HC Deb 21 March 1905 vol 143 cc748-76
MR. FFRENCH (Wexford, S.)

said he desired to move the Resolution that stood in his name. It covered a wide area and he should leave to his hon. friends the task of dealing with several matters bounded by this Resolution, as their constituents felt the breakdown of the Land Purchase Act of 1903 much more keenly, perhaps, than his, as fully one-half of the latter purchased under previous Acts. He felt great pleasure in proposing this Resolution for two reasons, first, because he was a tenant farmer himself; and secondly, because he was one of the Members for the County Wexford, a county that had purchased more land than any other county in Ireland. He had seen for himself the benefits which land purchase had conferred on the community there, and he sincerely hoped that these benefits would be extended to the whole of the tenantry of Ireland in the immediate future.

When the Land Purchase Act of 1903 was passing through the House, it seemed under the guardianship of the angel of peace. They could almost hear the fluttering of his wings. Ireland at last was to have peace and prosperity. The landlord would have his net income on the basis of second-term rents, and the tenant would have an adequate reduction, fully sufficient to enable him to compete with the foreigner in the agricultural markets. But, as soon as the administration of the Act commenced in Ireland the trouble began. The insatiable greed of the landlords showed itself. They were not satisfied with their net incomes on the basis of second-term rents, but in all probability they would have to put up I with much less if the restrictions on the importation of foreign store cattle were removed. Now, the state of things in his own county was, he supposed, a sample of what was going on all over Ireland. Twenty years ago tenants in his district bought out their holdings under the Ashbourne Act at eighteen years purchase. Their rents had been fixed in the Land Commission Court, and they had got 20 per cent reduction. They got a further reduction of 28 per cent, by purchase. They were entitled to decadal reductions as well, and he dared say they were now paying only about one-third of the old rate. Contrast that with the position of tenant buying under the Land Act of 1903, and giving twenty-six or twenty-seven years purchase without decadal reductions. Those were monstrous prices, considering that in England the price and value of land had both gone down, and even in Ireland, in the Land Judge's Court, the price of well secured head rents was not more than twenty or twenty-three years purchase.

Now, in his humble opinion, the Land Purchase Act of 1903, or rather what was known as the zones, was responsible for these exorbitant prices which, if they went on, would plunge their country in bankruptcy. On every estate there were arrears of rent. Many of these poor tenant farmers were living from hand to mouth, and severely pressed even at that, as the landlords well knew. The arrears and the zones were used as a leverage to extort a high price from the unfortunate tenant. Sooner than face eviction, and impelled by anxiety to be rid of the incubus of landlordism, he consented to the landlord's terms. The bargain was made within the zones, and the purchase money was advanced whether the land was security for it or not. It was to the interest of the landlords to have sales within the zones, and when they had forced their tenants to agree to big prices, which they never expected the Land Commission would sanction, they had adopted the simple plan of making them sign judicial agreements, so that the tenants would come within the zones and inspection would be done away with. It was said that inspection would retard sales, but this was not the case. An inspector had to come down to see if the maps were all right, and he might as well inspect the holding for its value as well as for its boundary. The additional delay would be nothing to speak of, and might secure fair play for both landlord and tenant. At present the result of the zone system was to compel the tenant to pay six or seven years purchase more for the land than its value. There was one thing the British Government could not do in Ireland. The British Government, with all its power, with its Army and its Navy, was, incapable of destroying the insatiable I greed of Irish landlords, but they could destroy the zones by which extortionate prices were wrung from the Irish tenants The Land Purchase Act of 1903 was very little better than a myth. Agreement were lodged up to the 28th of February last to the amount of about £17,000,000, but only £3,500,000 or £4,000,000 had been distributed to claimants on estates sold. They were told that the land of Ireland would be sold in twelve years, but at the present rate of progress it would take over thirty years. An Act of Parliament had been passed which would cost £112,000,000 to carry it out, and it was passed because every Member in that House believed the Irish land question must be settled, and settled quickly. What was the use in passing an Act of this kind if they did not provide money to finance it? If they wanted progress and justice as well, abolish the zones and finance the Act.

Another portion of the Act that had proved an abject failure was that relating to the restoration of the evicted tenants and the distribution of grass lands. They were led to believe that the evicted tenants would be restored to their homes, that the planters would be bought out, and in cases, where the planters would not sell, that the evicted tenants would be provided with homes elsewhere. But, although 4,550 applications were made on behalf of the evicted tenants, only 137 had been restored to their homes. The Coogreuny tenants, North Wexford, were amongst the fortunate ones, but the Waluce tenants were still out in the cold. On this estate there were about 800 acres of untenanted land. The Estates Commissioners, or some persons for them, had been over the land and promised the tenants that they would get back to their homes. He believed they had been over the land a second time and made a second promise, and yet there was no sign of the tenants being put back. The season for putting in the crops was now upon them, and if they did not get possession of the land immediately it would be of little use to them for another year. In South Wexford, his constituency, the evicted tenants, were the Boxwell tenants, the Coolroe tenants, and some isolated cases. The Boxwell tenants and the Coolroe tenants had applied to their landlords to be allowed to purchase their farms, but both these gentlemen were standing out for excessive prices. He had heard hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite putting forward the theory that the evicted tenants would have been quietly paying their rents up to this day but for some terrible agitator like himself coming round and inducing them to rebel against their landlords and abandon their homes. No more preposterous theory ever entered the mind of man. The Irish farmer loved his home. His heart was in it, and he clung to it with a tenacity never understood on this side of the water; and the reason of this was that the house he lived in, the other houses on his farm, and all the improvements, were the work of himself or his predecessors in title. Nothing could induce him to desert that home except force, and as the Government supplied the force, the Government was in justice bound not only to reinstate him in his home, but to compensate him for all losses, because it evicted him for non-payment of an impossible rent.

