§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 40.
§ MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
protested against the abolition of the rent-charge. It was a large, democratic proposal for a Unionist Government to submit, and he complained that there had been no opportunity to discuss it.
§ Clause 40 agreed to.
§ Clause 41.
§ MR. DILLON
asked for some assurance that from time to time the Treasury regulations under this clause and similar clauses would be communicated to Parliament, in order that it might be seen that the tenants were receiving fair-play.
§ Clause 41 agreed to.
§ Clause 42.
§ *MR. ASHTON (Bedfordshire, Luton)
said he was afraid the voice of the British taxpayer was "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," but he could not allow a clause which proposed to raid the Treasury to the extent of £12,000,000 to pass without a protest from an English representative. He had no objection to the landowners of Ireland being fairly, even generously, treated in the matter of the purchase money; but the purchase price to be offered by the tenants for the estates was treating them very generously. They were proposing that the landowners should get a price amounting to from twenty-five to thirty years purchase of the rental, which was far in excess of the general price which had been paid to them in the past. Therefore no one could suggest that the taxpayer was not treating Irish landowners generously, quite apart from this £12,000,000. In his judgment this payment was entirely unnecessary. It was said that it was to be given as a bribe to induce the Irish landowners to sell, but he saw no reason why the Bill should not have been made a compulsory measure. If that had been done there would be no necessity for this bribe. Why should this not be a compulsory Act? They had reached in this country the point that where they considered the purchase of any property was to the public interest, private interests must be over-ridden. That had been done in the case of the London Water Board, to which the water companies were compelled to sell their property at a fair price because it was considered to be in the public interest, and 1097 in the Act which governed that matter a clause specifically stated that no compensation should be given for compulsory sale. The same thing is happening in the case of the London docks, and the case perhaps was a better analogy to this case because there the dock companies had to part with real estate. He failed to see why special compensation should be given to Irish landowners when, in the public interest, it was withheld from the owners of the metropolitan water companies and of the London docks. He regarded this as the greatest blot on the Bill, and said it could only be defended on the ground that it was necessary to secure the assent of the House of Lords to the passing of the measure. He looked upon this compensation as a bribe to satisfy the House of Lords, who always looked after the interests of their friends, and he hoped the British people would recognise that this was not the first occasion on which they had had to pay a considerable price for such an anachronism in the twentieth century as that Assembly. He protested against this grant of £12,000,000, which in his opinion was absolutely unnecessary. He therefore begged to move.
In page 22, line 9, to leave out Subsection [1)."—(Mr. Ashton.)
§ Question proposed, "That Sub-section 1 stand part of the clause."
§ *MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said those who felt strongly on the principle underlying this transaction, and at the same time felt warm sympathy with the wishes of the Irish people to obtain a settlement on this land question, thought it only right to enter their protest against what they considered to be a wrong application of public money. A large share of this burden would fall on the Irish taxpayer. It would fall far more heavily on him than on the English taxpayer. He had voted two years ago with the hon. Member for South Tyrone for compulsory land purchase and sale at a fair price. But it seemed to him to be absolutely unsound where they were proceeding on a voluntary basis as in the present Bill, with all the credit of the United Kingdom behind it, that 1098 this enormous bribe should be given in addition to stimulate artificially these transactions. He had spoken on the Second Reading strongly against the pressing of purchase on terms economically impossible for the Irish tenants in view of the profitable working of their holdings in the future. He had protested then against the extra burden thus placed on Irish agriculture, and though the evil had been lessened by the wide and generous concession of the right hon. Gentleman as to bargaining outside the zones, the protest still held good. Now he had to protest against this bonus also. It was obvious the bonus would have the effect not only of inducing the landlords to sell, but also of inducing the tenants to buy at a far higher price than they would otherwise do. The amount of the rents estimated by the right hon. Gentleman in first introducing the Bill was £4,000,000, which, capitalised at the average years purchase contemplated in the Bill, meant at least a sum of £100,000,000 to be advanced by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. But at the average price under the Ashbourne Acts, eighteen years purchase, £72,000,000, was the actual market value of the land. With the bonus of £12,000,000 provided by this clause, and the excess sum of £28,000,000 given by the terms of the Bill in excess of the true market value, the Government were giving £40,000,000 in excess of what would have been given to the landlords if they had to part with their land under compulsory sale at a fair price. That sum of £40,000,000 represented an addition of about 60 per cent. to the value of the land instead of the usual 10 per cent. for compulsory expropriation. They were actually giving about six times the amount of compensation which would be given to an English landlord who was expropriated in the public interest. Of that £40,000,000, £28,000,000 would be paid entirely by the tenants of Ireland, and this £12,000,000 fell with wholly disproportionate weight on Ireland. Of the £390,000 in any one year, £250,000 was to be found by economies in Irish administration, and much of this meant a loss to Ireland. It seemed to him that the immense advantages which the landlords of Ireland got out of this Bill 1099 were such that they could very well do without this £12,000,000. Even if the total price could now be bargained down a little towards the Ashbourne level, it was unjust, and more unjust even to Ireland than to England, to add five to eight years purchase by means of this bonus. Most of these estates—those not included in the congested districts—had their "slum" corners—areas in which there was no economic rent whatever, and the whole value had been created by the tenants themselves. Yet we were buying out such districts as if they were English managed estates, and at enormously enhanced values. He had always supported land legislation for Ireland in which the principles to which he attached great importance were not violated, but they were now being asked in a thoroughly unsound scheme to guarantee to a certain class of Irish landlords, who, in nine cases out of ten, had contributed nothing to the land, a sum three, four, and five times more than they would get in this country if they were compulsorily expropriated from estates where they had made all the improvements, and very nearly half as much again as they would have got in their own country under a fair assessment of the value of their land. They all knew perfectly well that such proposals would never have been made or supported but for the fact that the Irish landlords exercised a controlling influence in another place, and were thus able to dictate the terms on which any Bill should pass. He wished to protest in the name of Ireland quite as much as on behalf of the British taxpayer against this proposal.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that if he were to attempt to make a comprehensive reply to the hon. Member's remarks, he should be driven to repeat almost all he said upon the Second Reading of this Bill. The hon. Member said on previous occasions he had voted for a compulsory scheme. He would not take up the time of the Committee urging what he had often urged, namely, the extreme difficulty, if not the impossibility, of finding a practical plan of compulsion. He would not now be led away into arguing that point. The real point was that the House, on the Second Reading of the Bill, 1100 by a majority of over 400, in which all parties were included, had declared its readiness to support this voluntary scheme of land purchase, and an integral principle of that scheme was that a bonus of £12,000,000 must be supplied by the general taxpayer to meet the drop in the incomes of the landlords which was inevitable under any system of land purchase in Ireland. That was the great difficulty. The plan of the Government had received the general assent of the House. It was supported on the Second Reading by the Leader of the Opposition, although the right hon. Gentleman expressed at a later stage in the proceedings some doubt as to whether the first Clause would receive the unanimous support which the Bill as a whole commanded. He thought he might claim that that had not happened. As he could claim that the Government had the general support of the House in its policy, he did not think he would be justified in replying at any greater length to the supporters of the Amendment.
§ MR. DILLON
thought it was due to the Liberal Party that their considerate attitude towards the Bill should be acknowledged on behalf of the Nationalist Party. He was aware that many Liberals entertained the very strongest objections to some of the provisions of the Bill; yet their action with regard to it had been marked by great self-restraint, and great generosity towards Ireland. He had a sneaking sympathy for the views put forward by the supporters of the Amendment. He agreed that the landlords were getting too much under the the Bill. But there was no prospect of ending the land trouble in Ireland in any other way than by offering this inducement to the landlords to sell. Would they be worthy of the praise or support of any intelligent man if they rejected the offer made by a powerful Government to devote £250,000 to inducing Irish landlords to meet the tenants and put an end to this land war instead of continuing to spend that money upon police and prosecutions necessary to carry on the war. Was it not a great deal better to devote this money to such a purpose, even if the landlords did get too much, rather than carry on this land war for another twenty or thirty years? In 1101 conclusion he again desired to take this opportunity of acknowledging the generous attitude of the Liberal Party towards this measure.
§ MR. TULLY
said he had always regarded the Bill as a landlord relief Bill. The landlords were getting entirely too much under it. He would give some figures which had been prepared by one of the best intellects in Ireland. The Chief Secretary's estimate of the rental of the Irish landlords was £4,000,000. From that they had to deduct cost of collection, estimated at 12½ per cent., which amounted to £500,000: and interest on mortgages upon Irish land at 4½ per cent., amounting to £1,800,000, which represented the interest on £40,000,000. That left a net income to the Irish landlords of £1,700,000. He could assure hon. Members that he had got his statistics from the best authority in Ireland. From these figures it was clear that the Irish landlords were getting £220,000 in excess of the price they had themselves been asking for their land, and therefore he desired to express his protest against this Clause.
§ MR. CHARLES DEVLIN (Galway)
pointed out that the Bill was voluntary, and a sale could only take place by an agreement between landlord and tenant. If the course suggested by his hon. friend were adopted and the bonus disappeared it would put an end to the Bill at once.
§ MR. CHARLES DEVLIN
said that was the inference from the hon. Member's criticism. The whole thing would drop at once if they dropped the bonus. If the Bill passed without the bonus what would the result be? There would either be no sale of the land or else the tenant would have to pay more. They ought to do everything they could to render the position of the tenant as easy as possible, and the State came to his rescue in the matter with this bonus The tenant's position must be considered, because he had the hardest road to travel. The tenant after he had purchased had to pay for the land, and it should not 1102 be forgotten that he had to face the competition of farmers in America, who got the land for nothing. The hon. Member for South Leitrim had expressed himself unfavourably to the granting of this £12,000,000.
§ MR. CHARLES DEVLIN
repeated his contention that if this bonus disappeared from the Bill the measure would have no effect in Ireland, because the landlords would refuse to sell. Coming from one of the poorest parts of Ireland he had no hesitation in supporting this grant of £12,000,000 to the landlords, because it was absolutely necessary in order to bring about a settlement of the land question in Ireland.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said the next Amendment standing in his name on the Paper was simply a drafting Amendment, the object of which was to make it quite clear that the guarantee fund would not be responsible for any part of the bonus.
