§ Order for second reading read.
The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND
(Mr. Birrell), in moving "that this Bill be now read a second time," said: I made a very long speech, I think, last November on the introduction of the Land Bill, and there is no occasion to repeat it. Parliamentary memories are naturally short; and as the Irish land question never stands still, even for a week, I think that I shall be only doing right in bringing my former speech a little up to date and emphasising the position of affairs on this most momentous question. The crisis by this time as everybody is aware is that of gigantic agrarian revolution. Whatever may be its drawbacks here and there, it has done nothing but good to that country. What is known as landlordism has been in the market for many years—going, going, gone; and it is some satisfaction to those of us who are lovers of law and order that although there are no purchasers of land in the open market save tenants and the sons of tenants, the landlords are, by the happy use of Imperial credit, able to obtain a number of years purchase for land in very considerable excess of that which their brethren in England would be able to obtain. I will ask the House to bear with me, and, for the purpose of seeing how much has been done, to follow the figures which I shall now give. Previous to the Act of 1903 the sum of £24,000,000 had been advanced for land purchase, and 2½ millions of acres of land 189 had been disposed of under the operations of the various Land Acts. There were brave men before Agamemnon, and there were land purchase Acts before that of 1903.
On 1st March, 1909, there has been actually advanced—I give the figures in round numbers— £28,000,000, and there are pending agreements amounting to £56,000,000, making a total of £84,000,000 advanced, or agreed to be advanced, under the operation of this Act, and the total acreage of the land sold, or agreed to be sold, is 7,271,000 acres, leaving nine millions of acres of agricultural land still unsold. So we are pretty accurate when we say that we are in the very middle of a great agrarian revolution. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover is prevented from being in his place to-day. He calculated, in 1903, that £100,000,000 would see the problem through. The sum of £84,000,000 has been actually advanced, or agreed to be advanced, and that would leave only £16,000,000 to be dealt with.
I have no interest whatever in exaggerating the size of the problem or endeavouring to increase its magnitude. The smaller the problem the better pleased I should be. Anybody who knows Ireland knows that £16,000,000 will not see us through, and I am sorry to say, having given this subject very close attention, that I am obliged to adhere to my estimate of a few months ago, and to say that the sum required will not be £100,000,000, but £183,000,000. I gave reasons for that conclusion on 8th December in my second reading speech. I will not trouble the House with repeating it. Hon. Members can find it in the proper Parliamentary quarter, but I must adhere to that conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman's conclusion was wrong, because he left out of account all holdings over £3,000 in value. That was his original intention. But the Act allowed up to £7,000, and therefore it is calculated that £40,000,000, the value of holdings, must be added, while they would have been excluded if the original intention of the right hon. Gentleman had been adhered to.
It has been said that my original estimate of land is wrong because there is a great deal of bog and mountain land left in Ireland. That is perfectly true. My calculation was not based on acreage but on value. The Bog of Allen has been spoken of as affecting the problem, but the valuation of this huge track is only 3d. an acre. In my calculation, although the 190 bog of Allen is calculated, the price would be something less than £20,000, and it need not alter or disturb our calculation. The valuation of agricultural land in Ireland was made over 50 years ago; and it cannot be altered. Although the bog of Allen may not have appreciated in value, there is a good deal of land, particularly in Ulster, which was valued at a few pence an acre, and its rental value is now something between 10s. and 15s. an acre. The purchase price is based upon the rental, and you must bear in mind the estimate we have made of this is upon some ancient valuation, and therefore if my estimate is likely to be in error I am afraid it would be on the score of being rather under the mark. Therefore, as stated in the White Paper which has been issued to the House for some time past, the figure stands at £183,000,000, and as up to March £84,000,000 were disposed of the balance still to be dealt with is £99,000,000. And here I ask hon. Members to bear in mind, when talking of demesne lands and home farms as not being within the purview of the Act, that they are within the purview of the Act. They are not within the purview of the Act for the purposes of the bonus, but they have been sold over and over again, I think, most properly, to the landlords. That is an arrangement which meets with my approval entirely. The landlord buys back under the operations of the Act just as if he were a tenant, and the purchase money is provided for him under the Act just in the same way as for the tenant. It is not true to say you must exclude demesne lands and home farms; they fall within the Act except for the purposes of the bonus. I shall pass rapidly on, and now I ask what the present position of matters is, because I have sometimes been spoken of as if I had thrust upon an impatient and overtaxed House of Commons a Land Bill of my own. No one would accuse any Chief Secretary of wishing to introduce a Land Bill if he could possibly avoid it, and I am not at all a person who takes any pleasure in seeing his name associated with a Bill. I have had quite enough of that, and I have done the utmost I possibly could to avoid introducing this measure. But supposing it is not introduced, I ask hon. Members to consider what the situation is in the absence of any Bill. If no person was foolish enough or heroic enough to bring forward a measure I want Irishmen of all parties to say what the situation is.
191 You all heard of the bonus. I am not going to define it. It is a metaphysical problem entirely beyond me to define what the bonus is. But it was £12,000,000 of money; it was the only free gift in the matter. Englishmen are far too fond of talking as if they provided the money to pay the landlords. Nothing of the kind, except in the case of those persons who were wise enough to buy Irish guaranteed stock. The money was not obtained from the tax-payers but from the pocket of the investor—he had the use of Imperial credit, not British credit—who has been found, on certain terms, ready to advance the money, and really Englishmen must not take to themselves the airs they are so often fond of taking, as though they advanced the money which slowly finds its way into the pockets of the landlords, and also secures to the tenant what he very greatly desires, indeed, the right to be rid of a flesh-and-blood landlord, the right to pay an annuity 15 or 20 per cent, less than his former rent, and the hope that in the course of some years he, or those who come after him, will be the owners of the soil. Therefore Englishmen must not take any credit for that; but the bonus is yours. It is a free gift advanced by the Exchequer on the same terms as the rest by Guaranteed Stock, payable with the Sinking Fund and the like at the expiration of 68½ years. That £12,000,000 was the only free gift contemplated by the Act of 1903. It was based upon the calculation that £100,000,000 would see the thing through, and it was 12 per cent, upon £100,000,000, and it went into the pocket of the tenant-for-life. Anyone who knows anything about tenants-for-life knows how easily they are affected by anything that goes into their pockets straight, and free from the conditions and trusts of those settlements which are so annoying to all subjected to them. Therefore, you have this £12,000,000 free gift based upon £100.000,000 calculation. The draftsman of the Act, knowing how uncertain all these calculations are, inserted a clause in the Act whereby after five years the Treasury could without coming to Parliament at all reconsider the situation. They would know—on the 1st of last November—after the experience of years of the working of the Act, they would be in a position to know how far the bonus had gone round, and how little or how much would be left to go round. Therefore on 1st November we had to consider how much of this bonus had actually gone 192 round, and how much was left, and amongst how many landlords in the future it could be distributed. It was perfectly plain that it would not go round at the rate of 12 per cent. And accordingly the Treasury issued its warrant which appeared in the "Gazette" on 24th November, and they cut down this bonus from 12 per cent, to 3 per cent. In so doing the Treasury acted wisely and cautiously, and I really do not think anything else could be done unless we can get more, as I hope the House will give more. Under the terms of this Bill an amount is proposed which should give us no more than enough to go round. We do not want half the landlords with 12 per cent, bonus, and the other half with nothing or only 1 or 2 per cent.—and we had to cut it down to 3 per cent. Therefore at the present moment, in the absence of any Bill or Act altering the law. 3 per cent, must remain the rate of bonus for the next 5 years.
I have so often explained the heavy loss, the terribly heavy loss, that has arisen in consequence of the state of the money market—the cost of stock—that I do not think now I need explain it further. Everybody understands it. It was never found' possible from the very inception to issue stock except at a very considerable discount, and as one of the great features of this Act of 1903—in which respect it differed materially from some of its more prudent predecessors—was that the landlords were to be paid not in stock according to its face value, in which case the loss should be borne by them, but in cash, and consequently for every £100 we have paid the landlord we have had to issue stock for £113¼, and therefore the Treasury had to pay, or, at all events, somebody other than the tenant had to pay, for 68½ years, interest at the guaranteed rate upon this excess stock. The average price of the £33,000,000 of stock issued was hitherto £88 5–16; that is to say, to purchase £100 of cash it was necessary to issue £113¼ of stock. The £13¼ is the excess, and the tenant purchaser only pays £100, and the question pressed itself upon the minds of the framers of the Act of 1903: Who was to pay for the excess stock? In those days there existed, and happily there still exists, a Parliamentary Fund, called the Ireland Development Grant. I will not go into the matter lengthily, but it was a corresponding sum which was to be paid to Ireland every year out of the funds of the Imperial Exchequer as against the other sums which England, 193 Scotland, and Wales receive. That sum was £185,000 a year. There were two statutory obligations put upon it permanently, £20,000 for the Congested Districts Board and £5,000 a year for Trinity College, Dublin. These were statutory obligations overriding—
[Royal Assent.—Message to attend the Lords Commissioners. The House went, and, having returned, Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Act and another Act.]
I was just remarking that under the Act of 1903, the Ireland Development Grant, which is for our purposes £160,000 a year, meets the loss on the excess stock as far as it goes. After that source is exhausted the Act of Parliament provided that the cost of excess stock should come out of the Local Taxation Grant, which goes to Ireland in relief of local rates. In other words, after this Ireland Development Grant is exhausted the loss will fall directly on the Irish ratepayers. I am now dealing with the law as it stands. Now, the Ireland Development Grant Estimate before the House shows that the charge for excess stock in the coming financial year will be £138,000. That is as far as we have got at present. This therefore leaves £22,000 between the Irish ratepayer and the enormous growing charge upon excess stock. In fact, the raising of another £5,000,000 in cash would fully absorb this balance of £22,000 a year. If the law remains as it stands, and land purchase goes steadily on towards completion, then it has to be considered what the annual charge on the Irish rates will eventually be. Now, last autumn my calculations were based upon the supposition that Two-and-Three-quarter per Cent. Stock would continue to be issued at 88 5–16ths. Having regard to the state of the market since that day, I am afraid that a higher issue price than 85 cannot safely be reckoned upon. I do not know why it should be so. I am tired of extolling this stock. There is no better in the world; but the more I extol it the lower it falls, and so I think I, at all events, had better leave it alone. I should be rash if I reckoned upon its remaining at a higher figure than 85. But I do not ask the House to assume that it will always remain so low. I have every reason to believe that as time goes on, and as the Sinking Fund operates, stock will rise in price but, at all events; for the next decade I do not think we shall be safe in assuming that it will be much higher, if at all, than 85. Now, the charge for excess 194 stock coming on is £138,000. That sum is in respect of advances made on purchases amounting to £28,000,000. On the basis of the present Estimate we have £56,000,000 pending agreements and £99,000,000 of future agreements, amounting in all to £155,000,000 of purchase money. If the stock to provide this amount of cash was raised at the average of 85, the excess stock would be £27,000,000, an annual charge of £877,000 for 68½ years, based on the calculation that the average price of stock for a long time to come will be 85. I am taking it at the lowest possible estimate to show the possibilities of the situation. It might, of course, fall lower than 85. At all events at that figure, as the law stands £877,000 for 68½ years will fall on the ratepayers of Ireland. You have to add to that the £138,000 already incurred, and you get a total of over £1,000,000 eventual charge for excess stock. The poor little Ireland Development Grant cannot be increased; it always remains at £160,000 a year. Therefore, there is a balance of £855,000 a year eventually falling upon the Irish ratepayer as the law now stands. It is admitted that whatever the intentions of the authors of the Act may have been that it would be most unreasonable—that it would be impossible—to expect the Irish ratepayer to bear this loss. You have only to state it in the way I have stated it, to see that land purchase would finally and completely break down unless the law is altered. The present position, therefore, is that under the law as it stands at this moment, the landlord gets 3 per cent, on future transactions—i.e., on transactions entered into after 24th November last, when the Treasury made a scrutiny. He gets 3 per cent, bonus in future and the Irish ratepayer has to face the prospect of providing £855,000 a year—of course, a growing obligation up to that total—for excess stock. That is why I stand here introducing a land Bill.