In the cases he had referred to, no agitator or Member of Parliament went near the tenants, but they, like other evicted tenants, felt themselves becoming poorer and poorer owing to circumstances over which they had no control. They asked for reductions in their rents. They were refused. Then combinations were formed on the estates to try and obtain justice from their landlords, and then the landlords called out their reserves, which were the forces of the Crown, and evicted the tenants. The Boxwell tenants were paying 30s. an acre. He knew something about land. He had lived by it for thirty-five years, and he would venture to say that this land was not worth half the rent that the tenants were paying for it. Some of it was worth very much less, because it used to be flooded by the tide. The tenants built an embankment or sea-wall to keep out the tide. This embankment got out of repair and the land was flooded, and although the landlord persisted in rack-renting the tenants he refused to give any help to repair the embankment. The tenants asked for 6s. in the £ reduction and the landlord's reply was eviction. And now he would sell to the tenants at twenty-seven and a-half years purchase of the old rent. The Coolroe tenants had been just as badly treated, if not worse. He would respectfully ask the right hon. Gentleman the new Chief Secretary for Ireland how could such landlords be dealt with except by compulsion?

All agreed that the Irish land question must be settled, and yet the receivers and Land Commissioners were blocking sales and the Government never said och hone, or tried to mend matters. There were about a dozen firms of receivers making deals with landlords, negotiating fees. As a rule they demanded 5 per cent, for carrying out sales, that was to say, on a hundred millions of money those gentlemen netted five millions. The receivers were opposed to sales and were determined not to allow them if they could help it. Why should they part with the estates? Few people would part with their means of living. A man collecting £10,000 for which he got 5 per cent, for taking it from the tenant and handing it over to the landlord had an easy job and did not like to lose it. The Land Commissioners were also opposed to sales. They had fat salaries and they did not want to lose them; consequently, they sold as little land as they could. An ordinary estate of, say, forty tenants, worth £10,000, could be sold by an auctioneer and solicitor in a month or six weeks. Why should it take twelve months or more in the Land Commission? Because, of course, the Land Commission wanted to make the job hold out. It was time to put an end to this state of things by some drastic measure. The land was not being sold, the evicted tenants were not being restored, except at a snail's pace, and the Congested Districts Board was practically idle. The only measure that could meet this chronic state of things was compulsion. Parliament' passed an Act and guaranteed about £112,000,000 to carry it out. The object of the Act was to make the tenant the owner. Then why not make him the owner? Pass a Bill of two or three sections giving him a vesting order that he was the owner. Fix the price, having regard to the circumstances of the land, the prices of agricultural products and competition in agriculture. Or they could adopt the method of giving the landlord his net income on the basis of second-term rents. Then lodge the money in the hands of the public trustee under the Land Act of 1903 and let the landlord prove his title. He would venture to say, if this were done, the land of Ireland would be sold in three or four years. Likely enough the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say he could not finance such a scheme. But why not? They spent some £250,000,000 in the Transvaal; they had spent millions in Somaliland. And this all for war—killing people and grabbing their land. Would it not be better to spend a few millions in making peace with the Irish people, who would pay every penny of it back, whilst the money they spent in war was gone for ever. He begged to move.

MR. KILBRIDE (Kildare, S.),

in seconding the Motion, said it was not brought forward for the purpose of attacking the Estates Commissioners. The reason for that must be obvious to the Government. He and his friends were not in a position on the present occasion to say whether the Estates Commissioners were culpable or not. They had little or no information on which to form an opinion as to whether the Estates Commissioners, in the exercise of their administrative duties, had done the best they could to put in force the provisions of the Land Act of 1903, or whether they deserved censure. Although repeated assurances had been given that periodic Reports would be presented to the House in regard to the transactions of the Land Commissioners, they were to-day groping in the dark. All the information supplied to them was as to the number of tenants whose purchases had been sanctioned, the amount of money that had been advanced, and the number of years purchase paid. They did not know what the Estates Commissioners had done in the way of reinstating the evicted tenants or repatriating to the grass lands of Connaught the people driven off in former times.

The Motion alleged that the failure of the Land Act was largely due to the inflation of prices by the system of zones set up by that Act for the first time, and also that it had done little or nothing to relieve the congestion in the West and to distribute the grass lands in Connaught. They were told in 1903 that two of the main purposes of the Bill then before the House were to increase the uneconomic holdings in order to make them economic, and to reinstate the evicted tenants. The figures supplied the other day as to the working of the Land Act showed that advances amounting in all to £3,567,649 had been sanctioned by the Estates Commissioners; that the amount Con-naught had got was £299,781, or something like 8 per cent, of the total. The I province of Leinster, which, as everybody knew, was the richest province in Ireland as far as the natural quality of the land was concerned, had absorbed £2,028,548, and county Kildare had absorbed £862,068, or almost four times as much as the whole of the province of Connaught. [An HON. MEMBER: The Duke of Leinster.] He was not going to say anything against the Duke of Leinster. If the tenants were satisfied to give the Duke exorbitant prices he did not see that it lay with him or anybody else to prevent them from doing so. But he said that the Duke of Leinster's estate afforded the best illustration of how the Irish ratepayers were being robbed under the Land Act of 1903.

