§ *(6.10.) MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
I rise to ask the leave of the House for the introduction of yet another Land Bill. I think, Sir, that any Member of the House, and perhaps still more a Minister speaking for the Government, who puts forward such a request is liable to a dangerous temptation. He may be tempted to range from field to field of ancient controversy—historical, economic, or political. I shall resist that temptation, trusting that I may not on that account be taken to task by critics tomorrow, if tonight I omit arguments which I have used before, and which, no doubt, I shall have to urge again against measures to which the Government is deliberately opposed. Tonight I shall attempt two things only—in the first place, to show briefly the need for fresh legislation, and, in the second place, to state the character and scope of our own measure. Some such explanation, though not needed by hon. Members who are familiar with the Irish Land question, is, I think, due to many hon. Members in this House, and to many persons outside this House, electors and taxpayers, who are not themselves directly interested in Irish affairs. They may not at any time, they may not at the present moment, for reasons which will occur to every one, for many different reasons, be disposed to turn their attention in this direction with any great zeal. Let me say to them at the outset that by our measure we are not asking them to make concessions to Irish tenants as such, we are not asking them to give compensation to Irish landlords as such. We are asking them to deal in a practical way with the facts of Irish life as they are. The facts of Irish life, more particularly in respect of 1032 the land, differs very widely from the facts of English life with which some of us are more familiar.
The Land system of Ireland, for reasons the validity of which I am not concerned to discuss this evening, has been treated in a wholly exceptional manner by the Legislature of the United Kingdom for a period of more than 30 years; I might say 40 years, but in a marked degree for more than 30 years. Agriculture is the principal industry of Ireland, and that industry, whether for these or other reasons, is both controlled and safeguarded by the State at an enormous cost to the taxpayer. The Irish Land Commission, a State Department, and judicial body, determines the respective rights of the parties interested in Irish agriculture at an annual cost to the taxpayer of £140,000. The Royal Irish Constabulary are largely engaged in protecting their liberty at an annual cost to the taxpayer of £1,350,000. And yet, in spite of these precautions, and notwithstanding the passing of forty Acts of Parliament, no one is or can reasonably be expected to be satisfied either with the present state or the future prospect of agriculture in Ireland. We cannot leave it alone. We cannot trust in what is called the free play of competition and contract. Competition and contract in order to be truly vital and beneficent must be based on something more than a cheap and effective process by which contracts can be enforced. It is also important in respect of land that the man who wishes either to let or sell should, if those indirect advantages are to be reaped, be in a position to select the person to whom and the price at which he will either let or sell it.
Again, it is almost equally important that the person who may wish to hire or buy land should be so far independent as a man is who can turn his energies and such money as he possesses in other directions, and betake himself to other work or manufacturing industry. These two important secondary conditions, which are necessary, I think, in order that we may hold our hands and trust everything to luck and competition, exist in Ireland to a much less extent than in this country. Let me take the letting of the land. Land in occupation in Ireland is very generally let only, and can only be let, to the existing occupier, to his heir, or nominee; and generally it 1033 can only be let for an annual sum, which the State has undertaken to fix. Whatever merits may or may not have accrued from the Rent-Fixing Acts, they have led to certain results which I must submit to the attention of the House. The results were not, I believe, anticipated by the authors of the Act of 1881. It seems to have been supposed that when a certain number of rents had been fixed other parties would see what the rent should be, and arrive at it without litigation. It seems to have been supposed, even if a great number of rents were fixed, that the number of appeals would be few.
What has happened? 336,000 rents have been brought into Court; 240,708 rents have been fixed, and there have been against these rents 73,756 appeals. What is more significant, and in my opinion more depressing, is that of that number of appeals 22,000 and more are against what are known as second term rents—that is to say, rents fixed fifteen years after they have been fixed for the first term. Only 45,000 second term rents have been fixed in all, and there is an appeal in practically 50 per cent. of the second term cases. This rage for litigation is increasing, and not diminishing, with this effect—that whereas shortly after I took office a year ago there were 10,000 appeals outstanding and awaiting decision, there are now 13,000 outstanding and awaiting decision. That is a melancholy state of affairs, and the prospects of the future in the absence of legislation are far from bright. By the Act of 1887 we admitted the whole class of leaseholders, some 50,000 in number, to the benefits of the Rent-Fixing Act. By the Act of 1896 we changed the law in respect of their improvements; and therefore, although I do not like to say it will happen, we are bound to apprehend the possibility that next year, when their time matures, we shall have the whole 50,000 cases thrown on a machine which is already clogged. Unless we legislate the third term judicial rents will over take us before the second term rents are disposed of. Owing to their numbers, appeals are not decided, sometimes for one, two, three, and four years after they have been lodged. A very high judicial authority in Ireland said tome once that this delay of justice amounted to a denial of justice. We are not concerned as to whether it was needful or 1034 just to give these rights. We are concerned, having given them, to see that advantage can be taken of them. And these delays also exert a deplorable effect on agriculture and on Irish life. It is not in human nature to suppose that a man who in two or three years time is going to have the annual sum fixed which he will have to pay for a period of fifteen years, is going to work on his farm with the energy and enterprise he would otherwise display; and if, when that sum has been fixed, he has to wait for three or four years in order to see whether he was right or wrong in his contention, he would be an archangel if he tried to put the best possible face upon his holding. The increasing cost of litigation, the diminution of incentives to industry, the practical prohibition of any expenditure of capital on the part of the landlord cast a burden on Irish agriculture which it cannot bear. That is my case for further legislation in so far as the letting of the land is concerned.
I come to the selling of land in Ireland. It was because of these evils, though before they reached their present pitch of aggravation, that we turned for a remedy to State-aided purchase. By Conservative Governments in 1885, in 1888, and in 1891, and by a Unionist Government in 1896, facilities were afforded for the purchase of laud by the tenant from his landlord, in order to get some remedy for the evils I have described. I assume that we believe in the remedy. It is based, as we all know, upon the borrowing power of the common Exchequer; and at the first blush hon. Members may say that it has succeeded. It looks as if it had. Advances have been made to 67,000 tenant purchasers, and £22,500,000 has been advanced by the State. But if you look more closely into the figures, you will see that they are not so satisfactory. There has been a diminution, I regret to say, during recent years in the amount which has been advanced. In 1899 advances were made of £1,900,000, in 1900 of £1,800,000, and last year of £1,280,000. But these figures do not give the whole extent of the diminution. The first step, which we call the originating statement, does not, and cannot, mature for one or two years, and if you 1035 wish to get at the exact proportion of this diminution you must look to the originating statement. Take the last four years—the numbers of tenants are 8,000, 6,000, 5,000, and last year only 3,000. I call that an alarming decrease in the efficacy of the policy we believe in. What are the reasons for that decrease? I believe that we have got—at all events, that we are getting—to the end of the landlords who are prepared to sell for a capital sum which can be advanced under the existing law. Those who have sold belong chiefly to three classes—either they are landlords who have other sources of income and other interests often in this country, or they are landlords who were tempted to sell by the premium on land stock during 1897–99 inclusive, or, in the third place, they are landlords who have been forced to sell because they were embarrassed, and their creditors urged them to take that course. The remainder are prevented from selling because they cannot afford to do it; and that is due partly to the fall in the value of land stock, which stood at 111, and has recently been standing at 93, and to two practical obstacles. The first is the legal costs in the proof of title. But what, in my opinion, is a greater obstacle than the proof of title is the distribution of the purchase money. The ascertaining of all the claims upon it, the contingent interests, and so forth, is a long, laborious, and costly process; and the obstacle arising out of legal costs is far greater on a smaller estate than on a large estate. It is difficult to sell, an estate of 500 or 600 acres without having to pay costs out of proportion to the size of the transaction. The other practical obstacle is found in the prevalence throughout Ireland of a number of holdings which are very small and very poor; holdings upon winch the Land Commission, as the guardian of the public purse, often refuses to sanction any advance at all. In many cases they constitute a greater obstacle than legal costs, and they have a baneful, far-reaching effect on the whole of the agrarian question in Ireland. Holdings which are too small to support a family, which are sometimes divided into plots at a distance from each other, sometimes, but more rarely, held in common, and the 1036 occupiers of which have undefined rights in respect of cutting turf these holdings are prevalent in the congested districts, but they are scattered sporadically throughout the whole of Ireland.
In this matter I am talking about what I have taken great pains to understand. I have instituted enquiries throughout the thirty-two counties of Ireland, and I have had reports made upon the estates which contain a great number of small holdings, taking samples, so to speak, from counties in Ireland. I find throughout Ireland that such holdings do present a great obstacle to purchase. Let us look first from the landlord's point of view. They impede his ability to sell. There is greater freedom in the sale than in the letting of land in Ireland. Still, taking the facts as they are, we cannot hold our hands and trust to the higgling of the market. Price is left to the parties, but the facility offered by the State only extends to the existing occupier of the existing holding, be it good, bad, or indifferent—and I have shown that all over Ireland it is in many cases very bad. The seller can select no other purchaser than the occupier of the property; the purchaser can select no other property than that which he occupies. The law prescribes that a separate bargain shall be made in each case. The Land Commission comes in only at a later stage, and then sanctions, modifies, or rejects each one of these bargains, not in respect to the whole transaction which the landlord may be anxious to carry through, and not in respect to the merits as between landlord and tenant, but solely and simply upon the isolated security which that plot perhaps a wretched one, gives to the Exchequer. The result is that the owner incurs a very heavy initial expense in negotiating all these separate bargains. There is delay for months, sometimes for years, in adjusting the respective rights of the tenant either to turbary or other easements. Then the Land Commission comes in and sanctions, it may be, a majority of the holdings and refuses to sanction a minority of the holdings. What is the landlord's position? He must either sell all his good farms and keep all his bad farms, in which case he is loft with the more unlucky or incompetent of his tenants, or he must put up with any price which the Land Commission, may put on the worst part of his 1037 property, which he has not been in a position to improve. He may find himself forced to take a price which he never contemplated and cannot prudently accept. In some cases the Land Commission have felt it their duty to refuse to advance a single shilling upon the whole estate. Suppose the sale goes through, a number of uneconomic holdings are fixed for ever at the public expense, and the landlord has a bargain which was not the bargain he contemplated.
Those are the direct results of purchase under the existing law. The indirect result is that the volume of purchase decreases, one of the reasons being that landlords will not and cannot be expected to incur this initial expense with the risk of finding themselves committed to a bargain which entails their ruin; because it is very difficult for a landlord to withdraw once he has begun negot ating for the sale of his estate. Then there is the effect from the tenant's point of view. Although some of these small holdings are not perhaps economically unsound, they do not supply to the tenant purchaser what I may call secure points of departure for a very long and stringent obligation to the State, nor do they give the State as good a security as it ought to have. There are in Ireland 127,000 holdings with an average annual value of £3, and they are not confined to the congested districts, for there are 21,700 in Ulster if you exclude Donegal. I do not pretend that all the small holdings are economically unsound; some are in the nature of allotments and some are small dairy farms, among the best holdings in Ireland. But the result of the inquiries which I have instituted tends to show that, as a rule, the small holdings are the worst; and the evil of their being too small is aggravated by other economic blemishes. When they are split up into detached plots and when impossible to decide rights as to turbary or grazing, then the tenant is not eager to offer a round price, or, if he does, the Land Commission very properly refuses to sanction the bargain. To sum up this part of my argument, I say that, if we look to the result of the first remedy, that of rent-fixing by the State, we find the number of appeals becoming yearly greater than the number disposed of in any one year; and, if we look at the results of the second 1038 remedy—Stated-aided purchase—we see them shrinking before our eyes. That is the ease for fresh legislation.
Now let me come to the Bill. May I say in passing, to avoid any misconception, that the main principles of the Bill were in print a year or fifteen months ago. Before I enter into any detail I should like to submit two general observations, and that will really save time if hon. Members will be kind enough to apply them where they see it is fitting. Whilst we shall welcome suggestions and criticisms upon many points, the main lines of the Bill must be taken as an organic whole. In this Bill we are trying, to use a colloquial phrase, to shift the weight off the rent-fixing leg and to put it on the purchasing leg. We cannot do what we propose to do for purchase unless we also effect some economy in the great cost of fixing rents in Ireland at the cost of the taxpayer. By this Bill I hope, if it is accepted and it meets with success, the time and the energy and the money of parties in Ireland and of the State will be transferred from barren litigation and used in the more fruitful purpose of getting rid of dual ownership. We make that choice, we have that preference, because rent-fixing increases in volume and acerbity with every fresh revision. On the other hand, land purchase has this merit—that the State has incurred no loss under it, and is, I believe, exposed to no risk. Under the Acts of 1891 and 1896 more than 30,000 purchasers are paying annually £171,211 to the State. I have no case of bad debts to offer. And as: to unpunctuality—we know that in Ireland, previous to purchase, people took a view of arrears which I may perhaps describe as liberal—but out of those 30,000 purchasers there are in all Ireland only sixty-nine men who are six months late, only twelve men who are a year late, and only one man who is eighteen months late. The whole amount of what it is perhaps severe to describe as unpunctuality comes to this, that we are £463 in arrear out of £171,000, or 5s. 5d. per £100.
The second general observation I have to make is that we are trying in this Bill to disentangle three processes which are somewhat confused in existing practice—I mean finance, administration, 1039 and law. I wish the House to understand that wherever in this Bill the Exchequer undertakes a novel obligation, there we provide for Treasury supervision and control. Administration we endeavour to concentrate into the hands of administrators and to remove it from legal points, and legal points we seek to leave to those learned in the law. With those two observations I come to the provisions of the Bill.