In page 22, after line 21, to insert—'(3) The provisions of this Act with reference to the repayment of advances by the Land Commission to the National Debt Commissioners shall not apply to advances under this section.'"—(Mr. Wyndham.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 42, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 43.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said he desired to move the Amendment on the Paper standing in the name of his hon. and gallant friend the Member for South Glamorganshire. He strongly held tint the bonus should be treated as an accretion to the purchase-money. It would be a perfectly legitimate transaction for the State to contribute some of the purchase-money for the purpose of bridging over the gap between the price at which the tenant might fairly be expected to buy and the price at which the landlord might fairly be expected to sell. But there were the gravest 1103 objections to treating this bonus as a bribe and paying it over to the vendor whether the land was settled or not. In cases where the seller was the absolute owner of the land it made no difference whatever, but in the majority of the estates which would come under the operation of this Bill the vendor only held a very limited interest, either as tenant for life, or in some other capacity. If a vendor obtained a bribe for selling property in which he was only partially interested, that bribe ought to go into the purchase-money for the benefit of the other persons interested in the property. There was not a man in the House who would say that was not the view of the case that any Court of law would take. He could not see the difference between a bribe given by an ordinary purchaser and a bribe given by the State. The State ought to insist upon the bonus going into the purchase money. As the Bill stood, the whole of this bribe would go to the vendor, and a landlord who had mortgaged his life interest and whose interest in the property was small, could, provided that he kept within the zones, make a bargain, not the best bargain, to sell and carry off the bonus. That was unfair having regard to the interests of other persons. If the man was selling his own property no one cared what bribe was given to him, but in the case he was putting the man was not selling his own property. He was selling in the position of a trustee for other people. His interest was to sell at almost any price in order that he might pocket the bonus. That was not a fair position in which to put the tenant for life. The Chief Secretary in the course of the debates had intimated that there were certain cases where it would not be proper to give the vendor the bonus. Perhaps his right hon. friend had in view cases of bankruptcy. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had said that in the case of a tenant for life who had a very small interest in the property it would not be right to give him the bonus. He was glad those cases would be excepted from the operation of the bonus clause as it stood. He did not think it would be possible to frame a clause which would be sufficient to avoid such injustices as 1104 he had suggested. It would be only fair to let the bonus go into the purchase money. He knew of only one argument which was put forward as a justification for this extraordinary novelty, and that was that the bonus would be an inducement to a tenant for life to sell. He did not believe that was a sound argument. If there were a case in which a tenant for life was unwilling to sell, unless he was allowed to pocket the bonus, he did not hesitate to say that it was better he should not sell, rather than this vicious principle should be admitted.
In page 22, line 22, to leave out Sub-section (1), and insert the words (1) In the case of every estate sold the Land Commission shall, by means of advances to be made to them by the National Debt Commissioners out of the said fund, receive a sum equal to a percentage on the purchase-money of such estate according to the scale set forth in the First Schedule to this Act, and shall apply such sum as follows—namely, they shall in the first place pay there out the expenses properly incurred by the owner incidental to the redemption of superior and intervening interests, the investigation of titles, the distribution of the purchase-money, and other like matters, and shall pay and apply the balance by way of audition and accretion to the purchase money.'"—(Mr. Butcher.)
§ Question proposed, "That Sub-section (1) stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that some minutes ago he was pained, though not surprised, to hear some hon. Members opposite describe the bonus as a bribe. He did not know whether he was more pained or surprised at the opening sentences of his hon. and learned friend. He drew a picture of a private transaction in which a secret commission was offered to a man to induce him to sell his property to the detriment of his creditors; but private transactions had nothing to do with a large measure of public policy, brought in with every circumstance of publicity, and accepted by all parties in the House of Commons. That was not a secret or a discreditable transaction.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said his hon. and learned friend, as an Irishman sitting for an English constituency and wishing to 1105 see voluntary purchase succeed in Ireland, had supported the Bill as one who had the grievances of the landlords at heart. To-night he came forward and urged the claims of the remainder-men. He could only repeat what he had said before. What was the position of the remainder-man in the remote future if land purchase was made impossible in Ireland? If the Government were justified in their policy, which had received so much support, they were also justified in saying that the winding up of the present impossible and, he would say, intolerable position in land tenure in Ireland was a big public object. Take the case of a landlord who had but a small margin to live upon. If he failed to hang on he surrendered; and the encumbrancer, who probably lived in England, suddenly found himself the landlord of an impoverished Irish estate. The Government wished to save him from that unexpected windfall. But he did not think it was impossible to arrive at a general agreement on this. It was quite impossible to accept the Amendment, but he thought hon. Members opposite would see from the cogency with which this point of view was put forward that it was proper to make a concession in respect of the man who was deriving no profit from his estate. He thought that it would be only fair, though he should resist all attempts to put the bonus into the purchase-money as a general rule, that when an estate was so encumbered that the owner was not entitled to receive any part of the rents and profits the bonus should be added to the purchase-money. He was prepared before Report to consider an Amendment to that effect.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