He would take the case of the rental on the Duke's estate of £125 previous to the passing of the Land Act of 1881. Notwithstanding the fact that he owned that estate in the seventies, the Duke, as they must cheerfully acknowledge, allowed the tenants to break the leases and go into the Land Court. From that day until now he and his family had shown by their action that they had some regard for the interest of their tenants. After the passing of the Land Act of 1881, the Duke of Leinster anticipated what this House was compelled to do by the Plan of Campaign in 1887. If other landlords had followed the example of the Duke of Leinster much trouble would have been saved to the people of Ireland and to the. British Government. In 1881 the Duke said to his tenants, "You can either go into Court or agree to a valuation." It was mutually agreed to appoint a valuer, and the tenants got a 20 per cent, reduction. Two estates were sold by the late Duke of Leirister immediately after the passing of the Ashbourne Act at eighteen years purchase on the judicial rent. The rack-rent of £125 was reduced by consent to £100, so that the land, which was afterwards sold at eighteen years purchase realised £1,800, which, ta 4 per cent, amounted to an annuity of £72. On that occasion the manors of Maynooth and Castledermot were not sold and the reason was this. In 1881 the Duke of Leinster's tenants there asked for a reduction of rent commensurate with the fall in prices of cattle and sheep and the general depression in agriculural values, and he informed them that he was unable to give it because there was a mortgage of over £250,000 on the estates. When the estates were eventually sold they brought £343,000, and were in that way relieved of the mortgages. When the Act of 1887 first came into operation, and until the day the Duke of Leinster's trustees sold, a reduction of 12½ per cent, was allowed. Therefore it came to this, that the land which, before 1881, was rack-rented at £125, which was reduced in 1881 to £100, and which was again reduced under the Land Act of 1887 by a further 12½ per cent, to £87 10s., was sold under the Act of 1903 at twenty-five years purchase for £2,187 10s., while similar lands were sold under the Act of 1887 for £1,800. This was what had occurred under the Act of 1903, which they were told was to be the salvation of Ireland. He wished the House to remember that under the Ashbourne Act there was no bonus. He was told sometimes that the land did not secure the purchase money; but before ever the British Treasury would go to the land to realise their security or begin a campaign of eviction against the purchasers under the Act of 1903, the first thing they would do would be to come down on the Irish Development Fund, by which they would rob, not the farmers who had purchased the land, but the general body of ratepayers of Ireland.

Now, what had caused the inflation in the price of land in Ireland? While the Act of 1903 was before the House hon. Members were given to understand that the cause which was retarding the sale of land was that seventeen or eighteen years purchase were not sufficient when invested to give the landlord his net income, or what he might be I supposed to consider his net income ought to be. For that reason the bonus of £12,000,000 was given to the Irish landlords, to be used as a bridge which would enable them to sell at the then current number of years purchase. Again, they were told that the Land Act, of 1903 was not altogether intended for the benefit of the landlord, but that the tenant farmers might legitimately expect some advantage corresponding to the £12,000,000 of bonus which the landlords were getting. But what had happened? The tenant farmers of Ireland had not got that advantage; they had not received the reduction of the annuity I charge from 4 per cent, to 3¼ per cent. In fact, they had been swindled out of that reduction. It was the reduction from 4 per cent, to 3¼ per cent. which compelled the Treasury to extend the time of repayment under the Ashbourne Act, to forty-two years under the Act of 1903. Then, they were told that the essence of the Land Act of 1903 was voluntary sale and purchase. He agreed; but what was the use of telling him that this was a voluntary measure, that he need not purchase if he did not wish to do so, and that he could still continue a tenant farmer and could bring his landlord into Court and have a fair rent fixed. In order to force the Irish tenant farmer into a bargain with his landlord, which he knew was not a fair bargain, and to give the landlord five, six, or seven years purchase more than under the Ashbourne Act, the landlord used the question of arrears and the hanging gale. He would give the House a few instances which would prove to the hilt that the landlords were making use of the poverty of the tenants to extract from them a rent far in excess of what the land was worth, and what was obtained, under Government sanction, under the Ashbourne Act.

