local Authorities so much per annum. We capitalise this sum, and hand it over for Irish purposes, and then we have a right to come upon the annual sum if there is any deficiency. I say, then, in these circumstances, that you have got an absolute security—an inalienable security.Now, it is not for me to attempt to prove inconsistency on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, but I do find it necessary to carry the matter one step further, and to show that the Chief Secretary adopted the same frank view that the annual income of the Guarantee Fund would be sufficient to meet the whole annual default. [Cries of "Divide!"] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to try and prevent me speaking by crying "Divide!" I must finish my remarks, and their cries only delay me. Their object, I know, is to prevent my arguments being properly heard and appreciated by the Committee, and it is curious that whenever I come to a crucial point their noise is the loudest. I can assure them that their policy will not succeed. The Chief Secretary's speech on the Second Reading entirely bears out the view that the Government pledged themselves to the country and to their supporters that their Guarantee Fund would furnish ample income to cover the annual liabilities in case of default. To prove that, all I need mention is this: The right hon. Gentleman himself provided me with the necessary illustration. He asked what would take place with regard to an Irish landlord who was in the habit of spending the equivalent of his rents on his estate and whose rent for a particular year was withheld by the tenants. He challenged the House to say that any injury could take place, and he said— 505I accept then, and I ask this House to accept, the possible effects of a universal repudiation as a contingency which is to be contemplated, and contemplated equally, whether we have or have not the support of the Irish Members.Then he says—Do you think the Plan of Campaign would ever have been started, or, if started, would ever have succeeded, on an estate on which all the rent which a landlord derived from the land was given back in the form of local contributions to the neighbourhood?He went on to say—All a landlord would have to do would be to diminish his contributions, shilling by shilling, as the payment of rent was reduced.The right hon. Gentleman said—That is precisely the position of the British Exchequer with regard to contributions towards Irish local purposes.Now, I think I have, from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman, proved most thoroughly that his position from first to last, and upon which the House has been encouraged to accept this Bill, has been the absolute validity of the Guarantee Fund to meet default in any possible case. It is unpleasant to the Government to have to recur again to the facts of the case, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put before us, in the form of a Return, figures which give the astounding result that the whole of the re-lendings, amounting to £42,000,000 at the end of 49 years, are absolutely unsecured by the Guarantee Fund in any form whatever. [Interruptions.] There was one remark from the Chief Secretary which I must deprecate. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that a few days ago, when the hon. Member for Northampton endeavoured to raise another point touching the question of the solvency of the Guarantee Fund, the right hon. Gentleman got up and said that the point had been completely threshed out on the First and Second Reading Debates on this and the last Bill—that everything had been said that could be said, and that he declined to say anything further. Now, I give this statement an absolute and categorical denial. This point was not alluded to, and in fact it was not known on the First and Second Reading, and I was the only Member who, even in a perfunctory manner, then alluded to it—not to the insolvency of the Guarantee Fund 506 in consequence of re-lending, which is the present point, but to the insolvency of the Guarantee Fund in consequence of the admission of the Ashbourne Act moneys into the last Bill. That was the point raised. [Interruptions.] The right hon. Gentleman was able to reply that the Ashbourne Act money was excluded from the Bill, and I accepted his statement and sat down. But a reference to the Record of the Debates will show that there was not a semblance of a statement made by the Government in explanation of the fact which now has been placed before the Committee for the first time—the insolvency of the Guarantee Fund from inability to meet the instalments arising from re-lending. The right hon. Gentleman had the audacity to declare I had discovered a mare's nest; but he did not destroy this mare's nest. I am sorry to have detained the Committee so long; I intended to be more brief. I ask the Government, I challenge the Government to show that they have been honest and fair with the House of Commons in this matter—to show that they did not obtain the Second Reading under a false pretence and by hiding away these gigantic deficits. I charge them with having stultified their majority, by calling upon them to pass the first clause of the Bill, which has enacted an arithmetical impossibility. The first clause enacts that the Guarantee Fund shall pay back the temporary advances from the Consolidated Fund, yet the Committee now know that under the re-lending business the deficit in the Land Purchase Account will be so much beyond its income that it will be impossible for it to carry out the functions which the Government ordain it shall perform.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 24, to leave out Sub-section 3.—(Mr. Keay.)
That the words 'The Treasury, in communication with the Lord Lieutenant, may authorise by order additional advances in the county,' in line 25, stand part of the Clause.
§ (5.24.) MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Member who has just sat down said he hoped he should have a succinct reply from this Bench.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Clear and succinct. I cannot say that his speech has either of those qualities. Had the hon. Member brought out his point clearly in earlier Debates we should have been able to put our finger on the particular fallacy. If we have failed to find out his point I am sure there are many Members on his side of the House in exactly the same position, who have been unable to discover what particular mare's nest it was that was agitating the hon. Member. Where is this fated point where bankruptcy is impending over us? The hon. Member has wasted a great deal of unnecessary time in pointing out that in all the loans under this Bill we must not run the risk of any loss.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
No; the statement of the Government was there was no loss to the taxpayer. By this we stand, and I can prove to the Committee there is no risk to the British taxpayer. I think I can put the matter clearly in a few sentences. The hon. Member is anxious to prove there will be an accumulating deficit. He has placed an estimate before the House or before the public in another way, that there will be an accumulating deficit long after there is a general strike, and says the Bill authorises this.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I think the hon. Member has put a statement forward that from £8,000,000 a deficit will accumulate year by year.
§ MR. KEAY
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me I will correct him. The deficiency I alluded to in a former Debate. I said, if a default occurs on a particular year naturally it will go on to the next years. It would be a default not in one year only but a total default. Thus if it began at £1,000,000 there might be £10,000,000 advanced from the Consolidated Fund before the annuity was completed.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Member assumes there is default at a certain date. He assumes that annuities may have arisen to £1,800,000 while at the same time the Guarantee Fund only amounts to £1,200,000 and he calls the difference a deficit. But he leaves out of view that at the moment we should hold £16,000,000 sterling either in securities or in Land Stock itself, and if in Land Stock then £16,000,000 would be cancelled, and there would never be more Stock out than £30,000,000. And for this sum the Guarantee Fund of £1,200,000 is complete security. Either you hold securities in hand or the Stock itself. If you have the Stock you cancel it up to £30,000,000. At no time are you in a position when you have not securities in hand, at no time will you have more Stock to pay upon than £30,000,000. The point omitted by the hon. Member, and on which his fallacy rests, is neglecting this security altogether. In Consols or Land Stock the Government will always have this security.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
In how many years would the fund be able to pay beyond 49 years? In the 30th year it will be broken down.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
As we have endeavoured to explain, there cannot be loss to the taxpayer—for the amount of Stock out will never be more than £1,200,000 would cover—no loss will arise from re-lending, only a retardation.
§ (5.33.) MR. LABOUCHERE
The point is a very simple one. Take the 30th year. As the Committee know perfectly well, the whole basis of this Bill is that £1,200,000 of Irish taxes comes into our hands and is to be held as cover in case annuities are not paid. But by using the Sinking Fund in your business, that is to say by re-loans, in the 30th year your interest amounts to £1,800,000, against a cover of £1,200,000.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Yes, invested in land. ["No!"] Do I understand that the Sinking Fund is not to be invested in land? Let the right hon. Gentleman show us that in the clause. We seem to differ on the construction of the clause. £30,000,000, as we will call 509 the sum, for the sake of argument, is to be invested in land, and of course the 1 per cent.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
There is where the fallacy arises. The Sinking Fund is not invested in land. It consists of cash in the first instance. One per cent. on £30,000,000—that is £300,000—is paid over to the National Debt Commissioners, and they invest in Land Stock or Consols, or any interest bearing security, but not in land. They hold the £300,000, and, as fresh advances are made, they hold an equivalent amount.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
It may be my stupidity, but it is not at all clear to me. Let the money pass through any Department in London, these £300,000 are invested in land.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The National Debt Commissioners, to whom the money will be paid over, will invest it in Consols or other securities. Therefore, there will be the interest of the money, and the tenant is also paying an annuity on the amount, so that there will be a double resource.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The right hon. Gentleman is using his money twice over. Take the 30th year, when the annuities will amount to £1,800,000 against a cover of £1,200,000. Then suppose that the tenants repudiate, that from political or other reasons there is a general strike. What my hon. Friend is contending for is this—that if at any time the tenants do not pay, all the Sinking Fund will be lost, and we shall have to begin again ab ovo, and pile it up for 40 years additional, in order to get back our £30,000,000.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I do not think this was understood when the Bill was read. Our whole opposition is founded on the great risk, and I think my hon. Friend has put the difference between himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer with great clearness.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The Ministry of the day represent the majority of the day, and the Treasury would deal with what can only theoretically be considered a universal strike against the payment of annuities.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Member will observe that under the 3rd section of Clause 6—The Treasury, in communication with the Lord Lieutenant, may authorise by order additional advances in the county, not exceeding the capital value for the time being of that part of the Sinking Fund which has been accumulated out of the Sinking Fund payments paid out of purchase annuities in the county, and such capital value shall include the capital of any guaranteed land stock redeemed by the said payments.