moved an Amendment providing that, for the purposes of aiding the sale of estates under this Act and "preventing improvident purchases by tenants," the Land Commission may pay to the vendor a percentage according to the scale in the first schedule. He said that by the last Amendment the hon. and learned Member for York, who had been regarded as representing the landlords, proposed to deal with the bonus in such a way as practically to prevent the landlords from deriving any benefit from it at all. The Amendment 1106 which he was now proposing would have exactly the opposite effect. This Amendment had been laid down by the National Convention in Dublin. The Committee would remember that the Land Conference based its Report upon the idea that the whole of the gap between what the tenant could afford to give and what the landlord could afford to take should be provided by the State, and their idea was that £20,000,000 would be required for that purpose. He regretted that amount was not forthcoming. He gave notice of an Amendment to the effect that the State should give £20,000,000 instead of £12,000,000, but he did not move it because he felt that it would be impossible to get it accepted. It was clearly the interest of the landlords and the tenants to preserve the whole of this £12,000,000 bonus to the landlords, and from the tenants' point of view his idea was that the more the bonus was the less the tenants would be called upon to pay, and that in their bargains with the landlords they would take into account the number of years the landlords would receive in the shape of bonus. If there was a large inroad in the bonus for the cost of proving titles, or for other matters, by so much would the tenant be injured in making his bargain. Therefore he desired that the whole of the £12,000,000 should go intact to the landlord. He begged to move.
In page 22, line 23, to leave out from the word 'and,' to the first word 'the,' in line 26, and insert the words 'preventing improvident purchases by tenants.'"—(Mr. John Redmond.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that the opinion of the hon. Member was that the expenses referred to in the words he wished to omit should fall on the State. There was no provision to that effect in the Bill, and the Government were not prepared to insert any to that effect. The financial arrangements of the Bill were arrived at after very careful consideration, and they did not go as far as the hon. Member and his colleagues in the Land Conference desired. But the Government 1107 had tried to carry out the spirit of the Report as far as they could with the facilities at their disposal. The facilities which had been suggested were not at their disposal, so that the effect of omitting the words would not be to throw the charges on the public funds but to omit an indication of some of the reasons which lead the Government to think that a bonus should properly be given. The bonus was not a bribe but a contribution absolutely necessary on many grounds, among others because these transactions were costly and did deter many landlords from selling their estates. The hon. Member wished to insert other words which would also be an expression of opinion. He did not maintain that the words which the hon. Member proposed to omit were more than an indication of some of the reasons for giving an aid grant or bonus; and he thought the simple course would be to leave out the words altogether and put nothing in substitution.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he was very glad that the hon. Member for Waterford had felt able to move an Amendment of this kind. The basis of the Land Conference Report was that the landlords should get their net income. He should like, before committing himself to this proposition, to know what would be an improvident purchase by the tenant. "Improvident" must qualify something, and he should like some sort of definition from the hon. Member as to what would be an improvident manner for a tenant to become the owner of his holding. Did it mean that he was to give the landlord twenty-five or twenty-eight years purchase? He did not wish to vote for this Amendment in the dark. He wished to be told by the hon. Member what he thought would be an improvident acquisition of a tenant's holding. All through he had endeavoured to give as much support as he could to the general principles of the measure. They were now told that there was a rash method of land purchase, and that there might be cases in which purchase would be the height of folly. What were these cases? Was it sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, or twenty-five years purchase? Who was to be the judge of improvidence? Was it the tenant, the landlord, or the Land Commission? He 1108 did think it would be better if they could have a frank understanding in regard to this matter. This was not a frank Amendment. If there was an improvident method of acquiring a holding, the hon. Member for Waterford ought to put down an Amendment in that sense. He ought to tell the tenants what price they should give, and what price they should refuse to pay. He regarded this Amendment as one of the sham Amendments that had been proposed to this Bill to cover up the tracks of the Land Conference Report.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said there was no great objection to keeping them in; they were in the nature of a preamble, and they had no legal effect on anybody.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said that the words which it was proposed to leave out stated that the fund was not a dole or a bribe, but was for the purpose of "making contributions towards the expenses incidental to the redemption of superior and intervening interests, the investigation of titles, the distribution of purchase money, and other like matters." Why, he asked, should the words be omitted which showed what the money was to be used for?
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said he hoped if the Chief Secretary was going to keep any part, he would keep the particular words which showed what this payment was for. If these words were simply taken out he would feel bound to call this a bribe of the most naked, barefaced, and shameless description; but if the words were kept in they showed that an 1109 inducement was given, and that that inducement was justified to a certain extent.
§ MR. DILLON
said he thought the words ought to be left out. As to the hon. Member for York, he knew what that Gentleman's position was—he objected to the bonus altogether.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
I do nothing of the sort. I am entirely in favour of the bonus, but it should be added to the purchase money.