In King's County there was an estate owned by Colonel Williams. The land agent on that estate, Mr. Coutts, was for fifteen or sixteen years always satisfied to receive from the tenants one year's rent every twelve months; and did not press for any arrears due previous to the time he became agent. Unfortunately for the tenants that gentleman resigned his position and went abroad. A Mr. Fowler from Kerry became agent instead. This estate was offered to be sold six years ago for eighteen years purchase under the Balfour Act; but since Mr. Fowler became agent he was proceeding against the tenants for arrears of rent due during the famine time, and for arrears of hanging gale due fifty years ago. He did not allege for a moment that the owner of the estate, Colonel Williams, had instigated those proceedings; but it was peculiar that this property, which was offered for sale six years ago at eighteen years purchase, which the tenants would not consent to pay because it was too high, was now considered by the new agent to be worth twenty-six years purchase. The reason was that the agent desired to drive the tenants into an improvident bargain. Every hon. Member who was acquainted with the agricultural value of land knew that during the last ten or fifteen years, instead of the agricultural value of land having increased by six or seven years purchase, it had decreased by six or seven years purchase. A tenant in county Clare, named Down, had his rent fixed in 1881 at £14 under the Ashbourne Act. That tenant went into Court and asked to have a second-term rent fixed; but the Commissioner, Mr. Esmonde, who knew nothing whatever of the land in county Clare or its climatic conditions, confirmed the rent at £14, the same as in 1881. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary if he was getting, as a landlord, the same rent for agricultural land in. 1904 as he was in 1881? There was another extraordinary case. A Miss Gibson went into Court in 1888 and had a rent fixed at £90, but the landlord had to contribute half the rates and taxes, which brought the rent down to £75; but Mr. Esmonde fixed the second-term rent of the same farm at £84 7s. 6d. Deliberately, and with full knowledge, he charged Mr. Esmonde, and lay Commissioners like him, with being in a conspiracy with the landlords to compel the tenants to purchase at any price. It was part and parcel of the attempt made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover in the Bill he introduced in the House in 1902 to provide that any tenant who refused to purchase could not get a fair rent fixed. He understood that Mr. Esmonde alleged that one factor in calculating Miss Gibson's second-term rent at £84 was the proximity of the farm to the pier at Carrigaholt. Now, that pier was built long before the Act of 1881 was passed and was only used by fishermen. He did not believe that a single, ton of agricultural produce had been landed or exported from that pier ever since it was built. He maintained that the Act of 1903 had not succeeded in curing the congestion of the population in certain districts of Ireland, and that the promises made to the Irish tenant farmers as to the results of the Act had all been falsified.

The right hon. Member for Dover told them that one of the main intentions of the Act was to enable the uneconomic holdings of Ireland to become economic holdings, and to bring the people into a position which would give them a chance of gaining a decent living. The hon. Member for South Antrim talked the other day about the immorality of the United Irish Land League. He was proud to be a member of that League, which was the descendant of the old Land League; and it was the Land League which made the landlords of Ireland first sit up, and compelled the Government to pass its many Land Acts. It would be the United Irish Land League which would finally settle the land question in Ireland. There was an estate in the West of Ireland which was in Judge Ross's Court. A requisition was presented by the Estates Commissioners for the sale of that estate a considerable time ago, but Judge Ross made no answer to the requisition and said publicly in his Court that he would not sell because there was boycotting in the neighbourhood—the boycotting taking the form of throwing down several hundred yards of a boundary wall. He could say to the Chief Secretary and the Attorney-General for Ireland that he was not there to apologise for that action, but to tell the House the cause of it. One of the main provisions of the Act of 1903 was to increase the size of uneconomic holdings on estates where there were untenanted lands. Now, on the estate to which he referred there were seventeen tenants, the valuation of whose holdings ranged from 10s. up to £5 per annum. Could it be said that these were economic holdings? Why did Judge Ross refuse to sell the estate to the Estates Commissioners? He would tell the House why. In that particular neighbourhood there lived an informer, a common spy, who supplied the hon. Member for South Antrim with some of his bogus facts; in that neighbourhood there lived Lord Ashtown—


What facts are bogus? [Cries from the IRISH Benches: Sit down.] I rise to a point of order. The hon. Member has accused me of have given information to this House of a bogus nature. I submit that that statement should be withdrawn


No; what was said was that someone had furnished the hon. Member with information of a bogus nature. [An IRISH MEMBER: You've got your answer.]


said that some of the bogus information supplied to the hon. Member opposite was supplied by Lord Ashtown With regard to the estate of William Thomas Gallaway, deceased, they were not compelled to sell the estate under the 40th section because it was not a bankrupt estate, but if it was the intention of the framers of the Act that it should work, surely in regard to a property like this they were not going to allow Lord Ashtown to frustrate the intention of Parliament, and allow him to buy an estate over the heads of the tenants. When he heard indignant denunciations of the United Irish League for what they had done in cases of this kind he was reminded of the words used by the Leader of the House on a memorable occasion when he said, "Human endurance had its limits." He agreed that there were limits to human endurance, especially when an Act of Parliament, passed to relieve a most abominable state of affairs which was a disgrace to the Government of the country, was being frustrated in this way. It was disgraceful that these poor people who had to live in hovels should be prevented from getting what Parliament intended they should have by the action of a wealthy Lord.

The question of the evicted tenants had been alluded to. So far only £3,500 had been expended out of the £250,000 Irish money apportioned for the reinstatement of evicted persons. There was an extraordinary difference of procedure when it was a question of repatriating Irishmen and resettling the Boers. When they wanted to repatriate Irishmen £3,500 was considered sufficient, but £3,000,000 was voted by the House to repatriate the Boers, and this was done for men who had been up in arms against this country. That was a magnificent performance. Until the question of the evicted tenants was settled he assured the right hon. Gentleman that the Irish land question could not be settled. He hoped the Chief Secretary or the Attorney-General would be able to tell them something about the public trustee. What was he doing and what had he done? Was it a fact that the trustees of the Leinster property had invested the proceeds of the sale of that estate at £4 1s. per cent.? That took away altogether the landlord's argument that he must get twenty-five years purchase.

