§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £83,415, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1906, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Bristol, S.
I think it will be convenient if I state what are the suggestions that the Irish Government are able to offer in order to cope, in some way, at all events, with the block in the Land Commission. In order to do this I will be as brief as possible. It is necessary that I should not only tell the Committee what the present position is, but also remind them what is the history of the Irish Land Act of 1903. The purchase applications which have been received up to date amount to £27,933,000. The Treasury undertook at the time of the passing of the Act to find £5,000,000 a year, and there was an understanding arrived at between the Treasury and the Irish Government that during the first, three years that the Act would be in operation there should be not more than £5,000,000 issued in one year. The Treasury loyally carried out their part of the bargain, because in the first year they issued stock to the extent of £5,000,000, which produced £4,337,122. In the second year, owing to the representations of the Member for Dover, as the first, issue had failed to produce the amount in cash that the Irish Government had anticipated would have been at their disposal, the Treasury very liberally consented to increase the issue from £5,000,000 to £6,000,000. £6,000,000 was therefore issued, and produced £5,354,332, making a total of £9,691,454, 1410 and deducting that from £27,000,000 odd, we had a balance of £18,241,550. We have reason to believe that if it were possible by any just and wise expedient to remove that block, it ought to be possible to deal with from £3,000,000 to £5,000,000 worth of property before January next.
It is quite natural I should be asked why I have not pressed the Treasury to issue another loan before the time I agreed upon has expired. I may remind the Committee that up to the I present date only twenty-one months have elapsed of the first two years of the Act, so that within those twenty-one months we have received more than the; Treasury undertook to provide us with in the first two years. If that Question be asked, the Answer to it, I think, is obvious. If we put aside altogether the question of bargain between the Irish Government and the Treasury, and if be were the case, as I have already shown it is not, that the Treasury has failed to act liberally in response to the demand made by the Irish Government it would still be necessary to consider whether it is desirable to issue another loan of the same character and on the same conditions at the present moment. The Committee must recollect that it is only possible to issue loans for this or I any other purpose from time to time as it is probable that they will be freely accepted by the money market. I would also remind hon. Members that whatever may be the inclination in ordinary cases we ought not in this case to condemn the Treasury for acting in a niggardly way or for being unwilling to come to the relief of another branch of Irish Government, solely because the Treasury in this matter have not themselves to think of. The Committee must recollect that upon every issue the guarantee fund, of which the development grant is the first constituent, is responsible for the loss on flotation. The Treasury might if they cared to do so take up the line that it was no business of theirs. The loss would fall upon the Irish Exchequer, and therefore they need not interfere. But there is, apart altogether from this local aspect of the question, a much larger and wider aspect from which the question must be approached and that 1411 is the general effect upon the money-market. I do not think that anybody will deny that, assuming the conditions which I have described, namely, a deliberate bargain made publicly—not privately—but made publicly on the floor of this House, and frequently referred to since it was made by the Treasury and the Irish Government, and the complete fulfilment of that bargain—I do not think anybody will deny that grave risks would be incurred if the Treasury, without good cause and without obtaining some substantial advantage in return, were to break the bargain publicly made on the floor of the House and throw upon the market another loan which would be altogether unexpected by those likely to take it up. It might have a very serious effect not only upon the value of land stock itself, but upon the general condition of the money market as a whole. Therefore, I have adopted the only course open to me when I acquiesced in the Treasury view and accepted the decision that an extra loin on the ordinary terms could not reasonably be issued at the present time.
I had to ask myself in the circumstances whether it was possible to find any ether expedient which would temporarily, at all events, tend to lessen our difficulties. I have examined many suggestions which Have been made to me, but I have been driven to the conclusion—and I may say that I have come to this conclusion after prolonged consultation not only with my own advisers but with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the experts at his command—that the only way in which we can, experimentally it may be, attempt to relieve the block is by making an alteration in the Act of 1903. In the Act of 1903 it is made obligatory that all payments in respect of estates shall be in cash. If we were to alter that so as to make it compulsory upon owners of land to take anything else except cash it would be a deliberate breach of the provision of Parliament and ought not to be undertaken by anybody. But there is a middle course which the Government suggest, and it is that the Act of 1903 should be amended so that the compulsion of taking cash should be altered to this extent: that, while the Act remains as it is, there 1412 should be amending words introduced in a single-clause Bill to enable the vendors, if they so wish, and only if they so wish, to take a portion of the purchase money in stock. What I propose is that two-thirds of the purchase money should be-the maximum to be taken in stock, one-third in cash, the bonus in cash, and the stock to be at its face value. If this plan be adopted, it would probably still be necessary to issue more stock, because, as I have already shown, the funds at our disposal are absolutely exhausted.
When I first became responsible for the Irish Government, all the existing issues and the previous issues had been expanded with the exception of about £1,250,000. That £1,250,000 is practically expended at the present time, so that it would still be necessary, from time to time, to make fresh issues in the market. If this plan which I, with great respect, suggest to the House be adopted, it would have the following advantages. In the first place, assuming that a certain proportion of the vendors took advantage of the arrangement, it would enable the landlords a id the tenants, of the estates affected to complete their I bargains at a very early date instead of having to wait, as it may and probably will be, for years before they can hope to get the money to which they are I entitled. If it is urged that this is an unexpected development, I am bound to remind the Committee that in all the debates that took place at the time my right hon. friend anticipated that the full working of the Act would take a very considerable period of time. I think he estimated it at probably fifteen years. I do not think anybody is to be blamed for making a forecast which has proved to be so erroneous, because I doubt if anybody at the time the Act, was passed contemplated that it would have worked as rapidly as it has done; and, whereas it was anticipated that £5,000,000 would be more than enough in each of the first two years, we find those £5,000,000 are gone before that period, applications having been so numerous. If they continue to come in at the present rate the accumulation of un-disposed of applications will be largely increased, and, if we are to deal with these in anything like reasonable 1413 time we mint have an additional, and it may be a temporary and experimental way of dealing with the difficulty.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
But does not the vendor get any interest on the provisional bargain?
§ MR. ME. JOHN MORLEY
Then the operation is not suspended. He is drawing a fair interest all the time.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
Certainly, it depends upon the bargain he makes with the tenants. Ad interim, he gets 3½ per cent. on the purchase money. It is necessary, however, to remember that until the sale is completed his charges cannot be paid off—and therefore the interest upon them remains at whatever figure it has hitherto been—nor does he get the benefit of the bonus, which is only payable when the transaction is completed. Therefore there would be these great advantages. Not only would the arrangements between the landlord and tenant be completed earlier than otherwise, but the vendors would be able to pay off their charges so as to get the benefit of the interest on the balance in the form of income. I believe myself, and I believe the figures I shall give will prove it, that in the long run the loss consequent upon the difference between the face value of stock and cash would not be by any means serious in amount. Including the money already issued, to carry this Act into successful operation involves the issue of £112,000,000 of stock in order that the money may be found. Now the merest tyro of finance must recognise that for the years during which the Act is running it must throw a very heavy liability upon the stock market of this country. With all the good will in the world on the part of the British Exchequer and the investing public, it must inevitably be several years, possibly many years, before vendors can get their money, and if, therefore, they are inclined to take advantage of this new method, then a very great benefit will be conferred not only upon the community in Ireland, but upon the general stock market. If 1414 this arrangement were at all largely availed of, while at present we have to be responsible for the issue in the course of the next ten or fifteen years of some £112,000,000 inclusive of the £11,003,000 already issued, it is quite conceivable hat that issue might be reduced £50,000,000 or £60,000,000. It is not necessary for me to remind the Committee of the buoyant effect that result would in all probability have upon the stock market of the country as a whole. Therefore, from a local point of view, and from a general point of view, I think I may claim these advantages for the scheme I propose.
Let me remind hon. Gentlemen who sit for Irish constituencies that, if we go on as we are at present, there is a very grave risk, to put it mildly, of the development grant being entirely absorbed. If we can lessen these costs by an expedient such as I have suggested the development grant would be the first to benefit. I do not think it necessary to say a word about this expedient from the point of view of the tenants. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the purchasing tenants will be in no way injuriously affected. On the contrary, the completion of their transactions will be expedited, and, so far as they are concerned, whether the payment is made wholly in cash or in stock is a matter which does not affect them. With regard to the position of the vendors, this is an experiment which may be only of a temporary character, and no vendor can be called upon to take this stock unless he, of his own free will, consents to do so. Therefore, I do not think it can be said that it is a hardship, oven though it may be a new departure which they may regard with some suspicion. I admit at once that the Landlords' Convention have considered this matter and decided that they are not in a position to agree to it. Therefore, I make, the proposal with the full knowledge that it does not start under very good auspices, and the Government would not have made it had they not felt it was their bounden duty, at all events, to make a proposition to the House which if it commends itself to Parliament will. I believe, result in lessening the block which at present exists.
1415 I will give the Committee a very simple illustration of the effect of the suggested change. I take an estate which is encumbered to about two thirds of its value. The purchase money is £21,654, and the rate of interest, for the interim period 3½ per cent. The present charges amount altogether to £605, which deducted from an income of £758, leaves a nett income during the interim period of £153. Suppose the landlord adopts the suggested change. The sum required to pay oft the incumbrances is £11,667. The landlord will receive in cash one-third of the purchase money, £7,218, and a bonus of £2,598, making a total of £9,816, so that to make up the £11,667 there will be required an additional sum of £1,851. To provide this sum by selling stock at 92 he would sell £2,012. The total stock he receives, therefore, is £14,436, of which he will retain £12,424, and the annual income which he will derive in dividends from this stock at 2¾ per cent. is £342. Therefore, while there is a loss in capital value to the landlord, during the three, four, or five years which must elapse before he can get his purchase completed he will have an income of £342 as against £153. The result in another illustration which I might give is that on an state sold for £29,299, very heavily encumbered, the net income is £6, which by the adoption of this plan would be increased to £257.