To come to the proposals of the Bill. Instead of the existing bonus of 3 per cent, all round, a bonus according to a scale shown in the schedule is provided and graduated inversely according to the price paid for the land. The lesser the price, the higher the bonus. Everybody will agree that in many cases a bonus of 12 per cent, becomes a most unnecessary burden to be imposed on the Exchequer. Therefore, though it is eminently desirable that the Imperial Exchequer should assist in the great agrarian revolution in Ireland, and in bringing about a satisfactory solution yet nobody will say that for a well-managed estate like 195 that of the Duke of Leinster's the Duke should get £80,000 into his breeches pocket for selling at market value an excellent estate upon which there has never been any particular amount of trouble. At all events, that is the principle on which we propose to graduate the bonus. It is difficult to say how much money that will involve. It certainly will involve £3,000,000 over and above the original £12,000,000, and I daresay it will be more before we are done—certainly not less—to work out the bonus on future purchases in Ireland. So much for the bonus. Now for excess stock. The Exchequer takes over, in respect of existing and pending agreements, the full burden of excess, after the Ireland Development Grant has been exhausted, as it will be by the time another £5,000,000 cash has been raised for the purposes of the Act. I will just indicate other obligations that the Exchequer takes over under this Bill. Under clause 6 it takes over this excess stock. It relieves the ratepayer of the charge. Under clause 7 the dividend bonus is to be treated as the expense of the issue of the stock. Therefore, the bonus dividend becomes now a Treasury obligation, and no longer falls upon the Irish ratepayer or the Ireland Development Grant. The advance dividend is made payable by the tenant once, and once only. Under clause 8 the tenant is to pay one month's interest in advance, when he pays the first instalment of his purchase annuity, in order to cover a broken period. Now I ask the House to consider what the burden really is that the Exchequer takes upon itself in connection with land purchase finance. I will not go into the question as to whether £12,000,000 was, in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, made a limit or not. In a speech of 25th March, 1903, he expressly declared that it was the limit, and he also held out the hope, quite sincerely, that large savings would be effected in Irish expenditure, a forecast which, unhappily, has not been realised. The excess stock on these £12,000,000 will amount to about £2,000,000, namely, in respect of the £3,000,000 already raised at an average price of 88 5–16ths, about £400,000, and in respect of the £9,000,000, which will be raised at a possible price of 85, £1,600,000. So that £2,000,000 it has cost us to give the £12,000,000. Therefore, the £12,000,000 which was to be a free gift, which was expressed to be the limit, will be—by the time it is fully spent—a cost on the Ex- 196 chequer of £14,000,000, in addition to the sum provided for by this Bill of £3,000,000 at the very least. Consequently, the total cost to the Exchequer in respect of the bonus, instead of being £12,000,000, is £17,000,000. That is how things work out. Then there is the excess stock on pending agreements, which will cost the Exchequer £279,000 a year for 68| years. This represents a capital expenditure of £8,500,000. So we find the burden upon the Exchequer in respect of the bonus to be £17,000,000 instead of £12,000,000, and in respect to excess stock, a capital sum of 8 £ millions. Then there is the new income of the Congested Districts Board of £160,000, which is provided expressly for the purpose of assisting land purchase. Capitalised at 3 per cent, it would amount to £5,000,000, making the total burden upon the Exchequer something like £30,000,000 instead of the original estimate of a free gift limited to £12,000,000. This takes no account whatever of the enormous expenditure of the Estates Commissioners, and their great army of inspectors, or of these other small matters, the bonus dividend and the expenses of issue, which are being taken over by the Exchequer, or of the irrecoverable expenses of improving congested estates in non-congested districts, which will also be borne by the Exchequer, which certainly, whatever it amounts to, will not be an unconsidered trifle. These are what the Treasury proposes to do under the operation of this Bill. All I can say is that I have tried my best, and I hope I have succeeded, in keeping my temper, and it is not, after all, a very difficult thing to do if you set your mind to it. This treatment which I am now explaining to the House will remain a record treatment which the Treasury proposes to bestow upon land purchase, not only gratifying and confirming all the obligations of the Act of 1903, but multiplying them, adding to them, turning the £12,000,000 into £l7,000,000, and so on. You cannot get rid of these figures, smile as you may, and to do as some hon. Gentlemen have done, speak of the Treasury as if it were a defaulting South American Republic, as if it were not only refusing to perform its part of the contract, but refusing to come to the assistance of Irish land purchase, is language which it is exceedingly hard to hear, and language which I do not think any person likely to be responsible for future government or likely to have any control over the Treasury will care to repeat in the course of this debate. The obligations of the country are largely 197 increasing, partly by circumstances over which we have no control, partly by the increase of the population, partly by the high standard of living and the high ideals we are now entertaining; and I do not think any person likely to be responsible for the Exchequer of the country will speak lightly of the obligations which the Treasury has expressed its willingness to assume.
§ Mr. H. T. BARRIE
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how the £12,000,000 of bonus costs the Treasury £17,000,000?
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I said the £12,000,000 would cost £2,000,000 excess stock—that is £14,000,000—and we are adding at least £3,000,000 under the schedule. All sections of Irish opinion are unanimous in declaring that this heavy loss of excess stock should not fall upon the Irish ratepayer.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover said in the debate on the introduction of the Bill last Session that it was the intention of the authors of the Act that the loss due to notation should not fall on the Irish landlord, tenant, or ratepayer. That is rather a subtle kind of intention because the Act provides expressly and most carefully that this very particular loss, which they must have contemplated happening, because their very first issue of stock was at a heavy discount, is to be thrown upon the Irish ratepayer, and it provides the most elaborate safeguards to secure that the losses on excess stock should be met from purely Irish sources. The whole Guarantee Fund is made liable, and it was enlarged by the Act apparently for the express purpose of making it sufficiently large to be a complete security for this obligation. For the purpose of the liability in question the Act placed in the forefront of the Guarantee Fund the Ireland Development Grant of £160,000 a year, the Death Duty Grant, the Agricultural Grant of over £700,000 a year, which was then brought in for the first time, and other local taxation grants, the whole providing a fund liable to meet losses on excess stock amounting at that time to over 2½ million pounds a year. The capitalised security thus afforded amounted, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, to £152,000,000. Seeing that the outside limit of the estimated advances for land purchase was, according to his calculation, £100,000,000, this gives a balance of over £50.000,000 by way of security for this obligation for excess stock.
I quite agree that at the time the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Bill he 198 never supposed that the Ireland Development Grant would not be big enough to meet this particular loss. Once during the debate he expressed his opinion that the Ireland Development Grant would be ample to meet the charges in respect of excess stock. Again in Committee on 1st July, 1903, the right hon. Gentleman said, speaking of this very loss, that it would be found the charge would not fall as a heavy burden on £185,000 a year. It would have been more gracious if he had said £160,000 a year, because £25,000 a year is a first charge, and he never had more than £160,000 to play with for this purpose. However, I find that a little after the Act came into operation, early in January, 1905, he placed on record that the whole of the Ireland Development Grant would be required in the course of not many years to meet losses due to flotation of stock. With longer experience of the state of the market, which was always a falling market, he very soon learnt by experience £160,000 would, every penny of it, be required, and perhaps something else would be required Now we are face to face with the fact that we have only £22,000 between us and the Irish ratepayers. Another issue of £5,000,000 of cash will bring us to an end of the Ireland Development Grant.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
May I ask whether the Minutes which the Chief Secretary of the day addressed to the Treasury in 1903 are now in existence?
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I am not in a position to answer that question. What is it that we propose to do? The House will find in the Bill certain proposals that we make whereby, in respect of pending agreements, the landlords have the option given them of taking their purchase money in stock at 92, or taking it partly in cash and partly in stock. That has been thought to be a pretty strong order, but in 1905, when the block, which is very much upon our minds at the present moment—a great hardship to all concerned, both landlord and tenant—was barely one-third of its present amount, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin brought before the House a proposal for legislation enabling vendors to take stock in lieu of cash, and when he spoke of introducing a measure he said:—I had to ask myself in the circumstances whether was possible to find any other expedient which would temporarily at all events tend to lessen our difficulty. I have examined many suggestions which have been made to me but I have been driven to the conclusion, and I may say I have come to this conclusion after a long consultation, not only with my own advisers, but with the 199 Chancellor of the Exchequer and the experts at his command, that the only way in which we can experimentally it may be attempt to relieve the block is by making an alteration in the Act of 1903. In the Act of 1903 it is made obligatory that all payments in respect of estates should be in cash. If we altered that so as to make it compulsory upon owners to take anything else except cash it would be a breach of the provisions of Parliament and ought not to be undertaken. But there is a middle course which the Government suggest, and it. is that the Act of 1903 should be amended so that the compulsion of taking cash should be altered to this extent, that while the Act remains as it is there should be amending words introduced in a single clause Bill to enable the vendors, if they so wish, and only if they so wish, to take a portion of the purchase money in stock. What I propose is that two-thirds of the purchase money should be the maximum to be taken in stock and one-third in cash, the bonus in cash and the stock sit its face value.That was a pretty strong proposal. It did not meet with any acceptance, and nothing more was heard of it. If you compare it with the proposals contained in the present Bill, what do you find? On 20th July, 1905, Irish Land Stock stood at 92½. To-day its market price is 86, and under both proposals it was optional with the vendor to take stock in lieu of cash. Under the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, on every £100 purchase money taken in stock at its nominal value the landlord would have lost £7 10s. on the market price of the day, and neither the Guarantee Fund nor the Exchequer would have lost a single penny. Under the proposal of the present Bill for every £100 of purchase money for which stock is taken at 92 the landlord will only lose £6 10s. even with the present depressed state of the market; while, on the other hand, so long as the price is 92 or less the Exchequer will lose over £8. That is to say, in cases in which the vendor agrees to take stock in lieu of cash the Exchequer undertakes to bear more than half the loss occasioned by the depreciation of the market.
Let me just take a very simple case to illustrate what I mean. Suppose the purchase money is £200, and the vendor agrees, under the proposals of the Bill, to take half in cash and half in stock, he gets the first £100 in cash, of course, and the second in Two and Three-quarter per Cent. Stock to the amount of £108 7s. For £92 purchase money he gets £100 stock, and for the remaining £8 he gets £8 7s., a total of £108 7s., which he gets in stock. Realising this at the price of the day he gets £93 10s. in cash, or for his entire purchase money of £200 he gets £193 10s in cash, and all I can say is that these are by far the best proposals anyone so far has ever been able or felt himself justified in making. I have felt it right to put this 200 financial part of the case most clearly before the House, because I want both sides to understand that these are proposals which involve very heavy losses upon the Treasury—in my judgment heavier losses than anyone coming after us is likely to make. I advise all parties concerned to consider the possibilities of the situation. Unless the law is to be altered an intolerable state of things will arise in Ireland owing to the ratepayers having to play a part in land purchase, which it is agreed it was never intended they should, notwithstanding the very provisions of the Act of Parliament, and, bearing these things in mind, the people of Ireland will do well not to speak of a Treasury which is assuming these obligations as if it were shirking its obligations and trying to get out of obligations which its predecessors imposed upon them. We are doing nothing of the kind. We are increasing our obligations, and are doing far more than was ever contemplated we should do. I agree that we are right to do it, and if more concessions could be extracted either from this Government or any other Government I would be the last person to offer any opposition, but when we are told we are doing nothing it is rather more than flesh and blood can bear.
