§ On the order for Committee being read—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
ruled out of order an instruction standing in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil giving the Committee power to extend the provisions of the Bill to Wales and Monmouthshire. It was quite out of the question, he said, to apply the Land Purchase laws of Ireland, which formed a separate Code, to England or Wales by instruction.
§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1—
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
moved to insert in line 1 of Clause 1, after "sale of," the words "one or more holdings, or." He said this raised the question of the principle on which the Bill was founded. Both sides were agreed in the desire that land purchase in Ireland should work as smoothly as possible, and that there should be no difficulties thrown in the way either of landlord or of tenant. Now the Bill said that what the landlord was to be enabled to sell, and what the tenant was to be 958 enabled to buy, was an "estate," and an estate was defined in Section 85 of the Bill as "any lands which the Estate Commissioners may see fit to be regarded as a separate estate for the purposes of the Act." Thus, before any sale could take place, before any agreement could be made between landlord and tenant, they would have to find out whether the particular property to be dealt with was or was not an estate. That would throw a great difficulty in the way of sales, for a landlord would be loth to deal with any of his tenants, and the tenants would be loth to deal with the landlord without some assurance that the property in question would be considered to be an estate under the Act. The landlord would be forced, in the first instance, to go to the Estates Commissioners and ask the question—"If I agree to make an arrangement with such and such a tenant will you deem the property an estate?' He would have to ask even more, and would have to inquire—"If I fail to agree with a tenant as to a certain part, will you accept the remainder as an estate?" Surely it was not necessary that the word "estate" should require any definition, and surely if the property constituted a holding subject to the Irish Land Law, that ought to be sufficient to enable landlord and tenant to come to an agreement in the knowledge that the necessary money would be advanced. The only possible objection was that there might be some holdings which it would not be advantageous to advance money upon. True, there might be certain uneconomic holdings, but if that were so, they ought to be dealt with by way of exception, and there should be in the Act some means by which rules could be laid down to provide for such cases. If the plan he suggested were adopted it would much simplify the working of the Act.
In page 1, line 8, after the words 'sale of' to insert the words 'one or more holdings, or.'"—(Mr. Herbert Robertson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
said he was unable to accept the Amendment. 959 It was admitted that great advantage would accrue from dealing with large areas, and it would strike at the very foundation of the Bill if those advantages were to be given separately in the case of what he might call small isolated purchases. This Bill took away no existing rights, and as the law now stood these small purchases could be carried out, but it was not to be expected that in cases where only two or three farms were the subject of the agreement, the parties should enjoy all the advantages of the costly machinery erected under the Bill.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said it was quite true that under the present Land Purchase Act a tenant could buy an individual holding from his landlord, and that that right was not taken away by this Bill. He should be inclined to limit the clause in the direction to be proposed by the hon. Member for Louth, and did not, therefore, propose to either support this Amendment or to propose the one he had himself placed on the Paper, to insert after "estate" the words "or any part thereof."
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
regretted that the Chief Secretary had not been able to give a more satisfactory reply. As he now understood it, any sale carried out must be of an entire estate. ["No, no."] Then what was the intention? The marginal description of the clause was to regulate "advances for purchase of holdings where a whole estate is sold." He understood the right hon. Gentleman objected to putting in anything that would enable part of an estate to be sold under Clause 1. It was desirable to have some definite idea, then, as to what the word "estate" really meant. If it did not mean the whole estate, or if it would apply to a single holding, what objection could there be to the Amendment?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that his hon. friend had fallen into an error which nearly everybody fell into at first blush. The word "estate" meant in common parlance the whole property of an owner; but "estate" in the Bill meant that which the Estate Commission believed 960 was an area of land which could be conveniently dealt with in globo.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
asked if it would be possible for a landowner to know before he entered into negotiations with the tenant how the matter was going to end—whether the Land Commission would regard it as an estate or not.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that they could not anticipate by statutory enactment all the difficulties that might arise in administering an Act of Parliament; but if his hon. and gallant friend would consider the composition of the Estate Commission, and all the provisions in the Bill, he himself would find no difficulty in discovering what the result of the clause would be. If they went the extreme length of appointing a public officer, a public trustee who might be consulted by private individuals, he thought that that was as far as they could go.
§ *MR. BUTCHER (York)
said that the point raised was of the greatest importance. It was essential before the landowner opened negotiations with his tenants that he should know whether what he proposed to sell was considered an estate or not. He might take all the trouble of negotiating with his tenant and then bring the agreement to the Land Commission who might say "That is not an estate at all, and therefore we will not sanction the sale." His object was to render it an easy, cheap, and satisfactory process for the landlord to sell and the tenant to buy, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he could not at some subsequent stage introduce some provision which would render it possible for the landlord to consult with the Estate Commission and say "I propose to sell this portion of my land, will you consider it an estate? And, if so, will you sanction the sale?"
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that his hon. and learned friend had overlooked the fact that in the Bill he had reserved as an alternative the procedure introduced last year. In an ordinary case no one could be in any doubt as to the result; 961 but if there were exceptional circumstances, the number and character of which could not be anticipated, the best plan would be to sell the estate to the Land Commission instead of by private bargain.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
asked if it was not the case that under Clause 1 the bonus entirely depended on the land being an estate or not.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said he had an Amendment on the Paper to leave out of line 8, Clause 1, the word "whether" and insert "except," in order to understand what the position was in regard to this particular clause. He understood that the provisions in the clause were necessary in order, in certain cases, to protect the rights of the remainder man. But surely no such provisions were necessary in the case of a sale to the Land Commission. Was it to be supposed that the Land Commission would allow sales to take place by which the remainder man would be in the least degree prejudiced? What he wanted was free transactions, free sales between landlord and tenant. He begged to move.
In page 1, line 8, to leave out the word 'whether' and insert the word 'except.'"—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said that this was a very important Amendment. It raised perhaps the most important question in the whole Bill, but in a partial manner and in a manner on which the point could not be fully and satisfactorily discussed. The question raised by the Amendment was whether these restrictions and limitations should apply to holdings that were sold through the Land Commission; but it 962 left the Bill to apply to cases f[...] direct sale between landlord and tenant. He understood that the object of the Government was that the ordinary case of the sale of land should be the result of direct bargaining between landlord and tenant, and that the sale through the Land Commission should be the exception. In laying down that basis to their Bill the Government had followed the recommendation of the Land Conference, which most people in Ireland approved of. If this Amendment were carried one result would be that sales through the Land Commission would be carried out under more favourable conditions than sales direct; in fact, the tendency would be to abolish direct sales altogether. That was a purpose which he and his friends around him could not sympathise with at all. This question of limitations could not be satisfactorily dealt with piece-meal or in compartments, and it should be reserved till another Amendment further down on the Paper was reached.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that he was unable to accept the Amendment for many reasons, but also for one not yet adduced. The Amendment, coming at this stage of the Bill, would decide the questions raised in Sub-sections 2 and 3 of Clause 5, in which directions were laid down to guide the Estate Commission in their estimate of the price which it would be proper for them to offer to a landlord. It was not confined to the cases referred to by the hon. Member for Waterford, but applied to many other cases. He could not consent to the omission of these most important sub-sections.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said he had put down the Amendment as showing his aversion to the principle of the clause. He thought the whole clause was bad; that the entire system of zones was bad, and that the true system was a free market between landlord and tenant. At all events, now that they had it confessed, as the result of discussion, that one of the objects of the zone system was not to protect the remainder man, or the person under disability, but some other object, he had thought it would be a reasonable thing to attack the principle 963 of sale through the Land Commission. But as the Government would not accept his Amendment, he had no desire to kill time, and he would withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Dr. THOMPSON (Monaghan, N.)
moved as an Amendment—"In Clause 1, page 1, line 11, after 'holding,' insert 'whether subject to a judicial rent or not.'"
In page 1, line 11, after the word 'holding' to insert the words 'whether subject to a judicial rent or not.'
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
pointed out that the Amendment of the hon. Member would not carry out the object he had in view, and, if accepted, would only make the Bill more cumbersome. He could not accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *Sir JOHN COLOMB
said the Amendment he now proposed was to take out the words which limited the advance to £3,000 to any single purchaser. It was true the exceptions might be made under special circumstances, with the special sanction of the Treasury, but with those exceptions the advances were limited. Such limitation excluded all occupiers of agricultural land who paid £150 a year rent. He attached extraordinary importance to this Amendment. There was only a limited number of tenants in Ireland whose annual rent amounted to over £150, but all those second term tenants who paid £150 a year were to be excluded. The acceptance of his Amendment would not therefore involve any considerably large transaction, and it was desirable for several reasons. The big farmers of Ireland were the advanced pioneers of agricultural progress, and on that ground, in considering a measure of this kind, the State should favour them. They were a highly respectable body of men and the guardians of social order; and they were also the employers of 964 labour and the purchasers of young stock from small occupiers. It was most important to the small occupiers that they should have a market for their young stock, because, although they were able to breed them, the carrying capacity of their land would not enable them to carry older stock than yearlings, which were not fit for the British market, and, therefore, it was most desirable that the large farmers should not be excluded from the benefits of the Bill. It was the more important that no one could say whether, under this Bill, the landlords would remain in Ireland or not; and, if they did not, it was extremely important that someone should be left to take their place. The exclusion of the large farmers from the operation of the Act would only lead to subdivision. In order to come within the limits of the Act a large farmer would subdivide with his son, and he, therefore, entreated his right hon. friend to agree to the omission of these words. He begged to move.
