§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ * MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
I venture to address the House this afternoon under a deep sense of responsibility. I should like also to add that I attempt a criticism of the Bill with a great deal of diffidence, which I think is justifiable under the circumstances. I do not know how it may have been with other Members of the House, but for myself I must honestly say that during the last fortnight of somewhat sensational political controversy, I have not found the opportunity of giving to the provisions of the Chief Secretary's measure that close and calm consideration which I think they undoubtedly demand. However that may be, I am sure that no hon. Member of this House has enjoyed adequate opportunities of considering the White Paper which contains the calculations upon which the Chief Secretary's estimate of the size of the problem is based. I think it was yesterday fortnight that this Bill was introduced, and the Chief Secretary then told us that his advisers had made calculations which led him to believe that the size of the problem amounted to £180,000,000. It was only yesterday afternoon that those calculations were available in the Vote Office, and they have not yet been circulated to all the Members of the House. I do not want to harp upon that, and I mention it for one reason only. It is this, that the short study I have been able to give to these calculations confirms 266 at every point the interpretation which I have been forced to put upon the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced. They show—indeed, they state in printed words—that the Government is proceeding upon two assumptions. The first assumption is that every acre of the agricultural land of Ireland is to be sold, not, as I shall show, to the occupier, but often, and perhaps as a rule, to somebody else; and it assumes that every acre to be sold in the future will command the average price of every acre which has been sold in the past. That may very well prove to be the case if the House of Commons and Parliament passes this measure. I have been asked by my right hon. friend to state for him and those who act with him our reason for finding ourselves unable to support this Bill, and also our reason for finding ourselves compelled to oppose it. It may be suggested that this Bill is more in the nature of an occasion for an academical discussion. I gather—and I suppose I am right—that this Bill will not be carried through all its stages before Christmas. I do not know whether it is to be suspended and reintroduced next session, but however that may be, it may be suggested—and I wish to meet the suggestion—that we ought to adopt an impartial attitude towards the Bill, and leave it to be discussed by these who are more intimately interested in its provisions in Ireland during the Christmas recess. I must put that suggestion upon one side. If we are right—and I hope to be able to show that we are right—in believing that the policy of this Bill annuls the policy for which we made ourselves responsible in the year 267 1903, then I think it is our duty to state quite explicitly, even at this early stage, the reasons for the action we find it incumbent upon us to take. If this is the death warrant of all we believe to be in the true interests of Ireland, we must oppose it, although its execution is to be delayed. The reasons for our action may be grouped under two heads. We have what I may call negative reasons, which force us not to support the Bill of the Government. We cannot support the Bill because we do not find that it will expedite the policy land purchase in Ireland. We believed that it was for the welfare of Ireland that the system of dual ownership in that country should be brought, and brought speedily, to an end. We thought that the position was intolerable; that it was not in the interest of any landlord to put capital into the land, nor in the interest of the tenant to put labour into the land. We said, and all parties in the House agreed with us, that that system of dual ownership must be brought to an end; and we were able to say that that could be done without imposing an impossible burden upon the credit resources of this country. This Bill does nothing to expedite the policy for which we are responsible. Then the other set of reasons which make it impossible for us to take any other course than that of opposing the Bill are positive reasons. We find that this Bill above and in addition to all that I have said, introduces a new policy, which will in every case prove injurious to the welfare of Ireland, and will also, in our opinion, place a burden upon the credit resources of this country far in excess of any burdens that were contemplated, or which were needed, in order to carry out the policy for which we held ourselves responsible, and for which we hold ourselves responsible now. What was the situation when the Government announced their intention of bringing in this Bill? The policy of the Act of 1903 was proceeding in Ireland, I will not say to universal satisfaction—I do not say that—but I do say that it was meeting with very general support and acceptance as shown by the very fact that so many landlords and tenants crowded into the office of the Estates 268 Commissioners when, from the Report of the Committee, they gathered that the policy was going to be changed. I think I am entitled to say that if our policy did not meet with universal approbration it met with very general acceptance on the part of the landlords and tenants in Ireland. Because it I met with so much acceptance on the part of landlords and tenants in Ireland, the block was produced in the transaction of business in the Estates Commissioners' office. We had been told by the Chief Secretary that agreements had been embodied in applications amounting to £52,000,000 which had not yet been dealt with. That was one very important fact in the situation. The other very important fact in the situation was that owning, if I may say so, to the general acceptance of that policy, the ratepayers of Ireland were threatened in the very near future with having to bear the losses due to the flotation of stock below par. There were the two essential facts of the situation with which we were all confronted at the beginning of this session. I admit that in this Bill there are two clauses to which I can give almost unreserved approval. They are the fourth and sixth, which deal, or may be used in order to deal, with those two difficulties. Under Clause 4, I think that the Government could deal effectively with this block, or far more effectively than they are likely to do under the clause which they put forward as their principal solution for dealing with the block of agreements. Under Clause 6, no doubt the Government do make it quite clear that the ratepayers of Ireland are not to bear any losses through the flotation of stock below pa[...]. That was the intention of the authors of the Act of 1903, and we are ready to join with the Government in making what was then our intention, perfectly clear. But when we come to the rest of the Bill, apart from these two clauses, we find that it will stop voluntary purchase, and that it will substitute for voluntary purchase, the policy of which all parties approved five years ago, and which was very generally accepted in Ireland, another policy of minute and universal interference with the rights of everybody engaged in agriculture either directly or indirectly in Ireland, 269 and at a cost to the State which I believe will not be £180,000,000, but will be quite incalculable. If the House will bear with me in my attempt to deal with a very complicated problem, I propose to look at the provisions of this Bill under four heads. I wish first to ask the House to consider the steps which the Government propose for removing the actual block—the number of agreements which have been filed, for which money is not forthcoming, and for which there is not a sufficient administrative staff. Then I wish to pass to future agreements aid consider what is likely to happen after the block has been removed. Then I should like the House to let me deal with the proposals of the Government for remedying the congestion, as we understand the word "congestion," by that I mean improving the existing holdings occupied by the existing tenant, if that holding is of such a character that it should not become his property without being increased and improved. In conclusion, I will ask the House to consider and to consider very carefully what I must call the new policy of the Government, a policy that has never been contemplated before, and never, I believe, proposed by any responsible Government in any modern State. The new policy is one of creating a new race of peasant-proprietors drawn from among any persons living anywhere, and endeavouring to make their holdings all about the same size, and to engage them in a form of agriculture in which the Irish tenants have not been accustomed hitherto to exercise their talents and their ingenuity. First, I will go through the provisions of this Bill which are introduced in order to remove the existing block in the Estates Commissioners' Office. I understand from the Bill and from the speech in which the Chief Secretary introduced it, that the Government are going to raise £5,000,000 in cash, and I understand that they are going to issue stock in order to raise that cash. That is so, I understand; I wanted to clear up the point. There had been a suggestion that, from other sources, 5,000,000 sovereigns could be found without issuing stock; but now we have it that in order to raise 5,000,000 sovereigns, stock is to be issued. Out 270 of these 5,000,000 sovereigns, 1,000,000 sovereigns are to be devoted to another purpose, and only £4,000,000 will be available for dealing with the block in the Estates Commissioners' Office. In addition to the 4,000,000 sovereigns, the Government intend also to issue stock, the old stock, bearing interest at the rate of 2¾ per cent., and to allow but not to compel the landlords to accept that stock in lieu of cash. Therefore, there will be £4,000,000 in cash, and, as far as I can make out, if the stock is floated at 92, which is very improbable, on the most favourable estimate, there would be another 4,630,000 sovereigns produced by the flotation of £5,000,000 of stock, so that there will in all be, and only be, 8,630,000 sovereigns available for dealing with this block which amounts to £52,000,000. I do not know whether the Chief Secretary includes, perhaps he will tell me, the bonus in the £4,000,000 cash. If he does, then, of course, there will be less money available for dealing with the block than if he did not. Roughly speaking, I make out sufficiently nearly to support my argument that, if he does not include the bonus in the £4,000,000 cash, then it would take at least six years to remove this block, and that if he does include it, then it would take at least eight years to remove this block. I think that we are entitled to say that this does not expedite our policy of land purchase. Such a plan cannot, I think, be called an efficient plan for dealing with this difficulty. I do not know whether the Government has an alternative plan in Clause 4, but if they have, surely that is the plan which they ought to have explained to the House when they introduced the Bill. Are they prepared to liquidate this block in the course of a couple of years? That is what we all want to know, and that is what everybody interested in Ireland wants to know. But that is not what the Chief Secretary says, and that is not what appears in the forefront of his Bill. What appears in the forefront of the Bill is that he intends to proceed on the lines I ventured to sketch to the House. We must be allowed to say that that is not an efficient way of dealing with this immediate difficulty 271 I must add that it cannot be quite a fair way of dealing with it in regard to the interests of either the landlords or the tenants, who signed these agreements in the faith and belief that Parliament would carry out in spirit as well as in law the engagement which Parliament consented to five years ago. Taking the stock part of the plan I think that it works out in this way. If the agreement is in respect of £2,300, then stock would have to be issued to the amount of £2,500. I think that is how it works out. If the stock stood at 92 the landlord would get his 2,300 sovereigns out of his £2,500 worth of face-value stock. But it does not stand at 92; it stands below 88–86¼. But we will first take it at 88. If it stood at 88, the landlord would lose £100 out of his £2,300. If it stood at 84, he would lose £200 out of his £2,300. That cannot be called carrying out the bargain to which this House was a party five years ago. And the tenant will suffer, too, for he will have to pay 3½ per cent. instead of 3¼ per cent., if his agreement came after 31st October, for at least six years and possibly for eight years. You are adding eight years to the period of repayment by the tenant, and you are making him pay 5s. which he did not contract to pay through his representatives when the Act of 1903 was passed. You are making him pay 5s. per £100 each year during the whole of those eight years. That is not an efficient way of dealing with the difficulty; it is not a fair way of dealing with the difficulty, and I do not think, from the financial point of view, that it is a very sound way of dealing with the difficulty. We know that the difficulty has arisen largely because the City is not prepared at the present moment to take continuous annual issues of this 2¾ stock. We know that the City is anxious, if the Government will agree to it, to accept instead of that stock, what are called short bills. Yet under this Bill you are going to offer to the City, whether the City is prepared for it or not, the very kind of security which the City does not want instead of giving it the kind of security which it does want. So much for my criticism of the immediate difficulty, the block in the Commissioners' Office. I pass to my second 272 head under which I propose to criticise the Chief Secretary's Bill, and I want the House to consider what will happen in respect of future agreements. That is very important. When the House adopted this policy five years ago there was no idea that tenants and landlords were to be penalised if they did not succeed in arriving at an agreement at once, and if they had such agreements, could not have been dealt with. But under this Bill landlords and tenants will be heavily penalised when the block has been removed. The Chief Secretary in introducing the Bill said that nothing must be done to arrest land purchase. In the light of that declaration of policy I ask the House to consider the provisions in respect of future agreements. It is evident that they would not be dealt with for six or eight years, but there is more to be said. Under this Bill in respect of future agreements the instalment paid by the tenant is to be 3½ per cent. instead of 3¼ per cent. But that only comes into operation when the Bill becomes law. It would be illegal for the tenant now to enter into an agreement which embodies payment on his part of 3½ per cent. He cannot do it. But does anyone suppose that any tenant is going to enter into an agreement to pay 3¼ per cent. knowing that when the Bill becomes law it is to be changed to 3½ per cent.? It is absurd to suppose a single tenant in Ireland will put pen to paper under the provisions of the Bill until it is passed, and it is difficult to suppose he will do so when it is passed. It is illegal till the Bill passes and it will be torn up when the Bill does pass. I pass from the tenants' interest in the provision of the Government in respect to future agreements to the landlords' interest. If the landlord can get his tenants to make this leap in the dark he has to take a 3 per cent. bonus instead of 12 per cent. So that neither the tenant nor the landlord, if they are sane, is likely to sign an agreement until the Bill passes through Parliament, if it does pass in its present, form. If it passes landlords and tenants will be able to consider whether it is worth their while to enter into agreements which cannot possibly be proceeded with for six or eight years, and what conditions will be imposed on these new agreements. Clause 1 makes the annuity 3½ per cent. 273 That is what the tenant has to pay. Of that 3 per cent. is for interest. We have never charged tenant purchasers in Ireland more than 2¾ per cent. since the Act of 1891. Now, after waiting six or eight years he has to pay 3 per cent. The stock under Clause 2 is to be 3 per cent. stock. But there is an alternative, it may be 2¾ per cent. stock. Does the Chief Secretary really believe that landlords and tenants in Ireland are going to sign agreements which will not fructify for six or eight years without knowing whether the stock is to be 3 or 2¾ per cent. stock, and knowing perfectly well it will be 3 or 2¾ per cent. in order to suit the interests of the Treasury, and not to suit the interests of the parties to the bargain? And that stock is not to be offered to the landlord if he is in a hurry, but it is to be given to every landlord. No cash is to be given. It is a compulsory plan so far as finance is concerned. There is one other provision which militates against the interest of the tenants and departs from the bargain of five years ago. Under Clause 8 the tenant in addition to his first instalment of 3½ per cent., has also to pay interest for the period between the date of that instalment and the date of the first dividend on the stock issued by the Government. Instead of saying, as he does now: "I have to pay £3 5s. on every £100," he must say, "I have to pay £3 10s., and on the first instalment which will probably hit me hardest, after waiting for the agreement to be confirmed, I have also to pay an unknown sum in respect of interest for the period between my gale day and the date of the dividend on the stock which is issued by the Government."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BIRRELL,) Bristol, N.
Who does that now? It is paid by the ratepayers.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
What we have to consider is whether we are expediting purchase by asking the tenants to assume burdens of a doubtful character falling upon them at a distant date. In Clause 11 the Government propose really to abolish the zones. I know that is popular with some representatives of Irish constituencies. I am certain that 274 if they substitute inspection for security for the easy automatic process which the Act of 1903 brought about in place of inspection for security, you will go back to those difficulties and delays and litigation which the Act of 1903 was adopted to remove. One of the main arguments used by us and accepted by hon. Members from Ireland on the policy of the Act of 1903 was that Ireland had suffered from the fact that landlords and tenants lived a life of litigation, and that all the purposes which they contemplated were indefinitely delayed. Substitute inspection and security for the operation of the zones and you go back to it. No bargain, however just, however profitable to the landlord or tenant, can go through if anybody supposes that it is his business to scrutinise that bargain on the basis of its security. We all felt and we all said that if the reduction offered by the purchase gave a sum sufficiently below the rent which the tenant paid, we were satisfied with the security. That was one of the contributions of the taxpayers and representatives of England and Scotland to the solution of the Irish question. Now some of the Irish Members say they prefer litigation and delay. I very much doubt whether the tenants in Ireland do. I rather think this great rush to the Estates Commissioners' Office shows that the tenants prefer the easy and automatic process to the litigation, delay and anxiety which preceded the Act of 1903. There is another extraordinary provision which must have a very injurious effect upon future agreements in Ireland. Clause 13 says that no advance shall be made for a new tenancy unless that tenancy is created by a State official. If an Estates Commissioner, or the Congested Districts Board or the Dapartment of Agriculture—if any one of these three State Departments chooses in its wisdom to create a new tenancy an advance can be made, but no new tenancy can be created by anyone else. During this long period the Government are going with their eyes open to paralyse the whole of the existing system of agricultural tenure in Ireland. I believe that will prove most injurious to the interests of Ireland. Clause 14 repeals Section 2 of the Act 275 of 1903, which provided for selling new tenancies to the tenants on the estate, the sons of tenants on the estate, to evicted tenants, and to persons in very poor circumstances in the immediate neighbourhood of the estate. Under the Bill some parcels may still be sold to tenants and the sons of tenants on the estate, but in their case the amount advanced is limited to the narrowest proportions. The whole policy of the Bill is to take away from the occupiers the gifts which were given to them under the policy of 1903, and at their expense to give better terms to persons who have never suffered under dual ownership, and have no present title in the land at all. Then we find this clause reopens the whole evicted tenants question. When the Act was passed we were informed by the hon. Member for East Mayo, that the number of evicted tenants to be provided for was limited. But the number grew. I make no complaint of that. I am not going back on the past. A Commission sat and investigated the claims, a new figure was arrived at, and we were told that this at last was an end of the evicted tenants question, and yet the Government now reopen it again, and suggest a larger advance than is allowed to tenants or sons of tenants for men who may have been tenants in the past twenty-five years, no matter under what circumstances they may have lost their tenancy, or for any nominee whom a State official may accept if the original evicted tenant be dead. That is placing a greater burden on the finances of this country. It is narrowing the amount we could give to the purpose of the policy of 1903, which was to put an end to dual ownership. Now I pass to subsection (e) of Clause 14. I really think this subsection is the most surprising enactment that any responsible Government has ever asked the House of Commons to pass. Under this subsection the State officials who alone are to have a say in these matters, may give a large advance to "any person." Anybody may come along living in Ireland, America, Scotland, or England, for it does not matter. Any person who they think will be fit to carry out their idea as to mixed farming is to have these special financial privileges at the expense of the tenants 276 of Ireland. By subsection (3) of this amazing clause it is possible to take away the holding which a tenant has already purchased. Not only will you reopen the evicted tenants question and invite all persons to come in to share the benefits which we gave to the tenants of Ireland, but where a tenant has entered into a contract with the landlord and the State, and has paid his instalments regularly for fifteen years, you may take away from him that which is his own, and sell it to somebody else in order to keep a symmetrical plan. Clause 17 of this Bill annuls the protection given by the Act of 1903 to mortgagees and all the other parties interested. We provided, and it was a necessary provision in view of the easy process we put forward for abolishing dual ownership, that the parties interested should be heard. Now there is to be an attempt under the system of purchase to do that which failed under the system of fixing fair rents. The policy of 1903 was accepted by all parties in Ireland, because at that time a great deal of delay was caused by litigation involved in determining how much of an improvement ought to be allotted to a landlord and how much to the tenant. That was discussed in Ireland for twenty years, and law suits proceeded all that time. One case alone occupied the Courts for years. Under our Act that kind of thing was stopped and instead of the money being spent in sterile forms of civil war we thought it might be better used by putting an end to that war. That is stopped by Clause 17. Now under Clause 17, instead of a Fair Rent Commissioner, there is to be a sort of Purchase Commissioner, who is to go round and examine every parcel of land, deciding what is due to the inherent capabilities of the soil and what is due to the enterprise of the tenant. That is a reversal of the policy of 1903. Then we come to Clause 31. If the House is prepared to admit the arguments I have adduced they will see that agreements are not very probable, and that they will probably be delayed for six or eight years. Power is being taken from the landlord, the mortgagee is being alarmed, any person is to be allowed to have an advance. There is at all points a large 277 element of doubt and distrust. The probability is that it will be far more than six or eight years before any landlord and his tenants succeed in arriving at any agreement at all. Then Clause 31 comes into operation. Voluntary purchase having been arrested by the preceding clauses, a State official may go and look at an estate and give an offer in writing to the landlord for the whole of his estate. If the landlord will not or cannot, on account of his own obligations, accept that offer, then the whole matter is clinched under Clause 43, and he may be compulsorily bought out for the sum stated in that written offer with no right of appeal on value except to the Judicial Commissioner. Under these circumstances the compulsory clause of this Bill will be the only operative clause, and it is idle to suppose that any Judicial Commissioner can perambulate the whole of Ireland to settle business which in the last five years the tenants and the landlords have settled for themselves to the tune of £77,000,000. Quite apart from the financial disabilities these provisions make it impossible for a landlord to come to terms with his tenant. The place of the landlord is taken by a State official and the place of the tenant by any person whom the Commissioners think is the man most likely to succeed in mixed farming. But the financial disabilities must be glanced at and they ar6 scarcely less prohibitive. In respect of future flotations the loss is to be placed on the landlord and the tenant. I agree that the 3 per cent. stock is likely to be more popular than the 2¾ per cent. stock, but it should not be forgotten that the estates are frequently heavily mortgaged. If they take this stock they will need to sell it almost immediately to the extent of one-third, and perhaps to a greater extent, but will that stock be at par? Some calculations place it at 95. Consequently there will be a loss on the flotation which will fall on the landlords and the tenants. Now I pass on to the new provisions in respect to the bonus. I do not wish to weary the House, but I have worked out what the figures of the bonus will be. I will not give all the figures, but I will give the conclusions which I have based upon 278 them. Whatever else may be said of this sliding scale applied to the bonus, it certainly puts first term rants and non-judicial rents upon the same footing as second term rents. The line of discrimination should have been between first and second term rents, but, as it is proposed, you go merely by the number of years purchase, and that is not a fair solution. Considering only the second term rents you will find the Schedule works out at an additional year's purchase for twenty-one years purchase. There will be a tendency for the cheap article to get this price. The next big gain a landlord will get under the Sohedule will be for twenty-four years purchase. If he sells at twenty-four years purchase he gets twenty-five, and if he sells at twenty-five years purchase he still only gets twenty-five. That will fix the price of land for ordinary second term rents at twenty-four years purchase. That is a little bit below the ordinary result of the Act now in operation. The ordinary result has been 24.7 years' purchase, and people have got used to that. The landlord cannot accept less without suffering a diminution of his income which he is unable to bear. I could develop that argument, but I think I have made it clear that the operation of this clause will be to harden the price to twenty-one years for cheap land and twenty-four years purchase for the ordinary cases of second term rents. I will ask the House to consider the difference to the landlord and the tenant under this scheme from the terms which they were able to enjoy under the Act of 1903. Taking the second term rents, which have been analysed in the Estates Commissioners' Report, 23,620 have been sold at a reduction of 19.7, and 1,092 have been sold for a 33.3 per cent. reduction. My contention is that the cheap stuff will harden round twenty-one years purchase, which is more than has been given before, and in the other cases it will harden round twenty-four years purchase, because for each of those prices, twenty one years and twenty-four years, a whole additional year's purchase is given by the Schedule. Assuming that is a plausible contention what will happen? Now, if a landlord sells for twenty-four years purchase and invests the money 279 at 3¼ per cent.—and that was the scale contemplated in 1903—he gets an income of £87 and a little more, but if this Bill passes, and my contention is sustained, his income will be £74 or £13 less, and his tenant now at twenty-four years purchase has to pay an instalment of £78. If this Bill passes at twenty-four years' purchase the tenant will have to pay an instalment of £84, the result being that the landlord will get £13 a year less and the tenant will pay £6 a year more. I do not call that expediting purchase, and that is the most favourable view which can be placed upon this provision, since this is only true if the stock is at par. There is only one other observation I need to make upon these future agreements, and it concerns all hon. Members of this House as representatives of the taxpayers, as well as those who sit for Irish constituencies and represent the interests of the landlords and the tenants. By making the annuity 3½ per cent. you change the multiple of the guarantee fund. When the Act of 1903 was before the House we remodelled the whole of the guarantee fund in view of the instalment which we introduced. Now the Chief Secretary introduces an instalment one-eighth bigger and makes no changes in the guarantee fund. We could only give that guarantee for a sum total of about £150,000,000, By making the instalment 3½ per cent. instead of 3¼ per cent. you reduce that guarantee till it will only cover about £130,000,000, and you do that in a Bill in which you ask the country to guarantee £180,000,000. So that for the first time you are asking the British tax-payer to go bail for £50,000,000, for which there is no guarantee at all.
§ * MR. WYNDHAM
Quite so, but I point out that there was a complete guarantee even when there was lit le or no prospect of default. I am bound to say, however, that under the conditions I have described the chance of default is greater than under the conditions which previously existed. I come now to the provisions dealing 280 with congestion. Under the Act of 1903 the State was to aid in making a very bad holding a better holding, when the tenant occupier was to become the purchasing proprietor of it. All that is entirely changed now. The Congested Districts Board is given the power to remodel every estate in the whole of nine counties without the consent of the owner; and this applies even outside the congested districts—any where in Ireland. Without the consent of the owner the Estates Commissioners or the Congested Districts Board may declare any estate a congested estate, if half the area consists of holdings not exceeding £10 valuation. [Cheers from the IRISH Benches.] That policy is applauded by hon. Members below the gangway, and I am sure that they will allow me to point out what it means. If we take all the holdings in Ireland, 56 per cent. are under £10 valuation, so that Clause 18 turns the whole of Ireland into a congested district. That of course, is assuming that the congestion is equally distributed. As more than half of all the holdings are under £10 valuation, this clause says that without the consent of the owner, the whole of that area is handed over to the Estate Commissioners or the Congested Districts Board and controlled by them in every respect. By Clause 14 (3) they may buy a holding that has already been purchased. Clause 19 abolishes the rights of existing tenants. The boundaries of their farms can be changed without their consent. Under the Act of 1903 that could only be done at the request of three-fourt[...] of the existing tenants. That is repealed, so that men who are prepared to enter into voluntary agreement may find that because half an estate is of that valuation they cannot do so. Was there ever such a wholesale and drastic interference not only with the rights of property, but with ordinary liberty? If you think you can thus overcome the rooted love of the Irish tenant for the soil he occupies, and which perhaps his father and grandfather occupied, I believe you are making a very great mistake. I think that the amount of agitation, and even revolt which you will bring into being, will substitute for the peace which Ireland has recently enjoyed, a state of disorder. 281 [Ironical cheers from the IRISH benches, and cries of "peaceful Ireland."] I do not take up the interruption of the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway. It is common knowledge that over the greater part of Ireland there has been a distinct improvement in social relations since the Act of 1903 was passed; but there are some parts of Ireland—far too many and too large—where there is grave social disorder at this moment. My point is that that social disorder must be increased if this Bill is passed into law; because it interferes tyrannically with the rights of all persons concerned, and also because you are introducing a new policy. We ought to consider what that means in terms of the peace of Ireland and in terms of the credit of the Imperial Exchequer. I have been told that the hon. Member for North Long ford has said that this Bill of the Chief Secretary justified cattle-driving. Well, I will not go so far as that, but I will tell the House that I think it is likely to multiply the number of cattle-drivers, and during the six or eight years of waiting it is almost an invitation to any persons who are to profit under it to make it very hard for the persons who are now occupiers of Irish land. This Bill is intended, if we look at its provisions, or at the paper calculations which have been provided, to put the whole agricultural area of Ireland through the mill, in order to bring it out in symmetrical plots of about the same size, and devote them to the same form of agriculture. That kills voluntary purchase. Under it the State will attempt a task which no State can carry out or pay for. The landlords' rights are taken away, the existing tenants' rights are taken away, the rights of the mortgagees are taken away, the purchasers' rights are taken away. The State, by a handful of harrassed officials for administration and a 3 per cent. stock for credit, is to abolish all existing rights in order that any person may try his hand at mixed farming—which demands for its success the careful selection of the individual farmer—on symmetrical plots in a country which depends for its existence on the cattle trade. The Judicial Commissioner is to revive all over Ireland the ancient procedure of the old 282 Landed Estates Court. The Court of the Estates Commissioners will be very much in the position of the Bankrupt Estates Court. Every estate in Ireland will be handed over to the control of officials. The rights of existing proprietors will disappear. The Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board will be employed at the rate of £1,000,000 a year in buying out compulsorily any person who owns land, in order to sell it to any person who does not. There is no special reason why such a visionary policy should be applied to Ireland. No case can be made out for applying such a policy to Ireland which cannot equally be made applicable to England and Scotland. It is a fantastic experiment. But if such an experiment is to be tried it should be tried in an experimental manner; and if it proved to be sound it ought to be applied to every part of the United Kingdom. As far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we are prepared to persist in our policy of ending dual ownership; we are prepared to relieve the ratepayer of losses due to flotation; we are prepared to continue and develope our policy of dealing with congested holdings; we are prepared to assist in removing the block of agreements, without prejudice to the rights of future buyers or sellers. But, we must resist a policy which tears up the agreement of 1903, in order to impose a, minute and universal State tyranny on Irish agriculture, and to impose an incalculable burden on the credit resources of the Imperial Exchequer. I beg to move.
