§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
Any Minister who asks leave from this House to introduce an Irish Land Bill must claim a special measure of indulgence, and I throw myself on the indulgence of the House. The subject is technical to a degree almost beyond belief; and there is this further difficulty, that I am in this chamber attempting to address two audiences at the same time—one a comparatively small audience who are versed in all the technicalities of the subject, who have discussed them by speech and in the Press at intervals for years, and I might almost say de die in diem during the last few months; and the other a 182 comparatively large audience who, in view of the nature of the technicalities, have given them a very wide berth; and yet, in our deliberate opinion, both audiences are, if not equally, still both deeply interested in any prospect of a possible solution of the land question in Ireland. The general interest has, unless rumour has misled me, been focussed latterly—perhaps unduly—upon one point in any possible solution. Now, if I am to retain the attention of those who are now present, the last thing I desire is that as each proposition is explained they should be balancing in their minds whether the proposition should be viewed in one light or the other. The point upon which interest is, perhaps unduly, focussed is whether the Government think it possible to deal successfully with the situation by the use of credit alone, or whether the Government hold that, in addition to the credit operation, there must also be some cash aid. Well, Sir, the Government think that cash aid is necessary. They think it essential or they would not embody it in the Bill; but they think it subsidiary, and they attach more importance to the credit than to the cash operation I have said this at the outset in order that the minds of those who listen to me may not stray away along the path of speculation. All I say must be viewed in the light of the statement that both operations will be employed. I wish, so far as it may be possible, to explain the proposals of the Government rather than to argue in their favour; and still less is it my desire to argue against possible alternatives. I wish very briefly to touch on the nature of the problem; then, briefly also, to gauge its extent; and, in the third place, I shall seek to delineate its shape and the broad features of any solution to be proposed. If I pass hastily over the nature of the problem and come promptly to our proposals, I would remind hon. Members that I may be excused for taking that course in view of the fact that last year I introduced a measure of a far less comprehensive character—it was just a year ago, Lady Day last year—when I did go at great length and in detail into the many reasons which at that time led the Government to hold that some drastic reform in land legislation for Ireland was imperative. Let me say now that those reasons have increased, that they have been aggravated, and that the load of liti- 183 gation to which I then referred presses more heavily than it then did on the prospects of the main industry of Ireland.
Coming then, very briefly, to the nature of the problem, I maybe asked at the outset why exceptional agrarian legislation is necessary for Ireland. I may be told that land in England is bought and hired in a free market. That is true, and where that is possible it is eminently desirable. But in Ireland it is impossible; and not only because of the natural state of the case is it not possible, but because it has been prohibited by enactment after enactment passed in this House.
There is a great distinction. Why is this thing so impossible in Ireland, when it is possible in England? I will advance only two reasons. I could advance a good many if there were time. My first is an historical reason. In England our forms of land tenure are complicated, no doubt, though not nearly so complicated as in Ireland. There have been modifications of feudal services and so forth; but still it may be said that they have come down to us without any marked solution of continuity for a period of over 800 years. They depend on statutory enactments, but they are consecrated by usage which goes back beyond man's memory, or, at any rate beyond any popular memory of internecine strife. I need not elaborate the contrast. It is notorious that the case historically has been widely different in Ireland. I will only give one other reason—an economic reason—coming down to the present day. In England, I might add in Scotland, if this or that landlord or tenant unfortunately fails it the pursuit of agriculture, if agriculture as an industry is depressed throughout a whole countryside, there are avenues at hand—too enticing, some think, for the best welfare of the country—leading straight to great centres of industry or commerce. Freedom of trade and free contract in industry and commerce have reacted beneficently upon land transactions in England and in Scotland; but in Ireland that is not the case. These alternatives do not exist for all classes in Ireland, where, for the landlord as well as for the tenant, failure in agriculture means exile beyond the sea. If these distinctions exist—I do not wish to elaborate them 184 further—they go far to explain, and if they go far to explain, they go far to justify, differential treatment of agrarian problems in Ireland. If the prosperity of agriculture in Ireland shrinks, it induces stresses and contractions throughout every layer of society, so that, as in geological formations, there is a tendency towards disruption and catastrophe. I have always held the view, and I hold it now, that if any illegality ensues it is the duty of any Government to make those guilty of illegalities amenable to the law. I have never hesitated to express that view or to give effect to it when, to my regret, the occasion seemed to demand it. But may we not, ought we not, to consider the possibility of alleviating these social stresses? And if we ought to do so, if that be a duty, is it not an obligation more easy of performance at a moment when unexampled events have been happening in Ireland, at a moment when testimony reaches us of a general desire, throughout all classes, all creeds, and all parties—throughout the whole community of Ireland—that some lasting basis of agrarian peace shall be found?
I have seen a suggestion which perhaps I ought to scout, and which I do scout, that this unanimity in Ireland is in part simulated; that it covers some indirect approach towards treating constitutional problems on more favourable terms. I am a Unionist, I am a member of a Unionist Government, and I believe that Ireland will always be bound by close constitutional ties to this country. But I would put it hypothetically as high as this. If Ireland, within the political limits of the Empire, occupied a constitutional position analogous to that of Canada, or, to take a more fantastic and more monstrous supposition, if the whole history of the last thousand years had been other than that which it has been, and Ireland, outside the political limits of the Empire, occupied a constitutional position, let us say, analogous to that of Egypt, I should still affirm that, in view of the geographical position of Ireland, it was to the material interest of this country that the main industry of such a neighbour should be prosperous and secure instead of, as now, precarious and decadent. Yes, I take it that that proposition, which would be true under these hypothetical circumstances, is more true under the conditions which 185 exist, and is, above all, true at a time when the minds of thoughtful men are turning towards the problem of our food supply in the time of war.
Even if that be admitted in part, even if it be true that under the Union it is right that agriculture should be secured in Ireland, I may be asked how we hope to find a remedy by instituting another Land Act. I think there are forty or forty-two on the Statute-book. I admit that the number does tend to discredit in advance any renewed attempt at legislation. But if hon. Members will examine these Acts they will find that they fall into two categories—into a set of Acts dealing with the relations between landlords and tenants and a set of Acts which abolish those relations by enabling the tenant to become the owner of his holding. I do not wish to criticise the Act of 1881; but the House will find that the first set of Acts has failed of anything approaching to complete success, and that the second set of Acts, in so far as they have been applied to Ireland, have been invariably successful. Under the first set of Acts—and I think that I must make this plain to Members sitting for British constituencies who are, perhaps, not familiar with the subject—any Irish landlord or tenant may once in fifteen years apply to have the rent fixed by judicial process. It follows that these two questions, which are peculiarly unsuited to determination by process of law, namely, the amount due to the landlord by virtue of his ownership in the soil and the amount due to the tenant by virtue of his enterprise and improvements—have become in Ireland the subject of perpetual and universal litigation. The landlord puts no capital into the land; I do not think that he could be expected to do so. The tenant is tempted—we are all human—to "run out" his holding during the last three or four years of this period of fifteen years. The land is starved of capital, and it is starved of industry. I was talking not so long ago with a gentleman farmer, a class which Ireland would do well to keep and cherish, who said to me—Perhaps I am the only man in Ireland who does not care, Mr. Wyndham, what provisions you put into your Bill.At the first blush that might be taken as a compliment to me, as a plenary vote of 186 confidence in myself. It was not. What he said threw a light on the situation. He said—I happen to own 400 acres, but I have no control over them, and I take no interest in them. I happen to be the tenant of precisely the same area, 400 acres, and I take the greatest interest in the holding, making a clear profit of so much a year. A man next to me has bought, and where he is paying £1 an acre now I would willingly pay £3 an acre." "Why?" I asked. He answered, "Because he has treated the land with basic slag?" I said, "Why do you not treat your land with basic slag?" He replied, "I have every confidence in the Land Commission, but I am not such a fool as to put twenty or thirty tons of basic slag on the land if it is going to be subjected in a few years to examination by the Sub-Commissioners.The landlords of Ireland are being ruined financially; the tenants are being ruined morally. Agriculture is starved of capital and industry. The taxpayers of this country are paying £140,000 a year for the Land Commission and £1,400,000 for the cost of the police, who are chiefly, and in many districts exclusively, engaged in dealing with illegalities born of agrarian unrest. Is it, then, so miraculous as we are asked to believe that Irish landlords and tenants should have come together and agreed to bury all ancient feuds, and that they should have come forward, with the whole community of Ireland behind them, saying, "We are prepared to do what we conceive to be our part of the contract in order to get peace if the State will give us the necessary facilities?" I do not think we need search for recondite reasons or subterranean alliances to explain so normal and so inevitable a fact as that.
Under the second set of Acts, which may be called the Purchase Acts, there has been uniform success. The State lends its credit to enable the tenant to become the owner of his holding. Nearly 80,000 tenants have bought. 73,000 have actually completed their purchases, and 6,000 applications are in the course of being dealt with. Nearly 80,000 have bought, and the State has not lost a penny. Indeed, the State cannot lose. The advance is secured in the first place cent. per cent. for the whole amount upon the value of the holding. The purchase having taken place, the purchaser does his best, instead of his worst, by the land. If he fail through either idleness or incom- 187 petence he is not an object of sympathy to his neighbours. Public opinion sup ports the punctual repayment of the purchase instalments, and that is a moral security which we ought not to underestimate. But added to that moral security there is a further material security, in addition to the cent. per cent. security of the value of the land, which I will ask leave to explain. The Exchequer common to the two countries makes considerable grants in Ireland, as in England, each year for local purposes. An absolute guarantee can be obtained by providing that the total amount of repayments of instalments in any one I year from any one county shall not exceed the limit which the Exchequer considers safe and which coincides with the amount of the Exchequer grants applicable in any one year to that county. I do not know whether I have made myself plain; but it means that, in addition to the security of the land, there is the security from Exchequer contributions which you can keep in your own pocket, and I know nothing safer than that. Land purchase in Ireland is a safe credit operation, it is also a sound investment. It is a sound investment, because as the area purchased in creases the costs of the Land Courts and police decrease. By purchase the State stands to win—financially in consequence of these reductions, politically by destroying the material of despondency and discontent. At this moment an overwhelming majority of Irish landlords and Irish tenants desire that the system shall be universal.
If that be the nature of the problem, what is its size? I can only form an estimate. We have been asked to get at the money size of this problem. I have had the advantage of studying the statistics of the judicial rents fixed by the Land Commission; I have studied the statistics of the new Department of Agriculture; I have studied statistics given me by the Commissioner of Valuation and Survey; and I have studied the statistics of the last census. And I think that out of these—it is not quite easy to reconcile them—we shall get the truest guidance from the statistics of the last census, which deal with the number of agricultural holdings in Ireland and with their valuation. For this purpose 188 it does not matter whether the boundaries of the particular farm, or two farms, held by a man coincide with the boundaries of those holdings which are assessed for the rates. We want to get at the money size of this problem. The valuation originally made by Griffiths—the Griffiths valuation, as it is called—has been carefully brought up to date year by year in the Department of Valuation; and since the Local Government Act for Ireland was passed, placing the rates upon the holders, they have been, I need hardly assure the House, very eager to see that no mistakes occurred. For five years they have been giving the necessary information to the Valuation Department in order that these returns should be correct. Another point which must be understood is that second-term rents in Ireland—that is to say, rents that have been twice revised—tend not only to go down to, but to go below, the valuation; so that we have the money size of the problem if we draw it on the basis of second-term rents. This is very technical, but I think it will stand examination. Now, there are 490,301 holdings given in these returns; but of that number more than half, more than 56 per cent., are valued at £10 or under, and more than two-thirds, more than 69 per cent., of these holdings are valued at £15 or under. You may take these 490,000 holdings at a sort of average of £10, and from them you must make these deductions. You must deduct, in the first place, between 70,000 and 80,000 tenants who have bought. You must deduct, in the second place, a number of small town plots, accommodation plots, and market-gardens, which are urban and not rural at all. You must deduct a great deal for large grass farms, on what are called English managed estates, and which, in my opinion, in all probability will never be sold, and farms which go beyond the limit of £3,000, which is the outside limit of what we are prepared to advance under this Act, as it was under previous Acts. If you make these deductions, I think it is a safe estimate to say that the money size of this problem is £4,000,000 worth of second-term rents in any one year. That is an elliptical argument, it is a speculative argument, and I am afraid it is an argument that cannot very readily be followed. I give it to show that we have 189 done our best to gauge the money size of the problem.