In page 1, line 12, to leave out from the word 'then' to the first 'the' in line 14."—(Sir John Colomb.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Cork)
, who was very indistinctly heard, was understood to say that the exact proportions of this question had entirely escaped the attention of the hon. Member. The full advance of £5,000 would, on the ordinary calculation, enable the tenant to pay a rent of £146, and, in the case of a nominal reduction—even so moderate a reduction—a full advance of £5,000 would enable him to pay a rent of £200 a year. He did not think there were in Ireland more than 20,000 men who held more than £200 so that this Amendment represented only the interest of 20,000 out of 94,000 agricultural holders in Ireland, and those who were best able to take care of themselves; men whom the banks were only too happy to accommodate But there was a much stronger argument against this Amendment, and 965 that was that if these big graziers, who were not, as a rule, employers, were to purchase their holdings through the State, the last chance of carrying out what was the main object of this Bill would be lost. An Amendment appeared lower down dealing with the large tillage farmers, who were extensive employers and a blessing to the community, and in whose case some exception might be made, but as to the central portion of Ireland—Meath, West Meath, and part of Tipperary—the people there had not sufficient land, and the rich lands were in the hands of the big graziers, and if this Amendment were accepted a new system of landlords would be set up which would keep the people out of the land for ever. These graziers were not farmers in any sense of the word, and were not entitled to benefit by the Bill. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would have no hesitation in rejecting the Amendment.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said the hon. Gentleman was obviously in favour of his Amendment, so far as the tillage farmers were concerned. He pointed out that these large grazing tracts were largely held under grazing agreements of eleven months. This Amendment largely concerned not only Ireland but England and Scotland as well. The agriculturists of England and Ireland relied entirely on Irish stock to work their farms. The stock they required was two or three years old stock, and they could not get it if this Amendment was not accepted, and the result would be the ruin of the Irish stock-breeding industry and of small holdings unable to keep young stock beyond yearlings. The grazing farms and big farms therefore had a large economic interest, and it was not so much for the personal interest of the farmers that he urged his Amendment.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said he did not know the view of the Government on this question, but he would suggest they should insert the words, "As amended by this Act," and leave the question of limits to be settled by a new clause. It might be of interest to the Committee to know how the limits got into the Bill at all. There 966 were no limits put into the Act of 1885, their first appearance was in 1888, when the limit was placed at £3,000 to be extended to £5,000 if deemed desirable. That limit was inserted because there was only £5,000,000 to expend under the Act, and it was felt unfair to the small holders that large holders should be allowed to come in and swamp them. But they now had £100,000,000, or as much more as they wanted.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
, who was indistinctly heard, said: I do not propose to enter into a discussion of graziers or large farmers, but I take exception to one part of the arguments of the hon. Member for South Tyrone—that in which he said we had £100,000,000, or as much more as we wished. That is a contention which governs, and which must be held to be governed by, what I said in introducing this Bill. There are many Members absent from the House now who were present on that occasion, but on that occasion I urged the House to accept this Bill largely by using financial arguments at very great length, and I laid great stress on certain features of the Bill which would put no rigid, but still certain, limits to the tax we might have to place on the credit capacity of this country. Among these I mentioned that the total amount advanced to any one person would not exceed under this Bill what was permitted under previous Acts—namely, £3,000 with a permissive extension to £5,000. I think it would be wrong on my part, at the very outset of our proceedings in Committee, to depart from the attitude I took up in consultation with my colleagues, and to which I intend to adhere—namely, that I would not accept Amendments which increased the pecuniary obligations of the general taxpayers. That would be the case with this Amendment, but under this Bill you will always be able to get the £5,000 limit in the case of a whole estate when it is desirable. If any difficulty arises over a large farm, rather than not sanction the sale of that farm, of course it will be the usual practice for the sale commissioners to sanction an advance up to the higher limit of £5,000. But then the hon. and gallant Member said more than that ought to be sanctioned because 967 you will force the landlord to retain part of his property which he wishes to dispose of. That is not so. In the case of such a farm outside the concession, but not outside the estate, other arrangements would have to be made to get the additional £1,000 or £2,000. Even if I accept the Amendment it would not meet the difficulty as put by my hon. friend; therefore I must adhere to the limit provided in the Bill.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that the decision of the Government not only dealt in advance with the case of the graziers, but killed the hope of all tenants of tillage holdings. As he read the Bill, no tenant with any hope of getting a reduction of 25 per cent. would be able to purchase under the Act, if his valuation was more than £95 or £96, so that the real effect of the Government's decision was to exclude from the purview of the Bill practically all tenants of over £100 valuation who expected to get any reasonable reduction of rent. In the case of Lord Lansdowne's estate it was the big men who led the agitation and induced the smaller men to act with them; and they were usually the most intelligent men on the estate. As the Bill was very complicated, it would need a good deal of explanation to make the twenty-five years purchase palatable to the small men; consequently the more the Government excluded the more intelligent of the larger tenants the more unworkable would they make the measure, and the less likely it would be to work smoothly. He was anxious to see the land question settled, even on the high terms of this Bill; it would pay the country to settle it on those terms, and that was why he should support the Amendment. As to the apprehensions which had been expressed about the graziers, by Sub-section 4, holdings on congested estates were excluded from the clause, and that might be construed to mean that the very men against whom the hon. Member for Cork protested, were to benefit by the Bill. The Government had announced a most serious decision, which would cut out Amendments dealing with the dairying and tillage men, and, while not affecting the graziers, would seriously hit the honest tillage farmers. He pressed the Government 968 to retain an open mind on the matter.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
thought the hon. Member for North Louth was mistaken in supposing that under the clause the limitation would not apply to the congested districts in the West. Vast tracts of grass land in Tipperary, King's County, Clare, and Roscommon would not be at all congested estates, although they might be within the limits of a congested county. But his purpose in rising was to urge the Government not to adopt any irreconcilable attitude on this question. The limitations required to be considerably increased in some directions and relaxed in others. They were not sufficient to secure that the grass lands, which were essential for the resettlement of the people and the rescue of the population of the West from a condition described by the Chief Secretary as worse than that of Hottentots or Kaffirs, should not pass into the hands of graziers. On the other hand, he entirely sympathised with the view of the hon. Member for North Louth, that tillage and mixed farms, which gave a great deal of employment, should not be excluded from the operation of the Act, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman not to insist on a decision which would shut out any future discussion of this interesting and most important point.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
regretted the Chief Secretary had taken so firm a stand with regard to a point on which all parties in Ireland were agreed. As the present landlords were disappearing as a class, it was very desirable that they should be replaced by men having amongst them people of substance with a considerable stake in the country. But they would be excluded by this decision. Never had a Bill started under such favourable auspices as the present; the Irish lions and lambs were smilingly waiting to be fed with the same food by the same hand; it would be very unfortunate if, at the very commencement of the proceedings, the Government adopted a non possumus attitude, declaring that under no circumstances would they allow any of these large farmers to become the owners of their land.
§ MR. LEAMY (Kildare, N.)
expressed his surprise that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken up his present attitude at the commencement of the consideration of the Bill, seeing that, for the first time for a quarter of a century, landlords and tenants had come together with a most earnest desire to bring the fight to a conclusion. It was necessary to abolish the landlords, but nothing would be gained by abolishing landlords who afforded a great deal of employment, if large grazing tracts were to be left untouched. In the case of large farms, on which for years employment had been given, it was undoubtedly desirable that the farmers should be given facilities to come under the Act. He wished to know whether they would have an opportunity of discussing this point later on. He thought it was very unfair that at the outset they should be debarred from considering this question. If the Chief Secretary had made up his mind he might get up and tell them on which points he intended to stand firm. One of the Amendments put forward by the Convention was to bring in large mixed farms, and that was now to be swept aside by the decision of the Chief Secretary without any argument at all.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said he wished to make a suggestion to avoid coming into sharp conflict at this point in the discussion. The Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was of such a wide and far reaching character that it was impossible for Nationalist Members to vote for it. The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for North Kildare expressed their view, and he suggested to the hon. and gallant Member that he should withdraw his Amendment, upon which there could not be that Irish unity which had been spoken of. It would not be possible to carry out the arrangement he had suggested unless the Chief Secretary accepted the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. It was a pity that the Chief Secretary on this most vital point had declared himself somewhat prematurely before he had heard the full arguments, and before they had had an opportunity 970 of moving the well considered Amendments which stood on the Paper. By taking this course the Chief Secretary would not be doing anything undignified, and it would enable them, when they arrived at the proper time, to have a full discussion upon the real merits of this question. The right hon. Gentleman had not heard the whole of this case, and therefore it was most unfortunate that he had come to a decision. He did not think this proposal would very largely increase the pecuniary liabilities under the Bill. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite would for the present withdraw his Amendment, and if the right hon. Gentleman would accept the words of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, then this discussion could take place at the proper time. He presented this suggestion as a possible solution of the difficulty, in the earnest hope that it would be accepted, because it would be most unfortunate, if within the first hour of the debate, the Government came to an absolute decision without hearing the whole of the facts.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that by accepting this suggestion they would be landing themselves into another difficulty. The policy proposed gave great liberty to one class of farmers, but he thought that many hon. Members would be violently opposed to drawing such a distinction, and the limit would have to be increased in respect of all farms under the Bill. He did not think he would be acting at all wisely if he set up another bone of contention between the parties who were now in substantial agreement. The hon. Member for Cork City had stated very definitely his opinion upon the subject of not giving greater facilities in the future than in the past, to those who farmed large grazing ranches. If he adopted the advice of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford he did not think he would be proposing a peaceable and almost unanimous solution, but he rather thought he would be precipitating a very keen debate from those who would not extend the limits in respect of grazing farms. As the hon. Member for Louth pointed out, grazing farms would already be excluded because, assuming that Sub-section A must stand, 971 it dealt with the Land Law Acts which applied, but they would not apply to farms of more than £100 valuation It seemed to him that, underlying all the appeals which had been made, there was an impression that these farms were excluded by the refusal to advance more than £5,000, but that was not the case at all. If a farmer was ready to give £8,000 it was true he would borrow £5,000 on very easy terms from the State, and there ought to be no difficulty in arranging by way of mortgage for raising the extra £3,000. Hon. Members knew that at the present time very large sums of money had been given for these valuable farms in excess of £5,000. None of the arguments he had previously used could cover the ground of having to come to the taxpayer to lend money to people who were wealthier than the landlords. He knew a case in which one man was tenant of seventeen of those large farms and was conducting great monetary transactions. Therefore he could not ask hon. Members representing English constituencies to say that more than £5,000 should be advanced. When it was said that he was adopting an obstinate attitude, he asked hon. Members to consider how far the present provisions of the Bill went. The hon. Member for Louth said that if a tenant agreed to buy upon such terms as would give him a reduction of 25 per cent., he would be excluded from the benefits of this Bill supposing his rent was £200 a year. In such a case he would pay £75 a year, and £2,360 would be advanced. Under the existing law £5,000 could be advanced to facilitate the sale. With regard to the sale of estates, they might take it that the £5,000 limit would be available. In the sale of an estate the limit was £5,000, and not £3,000. In the case put forward by the hon. Member for Louth, £2,360 would be advanced, so that on that scale a £200 rental could be disposed of inside the limit of £5,000. He contemplated many cases in which farmers would be prepared to accept a much less reduction. Take the extreme case, the smallest reduction of 10 per cent., and even upon that a man with a farm worth £100 a year would get the whole of the money advanced by the State. If the tenant agreed to purchase, then it would be £90 instead of £100, and the general taxpayer 972 would advance £2,832, and even that was inside the £3,000 limit. He hoped hon. Members would agree that he had not prematurely rejected this Amendment; on the contrary, he had considered it very carefully, and it would be inconsistent with what he had said if he were to hold out any hopes that he was prepared to extend this money limit, which he thought was large enough to embrace all the transactions which were likely to arise.