Passing away from the consideration of the financial provisions, a great deal was said by me about the acceleration of the work of the Estates Commissioners. When introducing last year's Bill I expressed the hope that it would be possible, by revising the rules of the Estates Commissioners and otherwise, to increase the output of the office, because, as I then pointed out as clearly as I could, there are two categorical imperatives that no Government can interfere with. One is the state of the money market, the price of money, and the other is the capacity for output. Even if money were cheap you cannot do at once all this difficult work in connection with the transfer of land in a country where the rights of parties are in the condition in which they are in Ireland. Certainly, as a conveyancer of 25 years' standing, I never saw anything in Lincoln's Inn to equal one or two of the Irish titles I have had the curiosity to examine since. You cannot hope to get rid of the difficulty of the output of work, but a great deal has been done, and I am happy to say that the changes and improvements which I have already been able to effect without legislation are of a satisfactory character. The rules and instructions as to inspection 201 and the preparation of reports have been modified so as to prevent the time of the inspectors being taken up with the most unnecessary inquiries and reports I ever saw in the whole course of my existence. At the same time, I hope I am right in saying, as I believe, that there has been no interference whatsoever with the efficiency of the Estates Commissioners' work. The work of the inspection department has been reorganised and co-ordinated. Two chief inspectors have been appointed who act as supervisors, and who have a very intimate knowledge of the outdoor as well as the indoor work, which enables them to secure what was most necessary—uniformity in inspection of estates and the practice generally. The work of the indoor staff has been hampered by inadequacy of office accommodation. New buildings are now being supplied which, with the existing buildings, will obviate this, and tend to increase still further the output of work.
The changes have been in operation for only a few months, but the effect, I am able to assure the House, has already been manifest. The advances made for the year now ending exceed in amount the advances for any previous year by over a million. For the year 1904–05 the advances were 4J millions. For 1905–06 they were a little over five millions. For 1906–07 they were £5,100,000. For 1907–08 they fell to £4,721,000. For 1908–09 they are £6,148,000. Last year's increase has taken place mainly in the last six months, while the improvements have been in partial operation. The advances during this six months amounted to £3,189,000, as compared with £2,174,000 for the corresponding six months of last year. The increase has been particularly notable in the last three months. If we include an estate of a quarter of a million which is ready for advance so far as the Estates Commissioners are concerned, but on which payment has been postponed until next month owing to a matter affecting title, the rate of advances this year has already reached nearly eight millions. That is most satisfactory, I place something like 10 millions as being my notion of the outside that we ever hope to do in a year. I do not believe that you can do more than 10 millions in a year. It might be possible to do more than 10 million, but we have got up to eight; and I have every reason to hope that with the alterations carried out and the other altera- 202 tions requiring legislation which are found in the Bill, if carried out, we shall be able very soon, indeed almost at once, to do nine or 10 millions, or even more if anybody can make it more. I have referred to these improvements as I gave some sort of a promise to the House that I would devote my mind and thoughts to the subject of improvements in the office; and though great improvements are still possible, yet in my opinion great improvements nave already been effected.
I come now to changes in the new Bill, which I shall deal with only very briefly. The Bill has been circulated now for some time. It is essentially the same Bill as that introduced before, the chief alterations being in the financial clauses. The 24th of November was a crucial date for Irish landlords, as it was the date when the old bonus stopped. There were a great number of pending cases where there was no contract or agreement of which specific performance could be obtained in any court, but where nevertheless all negotiations had been carried on on the basis of the 12 per cent, bonus, and also on the old rate of stock, between landlord and tenants. A great many hard cases of that sort were brought to my notice. The Treasury have now taken those over. That is to say, wherever there have been negotiations, even though the agreement was not concluded, where the calculations have been made, where everything practically has been done except the final bargain struck, we are taking these over. The total purchase money embodied in cases of that kind is £2,193,000, and the bonus at 12 per cent, amounts to £263,000. All these things involved a great deal of negotiation with the Treasury, anxious no doubt to prevent themselves from being drawn into obligations of an uncertain amount, and I am glad to say that we may hope that up to the 24th of November nobody will be treated harder simply because the parties were not in a position to say at that date that a bargain had been struck. That has been done in the case of sales to Land Commission and to the Congested Districts Board. There are very often cases where the landlord had began on the direct plan of negotiating with his tenants, and then for public reasons it is thought better to sell to the Estates Commissioners or the Congested Districts Board. In those cases we have taken over the financial obligations, and the bonus will be paid at the old rate of 12 203 per cent. The Bill of 1908 provided that the new rate of annuity should operate from the 1st of November, 1908. The present Bill fixes the date for the 1st of March. That date, I daresay, may be a movable date. I do not wish to stand closely by it, but, of course, it is very desirable that too much use should not be made of this and the date therefore has been brought forward from the 1st of November, 1908, to the 1st of March, 1909. Then there are the provisions with regard to re-sale which are of a technical character, with which I need not trouble the House. Part 2 of the Bill relating to land purchase contains several new clauses. Those do not affect the general principles laid down in the former Bill, and I will not now deal with them.
With regard to the Congested Districts Board, under clause 41 there are now two paid members to be appointed instead of one. The Dudley Commission recommended three. On consideration I came to the conclusion that one was not enough, but I think that two will be sufficient. There are also some alterations in clause 43 with regard to the administrative committee of the Congested Districts Board and there is also a new clause with regard to granting of pensions and gratuities to officers of the Congested Districts Board out of their own funds. With regard to the next question, that of compulsory purchase, there is no alteration in the Bill. With regard to the land law portion of the measure, clause 61 extends the right to have fair rents fixed to tenants or the representatives of tenants in respect of holdings from which they were evicted since the 1st of January, 1879; and the Bill of 1908 fixed the date at 1887. Under the Act of 1903 provision was made for the restoration of tenants evicted within 25 years before the passing of the Act. In the case of tenants evicted since 1878 we desire to make a clean sweep of a vexed question. It does not involve any very large addition to the number of these persons to have the date fixed as mentioned from which they would have the right to have rents fixed. Another point on which I would be willing to speak had I time is with regard to the relief of congestion and also the importance of dealing with the subject, but I have trespassed too much already on the attention of the House. After all, my main object is not to repeat the two speeches which I have already made on 204 the Bill, which is largely identical with this, but to refresh the minds and the memory of the House and of the country as to the present state of the question, the importance of which I would be the last person to try to minimise.
§ Mr. JAMES H. CAMPBELL
No one, I think, is entitled to make the least complaint against the right hon. Gentleman for the fact that in his review of the Bill it has been almost inevitable that he should omit discussion or consideration of very many sections of this Bill which we consider to be almost as vital in their importance and in their future effect on the operations of land purchase as the financial clauses to which he has devoted most of his attention. But at the outset, in rising to define the Motion which stands in my name, I should like to define accurately the position taken up not only by myself but by my Unionist colleagues from Ireland, who are unanimous in their opposition to this Bill. We do not claim, any of us, and we have no right to claim, and we never have claimed, to speak on behalf of the landlords of Ireland. There is not a single Irish Unionist Member to-day in this House who holds his seat there by virtue of the votes or the influence of the landlords of Ireland. It is very material that the House should recollect that, because the objections we take to this Bill are in the first place that, so far from relieving the congestion which is the main source of complaint to-day, that it certainly will not relieve it, and it possibly may accentuate it. But while it does not relieve congestion it at the same time contains a number of new and revolutionary principles which inevitably, at least in the opinion of my colleagues and myself, will completely paralyse land purchase in Ireland.
The House will be aware that in the year 1903 a great measure of land purchase, known as the Land Act of 1903, was carried to a successful conclusion through this and the other House, and became part of the law of the land; and many of us will recollect well, and can still recall speeches that were made from all parts of this House on the third reading of that Bill, and the congratulations that were showered on my colleague the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, and the prophecies indulged in of the results that were to follow, and of the peace and prosperity that were to visit Ireland. As a result of this great message of peace these prognostications have to a very great ex- 205 tent been fulfilled. The true thing about this new Bill is this, that what has rendered its introduction necessary at all has been the extraordinary success of that Act of 1903, and the eagerness and the ability with which landlords and tenants both have sought to avail themselves of its provisions. I can conceive no more cruel act on the part of any responsible Government than in face of the successful operation of the provisions of this Act they should now, for reasons and for influences which I hope I shall later on be able to develop and make clear, reveal these proposals which will inevitably wreck and paralyse all operations in connection with land purchase for the future in Ireland. Now what has been the course of this Land Purchase Act of 1903? I do not think any hon. Member in this House, certainly I do not think any hon. Gentleman below the Gangway will contradict me when I say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, now the Member for Dover, made it perfectly plain, as it was throughout all the discussions and conferences upon that Bill, both on the second reading, in Committee, and on the third reading, that its main, its paramount purpose, was to transform the status of the occupying tenant into that of the purchasing owner. While that was the paramount purpose, it had as an ancillary purpose the restoration of evicted tenants, and the relief of congestion in the west. And no hon. Gentlemen from any part of the House who took part in the debates on that Bill ever suggested any view to the contrary. So expressly is that to be found in this Act that if any hon. Gentleman will refer to it he will find that the question of the restoration of the evicted tenants and the relief of congestion was only to arise on the sale of particular estates, and when untenanted land became available there was provision that the untenanted land, on the sale of that particular estate, was to be devoted to the relief of congestion and the restoration of evicted tenants. What has been the progress made under that Act of 1903? First of all, what are its three essential features? In the first place, the basis and foundation of the whole thing was the voluntary action of both vendor and purchaser. There was no trace or hint of compulsion in it from the beginning to the end. It was all based upon the voluntary principle. In the next place, its great essential feature was that by a system known as the zone, in cases of an estate 206 upon which fair rents had been already fixed—provided that the operation of the vendor and the purchaser was confined within certain limits known as the zone—the matter went through automatically, and neither the State nor the parties were to be put to any expense with regard to inspection or matters of that sort. The next essential element in this great beneficial scheme contained in the Act of 1903 was that as an inducement to landlords themselves, and more particularly to those whose interest was limited to their own lives—that is in the case of women owners—there should be furnished, in the shape of a bonus, which was then fixed at 12 per cent, of the purchase money, out of this advance made by the Imperial Treasury of £12,000,000. Now these three great essential features in the Land Purchase scheme of 1903 are each and all practically to be swept away by this present Bill. In lieu of voluntary purchase we have introduced into this Bill in a most curious way—I will have a word to say upon that later—the principle of compulsion, and that is done, although by common consent one thing which will make a new Bill necessary has not been the unwillingness of the landlords to sell, or the tenants to buy, but has been the extraordinary and unexepected success of the voluntary principle.
Now, what is the position which has arisen, and which has made legislation of some sort or kind essential, if the Act of 1903 is to continue to work its Beneficent and useful purpose? So successful was that Act that as an inducement to both the landlords and the tenants to avail themselves of its provisions we were told to-day while there have been £28,000,000 paid away so as to conclude actual transactions amounting to that sura of money, there are still outstanding and uncompleted, so far as the payment of the price is concerned, agreements amounting in value to £56,000,000. What has the failure of the Treasury to meet its engagements under the Act of 1903—what has the failure of the Treasury brought about? The position is this: all those tenants who are represented by a purchasing agreement made, in value £56,000,000, are paying, and will continue to pay for years under this Bill, not an annuity of 3¼ per cent., but a minimum rate of interest of 3½ per cent. That is the position of these tenants, and that will be their position so long and until the Treasury redeems its obligations—until Imperial credit redeems its obligations to provide funds for purchase.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The Treasury have never refused to find a single farthing of the money that the Estates Commissioners have asked for.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I will deal with that. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest now for the moment that if the Estates Commissioners to-morrow or within the next six months cleared up this existing block of £56,000,000 the Treasury are prepared to give the money?