Let me pass from the size of the problem to its shape. Partly because of the historic and economic causes to which I referred in the beginning of my speech, we find embarrassing features in the present system of land tenure. There are many paramount interests which claim attention. When I first undertook this task I was disposed to brush all these difficulties upon one side, and to believe that they were largely the figments of a legal brain. But it is not so. They are there, and they have to be dealt with. In Ireland large grants of land were made—a county, or more than two counties, to a public institution, or to the general of an Army. There have been subdivisions, and in smaller-sizes this land has been granted out again; and so on until there are two and three, and in some cases even four, of these superior interests, first charges on the produce of the land, before you get to the person whom we call the landlord, and who, we hope, will sell under this Act. But how can he do it under the existing Acts if he is to redeem all these first charges? That redemption, apart from the amount of money which it involves, is a very costly legal process, so he is arrested. Many landlords with these paramount interests above them, even if they wish to sell, cannot sell without walking into the workhouse. Well, although these paramount interests are first charges on the land, and are secure, and must be redeemed at the proper figure, the landlord, as we call him, beneath them, has sometimes become a caretaker, kept there because the owners of the paramount interests do not care to set up machinery for managing land which they have not at their disposal. Although the landlords are kept in that position, still, year by year, a number of these landlords surrender to the owners of these superior interests. Nor is that the end of all these embarrassments and complications. Between the person whom we call the landlord and the occupier of the soil you have one or two intervening. We want to get at the occupier of the soil to enable him to purchase an economic holding upon which a man and his family can main- 190 tain themselves. Well, it is difficult in the worst parts of Ireland. Perhaps I ought not to dwell on the worst parts of Ireland; but in the worst part of Ireland there is a state of affairs which no hon. Member who has not been there could conceive for a moment to be possible. Last autumn I was in the uttermost parts of the West. The whole countryside had been granted by a charter of King Charles I. to some great family which has died out, and it had passed, I suppose, during the prosperous years of last century to some shopkeeper who had made money. But the present landlord is in the workhouse, maintained there for eleven months of the year by the rates paid by his tenants. He was bankrupt, and the tenants were living in conditions which you would not find amongst the Kaffirs in South Africa. We have felt that it is our duty, if we can, to remedy this state of affairs. That estate has been in the Bankruptcy Court for thirty years; we hold that it ought to come out of the Bankruptcy Court. We ought to begin to build up the agrarian situation in Ireland from the bottom. Some system of village communities seems in the West of Ireland to have decayed, and at some stage in this decay to have become fossilized. So, if it were not a contradiction in terms, you might say it was at once rotten and rigid. And these are the two classes whom we have doomed to perpetual litigation. The shape of this problem—I pass from that—has impressed itself deeply upon the Conference Report.
It is not possible to go the whole length, or anything like the whole length, of the recommendations in that Report.
We make the following proposals. Whilst withdrawing no rights that at present exist, whilst allowing individual bargains, subject to minute, costly, and prolonged inspection, to go on, if it so pleases the persons in particular cases, we contemplate and we provide that purchase in the future shall, in the vast majority of cases, proceed by the sale of estates. We draw a distinction between estates presenting the problem of congestion in an acute form and ordinary estates. I will revert to the problem of congestion—it is a separate matter—later on. I wish now 191 to explain the general policy of the Bill, applicable, as we believe, to some five-sixths of Ireland. In view of a strong recommendation of the Conference Report, and recommendations which have also reached me from many independent and authoritative sources, we provide that a landlord may make his own arrangements with his tenants if these arrangements fall within the limits of the policy in this Bill. They may, if I may so put it, make a comprehensive arrangement and show it up for sanction. This does not obviate the necessity of appointing Estates Commissioners to supervise such a transaction and to conclude it. These officers will be appointed. Their functions will not be judicial, they will be administrative. Being administrative, they will be performed under the general control of the Government, and, through the Minister responsible to this House—the Secretary of the day—they will be open to criticism in this House. An estate does not necessarily mean, nor indeed ought it to mean, all the property owned by a landlord. I have seen it stated that we propose to expropriate Irish landlords and to leave Ireland without the benefit of their residence there. But the policy of the Government and the policy of those who signed the Conference Report was to make it possible for Irish landlords to remain in Ireland and be the leaders of the agricultural industry in that country. An estate does not mean all the property owned by a landlord; it does mean an area which, whether taken alone or in conjunction with untenanted land added to it, when it is expedient so to do in order to remove grave economic blemishes, can be dealt with as a whole, so that those blemishes are removed. It would not be right for us to ask the House to authorise the purchase of a bad fringe of property—of a number of small holdings—and to leave the rest in the hands of the owner, unless adequate facilities are given which will enable us to make the holdings purchased a good and sound security to the State. We propose that this transaction shall be based upon a second-term rental—based upon the amount of rents which have been revised a second time. But only a minority of rents have been fixed twice in Ireland. I think only some 80,000 rents 192 in Ireland have been fixed a second time. If we postpone dealing with the other rents—with rents which have only been fixed once—why, we should defeat our policy of increasing the pace of voluntary purchase, and we should defeat our policy of dealing with whole areas—we should have a patch work result.
If we sought to reduce first-term rents to second-term rents now, before the time comes, some judicial process would be necessary, and we should have all the old delay, all the old costs, and all the old acrimony attaching to judicial procedure. We feel that the reduction of first-term rents to second-term rents should be compassed in the bargain made between the parties, but we lay down certain limits within which those bargains should be made. We have found it impracticable to make these limits rigid—to say that rents of this character are to be considered as first-term rents, and that rents of such another character are to be considered as second-term rents. There are cases which will occur to hon. Members who are familiar with Ireland. Take the case of a landlord who has never put his tenants to the trouble of litigation, whose tenants, although they might for twenty-two years have gone into Court, never have done so. It is clear that rents of that kind are presumptive second-term rents, and we allow them to be so considered and placed in the second-term rent category. There are other cases where first-term rents have been agreed to and registered, where the landlord has given a voluntary abatement in years of depression which he has never resumed, and where the tenants have never gone into Court. Such a rent is clearly a second-term rent, and where the agreement so provides, and where the Estates Commissioners think it equitable, such rents may be removed from the category of first-term rents and placed in the category of second-term rents. If the purchase agreement leads to the instalment to be paid to the State being lower by a certain percentage than the rent which the tenant is paying at the time of his agreement, then we say that such bargains are to be confirmed as, of course, by that method we get rid of all the cost and delay which attaches to 193 the method now in use; and we hold that that reduction should be sufficient to be an absolute safeguard to the Exchequer of this country, which advances the money. It may also have a reflex action on the views of the tenant as to the desirability of purchasing; but from the point of view of the whole country and of the national Exchequer a reduction is necessary if a man is going to enter into a long bargain with the State. If he had not entered into a long bargain with the State, and there were two or three inclement years, he might—he does—get from the landlord an abatement on those years, but now he enters into a long transaction, and from the outset it must be of a safe and secure character for the State. The limit of reductions within which these bargains are permitted, and which may for convenience be called zones of reduction, are as follows: For second-term rents and analogous rents put into the second-term category, the Conference Report urged that the reduction should lie between fifteen and twenty-five per cent. But circumstances alter a great deal in different parts of Ireland, and we are trying, as far as we can, to provide for the rarer cases both at the top and the bottom of the scale. Therefore we maintain the same mean of twenty per cent., but we say that the limits of this zone shall be between ten and thirty per cent. For the other zone, the first-term rents and rents analogous to first-term rents, we say the limits of reduction of the instalment to be paid to the State below the rate now paid shall be between ten per cent and forty per cent. Some may be shocked at a reduction of forty per cent., but I could not recommend it to the House for one moment unless the Bill embodied a provision that in cases where it is fair to do so the rent may be removed from the first-term rent category and put in the category of second-term rents. These limits have not been arrived at without long and careful consideration. 80,000 tenants in Ireland have bought under the Act of 1896. A man who has given what has been considered a fair price hitherto, about twenty years' purchase, receives in consequence of that Act a reduction of thirty-one per cent. 194 after ten years, and forty-one per cent. after twenty years. The State cannot enter into bargains with a greater number of the tenantry of Ireland lasting over a long period and leave these great discrepancies. The fact that between 70,000 and 80,000 men have now purchased, and within a few years will have this reduction, makes it, in our opinion, a matter of importance to deal with this question now, and not leave it untouched much longer. At what rate, then, will annuities be calculated? A tenant now pays £4 for every £100 of advance. If he avails himself, as a great majority of them do, as almost all do, of the decadal reductions provided for by the Act of 1896—the Exchequer does not get its last penny back for seventy-two and a half years. That is the present situation. The capital repaid during a period of ten years is written off, and the debt stands again. At the end of another ten years a further sum is written off, and again at the end of another ten years. The tenant now pays four per cent., and by the method of decadal reductions it is, seventy-two and a half years before the whole debt is repaid. We abolish these decadal reductions, and we say that subject to an important modification, the nature and reasons for which I will state later on, the period shall be sixty-eight and a half years. The reasons for the change are that two dangers have been found to attach to the creation of a peasant proprietary, viz., the sub-division of the holdings so created and the mortgaging of the holdings. In Continental countries where the State has aided in the creation of a peasant proprietary it has been found that after a period of years the local money-lender has come upon the scene and has been the person who has mainly benefitted. We introduce into this Bill stringent provisions against sub-division and against mortgaging; but in our opinion these prohibitions would be futile, and the whole of our policy would be frustrated, if the local money-lender were at liberty in the first year of distress to buy up fifteen or twenty of the mortgaged holdings grouped together and repay the whole of the money outstanding to the Treasury, and then proceed, as if nothing had happened, to create rack rents and middlemen's profits as 195 though no Land Act had been passed, and not actuated, as the old order of landlords have always been actuated, by a true consideration of the neighbours amongst whom they lived. The only safeguard is to make a portion of the annuity permanent. If a portion is made permanent that cannot be done. If the moneylender buys such holdings he is paying a portion annually to the State, and he is subject to the provisions against subdivision and against mortgaging. If in the course of thirty years time it is found that these dangers are illusory we can always permit the redemption of that perpetual rent charge, but if we do not impose it at the outset it never could be imposed later on. I now come to the rate of repayment. Seven-eighths of the annuity to be repaid by the tenant purchaser will stand for repayment at 3¼ per cent., £2 15s. for interest and 10s. for sinking fund. The remaining one-eighth of the annuity will stand for interest on the irredeemable portion at £2 15s. Let me apply this rate to the zones of reduction; the superior limit, the mean, and the inferior limit of the reduction on second-term rents. Take the superior limit, a rent of £100. The tenant would be paying £90 a year as his instalment to the State, and that would be for an advance of £2,832. Take the mean limit, a tenant paying £80 in instalments per annum to the Exchequer, being 20 per cent. less than his old rent—that would stand for an advance of £2,517. Take the inferior limit of a tenant paying £70, or a reduction of £30 on the old rent—that would stand for an advance of £2,203. Then let me take the second zone, the first-term rents. Take the inferior limit of 40 per cent. reduction, the purchaser paying £60 instead of £100. That would stand for an advance of £1,888. Incidentally that gives a greater latitude for a bargain to be arrived at, but our object in making this change was administrative, to provide against the danger of sub-division and mortgaging, and of these holdings being bought up and then treated as if no Land Act had ever been passed. In the forefront of this Bill we encourage the landlords and the tenantry to make their own bargains, the landlord to employ his 196 own solicitor or agent and merely to come to us for sanction. But there are cases where difficulties have to be decided in regard to disputes as to turbary and other easements, and in these cases where the landlord cannot be fairly asked to conclude his bargain himself, where he is held out for one or two years in composing his disputes, we permit the alternative provided in the Bill of last year—that the Estate Commissioners may purchase an estate from the landlords; but, of course, the price must be estimated within the limits of this Bill, and the instalment must fall within the zone of reductions, and, in respect of untenanted land the price must be estimated in accordance with the portion of this Bill in respect of untenanted land. The