Having regard to the immediate pressure in many cases and the urgent necessity of finding some honest and practical way out of the difficulty, I think I may fairly urge that the adoption of this suggestion will carry no injustice to the purchasing tenants, and that while it will inflict some capital loss on the landlord it will give him so great a relief in regard to his immediate receipts that the proposal is worthy of careful consideration. I have every reason to hope that it may not be necessary actually to issue the stock in the course of the oming months. Once in the position of offering cash with stock it means the purchase of more than twice the amount than if cash alone were available. I should then think it my duty to make such arrangements with the Treasury as I could, and avoid, if possible, the issue of stock, and the prevent the risk of additional loss On 1416 flotation. The period to which I have referred is between now and January 1st. I have already obtained from the Treasury very considerable augmentation of the staff of the distributing branches of the Land Commission, and I am also considering with the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General what is the best way to deal with the difficulty in the Judicial Commissioner's Court, I think everyone will admit that the work he has done is almost unexampled in amount, and if we Can give him assistance we ought to do so. I hope I have made these proposals clear to the Committee. I apologise to the Committee for the time I have occupied, and I further ask that at the hands of the Committee and Parliament they may have fair and unprejudiced consideration.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford) said the right hon. Gentleman had no need to apologise for the time he had taken, but he had some reason to apologise for the fact that in the concluding days of the session when full discussion was impossible he should propose a fundamental change in the Land Act of 1903. He had said that he made this suggestion after prolonged consultation. Consultation with whom? Not with the representatives of the Irish people in that House.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
Quite so; then the right hon. Gentleman had reason to apologise for coming to the House at the end of the session with a scheme without ascertaining the views of those who represented the mass of the Irish people, in the House and outside it—a scheme which necessitated legislation at a time when it could not be at all properly discussed. Into the merits of the proposal he was not entering. This was the first he had heard of it, and he declined to discuss a scheme which was thrown at their heads in this way without any consultation with or intimation to those most deeply interested. If it was to be proceeded with it would have to be by the introduction of a Bill and he, for one, would consent to no Bill 1417 dealing with this important subject unless he and his colleagues were afforded ample opportunity for consideration and discussion. They had too often made the mistake of giving way to the stress of the moment and accepting legislation of this kind without discussion. As far as he was concerned he came years ago to the conclusion that no matter how simple a Bill was, and how good its object, he would decline to make himself in any way responsible for its passage without full and adequate discussion. Apart from the merits of the scheme he gave the right hon. Gentleman fair warning that he and his colleagues would not agree to the passage of any Bill without adequate discussion in the House.
But he had a wider objection with regard to the passing of these small amending Acts. The truth was that the working of the Land Act of 1903 had in its essential portion broken down. The right hon. Gentleman was quite correct when he spoke of the rapidity with which the Act was working as judged by the amount of money that had been applied for. But that did not convey an accurate idea as to whether this Act was working successfully or not. What was the primary object of this Bill? It was not merely to facilitate the transfer of land, for that was only the means. The object was to settle the Irish land question and put an end to the Irish land war. The In ill land question was, to a very large extent, centred in the poorer parts of the country where there was congestion on the one side and large depopulated tracts of grazing land on the other. If every estate of the well-to-do were sold tomorrow on fair terms the land question would remain so long as the question of congestion and cattle ranches remained untouched. The working of the Act showed a complete and absolute breakdown in dealing with congestion and the breaking up of grass lands. With regard to the evicted tenants the Act had been equally a failure. But he took a broader, objection to the passage of small amending Bills such as that which was now suggested. Until they were in a position to force the Government to give them the opportunity of proposing an amendment of the Act in order to make it work where it was really needed, it would be foolish 1418 of them to simply facilitate the hasty transfer of estates in rich parts of Ireland.
The question arose quite recently in connection with the action of the Government itself regarding the issue of new regulations. The House would remember how I that matter stood. Until the other day they were unable to elicit the directions and regulations and instructions under which the Estates Commissioners were acting. The Report which the Estates Commissioners issued stated explicitly that instructions had been given to them which had had the effect of fettering their discretion and preventing them from following out the administration of the Act on the lines which seemed best to them, and when they asked for the production of those instructions they were told that they were not instructions in accordance with a certain section of the Act, but were given in official correspondence, and could not be produced. He did not intend to go back on that controversy, although it would be a favourable subject for discussion.
He came now to the new regulations. The right hon. Gentleman, promised when he entered office that he would make new regulations; and that they would be placed before Parliament. He had done so, and these new regulations completely knocked the bottom out of the Land Act so far as the evicted tenants and the congested districts were concerned. The first regulation the right hon. Gentleman had issued was one which in his judgment ended all possibility of the Estates Commissioners obtaining untenanted land anywhere in Ireland, either for the purpose of restoring evicted tenants or for the improvement and enlargement of holdings. This new regulation provided that the applications in Court should be dealt with on the principle of first come first served. Now that might seem at first sight a fair principle, to lay down, that there should be no distinction between applications, but to anyone who understood the Land Act and how it was working it must appear very different. Of the £28,000,000 applied for up to the present almost all had been applied for under sections of the Act, that was to say, applied for in direct sales, between landlord and tenant. In those 1419 cases it was impossible for the Land Commissioners to obtain possession of untenanted land. And in the case of all the estates which were being sold direct from the landlord to the tenant, what was the landlord, doing? He was dividing his estate up before the sale took place, putting up lots to auction, and selling them to the highest bidder. Then he went to the Land Commissioners and sold the new holdings to them. In very many cases by this process the landlord got paid twice over. That procedure was on foot all over Ireland, with the result that the Land Commission had no chance of getting possession of untenanted land. It was in cases in which the sale took place from the landlord to the Commissioners and from them to the tenants that the Commissioners had the chance of obtaining untenanted land. They could always obtain it by sales through the Land Judge's Court. The new regulation, however, provided that all the cases already in Court which came entirely under Section I must have precedence, with the result that it postponed for years and years the possibility of the Commissioners obtaining possession of untenanted land. Thus it constituted an absolute block in the working of the Land Act in the only field in which it might be hoped to carry out its object of settling the Irish land question. He, for his past, would oppose any scheme for facilitating the obtaining of money for this object, so long as there was a regulation in force which compelled the whole of the money to go to the purchase of estates when there was really no land question at all, and which prevented any of the money going to the poorer parts of the country.
It might be asked what he suggested He admitted it would not be work able to allow absolute discretion to the Commissioners to pick out this estate and that estate and take the applications in any order they pleased. What he suggested was that there should be a fair division of the money made available for each different class of sales. Judge Ross in the Land Judge's Court had complained that the work had come to a standstill, and that it would be absolutely impossible for him to carry out his object of 1420 clearing that Court, and the new regulation made that a permanent state of things by forbidding any of his cases to be taken in priority to the £28,000,000 worth of cases already in the hands of the Commissioners under Section 1. He suggested that, in future, if £5,000,000 was devoted to land purchase, a certain proportion should be put on one side to deal with cases in the Land Judge's Court; that the tenth of it, side £3,000,000, should be put aside to deal with direct sales, and the balance be put at the disposal of the Land Commission to deal with cases under Section 6, where they bought direct from the landlord, in which case they could hope to obtain the breaking up of these large grazing farms. Any scheme of that sort would receive from them careful consideration. When a block had been come to and when there were great interests at stake affecting the vast majority of the people of Ireland, it was not reasonable or business-like for the Chief Secretary to come there with a cut-and-dried scheme, after prolonged consultation with a few English officials sent over to the offices in Dublin, without any consultation with the people affected or their representatives. This was an Ac t amending the Land Act of 1903, not dealing with the really important parts of the Land Act, but providing money to facilitate sales in the richer parts of Ireland where there was no great hardship.
The next regulation was the most extraordinary he had ever heard. He would read a portion of it—In every case in which an application is made to the Estates Commissioners they shall inquire whether any intimidation has been exercised, directly or indirectly, in reference to or in connection with such replication or the subject matter thereof, or the estate or land "Effected thereby."—Would the House seriously consider what that meant? Here was a body of Commissioners cons sting of three very able officials, civilians not connected in any way with the law. They had the duty of carrying out the sale of estates and the Executive came along and said to them, "When an application is made to you, you must first inquire whether there has been any intimidation in connection with the application or the land affected?" What was intimidation?
1421 Were the Estates Commissioners to go out like two removable magistrates and hold a Court in the district, and try the question whether there had been intimidation or not? What did intimidation mean? The object of this regulation, in his view, was to intimidate the people. It was to try to bring about the sale of estates all over Ireland without allowing the people anything in the nature of public action or freedom of speech to discuss the Act or the prices under the Act. It seemed to him that this regulation would have the direct effect, if carried out, of intimidating the people. The mere proposal of it was certainly calculated to create an utterly false impression in that House and in the country, because a proposal of this kind could scarcely be justified unless the Government that made it was able to show that there was in the country some widespread system of wrong-doing and intimidation.