§ (5.47.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
It must be assumed that the Treasury will act wisely, and if there are defalcations will not go on re-lending; but I do think there should be some clause to prevent re-lending if there are defalcations in a particular district. I agree also with the right hon. Gentleman that, assuming general defalcations and a total failure of the Guarantee Fund, there will not be a loss of more than the original advances of £30,000,000; but will the right hon. Gentleman explain where, under the Bill, the Government take power to retard the operation of the Sinking Fund in the manner he has described by creating a new Sinking Fund?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Gentleman will find this provided for at the end of Clause 1. There is nothing in the Act to limit the Guarantee Fund to the first 49 years. So long as there is anything owing to the Consolidated Fund, whether it is 49, 59, or 69 years, the security of the Guarantee Fund will continue to exist.
§ (5.50.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
This is a more or less academic discussion, and would be more suited to the Statistical Society than the House of Commons. It is very difficult to understand the remarks of the hon. Member for Elgin (Mr. Keay), and a great deal more difficult to understand those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think, however, it is perfectly clear that if at the end of 30 years there is a strike, your Sinking Fund operations will be dislocated, and you will retard the re-payment of the money for 30 years, that is to say, till the end not of 49, but of 79 years.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I wish to point out that the effect of the retardation would be to throw the obligation of re-payment on future ratepayers, as the period of payment would be extended over 30 years further. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is worth while to go on with the scheme of re-lending? The money that would be re-lent from year to year would be so small for a great number of years that it would really be insignificant. For many years the sums re-lent could be no more than £300,000 a year; they would increase by slow degrees, and it would not be for 30 or 40 years that they would reach £1,000,000 a year. I would venture to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is worth while to enter into a scheme of so difficult and complex a character for the purpose of lending not more than £300,000 for years to come? It appears to me that the scheme is a great financial puzzle, the offspring of a brain that has been devoting itself to the subject of post-obits, and I think it is scarcely worthy of financial consideration by this House.
§ (5.55.) MR. GOSCHEN
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, I may say that we shall proceed county by county, and it is therefore unnecessary to think of a general strike; but theoretically if there was that general strike, the generation striking would have to reckon with the ratepayers of the future. We are not prepared to abandon the re-lending scheme, but it is possible that the Sinking Fund may increase beyond £300,000.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The right hon. Gentleman has said he accepts the possible effect of universal repudiation as a contingency that has to be contemplated. The main object of the Guarantee Fund has been to meet that contingency. I really think it would be desirable, and would tend to smooth over matters, if the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to listen to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), and decline to re-invest the Sinking Fund in land in Ireland. What we ask the right hon. Gentleman to do is to a certain extent 512 complimentary to him. We say we prefer "Goschens" to land security in Ireland. If the annuities are re-invested in Consols each year, we shall know what we are about, and can rely upon it that at the end of a given number of years, provided that 1 per cent. be paid, we shall be absolutely certain of our money. I think we have a right to ask, after the pledges given at the last election against throwing any liability on the British taxpayer, that we should have every legitimate security, and that the taxpayer should be absolutely covered.
§ (5.59.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member does not seem to have grasped the point. I fear that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Keay) behind him suffers from invincible ignorance, and that nothing I say will convince him. The hon. Member for Northampton seems to think that we increase the theoretical risks by re-lending. I do not think so. The re-lending under the Ashbourne Act did increase the theoretical risk, and it is in order to keep the Bill not only practically but mathematically sound that we keep out of it any power of re-lending under the Ashbourne Act. We retain the power to re-lend under this Bill, and we do not admit in the least degree that that destroys the theoretical security. The hon. Member appears to think that money is to be re-lent on the security of Irish land. That would be the case if it were re-lent under the Ashbourne Acts, but it is not the case under this Bill. For what is re-lent above the £30,000,000 there will be not only the security of the holding on which it is lent, but there will be a nominally equal sum invested either in Consols or in Land Stock or some other security. The hon. Member for Northampton has been misled by the hon. Member behind him, who has really got into such a muddle on this question that it has almost got on his brain. Let it be thoroughly understood that the money is not re-lent solely on the security of the land; but there is, in addition, an investment either in Land Stock or Consols, whichever the National Debt Commissioners may choose.
§ (6.4.) SIR G. CAMPBELL
It seems to me that every speech makes the matter more obscure, and that the diffi- 513 culty might be met by withdrawing the sub-section. Its withdrawal would make very little difference, seeing that what is done in the future will depend upon the will of the Parliament or the Government of the day. If the provision be retained, it will have a great effect on the progress of the Bill.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The hon. Gentleman forgets that when you have got a Sinking Fund you cannot stop, but must go on and work it out. I fully admit that the Chief Secretary for Ireland is a most able gentleman; but I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to make clear to him what will occur under this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman does understand it himself, he has endeavoured to fog us. Nothing in the world is more simple than the provision. There is all the difference between reinvesting the 1 per cent. in Consols, which are safe, and reinvesting it in land, which is involved in the same risk as the original £30,000,000. But you do more than that—you invest the interest after the second year. As my hon. Friend has said, at the end of your 49 years you will have lent £72,000,000. If the whole thing were repudiated, it is perfectly true that we should only have paid the £30,000,000; but our risk is not upon the £30,000,000, but upon the £72,000,000, and, consequently, if one-half were repudiated, you would still lose your £30,000,000. I despair of convincing any hon. Gentleman who does not see the difference between investing your dividends in speculative business and investing them in Consols.
§ (6.8.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I do not agree with my hon. Friend that this is a very simple subject; and I am bound to say that if the question were within the domain of practical politics, I think I should have considerable difficulty in following the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary. I do not, however, think it is within the domain of practical politics. To incur the risks suggested there must, in the first place, be general repudiation, which I do not think likely; and, in the second place, the provision cannot come 514 into operation for a considerable number of years. I should like some further information from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this most perplexing and difficult subject. I am really asking for information, and not in the way of dogmatic criticism. The Chief Secretary has just said that if we re-lend the £1,200,000 we shall realise as much from it as if we invested it again. My point is this, that under this principle of loans you will want the whole £1,200,000 a year every year up to the last, in order to repay your original £30,000,000. Let us take the sum of £10,000, and suppose it to be lent at 4 per cent. £400 a year would in 49 years replace both principal and interest, and that is the way in which we now pay the National Debt by terminable annuities. Thus you will want your whole £1,200,000 every year in order to repay your original £30,000,000; that is to say, when you had paid off £29,000,000 you would still require the whole of the £1,200,000. Now, let me take the operation of the Sinking Fund with the proposed re-lending. At the end of the first year you would have £300,000 to be invested in Consols or other securities. The interest on that would be £7,500, and the annuity obtainable by re-lending would be£12,000 a year. Assuming repudiation, the deficiency would be the difference between the interest on the Consols and the annuities paid by the Irish tenants. But it is assumed that you are going to re-lend the actual money which forms the Sinking Fund, but, as I understand it, the Government do not propose to re-lend that£300,000; they create Land Stock as against that investment, and that is not re-lending it.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
No; it is not the same thing, because they have £300,000 on which interest is paid at 2¾ per cent., and this is invested somewhere else and is producing interest. This, I think, clears up much of the complexity surrounding this matter. It is not a re-lending.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the original £300,000 is cancelled or not?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
That is a mere matter of detail and is unimportant, because, if cancelled, they have not to pay the interest. I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there would not be a difference between the sum received from the investments and the sum which ought to be received from the Irish tenant, but which on the hypothesis of a general repudiation would not be payable—say £7,500 as against £12,000?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I have to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his clear speech on this subject. In reply to his question, I would state that no doubt there would be a difference between the interest on the Consols and the annuity. That difference would consist of two things, namely, the 1 per cent. of the Sinking Fund and the ½ per cent. which would go to the County Authority. In the result it comes to this: that there would be no risk to capital and no risk to income. All that would happen would be that the whole operation would have to be repeated, and the Sinking Fund would have to be set up afresh, thereby prolonging the number of years.
§ (6.18.) MR.MORTON (Peterborough)
I think the hon. Member for Elgin has proved his case up to the hilt. If you go on re-lending you might have to pay £1,800,000 per annum out of £1,200,000. You will be deceiving the British public. If I may accept the authority of the Times and Standard newspapers, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary is the person who is responsible for the muddle that has been made of this Bill. We are now told that the Sinking Fund will be invested in Consols, and the right hon. Gentleman calculates the interest at 2 ¾ per cent. You may get that for a time, but not for long; and when the paper I hold in my hand was calculated, it is evident he did not mean to invest the money, but to buy up Land Stock, or something of that sort. We are told that there is to be no re-lending, but that the Sinking Fund is to be accumulated, and you are to have fresh loans. But I do not see that either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Chief Secretary have at all cleared up the question as to the cover for the security to be provided for the British public. I shall vote 516 against this sub-section, because I do not think any Government should have the right of lending beyond the original £30,000,000 without coming to this House for fresh authority. Hitherto the House of Commons has never allowed any Department to go on lending and re - lending money without its authority, and therefore we have a right to say that no such power should be exercised in this instance, especially as we are told that it may lead to advances amounting to the enormous total of £200,000,000 sterling.
I am very reluctant to put such a Motion, but I am bound to say that I think the time has arrived when there should be an end to the discussion on this point.
§ (6.23.) Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 172; Noes 114.—(Div. List, No. 204.)
(6.35.) Question put accordingly,
That the words 'The Treasury, in communication with the Lord Lieutenant, may authorise by order additional advances in the county,' in linoe25, stand part of the Clause.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 191; Noes 97.—(Div. List, No. 205.)