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
What I want to ask later is: Why it is, no matter what the financial difficulties may be, if the Imperial credit is pledged to these tenants and to these landlords, why is the British public placed in a position before the world of being a defaulter? I shall point out what the position is at the present moment. First of all, with regard to these tenants, whose position is included in this £56,000,000 worth of property, which is still waiting to get its price. They are paying, and will have to pay until the purchase money is paid, 3½ per cent, in the shape of interest instead of what they would otherwise be paying, 3¼ per cent, in the shape of an annuity. The grievance of these tenants is not confined there. Because when I say 3½ per cent., that is a minimum. Some of them are undoubtedly paying 4 per cent., and others a little more; and in the meantime, of course, their instalments are not being paid up, have not begun to be cleared, and their condition is this: that they have made no advance towards ownership, and they are still being kept hung up; in a sort of condition of being neither owner nor tenant, but under an obligation to pay, a continuing obligation to pay, the minimum of 3½ per cent, instead of the payment of 3¼ per cent. That is the condition of the tenant. What about that of the landlord? I presume hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway—I know that they have sufficient sense of fair play to recognise injustice to the one as well as the other. I am not for either, save on the general principle of land purchase. The existing condition of affairs is, in my opinion, crippling and delaying every industry in Ireland. It has done injury to 208 the professional classes. It has undoubtedly done injury to trade. It has undoubtedly done great injury to agriculture. All parties in Ireland are interested in this question, and I am anxious, having pointed out the position of the tenant in consequence of this outstanding £56,000,000, to point out the position of the landlord. He has still got his charges I to pay. He has got the encumbrance on his estate, carrying interest, some at 4, some at 5, some at 6 per cent, to meet. He cannot raise ready money to pay them off. He is only getting 3½ per cent, to 4 per cent, at the outside from his tenants, while he is continuing to pay his higher rate of interest upon all his outstanding encumbrances. He is left also, just as the tenant is left, in a position of being neither tenant, owner, nor landlord, except a landlord by name, but without any privileges or rights of the landlord. His interest is absolutely collected for him, not by himself, or by his agent, but by the Estates Commissioners. That is the position of the landlord and the tenant. What about the tenants and the landlords who have not up to the present come to terms? What do you propose to do with them? But, before I come on to that, I should perhaps deal with what the Bill proposes to do to relieve the congestion with regard to existing agreements, more particularly with regard to this £56,000,000. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, in introducing this Bill in the month of November last, said:—That to do anything that would arrest the progress of land purchase would be a blunder, economic and political, of the first magnitude. The object of the Government is to do all it can to hasten the progress of land purchase in Ireland.Now, I do not question for one moment the sincerity of that expression of intention of the right hon. Gentleman. Since his accession to his Irish Office he has been guilty of expressing more good intentions than would be sufficient to pave the way to a certain place that I shall not name. But when you come to measure the value of his intentions by his acts, I never can find any correspondence between them. Let me take this matter of interfering with land purchase. What does he propose to do under the present Bill to relieve the existing block? Well, he says the capacity of the Estates Commissioners to get estates off their hands is limited. I agree. It is limited by the provision the Treasury makes for their staff. It is limited by the most ridiculous, 209 unnecessary, and gratuitous inquiries that for the last five years the Estates Commissioners have been making. I am delighted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he has taken this matter into his own hands, and is to put a stop to this ridiculous overloading of inspection that has gone on. I entirely accept his statement. That is his hope and intention. It has gone on ever since this Act of 1903 passed. But may I remind the House, and the right hon. Gentleman, while he says he has been devoting his time to consider, and he hopes to succeed in providing certain means by means of which all this elaborate scheme of inspection will become unnecessary; let me remind him that he has actually introduced into this Bill two new revolutionary clauses, which must inevitably, in the case of inspection add enormously to the cost and the delay of investigation. What are these two provisions? It again amazes me—anxious as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is—and I wish to give him the fullest credit for the sincerity of his desire to get rid of all this tedious delay and trouble. I find that after that expression of his desire there is introduced into the Bill two clauses—17 and 20. And what does clause 17 propose to do? It proposes to enable the Estates Commissioners in the case of loans to throw over the provisions of the Act of 1903 and start upon a fresh round of inquiry and inspection themselves. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must know what the effect of that clause must be. But clause 14 is the clause with which I am first going to deal. What did the right hon. Gentleman himself say with regard to this when he was introducing the Bill last November? Talking about the zones, he said:—I am doing my best to increase the output of the office. It seems to me that it would be most unreasonable now to increase its work. Two-thirds of the contracts are within the zones. If therefore we abolish the zones, and throw the work of inspection on the Estates Commissioners, it would treble their work, and I think that most undesirable. At the same time we do propose to allow the Estates Commissioners, if their attention has been called to particular circumstances as to the inadequacy of security or to any other circumstances, such as duress or great arrears of rent and the like, in cases within the zones, power to insist upon an inspection if they think proper.["Hear, hear."] I knew that would be cheered by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. But does the right hon. Gentleman know what is common knowledge to everyone in Ireland, that ever since these Estate Commissioners were appointed they have insisted on the right, and exercised the right, in cases within the zones, to go behind the question of security and in- 210 vestigate it. It has taken two decisions of the Court of Appeal, one of them given actually last year, to put a stop to this system on the part of the Estates Commissioners; and yet, with that knowledge, the Chief Secretary, who was so anxious to devise means to get rid of the burden of the intolerable dual inspection, is now going to confer upon those Estates Commissioners the power to do that which they have asserted the right to do illegally for the last five years. I can only say that while I believe fully in the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman's expressed desire, I cannot reconcile with that desire the insertion in the Bill of this revolutionary proposal.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not a very sensible observation. What is the principle of the zone? Every case within the zone depends on a judicial fixture or ascertainment of a fair rent. ["By whom?"] It is of no use making an interruption of that kind; it is too late in the day for that. The essence of the principle of the zones was this, in every case where a particular estate or holding had had a judicial ascertainment of a fair rent, that, presumably and primâ facie, was to be taken as a rent on which the State could with security advance money. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman interrupts me by saying "you do not want the State to make bad bargains," that would be a reason for having no zones at all. The right hon. Gentleman admits that if the principle of the zones were abolished it would treble the work of the Estates Commissioners, and yet he proposes by a side wind to confer upon the Commissioners a jurisdiction and a power they have assumed to exercise for the last five years. There is another extraordinary clause in this Bill, read in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman's expressed desire for speed and finality in the matter of the inspections. I refer to clause 20, which includes a new provision in reference to the administration of the Estates Commissioners in the matter of land purchase. The Land Commissioners under sub-section 2 of section (1) have to determine in these zone cases whether the agreed price for a holding is equitable, andShall have regard to the respective interests of the landlord and tenant in the holding and in the improvements thereon and the price shall not be deemed to be equitable if it appears to the Commissioners that any 211 part thereof represents the value of improvements made by the tenant or his predecessors in title for which he or they have not been compensated by the landlord or his predecessors in title.Now, how is it to "appear to the Commissioners?" It can only appear as a result of their judicial investigations. But there has already been a judicial investigation and decision as to these improvements, and the tenant has right of appeal which he has probably exercised if he thought he was under any grievance. Yet the right hon. Gentleman who claims that it is his desire to expedite the work of the Estates Commissioners has for some reason I cannot fathom gone out of his way to introduce this '.evolutionary principle into the Bill so as to enable the Commissioners to go on a loving commission all over Ireland in order to re-investigate every fair rent, though it exists under judicial sanction.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The right hon. Gentleman did not read on—Subject and without prejudice to any previous determination under the Lund Law Acts.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest for a moment that that would deprive them of jurisdiction? What is the meaning of it? No cases come under the zones unless they have already been judicially determined, and in giving the Estates Commissioners power to reinvestigate cases under the zones it is idle to tell me that you take away that power simply by putting in the words "subject to previous decisions." I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong when I say that this is undoubtedly the purpose and effect of the section. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to contradict that I am quite willing to give way. Speaking here as a lawyer, I see no other possible or conceivable construction of it. At any rate I am driven to that conclusion, particularly when I have regard to the extraordinary provisions contained in section 14, under which power is given to the Estates Commissioners to throw over the zones in any case which they think fit. In exercising that power the Estate Commissioners are not subject to the control of the Judicial Commissioner. There is no appeal from their decisions, and as the result of any pressure that may be brought to bear upon them from outside you may have particular cases of injustice on particular land owners or particular estates.
What is the justification for the introduction of those two provisions? They 212 are quite foreign to all the financial proposals—absolutely foreign. Nobody in Ireland that I know of wanted these amendments. In regard to future purchasers, and the landlords and tenants who have not yet come to terms, what is their position going to be. In the case of existing appeals representing £56,000,000, the right hon. Gentleman frankly and candidly admitted that under the proposals of this Bill the block would not be cleared away for six or seven years, because under the most favourable assumptions they could not get through more than £l 0,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I do not care what the progress is—whether it is as fast or as slow—the fact remains that this great measure, intended to relieve the purchasing tenant from his present position, will leave him in the same condition for the next six or seven years. What about future agreements and the tenants who are going to purchase hereafter? In the first place they will have to pay interest on a fixed annuity at the rate of 3½ per cent, instead of the fixed annuity of 3¼ per cent.; so that at once you start to raise—and I regret to say that I fear most disastrous consequences—two different classes of purchasing tenants in Ireland occupying and holding under different conditions. I should like to know what the new tenant on one side of the fence will think of his condition when it is explained to him, with full and proper significance, that while he is paying 3½ per cent, the tenant on the other side of the fence is paying 3¼ per cent., and is already advanced a number of years towards becoming the owner of his holding. You will set up conflicting interests that will lead in many cases, I fear, to possible repudiation and certainly to trouble and disorder. The right hon. Gentleman, for the obvious reason that he had not the time at his disposal, passed over two other matters of vital importance in this Bill which will undoubtedly revolutionise the agrarian position at home. I have read the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the object of introducing this Bill, but what was the criticism passed upon it last December by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westmeath in the House of Commons? There is no one probably in Ireland more fitted to pass a criticism on this Bill, because he is mainly responsible for its production.
213 Though within the last few months his candour has not received that acknowledgment from his colleagues that they gave him when he was carrying out these matters in 1907–8, and though I am told he is in great danger of the fate of so many of his colleagues who have been fired out from the party, nevertheless it is worth while to remind the House of the candid criticism he passed upon this Bill when it was introduced in December last. He told this House of Commons the object of the Bill in the following words:—The main purpose of this Bill was to prevent and arrest the further mischievous operation of the Land Act of 1903.I want for a moment to dwell upon the curious position of the [...] Parliamentary party in reference to this question of land purchase. After the Land Act of 1903 became law an influential section of that party, headed by their leader the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, went throughout Ireland advocating the advantages of this great measure, and pointing out to the tenants that really what concerned them was not so much the number of years purchase the landlord got as the immediate reduction of rent which fell to their lot; and while that was the view taken by him in pursuance of the arrangement arrived at by the land conference and the general understanding while the Act of Parliament was going through in 1903, that was not the position of some other of his colleagues, and a fierce agitation against this land purchase system was started in Ireland with the assistance of the hon. Member for East Mayo, the late Mr. Michael Davitt, and the "Freeman's Journal;" and so far did the fierceness of this agitation go that a violent attack was made upon the hon. and learned Member for Waterford because in the exercise of his perfect right he had thought fit to come to terms with his own tenants. Mr. Davitt published a very violent attack upon the hon. Gentleman on that account. I confess that I could never understand the point of that attack. Neither in this House nor outside have I ever referred to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford in the shape of criticism of his action which would in any way cast any reflection upon him. I will read to the House not my own view, but the view taken by "The Times" on 22nd May.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
Yes, "The Times," and I attach more importance to it than 214 hon. Members below the Gangway. I am going to give them the benefit of this quotation, which is as follows:—The general impression among both Unionists and Nationalists is that to-day's proceedings have seriously impaired the influence of the Nationalist party, and have given an impetus to the Sinn Fein and other unconstitutional propaganda. It is also feared by many Unionists that this party will now try to return to popularity on a wave of agrarian agitation. The present laxity of administration in the disturbed western districts is in favour of such a movement.Was the gentleman who wrote that right? Yes, because his prophecy was fulfilled within a week, for, in the month of May, 1907, there was started a cruel and criminal campaign of cattle driving, and at the Convention the hon. and learned Member for Waterford announced that he and his party were going back to Parliament, and they would take good care to see the Government redeemed their pledges by bringing in a measure for the compulsory restoration of the evicted tenants and bringing forward immediate legislation to amend the Land Act of 1903. Accordingly, in order to bring this pressure upon the Government, this campaign of cattle-driving was started in the month of May, 1907, and it continued fiercely and without interruption until the month of November, 1907, and in that month the right hon. Gentleman opposite delivered' in Dublin a most deplorable speech, to which I have already frequently referred. I am not going to quote it now, but the substance of it was that if the people would continue to show the same courage and energy in their desire to obtain other people's land he could promise them that the English people would not only satisfy their desires, but give them everything they wanted. The arrangement he made seemed not only creditable to himself but advantageous to his tenants, but even if the arrangement had been still more advantageous to himself, he was perfectly within his right, so long as his tenants were voluntary and willing purchasers. But, notwithstanding all this, the hon. and learned Member for Waterford pursued his honourable path, and he went through Ireland persuading the farmers. that this was a great blessing and a great opportunity for them. He told them it was no use talking about the prices under the Ashbourne Acts if the landlords were not willing to sell, and they ought to take the facilities offered under the Land Bill.