The first and most important provision is that, within certain limits and on the fulfilment of certain conditions, the Government is prepared throughout Ireland to take over the whole or as much of his estate as an owner wishes to sell, to effect any improvement, any amalgamation or enlargement of the holding, any determination of rights of easement which are necessary preliminaries to a proper resale, if that resale is to be economic, beneficial, and financially secure; and then undertake to resell after these operations have been performed. That is not a novel principle. Parliament has affirmed it over and over again. As far as I know, it occurs first in the Report of a Select Committee of this House in 1878—No. 249 of that year, pages 4 and 5—Your Committee accordingly beg to recommend that some properly constituted body should be entrusted with sufficient funds to purchase suitable estates or parts of estates when offered for sale, with a view of selling them to as many of the tenants as may be able and willing to bay;and the Committee Report goes on to recommend that—Advances should not be made to tenants holding in rundale or detached plots, but, after purchasing such estates, before resale to the tenants the holdings should be rearranged and distributed amongst them.The idea was embodied in the Acts of 1870, Section 47; 1881. Section 26; and 1885, Sections 5 and 7. It is quite clear, therefore, that the Legislature has always had a secondary intention of dealing with estates upon what I may call the in globo principle. The clauses in the Acts I have named, however, did not work in the early years, and the possibility of any such transactions, quite unintentionally, no doubt, but effectively, was put an end to by the financial provisions of the Act of 1891, because under that Act each advance which was in 1040 land stock had to be secured upon a particular holding. That being so it is impossible any longer to deal with an estate as a whole. But I do not see how those clauses could have succeeded in any case, because Parliament provided neither the administrative power to execute any of these operations, nor any money for the defraying of the expenses involved. Under those circumstances, the clauses remain as witnesses only of our pious intentions. We, in this Bill, make the following provision Any owner in Ireland may do what the land judge is authorised now to do under Section 40 of the Act of 1896—that is to say, any owner may apply to the Land Commission to furnish a preliminary estimate of the price at which they would be prepared to sanction a sale. The Land Commission will have in view the capital value of the land which the landlord desires to dispose of, and which could be resold after any amalgamation and redistribution had been effected where necessary; and after, where necessary also, any addition to the estate had been made, either from untenanted land outside the estate or from such portion of the landlord's demesne as he did not wish to reserve. I believe that will be of great assistance to the Irish landlords. It will save them from the embarrassment of preliminary negotiation which may prove abortive. The landlord will know where he is from the start, instead of plunging into negotiations which he might find he could not carry through. It will save him from what is a real risk, to which, I think, he ought not to be exposed—the risk of having to create tenancies under the rent-fixing Act as a preliminary to the sale. A landlord may create tenancies, perhaps, in a park or on some mountain land which he holds, and then, having given the benefit of the status under the Act of 1881 to a number of persons, he finds that after all the sale does not go through. People will not take the risk, and under this Bill we save them from it.
If the landlord is satisfied with the preliminary estimate, I then come to the second condition. The second condition is that assent must be obtained from three-quarters of the tenants on the estate in number and ratable value to 1041 purchase their own holdings, or, where there has been redistribution, others of equal or greater value. This is not a mere theory; we have experience behind it. We know from the operation of the Congested Districts Board that where three-fourths of the tenants on an estate are ready to come in, as a matter of fact they nearly all—if not the entire number—come in. Where these two conditions are fulfilled, and the Land Commission is of opinion that resale can be effected without prospect of loss, the Land Commission may agree to buy, and the estate then vests in the Land Commission and ceases to be vested in the landlord.
At that point we get what I may call a bifurcation in the transaction, which will give an advantage somewhat analogous to that which is reaped by a railway when it doubles its lines. The actual estate, the land, the realty, will from that point go off—if I may put it so—on one line, to be administered, readjusted, and resold by the Land Commission as cheaply and as quickly as possible and the purchase money, the personalty, will go off on another line, in order to be distributed among those who can establish claims to it. This arrangement gives acceleration and cheapening in both these processes. It gives material assistance from the State in each of these processes, and provides what I think is an even greater advantage—that they shall be undertaken simultaneously, instead of, as now, successively, and at the sole charge of the landlords.
Although both of these processes will go on at the same time, it is obvious that I cannot explain them at the same time, and I must be allowed to take them one after the other. I will first take the estate, which is now vested in the Land Commission. Under our Bill the Land Commission may do the following things in order to prepare an estate for resale. It may, subject to conditions which the Treasury impose, buy untenanted land outside the estate, where that is necessary to a proper resale. It may do that—for obvious reasons—before and in contemplation of a purchase which it intends to make; for, if you bought the estate first, the price would be certain to be put up against you up many Land which 1042 is obviously convenient to your object. In the second place, it can execute works on the estate, such as occupation roads and shifting boundaries. In the third place and I attach importance to this provision—it may transfer to trustees for the benefit of the purchasing tenants land for the purpose of pasturage, turbary, and allotments, and also for the purpose of preserving woods and plantations.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
For the tenant purchasers in that area. They would have to be satisfied with the trustees, and the Land Commission would have to be satisfied with the trustees. Take a case. Suppose there were 300 small tenancies and 100 acres of untenanted grass land. It would be most improvident to try to split up that land, but it might be of great value to the small purchasers to have the land held for their benefit under a deed of trust.
Then, fourthly, the Land Commission is given the power to exchange one holding for another. You cannot redistribute an estate unless you have that power, and under the Bill the Land Commission is given a similar power to that contained in the Congested Districts Act of last year, with similar safeguards.
Now I will ask the House to attend to the different forms of resale and the different amounts which may be advanced in each case. They may sell, as now, his own holding to any tenant, and in that case we do not alter the sums which can be advanced. We take no rights away from anyone. But we find in the congested districts that if you purchase a piece of land to benefit one estate, and if, as often happens, it is surrounded by a number of persons in equally poor circumstances, there are difficulties in letting the whole benefit accrue to that one estate; and it involves great expense and leaves a number of persons discontented. Therefore, we provide that it shall be possible to sell a holding to any person in the immediate neighbourhood who occupies a holding of less than ten acres and of less than £5 annual value. There is only a certain amount of land available, and there only a certain amount of credit. 1043 We want both to go round as far as possible. Therefore, in what I may call a novel holding, a constructive holding, where you sell to a person in the immediate neighbourhood, or sell to a tenant on the estate, a better holding than he originally possessed; in all these eases where the holding is enlarged, the total that may be advanced to any one person is limited to £500. This provision will, I think, be found most convenient when it is carefully looked into.
I now come to a third category of persons to whom resales may be made. This is a novel provision. We desire that Irish landlords who sell a great part of their properties should continue to reside on their demesnes. I believe that desire is shared by the great majority of Irishmen. But the landlord who now sells his property and keeps his park goes through a period of great financial embarrassment. His annual income drops; he has to provide for paying off charges; and he is drawing only 4 per cent. during that period. A capital sum at that moment will enable a number of landlords to sell who now cannot sell. Therefore, in order to enable a landlord to sell, we permit him to sell his whole estate to the Land Commission, and then buy back his own park, or so much as he requires, up to one-fifth of the total amount, or up to £10,000, whichever is less. I believe that will enable a number of landlords to sell who cannot now sell.
I said just now that we made no change in existing rights. I find that in that I, perhaps, over-stated the case. We make this one change in existing rights. Throughout Ireland we reduce the amount that may be advanced on Court lettings from £3,000 to £1,000, with a limit extending to £2,000 where it is thought necessary for resale to the estate. I believe it was never the intention of Parliament to make large advances in cases of that kind.
I will now deal with the general financial facilities of these transactions. I have said that assent is needed from three-quarters of the tenants on the estate. But, obviously, agreements, as now, cannot be signed immediately. The tenants have to enter into a contract, for specific performance, that they will buy their 1044 own holdings or other holdings in lieu thereof; and the quarter which remains—though I think they will in no case be so many as a quarter—what I may call uncovenanted tenants, will not be forced to buy. If they please, they may remain as tenants to the Land Commission. But in respect to land for which there is no specific contract to purchase, and also in respect of any untenanted land bought but not yet resold, the Land Commission will be authorised to hold a total of land up to the estimated value of £1,000,000. That will be a kind of reservoir. As fast as there are resales, it will be replenished, and I think it will be ample for the purpose. That is the credit basis of these operations. But it is evident that something else besides credit is wanted. Working capital is needed. Of course the Land Commission could not execute works or redistribute the holdings unless it had some working capital. Under Section 5 (2) (b) of the Act of 1891 we have a nest egg, in the shape of a reserve fund. That fund has been husbanded by the Treasury, and now amounts to £247,000. We have now no use for that fund in view of the punctuality of repayments to which I have referred, and we now propose to use it as working capital. That will be a rolling fund replaced as the transactions on each whole estate are wound up. You spend out of that fund £1,000 or £2,000 in preparing the estate for resale, and when the whole estate is resold, then that £2,000 comes back into your working capital, and if there is a profit on the resale of any estate—and that is a thing which we may contemplate, as we have had such profits, even in congested districts—then any such profit will go to augment the amount of this working capital. I do not think I should be justified in attempting to explain in greater detail the finance tonight, but I may say we establish a general estates account, and we have a separate account for each estate. I will go into that at a liter stage of the Bill.
Keeping still to the administrative side, that is to say, what is done with the actual estate, I now come to an important provision. I will invite the attention of the House to a new 1045 category of estates. We have been frequently urged to make some change in the scheduling of congested districts. Sometimes we have been asked to schedule the whole of Connaught or to schedule whole counties in Ireland. We have never seen our way to comply with these requests, and there are, I think, grave objections to proceeding in that way. We should have to alter the whole financial basis of the Purchase Act as it now exists—viz., the Guarantee Fund, now carefully allocated to each county and each congested district. And again, the officers of the Board would be forced to work in districts where they were not known and which they did not know. So we have refused to take that course. But we admit that the present scheduling is quite arbitrary and irrational in so far as the purchase and resale of land is concerned. The schedule was drawn up for many other purposes, and you find large numbers of estates outside the congested districts which are worse than some estates inside the congested districts. There are scores of examples. I know an estate in close proximity to three scheduled districts an estate of 800 acres. A year ago the owner of that estate wished to sell and the tenants wished to buy, but it could not be bought or sold under the existing Acts, being outside the scheduled area, and the extra facilities of the Congested Districts Board did not apply. But this occurs also in districts far away from congested districts. I have in my mind an estate in King's County, on which I have notes of fourteen consecutive holdings; and, in order to show to what an extent this splitting up of holdings exists even in what are the rich parts of Ireland, let me give the first three or four. One holding of sixteen acres is divided into thirteen plots, another of ten acres into fifteen, another of ten acres into ten plots, another of fifteen acres into fifteen plots, and another of twelve acres into sixteen plots. You cannot sell an estate of that character under the existing Purchase Acts, and if you could, it would not be worth doing. Our remedy is this. We define congested estates, and the definition is this—Where half of the area of an estate is in holdings not exceeding ten acres and £5 annual value, or where half the area is in bog or mountain, or where one quarter of the area is in rundale or 1046 intermixed plots, then, when purchase and resale are desirable in view of the wants and circumstances of the tenants, the provision that there shall be no prospect of loss may, with the consent of the Lord Lieutenant and to the extent sanctioned by the Treasury, be relaxed; and we have a general limit as to the obligations which may be undertaken on such estates. The estimated loss in the aggregate transactions undertaken in any one year is not to exceed 10 per cent. on the price of the estates. We may be asked why we complicate our measure by placing a limit on prospective aggregate loss. My answer is that the loss on a small estate is great, and that on a large estate is small, and sometimes non-existent. We bought and resold the Dillon estate without loss; but if you take a small estate of 200 or 300 acres held in common, I defy you to sell it under the Land Act without some loss; and unless the House accepts this provision, purchase will never come into operation where it is most needed. Loss will be provided for as transactions are wound up out of moneys voted by Parliament.
I pass now to another set of estates. I am afraid my speech must be a very trying one to those not familiar with this subject. The poor estates in Ireland tend to gravitate into the Land Judge's Court, and I come to the provision to try to hasten the operations of that Court. We bring in the Land Commission, armed with these new powers and assisted by these new financial aids, as a capable bidder in that Court. The Land Commission may offer a price for an estate as a whole, and I have every reason to believe that such offers will be readily accepted. But we do not interfere with the position of the Land Judge as a guardian of other interests. If, as I do not anticipate, he should feel he was not justified in accepting such an offer, then the estate shall be put up to auction as soon as possible, and, unless the Land Judge holds it unjust and unreasonable, it will be knocked down to the highest bidder, and the Land Commission may bid. I think I have said all that I need trouble the House with upon the actual estates which go off on one line to be administered by the Land Commission as cheaply as possible. 1047 I said before I came to the details of my speech that we endeavour to separate the administrative from the other functions of the Land Commission, and all the above administrative powers will be entrusted to two Commissioners, who will be called the Estate Commissioners. I must now ask the House to go back to the vesting order and to follow what happens after the purchase money is invested in the estate, when all claims upon it have to be determined.