Estate Commissioners may not purchase unless three-fourths of the tenants in number and value agree to it, but it may occur—I have known cases in which it does occur—that a holding of one tenant is worth all the rest of the estate put I together, and therefore we must have a dispensing and discretionary power if necessary. In these cases the Estate Commissioners may, with the approval of the Government and the Treasury, purchase without the consent of three fourths of the tenants. After purchase the rights of the tenants under the Bent Fixing Act revive and remain intact until the majority have actually purchased their holdings; but when the majority have purchased, the minority lose their rights under the Rent-Fixing Act. I come now to our provision for dealing with untenanted land. We have first the actual tenant on an existing holding which is sold to him, but some of these holdings ought not to be sold unless they are increased in size; and in the neighbourhood of estates there are congested populations which ought to be dealt with. We, therefore, say that untenanted land may be added to the holdings which are uneconomic-owing to their small size. Such new holdings, created from untenanted land, may be sold under the Bill to tenants on an estate, the sons of tenants on an estate, tenants in the neighbourhood whose holdings are less than ten acres and £5 annual value, and to any person who within twenty-five years before the passing of this Act was the tenant of such a holding. But the amount of laud and 197 the amount of credit available are not unlimited, and we wish to relieve congestion in its worst forms; but if that be so, those holdings so created need not and ought not to be of extravagant size. We therefore say that in respect of these new manufactured or created holdings we will only advance a total amount of £500 from the State in any county of which a part is congested. That limit is rigid in a county in which no part is scheduled as a congested district. In a congested county it may in certain circumstances be extended from £500 to £1,000; and that is proper because the size of farms varies through different districts of Ireland. In Monaghan, for example, and in other counties a holding worth £500 would be conspicuously less than the standard of farm prevailing in the district. In the West of Ireland it would be a fair holding. This Bill has created many expectations, and among others among persons who own a great deal of untenanted land in the West of Ireland, where it is most needed if we are to deal with the problems of congestion; and several persons have shown a disposition lately to create holdings on the off chance that the credit of the Exchequer will be placed at their disposal. We therefore provide that the same limit, not more than £500, shall be advanced by the State for any holding which has been created since March 1st of this year. I come now to the owner. We adopt a provision in the Bill of last year and extend it. To an owner advances may be made up to one-third of the aggregate value of the estate, or £20,000, whichever is least. We authorise the Estates Commissioners and Congested Districts Board to purchase an estate in the Land Judge's Court, for the sale of which an absolute order has been made; we authorise the Estates Commissioners to purchase untenanted land for the purposes on which I have touched, subject to the proviso that the amount of land in respect of which no undertaking to purchase has been made, which is vested in the Estates Commissioners, shall at no one time exceed the estimated value of £5,000,000; and we authorise the sale of untenanted land to trustees, to be held for the benefit of communities of small holders, for the purpose of turbary, pasturage, the preservation of existing woods, and the creaton of new 198 plantations. I ought not to dwell at greater length on the administrative provisions of the Bill, but if any question arises I can answer it now.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I would not interrupt him if I did not think it important for the convenience of the House. Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this portion of the Bill I would ask him whether he is in a position to give us the names of the Commissioners who are to carry out the provisions of the Bill. It is manifest how much depends on the constitution of this tribunal.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
It is unusual, perhaps unprecedented, to accede to such a request on the First Reading of the Bill; but I do not wish to stand on points of precedent, if it is understood that I am not creating a precedent. I feel that the situation is itself somewhat unprecedented. I know that this Bill will be examined in Ireland during the Easter recess, and that it would be almost absurd on my part to refuse to communicate the names during that recess and so I had better do it now. These gentlemen are prepared to serve, and their names will be recommended; we have not got beyond that point—the Right Hon. Frederick S. Wrench, Land Commissioner, and member of the Privy Council of Ireland. Mr. Wrench is not only a Land Commissioner, he is also a member of the Congested Districts Board, and he has therefore been brought into close touch with one portion of the work which the Estates Commissioners will have to do. He has been a Land Commissioner since 1887, and he has given me invaluable assistance during the last two years in studying and dealing with the land problem. The second Estates Commissioner will be Michael Finucane, Esq., C.S.I., Commissioner of the Presidency of Bengal. He is an Irishman; he has worked under the present Under-Secretary for Ireland, and his assistance and services I can only describe in terms of the highest praise. Mr. Finucane served under Sir Antony MacDonnell in India from 1873 to 1886, and at intervals since; he was Director of Agriculture under him in Bengal, and was decorated for his services during the famine in 199 1896–97. The third Estates Commissioner is William F. Bailey, Esq., legal assistant commissioner in the Land Commission. He has much experience of work in all parts of Ireland, and I may say that he has prepared a very interesting report on the present state of those who have already purchased under the Act, which will be laid before the House either to-day or to-morrow. Having acceded to the hon. and learned Member's request, I shall perhaps be forgiven if I pass very rapidly from any further points of administration?
§ MR. McCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, before he leaves the administrative part, whether he has made any approximate estimate of the cost to the State, taking the average of the reductions he has mentioned.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I think the hon. Member will see that he is anticipating the very step which I propose to take, which was to pass from the administrative to the financial provisions of the Bill. I should have liked to explain the provisions of the Bill dealing with congestion in the congested districts, but I recognise that I ought not to ask the whole audience to listen to all these matters. I will ask them to take it from me that we enlarge the credit of the Congested Districts Board by £1,250,000 for purchasing untenanted land. That will add to the working capital of the Congested Districts Board, who, abandoning a policy of buying a few estates here and there and trying to sell them as quickly as possible, will adopt a policy whereby a number of estates will be bought, the tenants being expected to do something to work out their own salvation. I come to the end, then, of these administrative provisions. When they are examined I venture to hope it will be conceded that we have done something, even that we have done much, to arrest the decay of Irish agriculture, and staunch the fatal stream of emigration.
I come now to finance. Advances are now made in Ireland in land stock. There are many objections to that medium. A fluctuating and unstable medium is the very worst when you have bargains which are preceded by months, and sometimes 200 years, of tentative negotiation; and we must bear in mind that, I am afraid, the majority of Irish estates are somewhat heavily encumbered. It may be said that if land stock is down the landlord can realise and put into other securities which may be sympathetically depressed; but that will not help him to extinguish his mortgage, which, of course, must be redeemed with cash or its equivalent. So advances in Ireland will in future be made, not in stock, but in cash. To raise cash for the advances to be made in Ireland the Treasury will direct the creation of a new capital stock, to be sailed Guaranteed 2¾ per Cent. Stock. That stock will not be redeemable for thirty years. It is, as I think I have proved to the House, morally certain that a dividend of 2¾ per cent. and a sinking fund of 10s. on, roughly, seven-eighths of this stock will be always forthcoming from the instalments to be paid by the purchasers in Ireland. But it is mathematically certain that, in rare cases of default, and there have been only two irrecoverable debts in Ireland in the last twelve years, interest and sinking fund will be forthcoming from the guarantee fund. That fund has been explained in the earlier portion of my remarks; it depends on the Exchequer contributions, which go from the common Exchequer to local purposes in Ireland. If our proposals are adopted the amount of those Exchequer contributions going to Ireland in any one year will be £2,548,460. Now, as we have lowered the instalments from £4 to practically £3 5s., the amount of credit available is larger than it was when the instalments were £4. Then we could only have so many sums of £4 to add together, which amounted to the Exchequer contribution for the year; but when the instalments are practically £3 5s. it is clear that there are more sums of that amount to be added together than there were sums of £4. In effect, whereas when the instalments were £4 in order to find the amount for which you had ample security you had to multiply by twenty-five, because twenty-five, is a fourth part of a hundred, now we multiply the £2,548,460 by thirty. It will be found, under the principle now embodied by Acts of Parliament, which allows you with the Treasury's sanction to double the amount, having 150 per cent. security instead of 200 per cent. security, that there is available for such 201 advances £152,907,960, secured on Irish land and on Exchequer advances to Ireland. Even the most sanguine estimate of the amount which is necessary in order to sell all the saleable land in Ireland does not exceed, in my opinion, £100,000,000; but there is a margin. I have named £150,000,000 as the amount which can be charged on the Exchequer contributions from this country to Ireland in respect of operations which, during twelve years, have exhibited only two cases upon which it has been necessary to come to the Guarantee Fund at all to meet irrecoverable debts. Apart from the security of the holding, the security is ample, and more than ample, but this operation must be undertaken with due and jealous regard to the national credit. The date for the commencement of the Bill is November 1st, so that in no case can we come to the City to endeavour to float a loan until the winter of this year. Nor is that all. We shall not come suddenly for large sums. I say emphatically that it will be neither financially prudent nor administratively possible to expand these operations at a pace so high as to make us come to the City for more than £5,000,000 in any one of the first three years after the passing of this Bill. It could not be done. You could not expect to raise, or if you could raise you could not expect profitably to employ, a larger amount than £5,000,000 in any one of the first three years, and you would not come to the City to ask for money until after November 1st. After three years, in my opinion, it will be possible and desirable to mend the pace. We ought to be able after three years so to mend the pace, as far as we are concerned, as to enable all saleable land to be sold in the course of some fifteen years.
It will be seen, Sir, that we have shifted the stock operations from Ireland to the London market. That transfer involves difficulties very great but not insuperable. Let me illustrate. I said but a moment ago that there had been only two irrecoverable debts in Ireland. Yes, but although there were only two irrecoverable debts in Ireland sums of money belonging to Ireland had been charged with a loss of £70,000, 202 accruing solely from the discrepancy between the dates of the quarterly dividends on the stock and the date of the half yearly instalments for repayment. If your dividend day comes first, you have got to find the dividends. How are you to find them? You must find them out of the Guarantee Fund. Therefore, although there have been only two irrecoverable debts in respect of land purchase in Ireland, the Guarantee Fund in Ireland has found £70,000 to meet losses due to these, discrepancies in the dates. That is not the only difficulty which attaches to the stock operation. There may, in the earlier years there must almost inevitably, be losses due to the issue of an amount of stock which is temporarily in excess of the amount of cash you are prepared to advance in Ireland. It is clear that you may have delays due perhaps to some solicitor who has not attended to his duty as he might do, and the sale which you thought might be completed in October is not, as a matter of fact, completed until December. In that case you have to pay your dividend on the stock which has been issued, although you do not get the repayments at the early date which you anticipated would be the case. Then in the third place it is anticipated there will be losses due to issuing such a stock below par. How do we meet this threefold difficulty? We meet it in this way. Last year this House voted an annual sum of £1,400,000 to a purely English purpose, namely, that of education in this country, and we may say that in strict accordance with precedents which have been observed we now owe to Ireland, or Ireland really possesses at this moment in equity, an annual sum of £185,000. The losses which may be due to the discrepancy in the dates, and the losses which may be due to flotation in temporary excess of the amount underwritten in Ireland, will be covered by placing upon this money, which is not British but Irish money, a first charge of £50,000 during each one of the first four years. To meet the difficulty of a loss accruing from issuing your stock below par this Irish money will also be charged with the repayment of any additional stock which you have to 203 issue. Supposing we want £5,000,000 of cash for advances in Ireland, and that you issue your loans, let us say, at ninety-five. [An HON. MEMBER: Eighty.] Well, my hon. friend is perhaps good at mental arithmetic and can do the sum off-hand with any figure. I prefer to do it in this way. If you issue your stock at ninety-five, in order to raise £5,000,000 you would have to issue a face value of £5,263,168 in stock. That £263,168 will be repaid out of this Irish money by a three-and a-quarter per cent. rate extending over sixty-eight and a half years. If you issue your stock at ninety-five, the amount necessary to repay interest and sinking fund would in each year be about £8,500, so that that does not present a great difficulty from the Irish point of view, this new charge being placed on new money—money which belongs as certainly, as surely, and as equitably to Ireland as the £1,400,000 voted last year belongs to England. Upon that Irish money will also be charged the added income given to the Congested Districts Board for working capital, an addition of £20,000 to be employed in the improvement of estates. I ought to say that we have tried to make a fair bargain, and if this stock is ever issued above par, then the premiums, of course, will go back to Ireland.