The proposal was quite remarkable. The Commissioners were to inquire as to whether there was any intimidation or not. How were they to inquire? Suppose that a local policeman wrote to the Commissioners saying, "I hear that there is a proposal for the sale of such and such an estate. I beg to call your attention to the fact that the enclosed anonymous threatening notice was found posted Oil a dead wall in the neighbourhood." Was that intimidation? Certainly it was an accusation of intimidation. Was it not ludicrous under these conditions to instruct that an application was to be put on one side, and that Mr. Wrench, Mr. Bailey, and Mr. Finucane were solemnly to go down and hold an inquiry as to whether intimidation was really in existence there or not They were forbidden to enter into the matter at all until they had satisfied themselves on that matter. Take another case. Suppose that negotiations were going on for the sale of an estate in Tipperary or anywhere they liked—let him say, to make the case a very aggravated one, that the Member for Tipperary went down among his own constituents—an audacious thing for him to do in Ireland—and that he was accompanied by two or three parish priests and other friends of the tenants, and held meeting at which the question of sale 1422 was discussed openly and in preference to the Press; and resolutions were come to saying that the landlord should make this concession, asking that certain other concessions should be made, and inquiring what was the best price that the landlord would take. Of course he knew that might be held to be intimidation under the Coercion Act by two removable magistrates. But was it seriously suggested that; on account of a public meeting of that kind to advise the people as to what they were to do in regard to holdings in the neighbourhood, the Commissioners were not to be allowed to entertain applications until they had made inquiry as to whether intimidation had been practised or not? This regulation was a most insulting one, and an unworkable one. It seemed to him that if the Commissioners attempted to carry it oat they would be bound to inquire into every expression of public opinion so long as public opinion made itself heard at all. So long as the views of the people were freely heard it would be impossible to carry out any sales at all because the Commissioners would be engaged all their time inquiring into these matters.
The third regulation absolutely prevented the improvement and enlargement of hoi lings in the first place, and actually prevented the restoration of the evicted tenants in the second place. The first regulation prevented the possibility of the Commissioners getting hold of un tenanted lands. The third regulation said that even when they did get posession of untenanted land they could not divide it up in the way suggested, either for the improvement of holdings or the restoration of evicted tenants.
Let him read the third regulation—Having regard to the provisions of Sections 2, 4 and 8 of the Act, and of the enactments repealed by the Act, untenanted lands when purchased by the Estates Commissioners, whether they form part of an estate sold or have been acquired under the provisions of Section 8, should be utilised for the enlargement of the uneconomic holdings of agricultural or pastoral tenants, or for providing landa for the persons, or for the purposes described in Sections 2 and 4 of the Act, and not for the purpose of erecting tenancies for the benefit of, or making allotments to, persons other than those described in the last-mentioned sections.1423 The persons described in the last-mentioned sections were of four classes—the tenants on the estate, the sons of tenants on the estate, the evicted tenants, and tenants in the immediate neighbourhood whose holdings were under £5 valuation. Up to the issue of these regulations, if his information was accurate, the Commissioners were endcavouring to do what they could in the way of enlargement of holdings and in the way of the migration of tenants irrespective of these limitations. They were forbidden now to go outside these four classes. What did that mean? He did not know if there was anyone on the other side of the House acquainted with the state of things in the immediate neighbourhood of the congested districts in the West of Ireland, but let him take an example from that part of Galway which was much in the public eye at the present moment, and in respect to which the trial was going on of fifty or sixty peasants on charges of unlawful assembly. He might say, incidentally, that it was a district surrounding the Olanricarde Estate, and consisted of a whole series of great cattle ranches. There were no tenants there, and therefore if the Commissioners got possession of it and evaded regulation number one, they could not deal with it by giving it to tenants. There were no tenants' sons. The evicted tenants who were the third class could never get it as he would show in a I moment when he came to deal with their case under the same circular, and as to the fourth class there were scores of these ranches where there were no such tenants in the immediate neighbourhood, and if the Commissioners succeeded in getting these tracts into their hands under these new regulations they could not use them for the purpose of improving or enlarging holdings.
He would now deal with Sub-section (a) of the third regulation, which was in the following terms—The Estates Commissioners should only consider the question of providing a holding for a tenant evicted from any holding comprised in an estate upon the sale of that estate, and where there is untenanted land available for such purpose either comprised in an estate, or aquired by the Commissioners under Section 8 of the Act.1424 What did that mean? Before steps could be taken for the restoration of an evicted tenant the estate upon which the evicted holding was must be sold. That put an end to the possibility of the restoration of evicted tenants in Ireland. Take, again, the case of Lord Clanricarde. His hon. friend the Member for East Galway lived in a parish in which there were fifty evicted families living on the roadside, or upon the support given to them by their neighbours. They had been evicted for the last fifteen, eighteen, and some of them twenty years. They were on two estates, Lord Clanricarde's was one, and the other was the Lewis Estate. He thought there was no possibility, so long as these men were alive, of the estates being sold, and although the Commissioners thought they had power and were certainly exercising power of that kind, endeavouring to deal with the evicted tenants, they were now told that unless the estate was sold nothing could be done for those men. That was a most iniquitous regulation. It prevented the working of the evicted tenants' portion of the measure, and for his part he objected to any small amending Act being rushed through the House, without discussion, at the end of the session without the representatives of Ireland being given an opportunity of exposing the state of things.
He repeated, therefore, what he said the other day in answer to a reply given across the floor of the House by the right hon. Gentleman, that he would oppose, as far as he was concerned, by every means in his power every amending Act to facilitate sale in Ireland where the sale was of comparatively small importance so long as these iniquitous regulations were in force. The real truth of the matter was that so far as the essential portions of the Land Act were concerned they had broken down. He and his colleagues were of opinion that they would never work in the West of Ireland until the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners were invested with compulsory powers to deal with landlords of the type of Lord Clanricarde. There was a strong feeling in some parts of the country that compulsory powers ought to be conceded in regard to the 1425 congested portions in the West, and in regard to the problem of the great grazing ranches. He, for one, would not consent to any rushing through of the measure suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and he hoped that when the right hon. Gentleman came to reply he would tell the House when he proposed to introduce the Bill, when he proposed to take the Second Reading, and what time would be offered for the examination and I discussion of the measure.
§ *MR. MULDOON (Donegal, N.) said he rose for the purpose of seconding the Amendment that had been, moved. He agreed with the assertion of his hon. and learned friend that in its main features and in its main purposes the Act of 1903 had been a failure, and if its operations proceeded at the same rate of progress as now he was afraid that the Irish land question ten years hence, would be in a far worse condition than; when the Land Act was first passed. He confessed that when the Chief Secretary rose he expected to hear from him some apology for the failure of the Act, which was confessed in the Report recently issued by the Estates Commissioners, He did not think that any Blue-book ever presented to this House within twenty-one months of the passing of an Act contained a more humiliating confession of the failure of British legislation for Ireland.
There were other causes besides want of money for the non-success of the Act. Not only had the Act been a failure, but every promise, every prospect held out by the Chief Secretary had failed. The, responsibility for that failure, he admitted, was to be found in many causes; but chiefly, he thought, in the action of the Irish Executive themselves in reference to the Estates Commissioners. These Commissioners were gentlemen of great experience in regard to Irish land, and had been entrusted by the House with the exclusive administration of the Act. Notwithstanding that, the first act of the Executive was to issue regulations to them which were not made public, and which affected the main features and legal administration of the Act. Agents for the ligants appeared before the Commissioners to argue a point of 1426 law which had already been decided by instructions issued from Dublin Castle. Nevertheless, the farce had to be gone through.
The first of these cases was the important question under Section 5 of the security for the loan. That was argued before the Commissioners, although the decision had already come from Dublin Castle secretly. He said nothing about the Judicial Commissioner, because he believed that the Irish Executive had not treated him fairly in this matter, but he joined in the tribute which had bean paid to the work but had gone through. When a point of this enormous importance in regard to the security, affecting public interests in Ireland to an enormous extent, came before the Judicial Commissioner the Irish Executive waited for a case in which the solicitor for the landlord and the solicitor for the tenant argued the same proposition of law. In the King-Harman Estate the contention put forward on behalf of the landlords was the same as that put forward by the tenant. The same happened with regard to the Blake Foster Estate. That estate came up for sale under Section 40 of the Land Act of 1896, and the price was agreed between the landlord and the tenant at fourteen years purchase. That amounted to £6,000. It did not go through because the Irish Land Commission reported that the security was bad and they refused to advance one penny. Under the Land Act of 1903, Section 1, the landlord and tenant made arrangements for nineteen years purchase and the amount involved was £8,900. The Land Commission, under the powers of Section 1, were asked to do nothing but approve of the advance, for no other reason in the world than that the tenants in that case were" getting, by reason of the lower interest, a reduction of nearly forty per cent. The counsel for the tenants went before the Judicial Commissioner, who was to decide an important point of law which would effect an enormous au Tiber of tenants all over Ireland, asking him to approve of the price. The argument was that the Commission had no jurisdiction, except to express approval under the first Section of the Act. There 1427 was another case, in which the Treasury went before the Judicial Commissioner to argue that any money advanced for the improvement of land must come out of the reserve fund. There was no appearance for anybody except the Treasury. That case was argued for the Treasury by Mr. Matheson, and really it amounted to a farce. He had the report, which appeared in a legal paper, The Jurist, which stated that when Mr. Matheson had finished his argument for the Treasury, the judicial tribunal invited him to argue the case for the other side. Then Mr. Matheson proceeded with what he conceived might be argued by the other side, upon which the Judicial Commission said that he was bound to acknowledge that Mr. Matheson had not gone the length of imperilling to any great extent his own argument in behalf of the Treasury, but that he was sure that Mr. Matheson had done all he could. He put it to the House whether decisions on the interpretation of an Act of Parliament of enormous importance and involving great consequences should be taken under circumstances like that. It was not fair to the distinguished gentleman who filled the office of Judicial Commissioner. He put it to the Attorney-General whether it would not be possible to have matters of that kind—questions of abstract law—settled when both parties were represented. He could imagine nothing of more importance to the people of Ireland.
Almost every promise which had been made from the other side of the House when the Act of 1903 was passing through the House had either failed in operation or had been broken. The failure of the legislation of 1903 could only be measured by the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Dover when the Bill was being passed. On March 25th, 1903, the right hon. Member for Dover said that—
Some of the holdings ought not to be sold unless they were increased in size, and in the neighbourhood of estates where there was a congested population this ought to be dealt with.
Now, the instructions received by the Estates Commissioners from Dublin Castle showed, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Waterford, that that promise would not be carried out. It
was the policy of Dublin Castle to prevent it being carried out. Again, on March 25th, 1903, the right hon. Member for Dover said—
The agrarian situation in Ireland is to be built up from the bottom, It is our object to enable every occupier to purchase an economic holding capable of maintaining himself and his family in decency and comfort.