To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House, while willing to consider favourably proposals for expediting land purchase in Ireland and for relieving the ratepayers of their contingent liabilities for losses due on the flotation of Irish Land Stock, declines to proceed with a Bill which throws fresh obstacles in the way of the sale of holdings to their occupiers and which increases the responsibilities already undertaken by the British Exchequer without conferring any corresponding benefit either on the tenant or owner of Irish land.'"—(Mr. Wyndham.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."283
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I hope that the House at large noticed one very significant statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that so far as he had followed events in Ireland improved social relations had followed in the wake everywhere of the successful working of the Act of 1903, and he went on in the next breath to declare that there were still some parts of Ireland where there was a great deal of social disorder and disturbance. The parts where social disorder and disturbance exist in Ireland are the parts where, owing to the defects in the law of 1903, the beneficent operation of the land purchase policy has not been carried out. If we are to-day discussing this question it is because the House of Commons did not listen to our suggestion years ago for the amendment and improvement of the Land Act of 1903, and one of the great justifications for this measure is to be found in the desire of the Government by extending the beneficent principle of land purchase to the poorer districts in Ireland to remove the reasons for disorder. What has been the experience of the Act of 1903? It has worked most successfully in the better-to-do parts of Ireland, in the centre of Ireland, where the problems of poverty and congestion are not at all to be compared with those which exist in the west and north-west of the country. There comparatively well-to-do tenants and comparatively well-to-do landlords have had the opportunity of land purchase going on rapidly and satisfactory and with the best possible results, but in the really poor districts of Ireland, in those parts of Ireland where the real land war exists, whence the whole difficulty of the land problem has sprung—there the Act has been practically inoperative. These are the terrible districts which the right hon. Gentleman described so eloquently in his speech in 1903, when he spoke of the rotten and wretched portions of the country. In those districts his Act has not worked at all, and from that it comes that there is disturbance in Ireland, and from that came about the necessity for the introduction of this Bill. I ask the House, are they going once again, after so many sad examples in the past, to disregard the opinion of the overwhelming majority 284 of the representatives of the Irish people? The right hon. Gentleman has told the House of Commons that this Bill is the death warrant of all that is in the interest of Ireland. Well, I am commanded by my colleagues of the Irish Nationalist Party to state the contrary. It is for the House of Commons to decide will they once again listen to a voice such as that of the right hon. Gentleman telling them what is in the interest of Ireland, what is wanted in Ireland, what the Irish tenants want, and what the Irish people want, or will they at long last on this question, listen to the voice of the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this Bill will unmake the policy of the Act of 1903. He has told us—I do not think he imputed motives—that the effect of this Bill would be to annul the policy of 1903 which was that dual ownership was to be speedily ended. It is scarcely to be regarded as likely that the Irish people through their representatives here would support a Bill which in their judgment was intended to destroy the policy of the Act of 1903. The policy of the Act of 1903 has been the policy of the Irish Nationalist Party for the last thirty years. We never consented to the creation of dual ownership so far as it was created by the Act of 1881. The House will remember that in 1881 we walked out of the House and would not take the responsibility of voting. From that day we have always protested that there could be no solution formed on the principle of dual ownership of land. The first plank, after Home Rule, of the Land League founded by Parnell and Davitt, was the abolition of landlordism by a system of purchase at a fair price, and therefore I disclaim, so far as I speak for myself and my colleagues, any intention or desire to interfere with the work of land purchase or in the smallest degree to impede the abolition of dual ownership. The only answer that can be made is that we do not really understand the question, and that while being in favour of land purchase through ignorance of the country and the conditions of the problem and the people and the land question, the right hon. Gentleman is far better 285 entitled to speak than we are as to what would be likely to effect our purpose. That is a subject on which the House of Commons has to decide. If they take the right hon. Gentleman's view they will decide that he knows better than we do what is good for Ireland, and they will vote against the Bill. But if they believe that on this question we know what we are talking about, and that our view ought to be taken, then this House will, by an overwhelming majority, vote for the Second Reading of this measure. Before I pass on there are one or two statements of the right hon. Gentleman to which I should like to allude. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill—falling rather below his original statement that it would annul the policy of the Act of 1903—will not expedite land purchase. He takes exception to the financial portions of the Bill, which I fully share, but what was the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion? If this Bill does not pass the finance of the Land Act of 1903 as it is to be found in the Statute will continue, and the entire loss of the flotation and the incidental loss on land purchase will fall on the ratepayers and fall on them at once, because I find that it has even now been admitted that the Development Grant is exhausted. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government were not going to raise more than £5,000,000 a year in cash. I complain of that too, but that is not in the Bill; there is no proposal in the Bill for limiting the amount of money to be raised. I agree that more than that should be raised, but that is no reason for opposing the Second Reading. There is nothing in the Bill limiting the amount of money to be raised. The right hon. Gentleman asks why are they endeavouring to raise less money by issuing stock when the City is anxious to give all the money necessary on short bills. I do not know who commissioned the right hon. Gentleman to speak in the name of the City. I do not know whether the City is anxious to provide the money on short bills. Even if the right hon. Gentleman is right and the City is prepared to provide the money on short bills, there is nothing in this Bill to prevent the Government taking that course. On the contrary, it is specially 286 provided in the Bill that they may do so and, therefore, his objection—which I share—that the Government do not foreshadow providing money rapidly enough for the operations of land purchase, is no reason against the Second Reading of this Bill. Now, Sir, let me deal with one other matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. He spoke about the new policy in this Bill, saying that the new policy was to create a new class of peasant proprietors in Ireland. He went on to speak of what he understood to be the policy of congestion, which was, as well as I could understand, that the remedy for congestion was to enlarge the existing holdings, and he did not take into his purview the possibility of dealing with congestion by way of migration. That is not how we understand the problem of congestion. It seems to me that the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's argument on that branch of the subject was an argument against what we regard as perhaps the most essential portion of the land settlement, namely, the breaking-up of the grass land. That is not a question which affects only certain particular congested areas in Connaught; it is a problem which affects the settlement of the land question all through Ireland. Rightly or wrongly we are of opinion that so long as there are these vast ranches in Ireland—uninhabited—from which the people have been driven by the operations of landlordism in the past, where for thousands of acres there is only one inhabitant, the herd living in a hut, while the owner is perhaps resident in Dublin or in London, and where at the same time there are innumerable uneconomic holdings all over Ireland—so long as that state of things continues we believe the land question cannot be settled; and if the right hon. Gentleman's attitude amounts to this that he openly avows his objection to this policy of breaking up the grass land for the purpose of creating economic holdings upon them, then there is an irreconcilable difference between us that nothing will bridge over. I do not desire to speak at any length. Indeed, I have only risen for the purpose of very briefly saying this, that the view I ventured to express immediately after the Bill was 287 introduced has been confirmed by all that has happened since, and by my further consideration and study of the Bill; and I have been requested by my colleagues of the Irish Party to-day to stand up at the earliest opportunity to give a thorough and hearty support to the Second Reading of the Bill. I do not think I need dwell for more than a moment on what we regard as the salient advantages of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman sneers at compulsion. I remember well in 1903 when we desired that compulsion, so far, at any rate, as the congested districts were concerned, should be put into the Bill—I remember very well the attitude the right hon. Gentleman took up. He argued that compulsion would not be necessary, but he clearly indicated that he desired to have these rotten and wretched communities broken up, and that if compulsion was necessary he would not shrink from proposing it. He did not propose it because he did not think it would be necessary, and he had his way. Without compulsion he must know the work of the congested districts cannot go on. So far back as 1895 the Congested Districts Board, in a report which I quoted to the House more than once, and which was signed by the present Leader of the Opposition and his brother (Mr. Gerald Balfour), then the Chief Secretary, asked for compulsory powers, and said that without them it would be impossible for them to carry out their work. And that demand of theirs has gone on increasing in volume and strength ever since, and I doubt very much whether any responsible person in Ireland will take up the position that it is possible for the problem of congestion to be successfully remedied unless compulsory powers are given to the Congested Districts Board. This Bill gives compulsory powers to the Estates Commissioners as well. We have always believed, and I have never heard it questioned, that there would be a residuum of landlords, at any rate, outside the congested districts to whom compulsion would have to be applied. There are Clanricardes in other places than Galway. If this Bill passes you will now be able to deal with Lord Clanricarde—and I should think Unionists would be 288 delighted to see any Bill passed which would put an end once for all to Lord Clanricarde and the scandals of his estate—this will enable you to deal with Lord Clanricarde, and all unreasonable landlords in every part of Ireland, and inasmuch as the compulsion can only be put into operation on the initiative of two of the Estates Commissioners—[a laugh]. The Estates Commissioners were appointed by the late Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member—and inasmuch as compulsion can only be put into operation at their discretion, I think the provision of the Bill is a moderate provision. At any rate I can say for it that that provision will be intensely popular in Ireland, and if there was nothing else in the Bill of value it would be impossible for us to vote against the Second Reading. I will not deal with the question of future tenants, or any matters which may be more properly dealt with in Committee but I want to say a word in reference to the zones, because the right hon. Gentleman has spoken of that. Of course, all through from the date of the introduction of the Act of 1903 the Irish Party endeavoured to do away with the zones. We succeeded after a very great struggle, and—after what was in the nature of a crisis in the life of the Land Bill—we succeeded in getting a concession excluding non-judicial tenants, and the Bill then proceeded, but from the first we never disguised our view that we did not approve of the zones. The proposal of the Bill is not to abolish the zones, it is to enable the Estates Commissioners, if they choose, to institute an inquiry as to the security for value and also as to the equity of price. Let me ask the House if that is an unreasonable suggestion. There have been cases with which the House is naturally not familiar, of the grossest scandals arising in connection with the operation of zones. I ask an Englishman to consider for a moment. If the price agreed upon between landlord and tenant—the tenant may have been pressed by a load of arrears and a hundred and one circumstances—if the price agreed upon between the landlord and tenant falls within the zones, then the authority which is to lend out your money for the transaction of purchase must lend it, no matter how exorbitant the 289 price may seem to them and no matter how ridiculous the security may seem to them. Some of these cases came to the Court, where the Estates Commissioners endeavoured to put a stop upon the operation of the Act, where they were unanimously of opinion that the price to be paid was four or five times the value of the land, and, therefore, the security for the State was bad and the price inequitable as between landlord and tenant; and yet, although they were convinced of that, they were not entitled to hold an inquiry, and if they did to justify their view, they were not entitled to stop the sale. Is not that an absurdity from every point of view, from the point of view of the tenant and from the point of view of the taxpayer? Is it not an absolute absurdity? And this Bill does not provide that in every case there shall be an inquiry of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman must unintentionally have misled the House in this matter. He said that if this Bill were passed there must be an inquiry in every case. Nothing of the kind. That is not the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman may have told us what his three officials directed by himself meant to do. He may tell the House that they will act as lunatics, but he cannot say that they are compelled to do so by this Bill. Under this Act there need be no inquiry unless the Commissioners so wish, and if the case of some poor barren district comes before the Commisioners and they find that the tenants are paying a price equal to twenty-six or twenty-seven years purchase, if they learn in addition to that that there is a load of arrears on these people weighing them down and preventing their being free, is it to be said that they are to be deprived of the power to investigate that state of things and to find out whether it is a free and a just bargain, whether the price is equitable, and whether the security to the State for the money advanced is good? That is all that is asked, and that is all that is provided by the Bill. There is one question I would ask the Chief Secretary because it has been put to me by some of my colleagues who are not clear whether the description of inquiry into the equity of the price and the value would apply to the cases of pending 290 agreements where the estate has not been declared to be an estate. I understand that, where an estate has been declared by the Commissioners to be an estate there the matter is concluded. In a considerable number of applications, amounting to more than half, the estates have not been declared estates, and I want to know whether this power of investigation as to price and equity between landlord and tenant would apply to them. With reference to the provisions of the Bill dealing with the Congested Districts Board we consider that the provisions are not only satisfactory, but, if we can use such a term about the British Treasury at all, liberal. The income of this Board will be raised from £85,000 to £250,000. There will be a reconstitution of the board of representatives from the nine congested counties, and in my opinion the provisions generally of that part of the Bill are satisfactory, and carry out in the main (I do not now go into details), the recommendations of the Dudley Commission, and give effect to the demand we as a Party more than once made in this matter. On the question of finance I have very little to say. I object, as the right hon. Gentleman objects, to the new stock, with its increase of interest to the tenant. That portion of the Bill was drafted in entire contradiction to the views of the Irish Party. That is a very serious point upon which we have not been able to come to any agreement at all with the Government. The position we took up, and still take up, is perfectly plain. We say that these losses on flotation (I am not speaking of the incidental working losses which are included), were never intended to be borne by the ratepayers of Ireland. Every one admits that. We have demanded that these losses on flotation should be taken over by the Treasury. Now what have the Government done? They met us half way, I admit. They have lifted the liability for the loss on flotation entirely off the shoulders of the ratepayers, not only on the £53,000,000, but for the whole production. But they have taken on their own shoulders only the loss on flotation of the £53,000,000, and have put the loss on flotation of the rest upon the shoulders of the landlords and the tenants. We protest 291 against that, and we are sorry that the Treasury by this half measure have not treated the finances of the Bill satisfactorily. We take up the position of demanding that the whole loss on flotation shall be thrown upon the Treasury, and inasmuch as the working of the Act up to the present has not cost the British taxpayer practically anything, it is not too much for us to ask that the whole of the future loss on flotation should be put upon the British taxpayer, especially as the Ministers responsible for the Act of 1903 tell you plainly that that was the intention. On the question of bonus we are not satisfied. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover founded an argument upon the particular scale which is in the Bill. Now our position is this. We are in favour of a graduated bonus, but we are against the scales. We have always been in favour of a graduated bonus. In 1903 we made it a question, and we again and again asked for it on the simplest grounds of justice. It seemed to us an unfair thing that the men who got the largest amount of purchase money should get the largest amount of bonus. What was the bonus originally intended for? It was accepted in this House upon this ground, and would never have been accepted by Englishmen except upon this ground — as a device whereby there might be bridged over the gap between what the landlord might fairly be expected to take and what the tenant might fairly be expected to give. At present, and under the Bill of 1903, the higher the price the landlord is getting the larger the amount of the bonus, and the lower the price the landlord is receiving from the tenant the lower the amount of the bonus. We have, therefore, always contended for a graduated bonus, and we are in favour of that provision in the Bill. But we do not agree to the figures, because according to the figures of the Schedule the total amount available for paying the bonus would in future be far less than 12 per cent. in the total amount of the purchase money. We are quite willing to do what we can to aid the landlords in getting from the Treasury an amount—[Some MINISTERIAL cheers]. Yes, hon. Members ought to remember two things. First of all, it is not your Treasury. It is our Treasury as much as yours. When I am 292 speaking of the taxpayer I am not speaking of you; it is of the Irish as well as the English taxpayer; and when I am asking for this I am only asking for what was, in my judgment, part of the bargain of 1903. So far, therefore, as the bonus is concerned, that is all I have to say. There is one small matter of which I ask the Chief Secretary to take a note. There is a provision which he did not explain when bringing in the Bill, and which I never heard of before, that 5 per cent. is to go to the remainder man instead of to the tenant for life. That is a provision which will very seriously impede the working of the Land Act in Ireland. It is a provision which must have been thoughtlessly put into the Bill. I say most decidedly that the inclusion of that provision will have a most injurious effect on the working of land purchase, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether it was put there in pursuance of any set led policy, or whether, in view of the opposition which it is certain to arouse among all classes in Ireland, it may be allowed to go by the board. What is the future of this Bill? I invite the Chief Secretary to speak to us upon this matter. I had hopes, when the Bill was introduced, that owing to the then appearance of the Parliamentary Programme, either one of two things might happen. I was hoping that the other House would pass the Second Reading of the Licensing Bill, not for the sake of the Licensing Bill—I did not care one way or the other—but because I believed that if they did that, and if the Education Bill went up to the Lords, it would be necessary either to adjourn the session over Christmas, or to hang up those Bills. The Licensing Bill and the Education Bill having disappeared, that leaves us face to face with a situation in which I think it is hard to expect the Government to adjourn the session over Christmas, and in which, if you introduced this novel procedure of hanging up Bills, ours would be the only Bill of sufficient importance to be carried over. Can the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope that this can be done? It would have an enormous effect in Ireland. It would be taken by the Irish people as an earnest of good faith and of determination on the part of the Government 293 to press on this Bill. I do not know whether it is possible to take that step. I know that it practically must mean something in the nature of a revolution in the procedure of the House. If, however, the Government do not make a satisfactory statement on that point, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something about the future of the Bill. What is he going to do with it? Parliament will be meeting again in February. Is he prepared, if he could not carry it over, to introduce it at once on the first night, as an ordinary Bill without discussion, take the Second Reading instantly, and to go at once to the Committee stage of the Bill? Of course hon. Gentlemen above the gangway do not want the Bill, but I am speaking for those who do want it, and I am speaking to the Government who presumably want it too. The right hon. Gentleman in opening his speech the other day, spoke about the comparative peace and disorder of different portions of Ireland. If every Nationalist representative went through the country preaching peace and contentment without a measure of this kind, it would be impossible to preserve peace in Ireland. On the other hand, if the people see what they believe to be a real and genuine attempt to grapple with the grievance from which they suffer—an attempt to break up this hateful and accursed ranch system in Ireland—if they see an attempt to grapple with the remaining evils of the land question I have no hesitation in telling the right hon. Gentleman that he will not only preserve peace in Ireland, but will do it with the greatest ease and without the use of a single policeman. These were very serious considerations, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a careful hearing to them. I can say further, for myself and my colleagues, that though there are Amendments we will require in the Bill, and although in Committee we will challenge portions of it, and work hard to amend other portions, yet speaking of it as a whole, we regard it as a great and far-reaching measure of reform, and we shall give it in the division lobby our hearty support.