§ * MR. T. M. HEALY
The right hon. Gentleman has passed over the names of the Estates Commissioners, which are so important.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
I do not wish to go now into questions of organisation, which cannot be discussed without naming the persons who may be officially selected, and I think the hon. and learned Member will see that I am entitled to reserve that point in accordance with precedent to a later stage. I come back to the point at which the purchase money goes off in order that all the claims upon it may be determined. And here I must put in one word on proof of title. Under this Bill we make a clean division between two things—the presumptive right of the owner to sell and the determination of any claims upon the purchase money. We lay down that any man in Ireland who has been for six years in receipt of rents and profits, or—to meet the case of a person succeeding—any person who is a tenant for life may by that title alone agree to sell to the Land Commission. Then I come to the distribution of the purchase money. This, in order of time, is what will happen. From the date of the agreement between the landlord and the Land Commission the Land Commission will pay the late owner' four per cent. upon the agreed price. There will be advertised to all whom it may concern the fact that this estate is being practically wound up, in order that persons who have claims, or who wish to put forward claims, on the purchase money may have notice of the fact. The agreement names a closing day at a distance of twelve months from the date of the purchase, and the Land 1048 Commission, sitting administratively, ascertains the value and validity of the various claims and contingencies, thus saving the landlord this expense. The Land Commission, when it is clear that the estate will realise a sufficient sum to meet all claims, may at once extinguish mortgages, thus giving the owner the benefit of getting rid of interest at five or even six per cent., when he is only drawing four per cent. Briefly, the the estate in money is wound up, the Land Commission retaining such portion of the price as, in its opinion, represents the value of the holdings of the uncovenanted tenants and of any untenanted land which has not been sold.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind explaining this point? Suppose you buy this estate for £50,000 and the landlord avails himself of this opportunity of buying one-fifth of it, is he to pay that £10",000 in cash?
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
Supposing £50,000 has been agreed upon as the price of an estate. He is the tenant purchaser in respect of his own house and farm. He pays, as the other tenants pay, by instalment. Have I made that point clear to the right hon. Gentleman?
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
In order to avoid undue delay—and there has been a good deal of delay in some past transactions—interest on unascertained claims will drop; at the closing day down to the rate of which the Land Commission is paying interest to the National Debt Commissioners. I think that is a perfectly fair provision. The mortgagee has got a much better security than he had. He draws interest for a whole year. It is fair that his interest should drop to the current rate. We even go a little further, and insert a clause of a somewhat punitive character, which 1049 allows the Land Commission to deprive of interest a person who, before the closing day, by himself or his agents, is guilty of wilfully delaying or obstructing. We now come to this point. It is clear that, apart from the uncovenanted tenant, you may be holding a good deal of land for which absolute agreements have not been signed. You have got a contract of specific performance and the payment of four per cent. I will not attempt to explain this in detail, but the amount advanced by the Exchequer to the Land Commission and outstanding prior to resale from any cause, is not at any one time to exceed three millions of money. That is a reservoir' of credit, and that reservoir will refill as fast as sales are completed. As soon as one farm is sold off the value of the farm will he again credited to the fund. That will allow for purchase, I think, on a vastly larger scale than we have had in the past. So much for the general plan of in globo purchase. We believe it will bring parties together. It avoids committing the landlord to dilatory negotiations which may prove abortive, it removes economic blemishes to the benefit of the community, and increases the security of the State, accelerates and cheapens both the sale of the land and the distribution of the purchase money, and it provides for prosecuting those two operations simultaneously.
I now pass on to the general finance of the Bill. As hon. Members are aware, advances up to the year 1891 were made in cash, but from the year 1891 until the present time they have been made in land stock. That stock was for some years at a premium; it is now considerably below par. We are prepared to set one period off against the other and start fair now with a stable medium, to substitute cash for stock in the advances that are made. Apart from the help this will give the landlords forthwith, it is far better that these transactions should not depend on the price at which Consols may stand. Before definite agreement there is always eighteen months or two years reconnoitring in Ireland. We have bad news from South Africa, and down goes the stock. I know an estate which could have been sold again and again at one time, but which cannot now be sold because the stock has dropped two or 1050 three points. The payment in cash will give advantages to the landlord. Our purpose. I do not disguise, is to enable the landlords to sell now who were not in a position to sell before. Taking the stock at 93 per cent., as at present, the landlord will gain £7 on every £100 of rental. Multiply that £7 by the number of hundreds in his rental, and the number of years purchase, and you will find that he will get a very substantial addition to the capital sum that he will be paid; and it is to the capital sum that the landlord is obliged to look. The tenant, on the other hand, I believe, looks to the annual sum that he can afford to undertake to pay without running risk.
My own opinion in this matter may not be of very much value, but I find it; is confirmed by the land inspectors who have worked under the Congested Districts Board, and the members of that Board, who have worked most zealously for the purchase and resale of land, and by the experience of those operations which the Board has carried out with its own money, and not by means of land stock. The tenants, especially on the poorest estates, look rather to the immediate obligations they undertake than to any prospect of a reduction after: ten years under the present decadal system, as it is called. If you lower the instalment, you can bring the parties together, and you are in a better position for defraying the cost of the improvements on the estate. That is what we have found in the congested districts; but if you lower the instalment and keep up the decadal system, the periods of repayment to the Treasury would be materially lengthened.
This, again, brings me to a change of policy, which may or may not find: acceptance, but I commend it to the attention of the House. We are reverting to a continuous instalment of the same amount until the whole debt is repaid, and we are lowering the instalment from £4 to £3 15s. I do not want to labour the point of the period of repayment. Let the House consider how these two provisions will work when taken together that is, the substitution of cash for stock and the lowering of the instalment from £4 to £3 los. Sir, I think I have indicated that in my opinion 1051 we have got to the end of the landlords who can sell under the existing law, and it may be that the tenants will have to offer higher prices. I do not wish to indicate any idea of the number of years purchase; that should be left to the parties to be appointed. I will base my remarks upon what has happened in the past as to the addition of the capital sum that may be made if, as we are entitled to assume, a tenant under the new conditions will be prepared to undertake the same obligation which he was prepared to undertake under the old conditions. I safeguard myself by saying that I do not wish to indicate any number of years purchase, and I am merely taking what has happened. At seventeen years purchase, if the tenant were prepared to pay as much in each year as he has been in the past, the landlord would get an advantage of £232 on each £100 of rent. On a £5,000 rental—an extreme instance—he would get £11,600 more than he would get: under existing conditions. At twenty: years purchase the figure would be £273 better for each £100; and on a £5,000 rental, £13,650. At twenty-two years purchase the landlord would get £300 more per £100; on the gross rental of £5,000 a year, £15,000. So that a tenant who is prepared to pay what he now pays for twenty-two years purchase would, under our new advance, secure to the landlord not twenty-two years purchase but twenty-five years purchase. The result is obtained by doing away with the decadal system. We do away with the reduction after ten years. Under the decadal system and the automatic reduction, after ten years you increase the discrepancy between the conditions of one set of men and another, of which you hear so much. I think it far better that a man should effect a reduction in the instalment by sending £5 or £10 to the Land Commission than that the discrepancy should be produced by any scheme of finance laid down by Parliament. It is the very best investment the Irish tenant can make. To lower the amount of the instalment by sending his savings to the Land Commission, is the very best use he can make of it. These two provisions will be of special value in two parts of Ireland 1052 where work remains to be done—in Ulster, and the worst parts of the congested districts.
Sir, I have had to detain the House at very great length, and I will now merely enumerate some of the minor provisions of the measure. We deal with sub-tenancies and intervening interests; we abolish fees for registration and stamp duty on all payments to the Land Commission, we apportion Crown and quit rents; we abolish costly arbitration on the value of superior interests, and leave it to be decided by the land Judge or Commission, as the case may be. In respect to what are now the scheduled congested districts, there is not so much to be done. We doubled the credit of the Board last year, and gave further powers and facilities to the Board. We have a clause which removes the difficulties already experienced when the Congested Districts Board buys land outside the congested districts. If that clause is taken with the purchase of congested; estates, we may feel sure that a long step is made in the right direction.
AN HON. MEMBER
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if any provision is made for the reinstatement of evicted tenants.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
There is no clause in the Bill dealing with evicted tenants. I think, perhaps, I had better explain what the Bill is, and then hon. Members can express their opinions upon it. I come now to what is known as the land law for fixing judicial rents, and we hope the effect will be a reduction of fair rent litigation. The first provision affecting fair rents is in respect to the letting of land, as important as the provision in respect to the selling of land. The matter is a little bit complicated, and I will ask the House to allow me to deal with it slowly. Where either party applies for a fair rent, the other may apply to the Land Commission to state the terms and conditions on which an agreement for sale can property be made. If the applicant for sale declines to buy or receive the price, then a new rent will be fixed against him. If he accepts that price and the applicant for fair rent refuses it, then the old rent stands for a 1053 further period of fifteen years. I hope I have made it clear. I believe this will be a strong inducement to purchase. We provide, in order to wipe off arrears, judicial assistance to the Judicial Commissioners. I will not go into details at this stage of the Bill. We cut down the sub-commission to one legal and one lay member. We leave the right of appeal intact both in respect of law and of value; but appeals may be heard in future, if this Bill passes, on the analogy of Admiralty cases in this country, by one judicial commissioner, with the help of only one specially-qualified lay assessor.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
As to value. An expert of the highest character. The provision I am now coming to is, I think, very important. In order to mitigate part of the abuses which have grown up, we provide for further evidence on the hearing of appeals—that is to say, evidence that has not been offered to the sub-commission shall only be admitted on special grounds and with the special leave of the judicial commissioner.
I must thank the House for patiently listening to my very long and dry speech on a very dry subject. I have shown that such benefits as may have resulted from rent-fixing Acts are being engulfed in the morass of eases. I have shown how the purchase remedy for the growing evils has been diminishing from year to year. I believe that this Bill, if it finds acceptance, will enable landlords and tenants in Ireland to come together and supply elements which are alike essential to a full national life, that it will assist them in giving up fighting in the law courts and enable them to take to dealing in the market, and, if so, it will be a mutual advantage to them and to the taxpayer, who now pays for the upkeep of the arena for these contests. The Bill will, in some measure, retrieve some of the more impoverished districts from the physical disabilities that now hamper agriculture in the face of keen competition. We invite the House to a practical work of reconstruction If it is to be sound, it must not be hasty; but on that account it should be 1054 undertaken with vigour and prosecuted without delay. I move for leave to introduce the Bill.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to further amend the law relating to the occupation and ownership of land in Ireland, and for other purposes relating thereto."—(Mr. Wyndham.)
§ (7.37.) MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
Whatever be the criticisms passed before the discussion is over on the measure explained by the light hon. Gentleman, and whatever the view of the measure may be, it must in common fairness be admitted that the right hon. Gentleman has placed it before the House in a speech of most singular lucidity. The measure which he explained is no doubt a complicated one, but I think, speaking for myself, I can say that I never heard as complicated a, measure explained with as great lucidity as was done by the right hon. Gentleman in the speech which he delivered.
There are some things in his speech which must be eminently satisfactory to everybody interested in Ireland and Irish land. First of all, it is perfectly, clear that the right hon. Gentleman recognises to the full, and frankly admits, the complete and absolute breakdown of the present Irish land system. He has admitted the breakdown of the rent-fixing portion of the land system, and he has equally frankly admitted the breakdown of the present voluntary purchase system. So far as the rent-fixing part is concerned, nothing could be more conclusive than the case which the right hon. Gentleman has made out for sweeping it away altogether. He has pointed out that under the present land system there is one continual barren lawsuit going on, at enormous expense to everybody concerned, without satisfaction to anybody concerned, and that the volume of that litigation is actually increasing year by year, so that, as he said, there are 13,000 appeals waiting to be heard. In point of fact, the right hon. Gentleman's speech is a complete admission of the case which we have been making in this House for some years, that the rent-fixing portion of the 1055 land system has proved an absolute failure, has broken down, and ought to be swept away.
And equally satisfactory from my point of view was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the other portions of the land system. We have maintained that the voluntary purchase system in Ireland has broken down, and the right hon. Gentleman has come here today and, with the authority and weight which attach to his statements, has declared in the most unequivocal way that our case was right. The right hon. Gentleman has very properly complimented the Irish tenants on the fact that the amount of arrears under the working of the Voluntary Purchase Acts is very small indeed. In point of fact, he said that he had no tale of bad debts to tell at all, but, with the one exception of that congratulatory phrase, his speech was a complete vindication of our contention that the voluntary land purchase system has broken down, and cannot possibly afford a remedy for the Irish land problem. The breakdown of the purchase portion of the land system has been explained to the House clearly and conclusively by the right hon. Gentleman. There are several obstacles in the way of the rapid working of the voluntary land purchase system, not merely in the value of stock, not merely the cost and delay in the legal process about title, the cost and delay of negotiations, and the cost and delay in the distribution of the purchase money, but because we have come in Ireland—and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to this—almost to the end of those landlords who are willing to sell. The right hon. Gentleman therefore admits our case, on the purchase portion of the system, that as it exists at present it has broken down; and that something must be done. The whole question the House will have to consider and decide is whether the remedies which the right hon. Gentleman proposes for the admitted breakdown are valuable and worth having. Of course it would be exceedingly foolish of me to express a decided opinion now upon this Bill. I hope to see the Bill in print shortly, and it will be our duty to carefully consider it. I do not, therefore, intend tonight to express a definite opinion as to 1056 whether the provisions in this Bill are really valuable and worth taking. I have my own opinion as to whether they can possibly solve the problem. No matter how useful they may be. I am perfectly convinced that you cannot, by this new machinery, force—because that is what is necessary—the Irish landlords to sell their estates. I do not believe that the increased inducements you are putting forward will materially hasten the working of the land purchase machinery. What we will have to consider with reference to this Bill is not whether it is likely to settle the problem—I do not for one moment believe that it will—but whether it is a useful Bill, so far as it goes, and whether we will be justified in throwing obstacles in the way of its passing. As to that, I express no opinion; I reserve the fullest freedom of action when we have had an opportunity of considering the Bill in detail.