§ (6.48.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
By this sub-section it is provided that—The Treasury, in communication with the Lord Lieutenant, may authorise, by order, additional advances in the county, not exceeding the capital value for the time being of that part of the Sinking Fund which has been accumulated out of the Sinking Fund payments paid out of purchase annuities in the county; and such capital value shall include the capital of any guaranteed land stock redeemed by the said payments.I propose to leave out from "not," in line 25, to "payments," in line 30, and insert the words which stand in my name. It will be seen on examination that, in the first place, the clause, as it stands, provides that the share of the county in the Guarantee Fund is inalienably devoted to that county. It appears to me that the Government have scarcely considered what will occur if at any time it becomes quite clear a county is not disposed to exhaust its share of the Guarantee Fund. It may be said this is an eventuality somewhat 517 remote, but it may occur, and I think it is desirable we should provide against it. Suppose that after the lapse of years, and when most of the counties have exhausted their shares, it becomes apparent that some particular county or counties are not disposed to carry into effect the policy of land purchase so far as to exhaust the financial share of the Guarantee Fund appropriated to it or them, would the money or the Stock to that extent be allowed to go to waste? One of the objects of my Amendment is to secure that in case any county or counties should not exhaust their share of the Guarantee Fund, the residue may be available, at the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant, for use throughout the country where it may appear to be required. Then the Chief Secretary provides that an amount of Stock equal to the capital value of the Sinking Fund accumulated in any county may be appropriated to that county. Suppose that the share of the Guarantee Fund proved to be enough, and the county does not require its share of the Sinking Fund, what is the propriety, what is the common sense, of locking up the share of the Sinking Fund by attaching it to a particular county, if it should appear that that county had no desire to use its share of the Sinking Fund, and another county was prepared to use the money? I propose that the residue so left may, at the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant, be applied to any county in Ireland. I now come to the third point of my Amendment, and that relates to what is popularly called the repayments under the Ashbourne Acts. In last year's Bill the Government proposed that the moneys coming in under the head of repayments under the Ashbourne Acts might be applied for the purpose of fresh loans for the purchase of land in Ireland; and in moving for leave to bring in that Bill the Chief Secretary explained the utility of that particular provision. He said that whilst the provision for the issue of Stock would provide the initial fund, the repayments under the Ashbourne Acts would provide a permanent fund. That very weighty consideration was not dissented from in any part of the House, and it appeared to me to be one of considerable 518 force. However, the provision has disappeared from the Bill of this year. I thought it had disappeared through inadvertence, because it appeared to me so natural. But a question addressed to the right hon. Gentleman elicited the reply that the Government discovered that the repayments under the Ashbourne Acts, if they were re-lent, would not be covered by the Guarantee Fund. Surely that must have been apparent at first. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear.] The right hon. Gentleman assents. Therefore, the Government must have been quite aware, when they introduced their Bill of last year, that the repayments under the Ashbourne Acts would not have been so covered, and being aware of that they deliberately introduced the provision. There was a strong reason last year why the provision should be made; there is another and stronger reason this year. The Secretary for Ireland proposes to substitute for a subsection which has been omitted a new clause, which is described in the Amendment Paper as a clause for the "Allocation of the sum available for purchase in proportion of the value of holdings." By that clause the right hon. Gentleman intends that the moneys to be available for land purchase in any county shall be apportioned as between the relative number of large and small farms. I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he sticks to that scheme his policy of land purchase will stagnate. Under the Ashbourne Acts the larger farmers took two-thirds of the money, and they will press forward for a corresponding amount under this Act. If you do net suspend the rule, it is evident you will soon reach the point beyond which you cannot go. On the other hand, if you suspend the rule, or break it down, you will bring about a repetition of the operation of the Ashbourne Acts—the bulk of the money will go to the larger farmers. I strongly urge upon him to re-insert in this Bill the provision of the Bill of last year to re-lend the moneys under the Ashbourne Acts. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
In page 7, line 25, to leave out from the word "county," in line 25, to end of Sub-
section 3, and insert the words "Provided that the aggregate of the additional advances so authorised for all the counties in Ireland shall not exceed the aggregate of the following sums:—
§ Question proposed, "That the words from the word 'county,' in line 25, to the word 'and,' in line 28, stand part of the Sub-section."
§ (7.0.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The first proposal of the Amendment breaks down the rigid barrier which the Bill at present raises between each county. The hon. Member desires that the Government should lend in the counties that do not desire land purchase the share which may be allocated to counties desiring it. On the face of it that is an extremely plausible proposition, but I cannot assent to it, because if there is a great desire to purchase, say, in County Down, and very little desire to purchase in County Mayo, the fund allocated to County Mayo may be drawn upon for County Down, and County Mayo will have to pay for any default of County Down purchasers. The third suggestion of the Amendment is that we should re-lend the money of the Ashbourne Acts. The right hon. Gentleman has told us quite correctly that this part of the Amendment was an integral portion of our own Bill of last year, and he has asked us what has occurred to make us drop it. It is perfectly evident that the only chance this Bill has of passing is that we should be able to say of it that it is absolutely impossible it should throw any liability on the British taxpayer. If the hon. Gentleman asked me my own private opinion as to whether there would be any serious risk involved in this, or if he asked me whether I should prefer to re-introduce the provision of last year in this Bill, my answer would be in the negative to the first question and in the affirmative to the second. I do not be- 520 lieve that there would be any appreciable risk to the British taxpayer; but I have felt that the time taken up by hon. Gentlemen sitting in the neighbourhood of the hon. Member for West Belfast, and of which there is a distinguished exponent (Mr. Keay) sitting immediately below him, practically renders it impossible for the Government with any justice, either to themselves or the cause of land purchase, to re-introduce the provision. I have not altered my own view as to what would be in the interest of the taxpayer; but I am sure the English taxpayer would not agree to the introduction of the provision, and I do not think the matter is sufficiently large to make it worth the while of the Government, even if we could do so, to attempt to force down the throats of a reluctant majority a proposal of this kind.
§ (7.5.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
This is the first occasion in which the Chief Secretary has displayed any fear of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Keay). During the course of this discussion, the right hon. Gentleman has met the hon. Gentleman with tolerable courage; but to-day, for the first time, he seems to think the hon. Member represents so considerable a portion of public opinion that it is hopeless to expect the House of Commons to agree to the present Amendment. The Chief Secretary has admitted that, in his own opinion, this Amendment is a good one, and would improve the Bill. I am persuaded that if he only told the Whips of his Party that he wished his opinion carried into legislative effect it would be carried into legislative effect. I appeal to the Committee to take the Chief Secretary's opinion in this matter, and to disregard his fears of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn. I think the Amendment of my hon. Friend is extremely reasonable. We know that in some counties land purchase proceeds very slowly, and that there will be no great desire for land purchase. In other counties there will be an overwhelming desire for it, and, speaking generally, I think it may be said that in the cases in which there is the greatest desire for land purchase it is most necessary that land purchase should be 521 adopted. Under the proposal of the Government a certain sum will be given to each county, and nothing more. Surely the money which is being regularly repaid under the Ashbourne Acts might fairly be re-lent for the purposes of land purchase. When the Ashbourne Acts were passed a considerable section of Members on the Opposition Benches, differing from the Irish Members, said they did not expect to see any of the money back. But it has been repaid, and, therefore, it may be regarded by them as a windfall. The hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn never expected to see the money again; when, therefore, it has come in in an unexpected way, it may be lent out again.
§ (7.10.) MR. KEAY
My hon. Friend has humorously described the position the Chief Secretary has taken up towards myself. I desire to take off the varnish, and to say what I think the Chief Secretary really meant by his allusion to me. The right hon. Gentleman simply meant to say that the country would see in all its naked deformity the utter rottenness of his Guarantee Fund if he were to bring in the Ashbourne moneys as he did last year.
§ MR. SEXTON
I admit that the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman upon sub-heads (a) and (b) is technically correct, but (a) could not come into operation for some time, and (b) could not come into operation until such time as it was seen a county was not going to use its share of the Guarantee Fund. My opinion is, that before that day arrives the British taxpayer and everybody else will agree that the Guarantee Fund is in no degree essential. As to the Ashbourne moneys, if I were to ask you to devote any new money to the purchase of land in Ireland uncovered by the Guarantee Fund, I think there would be force in the argument against me; but this is money already voted. The advances have been regularly repaid, and there is nothing to show that the re-loan of the money would be unsafe. Under the circumstances, I must go to a Division.