§ MR. WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Cork)
said it was with genuine regret that he found 294 himself differing very gravely indeed, in respect of this Bill, from so many of his Nationalist colleagues and from Ministers and Members on the other side of the House, of whose desire to do the very best they could for Ireland, he, for one, had long been thoroughly convinced. That might be the last occasion on which he would be compelled in that House to interfere with the plans of those who were responsible for this Bill, if, during the recess, after mature consideration, and with a full sense of their responsibility, they decided next session to adhere to the lines of the present Bill. There was an air of unreality about their whole proceedings that night, but perhaps he might be permitted to say that he had in some small way responsibility, and on that responsibility he had staked his political life. For that reason, he trusted he might reckon upon a little of the patience which that House generally showed to the view, however unpalatable, that at all events he had held for a great many years of stress, and of misconstruction now on one side of the House and now on the other. Frankly, the more he examined and thought over the Bill, the more irresistibly he was driven to the conclusion that it would most grievously disappoint the benevolent expectations with which he was quite sure the Chief Secretary had conceived it. To say the least of it, it would most seriously prolong and endanger the progress of land purchase, if it did not strike a fatal blow at that happy transfer of the whole soil of Ireland from the landlords to the people, on which were based their hopes not merely of the agricultural prosperity of the country, but of still higher national objects to which, in the minds of some of them, a genuinely united Irish nation alone could lead. He was afraid that the congestion clauses would be found as inadequate and ill-advised, from a constructive point of view, as the rest of the Bill was in his opinion from the purchase point of view. He would ask the House to bear in mind how matters stood. Wherever the Act of 1903 had been worked, by universal admission it had within five years wrought the happiest transformation that was ever effected in the history of 295 any country—the only happy transformation that ever was effected in Ireland by the legislation of that House. The Chief Secretary himself told them on the First Reading of the Bill that this policy might be open to criticism, but added—By the common consent of all critics, whether native or foreign, it is admitted that wherever this policy has had a fair chance, and it is not in all parts of Ireland that it has had it, it has already worked exceedingly great marvels; but though we are dealing with a process that must take a long time, even already that process has changed the face of Ireland.It was that policy which had wrought those "great marvels"; but he was afraid the right hon. Gentleman was going to guillotine it by this Bill, and in point of fact it had been guillotined already by the Treasury. The Chief Secretary went on to say, which was very gratifying, that—To do anything which would arrest the progress of land purchase would be a blunder, economically and politically, of the very first magnitude.Yes, but he was afraid that this was the blunder of the first magnitude which the Chief Secretary had committed in introducing this Bill. He was afraid there was no escape from the fact that, whether the Bill passed or not, the process of land purchase such as they had known it, and such as the right hon. Gentleman had described, was, for some years at all events, at an end. If the Government, after nine months for deliberation, could not see their way without introducing a Bill revolutionising the whole system of purchase, then the very least they might have done was to let well alone pending fresh legislation. What had they done? Usurping the functions and forestalling the decision of that House, using powers that were never intended for such a revoluntionary purpose, two officials of the English Treasury had issued a ukase at one stroke cutting down the bonus from 12 per cent. to 3 per cent., thereby utterly disorganising the whole machinery of the Act of 1903 in its very mainspring, and, practically speaking, making purchase at all events for some time to come virtually an impossibility. What was the state of things at this moment? First, as to the landlord. The landlord, under these regulations of the Treasury, 296 had not only now to face an immediate loss of 9 per cent. on his bonus, but for an indefinite period he did not even know in what form he was to be paid for his land. All that he knew was that, if this Bill passed, he would not be paid in cash as under the Act of 1903. But he would have to face another and additional and perhaps a very serious loss in stock. That was to say, a loss of 14 per cent. Did any person seriously believe that any Irish landlord who was not bankrupt would dream of selling at such a loss as that within a year and a half of a general election, and when the landlords could, perhaps, calculate on having a Bill of a very different kind? What was the position of the tenant? Either there could be no land purchase at all or he would have to make up to the landlords that loss of 14 per cent., or he would have to carry on a civil war to settle the difference. Even in the extremely unlikely contingency of their coming to an agreement under such circumstances the tenant did not even know what his future annuity would be. All he knew was that if this Bill passed his interest would be raised to 3 per cent., and it might be varied in some way or other by some other Government. That was chaos come again until the somewhat precarious date when this Bill passed into law. Suppose it did pass, then he held that the whole system of land purchase, which had produced the marvellous results described by the Chief Secretary, in all its essential particulars was absolutely at an end. The three great inducements to the landlords which made land purchase work would be destroyed. The bonus to the landlord in its new shape under this sliding scale, which looked so seductive but was so fallacious, would be little above 3 per cent. The bonus on the sales at the average prices which had hitherto prevailed—twenty-three years purchase—would be only 5 per cent., and, as if that was not sufficient in the way of destroying one of the principal inducements to sell, they had this provision in Clause 5 depriving the tenant for life, who might be induced to sell, of the greater part of the bonus that was left, and handing it over to his remainder-men and mortgagees. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Waterford condemn that 297 provision in such strong terms, and he failed utterly to understand what the object of that provision was, unless it was a wanton attempt to make land purchase impossible. The landlord would have lost the inducement of the bonus and of the payment in cash, and he would have to face the unknown future as to how he would be paid with the almost certainty of a considerable loss, owing to the fluctuations of the money market. The position of the tenant would be that while his neighbour on the other side of the fence who had purchased in 1903 would already be advanced five years towards complete ownership and towards completion of his annual payments, and would only be paying 2¾ per cent. interest, the new purchaser would have to pay 3 per cent. on an increased annuity. The increase would not be in reference to the Sinking Fund, but would be for the benefit of the Treasury to guarantee them against any possible loss, without shortening that tenant's term of sixty-eight and a half years by a single hour. Quite obviously, either land purchase would have to come to an end entirely, or the landlord would be driven to extort from the tenants the amount of his loss by the new arrangement, or the tenant would be driven to extort his loss from the landlord. He would have to give his landlord three years less purchase in order to bring him to an equality. But if he had to do that he would have to do it by a new agrarian strife, by a new "no rent" war. It was one of the terrible drawbacks of the Bill that the only way it prescribed of deciding whether it was the landlord or the tenant who was to bear the loss was by a new agrarian strife and "no rent" struggle, and they who had gone through the mill for many a hard year in Ireland knew that a new agrarian strife would not merely injure one side or the other, but both parties would most cruelly suffer, and the whole wretched country whose face the Chief Secretary had described as being happily changed would be changed back to a scene of uncertainty, misery, and tribulation. Thus far his obversations had been directed to any new purchases which might be possible. Now as to transactions which had already taken 298 place. What would be the state of things as to the £52,000,000 due by this great Empire to Ireland? They, as far as he could grasp the Bill, only positively bound themselves to pay their debt at the rate of £4,000,000 in each year. All the rest was problematical and conditional upon the landlords accepting the deduction of £8 in every £100 from the purchase money. Suppose the whole scheme worked full steam ahead at the very maximum of, he thought, the £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 a year which they would go to, even then, and it was a most impossible contingency, it would take something like seven years to wipe off arrears, and during all those years they would have certainly 100,000, probably 150,000, tenant purchasers paying 3½ per cent., 4 per cent., or even 4½ per cent. It was admitted in reference to the Boyton Estate in County Donegal that there were some 186 tenants, and the rate of interest payable varied from 3¾ per cent. to 5 per cent., and he had in his pocket particulars of a similar case from another county. He could not calculate himself what the exact actuarial difference to the tenants would be, but so far as he could judge the new terms would add something supplementary to the tenant's price before the whole transaction was completed. To come back to the existing transactions he had tried to induce the Estates Commissioners to furnish the House with some exact information as to the amount in hard cash that these tenant purchasers would be losing, who had trusted to their Imperial word and who were now paying 3½ per cent., 4 per cent., and even 5 per cent. He could not get that accurate information and he had had to make the best calculation he could with the materials to his hand. But he did not believe any responsible person would deny that in hard cash those 100,000 or 150,000 Irish purchasers would, every year, until arrears were wiped off, be suffering a loss of at least £300,000. That was to say, these unfortunate tenant purchasers were loaded with a liability of £300,000 a year, an amount which would have enabled the Treasury, if they used it in a proper way, to complete the abolition of landlordism in Ireland. That was not amending the Act of 1903. 299 It was blowing the Act sky-high. It was not observance of their solemn Imperial undertaking to landlords and tenants. It was a violation of that undertaking. It was sentencing to slow death that process of land purchase by the abolition of the bonus and of the payment in cash. For what reason were they subjecting themselves to this risk? It was common ground that it was not through any fault of the Irish people, either landlords or tenants. They had both performed their part of the contract of 1903 with the most splendid fidelity. It was simply and solely for the most extraordinary and unprecedented reason that the success of their own Act was such that it was inconvenient for budgetary calculations and for political exigencies. It was adding insult to injury to tell them that this disorganisation and destruction of land purchase was a boon for which they ought to be thankful. Where in Heaven's name did the liberality of the English Treasury come in? They were told that they were relieving the Irish ratepayer of a terrific liability, and the Chief Secretary had described it as a nightmare afflicting the whole population, not one-third of whom owned land enough to feed a lark, and they were to be flayed alive to the tune of £600,000 to finance an Imperial Act of Parliament. He had yet to meet the intelligent Irish ratepayer who ever lost one hour of his night's rest through the terror of this nightmare; on the contrary, they regarded it as a clumsy Treasury contrivance to terrify the Irish ratepayer into believing that any scheme of land purchase would be a curse to the country. If he might say so without offence, this whole bogey of a tremendous escape of the Irish ratepayers from the financing of £180,000,000 for the benefit of the Empire was the veriest sham and humbug ever attempted to be palmed off. The Prime Minister himself agreed twelve months ago that this liability could never be enforced, and was never intended to be enforced, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, the author of the Act, said the same thing. The whole thing was a blunder committed by a Government draughtsman in Clause 36, which was never debated in this House, not from any fault of the 300 Irish Party, but because of the system adopted by both parties of attempting to hustle important Irish Bills through in the dying days of a Session, under the perpetual threat that if they tried to discuss them properly they would be lost. There was also the danger that as soon as the Irish Development Grant was exhausted, no doubt land purchase might come to an absolutely dead stop, because the Treasury would refuse to issue any further loans. That was the utmost danger that the Irish taxpayer ever suffered in reference to this liability, and he ventured to say that no sane English Minister of any party would ever dream of attempting to impose this utterly unjust burden upon the Irish people, and if he did, the Irish ratepayers would find a very speedy and effective method of making that English Minister regret his action. As to all this laudation of the liberality of the British Treasury, it might seem very ungrateful but his reply to it was: "Thank you for nothing." It was admitted as to future loans that the device of the Treasury was simply to say that the Irish ratepayers were at no loss because the losses through flotation were to be borne, not by them, but by the Irish landlords and the tenants. The case was worse as to the existing liabilities, because while the Treasury nominally took upon its own shoulders the possible losses, they took good care to make the Treasury absolute masters of the rate of speed which reduced their real liability to vanishing point, for they practically brought land purchase to an end by abolishing the bonus and payment in cash. As far as he could understand the Bill, the Treasury assumed a charge of £20,000 a year for every £5,000,000 in cash, which was probably the annual call that was likely to be made upon them. There was still £60,000 of the Development Grant left, and that would be most ample to cover any liability of the Treasury for the next couple of years at all events, and after that the deluge. The Government were now actually proposing to force through the House this session a Bill which would increase the emoluments of the Royal Irish Constabulary by £15,000. There was a rather shadowy promise of a possible increase in the 301 fund hereafter. Apparently all that the Government had done was to cut down the bonus to a figure which he believed the £3,000,000 still left would amply satisfy. There again the liberality of the Treasury was practically non-existent. As to the congested districts, what was really wanted was a free grant, of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 to take 20,000 migrants from the congested districts to the grass lands of the West. As to the additional £160,000 a year, half of it would go in salaries and travelling expenses. The nine counties would squabble for the balance, and whatever was left would be devoted to purposes, no doubt praiseworthy, of permanent national reform. There, again, the liberality of the Treasury would be a mere drop in a tea cup. He had read this Bill and he could not find in it any immediate call for the generosity of the Treasury except for the payment of a new swarm of officials, while the beginning and end of wisdom of the Government of Ireland was to increase instead of decrease the emolument of the army of policemen in Ireland—that was the secret for the safety of Ireland and the Treasury. As to the cry that the landlords had received too much, and that the whole question of the bonus was really a landlord's question, that, in his opinion, was most stupid and cruel. The very basis of the agreement of 1903 was that for the first time in history the landlords and tenants were placed in the same boat, and they could not injure the landlord's power of selling without injuring the tenant's chance of purchasing. They had heard of inflated prices. It was admitted that the prices under the Act of 1903 had been inflated, but if they had not been inflated by the bonus more than, 200,000 Irish farmers would still be the serfs of the rent office in Ireland. There had been excessive prices paid over the greater part of the country. They had proved in the county of Cork—[OPPOSITION laughter]—by figures that no merriment could wipe off, that under the Act of 1903—by the same system of friendly amicable arrangement and legitimate popular combination, which was just as much open to every other county in Ireland—they had bought not merely in the better off districts, but also in the congested districts as well, over £9,000,000 worth of land upon terms two years 302 purchase better than the average for the remainder of Ireland. He was prepared with the figures if they were contested. They had purchased at even a higher percentage than the average of 28½ per cent. under the old Ashbourne Acts. There was only one other remark he would make, and he should be sorry to touch the susceptibilities of some hon. Members in doing so. It was just because the plan they had agreed upon to fight for better terms for every part of Ireland failed, that in the winter of 1903 when this Act came into operation he withdrew altogether from Parliament and from the United Irish League rather than have any internal quarrel about the settlement. He passed from that now. He confessed that he could not pretend to offer any way out of what he was sorry to say was an impasse. There would have been no earthly difficulty four years ago in getting this Land Act amended in every necessary particular by the same method by which it was carried through Parliament with practically unanimity, both in Ireland and in England. Even now those who were of his way of thinking made no extravagant demand. They were fully alive to the difficulties of the money market, and to the great pressure for extremely good purposes on the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For the moment, all that would have been essential would have been for the Government to agree to raise a loan of £15,000,000 or even £10,000,000 to keep land purchase going under the old conditions until better times came and new legislation could have been passed. To his mind there would have been no insurmountable obstacle whatever in striking up such a modus vivendi as would have devoted as large a sum as at the very least £1,000,000 in this Bill for making some great experiment in the colonisation of the grazing lands of the West of Ireland. Even now, if only the rights steps were taken, he was confident that there would be no impossibility about framing and carrying through both Houses of Parliament a Bill that would make land purchase thrive and prosper instead of killing it. As far as any power of his went in that direction, after the attitude of the Chief Secretary and the Prime Minister, he must say that that was at an end. He had done 303 his little best without regard to persons or to parties, without regard to any of the Chief Secretaries of both the English parties, to see this land purchase settlement through in a thorough-going and honest way. If it were permissible for him to say it, his friends and himself did some rather difficult spade work to smooth the path of the Chief Secretary himself. They gave up interests and aspirations which were very dear to them in order to remove what might have been a fatal obstacle to his University Bill, and if the county of Mayo, which had a better right and better justification than any other part of Ireland, for any protest against the ranching system, no matter how extreme, had addressed itself to more drastic measures—possibly the right hon. Gentleman had not forgotten that some of them did not hesitate to risk unpopularity and misrepresentation by going down to the very centre of the grazing district to smooth his path. He confessed he could say nothing more than that he should, for a time at all events, stand entirely aside and leave the right hon. Gentleman and the Members of the Irish Party, who undoubtedly expressed themselves very strongly in support of the Government in reference to this Bill, a perfectly fair field for the effectuation of their policy. If on ripe reflection they should finally make up their minds to persevere on the lines of this measure this much he felt compelled to say, that in his most sorrowful and most reluctant opinion, they were in danger of throwing away the very best chance England ever had of effecting a permanent reconciliation on this question. If, unhappily, the effect of their action should be to continue agrarian strife in Ireland for another generation, the first real stress that came there would be, if not a revolution, an interruption and mutilation of the land settlement, and they would find themselves to have set the example of breaking an engagement. For the sake of saving the Treasury a sum which to another generation would seem to be too paltry for words, they were now tearing to pieces this treaty of peace which this Parliament and this Empire, by every test and by every solemnity that could bind them, entered into with the Irish tenants and Irish landlords. He would 304 so far defer to the decision of his colleagues on this very solemn issue, that he should not vote against this Bill, and should probably interfere no further in any matters relating to it. But no human consideration would induce him to make himself responsible for the policy or for the framework of the Bill or for its results.
§ * MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
said that he disapproved of the Bill as strongly as the hon. Member for Cork, but for exactly the opposite reasons. The hon. Member had just told the House that his objection to this Bill was that it did not give a sufficient amount of money from the British taxpayer. He objected to the Bill because it imposed increased burdens on the taxpayers of the United Kingdom for the benefit of Irish landlords and tenants, many of whom were already very well off, and because it violated the agreement entered into in 1903. The Report of the Departmental Committee on Irish Land Purchase Finance, presided over by the present Minister for Education, said that the British taxpayer had already done enough for Irish landlords and tenants—he himself confessed that he thought it was too much. In the words of the Report—In our opinion, the contribution made by the taxpayer to land purchase is fully sufficient and could not equitably be increased for the purpose of relieving the Irish ratepayers of a charge imposed upon them by the Act.The Committee enumerated a large number of increased charges placed on the taxpayers of the whole kingdom since the passing of the Act of 1903 for the benefit of Ireland, and then the Report went on to say that contrary to expectation there had been no reduction in the annual expenditure on Ireland. Hon. Members would remember that when the Bill of 1903 was passing through the House it was said that that measure would result in an immediate reduction in the cost of Irish administration. The Departmental Report pointed out that there had been no such reduction as had been hoped for from the operation of the Act. He would point out that the grants from this House for purely Irish purposes were to be increased by this Bill by about £150,000 a year, and in addition an indefinite new liability 305 was to be thrown on the taxpayers for loss on the flotation of loans—a loss which had been specially reserved in the Act of 1903 to be provided out of the Irish Development Grant or, when that was exhausted, to be paid for by the Irish ratepayers. That was part of the bargain. He was not in the House at the time, but in another quarter he opposed a bargain which he thought to be unfair to the British taxpayer. He wrote a long letter to The Times protesting against this burden on the British taxpayer. He happened to be then the Secretary to the Cobden Club, and an elderly gentleman who read that letter in The Times was so struck with it that he sent him a communication stating that he had been so impressed with the good work that the Cobden Club was doing that ha would leave the club £1,000 in his will. He believed that the club had since received this bequest. He contended then, and he still believed, that they were deluding themselves in using the words land purchase. There was no land purchase. Purchase implied that a person gave something for that which he acquired, but the Irish tenant gave nothing. Instead of giving anything, he got a reduction on what he previously paid. The whole purpose of this Bill and previous Acts was to enable Irish tenants to get their rents reduced, and Irish landlords to get a higher price for their land than they could get in the open market. He was very glad that the Irish landlords and tenants should be benefited, but what he objected to was that they should be benefited at the expense of the taxpayers who were often poorer than themselves. They were apt to assume that the Irish tenant was always a poor man, but it must be recollected that the Act of 1903 applied to farms up to the value of £5,000. Was a man who bought a farm for £5,000 to be called a poor man? If so, he supposed it was on the same ground that the man who had £1,000 invested in Consols got a pension under the Pensions Act of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That, incidentally, was what always happened when the State started these charitable schemes. They did it on behalf of the poor man, and the rich man dropped in. 306 The Duke of Leinster, for example, got £80,000 for graciously consenting to sell his land at a price far above the market value. There was nothing in the facts before them to justify them in imposing these charges on the taxpayer. It was always argued that there was some great evil in dual ownership which required a drastic remedy, but dual and triple and quadruple ownership was common all over the world. They very seldom had single ownership, and when they did there was generally a mortgagee in the background. The presumption on which they were asked to make this huge sacrifice was that the rents were exorbitant, but was that the case? Obviously not, because everywhere in Ireland they found people willing to buy the right to pay those rents and give a handsome price for the privilege of paying them. He would quote two cases. In one, according to the auctioneer's advertisement, the farm contained about twenty-seven acres of well-fenced land, close to a public road, with a right of turbary on the bog adjoining, and with grazing rights over a large tract of mountain. It also contained a "substantial dwelling-house with all necessary out offices." The judicial rent of this desirable property was £8 a year and by auction the tenant's interest fetched £400. Could they call that an exorbitant rent when another man was ready to pay £400 for the privilege of paying it? In another case of a small farm the rent was £3, and the Poor Law valuation was also £3. The tenant's interest was sold to his son for £280 for the privilege of going on paying the rent, and as soon as he got it, the son demanded that the rent should be reduced. What justification was there for taxing everybody in the United Kingdom to subsidise such men as these? We had a tax on tea and sugar at the present time which the very poorest in England and Ireland paid. What justification was there for maintaining that tax on people in order to enable these people who had paid these large sums for tenant right to have a reduction of what they had agreed to pay? He knew labourers in this country who would be only too glad to get into a position even approximate to that of the Irish tenant. He knew one who paid rather more than 307 £8 for a cottage and about a quarter of an acre of land, and who worked in his garden after his day's work on the farm was over, and who got up at night when there was a moon to go on working. Did Parliament come forward to help him with a grant of public money?
§ * MR. HAROLD COX
asked where the money was to come from. They could not go on doing these things without imposing a burden on the taxpayer that was too heavy to be borne. How did this Act work out? As regarded landlords it was admitted universally that the effect of the Act of 1903 was to increase the value of Irish land by several years purchase. He took again the Departmental Report which, after analysing all the figures and summarising the results of the valuations, said—Indeed, it would appear from the evidence which we received that the price obtained by the landlord for his land in many cases exceeds (with bonus) the price paid for the best secured ground rents in Belfast.Was it just that Parliament should use its position as trustee of the taxpayers of the country to increase the value of Irish land? The ultimate result would be that instead of getting rid of absentee landlords, they would create one great absentee landlord—his right hon. friend on the Treasury Bench, who would be the absentee landlord for the whole of Ireland without that personal interest which some landlords had. They were told that the object of so-called land-purchase in Ireland was to get rid of the flesh and blood landlord, yet it was part of the compact of 1903 that the flesh and blood landlord should remain in Ireland on his own estate. He was to keep his mansion and his home farm, and was not to be driven out of the country. He was glad to see that the landlord was not altogether so obnoxious. It was clear that the Act of 1903 must go on. They had made that bargain and must adhere to it; but they must adhere to it literally. A bargain was a bargain to both sides. The Bill did not adhere to it. He admitted the difficulty that had arisen owing to many causes, largely owing to 308 the decline in Consols, but how could that be met? The Act of 1903 provided the means of meeting it. It specially provided that the responsibility for issuing the loans should remain with the Treasury. There was no obligation to issue the whole volume of the money that the landlords and tenants called for. The Treasury could decide at what moment the money should be issued. They still had that power, and could use it, and could say that they would not issue any more loans until the state of the market was more satisfactory. Where was the hardship on the Irish landlord, or tenant? The Act provided for the contingency that where the Treasury could not pay cash down the tenant should pay interest on the purchase price. Taking the interest at 3½ per cent., the tenant gained no less than 14 per cent. over his previous rental, which was a very important gain. But that was not the landlords' loss, because it was estimated they must deduct at least 10 per cent. off gross rentals for the cost of collection; so, at the outside, the landlords' loss by waiting would be only 4 per cent. off his net rental, and in return he got the greater advantage of having the security of the Land Commission instead of the security of the Irish tenant. But if he objected to this small loss, and the tenant was very anxious to go through with the purchase, they could agree to a revision of the rate of interest—there was nothing sacred about 3½ per cent. The tenant, if he wanted to be converted into a freeholder, could bargain and pay a higher rate of interest. It was a matter which concerned the landlord and tenant alone. At the present moment their relations were regulated by the Act of 1881, with the result that the tenant got an enormous advantage, which no English tenant possessed, of having his rent regulated from time to time by a judicial tribunal, with the result that he got the farm at a very much lower rent than its true economic rent in the open market, and he was so content with that position that he would not go beyond it unless he was bribed by the British taxpayer's money to do so. He objected to that. If the landlord and tenant wished to change the present relationship, let 309 them agree as to terms and go forward. Parliament had promised to help them with the credit of the United Kingdom, but Parliament could not go beyond the advantages which the use of that credit afforded. Those advantages were less now than in 1903 because the credit of the kingdom had declined, but the Irish landlords and tenants still had the full use of the national credit and had no right under their bargain to ask for anything more. One other point. It was said they owed this to Ireland because of the over-taxation of that country. That alleged grievance had been exposed again and again. If it were true, which it was not, that Ireland was overtaxed in comparison with the rest of the Kingdom, then obviously the remedy was to reduce the taxation of Ireland. But they were not doing that, they were increasing the taxation of Ireland and England in order to put money into the pockets of the landlords and reduce the rent paid by the tenants. The hon. Gentleman who spoke, last virtually threatened that if they did not give what he called favourable financial terms there would be another land war in Ireland. He hoped that the House would not be misled by that kind of argument and would never accede to such threats as that.
§ * MR. HAROLD COX
was glad that his hon. friend agreed with him, but he mentioned it as a possibility, and in the sense in which he used it it almost amounted to a threat. It was a threat that ought not to be used, and, if used, ought to be resisted. Because if that House once got in the habit of paying cash down to buy peace, there would be plenty of peace to be bought. He opposed the Bill in the interests of the British and Irish taxpayers, and even mire in the interests of Ireland herself. He looked forward to the time when Ireland would be a self-supporting and economically independent country, but she would never be in that position so long as she looked, not to her own energy, but to what she could get from the British Exchequer.
§ * MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid)
said he could not conceive of any question which was of more pressing importance to Ireland than that of facilitating the operation of land purchase. The financial difficulties which had been threatening to bring operations to a standstill had excited a feeling of serious alarm throughout the country, and they had been waiting for a long time to learn what the Government proposed to do. A year ago the present Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised in the most definite language that the Government plan would be ready before Parliament met at the commencement of the present year, but month after month had slipped by without any announcement being made, and it was only now at the fag end of an autumn sitting—when it was out of the question to give immediate legislative effect to the proposals of the Government—that they were told what their purposes were. He thought this delay in taking action to meet a difficulty which everybody recognised to be most urgent required some better explanation than had yet been offered on behalf of the Government. The most pressing part of this problem of land purchase was the provision of sufficient money for making advances to the tenants and the increase of the staff of the Estates Commissioners to such an extent as would enable them to deal with the vast amount of work they had to do. But he had yet to learn that it was beyond the power of the Government to solve this problem without further legislation, if they had been so disposed. Why had they postponed taking action from month to month, and why had they chosen at last to embody their proposals in a Bill which everyone realised could not be passed this session, and which raised in the most controversial way the entire range of issues connected with the Irish Land question? These were the questions that were being asked in Ireland, not only by the people of Ulster, but by people throughout the length and breadth of the country, and he could assure the Chief Secretary that the anxiety which was so widely felt by all classes of Irishmen as to the future of land purchase, was not likely to be allayed by the Bill now before the House. 311 The Chief Secretary, when he introduced the Bill, told them that—The whole peace and prosperity of Ireland was irrevocably bound up in and made dependent upon the success of land purchase.He believed this statement of the right hon. Gentleman to be absolutely true, and it was because he held that opinion that he was opposing the Bill. He wanted to see land purchase carried forward on voluntary lines until every occupier of agricultural land was the owner of his holding, and he was sorry to say he saw no hope whatever in this Bill of any progress in that direction. The Chief Secretary must be aware that grave doubts had been widely entertained in Ireland as to the honesty of the intentions of the Government in this matter. He thought himself there were very substantial grounds for those suspicions, and there was really nothing in the Bill to show that the Government desired to expedite the settlement of this question. One fact which could not fail to strengthen those doubts was that in framing his Bill the Chief Secretary had—consciously or unconsciously—adopted the ideas of those leaders of the Nationalist Party who were opposed to any settlement of the land question before that of Home Rule. After a careful study of the Bill he thought its effect would be to arrest land purchase on voluntary lines and upset completely the agreement embodied in the Unionist Land Act of 1903. What was the present situation with regard to land purchase? The size of the problem had been stated again and again. It was sufficient to point out that so rapidly had agreements been arranged under the Act of 1903 that the Estates Commissioners had been quite unable to keep pace with them. The consequence was that at the present time, five years after the Act came into operation, there were uncompleted purchase agreements in the office of the Estates Commissioners representing in the aggregate the enormous sum of £52,000,000. In other words the State was face to face with the question of how to provide that huge sum of money in order to pay for the land which had been already sold. That being the extent of the problem the question arose how did the Government propose to remedy it? So far as the Bill 312 itself was concerned it had very little relation to that part of the problem. The only provision which bore upon it in the least degree was Clause 3. That clause gave power to the Estates Commissioners to make advances by means of guaranteed 2¾ per cent. land stock instead of cash. The idea was to pay the landlords in stock, or partly in stock and partly in cash, but the conditions upon which the stock was to be offered were of such a nature as to make it practically certain that only in a very few cases would the terms be accepted. To offer landlords who had contracted for the sale of their estates on the basis of receiving payment in cash, 2¾ per cent. stock at 92 which was valued on the market at 86¼ was an absurd proposal. There was not the slightest possibility of any considerable number of landlords finding it worth their while to take advantage of that offer. The great majority would demand to be paid in cash. They were, therefore, thrown back on the cash proposals of the Government. These were not included in the Bill, but so far as they had been stated by the Chief Secretary they were of a character to delay land purchase rather than to hasten it. They gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that for some years to come £5,000,000 a year was to be raised in cash, £1,000,000 was to be devoted to the congested districts, leaving only £4,000,000 in cash for the purpose of clearing away the £52,000,000 of arrears. The Chief Secretary had told them that arrangements were to be made to increase the output of the Estates Commissioners to £10,000,000 worth of agreements a year, but that would not help matters at all unless the cash was forthcoming. The Chief Secretary appeared to assume that the landlords would rush to take the 2¾ per cent. stock at 92 to the extent of £6,000,000 a year, but that was a most unwarrantable assumption. If the landlords refused to accept stock and the output, therefore, was to be limited to £4,000,000 a year, they were driven to the conclusion that it would take thirteen years to complete the purchase agreements lodged with the Estates Commissioners before 1st November last. That was what the Chief Secretary 313 called expediting land purchase. These proposals might be acceptable to hon. Members below the gangway, because they were in accord with their Home Rule plans, but he could tell the Chief Secretary and the House that they were not satisfactory to the tenant farmers in his constituency. He was glad to say there was no county in Ireland where the farmers had taken more prompt and thorough advantage of the Act of 1903 than the county of Armagh, but owing to the very success which had been achieved in arriving at agreements his constituents were feeling the pinch of the difficulty which had prevented the raising of money for advances, and as a matter of fact, there were in County Armagh to-day no fewer than 10,000 farmers who had agreed to purchase their farms, but who could not be placed in the position of owners because the State was not prepared to advance the purchase money. Let the House consider the hardship inflicted upon the landlords and tenants by the delay in completing the agreements. The landlords were deprived of the use of the purchase money, and they were unable to touch the bonus. The purchasers, and it was the tenants' loss which gave him most concern, had to pay during the time of waiting a rate of interest on the amount of the purchase money which was considerably in excess of the annuity they would pay when the advance had been made. When he stated that on a very reasonable computation the monetary loss to this class alone might be put at £200,000 to £300,000 a year, it would be seen at once how little cause they had to thank the Government for their present proposals. The right hon. Gentleman had taken credit to himself for having relieved the Irish ratepayers from all possibility of having to bear the loss on the flotation of Irish Land Stock. He did not think there was any reason why Irish ratepayers should be excessively grateful for that provision. Ireland was entitled to considerably more than the Treasury would have to find under this Bill as a set-off to the large education grants which had been made to England and Scotland during the last five years. With regard to future operations, was the Bill likely 314 to stimulate sales? On the contrary, he could not conceive of any scheme which would be more likely to stop the operation of land purchase altogether. The Government were warned that any material alteration of the main provisions of the Act of 1903 would bring land purchase to a standstill. Notwithstanding that warning they had persisted in making proposals to alter the Land Act in important particulars so as to disturb the foundations upon which that great measure was based. The Bill proposed that in future the payment for land would not be made in cash, but the selling landlord would be forced to take a new 3 per cent. Land Stock at par. The bonus had already been reduced from 12 per cent. to 3 per cent., and under the terms of the Bill it was to be regulated on a sliding scale. The tenants' annuity on the other hand was to be raised from 3¼ per cent. to 3½ per cent. When these three changes were taken into consideration it was impossible to avoid coming to the conclusion that their combined effect must be to put a stop to all voluntary sales under the Act of 1903. If the purchaser paying a 3½ per cent. annuity was not to be placed at a disadvantage as compared with his neighbour who had bought under the old conditions, and was paying on a 3¼ per cent. basis, it followed that the landlord must be prepared to sell at a much lower price. How many landlords would do so voluntarily; how many could afford to do so? The Land Conference agreement contemplated that the terms of purchase should Be so arranged as to secure that, while the annuity which would be paid by the tenant would be substantially lower than his former rent, the purchase price would be such an amount as would give to the landlord his second term net rental. The finance of the Act of 1903 was arranged upon that basis, but this Bill would upset that entirely. A single illustration would be sufficient to show that the proposals of the Government must result either in the landlord sustaining a substantial loss or in the tenant having to bear a heavy burden. Let them take a second term rent of £100; deducting 10 per cent. for collection, the net income of the landlord is £90. To secure £90, if the landlord was to be paid in 3 per cent. 315 Stock at par, the purchase price must be fixed at £3,000. That would be thirty years purchase of the rent, and under the new scale the landlord would get no bonus. The tenant's annuity on the £3,000 at 3½ per cent. would be £105, or actually £5 a year more than he was paying in rent at present. On the other hand, if the tenant was to obtain a reduction equal to that which had been obtained by other tenants who had purchased before 1st November last, that was to say, an average of 19½ per cent. off second term rents, and which he submitted it was only right he should, the landlord would have to accept such a loss that he feared any hope of arriving at agreement would be extremely remote. A reduction of 19½ per cent. under the new scheme would mean that the total amount the landlord would receive in exchange for £100 rental would be £2,300 which, with a bonus of 4 per cent., amounted to £2,392, less costs of proving title, etc., say, 5 per cent., would leave him with a net amount of £2,272, and this paid to him in a 3 per cent. stock would yield him an income of £68 3s. per annum, or a loss of 21 per cent. on his second term net rental. Nobody imagined for a moment that bargains could be arranged on any such basis, and therefore he did not see how they could expect land purchase to continue on voluntary lines. In fact, it seemed to him that the Bill had been framed with the deliberate intention of putting a stop to voluntary purchase and of substituting for it a system of compulsion. The Chief Secretary when he introduced the Bill dealt very lightly with the compulsory provision, and left the impression that these powers were to be used solely for the purpose of relieving congestion, but really they went very much further than that. Clause 31 stated—Where negotiations have been entered into, or proposals have been made, for the purchase under the Land Purchase Acts of any estate or untenanted land not situated in a congested districts county, and the parties have failed to come to an agreement the Land Commission may, if they think fit, send to the person who appears to them to be the owner a final offer in writing for the purchase of the estate or untenanted land.If this final offer was refused the compulsory powers were put into operation, and the Estates Commissioners purchased 316 the estate at a price to be fixed by the Judicial Commissioner and his lay assessors. The terms of Clause 31 were certainly wide enough to empower the Estates Commissioners in any case where landlords and tenants could not agree, in any part of Ireland, to force the landlords to sell. He had shown already that the new financial proposals would put a stop to voluntary agreements, and therefore, it seemed to be inevitable that in regard to all future purchase operations compulsion would take the place of inducement. Of course, he did not forget that the Chief Secretary had said the compulsory operations of the Estates Commissioners would be limited for some time to come by the fact that there would be only £1,000,000 a year to be divided between them and the Congested Districts Board; but he might point out that there was no restriction of that kind in the Bill. It was a mere Treasury regulation which might be altered at any time. So far as the Bill was concerned there was nothing to prevent that £1,000,000 being increased to £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, and the amount available for completing sales already agreed upon correspondingly reduced. He did not wish to be misunderstood in reference to this matter. He had no objection to compulsory purchase in principle, in fact he had entered that House pledged to support compulsion and he had never turned his back upon that pledge. He supported the Land Act of 1903 because it opened up a prospect of establishing a universal system of occupying ownership on voluntary lines, and he should not suppose it would be denied as a general principle that agreement in such matters was better than compulsion. As a matter of fact more than one-half the land problem as it was conceived by his right hon. friend the Member for Dover, had been solved, or was in process of being solved, by the agency of that measure. If that Act were given a fair chance, he was convinced that it would continue to work smoothly and successfully until practically the whole of the tenanted land was transferred to the occupiers. He had never disguised from himself that cases might arise where a few obstinate landlords, who refused to sell their land in spite of all the inducements offered, might have to be forced 317 in the last resort to come into line on this question in order to round off the scheme; but that was not what the Bill contemplated, and he felt bound to protest most strongly against what he could only regard as an insidious attempt to upset the whole plan of voluntary purchase when, so far as landlords and tenants were concerned, it was working extremely well. In other words, the proposals of the Government were equivalent to pulling out the linchpin of the coach when only half the journey was completed, and the new conditions which they put forward must inevitably delay for an indefinite period the settlement of the problem. Into that part of the Bill which dealt with the problem of congestion he did not propose to enter at any length. He sew in it many features which were highly objectionable. The proposal to constitute the new Congested Districts Board upon an elective basis if carried out would mean that the United Irish League would be placed in a position of unrestrained control over more than one-fourth of Ireland, and when they considered the well-known character of that organisation and its operations in other directions it was impossible to look forward with any confidence to a just, peaceable, and satisfactory solution of this great problem being effected by any such body as that proposed by the Government. His principal objection to the congested districts provisions was that they were in the Bill at all. They ought not to be mixed up with a scheme for expediting land purchase, but should be dealt with in a separate measure. Lord Macdonnell had placed on record in the note which he had appended to the Royal Commission Report, his opinion that the relief of congestion was the most difficult administrative problem of the time in Ireland. No one who was at all acquainted with the subject would dispute that statement, Even the Chief Secretary, who had shown such a remarkable disregard for the conclusions of his late Under-Secretary, would not underrate the difficulty of this question, and yet they found the Government putting forward proposals for dealing with this vast problem which he ventured to say would not have the support of expert opinion. The Bill had been brought in without any real in- 318 tention of passing it into law this year. It was intended to be merely a revelation of what he supposed the followers of right hon. Gentlemen opposite were pleased to call the mind of the Government. If one of the objects of the Chief Secretary was to keep the cattle-drivers quiet it seemed probable that he would be disappointed. At all events, the hon. Member for North Westmeath had left the right hon. Gentleman in no doubt as to what his intentions were. In the course of a letter which had been published in the Press the hon. Member said—Intelligent men of Riverstown and everywhere else know that the best provisions in Mr. Birrell's Land Bill would never have seen the light but for the hazel, and that the object of introducing that Bill now, when it cannot pass, is to keep the hazel quiet this winter. If it produces that effect, the Bill would never pass even as it is. Our power to amend it, our ability to have it passed in reasonable time next year, and its value when passed, all depend upon the number of hazels in effective condition, and the firmness and frequency with which they are wielded.As a matter of fact the Chief Secretary, who had allowed lawlessness and disorder to run riot over a large part of Ireland, was now putting his hand to a measure which, so far from allaying agitation, was bound to stimulate and encourage discontent and unrest, and, if carried into law, would, undoubtedly prove most damaging to the best interests of Ireland.
§ MR. GINNELL (Westmeath, N.)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down had taken some liberties with his name, and it occurred to him that his views on the Bill might possibly interest the House. Besides high finance there were other relevant matters raised by the Bill, some by inclusion in it and others by omission from it, which deserved attention, and so far had received very little and he would direct attention to a few of those points. The Bill contained some equitable restrictions in addition to those in previous Acts against improperly encumbering holdings, destroying trees, etc. Inasmuch as these restrictions imposed no burden and were for the common good, he thought they should be extended to all purchasers of every description, past and future. Whenever restrictions had to be imposed upon any individuals in the 319 public interest they ought to be uniform and general. It was invidious to make distinctions as the Bill proposed to do by placing restrictions upon some while leaving other persons of the same class and circumstances unrestrained. Turning to another portion of the Bill, the future tenant as a class was the invention of the malign subtlety of Dublin Castle lawyers promoted to the Irish judicial bench. They found the phrase "future tenant" in the Land Act of 1881, and probably were instrumental in putting it there. At all events, it operated as an inspiration to them, and they straightway invented four distinct methods of creating future tenants and making them outlaws so far as remedial legislation was concerned. These manufactures went on and proved so fruitful of rack-rents for landlords and of destruction to tenants that the fifth method of manufacturing future tenants was invented and enacted in 1887 in what was known as the eviction made easy section of that Act. After twenty-one years operation of this engine of destruction the Chief Secretary tardily proposed, not, as might be expected, to undo the extortion and recoup the victims, and repeal the section that was the root of most of the mischief, but to leave the section still in operation, and while opening the way to justice for some of its victims, to leave all the future tenants otherwise created without any remedy. Some of the class who would be legally styled future tenants were, he was fully aware, an objectionable class known in Ireland as land grabbers. No one wanted them included, but many future tenants, made such by the other methods he had mentioned, had occupied their ancestral farms in unbroken succession to their fathers and grandfathers, constantly improving and maintaining improvement by their labour and money, and yet had been excluded from the Land Courts, and had consequently been paying higher rent than their neighbours during the last twenty-seven years, all because of a mere technicality. Since the Bill did not propose to refund, or have refunded, the whole or any part of their excessive payments, nor even to open for these victims a way to justice for the future, it could not be claimed that even if worked it would 320 settle this particular phase of the Irish land question unless amended in such a way as to include the bona fide future tenants. But the main purpose of the Bill was to arrest and prevent the further mischievous and dishonest operation of the Land Act of 1903. What struck one most forcibly was the remarkable courage of Members who were responsible for the radically unsound finance and the zones of that Act in presuming to offer guidance to the House in its attempt to repair their bad and indefensible work. It was a strain upon human patience that they should open their lips at all in this debate except in humble apology for the mischief they had wrought, and the loss they had inflicted. No one responsible for the zones in that Act could ever hope to recover the confidence of the Irish people. British Members could afford to be amused or to be indifferent, because the shoe did not pinch them. Irish land purchase transactions could at the worst inflict no greater injury upon Great Britain than a slight temporary dislocation of finance. They could inflict no permanent loss upon this country. The promise given in 1903 that they would make a profit by Irish land purchase began to be realised almost immediately, for although large sums in principal and interest were already coming in and would continue to increase during the next sixty-eight and a half years, and the debt outstanding would be steadily reduced to vanishing point, they would still be receiving during all that time interest on the entire sum as if it were all still outstanding. With the Irish people the case was entirely different. The burden and the injurious effects upon their economic conditions in Ireland would be continuous and growing during all that time, hampering their energies, and frustrating their efforts to revive their industries and to rebuild their nation which had been shattered by England. The operations of the Act, so far as it had proceeded, had accelerated their decay, and constituted their gravest national danger. A great outcry was very properly raised against charging flotation losses upon Ireland, but that burden, and the injustice of it, being obvious to all, was 321 certain to be speedily removed, as the Bill proposed to do. Taking these flotation losses off Irish shoulders and putting them on the Imperial Exchequer was very absurdly claimed as a fine example of British generosity. To perceive that justice and not generosity was in question they had only to remember that the Imperial Exchequer now received every year from Ireland between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 in excess of fair taxation. But great as the flotation losses were they were less dangerous to Ireland than the losses from default in payment of annuities, because these, not appearing in any accounts and screened in various ways, were liable to be overlooked. There was a tendency, in some cases he feared a dishonest tendency, to ignore and minimise this danger and brush it away with the misleading boast that Irish purchasers under the previous Purchase Acts had shown exemplary honesty and punctuality. It was unsound logic to expect that because one man whom they had protected in making a bargain was honest and punctual, his neighbour, whom they had by statute deprived of protection and exposed to sharp practice, was under an equal obligation to be, or in fact could be, punctual. The inflation of prices by the Act of 1903 destroyed all analogy between those who bought under that Act and those who bought under previous Purchase Acts. It had been acknowledged by the present Chief Secretary and by his predecessor that the inflation of prices caused by the zones sometimes amounted to eight years purchase in excess of the prices under previous Purchase Acts. To ignore on any ground a difference so substantial and a load so onerous and leave it untouched, as the Bill did, was reprehensible folly and dangerous to individual and country. The zone system of paying for land without ascertaining its value, which had caused this enormous inflation, was unprecedented and absolutely indefensible, and should in the interests of State and of individual be frankly abolished at the earliest possible moment, and inspection restored in every case. He should like to ask whether the tenderness with which the zones were preserved by the Bill was a return for the tenderness 322 with which the landlords in another place treated Liberal measures. Was it a touching example, at the expense of Ireland, of turning the other cheek to the smiter? In the year 1903 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover got Parliament to give his friends the landlords an elaborate machine for extracting prices regardless of value, and a bonus of 12 per cent. was added to those prices. The right hon. Gentleman called the bonus a bridge, and declared it to be for the joint and equal use of landlord and tenants; but he took good care to give the ownership of the bridge to the landlords. He also got Parliament to present to his friends a legislative device which would have done credit to a juggler, whereby they went through a mock sale of a demesne and mansion, received public money for that property, and remained in undisturbed possession of the demesne and mansion, and the price. It sounded like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but they had to pay for it. The right hon. Gentleman got Parliament to go further and place in the hands of the landlords and of any tenants whom they could induce to become their accomplices, an elaborate scheme for extracting public money without adequate value, while leaving unpaid the shopkeepers who had sold them food and clothing on credit. There was not on the whole Statute-book, nor on any other Statute-book, any Act which played so many tricks at the expense of common honesty. The Bill did not touch a single one of the provisions whereby that Act in its working accomplished this and many other feats of the same shady character. Irish tenants had been with good reason so eager to get rid of landlordism at almost any cost that they had been always willing to sign agreements to purchase at more than their holdings were worth. There was no doubt or mystery about this. Under the Purchase Acts prior to that of 1903, it was the constant function of the Land Commission to check this propensity by inspection, and by refusing to advance any more money for any holding than it was found, on inspection, to be worth; and in a large percentage of cases the prices at which the tenants had agreed to purchase had to be cut down to that limit. The inspectors should 323 differentiate between the respective properties of landlord and tenant, in each holding, and the Land Commission should pay to their landlord the value of his share of the property and no more. The statute law, as well as the moral law, required this. But the landlords' partisans called the Land Commission and their inspectors, disregarded both laws, ignored the distinction those laws required, and advanced to the selling landlord and made the tenant to repay the entire value of the holding, regardless of the fact within their knowledge that portion of the value belonged to the tenant, was his own creation, and was confirmed to him by statute. But the Commission made the gross value the limit of their injustice. They advanced to the selling landlord the gross value of the holding, but no more. The Act of 1903, by dispensing with inspection in the majority of cases, removed this limit, gave a landlord a fresh incentive to cupidity, and empowered and compelled the Commissioners to advance in those cases any price the landlords were able to cajole the tenants into signing for. From force of analogy and official bias, the Estates Commissioners had themselves sanctioned prices inflated almost as much in non-zone cases, which were within their power, as in zone cases where inspection was precluded. No person of experience could pretend to expect, nobody did expect, that an official system so strong, confirmed by five years operation, would now be reversed or modified or even substantially altered in obedience to the pious profession of faith in the Commissioners' equity, which was all the Bill contained on the subject. No one expected that prices would, as a result of the Bill, come down six years purchase as they would have to do in order to approach equity. The belated profession of faith in an equity which did not exist was mere dust thrown in the people's eyes in the hope of keeping them quiet this winter. No one any longer believed in the equity of the Commissioners, except landlords, grabbers, ranchers, and those who preferred cattle to people. It was a pity that a Minister who boasted of a contrary preference had not embodied in his Bill some provision to give effect to it. Whatever sense of equity 324 the Commissioners displayed during the first years of their work, while their tenure of office was temporary, had disappeared since Parliament gave them permanency of tenure. The Evicted Tenants Act gave the Commissioners ample power to reinstate compulsorily every evicted tenant whose claim was good and whose farm was vacant; and that was a duty so urgent that not a day should have been lost in discharging it. But because the Commissioners were empowered to act if they thought fit instead of being directed to act at once when the facts warranted action, numbers of evicted tenants whose claims the Commissioners acknowledged to be valid were still rotting by the road side, though their farms were vacant, and there was nothing to prevent their reinstatement but the Commissioners, refusal to think fit. This Bill from beginning to end asked Parliament to shirk its duty of deciding and ordering positively what should be done, and conferred upon the Commissioners far too much undirected authority and too vague a discretion. After they had forfeited confidence by allowing inflation of prices in cases within their power and by leaving the evicted tenants unrelieved, they were asked to enact a confidence in them which they did not entertain. A provision of compulsion, contingent upon the Commissioners' good humour, might be good as a joke, but as legislation it was a mockery, because it would not work. In this Bill they acknowledged that compulsion was necessary, and being necessary, its exercise should depend upon the facts of each case and the will of the purchasers who were most concerned, who were undertaking the burden, and to whom the State must look for recovery of the money advanced. If they left the exercise of that power to depend upon the caprice of the Commissioners the solution of the problem would rest with the people themselves after this Bill had become law as well as before. To give the Commissioners discretion to do a thing was to give them power to refuse. If they refused compulsion in a number of cases in which it would be justifiable, the only remedy—as was certain to happen if left to their discretion—the Chief Secretary's successor would be coming to the House 325 next year for hasty, and perhaps late Amendments, and hon. Members would ask with reason why was the right thing not done in the first instance. If they wanted to make this Bill work and accomplish what they professed to desire, they must put their meaning into it, and enact that the Commissioners should do so-and-so, instead of leaving them free to think fit or unfit. The position of rack-rented tenants who got no chance of buying their holdings at the value after their neighbours round about them had-bought, was daily becoming more and more intolerable. What they wanted was real compulsory sale to them at the true value to be ascertained by official inspection, not dependent upon the humour of any official. There was nothing unjust or revolutionary in that demand, nor any reason for empowering any official to raise the question of fitness. The Government, while recognising the demand to be just, did not provide in the Bill for carrying it into effect. This Parliament had a free and absolute choice in the matter. It could enact a law to carry out what it had admitted to be just and professed to desire, or it could neglect the people and leave them to their own resources. The neglected people owed a duty to themselves and their families, and none whatever to the Parliament that had neglected them. To obtain what they admitted to be just tenants had only two methods. One was to ask Parliament, as they now did, through the lips of their representatives, to enact such a measure as would carry out their professed purpose. The effect of disregarding their request thus constitutionally made would be to throw them back upon their only remaining method, which was to pay no more rents, but lodge in the hands of private trustees their rents less the reduction which purchase at a fair price would give them. If the landlords sold at that price, conflict was avoided and there would be no injustice done to anyone, for they could then get all the money on giving clear receipts. If on the contrary they chose to fight, the tenants could draw upon the lodged money for fighting purposes, confident of accomplishing by their joint local action what Parliament admitted to be substantially just, and should have done for them but did not. 326 Their position being intolerable any excuse based on limitations of time and circumstances was irrelevant and no concern of theirs. As regarded untenanted land the position was still more simple. That land was all evicted land, and the same Imperial Parliament which allowed the people to be cleared off it was now largely of opinion that this land should be broken up again and re-peopled. Parliament had power to give effect to that pious opinion, but the Bill as drafted would not do it. Such pretence as was made in it was a result of the hazel policy practised in some parts of Ireland during the last two years. The three Gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill knew that the object of this attempt to deal with the ranches was only to keep the hazel quiet until more of the people had emigrated, and that if the Bill passed as it stood it would not operate except in the West of Ireland. Many things were illegal under the common law as being contrary to public policy, such as restrictions on marriage, restrictions on trade and things of that sort, though no statute made them so. In his opinion, nothing could be more contrary to public policy and more illegal if the Judges were impartial than the destruction of a peaceable rural population and the maintenance of the ranching system which was silently continuing that destruction. In the absence of impartial Judges and of a Parliament to protect the people, the duty devolved upon them to protect themselves. Thrown upon their own resources they had discovered a method of regaining their lost ground in a very substantial sense, and when by that method they had made the ranches derelict and useless the legal owners would have small choice left to them but to sell the land at a fair value. This British Parliament had been long enough tinkering with Irish legislation and had a dark record in that connection. All the evils of the Irish land system and all the difficulties of the land problem were of their own sowing. Personally he should prefer not asking or allowing the House to meddle further with the land question or with any other Irish question. This Bill was their Bill, not that of the Irish Members. The latter had no power to amend the Bill in a sense which they knew 327 to be necessary and to pass it into law. The House was in the happy position of being able to enact or reject the Amendments which the Irish Party believed to be necessary. All that party could do was in good faith to ask the House to amend the Bill. Beyond that, they were not very much concerned, retaining in their own hands as they did the power which had forced the Government to propose the best provisions in the Bill, the power to stop peremptorily the deadly land system which the Government professed to condemn, but in practice maintained. It ought to be worth the while of the Government, as wall as of the Irish Members, to consider whether legislation that created a situation like that was wise or unwise. Speaking for those who were interested in the subject with which this Bill was supposed to deal and to whose action its best provisions were owing, he said that they would not be broken-hearted or shed a single tear at the worst fate that could befall the Bill. It was the duty of the Government to know the necessities of the people they undertook to govern. If they amended the Bill in such a way as to satisfy these necessities, well and good. If they failed in their duty to do that, then the responsibility rested with them and not with the Irish people, who had been taught too well that this question could not be settled here, but could only be settled in Ireland. They had made up their minds to settle it there by altering the facts, leaving Parliament to adjust the law at its leisure.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG (Antrim, S.)
said that nobody could be more thorough than the hon. Member who had just sat down. The hon. Member thought that the whole land question had been a stumbling block for the last thirty years in the British Parliament, but that it could be and should be settled by one stroke of the pen in Ireland. That was an impractical ideal, and therefore a great deal of that to which the House had listened might have been spared them. The hon. Member for Westmeath was apparently one of those Members who, in the words of the hon. Member for Cork speaking at a meeting of the Irish Nationalist Party in Dublin in April, 1908, said—There are certain honourable and high-minded Irishmen who hold the view that land 328 purchase is a curse and a misfortune to the National cause—that a condition of agrarian disturbance is our best leverage for winning Home Rule.Except under a theory of that sort he could not for a moment hope that any parson who had the welfare of Ireland and of the Irish tenants at heart could appreciate the speech of the hon. Member for Westmeath. But an example was set to the hon. Member for Cork by the hon. Member for East Mayo, when in a speech at Swinford Workhouse on 10th September, 1906, that hon. Gentleman said—I wish to Heaven we had the power to obstruct the working of the Act more than we did. It has worked too smoothly, to my mind.That remark, he presumed, was the frame of mind of the hon. Member for Westmeath. Hon. Members who listened to the speech of the hon. Member as to the effect of the Act of 1903, would be inclined to think that a very considerable section of the Irish tenants would agree with his sentiments. But already, under the provisions of that Act, there had passed from the landlords to the tenants £20,000,000 worth of property in land, and £52,000,000 worth of property in land to be sold by the landlords to the tenants had been agreed upon, and they were only waiting for the money from the Treasury to complete the sale and purchase. He thought that that was an answer to the argument of the hon. Gentleman which the latter could not get over. To say that the tenants had been forced into those agreements was perfect nonsense. The agreements entered into between landlord and tenant under the Act of 1903 had been, to his knowledge, in the vast majority of cases absolutely free.
§ MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
said he knew hundreds of cases in his own constituency where they had not been free.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG
said he should like to hear the details before he agreed with the hon. Member. He admitted, however, that the hon. Member might think that they were not free. Then the hon. Member for Westmeath had tried 329 to make out that the tenants in these agreements under the Act of 1903, instead of being gainers, had been losers. But so far from that being the case, the tenants had, under the Act of 1903, obtained on the average a reduction of 20 per cent. on second term rents. The right hon. Member for South Tyrone, who could not be accused of being favourable to the landlords, had himself admitted, in a speech a year ago at a meeting in Belfast, when somebody was finding fault with the Act of 1903, that he did not think the Irish tenants had made a bad bargain under that Act. The right hon. Gentleman said that the landlords had got too much, but that so far as the tenants were concerned, they had not much to complain of, for they had got a reduction of 20 per cent. on their second term rents, whereas, but for the passing of the Act of 1903, it was impossible to say what would have happened under the old system, when the third revision of rents would have been made; that nobody could say whether the rents would have been raised or lowered. That being the case, he did not see how anyone could deny that an immediate reduction of 20 per cent. on their second term rents, as many of the tenants had received, was not an immediate and very useful effect of the Act of 1903. The hon. and learned Member for Water-ford at the beginning of his speech asked the House whether they were going to take the view of the case as represented by him, as representing the Irish tenants, or the presentation of the case as made by the right hon. Member for Dover. Very shortly after that, the hon. Member for Cork made a very valuable contribution to the debate and asked hon. Members in all parts of the House not to take either the view of the right hon. Member for Dover, or the view of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, but to listen to all the speeches and to read the Act of 1903, comparing the latter with what was proposed to be done under this Bill, and then to say whether what was now proposed to be done was, in fact, what the Government said was their intention, viz., to hasten the progress of the Act of 1903. If hon. Gentlemen did that he agreed that they would come to the same conclusion as they on that side of the House had come to, that in 330 no single thing would this Bill help the progress of the Act of 1903 in any way. Reference had been made on many occasions to the bonus which had been received by the Duke of Leinster; but those hon. Members seemed to forget that the object of the Act of 1903 was to get as many tenants as possible made owners of their holdings, and the explanation of the £80,000 which had been paid as bonus to the Duke of Leinster, was that His Grace was the owner of a particularly large estate, and he believed that all the tenants were perfectly satisfied with their bargain. He only wished to point out that the bigger the transaction the more tenants were converted into owners, which was the very object of everybody in passing the Act of 1903. He wanted to refer to several remarks of the hon. Member for Preston, who, first of all, went into the whole question of the policy of the Act of 1903, although it was true he said at the end that it was impossible now to go back on it. But he said that a bargain was a bargain, and that, so long as it was possible for the Treasury to provide the money without serious loss to the Exchequer, it arranged that it would pay, but as it became unable to provide the money without loss it would cease to do so until such time as the market changed. That, however, was not an exact description of the position of affairs which existed then and existed now. He agreed with him that it would probably have been a far better thing for Ireland if the Act of 1881 had not been passed. He was inclined to think that if that Act had never been passed the wrongs, if there were such things, of tenants and landlords would have settled themselves purely by economic causes and effects. But once that Act was passed it followed, as night followed day, that all these subsequent Acts must follow, and, that being so, it was the duty of Irish Members, and of the House, to see the matter of land purchase through. A bargain was undoubtedly struck in 1903 that the landlords were to get the net second term rents as the basis of purchase, while the tenants were to get a substantial reduction of those rents. If that was carried out nobody could complain, and that he maintained ought 331 to be the object of the present Government, as it was the object of the Administration of 1903. For a long time past in Ireland, since this block in carrying out the Act arose, the tenants and landlords had been looking forward with eagerness and anxiety, not to say impatience, for this Bill to be introduced. They had all of them been led to believe that the Chief Secretary, when he had matured his plans, would introduce a short Bill dealing with the question of finding money for the prosecution of the Act of 1903. When he said a short Bill he did not mean that it would be one which was easy to draft or that its provisions were easy to arrive at. Everyone in Ireland realised that it was a very difficult matter, and one of considerable complexity for the market, in he condition in which it was now, to find the money to carry out the Act at the rate they would like to see it carried out. In his introduction of the Bill the Chief Secretary said that anything to arrest the progress of land purchase would be an economic and political blunder of the greatest magnitude, and the object of the Government was to hasten land purchase and make it work fairly all round. But how were those grave words carried out when they came to the expression of the will of the right hon. Gentleman in the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman had insisted upon tacking on to the question of finance the infinitely more complex and difficult question of congestion. That was their first grievance against the right hon. Gentleman. They complained of that, because whatever were the demerits of the Bill as far as its finance was concerned, they contended that the introduction into it of the questions with regard to congestion and dividing up grass farms had rendered it absolutely impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to get any support from those benches. They thought that the right hon. Gentleman would present the House with a Bill, the financial proposals of which would be such as they could accept, and that it would tend to carry out the working of the Act of 1903. If that had been the case they should have had probably very considerable pressure put upon landlords 332 and tenants in Ireland to swallow the confiscatory clauses contained in the other part of the Bill. But now there was no such question as that, because, not only were the provisions dealing with congestion of a confiscatory, retrograde, and ridiculous character, but the financial part of the Bill at its very highest would not do anything to hasten land purchase in Ireland. The best that could be said for the proposals was that they would not retard it. As far as the financial provisions of the Bill were concerned, he would far rather that the questions should not have been touched than that they should try to work the Act of 1903 under the proposals contained in the first part of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had not confined himself, as he ought to have done, to solving the great financial question which was standing in the way of land purchase in Ireland, but he had tacked on to this Bill the tremendous question of dividing the West of Ireland, while the provisions of the measure entirely upset the arrangement which was arrived at between the landlords and tenants and the House of Commons in 1903. In the first instance, the right hon. Gentleman had got the principle of compulsion all round. Hon. Members were, he knew, in favour of that, although there was a distinct agreement in 1903 that the question of compulsion was out of the way, and the procedure of the Act was to take its place. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] That, he repeated, was the arrangement. Hon. Members voted for the Bill and accepted it as a settlement of the land question, and had money been forthcoming he had no doubt it would have been a settlement of the question. Had the market in Consols remained as it was in 1903 there would have been only the sweepings of the Irish land question left to deal with. They had reason to complain of the way in which the system of compulsion had been introduced into the Bill, as from the right hon. Gentleman's speech they thought it was of a limited character and had reference in the main to the congested districts.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. CHERRY,) Liverpool, Exchange
said that the hon. Member for North Armagh asked him a Question on 333 the subject, and he explained to what the compulsion referred.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG
said that when the Chief Secretary had finished his speech, he and a great number of hon. Members went away with the idea that compulsory powers were; restricted, whereas they had in the Bill the most extensive powers for the compulsory acquisition of land. Was any Member from Ireland or elsewhere so hot-headed, however, as to talk about compulsory purchase when they could not pay for one-third of the land which had been purchased voluntarily? He was prepared to give compulsory purchase when the voluntary system failed, but it was not necessary in a large part of the country. What the right hon. Gentleman ought to have done was to bring forward the financial part; there was a great obstacle to hon. Members on that side of this House agreeing to a direct contravention of the agreement arrived at in 1903. Although the right hon. Gentleman was not a Member of the House in 1903 he was still bound as a Minister of the Liberal Party by the decision which was come to then unless there was grave reason for altering it. He submitted that there was no such grave reason, and he challenged anybody to show there was. That was one point on which the right hon. Gentleman had upset the agreement, and another was the alteration of the zone system. There might have been cases where the Land Commission had had to advance money on an indifferent security owing to the zone system, but there were not more than one in a hundred; there had been no failure to speak of in the payment of the instalments, and the Estates Commissioners themselves did not anticipate from the fact of the zone system that there was going to be any appreciable loss to the Exchequer. It was a perfectly well-known fact in Ireland that one of the chief agents which had been responsible for the quick working of the Act, so far as getting agreements through and the making of arrangements with tenants was concerned, had been the system of zones. Next to the bonus there was nothing in the Act of 1903 which had done so much to hasten and cheapen, and to remove difficulties from, the whole subject of 334 land purchase. But in the Bill the Chief Secretary proposed practically to sweep away the zone system by enabling the Estates Commissioners, when they saw fit, to decline to be bound by the zones, and to institute such impactions as they liked. As regards the bonus that was provided for the purpose of helping on sales, he did not agree that the landlord got the entire benefit for by reason of reduction in second term rents the bonus was bound to help the tenant to as great an extent as the landlord. Seeing that the success of the Act of 1903 had been due to voluntary action, to zones, and to bonus, it was hard for any person with ordinary sense to see how land purchase in Ireland was going to be hastened by sweeping away all those things which were included in the Act of 1903 for the express purpose of promoting land purchase. It was absolutely impossible for Unionist Members to support the Government, seeing that the Bill practically tore up the chief provisions of the Act of 1903. It was a grave blunder for the Chief Secretary to have combined the two questions of finance and congestion in one Bill. The agitation for the division of grazing land as distinct from congestion was practically nonexistent in 1903. It was since then that agitating, resulting in cattle-driving boycotting, and outrages, had sprung up in many counties in Ireland. The really congested individuals whom Parliament ought to be asked to consider were the men in Donegal and Connemara and such places; but those men had not taken part in cattle-drives at all, but had been to a great extent quiet and peaceful. The men it was now sought to bring into the Bill were actuated by a desire, not over new or peculiar to themselves, namely, to have more, than they already possessed. Those men had cast greedy eves on the land of their neighbours and had laid illegal hands upon it, and had gone in for cattle-drives and intimidation. Cattle-drives were practically non-existent when the Government came into office, but at present they were daily occurrences. Cattle-drives were now carried on in daylight accompanied by bands and advertised in the local papers; the Chief Secretary and the Attorney-General 335 admitted these things and described them as reprehensible, and yet permitted them to go on. The Chief Secretary made a speech a year ago which was understood as a warning to persons in Ireland who boycotted and intimidated people, that if those things did not cease he would not bring in a Land Bill. But here was the Chief Secretary advocating a far-reaching measure at a time when boycotting and cattle-driving were much more serious than at the time at which he gave that warning. He would ask any English member whether the action of the Chief Secretary in this matter was that of a strong man, or whether it was action which was likely to bring about peace in Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman thought so, he was afraid that he was very much mistaken. With regard to dividing up the grass farms, it was a tremendous proposal to be made by the right hon. Gentleman, and one which, he felt sure, quite apart from the moral aspect of the question, would prove a failure. The right hon. Gentleman had been forced into it by terrorism, and he believed that the proposal to bring families from one part of the country to another, forcibly practically speaking, and put them into a different class of agriculture from that to which they had been accustomed for years past, was a proposal absolutely doomed to failure from the very start. He knew it was what was recommended in the Report of the Royal Commission on Congestion in Ireland, but that did not make it any the more likely to succeed. So far as that part of the Bill was concerned it was founded on the Report of that Commission. He did not say that there was anything wrong or objectionable in any member of that Royal Commission, but from the first they could see that the inquiry was useless, because it was perfectly well known beforehand what the ideas of the various members of that Commission with reference to this question of congestion in the West of Ireland would be. Lord Dudley [NATIONALIST cheers.] Hon. Members cheered the name of Lord Dudley because he had thrown himself bodily into their camp, so to speak, and had left the Unionist Party. That being so, it was 336 not very probable that Lord Dudley was a wholly impartial chairman. Certainly, a chairman should be a person who could not be accused of leaning one way or the other. They had also as a member Lord MacDonnell, whose views were very well known: he disapproved of a good many of the recommendations of the Commission, but, practically speaking, he was in favour of taking a large portion of the West of Ireland and handing it to the Estates Commissioners. The next member was Sir John Colomb, the only member of that Commission who could be said to represent the Conservative party or the landlord party in Ireland. Then there were Sir Francis Mowatt and Mr. Angus Sullivan, two officials on the Commission, who, whatever their political views, took care to keep them in the background.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG
meant to say that the opinion of the Commission, as a whole, could have been well foreseen, because there were upon it a preponderating number of persons who were of a distinctly national or kindred party. There were two Nationalist members, one Liberal member, the brother of the late Chief Secretary, who had advanced ideas on the subject, and two other persons of strong Nationalist leanings. The Commission, therefore, was not very likely to hold strong views on the Conservative or landlord side, and it was comparatively easy to foresee what decision they would come to. Consequently they could not be expected to place any great importance on the findings of the Commission. If, however, the scheme which they recommended had been carried out, it would have been a gigantic failure; and, even if it had been a success, it would have cost infinitely more money than could ever be provided by Parliament for the purpose. They had to look at what had already been done by either the Congested Districts Board or the Estate Commissioners in the West of Ireland to get an idea as 337 to whether the turning of the whole of the West of Ireland into a large compound of small holdings would be successful or not. He believed the evidence given before the Commission went to show that the experiments which the Congested Districts Board had made in migration had, on the whole, been a failure. That was certainly his reading of the evidence, and he thought at least-one of the Commissioners had stated so himself in a note appended to the Report. He knew of a case in the West of Ireland where the Congested Districts Board had bought an estate and could not get it let for the simple reason that the people surrounding would not allow the admission of strangers. Everybody knew that was going to be the whole difficulty. If they took a piece of land in the county of Roscommon and attempted to migrate on to it tenants from Connemara, the people in Roscommon would not tolerate the introduction of those outsiders for one moment, for they would think they ought to have the land divided amongst themselves. That was the root of the question. It had been the difficulty in the cases tried already, and had made it absolutely impossible to carry out some cases. He knew plenty of cases in the West of Ireland where, after legal and illegal proceedings—illegal proceedings, cattle-driving, boycotting, and so on generally came first—they had got rid of the tenant. In many cases, after the land had been given into the hands of the new tenants to be used as the Estate Commissioners imagined for tillage or mixed farming, the first thing those new tenants did was to re-let it; probably to the same man as before it was divided up, as a huge grazing farm. The other day he saw an advertisement of all the tenants of one of these redistributed estates putting up their holdings to the highest bidder. They had 17s. or £1 per acre as an annuity to the Government and got two, three, and four times that amount for letting them out to grazing. The House would thus see that the immense amount of money which was being spent in the West of Ireland was being thrown away. It was going into the hands of persons who did not deserve it. He asked the Chief Secretary the other day if he would instruct the 338 police to make inquiries on the subject in one or two counties in the West of Ireland; but he judiciously refused, saying it was not part of his duty to do so. The police in the past had been used for precisely that duty in reference to earlier Purchase Acts; and they would have been able to give some interesting information. He wished to draw attention to the way in which the Estates Commissioners arranged these matters in the West of Ireland and to the sort of thing that was likely to happen if this Bill became law. In Ballinasloe there was a prosperous butcher named John Byrne, who was in possession of a holding which he had purchased under one of the earlier Acts. The people came to the conclusion that Byrne ought to clear out and that his holding ought to be cut up for the benefit of those round about. They proceeded to apply the usual methods. On 16th November, 1906, they drove his cattle, other things followed, and finally poor Mr. Byrne, like many another man, for want of support from the Government, had to give in to the demands of the people round about and he agreed to give up his farm. If he had not done so, he would have lost all his contracts, have been boycotted, and his life made intolerable. Negotiations ensued for about a year, and on J5th November, 1907, the Estate Commissioners wrote to Mr. Byrne as follows—I am directed by the Estates Commissioners to inform you that they have had the land set out in the accompanying schedule inspected, and that they estimate the price of same at £3,090, which is exclusive of such bonus as may be payable according to law.Mr. Byrne practically agreed to accept that, but six months later, he received this letter—With reference to the Commissioners' letter of 15th November, I am directed to inform you that the first paragraph should be read as follows: 'I am directed by the Estates Commissioners to inform … that they estimate the price of same at £3,090, which is inclusive of such bonus …'They claimed that that was a slip of the pen, but it made a difference of some £360 for Mr. Byrne. On 24th October, he got this further communication—Estate of John Byrne, vendor. The Land Commissioners, after due inquiry, hereby propose, subject to the clauses and conditions hereinafter mentioned, to purchase the land stated for the sum of £2,759.339 So that after two years, he having been forcibly made to give up his farm, he was offered first of all £3,090 with the bonus, then told it was without the bonus, and then more than a year after the first estimate he was informed that he was to take £2,759, nearly £700 less than the poor man at first thought he was entitled to. He was offered a price that he could not accept, and he had practically given up his land, and the usual results would follow. He would probably lose all his contracts for beef. If that was the way the Estates Commissioners carried on their work, he did not think they could very well complain of criticism. Further more, that was likely, he should say, under the proposed constitution of the Congested Districts Board, to be the way in which that Board would carry on its work if it ever was constituted. The proposed constitution of the Congested Districts Board was one of the most outrageous suggestions that had ever been made in the House. It was proposed to appoint a certain number of officials, no less than nine appointed by the nine districts proposed to be included in the Board, all of whom were practically speaking in unison with and very often acting with the bands of cattle-drivers who had been driving cattle off the estates in the west. Under these now proceedings the Board, of which the elected members would form a majority, would have absolute control over all the policy of the Board. It was true the Bill proposed to keep out of their hands the actual spending of the money, but the majority of the Board would have enough influence over the rest to be able to obtain the spending of the money in any way they liked. There were many things which rendered the Bill unacceptable to Members on that side, but there was nothing which showed so plainly that the Chief Secretary had been forced by frequent applications of Nationalist Members to introduce this Bill, and he thought the simplest way would be to incorporate wholesale the recommendations of the Congested Districts Commission If the right hon. Gentleman had confined himself to questions of finance he would have got a large measure of support from Members on that side of the House, but by the action he had taken in putting 340 all these other things in he had alienated their support. Many things were utterly opposed to the principle which guided the House in passing the Act of 1903, and that at the very outset deprived the right hon. Gentleman of the slightest sympathy of Members on that side. He had no difficulty in opposing the whole Bill, because the financial proposals so far from helping forward land purchase would retard it.
§ MR. CHERRY
said that he proposed to deal only with what he might call the legal clauses of the Bill and not to discuss in any way the question of finance. On the question of the general clauses there was, he thonght, in the minds of a great many hon. Members who had spoken, rather a misapprehension as to what the policy of Land Purchase Acts generally was, and how far it had been carried out by the Act of 1903, and how far it would be affected by the present Bill. It was more noticeable in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate than in almost any of the others. He said he was opposed to the Bill, and the general ground that he gave was that he held it would not expedite the progress of land purchase. He had proceeded to work out that proposition by going through the various provisions and clauses of the Bill, but all through what he meant by land purchase was the direct sale by landlords to tenants of their holdings. There was no doubt the original policy of the Land Purchase Act was that, and that only. It began in the first Act of 1870 and went through the Acts of 1881, 1885, and 1887. It was adopted again and again by the House under Governments of different complexion. But in 1891 a quite different policy appeared for the first time, and the Congested Districts Board was established, the main function of which was not to sell to occupiers land already in their occupation but to increase the size of the holdings which they occupied, and for that purpose it was necessary of course to amalgamate holdings and to provide for a certain portion of the population which was already fixed upon these small holdings, and the methods which were suggested by that Act were the development of other industries and the purchase 341 of untenanted land if it could be made available for the purpose of increasing the size of the holdings. That was an entirely separate and independent policy from that of the sale by landlord to tenant of the holding which he occupies, and it commenced in a Conservative Parliament and in a Conservative Bill. The Act of 1891 was carried through the House by the Leader of the Opposition; the project was in a great measure due to him and he deserved great credit for it; everybody in Ireland, whatever his politics, would say that that Board had been a public benefit, and the policy it had carried out had been undoubtedly beneficial to the country. Not only the Act of 1891, but from that Act down they bad a whole series of Acts, the tendency of every one of which was to increase the powers of the Congested Districts Board, to enlarge the sphere of their operations, and to give them increased facilities for dealing with the problem. But the more they approached the problem the larger it seemed to get. Instead of being solved by what was done they seemed to see that there was a great deal more to be done, and year after year small Acts were passed without opposition for the purpose of increasing the powers and facilitating the working of the Board. Coming down to the Act of 1903 and the policy to which the Government were said to be in opposition, that Act made a greater step forward in the direction of carrying out that policy than any of the Acts to which he had referred. In addition to dealing with congestion in a very drastic manner, it introduced an entirely separate and independent policy as regards the case of evicted tenants. It was the first general Land Purchase Act which enabled land to be sold under the Land Purchase Acts to persons who were not tenants of the holdings. Under the previous Acts the Congested Districts Board bought the land through trustees who could sell under the Land Purchase Acts for a lump sum which was advanced by the State, to be repaid by annuity. That was first applied in the case of untenanted land by the Act of 1903, and it was applied for three objects, first, to restore evicted tenants; secondly, for the relief of congestion; and, thirdly, 342 to provide sons of tenants and persons skilled in agriculture, but who had not land in their possession, in certain cases with holdings which they could cultivate and so stop the emigration of this life-blood of the Irish people. The powers of the Congested Districts Board were limited to the congested districts, and they were a very limited portion of the West of Ireland, but the Act of 1903 extended their powers to the Estates Commissioners, who had jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland, and they were given power to purchase untenanted land for the purpose of relieving congestion. How had these provisions of the Act worked? The House had heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover a great glorification of the way in which the Act has worked during the last five years, but he had confined his I remarks altogether to the case of direct sales, and so far as he (Mr. Cherry) could judge he was rather hostile to this sale of untenanted land to persons who were not tenants. The Act of 1903 had worked very well in some respects, but it had worked unsatisfactorily as regards the relief of congestion. As a matter of fact he had been informed that evening, by one of the Estates Commissioners, that in the five years which had elapsed since the passing of that Act, not one single congested estate had been sold to them, or by them. The clause relating to the congested districts in the Act of 1903 had been a dead letter, and had not operated for the reason that under the Act the consent of the owner was necessary and the operation of the zone section was prevented, and no one would consent to his estate being considered congested. It was quite true that in some respects the Act of 1903 worked very satisfactorily, but those in favour of the land purchase policy, who were anxious to see a system of peasant proprietors established in Ireland, became alarmed at the number of large holdings which were sold. A very large portion of the purchase money advanced under the Act of 1903 was advanced to tenants on large holdings, who should not have come under land purchase at all. Just to give the House an illustration as to how the system worked, he would mention one of the first estates sold under the Act. He would give some official figures he had received 343 that evening. On the Carton estate, a very large estate in Kildare owned by the Duke of Leinster, the number of purchasers was only 506, and the total amount of purchase money advanced was £687,417. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] That was an enormous sum for a small number of men, more especially in view of the fact that there were thousands of people with only one or two acres on small uneconomic holdings. In those transactions the Duke of Leinster put into his pocket £80,000. The House would recollect that in the Act power was given to make advances up to £7,000 to a single purchaser, and soon after the Act came into operation this provision was largely taken advantage of by the rich and well-to-do, and really the poor people were shut out. He was speaking of the tenants, and those large tenants of the Duke of Leinster's estate were certainly not the class of people intended to be benefited by the Land Purchase Acts. Therefore, they had to endeavour to give a preference to the smaller tenants in the poorer parts of Ireland. On that estate there were a number of holdings, the price of which was over £3,000, and the amount of advances over £3,000 numbered 77, out of a total of 508. The sum total paid for the purchase of those 77 holdings amounted to no less than £381,825, which was more than half the total purchase money paid for the Duke of Leinster's estate. The Duke of Leinster's estate was not an exceptional case, because there were many others of a similar kind where large holdings had been bought. The purchase of these large holdings had exhausted the money available, and had left the poor and distressed portions of the country in the West, and South, in North Connaught, Clare, Kerry, and Donegal, in the background. Those poor tenants had not the same energy, and assistance, and enterprise as the larger tenants, and consequently they could not take advantage of the Act to the same extent. What they were seeking to do by this Bill was not to check the progress of land purchase, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover had said, but to divert it, and turn it more in the direction of the policy announced when the Act of 1903 was introduced, by diverting the sale of untenanted land 344 from large to small holders in order to relieve congestion. One clause in their Bill of great advantage would restrict the amount of the advance in any individual case to £3,000 except in the exceptional case where the tenant resided upon the holding, when the Land Commissioners might make an advance of £5,000, but beyond that they could not under any circumstances go. Those who had might either hold them, them to their landlords, and then they would be dealt with as unoccupied land. One of the clauses which was criticised most unfavourably by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, was that which dealt with the zones. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was under an entire misapprehension as to the effect of that clause, for he spoke of it as if it would entirely abolish the zone. It was not the intention of the Government to abolish zones, and he did not think that would be the effect of the operation of the clause, which was intended to be operative only in exceptional cases. As a general rule the zones would still operate, but in circumstances of a suspicious character, where it was suggested to the Estates Commissioners that a larger sum had been given for the holding than it was worth, or the security was insufficient, they would be enabled under this clause to make an order which would exclude the zones and to investigate the security by inspecting the land and valuing it. Let them suppose that in the [...]e of an estates brought to the notice of the Estates Commissioners for sale, which was really a congested estate and ought to have been so declared before it was sold direct to the tenant, the sale took place within the zone, and it, was ascertained that a very large amount of arrears of rent were due, and that those arrears had been added to the purchase money: that fact was in itself an indication that the rent was excessive. He was aware that it might be due to other causes, such as the tenant being improvident, but when they had the arrears spread over the whole estate that could not be the cause, and it was an indication that the rent was high. When they had a certain number of years purchase it might be advanced within 345 the zone, and they had to add to that the arrears duo, and in that way they would get a price very probably excessive. This Bill would enable the Estates Commissioners to investigate such cases as that. At the present time it was not competent for the Estates Commissioners even to make enquiries as regarded the arrears, and yet they could not stop the sales for that reason. He agreed that the cases were very rare where fraudulent transactions had taken place. But cases had occurred where agreements had been made, in regard to which a portion of the purchase money had been returned. Cases of that kind might arise, and this clause would not in any way hinder land purchase except in cases where higher prices were being charged or where something fraudulent had taken place. There was another valuable clause, which prevented an advance being made for the creation of a new tenancy. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman had actually understood the object of Clause 13, which was to make the whole of the untenanted land now for sale available for the relief of congestion, for the restoration of evicted tenants, and to give persons who were considered suitable, who had not at present land in their possession, holdings and enable them to work them in the ordinary way. The Report of the Royal Commission stated, after careful inquiries extending over many months, that there was not in Ireland at the present moment enough untenanted land available to carry out these objects. [OPPOSITION cries of "Question?"] There was not at any rate sufficient untenanted land to be obtained for the relief of congestion, which was absolutely necessary in order to secure the prosperity of Ireland. The object of the Bill was to prevent any portion of this land being taken away for other purposes, and it would also check a gross abuse of the Land Purchase Acts which had grown up in Ireland in many counties during the last two years. The system was this. A landlord having in his possession unoccupied land created a tenancy in trust for himself, the trustee being his own servants or mere nominees of his own. He had known it to be done in several cases.