I pass now to one other matter—to the matter alluded to at the beginning of my remarks. We hold that the many embarrassments attaching to land purchase in Ireland, the redemption of paramount interests, the cost of such redemption, the sudden diminution of of income, in the case of a tenant for life, and the fact that seven-tenths of the Irish estates are held under complicated wills and settlements drawn, in a form which has become obsolete in this country—we hold that these difficulties and embarrassments, upon which I could talk at great length, present obstacles which in our opinion would defeat our policy, unless in addition to the credit operation we were prepared to add some cash. We think the justification for adding cash aid is to be found in these complicated legal embarrassments which up to this moment have stopped Irish land purchase in every case, except in the cases of men with other interests and other resources, who have sold their Irish 204 property to be rid of it, or in the cases of the few who, when Land Stock stood at 111, took advantage of it. We therefore say that we ought to give cash aid as it may be needed, up to a limit of £12,000,000. In view of the difficulty of the problem in Ireland we hold that I such aid ought to be available as it is needed. If the sale of all saleable land is to be carried through in fifteen years, it is clear that the whole of this additional money will be needed in fifteen years. So that in view of the situation in Ireland this money must be available as it is needed, but in view of the situation in this country, in view of the importance of economy, and of not overloading the Estimates, in view of the absolute necessity that charges which cannot be anticipated shall not suddenly be placed on the Estimates, we have so provided that the maximum charge in any one year upon the Estimates shall not and cannot exceed £390,000. That charge will be slowly worked up to. Additional stock will be issued. Supposing that you require to issue £3,000,000 of stock in order to make cash advances in Ireland, and that you can take this grant at twelve per cent., you will require a further amount of stock. You will issue that, and that additional amount of stock, issued in order to raise money for this grant as it may be needed, will be paid for by a Vote on the Estimates at 3¼ per cent. Supposing land purchase takes fifteen years, it is evident that you will not reach the maximum of £390,000 for fifteen years. The first year a very small amount will be placed on the Estimates, and that amount will gradually increase until in fifteen years, if the operation takes fifteen years, or in thirty years, if the operation takes thirty years, you will reach a sum of £390,000. Supposing it takes fifteen years then the repayment of the total amount will extend over eighty-three years, and during the last fifteen years of those eighty-three years the £390,000 will be diminishing from that figure to nothing. As a set off to that, the Irish Government undertakes, not hastily but after the most careful examination of the Estimates in Ireland, forthwith to establish reductions amounting to £250,000 a year at a minimum estimate. And note that whereas £390,000 comes slowly on the Estimate the reduction of £250,000 ought to be reached in five 205 years, so that we shall have effected an economy of £250,000 a year, years before the grant has reached the sum of £250,000. The immediate effect of this Bill will be a reduction of Irish Estimates. I would ask hon. Members who do not sit for Irish constituencies to bear the figure in mind. Finance is not a very engrossing subject, but it happens to be the one which is of fundamental importance in this Bill. The immediate effect of this aid grant will be a reduction, and not an increase of the Irish Estimates. But I wish to point out to hon. Members who do not sit for Irish constituencies that whereas during the last six years there has been an increase of 18 per cent. in the civil Government charges in England, there has been a decrease of 1.6 per cent. upon civil Government charges in Ireland. In fact we have been as economical as we can, and have effected a large saving in the last few years. I never fill up a post that is not required. I may say that I believe that the settlement of the land question in Ireland is vital to Ireland, and that Ireland is well advised to save money in other matters in the hope of settling this question. If there have been these effective economies in the past, and if they are going to be greater in the future, may not we come into this House on a Unionist basis and say, "May not these economies be used for that object which we prize above all others, the settlement of the land question?" As to the allocation of such a grant, we hold that of all the difficulties to which I have referred, only one proposition can safely be asserted, namely, that they press far more heavily on the small than on the large estates. We therefore say that such aid to meet those legal difficulties ought to be calculated on the purchase price, but paid to the vendor, and that the amount of it shall be graduated inversely on the purchase price. We start with 15 per cent. on an estate worth £5,000 or less, we get to 10 per cent. on an estate worth £20,000 or less, and to the minimum of 5 per cent. on estates which fetch more than £40,000. I thank the House for the great patience with which they have listened to me. I shall ill repay 206 them if I attempt to summarise, how ever briefly, the administrative provisions of the Bill, but for the convenience of those who may follow me in the debate I will in three sentences recapitulate the three broad features of our finance, for finance is the whole basis of this Bill: it is the foundation on which the whole superstructure is erected. In the first place there is an operation of pure credit. We say to Ireland, "For an object which we all agree in thinking vital to your prosperity, money shall be forthcoming, guaranteed by the Common Exchequer, at 2¾ per cent. and the period of redemption shall be extended to sixty-eight and a half years. "We say to the general taxpayer, so that the credit of the Empire may not be depreciated by this operation, "We shall not come suddenly for large sums, we shall not in any one of the first three years come for more than £5,000,000, and the whole of this credit operation is secured on the value of Irish land, and in addition is mathematically secured on the sums you send across to Ireland and which, if need be, you can keep in your pockets." The second broad feature is a mixed operation of credit and of cash. We say to Ireland, "Because £1,400,000 was voted last year in perpetuity for a purely English purpose, we owe to Ireland £185,000 a year and we intend to pay that debt, and we hold it to be Irish money. We charge all losses that may be incidental to the first credit operation, losses on flotation below par, losses on discrepancies between dates, cost of flotation in excess of the amount immediately underwritten, we charge all this absolutely upon this Irish fund.' Then in the third place, we come to a cash operation. We say that in view of the legal embarrassments, which up to this moment have defeated the Unionist policy of land purchase carried on by Unionist Governments now for seventeen or eighteen years, and let me do justice to Mr. Bright also who first put forward the "Bright Clause"—we say that to meet the legal embarrassments which have checked and impeded our policy, sums up to a limit of £12,000,000 shall be available as required. We say to the British taxpayer that this charge will not be imposed suddenly on the Estimates, but will be gradually reached with a maximum of £390,000 a year, which will not be reached for fifteen years. That charge will be tem 207 porary, and as against it we offer at an early date effective economies amounting to £250,000 which will last for ever. Last autumn I said in a rash moment I would endeavour to play the part of "honest broker" between Irish tenants, Irish landlords, and the general taxpayer. It is not a very easy part to play, and I may very well have failed. I can only say I have honestly tried. Such, Mr. Speaker, in outline, are our proposals. We submit them to the examination of the House. I deprecate a hasty judgment—even a favourable judgment—until hon. Members in all quarters of the House, for all quart era are interested, have had an ample opportunity of studying the Bill in which these proposals are embodied. Some may say that Irish tenants who cannot purchase immediately will prove restive; or that Irish landlords will make a point of refusing to sell one acre of untenanted land which is needed and is essential if we are to deal with the problem of congestion. I do not believe it. I believe that Irish landlords and tenants will continue to act in the charitable and reasonable spirit of the Conference Report. If high hopes are to be defrauded, the failure will not be due to the Irish landlord or to the Irish tenant. It will not, I dare to prophesy, be due to the general taxpayer or his representatives in this House; for they appreciate now, and will appreciate still more clearly the magnitude of an opportunity which is unexampled, and which may never recur. Nor assuredly will it be due to any member of the public service in Ireland, who for many months have devoted themselves heart and soul to co-operating with me in this attempt. Failure, if failure there is to be, will be due to my own shortcomings in framing the Bill, for, Sir, this opportunity has enlisted an army of supporters from many sources, including some among the most unexpected. And, yet, why should I say that support from any source is unexpected? There are two alternatives before us. We can prolong for another 100 years, for another 150 years, a tragedy which is none the less, which is indeed the more tragic because it is thin and long drawn out. Or we can to-day initiate, and henceforth 208 prosecute, a business transaction occupying some fifteen years, based in common with all sound and hopeful transactions upon the self esteem, the probity, and mutual good-will of all concerned. Sir, I believe this thing will be done. All interests—landlord and tenant, Nationalist and Unionist, British and Irish, can hope for no tolerable issue to any view, constitutional, political, economic, which they severally may cherish until, by settling the Irish Land Question, we achieve social reconciliation in Ireland. Sir, I beg to move for leave to introduce the Bill.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
In the few remarks I have to make on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I hope, as far as it is possible, to imitate the tone of his speech, because, whatever view we may take as to the merits of the proposals he has put before the House, I think everybody will admit that the tone of that speech was the tone of a man who realised the gravity of the situation in Ireland, and who was anxious to make a sincere attempt to grapple with it. I hope I can truthfully say I have never risen in this House to speak with such feeling of embarrassment and with such feeling of responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman did not indeed exaggerate the gravity of the problem with which he has attempted to deal. I listened with the greatest pleasure to the words in which he impressed upon non-Irish Members of this House the gravity of this great social question, which, until it is settled, undoubtedly will prevent Ireland advancing on the road of prosperity, and will prevent any permanent peace or contentment in that country. No words could exaggerate the enormous gravity of this problem, or of its urgency. I feel most keenly the responsibility which rests on me, the responsibility lest I should say something which would be taken as a want of appreciation on my part of those portions of the speech, and the proposals which seem to me well-intentioned and valuable, and lest on the other hand any words of mine should be taken as meaning I was giving here, on the spur of the moment, anything in the nature of a judgment on the merits of other portions of the speech and proposals, which, for the moment, do not commend themselves to my mind. The 209 situation in which I speak is a somewhat strange one. Some months ago the Irish people were told that no British Government could settle this Irish Land question, that this settlement must come from an agreement between the landlords and the tenants, and the Conference which was recently held was promoted, instigated, and approved by the Government. In other words we were asked to give our advice on this question. And yet it is true that until to-day neither the representatives of the Irish landlords at that Conference, or outside it, nor the representatives of the Irish tenants were put into possession of the main features of these proposals. I do not dwell upon that by way of complaint. The right hon. Gentleman may have had his reasons, but it creates a strange situation, and it certainly creates a situation in which it is impossible for me to offer to the House anything at all in the nature of a mature judgment upon any single point. No man can question that the proposals now before the House are an enormous advance on the proposals put forward on this same question this time last year. I therefore have to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fact that he is in possession of sufficiently increased power upon this question to put forward proposals of an entirely different character, proposals which aim really at a settlement of the question, in place of proposals such as those of last year, which would not have led to a settlement of this question at all.