The Estates Commissioners had adopted the system, outlined in their Report, of allowing the landlords to sell their estates block by block, and that rendered it impossible to carry out the promise of the right hon. Member for Dover. The landlord selected town lands where the tenants were under heavy arrears of rent; these town lands were sold and that set a precedent for all the other land. There was no question of congestion; no question of untenanted land; and no means of carrying out the policy outlined by the right hon. Member for Dover when the Act was passed through the House. There might be, in the immediate neighbourhood of that estate, a congested population, but it was not possible to deal with it. Nobody could pretend that there had been any effort to carry out the policy of the Act of 1903. Never had there been a bigger confession of failure than the present condition of things in the West of Ireland. It amounted to a confession on the part of the Executive that it was impossible to carry out their policy under the law as it now stood. The Estates Commissioners were given all the powers of the Congested Districts Board to sell to the tenants economic holdings, and to improve estates, yet no sooner were the Estates Commissioners installed in office than that particular section of the Act was repealed—practically repealed by His Majesty's Treasury.
With regard to the instructions lately issued by the Executive to the Commissioners, he could only say that, if he expressed exactly what he thought, he would be, called to order, which was a thing he did not at present desire. The instructions said that in every case in which an application of any kind came before the Commissioner the first duty was to go into a roving commission to see if there had been any intimidation. This instruction simply repealed the whole of Section 1 of the 1429 Act, because there there was only jurisdiction to approve if the price was within the limits mentioned. It was simply grotesque to suggest that these Commissioners were to go down and inquire in every case whether a threatening letter had been sent. As a result of all this the efforts to relieve the congestion of the West had dwindled down to the purchase of three estates only. A more complete failure could not be conceived, and the Committee would see that, having regard to the present condition of things, and to the acute situation which had arisen in the West of Ireland, it would be necessary for a new Bill to be brought in that the promises of the Act of 1903 might be fulfilled, a Bill which would not leave it in the power of the Cattle or the Treasury to annul or destroy its provisions.
Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £83,315, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. John Redmond)
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.) said it had been stated that the Irish Land Purchase Act was an utter failure. It was a curious thing that failure of the Act in one direction was caused by its success in another. The failure of the Act, as far as he understood, was simply one of money, the great success of the Act was shown by the enormous number of applications, under it to sell estates and to purchase farms. The House must remember that this Act was brought in for the sake of the tenants. The tenants, as the House was aware, were the origin of the land question in Ireland, which had always been the great difficulty in the way of administration. In order to settle that question some way was required to settle the tenants, and the way the Act proposed was that the tenants should become the owners of the land they tilled. He had been accused by hon. Gentlemen opposite of opposing all Land Bills; but he absolutely denied that charge, for he had always supported them. He had always held that Irish tenants I first of all required protection, and that the best solution of the question was to make the tenants the 1430 owners of their own land, and so he gave his cordial support to the Land Act. He did not think even Nationalist Members would maintain that a Minister would bring in a Bill involving £112,000,000 merely to back up landlords. The only reason the House passed the Act was because it was supposed to put an end to a hopeless political situation in Ireland. He was sure that if the Land Bill had been introduced to assist Irish landlords it would not have been received with much favour by any part of the House. That being so, he listened to the proposal of the Chief Secretary with great interest, because he looked upon that proposal as directly on the side of the tenants.
Admittedly there was a deadlock for want of money; how was that money to be provided? His right hon. friend had shown, at any rate, a possible solution. That solution had not met with the approval of Irish landlords. Those landlords contended that the Act promised payment in cash; this proposal proposed two-thirds payment in scrip, and the landlords refused that proposal. He personally was in favour of it. He looked upon it as probably the best offer the landlords would ever get and although undoubtedly at first sight it seamed unsatisfactory to take £92 instead of £100, yet he thought anyone who knew the history of finance would not fail to see that, in all probability, the land stock of the Government would soon be on the rising grade, and those landlords who did not like, and who refused to accept, the issue of stock at £92 would, if they accepted it, probably find that in a few years the stock would have gone up in the direction of par. Therefore, he did not think landlords, if they were wise, would reject this offer, because, undoubtedly, if his hon. friend's scheme were carried, it would to a great extent remove the block which now arrested the purchase of land in Ireland.
The hon. and learned Member for Water-ford did not hold out much hope that the land question would be settled in the time of the present generation, because he said he intended to oppose any proposal made by any Government which did not deal with the graziers in the West of Ireland, which, of course, meant the same 1431 thing as turning out these graziers in order that their grass land might be cut up for the use of their neighbours. He (Colonel Saunderson) did not hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman what he was going to do with these unfortunate graziers after he had turned them out; he had certainly said nothing about compensating them. These poor graziers were apparently to be turned out of their farms on to the roads without any compensation whatever.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON said it was as accurate as he could give it. At any rate the hon. and learned Member intended to oppose any measure brought forward that did not at the same time include the taking up of grazing lands, and the reinstatement of evicted tenants. Therefore, the settlement of the land question would not depend upon how this Act succeeded, but whether a Bill was introduced at some future period dealing with these two questions. He did not think the present Government were likely to last long enough to bring in any such Bill, and he doubted whether hon. Gentlemen opposite who might form the next Administration would be very anxious to concede legislation of that kind. He thought the hon. and learned Member must have felt that his opposition to this Bill placed him in rather a difficult position, as he must know that a vast number of the Irish tenants were eager and anxious to become possessors of land, and landlords desired to sell, and that everything depended upon whether money was forthcoming or not. That was the question in Ireland. The hon. and learned Member got out of the difficulty by saying that his sympathies were so deeply engaged in the West, among the evicted tenants, that he opposed what would undoubtedly be a very popular measure among all classes until some legislation was brought forward dealing with these two questions.
The question was—had the Act been a failure in Ireland? They could not expect in two years to produce a great change, but proof that the Act was succeeding was shown by the immense number of applica- 1432 tion from both landlord and tenant. No doubt they all hoped that in the future the vast sums of money spent in Ireland would bring about a better state of things. He believed it would. When the tenants were in an independent position under this Act he thought they would probably look askance at a political agitation which up to the present meant cheap land for themselves. What did the House expect? They had been pelting sovereigns at the heads of the Irish tenants for twenty-five years, sowing money. Up to the present what had been the crop? The real crop was that which sat below the gangway. But in the future there was no doubt that the great object with which the Bill was passed two years ago would come to fruition, and Ireland would become a peaceful and prosperous part of the United Kingdom. He hoped this Bill would receive the sanction of the House, He feared there was not much chance, after the speech of the hon. and learned Member, of its passing at this late period of the session. If it did not, the fault would be, not with the Government, but on the shoulders of the hon. and learned Member and his friends who, for reasons of their own, opposed a measure which certainly would facilitate to a very considerable extent the progress of land purchase in Ireland.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.) reminded the Committee that there was the question of land tenure, which was of some importance, to be considered. The last Report of the Land Commission was issued twelve months ago, and showed that there were 13,082 cases of appeal in fair-rent cases pending on April 1st, 1903. On April 1st, 1904, after the new scheme had come into operation, the number had increased to 13,808. They could, however, get no Report of the Land Commission save when it was fifteen months old. He wished, therefore, to know whether the Chief Secretary could give any information as to the progress made in the appeals in fair-rent cases during the past twelve months. He had recently listened to a debate in another place on this subject of the-new Act and he felt that those who took part in it wanted cash, for themselves 1433 and coercion for their tenants. That was the sum and substance of the debate.
As to the regulations dealing with intimidation he said there ought to be perfect freedom between the vendor and the purchaser. This House refused to grant compulsion upon the landlord—a compulsion they ought to have granted—but being refused there ought to be complete freedom between vendor and purchaser. The purchaser, if he were guilty of intimidation, or so-called intimidation, would be seriously punished under these regulations. He would be wholly deprived of the right of purchase, as the estate would go to the bottom of the list, and might be heard of twelve or fifteen years hence. But how was intimidation on the part of the landlord dealt with? It was not dealt with at all. He could quote communications from tenants in different parts of Ulster stating that they had been compelled to sign agreements giving what they considered to be absolutely unfair prices for the land. The compulsion upon them was that the landlord held the bog which was an absolute necessity of the farmer's life in Ireland, and unless the people paid the price demanded the bog was taken from them. There was no provision in the regulations for dealing with cases of that sort. Alleged intimidation on the part of the tenants was to be inquired into, but there was no proposal for inquiring into such duress on the part of the landlord, which was plentiful all over the province of Ulster. As to the facts, what means had the Estates Commissioners of finding out whether or not there had been intimidation? Were the Irish Office to define intimidation for their benefit? The Chief Secretary would surely not deny that controversy in a district over the price to be paid and the circumstances attending purchase was perfectly legitimate and even necessary. There was an actual case within his knowledge in which arrangements for purchase were going on, and agreements were being signed, when the board of guardians denounced the terms that were, being arranged on the ground that they would prejudice the tenants on other estates in the neighbourhood. He was not sure that that was not perfectly legitimate, but what he wanted 1434 to know was whether, in such a case where the neighbourhood might be thrown into a state of excitement for which the tenants were not in any way to blame, would that be counted by the Estates Commissioners as intimidation? Were the tenants to be penalised because of the action of men in the neighbourhood who had no connection whatever with the property? That that was not at all an impossible event was shown by a recent case in Galway, where the tenants were anxious to buy. Lord Ashtown cruelly bought over their heads, and the Judge held that there had been an attempt to boyoott graziers, although he had to admit that the tenants themselves were entirely innocent of it. Was the Chief Secretary going to give any guidance to the Commissioners as to what would constitute intimidation in these cases?