A case had been brought before the Chief Secretary for Ireland as to how the zone system had inflated the price of land. There was the case of the Blake Foster Estate which was partly in the county of Clare and partly in the county of Galway. This estate was offered for sale by the late proprietor, and it was agreed that £6,000 should be the price. When the inspector, on behalf of the Treasury, went to ascertain whether there was sufficient security for the advance, he reported that there was not, and Mr. Wrench, who was then a Land Commissioner, made a minute that it was valued only for a single pound of advance. The property was transferred to the mortgagees, a Scotch Insurance Company. They employed in the West of Ireland a very astute man, and he found that five or six years arrears of rent were due. The first thing he did was to offer to relieve the tenants of a certain amount of those arrears if they would sign agreements fixing second-term rents, and they signed the agreements. This agent's name was Mr. Holmes, and he brought those agreements to the Land Commission offices and said, "Here are a number of fair-rent agreements." There was no inquiry at all, and the whole thing went through. These agreements were registered as second-term rents and Mr. Holmes went back to the tenants and sold the land to them at twenty-four or twenty-five years purchase. Having brought those tenants within the zones Mr. Holmes obtained an advance of £9,000 under this beneficent Act of 1903 for an estate which, under the previous Purchase Acts, a Government inspector had declared was not security for £6,000, and which Mr. Wrench had stated was not security for a single sovereign. Was it any wonder that they complained? It had been laid down that if property was bought within the zones the Estates Commissioners had no option. The House had often heard of the evictions on the Sneem Warden Estate. This was originally in the hands of the Elands, but, unfortunately, they were obliged to sell, and it was sold in the Encumbered Estates Court at eleven years purchase to a Yorkshireman, who increased the rents very considerably. This Yorkshireman had recently sold this estate under the Land Act of 1903, and he had succeeded in getting agreements signed by insolvent tenants, who had purchased at twenty-four years purchase, and he was going to make a very nice thing out of it. The House should also remember that this gentleman got a nice little matter of 12 per cent, bonus. An agent would agree with a tenant at twenty years purchase at a rental of £20, making the amount £400. An agreement was made between the landlord and tenant at twenty-five years purchase at a rental of £20 and that made the amount £500. Meantime the landlord went to the tenant and gave him £100, and why? Because he would get it all back from the Estates Commissioners as well as the 12 per cent, bonus.


I do not think that is an honest transaction on the part of either party. Is the hon. Member referring to a case that has actually occurred, because there is power to quash such a transaction


said he expected that the right hon. Gentleman would give that answer. He believed it was a fraud on the part of both, but why did the tenant do it? The cheapness of the money was the inducement to the tenant to be a party to the fraud, and the inducement to the landlord was the 12 per cent. He was not talking in his hat. He did not wish to give the name of the party, but if this practice continued he should not hesitate to furnish the Attorney-General with all the particulars, and request him to do what his colleague did in the Whitaker Wright case. A friend of his sold an estate not within the zones it sixteen years purchase. It was bad and, but it was as good as the land sold before at sixteen years purchase. Before he sold it he did not get the tenants to sign second-term judicial leases in order to bring them within the zones which would have avoided inspection. In the case of one of these tenants the total amount of the purchase money came to £47 at sixteen years purchase. An inspector was sent down and he reported that it was only security for £36. Upon an estate close by owned by an avaricious landlord the tenants were compelled to sign second-term leases and he succeeded in getting twenty-five years purchase, or more than double what similar land had been valued at by the inspector. This Bill was intended to settle the land question. It was intended to relieve the congested and poverty-stricken parts of Ireland, and restore the wounded soldiers of the land war to the irholdings, but, unless a new leaf were turned in the administration of the Land Act of 1903, the present Chief Secretary would retire from his office with the same feelings as his predecessor.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House is of opinion that the system of limits within which the Estates Commissioners are obliged to advance the prices of farms in Ireland without inquiring as to the sufficiency of the security has had an effect disastrous to the interests of the tenant farmers and the general ratepayers of Ireland; and that the Land Act of 1903 has utterly failed to effect one of its main objects in remedying the congestion of the population in certain districts of Ireland and providing the people with economic holdings; and that this failure can only be remedied by the grant of compulsory powers to the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board for the purchase of estates declared by them to be congested estates, and of untenanted lands necessary for the relief of congestion."— (Mr. Ffrench.)


It is a little difficult in any circumstances, to deal with this question as it has been put before the House to-night, but it is especially difficult when the House realises that in the two speeches which have been made the case has been so fully dealt with, and if I may say so, with a wealth of detail which makes it almost impossible for the representative of the Government to reply upon the case as stated. Let me turn to the general issue.

Whatever differences of opinion there may be now as to the merits of the Act of 1903, there is no difference as to the object with which that Act was passed and the effects which it was hoped the Act would produce. The speeches to-which the House has listened do not suggest that those effects are within reasonable distance of attainment yet. The object of the mover of this Resolution is to show that the operations under the Act have been attended by inflated prices to the owners of the land. But what led to the passing of this Act? What was the conclusion to which Parliament was brought face to face by facts to which it could not shut its eyes? The real difficulty in connection with previous Purchase Acts was that under them only those landlords sold who could afford to accept the prices of the tenants—who had other resources, in fact Those who had not other resources found it difficult to bring the land into the market.