§ (7.14.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 177; Noes 29.—(Div. List, No. 206.)522
§ (7.26.) MR. KEAY
I beg to move to leave out from "county," in line 28, to the end of the sub-section. The sub-section of the Bill provides that the Lord Lieutenant may authorise the Treasury to issue certain extra sums of money by way of loan to the different counties equal to the accumulated value of the county's share in the Sinking Fund, and that—Such capital value shall include the capital of any guaranteed land stock redeemed by the said payments.My object in moving to omit these last words is to make the re-lendings of a terminable instead of a perpetual character, as they are under the Bill as it stands. The Land Stock is redeemable after 30 years, but the redemption is really of a nominal character, unles3 these words are excluded. Indeed, it may be said that the cancelment of the Land Stock under the present arrangement of the Bill is colourable, and not real and practical. The Committee will admit that it does not matter a brass farthing to the British taxpayer, or to those who are concerned in the financial responsibilities of the Bill, whether old paper is cancelled or not so long as new paper is allowed to be issued to the same extent and in respect of the same fund. The clause as it stands is really a cunningly devised method of throwing dust into the eyes of the population of this country. These annuities cease 49 years after the advance. I hold that the Stock itself ought to be absolutely terminable at the same date, even in the case of full success as distinguished from default. The last words of the clause militate against what I may call the authentically cancelling of the Stock. I challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state whether or not I am right when I assert as I do that under the Bill as it stands there is no date fixed when the cancelment of the whole Stock is to take place. If my Amendment is accepted the effect would be that the re-lending which the Government are so desirous to see effected might go on up to the date when the whole Stock becomes redeemable, but after it becomes redeemable all the redemptions which take place will be bonâfide redemptions whereby the Public Debt of the country 523 will stand diminished to a corresponding degree.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 28, to leave out from the word "county," to the end of Sub-section 3.—(Mr. Keay.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Member is mistaken as to the effect of the clause. The words of the clause are simply declaratory, and make no reference whatever to the redemption of Land Stock.
§ (7.38.) The Committee divided: — Ayes 139; Noes 18.—(Div. List, No. 207.)
§ (7.48.) MR. KEAY
The Amendment which I have now to propose is to insert, after "payments," in line 30—Provided that no such order shall be made if any part of the capital value of the Sinking Fund has been accumulated by advances from the Consolidated Fund.The object of this Amendment is very clear. It is to secure that no new advances shall be made if the pecuniary burden has already fallen on the British taxpayer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already told us to-day that the idea that such re-lendings could go on under such circumstances is perfectly absurd, that no officers in charge of the Treasury in future would think of making advances under such circumstances. While I have no desire to make any reflection upon the Treasury officers of the future, I think some words ought to be put in the clause which will make it clear that, in case of pecuniary loss, no further advances should be made. The Amendment which I now offer to the Committee is the best method which I have been able to devise to supply the want. I do not think such an astounding proposal as that the Bill should be left open in this way could be justified in any quarter of the House. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds to the statement he made earlier in the evening, I do not see how he can avoid accepting my Amendment.
In page 7, line 30, after "payments," to insert "Provided that no such order shall be
made if any part of the capital value of the Sinking Fund has been accumulated by advances from the Consolidated Fund."—(Mr. Keay.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The hon. Gentleman admits that his Amendment is to provide for a contingency that no reasonable man can possibly contemplate.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I cannot believe there is anyone in the House who thinks that if the annuities cease to be paid we should go on lending money. The proposition is most absurd.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ (7.55.) MR. KEAY
I now move the last of this series of Amendments in my name, that is, in line 30 I propose to insert, after the word "payments," the words—But any such order shall not come into operation unless it has lain for thirty days on the Table of the House of Commons, nor if a Resolution objecting to it has been passed by such House.The sub-section has laid down that these re-lendings shall take place at the discretion of the Treasury, and my object now is to provide that the House of Commons shall have time to consider and assure itself of the safety or danger of the operation. My reason will, I think, be self-evident. The taxpayers will be exposed to unbounded risks from the unlimited character of both the primary and secondary loans, the re-lendings rising in almost geometrical ratio with the original advances. Under the Bill as it now stands this will go on, and the House of Commons will be powerless to interfere, and, as we now learn, the Sinking Fund is bound to be paid up from the Consolidated Fund, even though all the tenants are defaulting. Her Majesty's Government now actually desire that nothing shall be included in the Bill that will bring these doubtful operations under the surveillance of the House of Commons. But surely 525 it should be sufficient justification for my Amendment that it is taken word for word from the right hon. Gentleman's Bill of last year, which had a similar clause relating to the same subject. It is for the Government to explain why this provision has been deliberately omitted from the present Bill. I am sure it would have met with no objection.
In page 7, line 30, after the word "payments," to insert the words "but any such order shall not come into operation until it has lain for not less than thirty days upon the Table of the House of Commons, nor if a Resolution objecting to the order has been passed by such House."—(Mr. Keay.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words foe there inserted."
§ (8.0.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman had studied the Bill of last year with any degree of attention he would have seen that the clause referred to was introduced with reference to the re-lending of the Ashbourne money. No such reason exists for the introduction of a similar clause in the present Bill. If the hon. Member's Amendment were carried, the House would be mainly occupied in performing functions which had much better be left to the Treasury. The hon. Member must know that the Treasury will not lend money contrary to the wishes of the Ministry of the day, and his experience in this House, although not great, has probably been sufficient to teach him that the Ministry of the day are not likely to do anything contrary to the wishes of the majority of the House of Commons.
§ MR. KEAY
I did give some study at the time to the Bill of last year, and I have an impression that this provision in the Bill governed re-lendings of all kinds. However, I am subject to correction, and I have not a copy of last year's Bill before me. The re-lendings under the Ashbourne Act would have been a small matter as compared with the re-lendings contemplated under this Bill, and if it was thought necessary that those small re-lendings should be brought under review by the House is not the argument stronger in favour of a similar provision now with regard to the enormous re-lendings of this Bill?
§ (8.5.) Mr. CONYBEARE (Cornwall Camborne)
I shall consistently support any Amendment which tends in any way to bring the operation of this Bill under the control of the House, and this will give the House a slight hold, though only a slight one, over these operations. Without such a check as this what opportunity has public opinion to influence the Treasury? The machinery of the Bill operates in the office of the Land Commission, and will not come under public notice at all. We know how altogether dark and secret are the transactions of the Treasury in regard to loans of other kinds. Very few Members can off-hand explain the manner in which the Government of the day deals with these matters, and the public are ignorant of the position until they find their interests are seriously prejudiced, and a Government more disregardful of the views of the House of Commons than the present it would be difficult to discover. If five or ten years hence the present Chancellor of the Exchequer should happen to hold the office, and in his individual wisdom deem it desirable that these re-lendings should go on, he will not trouble himself about the opinion of the House of Commons upon the matter. The security of the wishes of the majority of the House of Commons seems to me an illusion, for I do not see how the House can give expression to its wish without such a provision as my hon. Friend proposes. I certainly cannot see what valid objection there is to the proposal.
§ (8.10.) MR. KEAY
The Chief Secretary has found it convenient to leave his place, but I have now a copy of the Bill of last year, and I find that he has altogether misrepresented the effect of the clause to which I referred. Clause 15, Sub-section 4, of that Bill provided that—The Treasury may by order authorise an additional amount to be advanced in respect of holdings in a county provided that the aggregate of the additional amount so authorised for all the counties in Ireland shall not exceed the aggregate of the following sums: (a) The sums for the time being repaid on account of the principal of the money authorised by the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Acts, 1885 and 1888, to be issued, and (b) The capital value of the Sinking Fund of the guaranteed land stock under this Act. But any such order shall 527 not come into operation until it has lain for not less than thirty days upon the Table of the House of Commons, nor if a Resolution objecting to the order has been passed by such House.Now, under the circumstances, and holding the matter to be one of great importance, and one to which Her Majesty's Government agreed last year, I think we are entitled to know for what reason the provision is now excluded. In his remarks just now the Chief Secretary misrepresented the actual effect of Clause 15 in his last year's Bill. He is not now in his place, nor is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and under the circumstances, and to give the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity of an explanation, I now beg to move that you do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ (8.15.) MR. CONYBEARE
I do not, of course, question your ruling, Sir, but I think we have reason to complain of the conduct of the Chief Secretary. This is an important question, and the control of the House of Commons over these financial transactions has been the subject of much discussion. My hon. Friend put the plain question why had this provision, which was included in last year's Bill, been omitted from the present Bill. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman was equally plain that the provision last year had reference only to re-lendings under the Ashbourne Act, to which it was thought necessary to have Parliamentary sanction. But this is not a representation of the 15th clause of last year's Act, and as the right hon. Gentleman has now returned to his place I will quote the clause in full. [The hon. Member read the clause as quoted by Mr. Keay.] Now, if the right hon. Gentleman by slip of memory misled the Committee, perhaps he will now give us some more sufficient explanation why the provision is omitted from the present Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is undoubtedly the fact that the clause in the Bill last year related to lendings of two kinds, Ashbourne Act money and money under the new Bill. The clause then dealt with the re-lending of unsecured money, and involved a question of policy, 528 to which it was desirable there should be the sanction of the House. Now, the re-lending of the Ashbourne Act money is eliminated, and re-loans are to be-made upon security, and so it is left for the Treasury to decide upon these questions, which are similar to those which the Treasury has to decide every day.
§ MR. MORTON
I think the Press, may more than ever have reason to remark that the right hon. Gentleman is making a muddle of his Bill. Why a provisional which was thought necessary in relation' to loans of a smaller amount should not be necessary in relation to a very much larger amount I do not understand.
§ (8.24.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 31; Noes 102.—(Div. List, No. 208.)
In page 7, line 31, to leave out sub-section 4, and insert:—"(4) So long as any money authorised to be issued under the Land Purchase Acts, 1885 and 1888, remains available for advances under those Acts, an advance may be made out of the money so available in any case where the landlord and tenant so agree, and the amount so advanced shall be repaid as if this Act had not passed."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That Sub-section 4 stand part of the Clause." (8.37.)