Now the right hon. Gentleman proposes what seems, at first sight at any rate, to be a very useful and a very ingenious way of inducing the Irish landlords to sell. Undoubtedly, by enabling the Irish landlords to sell their estates in globo to the Land Commission, they will relieve the Irish landlords who are selling of a great deal of the expense, trouble, risk, and delay attendant upon the operation of sales at present with regard to title, negotiations, distribution, and so on. The powers which he is giving to the Land Commission, when once they have bought—the power of buying other lands to resell to the tenants of a particular estate, the power of executing works on the estate, and the power of improving and settling the estate—are all valuable powers, and I think that the conferring; of them on the Land Commission will itself be of very considerable use. In reference to the congested estates, I think the proposal, so far as one can judge without seeing it in print, is a useful one. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing in the case of congested estates to abolish altogether that provision—that safeguard, as it used to becalled—in the interest of the British taxpayer, namely, the provision that these sales will not be carried out with the prospect of loss. He proposes, in. 1057 the case of these congested estates, that the loss on these transactions on the congested estates shall be borne by moneys voted by Parliament. That, so far as it goes, seems to me a useful: provision. And, of course, the provision that, instead of land stock, he will pay cash, ought to have an influence in inducing the landlords to sell. It is a strange retribution on Irish landlords, who have so enthusiastically supported the war policy of the Government, that that war policy has led to the drop in the value of land stock from one hundred and four to ninety-three, as it stands today.
The portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which dealt with finance was the portion I found it most difficult to follow in detail, and I will not attempt to go into it until I have the Bill before me. It seems to me he desires to induce the Irish tenants to pay more to the landlords for their holdings than they are willing to pay at the present day. By a very ingenious scheme, he says, first of all, he will abolish the 10 per cent. yearly reduction, and from the first the tenant will only be called on to pay £3 15s. per cent., instead of £4. Therefore, the tenant who is willing to pay £20 a year as an instalment to start with, will be able to give more to the landlord. I am not sure that, if the interest is reduced from £4 to £3 15s. per cent., the tenant ought not to get the benefit of that. I am not sure this will work in the way that the hon. Gentleman imagines. So far as the fixing of fair rents is concerned, that, perhaps, is one of the most important parts of the Bill, and will have to be most carefully scrutinised. As I understand the proposition of the Government, it is this—that when either party applies to the Land Commission to have a fair rent fixed, either party may apply for an estimate on which the estate can be bought. If, when the Land Commission fixes the estimate, the landlord will not sell at that estimate, then the tenant can get a fair rent fixed, but if the tenant applies for the estimate and refuses to buy at that estimate, then the old rent will be fixed upon him for fifteen years.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
The applicant for sale having applied for sale, if he refuses to buy, then he is penalised under this Bill.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
He is penalised by depriving him of the right he at present possesses under the Land Act of 1881 to have a fair rent fixed, and to have that fair rent fixed over fifteen years. So far as that is concerned, I must enter my protest against it. I must enter my protest against anything which proposes to take away from the Irish tenants any right which they possess under the existing Land Acts. It is not sufficient to say, "This man asked for an estimate with a view to a sale, and when he got the estimate he was not satisfied." Why should he be satisfied if in his opinion the estimate is too high; and if he refuses to pay on an estimate he thinks too high, why is he to be deprived of a right he has under the present Land Act? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will find that provision favourably regarded by those interested in the case of the tenants. There was one sentence in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which filled me with alarm with reference to the prospects of the Bill. He said he would welcome criticism on some of the provisions of the Bill, but, after all, the Bill would have to be regarded and accepted as an organic whole. What is the meaning of that? Irish legislation has been proposed for Ireland in recent years under extraordinary conditions. We have got a few small, unambitious and trivial Bills passed from time to time, but always on the understanding that they should not be debated or criticised—that we should take them or leave them. If that is the idea of the right hon. Gentleman—if he throws this complicated measure on the floor of the House, and says to the Members who represent the Irish people, "Take it or leave it "—he may as well take the Bill back to Downing Street tonight.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
The meaning of that phrase was, we could not pass the purchase part of the Bill unless we dealt with fair rent.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I am glad to hear that, in view of the system the 1059 Government has pursued of late years. I wish to conclude by making this general observation. Here is a Bill introduced to deal with perhaps the greatest of all internal questions in Ireland, after the question of national self-government. It affects the lives of every class of people in Ireland, high and low, rich and poor; everybody in the land is intimately, deeply interested in this settlement. And, Sir, the English gentleman who goes over from this country to govern Ireland prepares a great measure which is to settle this question, and he prepares it without consulting one single representative of the people whose very lives are at stake. The right hon. Gentleman has his volume before him of forty Land Acts. He ought to be ashamed to quote those forty Land Acts; he ought to hide away the book. The book is a monument of the ignorance and failure of the English government of Ireland. Why have there been in the course of a generation forty Irish Land Acts passed for Ireland, and at the end of them all, the system admittedly broken down, and another Act required? It is simply because in every case those who occupied the position the right hon. Gentleman now occupies followed the course he follows now. He has, no doubt, carefully studied this question, and is as well acquainted with it as any able man can become acquainted in a year or two with anew question in a new country and dealing with a new people. No doubt he has done his best, and I admit he has great ability; but does not it stand to reason that if the Government desire really to legislate on a question of this kind, those who represent the people for whom he is going to legislate ought not to be excluded from his counsels? He has not consulted any single man elected as a representative of the tenant farmers whose interest he is dealing with, and it is a strong example of the system of government we have in Ireland that when the right hon. Gentleman came down with his Bill under his arm there was not an Irish Member sitting in this House (with the exception of the Attorney General, who is a Government official) who had ever seen the Bill, or who had the remotest idea what it was he was going to propose. That system of governing Ireland is absurd. I therefore say 1060 these forty Land Acts passed in this House in a generation are a monument to the incapacity of this House, and unless the right hon. Gentleman conducts the debates on this Bill in a spirit of conciliation, and with a strict regard to the opinions and views of those who represent the tenant farmers in this House, and unless ample time is given for the discussion of the serious questions involved in this Bill, the Bill will go to add another chapter to that volume of failures the right hon. Gentleman has brought down with him this afternoon. I am no enemy of any effort made to remedy the errors of the Land question in Ireland. I will not stand in the way of anything which is a real improvement. I will say that of this Bill, and reserve my judgment of it. I conclude by declaring that, even if the provisions of this Bill are as favourable and useful as many of them seem to be when described in the eloquent language of the right hon. Gentleman, it will not settle this Irish Land question. It will but mark a step on the road, and the ultimate settlement can only be found in a system of compulsory purchase on fair terms. I sincerely hope we may find in this Bill some germs of good, although I tell the right hon. Gentleman frankly it will not be accepted in Ireland as anything approaching a settlement of this question. (8.0.)
On the return of Mr. Speaker.
§ *(8.34.) MR. T. M. HEALY
This Bill is one which has excited considerable interest for a very long time past. Since the year 1881 I do not know of any Land Bill which has excited so much general speculation as this measure. Rumours concerning it were of a very sinister character, and I confess that but for those rumours I would hardly have undergone the storm in the Channel last night in order to be present here at a First Reading, on the eve of the Easter Recess. My fears have, however, been considerably removed tonight by the outlines of the measure which the Chief Secretary has developed, and I was very glad to hear the moderate criticism and reception given to it by my hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford. I think anyone who considers the great 1061 difficulty on the part of Irish Nationalists in dealing with this question in this House must see that the statement made by the Member for Waterford in regard to this Bill was of a highly satisfactory character, and as satisfactory as could have been expected under the circumstances. There is an enormous temptation on the part of Nationalists to decry, every ministerial measure. In the first instance we are here for the purpose of protesting against the right of this House to legislate for Ireland, and against the capacity of hon. Gentlemen from Scotland and England to draft or propose measures for our country, and, therefore, there is an enormous inducement on our part to decry measures because we are here as Home Rulers, and as persons protesting against the right of this House to legislate in regard to Ireland. In the second place some of us have a considerable gallery which is not helpful always in arriving at a complete judgment upon tangled and intricate questions, and it very often happens that, to please outside opinion which may not be instructed up to the high-water mark, criticisms are indulged in with reference to these measures. Therefore it was with sincere satisfaction that I hoard the very candid statement of my hon. and learned friend in regard to this Bill. Remembering my own fate when I ventured, on the Third Heading of the Land Bill of 1890, to congratulate the then Irish Secretary—an indictment which was brought up against me at a recent election—I hope my hon. and learned friend will be safe after the encomiums he has passed upon the present Chief Secretary. I recognise that the spirit he has shown is the best for securing the effective passage of such a Measure in such an amended form as we should like to see a Bill of this kind passed, because the Minister in charge of it will have hard work to get time for it from his colleagues. I was struck when I first entered this House by a remark made by the late Mr. Biggar in regard to the Government of that day. It was in the year 1880, and I said to him, pointing to the very influential Government then in power, "This is a very strong Government, comprising Mr. Gladstone, Lord Hartington, Mr. Bright, Mr. Forster, Mr. Chamberlain, and other distinguished Gentlemen," and 1062 Mr. Biggar replied, "Not at all; it is only a row of jealous individuals. Wait until you see them fighting one another over the measures, and then you will understand that it is not a strong Government at all." During the brief period I have been in this House, I have always considered that if we want anything for Ireland we ought not to dishearten the Minister representing Ireland, if he is trying to secure benefit for our country, but endeavour, instead of deflating, to inflate him, or, in the words of the eminent Scotch parson, endeavour to give him a good conceit of himself, so long as he has started on a fairly good Bill with a determination to pass that measure which is favourable to the country he is administering.
I can say, with an exception which I will deal with later on, and not having seen the Bill, and without knowing what its final provisions are, that the Bill, so far as the right hon. Gentleman has gone, is a sincere attempt to grapple with a great question. Yet it is a limited Bill, and to some extent a small Bill. I do not believe that it goes a long way, but I believe it goes some way towards the settlement of this question. Nobody pretends that it will settle the Land question, but it is a solid and genuine attempt on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to deal with a very intricate and very difficult branch of the purchase problem. It would be much more agreeable to a certain section to declare that the Bill was absolutely worthless, and that the right hon. Gentleman himself was equally worthless; but by such an attitude I do not think, so far as my experience goes, that at the end of this session we should be in a position of carrying back to our countrymen any measure of benefit whatever. It is because want to make it clear that there is some principle of value in this Bill, that we ought to insist upon the Government giving reasonable scope for its discussion and reasonable time for deliberations in regard to its provisions. We know very well the right hon. Gentleman is not in the Cabinet, and he will have in competition with him, the zealots upon the Education question, the Water and the Whisky questions, for I understand that there is a Licensing Bill on the stocks. Therefore, if this 1063 Bill is to have any prospect of being carried, it is essential that instead of cold-watering the proposal, we should say something to encourage the right hon. Gentleman and give the measure some chance of success by our criticism.
I think there was some foundation for the comment of the hon. Member for Galway that there was no direct dealing with the case of the evicted tenants. At the same time I recognise that if this Bill passes and estates are bought up en bloc, the Evicted Tenants question must be dealt with, because you will; have to buy, not a parcel of the landlord's property, but the whole of it, tenanted and non-tenanted land; and no man will take the non-tenanted land except the ancient occupiers. Accordingly, if a price be struck between the Land Commissioner and the landlord, it is immaterial to outsiders who becomes the occupier, and no one will be quicker to grasp the fact that the persons ready to give the best price will be the evicted tenants, and in that way this is an approach to the solution of the Evicted Tenants question. I think also that, speaking from another point of view, there is considerable advantage in the ingenious plan of the right hon. Gentleman for enabling the landlords to sell the estate en bloc instead of in parcels. I confess that until I heard his speech and considered it very carefully I did not realise the importance of the proposal that he is about to make. I do think that this idea of enabling the Land Commission to step in and bid for the estate as a whole, and afterwards to delimit it and extend the boundaries of individual tenants, and make bargains, and act in some sense paternally in regard to purchase, will be a most valuable and beneficent provision. But that and all other questions in relation to it depend upon the personnel of the Land Commission. The right hon. Gentleman was well within his rights in refusing to name the Estate Commissioners, and in that he is following the precedent of Mr. Gladstone in 1881, who disclosed the names of his Land Commissioners when the Committee stage was arrived at. That was the course taken by Mr. Gladstone in 1881, and the right hon. Gentleman, so far as precedent is concerned, is well within his rights in refusing to name the gentlemen who 1064 are to be the Estates Commissioners until the committee stage. But I must enter a caveat against the matter being treated on the lines of mere precedent. It unhappily is the case in regard to the Irish Land Commission that they have depressed the position of one of the Commissioners, Mr. Murrough O'Brien, who enjoys the confidence, to a large extent, of the tenants. The Treasury, with a meanness and illegality which I have never ceased to condemn since 1894 or 1895, have docked him of £1,000 a year of his salary, to which he was fully entitled, and which his predecessor in office got. We had great difficulty in being screwed up to giving Mr. Macarthy and Mr. Lynch the additional £1,000. I confess that it was with great difficulty that I did so. Poor Mr. Macarthy did not enjoy the salary long, and when he died the Treasury only agreed that Mr. Murrough O'Brien should have the appointment at the old salary which this House had inferentially condemned as inadequate in the case of a man engaged in shovelling out by millions the sovereigns of the taxpayers. Mr. Murrough O'Brien, when the Church Act of 1869 was passed, agreed to sanction such a price as thirty years purchase, but he bitterly regretted his action. He saw from experience that this price was entirely too high, and the result is that he has been excluded altogether—I do not exactly know what to call it—from, the comity of his brethren on the Land Commission, and when they come to make rules in reference to purchase matters and fair rents, the rules are signed by all the other Commissioners, but the name of Mr. Murrough O'Brien is not attached to them at all. Mr. Murrough O'Brien is a Protestant and a Conservative, but he is a man of sense, and that is the only disability he is under. In Ireland it is a considerable disability. At any rate, he has got a great deal of sense since 1870, when he fixed thirty years purchase for the glebe lands. Accordingly, he is excluded from all those deliberations, and I ask is he to be excluded from the new Estates Commission?