What has changed the attitude of the hon. and learned Gentleman? I think I can explain. In 1907 the right hon. Gentleman opposite was persuaded to bring 215 in an Irish Councils Bill, and I am quite sure he imagined or believed that that measure had the full support and sanction of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway representing Ireland. Afterwards a Convention was held, and the Irish Councils Bill was rejected with scorn by that Convention, and the position of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford became somewhat peculiar because the project unanimously condemned by the Convention was presumed to have his sanction on its general lines and principle.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
Any assent which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave was always subject to the decision of the Convention.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
He could not do anything else. He could only give his approval subject to ratification by the Convention. He went before the Convention with a knowledge on the part of the Convention that the Bill would never have been introduced unless he had the assurance that it was likely to be acceptable to the Irish people.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
In everything the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said in this connection he is quite wrong.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that I never said anything of the sort.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I have taken the trouble to write out the language of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I will read it. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "Where did you get it?"] The hon. Member will find it in a place where it has never been altered or corrected—it appeared in the London "Times." [NATIONALIST cries of "Oh, oh."] I am sure the jeers of hon. Members below the Gangway will not have much effect. [An HON. MEMBER: "Good old Piggott."] I will quote from this report, which is identical with the report that appeared in all the Dublin papers, including the Nationalist organs. Here is what the right hon. Gentleman said:—He agreed that for a moment the great problem in Ireland was the land question. How could the land be made to support in decency and comfort a far larger proportion of the people than at present? If only the Irish people would maintain as they had done their strong desire for the land, and give every possible encouragement to those in the Imperial Parliament who laboured in that direction lie believed that could be done. The English people were ready when called on with sufficient courage and energy to do all that in 216 them lay to promote the lust interests of Irishmen, to consult their wishes and give them what they wanted.That is almost word for word what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I repeat that those words were calculated to convey the impression that if the people continued their present agitation the English people would be compelled to give them all they wanted. The hon. Member for Westmeath—speaking in reference to that very speech, and at a time when he was a white-haired boy with his colleagues, and when there was no black mark against him—on 2nd December in the same year said:—If that speech of the Chief Secretary was au honest speech it meant apply the hazels to the cattle with all your might.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
At any rate the hon. Member for Westmeath said that was the construction which would be put upon the right hon. Gentleman's words by the people in Ireland.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
To show how correct he was in that view I may say that from that date onward to the present time, wherever persons are brought into a court of justice and charged with cattle-driving, their defence is based upon that and similar speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his colleagues. I will now pass on to two other matters dealt with by this Bill which are of a very grave and vital importance. The first is the proposal to set up an elected board for the purpose of carrying out the provision applicable to congestion which will have to distribute the very grant that is to be made in pursuance of this Bill increasing the funds placed at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board by a sum of £250,000. It is proposed to set up a board partly elected and partly nominated, but there is to be a majority of elected members appointed by the local county councils. I venture to prophesy that no more disastrous proposal has ever been brought forward by a responsible Minister, and I believe if that proposal is carried out and becomes the law of the land, together with another proposal in the same Bill distributing untenanted land amongst the landless men, it will open a new chapter of agrarian strife in Ireland which will not expire during the lifetime of the youngest Member of this House. In the first place it will be disastrous to the existing 217 Departments of Agriculture and Technical Education, which at present have no elective system. The operations of these Departments have admittedly been carried on with the greatest possible benefit to many parts of Ireland, but now you are going to set up in conflict with them a board which will be accessible to local influences, and which in many instances will be open to the influence and power of the local agitator and the local politician. Speaking with a full knowledge of the capacity of my countrymen to take advantage of an opportunity like that, all I can say is I am greatly afraid it will lead to the greatest possible amount of corruption, and that there will follow, as I have already said, a new chapter of agrarian trouble in Ireland.
Then I pass hurriedly to deal with another matter, about which the right hon. Gentleman has said nothing to-day, namely, the introduction of the system of compulsion in regard to purchase between landlord and tenant. Why has that been introduced into this Bill? It has always been said that some time or other, when land purchase was nearly exhausted in Ireland, there might be a small residuum of cases, in respect of which landlords had obstinately refused any terms to their tenants, where it would be necessary to apply the principle of compulsion. But the case of the right hon. Gentleman is that he has not exhausted one-half of the possible sales. He estimates the possible amount at £180,000,000, and up to the present he has reached only about £73,000,000, so that before one-half of the problem has been exhausted the right hon. Gentleman proposes to throw over the principle which has been at the root of the success of the Act of 1903, and to introduce the principle of compulsion. There is a great mystery about the presence of this clause in the Bill. I am told that there was no such provision in the original draft, and, curiously enough, when the right hon. Gentleman came to speak in support of it in November last, he was under the impression that it was applicable and available in the hands of the Estates Commissioners only for the purpose of relieving congestion. As a matter of fact, he was about to sit down without referring to this clause at all, when he was reminded of its existence by my right hon. Friend opposite, and he then said:—If you give compulsory powers over one-third of Ireland to the Congested Districts Board for the relief of congestion it would be impossible to withhold similar powers from the Estates Commissioners outside that area, otherwise the boundary question will constantly 218 arise. As nobody knows better than the right hon. Member for Dover, there are many estates outside the congested districts which present precisely the same features and difficulties, and to include one and exclude the other wound, in my opinion, lead to great injustice.That is exactly what I said. The right hon. Gentleman says that outside the congested districts there are other areas with which, the Estates Commissioners will have to deal, which are likewise congested, but are not included in the congested area, and that therefore if we give powers to the Congested Districts Board to deal with, congestion by compulsion we ought to give power to the Estates Commissioners to deal with congestion by compulsion also. But that is not what the Bill does. The Bill proposes to confer upon the Estates Commissioners compulsory powers in the case of any landlord, whether resident in a congested district or not, and to do so under the most extraordinary conditions. I cannot conceive how any person outside a lunatic asylum acquainted with the state of affairs in Ireland can have made him self responsible for such a proposal as this—that in every case in which any tenant or stranger makes an offer of any kind, no matter how ludicrous, absurd, or trivial, for any landlord's tenanted or untenanted land, and the landlord refuses the offer, that is to give jurisdiction to the Estates Commissioners to apply compulsion. A more extraordinary provision than that it is impossible to conceive, but that is the actual provision in Clause 39. ["Read it."] I am going to.Where negotiations have been entered into or proposals have been made for purchase under the Land Purchase Act of any estate or untenanted land not situated in a congested county and the parties have failed to come to an agreement the Estates Commissioners may if they think fit proceed to acquire it compulsorily.Is not that exactly what I said? When any offer is made, no matter how inadequate or ridiculous, or whether the land is tenanted or untenanted, and the landlord refuses the offer, then and there the compulsory powers come into force. ["No."] I challenge any hon. Gentleman who considers the clause in a spirit of fair play and proper consideration, to say that I have not accurately quoted the words and given the only possible construction. ["If they think fit."] I know that the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, in recent speeches in Ireland, has claimed credit for the introduction of this provision, and says that it justifies his character for political consistency. He stated to his audience in the North of Ireland that he had 219 frequently told them that before he departed from political life he would bring in a Bill for compulsory purchase, and that he said—"Well, you will find it in Clause 39 of the new Land Bill." If the -only purpose of inserting the provision in this Bill was to vindicate the right hon. Gentleman's character for political consistency, I can only say that the game was hardly worth the candle.
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me about the Development Grant. There is no doubt that I, for one, have never attempted to deny that by the letter as well as the spirit of the Act of 1903 any loss on flotation not covered by the Development Grant was to fall on the ratepayers. But while that is patent on the face of the Act, it was never challenged by any one in this House, but was allowed to go through without objection or attack, and it became part and parcel of the bargain of 1903. At the same time, it must equally be admitted, and has been frankly admitted by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the possibility of a burden falling upon the ratepayers under that section was never really contemplated or present to the mind of any person while the Bill was passing through the House.
§ Mr. JAMES CAMPBELL
I do not think there is much point in that interruption, because the hon. Member and his colleagues were in the House at the time, and if they thought it was an objectionable clause they should have opposed it; but there was not even an Amendment moved to it. It is perfectly clear and intelligible; a child can understand it. There was not a Member in the House who did not perfectly well understand that it was part and parcel of the bargain they were making, but it was looked upon as such a remote contingency that no one thought it worth considering. But now that it has occurred the obvious injustice of it is so apparent that the Prime Minister last year and the right hon. Gentleman to-day—in fact, everyone who has spoken on the subject—all assume that no person would ever think of imposing this burden on the rate-payers. Therefore, in so far as this Bill; removes that liability and places it on the Imperial credit, it is a good Bill. But is it fair or just, in order to give relief which is manifestly wanted and is admittedly just, to saddle it with impossible and unfair conditions and revolutionary proposals which will start a fresh land war and agrarian 220 campaign in Ireland? I for one cannot think that the landlords of Ireland will ever accept a bribe of that sort. I do not imagine that even if the financial provisions in their favour were increased they would be induced to consent to take the Bill in its present form with its unnecessary and unreasonable additions. Whether they do or do not, speaking for myself and all my Unionist colleagues of Ireland, who represent interests different from those of the landlords, who represent the farmers in many parts of Ulster and the industrial, trade, and commercial interests in Belfast, Derry, and elsewhere, we believe that this Bill, owing to the provisions to which I have referred—and there are many others which if time had permitted I could have mentioned—will not only fail to relieve the existing congestion, but will practically paralyse purchase throughout Ireland; while this extraordinary campaign in favour of the distribution of untenanted land to men who have hitherto never had any claim of any sort or kind to it, and who have no experience or knowledge of its cultivation, will not only create friction between themselves and the occupying farmers but will lead to fierce agrarian war and to troubles in respect of which what has happened in the past will bear only a feeble resemblance. Therefore, while believing that in the financial proposals of this Bill there is much to recommend it, and that the honour and credit of the British public are pledged to the Irish landlords and farmers, and that no consideration of difficulty with regard to the money market or anything else ought to be allowed to stand in the way of the Imperial credit once it has been pledged to any class or interest in any part of the Empire, I fail to see why that relief should take the form proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or why hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway should be placed in the position of being able to say to the landlords, as they have said, "You must either take this Bill as a whole or you will get nothing further." I beg to move the Motion standing in my name—" that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months."