§ (8.55.) MR. J.E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I wish to point out, Mr. Courtney—
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
MR. J. E. ELLIS
I want to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. Taking the amount which will be advanced under the conditions of this Bill as £30,000,000, and assuming that the Ashbourne Act is to continue in operation, will it not be the fact that you will have two systems of land purchase in operation in Ireland side by side at the same time? If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, I cannot but regard it as a very incon- 529 venient state of things; and I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should give us some assurance that the unexhausted portion of the powers given by the Ashbourne Act should be issued under the provisions of this Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No doubt the hon. Gentleman is correct in assuming that if this Bill be passed there will be for some years to come two systems of land purchase in concurrent operation in Ireland. Tenants and landlords will be able to select under which system the sales and purchases agreed upon shall be carried out. But I do not think any great practical evil is likely to result from such a state of things. It did not occur to me as being worth while to deprive the country of the powers of the money already given by Parliament under the Ashbourne Act for the mere purpose of preventing the apparent, but not, as I believe, substantial, difficulty which might be supposed to arise from having two legislative measures on the same subject in existence at the same time.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the precise amount unexpended under the Ashbourne Act?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is a somewhat difficult question to answer, as there are so many stages in the application and expenditure of the money. I believe, however, that over £9,000,000 have been already applied for, and that somewhere between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 have been actually expended. Of the £9,000,000 applied for it is quite certain that the whole of the applications will not be granted; but it is impossible at present to say how many will be sanctioned and how many refused. It is impossible for me to say more than this in answer to the hon. Member's question.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
What I object to most is the proposal that there should be two systems of purchasing being carried on simultaneously. The effect of the clause would be that when large holdings are in question the purchases would be effected under the Ashbourne Acts, and when small holdings are in question the purchases would be 530 effected under the present Bill. Therefore, the old Acts would merely be kept alive for facilitating the purchase of the large holdings. Whatever money is provided ought all to be expended under one Act or the other, and I prefer that it should be under the present Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The whole system of guarantee and cover and taxation of local funds applicable to the one system is wholly inapplicable to the other, and it would be impossible to wed the two systems more closely than they are already wedded.
§ (9.20.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I do not see the objection to two systems being in operation at the same time. I hope the Amendment will be accepted, though I think the wording of it might give rise to complications. I propose to insert in the Amendment, in place of the words—And the amount so advanced shall be repaid as if this Act had not passed,the following words:—And every such advance and repayment thereof shall in all respects be subject to the provisions of the said Act as though this Act had not been passed.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
If the Committee could be fairly sure that the Government would in the new Bill make due provision for the smaller tenants having their full share of the money, there might be some advantage in leaving the old Acts in operation. Parliament would have then an increased amount of experience with regard to the working of the measure, and could insert stringent provisions into the present Bill, which might be maintained or modified as experience should dictate.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL
If Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Members are combined on this matter we shall not be able to offer much resistance, but I must say that I very much dislike this Amendment. It seems to me that the clause as it stands gives everything that is requisite. With regard to the Ashbourne Act, it strikes me that we ought to take-advantage of our experience with the operation of that Act by making the system more applicable to the case of the smaller tenants. It is evident from, what has just been stated that a great deal more than £1,000,000 of money is 531 available under the Ashbourne Act. I am somewhat surprised that the hon. Member for Carnarvon should support the Chief Secretary in this Amendment I think the latter should stick to his original proposal. Experience has shown that there are defects in the Ashbourne Act which should be remedied.
§ (9.27.) MR. SEXTON
The Ashbourne Acts have not been defective from the point of view of the British taxpayer. Hon. Members who represent Irish constituencies certainly believe that those Acts have not sufficiently tended to set up peasant proprietors; but experience has shown that the loans have been judiciously made, and that the repayments have been punctual and full. In answer to a question to-day, the Chief Secretary said the total amount of principal and interest which fell due under these Acts from 1885 to November 1, 1890, was £518,792, of which £2,207; only is now unpaid. We are accustomed to regard the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy as being solely solicitous for the security of the British tax payer in this connection. Can he show in the whole round of this British Empire, upon which the sun never sets, such a slight proportion of arrears to the magnitude of the operations? The result affords a signal example of careful and successful administration, so far as concerns the security of the State. This I say while acknowledging that the Acts have not gone so far as we intended in the establishment of a peasant proprietory. I should like to know whether the Land Commission have sanctioned, or have in their hands, applications which will exhaust the balance available under the Ashbourne Acts. It rather appears to me there will be a certain amount of embarrassment and awkwardness in having the two Acts side by side. There will, I think, be a tendency on the part of tenants to get their money under the Ashbourne Act rather than under this Act. I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer appreciates the reason. Under the Ashbourne Act the tenant pays his 4 per cent. of the purchase money and gets his full benefit of purchase at once, not subject to the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant to have his annuity increased. Naturally the tenants will prefer to take their holdings 532 under the Ashbourne Act and public opinion, will be in the same. direction, because, the Ashbourne Act does not involve the levy of a local rate. On the other hand, a landlord will prefer this Act; because in case of default his guarantee deposit will only be liable to the extent of one-half, whereas under the Ashbourne Act the whole is liable. In the desire of the tenants to take the one Act, and the preference of the landlords for the other, I foresee there may be some difficulty in administration. In my opinion, therefore, it would be better that we should exhaust the amount available under the Ashbourne Acts before we proceed under the present Bill.
§ (9.35.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think that it would be better either to adopt the plan in the Bill as it originally stood or else the plan which we have proposed at the instance of the hon. Member and his friends. The hon. Member appears to think that there would be a great tendency on the part of the landlords to go under the present Bill, and on that of the tenants to go under the Ashbourne Acts. For my own part, I do not agree with him in that respect. Though in some respects the Ashbourne Acts may appear more favourable to the tenant, in. my judgment the advantages are in favour of this Bill. It must be recollected that under it there is an elasticity which does not exist? under the old Acts, and I have constantly heard of the Irish tenant preferring to remain tenant rather than become a purchaser, because if he purchased his instalments would be required to the day, and a Public Body would have neither the right nor the power to inquire how far he was able to pay, while, on the other hand, the old landlord is a creditor who might be expected to take into consideration the circumstances of the debtor. That is the only reason why the money under the Ashbourne Acts has not long been exhausted, and why the tenant has not taken advantage of Acts which would make him proprietor of his holding and give him a reduction of 30 to 40 per cent. This rigidity is, to a certain extent, remedied in the Act which we now propose. On the other hand, the landlord under this Act was to be paid in Stock, not in 533 cash, though we hope that the Stock will be equivalent to cash, and I am not sure if we polled the landlords of Ireland it would not be found that they prefer to go under the Ashbourne Acts. Therefore, I doubt whether there would be that preponderant selection of the Ashbourne Acts by the tenants and of the new Act by the landlords which the hon. Member has suggested; I believe that the operation of the Acts will be well balanced, and that they will run concurrently. I would remind hon. Members that they are treating the Government and the Committee rather hardly in discussing an Amendment which has been introduced in order to carry out the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman himself.
§ (9.40.) MR. KNOX
The right hon. Gentleman has failed to notice one point in the speech of my hon. Friend, that is, that we should know the exact amount available under the Ashbourne Acts. We have a Return, giving the account of proceedings up to the end of March, the amount applied for, the amount sanctioned, and of course there is a much smaller sum actually advanced, but we do not know the amount definitely refused.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have not the information now, but I know no reason why it should not be given, and if the hon. Member will put a question on the Paper I will ascertain.
§ MR. KNOX
I will do so. I think it is a matter for consideration whether the amount still available under the Ashbourne Acts ought not to be reserved for the holdings in the West of Ireland, where the tenants' insurance provision will almost prevent sales. With regard to the question of elasticity, what the tenants complain of is want of elasticity with regard to time, but I fail to see anything in the new Act which will meet this feeling. With regard to the Ashbourne Acts, I fancy that the reason why tenants have held back is that they were always expecting something better. They knew that prices had fallen in the last few years, and they thought that they might fall still further.