§ *MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said he hoped the Chief Secretary would accede to the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone. He did not think there was any question upon this Bill more important than the one they were now discussing. By this proposal a great number of tenants would be excluded from the benefits of this measure. He was not speaking of grazing tenants, because if they held the land for only eleven months they did not come within the Act at all. A great number of large farmers had grass farms, and while the great inducement held out to Parliament to pass a comprehensive Act was to abolish dual ownership, by excluding that particular class of tenants they were leaving dual ownership in full force. That appeared to him to be an evil system. He could assure the Committee that great injustice would be wrought if there was not some relaxation of this limit of £3,000 or £5,000, as the case might be. He asked the Chief Secretary not to decide the question now. It had not been fully discussed, and materials had not been laid before the Committee to enable them to solve the problem. By adopting the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and adding the words, "as amended by this Bill," they would afterwards have full opportunity of considering where the line should be drawn. He would be very sorry indeed to have to vote against the Government at the first stage of the Bill, but he would have to do so unless some concession of this sort was made.
§ MR. KILBRIDE (Kildare, S.)
said there was a large estate in Kildare, with which he was sure the Chief Secretary was acquainted, which would be more affected by his decision than almost any other property in Ireland. It was the Leinster estate, 973 which was not composed of grass farms. The district consisted entirely of agricultural property, and if the right hon. Gentleman adhered to what he had said, that no amount greater than £5,000 should be advanced in any case, the largest employers of labour in Kildare would be absolutely shut out from the benefits of the Bill. He had no objection that the right hon. Gentleman should limit the amount in the case of grass farms, and even in the case of residential grass farms, but he did object to have large agricultural tenants paying more than £200 shut out from the benefits of the Bill—the men who in South Kildare were of the greatest good to the community. He supposed the Chief Secretary was aware that the agriculturists of South Kildare compared favourably not only with those in any other part of Ireland, but also with those of England and Scotland. In many cases their forefathers came from Scotland and introduced improved methods of agriculture. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would accept the suggestion of his friend the Member for North Kildare, and leave the question open.
§ MR. HARRINGTON (Dublin Harbour)
expressed the hope that the Chief Secretary would take time to consider whether the limit stated in the Bill might not be increased to some extent. He was afraid that the right hon. Gentleman had not obtained full information as to all the districts of the country. In the eastern counties, Dublin, Louth, Wicklow, and portions of Meath and Kildare, the proposed limit would have the effect of restricting the operation of the Act to 100 acre farms. The men who occupied farms at a higher figure were those who were most useful, so far as the labouring class was concerned. The smaller farmer tilled the land with the assistance of his own children, and gave little employment except to his own family. The larger farmer employed a large number of people, and he was the very man whose presence in the community was most desirable. Of course the Chief Secretary said that man could buy his farm. He understood that one of the objects of the Bill was to prevent Irish tenant farmers from buying under conditions which would compel him to mortgage the land, but under the proposal in the Bill the purchasing tenant 974 must mortgage the land to the landlord or some one who was prepared to lend him the money. How would that work? Suppose the case of a landlord who was desirous of selling the whole of his estate, and he found that he had to deal with men holding 100 acres or more who could not borrow the whole of the money under this Act. What would the landlord do if he wanted to sell the whole of his estate? He had only to arrange with the tenant as to the conditions on which he would sell. The tenant would still have the landlord as mortgagee. He appreciated the difficulty of dealing with this question, but still he thought if the right hon. Gentleman considered the question in all its bearings he would see that the limit in the Bill was considerably too low. It was most desirable that the holders of these farms of over 100 acres should not be excluded from the operation of the Act. He hoped the Chief Secretary would still see his way to make some modification of the proposed limit. He was sure that he spoke the feeling of the great body of the Irish people when he said that they considered the limit too small.
§ *MR. BUTCHER
said it was unfortunate that the Chief Secretary should refuse to listen to the voice of united Ireland in this matter. The Committee were engaged at present in the operation of terminating the most pernicious system of dual ownership of land in Ireland. That was the professed object of the Bill, and yet they were going to make these large and important exceptions. Who were the men to whom they were going to deny the opportunity of taking advantage of the benefits of the Bill? Why, they were the men, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for South Kildare, whom they ought to desire to benefit—men who in many cases were large employers, and who conducted operations on the land in an entirely satisfactory way. Was it wise or necessary to force the continuance of the existing system upon this large and important class of men? He ventured to think that if the Government insisted on the limitation they would in many cases stop the sale of the whole estate. Take the case of a man who had fifty tenants; four or five of whom were outside the limit. Was the landlord going to sell 975 his estate to those tenants and have five separate occupiers in the middle of the estate who would still be tenants subject to the objections of dual ownership and of the rent-fixing system. In such a case the landlord would probably say: "If I cannot sell the whole of my estate, I will not sell any of it." In that way there would be a material diminution in the benefits to be derived from this Bill. He appreciated the position of the Chief Secretary, who said that he was bound to protect the interest of the British taxpayer, but there was really no risk in allowing these men to borrow. Were they not the very men who would be most certain to pay their instalments? By bringing these men within the benefits of the Bill they would satisfy the desires of practically the whole of the Irish representatives, while they would impose no real extra liability upon the British taxpayer at all. He hoped the Government would remove what otherwise would be a most serious objection to the measure.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said that as the representative of one of the constituencies which would be chiefly affected if the Chief Secretary adhered to the position he had taken up, he desired to join in the protest which had been made against the limit proposed in the Bill. The Chief Secretary had warned the Committee by saying that he would not give way, no matter what might be said. He must say, for one, that that remark did not indicate the spirit in which he had hoped the Government would come to the discussion of the Amendments on the Paper. He was afraid if that spirit was maintained the result would be a different sort of discussion of the clauses of this Bill from what he himself personally would desire. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that he did not wish to plunge into a discussion as to the claims of large graziers and large tillage men, but he must be perfectly aware that there was an Amendment on the Paper, in the name of the hon. Member for North Kildare, which raised that question, and he was greatly mistaken if, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman had said, that Amendment would not be proposed. The Amendment would be proposed and it would be supported 976 by almost every Irish Member in the House. The reason the right hon. Gentleman had given for not acceding to the Amendment now before the Committee was really absurd and ridiculous. The right hon. Gentleman had represented that the change which would be made in the financial proposals of the Bill by the Amendment was one of vast magnitude and one calculated to justify Members in saying that the Government had broken faith with the British people. It would not be any financial change at all to let in the large farmers who used their land on a mixed system and who employed a lot of labour. That could easily be tested from the figures which the right hon. Gentleman himself had given to the House. This was not the time to discuss this question in detail, but it could be shown that if the Amendment were adopted it would add 10,000 to the number of purchasing tenants in Ireland. It was preposterous for the right hon. Gentleman to reject all Amendments of this character, because, forsooth such an enormous additional risk would be placed on the shoulders of the British taxpayer! That excuse was ridiculous. On the other hand, if the right hon. Gentleman did not accede to the demand of the Irish Members on this question, some of his recent speeches in Ireland, and also in England, in regard to Ireland and the land question, would bear a very different construction in the future. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken in deprecatory language of the stream of emigration from Ireland, and had expressed the hope that that stream would soon be stopped; but by opposing the concession demanded by the Amendment he would increase that stream; because these large mixed farms would not continue to employ such large numbers of labourers as in the past if the advantages given to the small farmers were not also extended to them.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON
thought it was very desirable that the Government should enlarge their scheme. He knew graziers who were as real bonâ fide farmers as the men who cultivated thirty or forty acres. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of his duty to the people of England, but as an English Member, and one interested in Ireland, he was certain 977 that there was no one in England who had laid any stress on this question of £3,000 or £5,000. Nobody had thought about it at all. As the hon. and learned Member for York had pointed out, these 3,000 and 5,000 pounders were the best men to whom the English Government could lend their money. He presumed that what the right hon. Gentleman was thinking of was the bonus which would go to the landlord, but in the case of very large farms some kind of arrangement could be made for adjusting the difficulty. The hon. Member for Waterford had proposed that this question should be postponed. He agreed that a great deal had to be thought of yet, and the certainty of litigation was going to be a very serious hindrance to the working of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman should leave a loop-hole for the reconsideration of the matter.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