It is perfectly true that the landlords who came in in those early sales were those who could afford to part with their land, who sold because they found the Act advantageous, and who had other reserves. But only the very fringe of the Irish land question had been touched. You wanted to found a system by which it would be made worth the while of the owners of land who had not other reserves, who had only a very small margin, if any, to sell their land; and you developed this scheme of voluntary purchase, and induced the British taxpayer not only to find £100,000,000 for the purposes of the loan, but also to add £12,000,000 by way of bonus, to make it possible for many of the smaller landlords to sell. They are the very men you want to buy out, because their opportunities for providing for themselves are small, and their opportunities of doing justice to their tenants are almost nil. This Act for the first time offers these facilities to the owners of that particular class of land, and how, in the name of justice, can you describe it as a failure when it has been in operation for less than two years? What, after all, have been its results? Already £20,000,000 have been applied for—representing one-fifth of the agricultural holdings in Ireland. It is perfectly true that only a small percentage of those have been dealt with. But why? Are the arguments which have been adduced, the cases which have been cited, the indictments which have been made—are they the reasons why the Land Act of 1903 has not made more rapid progress? Everybody knows that the real difficulty is not that here and there prices have varied, or that here and there landlords have got enough for their land to enable them to live in decency for the rest of their days; the real difficulty is the financial difficulty to which reference was made last night. I cannot say what opportunities I may have, or how far I may be able to take advantage of those opportunities, of doing something to facilitate the working of the Act, but I believe that the financial difficulty is the paramount difficulty, and that if hon. Members opposite wish to do anything to solve the land problem they will not help the Irish Government by throwing doubt on the Act which has had almost unparalleled success.

MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)

The landlords cheer that.


I am very glad they do. The Act was devised and carried for the purpose of transferring the land from the landlords to the tenants, and if its operations so far as they have gone are cheered by the landlords' representatives, I think that any fair-minded man will not say that that is no condemnation of the Act.


I have no objection to the land being sold if it is sold at a fair price.


I think there has been in this debate, as there is in the interruption of the hon. Member, a tendency to judge this Act by one test and one alone, viz., that of the price paid for the land. Surely those who represent the tenants will admit that there is another test which may with equal fairness be applied. Under the Act the average purchase price has been 22.9 years purchase. But what have been the advantages to the tenant? I do not admit that that is an excessive price, nor do I deny that there have been variations. Under the principle of voluntary purchase there must be variations, and I believe that the average price is a fair price. But the tenant has directly received the benefit of a reduction on the annual payment representing his rental of 25.9 per cent. That is application has already been made in the Courts for one-fifth of the land in Ireland, the average price paid to the owners of the land represents twenty-two and a-half years purchase, and the reduction to the tenants in their anual payment is equal to over 25 per cent. Can it be contended by any fair-minded man that that is a record which spells failure for the Act?

The mover of the Resolution submitted that the zone system was one of the causes of the failure of the Act. But the zone system is the very essence of the Act. We have been told that tenants have been practically coerced into giving unfair prices for the land. If that is so, there is a provision in the Act which I do not say would have made that impossible, but of which, at all events, the tenants might have availed themselves. Such an argument can always be fortified by individual cases. The hon. Member for South Kildare appealed to me as an English landowner as to what my experience was. I venture to say that if the sales of agricultural land in England for the last ten years are investigated, it will be found that there have been exactly the same variations as are found in Ireland. The hon. Member instanced the case of a farm sold for so many years purchase, and of another farm of the same character which fetched a very much higher price. But that is the commonest experience of everyone connected with land purchase in this country.


said that his point was that in the case of the farm which was sold for sixteen years purchase without the zones, the inspector from the Land Commission refused to certify that it was security for the advance, whereas in the case of the farm of a similar character sold within the zones for twenty-five years purchase without inspection, the Estates Commissioners advanced the money.


It is impossible to go into every individual case without having the full particulars before one. I was not dealing with the individual case; I was replying to the general charge. The hon. Member challenged me, as one acquainted with agricultural affairs in England, to say whether there had been any instances within the last ten years in England which could be compared with the cases be cited, and I say that the hon. Member may take any decade he pleases, and he will find that, whether the general value has been rising or falling, there have been exactly the same variations of prices. Those variations are due to a multitude of causes of which it is impossible to judge by a bare statement of a partisan on one side or the other.

This Act must be judged, not by the comparatively trifling instances which have been cited, but on the broad general facts which can be put forward in its support. Subject only to the fact that the originator of this Act was a colleague of my own, and that to that extent I had an interest in it. I bring to its examination as the head of the Irish Executive for the time being a perfectly open and impartial mind, and I do not hesitate to say that the more I examine into its operation, and the more I realise what its work and actual effects have been, the more I marvel at the success which has attended it. Why is it indicted to-night? By what justification is it held to be a failure because the landlords have obtained a fair price? Everybody who does not wish the Act to operate to the destruction of the landlords must realise that if it had not worked fairly to the landlords the Act would have been a failure, because it would have come to an end. The hon. Member says the Act is a failure because it is a voluntary Act. Why is it based upon voluntary purchase? Because you have never yet been able to invent a system other than that for Ireland, or for any other country, which was likely to be successful in the two directions in which alone success can be secured, viz., those of inducing the landlords to sell, and of making it worth the tenants' while to buy. Are you going to do that by compulsory purchase? Where has it yet been found that compulsory purchase leads to economical treatment and cheap sales? During the short time I was in Ireland I made it my business to inquire on this point of some gentlemen acquainted with the question.




No, they were not landlords.


Then they were in Dublin Castle.


No, they were not. They happened to be on board the steamer.


In a storm!


No, the storm was on the way to Ireland; the return journey was quite calm. I asked a gentleman of considerable experience what he thought of compulsion—whether he thought it facilitated the cheap buying of land; and he confirmed what, I believe, is the experience of everybody who has had anything to do with the sale of land; viz., that compulsory powers lead to a much more expensive system. ["Name."] It is unnecessary that I should give the name. Does anybody believe that by compulsion you get land more cheaply or more easily than by voluntary arrangement?


asked what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do with landlords who refused to sell at any price.