§ Amendment to proposed Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment, as amended, agreed to.534
§ (9.45.) MR. J. E. ELLIS
I rise for the purpose of moving the first clause of the Amendment which stands in may name, and is to add the following as a new Sub-section:—An advance shall not be made under the Land Purchase Acts for the purchase of any holding unless the Land. Commissioner is satisfied that the tenant has been free from duress or undue influence when making the contract of purchase.I take it that this will in principle be admitted, and it does raise, I know, a very important point. As we understand, the Government have voluntary action as the basis of their Bill. They intend both parties shall be free agents. Indeed, I cannot do better than remind the Committee of the words used by the First Lord of the Treasury in April of last year when he said—All the scheme of the Bill is based on the voluntary action of the tenant and landlord.That there has been duress in past transactions no one who has followed the evidence before the Commission in 1886 can doubt. As to the working of the Act of 1885, we have the evidence of Mr. J. G. Macarthy. In giving his evidence before Lord Cowper's Commission, in answer to the question whether there was not any other hindrance he could state to the operation of the Act, he said—The operation of the Act has been hindered by an unwise attempt on the part of some land agents to coerce tenants into buying and as to the terms of buying.Asked if the agents attempted to coerce the tenants to buy at an unfair price he answered—To buy at their own price, which may or may not be fair.Replying to Lord Milltown, who suggested that the terms of buying were what the tenant might consider an unfair price, he said—And sometimes what we also consider an unfair price.Lord Milltown then asked—The agent tries to compel the tenant to purchase at what the tenant considers an unfair price?and Mr. Macarthy replied—I do not think any man ought to be able to compel another to buy at his own price. A contract is worthless unless it is free. Neither party should dictate terms to the other.In answer to a question by the President 535 as to how the pressure was exercised, he said—By telling the tenant he must either sign a contract for sale or go out. I have seen letters of this class. I have a letter in my possession from an extensive land agent telling the tenant that the. Sheriff could not be put off beyond to-morrow, but that if she handed the Sheriff the contracts for purchase duly executed he would not take possession. Surely, a contract signed under such circumstances cannot be free.We have other evidence tending in the same direction. When the Marquess of Londonderry was the Lord Lieutenant this Circular was sent out from his estate office at. Newtownards on the 20th February, 1888—I am desired by the Marquess of Londonderry to inform you that he is willing to offer you your farm at 20 years' purchase of the present rent. Lord Londonderry has decided to take this step (though much against his inclination) mainly owing to the fact that in the event of another bad season he will be quite unable to give the reduction which he lists granted the last two years, and by giving which he has received absolutely nothing from his own property. As you will see by enclosed circular, you will, by purchasing your holding, still gain a reduction of 20 per cent., which will not be dependent upon the will of your landlord, but permanent, and at the end of 49 years your holding will be absolutely your own, free of all rent.How, I think that it was a very strong step for Lord Londonderry to take, he being at that time the Chief Executive Officer in Ireland, with all the force of coercion at his disposal, and having also the power by law to declare any combination of tenants unlawful. I think the Committee will be disposed to agree with me in stating that here was a case of duress. Well, now I will refer to some of the Memorials which have been laid before this House in Return 83 of this Session. They come from 13 different counties in every province. They represent a total amount of instalments of £31,800 per annum and a capital of £780,000—a considerable sum of money and relating to a very large area, representing, I may say, £1 of every £10 advanced under the Ashbourne Act up to that time. I think the hon. Member for West Belfast took a somewhat roseate view of the financial position a few minutes ago when he referred to the answer given him as to arrears under the Ashbourne Act by the Chief Secretary this after- 536 noon. Remember this is only the beginning; and when we find that purchasers representing £1 of every £10 advanced are asking for postponement of their instalments, I think it does represent a rather serious state of things. The Return which has been furnished does not give a précis of the Memorials; but I have been in communication with some of the memorialists, and I may say that generally their complaint is that they were not free agents, and that, in fact, they acted under duress in entering into the contract of purchase. I take first the case of the sale of the Duke of Leinster's estate, in County Kildare. The extent of the estate is 18,992 acres, the number of holdings 332, and the amount £244,365. I will take the evidence of the Rev. Mr. Staples in reference to this estate. He says—The tenants are a most respectable body of men of their class.He adds—I may say also that the Duke of Leinster as a landlord compared favourably with the other landlords of Ireland. At the time it was proposed to them that they could purchase their holdings they, with very few exceptions, owed over two years' rent. Another half year accrued while the negotiations for the purchase were going on. They then became almost hopelessly in arrears; and when they objected to give 18 years' purchase of the rent as then fixed, they were threatened with eviction for the rent and arrears of rent which were then due, and which they were unable to pay; and in order to escape being thrown out on the roadside and robbed of their lives' toil, they consented to purchase their holdings on the landlord's terms as a temporary relief, in hopes that better times might come.Mr. Staples asks, "Can any of these men be considered free agents?" and certainly I must agree with him that they cannot. I now take a second instance—in County Kerry, near Dingle. The estate there of Mr. S. M. Hussey, consisting of 1,615 acres, 23 holdings, and amount £15,550, and also the estate of another member of the family—-Captain Edward Hussey— 2,571 acres, 14 holdings, and £6,500. Another sale under the Act is the estate of Mr. R. A. Hickson, 777 acres, 12 holdings, and amount £10,000. In relation to these purchases of holdings in the same district, a meeting was held of the purchasing tenants, in October, 1890, and was presided over by the Rev. Canon O'Sullivan. At that 537 meeting a resolution was passed in the following terms:—That, inasmuch as we the majority of the tenants induced to purchase our holdings under Lord Ashbourne's Act, through coercion, are now through no fault of our own unable to pay this year's instalment of the purchase money without disposing of the few cattle left us by exorbitant rents, law costs, and in many cases evictions. We protest strongly against the confiscation of our property, and our expulsion from our homes owing to our inability to pay those instalments which would be considered exorbitant in prosperous years.And then, again, I take an instance from County Waterford in the sale of the estate of Mr. George Lane Fox, consisting of 4,542 acres,70holdings,andprice£67,042. I hold in my hand a letter from a Mr. Nicholas Hailey containing undeniable evidence that the purchases were made to save eviction and loss of property by the purchasing tenants. The actual writs of ejectment and other documents are in my hand, and place the matter beyond question. The last case I shall trouble the Committee with arises on the property of the Marquess of Waterford, in the same county. The Marquess parted with his interest in 80 holdings of 8,135 acreage for £109,770, and I cannot do better than quote from the letter of Mr. Jeremiah Nugent, who acted as hon. secretary for the tenants—In every single case in the parish pressure of the severest nature was brought to bear on the tenants; it was, pay up all arrears or purchase, as you can see and prove from the writs which I enclose. As a rule, they are all poor, some exceedingly so, and the little relief they gained by purchase enabled them to struggle on so far. The land is of a very inferior quality, and requires constantly to be renewed by tilling and manuring, or it would in a few years lapse into its original barren and unproductive nature.Then he goes on at some length to illustrate the manner in which the tenants were forced either to pay or to go. There was a meeting of these purchasers, and they admitted their disappointment was very great at finding their bargain had turned out so badly, and they say—At the time of purchasing the majority of us had no voice in the contracts, as we were so much in, arrear and threatened with eviction, so we had to agree to buy at the landlord's terms.These cases are illustrative of what has taken place, in my opinion, in a large 538 number of the 12,000 instances that occur in the first two Returns as to the operation of the Ashbourne Act. It may be said that it is the business of the Land Commission to look into this matter. That is not so. Anyone who has read the judgment of Mr. Commissioner Lynch will know that it has been laid down that duress is no bar to purchase. I venture to think that in the interests of the tenants themselves and of the Imperial taxpayer—not the British taxpayer, because I admit the Irish taxpayer possibly pays his full share— some distinct mandate should be given by this House to the Land Commission to look into this matter before sanctioning purchases.
To add, at the end of the Clause, the words—"(5) An advance shall not be made under the Land Purchase Acts for the purchase of any holding unless the Land Commission is satisfied—(a) that the tenant has been free from duress or undue influence when making the contract of purchase."—(Mr. J. E. Ellis.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (10.15.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think it is necessary for me to traverse the ground the hon. Gentleman has just gone over, nor to inquire into the various cases of alleged duress. That there is evidence of duress in any of these cases I am not prepared to admit. The hon. Gentleman's argument amounts to this— that, because the tenants bought while process of eviction was hanging over them, therefore the purchases were completed under duress. I cannot see how that doctrine can be accepted unless we also accept the doctrine that no tenant who owes arrears of rent can purchase except under duress. If the hon. Gentleman's proposition is accepted broadly it is clear that the chief sufferers will be those whom he most desires to serve. If the Committee are going to inquire into the motives which bring about the sales, theinquiries ought not to be one-sided; we ought to inquire into the motive which animates the landlord in selling as well as the motive which animates the tenant in buying. If the tenant is fulfilling the contract for sale, he can go to the High Court of Justice, which has ample power to investigate all the circumstances of the case, and to see. whether they are such 539 as will justify them in not compelling the additional contract to be carried out. For these reasons and for others I would suggest that we do not complicate the Bill by any such impossible condition as is suggested.
§ (10.18.) MR. CHANCE
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken on general and philosophical questions, but has entirely declined to apply his mind to the specific matter mentioned in the Amendment, namely, whether the landlord has, in given instances, exacted from the tenant more than the tenant and more than the Land Commissioners believed to be the fair value of the holding. Of course, Sir, he could not deny it, because Mr. Commissioner M'Carthy had given evidence before the Royal Commission, and distinctly stated that in particular cases it had been found that the landlord's agents had put On pressure to compel the tenants to give more than the value for their holdings. But the matter went further, because in the Case of the Marquess of Ormonde's Estate, Mr. Commissioner Lynch found against the landlord on the ground that his agent had gone to the tenant's door with the Sheriff and said, "Out you go, unless you settle on the terms we propose." I remember a case in which a landlord produced, as evidence of the paternal relations which existed between him and his tenants, a document in which the tenants said that, having been called together by the landlord's agent to consider the question of purchase, they had decided that under the circumstances it was better for them to leave the fixing of the price in his Lordship's hands. The price was fixed by his Lordship, and I am happy to say that, as a result of subsequent events, neither his Lordship nor his Lordship's successors were able to get that price in their pockets, because the Commissioners found that it was exorbitant. Yet it is proposed now to bind the Land Purchase Commission to carry out the bargains made by his Lordship's bailiff under such circumstances.