said the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be afraid of breaking faith in any way with the British taxpayer in regard to this matter. The British taxpayer did not seem to be very much concerned about it. What the British taxpayer was interested in was to see this question settled; and anything more or less added to the loan and the bonus was not of enormous importance. What was of enormous importance, however, was that this Bill should be the means of settling the Irish land question, and that no portion of the loan should be repudiated. From the standpoint of the British taxpayer he had been very much struck by a remark made by the hon. and learned Member for Louth, viz., that some of the farmers who would be excluded by the £5,000 limit under the Bill as it at present stood, were most intelligent men, who would be leaders of opinion on the estates where they were tenants That was a matter of great importance. When such farmers found that the £5,000 limit would not be sufficient to allow of their farms being purchased, or that outside the £5,000 they would have to make arrangement, by no means so favourable as in the case of the farmer just below the £5,000 limit, that might possibly turn the balance and lead to the 978 sale of that estate falling through. He suggested that the Amendment should be withdrawn in the meantime, and that this most essential point should be raised at a later stage, on an Amendment of which notice had been given by the hon. Member for South Tyrone.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said that this was a matter on which the Irish Members were united. They did not wish the large farmers in Ireland to be excluded from the benefits of the Act. They knew the dire effect it would have on Ireland, and the heartburning it would produce. He had received many letters, some from gentlemen who were not of his own political Party, urging him to try and bring these large farmers within the purview of the Act. Why should the gentlemen farmers of Ireland, whose land was worth more than £5,000, be debarred from the purchase of their farms and from the joys of ownership? The right hon. the Chief Secretary would forgive him for saying that he had not been quite fair in, so early in the debate, bringing in the matter of the British taxpayer. The gentlemen farmers of Ireland were as honourable men as the gentlemen farmers of England or Scotland, and would fulfil their obligations to the very letter. The right hon. Gentleman knew how the ordinary tenant farmers had behaved. Out of 76,000 purchase transactions there had been only two bad debts; and it was not likely that the gentlemen farmers would be remiss in paying their debts. If this concession was not given to them there would be discontent. As to the British taxpayer, he did not stand to lose one farthing by the transaction, and when £250,000,000 had been given for the War in South Africa, why should they not have a few millions for Ireland? England overtaxed Ireland every year £2,500,000 beyond her proper due. The arguments which applied to other Land Acts did not apply to the present Bill. They were to relieve the poorest of the poor; but this Bill was to effect a pacification throughout Ireland, and to bring about a social revolution. Therefore any person who belonged to the tenant class should not be excluded. The Chief Secretary had not commenced 979 the discussion in the conciliatory manner in which the Irish Members were determined to carry it on. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to have an open mind on the question, because he knew the discontent, the heartburning, and the disappointment which his declaration would produce.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
said he did not think the attitude taken up by the Chief Secretary was at all in keeping with the attitude which he displayed on the Second Reading of the Bill. Knowing the evils of dual ownership, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the arguments put forward with such great force by the hon. Member for York. So far as Ulster was concerned, unless the Amendment was accepted the Act would not be operative over at least half of that province. In an estate of say 200 tenants, thirty would be over the limit. Was the landlord to sell to 170 tenants, and keep up his estate office, retain his agent and bailiffs to collect rent from the remaining thirty? In his opinion the clause would be fatal to the working of the Act in many districts. Clause 49 showed how important the Government regarded the mortgaging of farms in Ireland. It provided that a farmer should not be in a position to mortgage his holding after having purchased it without the consent of the Land Commission. But now the right hon. Gentleman stated in the debate that the only remedy for the large farmer was, in addition to mortgaging his farm to the Government, to borrow the balance required for purchase, from a bank or a money-lender. In his opinion, that would be fatal to the working of the Act so far as the large farmers were concerned, and it would prevent landlords selling to the smaller tenants. Further, the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment pointed out that the Bill as it stood would have the effect of sub-dividing holdings between father and son in order to enable the farmer to take advantage of the Act. He would ask the Chief Secretary if he could not accept the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, to accept the Amendment 980 suggested by the hon. Member for South Tyrone. If neither of the Amendments was accepted, he would be prepared to support the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the division Lobby.
§ MR. GORDON (Londonderry, S.)
said he understood that the object of the Government was to get rid of dual ownership of land in Ireland, and as far as possible to bring peace and prosperity to that country. It was now, however, proposed to leave a certain quantity of land in the position it was at present. The point of view of the British taxpayer had been referred to, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to pause and consider what that was. If the Government were willing—and he for one was perfectly satisfied that they were right in taking that course—to advance money for the purchase of small holdings, and were satisfied that the money would be secured and would be repaid, then they ought to be doubly satisfied with reference to the money to be advanced for the purchase of larger holdings. He was most anxious that this Bill should put an end to the differences between landlord and tenant in Ireland; and if his hon. and gallant friend went to a division he would be prepared to support him.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said that the Government could not have considered this matter with reference to Clause 17, which provided that where an estate was purchased by the Land Commission and tenants on the estate, to the extent of three-fourths in number and rateable value, had agreed to purchase their holdings, no proceedings to fix the fair rent of any holding on the estate should be taken. The one-fourth, therefore, would not be allowed to purchase, nor would they be allowed to have fair rents fixed. That was a position which the Government never intended to take up, and it was clear that some Amendment would have to be made. Unless the Irish Secretary was fettered by some invisible bond, and was obliged to take his sailing directions from a right hon. Gentleman who was not now present, he would suggest that the question be 981 postponed. Did the right hon. Gentleman imagine that when all the Irish Members, the representatives of both landlords and tenants, were agreed, that the clause would be allowed to stand as it was in another place? Did the right hon. Gentleman wish that those large tenants would, for the first time in their lives, exclaim "Thank God we have a House of Lords"?
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent)
said he was glad to hear the Chief Secretary talk about the British taxpayer, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would resist the Amendment which was being very strongly pressed upon him. He did not complain of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but it seemed to him that some hon. Gentlemen representing English constituencies had a very curious idea of how such constituencies should be treated. It was very hard to bring home to the British taxpayer the liability he was incurring; and he trusted that as the Bill proceeded in Committee, the British taxpayer would wake up to the burdens which he was taking upon his shoulders. He hoped that the Bill would emerge from Committee very considerably altered in the direction of limitations; and he trusted that on the present occasion the Chief Secretary would show himself firm and keep to the determination he had announced.
§ *MR. DUKE (Plymouth)
said he did not at all agree with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. He thought the Chief Secretary might rest assured that as far as the British taxpayer was concerned, the only failure with which he would reproach the right hon. Gentleman would be the failure to make a settlement of this matter. They had gone a great deal too far already in reliance on the benefits which they hoped to purchase, even at the cost of some possible sacrifices, to shrink now from making an addition to the Bill which was agreed to by both parties, and which was necessary to make it symmetrical and satisfactory. The first essential of the Bill was that it should satisfy both parties in Ireland, and give a fair start to the regeneration of the agricultural population. That would satisfy 982 the British taxpayer; but a great many hon. Members on that side of the House, if they found, on the Third Reading, that the measure was not likely to receive the assent of both the great parties in Ireland, would not hesitate to vote against it.
§ MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)
said he had had an opportunity of addressing his constituents on the Bill; and he found it was a matter on which they were prepared to act generously. Although it was true that the British taxpayer would become responsible for the whole of the purchase money, yet it was only the landlords' interest that was being purchased; and in a great many cases, especially in the case of a small holding, a great part of the property was the creation of the tenant. Therefore the amount for which the British taxpayer would be liable would in many cases be less than half the total value of the holding. That was an aspect of the case which he had put before his constituents, and they were quite satisfied that the security was good, and that the responsibility would not be by any means serious. The Amendment, if accepted, might enlarge the scope of the transaction by something like 20 per cent. But even if it did, he hoped the Chief Secretary, having regard to the great public object to be achieved, would not shrink from it.
§ MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)
said there was no greater argument in favour of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary trying to meet both sides of the House than that used by the hon. Member for Stoke, who had pointed out to the Committee that there could be no risk. That was absolutely clear, and for the sake of the general harmony of the Committee he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give way on this point, which was not one that affected the principle of the Bill.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said the Committee certainly ought to arrive at some decision. He had given his ground for arriving at the decision he had, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman pressed that matter to a division he would be obliged to vote against him. Personally he thought 983 that was the proper course, but in the absence of the British taxpayer he would not perhaps be justified in taking a course which might preclude the question being considered on a future occasion. It was possible that it might be held that having passed the words in the Bill as they at present existed, any change would be of a monetary character, and that the question could not be reopened. Although he thought there was a good deal to be said for not drawing largely on the funds of those best circumstanced in Ireland, still he should allow that consideration to germinate in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and discuss the matter at a later stage of the Bill. That, however, could not be done except by the hon. and gallant Member withdrawing the Amendment, when they could put in the words of the hon. Member for South Tyrone "as amended by this Act."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the suggestion he had just made, and pointed out that the hon. and gallant Member in withdrawing his Amendment would not be in any way prejudiced.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he should withdraw his Amendment with great pleasure. He would just like to say he was extremely glad the right hon. Gentleman had taken the course he had, and he hoped the debate which had taken place would have a good effect.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
In page 1, line 13, after the word 'Acts' to insert the words 'as amended by this Act.'"—(Mr. T. W. Russell.)