AN HON. MEMBER (on the OPPOSITION Benches)
said there was DO justification for the hon. and learned Attorney-General to make a general statement based on one case.
§ MR. CHERRY
said he appealed to the experience of Members of the House that this practice was not uncommon.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)
said that the Estates Commissioners in their Report specially referred to the practice.
§ MR. CHERRY
said that these tenancies were put up to auction and were sold for large sums under the Land Purchase Acts; in fact, the landlord was paid twice over, he got payment for the tenant right and payment for the value of the land. That was what the Bill proposed to stop. A man could still go on creating tenancies on unoccupied land, but the Bill said that if he created such tenancies he must not do it to sell them under the Land Purchase Acts. He himself looked at this clause as one of the most useful in the whole Bill, and he believed that the great majority of people, irrespective of politics, would agree that a practice which was most reprehensible ought not to be allowed to go on. The right hon. Gentleman criticised at considerable length Clause 14, but he seemed unaware of the fact that the clause he criticised was his own clause; but in a slightly different form. He seemed to forget entirely that he was the Minister who introduced this policy under Section 2 of the Act of 1903. The clause really embodied the results of the experience of the Estates Commissioners in carrying out the Act of Parliament, and was really a distinct advance on the Act of 1903. Why the right hon. Gentleman should object to the clause, he failed to see. The clause provided that unoccupied land might be sold, first, to a person being a tenant or proprietor of a holding not exceeding £10 in rateable value. That would give all the advantages to the occupants of a small holding which were given by the 1903 Act to large holders. Then, secondly, an advance could be made for the purchase of a holding to the son of a tenant or the proprietor of a holding 347 on or in the neighbourhood of the estate not exceeding £30 in rateable value. He thought these subsections were most valuable concessions; and that they would be admitted to be a useful change in the law. The right hon. Gentleman criticised very severely the subsection dealing with the evicted tenants, and suggested that they were re-opening the whole question. But it was merely a drafting clause, which re-enacted verbatims with the introduction of slight changes in arrangement, the language of his own clause. The right hon. Gentleman made the same curious mistake with regard to the third subsection, which he seemed to think would enable advances to be made with the intention of disturbing existing occupiers. This subsection was, word for word, the same as the subsection in his own Act of Parliament There was absolutely no change in the law. There was nothing in the whole Bill to enable the occupier to be disturbed, and the whole of the right hon Gentleman's remarks that some steps, were to be taken under the new Bill to disturb existing occupants were entirely fantastical. There was already in connection with the Congested Districts Board a power to turn out an existing tenant, but notice had to be given before he was turned out, and when he was turned out the Board was bound to provide him with another holding. It had been found exceedingly difficult to get the consent of three-fourths of the existing occupants before an estate would be taken over by the Board. The right hon. Gentleman criticised adversely the compulsory power given to the Estate Commissioners, and he condemned the clause on the ground that it would put an end to voluntary agreements in the future. That was quite contrary to the experience of those responsible for the administration of the Land Acts. He would remind the House that the Act of 1891, which gave power for the compulsory purchase of holdings held on a long lease, actually facilitated voluntary sales, because the landlords generally arranged with their tenants for sale and purchase rather than have fair rents fixed. If this clause in the Bill became law it would therefore not hinder voluntary sales, but facilitate them very much and increase their number. The 348 right hon. Gentleman and other speakers on that side of the House in dealing with the problem of congestion seemed to think that the present Bill proceeded in a different manner, from the Act of 1903. Nothing of the kind. They proposed to deal with congestion exactly in the same way and on the same lines as the old Act, except that they enlarged the scope and definition of congested districts. So far from hindering and obstructing the relief of congestion, the Bill would facilitate that relief in every possible manner. Then, objection had been taken to the partially elective character of the Congested Districts Board. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the council of the Agricultural Department was partly elective, two-thirds of the Board being elected by the county councils and one-third of the members only being nominated, and good work was done by it for the agriculture for Ireland. It was exceedingly desirable to bring the elected representatives of the Irish people into touch with the economic problems of the country. The county councils of Ireland were doing their work as well as were the county councils in England, and the county councils should have some voice in the solution of this question and some power to supervise what was being done in the way of the settlement of the question of congestion as well as in regard to other land problems in Ireland. As far as the technical work was concerned, the Committee of the Board would have control of the finance and financial matters, and in that way they should combine the electoral with the departmental system, and he believed would really succeed in reaching this problem and dealing with it in a way in which it ought to be dealt with. Then as to the division of the grass lands, it was all nonsense to talk about the country being ruined by it. The cattle trade would not suffer, but would be rather improved. The ranching system was not the only way to rear cattle, nor was it necessary that cattle should always be sold as store cattle; they could be fattened in Ireland as well as in any country in the world, and instead of getting less they became more valuable. There had been a great deal in the papers about the cattle trade having been injured by cattle-driving, but the cattle 349 trade was never more prosperous than now.
§ MR. CHERRY
No. It has improved in spite of it, just as the cattle trade will increase even if the ranches are divided. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that if this system were adopted, not only the cattle trade, but other industries, such as the butter trade, would improve. Ireland was too small for the ranching system which was suitable to Manitoba and the Western States of America, and he believed the division of the large ranches into small farms worked on the mixed system would not only be beneficial to the people who work the farms, but lead to the increased prosperity of the country and the benefit of its inhabitants generally. The hon. Member for Waterford had asked as to the operation of the eleventh clause as to the zones, and how far it would affect pending agreements. As he understood the clause as at present drafted it would apply only to agreements lodged with the Land Commission after the passing of the Bill. It would not apply to agreements already lodged, or which might be lodged with the Commission during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. Then the hon. Member seemed to be under the impression that the fifth clause of the Bill enabled a portion of the bonus to be paid to the remainder man. No portion of the bonus was payable to the remainder man. Under the present Act the bonus was, in some cases, paid to the vendor, and in others it was added to the purchase money. Of course, there was no difference between the addition to the purchase money and payment to the vendor except in the case of settled or encumbered estates. The Bill there proposed that a bonus of 5 per cent. should be paid, as at present, to the vendor, and the larger bonus which was paid should be added to the purchase money. That was to be available for the payment of the charges, and if it was settled it would become portion of the capital value of the estate to be invested, and interest to be paid to the tenant for life, and on his death not his representatives, but the remainder man 350 would take it. This was a matter of detail and one on which suggestions would be considered. He would say, in conclusion, that if there was any suggestion, as there was by one hon. Member, that the Government were not in earnest about the matter, there never was a greater mistake. The Government were in earnest about the Bill and were determined to pass it into law at the earliest moment. It might not be possible to pass it this session, but they hoped to have it introduced as early as possible next session, and they would use every effort in their power to make it the law of the land.
* EARL OF KERRY (Derbyshire, W.)
said he could not claim to speak on this question with the weight of Members representing different parts of Ireland, but he hoped the House would bear with him while he gave his impressions of the Bill even if he represented no one, at all events no Irishman, except himself; and if his remarks were somewhat coloured from his acquaintance with a particular part of Ireland on the West Coast he would make no apology for that, because it was these congested districts of the West which would be most affected for good or ill by this Bill. The Chief Secretary had said that those parts of Ireland which should have been first had been left to the last, and it was in those districts that land purchase was most backward at this moment, and, therefore, it was there that the question was most important. If there was anything, moreover, in the argument as to the danger to the cattle trade, this danger would be mostly incurred by the small farmers who were engaged in raising cattle in those districts. The Bill, as it had been said, was one which should be discussed in two different parts. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that they must take it or leave it, and consider it as a whole, but he thought that it was impossible to do so. He, therefore, proposed to say a few words on each part of the Bill separately. As to the land purchase question, they were all in agreement as to the necessity of continuing that system. Nobody could have spoken more strongly on that point than the Chief Secretary, who said on the First 351 Reading that the peace and prosperity of Ireland were irrevocably bound up in its success, and went on to speak of the exceeding great marvel that had been effected under that policy. Everyone was agreed that purchase must continue, and the only question that remained was as to how purchase was to be continued. It was evident that the finance on which the Act of 1903 was founded had broken down, and that more money must somehow be forthcoming. He did not for a moment accept the Chief Secretary's estimate of the extent to which it had broken down, but that there was a shortage in cash no one had denied. That shortage was to be made good, as the right hon. Gentleman had told them, from Imperial funds. It might be asked whether it could be claimed, as a matter of right, that more money for the carrying out of this scheme should be found by the British taxpayer. The hon. Member for Preston did not take that view, and perhaps it was unnecessary to ask anyone to do so, because one could argue it on the lower ground of expediency. If it was expedient to try to settle the Irish land question five years ago by means of a grant from the Imperial Exchequer, which grant had proved to be insufficient, surely it was still more expedient to try to settle the question now, even if rather more money than was originally expected had to be found to carry it to a successful issue. If one considered, not so much the benefits which might accrue from carrying it out, but the disasters which were possible if it was not carried out, it seemed to lend force to this argument. In former days in Ireland he thought one might say that the landlord had been employed as a kind of buffer between the tenants and the State, and when there was trouble the landlord generally came off very badly in the encounter. Under the new conditions the State had practically taken the position of landlord over half Ireland, and if any great disturbance occurred in the country the State, as well as the landlords, must be involved. The Chief Secretary gave the impression that he was very generous to the landlords in providing money for carrying out land purchase more rapidly, but when the 352 matter was looked into it was found that very little money was forthcoming. For the pending agreements he proposed to provide £5,000,000, of which £1,000,000 went to the Estates Commissioners. On the remaining £4,000,000 the annual charge would be about £16,000. The right hon. Gentleman also gave £5,000,000 in stock if the vendors chose to take it, and the annual charge on that would be £14,000, making a total annual charge of £30,000 on the Exchequer. With regard to future agreements, it might be urged by hon. Gentlemen opposite that great generosity was shown by the Government in continuing a bonus at all, but it would be found that this would probably not cost the Government anything at all. There was £3,000,000 left out of the original £12,000,000 voted to be set aside for bonus. This would be sufficient to provide a 3 per cent. bonus on £100,000,000 of sales or 6 per cent. on £50,000,000—a more likely figure. His right hon. friend the Member for Dover had, he thought, proved conclusively that the average rate of purchase for future agreements would work out at about twenty-two years, therefore the average bonus of the future would be (under the Schedule) 6 per cent., and the taxpayer would be put to no further expense. £30,000 a year was a grant not exactly bristling with generosity, especially when consideration was had to the amount that was given to Ireland under the Irish Universities Act, what was proposed to be given to Ireland under the Irish Council Bill, and what would be given to Ireland under the second part of this Bill. He reminded the House that under the present conditions pending agreements could not be cleared off in less than seven years, and if no payment was taken in stock they would take thirteen or fourteen years. The fate of future agreements was shrouded in obscurity, and they heard doubts expressed as to whether they would take place at all. There were three bars to their being successfully carried out. First, the extra ¼ per cent. the tenants had to pay; secondly, the fact that the vendor had to take stock at its face value; and, lastly, the fact that the vendor would get an uncertain and greatly reduced bonus. In the second part of the Bill they were facing an entirely different problem from the financing of land purchase, namely, 353 the relief of congestion by compulsory purchase. He pointed out that compulsory purchase marked a new departure, and in dealing thus with the agrarian problem in Ireland the Government seemed to him not for the first time to be confusing the idea, of purchase and the idea of tenure. Purchase needed stability and finality to ensure its success, but if alterations in tenure were introduced concurrently with a scheme of purchase its success was bound to be maried. Under the second part of the Bill they were to have a semi-elective body, not responsible to Parliament, dealing with funds which were not its own, with large powers of interference between landlord or tenant, and, what was more serious, between tenant and tenant. He complained that after the Bill became law no initiative would be left to the Irish tenant, because everything would be managed for him by the new authority to be constituted. The Bill was apparently being passed with the avowed object of altering the agricultural system of Ireland. He drew attention to the Minute of Lord MacDonnell, in which he stated his disagreement with sixteen out of fifty-two recommendations in the Report of the Commissioners. Dealing with congestion and the powers to be given, to the new Congested Districts Board. Lord MacDonnell said this system would lead to indefinite prolongation of relief operations, waste of public money, the perpetuation of political and agrarian agitation, and the sapping of the self reliant spirit of the people. These were strong words and he asked why the Government had paid so little attention to such an important statement. Then with regard to the breaking up of the grass lands,—nobody denied that there were many uneconomic holdings in Ireland, but it seemed to him that they could not accept the universal definition either of a 30s. per head valuation or of a £10 valuation for a single farm. On the West coast especially, where there was little frost and much rain, it required much labour especially in the matter of draining the soil to cope with the forces of nature. The great difficulty there was that everyone except those immediately interested in the 354 reversion of the land—the eldest son,—emigrated to America; and they constantly saw an old couple living by themselves on a farm and quite unable from lack of assistance to do justice to the gifts which nature had implanted in the soil. Cases such as these would not be improved by adding to the size of the holdings, unless they could show that by enlarging the farms they would discourage emigration and keep more people on the land. So far as he knew this had not been shown therefore he did not see that the case for enlarging the holdings in that part of Ireland had been proved. Instead, they would have the same number of people on larger holdings eking out a sort of existence, and the land would go steadily from bad to worse. There was an important point which anyone who knew anything about agriculture would appreciate. If they broke up old grass land, they destroyed a thing of great value, which if not quite impossible to replace, took a great many years to do so. The inherent wealth of the soil would therefore, to that extent, be diminished. That was an important consideration; and, unless they could show that some great benefit was certain to result, he did not think the grass land should be broken up. There was another point. He believed that no less than £14,000,000 yearly was brought into the country by the cattle industry. Perhaps the hon. Gentlemen below the gangway would say that an undue proportion of that went into the pockets of the landlords; but still it did go into the country, and unless it went out again the country must benefit. The man who would be likely to suffer most by the Bill would be the man who was engaged in rearing cattle in the West. He would suffer by the destruction of his market in the centre of Ireland and by the greater competition which was likely in the article in which he dealt by reason of more cattle being raised on the new small farms it was proposed to create out of grass lands. He wished to quote one passage from the Report of the Commission. If there was one strongly expressed opinion in the Report, it was that the landless man should not be admitted in the claims for the grass ranches when they were cut up. The words, appearing 355 in Paragraph 25 on page 47, were as follows—The situation has now grown so serious that we are convinced that if these claims are insisted upon and are supported by public opinion, the problem of congestion, as a whole, cannot be solved, no matter what powers are given to the Board.The Government had absolutely flown in the face of that recommendation, and in Clause 14 of the Bill had made arrangements by which the landless man, if he did not immediately receive a holding, would at all events expect to receive one, and would be a hostile force to be reckoned with in the settlement of congestion. Lastly, there was the question of the price which landlords would receive. What would they get under the compulsory system? Was it intended that they should get a fair market value of their grass farms or not? The Chief Secretary, in his speech the other day, gave them a questionable picture of the landlords, putting many golden sovereigns into their pockets in all transactions relating to Irish land. How would they fare under compulsion. He supposed the landlords would be considered well off if they got half the value of the grass land they were forced to sell. If they were not satisfied, they were to have the privilege of appealing from the Estates Commissioners to the Estates Commissioners. Although the Government had promised a great deal by the mouth of the Chief Secretary for the continuance of the land purchase, in point of fact, they had as he had tried to show given very little for pending agreements, and nothing for future agreements. It was true they proposed to do a great deal to relieve congestion, but they were doing it in such a way as he ventured to say foredoomed their action to failure. The manner in which they were treating the problem of congestion would create so much dissatisfaction, that the good which might be done to any of the congested tenants who received a new farm carved out of the grass land, would be outweighed by the controversies and jealousies occasioned by disappointed expectations. He, therefore, thought that the policy of the Government, if it became law, instead of settling the question would lead to an 356 intensification of the agrarian problem and of the difficulties of Ireland which they hoped to solve, and which were in a fair way of being solved under the Act of 1903. These difficulties could not be solved unless more money was given for the carrying out of the policy of that Act, nor could they be solved if the question of land purchase was tacked on to new proposals in connection with the relief of congestion. He heartily supported the Amendment.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said there was one passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover which was heartily cheered from the Irish benches, and he hoped that was duly noted by the Unionist Members. He was enlarging upon the absolute peace in Ireland.
§ MR. DILLON
He did not say parts of Ireland; he said Ireland. He was in full career and was describing the absolute peace which reigned in Ireland as due to the working of his Act when his attention was drawn by the cheers from the Irish benches to the false position he had taken up. That was a good illustration of the different way the position of Ireland was presented to the House by Unionist Members according to the point of view from which they wished to influence it. The hon. Member for Cork had delivered another of his powerful speeches, expressing his objection to the Bill. The hon. Member did not approve of the Bill and he deeply regretted it. He persisted in advising the landlord party in that House and in Ireland to reject the Bill. They all knew that it was in the power of the landlord party, through the agency of their friends in another place, to reject the Bill; but in his opinion they would be doing very unwisely. They had had some experience of how their own friends treated them when they got into power. He could remember the clamour a short time ago against the Unionist Government was very nearly, if not quite, as bitter and as strong as it was now against the Liberal Government. This Bill made considerable concessions, and, 357 if the Irish landlords rejected it, they might find that a Unionist Government, if it were to win at the next General Election, would not be so enthusiastic, in face of a strong Radical Opposition, in voting money for the relief of Irish landlords. He had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover with amazement. He gave positive and negative reasons for opposing the Bill, and he asked what was the situation which caused the Government to introduce it. He said there were two essential factors in the situation: the rush of applications and the danger of loss falling upon the ratepayers of Ireland. Before that, he had alluded to the state of peace: one would have supposed, listening to the hon. Member, that Ireland was in a state of absolute contentment. He had totally forgotten the stormy questions which came before the House day after day. There were no facts of which the Chief Secretary had to take notice except the rush of applications and the danger of loss falling upon the Irish ratepayers. Those who lived in Ireland would admit that there were other facts of which any responsible Irish Government was bound to take notice. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to deliver one of the most remarkable and astonishing denunciations he had ever listened to in that House. It was levied against what he was pleased to describe as the new policy proposed to be inaugurated in this Bill by the present Government—the policy, he said, of creating a new race of peasant proprietors and of splitting up the grass ranches, which he condemned the other day as economic lunacy. Who was it who first inaugurated that policy? Who was it who led the people of Ireland and the landless men of Ireland to believe that the Government of this country, and a Unionist Government of this country, had committed themselves to the policy of splitting up the grass ranches? It was the light hon. Gentleman, and if there was cattle-driving and disturbance to-day, it was entirely due to the hopes which his speeches in 1903 raised, and which his policy afterwards disappointed. When he and other Members like him were disposed to criticse the Act of 1903, they were told there was no need for compulsion, They warned the Govern- 358 ment again and again that they could have no settlement and no peace in Ireland until this great grass ranch question was settled, and the right hon. Gentleman so far from denouncing that policy, praised it. He said it would not be necessary, because it would be done voluntarily under the great inducements which they were offering, though if it proved to be necessary, he would not shrink from it. Whether for good or for evil the effect of the Act had been to raise the price of land by 60 per cent. all round. The Act had been a great success from the point of view of the amount of hind which had been sold. But who in his senses would doubt that if they adopted an Act of Parliament, which within two years raised the price of land by 60 per cent., the sellers would come in in greatly increased numbers? The policy of breaking up the grass ranches was not a new policy. He could understand the complaint of the taxpayer against these calls being made upon him. But why was it that Governments had felt themselves coerced into adopting this policy, and making these sacrifices? It was because in spite of great unwillingness on their part that historical claim had been too strong for them, and it was an idle and absurd mocking to compare the policy of planting the people back on the ranches with a similar policy in Great Britain. Had they ever had in Great Britain the clearance they had had in Ireland? What were those ranches and how had they been formed? Let them read the books of any foreign travellers or observers who travelled through Ireland. The first thing that struck them was the condition of the population as regarded its geographical distribution. They were amazed to find that the best land of the country was a desert, while the bog and the mountains were crowded with people. They exclaimed that no other civilised country in the world could exhibit a similar picture. These ranches were crowded within the memory of living men, and when they appealed, to the House to carry out the policy which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover himself inaugurated in. 1903, but failed to carry out, they asked them not to do some great act of philanthropy, but 359 to undo a historical wrong which they have done to Ireland. This problem spread throughout the whole of Ireland. In County Tipperary in 1845 there were 420,000 people, and soon there were 180,000. Thirty-five thousand inhabited houses had been thrown to the ground within those years. In the case of the Cordon ranch, 135 families, the finest peasantry in the whole world, were living in comfort and decency, paying their rent and doing their business in Templemore, which had been reduced almost to ruin by the extermination of these people. It became the fashion to prefer the cattle to the people, and Mr. Cordon cleared out the whole 135,000, not for non-payment of rent but because he preferred the cattle. If Irishmen had been given popular Government and control of their own country that iniquity could never have been perpetrated, and on Englishmen's consciences lay the cruel wrong which had been done to their people, there and all over the country which was made desert by this infamous process of clearing. They asked Parliament to undo this wrong, and Members of that House were willing to undo it because they were coming to understand it. And they were met by the right hon. Gentleman talking about this being a new policy and ruining the cattle trade! They were told cattle-driving was ruining the cattle trade, but the western fairs were better than they had been for twenty years. As an American visiting Ireland said the other day when he saw these fields left untitled in the midst of a populous country and forbidden to the use of man: "Have I come to a country inhabited by Red Indians where the prairie exists as it came from the hand of the Creator?" The dividing of the grass lands would not improve the cattle trade, and if it would he said: "Down with the cattle trade," if the cattle trade could only be maintained by the destruction and the banishment of the people from the fertile lands. Let every man remember that when they were asked to bring back the people to these lands—and they would have no peace in Ireland till it was done—they were asked to undo a great and recent historic wrong. Hon. Members objected to compulsion, but the right hon. Gentleman himself looked 360 forward to its being applied. They had always demanded it. Assuming that the policy of giving this credit to carry out a great national transaction was adopted, and that they were conferring this great benefit on tenants but still more on landlords whom they had rescued from a falling market with no possibility of selling their estates, would any man have the courage to say that the State was not entitled to maintain control of this operation in its own hands and to see that the money was used to the best advantage and went where it was most needed? But these vast sums of money which had been expended almost without exception had gone to the districts and the estates where they were least needed and which could best wait, and those very parts of the country where the money was badly needed had been left untouched. There were hundreds of estates in Ireland like the Duke of Leinster's estate. There were no disturbances or stress in this case, and yet, under the operation of free sale, the first person who got the money of the State was the Duke of Leinster, who, by taking the bonus, added nearly £4,000 a year to his net income. Much was heard in 1903 about the agrarian troubles in the West. Those troubles remained, and prosperous landlords like the Duke of Leinster and others had profited by the land legislation. Compulsion was a necessary consequence of these great State transactions. Were the credit and finance of the country to be applied to this great object, and was an individual in some part of the country to be allowed to set himself to oppose this great object and set the district, aflame? There were landlords like Lord Clanricarde, who would not sell except at notoriously absurd prices, while in peaceful districts sales went on so rapidly that the Commissioners could not deal with them. The troubles in other parts of Ireland went on, and the authorities had no remedy but to pour in extra police to enforce proceedings which in their consciences they knew to be unjust. Could there be more grotesque treatment of the intentions of Parliament? In 1903 the Irish Members again and again expressed the conviction that the zone system would have the effect of ruinously raising prices. Landlords had refused to sell 361 to the Board and had exacted outrageously high prices. In some parts of Mayo the prices had risen from twelve and fourteen to twenty and twenty-four and a half years purchase. In the poorer districts the power of the landlord to coerce tenants into paying a higher price was far greater than in the richer districts, and that was another reason why compulsion was absolutely necessary. To use the money of the State to pay extravagant prices was a scandalous misuse of the credit of the State. With regard to migration, he knew the difficulties were very great, but they had been vastly increased by imperfections in machinery. They had arisen through the operations of unsympathetic inspectors, largely nominees of the landlords, whose distribution of land the Commissioners had often found it necessary to alter. If they had a proper set of inspectors the trouble would be got rid of. Then there were two rival boards, operating side by side on totally different principles in the western districts with the most disastrous results. The distribution of this land was a very delicate operation, and when they found two boards competing for popularity and dividing up the land on different principles in the same district the inhabitants would have to be archangels to avoid disturbances. The difficulties were very great, but they had been very much exacerbated by the causes to which he had just alluded and to others which he did not need to go into at the present moment. No doubt the difficulties were very great, but were the Government going to tell the people in the West that they were going to abandon them? It was impossible to go back. Whatever the difficulties, they must be faced; and if there were no other part of the Bill except that dealing with congestion he would support it with all his heart. He was not in the habit of expressing thanks to the British Treasury, but in the treatment of the Congested Districts Board under this Bill they had done a generous thing by granting them £250,000 to deal with those poor people, and if the money was properly expended it would do a vast amount of good. He could not help the conviction that a large part of the hostility manifested towards the Bill by hon. Members above the gangway was 362 due to the fact that they grudged them this £250,000, because they thought it ought to be devoted to enhancing the price of land. That, to his mind, was a generous part of the Bill, and he should have supported the Bill if there had been nothing else in it but the power of compulsion and what it did for the West of Ireland. The Congested Districts Board had been the object of fierce attacks that night, but whatever criticisms might be directed against that Board it was the creation of the Leader of the Opposition, who had watched it with all the affection of a father. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] Its work had been a blessed work, and he was grateful to every one who gave it a helping hand. They had heard it said that there was not enough grazing land to go round in the West of Ireland, but he knew of districts where by drainage and road making they could reclaim thousands of acres from the bog and marsh. He could show hon. Members an estate where, by a simple piece of drainage, 2,500 acres of good, rich land had been added to the area of the estate, which before that was absolutely valueless, and out of which economic holdings had been cut for hundreds of families. There were tens of thousands of holdings in the West of Ireland, which could be made perfectly economic at a small outlay. By drainage and road-making they could be reclaimed from bog and marsh and made fertile land. Whatever might be said against the Congested Districts Board, it had opened the road. With limited resources and in the teeth of extraordinary obstacles and obstruction it had done wonders among the people of the West, and had set on foot a work of improvement in their dwellings and on their land that he found it very hard to find language adequately to describe. Therefore, he was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and the Treasury for what they proposed to do for the congested districts, and was convinced that the Bill would be received with enthusiasm, thankfulness, and hope. Hon. Members above the gangway ought to reflect twice before they put themselves between the people in the West and the promise contained in the Bill. They had heard a great deal about conciliation. This Bill offered a very fair opportunity. If the landlords really wanted to be on 363 friendly terms with their own people let them meet them on this; and, if they must wait till the early days of next session, let them see whether they could not agree on the measure. He welcomed it, supported it with all his heart, and thanked the Government for having introduced it.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said that if there were any English or Scottish Members opposite who came into the House that afternoon under the idea that they were going to find in this Bill any contribution towards the settlement of the laud problem in Ireland, he very much regretted that they had not had the opportunity of listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Westmeath. That hon. Member—in a speech which he delivered in a very thin House, but speaking with the perfect candour and honesty that characterised his utterances at home, because he spoke in exactly the same style at home, on the roadside and hillside, as he did in the House of Commons—assured the House that the sole and only reason why he would support the propositions contained in the Bill was that they killed the operation of the Land Purchase Act of 1903. But the hon. Member did not stop there; he went on to say that the operations of that Act had accelerated the decay of the Irish nation, and that they were fraught with the greatest possible danger to the Nationalist cause; and he filially wound up by telling the Chief Secretary that he and his countrymen at home had a much more efficacious remedy for dealing with this question than anything that could be found in this miserable Bill. The hon. Member reminded the Chief Secretary that he could and would resort to a no-rent campaign; that there would be a strike against rent, and that the war-chest would be used for the same purposes as it was used in the days of old. The hon. Member also told the Chief Secretary that so far as this Bill made any pretence—and there was nothing more than a pretence—of assisting the problem of congestion, it was a pretence which was due to the policy of the hazel. He also clearly and candidly warned the 364 right hon. Gentleman that the idea which was in the mind of the Government when the Bill was brought in at this stage of the session, when absolutely there was no chance of its passing, the idea that the use of the hazel—meaning thereby cattle-driving—would be suspended during the winter months, was an entirely fallacious idea, and that the hazel would be in use during the coming months. Therefore, he would say that if any Member for an English or Scottish constituency had any notion that the sacrifices that might be involved on the British taxpayer were likely to have any adequate return in the way of bringing peace to Ireland, the frank observations of the hon. Member for Westmeath ought to have dispossessed them of that idea. He wondered what comfort had been brought to hon. Gentlemen opposite by another speech delivered from the same benches that afternoon. He referred to the speech of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. Now, if there was any man who had the right to speak on this question, either from the sacrifices he had made in person or in property, it was the hon. Member for the City of Cork; and that Member had told the House that the Bill was doomed: to be a failure, but for an entirely different; reason from that put forward by the hon. Member for Westmeath. The hon. Member for the City of Cork said that the Bill would be a failure because it tore up everything that was at the root of the Land Conference, and everything that was to be found in the land purchase legislation of 1903. He himself might say that as regarded the effect of the operations of the Bill, he preferred to adopt the view of the hon. Member for the City of Cork; and for this reason: that he thought, as an honest and impartial man who considered what the Bill proposed to do, that it would and must have the effect contemplated and prophesied by the hon. Member. What were the main features of the Land Conference settlement, and of the Land Purchase Act of 1903? They were very few, but they were very clear. The first was that the transfer of land from the landlord to the occupier was to be the result of agreement, and not of compulsion. That was the principle in 365 the very forefront of the Land Conference settlement, and on the face of every section of the Act of 1903. The next principle was that the landlord was to be secured in the enjoyment of his net income; that was to say, a deduction was to be made for collection and other expenses calculated at 10 per cent., while the tenant was to be secured in a reduction of 20 per cent. upon the second-term rent. Using somewhat technical language, he might say that under the ordinary Land Acts prevailing in Ireland, the tenant every fifteen years could get his rent revised. There had been already two of these statutory revisions. As the result of the first, there was a substantial reduction of rent all over Ireland; as the result of the second, there was a further reduction amounting to 20 per cent., so that, speaking broadly, on the average there had been since 1881 a reduction of 40 per cent. on the rents prior to 1881. Of course, that reduction could not go on for ever. [An HON. MEMBER on the IRISH benches: Why not?] That interjection was naturally the answer as to the course which legislation might take; but he was assuming that that process would not go on for ever, because both parties to the dispute thought that the limit had nearly been reached in 1903, and the tenants and their representatives thought that they were making an excellent bargain when they secured a purchase system under which they might become owners on a further reduction on the annuity of 20 per cent. in addition to the previous reduction of 40 per cent.