§ (10.22.) MR. SEXTON
The situation in regard to this particular Amendment appears to me to be peculiar enough to merit particular notice. My hon. 540 Friend the Member for Rushcliffe has put forward an unassailable principle. I think it is the manifest duty of the right hon. Gentleman to accept an Amendment which, as far as it may operate, can only fortify the security of the State. Why does the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary reject it? I think he has laid himself open to the observation made: by my hon. Friend. He made some abstract observations on the Amendment and scarcely touched on the very startling cases presented by my hon. Friend. I have had some experience of one case which struck me very forcibly. It was at a sitting of the Committee on the, Estates of the Irish Societies, and we had before us a man of great experience and great ability, Mr. M. Bryan, an Inspector of the Land Commission whose duty it is to visit the tenants and ascertain the relations between them and the landlords. The landlord in the case dealt with was a great London Company. Mr. Bryan detailed the circumstances of the case, and stated to the Committee that he never in all his experience as an official of the Land Commission met with a body of tenants in a state of such absolute and abject terror. The thing is notorious, and if there were no cases before us the general situation of Ireland would render inevitable the conclusion that duress will be employed. The right hon. Gentleman has put in force his Coercion Act, and under that Act Associations for the protection of the tenants have been declared to be illegal and dangerous, and have been suppressed in various districts. Meetings have been broken up by force, and every obstacle has been thrown in the way of such combination among the tenants as might enable them to arrange amongst themselves for the best protection of their interests. The tenants have been isolated one from another, and the object of the system has been to prevent them combining against those who have wealth and trained intelligence and the power of the law on their side. It must be obvious that men in the position of the tenants require to be protected as far as the State can protect them. The right hon. Gentleman has, however, punished the combinations of tenants whilst he has encouraged the 541 combination of landlords. We know what occurred on the Ponsonby Estate, and how the hon. Member for South Hunts and his confederates entered upon the scene, and by means of their wealth prevented a satisfactory arrangement being come to, between landlord and tenants. We know, too, that the Chief Secretary encouraged combinations of that detestable kind, and, therefore, he is not in a position to speak of this as a one-sided Amend ments.
§ MR. SMITH-BARRY (Hunts, S.)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I should like to remind him that we offered to sell their farms to the Ponsonby tenants on extremely favour able terms.
§ MR. SEXTON
I think I am entitled to say that the Chief Secretary, on the facts I have stated, is not entitled to argue that this Amendment is against the interests of the landlord. The landlord has an exceptionally strong position. He fills the Magisterial Bench, he has the National League suppressed, and he has a facile and effective Court of two Magistrates in every part of the country, who are perfectly ready to punish any combination on the part of the tenants for the purpose of improving their position. In fact, the condition of affairs is that all the strength is on one side, and the weakness on the other. If the Amendment is rejected it will be said with justice that even if the Government have not been willing to countenance duress they have at least not shown any anxiety to prevent it.
§ (10,34.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I think that after the evidence given before Lord Cowper's Commission fey Mr. M'Carthy, it is impossible to deny that there have been numerous, cases in which tenants have purchased under duress. What is exactly duress may be a matter of doubt; even the Commissioners differ on that point, for while Mr. Wrench contends that a landlord' who asks his tenants to purchase on the terms he holds in one hand while in the other he threatens a writ of eviction does-not place his tenants under duress, while Mr. M'Carthy describes such a proceeding as duress, I understand the Chief Secretary to agree with Mr. Wrench, and to intimate that a landlord who threatens to evict a tenant unless he accepts the alternative of purchase, does not place his tenants under duress. That, however, is not our view; most of us are of opinion that it is duress. While it is equally wrong that a landlord should sell under duress that possibility does not so much concern the State, because the security will, in such a case, be higher. The objection to my hon. Friend's Amendment is that those tenants whom the Land Commission find to be buying under duress will be altogether deprived of the benefits of the Act, and must continue to pay their old rents, or submit to eviction. The only remedy is to give to the Commissioners power to fix in such cases. what the terms of purchase should be. I saw a curious case reported in the Irish papers the other day. A number of tenants in the County of Cork who had a somewhat high rent to pay got those rents reduced in the Judicial Courts some time ago. But they owed five years' arrears, so when the terms of purchase were discussed they agreed to pay 16 years' purchase. They went into Committee, but the Land Commission after inquiring into the matter decided that they were under duress, that the terms were too high, and that the price ought not to exceed nine years' purchase. The result was that the sale was not carried out, and the unfortunate tenants were unable to participate in the benefits of the Ashbourne Acts. Hence it is I should like 543 to see power given the Land Commission, not only to reduce the terms, but to insist on the completion of the transaction. Although the Amendment in this respect does not go so far as I should wish, I shall still support it, because it will afford protection to the tenant against being compelled to buy at excessive rates.
§ (10.40.) MR. LABOUCHERE
I must say that my admiration for the unscrupulous cleverness of the Chief Secretary is rapidly becoming fanatical. But I wish to warn the right hon. Gentleman against, the sameness of his cleverness. He treats every Amendment alike. Whenever an Amendment is proposed the right hon. Gentleman removes the discussion to the regions of philosophic doubt, and then says, "For these and other reasons I must oppose the Amendment." And then hon. Gentlemen come in from different parts of the House and vote us down, although we are absolutely in the right, as we have proved over and over again. This is one of the consequences of having a mechanical majority. My hon. Friend stated that duress had been used in many cases in order to compel the tenants to buy at other prices than they otherwise would. Did the Chief Secretary dispute that fact? Did he defend or justify it? He did not, and he refused to put words into the Bill to prevent it. He said, "I cannot do this for reasons which I have in my breast." Will he give us those particular reasons? I am perfectly open to conviction, and to vote for the right hon. Gentleman if he convinces me, but I cannot be convinced simply because he tells us, "I have reasons in my breast."
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the Chief Secretary has not made the least attempt to controvert either my arguments or the facts I have brought forward. I did not mention the case of the Irish estates of the Drapers Company, because in that case purchase was not sanctioned. But if hon. Members will look at the evidence of duress that has come before that Committee, I think they will be astonished at the amount of duress used. Why, I 544 had in my hands during the sittings of the Committee the rent receipts of a particular tenant for two years, and the ejectment proceedings of the Company against the tenant for rent which he had actually paid. The proceedings instituted by One great Company against their tenants in the North of Ireland were of an almost incredible nature, and I believe they could be paralleled on the estates of many landlords. I feel bound to take the sense of this Committee on the Amendment, in order to place on record our desire that there should be absolute freedom of contract.
§ (10.46): MR. CONYBEARE
I think that the Amendment is not stringent enough. It proposes that no advance shall be made, unless the Land Commission is satisfied, on the four points enumerated, and knowing something of the way in which the Land Commission has in the past been manipulated in the interests of the landlords, I do not think it possible it can ever be satisfied. I have no confidence that it will not be susceptible of similar manipulation in the future. As I do not think that the evidence of duress, which is sufficient to satisfy the hon. Members on this side, would satisfy the Commission, I want to see the Amendment made more stringent. With reference to the fourth condition, I would suggest—
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Then I will only add that there can be no freedom of contract in Ireland when the landlords have behind their backs the machinery of the Coercion Act. I support the Amendment so far as it goes, but I should like to see the repeal of the Coercion Act as a condition precedent to this legislation being put in force. As to the remarks which have fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, I can only express a hope that the Committee has not been reduced to such a state of inanity as not to call upon the Chief Secretary for reasons for his action. I support the Amendment in the interests of English taxpayers and Irish tenants.
§ (10.50.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 93; Noes 128.—(Div. List, No. 209.)
§ (11.5.) MR. J. E. ELLIS
I propose the next Amendment standing in my name, because I really think the tenant ought to have an opportunity to claim a judicial rent. According to a Return made last year, the number of applications for judicial rents which remained undisposed of was 35,695, and of these 33,000 had actually been waiting six months. It is to meet these cases that I propose my Amendment.
In page 7, line 40, after "passed," to add,— "(5.) An advance shall not be made under the Land Purchase Acts for the purchase of any holding unless the Land Commission is satisfied—
5 (b.) that the tenant has not been deprived of the right of application for a judicial rent in respect of the holding by the service of any notice of ejectment for any arrears of non-judicial rent;
(c.) that any application made by the tenant for a judicial rent in respect of the holding has been disposed of."— (Mr. J. E. Ellis.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
As far as the object of the first part of the Amendment is concerned—the operative part it has been secured already. It is perfectly impossible, under the existing law, to deprive a tenant of the right in question.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS
I have not moved the last part of my Amendment, which is to give the tenants the same right of combination as Trades Unionists have in this country.