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said the Amendment he now proposed to move raised the most important question, in the opinion of the Irish Members, in Clause 1, and, in fact, the most important question in the whole Bill. It raised the question of zones of limitation. He was extremely glad he had been called upon to move this Amendment in the 984 face of similar Amendments on the Paper, as it was necessary that there should be a clear-cut issue on which to take the decision of the House. The universal opinion on the tenant side in Ireland an opinion which was largely shared by a certain class of landlords, was that the zone limits of this Bill were absurd and iniquitous. There were two limits. There was the limit on the minimum price and the limit on the maximum price which the tenant was called upon to pay before he could take advantage of the Bill. Take the minimum price first. Some Gentlemen were in favour of the abolition of both these limits, and one of the Amendments on the Paper before him proposed to abolish both, but the opinion of the tenants of Ireland was that so far as the limitation of the minimum reduction and the maximum price was concerned it ought to be retained. In the Bill it was fixed at 10 per cent., but the tenants thought that was too low, and that it ought to be raised from 10 to 25 per cent. It might be asked why not abolish these limits altogether and leave the law as it was at present? In the law as it stood there was no limitation, but, on the other hand, the duty was thrown on the Land Commission to hold an inquiry into the value of the land in order that they might be able to say that the price at which it was bought was not too high, and that the holding was a good security for the loan. In such a case there was no need of a limit. But this Bill was based on a different principle. This Bill was based on the theory that the value of the holding should be abolished, and that the Land Commission should be compelled to sanction the loan. In those circumstances it was almost necessary that there should be some limitation of the maximum price the tenant should pay, otherwise if he paid too large a price the security of the State would be impaired or destroyed. Therefore the convention of the tenants of Ireland advocated this limit. He therefore did not ask for its abolition, but a small enlargement of the limitation. But he saw no reason whatever for the other limitation. As the Bill stood, no tenant could purchase his holding unless he paid at least 985 the minimum price mentioned in the Bill. Although landlord and tenant might agree to a price as fair and reasonable, it would not be possible to carry out the purchase unless the price complied with this limitation. Could it be seriously argued that under a so-called voluntary Bill the State should step in and upset bargains on the ground that the landlord was selling his land too cheaply? Irish landlords, by their ability, keen business instincts, and power of organisation and resistance, were well able to take care of themselves in this matter, and it was ludicrous to say in a voluntary Bill that the State must have power to step in and prevent a landlord selling his land at a price which he considered was fair and just. The restriction was not wanted for the protection of the State, because the lower the price the tenant paid the better the security of the State. Furthermore, not only was the restriction absurd, but it might work manifest and gross injustice.
Everybody knew that all over Ireland there were holdings which were not worth anything like twenty-two years' purchase of the second-term rents. That was admitted by the framers of the Bill, because they had provided that the limitation should not apply to congested districts or congested estates, which were defined as being estates on which one half of the tenants were under a certain valuation. Scarcely an estate could be found on which there were not holdings so poor and small that a price of twenty-two years purchase would be an absurdity. Under the operation of the Bill either those holdings would be excluded from any proposed purchase, or the unfortunate tenants would be tempted into offering an extravagant price, with the result that the security of the State would be imperilled, if not destroyed, and the whole future of this question endangered. He had not heard a single sound argument in favour of the proposal from any point of view whatever. He had anticipated that the Chief Secretary's reply would have been that the Commissioners would put these holdings together and call them congested estates, but it was clear from his declaration that the right hon. Gentleman had no idea of the Commissioners 986 holding one or two such holdings to be an estate within the meaning of the Bill. On the Chief Secretary's own admission, therefore, something would have to be inserted to protect these poor holdings. He had shown that this limitation was not in the interest of the State and the taxpayers, and that it was manifestly against the interest of the tenant and against common justice. Was it in the interest of the landlord? He could not conceive why the Irish landlords as a body had not joined heartily in the demand for the abolition of the limitation. The only defence of it that he had heard was a reference in passing by the Attorney-General for Ireland to the effect that it was necessary to protect the landlords from undue pressure to sell at a low price. Such an argument would not stand examination for a moment. If a landlord pleaded the provision of the Bill as a reason for not selling at, say, eighteen years purchase, the tenants would at once reply that under the Act of 1896 he could declare a reduction of his existing rents for the purpose of the sale, and thus come within the limitation. From that point of view, therefore, the limitation was absolutely worthless. But it had been argued that the abolition of the limitation would lead to renewed agitation and conflict between classes in Ireland. If he really believed that, it would have a serious influence on his mind, but he believed exactly the opposite. If the Government abolished the limit, and left the landlord and tenant free to bargain, there would be no undue interference, and the bargaining would go on amicably all over the country. But, if they retained the limit, the maximum reduction would inevitably be taken by the people as the minimum they ought to ask, and all over the country there would be an organised attempt to obtain that as the minimum reduction. He was convinced, therefore, that, in the interests of the landlords themselves, as well as of the peace of the country, and in order to destroy the chance of a renewal of class conflict, this limitation ought to be abolished.
Possibly it would be said that the tenants' representatives agreed to this at the Land Conference. The Report 987 of that Conference was the result of a compromise. Each side gave up something for the sake of peace. The tenants' representatives originally proposed there should be a minimum but no maximum reduction, but in order to prevent the absolute breakdown of the meeting, and in return for concessions on other points, they gave way on this. For his own part, if the Chief Secretary had embodied the Conference Report in full in the Bill, he would have upheld it, and he believed the Irish tenantry would have accepted it; but it was childish and not honest to pick out one portion, and, rejecting others, declare that the tenants had agreed to it and were bound by it. He certainly did not feel himself bound by one portion of the Report, when other portions which had been conceded by the other side in return were struck out. It was impossible to exaggerate the importance of this Amendment. If the Chief Secretary could see his way to make a concession on this point, there was no earthly doubt that on almost every other part of the Bill they would be able after argument to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement. But if the right hon. Gentleman adopted a non possumus attitude, he feared it would be beyond the power of the best friends of the Bill, and the policy it represented, to make the measure appear attractive or satisfactory to the people of Ireland. He felt most keenly upon this subject, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman to weigh carefully what he and others had said on various sides of the House. The fate of this Bill depended upon these discussions. He did not mean so much the passage of the Bill, because the right hon. Gentleman had the power to pass it in spite of anything they might say; but he was speaking more of what would happen in the future in regard to whether this Bill was going to provide a practical settlement of the Irish land question, and whether it was going to carry out the hopes cherished by them during the last few months, or whether it was going to be one more of the many failures of British statesmen to deal satisfactorily with this question. He earnestly commended the Amendment he had now the honour to move to the favourable consideration of the Committee.
In page 1, line 15, to leave out from the word 'advance,' to end of Sub-section (2), and insert the words 'provided that the purchase annuity payable under this Act will be, in the case of the purchase of a holding, subject to a judicial rent fixed or agreed to since the passing of the Act of 1896, not less than 15 per cent. below the existing rent, and, in the case of the purchase of a holding subject to a judicial rent fixed before that date or of a holding which is not subject to a judicial rent but the tenancy in which is one to which in the opinion of the Land Commission the Land Purchase Acts apply, not less than 25 per cent. below the existing rent.'"—(Mr. John Redmond.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word 'or' in line 18, stand part of the clause."
§ MR. FLOWER (Bradford, W.)
said he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that upon the question of Amendments to Clause 1 depended, he would not say the whole future of the Bill, but undoubtedly to a very large extent its successful working in Ireland. They ought not to forget that this was a Bill to facilitate voluntary purchase in Ireland. The real force behind the Bill was that notable Conference in Dublin, which achieved the remarkable result of uniting the owners and the occupiers of the soil in Ireland. He joined with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford in regretting that the Government did not accept the terms drawn up in the Report of that Conference. In March last the Chief Secretary said that in view of the recommendations of the Conference Report and other recommendations from authoritative sources he was willing to provide that the landlord might make his own arrangement if they fell within the policy of the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had not complained that the provision in the Bill, which provided for a 10 per cent. reduction, had been raised to 15 per cent. The hon. Member wanted to know why they objected to sweeping away altogether the lower limit. He wished to know why landlord and tenant should not be allowed to agree for a lower price than the minimum in the Bill. A good many answers might be given to this point. The hon. and learned Member ought to consider something about the remainder man. He had been told that the great insurance 989 companies in England had several million pounds invested in Irish securities. They knew how necessary it was to provide reasonable security against the undue depreciation of a huge amount of capital invested like that. They ought to prevent the limit for sacrificing his estate, and they should remember that under this Bill no notice whatever was given to the remainder man. One had to bear in mind the necessity of looking after the interests of the remainder man upon this question. He thought they did get roughly a Court of uniformity under this Bill, and they prevented the sum being made very much lower than others. If they had a great fluctuation between those annuities they might have fresh sources of discontent in Ireland. Those were some of the reasons which made these limitations necessary. As to whether the limitations proposed were the best he had some doubt. He believed the Conference terms were far more favourable to the landlords and the tenants than the terms under this Bill. He thought if the Government had risen to the full height of a great occasion this measure would have been far more satisfactory to the great bulk of the Irish people, and would certainly have worked without the slightest injury or danger to the English Exchequer, and would have been far more satisfactory than the measure they had before them.