The right hon. Gentleman stated that in future the fair rents would be settled by two Commissioners—one a legal man 1065 and the other a man of expert knowledge; but how that Commission is to be constituted he declines, up to the present, to give us an indication. It is idle to pretend that the British Treasury will agree to the creation of any more salaried officials in Ireland. There is one thing that the British Treasury agrees with us in, and that is the objection to create any more salaried positions in Ireland. In regard to matters of this kind, I think we may assume that the Treasury will object to any new office being created. Accordingly, we shall have to look to the old materials and officials for the manning of this new Estate Commission. If you have to look to the old materials and the old officers, I want to know whether they are to be taken from Kildare Street Club, or whether they are to be men with some glimmer of independence. Mr. Murrough O'Brien, in addition to possessing common sense, is not a member of Kildare Street Club. Most of the other members, as far as I can make out, are members of that club, and this House will gather some idea of what Kildare Street Club is when I state that Judge Gibson, brother of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was blackballed by the culb, although Lord Ashborne was the man who, in this House in 1881, saved the landlords by the Amendments he moved to the Land Bill, and the fight he made against us, yet, even when his son was put up for membership of the club the other day, he was blackballed to boot. It is to that club, composed of the most hopeless, extreme, and irreconcilable members of the Irish aristocratic territorial party, that nearly every member of the Land Commission, engaged in either fixing rents or prices, belongs. There may be, of course, some tail end of them who do not belong to the club, but is it right that those engaged in exercising important functions about land should go down to court from the hothouse of Kildare Street Club? I therefore insist now that the right hon. Gentleman has brought the purchase question, as he has done in this Bill, to a point in which it comes to be no longer so much a matter of bitterness and contention, but much more a matter of £ s. d. The names of those gentlemen should be made known at the earliest possible 1066 moment. It is not too much to ask that one honest Protestant should be employed on this new Commission.
The general course of the right hon. Gentleman's party in these matters is to pick out what was called a Unionist Catholic. Just as you hear in South Africa of a tame Boer engaged in pursuit of his fellow-countrymen with a Mauser rifle, we have this phrase in Ireland for a Catholic of that sort that his sole endeavour is to try to show that he is "as good as a Protestant." This is a matter in which the English people as taxpayers are interested, and from their point of view it is essential that the Estates Commission should be constituted so as to give confidence to the people who have to pay money quiteas much to those who have to receive it. The right hon. Gentleman says that in future the interest is to be £3 15s. instead of £4. I was very glad to hear that concession, if it really be a concession. But a concession from the Treasury is like getting butter from a wolf's mouth, and I am somewhat suspicious as to the grounds on which the Treasury make a concession like this. The statement was somewhat truncated, because the right hon. Gentleman said he could not say what the result of the concession to the tenants would be as to the number of years purchase. If this is a design to make the tenant give an abnormal number of years purchase, I should view this concession with suspicion, and until we have the details of the Bill, I should like to be excused from offering any opinion upon the so-called concession.
There is another matter in which I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, though I think that he might have made the case stronger than he did, not because the case was bad. It was with regard to making the purchase price payable in sovereigns, instead of in stock. When the Bill of 1896 was introduced, the proposal of the Government was that money should be payable in cash instead of in stock, and that proposal was defeated by an alliance between the Irish Party and the Irish landlords. The land stock then stood at 114, and accordingly the Treasury wanted to swindle the Irish landlords out of the £14, and we, by what we supposed at the time was splendid tactics and great Parliamentary strategy, came down 1067 early one Wednesday morning, when everybody expected a full dress debate, and moved that it should be stock instead of sovereigns; and when nobody expected a division, and the Tories had not been mustered, we defeated the Government by a majority of about twenty. ButThe best laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft agley—and the result has been that the always lucky British Treasury has gained by our victory, whereas if we had left matters to the unaided wisdom of the British Government, the Irish landlords, instead of getting £92 for their property in the last four or five years, would have been getting £100. The Irish landlords do not want to sell their estates at a discount. They expect par value, and human nature being what it is, and landlord nature being a little more than human nature, it is hardly to be expected that they will approve of only getting £92 for every £100. Another point in the Bill, which I approach with some anxiety, and without my mind being finally made up upon it—I refer to the proposals with regard to the future of fair rents. If my hon. friend the Member for Waterford were right in the view he has taken of the provisions stated by the right hon. Gentleman, I would support the expression of opinion he offered. My in terpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's statement is different from that of the hon. Member for Waterford. If I am wrong, the right hon. Gentleman will correct me. The right hon. Gentleman has, I understand, stated that at the expiration of the man's fair rent period, he will have a double option. He is to have the option, instead of applying to have a fair rent fixed, of applying to the Land Commission to fix a pnrchase price, and if the landlord refuses to accept it, a fair rent is to be fixed. Is that correct?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
It will be easier to understand the proposal when hon. Members have seen the Bill. The proposal is that after the period of fifteen years has elapsed, either party may apply to the court to have a new rent fixed.
§ * MR. T. M. HEALY
If the tenant is not satisfied with the price, the old term goes on. If that be the position, I agree with 1068 the hon. Member for Waterford, because the result of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is this, whereas at the present moment the tenant has an absolute right to the fixture of a fair rent; the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to clog that right with this condition, that the landlord on getting a, fair rent notice could say that the tenant shall purchase instead at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission. I ask who are the Land Commission? In other words, the price would be fixed by the Kildare Street Club. Now really, in this House, it is idle to pretend that you can deal with this matter as if you were dealing with India. We go across to Ireland and we see these men at work. You in this House only deal with it as if you were dealing with India. Ireland, so far as England is concerned, is as far away as India, or as the Phillippines are from America. It is idle to say this proposal involves nothing less than this, that the whole rent-fixing conditions which Mr. Gladstone, the wrestling hon. forced through the House of Lords are to go by the board. In return for what? For compulsory purchase? No. We are to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage. For an absolute right of getting, even from the prejudiced Land Commission, a reduction of rent variable every fifteen years, we are to have substituted a contingent right, without any co-relative sacrifice on the landlord's side, for he loses nothing by the proposed change and may gain a great deal. That provision is exceptional and unexampled, and, if pressed on, will mean the death of the Bill. There is no quid pro quo. I am not speaking in a hostile spirit. I am sincerely anxious—I always have been begging the Government in regard to this Irish agitation to take the bread out of our mouths—I always begged you to hamstring agitation by good legislation, and whenever I see a scintilla of good legislation my idea has been to embrace it even at the risk of criticism. But I say to ask Irish tenants to forego their birthright, which has now been their privilege for I twenty-one years, and to give them in return a purchase price which may involve them in paying a sum for eighty years as large as the rent they are paying—[Cries of "No, no!"]—how do 1069 I know? You prophesy. I can only contradict you. Grattan said he could not argue with a prophet, he could only contradict him. You say everything will be right, but I doubt it, and unless I see that that Commission is con stituted of very different material from the gentlemen who are now engaged in fixing fair rents on Irish estates, I certainly shall not alter my opinion.
Now I would suggest this—I do not think this ought to be made a matter of barter, but if such a proposal is to be carried, there must be give and take on both sides. I well remember in 1881 going to the late Mr. Law, whose memory I have always revered. He was a staunch friend of the Irish tenants. When the Land Bill was before this House, I went to Mr. Law, behind the Chair, to get him to try and induce Mr. Gladstone to knock out the "future tenants" from the Bill, and I did get him to go as far as to make 1883 instead of 1881 the date when the future tenants should commence, and Mr Law said to me, "I wish to God there was not a future tenant in the Bill." That was his opinion twenty-one years ago, but since then how many "future tenants" have you made in Ireland by the "eviction made easy" clause, which was the price paid for the Leaseholders Act of 1887? I suppose the Leaseholders Act did not admit 40,000 leaseholders but the "eviction made easy" clause made 50,000 future tenants. I have not looked at the figures lately, but I suppose those that have been evicted since 1881 and had their tenancies destroyed have been between 70,000 and 80,000. Take the procedure on the Murphy and De Freyne estates today, though I do not pretend to know the true conditions of many of these Western estates. As I understand the way Mr. Murphy has proceeded with this, he has served an "eviction made easy" notice, in order to break the continuity of tenancy, on all his tenants. If that be correct, what advantage is this clause of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill to tenants on the Murphy Estate and the De Freyne Estate? The quid pro quo they had of the right to go to the Courts has gone. They cannot serve an originating notice, because the right to do so has been 1070 killed by the "eviction made easy" notice, and if they cannot serve an originating notice, I want to know how the landlord is to be stirred up either to accept a rent or a fair purchase price. I think, and I congratulate him upon it, the right hon. Gentleman has brought considerable study and some sympathy to this problem, and it is hardly blaming him to say that I think he has omitted to consider some of these difficulties in this Bill. If his Bill applied generally to all tenants, I have the care of the evicted tenants and the future tenants so much at heart that if the names of the gentlemen nominated for the Land Commission were even honest, I would agree to this clause of the Bill; but in the bare and naked condition in which, it now stands, I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will find it is inapplicable, and will be unacceptable, and that there will be endless discussion unless he is prepared to offer us some concession by way of a clause in which future and evicted tenants will be fairly dealt with.
I will only say one word more. The right hon. Gentleman made an apology to the House for his zeal in endeavouring to grapple with this land question, or rather he made an excuse, because he said English Members could not be expected to show much zeal in dealing with another Irish Land Bill. I want to know what this House exists for want to know by what title you sit here and claim to legislate for Ireland, having destroyed our Parliament, when the Irish Secretary has to get up and apologise to the British House of Commons for bringing in a measure to alleviate the position of Ireland. I wonder if any British archæologist had the curiosity to turn to the annual volume of statutes passed in the days of the Irish Parliament, which, miserable as that assembly was, composed as it was to a large extent of wretched mercenaries—there could only be about sixty-four honest representatives in it, because there are only thirty-two counties, and the rest were elected by the nominative system—but with all the disabilities of that Parliament after 1782, for many years, year after year, you find these wretches—because the majority of them were really nothing less—managed to 1071 produce for their own country every year a volume of statutes in bulk as large as that which the Imperial Parliament passes today for the three Kingdoms and the great Dependency of India, not to speak of Africa and all the Colonies. Yet such is the position at which Ireland has arrived after 102 years of close and intimate union, we are told, with a Parliament whose proud boast is the desire to right our wrongs and redress our grievances, that an Irish Secretary has to apologise to this House in regard to a Bill in regard to which the hon. Member for Waterford declared the right hon. Gentleman did not consult one Irish representative before he asked for a First Heading.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the land question in its present plight is the result of the state of things which existed in this House when the first Irish Land Bill of 1860 was introduced? What happened? There were no troublesome Nationalists here in 1860. It was a 104 clause Bill. Moreover, it repealed thirty-nine Acts of Parliament. It was a Bill to change the immemorial tenure by which the Irish tenants held their land, and that Bill of 104 clauses, with thirty-nine repeals, and these repeals of Acts which put a further additional trouble in the landlord's way, and made it harder to evict or sue for rents—that measure passed through its six stages in this House without a word from any Irish, English, or Scotch Member, and when it reached the Lords, in the same way, it passed sub silentio. With that terrible example before us of a Land Bill which placed the Irish tenant bound hand and foot at the landlord's mercy, or rather at the feet of his mercenaries—with that terrible example before us, and with the terrible results in famine, in evictions, in loss of life, in agitation, with all these lamentable results before us, is it to be wondered at that in regard to a large and capital measure like this, which I admit may be made beneficial, the representatives of the ancient clansmen of the Gael should demand some little time to discuss questions which are of as great importance to the tenants of Ireland as the question of life itself"
(9.26.) MR. T. L. COEBETT (Down Co., N.)
said that, as representing one of the largest agricultural constituencies in 1072 the north of Ireland, he could heartily reecho the opinion of the hon. Member for East Mayo in regarding this Bill as a sincere attempt to grapple with a great question. He welcomed it as a step towards the abolition of that dual ownership which the right hon. Gentleman admitted to have entirely broken down. The Bill, however, did not realise his ideal, or the ideal, as he believed, of any of those who had carefully studied the Irish Land problem. In common with all but one among the County Members for the North of Ireland, and in common with all Conservative and Unionist Irish Members, with one exception, he had come to the conclusion that the principle of compulsion was the only ultimate solution of the Land question. The tenants to whom the landlords refused to sell had a real grievance, and this Bill, good as it was, would only accentuate that grievance if the principle of compulsion was not adopted. The tenant farmers in the North of Ireland (and he only spoke for the loyalist tenant farmers of the North of Ireland) trusted to the justice of their cause and to that sense of justice which always in the end prevailed in this House. They would continue to appeal, by constitutional means, but one thing they would never do—(he rose only briefly to say this)—they would never associate a just cause, and the honourable traditions which had characterised them in the past, with the cruel and criminal methods of the Nationalist Party in Ireland—[Nationalist cries of "Order" and "Withdraw."] They would trust entirely to constitutional means. [Renewed cries of "Withdraw."]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not in order in saying that the methods employed by the Members sitting opposite him are criminal.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
I am not speaking of the action of hon. Members opposite, but of the means adopted by the Nationalist Party, which, subject to your ruling, Sir, I again describe as cruel and criminal.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
It would, no doubt, be out of order to characterise Members of this House in the way I have described the Nationalist Party in Ireland. [An HON. MEMBER: Who are the Nationalist Party?] But I simply wish to emphasise the fact that the loyalist tenant farmers in the North of Ireland will never associate themselves with the methods which are at present used by the Nationalist Party in Ireland. Sir, I welcome this Bill as another step in the direction of the ultimate abolition of dual ownership.