He held that the landlords in the West of Ireland were entirely to blame for the state of affairs that had arisen under the Act. They had been guilty of a gross breach of faith. These western tenants, many of whom were being prosecuted at Galway Assizes, were told that the Act of 1903 would add to their wretched uneconomic holdings grass lands to make them fit to live on. That was the avowed policy of the Land Act, which was passed as the result of an understanding between the representatives of the landlords and of the tenants. The basis of that understanding was of a two-fold character. The landlords agreed t> sell their property on receiving a fair equivalent for their second-term rents. That was agreed upon at the Land Conference, and ratified by the Landlords' Convention, and it was the principle upon which the Bill became an Act of Parliament. The landlords also agreed to special terms being given to the West of Ireland and to the evicted tenants. Personally he was anxious to get rid of landlords anywhere. He did not take part in the Land Conference or the debate upon this question of the West of Ireland, because he was anxious to abolish landlordism everywhere. The agreement was that whilst it was a good thing to get rid of landlordism there were special circumstances connected with the West of Ireland that made the necessity for dealing with the problem there urgent.
1435 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover made promises with regard to the West of Ireland, and the Irish landlords got £12,000,000 as a bonus—which meant a gift—to induce them to accept the Land Act. What had happened? In the county of Galway there were great grass holdings and crowds of cotter tenants. When the Land Act was passed these cotters were told that they would get their holdings enlarged by the sale of these grass lands. The late Chief Secretary said that was his main purpose, and why should these poor suffering cotter tenants not think that the House would be as good as its word? It was absolutely wrong that these people should have sent threatening letters to graziers, but it should not be forgotten that these people had a right to expect that the landlords, having got £12,000,000 of public money in excess of the proper price of their land, would have stood to their part of the bargain. That policy had not been carried out, and the Chief Secretary had actually issued regulations that strangled and throttled the Act itself.
What were the landlords in the West of Ireland doing? Were they content with the equivalent for their second-term net income? Why, they were refusing to sell either to the Congested Districts Board or to the Estates Commission. Because if they did so they knew their land would be inspected by expert valuers, and they would get just the value of their land and no more. These landlords would not sell to the Land Commission, because they could make far better terms with the wretched tenants laden with arrears of rent and the bog they could take from them, and they could get any price they liked from these wretched people. Consequently they preferred direct sales and they were getting under the zones an equivalent to the prices paid for the best land in Antrim and Down. These landlords were now absolutely refusing to carry out their part of the bargain, and they were actually selling their wretched bogs and swamps—some of which were floating away—in the West of Ireland to the State at a fancy price. With regard to the grass lands, by which alone 1436 the policy of the Land Act could be carried out and the holdings made economic, the moment they were applied for by the tenants the landlords were up in arms and declined to sell. It was wrong for these tenants to send threatening letters, but it was much worse for the Government to make a set of regulations which practically repealed the Act in many important particulars.
With regard to the Land Judge's Court, what did the Chief Secretary mean by the first regulation? He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman so much, because it was impossible that the ablest Englishman could learn the lesson of Irish needs during three months experience of Ireland. He did, however, blame those who advised the right hon. Gentleman. Here they had applications of a direct character for £30,000,000, and the Estates Commissioners were instructed to time their applications to the Land Judge so as not to interfere with the priority of applications. If this was not really so serious it would be absolutely comic. The Estates Commissioners must buy when they got the chance in the Land Judge's Court. The Land Judge did not suit himself to their necessities. How could they time the application when the Land Judge sat every Thursday for the purpose of disposing of these estates. When they had not the money to come in and purchase them when they were exposed for sale, how were they ever to get them? Did the Chief Secretary know that the session before last the House passed a Resolution, with the consent of the Government, to wind up that Court? He did not know whether it was seriously passed or not. Probably the breakdown gang did not arrive in time. A division was imminent, and all the well-known Gentlemen who took part in such operations had said their say. At any rate, a Resolution was passed with the consent of the Chief Secretary. Now let him ask the Chief Secretary how could the: Land Judge wind up his Court if he was fettered with a regulation like that, and if they prevented the Estates Commissioners from going into the Court and purchasing the estates that were for sale. They were going in the teeth of a Resolution of the 1437 House by these regulations. They were wiping out every promise the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover made with regard to the poor tenants of the West of Ireland and with regard to the Land Judge's Court.
He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that nothing could have been simpler, when they raised a loan of £5,000,000, to apply £3,000,000 or £3,500,000 to direct sales, to give Judge Ross £500,000 or £600,000, and devote the rest to the uneconomic holdings of the West of Ireland. There was some spite to the Member for Dover in it. He went too far to please the Irish landlords. His work must be undone, and his speeches rubbed off the slate, and the slate made clean. This was really what was being done, and nothing else.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
The hon. Member must not impute a motive of that kind. Whatever view we take of the administration of the Act it is difficult enough without imputations of that kind.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL said the right hon. Gentleman might say what he liked. He knew what was going on in Dublin. He knew that there was a conspiracy to undo the philanthropic part of the Act. Take the case of the evicted tenants, they had only to read the regulations to see that it would be impossible to carry out the intentions of the Act. The regulation hindered the evicted tenant from being reinstated until the estate was sold, and it effectually prevented his migration to other parts of the country.
There was another regulation to which no one had yet referred. He thought it the most interesting of all, and he should like to know its history. There were three Estates Commissioners. When a question of law was referred by the Estates Commissioners to the Judicial Commissioner in the event of any Estates Commissioner dissenting from the form of the reference agreed to by the majority, the dissenting Commissioner was to furnish the Judicial Commissioner with a note 1438 setting forth his reasons for dissenting. What did that mean? They might have called it the Wrench regulation. He had no feeling against Mr. Wrench. He was one of the few Members in the House who said a good word for Mr. Wrench when he was appointed under the Act of 1903. The hon. Member said he would be obliged to the Chief Secretary if he would produce anything like that in any Court in the world. The judgment of a Court was its judgment. Why should the judgment of the dissenting minority be sent up to the revising Court. The case ought to go to the Judicial Commissioner—let him decide it. Mr. Wrench was to be able to send up his opinion on a point of law to the Judicial Commissioner. What value was his opinion on a point of a law? It showed the spirit in which the whole code had been drawn.
He was not going to take any position on the financial proposal made by the Chief Secretary, save to say that he agreed with the hon. Member for Waterford in objecting to legislation regarding Irish affairs being brought in in the month of August, when nobody was in the House, and rushed through without discussion. He would be no party to that, no matter how small the Bill was. But was the case quite so bad as the Chief Secretary made out from the landlords' standpoint? What were the facts? When an estate was sold the landlord got 3½ per cent. or 3¾ per cent, or even 4 per cent., for the tendency was upwards now, on the purchase money until the vesting order was issued and the purchase was concluded. He ventured to say that 3½ or per cent on the purchase money was pretty nearly equal, not to his rental, but to the rent which he actually received. Therefore why the hurry for the landlord? He could have understood the hurry for the tenants, but they had never been, referred to that day. It was all in favour of the landlord. The tenant was delayed in getting the vesting order. Those years did not count as the years of purchase. He could see there was a great grievance of the tenants, but he did not see the grievance of the landlords. Did the right hon. Gentleman, tell him that Members of the House of 1439 Lords flocked there in order to remedy tenants' grievance?
§ MR. WALTER LONG
In making my statement I endeavoured as clearly as I could to show that I did not refer to the tenants' aspect of the case, because the adoption of my suggestion would be to their benefit.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL said the landlords might accept or refuse the right hon. Gentleman's offer. The Bill embodying it might be opposed or passed without discussion. The grievance was largely a tenants' grievance, because the vesting order did not issue until the sale was complete. The Chief Secretary had been bound to admit that all the pressure he had received came from the landlords and not from the tenants on this matter. The Chief Secretary had got an immense number of applications, butneitherthestaff nor the buildings were adequate to deal with them. There was nothing worse in the public offices than the buildings in which these men carried out this great work which meant a revolution in land tenure in Ireland. Only £5,000,000 sterling of the £11,000,000 voted had been disbursed. Why was not the rest paid away? Simply because the clerical staff was insufficient for the work. There was no use getting more money if it was to be hung up as it now was. The first necessity was to get a capable and competent staff to carry out the work.
He had not the slightest hesitation in telling the Chief Secretary that in the twenty years he had had to do with political work and land agitation in Ireland, nothing more—he was going to say infamous—but nothing worse than these regulations had issued from Dublin Castle. They had been drawn up by men whom the Chief Secretary did not know now but would know by-and-by, by men who never approved of the Land Act and never believed in the late Chief Secretary. They were drawn for the purpose, not of forbidding direct sales, where the Irish landlord would get cash down, but of preventing the philanthropic work in the West of Ireland over which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover almost shed tears in that House. The Chief Secretary and 1440 those members of the Government who probably desired to see this work carried through were in the hands of far more crafty and worse men than themselves, men who wished to stop all reform, to prevent people getting the chance and of a decent living. The tenants were all in a hurry to buy. He told them there that night that there was no hurry. There was no freehold of the Treasury Bench; there was no freehold of Dublin Castle, and he could conceive no Government worthy of the name succeeding the present Government who would not wipe these regulations out from first to last.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.) said he associated himself with the protest which the hon. Member for Waterford had made. He was not acquainted with the details, and therefore he would not discuss the matter further. He took great interest in the suggestion which the Chief Secretary had made with regard to the expediting of purchase which was going on in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had been accused of making the suggestion solely in the interest of the landlords. The Chief Secretary had indicated that if something was not done there would be a tendency for the legislation of 1903 to come to a standstill altogether owing to the block in Dublin, and he had indicated to the House that, in the interest of all concerned in Ireland, it would be a good thing if the proceedings could be expedited. He, himself, had ventured to suggest months ago that perhaps something could be done to facilitate matters in Ireland on the lines of the London Water Bill. Although the scheme now submitted to the House by the right hon. Gentleman differed from that adopted by him in buying out the London water companies, it was one to which it was well worth while to give a little attention, because something would have to be done soon if the position in Ireland was not to become perfectly farcical. There was no reason why a bargain to purchase should be prolonged for twenty years. A transaction to buy an estate should be completed as soon as practicable, and therefore provision must be made to complete the transaction in two, 1441 three, or four years, instead of a period akin to a quarter of a century. The Committee, therefore, should look at the suggestions of the Chief Secretary from that point of view.