People were apt to forget the difference between second-term and first-term rents. He would give the Committee the particulars of a farm in Ireland. The old rent was £150 a year. The first rent was fixed in 1881, and showed a 20 per cent. reduction, which reduced it virtually to £120. The second-term rent in 1896 gave a reduction of 18 per cent., which reduced the rental to about £100. Under this clause, if it is passed, the highest price the landowner could get was obtained by allowing the tenant a minimum reduction of 10 per cent. on the second-term rent, and charging him at £90 for his annuity. That was in accordance with the terms of the Bill. The purchase money worked out at £2,832, and if they added to that sum 12 per cent. all round it made a total of 990 £3,172, which, if invested at 3¼ per cent. would yield about the present income of the farm. This was about the most favourable case which could occur under Clause 1. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford would see that if this Bill was to be accepted in Ireland by the land-owning classes it must be framed in such a way as to induce those owners to sell who had not hitherto been willing to bring their estates into the market. The present Land Purchase Acts had come to a standstill, not from the unwillingness of the tenants to buy, but from the reluctance of the owners to part with their estates upon what they considered to be unfair terms. If this Bill was to be the great measure which they all hoped it would be, it must bring in those landlords who had hitherto stood aloof. He hoped the Chief Secretary would not lightly abandon the position he had taken up. He had not brought forward an argument which weighed with a large number of people, namely, that these limitations would prevent agitation or undue pressure being placed on tenants by organisations, or the landlords themselves. He was not inclined to think that was a contingency which, under present circumstances, was not likely to occur. He preferred to base his argument in favour of the retention of these limitations on the ground that they were essential to the satisfactory working of a voluntary Bill, and that without them they would not get co-operation between the occupying class and the landlords in Ireland, whose help in the working of the measure was essential to success.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
hoped the Committee would not complain if the debate upon this measure should occupy a little more time than they expected. He could assure the Committee that the debate on Clause 1 would go a long way towards settling the whole Bill. Everything else would be much simpler and much easier. He would have been glad of a Motion to leave out the clause and leave a free and open market as that market existed now under the Land Purchase Acts. But if the Bill was to be amended it must be amended on its own frame, and therefore they were shut 991 up to a consideration of the Bill as it stood. The Chief Secretary had very properly referred to the difficulty of dealing with the subject, at least as regarded finance in the absence of the British taxpayer. The greater part of that afternoon they had had an Irish Parliament, and so far they had got on very well indeed. If the Chief Secretary was anxious about the British taxpayer a few moments ago in regard to the limit he would desire a much larger audience of the representatives of the British taxpayer on the present Amendment. These limits affected the State seriously, and they affected the tenant and the landlord. He had beside him a volume, not a very popular one, of the Dublin Gazette. People did not often look at it, but it contained a mass of information on this question well worth study. He took from the Dublin Gazette of April 3rd—so that it was not ancient history—a decision given by the Irish Land Commission on the application of the Protestant Bishop of Limerick, the right Rev. Dr. Bunbury, in regard to the sale of his estate. That estate consisted of nine holdings and the rent was £632, something like an average of £70 for each holding. This was not a piece of bog in any part of Ireland, but rich substantial land and rather large farms, as they would say in Ireland. The Bishop arranged for the sale of these nine holdings on his estate at eighteen years purchase and the result came to £11,444. The Land Commission sitting in Dublin refused to sanction the advance of £11,444 on the ground that the farms did not give adequate security for that advance. The minimum which the Bishop could receive under the Bill was twenty-two years purchase of these second-term rents—that was the worst that could happen to him—which would bring him £13,904. He could get, if the tenants agreed, twenty-eight years purchase, £17,696. The Land Commission refused to sanction £11,000 on the ground that these holdings were not security for that sum, but the minimum he could get under the Bill would be £13,000 and the maximum £17,000, and he would get his bonus in addition. Where was the British taxpayer now? He wanted hon. Members now to bristle up a bit. 992 If the Chief Secretary was going to appeal to the British taxpayer, he wanted to know what earthly defence there was for a proposal of that kind.
Now he came to North Down. Lord Clanwilliam had an estate there. He had exercised the right which the Land Purchase Acts gave him to sell a single holding. The rent was £16 and the money to be advanced was £320. The Land Commission refused to sanction an advance on the ground that the security was not adequate. What would Lord Clanwilliam get under the Bill? The least would be £352. If the Land Commission felt itself unable to advance £320 on a single farm, how were they to meet the British taxpayer when, without any investigation whatever, they were compelled to pay at least £352 for that farm? He would take the Plummer estate in county Limerick, and he referred to the Dublin Gazette of June 5th. This estate was not a congested estate at all. He did not think there were many congested estates in that county. The landlord and the tenant agreed to sell and buy at a little over seventeen years purchase, and the purchase money was £15,961. The sanction of the Land Commission was refused on the ground that the security was inadequate. Would it be believed that under this Bill, without any inspection at all, the least this man would receive would be £17,908, and the highest would be £22,792, with the bonus in addition? He wanted the British taxpayer to take an interest in this matter. They were now coming to close quarters. Now was the time for his hon. friend the Member for Stoke to get his war paint on. He said that there could not be any possibility of defence for proposals of this kind. They could go over the Dublin Gazette and find case after case such as he had put now. These were not solitary cases. He asked the Chief Secretary a Question the other day. He asked how many applications had been refused since the Land Purchase Acts came into operation because he security was inadequate. Under the Acts of 1885 and 1888, 1,286 applications had been refused, involving £467,872, on the express ground that the security was inadequate, and under the Act of 1891, there were 789 refusals for £175,154, or in all, during the 993 seventeen years the Acts had been in operation, 2,075 cases had been refused for the gross sum of £643,026.
The real truth of the matter was this, and the Committee had better realise it, that there had always been a danger of tenants in arrear with rent being pressed to give more than they ought to give for the land. Up to the present the British taxpayer had had a judicial inspection of the holding; he had got the report of the Land Commission as to the security being adequate; but that now vanished under Clause 1. The taxpayer had no defence whatever against the weakness of the tenant and the pressure of the landlord. He maintained that these limits opened up the gravest question which they would have to discuss. During the Second Reading of the debate the right hon. the Chief Secretary, when speaking of the question of the limits, said that the Land Conference was responsible for the suggestion. Now, that was not so. He entirely agreed with his hon. friend the Member for Waterford on that point. He would, however, give a little more in detail what the Land Conference actually proposed. He would not enter into the question of what the tenants' representatives desired. His hon. friend said that when the Conference met the tenants were in favour of a minimum reduction of 20 per cent. on the second-term rents; but that was not the finding of the Conference. A proposal was made by Lord Dunraven that the reduction on the second-term rents, or the fair equivalent, should be not less than 15 or more than 25 per cent., taking the reductions as in the Act of 1896. It was a curious thing that when that decision was quoted the last part of the sentence was invariably left out. The Government Bill was based on the idea of the Land Conference; that was on the idea of a limit, but it altered every figure, and wholly ignored the proposals for a decadal reduction. In altering 15 to 10 per cent. it lessened the security of the British taxpayer for the advance. That was the first difference made, and he repeated that if they had not the security of inspection they had nothing between the landlord's pressure and the tenant's weakness.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that where the tenant was in arrears and likely to be evicted pressure could be put upon him to purchase his holding at a price that he ought not to give; and the fact that more than 2,000 cases of proposed purchase were rejected by the Land Commission showed what the pressure was. The maximum reduction of the Conference was 25 per cent., but that was altered in the Bill to 30 per cent. Clearly it was imagined that that was to the advantage of the tenant; but how would it operate? The Government were extending the tenant's privileges and advantages, where in ninety cases out of 100 they would be of no use, because the majority of the tenants would not get more than a 20 or 25 per cent. reduction of second term rents. Very few landlords, unless on uneconomic holdings, would sell at more than a 20 or 25 per cent. reduction, therefore the tenants had no advantage in increasing the Conference 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. They struck at the State assuredly in altering 15 to 10, and they struck at the tenant in altering 25 to 30. He maintained, therefore, that it was not fair to quote only one part of the Conference Report and leave the other out.
He came now to the question of ignoring the decadal reductions. Let them see how these operated. There were 80,000 second-term rents fixed. If one of these holdings were taken with a rent of £100, that rent was reduced in 1882 by 20 per cent. In 1897 the tenant again went into Court and had another 20 per cent. taken off the £80 rent, and that brought the rent down to £62 instead of £100. They commenced the purchase operation on a £62 rent, and suppose a tenant got a mean reduction of between 20 and 30 per cent. he would be in the position of paying an annuity for sixty years of £50 instead of £100. That man would be placed in a tolerably good position; but the Conference Report put him in a still better position, and with no loss either to the State, the landlord, or anybody else. The Conference Report proposed that a tenant at the end of ten years should get a 10 per cent. reduction, and at the expiration of a second term of ten years another reduction, and, at the expiration of a third term of ten years, a further reduction. All that was done by the Act of 1896. It had this enormous advantage; it was a great help to the tenants 995 if bad times came, to have a lessening annuity to pay; and it was an enormous security to the State. Who had asked for the limits in the Bill? He had heard from the hon. Member for Bradford that day, for the first time, what he considered to be something like a real reason for these limits. The suggestion was that a limited owner, an owner who had very little interest in his estate might sell at a low rate, and so set the price for the whole district, his object being to get hold of the bonus. He was not saying that that was not a good object; he thought it was very likely to happen. There were a whole lot of "scallywag" landlords in Ireland who would sell their holdings for half nothing, accept the bonus, and bolt with the proceeds. That was a thing which ought to be guarded against. But was not that a small object, indeed, compared with the price which the British taxpayer was going to pay? Beyond and above everything else, the Committee ought to devote its attention to these limits. Who asked for them? He challenged the Chief Secretary to show a single document from the Landowners' Convention—he had carefully read all their literature for years; he was impregnated with it—asking for a minimum price. He could perfectly understand that if this were a Bill for the compulsory sale of land, it would be absolutely necessary to put in a minimum price; but a minimum price in a voluntary Bill was a contradiction in terms.