The fact that the Government have proposed this bonus of £12,000,000 to assist this settlement is an indication that they are desirous of settling this question, and have made up their minds to deal in a courageous manner with it. I recognise fully, that although the right hon. Gentleman has to my mind made out a conclusive case to satisfy the misgivings of the British taxpayer, that he will make no loss, but a good bargain, still I do think if the Government did not believe by this means they would be able to make a settlement of this question, they would not in the financial circumstances of the country at this moment, and with the other claims pressing on the taxpayer, have made the proposal at all. Therefore I take this proposal as an indication of the 210 sincerity of the desire of the Government to provide a settlement of the Irish land question. All those who are interested in Ireland must feel intensely gratified at the way in which the suggestion of this bonus has been received by the representatives of all parties in this country. The debate which took place on the Address went entirely upon this point, and on the supposition that the bonus was to be much larger than as a matter of fact has been proposed. That debate led to an expression of opinion from all sides of this House, and from the public Press of this country which certainly was gratifying to us, and which strengthened the position of the Government. I offer absolutely no opinion as to whether this bonus is sufficient for the purpose. I reserve absolutely the expression of any definite opinion at all. But I am justified at any rate in congratulating the Government on the main proposal, and in taking it as an indication of their being in earnest in this matter.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I confess myself in some difficulty in dealing with this question; my criticism must be rather in the nature not of censure, of praise or blame, but rather in the nature of interrogatory. In the first place I am not satisfied in my own mind that the bonus should be distributed in inverse ratio to the amount of the purchase money. The object I take it of the Government is to give the greatest amount of relief to the man who needs it most, but it does not follow because the estate is small and the purchase money is small that it is a poor estate. There are many estates in the West of Ireland where the rental is considerable, £10,000 or £20,000 a year. In those cases the landlords who would sell would get very little indeed, but on the other hand an estate might be let out to a number of small tenants, each paying £2 or £3 a year rent, but it does not follow that that is a poor estate. Therefore I say the system of distribution of the bonus will have to be most carefully considered, and at the present moment I am not convinced that the Bill will carry out the object the Government has in view. There is another point—by this system of distribution the small bonus will be given to the large landlord. The number of these large landlords may be small, but 211 they have a very large number of tenants; and for the settlement of this land question it is essential that these estates should be brought into the market. Then again, the right hon. Gentleman is going to make a perpetual rent-charge on the land of one-eighth. The object he has in view in reserving that rent-charge is one that every man must approve—it is essential that precautions should be taken to prevent sub-division and sale and mortgage, otherwise in a generation or two Ireland will find herself in as bad, or a worse condition than at the present moment. But I cannot conceive why in order to achieve the object the right hon. Gentleman has in view it is necessary to reserve as much as one-eighth—it seems to me that any reservation, however small, would be sufficient to give the Government this power to prevent re-sale and mortgage. We should very seriously consider this matter, because if in trying to prevent this evil we take away from the Irish people the sense of absolute ownership, we shall do much to defeat the object we have at heart, and injure the chances of the successful working of the Bill. Therefore I would press strongly on the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this question, with the view to the reservation of a rent charge less than one-eighth.
With regard to the administration—of course the success of any measure of this kind will very largely depend on the personnel of its administration—and with regard to the three gentlemen who have been named, I will take first of all Mr. Wrench. I honestly believe that is a name that will not command the support of either the landlords or the tenants of Ireland. Mr. Bayley, I think, will have the confidence of both landlords and tenants. The, third gentleman has the merit of being absolutely unknown. This can hardly be considered a thoroughly satisfactory tribunal—one unsuitable man, one suitable man, and one unknown man. However, I heartily congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fact of it being a non-judicial tribunal. Nothing would do more harm to this measure than the impression that it would be run by any of the old gang, whose conduct we are not allowed by the Rules to discuss on the floor of the House of Commons. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made 212 a departure in that respect, and that the officials will be servants of the Government, whose conduct can be discussed on the Estimates in the House of Parliament. There was one thing that surprised me in the remarks of the light hon. Gentleman. He said there would be no withdrawing of any right that the tenants possessed at present. He used that with reference to the right the tenant had to go in and purchase his holding at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman will remember perfectly well that Clause 36 of the Bill of last year raised serious opposition. It was denounced on both sides and excited much antagonism. It proposed to deprive the tenants under certain circumstances of the right of having the rents fixed by the Land Commission. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that in the case of the new Commission buying the estate they are to be satisfied before they buy that three-fourths of the tenants are willing to buy back the holdings from them, and he has told us that in special cases a bare majority of the tenants is all that is required. Now I want to know how you are going to deal with the minority of one-fourth and the minority of almost one-half. If I understand him correctly it amounts to this. The tenants in these cases are to be compelled to buy, and are to be deprived of their rights under the Act of 1881. It may be said that is an extreme case, but these matters are best tested by extreme cases. A bare majority of the tenantry on each estate in Ireland might agree to buy, and the remaining half of the tenantry might be unwilling to do so, and then they would lose their right under the Act of 1881 to have then-rents fixed. That is a provision which will excite universal disapproval in Ireland. I know these are exceptional cases. The ordinary transactions will be between landlord and tenant, and therefore this will not arise at all except in cases where the landlord and tenant cannot come to an agreement, and the estate is bought by the Estate Commissioners. But the mere fact that there will not be many cases, will not enable the right hon. Gentleman to get a Clause accepted in Ireland which; will deprive any class of Irish tenants of their rights to get the purchase price fixed under the Act of 1881. If that Clause stands in the Bill it will be as vehemently opposed in Ireland as was Clause 36 of his Bill last year. And as 213 he gave that up last year, I hope it is not too much to expect that he will also give up this Clause.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
They have to pay under another section. In respect of three-fourths under the Act of 1896, they are forced to buy.
§ MR. REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman knows that is not an answer to my contention. Section 40 only applies where three-fourths of the tenants are willing. I recognise, of course, it is a most unreasonable thing that a handful of tenants should be able to obstruct a purchase, but it is a totally different thing when you say that fifty-one men out of 100 can coerce the others by saying if you do not agree to our terms you will lose your rights to get a fair rent fixed under the Act of 1881. On the question of finance I speak with great hesitation. It is a matter with which I am not competent to deal, but under any such circumstances it would be nothing short of ridiculous without having beard more details if I expressed any opinion. It is impossible for me now to deal with the number of years purchase, and how it will work out for the landlord and tenant, but it is a matter of the greatest importance and will excite interest and attention in Ireland. As far as I can understand the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, it is clear he does not offer, either to the landlord or the tenant, as good terms as the landlords proposed. I deeply regret that, and I may say that I regret he has cut down the terms to the landlord, quite as much as I regret his cutting down the terms to the tenant. This is a voluntary arrangement, and the only way to make it work is by satisfying the landlords that it is safe and wise for them to sell, and the tenants that it is safe and wise for them to buy. Still, the fact remains that this Bill is a great advance on the Bill of last year.
I do not fully understand the arrangement made with reference to the first-term and the second-term rents. How does this matter stand? The tenants of Ireland had their rents fixed once, and the time for having them fixed a second time has arrived. There are some 80,000 of the second term rents, and these show a reduction on the first-term rents of about 20 or 22 per cent. 214 Now, if the second-term rents are to be taken as the basis of this transaction, then, before you enter into your calculation at all, the oustanding first-term rents ought to be reduced to the average of the 80,000 second-term rents. And to say that you will permit a transaction which will give second-term tenants an immediate reduction of from 10 to 30 per cent., and then to say that in the case of the first-term rents you will only give a reduction of from 20 to 40 per cent., I think that is unsatisfactory, and I should like it explained more fully how you arrive at that proportion. The right hon. Gentleman is apparently going to consider his second-term rents-rents of all holdings in Ireland—that have not gone into the Land Courts at all. If this is put in the Bill it will work great injustice, because, as every one knows, there are a very large number of tenants who never went into the Land Court at all. But the right hon. Gentleman is going to take the second-term rents and only give them the reduction of second-term rents. Is he going to take one of the cases which was never in the Committee and say that although there has been a steady reduction of 20 per cent., yet that not being a judicial rent it is not to be taken into account, and the nominal rent is to be regarded as the basis of the transaction? I can assure him that such a course would work the gravest injustice, and I rather think that even the spokesmen of the landlords in this House will agree with the view that the voluntary abatement should be taken into account as if it had been sanctioned judicially.
Then there is the provision as to the reinstatement of tenants. I acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman has put into this Bill a provision which, in a large number of cases at any rate, will provide a remedy for one of the greatest evils which has existed in the social condition of Ireland for a long time past. At any rate, that is an advance on anything ever proposed in a Land Bill brought forward in this House. What I desire to know is, whether the same opportunity will be afforded to future tenants as if they were judicial tenants.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I am glad to hear that. I only hope the same will 215 apply to the caretakers. What has constantly taken place for years past under the eviction-made-easy Clause has been that merely by serving a man with a notice he has ceased to be a tenant but has been left in possession as a caretaker. He continued to pay rent from year to year but had no legal status, not even as a future tenant. I should feel very much assured if the right hon. Gentleman would say that the same opportunities would be given to such men of purchasing their holdings. [NATIONALIST Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman need not be afraid that this measure will meet with any unfair criticism or reception in Ireland. The Irish people are quite in earnest in desiring to settle the land question by an honest purchase transaction. Irish tenants and landlords are absolutely agreed in the desire to settle this question as speedily as may be and in a perfectly straightforward manner. [NATIONALIST Cheers.] I think the right hon. Gentleman will find, that whatever may be the fate of this Bill, it will not meet with unfair or dishonest criticism. I am not going to say that the Bill is satisfactory or otherwise; but it will be criticised by the people who have come together in perfect sincerity to endeavour to bring an end to the social trouble which exists in Ireland.
We, on these benches, have great responsibility in this matter, and I speak with a feeling of that responsibility. But I am fortified by the knowledge that this Bill will be discussed in every town and village and hamlet throughout Ireland. The Irish people are quick witted and are not likely to be led blindfold by their leaders. They will easily understand the meaning of this Bill and its purpose, and will soon find out whether it will be advisable for them to take advantage of it or not. They will soon have an opportunity of discussing the measure, because on 14th or 15th April there will be held in Dublin a National Convention, summoned specially for the purpose of deciding whether the Bill is to be accepted or rejected. Even if I were in a position to do so I should hesitate to express my judgment until the Convention has spoken. There has been some misunderstanding as to the constitution of this Convention. People 216 in England are rather inclined to disregard its authority, describing it as a gathering of delegates of the United Irish League. That is not the case. Reading the names of the Members of the Convention it is impossible to construe in any country in the world a more absolutely democratic and representative National Assembly than that which will have to give a decision on this Bill. The clergy and every organised public body in Ireland, political or non-political, will have representatives at this Convention, and the right hon. Gentleman will therefore have the consolation of knowing this Bill will be discussed and decided upon by a thoroughly democratic and representative body in Ireland.
I will end, as I began, by telling him that he need not be afraid of unfair criticism. The Bill will be judged by the Irish people as a measure which will either settle the Irish land question or else be worthless. The time has passed when any measure such as that of last year—which could not possibly settle the question—is likely to be accepted by public opinion in Ireland. If the Irish people come to the conclusion that the Bill affords a reasonable hope of a settlement of this question it will be accepted by them. More than that I cannot say at present. I do not think it would be altogether wrong of me if I complimented the right hon. Gentleman on the lucidity with which he explained the Bill, which although so complicated, was made so clear to us. It is the greatest effort ever yet made to settle the Irish Land Question by purchase. This is a great Bill, and I confess that it is a safe Bill, because the right hon. Gentleman has proved to demonstration that the British taxpayer can lose nothing, and is almost certain to make financial and moral gains. Under these circumstances I do not think that the Irish Members from this quarter of the House will think it necessary to debate the matter at any length to-night. We will leave it as it is now. I say in conclusion that the decision in this matter will rest with public opinion in Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman will have the consolation of knowing that that public opinion will be honestly elicited and honestly expressed.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
I have had the honour and good 217 fortune of having spoken in this House on many occasions on Irish Land Bills, and I have always observed one distinguishing feature in these Bills; they all meant to plunder the Irish landlords. This Bill is quite different from all these. It is the only Bill that I ever knew of which induced the hon. and learned Member for Waterford to stand up on that side of the House and I on this side of the House to give our approval—not an absolute but a qualified approval. I say qualified, and for this reason; that it is a most complicated measure. My right hon. friend has admitted in his speech that it has taken a year and a half to prepare; and a year and a half's preparation was boiled down into an hour and forty minutes of the time of the House. It would be very absurd on my part, who have only listened to that hour and forty minutes explanation to express any definite opinion as to the merits of the details of the Bill. The speech of the lion, and learned Gentleman opposite was remarkable in this respect, that his objections to the Bill, so far as he understood it from listening to the speech of the Chief Secretary, were limited in character; that that part of the Bill which deals with the tenants whose rents have not been fixed by the Land Courts, met from him apparently a slight objection; at all events the hon. and learned Gentleman was not perfectly certain in his own mind what the Bill contained on that subject. But it must be satisfactory to my right hon. friend that no greater objection to the Bill has presented itself to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not touch on the finance of the Bill, and probably the objection to the finance in the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman is the same objection which occurs to my mind, viz.—that the financial concessions accorded in this Bill do not go as far as he thinks they ought to go; and in that I quite sympathise with him. There is one particular fact at any rate which it must be difficult for any Member who has sat in this House for any period of time to realise; and that is, that this is the first opportunity of their having been able to see within these walls a united Ireland. On former historic occasions we used to 218 see one side of the House bent on plundering the other. Members of this House from Ireland, I believe, represent absolutely the feelings of the Irish people, at the present moment, on this matter. They desire a settlement of this long-vexed question, and I venture to say that during the last 800 years such an opportunity has never presented itself as this to the Parliament of England. I do not think we are asking too much. I do not think that the demands are extravagant on the part of the landlords. What we have asked is this—that when we have settled the land question, you will not deprive us of the power of living in our native land in the future. I say that that is an appeal which we Irish landlords make to the British House of Commons and to the British people; and we say that it is founded on justice and fair play. We are Irishmen just as much as the tenants are, or as the hon. Gentlemen opposite are. We love our native land as much as they do, and I believe that the people of Ireland, represented as they have been by their leaders, have come to the conclusion, that Irish landlords, after all, are not so black as they have been painted in former years by their present admirers.