§ (9.32.) MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
joined in the congratulations addressed to the right hon. Gentleman on the lucid speech in which he had explained a very complicated measure. This question was one which British Members always approached with some diffidence; they always assumed that the interests of the British taxpayer were imperilled by any progress made along the road of land purchase. He welcomed the reassuring statement of the Chief Secretary that land purchase was a safe investment for the State, and that it was the best experiment the Government had made in Ireland. The reason was obvious. The State not only got what it bought in the interest of the landlord, but it obtained as security for the money advanced the interest of the landlord and the interest of the tenant. This was a great point to have got settled, and he hoped it would sink into the minds of British Members.
The real question in contention was that of voluntary purchase or compulsory purchase. He was glad to see indications tonight that, although the difference of opinion on that point was fundamental, it was not to be allowed to wreck the Bill. He would say to the advocates of compulsion that at least the right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to make his experiment. If it failed, the responsibility would be with the right hon. Gentleman, and a thousand arguments would be available in favour of compulsion. It could hardly be gainsaid that if Land; Purchase could be secured without compulsion, there would be considerable advantages in the course the right hon. Gentleman had adopted, at any rate, time should be given for the experiment 1074 to have a fair chance. There was one point to which he should direct attention; he referred to what the right hon. Gentlemen described as a bi-lateral provision. At the end of fifteen years, the tenant might come into Court to get his fair rent fixed again, or the landlord might bring his tenant into Court; so far, the two parties were equal. But when the two parties came into Court, their position ceased to be equal. The landlord might say: "I apply to the Court to fix the price of the holding, and if the tenant will not give me that, he can go on with his case." The tenant could not take up that position. Unless both parties had equal rights in applying to the Court to settle the price of holding, this provision would be perfectly inoperative. Perhaps, however, it would be well to wait for the text of the Bill before discussing this point further.
§ (9.38.) MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
welcomed the Bill as an honest attempt to facilitate land purchase, because he had always deeply regretted that Irish landlords had not been so willing to consent to sell as he thought they ought to be. The Bill would help forward the great question of purchase and do material good to the country. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for West Islington, he thought that discussion upon it should be deferred until they had the Bill before them. The provision as to purchasing an estate in globo after three-fourths of the tenants had agreed could hardly fail to have a good effect. Hitherto landlords had been restrained from entertaining propositions for sale, because they feared they might incur a considerable amount of expense and then that ultimately the sale might go off. Now the Chief Secretary had made it easy for them to know whether they would get the money or not. The clauses simplifying proof of title would also, he believed, be of great advantage. The way mortgages and encumbrances were to be dealt with was perfectly fair; if a mortgagee would not come forward and prove his claim within a year, he should be compelled, in lieu of his five per cent. interest, to take the ordinary interest running on land in Ireland. Another excellent thing in the Bill was 1075 the abandoning of the idea of Congested Districts and substituting for that the iden of Congested Estates. That was a solution which he confessed had not occurred to him of a difficulty which everyone felt in dealing with this matter. He was also glad to find that biddings were to be allowed in the Land Judges Court. With regard to the financial arrangements, it was premature to discuss them until the Bill appeared. He thanked the the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in the Bill, which he believed, judging from the very lucid statement in which it was introduced, would do something material towards the settlement of the great question of land purchase in Ireland.
§ (9.43.) MR. MACVEAGH (Down, S.)
said that the Bill would in many respects give as much satisfaction to the Irish tenants as it would in other respects be profoundly disappointing. There would be general dissatisfaction and discontent in Ireland at the omission of any provision for the reinstatement of evicted tenants, and there would be general disappointment and resentment all over Ireland that the Chief Secretary had not seen fit to make his proposals for purchase compulsory instead of voluntary. The Irish tenants in the north and in the south were united in demanding compulsory purchase. Nothing could better illustrate this unanimity than the fact that the Member for the Northern Division of Down, who was a Unionist, and a supporter of the Chief Secretary's policy, only secured election on pledging himself to compulsory purchase; the Member for East Down and he (Mr. MacVeagh) were elected on the same principles, so that three of the four Members for the Unionist county of Down were pledged to it. Even the Attorney General was enjoying in his constituency the reputation of being a friend of compulsory purchase. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head; he hoped in view of future elections he would state plainly now that he was an opponent of that doctrine, and so put an end to the impression to which he had referred. During the recent election in East Down the question of compulsory purchase was made a test 1076 question, and the struggle resolved itself into a contest between the respective advocates of compulsory and voluntary purchase. In the course of the contest a characteristic telegram was received from the Colonial Secretary stating that any voter who supported the compulsory purchase candidate was a traitor to the cause of the Union The Colonial Secretary had an unhappy knack of flinging the epithet of traitor about, but they were not concerned to deny that he was a good judge of traitors and of political apostasy. With the exception of the hon. Member for North Armagh, there was not a single Member who could secure his election for an agricultural constituency in Ulster without pledging himself to the principle of compulsory purchase. The strongest possible argument in favour of the principle, was put forward by the Chief Secretary when he stated that they were getting to the end of the landlords who were prepared to accept the terms now offered. This Bill was introduced in order to induce a few more landlords to come in with, the bait of a heavier bribe. As soon as that batch had been exhausted another Bill would be introduced, and so they would go on tinkering with the land question instead of dealing with the matter in one bold measure. The present Chief Secretary recently stated at Belfast that the Government would never consent to compulsory purchase. They had heard that "never" before. They had heard it in regard to Catholic emancipation, land legislation, and the revision of judicial rents. History had shown that the "never" of English Governments usually meant about five years, and they were prepared for a similar result in this case. Whatever the Government might do, they could rest assured that the demand for compulsory purchase, which had taken firm root in every county of Ireland, would go on until it was conceded, and there was no method which could be adopted which would stave off the inevitable concession of that reform of the administration of the Irish land laws.
*(9.50.) MR. T. W. BUSSELL
I concur in what has been said by the hon. Member for Waterford, and the hon. 1077 Member for North Louth, as to the lucidity of the explanation of the Chief Secretary, but even with the clearest introductory statement of such a Bill, any Irish Member speaking in this House must speak with a great deal of caution. The Bill is complicated—more complicated, I think, than any Bill I have heard introduced into Parliament, and at this moment I do not pretend to understand all the financial arrangements it contains. The Bill is introduced either as a settlement of the question—and if that be its object, I shall have something to say on the point later on—or as another step on the way. I rather imagine that the Chief Secretary will find that it is but a step on the way to the end, and not the end itself. This is the eighth Land Bill I have seen introduced since I have been a Member of Parliament. They come regularly as the sessions. The Bill, on the purchase side, strikes me as being a somewhat happy attempt to apply the method now governing the Congested Districts Board to the rest of Ireland. The details may be different, and necessarily different, but I think the same principle governs this Bill. It is the work of the Board now to buy estates, to enlarge holdings, to execute improvements, and then to re-sell to the occupying tenants, and that is a work which has been carried on with great advantage to the people. I do not know that there are many serious objections to the extension of that principle to the rest of Ireland, although, of course, the congested districts are very different from the rest of the country.
There was one point on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose was not very clear. This case was taken—A landlord sells his estate to the Land Commission for £5(£,000, that is the agreed price for the whole property, As I understand, the provisions of the Bill amount to this—the landlord would get £50,000 for his land, and then he might become the purchasing occupier of the mansion, the demesne, and the farm, or whatever it might be. I think that is an excellent arrangement. I have never concealed from my mind the difficulty that many Irish landlords are in, in selling their property—the absolute pecuniary difficulties with which they are assailed on the spot, the moment the sale is carried out. This will be a most admirable help to the landlord. It will assist him with 1078 ready money, which he badly needs, and I suppose we can trust him to repay it with as much punctuality and regularity as the tenant occupier.
Then there is another thing. Those of us who are taking any part in the agitation for the transfer of land from the owner to the occupier are always charged with being the enemies of the landlords. We are always credited with the idea of expropriating these men. But most of them have left the country; they have expropriated themselves. I think this provision is an excellent method of keeping those who wish to remain in the country after transfer takes place. I have always maintained that Ireland needs the aid of all her sons, whether they be landlords or tenants and that you cannot expropriate or drive out of the country a whole class without doing real damage to the country.
As I understand it, under the Bill the Land Commission will in future become the landlords of a great portion of Ireland. Where they buy an estate, and the tenants will not give the price they ask, or where there may be a recalcitrant minority against sale or purchase on any terms, it is manifest that the Land Commission will be the landlords of those lands, just as the Congested Districts Board are the landlords now of estates they have not re-sold and re-settled. Something may be said for the arrangement, and there is a good deal to be said against it, but until I have seen the Bill I am not prepared to give any strong opinion against the proposal. The Bill provides an admirable method of dealing with the Land Judges Court. Of all the establishments in Ireland this is the worst. This House, with all its powers, has never been able to get to the bottom of it. Information has been refused over and over again, and I am sorry to say that Members representing tenants in the North of Ireland have voted in favour of that refusal. If any business were managed as this Court is managed, they would be in bankruptcy in a week. It is one of the worst judicial establishments in any civilised country in the world. It was started as the Encumbered Estates Court after the Famine. It was wound up after having sold £22,000,000 of property 1079 belonging to ancient Irish landlords who had been broken through the Famine. There was no difficulty about compulsion in those days. It then developed into the Landed Estates Court, and that immediately developed into a huge rent office, with counsel, solicitors, agents, receivers all over the country, all making money out of the corpus, but neither landlord nor mortgagee getting anything. Hon. Gentlemen opposite and myself have been urging for months that this Court should be taken in hand. I admit that since the debates in this House the Land Judge has begun to set his house in order, and sales are going on much more quickly. It is, however, an admirable proposal to bring in the Land Commission with power to bid for estates, and it deserves all the support we can give it.
As regards the Land Commission, both as purchaser outside and as purchaser in the Land Judges Court, the whole question is as to the price the tenant is to pay. I am a little afraid on this point, and I will tell the Chief Secretary why. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech at a luncheon-party mainly composed of landlords and their friends at Belfast recently. He stated that this Land question could not remain unsettled, but that it would have to be faced and dealt with. Then there was a sentence which I took to be the whole key of the Bill at the time, and which I find to be the whole key of the Bill to-night. He said that in order that an honest and fair settlement may be arrived at the tenant must be prepared to pay a price which the landlord can afford to accept. That is the key to this Bill. That is the thing on which the success or failure of this Bill will turn. We get into deep water here. What did I see in a report the other day with regard to an estate sold by Mr. Justice Ross in this Land Judges Court? He had got up to twenty-seven years purchase, and what happened to his proposal? The Land Commission had to sanction the advance of guaranteed Land Stock, and they certified that there was not security in the landlord's interest for twenty-seven years purchase, and they refused the advance. Does the House see now what the price means? It all comes to this: 1080 Who are to be the judges? Who are to be the Estate Commissioners? Who are to fix the price? You may end purchase by insisting on a price which no tenant can afford to pay, or, if he did pay, he would break, and bring purchase into disrepute. I say it in no depreciatory sense, this Bill is to a large extent a Bill for the relief of Irish landlords. But mark this. In the main you give no relief to Irish landlords which does not react in favour of the tenants, and that is one of the things which commends this Bill to me. I do not object to landlords getting relief so long as that relief reacts upon the tenants and helps them, give as much of it as you like.
There are two great boons in the Bill for Irish landlords. First, the whole of the lawyers spider's-web about proof of title is swept away. I should imagine the right hon. Gentleman has had a fine struggle with the lawyers in Dublin over that. I wonder how the Attorney General likes it? I know he is the best of them by a long way, and I am certain he is not one to stand in the way of a real reform.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I think I must be allowed to say that my right hon. friend has given me the greatest assistance on that very point.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
I am quite sure of that. It is the other lawyers I was thinking about—the profession as a whole. I should like to have the opinion of the Four Courts on this part of the Bill. At all events it is an enormous boon both to landlords and tenants in the matter of title, because that is one of the main causes of the delay that has sickened everybody. Another boon to the landlord is that he is to get cash instead of guaranteed Land Stock. Upon the whole, so far as the purchase clauses are concerned—of course, without binding myself until I have seen the actual wording of the Bill—I think there is a great deal to commend in the Bill.