§ Question proposed: "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
A very large portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is not, if I may be allowed to say so, without offence to him, worthy of serious consideration, and I shall not occupy time in 221 the attempt to answer it—I mean the large slice of the speech which was taken up by an elaborate attribution of motives, both to the Government and the Nationalist party—that part of his speech in which he, in a laboured and lengthy fashion, endeavoured to prove that we were asking these Amendments because we were discredited in connection with the history of the Irish Councils Bill, and that the Government were producing this Bill, not because they thought it necessary or just, but in abject terror of us and the hon. Member for Westmeath. Really that was amusing to some Members of the House, but it was not a serious contribution towards the discussion of a very difficult and very wide problem. The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not imagine a more cruel act than for the Government to put forward any proposals with the intention either of wrecking or being likely to wreck land purchase. In that I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and if I thought that this Bill was likely to wreck land purchase, or seriously impede land purchase, or indeed to impede it at all, I certainly would not raise my voice in support of it. This Bill has received a great deal of criticism since it was introduced last November, and the main criticism which has been used against it is that in its operation it will be likely to put an absolute end to land purchase in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman, at question time to-day, gave us some figures which show how absurd that contention is. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question, said that between 1st November and 24th November agreements to the extent of £817,539 were lodged, and that from 24th November to 1st March—that is, covering the period when the landlords all knew that the percentage of the bonus was to be at 3 instead of 12 per cent.—agreements were lodged to the value of £1,653,571, so that if you take those months which have been lying under the painful shadow of this Bill—those months which, if the criticism was correct, that this Bill was going to bring to a close land purchase, ought to have been quite barren of purchase agreements—agreements were entered into to the extent of £2,500,000, and I say to the House that these four months, November, December, January, and February, are quite up to the average of the number of agreements for the last five years, and I am not sure that the number is not almost higher than any other four months of that 222 period with the exception of the period ending in November, when, with the fear of the bonus being reduced, there was an unnatural rush by the landlords. Now let me; take up one of the serious arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. He says there is a block with reference to this £56,000,000 of completed agreements. He says what are you going to do to remove that block? Is there anything in this Bill calculated to remove the block? The House will understand that I am not satisfied with all the provisions of this Bill. I have very grave exception to take to some of these provisions, and I say quite frankly that I am not satisfied, but the Government have done the best possible to remove the block. When the Treasury say that they are only prepared to raise under present conditions £5,000,000 in cash a year, I say that that is altogether inadequate, and that the sum ought to be largely increased. But the right hon. Gentleman is making some effort to relieve this congestion, because in the first place, as he told us, he is improving the machine in Dublin, and that the machine is already so improved that it can turn out more work. He is enlarging his staff. But on that question I go much further than the right hon. Gentleman. He seems to be of opinion that it is impossible to hope that at any time in the future more than £10,000,000 worth of agreements can be turned out by the Land Commission. I do not believe that at all. I believe that if the offices of the Land Commission were thoroughly reformed, and if the staff were enlarged by the Treasury as it ought to be enlarged, a considerable amount of additional work would be put out. At any rate he is doing something. He has already accelerated the pace and undertaken to accelerate it still more. Of course the main provision of this Bill, which he hopes will accelerate the clearing off of these agreements, is to be found in the option given to the landlords to take stock in place of a portion of the cash which is due to them. I have seen declarations by Irish landlords—I think I saw a declaration at the Irish Landlords Convention—not entirely unfavourable to that idea, and if the difficulty with the landlords rest in the figure 92 I cannot conceive that the Government, would resist the proposal coming from the landlords and supported as it would be strongly supported by the representatives of the tenants for raising the figure 92 so that the terms would be better. I believe myself it is quite possible on that point to 223 come to a satisfactory arrangement with the Irish landlords whereby they would be willing to take a portion in cash and a portion in stock at a figure to be agreed upon so as to clear off these pending agreements. In that way I think it is quite possible if we pull together in this matter, and I hope we will, to induce the Government to make this Bill go through by giving better terms to the landlords on that point. I have risen with some embarassment to speak at all. The same feeling of embarrassment was entertained by the right hon. Gentleman. It was only the other day that we were discussing practically the same Bill in the House of Commons, and I, like the Chief Secretary, made two long speeches on this question, but I am most unwilling to repeat myself. There is very little new to be said. I should like to say, however, that when I spoke then I was commissioned to speak by the Irish party, and to say on their behalf that, though they took serious objection to certain portions of the Bill, and would use every exertion to remedy its defects, still on the whole they were prepared to give it a favourable reception, push it on in Committee, and see what they could do in putting it in a satisfactory form. At that time the Bill had not received in Ireland the exhaustive discussion it has received now. During the months which have intervened it has been discussed by almost every public body in Ireland. The newspapers, not only metropolitan but local papers, have been full of the discussion of this Bill. When the Irish party, after these discussions, commissioned me, as it has again commissioned me to-day, to support the second reading of this Bill and point out the defects that we consider are in it, I claim that the voice of the party speaking now is, if possible, a more authoritative voice than that heard last November. There is no answer, in my opinion, to the arguments of the Chief Secretary that some Bill of this character is absolutely necessary if land purchase is not to come to a complete stop—not that land purchase is to be impeded, but to come to an absolute stop—because the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out beyond the possibility of contradiction that if a new Act of Parliament is not passed either land purchase must come absolutely to a full stop, or else a gigantic charge, which he estimates, taking 85 as the price of she stock, at about a million pounds a year for 68½ years, will fall upon the rate- 224 payers of Ireland. Well, of course, that is an absurd thing. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that nobody anticipated that at all when the Bill was going through. We were all so anxious to get the Bill through, and we were so anxious to see the policy of land purchase for which we had been fighting for 30 years put in a fair way of success, that we turned a willing ear to the rosy view put before us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover. He never anticipated that the money markets would fall in the way they have fallen. He never anticipated that this gigantic loss would arise and the Treasury never anticipated it. Neither the Irish Government nor the Treasury raised this bogey at the time. Was it likely that we who were going to get a valuable piece of legislation should throw the wet blanket of doubt upon the enterprise? No; it was not anticipated. Now that this calamity has arisen, surely no man in his senses thinks that this enormous sum should be levied on the ratepayers of Ireland, but it must be levied unless an Act of Parliament is passed, or unless land purchase stops. If land purchase stops this money must be levied. It does not rest with the right hon. Gentleman or the Treasury or anybody else to say, "We will not levy the money." They must obey the law and levy the money. The law compels them to deduct from the Imperial grants going to the local authorities on these loans, and if there was nothing more to recommend this Bill, it is recommended as an absolutely essential measure to save land purchase, because, if this provision for this loss is not remedied, then land purchase must stop, because nobody would dream of levying £1,000,000 for 68½ years on the poor, overburdened ratepayers of Ireland. The Development Grant is absolutely gone, as has been pointed out, and this consideration affects the landlords as much as the tenants, for I will take it that the great body of landlords are anxious that this policy of land purchase should go through just as the tenants are. Let me take another consideration which much more nearly concerns the landlords than the tenants, although every consideration concerns in some measure both parties. Let me take the question of the bonus. If a new Act of Parliament is not passed the bonus must remain as it is now. Twelve per cent, was to be given to the landlords on their purchase money. It was calculated at that time that the purchase money would only be £100,000,000, and that 225 £12,000,000 was considered enough for the purchase of the bonus. £12,000,000 only was authorised by the Act of 1903. Now, after five years, it is found that the calculation is altogether wrong, but if the remainder of the bonus still left to be spent i3 to go round and reach all the landlords who are going to sell the percentage must be cut down from 12 to 3 per cent., and not one single sixpence of addition to the £12,000,000 can be made in the interests of the landlords and also in the interests of the tenants. It seems to me, from the point of view of the Treasury, as we have been accustomed to regard the Treasury in Ireland as always anxious to evade additional liability, and as always anxious to treat Ireland hardly and unfairly—from the point of view of such a Treasury as that I can conceive nothing more welcome than that no Bill should pass at all. From the point of view of those who are in favour of land purchase some Act of Parliament of this kind is absolutely necessary. Let me run over very shortly the merits and the great defects that we see in this Bill. There is something which has attracted a great deal of attention in Ireland. There are what are known as incidental expenses. These expenses are not charged on the Development Grant, but directly on the ratepayers. Already in one year £70,000 has been levied for these charges on the ratepayers, and this year notices have been issued to county councils amounting to £32,000 in respect of the current year. These are various charges connected with the working of land purchase. The ratepayers feel they ought to be called upon to bear those liabilities. The ratepayers are quite willing to bear that particular liability, and, as everybody knows, there has never been such a transaction carried out with more punctuality and honesty than that of land purchase in Ireland. The ratepayers are in a state of alarm and anxiety because this Bill proposes, with the exception of one item, which is the smallest of all its items, to take this liability from the county council and ratepayers and to put it on the Treasury. It proposes an increase in the bonus. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, it is calculated that under the schedule of the bonus £3,000,000 will be added to the £12,000,000 bonus. I do not know exactly how he arrives at the £3,000,000. I believe that graduation of that schedule is wrong. At the same time, I am in favour of a graduated schedule. We put it into our Bill, which was accepted by the Govern- 226 ment only two or three years ago, but we believe that the schedule in this Bill is wrong. The graduation is wrong, and one of the things I hope we shall do when we get into Committee is that we may induce the Government so to alter the figures as will increase the additional bonus that will be given to the landlords. I believe it will be fair, and in accordance with the bargain made in the Bill of 1903 if the total additional amount were sufficient to make 12 per cent, of the purchase money. In speaking on the introduction of the Bill in November the Chief Secretary said that in order to give the bonus an additional sum sufficient to make it 12 per cent, on the whole purchase money it would be necessary to advance an additional £7,200,000. The Government have already gone to the extent of £3,000,000. It is not an immediate charge, but a gradual charge, which will not be seriously felt by a Chancellor of the Exchequer or any statesman. Having gone thus far, is it really worth the while of the Government to spoil their Bill by not going further? I presume that the landlords will be quite willing to make some compromise in this matter. I see that there is a declaration by Lord Dunraven and other distinguished landlords in favour of some compromise. If an annual charge, required by £7,000,000 coming into operation gradually, of money would settle this question, and if the Government have already gone ! the length of £3,000,000, and if the land lords are willing to come down from the £7,000,000, is there not some opening for a compromise? My anxiety is to see this Bill moulded into a satisfactory thing and passed. I think it will be disastrous if this Bill fails. Speaking from these Benches, I say confidently that we do not want to hit the landlords. All we want is to promote land purchase, and to get a settlement of the question.
On the question of the Congested Districts Board I do not think I will dwell. It is an important part of the Bill, but I do not want to speak at length on every important part, because I want to give every possible opportunity to hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway from Ireland to speak. I am sorry the Member for Dublin University has gone out of the House, but he let fall an expression which was very unjust to Ireland. He said there was going to be an elective element on the Congested Districts Board, and he expressed the opinion that that would lead to wholesale corruption. That was an expression 227 unworthy of any Irishman, whatever his party or politics might be. The work of the county councils in Ireland compares most favourably with the work of your county councils in England. To say that the Congested Districts Board would become a medium of corruption because the county councils would be given direct representation on it was a gross injustice to Ireland, and ought not to have proceeded from any Irishman. As to compulsory purchase, I am eager to hear what the representatives of Ulster have to say. There is not one of them who was returned for an agricultural constituency who did not express himself in favour of compulsory purchase in Ireland.