In making the contrast between the purchase of the water companies and the present scheme, he showed that both proposals entitled the vendors to obtain cash if they wished. There was the difficulty, however, to raise the loan out of which the vendors of the water companies had to be paid, and the idea, of the right hon. Gentleman was to offer these vendors stock at the price at which it could be sold on the market. Water stock, therefore, instead of being a drug in the market, went up in price, and it could be sold advantageously, within a few weeks or months when cash was needed. The money market was satisfied with it, and the whole thing went off exceedingly well. The cost of the investment was saved by that transaction, and a very wise and most successful financial operation was carried through. The right hon. Gentleman now made a very small suggestion to the Irish landlords to facilitate the work over there; but that suggestion was entirely different from what was offered to the vendors of the water companies stock in London. The right hon. Gentleman offered the stock at par; but if stock were offered at par, which was only worth 92 in the open market at the present moment, not much facilitation would be given to land purchase.
Now, it was not in anybody's interest that land purchase in Ireland should be hung up. The settlement of the land question in the West of Ireland could only be achieved by making the purchases more rapidly. He asked the right hon. Gentleman whether there was any necessity to put in any amending Bill a provision in regard to the price at which the stock was to be offered to the landlord. Probably the right hon. Gentleman bad been led to offer the stock at par because of the necessity to see how much stock the landlords would have to get so as to have a fixed and definite price. That might be all very well if the price of the stock was at 96 or 97; but seeing that it was only at 92, with no reasonable 1442 certainty that it would get higher soon, he thought the difference was too big to make the scheme successful. The right hon. Gentleman might agree to declare, from time to time, a price between the two figures. That might go some way to meet the difficulty. If the right hon. Gentleman, under Treasury Order, took power to declare the price at which the stock would be issued, that might help the landlords over the gap, and prove a great facility in making laid sales.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.) said he did not know that he quite understood the somewhat tedious argument of the hon. Gentleman who last spoke. It seemed to him that it amounted to the landlord taking a franc for a shilling. He hoped that the attitude of the Irish Members would not be misunderstood; and, to borrow the phrase of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, he trusted that the philanthropic portion of this Act would not be lost sight of. They viewed with something more than alarm—with heartbreaking anxiety—the fact which stood out with deplorable plainness, that while, large transactions were taking place between landlord and tenant where the question was less acute, the Act of 1903 was practically a failure in the congested districts and those parts associated with the evicted tenants. Surely that was a most serious matter. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh seemed to think that the Nationalist Members looked upon the Act with hostility. That was not the case; but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman forgot that some of the most important questions connected with the Act of 1903 related to the congested districts and to the evicted tenants. These were the most important questions in Ireland at the present moment. The Chief Secretary and the Attorney-General for Ireland could not controvert the fact that there would have been no possibility of the Act of 1903 passing through Parliament—certainly not with the approval of the Irish representatives—had it not been for the provisions in the Bill relating to the congested districts and the evicted tenants.
He thought that at this time of day it was most unjust to misconstrue the action 1443 of the Irish Members of all classes in regard to the Act of 1903. There was a unanimous desire, on both sides of the House, to work out a solution of the land question. There was no arrüre pensée in regard to that. But, after nearly two rears administration of the Act, when they found that the most pressing grievances in relation to the whole land question, especially in the West of Ireland, were being put aside, and that the Act was not operative, they were justified in expressing their opinion, thereon. The Irish Party would be no consenting party to an amending Act which touched only one portion of the problem, and left the larger problem outside. He would be very glad to see some scheme of financial reform by which the transactions of land sale and purchase could be facilitated, but not at the cost of the evicted tenants or any other section of the Irish population for whom they had pleaded year after year and for whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover had pleaded with feeling and power in that House. It seemed as if the present Chief Secretary and his advisers were anxious to wipe the speeches and promises of the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Dover off the slate. It looked uncommonly as if that was the wish of the officials in Dublin Castle.
It had been said more than once that more depended for good government en administration than on legislation; and that was true in regard to the Act of 1903. They on the Irish Benches were anxious to know what was the explanation of the policy of concealment in regard to the rules and regulations issued by the Irish Executive 10 the Estate Commissioners and to which the Estates Commissioners referred in their Report. He understood that all instructions of that kind, dealing with principles and vital details, would be communicated to this House. Why were the regulations of 1904 cinceuled, and why had the Irish Members had no opportunity of seeing them? He was firmly persuaded that these regulations of 1904 were issued at the psychological moment. The great argument in favour of the zone system was that it dispensed with the inspection which was at once a pro- 1444 tection for the tenant and also to the ratepayers. But with regard to the non-judicial holdings that was not so. A fair rent had not been fixed, and accordingly inspectors were required to inquire into the security for the holding and as to the equity of the price to all parties concerned. The interim Report showed quite clearly that some subtlemend had been at work in. Dublin Castle to prevent the Act being carried out as it was intended. Whoever had taken that responsibility, there could be no doubt there was a wide difference between the instructions given to the Commissioners and the directions given in the Act. Directions were given to the Estates Commissioners as to how this Act was to be worked, and, those directions coming from the Executive Government, the Executive Government and the Chief Secretary were responsible.
One very important fact in regard to the instructions recently issued was that by those instructions the Estates Commissioners felt themselves coerced into accepting whatever price the Land Judge's Court fixed under the 40th Section. The Estates Commissioners should not be coerced in that way. If in the exercise of their discretion they said the tenant should not give more than a certain price for the land there was delay, and through the Land Judge's Court pressure was put upon them to give more than the value of the land. The paragraph in the instructions with regard to intimidation was the most curious paragraph that could ever have appeared in a State document. How were the inspectors to judge what was intimidation? Everyone knew how easy it was to bring a charge of intimidation against anyone, and how hard it was to rebut. Who was to define what was intimidation and what was not? The smallest boy in a school could draw a skull and crossbones, and half print in ink words of a threatening character. Would such a thing as that be interpreted as intimidation? In a case where there had been intimidation, the estate, when it came into the hands of the Estates Commissioners was to be put at the bottom of the list of those estates which were to be dealt with. Anything more cruel 1445 could not be conceived. Let them suppose a case of an estate on which one tenant was so disgusted that he wrote an intimidating letter to his landlord. Were all the other tenants on that estate, because of the act of this one man, to be denied their rights for four or five years for the reason that the estate had been intimidated?
He would also like to know the meaning of Sub-section (a) Regulation 3, with regard to the evicted tenants. He had always been led to understand that the most criminal of all the classes of tenantry were those who entered into a combination to intimidate, but he found now that if only one person intimidated an estate all the rest of the tenants were to suffer with him. Prom the regulations it appeared that those who had taken part in a general rent dispute might be considered, while evicted tenants who through the caprice of rackrenting landlords had been driven out were not to be considered at all. What justification was there for the issue of these regulations to the Estates Commissioners to restrain and confine their action; and how was it there was no opportunity for discussing the former instructions of February, 1904? There seemed to be some sinister underhand operations at work. The Act was passed two years ago with the blessings of all Parties. All classes in Ireland welcomed the Act in the hope that is would settle the land question. That hope had been cruelly blasted; the promises made by the Government had not been kept, for as soon as a body of men had been appointed to carry out the Act fairly and equitably they were hampered in this way, and the old sinister influences of Dublin Castle prevailed.
§ MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.) said it, appeared to be useless to argue under present conditions. Enough arguments had been brought forward to convince any man who had any desire or inclination to be convinced, and no defence whatever of the present state of affairs, had been attempted except by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh. The administration of the Land Act was directed wholly for the benefit of the landlords, while the interests of the tenants and the future of 1446 the Irish nation were left entirely out of consideration. The Chief Secretary confessedly knew nothing whatever about the-country, an I it was extremely difficult to get from him a straight Answer to any straight Question in connection with the administration of the Land Act. The right hon. Gentleman depended for his technical and local knowledge upon the Attorney - General, and he could not depend upon a more objectionable and unreliable source, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman never hesitated to take his stand by the side of the minority and the landlords, as against every other interest. The only consolation was that the time was coming when the Attorney-General and his friends and relatives would no longer be the rulers of the country, or the makers of new regulations under the Land Act.
During the passage of the Land Bill in 1903 he was explicitly informed that the Estates Commissioners would have power to deal with a farm from which a tenant had been evicted as a separate estate. In county Kerry, although there had been rent disputes on a Urge scale, and the relations between landlord and tenant had been extremely strained, yet the plan of campaign was not adopted, except, perhaps, in one case. Nevertheless, there were in the county no less than 411 evicted tenants, and nothing whatever had been done for them by the Estates Commissioners with a view to reinstating them in their former holdings. He instanced two cases in which the landlords had shown their willingness to do their part, but, in spite of repeated application, no assistance whatever could be obtained from the Estates Commissioners, although a little assistance now would mean all the difference between prosperity and ruin to the men. He had no objection to evicted tenants in other parts of Ireland being well treated; Irish Members had no limit to their constituencies in this matter; but he did complain when there were so many as 411 in one county that nothing whatever should have been done, in spite of all the hopes that were held out in connection with the Land Act. He strongly held that the Estates Commissioners had been dilatory in the performance of their duty. Another matter of which he complained was that instructions 1447 should have been issued under which, to give a particular instance, the Commissioners were compelled to pay £571 for an estate which they themselves said was worth only £400. That such a condition of things should prevail was a disgrace. The question deeply concerned the future of the Irish people, because any losses that might arise from the maladministration of the Land Act would have to be paid for out of Irish resources and would be a burden on the Irish nation in the future.