§ MR. DILLON
said that he and his friends entertained strongly the opinion that the bonus should be dealt with as the Bill provided. He always understood that the justification for the bonus was that it would facilitate land purchase. He really was not very much alarmed at the threat of the hon. Member for York.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said his argument was that he objected to the words being cut out, because in that event the costs of sale would fall entirely on the purchase-money, which, he thought, was wrong.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that these words could not have any effect one way or the other. They were, as he had already stated, in the nature of a preamble. As his hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford made a great point of this, he should like to give effect to his wishes and those of his supporters; but he would remind hon. Members that it was impossible for a Minister in charge of a Bill to accept a proposal at one moment and refuse it the next moment.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said that the words in the Bill specified for what purpose this money was to be applied. If they were of no earthly use why were they put into the Bill? His complaint was that these words being in the Bill his right hon. friend, without discussion, calmly got up and proposed to chuck them overboard. In that the right hon. Gentleman was premature.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put and agreed to.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
moved—Clause 43, page 22, line. 29, leave out from 'estate,' to end of line HO, and insert 'agreed to be sold within five years after the commencement of this Act a bonus of fifteen per centum of the amount of the purchase-money of said estate, such bonus to be paid upon the completion of the sale.'This Amendment, he said, had been adopted by the National Convention. It was in two parts—the first dealt with the allocation of the bonus, and the second with the proposed limit of time. As to the distribution of the bonus, the scheme of the Bill had been by universal consent given up. The proposal in the Bill was that the bonus should be distributed in an inverse ratio to the purchase-money; but the general opinion was that the bonus ought to be distributed by a fixed amount all round, and that had received the sanction not only of the National Convention but of the Land Conference and the Conference of the Landlords. His proposal was that a bonus of 15 per cent. of the amount of the purchase-money should be paid all round upon the completion of the sale His second proposal was that the benefits of the bonus should only be obtained by landlords who agreed to sell within five years after the passing of the Act.
In page 22, line 29, to leave out from the word 'estate,' to end of line 30, and insert the words 'agreed to be sold within five years after the commencement of this Act a bonus
of fifteen per centum of the amount of the purchase money of said estate, such bonus to be paid upon the completion of the sale.'"—(Mr. John Redmond.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he was unable to accept the Amendment. The more convenient opportunity to discuss the distribution of the bonus would be on the Schedule. He did not intend to adhere to the distribution set out in the first Schedule. The limit of five years was not the policy of the Government, and he believed that it would lead to precipitate action, and embarrass the financial operation of the Bill.
§ MR. DILLON
said he wished to impress on the Chief Secretary that a percentage involved a vicious principle, and would form a dangerous precedent. He would urge the right hon. Gentleman to take into consideration the principle of a fixed number of years' purchase. As the Bill stood, the more the landlord got for his land from the tenant the more he would get from the State. That was most irrational. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had taken up a stand on the time limit, because he thought the time limit was essential. The Land Conference were unanimous on the point, and the Landlords' Conference accepted it. The almost universal acceptance in Ireland of the voluntary principle of the Bill was based solely on the express understanding and assurance that there was to be a time limit; and all those who were really anxious to see this controversy brought to a conclusion by voluntary arrangement should accept the time limit.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that the Government were not rigidly wedded to the first Schedule as it now stood, and he thought, as he could not accept the Amendment, it would be convenient to adjourn any debate on the distribution of the bonus until they got to the Schedule.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that it was very important that time should be given to the landlord to make application. The 1112 Schedule was one thing, but it was upon this clause that they had to determine the time limit. He could conceive of nothing which was more calculated to bring about peace in the country than that the tenants of Ireland should know that a large number of the landlords had made application to sell. That could not be done by the Schedule, and he believed that it would pacify large districts. He thought that there should be a prescribed period, and that the Government should use some such phrase as was in the Act of 1881—that the landlords should make their application on or before the appointed day, so that there should be something hanging over their heads so as to induce them to quicken the pace and come in at the earliest possible moment. If there was no last day appointed for something to be done, there would be nothing done. Why, then, should not the right hon. Gentleman say that the landlords must apply for the bonus on or before the appointed day, and leave the Land Commission to settle the appointed day? He attached much more importance to the time limit than to the question of amount. He did not think that any of them were competent to decide the question of the amount. As to the manner in which the schedule had been arranged, in that respect it was a credit to the Conservative Party. If it had been put in any other way it would have been said that it was an effort on the part of the big proprietors to grab the money for themselves. But the schedule was passed so as to avoid that suspicion. No doubt it was a difficult task to allocate ten or twelve millions, but the landlords had not indicated any want of confidence in the Commission. Why not, then, leave the-matter in a fluid condition. The province of Connaught deserved, he thought, more of the money than any other part of Ireland because of its poverty. The poorer estates should come in for a larger part of the money than the richer estates. The Committee, however, was not competent to decide that question. The best plan was to leave it to the Estates Commission. It would be a mistake to deal with it by rule of thumb. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to consider whether the best way 1113 out of the difficulty was not to allow the guillotine to fall at the end of five or ten years.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that two years ago the demand made in that House, supported by the voice of Ireland from one end to the other, was for compulsory sale, but it had been agreed to waive the question of compulsion for the time being. The representatives of the tenants had loyally adhered to the bargain they had made, but they had, all the same, incurred a great deal of blame in Ireland. There were thousands of Irish tenants who did not hesitate to tell them, in vulgar language, that they had "sold the pass." They could only in reply refer them to the Land Conference. It was a strange thing that whenever that Conference procedure was in favour of the landlords it was freely quoted by the Government and by the landlords, but when it was in favour of the tenants it was coolly set aside. The Chief Secretary talked about adhering to the spirit of the Conference; let them have a little of the letter as well as of the spirit. The Land Conference suggested that the bonus should be limited to transactions initiated within five years of the passing of the Act, and they must be done with the Conference Report if they were to observe the spirit of it when it suited the landlords, and were to ignore both the spirit and the letter of the Report when the interests of the tenants were concerned. He knew that the majority of the landlords in the south and west of Ireland would close with these terms, but they would not be a sufficient inducement for a large number of what were called commercial landlords in Ulster, landlords not of the old stock, but men who had bought the land out of profits made in trade. A time limit was absolutely necessary so that Parliament might be able to take stock at the end of five years and say what they were prepared to do. It would be perfectly impossible to allow a state of affairs in which three-fourths of Ireland would be under freehold occupation and one-fourth held under landlords. Let the Government accept a time limit for the bonus and say that to ensure participation in it sales must be initiated in 1114 five years. That would help them in resisting the demand for compulsion.