§ Mr. REDMOND
If there was an exception the hon. Member for South Antrim stands alone, but every agricultural representative was in favour of compulsion, and f cannot understand why any of them should vote against any proposal by a British Government in favour of it. Let me deal now for a moment with the question of tenants' annuity. I object altogether to the increase in the tenants' annuity. I put this consideration to the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have estimated the amount at £36,000,000, and, so far as future agreements are concerned, they propose to shift the burden of the flotation loss from the shoulders of the ratepayers generally to those of the tenants and the landlords by a Three per Cent. Stock and an increase of the annuity. Is that worth their while? I have seen that there has been some discussion of this Bill in Ireland, which, I fear, may encourage '.he Government in standing by their poposals. There was an able pamphlet published the other day by Lord Dunraven, and he suggests that the ¼ per cent, should be divided between the landlord and the tenant. I think it is really too bad a thing for the Government to deal with the matter in that spirit. When the Government are dealing with this question they should do so in a frank and generous spirit. For the sake of saving a comparatively small sum of money a year they are going to spoil the whole value and method of their measure. It will inevitably lead to friction and trouble between tenant and landlord. The Bill of 1903 was part of a great national and Imperial policy. It was a 228 great piece of State craft. It dealt with the greatest problem that exists in the whole of the Empire. I do not think that in South Africa—until the recent policy—or in India, or in any portion of the Empire is there a more terrible and serious problem than this Irish problem. Are you going, for the sake of £100,000 or £150,000 a year, to spoil the whole effect of your policy? Are you going, for the sake of that amount, to create confusion and difficulty in Ireland and cause friction between landlords and tenants? You can easily settle the whole question in a few years and save Ireland and yourselves, save the future House of Commons and future statesmen the misery, the risk, and danger of prolonging the struggle about the land in Ireland. Now, I say this is a small and a contemptible sum to wreck a great policy for. I am quite convinced that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover was right—although subsequent events have not carried out his prediction—I am convinced he was right when he said in 1903 that with the settlement of his problem in Ireland the expenses of Irish Government, and especially the expenses of the police, would rapidly diminish. I am convinced that if you only mould this Bill in the right way, and do not use niggardliness in the matter, if you have the courage to go the whole distance, I am quite convinced that the additional annual liability you are undertaking would be very rapidly met and removed by the saving that would be made in the cost of the police force in Ireland. I said I was not going to detain the House. I rose really for the purpose of saying in the name of the Irish Party that we will vote for the second reading of this Bill, and will do our best to amend it. I have already expressed my deep sense of the gravity of the situation which exists in Ireland in connection with the land, and my deep anxiety that the representatives of the tenants in this matter should take no action either in this House or out of it which would give to unreasonable landlords an excuse for raising obstacles in the way of a settlement of this question. I am anxious that this Bill should be moulded to suit landlords and tenants, and that it should pass into law, and I say the wrecking of this Bill would be an enterprise full of peril to the Irish landlords, and I trust with all my heart that they will not induce noble lords in another place to carry out that fatal policy in connection with Irish land which, in 229 the past, brought such untold misery upon the Irish landlords themselves. One word in conclusion. I want to give a word of advice, if I may, to the Government in reference to the future conduct of this Bill. I hope the Bill will not be sent to a Committee upstairs. It is not the class of Bill that ought to be sent to Committee upstairs. We had the experience last year of the Irish University Bill which was sent to a Committee upstairs. It was really more or less in the nature of an agreed Bill, at any rate there was no very controversial matters connected with it, and opposition to it was confined almost entirely to the two hon. Gentlemen—the hon. Gentleman who represents Southampton and his brother—and yet we were there for weary weeks and months. I do, of course, admit the hon. Gentlemen showed the greatest possible industry and ability—I quite admit that—and after all these weeks, when we came back to this House, time had to be provided for the Report stage, just as if there was never any discussion upstairs at all. If this Bill is sent up to Committee it will be there for months, and when it comes back to the House the right hon. Gentleman will have to provide just as much time for the discussion of important matters on reports as if it was never sent upstairs at all. I earnestly hope the right hon. Gentleman will move after the second reading that this Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, and that he will see that the earliest possible opportunity is obtained for allowing to the various stages adequate time for their discussion, so that we may get through the Bill at a comparatively early portion of the Session, and that the House of Lords will not be left the excuse for want of time of dealing with it hurriedly or rashly. That is all I have to say except to add that my hon. Friends and I will vote for the second reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
The reasons why we who represent the Unionists of Ireland are opposing this Bill may be very shortly stated. In the first place, we say its purpose is to put a stop to voluntary purchase under the provisions of the Land Act of 1903. In the next place, the Bill, while postponing for years the completion of agreements already entered into, does not hold out any prospects of further progress being made with land purchase on voluntary lines. In our opinion also, the Bill will do nothing effectual towards solving the problem of congestion, and it will, if carried into law, do much to com- 230 plicate the land question and make it more difficult for a future Government to carry this great reform to a successful issue. So far as negotiations for purchase between landlords and tenants are concerned, the operation of the Act of 1903 has already been brought to an absolute standstill. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford made some reference to the agreements which have been lodged with the Commissioners since the 1st November last, but the hon. and learned Member did not say how many of them were originating agreements. They were very few. This is shown by the fact that in the months of December, January and February, only 39 originating applications for the sale of estates were lodged with the Estates Commissioners. This result can only be attributed to the introduction of this Bill at the close of last Session, and the reduction of the bonus from 12 per cent, to 3 per cent. The Government were warned that this would be the effect of their action, and I do not remember that they have ever made any serious attempt to show that the results would be otherwise than they have proved themselves to be. It is clear to my mind that the Government contemplated from the first that land purchase must cease, and in order to accomplish that they have not scrupled to repudiate on behalf of the State the agreement contained in the Act of 1903, which was universally approved as a great Imperial measure embodying a fair hope of ending agrarian strife in Ireland. In face of the facts all the professions of the Chief Secretary that the object of the Government is to do all it can to hasten the progress of land purchase are shown to be as empty as they appeared to be to some of us at the time they were made. The j fact of the matter is the interests of the Irish farmer and the real welfare of Ireland as a whole count for very little with; this Government. They have two objects in view—one to save the British Treasury and the other to satisfy the Nationalists, who believe that renewed land agitation is necessary to a revival of interest in the cause of Home Rule. The Government are able to serve both these purposes by stopping land purchase, and the Chief Secretary—with characteristic cheerfulness—lends himself willingly to the task of plunging Ireland still deeper into the welter of disorder which his administration has produced. So far as the Act of 1903 is concerned, the Government have I failed to show any reason why it should 231 not continue to work successfully, if the State fulfilled its part of the bargain arid found the money for advances. It has worked so far with extraordinary success. In five years land to the value of upwards of 80 millions of pounds has practically changed hands, and upwards of a quarter of a million farmers are in process of being turned into freeholders through its agency. These farmers are paying for their holdings upon terms which give them on the average a reduction of 26 per cent, from their former rents, and that the State is amply secured is shown by the fact that while the advances made cover only the landlords' interest the entire holding is the security, and that includes the tenants' interest—the market value of which ranks far higher than the other. The Government have failed entirely to show any reason—whether as regards the failure of the Act of 1903, or the terms upon which farmers have to purchase, or the security of the State—which justifies the step they have taken in stopping the operation of the Act. Another point of the first importance is the delay and consequent loss which the proposals of the Government will entail upon landlords and tenants who have entered into agreements which are still uncompleted. This is a matter in regard to which I feel very strongly, because the farmers in my Constituency have been foremost in taking advantage of the provisions of the Act of 1903, and they resent very much indeed the prospect of having to wait ten or a dozen years before they get their advances and have their holdings vested in themselves. When it is remembered that upwards of £56,000,000 worth of land has been sold but not paid for, and it is now proposed to liquidate that vast sum at the rate of about £4,000,000 a year, hon. Members will understand that on the ground of delay alone, this Bill is objected to by a large and important section of the Irish people. The proposals which the Government made before the House in December for getting rid of the block of uncompleted agreements appear to have undergone no change. The Treasury will provide not more than five millions of cash in any one year. Of that five millions it is intended to devote one million to the purposes of the congested districts and the breaking up of the grass lands. That will leave only four millions of cash available for the purpose of financing the agreements now 232 in the offices of the Estates Commissioners. It is true the Government propose to issue Two and Three-quarter per Cent. Stock in part payment of advances up to a total of five or six millions a year. If we assume for a moment that landlords who have entered into agreements for the sale of their estates upon the understanding that they were to be paid in cash will be willing to accept Two and Three-quarter per Cent. Stock at 92, which is the proposal of the Government, then upon the most favourable calculation it will take six or eight years to clear away the arrears, but do the Government really think that landlords will accept stock instead of cash at the price they offer. I think it is most unlikely. I confess I do not see how the landlord could afford to do it. The effect of this proposal will be seen if we take the. case of a landlord who has agreed to sell his land for £2,300. The Government, instead of cash, offer him £2,500 worth of stock at 2¾ per cent. If he accepts the offer and sells his stock what will he get for it? Irish Land Stock now stands at 85 or 86, but it has been down to 81¼ in the last two years. The Chief Secretary will correct me if I am wrong.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
The effect of throwing large quantities of stock upon the market must be to depress the price, and the landlord who sells may have to take 84 per cent, for stock which the Government issued to him at 92. That means, in the case which I have taken, that the landlord will have to lose £200 of his capital in the transaction. Can it be really supposed that landlords will accept stock upon such terms as these? But if they refuse to accept payment in stock then, according to the proposals of the Government, it must take 12 or 13 years to complete the sales already agreed upon. The delay involves serious hardship upon the purchasers. The farmers, who have agreed with their landlords, will have to pay during these years of waiting interest upon the purchase money, which will be at least I per cent, more than the annuity which they will have to pay to the State. Be sides that direct financial loss, which has been estimated at from £200,000 to £300,000 a year the delay means an addition of several years to the period of repayment. That is to say, instead of 68½ years the unfortunate purchaser or his successor will 233 have to go on paying his instalments for 75 or 80 years before the land is free. How in these circumstances this can be described as a Bill to expedite land purchase I am entirely unable to understand. There is nothing in this Rill which encourages the faintest hope that landlords and tenants will enter into purchase agreements in future.
There are two obstacles in the way set up by this Bill which can neither be turned nor surmounted. In the first place, the landlord is to be offered Three per Cent. Stock instead of cash, with a reduced bonus, and, assuming that the average selling price of land is no less than it has been, he must on those terms incur a loss of anything between 10 and 20 per cent. That is one obstacle in the way of agreement. The other is the proposed increase in the tenants' annuity from 3¼ per cent, to 3½ per cent. These two provisions are, in themselves, enough to prevent any further progress being made with land purchase on voluntary lines. They open up a gulf between landlords and tenants which this Bill offers no means of bridging over. If a purchaser paying a 3½ per cent, annuity is not to be placed at a disadvantage as compared with his neighbour who bought under the old conditions and is paying on a 3¼ per cent, basis, it follows that the landlord must be prepared to sell at a much lower price. How many landlords will do so voluntarily, or can 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 to be paid by the tenant would be substantially lower than his former rent, the landlord would receive such an amount as would give him his second term net rental. The finance of the Act of 1903 was arranged upon that basis, but this Bill entirely upsets the arrangements. A single illustration is sufficient to show that the proposals of the Government must result either in the landlords sustaining a substantial loss or in the tenant having to bear a heavy burden. Take a second term rent of £100. Deduct 10 per cent, for collection. The net income of the landlord is £90. To secure £90 if the landlord is to be paid in Three per Cent, stock at par the purchase price must be fixed at £3,000. That will be 30 years' purchase of the rent, and under the newscale the landlord would of course get no bonus. The tenants' annuity on the £3,000 at 3½ per cent, would be £105, or actually £5 a year more than he is paying 234 in rent at present. On the other hand, if the tenant is to obtain a reduction equal to that which has been obtained by other tenants who purchase before the 1st March—that is to say, an average of 19½ per cent, of second-term rents, and which, I submit, it is only right he should—the landlord would have to incur such a loss that any hope of arriving at an agreement would be, to say the least, extremely remote. A reduction of 19 per cent, under the new scheme would mean that the total amount the landlord would receive in exchange for £100 of rental would be £2,300, which, with a bonus of 4 per cent., would amount to £2,392. If from this you deduct costs of proving title, say, 5 per cent., the landlord would be left with a net amount of £2,272, and if this were paid to him in Three per Cent. Stock it would yield him an income of £68 3s. per annum, or a loss of 21 per cent, on his second term net rental.
Nobody will imagine for a moment that bargains can be arranged upon such a basis as that, and therefore I do not see how it is possible to expect land purchase to continue on voluntary lines. But then we have introduced the word "compulsion." I do not wish to be misunderstood in regard to anything I may say upon this part of the Bill. I have no objection to compulsory purchase in principle. In fact, I entered this House pledged to support compulsion, and I have given my vote in favour of compulsory purchase; but that was before the great Land Act of 1903 had opened up the prospect of establishing a universal system of occupying ownership on voluntary lines. I do not think it will be denied that agreement in land purchase is better than compulsion. I supported the Land Act of 1903 because I believed it would effect a great change in the land system of Ireland without any necessity for the application of compulsion, except perhaps in the case of a few obstinate landlords who might refuse all inducements to sell their estates voluntarily. I still think that if that Act were given a fair chance there would be no need to resort to compulsion—at all events, for some years to come. In any case, I do not see how compulsion is going to facilitate land purchase under the conditions imposed by this Bill. If compulsion is to be applied with any regard to the principles of equity, there is no doubt that payment for the land so taken must be made in cash, and there must be no delay in providing the money. The Chief Secretary admitted this in so many words when he introduced the Bill 235 of last year. He said then, "Having discovered the value of the land if you take it compulsorily, you must pay cash for it. You cannot pay in stock." The right hon. Gentleman also said, "I do not think he—that is the landlord—ought to be kept waiting a very long time for his money," and he further pointed out, "In these cases of compulsion the purchase money will have to come out of the £1,000,000 which is to be set aside out of the £5,000,000." The question arises whether the Bill as it stands actually gives effect to these explicit declarations of the Chief Secretary. Is it quite clear that all land taken compulsorily will be paid for in cash, and without delay? I think on both these points there is considerable room for doubt, and should the Bill go to Committee the compulsory clauses must undergo careful consideration in the light of the Chief Secretary's statements. Assuming, however, as we are entitled to do, that in all cases where compulsion is exercised landlords will be paid in cash out of the £1,000,000 a year which is to be allocated to the congested districts and the breaking up of the grass lands, how is the ordinary farmer going to be benefited by this part of the Bill? It must be remembered that all voluntary purchase has been rendered impossible by the other provisions of the Bill, and the ordinary farmer who has not yet entered into agreement with his landlord cannot hope to derive any advantage from the compulsory proposals of the Government. The fact is, so far as the ordinary farmer is concerned, whether he is in Ulster or elsewhere, the compulsion introduced into this Bill is a sham and a delusion. It will do nothing whatever for him, and it was never intended that it should.