The whole thing meant a system of preferential tariffs for the Irish landlords, and he objected to all preferential tariffs. He objected on another ground. The first limit of 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. Has not only defensible, but, when they had abolished the inspection of estates, it was absolutely necessary. Judicial rents were all very good, but they were not infallible; and it was little enough that the British taxpayer should have a 15 per cent. reduction before the advance was sanctioned. But there was no logical defence for the maximum reduction of 30 per cent. It was so absurd and outrageous that, if the British taxpayers were properly represented in this House, it would be impossible to carry such a proposal. They were told 996 that the maximum reduction was to prevent pressure being put on the landlord. That was the suggestion of his right hon. friend the Attorney-General for Ireland. What pressure had been put upon the Irish landlords to sell during the seventeen years that the Land Purchase Acts had been in operation? He would prove that the pressure had been all the other way. The cases which had been refused showed that pressure had been put by the landlords on the tenants to agree to terms that could not be sanctioned. If no pressure were put on the landlords in time of war, when the landlord and the tenant never met except in a Land Court, or some other Court, and when his right hon. friend the Attorney-General never met the tenants except in a Crimes Court, how could pressure arise in the milleninum that had now arrived. The truth of the matter was that the tenants could not put pressure on the Irish landlords. The landlords were in possession of the soil, and the Bill was not compulsory. His right hon. friend the Attorney-General represented, as he himself did, an almost purely agricultural constituency. Did his right hon. friend anticipate that in any part of the North of Ireland any undue pressure would be put upon a landlord to sell his estate at a price at which he ought not to sell it. With a voluntary Bill the tenants could exercise no pressure whatever that he was aware of. Why should the Committee assume that the old war was going to break out again? Why should a limit be put in the Bill which meant, "Thus far you shall go and no farther." Above all, why should the same terms be exacted for an agricultural slum as would be exacted for good land. He held that the Irish landlord was doing uncommonly well, and did not need protection. He was getting an enormous price for his land, and a large bonus in addition. He would be materially aided in the cost of transfer, and he would get payment in cash instead of in depreciated stock. There was no logical defence for the maximum reduction; and he hoped the Government would be induced to withdraw it.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he sincerely hoped that his right hon. friend the Chief Secretary would not accept the 997 Amendment, or anything like it. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had only a very cursory knowledge of a great part of Ireland. He had no doubt scurried through other parts of the country.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
said he did not see the point of that observation. The hon. Gentleman, and also the hon. Member for Waterford, said it was not fair to take the Conference Report, the reason being that the Conference was composed of men representing a variety of conflicting interests, and that it was very difficult to arrive at any conclusion at all. But the Conference did arrive at a conclusion; and he maintained that the Government was, for the very same reasons entitled to adopt the principle in the Bill, because the same difficulty of arriving at a conclusion was equally great in this House. In expressing that hope, he echoed the universal demand of the Irish landlords that the Government should adhere to the zone principle. The hon. Member for South Tyrone spoke as if every landlord was a devil, and every tenant an angel. As a matter of fact, landlords and tenants were very much of a muchness in looking after their own interests. With reference to pressure being put on the landlords, did the hon. Member or the Committee never hear of groups of tenants, oftentimes under outside leadership, coming to the agent or the landlord, and saying, "We want to purchase, and we will only give you so much, and pay 4 per cent. on the purchase money." The pressure would be now still worse when the percentage was reduced. He entreated the Committee, when landlords were spoken of, to picture the great proportion of the landlords of Ireland as men who had by their own industry, or by the industry of their fathers or grandfathers, invested money earned in business in what they conceived to be the best security—the land of their own country. Those were the men who had to be considered; and it was mainly for their protection that the minimum and maximum reductions were required. The 998 hon. Member for South Tyrone punctuated almost every sentence of his speech by a reference to the interests of the British taxpayer. It was a new thing to hear the hon. Member talk of the interests of anyone except a tenant. It was new zeal on his part to talk about the British taxpayer. The hon. Member referred to instances where landlord and tenants had agreed to sale and purchase, and in which the terms had been refused. He himself had in his mind a particular property, the landlord of which was driven to sell to the tenants, the tenants agreeing to pay seventeen and a half years purchase. Four years afterwards, the Land Commission honeycombed the agreement by allowing no tenant to pay more than sixteen years purchase, and some only paid twelve years purchase. One tenant who had agreed to pay seventeen and a half years purchase, after four years, had his price fixed at thirteen years purchase. His original rent was £17, and his annual instalment after purchase was only £9. He recently sold that holding for £250. In a case of that kind the interest of the State would have been sufficiently safeguarded, had he purchased at twenty-one years on the original rent.
The hon. Member for South Tyrone had left out of the question the position of middlemen, the leaseholder, the encumbrancers, the mortgagee, and the remainder man, all of whom had to be considered. Were they going to make it mandatory on the Land Commissioners to agree to any price which the landlord and tenant chose to agree to, no matter how it extinguished the rights and interest of all others concerned. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had said he did not remember a single passage in the Report of the Convention which dealt with the maximum and minimum prices. That might be true in the letter but not in the spirit. Both the Landlords' Convention and the Tenants' Conference arrived at practically the same conclusion that the landlord should receive so much cash as would yield him at 3 per cent. his former income, and that fixed the minimum price of the land at once. The universal opinion of the landlords of Ireland was that if the Government gave way on this question of zones the Bill would be wholly inoperative, and trouble would arise in the south and west of Ireland which would defeat the object 999 they all had, which was to come to a compromise and settle the difficult and complicated question of the land in Ireland.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
said that up to the present not one of the 101 representatives of Ireland had said one word against the Amendment. The objections to it had been confined to two Irish gentleman who represented English constituencies. The hon. and gallant Member assumed to speak for the universal opinion of Ireland, and laid stress on the fact that unless these limitations were preserved the result would be conflict with the tenant. Would there be no possibility of that conflict if these limitations were fixed? It was almost impossible to imagine why the landlords should object to the Amendment. The fact was that the retention of these limitations would be an incentive to, and would absolutely force, combination, and keep up the whole evil conflict and agitation in Ireland. If the Irish tenants were to be restrained within the limitations which would unquestionably worsen their position by two or three years purchase, the inevitable result would be that they would be driven to go for the highest maximum price the law laid down as a reduction, whereas if the Amendment were agreed to, and if the law only laid down the one standard of maximum price, anyone who knew the people and their present position knew that the tendency would be that they would be content with exceedingly little more than the maximum price laid down in the Act. In the great majority of cases there would be the strongest disinclination for anything like strife and conflict and the whole thing would be arranged on moderate terms. If the British taxpayers were anxious to keep out bad blood and agitation in Ireland, they would not hesitate a moment about giving up these limitations. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's attitude was part of the old vice of not trusting the people. No people in the world understood their own interests better than the Irish, and the moment fair terms were offered to them they would at once endeavour to get out of their horrible position and to improve their holdings, but if they were confined within these limitations their worst traits would be brought out, and they would be forced to fight for the greatest limitation. 1000 Everybody was agreed that the State could not be the gainer by the tenants paying excessive rents; on the contrary men who were seduced by this Bill to make an improvident bargain would be a burden and a danger by-and-bye to the State The landlords who had got their money, and had got out of the partnership, might not care whether the Bill succeeded or not, but the State would have to deal with these men in future years, possibly years of severe distress or some terrible national calamity. There was no danger of general repudiation, but if the tenants were forced into improvident and impossible bargains the State might easily find honest poverty much more difficult to deal with than any conspiracy of repudiation. For the sake of the future peace of Ireland it was of the utmost importance these limitations should be removed. Under the Bill even the poorest tenants might be seduced into paying twenty-eight years purchase, and before ten years had elapsed they would be in a state of bankruptcy. Possibly not many would make so foolish a bargain, but why should the temptation be placed in their way?
Hon. Members could not realise what a powerful attraction the prospect of any reduction of rent was. Large bodies of tenants would risk anything to get some immediate relief, and the danger of these improvident bargains would apply principally to the poorest and most defenceless class of the community. The definition of the new congested estates would leave at least 100,000 of the poorest tenants in the country isolated and unprotected, to become victims of this minimum price. It was an extremely narrow definition, entirely depending on what the Estates Commissioners chose to consider as mountain or bog land, and in any case applying to a very small number of estates. In the richest parts of the country, side by side with the better-off tenants, would be a mass of these poor people; the weakest would go to the wall; they would have to do as their richer neighbours did, with the result that they would soon be in arrears, they would be sold up, and their farms would be grabbed. By excluding tenants on congested estates the Government themselves confessed that this minimum price 1001 was dangerous and indefensible. It would place a legal premium upon the creation of a new, and possibly more troublesome, Irish difficulty. As to the second portion of the Amendment they admitted that for the protection of the State, as well as of the tenant, it was as necessary to retain the minimum reduction as it was to abolish the minimum price. Unless that were done a minute inspection and valuation of over 300,000 holdings would have to be made, with the result that generations would probably pass before any general transfer of land was effected. While, with a view to the more expeditious working of the Bill, he recognised the necessity for this minimum reduction, he strongly urged that the existing minimum reduction of 15 or 20 per cent. would be totally inadequate for the protection either of the State or of the tenant. Experience had shown that the better off a man was the better the bargain he would make. The poorest men were almost certain to make the worst bargain the Bill would allow. In the matter of rent fixing, out of 330,000 judicial rents 140,000 were not fixed in Court at all, but were dictated in the rent office by the landlord or his agent, and submitted to by the tenant under the pressure of arrears or some other element of compulsion. The consequence was that Mr. Gladstone's Act, while it had done wonders for the better-off tenants, had done next to nothing in the way of a radical remedy for most of the poor tenants. The same thing had happened in the case of second-term rents. Of the 79,000 which had been fixed, about 34,000 were fixed, not in Court, but in the rent office. The result was that where tenants fought the thing out in Court they got reductions averaging 23 or 24 per cent., while the poor people who were wiled into so-called voluntary agreements got only 19 per cent., and in Connaught the reduction went as low as 16 per cent. Much the same thing would happen under this limitation. The poor people in arrears, desperately anxious for any relief, would be induced to make the worst bargain possible. The Bill would be the salvation of the landlords. As many of them as pleased would be enabled to remain, while to the remainder the Bill would give at least five more 1002 years purchase than they could obtain under the Ashbourne or Balfour Acts. He did not grudge them those generous terms so long as they did not insist on the tenants being two or three years purchase worse off than under the Ashbourne Acts. That was the crux of the whole situation. As the hon. Member for Bradford had stated, if the recommendations of the Land Conference had been adopted in their entirety, and the additional £8,000,000 bonus given, the Bill would have gone through without a single night's friction. The trouble was that a section of the landlords were attempting to use the advantage given them by this minimum price to extort from the tenants the £8,000,000 which the British Treasury refused to bear, and that, from the Irish point of view, was simply intolerable.