§ MR. FLAVIN
said that the Report of the Land Commission was that the tenants were to get their holdings on twenty years purchase.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said that that was a perfectly idle interjection. That was one of the means by which an attempt was made to wreck the proposals in the Bill of 1903, but it was laughed at. Surely, at this time of day, it was perfectly well known, even by the hon. Member for Kildare, if he were an honest man, that the Act of 1903 was accepted and welcomed on all sides as a splendid contribution towards the 366 solution of the problem of land purchase in Ireland. He was old enough to remember at least four great measures introduced into this House with the purpose that they were to be the final solution of the land question, but he could not recall any one of those four which had so much said about it on the point of final settlement as the Act of 1903. Passing from that, the Chief Secretary said the other day, he thought most unfairly, that the object of the bonus given by the Act of 1903 was to enable the landlords to get more than the fair value of their properly.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said the right hon. Gentleman did say it, and he had better read the right hon. Gentleman's exact words. From a long experience of the right hon. Gentleman he was quite satisfied that he forgot very often what he had said, and that he did not at the time appreciate the meaning of what he was saying. Speaking of the bonus, the right hon. Gentleman said—It was intended to supply a cash medium to bridge over the possible inability of the landlord, owing to the circumstances in which be found himself, to accept the fair value of the estate.He read that as meaning that the object of the bonus was to give a little something more than the value of the estate. Everybody knew that the object of the bonus was to give the landlord his net income, with the 10 per cent. reduction for the cost of collection, and at the same time to give the tenant a reduction of 20 per cent. on the second-term rent. It was inevitable, therefore, that a price must be fixed which must be supplemented by the State, because the price which the landlord would be willing to take or the tenant prepared to give could not be made up unless for that expedient. The promise was that the State should step in and bridge over the difference between what the tenant was prepared to offer and the landlord was prepared to accept. Another mode by which this arrangement was intended to be carried out was by the introduction of the system of zones. That was, in order to bring the parties to a price which would on the one hand give the purchasing tenant this 367 immediate and enormous reduction, and, on the other hand, secure to the landlord his former income less 10 per cent. of cost of collection, it was found necessary to do away, in cases which were within certain limits of bargaining and negotiation, with the expense, delay, and trouble involved in an investigation of security and matters of that sort. Accordingly the State and all the parties in this House made an arrangement under which the State said that so long as what was offered for sale were rents which had already been judicially determined by a proper Court, and so long as the purchase price was within the ratio which would secure a reduction of from 10 to 30 per cent. in one case or 20 to 40 in another, the State would allow that transaction to go through without investigation, because they were satisfied that they were amply secured. He was amazed that there should be any question about that, because he understood that the boast of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway had been that in the cases in which the tenants had had the benefit of those zones there had been no default on the part of the purchasing tenant. He agreed that was to their credit, but was it not also the strongest proof that the State had suffered no loss under the system? The Bill not only absolutely destroyed the zones, but it interfered with the bonus, and it destroyed the essence of the earlier settlement that these arrangements were to be the result of voluntary agreement and not of compulsion. To him that was all the more extraordinary because on the admission of the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Act of 1903 had worked so well. What had caused the difficulty had been the success of the Act of 1903, and yet this was to be the period selected for the purpose of introducing a new system of killing voluntary purchase. If the compulsory system was successful it must inevitably exaggerate and intensify the block. One would have thought that if the plan of the agreement carried out by the Act of 1903 had been so successful that the Estates Commissioners' offices had become congested with proposals of landlords and tenants who were rushing in to get their sales completed, it was the last possible time at which to attempt to interfere and introduce a system 368 of compulsion against that of voluntary agreement. But that was not the view of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. What did the Bill propose to do with regard to the zones? There had been a marked difference of opinion among hon. Members on the benches below the gangway as to the meaning and effect of the provision of the Bill dealing with zones. The hon. and learned Member for Water-ford said it was to be discretionary with the Estates Commissioners, and he was certain they would only resort to it in exceptional cases. The hon. Member for Westmeath said the zones were a thievish device, and unless the Estates Commissioners threw them aside and ransacked every case the no-rent campaign would again be raised in Ireland, and all the troubles of olden days would be repeated. All he could say, with full knowledge of the action of the Commissioners from the hour they were appointed, was that these provisions would not be a dead letter in their hands. From the hour that they were appointed they had resented this limitation of their powers, and they sought to investigate the security in every case. In 1903 the hon. Member for Waterford told them that the great merit of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover was that the Estates Commissioners would be merely administrative officers and were to have no judicial functions. From the hour that that Bill passed into law the struggle on the part of those gentlemen had been to acquire for themselves those judicial duties and responsibilities which were never contemplated or intended. If there was one thing more remarkable than anything else with regard to the action of the Estates Commissioners it was the efforts which they had made to throw over these zones, and to arrogate to themselves the right to investigate the security even in the zone cases. He did not want to elaborate that further. Everybody from Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman himself, knew that what he said was correct and true. Further than this, they were very ingenious, and in order to give themselves a jurisdiction which the Act deliberately prevented them from having, they invented the provisional declaration, although the statute allowed for the 369 making one declaration only. Pending the making of the final declaration, they proceeded to investigate the security in all cases absolutely in the teeth of the sections of the Act. What the Chief Secretary's statement, that in their discretion the Estates Commissioners might disregard the zones, amounted to was that in every case within the zones there would in the future be the same delay and trouble and procrastination as had taken place in the case of non-judicial holdings. In that connection he would quote a remarkable statement made by the Chief Secretary on the First Reading of the Bill. He said a great deal could be done by quickening the inspection of estates, and lessening points of law, and points of title, and by enabling the three Commissioners to work separately rather than together. But how had he lessened the inspection of estates? Why, by introducing this provision giving the Estates Commissioners power to dispense with the zones. By doing so the Chief Secretary had trebled the work of the Estates Commissioners and their staff, and the delay that would inevitably take place in the investigation of these cases. With regard to the bonus, the right hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with revising the percentage; he proposed to recast the whole business on an entirely new scale. The right hon Gentleman proposed a system of graduation by which he was putting the largest possible inducement in the way of the landlord to insist upon getting the very last penny out of his tenant. If a landlord took seventeen years purchase for rent of £100, he got a graduated bonus of 14 per cent., which meant a total of something like £1,945. But, if he insisted upon twenty-five years purchase, it was true he only got 3 per cent. of bonus, but he got £2,500 to start with, so that his object and interest must be to screw the purchasing tenant up to the highest possible number of years purchase.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said the present system was not that with which the hon. Member for Mayo agreed. 370 The hon. Member for Mayo tried to wreck the Bill of 1903, and he had been honest and consistent throughout. But from those who supported it, including the hon. Member for Waterford, the criticisms were strictly limited to the amount of purchase money and the number of years purchase, and those who supported it agreed that it carried out what its promoters and those who took part in the conference contemplated throughout. What was the excuse for the legislative vandalism of this Bill? There had been a block, not from the failure, but from the success of the Act; and there had been a loss on the flotation of stock to provide the purchase money. In what way did the Chief Secretary propose to relieve either difficulty? If he had found in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman an honest or even a plausible attempt to deal with these two difficulties, he would have supported it, but he challenged any hon. Member to show that he had made such an attempt. As regarded the loss on the flotation of stock, it was perfectly ludicrous to say that the Treasury was conferring a favour upon Irish ratepayers, for the Development Grant, which was especially earmarked as the guarantee for any such loss and which then, subject to two prior charges upon it, amounted to £160,000, had since been diverted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to a number of other purposes, so that it had been reduced to £100,000. Compulsory sale was one of the main features of the Bill, but the Chief Secretary, in introducing the measure, dealt so casually with this revolutionary principle that the House was left under the impression that compulsion would only be used when a boundary question was in dispute. The Bill gave absolute power to the Estates Commissioners, in any part of Ireland, to go to a landlord and compel him to sell to his tenants. All that the tenants of any estate had to do was to send in a ridiculous, unreal, hypocritical proposal to their landlord, and, no matter how sham that proposal was, it gave jurisdiction to the Estates Commissioners to compel the landlord to sell. Another provision in the Act of 1903 was that in cases outside the zones the Commissioners were to sanction 371 the matter, unless they considered it was inequitable. But the Bill not merely proposed to enable the Commissioners to inquire into the equity of the transactions but it actually gave them power to tear up and go behind every former adjudication of every Land Commission, and examine afresh into the question whether the landlord or the tenant owned the improvements on the holding.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
knew the exact opposite. He wanted the Chief Secretary to explain to the House in what single particular the Bill facilitated the despatch of business in connection with ordinary land purchase. The right hon. Gentleman had told them more than once that his main object was to facilitate land purchase and shorten delays, to lessen investigation and diminish inspection, but he gave the Estates Commissioners, for the first time, power to resurrect all past transactions, and start fresh inquiries to ascertain whether the landlord or the tenant owned the improvements, and whether the landlord got too much or the tenant too little. The right hon. Gentleman's case was that the block had arisen in part owing to the expense and delay of inspection and investigation under the Act of 1903, and that he was anxious to curtail that inspection and investigation. Yet the right hon. Gentleman conferred, for the first time since 1903, a new power on the Estates Commissioners, and gave them a roving commission all over Ireland to reopen every case that had ever been heard by the Land Commission, and to investigate every case in which a fair rent order existed. That would accentuate congestion, and make confusion worse confounded. So much for these provisions to deal with ordinary land purchase. He wanted to know again, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman to state in the House, in what single particular he had facilitated the despatch of business in connection with ordinary land transference. But there was another section of such a remarkable character that he would like to say a word about it, more particularly as the Attorney-General for 372 Ireland had, as he understood, completely misrepresented its effect and its scope. Under the provisions of this Bill the Government proposed, for the first time, to deprive the landlord in Ireland of his ordinary power of resuming his holding in the event of the tenant refusing to pay rent. It was proposed to be done in a very circuitous but very ingenious way. Under Section 13 it was provided that on and after the passing of the Act no advance was to be made to a landlord in respect of the purchase of any holding if the tenancy was created after 1st January of the present year. What would be the result of that? Supposing the policy of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West meath were carried out, and when he returned he again raised the flag of no-rent campaign. What was the landlord to do if he evicted the tenant who declined to pay his rent? That holding for all future time was to have a black mark against it, and the landlord would never be able to sell it under the Land Purchase Acts. The result would be that in future the dishonest tenant or the tenant who had joined in a plan of campaign or any other illegal operation would only have to sit tight and pay nothing. The landlord could not eject him, because if he did he could not get a new tenant to take the holding, as a new tenant would not be allowed to buy under the Purchase Acts. The result of Section 13 was unjustly and arbitrarily to deprive the landlord of that which was recognised all over the Empire as his elementary right, the right to recover the holding if the rent was not paid. He passed away from these matters to others which were supposed to deal with the ordinary land purchase, and he confessed that had the Bill been confined to these proposals he would have been utterly at a loss to understand why it was ever introduced. But a more careful consideration of its other provisions led him to the conclusion that it was introduced for a much more serious and sinister purpose. It was introduced in pursuance of a policy which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had consistently pursued from the day he took office as Chief Secretary for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman took office in the month of January 1907, and simultaneously the cruel and 373 cowardly campaign of cattle-driving broke out. It lasted till the month of November, 1907, without a word of complaint of any sort or kind falling from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman. Not only did the right hon. Gentleman not complain of it, but almost his first official act in Ireland was to let loose a body of men who had been caught red-handed in the crime, and who, when called upon to give sureties for the peace, defied the magistrates, and were sent to prison for three months in default. Almost the first official act of the right hon. Gentleman was to set those men free after fourteen days incarceration. The campaign continued up till November, 1907, and during that long period the right hon. Gentleman never uttered one word of condemnation of it. Some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, notably a distinguished Member of the Government in another place, and the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture gibed and sneered at it. But speaking for the first time in Ireland on a public platform in November, 1907, the Chief Secretary used language of which he did not believe the right hon. Gentleman realised the gravity. He did not believe the right hon. Gentleman had any conception of the sort of audience which he addressed, but he told that audience that he was in thorough sympathy with the strong desire of the Irish people for the land. [Cheers.] He did not hear any cheers from the Ministerial side of the House. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] He was very much obliged for those cheers; he did not hear them before. The right hon. Gentleman went on to tell his audience that if the Irish people would only pursue their demand with the same courage and energy that had been recently displayed, His Majesty's Government would give them anything and everything they wanted. [Cries of "Quote."] Did the right hon. Gentleman say he did not use that language?
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said he could only say that the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in the very terms he had mentioned, was published in every Dublin 374 newspaper and in the Loudon Times, and he would undertake to give the exact paragraph. But, be that as it might, this much the right hon. Gentleman could not deny: that while this cattle-driving campaign was going on from January till November, 1907, he never uttered one public word of reprobation, but, on the contrary, during all that time he allowed the organisers of the United Irish League and many Members sitting below the gangway to go throughout the length and breadth of Ireland inciting and encouraging to this crime. The right hon. Gentleman had said that his language on the occasion mentioned was not exactly what he (Mr. Campbell) had said it was. He had quoted it perfectly fairly and accurately, but the best test of that was the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westmeath, who, a fortnight later, made a speech on the roadside in the county of Meath, in which he said that the Chief Secretary's speech was a direct encouragement and incitement to cattle-driving. The hon. Gentleman said that he knew and he had it of his own personal knowledge that there were certain members of the present Government who were in active sympathy with cattle-driving, and he further said that if the right hon. Gentleman had the courage of his speech he would at once proceed to legislate for the benefit of the cattle-drivers. He (Mr. Campbell) might also inform the House of what was no secret to the right hon. Gentleman, that from the date of the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman opposite up to the present day men who had been caught red-handed in cattle - driving, proclaimed on the roadside and in the court house that they had the right hon. Gentleman behind them. Towards the end of December, 1907, the right hon. Gentleman in another public speech said that he was glad to say that the incident of cattle-driving was now closed, and, encouraged by that assurance, the present Prime Minister and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs came forward on public platforms and said that cattle-driving was immoral and illegal and that the Government were determined to put it down. They thought that was a safe assertion after the Chief Secretary for Ireland had told them the incident 375 was closed. But what had taken place? Was the incident closed? Why, in the year 1907 there were only 380 cases altogether, while during this year, after the incident was stated by the right hon. Gentleman to be closed, there had been over 500 cases of cattle-driving. Was it any wonder then that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Longford, when he read the provisions of this Bill, informed the special correspondent of the Irish Independent newspaper that his opinion of the Bill in a very few words was "splendid—a complete vindication of cattle-driving." And the hon. Member for Westmeath to-night had told the House that while the Bill was only a sham and a humbug anything that was in it was the result of the cattle-driving agitation. Therefore, he thought he was entitled to say that the Bill was never honestly intended to do any good to ordinary and legitimate land purchase in Ireland, but was really the result of a cowardly surrender to the cattle-drivers. Let him say a word in conclusion, and hon. Members opposite, who seemed to be so impatient, should remember that they were disposing in one day of the Second Reading of a Bill which, for good or evil, must have a tremendous influence and effect upon his fellow-countrymen, and might also, to a large extent, involve the credit of the Imperial taxpayer. Let him say a word or two in conclusion with regard to the provision that was supposed to deal with the evil of congestion. No man, at least no Irishman—and he was sure hon. Members below the gangway would admit he was an Irishman—who knew anything of the true state of affairs in the West of Ireland could fail to desire a remedy for that state of things. But there was a great deal of exaggeration with regard to congestion there. He could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that the position was by no means so bad, or anything like so bad, as was to be found in the slums of many large cities and towns in England and Scotland. What was the position? Why, in these congested districts in the West of Ireland there were men possessing a house and a holding of anything from five to ten acres of land, and for which house and land they paid from 2s. to 2s. 6d. a week. [Cries of "Oh!"] They 376 might take it from him it was so, because the fair rent of this congested land, including the house, throughout the West of Ireland was something under 5s. an acre, and the tenant for whom they had been exhausting all their sympathy got for a rent of 2s. or 3s. not only a house but also a holding of from five to ten acres of land. Those tenants lived under conditions of far greater comfort, far greater, cleanliness, far greater freedom than did the labourers and workmen in the slums and congested districts in the cities, but at the same time it would be very desirable if their conditions could be improved. What he complained of was, that if the Bill were carried out to its logical conclusion, as was proposed to be done, and they put the whole land of the West of Ireland through the mill of compulsion, the result would be that they would stereotype the whole of Ireland with holdings of not more than 30 acres of land, insufficient to support any man with decency and comfort and enable him, at the same time, to send his family out into the world as they ought to be sent. They would do that under conditions which, thirty years hence, when the present occupiers and their families had come to manhood, would involve a fresh return and a fresh distribution. There was one matter in connection with the project for the relief of congestion to which the State ought to pay very special attention. The hon. Member for East Mayo had suggested that there was nothing in the proposals of the present Government which were not to be found in the Act of 1903. He would like to know from the hon. Gentleman whether he found in the Act of 1903 anything relating to the extraordinary development by which power was given to the Congested Districts Board to introduce for the first time on to untenanted land men who, up to that date, had never had an acre of land or one hour's experience of a farmer's life. That was absolutely new, and he saw no end to the amount of liability that might ultimately be imposed upon the British taxpayer; because if that principle was to get abroad, if they began to take over the whole of the untenanted land in Ireland, not for the improvement of holdings, not for the 377 benefit of existing tenants, but for the purpose of taking the men and boys out of the towns and villages and transplanting them from city or town life to rural life, then all he could say was, they were opening the floodgates to a volume of possible liability in connection with the Imperial Exchequer that might ultimately become a very serious burden indeed. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had been very badly advised indeed by those who induced him to represent that the problem of ordinary land purchase in Ireland would involve a sum of £180,000,000. The right hon. Member for Dover had referred to it, and he intended to deal with it very briefly. They were told that the calculations which produced that figure would be laid upon the Table of the House, and they were now available for the first time. How did the House imagine that figure had been arrived at? It had been arrived at in the first place by taking the whole agricultural area of Ireland, and that included the bog of Arran, every mountain in Ireland, every residence and every plot of ground occupied by public buildings outside a town or a village, and every labourer's plot on the farms that were bought up under the old Irish Church and Deeds Acts. All those things had to be brought in in order to make up that ridiculous total of £180,000,000. He appealed confidently in that matter to the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture. Did he suggest that that was a reliable figure? Did he not know that it was far nearer the mark that in any view the total amount that would fall upon the British taxpayer of all the capital that ever would be required in respect of land purchase was, at the outside, £120,000,000? He could find nothing in the Bill that was calculated in any way to relieve the present congestion in the Estates Commissioners' office; he could find nothing that in any way carried out the bargain to which the honour of the House of Commons and of the people of England was pledged, the bargain on the faith of which £53,000,000 was waited for by persons who had entered into agreements. He could find nothing in the Bill which advanced their position by one hour. 378 So long as he found that the block, the delay, was to be exaggerated and intensified under this Bill he, for one, would be no party to accepting or supporting a proposal not honestly meant to remove that block or to assist the honest landlord or honest tenant who had made their bargains on the faith of the existing law, or to get rid of the difficulties in the way of the tenants who were waiting to buy. All these clauses in the Bill were intended merely as scaffolding for the purpose of introducing the relief, the promise of which had been wrung, from the right hon. Gentleman by the cruel and illegal campaign that was going on. To prove that that was so, he would bring in the aid of the distinct and clear testimony of the hon. Member for Westmeath and the course of conduct pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for the last twelve months in Ireland. So long as he found that that was the only purpose to be served by the Bill so long would he continue to offer it his most uncompromising opposition.