The main principle of the Bill, which I gathered from the speech of my right hon. friend, is that when this settlement takes place it will be such a settlement as will enable the Irish landlords to live in Ireland, though they will not enjoy quite as much income as they do now. There is a difficulty which I have always foreseen, though I do not think the difficulty lies with the right hon. Gentlemen, or with the Party I represent. I think we are both willing to be moderate in our demands, for both desire a settlement. What I am afraid of, however, is John Bull. The usual idea out of doors, and even amongst some Members of this House, is that this Bill is based on the principle that the unfortunate British taxpayers will have to empty their pockets to the tune of many millions. I think that they may put that idea out of sight. If the right hon. Gentleman's computation is correct, and if it is possible to save £6,000,000 on rent in Ireland, the British taxpayer during the first year will be burdened to the enormous extent 219 of £32,000 or £33,000. It will increase as the years go by, until all the land in Ireland is bought, to a burden of £390,000 a year. If this is a success, and if by the passing of the Bill you secure peace and prosperity in Ireland, the cost will not exceed a quarter of the price of one ironclad. When you are able to spend so many millions on war, you might give a few thousand pounds to peace. I think the British taxpayer, who includes the Irish taxpayer, need not fear that ruin will stare him in the face if the Bill be passed. Besides that, there are economies which my right hon. friend indicated which will form a considerable part in diminishing the expense to which the taxpayer will be put. This is to be carried out by a Commission, and I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was essential that this should not be a Judicial Commission. The Commissioners are Mr. Wrench, Mr. Bayley, and Mr. Finucane. I have no doubt they will act fairly. I do not suppose that any of them will be on the side of the landlord too much. Certainly Mr. Bayley will not. With regard to Mr. Finucane, I do not know anything about him, except that he comes from India. I do not know why they chose a gentleman from India. I suppose he has an acquaintance with tigers, which may be useful to him in Ireland. On the whole, I think we may be satisfied that this Commission will act fairly to both sides, or rather between the three iiarties—the British taxpayer, the landlord, and the tenant.
I have no intention whatever of wandering through these financial mazes, in which my right hon. friend trod with such an easy and fairy step. I should only get entangled and involved. This Bill requires to be read carefully, and to be carefully considered. In that matter I can reiterate for my colleagues, what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said on behalf of his friends, that the Bill will receive a fair and candid consideration. We, at any rate, do not intend to throw any obstacle in the way of a final settlement of this question, and I am glad to learn that hon. Gentlemen opposite are animated by the same spirit. I thought it rather a formidable prospect which the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded to, namely, that this Convention would 220 seize this Bill and examine it in all its parts—a Convention representing apparently the Irish land interest, the Roman Catholic clergy but certainly not the Protestant clergy [NATIONALIST cries of "All denominations," and "Brother Sloan."]. I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will see that it will receive fair and candid consideration, and then with both sides united, and with that condition of mind existing in Ireland at the present moment which never existed before—why, Sir, there is no smell of blood in the air in Ireland now; the condition of the public mind is more at peace and more filled with hope than it has ever been before—I say with that condition of affairs existing, with a good-humoured Ireland to deal with, with a peaceful Ireland to deal with, it would be to my mind an insane thing on the part of the British taxpayer to grudge these few thousand pounds, which after all he never can feel;, because the money which is to be expended is a trifle compared with the larger part of the money asked for, and which is absolutely secure. It is a small trifle that is asked for, and if it secures peace and prosperity for Ireland it is the cheapest money that Great Britain has ever laid out.
§ Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I shall only interpose for a few moments, mainly in order to deprecate on the part of those in this House who represent the taxpayer beyond the circle of the Irish Members on either side, the formation, and still more the expression, of any summary judgment on the great scheme which the right hon. Gentleman, with so much power and persuasiveness, has expounded to the House. It is not only that it is a scheme, as we all were able to gather by listening to his speech, of extraordinary complexity, but also that the issues involved, and which it raises, are grave and almost momentous, and therefore it ought not to be made the subject of a rash and possibly partial opinion by any Member of this House. The Members of this House, I believe without exception, are anxious that peace should be restored in Ireland—if restored is the proper word—because the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says that this war has lasted for 800 years, and that this is the first good opportunity the House of Commons has had for dealing with the 221 question. The House of Commons has only had during a hundred of these years any right to interfere in the matter. But however that may be, we wish to see an end put to the disastrous social and agrarian conflict which has hindered the prosperity and the advancement of Ireland. We also recognise that for that purpose there may be sacrifices and efforts which ought to be made by the people, not only of Ireland but of this island, and not only for the sake of Ireland, but for the sake of ourselves, because we shall directly be advantaged quite irrespective of anything that may happen within the circuit of Ireland itself. But the very fact that we have to face certain efforts and sacrifices, that we are to have, what is almost more serious, our Imperial credit hypothecated to such an enormous extent, makes it our duty not only to look into the detailed provisions of the Bill, in order to see that equity is preserved between those affected, but also to see, as it will be our obvious duty to see, to the best of our power whether this scheme will really attain the object for which those sacrifices and efforts are to be made. That can only be learned in process of time by seeing how it is received by all classes of men in and out of Ireland, and on these grounds it is eminently and obviously a case where we ought not only not to be expected to express a definite opinion, but ought not to indulge in the opportunity of offering any definite opinion.
There are one or two points which the right hon. Gentleman, with all the fulness and frankness of his speech, has left still in some doubt. The first of these is as to the provisions against mortgaging and subdividing holdings. There is no question that that is the curse of peasant proprietorship in many countries, and, although the right hon. Gentleman said that certain provisions were designed for that purpose, I think we should like to know a little more as to how this is to be effected. The second point is this—it has been already referred to by the hon. Member for Waterford—what will be the mode in which the cash aid is to be estimated and distributed? Is every selling landlord to have a share? That is the point. In what way is that to be distributed and applied? Another point is this. What comes of the rent-fixing operation that has been going on under the Act of 1881, and of the 222 tribunal and machinery established by that Act? I next come to another point which the hon. Member for Water-ford referred to, and which I noted in this way. If the tenants do not choose to purchase—those who are the outstanding fourth on an estate—do they remain under that Act—do they retain their advantages under it? And, coming to the other side of the picture—what becomes of the landlord who declines to sell? What will be his position in the future of the agrarian economy of Ireland? My last question is this. Is the sum of £12,000,000, named for the aid grant, a real Estimate of the amount which will probably answer for the purpose, or is it the extreme limit which is not to be exceeded? On these points I think the right hon. Gentleman will do well to take an opportunity before the discussion closes to give the House the information that is required. I assume by all that has been said that there will be a considerable interval before the next stage of the Bill, and in the meantime I would advise all those with whom I have any influence to content themselves with the expression of our appreciation of the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has laid this great scheme before the House and the country.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that Members would be very daring and rash who ventured to give any definite opinion upon a complicated measure of this kind. But there are some of us who have been in this struggle for many years, and have followed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary with extreme interest today. Speaking for myself, I believe that the proposals he has laid before the House are epoch-making proposals, and I believe, although I am not pledging myself to any particulars in the Bill—and I shall have to ask the Chief Secretary some questions before I sit down—I believe that from to-night a new era will start in Ireland upon this land question. There is one difficulty which I fear will not be solved—as anyone can see who knows anything about the question—and that is the question as to what is to happen upon those estates where either the inducement to the landlord is not sufficient to make him sell, or where no inducement will make 223 him sell. That brings us to a difficult point. You will find in the province of Ulster a large number of landlords with feudal ideas rooted in their minds whom no inducement will tempt to sell. You will find the same feeling prevailing in certain districts in the South and West. You will find this unwillingness to sell upon any terms; and what we shall be face to face with in a few years is this most difficult problem—I admit it is difficult—you will find a large number of landlords declining to sell, and you will find a large number of the best of the Irish tenants unable to buy. They will be penalised for their very virtues, whilst men who have given trouble will get the advantages which ought to have gone to all. I know what questions are raised by a problem of this kind, and I merely state the problem in order that the House should see that there are difficulties not touched by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. There is a curious omission from that speech of which I would like an explanation. According to the notice paper, this is a Bill—to amend the law relating to the occupation and ownership of land in Ireland, and for other purposes relating thereto; and to amend the Labourers' (Ireland) Act.But not a word has been said with regard to the labourers' question. That is an omission which probably arose from pressure of time, but I am bound to tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly impossible to hope for any final solution of this question which will please the labourers if they are left out of account. I take it from the Chief Secretary that there is no desire to leave them out of account, and that the Bill will be as it is described on the Notice Paper.
I regret to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the decadal reductions are to be abolished. The decadal system, first brought into play in the Act of 1896 by the present President of the Board of Trade, has been accepted by almost all the tenants in Ireland, and has no doubt extended the period of repayment. The Irish tenant, as a rule, has rather the notion that posterity should bear some of the burden, and the decadal system has been seized upon almost universally. I really cannot see why it should be left out of the Bill, because after all the basis of the decadal system 224 is that at the end of the decennial period the amount of the capital paid is estimated, and the interest has not to be paid on the capital which has been repaid. That will be a point for discussion in Ireland, for the tenants are very firmly wedded to the system.
There is another matter of extreme importance. The basis of purchase, according to the Chief Secretary, is to be second-term rents. I tried to follow the right hon. Gentleman very carefully, but I confess I failed to grasp his argument on that point. At the Land Conference it was decided that the basis of purchase should be the second-term rents, or their fair equivalent. But, as my hon. and learned friend opposite put it, the difference between the first-term rents and the second-term rents is a matter of 22 per cent. I assume, from the fact that the contrary has not been stated, that the Land Commission as a rent-fixing machine is to go on, and that, instead of any automatic reduction in fixing the second-term rents, the Commissioners will proceed as they are now doing. That is a very serious matter. There is no use in blinking the fact that ever since the Land Conference Report was issued, and the basis of purchase decided to be the second-term rents, the Land Commission has been raising rents. I may give the Shirley estate in County Monaghan as an example of that. There 600 tenants have gone into Court; forty-seven have had second-term rents fixed, and forty out of sixty-five have been left alone. Therefore this question of second-term rents, and the fixing of the basis of purchase on those rents is a very serious matter, and will have to be seen to before the Bill is read a second time.
As regards the question of mortgages, I pressed that as hardly as it could be pressed at the Conference. I agree with the principle enunciated to-night by the Chief Secretary, but the amount to be made irredeemable is a totally different question. If it be merely the right to intervene in cases of improper mortgage that is required, then a nominal quit rent would be as effective as one-eighth of the purchase money. I agree that mortgaging and subdividing must be effectively controlled, or in fifty years hence we shall have a position worse even than at present, but the amount is a serious matter. It takes away from 225 the sense of ownership, and to take away that sense is to imperil a good deal.