If landlords will not sell at any price and you have not compulsory powers, it is obvious that you cannot get their land. But if you have compulsory powers there is this difficulty. If you have compulsory powers to exercise against recalcitrant landlords, what are you going to do to all the landlords who now come in and sell on fair terms? If you are to use your compulsory powers only upon one set of landlords, upon what terms are you going to exercise them? The question of the hon. Member presupposes that a majority of the landlords will sell voluntarily. Therefore, you are to exercise compulsion against the minority. But upon what system or basis? Are you going to compel them to sell on terms which hon. Members have denounced tonight as extravagant? What, after all, is the best inducement? There is a great deal in what has been said about that part of Ireland in which it is more desirable than in any other that these sales should be carried out. Where the difficulty exists in its most acute form it is unfortunately true that these sales have been very small indeed as compared with other parts of the country, and I should be very glad indeed if anything could be done by the Government to alter that condition of things. But does my hon. friend who recommends compulsion believe that you will solve the difficulty in that part of the country by obtaining compulsory powers to force the landlords to sell? Does he believe that thereby the difficulty with regard to price will be met? I do not believe the difficulty will be solved, either in the West of Ireland or elsewhere, by such wholesale measures as have been suggested. The advantages already flowing from this Act are, I think, apparent to every student of the question and to everybody who desires—as the majority of the people of this country desire—to see Ireland happier, more contented, and more prosperous. For my part, I would rather trust to the effect of this conviction upon the minds of landlord and tenant in the West of Ireland than to the exercise of compulsory powers. I cannot speak yet with that local knowledge which I hope I may be able to acquire in one of those motor tours to which reference has been made, and I feel that until one has seen these cases on the spot, and realises what they mean, it is difficult and perhaps dangerous to commit one's self at all upon them. I repeat, however, that I believe the difficulty for which we have to find a solution is that of providing the money which must be found if the Estates Commissioners are to let the sales go on.

The mover of the Resolution said that at the present rate of progress it would be thirty years before the land of Ireland changed hands. I think he has not realised two things—first, that it is only a little over a year since the Act came into operation, and secondly, that the Estates Commissioners, who have worked hard to make the Act a success, have had to put the whole scheme into working order, to invent their machinery, and to approach various estates with little experience as to how best to deal with them. I think it is not unfair to assume that, if in the first twelve months one-fifth of the land of Ireland has been applied for, in a much shorter period than thirty years the Act will have conferred upon Ireland the almost indescribable benefit of the transference of the land from the present owners to those who are now only occupiers. I believe that the financial difficulty is the only one that can be regarded as really serious. It is impossible for me to deal with the whole question to-night. There are the questions of the evicted tenants and uneconomic holdings. There has been a great deal of controversy as to the respective responsibility of the Executive Government and the Estates Commissioners. I quite agree that it is right and desirable that the House and the country should be able to judge of the responsibility of the Executive Government, on the one hand, and of the Estates Commissioners on the other; and I hope I may settle this controversy once and for all by saying that it is my intention to lay on the Table as soon as I can the regulations which I propose to issue to the Commissioners, setting forth the view of the Executive as to the way in which their duties should be performed. Further, I wish the House to understand that if, in my judgment, it is necessary to alter those regulations in any way, I shall consider it part of my duty to lay the amended regulations on the Table. Certainly I can safely say that it would be most undesirable that there should be active interference by the Executive with the Commissioners with regard to any particular case or any detail of their work, and the regulations will be directed to guide them generally in the discharge of their duties. Reference has been made to my connection with the Act constituting the London Water Board and the financial interests there involved. I believe that my experience in that matter will be of some little value. Questions affecting the security of property have to be considered, and I am not going hurriedly or rashly to make any declaration on the subject, but I can assure the House that I shall do my best to remove the obstacles which only temporarily, I believe, stand in the way of the complete and successful development of the Act.

MR. HAYDEN (Roscommon, S.)

said that this debate was to be regarded only

Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Findlay, Alexander (Lanark,NE Kennedy, Vincent P. (Cavan, W.)
Ainsworth, John Stirling Flavin, Michael Joseph Kilbride, Denis
Ambrose, Robert Flynn, James Christopher Langley, Batty
Barran, Rowland Hirst Fuller, J. M. F. Law, Hugh Alex.(Donegal, W.)
Boland, John Gladstone,Rt Hn. Herbert John Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall)
Brigg, John Goddard, Daniel Ford Leigh, Sir Joseph
Burke, E. Haviland- Grey, Rt. Hn. Sir E. (Berwick) Lough, Thomas
Caldwell, James Griffith, Ellis J. Lundon, W.
Campbell, John (Armagh, S.) Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Lyell, Charles Henry
Causton, Richard Knight Hammond, John Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.
Cawley, Frederick Hardie J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil) MacNeill, John Gordon Swift
Channing, Francis Allston Harmsworth, R. Leicester MacVeagh, Jeremiah
Cheetham, John Frederick Harrington, Timothy M'Kean, John
Clancy, John Joseph Hayden, John Patrick Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh, N.)
Condon, Thomas Joseph Helme, Norval Watson Mooney, John J.
Delany, William Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H. Moss, Samuel
Dobbie, Joseph Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Murphy, John
Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark) Higham, John Sharpe Nannetti, Joseph P.
Duffy, William J. Horniman, Frederick John Nolan, Col. John P.(Galway, N.)
Ellice, Capt EC(S. Andrw's Bghs) Johnson, John Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)
Ellis, John Edward (Notts.) Jones, Leif (Appleby) O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid)
Fenwick, Charles Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Ffrench, Peter Jordan, Jeremiah O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)