§ * MR. BIRRELL
The hon. Member for Westmeath has, once or twice in his life, stood in need of professional assistance, and he has had it to-night of the very best kind Ireland can produce, and he has had it for nothing. I hope he is very much the better for it. I am very much surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it worth his while on an occasion of this sort, at this somewhat late hour, to devote so much time to my very unworthy administration in Ireland, or to endeavour in some way or another to connect this Bill with my laxity in the administration of the law in regard to cattle. My withers are unwrung in the matter, for I entirely fail to see any connection between these subjects. A great portion of the early part, at any rate, of the animated speech to which we have just listened, was devoted to a very severe attack upon the clause of the Bill which deals with the zones. It is one of the misfortunes of Irish administration that no Government, not even a Conservative Government, can select anybody in Ireland, or any three men in Ireland, for an important public service, but he or they 379 will be abused by Irishmen in a manner which I think would be excessive were they fraudulent directors of a bubble company. All I can say is that it complicates very much the work of administration when a right hon. Gentle man occupying the position that he does in this House, should think it worth his while again and again to make personal attacks on public servants in the position of the Estates Commissioners. After all, they were his own choice, not mine. I think it most unworthy of him. The hon. Member for Westmeath complained that the zones were not abolished and one of his gravest charges against this Bill was that these iniquitous zones were left exactly where they were. Neither the hon. Member for Westmeath nor the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly accurate in this matter. The zones are not abolished. The right hon. Gentleman will be very much surprised—so violent is his animosity that I daresay he will not believe me—when I make the statement that when the Estates Commissioners were asked, as I did ask them, whether or not the zones should be abolished, they with one accord said that they had no desire that the zones should be abolished. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman believes me—
§ * MR. BIRRELL
I am glad to know the right hon. Gentleman believes me sometimes. But he does not believe the Estates Commissioners at any time; that is the state of mind to which partizan-ship has reduced him. These three Estates Commissioners are not in favour of abolishing the zones and for a very good reason. They agree with me that it is undesirable in the present state of affairs to add anything to the burden of the work of the Land Commissioners. I think the zones were, from a Treasury point of view, a most extraordinarily dangerous experiment, but as they have been in existence so long, and as I am most desirous not to add to the work of the Department, I have left them alone. When the right hon. Gentleman says he believes that Clause 11 is tantamount to the abolition of the zones I ask him to bear in mind one of his own regulations 380 made when he was one of the Law Officers of the Crown in 1905, which gave to the Estates Commissioners in every case in which application is made to them power to inquire "whether any intimidation has been exercised, directly or indirectly, in reference to or in connection with such application, or the subject-matter thereof or the estate or land affected thereby." and thereupon to postpone such application.
§ * MR. BIRRELL
It may be a reason why the right hon. Gentleman has such animosity that the Commissioners did not pay quite as much attention to the Regulation as he thought it was worth. At all events it shows that the right hon. Gentleman was himself well aware that there are, I do not say many, but a quite sufficient number of cases in which it is of the utmost importance that there should be resident in the hands of these three gentlemen the power, not of interfering whenever they choose, but whenever they have reason to believe that the sale is inequitable, unfair, or dangerous to the State. That is all Clause 11 does, and to say that the introduction of such a clause is tantamount to the abolition of the zones in every case is only an instance of the state of mind to which I have already, perhaps more than sufficiently, alluded. We have had a great many speeches in this debate to almost all of which I have listened, and some of which I am glad to say were mutually destructive of one another. But one point I own, as I listened to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover and of the hon. Member for Cork, filled me with amazement. They seemed to bring an accusation against this Government that we—finding land purchase working admirably, going on quietly at the rate of £5,000,000 a year, which was all that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover was ever in a position to promise, that we, finding it working quite satisfactorily to landlords, tenants, and ratepayers, were not content to leave things alone—quieta non mocere—but, like mischievous boys, thrust an iron rod into this calm, 381 well-considered machine of land purchase and brought it to an abrupt and sudden conclusion. And that we have done this of our own motion, taking on ourselves the serious responsibility of introducing a measure of this kind. But the Chief Secretary for Ireland, however incompetent he may be, has at all events some means of knowing what Irish opinion is on this subject, and all I can say is that this quiet state of mind on the part of landlords, tenants, and ratepayers is novel to me. What were the landlords of Cork doing long before the Bill was introduced? They were bringing accusations against the British Treasury, charging them with being like a fraudulent South American republic and repudiating their undertakings. As for the idea that the ratepayers were perfectly calm and quiet the hon. Member for Cork who suggested that evidently does not live in County Kildare. There it was not a question of the Irish Development Grant, because under the Act of 1903 there are incidental expenses which fall immediately upon the ratepayer, and the Irish Development Grant is not in the position of a makeweight. Owing to the large scale on which land-purchase had operated in Kildare the ratepayers were called upon to make certain payments by virtue of the bargain embodied in the Act of 1903. I do not know whether this interfered with their slumbers—I happily do not share their pillows—but I know they took proceedings at law in the matter and there was a petition of right against the Crown in order to ascertain whether or not these charges were legally imposed upon them. I am at all events assured that the ratepayers of Ireland, so far from taking things quietly, were in a state of great alarm and trepidation pending the approach of the time when they would have to fulfil their part of the bargain and meet the losses on flotation of stock. I must own I heard with something like horror the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover that this bargain was never for one moment contemplated as a real one and it was never supposed when it was introduced into the Bill that the guarantee fund, these grants which the Treasury hand over every year—because mind you it is not a question of getting money out of the pockets of the rate-payers, but it is in the power of the 382 Treasury to stop these grants from the public authority, thus adding to the rates—it was, I say, very surprising to me to hear that that part of the Bill was all "flam," that there was no reality in it at all. I do not think that that was explained to gentlemen from England or Scotland. Some criticism, I know, was made at the time of the proposal. It was suggested that it was not a very valuable security, because it was a very difficult one to realise, but hon. Members on the benches opposite defended it as a very substantial part of the bargain. Now we are told quite casually that there never was anything in it and there was no occasion for the ratepayers of Ireland to fall into anxiety on the subject, because though everybody knew perfectly well that it was absolutely a vital part of the Act of Parliament it was one that gave no protection at all to the Treasury. We are now calmly assured that when the late Government brought forward the matter they never intended it and it was merely a humorous joke which everybody in Ireland disregarded. That was not the view of the Irish ratepayers, and that was why in the speech I made when I introduced the Bill, to which I will not now refer, I dwelt necessarily upon the size of the problem and showed what a serious responsibility this was upon the ratepayers of Ireland. All I can say is that unless this Bill, or some Bill, passes the heavy responsibility upon the Irish ratepayers will still remain. I do not know by what means Gentlemen opposite propose to dispense with the Act of Parliament and propose not to put the bargain into operation because those on whom the burden falls do not like it, but I say that this Bill or some Bill is absolutely necessary in order to relieve the Irish ratepayers from the burden. We have heard to-night something of the generosity of the British taxpayer. My hon. friend the Member for Preston made one of those clear, lucid, speeches of his to which I always listen with great interest. I always feel that if I was in a room, with the hon. Member and an air-pump had exhausted all the air from the room I should cordially agree with him with my last breath. I cannot resist that atmosphere, but I think to apply the arguments he used to Ireland 383 is a little bit to overlook the essential part of the problem. It reminds me of the Cambridge problem which we used to have forty years ago, and which had something to do with an elephant. It used to begin: "Let us assume that an elephant has no weight." That was an assumption I never found myself able to make. An elephant has weight. Ireland has weight, and anybody who has any concern with Ireland will know that to apply the cool and logical reasoning of the hon. Member for Preston to the state of Ireland is practically impossible. I, for my part, cordially recognise the obligation on the part of this Imperial Parliament. If it wishes to do its duty by Ireland, to redeem past errors which have undoubtedly driven Ireland into agricultural work as almost its sole industry, we are bound to do something. At the same time I do not quarrel with the hon. Member for Preston, or any other hon. Member who, after we have had five years experience of this Act of 1903, does stop to ask, what does it mean, what does it come to, and what are the existing liabilities under it, supposing no alteration is made in our legislation. I will not go over the figures which I gave before, but I will just ask you to see what the bonus of £12,000,000 meant. That was a limit. The £100,000,000 was an estimate, but the £12,000,000 was a limit, and without an Act of Parliament the Irish landlords cannot have one penny more. They must come to this House for the permission, granted out of generosity or from a sense of justice, of the Imperial Parliament to give them something over and above that £12,000,000. As regards that yum if you take the average price of the issue of stock, 885/16, which is very considerably more than the price at which it stands to-day you will find that the excess stock you have to issue in order to get £12,000,000 cash amounts to £12,000,000. Therefore, in order to find a cash bonus of £12,000,000 the Exchequer becomes liable to pay £13,600,000. We have in our sliding scale, if the Bill becomes law, added something to the bonus. It is indefinite, it may be impossible precisely to calculate, but I feel certain that, including the excess stock, to put the estimate at any- 384 thing less than £3,000,000 would be to under-estimate it. That makes a total cost to the Exchequer for the bonus of £16,600,000, instead of £12,000,000, which was laid down by the Act of 1903 as the limit. The burden which was assumed by the Act of 1903 has therefore been enormously increased. The House must bear in mind that the £12,000,000 which goes by way of bonus is procured by the issue of stock, the interest and sinking fund on which is paid every year by way of Vote and it takes sixty-eight years before you get rid of it. Then, not only is there the bonus, but the Treasury also undertakes losses on flotation in respect of pending agreements, and this as I showed when introducing the Bill amounts to a gigantic figure. With regard to my calculation that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover had, as a matter of fact, under-estimated the extent of the problem, I may say that he estimated it at £100,000,000, whereas I said that I was convinced £180,000,000 would be nearer the truth. The right hon. Gentleman complained that he had not had the White Paper as long as he would have liked. That is not my fault, because no day has passed without my pressing for the production of the document. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not had it in his possession for a sufficient time to enable him to give it full study. I am certain that when he does come to study it he will find that, if he has partially succeeded in making out that £180,000,000 is rather a high estimate, he will have to agree that his own estimate of £100,000,000 was very much below the mark. At the present date the total amount of completed and pending transactions is £80,000,000, and therefore, according to him, there would be only £20,000,000 left. Everybody who knows anything about the state of things in Ireland must see that you cannot get all the land in Ireland that is likely to come wit in the Act for anything like £20,000,000, and therefore, obviously, an estimate of £100,000,000 was entirely insufficient. We may safely assume that a great deal more than £100,000,000 will be required. I am sure that it will be more than £160,000,000 and my own belief is that £180,000,000 385 will be found an under-estimate rather than an over-estimate of the extent of the problem. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover spoke as if the Act never contemplated anything except the sale of agricultural holdings to the existing tenants. But the working of the Act of 1903 has knocked the bottom out of that calculation, because town plots and large grass farms have been freely sold and advances have been made upon them, and even houses in towns and villages when they formed part of an estate which was being sold. The town of Boyle, with 2,400 people, has been sold as part of the King-Harman estate, and the town of Athenry, with 1,000 people, as part of the Lambert Minors estate and the Duke of Leinster's estate which was sold consisted largely of grass land. I think it is probable that when the right hon. Gentleman contemplated his Bill he did not propose allowing large advances to be made. The first print of the Bill indeed indicates that he did net. It is quite possible that in making his calculation he excluded from his purview any large farms, but as a matter of fact under the Act as it eventually became law advances were allowed up to £7,000, and it has been calculated by experts that at least £40,000,000 must be calculated for holdings exceeding £3,000 in price. If you had confined your Act to £3,000 holdings, you would have been able very much to restrict its operations, but the moment you go up to £7,000 it becomes impossible to say what agricultural land can safely be excluded from the operations of this Bill. Bog lands are at a low valuation. Their price is not great. All our calculations are based on valuation, and there is a low price corresponding to the low valua- 386 tion and a high price to the high. I think it would be found exceedingly difficult, having regard to the conditions in the Act of 1903, safely to rely upon the exclusion of very much of the agricultural land. Demesnes and home farms can be sold by the owners and bought back. I do not think there was a more beneficent provision in the Act. I think it a most excellent provision that a large landowner, having sold all the occupied land he has to his tenants, should have the opportunity of buying back his ancestral home, surrounded by the plantations which he and his forefathers had made, and it may be the home farm with it. And the landlords are allowed the further extraordinary privilege of selling for cash and buying back by paying in driblets. A more tempting proposal could hardly be made to an Irish landlord, it seems to me, than that he should sell his tenanted land on the beneficent terms of the Act of 1903, and also, at the same time, have the liberty of buying back his demesne and home farm upon the same Act's generous terms. But since that provision is in the Act it brings in all the demesnes and all the home farms in Ireland, as possible subject-matter for bargain and sale under these Acts. I am, therefore, satisfied that my figures were accurate for the purpose of my calculations. I desire to adhere to them, and to reaffirm all the figures I gave in the speech I made when I introduced this measure as showing the extent of the pressure. Now what are we doing? The Runciman Committee thought it would never do for the Exchequer to take upon itself the responsibility of paying for all this excess stock. But the Government have disregarded their advice and have assumed the whole 387 burden in respect of all the pending agreements. It was a very cool thing, if I may be allowed the expression, for a certain gentleman from Ireland to say: "Thank you for nothing," because everybody knew, he suggested, that was never really a substantial part of the bargain, and everybody knew it was all humbug from the beginning. That is not the right way to look upon this solemn obligation which is now to be taken over by the Treasury once and for all. With regard to the bonus I am prepared to maintain that a graduated bonus is far fairer than a bonus which is larger the greater the amount of money a man has been able to get for his estate. I am quite prepared to argue that point, but I should keep the House all night were I to go into such a matter, and I will not. Temptation though it is, I will resist it. Passing away from that, I say we have, by this Bill, assumed this obligation. It is quite true, as I stated, being desirous that there should be no mistake about it, that it was not the present intention of the Treasury, in the state of the money market, to issue a greater amount of stock in any one year than will produce £5,000,000 cash. I adhere to that. But that is not part of the Bill. Other Governments which succeed us, if they choose, may try what experiment they like with the money market. They will have the benefit of the advice of the hon. B[...]r[...]net the Member for the City of London and I do not know whether he will advise them to plunge largely into these transactions. On the subject of congestion I have been most cruelly disappointed in the way this part of the measure has been received. I had thought everybody in this House adhered to what I will call the tradi- 388 tional view of all the best people in Ireland for the last thirty or forty years that this problem of congestion, on which the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me seemed almost to cast a sneer, was a grave problem concerning 500,000 of people living in such conditions of poverty that every three or four years great sums have had to be expended on their relief. If ever there was a subject which appealed to the heart and consciences of the people I should have thought it was our obligation towards that population in the west. All I would point out is this, that if you assume that obligation there is only one way by which you can carry it out, and that is by increasing their holdings. You must make their holdings economic, so that the people may live and thrive, and you must teach them agriculture, or else you must leave them to perish by the laws of political economy or to be emigrated. If they are to remain in Ireland their holdings must be increased, and they can only be increased by dividing among them the untenanted land. We are not, I may point out, taking away the land of anybody who has acquired a holding under the Land Purchase Act. The only untenanted land you can give is the land now used for cattle-grazing. If that will injure the cattle trade—I do not believe it will—it must, or you must leave this problem alone. That is a proposition which will not be denied. There is no use pretending to be sympathetic if you will not take the only step. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot keep these great cattle ranches which are said to be beneficial to the cattle trade of Ireland and at the same time make economic holdings. You have to choose between the two. I adhere to 389 every word I have said in regard to this matter. The question about compulsory sale I need hardly go into now. Compulsory sale I may point out was involved in the Act of 1903. It was only a question of how long it could be postponed. Everybody must agree that if you were going to give the Irish people the benefit of British credit for the purpose of making them freeholders of the soil, the time would come when you would have disposed of all agreements that could be arranged under voluntary agreement. But you cannot stop there. You cannot have the man on one side of the hedge who has agreed with his landlord and the man on the other whose landlord will not agree with him. The time of compulsion had obviously got to come and the Member for Dover admitted it, I am sure. The only thing was that he thought he could go along—and he was quite justified—for a good long time without having to fall back upon it. Having regard to the state of things in the West of Ireland, the one part of Ireland that most needs the operation of these land purchase schemes, we are convinced that the time has now come to employ compulsion in certain cases The noble Lord who spoke of that, who has not before, I think, spoken in our debates and whom I was very glad to listen to, was very anxious to know what price the landlords would get. He seemed to think they would get less than was their due. If they ever do, it will be the first time in their history. It will not be denied that under the voluntary system the landlords have received full measure, and I never heard of a landlord any where whose land was compulsorily taken from him faring worse than one whose land was got from him voluntarily. I hope the 390 landlords will not fare badly under compulsion, and I see no reason why they should. Of course every Court you suggest in Ireland will be at once accused and criticised in a barbaric and almost a savage manner, but it ought not to be beyond the wit of man to devise a Court which will fix the price of land as fairly as in England, Scotland, or any other part of the world. That you will fix it to the satisfaction of all parties is a dream. There is no such thing as the absolute in connection with the value of land. It has only the value people assume for it or attribute to it. But to say you cannot have compulsory purchase in Ireland is contrary to all reasonable belief. You have it under various Acts already, and to say you cannot do it now is putting too great a strain on the credulity of business men. I therefore maintain that we were bound to bring in this Bill. We are told, and these are my last words, that it will do nothing to relieve the block. There is a great block and nobody, so far as I have heard, has suggested any mode of settling it by a stroke of the pen. No one has brought any great scheme whereby £60,000,000 or £70,000,000 could be obtained at once. Nobody has told me how, if I got this amount, I could pass it through the Land Commission Court. There has not been any real criticism of my "two imperatives," as I called them, the capacity of the market to swallow the stock and of the Land Commission to get business done. As to that there has been no criticism at all. We are told we could get the money by short bills. We have taken power to issue short bills. Someone said that was a mere incidental business. It is no more incidental than any other part of the measure. The Treasury is empowered to arrange, by means of 391 short bills if it can do that. We have invested the Treasury with the amplest powers we could give them, to get this money as quickly as possible. I am doing my best and I shall continue to do my best to increase the output of the Land Commission. I am already at work upon it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Campbell), I can see by the expression on his face thinks it will be of no use. Everything connected with that Court is worthless in his eyes. But it is the only Court I have got and I am dealing with men he and his Government appointed and with a Judge in whom everybody in Ireland has confidence.
§ * MR. BIRRELL
I am glad to know there is one honest man in the Land Commission. Our object, as I say, is to increase the Land Commissioners' output. We offer stock at 92. There has been little criticism upon that. I should certainly have thought there would have been more criticism upon that point. We are quite ready to consider it in a business spirit. Our desire is to get rid of this block as quickly as we can. Do you think I take any pleasure in this block? I would dissipate it all to-morrow if possible. We are doing our best. We offer the landlords stock at a particular price. That stock would cost the Treasury a good deal of money. Taking it at 92 means that we shall have to issue more than £8 excess stock for every £100 cash. Surely that ought not to be thrown back in our faces. Our contribution of £8 15s. upon every £100 which is disposed of by taking stock at 92 should count for something on 392 transactions which will amount to between £80,000,000 and £90,000,000 sterling, less the amount for which the Ireland Development Grant provides the loss. We shall try to get rid of the block as quickly as we can, and shall avail ourselves of every opportunity in the market. But we cannot destroy British credit; that has got to be maintained by every Government who is responsible for the business of the nation. We therefore cannot go rushing into the market with wild-goose proposals which might have the effect of reducing Consols and every Government security down to a point which one does not like to contemplate. We have to preserve a business attitude in these things. We have done that, and at the same time have shown in the most striking manner our desire to prevent land purchase from breaking down. It is not breaking down, and it is only because the block is so great that attention has been called to this matter. I am sorry for the landlords and the tenants, and I would desire that the whole thing should be done as quickly as possible, but I defy anyone in his senses to propose anything to get rid of the block more rapidly than we have been doing. However much this measure may be criticised it will be found well worthy of the consideration of this House and of all persons deeply interested in the welfare of Ireland, and His Majesty's Ministers have no reason whatever for forsaking or neglecting this Bill. If we are fortunate enough to get the Second Reading to-night we shall certainly next session proceed with the Bill as rapidly as we possibly can. I cannot give positive pledges. It is not my business to give positive pledges, but I think by this time Ireland knows I do my best in these 393 matters. At the earliest possible moment next session we shall proceed to the Committee stage, where the Bill will receive, I cannot help thinking, after there has been time to consider it, some more friendly reception than it has got to-night.
§ But whatever that reception may be we shall pursue it to the best of our ability.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 233; Noes, 62. (Division List No. 436.)395
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Dobson, Thomas W.||Kincaid-Smith, Captain|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Donelan, Captain A.||King, Alfred John (Knutsford)|
|Agnew, George William||Duckworth, Sir James||Lamont, Norman|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Duffy, William J.||Lardner, James Carrige Rushe|
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.)|
|Ambrose, Robert||Dunne, Major E. Martin (Walsall||Lea, Hugh Cecil (St. Pancras, E.|
|Armitage, R.||Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Esslemont, George Birnie||Lehmann, R. C.|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Everett, R. Lacey||Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Farrell, James Patrick||Lewis, John Herbert|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Fenwick, Charles||Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David|
|Beale, W. P.||Ferens, T. R.||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Beck, A. Cecil||Ffrench, Peter||Lundon, W.|
|Benn, W. (T'w'r Hamlets, S. Geo.||Field, William||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)|
|Bennett, E. N.||Findlay, Alexander||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.|
|Berridge, T. H. D.||Flavin, Michael Joseph||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Flynn, James Christopher||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)|
|Boland, John||Fuller, John Michael F.||MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal, E.)|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Gibb, James (Harrow)||M' Callum, John M.|
|Brace, William||Gill, A. H.||M' Crae, Sir George|
|Bramsdon, T. A.||Ginnell, L.||M' Hugh, Patrick A.|
|Branch, James||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John||M' Kean, John|
|Brigg, John||Glendinning, R. G.||Mansfield, H. Rendall (Lincoln)|
|Brooke, Stopford||Glover, Thomas||Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston)|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs, Leigh)||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||Meagher, Michael|
|Brunner, Rt. Hn. Sir J. T. (Cheshire||Gooch, George Peabody (Bath)||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)||Meehan, Patrick A. (Queen's Co.)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Gurdon, Rt. Hn. Sir W. Brampton||Micklem, Nathaniel|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||Middlebrook, William|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Halpin, J.||Mond, A.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hn. Sydney Charles||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Mooney, J. J.|
|Byles, William Pollard||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)||Morrell, Philip|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Morse, L. L.|
|Causton, Rt. Hn. Richard Knight||Harwood, George||Muldoon, John|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Murnaghan, George|
|Chance, Frederick William||Hayden, John Patrick||Murphy, John (Kerry, East)|
|Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Hazel, Dr. A. E.||Murray, Capt. Hn. A. C. (Kincard.)|
|Cleland, J. W.||Hazelton, Richard||Nannetti, Joseph P.|
|Clough, William||Hemmerde, Edward George||Nicholls, George|
|Clynes, J. R.||Higham, John Sharp||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncast'r|
|Cobbold, Felix Thornley||Hobart, Sir Robert||Nolan, Joseph|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Hogan, Michael||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Collins, Sir Wm. J. (S. Pancras, W.||Holt, Richard Durning||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard|
|Compton-Rickett, Sir J.||Hooper, A. G.||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Horniman, Emslie John||Nuttall, Harry|
|Cooper, G. J.||Hutton, Alfred Eddison||O' Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid|
|Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinst'd||Illingworth, Percy H.||O' Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Jardine, Sir J.||O' Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Crean, Eugene||Jenkins, J.||O' Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Crooks, William||Johnson, John (Gateshead)||O' Doherty, Philip|
|Crosfield, A. H.||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||O' Donnell, C. J. (Walworth)|
|Crossley, William J.||Joyce, Michael||O' Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.||Kavanagh, Walter M.||O' Dowd, John|
|Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Kearley, Sir Hudson E.||O' Grady, J.|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.||Kennedy, Vincent Paul||O' Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.|
|Delany, William||Kettle, Thomas Michael||O' Malley, William|
|Dillon, John.||Kilbride, Denis||O' Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|O'Shee, James John||Rowlands, J.||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Parker, James (Halifax)||Russell, Rt. Hon. T. W.||Verney, F. W.|
|Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)||Walton, Joseph|
|Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||Seddon, J.||Waring, Walter|
|Pollard, Dr.||Seely, Colonel||Watt, Henry A.|
|Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Shackleton, David James||Whitbread, Howard|
|Power, Patrick Joseph||Shaw, Rt. Hon. T. (Hawick B.)||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Price, C. E. (Edinb'gh, Central)||Sheehy, David||White, J. Dundas (Dumbart'nsh|
|Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Silcock, Thomas Ball||White, Sir Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Radford, G. H.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. John||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Rainy, A. Rolland||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Reddy, M.||Soares, Ernest J.||Wiles, Thomas|
|Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Spicer, Sir Albert||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Redmond, William (Clare)||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N. W.)||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Rendall, Athelstan||Stanley, Hn. A. Lyulph (Chesh.)||Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough)|
|Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhonghton)|
|Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradf'rd||Summerbell, T.||Wood, T. M'Kinnon|
|Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Robson, Sir William Snowdon||Taylor, John W. (Durham)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Joseph Pease and Master of Elibank.|
|Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Roche, John (Galway, East)||Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)|
|Rogers, F. E. Newman||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Faber, George Denison (York)||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh|
|Balcarres, Lord||Fell, Arthur||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (City Lond.)||Forster, Henry William||Meysey-Thompson, E. C.|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West)||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Gordon, J.||Morrison-Bell, Captain|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Nield, Herbert|
|Butcher, Samuel Henry||Gretton, John||Percy, Earl|
|Campbell, Rt. Hon. J. H. M.||Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Guinness, W. E. (Bury S. Edm.||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashford||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Harris, Frederick Leverton||Renton, Leslie|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||Ronaldshay, Earl of|
|Cecil, Lord John P. Joicey-||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.)||Hunt, Rowland||Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury)|
|Clive, Percy Archer||Kerry, Earl of||Thompson, W. Mitchell- (Lanark|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Keswick, William||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Courthope, G. Loyd||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Law, Andrew Bonar (Dulwich)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Craig, Capt. James (Down, E)||Lockwood, Rt. Hn. Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir Alexander Acland-Hood and Viscount Valentia.|
|Cross, Alexander||Lowe, Sir Francis William|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
Bill read a second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for this day.—(Mr. Birrell.)