As to the rights of tenants under the Act of 1881, I did not understand the Chief Secretary as interfering with those rights at all. I understood him to say that the present laud purchase proceedings would continue if people chose to avail themselves of them. I may be wrong, but I did not understand him to deal with the question of fair rent at all. But I do say that the Government may make up their minds that the Irish people in every province will not consent to any infringement of the rights of the tenants under the Act of 1881, until the freehold of the farm is conferred on every occupier. Nothing will induce them to give up that position. The Irish tenants, if they gave that away, would be like an army in a battle without ammunition, and the Chief Secretary may take it for granted that if this measure contains anything like Clause 36 of the Bill of last session, there is a bad time before this House and the country. That is the one thing the tenants will never consent to. We shall have an opportunity of discussing the Bill in Ireland during the Easter recess. My right hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh is not in his place, but we are to have a Convention in Dublin, and if he does not care to attend that in Dublin perhaps he will honour us with his presence in Belfast. I believe the Bill is a great Bill, designed for a great and beneficent work, and I hope that in the outcome Irish Members on both sides will be able to give the Government their cordial support.
§ MR. M'CRAE
I think the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on his lucid exposition of the Bill. I do not wish to press him too hardly on the First Reading, but I do not think he quite answered the question I put as to whether the amount of cash to be granted had been arrived at after a careful estimate had been made of the sum that really would be necessary under the scheme. In the present situation all sides were willing to go a great way in order to secure a satisfactory solution of this problem, and it would be a mistake to estimate the tax on the British people at an inadequate sum. The right hon. Gentleman said that apart from the credit loan the 226 sum the British taxpayer was to be responsible for was £12,000,000. That in my opinion, is quite inadequate for the purpose. It bears a very small proportion to the reduction which the right hon. Gentleman estimated to be necessary. On the second-term rents he spoke of the reduction as being between 15 and 25 pet cent. or on the first-term rents between 20 and 40 per cent. On the other side, taking the capitalised rental of Ireland at the right hon. Gentleman's figure of £152,000,000, the £12,000,000 represents only 8 per cent., and it is only 12 per cent. on the reduced figure of £100,000,000. I know the right hon. Gentleman does not expect the whole of the land to come into the market, but I think it would be well for the House and the country to be assured that the sum of £12,000,000 has been arrived at after careful consideration of the sum which is likely to be required from the British Exchequer.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I should like to ask my right hon. friend, whom I congratulate on his speech, one or two questions. I do not thoroughly understand some of the financial portions of the scheme. I understood there was to be an operation of credit at 2¾ per cent., but I am not sure whether he said that that operation of credit would amount to the raising of £100,000,000.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
So that it would be an operation of credit to raise £100,000,000, of which only £5,000,000 would be raised in any one year?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
That is the point on which I wanted some explanation. Then my second point is, I understand him to say that there is a sum of £185,000 a year which he considers to be due to Ireland, to be in fact Iris money; that will be on the Estimate 227 I presume. That £185,000 is to bear the losses on flotation and such things as that. Then I understand that he proposes to place on the Estimates a sum of £390,000—not all at the beginning, but as a maximum. I should have added the £390,000 to the £185,000, but perhaps he will explain whether I am right or wrong as to that. I also understand him to claim economies amounting to £250,000 a year on the Irish Estimates. I suppose those economies have been already realised?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Then we may understand that there will be a diminution to the extent of £250,000 on future Irish Estimates. Those are the only points to which I desire to refer at present.
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent)
We must all congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which he has introduced this Bill. His speech shows that he has a clear grasp of its provisions, but I am not sure that we are all in the same position. The Bill bears a strange resemblance to a Bill which had a great deal to do with bringing me into the House of Commons for the first time in 1886: I mean Mr. Gladstone's Land Bill—a Bill which was strongly denounced, and was certainly not acceptable to the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman has drawn a picture of what is to happen if this Bill passes, but he prefaced it with a very large "if." What guarantees can he give us as to the finality of this scheme? Ever since 1886 we have been engaged in passing Land Bill after Land Bill, and I am rather weary of the process. If this was the first Land Bill of which I had heard, I must say, that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I should be inclined to say, "By all means pass your Bill, and let us have no criticism upon it." But, unfortunately, that is not the position. It is all very well to say that these are the proposals now, but will the proposals remain as they are, or will they be increased as time goes on? Then we are told that these proposals will bring peace to Ireland. After the experiences of the last 100 228 years I think I may be forgiven if I am a little sceptical as to that. I am not at all sure that after the passing of this Bill Ireland will pass into the peaceful period which has been predicted. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford the other day announced that he for one would not give up his opinion with regard to the need for Home Rule. [NATIONALIST cheers.] I quite understand the view of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I know they will try just as much to obtain Home Rule after this Bill passes as they did before. But supposing a feeling of tension arises again between Ireland and this country, what will happen in regard to the payments under this Bill. Suppose, for instance, that the "no rent" manifesto was issued again with regard to the payment of the loan? Would the right hon. Gentleman then take proceedings against the whole nation?
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
We should make you Lord-Lieutenant, and then it would be all right.
§ MR. COGHILL
When it comes to the question of a free gift to Ireland it is a totally different matter, and I do not think that we should be called upon to make this large free gift to Ireland. It seems to me that there is one very suspicious circumstance at the present time. We find now that there is a union between Orangemen and Nationalists, and all because there is an alluring prospect of a raid upon the British Treasury. We find my hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh speaking in a totally different way, for he now recognises in the Nationalist Members the wisest of patriots, and in every sense considers them very good fellows. When we find a union of this kind between two Parties, I think it behoves the representatives of the British taxpayer to look very closely into these proposals. When any sort of raid is made upon the British Exchequer, we have a right to say to the Chief Secretary for Ireland that this is not the time to make a demand for £12,000,000 upon the British taxpayer. We have just had large demands made upon us in regard to the Army and Navy, and I have willingly supported the Government with regard to those demands, but when it comes to a free gift of £12,000,000 for a scheme, the success of which is very uncertain, I say this is 229 not the time to make such a demand. No matter how golden the opportunity may be, this is not the time to come to the taxpayer and ask for a free gift of £12,000,000 to the people of Ireland. I do not wish to raise any other objection to this Bill, beyond saying that these proposals ought to be scrutinised very closely. Willing as I am to do anything I can to assist the people of Ireland to come to a settlement in regard to the land question, I must say that I do not entertain the opinion that if the land question were settled the feeling of unrest would cease to exist in Ireland. I feel that there are other questions which will arise, and it is in that belief that I am unable to accept the proposals of the right hon. Gen leman.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
The hon. Member has entertained the House by weeping salt tears over the disappearance of Donnybrook Fair. When we were engaged in recrimination, and when we were disorderly, we were a disgrace to the House of Commons, and now when for the first time an Orangeman can speak well of a Nationalist, the hon. Member who has just sat down thinks the glories of Britain have departed. I think the landlords have got off very handsomely indeed, but you must remember they have been doing your work in Ireland for 800 years. You have just been lavishing "£30,000,000 on your Navy, and £30,000,000 on your Army, and £2,000,000 on those new submarines, which may pay a premature visit to the bottom of the sea; and it is strange that on the first occasion since the Union of Great Britain and Ireland an hon. Member should get up and protest that Irish Members were for the first time united. What do you want us to do? Do you want us to walk across the floor of the House to the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh and say to him, "Will you tread on the tail of my coat?" I am glad we have arrived at this stage, when only one Englishman out of the entire body of 670 British Members has risen to object to the very moderate proposals which the right hon. Gentleman the Irish Secretary has made. I certainly do not 230 intend to enter upon a long debate on this occasion, but I would say that hon. Gentlemen opposite, and especially hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Member who has just spoken, should remember that undoubtedly Members on this side of the House with whom I disagree to some extent have made large sacrifices of opinion—I will not say of conviction—but large sacrifices in what they conceive to be the interests of peace. The Chief Secretary said this was no simulated feeling. A nation cannot play the hypocrite. You cannot get people who have been divided in the past, who have been at war with one another—you cannot get these people simulated for the first time to a false and pretended affection, unless there is some new light thrown upon the minds and hearts of both parties with regard to the situation. I certainly will not in this House take needless opportunity of disagreeing with my hon. colleagues who have signed that Report.
There are two or three matters which seem to have escaped notice which I wish to ask about. I cannot agree with what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford said to the objection in principle, if indeed he raised it, with regard to the retention of one-eighth, if it be intended that one-eighth shall fructify in case of local taxation, and for the benefit of the general body of the people of Ireland. But if the one-eighth is to come perpetually to the British Treasury, a more extraordinary or extravagant proposal never was made. If the one-eighth is to go in perpetuity to the British taxpayer in exchange for the £12,000,000 a harder bargain was never made, and unless I have some assurance on that point I shall certainly object to the form in which the proposal now stands. In sixty-eight and a-half years by the Sinking Fund you will have paid off seven-eighths. Then why not begin some system of Sinking Fund and pay off the remaining one-eighth or, instead of making two bites at a cherry, why not clear it off altogether? Of course I know it can be said the Government are only getting bare interest on their loan, but why is an eighth selected, as irredeemable, to found a plea for State intervention about mortgages and sub-lettings? A mere peppercorn reservation would secure the State full power for 231 such purposes. On the other hand, if the Sinking Fund principle was applied to this eighth, a valuable asset for the Irish nation would in half a century arise. There is a tendency to look at this question from the point of view of catching votes and talking to the gallery, and from that which constituents would consider best in their own cases. Yet if you consider the interests of the urban and labouring population, whose taxes will, to some extent, go as an insurance fund, this great boon to the agricultural population leaves them almost untouched, and they may argue that there is a great deal to be said in favour of applying this one-eighth to the case of local taxation and for the benefit of the country as a whole. If I understood the proposal in that sense I should cordially adopt it, but if I understand that this one-eighth is to go in aid of the British taxpayer I should only compare it with the proposal made by Mr. Gladstone, of whom I do not wish to speak disrespectfully. After the Irish Famine, with regard to the striking off of the famine loan, which I do not think amounted to more than £4,000,000 Mr. Gladstone put upon us the income-tax, and increased our whisky duty with the result that a free gift of £4,000,000 cost us £50,000,000 or £60,000,000. That is a new way of paying old debts. If the Government mean that we shall be charged for this £12,000,000 and that we shall have to pay a perpetual rent-charge of one-eighth, I can only say that a graver and more serious proposition never emanated from the Treasury Bench.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head, and I assume that a more reasonable course will be adopted and that something further will be put into the Bill. It may be that the Government have yet some further proposal dealing with this one eighth, and I shall wait very patiently to see what is suggested. We pay our taxes the same as you do, and, further, we have never admitted that equal bargain of the Union as you now construe it; and even if we did, the promises which you made at the time of the Union have all been broken. At the present moment our 232 contribution to the general fund out of which you maintain the Empire amounts to £10,000,000 per annum. The £12,000,000 which the Government is going to give is only a very little more than one year's contribution which Ireland makes to this country. I do not grudge this money being given to the landlord for the sake of peace, and ending an ancient feud. If they can make any impresssion on the Government and get more they will have my hearty support, and I do not think any objection will be made from this part of the House. But there will be innumerable delays in getting this scheme of purchase on foot. You are dealing with 500,000 small holdings, and will have the question of titles mortgage, quit-rents, tenants for life, the remainder man and chargeants to settle, all of which must take up a considerable amount of time. I do not say that the Land Judges Court is a very swift method of procedure, because a Court which has to give one man's property to another must necessarily go slowly. If you put an estate into the Land Judges Court, the earliest period in which a title can be cleared and a sale effected is three years, the result being that they have not been able to digest £1,500,000 a year during the last eighteen years. I therefore think it is an almost extravagant hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to arrange to dispose of £5,000,000 in any one year for a considerable time to come. There is, however, one means by which the tenants of Ireland can get some satisfaction. As there must be delays, and as of course it would not be politic to disappoint the tenants, I suggest that the applications for these £12,000,000 should be limited to those owners who declare themselves ready to sell within the year after the Bill passes. I do not think that twelve months would be too long, because there are questions of trustees to consider, of landlords on the Continent or in Australia, and even of landlords who, strangely enough, cannot be found at all. But even if the Government provide that the applications shall be made within twelve months, every tenant in Ireland will know who is inclined to sell and who is not. At any rate, tenants who were going to get their farms would have additional peace of mind which would be 233 desirable in the interests of the community.