He submitted it was time the Chief Secretary discarded the advice, instructions, and prejudices of Gentlemen like the Attorney-General, and tried to get to the bottom of the Irish question. These instructions ought to be withdrawn and the Estates Commissioners given an opportunity of dealing in a judicial and impartial manner between the different classes in Ireland. It was necessary to protest very vigorously and constantly in that House because they could not expect English Members to listen to their arguments, for they believed their grievances were of a local character. The only remedy was to leave the Irish people to settle their own business according to their own methods. They could not expect the Chief Secretary, belonging as he did to a Party hostile to the Irish people, and allied with the Irish landlords, to grasp all the facts of the Irish claim. The Chief Secretary had told them that his Bill was based upon information from Irish officials, who were generally either Englishmen or anti-Irishmen, who could only obtain their official positions by betraying their country. He had concluded that it was impossible to convince this House by argument, and Ireland's only opportunity would come out of England s difficulty. Probably that opportunity would soon arrive in the case of the present Government. Tin Land Act was not in itself bad but, like many other Acts, it was the administration of it that made it a curs, and in the county of Kerry, at any rate as far as the evicted tenants were concerned, the administration of the Land Act had been more of a curse than a blessing.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.) said he wished to explain his own 1448 position in regard to this measure. He did not agree with the Landlords' Convention with whom he usually acted upon this matter, and although he preferred the scheme suggested by the hon. Member for Islington, he presumed that scheme was impossible for some reason unknown to him. With regard to the scheme put forward by the Chief Secretary, being perfectly voluntary it was one which would tend to reduce the difficulty of the land problem, and although a considerable number of landlords would not for various reasons accept those terms find take two-thirds in stock, there would be a considerable body who would. Some would prefer those payments in order to have their claims settled. He thought that the sum which would be cleared off immediately by that means would be £30;000,000. They had already cleared off, or would shortly clear off, £15,000,000, so that £45,000,000 out of the £100,000,000 would be accounted for. Unquestionably in that case it could not be said that the Act had not worked. There was no doubt that the Act had been a remarkable success in regard to the number of persons who had come in to buy. At the present t time they did not want to flood the market by issuing any more stock than would be required. His right hon. friend appeared to think that the Leader of the Irish Party had avowed his hostility to this scheme, but he understood the hon. and learned Member to say that sill he desired was an opportunity for a full discussion, and he did not think that he went as far as hostility to this proposal. He wished to express his own approval of the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL (Longford, N.) said he did not intend to discuss the Chief Secretary's proposal now. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that, this proposition should have been introduced earlier in the session. The Act of 1903 had been an absolute failure, because the price charged under that Act had far exceeded, in almost every case by 33 per cent., and in some: cases by 50 per cent., the price charged under the Ashbourne Acts. In his own 1449 county the Act had brought no appreciable relief, because, inevitably, the landlord would screw the difference out of the tenant. The tenant would be called upon under this scheme to pay the difference between £92 and £100, and not the landlord at all. At the present time there was general dissatisfaction existing amongst the tenants, and more especially amongst the evicted tenants. In Longford something like eighty-six claims had been lodged and sixteen properties had been sold. To prove the absolute failure of this Act as far as the evicted tenants were concerned, he only needed to mention that in regard to the properties he had mentioned only three out of eighty-six were connected with evicted tenants. He had repeatedly asked if nothing could be done to restore these evicted tenants or find equivalent holdings for them elsewhere. There were a number of patches of untananted grazing land which by the consent of all parties could be acquired for the purpose of providing equivalent holdings for the evicted tenants if a little trouble were taken. If the land was placed in the hands of the Commissioners they would probably then take some steps to acquire it, but they would not go out of their way or take the smallest trouble to search out some equivalent holdings which could easily be pointed out, and which could be acquired at a fair price if proper instructions were given.
Was there any serious intention of giving effect to the promises and pledges of the late Chief Secretary for Ireland as regarded these evicted tenants? So long as they left this question unsettled, and allowed the tenants to see side by side with their miserable hovels and cabins large areas of green grazing land in the occupation of graziers who had no legal title, how could they have peace in Ireland, or how could they expect the land question to be settled between landlord and tenant? So long as the Chief Secretary only took care of the big landlords, and neglect d the interests of the poor and suffering, so long would there be discontent. There was a gentleman, one of the Judicial Commissioners for hearing appeals, who knew as much about the value of land as he himself knew of what was going on in the moon. He took his cue from the 1450 assessor who sat with him. The assessor was a land agent whose interest was not to give the tenants lower rents. He knew of a recent case in which there was an appeal both by the landlord and the tenant and where the assessor actually doubled the rent which was fixed by the Sub Commissioner in the county of Longford. What training had this gentleman for the position which he occupied and which enabled him when dealing with an appeal to make such a differentiation of rent from that fixed by the Sub-Commissioner.
An extraordinary thing about the appeal department of the Land Commission was the delay which took place. It took three years, sometimes five years, to get an appeal through, although there were two legal gentlemen connected with the department. He hoped that some attention would be given by the right hon. Gentleman to the question of the sittings of the Appeal Commission. It was an intolerable thing that tenants had to continue paying the old rents for two or three years while waiting the pleasure of Justice Meredith or Justice Fitzgerald to go down to the county town to hear a batch of appeals. Those Judges took three or four months holiday during the long vacation. It would tend a great deal more to the success of the working of the Act if they gave at least half of that time to the disposal of appeals. He entirely associated himself with everything that had been said by the Leader of the Irish Party and the-other Nationalist Members who had spoken. They had put before the right hon. Gentleman what was the true solution of the land question. They could tell him that so long a3 he took advice from hon. Members on the opposite side of the House rather than from the Irish representatives on this side, there was no-hope of his settling the land question.
§ MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)said he knew of cases in county Kerry where there were evicted tenants who should have been reinstated, but, as the estate from which they had been evicted had not been offered for sale, this had not been practicable. Small properties might have been acquired, however, on which the Estates Commissioners could have given 1451 them holdings, and he thought if the powers of the Commissioners could be broadened a little to enable them to acquire land a short distance away from the estate where the evictions took place, a great deal of the difficulty as regarded evicted tenants could be got over. Much had been said since the Land Act had been in operation as to the desire of the landlords to meet the tenants fairly in any negotiations which took place. He would give the House an example of what occurred in a well-known part of Kerry as illustrating the ridiculous demands made by agents of the landlords. In Greenbeigh the agent acting on behalf of the landlord, in his presence, had the audacity to ask for twenty-four years purchase for the holdings of the tenants. But in the course of six or seven weeks he was prepared to negotiate on the basis of twenty years purchase and he was hopeful, now that the tenants were an organised body treating directly, that in a very short time they would be able to purchase their holdings on reasonable terms. It was said that the tenants went in for intimidation, but he contended that a landlord and agent who could come down in their price to the extent of four years purchase in five or six weeks should be taken at their own valuation.
The Land Act had also worked unfairly in another part of his constituency. He referred to the Warden Estate, near Sneem, which had been a by-word throughout the whole of Ireland. There were about twenty-six evicted tenants on that estate, and it was arranged that they should be restored to their holdings, but so far as he knew in not a single case had this been done. He had been informed that one of the reasons why the Warden Estate had not passed into the possession of the tenants was that there was not a sufficient staff to carry out the proposed improvements. He thought in a district like South Kerry, where there were no large grazing tracts, where very often the estates had to be settled as they were, and where the sale had to be carried through without the possibility of actually enlarging the holdings, there was no reason why there should be such an extraordinary delay as had taken place on the Warden Estate. He hoped the Chief Secretary would see that the Estates 1452 Commissioners sent down men to carry out the necessary improvements on that estate so that the evicted tenants might be restored to their holdings.
§ MR. JOSEPH DEVLIN (Kilkenny, N.) expressed the hope that when the right hon. Gentleman cams to explain what inspired him to issue the instructions he would deal with the question of intimidation. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House why, in dealing with intimidation, he had confined himself absolutely to the cases of tenants and taken no steps to deal with cases of intimidation on the part of landlords. He had seen in the north of the county of Mayo, perhaps one of the most impoverished parts of Ireland, the cruelties which resulted from the exacting system of ruthless landlords, who demanded the exorbitant price of twenty-two years purchase for bog land. When the tenants refused to satisfy such an exorbitant demand, notices of ejectment were served, in some cases merely for the hanging gale—simply because there were six or twelve months rent due. He asked the Attorney-General why there was one law for the landlords and another for the tenants. They had been told by the Chief Secretary that public meetings of tenants called for the purpose of riveting attention on the evils under which the tenants suffered amounted to intimidation.
He was interested and amazed at the speech delivered by the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, who stated that the Land Act of 1903 was an Act purely the interest of the tenants. He did not know whether the right hon. and gallant Member had ever heard of the proposed sale of be Moore Estate in Antrim. It was offered five years ago for twenty years purchase. The tenants refused to buy the and because it was too dear. The spokesman of the tenants was a Protestant minister. Since the Land Act was passed the hon. and learned Member who owned the estate had asked twenty-eight yea s purchase and had got it. Of course, all this splendid arrangement was in the interest of the tenants, and not of the landlord. When, in the face of such a transaction as that, the right hon. and gallant Member said that the Land Act of 1453 1903 was in the interest of the tenants, he only showed how little he thought of the intelligence of the British Members. The Land Act of 1903 would never have been accepted by the Irish Members and the people of Ireland as a solution of the difficulty unless it had dealt with two vital matters, namely, the restoration of the evicted tenants and the question of the congested districts in the West of Ireland. The Act had been a perfect farce so far as these two things were concerned. The Act had been used by the landlords of Ireland for the purpose of extracting exorbitant terms out of the tenants. The tenants' representatives in that House accepted the scheme by which the landlords got a bonus of £12,000,000, not because they believed the landlords were entitled to it, but because they believed that no sacrifice could be too great to stay the opposition of a class who had ground down the best peasantry in the world, and made it impossible for them to eke out an existence in their mountain homes. The habitations of the people in some parts of Ireland were not fit for dogs.