In page 7, line 40, after "passed," to add "An advance shall not be made under the Land Purchase Acts for the purchase of any holding unless the Land Commission is satisfied that the tenant has been freely able to exercise such rights of combination as are lawful under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875."—(Mr. J. E, Ellis,)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOE IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN,) Dublin Uni-
The tenants will, of course, be entitled to exercise all legal rights of combination, and a legislative declaration to that effect is quite unnecessary.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ (11.20.) MR. KNOX
My object in moving the Amendment of which I have given notice is to exclude land-grabbers and planters from the benefits of the Bill. Upon the fate of this Amendment will depend whether the Bill gives satisfaction to the tenantry of Ireland as. a body, or whether it aggravates existing difficulties. I do not believe that the tenantry as a whole will be satisfied until the men who have fallen in the fight against landlordism shall have been restored to their homes. There are places in Ireland where tenants are living within sight of the holdings from which they have been turned out. They are supported by public opinion, and their neighbours are determined not to allow any interlopers to live peacefully on their former holdings. Not long ago the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in an eloquent speech in which he said he would rather beg his bread than give in to the Plan of Campaign, putting himself in the position of an Irish landlord, said—For my own part, even if it were not wholly to my pecuniary interest, I should desire to restore peace to that part of the country where my property was situated, and to see that on fair and equitable terms the tenantry were restored to their homes.Now, I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that if the Bill passes in its present shape the evicted tenants can never be restored to their ancient homes, because their places will be taken by new freeholders. Land-grabbers and planters, I submit, are not a class whom any land legislation in the past has been intended to benefit. There is no security on which these advances could be made, and they would be contrary to the whole course of previous legislation, risky and dangerous to the State, and calculated only to produce greater difficulty in Ireland. If the planters be allowed to buy we can never have a peaceful settlement by means of the Land Purchase Act or of any other Act, because you will put in for perpetuity a man who is hateful to the people and who will ever remain so. 547 If the Bill is passed in its present form, it will fail to secure peace to the country, which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary says he should desire in his locality if he were an Irish landlord. We had hoped to make this Bill, if not a treaty of peace between the warring classes in Ireland, at least a modus vivendi. If the Amendment be adopted, it will be possible to find a modus vivendi, and to arrive at such a settlement as will heal the sores which have arisen out of the Plan of Campaign estates. Hitherto it has been said that every land title in Ireland has had its root in confiscation. We had hoped that that would not be the case under this Bill. Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot suppose that if advances are made to these planters on the estates of the Plan of Campaign an Irish Parliament if established will for a moment respect the vesting orders. Such a Parliament will be bound to take whatever means are necessary to restore to their holdings the men who have been unjustly turned out of them. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman bases his case on the supposition that there will never be an Irish Parliament. I do not think the recent elections entirely justify that supposition; but even if there should never be an Irish Parliament, yet for many a year to come these men will be hated in their respective districts, and every effort will be made to prevent them from making any profit. Surely it is hardly wise, in a measure alleged to be intended to settle the Irish land war, to insert such a dangerous provision, and to perpetuate this source of evil conflict. If this Bill is carried as it stands the hon. Member for South Hunts and his fellow evictors will at once try to sell to the emergency men, and bogus sales will be the rule if Mr. Wrench has any share in the administration of the Act. If the Government attempt to put these planters and land-grabbers on the land, which almost every Irishman believes to be the lawful property of the evicted tenants, they will, instead of restoring peace to Ireland, only aggravate the social disorder. If the Chief Secretary rejects this Amendment he must not hope that his parchments will be respected, or that peace will be restored, for it will be the 548 bounden duty of every Irish Nationalist to make the lives of those men intolerable until the men who have been unjustly evicted are restored to their holdings.
In page 7, line 40, at the end of the Clause, to add the words—"(5.) No advance shall be-made under the Land Purchase Acts for the purchase of any holding which has not been in the occupation of the tenant or his predecessors in title, or which has been resumed by the landlord, since the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-one, except—
§ Question proposed, "That those words-be there added."
§ (11.38.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Tie hon. Gentleman who has just sat' down has tried in the course of his speech to touch upon almost every one of the controversial questions connected with the relations between this country and Ireland, finishing up with a declaration of his intention to persist in a course of conduct which is equally revolting to common morals and to Common Law. I do not think it necessary, however, to follow the hon. Member in the lines of the speech which he has delivered. The hon. Member must surely himself be conscious that it is impossible for the present or for any other Government to accept the Amendment. It is absurd on the face of it. He has told us it is intended to prevent sales to those who have taken evicted holdings on the Plan of Campaign estates. But it goes a great deal further than that, and would prevent sale to a tenant of a holding which formerly belonged to a family of whom every trace is lost. One of the hon. Member's arguments was that the security of these tenants will be bad; and the security being bad, it is highly improper to allow public money to be advanced upon the holding. If the security is bad, it will be the bounden 549 duty of the Land Commission, under the rest of the Bill, to see that no purchase takes place; if it is not bad, there is no conceivable reason; either in policy or in equity, from the point of view of Ireland or of the English Exchequer, why the sale should not take place. Land-grabbers I understand to be men who take farms from which tenants have been evicted because they would not pay their rents.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member knows that the feeling is not merely against, such men, but attaches to men also who pay rents against Orders of the local organisation. I will state boldly to the House that no system of agriculture can possibly be in a healthy condition unless the owner has some means of getting rid of a tenant Who neither will nor can pay his rent, supposing the land is capable of paying rent. There must be in any conceivable healthy agrarian society some means of getting rid of inefficient members of that society, just as in any other trade in the world. It is absolutely impossible for the Government to accept this Amendment, and I cannot doubt that the Committee will support them, in that view.
§ (11.43.) MR. CHANCE
The right hon. Gentleman entirely mistakes the scope of the Amendment. He has plainly shown that it is his intention that the Land Commission shall have power at the expense of the British Exchequer to make a man who is a stranger the purchaser of a holding in which he has I no vested interest. Now, that is a most alarming extension of the principles of the Bill. Would the British Government thus enable a man to embark on any other enterprise? Certainly not. Then why lend honey to a man to buy a holding in which he has no earthly interest? The man is simply a mercenary soldier without probably any knowledge of agriculture or any desire to retain the holding. He is paid by the landlord to become a tenant; he acts as a sort of agrarian policeman, and he is an instrument for punishing the tenant who 550 has been evicted for declining to pay an excessive rent. An evicted holding is a holding which no person in the locality will take; there is no competition for it; so the landlord sells the holding to the planter, who often enough hails from some factory in Portadown or some other Orange city. He is paid so much a week. Then an arrangement is entered into by which he becomes the purchaser, and as soon as the landlord has pocketed nine-tenths of the purchase money, his confederate disappears, the holding is put up for sale, no One but the landlord bids; he gets it perhaps for a £10 note; he willingly sacrifices the tenth of the purchase sum he originally deposited in the Guarantee Fund; he soon finds another tenant, arranges another sale, and again pockets nine-tenths of the purchase money which the State has advanced. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say it will not be possible for an estate thus to be sold three or four times, the landlord pocketing nine-tenths of the purchase money, and re-buying in case of default at practically a nominal sum. Under the old system the locality was not sufficiently interested to prevent such an arrangement between the Chief Secretary, the landlord, and the gentleman from the Portadown factory; and if £600 or £700 was thus wasted it did not care. But now the locality is to be fined if this man from Portadown, who comes in under the guise of an agricultural tenant, possibly not knowing one end of a spade from the other, or, like the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, not being acquainted with the difference between a turnip and a potato, should commit default and not pay the annuities. The lunatics of Ireland are to be set at large, the poor are to be deprived of indoor relief, and children will have to go without education. The only persons whose interests are to be safeguarded are the prisoners; they are to be the only class secured from eviction; while the emergency men will serve the interests, first, of One landlord syndicate, and then of another. Is it not absurd that such an arrangement should be allowed to exist?
§ (11.50.) MR. M.J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The Chief Secretary has totally misrepresented the scope of the Amendment. It is altogether false to say it is 551 designed for the purpose of enabling worthless tenants to purchase their holdings to the exclusion of those who could manage them well. It has two objects—one is to enable bonâ fide tenants, who have made improvements on the land, and who have been evicted, to regain their position, and that which they have lost. The law as it at present stands affords an evicted tenant certain facilities for redeeming his interest in his holding, and all that this Amendment proposes is that the tenant who has forfeited his equity of redemption shall have an extension of the time, so that what purports to be a permanent settlement of the land question may in reality be secured. Does the Chief Secretary really contemplate the possibility of settling the land question, and at the same time leaving these tenants out in the cold? It is all very well for him to say that they have been scattered to the four winds. The Amendment specifically provides for that state of things, so there is no force in his objection on that score. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is the meaning of his clause. Its meaning is that persons previously unconnected with the land and having executed no improvements upon it, having also paid nothing for those improvements, but simply having squatted down and chosen to defy local opinion, shall qualify themselves as purchasers of the landlord's interest at the expense of the British taxpayer, and shall pay nothing for the tenant's interest. I say that that is a gross fraud upon the public, and one which it is impossible to defend on the ground of equity. The second portion of the Amendment deals with a most important class of tenants—I mean the sub-tenants. Under the provisions of this Bill there is no possibility of a subtenant acquiring any interest in his holding. He is to be absolutely excluded from the benefits of the Bill, and to be left at the mercy of the middleman. That is a great defect in the Bill. There are 50,000 sub-tenants in Ireland, and something certainly ought to be done to enable them to come within the operation of the Bill and to purchase their holdings. Surely the Chief Secretary could frame some better argument against this Amendment than moving "That the Question be now put." I see he is 552 awaiting an opportunity to jump up and do that.
§ It being after Midnight, the Chairman proceeded to interrupt the Business.
§ Whereupon Mr. ARTHUR BALFOUR rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ (12.0.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 131; Noes 68.—(Div. List, No. 210.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That those words be there added."
§ (12.10.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 73; Noes 129.—(Div. List, No. 211.)
§ (12.20.) MR. SEXTON
Mr. Speaker, I have to state that Irish Members here have been prevented from discharging their duty to their constituents by the application of the Closure in a Debate upon a question of vast importance, and in which only three Irish Members have spoken, and I have to give notice that we shall think it our duty, on the Question "That Clause 6 stand part of the Bill," to debate the question that the right of speech has been invaded.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
On that subject, am I at liberty to state, Sir, that during the greater part of the Debate there was only one Irishman here?
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.