I come now to the question of the tenant. In my opinion the Chief Secretary has quite needlessly raised a very grave question. As I understand the proposal, it amounts to this—that when a tenant applies to have 1081 a fair rent fixed, the landlord may apply, just as he can now apply, to have the true value of the tenant's interest fixed at the same time. That is the model on which it is founded. Let us see how it will work out. The tenant may apply to have the fair rent fixed. The landlord cannot resist the fixing of the fair rent, but he may ask to have the purchase price settled. Then, forsooth, if the tenant will not accept the purchase price, so far as he is concerned on that point the rent-fixing clauses of the Act of 1881 are repealed. If I know anything, I know the Ulster tenant farmer, and how he clings to what he calls Mr. Gladstone's great charter for the Irish tenant. He will not part with anything in the Act of 1881 without a struggle. He gets nothing for the concession here. That clause is against the tenant, and I warn the Chief Secretary that the Ulster tenants, loyal and disloyal, will stand none of that. That is a clause which had better be reconsidered quickly.
Another curious thing in the Bill is the arrangement made with regard to the appeal. The Chief Secretary says the appeal is to stand both as regards law and value, but we are to have special evidence, and the courts are to be reconstituted with an expert on value beside the Judicial Commissioner. I will make a confession. My right hon. friend opposite will remember the Committee of 1894 sitting upstairs when this whole question was threshed out. I then stood absolutely alone defending this appeal on value. I made a tremendous mistake. It has cost landlord and tenant more than it was worth. The right hon Gentleman's proposals bring no relief. He puts an expert valuer on the bench, but the evidence will not be listened to. What happened the other day on the Gosford estate? The rent of a farm had been fixed at £103 in 1883. The tenant asked for a second term rent to be fixed. Two sub-Commissioners went on the farm and reduced the rent to £60. There was an appeal. The court sent down the court valuers, employed by the Land Commission for the purpose—men with £1,000 a year each, I believe, for doing this very work—and they fixed the rent at £63. What did the court 1082 do? They fixed the rent at the old figure of £103. What is the use of experts and special evidence when the court will not listen to them. That is only a sample; similar instances are happening every day. The experts who value the land are over-ruled by a court which knows nothing about the value of land, who never saw the land in question, and would not know good from bad land.
Now I come to say a word or two from the standpoint of the Bill being a settlement of the question. The Chief Secretary knows as well as any man in this House that, whatever the Bill may do, it will not settle the Irish land question.
I desire to put the question to the House in this shape. The Conservative Party in 1881 resolutely and fiercely opposed Mr. Gladstone's revolutionary measure as they called it. I remember that Mr. Gladstone stated in a joke, that political economy had been relegated to Saturn. Great capital was made out of that by the landlord party all over the country. They ought to have remembered, however, that the Irish Land system existed in defiance of the Decalogue, and had so existed for centuries. That, at all events, was a set-off against the outrage. The Conservative Party fought that Bill tooth and nail in both Houses of Parliament. They prophesied that it never would work, and that landlord and tenant would never agree under dual ownership. Lord Dufferin put it neatly when he said that Mr. Gladstone had put tenant and landlord in one bed and they would spend their whole time in trying to kick each other out. That is the exact result. They, having made clear their opposition to dual ownership, introduced their own policy when they came into office in 1885. They produced a Land Purchase Bill, and started it on new lines. The policy had existed in a tentative way before, under the Acts of 1881, 1870, and, indeed, 1869. But in 1885 they introduced their great measure, placing £5,000,000 at the disposal of the farmers for the purchase of their holdings, the sum to be repayable in forty-nine years. The whole amount was taken up in three years, and then they granted £5,000,000 more which vanished in two years. In 1891 another great Land Purchase Act 1083 was introduced and carried, which placed £33,000,000 sterling at the disposal of the tenants for purchase. The era of experiment was admitted to have gone by, and under the new policy of the Conservative' Party, wherever purchase was carried out, the Irish land problem had ceased to exist. I wonder if any of the statesmen who were responsible for these great measures looked forward to seeing in the future purchased holdings all over the country, and realised what the effect would be. The moment you got 70,000 of these holdings scattered all over the country, at once you set up a privileged class of tenants. A State Department was established to fix fail-rents, and then another State Department gave freeholds at 33 per cent. less than the rents.
Can you imagine that Ireland, or indeed any other country could be governed under such a policy? It could not be, and the Chief Secretary knows it perfectly well. It is not only in Connaught, upon the wretched mudbanks of Lord De Freyne and Lord Dillon, that the question is being fought out. I tell him here to-night, and I tell the House, that the objection and hostility to this differential treatment of different classes of tenants is as strong in Ulster as in Connaught. Ulster will fight against it on their own lines, constitutionally, of course. But then, they will not object to what is absurdly called traffic with traitors. They will take strength wherever they can get it, but still they will walk-on their own constitutional lines. What have these loyal men done in the past? They have allowed every Land Act that is on the Statute Book now to be won by the Connemara peasants, and the moment that it has been won they have been the first to rush into the Land Courts. I have as much objection to unconstitutional action as any man can have. I have been more with the Ulster tenants during the last eighteen months than my hon. friend below me, and I tell him here that they will fight the question out on their own constitutional lines, taking help wherever they can get it. "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right." If the hon. Member for Mid Armagh does not already know it, let me tell him that in Armagh the 1084 feeling is equally strong. Does my hon. friend not know what is taking place in his own constituency on the Gosford Estate? Did he not get a series of Resolutions from that estate? There is no part of the whole country likely to suffer more than this same province of Ulster. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that, so far as I am able to judge his Bill—and I am not committing myself to the absolute details—I am prepared to go a long way in giving him help to pass it. Probably he did not expect that, but, at all events, that is my position, and has been my position from the very first Let him make up his mind to this: That after every estate has been sold that can be sold, after he has induced every landlord to sell that he can so induce by this or any other means, there will be hundreds, aye, thousands of landlords who will refuse to sell on any terms whatever. And why? Because the rents of their tenants are better than any terms they can get under any Act of Parliament. These tenants pay their rents to the day and to the last shilling, and why, therefore, should the landlords sell their estates? They do not pose as patriots, they are not philanthropists, and why, then, should they sell? To sell under these circumstances is to sell at a loss. The right hon. Gentleman docs not intervene to prevent that. And, therefore, all this Bill is doing now is simply to bring us nearer and nearer to the edge of the precipice. When you have done all that this Bill can do, you will have to deal with the remnant of the tenants who are deprived of all these advantages and boons that you have taken the trouble to; give to others. They are the very flower of the tenantry. They are the loyal men. Who will get the main advantage of this Bill? It will be the very class of tenants who have made it so hot for the landlords that they are glad to sell because life is a burden to them. What has been the case under the present Purchase Acts? Twenty-two millions have been spent alto gether, and of this, eight millions have been expended in Ulster. My contention is this, that it stands to common sense that where a landlord is harried, harassed, and annoyed by tenants who will not pay rent, so that he has to fight for his money in the Court, he is only too> 1085 glad to sell. But the landlord who gets his rent regularly, and who has a tenantry, with whom any landlord might be glad to live, he will not sell. This Bill will not settle the Irish Land question. It will, instead, bring it to the brink of the precipice, and sooner or later, sooner rather than later, sooner than some of you think, you will have to face the remaining tenantry, who will absolutely refuse to stand the differentiation in treatment and will not allow the privileges and boons which were given to other tenants to be withheld from themselves. I will give all the help I can to the Bill, and I will do so all the more heartily because I know it will bring nearer the day when you will be forced to deal with the remnant of the landlords by whose actions these people are deprived of boons and privileges which Parliament has conferred on others, perhaps less worthy.
§ (10 10.) MR. DELANY (Queen's Co., Ossery)
said he agreed with the last speaker that this Bill would not settle the Land question. It was a landlord's Bill, and he believed that the machinery embodied in it was quite inadequate. The greatest obstacle in the way of purchase were the encumbrances and family charges, and he did not see why these jointures should not be dealt with in the same way as other investments. If money were put into a railway company or limited liability company which did not pay, the person who put in the money lost it, and why should not those who had mortgages on property given twenty-five years ago be subjected to the same rule. From the tenant's point of view the Bill was a signal failure. It gave a flat denial to the demand for compulsory sale in Ireland—a legitimate, right ful, and constitutional demand which had been made in that House on the part of the Irish farmers. It would fail on that account. It placed the machinery of the Bill in the hands of the Irish Land Commission, which had lost the confidence of the Irish tenant farmer. There was a still greater reason why it would fail, and why it would cause deep disappointment throughout Ireland; and that was because it refused to deal with one of the greatest evils of the present land 1086 system, viz., the question of the evicted tenants. How could it for one moment be supposed by anyone that the Land question would be settled while the evicted tenants question would be left untouched? Take the case of the county a part of which he had the honour to represent-There there were to be found fifty families who for well nigh fourteen years had been un housed, who had been living in huts in misery and wretchedness, and who previously to eviction had been men of competence, and in the enjoyment of comfort. How? could they expect that a Bill which refused to deal with such a condition of things would be received with anything like satisfaction in Ireland? That alone would make it a lamentable failure. There was another feature of the Irish Land question he wished to put before the right hon. Gentleman, and that was the demand for compulsory sale, which had been made in a most reasonable way in that House by representatives both in the North and in the South of Ireland. The hon. Member for North Down had not made his declaration in favour of it one moment too soon. He would have eventually to face the electors.
§ MR. DELANY
said he was glad to hear that. He now wished to point out another obstacle to the success of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman had flouted compulsory purchase in Ireland, but in one particular class he ought to be ready to apply compulsion, viz., to the absentee landlords. In King's County one of the largest proprietors held 30,000 acres, and he did not spend 3,000 pence in the district. His rent roll was £15,000 a year, and every penny of it went away. The hon. Member did not know where the money 1087 was spent. The Bill did not deal with absentee landlords, and that was another reason why it must fail. Speaking as the representative of an agricultural constituency, and being himself a tenant farmer, he believed that the Bill, for the reasons which he had stated, would be a failure. Notwithstanding the sympathetic speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the measure, as he understood its provisions, had come as a disappointment to him.
§ *(10.32.) MR. BUTCHER (York)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has given a somewhat gloomy view of the situation. He has referred to the questions of absentee landlords and compulsory purchase, both of which are not particularly germane to the discussion of a measure for voluntary purchase by the tenants. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, in an impassioned peroration extending over some twenty minutes, expressed his approval, as he has done on previous occasions, of compulsory purchase. I shall not follow him into the discussion of the merits or demerits of that particular measure. I shall content myself by referring to the question of voluntary purchase raised by this Bill. I conceive that every Member of this House, who has the welfare of Ireland at heart, must feel grateful to the Government for having introduced the Bill. It is a remarkable and, I think, gratifying fact that even so notorious an advocate of compulsory purchase as the hon. Member for South Tyrone should have given a cordial, though, I admit, a somewhat provisional and tentative approval to a Bill for the purpose of promoting compulsory purchase. It is a commonplace of politics to say that the Irish Land question is the pivot of the Irish controversy. If you go even a short way on the road towards the solution of the Irish Land question, you have gone a long way towards the removal of Irish discontent. What are the facts? It is admitted on all hands that the system of fixing rents by a court has largely broken down. It is admitted on all hands that the only solution of the Irish Land question lies in purchase. There are only two modes of purchase it is possible to conceive—compulsory and voluntary—and I confess, for my part, I am thankful to 1088 the Government for having put on one side the scheme of compulsory purchase which I regard as not only impracticable but unjust. I do not conceive it possible that British taxpayers will tax themselves to the extent of £120,000,000 in order to become Irish landlords with all the attendant risks and dangers which are incident to that system. I do not conceive it possible that the English voter will consent to compulsorily expropriate the Irish landlords against their will. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: Time will tell that.] Time will tell many things, but I believe that time will be found on the side of justice. Time will be found on the side of rejecting an unprofitable and impracticable suggestion. Therefore, I think the Government has done right to adopt the other alternative, and so far as in them lies, make land purchase by voluntary methods easier and cheaper than it has been hitherto. The Chief Secretary has pointed out that voluntary land purchase is not only stationary, but is somewhat declining in quantity. Therefore, the necessity for introducing some measure to facilitate land purchase by voluntary methods is fully justified. What are the methods which the Government propose? To my mind the object of the Bill is, and I trust the result will be, to make land purchase both easier and cheaper. It has been pointed out by the hon. Member from South Tyrone that the tenant farmers of Ireland will get advantages from this Bill. By the admission of hon. Members opposite they are desirous to purchase their holdings, and any method which renders purchase easier and cheaper must be of benefit to them.
I think it is right that I should point out what, at any rate to me, appear some of the advantages which will accrue to the landlords under this Bill. In the first place, if a landlord wishes, he will be able to sell his estate, without the expense of a preliminary negotiation with the tenants. He will also be able to sell it in globo without having left on his hands certain portions of the estate which the tenants do not desire to purchase. To my mind it is a very great and important advantage to the landlord. But 1089 there is a second advantage which has been also referred to by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and that is that the procedure which is to be set up under this Bill will largely decrease the delay and will decrease the expense consequent upon the procedure in the Land Court. The hon. Member for South Tyrone appeared to be labouring under a delusion which, I believe, is common to other Members of this House, that the lawyers like to run up an improper bill. I cannot conceive of anyone who knows anything of the facts labouring under such a singular misapprehension. I suppose there are foolish persons in every profession, oven in the profession of the law, but I cannot conceive that any lawyer should be so foolish as to wish to run up an improper bill. But, whether he does so or not, I conceive that the procedure suggested under this Bill will have the necessary and inevitable result of largely decreasing the cost which has hitherto attended the proceedings of the Land Court. Take one suggestion which is made in the Bill and examine it. It is that for one year, and one year only, after the sale is agreed on, mortgagees on the estate shall be allowed to get their full rate of interest. Of course, if the mortgagee gets 5 per cent., and if he knows that at the end of one year, if he does not come in and prove his title and get his money out, the interest will be reduced to 2½ per cent., he will hasten to prove his title and get the money paid out. I believe that the procedure suggested by the Bill will expedite and cheapen the procedure in the Land Court, and thereby materially advantage the landlord.