§ DR. THOMPSON
said he too was in favour of the Amendment. It was most important, and Irish Members were unanimous in the view that it was necessary. Perhaps the difficulty would be met if the Chief Secretary would accept his Amendment lower on the Paper to the effect that landlords should register their desire to sell within five years.
§ MR. BLAKE
said this was a subject of enormous practical importance with respect to the successful working of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had objected to any proposal which would indicate completion or anything of that kind within five years, on the ground that it would involve congestion of the machinery for working the Act. He, however, saw no difficulty whatever in setting a time limit. There would be ample time for the proper organisation of the machinery, and officials, when once trained to the work, would find it easy to accelerate operation. He was sure that if any increased expenditure was necessary in order to issue the stock a little faster, the House would not begrudge it. On the contrary it would willingly vote money to bring about a more rapid accomplishment of the beneficent objects aimed at in the Bill. The time limit should not be left to the Commissioners, but should be settled by Parliament. They ought to declare that this money was only for the benefit of those landlords who made up their minds within five years. With regard to the allocation of the bonus he thought the plan of his hon. friend was a great improvement on the Government plan. The purpose was to grease the wheels of purchase. Some thought the grease should be applied to the tyre, but if they wanted to make the machine go they must apply it to the axle, which in this case represented the tenant for life. It must be applied in relation to the difficulties and friction with which the wheel had to contend. The difficulties were the greater when the wheel had to travel over roads in the congested districts, and therefore more of the money was wanted in Mayo 1115 than in other parts of Ireland. It was the smallest and poorest estates that required the greatest amount of axle grease. Then let them use the bonus where it would do most good.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that with reference to the allocation of the bonus he had nothing to add to what he had already said. With regard to the time limit, the reason of the Government for not accepting it was this. The issue and management of a loan estimated to be of £100,000,000 was not only a vast, but a very delicate, operation. The responsibility for undertaking it was a heavy one resting on the Government, and they could not undertake an operation so delicate and so vast if a sudden inrush of people under an adventitious stimulus should mean that, instead of coming, say, for £10,000,000 or £20,000,000, they might have to come for £60,000,000.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
We only ask that the applications shall be made in a given time. You can delay the issue of the stock as long as you like.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
reiterated that financial operations were very sensitive. A false report in the newspaper might prejudice the flotation of a large loan, and it was not the business of the great financiers of London to measure the exact result of 40,000 people coming in to subscribe their names. They might suppose that that might mean a great demand for money in excess of the forecast already drawn up, and, therefore, on financial grounds, and on financial grounds alone, the Government could not entertain the suggestion of putting in an adventitious stimulus in the shape of a time limit.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he fully appreciated the delicacy of the operation, but he felt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary had omitted to take account of the way in which this matter would work. He would go the full length of saying that, if the matter could be stated absolutely in the way the Chief Secretary had put it, the Amendment was impossible. But that was not the way the matter would work. Nobody was more anxious 1116 than he was to do justice to the admirable manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had befriended Ireland on this occasion. They knew that in him Ireland had a thorough friend. They were anxious that an immediate anodyne should be applied to the Irish problem. As a method of bringing that about they suggested that the tenantry on every estate should become aware that their proprietors were anxious to make bargains with them. There was all over the country an anxiety on their part to bring this question to an issue. Land purchase must, however, take time. The Treasury would not have to issue money at once. He was satisfied that it would not prejudice the issue of the loan if the Government were to know that within a prescribed period there would be an application for a given amount. The matter was absolutely within the control of the Treasury. They need not issue the loans. They could dribble them out according to the exigencies of the market. This was not a matter which would prejudice the landlords, who had met them very fairly in that House. He had been astonished at the spirit in which the hon. Member for York and his colleagues had met them. There had been no friction between them, and they were all agreed that it was reasonable to have this position arrived at at the earliest possible moment. Let them fix a time limit then. The clause said that the Estates Commissioners should be under the control of the Lord Lieutenant, and, therefore, the Treasury would be the commanding body, and the stock would be issued according to the necessities of the case. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not take up a final attitude in the matter now. The Amendment would make for the peace of the country, and from the English point of view, as well as from the Irish point of view, it would be much better if it were adopted.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said that the representatives of the great majority of the landlords had already endorsed the demand for a time limit. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that in this matter he was listening not merely to a request from 1117 one party, but a request which had been endorsed by the representatives of the landlords as well as the representatives of the tenants. Surely it was a very serious thing for the Chief Secretary, if it could possibly be avoided, to deny a demand which was practically unanimous on both sides of the House. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to facilitate, as far as possible, the idea which they had in Ireland that under this Bill the landlords would be willing to sell and the tenants to buy. The Government ought to be glad that such a demand had been made, as it showed that there was a real anxiety on the part of those most interested that the Bill, when it was passed, should not be a dead letter, but should carry out its object, namely, to transfer the land from the landlords to the tenants on fair terms.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said that he quite appreciated the financial objections which had been stated by his right hon. friend, and on them he would express no opinion Personally, and speaking for himself, he was in favour of a time limit. He had always held that this was not a landlords' question, but a tenants' question. The landlords in this House had practically no friends. The only way he was conscious of to buy friendship in this House was by votes; and the landlords had no votes. Therefore, this was a tenants' grievance, and the only tenants' grievance that he knew of that did not inflict injustice on the landlord. Looking at the Bill as a great State measure for the pacification of Ireland his private opinion was that the sooner it was carried out the better. He lived in the peaceful Province of Ulster, but he should certainly put in his application within six months of the passing of the Act. He could not conceive any landlord in Ireland who was of the same mind who would refuse to take advantage of this Bill. That there were difficulties in connection with the time limit he admitted. Five years was probably too short, as the preliminary negotiations would take time; and the fault might not be with the landlord, but with the tenants. The tenants might delay the purchase for various 1118 reasons, and therefore a five years limit would probably be too short. At the same time, it ought to be prominently brought before the minds of the landlords that there was a limit, and that they should make up their minds for or against accepting the Bill. That might be called compulsion, but it was not compulsion, because if a landlord wished he could remain outside the Bill.
§ *MR. HEMPHILL
said he wished to urge on the Chief Secretary, in common with other hon. Members from Ireland, the desirability of adopting the time limit. They all knew very well that matters would come to a point more quickly if there was a limit, instead of an indefinite period. There were no people more likely to procrastinate in coming to an agreement than Irish landlords and tenants, and the time limit would be a stimulus to both of them to come to terms. The object of the Government by this great measure was to improve the social and political condition of Ireland, and why should not they be anxious that that happy result should be brought about as speedily as possible. It might be said that some effect would be produced upon the Stock Exchange if Irish landlords and tenants appeared too anxious to avail themselves of this beneficent measure. Surely the inference from that was that the Government expected that the operation of the Bill might be indefinitely postponed, and that twenty-five years might elapse before the £100,000,000 was called into being. That was a very unreasonable attitude to assume to the Irish Members. What they wanted was that the Bill should be brought to a speedy trial, and that its results should be enjoyed by the present generation, and not be put off indefinitely. The measure, he presumed, was brought in with the real and great object of benefiting all classes in Ireland, and some time limit should be imposed. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was a very common thing to fix time limits in railway and other Bills; and nothing would be easier when the end of the five years was approaching than to introduce a short Bill extending the limit, if there were a great many estates on which the Act had not been brought into play. His own constituents were most anxious 1119 that there should be a time limit, in order to induce both landlords and tenants to come to a speedy agreement.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he himself was certainly not in favour of a time limit nor could he see how it would practically work. Indeed, he could not see how it would have any other effect than to block sales to the tenants, and for this reason. Only property to the value of £5,000,000 could be disposed of during the first year; and if all the landlords hurried up the whole operation would be blocked, and with the court blocked it might be twenty years before the landlord would get his money at all. He thought it would be very desirable, after the enormous expectations which had been aroused in Ireland in connection with this Bill, if some modus vivendi could be found by which the position of landlords and the status of the tenants could be somewhat modified. The difficulty was to find a remedy; but it could not be found by asking the landlords to give notice within five years. What the tenants wanted was to get possession of the land. That was the anodyne the tenant wanted. He himself thought that the time limit was wholly impracticable and impossible. He would rather move in the direction of Clause 36 of the Act of 1896.
§ MR. SAMUEL YOUNG (Cavan, E.)
said there was nothing distinct or feasible about the observations they had just heard. The Bill would not run in the North of Ireland unless there was a time limit; and he begged the Chief Secretary to introduce a time limit if he wished to see the Bill a success.