If the landlords were willing to accept the tremendous advantages they had been offered owing to the magnanimity of the tenants, which gave them at least five years additional purchase above what they could have got under the Ashbourne Acts, and if they were willing to accept from the tenants the prices which had ruled in the open market for the last twenty years, he thought the landlords would make a superb bargain. Beyond that he did not think the intelligent tenants in Ireland would go. Irish tenants had no interest whatsoever in bidding one pound more for their land than had been given in the open market for the last thirty years. The prospects of agriculture in Ireland had become gradually worse, and so had the prospects of the landlords until the Land Conference showed them the daylight. If once the magnificent terms now open to the landlords owing to the tenants' hearty desire for peace, were rejected, and if the Land Conference bargain should unhappily break down completely, the tenants would have no alternative but to return to their old methods, and then the landlords' interests would not again be a very saleable commodity. Those who honestly desired to be the friends of the landlords ought to bear that fact in mind. As to any attempt to inflate the price of the landlords' interest he agreed that the landlords had not tried to do that at the Conference, but if they did try to do it 1003 the tenants would have no alternative but to make efforts to restore the land market to its natural state. In justice to the landlords of Ireland he was bound to say that up to the present there had not been any considerable attempt in that direction, and he hoped there would not be. The whole question came to this—let the Irish people have the land substantially on the Ashbourne Acts terms, and then the whole trouble in Ireland would be over. He said that to-night with more confidence than ever, but he was bound to add that if the landlords were ill-advised and were not content with the splendid advantages that had been given, and with being at least five years purchase better off than under the Ashbourne Acts, if they insisted upon attempting to make the Irish tenants two or three years worse off than they would be under the Ashbourne Acts, or than they would be if this Act was not passed at all, then the thing would be certain to end badly both for the landlords and the tenants.
This Amendment represented the unanimous opinion of the people of Ireland, and of 100 out of 103 Irish representatives. Therefore in proposing this Amendment his hon. friend spoke in the interests, not only of the people of Ireland, but also of the vast mass of the British taxpayers. If the right hon. Gentleman would only put down his foot upon this question and say that he recognised that they ought not to fetter the tenants any more than they fettered the landlords, and if he would recognise that this wretched minimum price was only really demanded by one very small section of the Irish landlords, who did not love this Bill any more than they loved the Irish people, and who did not represent more than one-tenth of the Irish landlords; if the right hon. Gentleman in this matter would only yield to what was the unanimous opinion of Ireland and to what was in the interests of the British taxpayers who understood this question; if he would yield upon this question he agreed with the hon. Member for South Tyrone that the rest of the progress of this Bill would be a very smooth and easy matter, and he would lay the best foundation for the complete success of this Bill in Ireland by trusting the 1004 people and not putting upon them the almost intolerable disability which this clause would inflict.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
said he did not think there could be any division of opinion upon the Opposition side of the House when they saw how this provision squared with the rights of the British taxpayers on the one hand, and the rights of the Irish tenantry on the other. It appeared to him to be a very strange proposition that His Majesty's Government should propose a hard and fast line in regard to the price for every variety of Irish land. That seemed to him to go to the very root of the entire situation. There were tracts of land in Ireland which any landlord or tenant in Ireland would say that to pay twenty-two years purchase of the present rental to acquire it would be a perfect outrage, and yet that was what was proposed as the minimum under this Bill. The hon. Member for Tyrone gave various illustrations, and two of them he would venture to repeat. He mentioned two cases, one from Limerick and one from County Down. In the Limerick case there was an agreement for a sale at eighteen years purchase, and the entire figure was £11,444. Under the scheme of this Bill if they insisted upon the minimum the sum total would be not £11,444, but £13,904. In this case four years purchase would be added by this Bill to what the landlord and tenant were willing to agree upon. In the County Down case £320 was agreed upon, or twenty years purchase, and under this Bill the sum would be £400, or, in other words, the figure would be raised from twenty to twenty-two years purchase. What he wanted to know was why should Parliament commit itself to a situation antagonistic to what landlords and tenants were willing to arrange between themselves? They had to consider the finances not merely from the point of view of the Irish tenant, but in this way, that unless the Irish tenant was put squarely upon the land and made to live under conditions of peace and contentment and comparative prosperity, to that extent the security of the British Exchequer 1005 was impaired. How did the British Exchequer stand? The two cases referred to showed eighteen years and sixteen years purchase, but the Land Commission declined to sanction that transaction, and why? Because they said there was not adequate security for the State. If there was not adequate security under the existing law to deal with these transactions; if there was not good security in eighteen and twenty years transactions to justify the Land Commission, what was there to justify the Government in imposing a minimum of twenty-two years purchase, thus impairing the security of the British Exchequer.
The right hon. Gentleman had said that the Irish tenants must be placed in a position to work out their own salvation. The people asked to have the Ashbourne terms, because these were the terms which had been arrived at after investigation by competent tribunals throughout Ireland. Was it exorbitant for the people to say, "Start us with the privileges we have been accustomed to in times past?" That was denied apparently on account of some superior force at the back of the proposal. The superior force was to operate so cruelly that this beneficent measure would be withdrawn from every class of tenantry unless they would pay more in order to take advantage of the Act than they would have to pay under private arrangement without the Act. He knew perfectly well what the land hunger was—how these men were driven to accept hard terms. He was glad to hear the expression of opinion that there would be a long continued attempt to make the best of these terms, however harsh, but the British Exchequer had got to be considered. They were to put these men in a financial situation in which they would be placed on a proper economic position, and in which they would be able to make a living and to work out their own destiny for a long period of years. If we started on a false and usurious basis we would find strained relations between the British Exchequer on the one hand and the tenant on the other, which he for one did not contemplate with much satisfaction. He put this to the Chief Secretary, it was not merely a settlement of terms here. Under this Bill there was no compulsion, but, if these terms were refused, and if the landlords of Ireland forced the tenants of Ireland 1006 to make a bargain so tight, then the tenantry would ask the assistance of this House to make the Bill a good deal tighter for the landlords than was expected. If terms were forced on them the tenants, too, might have the right in all the disturbed districts to use the weapon of the Land Commission which was now granted under Section 5 only to the owner, and to start by that operation a system of compulsion wherever a majority of the tenants on the estate demanded a settlement and that the peace in a particular quarter should be secured thereby. He saw, however, difficulty in the cardinal proposal of the Government. This proposal to make a hard and fast line seemed to him inconsistent with every interest involved. It was inconsistent with the land itself, which varied so much—which yielded only eight to ten years purchase in some districts and thirty years purchase in others. It was inconsistent with the tenants' claim that they should have their historical position under the Ashbourne Acts. It was inconsistent with the British Exchequer, because it was landing us in the position of financing a transaction which on voluntary lines, apart from this Bill, would never have been attempted by landlord or tenant. It was a matter for the taxpayers of the United Kingdom, and he for one, here and now, entered his definite protest against a financial scheme which would set a class of tenantry on their feet in Ireland in a tottering instead of a firm and settled position. He thought that the scheme of the Government, by drawing this line, was faulty and harsh, and that in the end it might prove injurious.
§ MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.)
said he wished to join in the appeal to remove the limits stated in the Bill. The working of the Land Purchase Act in County Kerry showed that a great danger would be obviated if these limits were removed and the tenants allowed to come to a fair and free bargain. As a young politician, he could not understand why the landlord section in the country should be allowed freedom to do as this Bill proposed, in regard to the sale of land, and to get a bonus for doing it, while the tenants, who had as much interest in the land, and whose future 1007 would be connected with it, should be limited between certain points. As had been pointed out by several speakers, the poorer class of tenants in certain districts were to a large extent dependent on the intelligence of the larger and better class. It would be easy for the larger class of tenants to give a larger price for their holdings, and it might be supposed that they, acting on the usual dictates of human nature, would be inclined to argue the poorer classes into bargains which, before many years were passed, they would have reason to regret. He knew some cases where purchases had taken place under the Ashbourne Acts, and where the tenants were now regretting their desire to become owners, because they had been induced to give prices for their holdings which rendered it hard for them to maintain themselves. He instanced the case of land on the estate of the Earl of Kenmare, all round the town of Killarney, where owing to different conditions they found different classes. Terms which would be quite reasonable and proper in one parish, where there was good land, would be quite unjust and unbearable in another where the land was mostly bog and moorland. The highest reduction obtainable under this Bill might be reasonable where there was good land, but it might be totally inadequate for the poorer holdings. The tenants were only too anxious to become owners of their holdings, and the Irish representatives would be slow to do anything to kill that honest and laudable desire. That desire, however, was so strong that they might be induced to enter into bargains which were unsuitable from every point of view. The Government ought to stand evenly between the landlords and tenants. There were landlords who might be inclined to enter into fair and reasonable bargains with their tenants, but there were others who would utilise the limits within the Bill to excuse themselves from entering into reasonable bargains, in the hope that the tenants would agree to small reductions in order that they might become owners of their holdings. He knew cases in Kerry where small farmers, side by side and similarly circumstanced, had to pay rents as widely different as it was possible to imagine.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.