There is another important benefit which will accrue to the landlord under this Bill. He will be able to buy his own house and demesne by the same methods by which the tenant is enabled to acquire his holding, namely, by annual instalments. Let me give a figure. Suppose a man has an estate of £61,000 a year, which is sold for £20,000—twenty years purchase. He gets the £20,000 purchase money, but under the provisions of the Bill he is allowed to buy back his house and demesne for a sum not exceeding £4,000, which he pays off 1090 by annual instalments of £150, or 3 per cent. on £4,000. I say that is a material advantage to the landlords, and it is an advantage to the people about him, because instead of driving him out of the country and destroying the opportunities of employing labour, it would keep him a resident in the country and enable him to take his part in the work of the country, and to remain, as I believe most landlords would desire to do, among his own people. Again, it is proposed that the payment for purchase shall be made in cash rather than stock. I cannot imagine anything more unsatisfactory either to landlord or tenant than that the purchase money should be paid in stock which is liable to vary from 111 or 112, at which it was some time ago, to 94 as now. I am glad the Chief Secretary has recognised that fact, and is prepared to pay out the landlord on the footing of a sum which would be certain. There are other details of this Bill which have been commented upon tonight, and into which I do not propose to enter. If this Bill has the effect, as I believe it will, of cheapening and rendering easier voluntary purchase to landlords and tenants, I say, as one who wishes for the future progress and prosperity of Ireland, that I will give a hearty and cordial welcome to the Bill.
§ (10.45.) DR. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down commented on previous speakers for comparing this Bill with a Bill on compulsory lines, but the hon. Gentleman himself devoted three-fourths of his speech to that very point. I would have much preferred if the Chief Secretary had handled this Bill on compulsory lines, rather than in its present tinkering fashion. Owing to emigration there is a loss to Ireland, every year that the landlords refuse to accept this sop, of at least £2,000,000. Every person who leaves Ireland represents a loss of £100 to the country, and for that reason alone compulsory purchase is necessary. Compulsory purchase is also necessary for the reason given by the Chief Secretary himself. The day is passed in Ireland when a farm can 1091 support the farmer and his family, the landlord and his family, the bailiff and the labourer. If the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken had heard the Chief Secretary state, as he did, that out of £171,000 advanced to over 30,000 tenants not a penny is now outstanding, I think it would convince the hon. Gentleman that compulsory sale is the only remedy and that the British taxpayer would not lose a penny by it.
§ * MR. BUTCHER
I was present during the Chief Secretary's speech, and was not convinced in favour of compulsory purchase.
§ DR. AMBROSE
Then I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman did not take in the point. I will take the whole Province of Connaught, and I ask, is the Prov ince to wait untill the landlords accept this bribe. If the landlords continue to refuse, there will only be left in Connaught the old people and the invalids. I object to the clause whereby the tenant is refused the right to have a fair rent fixed if the landlord is not satisfied with the purchase price. It seems to me that the whole Bill is only a Congested Districts Board Bill.
§ *(10.50.) MR. ARCHDALE (Fermanagh, N.)
I wish to thank the Chief Secretary for this Bill, which I believe will advance the object which many Ulster Members have in view, namely, occupying ownership. There are, however, a great many points in it which cannot be properly discussed until we have the Bill before us. My right hon. friend spoke of the decrease in voluntary purchase. That is not only due to the number of landlords 1092 willing to sell having come to an end, but also to the teaching of the United Irish League and the hon. Member for East Mayo. The hon. Member for East Mayo came to my county this spring and told the farmers that sixteen years purchase of fair rent would be an ample price, and that then the tenants had to decide what a fair rent was. If they went upon that system, I do not understand how any voluntary purchase could go on at all. I believe this Bill will satisfy nearly every honest tenant farmer in Ulster. I know my own constituents will be satisfied with a great many of its provisions. They do not want anything unfair or dishonest. They wish to give a fair price for their land, and they wish their landlords to remain in the country. I am a landlord, but I am also a tenant farmer in as big a way as any hon. Member opposite. I have a good set of tenants, the majority of whom pay their rents well. [MR. REDDY, King's Co., Birr.: Would they not be glad to buy?] I think some of some of them would be glad to buy, and some would not, and that is the reason why I am in favour of this Bill, becauss it gives me and others a chance to sell. I would like to ask my right hon. friend one question. He talked about selling under the 40th section; and I should like to know if landlords who happen to have their estates mortgaged in the English Court of Chancery will be able to sell their property like landlords whose property is mortgaged in the Court of Chancery in Ireland. I think it would be very unfair if properties in the English Court of Chancery could not be sold in the same way as properties in the Irish Court of Chancery. I was rather amused to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for 1093 South Tyrone say that Ulster tenants were glad to take advantage of things brought forward by the representatives of other parts of Ireland. All I can say is that 13,000 tenants in Ulster have bought their farms, as against 11,000 in all other parts of Ireland; and I am very glad that these Ulster tenant farmers had the sense to buy their farms and take advantage of the terms offered them by the Government. There are two or three other points in the Bill which I should like to see elucidated, but I think we should wait until it is printed. All I need now say is, that I think the Bill is a strong step towards occupying ownership, and I cannot understand any man, however much he may favour the principle of compulsion, not supporting it to the utmost of his power.
§ (10.55.) MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)
I have been somewhat amused at the gloomy hilarity of hon. Gentlemen opposite, whereas I expected to hear a flood of joyous hilarity. The hon. and learned Member for York expressed his deep sorrow at the breakdown of the Land Courts. I believe the hon. and learned Member does not himself practice in Ireland; but the he lawyers in Ireland will, I hope, be no longer able to make their fortunes as they have been doing out of the Land Courts. I quite agree that this is one of the most important points in the Bill which the Chief Secretary, in a very able manner, has brought before the House. I think the Chief Secretary has, to the best of his ability, endeavoured to prevent all the good of these cumbersome Land Acts, of which we have heard tonight, being taken out of the pockets 1094 of the tenants and put into the pockets of the lawyers, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on an honest attempt to endeavour to remove one of the worst features of every Land Act which has been passed for Ireland. There are several other parts, of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill which will undoubtedly be more or less boons to our unhappy country. I am glad to see that the sale of small properties is now to be made possible; and also that three-fourths of the tenants on a large property are to have their own way. But, is not this a useful precedent for compulsory purchase? The right hon. Gentleman is going to give three-fourths of the tenants of Ireland the right to say whether sales shall be carried out or not; yet he refuses to over three-fourths of the people of Ireland the right of compulsory purchase. The precedent which the right hon. Gentleman has now established will be of the utmost advantage. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentlemen on having honestly stated his opinion of previous Land Acts. There is another boon in the Bill, and that is the matter of cash. I think everyone likes cash, and I think in that matter the right hon. Gentleman has done well as regards land purchase in Ireland. Then we are to have the benefit of the Congested Districts schedule. I would like to know whether these new districts are only to be brought in as regards the question of purchase, or whether they are to be placed under the Congested Districts Board.
§ MAJOR JAMESON
If that is all, we must be thankful for small mercies; but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the question with the view to bringing a large number of poor districts in Ireland under the Congested Districts Board. Now I come to the first point, which I think is a very deplorable one, namely, the point of purchase versus fixed rents. I cannot imagine for one moment that the attempt to deprive the tenants of their right to have fair rents fixed, which has been acknowledged in this House for the last fifteen years, and which every Land Act that has been passed has emphasised and accentuated has sprung from the Chief Secretary. I believe it is the Attorney General for Ireland who is playing the part of Svengali in connection with this Bill. I do not, of course, assume that the right hon. Gentleman is anything like Svengali. This provision brings out the old, old story; and I hope the Chief Secretary will endeavour to secure some amelioration of this particular clause. I would suggest that the Chief Law Officer of the Crown in Ireland would be all the better if he were given a rise in life. I have no doubt that some member in the legal profession like the hon. and learned Member for York would be perfectly willing to take the place of the right hon. Gentleman if he were now given the judicial elevation which is in store for him.
§ (11.0.) MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY (Limerick, W.)
A number of tenants in my own constituency who declined to pay what they considered an unjust rent, and who are now threatened with eviction, offered to purchase 1096 their farms from the landlord some time ago, but they were unable to I come to terms. They are looking forward to this Bill to see if it would bring about a settlement, but so far as I can observe, there is no hope for them in it, and I think it will be a disappointment to every farmer throughout Munster. The principle laid down by the Chief Secretary of buying estates in globo, and reselling them to the tenants, is, I consider, a very good principle. But how is the right hon. Gentleman going to carry it out by means of this Bill. I do not think he will be able to carry it out in the way he has indicated, because the only effective way of carrying that principle out is to adopt compulsion. There is no other way in which it can be done. We have been told that the owner of an estate may apply to the Land Commission to furnish an estimate; of the purchase price; but if the landlord is not satisfied with the price, he need not sell. The effect of that clause will be that the old feud which is going on in the country will continue. The landlord will not sell at a fair price unless he is forced, and as the Chief Secretary will not bring in a Bill for that purpose, the only way left is to force him to do so by agitation and organisation. In my humble opinion there are some very good clauses in this Bill. For instance, the clause relating to title I consider a very good clause. Another very good clause is that which provides that the landlord himself may buy a residential holding on the estate. But these are landlord provisions, and do not bring the question of occupying ownership into its proper light at all. I look with suspicion on the clause which provides the substitution of cash for stock in the advances that are to be made. It may be a good thing 1097 to sell estates for cash, but the landlords will get more than they otherwise would, and, therefore, that provision may be regarded as a bribe to the landlords to sell. As regards the fair rent clause, I do not think it is fair to tenants, because if they do not buy at the price estimated by the Land Commission, they cannot get a fair rent fixed, if the landlord is willing to sell. Then there is no word in the Bill about future tenants or evicted tenants. I say that there can be no satisfactory settlement of the land question until the evicted tenants have been provided for. Nationalist Ireland is resolved that no settlement can be accepted as final, until the evicted tenants are reinstated. I ask the Chief Secretary to-night not to trifle with this question of the evicted tenants I ask him to grapple with it, and not treat it lightly. That would be a beneficient policy which would go far towards establishing peace in Ireland. It would make happy homes; brighten a dark chapter in Ireland's history; and make these poor people forget the past.
(11.6.) MR. O'DOWI) (Sligo, N.)
To my mind there two serious omissions from this Bill. Speaking as a Member representing a constituency in the West of Ireland, I desire to point out what these omissions are, in the hope, perhaps, that in a future stage of the Bill they may be rectified. The right hon-Gentleman in his speech made no mention of that serious burning problem in the West of Ireland: congestion of land on one side, and vast grazing tracks on the other. The Bill introduced by the Chief Secretary cannot be considered satisfactory by the 1098 peasantry in the West of Ireland if it does not deal with this question, and as one of those who have taken an active interest in the land war in the West of Ireland, I regret very much that the right hon. Centleman, whose good intentions I do not doubt, did not grasp this problem at once. The right hon. Centleman knows as well as I do the peculiar circumstances connected with the West of Ireland. On one side there are the congested districts, and immediately beyond thousands and thousands of acres of grazing land let to land jobbers on the eleven months system. If that question were dealt with, it would not involve anything in the nature of confiscation—because these lands are taken as a commercial speculation for eleven months—when the contract expired; and if the problem were dealt with it would go a long way towards removing congestion in the West of Ireland. Another omission from the Bill is the question of turbary. When the Land Act of 1881 was passed, giving the tenants fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale, it neglected to deal with the turbary question. Previous to the passing of that Act the tenants had the right of turbary free of charge on the various estates in Ireland, but after they had received trifling reductions under the Act of 1881, the landlords retaliated by charging the tenants 10s. for turbary. If the right hon. Gentleman deals with these two problems, which can be very easily solved, he will place his Bill on a much more satisfactory footing.
§ (11.16.) MR. REDDY (king's Co., Birr)
No matter how hon. Members may laud this Bill, we cannot conceal from ourselves that the hate of the Irish 1099 landlords has been fully and freely expressed by the omission of any provision relating to the evicted tenants. All the Land Bills that have been passed, even the Local Government Bill, were only sugar coated pills for the Irish landlords to swallow. As an Irish farmer myself, I say unreservedly that this Bill will be read in Ireland with a keen sense of disappointment at the way in which the evicted tenants have been sacrificed to the hate of the Irish landlord. The Irish farmer to-day is as different from his predecessor of thirty or forty years ago as a white man is from a black man; and no matter what Land Bills are passed, unless he gets compulsory purchase not a penny of rent will be extracted from him, except through the bailiff. Ireland from North to South is for compulsory purchase. This is only a tinkering measure, and I would rather see it thrown to the winds, than that any land grabber should get the opportunity under it, of buying the holding of an evicted tenant. I hope the Bill will not be, passed into law.
§ Bill to further amend the Law relating to the occupation and ownership of land in Ireland; and for other purposes relating there to, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Wyndham, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.