§ *MR. SEYMOUR ORMSBY-GORE
said he approached this question not so much from the point of view of the landlord or the tenant, but as a member of the London Stock Exchange. He perfectly acquiesced in the desire expressed by hon. Members opposite that purchase should be carried out as speedily as possible; and he quite appreciated the first part of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Waterford. He spoke as a member of the Stock Exchange, of which he was a member for sixteen years, and he thought the remarks of the hon. Member for North Tyrone were somewhat precipitate. The Stock Exchange was the barometer of the National credit; and his experience during his membership of that institution was in entire contradiction to the statement of the hon. Member for North Louth, who said that everything on the Stock Exchange was discounted beforehand. Sometimes it was the case and sometimes it was not. It certainly would affect the prosperity of the City to have a large loan hanging over the market. He would instance the War and Transvaal loans, which had greatly depressed the money market recently and had hung like a pall over it. If they were to have loans floated of £10,000,000, £20,000,000, £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 one after the other, it would be a very dangerous experiment for the money market here, and he believed it would render the procuring of money by the Government from time to time very difficult. It would also militate very severely against this Act.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that as they went on they would liberate a large quantity of money which would seek 1121 investment. The potential investors would naturally seek trustee securities. [Mr. RITCHIE dissented.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer shook his head; but, babes and innocents though they were, they knew what had happened before.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said they would not put it in 2½ per cents.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he spoke humbly in this matter, but it must be remembered that there would be, not only landlords, remembered, and so forth, but great societies, insurance companies, and Trinity College, to whom security was a necessity. They would not only have 2½ per cent. on their sales, but they would have the bonus in addition. He thought what would happen would be what had occurred when Mr. Goschen's conversion scheme and previous conversion schemes were carried out, namely, that there would be a vast volume of money seeking investment and finding it not They would be driven to come upon the market and buy up this stock. The Government had the matter entirely in their own hands; they could issue the stock as they pleased and when they pleased; and, having regard to the effect it must have on the peace of the country, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would further consider this matter.
§ MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.)
assured the hon. Member for South Tyrone that all the estates in the South of Ireland would not come in unless there was a time limit. He also pointed out that the fixed percentage of distribution in the matter of the bonus would work very unfairly as between various counties. Taking the case of a £2,000 rental in Kildare, he contended 1122 that a landlord would be able to get five years more purchase than a landlord in Kerry, and his bonus would be £7,500 as against the Kerry man's £6,000, so that, by fixing the limit at 15 per cent. all round, the tenant in the poorer districts would be placed in a most unfair position.
§ MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
felt that this question was a most important one. Unless a time limit were inserted the men in the poorer districts of Ireland, who had been debarred from the benefits of past land legislation, would continue to be debarred from them for another ten or fifteen years. The object of all parties in the House was to secure peace as far as the agrarian struggle was concerned, but if the Irish Members were forced to go back and tell these men that they must wait for years longer, that object would be frustrated. They would carry the land war on to the end if necessary, but they preferred peace, and he appealed to the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider their decision.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG (Antrim, S.)
said he had heard nothing in the debate to convince him that there were any serious objections to a time limit Five years might possibly be too short, but that there ought to be a limit of some sort was the unanimous opinion of representatives from all parts of Ireland. He hoped the Government would not refuse this important concession. They all desired this Bill to settle the land question, but if its operation was to be put off from year to year its benefits would be frittered away, new causes of agitation might spring up, and from that point of view it was desirable that a time limit should be fixed. He felt sure that the financial 1123 difficulties, if there were such, could be overcome.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said it was evident from the debate that landlords and tenants were absolutely united on the question; and it would be a great misfortune if the Chief Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not make a concession to that feeling. He would withdraw his Amendment if there was a promise given that the matter would be reconsidered on the Report stage.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
suggested that opportunity for consideration should be afforded by reporting Progress. He pointed out that possibly a way out of the difficulty might be found by distributing the bonus on a graduated system according to the speed with which landlords made their application.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he would not offer any opposition to the proposal to report Progress, but it must not be supposed that there was any intention to agree to the time limit. Having regard to the interests of British credit and British taxpayers he felt bound to associate himself with what his right hon. friend had said in deprecation of any unnatural stimulus of the kind. The Government had met the demands made upon them in a broad and liberal spirit, feeling that it was well to do so with hope for the restoration of peace and quiet in Ireland. Feeling this fully, he still felt it would be unwise, in the interest of British credit as well as in the interest of the Bill, to risk disturbing the financial basis upon which the Bill rested—the raising of money at 2 per cent. It would not be to the interest of British credit that they should 1124 be called upon by some unnatural stimulus to go to the money market for large sums of money. They had before them the probability of having to raise considerable sums for other purposes, and to add this would be detrimental to the working of the Bill itself. If money could not be raised at 2¾ per cent. the Bill would not work. As far as he was concerned, speaking as the representative of the British taxpayer and of British credit, and also in the interests of the Bill, he could not hold out any hope that the Government could consent to any proposal which would give an unnatural stimulus to land purchase in Ireland.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again"—(Mr. T. M. Healy)—put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.