The strong Chief Secretary who was to make law and order respected in Ireland had told them that day that intimidation was on the increase. If, so why was it? The people of Ireland relied upon the promises of the Government. They depended on the so-called spirit of conciliation, and because once again Ireland had listened to the promises of British statesmen, which had not been kept, Ireland had had to return to the trade-union methods carried on in England. They had been forced to realise that it was only by the strength of a banded people against the strength of a band of robbers that they could obtain anything like their rights. The right hon. Gentleman had been long enough in Parliament to know that every measure of land reform or material progress which had been passed for Ireland had been extracted almost at the point of the bayonet by a courageous people fighting for the right to live on their native soil. This Bill was passed two years ago, and the British Parliament gave the Irish landlords a bonus of £12,000,000 to sell their lands to the tenants. They were also to get three years more purchase than under the Ashbourne Act, and yet they were not 1454 satisfied. The Nationalist Members were contending for the rights and the livelihood of the agricultural population of the country. They saw 30,000 of the beet brawn and brain leaving Ireland every year and going across to America. They saw these men and their children growing up with a hatred of England. Look at the great grazing lands in the West where the growth in the number of cattle went side by side with a decrease in the population by emigration, while those that were left were in the most deplorable condition. It was all very well for the Chief Secretary, with skilful dialectic, to talk of the increase of intimidation. There would be intimidation if there was not justice. The powers of organisation of the people would be biought into play; and if the right hon. Gentlemen the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General could find no better method of dealing with Ireland than by issuing instructions to block the Town Tenants' Bill, they might find something more to do in the coming winter in dealing with an incensed people.
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent) said that all would remember the promises held out to the House on the passage of the Land Act in 1903. Universal peace was to descend upon the whole of Ireland, He ventured to gay at the time that he did not think the truce would last long. He had not had to wait long for the fulfilment of that prediction. He reminded hon. Members of what had been done by the Government as far as the British taxpayer was concerned. They had given the Irish nation a gift of £12,000,000. What had been given in return I Absolutely nothing. The only thing they had got was a shilling income-tax last year, a shilling income-tax this year, and the prospect of a shilling income-tax for some time to come. This was greatly owing to the Land Act so recklessly passed two years ago. He thought they had a right to be disappointed with the result. He did not know what the present Chief Secretary was going to do, but he hoped that any concessions he might make would not take the form of allowing any more public money to be used for the purposes of this Act. His own view was, and always had been, that no matter how much 1455 money they might give for the purpose of land purchase in Ireland, that money would be absolutely and entirely wasted. They might go on throwing money into the sea; Parliament might pass Land Act after Land Act, but no final and complete solution of the Irish land question would ever be arrived at. He did not think they had had satisfactory results from the Act so far, and if ever he had wanted any justification for the course taken in opposing the Second Reading he found it in the frequent debates in that House with regard to the working of the Act.
§ SIR ERNEST FLOWER (Bradford, W.) said that the hon. Member for Stoke alleged that the Land Act had been a failure. How could anyone call an Act a failure which had resulted in so many agreements having been concluded between landlord and tenant—a number which had absolutely surpassed the expectation of its promoters? He admitted, and he thought anyone who knew Ireland would admit, that the final settlement of the Irish land question must be a long process. They could not hope to do it in two years time; but surely up to the present a great deal had been achieved in this direction. Irish Members who indulged in flights of rhetoric and eloquence were carried away further than they perhaps expected. Evictions were not so cruel as they had been in the past. The general condition of Ireland was extremely good, and there was a general readiness on the part of landlords and tenants to come together under the terms provided by the Land Act. So long however, as the block in the Land Court prevailed, the continued smooth working of the Act was out of the question. Landlords and tenants could not come to a purchase agreement with the prospect of a long series of years before the tenant could enter into possession and the landlord get his money. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, that some machinery should be devised to accelerate purchase and to facilitate the working of the Act.
He himself thought that the plan of the Chief Secretary was the very best that in the circumstances could be suggested. He was a landlord who had come to an 1456 agreement with his tenants which had met with approbation on both sides; but why should he wait indefinitely for his money? The right hon. Gentleman had said that an increase of the floating debt; could not be contemplated, and that in the present state of the finances not more than £5,000,000 could be got each year for purchase. The right hon. Gentleman then came along with an offer of stock, and the landlord, instead of getting £100 in money, would only get stock worth £92, which was a loss of 8 per cent. To a great many landlords whose margin between solvency and insolvency was very slight, there might be some difficulty about that. It was only fair to say that though the convention of Irish landlords was antagonistic to the proposal of the Chief Secretary, he believed, none the less, that the; scheme, would find a large measure of acceptance among Irish landlords: generally. The experiment, at all events, was worth a trial; and he hoped that the hon. Member for Stoke would not so coldly despair of the Irish land question being solved in the future. He himself believed that it was in the course of being solved, although slowly.
§ MR. LUNDON (Limerick, E.) said in contributing his quota to the debate before the House he did not intend to trouble the House with a speech of long duration. However, so many and such varying and conflicting interests came within the scope of the Amendment that, although disposed to be brief, he might yet have to speak at some length. From time to time within the past few months the Irish Members had pressed for some explanation from the Government on the nature of the instructions given by them to the Estates Commissioners for the discharge of their public duties in connection with the Land Purchase Act of 1903. Those instructions were at one time said to be confidential, at another time of a verbal character, but, finally, under the authority of His Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant, they had been published, but did not appeal to them as likely to inspire much confidence in their spirit of fair play or impartiality. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford, with 1457 his usual acumen and ability, had analysed and dissected them.
The Act of 1903 was hailed all around as a great legislative enactment and one calculated in Ireland as likely to heal up old sores and if properly and fairly worked by its administrators to go very far in settling the great land problem. The Irish Members, overconfident in the good faith of the landlord party, boomed it much beyond its worth. He confessed that, although a humble Member of the rank and file of the Irish Party, his views in regard to it were by no means optimistic. He always bore in mind that classical saying, Timeo Danaos et dora ferentes, and he held that subsequent events bore out his forebodings. Surely, on the face of it, it looked a big thing for the Government to be prepared to advance £112,000,000 of money wherewith to pay off landlords for their land and to give the Irish tenants sixty-eight and a-half years for the repayment of the money to the Treasury. But that was the best feature of the Act. Everything solid, substantial, and unchangeable was on the side of the landlord; the conditions under which the tenant could obtain fulfilment of his side of the bargain were fluctuating, undecided, hard-shipping, and oppressive. The £5,000,000 per year were mainly devoted to the direct sales as between landlord and tenant on the good lands on which tenants were mainly solvent, and scarcely a tithe of the annual sum advanced was available for the most pressing needs of the situation; that was the acquisition through the Estates Commissioners of money wherewith to purchase the untenanted anches in Connaught and elsewhere whereon to plant the soldiers of the land war, the evicted tenants, the struggling labourers, and the poor occupiers of uneconomic holdings.
According to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary about £28,000,000 worth of land had been arranged for since the passing of the Act to be transferred from landlord to tenant. The amount necessary to cope with that state of things was not forthcoming from the Treasury nor scarcely one-third of it, but the right hon. Gentleman said he was prepared to 1458 meet the crisis by a short Bill paying off vendors in scrip presumably 8 per cent, below par, but if he knew landlords rightly, they would make sure of bringing the value of their sales to par by putting on the screw through the arrears due, and the mad craze for purchase which had seized the tenants, particularly in Leinster and the North of Ireland, where there was no public opinion to guide them. In the Land Act of 1903 the landlord had all the advantages, the tenant scarcely any. Under the Ashbourne Act and the Act of 1891 the average prices were seventeen and a-half or eighteen years purchase, but now, favoured as he was by the zone system, and secured from diminution of price by the doing away of the inspection of holdings, the landlord could exact a price fully 30 per cent, over the Ashbourne standard with that nice penny called the bonus thrown in for a solatium. Where was the benefit to the tenant of the purchase money being advanced at 3 instead of 4 per cent, interest when it all turned over into the pocket of the landlord, and where were those decadal reductions foreshadowed in that precious document the Conference Report? He would set down the Irish landlords into three classes, the big important men who loved to be landlords and to have serfs under them for all time; the-middle class landlords, many of whom were desirous of selling for purposes best known to themselves; and those of them whose estates were mortgaged up to the hilt; the last, mentioned class did not by any means want to sell provided they could get from the mortgagees and receivers as much as would keep body and soul together and a decent rag of clothing, they prefered being reckoned poor landlords rather than poor beggars or inmates of a workhouse.
With regard to "conciliation." There was no such a thing in reality as a "conciliation policy;" it was pure humbug, pure moonshine, and, on the landlord side, pure deceit. The Irish peasant farmer or labourer was naturally conciliatory; his religious teaching, his code of ethics, applied as best he could by his own lights, even the humility begotten of his position, all tended to make him conciliatory even to those who ill deserved his kind act, but the recommendations of the practice 1459 of such a virtue towards the landlord who, vampire-like, was sucking away the blood of his victim was simply Cruel. He could compare such conduct as between landlord and tenant only to the work of a cow let loose from her slake and goring the other cow still bound almost to death. Some of those landlords, I wiser in their generation than the big; crowd, entered into a conference with representative men of the Irish race. The result of their deliberations helped a good deal to formulate the Act of 1903, but that Act was far behind the recommendations of the conference. The landlords took, apparently with a good grace, what suited them in the Report and made up then minds to fight on for the remainder of their almost impossible demands.
And, lit being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.