as the opening of the question, and that the earliest opportunity would be taken to bring the matter forward again. To judge whether the Act had been a success or a failure it was necessary to look into more considerations than the right hon. Gentleman had put forward. It was not enough to look at the number of applications; regard must be had to their character and the portion of the country from which they came. The object of the Act was to settle the Irish land question, and that end would not be secured until the evicted tenants had been reinstated and the problem of congestion solved. Practically nothing had been done in those directions and therefore they were justified in saying the Act was a failure. Their claim for compulsion was rejected by the late Chief Secretary, not on the ground of principle, but because he did not think it would be necessary.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 104; Noes, 139. (Division List No. 76.)

O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion) Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Roche, John White, Luke (York, E. R.)
O'Dowd, John Roe, Sir Thomas White, Patrick (Meath, North)
O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.) Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland) Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)
O'KellyJames(Roscommon,N.) Schwann, Charles E. Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)
O'Malley, William Seely, Maj. J. E. B. (Isle of Wight) Wills,ArthurWalters(N. Dorset)
O'Mara, James Shackleton, David James Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)
O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Sheehy, David Wood, James
Power, Patrick Joseph Shipman, Dr. John G. Young, Samuel
Reddy, M. Sullivan, Donal
Redmond, John E.(Waterford) Thomas David Alfred (Merthyr) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Richards Thomas(W.Monm'th) Ure, Alexander Sir Thomas Esmonde and
Rickett, J. Compton Waldron, Laurence Ambrose Captain Donelan.
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Fisher, William Hayes Morrison, James Archibald
Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel Forster, Henry William Mount, William Arthur
Allhusen, Augustus Henry Eden Galloway, William Johnson Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)
Anson, Sir William Reynell Garfit, William Nicholson, William Graham
Arnold-Forster, Rt. Hn. Hugh O. Godson, Sir Augustus Frederick Parkes, Ebenezer
Arrol, Sir William Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin & Nairn) Percy, Earl
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Graham, Henry Robert Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Bain, Colonel James Robert Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Pummer, Sir Walter R.
Balcarres, Lord Greene, W. Raymond-(Cambs.) Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r) Hambro, Charles Eric Pretyman, Ernest George
Balfour, Rt Hn Gerald W. (Leeds) Hamilton,Marq.of (L'nd'nderry) Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Hare, Thomas Leigh Purvis, Robert
Banner, John S. Harmood- Harris, F. Leverton (Tynem'th) Randles, John S.
Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin Heath, Arthur Howard (Hanley Rankin, Sir James
Bentinck, Lord Henry C. Heath, Sir James (Staffords. NW) Rasch, Sir Frederic Carne
Bignold, Sir Arthur Heaton, John Henniker Reid, James (Greenock)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert T. Renwick, George
Bowles, Lt.-Col. H. F (Middlesex) Hickman, Sir Alfred Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Brassey, Albert Hoult, Joseph Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Howard, John(Kent, Faversham Royds, Clement Molyneux
Brotherton, Edward Allen Hozier, Hn. James Henry Cecil Rutherford, John (Lancashire)
Bull, William James Hunt, Rowland Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)
Burdett-Coutts, W. Hutton, John (Yorks. N. R.) Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-
Butcher, John George Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H. Jeffreys, Rt. Hon. Arthur Fred Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Cavendish, V. C.W. (Derbyshire) Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir John H. Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, E.)
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Kenyon-Slaney, Rt. Hn. Col. W. Smith, Rt Hn J. Parker (Lanarks)
Chamberlain, Rt Hn. J. A. (Worc) Kerr, John Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)
Chapman, Edward Keswick, William Stanley, Rt. Hn. Lord (Lancs.)
Clive, Captain Percy A. Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow) Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart
Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Lawson, John Grant (Yorks. N. R Stroyan, John
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Lee, Arthur H. (Hants.Fareham) Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Colomb, Rt. Hn. Sir John C. R. Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.
Compton, Lord Alwyne Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol. S) Tuff, Charles
Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.) Lonsdale, John Brownlee Turnour, Viscount
Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile Lucas, Reginald J. (Portsmouth) Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H (Sheffi'ld)
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Macdona, John Cumming Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir William H
Davenport, William Bromley- MacIver, David (Liverpool) Warde, Colonel C. E.
Davies Sir Horatio D. (Chatham) Maconochie, A. W. Webb, Colonel William George
Dickson, Charles Scott M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Welby, Lt.-Col. ACE (Taunton)
Dorington, Rt. Hn. Sir John E. M'Calmont, Colonel James Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W) Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Dyke, Rt. Hn. Sir William Hart Majendie, James A. H. Wylie, Alexander
Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton Marks, Harry Hananel
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward Martin, Richard Biddulph TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir
Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst Milvain, Thomas Alexander Acland-Hood and
Finch, Rt. Hon. George H. Morgan, David J. (Walth'mstow) Viscount Valentia
Finlay Sir R. B. (Inv'rn'ssB'ghs) Morpeth, Viscount

Adjourned at thirteen minutes atter Twelve o'clock.