I have been fairly long in this House—long enough to get tired of it—and I never before found any man getting a job that I was glad of until I heard the name of W. F. Bailey. He is a landlord, a Protestant, a Conservative and a Unionist, but he is a clear-headed man who knows the Irish system and knows the world from San Francisco to Bokhara. I would not take a mile off it. With regard to the other gentlemen, we have, of course, been constantly at war with Mr. Wrench, but, in all probability, he has learnt a great deal in the fourteen or fifteen years he has been in office. He is an Englishman who came over without very large experience to our country, who was very heartily abused, no doubt, but profited by it, and I notice of late has figured more largely on the Congested Districts Board than on the Land Commission. He is responsible for one thing—the introduction of the hackney strain of horses, which I do not think met with general approval. He will be better known for that by the public than as a Land Commissioner. But there must be a balance, and when you have on the one side a man who is supposed to be on the tenant side, you balance him by a man who is raddled and ear-marked on the other side. As regards Mr. Finucane, I place great weight on any recommendation Sir Anthony Macdonnell makes. I think his desire is to bring in a man who is substantially neutral, and who has had experience of a country which is in many parts even poorer than Ireland. Sometimes, however, these Indian officials bring too Oriental a view to a too Occidental situation. When Colonel McKerley was at the Board of Works in 1881, he was much abused. I was approached by the late Mr. Blake, who then sat for Waterford, and he said to me—The Government are going to appoint an Indian general for Ireland—General Sankey; will you give me a written guarantee that you will hold your tongue about him for twelve months?We did. And at the end of that time Mr. Blake came to us and with a slight shake of his head and a slight stutter said—Well, now, you can abuse Sankey as much as you like.234 All I will say with regard to Mr. Finucane, I would give him the same period of grace and not abuse him for at least a year certain
There are great difficulties in facilitating purchase transactions, not merely in the question of title, but by reason of another interest—that of the agents. This is to be a voluntary Bill. Landlords in Ireland are not very clever—you see a lot of them sometimes in this House, and they are very largely in the hands of their agents. It is perfectly clear it cannot be in the interest of any Irish agent to lose his salary. Take the case of a lady living in England not acquainted with finance, whose agent writes over, "This Bill will ruin you. It is the worst measure ever passed for Ireland, and I advise you to hold on until a Liberal Government comes into office." In Ireland there is always some future Government which is going to settle everything. That power of agents and receivers, and the straits they will be in to avert loss of livelihood is a serious matter. In the case of the Huntingdon estate, the matter was delayed for three or four years by the bogus pretext of the agent that a loan was going to be raised from some imaginary English financier to clear off the whole mortgage. These men have to live the same as everybody else, but it appears to me if some of these £12,000,000 were to go to the agents instead of the landlords you would have much quicker land purchase. We remember how Mr. Goschen got through his great conversion scheme. He gave the honest broker 2s. 6d. per cent., and by that means every broker in the City advised his clients that there was nothing better in the world, and that 2¾ per cent. was far better than 3 per cent. In the same way, not that I have any love for them, but looking at the matter from the point of view of human nature and a desire to bring purchase into operation, I would urge the Government not to omit this question from their consideration. It argues well for the country and the position of affairs generally that this measure should receive the reception it has from the general body of the House, and that this great measure of appeasement should not be grudged to Ireland by a Conservative administration.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
I notice that no other Member has risen, and I feel the time has now come, not to reply, for that will hardly be expected of me, but to notice some of the questions that have been raised, and to repair some of the omissions in my speech. The hon. and learned Gentleman who sat down last referred to the fact that on the score of time I had probably deferred the explanation of some matters of secondary importance. It is true that I cut my speech shorter than I originally intended that it should be, because I felt I was putting before the House a mass of details that they could not assimilate. When food is not assimilated it does the body no good, and that is also true of Bills; if they are not understood at the moment it is no good hammering at provisions of secondary importance. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the eighth which will remain a perpetual rent-charge. So far from the Treasury profiting by that eighth, in respect of that eighth the Treasury is giving up a sinking fund; it is financing the loan on its own responsibility, without getting 10s. per cent. back from Ireland to redeem the advances. From the Treasury's point of view, it is, I think, a generous provision. Then the hon. and learned Member asked me whether I had accidentally omitted to say that at some future time, if not now, this eighth would be collected by, and, I presume, administered by some local bodies in Ireland. I have given a good deal of thought to some such project as that; and, speaking for myself—and I speak for no one else on this matter—I should like to see some such project carried out. I believe it would be a good project. I believe that it would be wise for local bodies in Ireland to collect some part of these instalments and hold them as a perpetual form of income, of course surrendering some of the grants given from this country in exchange. I think it would be a very sensible thing to do to interest local bodies in Ireland in land purchase. But this is a long Bill. I want this Bill to pass. I am afraid of overweighting it, and I have been persuaded to the belief that to bring anything in the nature of a Local Government Bill into this Bill would be to risk the loss of it. On 236 matters of local government there is not that agreement between all parties in Ireland which, thank Heaven, there is now on the matter of land purchase; and had I persisted in bringing local bodies into this Bill, I might have thrown down a possible bone of contention between parties who are drawing so close together on the question of land purchase. If that is ever to be done, it must be done in the future, in a separate measure, on the responsibility of a Minister who feels it is safe to do it. It would not be safe, we think, to do it now—quite safe from the point of view of Ireland, but not safe from the point of view of this Bill. The eighth has nothing to do with the £12,000,000. It is an eighth of the money advanced, the total amount of which I estimate at about £100,000,000.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
What I suggested was that in return for the £12,000,000 you are making us pay a perpetual eighth of the entire bargain.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
There is no connection between the two. It will be for hon. Members to consider this proposal of a perpetual rent charge. I gathered that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford said he considered we had good grounds for having something of the kind, but he reserved the right of considering whether our proposal was excessive. Most hon. Members have reserved their right of revising their opinion of the Bill, and in all fairness I must have the right to reserve my judgment on some of the points which have been raised. I do not think it would really be for the convenience of the House that I should start a ragged debate now, taking up one point and then another. I have taken notes of the points, and of the omissions detected in my statement, and to these I will give my best attention.
I ought to answer a specific question put to me by my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn in regard to the finances of the Bill. He suggested that our proposal may mean an advance of a sum of £100,000,000 to Ireland. I think that is an outside estimate. It may turn out to be only £90,000,000. I am assured that it could not possibly be advanced in a less 237 period than fifteen years. The hon. and learned Member who preceded me said he has good reason for saying that is a sanguine estimate, that we shall never be able to raise and advance more than £5,000,000 in any one year, even if we reach that amount. If fifteen years is a sanguine estimate from my point of view, it is a consoling estimate from the point of view of the City of London. My hon. I friend asked me whether the £185,000 a year, upon which all the losses incidental to flotation would fall, will be put in the Estimates. It will not be in the Estimates; it will be in a Bill for reasons which I had better give when I introduce the Bill. It will be in the form of a perpetual grant to Ireland—I would rather not be drawn now into an explanation—as an equivalent for the grant to England under the Education Act last year. We hold that Ireland ought to get it, and we can discover no means by which she can get it unless we embody it in a Bill. The third point was in respect of the £390,000 a year. Yes, that will be in the Estimates. It is the maximum which can be reached in fifteen years if we take the most sanguine estimate of the pace at which we are likely to proceed. I would refer to the fact that we have been very economical in Ireland. There has been an increase of 18 per cent. on the Civil expenditure in England, but there has been a decrease of over 1 per cent. on Civil expenditure in Ireland; and there are other economies which will be instituted forthwith if this Bill finds favour with the House. They are based upon investigations which have already been conducted into the establishment of the police and of the Land Com mission in Ireland. That further economy, estimated at a minimum of £250,000, will be perpetual, as against a temporary increase in the Estimates of £390,000 a year.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me whether I would give the provisions as to subdivision. They are rather technical, and perhaps he will wait until I have the Bill. I hope it will be in the hands of Members to-morrow, or early on Friday. In the case of intestacy it is a difficult matter to deal with. We say no tenant purchaser is to mortgage his holding to a higher amount than ten times its valuation—that is about a third of its market price. But there is a danger in Ireland of persons 238 dying without making wills, and then their holdings ought, of course, to be divided amongst the children equally. That involves a difficulty, and therefore the Land Commission can give leave to encumber the holding for a greater amount. I would not go further than that. Briefly, those are the lines on which we work. The Leader of the Opposition also asked me to go at greater length into the allocation of this aid grant. The £12,000,000 is the limit. We do not mean to go further than that. We might have said we estimate this problem at £4,000,000 and three years purchase. We might have said we will add 10 or 12 per cent. in every case; but we did not say so because, in our opinion, it would press more heavily on the small than on the large properties. We have said we will give 15 per cent. on £5,000 and under, and graduate it inversely when we come to estates of greater value. When we get to £20,000, an estate worth £800 a year, we add 10 per cent., and at £40,000 we give 5 per cent. That is the minimum, but it will be available in every case. In the Bill of last year there was a clause saying that the State would give such facilities as may be thought proper. This is in lieu of that and all other promises. The hon. Member for Louth said we should do better to allocate a part of this aid grant to the agents. We think that with this assistance the landlord ought to make proper provision for a trusted servant. We cannot provide in the Bill for the creation of a new hierarchy, and a large establishment of officials. The Estates Commissioners will work, so far as they can, through the agents and solicitors of Ireland. They may temporarily employ such persons to act under them. I think if land purchase last, as I am sure it will last; for fifteen years, there will be good work, and acceptable work, to be done by the best Irish agents over the whole of the country, and a good deal of money to be made out of it.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Yes, there are, but I did not mention them because I did not wish to weary the House with what is a very minor part of the Bill. There are three clauses relating to the labourers. I do not myself say that that 239 is not a very important part of the Bill, for I feel sure that the labourers ought to be included, but compared with the financial magnitude of the proposals, which it was my first duty to explain to the House, these clauses deal with what, after all, are minor administrative reforms.
§ MR. SHEEHAN (Cork County, Mid)
I think it would be of great advantage if we could have a statement with regard to the labourers clauses.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
Time is going on, and I think the hon. Member might wait. It is not from any wish to spare myself that I ask this, but there are many hon. Members in the House who, I think, are getting rather tired of hearing the sound of my voice. The hon. Member will be able to read these three clauses in the next forty-eight hours, and I hope he will not think it necessary for me to go into them to-night.
§ SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I do not know whether my right hon. friend would think it proper to make any statement with respect to sporting rights.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
We leave them under the existing law when it is so desired. We do not force a landlord to sell his sporting rights if he does not wish to sell them; but my hon. and gallant friend will see what we do with them when the Bill is in his hands.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
As the area of Ireland is purchased, the necessity for the Land Commission diminishes, and certainly the necessity for some seventy temporary sub-commissioners ought to be diminished very rapidly, and, as they are appointed from year to year, we may look to them for a very effective source of economy. But, pending the adjudication upon the great number of outstanding appeals, and the necessity there must be for a judicial tribunal to determine all points of law, the three Land Commissioners will go on, at any rate, for the present. Whether it will be necessary to reappoint new ones in the 240 event of a vacancy is a matter on which we will be better able to judge when we see whether this Bill succeeds, as I hope it may. I thank all hon. Members for the way in which they have received the Bill. I ask them to pass no hasty judgment upon it. Everyone has refrained from doing so; and that, I believe, is the best that any man, however sanguine, should have expected to befall this afternoon. I hope; that when the Bill has been studied a judgment will be passed upon it, and that with the great majority in this House that judgment will be favourable. For the moment that must be an aspiration.
Bill to amend the Law relating to the occupation and ownership of land in Ireland; and for other purposes relating thereto; and to amend the Labourers, (Ireland) Acts, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Wyndham, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Attorney-General for Ireland.