The introduction of compulsion at this stage of land purchase is wholly illogical. The argument of the Government seems to be that because the voluntary system has been a great success therefore we must try compulsion, which is absurd. It is not merely delusive and illogical, but, what is much worse, it opens up a prospect of conflict between the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners as to which of these bodies is to have the spending of the money available. The needs of the congested districts and the demands of the cattle-drivers represent two rival and irreconcilable interests. The Chief Secretary and the Government have openly ranged themselves on the side of the cattle-drivers. Mr. John Fitzgibbon, who has claimed openly and publicly that 236 he originated cattle-driving in Roscommon says he is convinced the Chief Secretary "is going to be the huge cattle-driver in Ireland." It seems dear, therefore, that the people of the congested districts will have to go to the wall.
That brings me to the question of the relief of congestion and the prospects offered by this Bill of contributing to the solution of the problem. So far as I am | able to see there is not the remotest possibility of this Bill doing anything to advance the settlement of that question. I suppose it will be generally admitted that if congestion is to be relieved there must be an enlargement of present uneconomic holdings, and this must be accompanied by the removal of the surplus population to other districts where land is available. It is evident that this can only be done by a strong official body which is entirely independent of local and sectional interests.
Instead of a department of this kind the Government proposes to set up a board on which there will be an elective j majority. [Cries of "No, no."] Pardon j me. Let me explain my point. The board is i to consist of three ex-officio members, five members appointed by the Government, nine members representing the congested districts counties elected by the county councils, and two paid members appointed j by the Government. The three ex-officio members are the Chief Secretary, the Under-Secretary, and the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture. It is obvious that these three official members would not be free to take part in the actual work of the board. [Cries of "Why?"] Because, if they do, what will happen to the business they have to attend to in this House? Therefore the representatives of the city councils would be in a majority of two over the appointed members. The practical effect of this would be that the decisions of the board would be swayed by local influences and the real control of this board and the large sum of money at its command would be exercised by the United Irish League.
In framing this part of his Bill the Chief Secretary has not only ignored the recommendations of the Dudley Commission—he has acted in direct opposition to their proposals. If there was one point upon which the Commission is absolutely united it was the impossibility of settling the congested districts problem and at the same time satisfying the cattle-drivers. They point out in their Report the simple fact that there is not enough land available to enable this to be done. The Chief Secretary can- 237 not be ignorant of these circumstances, and it is, to say the least, a strange act of statesmanship to throw this Bill down as a bone of contention with an invitation to the Irish people to fight it out amongst themselves.
The Bill does not come before this House supported by any body of opinion which can be said to be representative of the Irish people. On the contrary, both for what it does and what it fails to do, it has been condemned by Irishmen of all classes and every shade of political opinion who put the welfare of their country before the exigencies of party. It has been repudiated not only by Ulster, but by Munster also. It is opposed equally by landowners who wish to sell their estates and by tenants who have agreed to purchase or who desire to purchase their farms. It has no friends except among the cattle-drivers and the politicians who believe it will help forward Home Rule. Of course, the Chief Secretary relies upon the support of the so-called National Convention, and yet, I suppose, the right hon. Gentleman has read what the hon. Member for Cork City has had to say about the convention and the means which were adopted to silence opposition to the Land Bill. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is acquainted with the proceedings at the police-court which arose out of the convention. He knows all about the men with boxwood batons strapped to their wrists who upheld Nationalist ideas of what constitutes freedom of speech and opinion.
I venture to think that if the right hon. Gentleman would bring an unbiassed mind to the consideration of this matter he would come to the conclusion that there is no genuine public opinion behind his Bill. The Convention was intended to serve two purposes. One object was to show that the people of Ireland wanted the Land Bill, the other was to demonstrate the capacity of the Irish Nationalists for Home Rule. Looking at the results, I do not think that even hon. Members below the Gangway will be disposed to claim that the convention was a great success. So far as the Land Bill is concerned, the proceedings of the convention only served to throw into stronger relief the division of opinion which exists in the Nationalist party, while it has drawn from a dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church the declaration that Nationalists are still unfit for Home Rule. The point I wish to make is that a resolution passed by a packed convention is 238 absolutely valueless as an indication of the considered opinion of the Irish people upon the proposals of the Government.
The people of Ireland want to see land purchase carried through, and they would welcome any steps which the Government would take to facilitate the working of the Act of 1903 and relieve the ratepayers of burdens which the stringent conditions of the money market threaten to impose upon them. But I maintain that in submitting his present proposals the Chief Secretary cannot claim the support of a majority of the Irish people. Five years ago the outlook in Ireland was bright with the promise of peace and prosperity. To-day the prospect is gloomy indeed. Land purchase is dead, killed by the Government in the interests of the Treasury and a spurious Nationalism. A large part of the country has been plunged into a condition of anarchy, if not with the sanction, at all events without any serious protests from the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman now proposes to open the flood-gates of a new agitation, which has complicated the land problem and threatens to involve the country in a long, wasting, and bitter struggle, the issue of which no man can possibly foresee.
§ Mr. KAVANAGH,
who was indistinctly heard, said: In the Amendment to the Address on the state of Ireland that country was held up to this House as in an absolute state of lawlessness and disorder. That, of course, was a very grave exaggeration. There are many things, no doubt, which have happened in Ireland which we all deplore and which we condemn on these Benches as much as hon. Members above the Gangway, but I think the Prime Minister put the case very clearly when he said that when we find an abnormal state of affairs, when we see a great outburst of public opinion resulting, no doubt, in lawlessness and disorder, we must look for its remedy not to repressive measures only, not to coercive Acts and prosecutions, but we must go to the root of the whole matter, and look for the cause. Much as I deplore the means which the people took to bring their case before public notice, I must really admit that there was a cause for it, and to a very great extent the cause of that outburst was in the first place the hopes held out to the people by the Land Act of 1903, and, secondly, by the terms of reference to the Report of the Dudley Commission. In introducing this Bill the Government 239 have fairly gone to the root of the question, and are trying to the best of their ability to remove some of the grievances which we have in Ireland.
I am very glad the Government have adopted nearly all the recommendations of the Dudley Commission for the Relief of Congestion in the West of Ireland. It is a very great satisfaction to us to know that after all our labour and trouble, and after all the money that the Treasury spent on that Commission, some practical result will be the outcome of it. There is also a certain amount of consolation to the members of the Dudley Commission, because of the charge made against us that the delay in our Report was the cause of all the cattle-driving in Ireland. That idea was started by the late Chief Secretary, and it has been taken up inside and outside the House. If you give a dog a bad name you may as well hang him at once, and I quite expect that the members of the Dudley Commission will be handed down to posterity as the originators, the instigators, and the perpetrators of all the cattle-driving in Ireland. One of the most important things in considering relief of congestion is the authority it has to carry out that relief. We had two alternatives before us in considering this question. We had either to make the authority a Government Department, such as the Estates Commissioners, or we had to preserve the present character of the board, but making it more in touch and sympathy with the people. We chose the second alternative, and I am very glad the Government followed us, for this reason. Any scheme of migration is very difficult and complex, and no board could carry it. out which was not in close touch with the people. I defy any Government to carry out a scheme of migration against the wish of the people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College was horrified because there was local representation on this board. No board in Ireland could work with local representation.
§ Mr. KAVANAGH
I take the right hon. Gentleman's word for it, but that was the gist of his argument, that with local representation the board would not work properly. The Agricultural Board, I think, even the right hon. Gentleman will admit, has worked well. We decided to make the board more in touch with the localities with which it has to deal.
240 Another question we had to decide was the area. Here again there were two alternatives before us. We had to invent a new definition or else abandon the definition and give a large area. I was afraid someone would have persuaded the Government that a new definition would meet the requirements of the case. In evidence before us we had dozens of such suggestions brought before us, but they all broke down on investigation. The adoption of an area has three great advantages. In the first place there will be no competition now between the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board. A most essential point is that there should be only one purchasing authority within the area. The second advantage, I think, is that it embraces a large amount of untenanted land. We included county Clare in it in order to get a certain amount of untenanted land, because I never like migration going outside the bounds of the area. The third advantage is that it gives the whole of the Western seaboard from Donegal to Cork into one hand. The Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture the other night said he had seen many piers perfectly useless put there just because the western people asked for them. It was a rivalry in that case not so much between the Congested Districts Board and the Department of Agriculture as between successive Chief Secretaries. One kind, warm-hearted man would go there and the Western people seized upon him and they got a pier. The next Chief Secretary, not to be outdone by his predecessor, did better, or worse.
Now I come to the crux of the Bill, that is, the compulsory purchase powers. I for many years have been in favour of compulsory purchase, because I believed transfer from owner to occupier was the only final settlement of the land question, but there has been such a rush of voluntary purchase since 1900 that really it almost seems as if compulsion had become unnecessary. There will be very little need for compulsion. I think it will be really a sweeping up process after voluntary purchase has ceased. We all know there are some cases of landlords who will not sell at any price at all, and in those cases compulsion is absolutely necessary, and I hope it will be used. But the minute a landlord sees that the price under compulsion is a fair price and not a robbery price he will accept it. There may be a few test cases, but after that I think the whole of it will be voluntary purchase.
241 With regard to the methods proposed by the Government in fixing the price, I speak entirely for myself as a member of the Dudley Commission, and I do not want to commit any of my colleagues here to agree with me. This is the one important point on which the Government have differed from the recommendations of the Dudley Commission. We, in our Report, recommended that the price the landlord should be given should be his nett profit income, and where evidence of that was not forthcoming, or was unsatisfactory, that there should be inspection for value. We only recommended compulsory purchase on condition that our recommendations as to the tribunal and the fixing of the price were carried out, but the Government have not accepted these proposals. They have adopted the procedure under the Evicted Tenants Act. I submit that something more than that procedure is necessary. Compulsion under the Evicted Tenants Act was a mere flea-bite compared to compulsion under this Act. The whole of a man's income under this Act is involved and, therefore. Parliament ought to lay down some standard for fixing the price, under which the tribunal should arrive at their decision. In our report we laid down the broad leading principle that where land is taken compulsorily for public purposes the ideal we aimed at is not to put the man in a worse position financially than he was before. I hope that will be the principle which will guide the tribunal in arriving at their decision, and if it is so, I leave this difficult and complex question with a clear conscience, knowing that on the one hand a great public requirement will be carried out and, on the other hand, that my brother landlords will receive no injustice or injury.
On the question of congestion, I think everyone will agree that the chief, if not the only remedy, is migration and the enlargement of holdings, and the acquisition of grass land, and dividing them up into small farms. The great objection which is made against the scheme is that it will ruin the cattle trade of Ireland. In answer to that, I freely admit that if I the grass lands of the West of Ireland—I am only speaking of the West of Ireland—were divided up in one year, or even in two years, it would seriously dislocate the cattle trade of Ireland. But anyone who has studied or thought over the question of migration knows that it will be a very lengthy and difficult and gradual process; and, if I were to answer that objection in one sentence, I would say 242 that during that lengthy process the Irish farmer would adapt himself to the altered conditions of trade. Speaking last year on this very question, the Chief Secretary made it a question between the cattle and the people. If hon. Gentlemen in this House would see the West of Ireland as we see it, if they could see those vast tracts of untenanted land without houses on them, and even without a human being on them, and, to my mind, with very few cattle on them, and if they could see close by the people of the country huddled together like rabbits on the bogs, rocks, and hill-sides of the country—if they could see all that, I do not believe that there is one man in this House who would hesitate for one moment in his choice between the cattle and the people.
But the distinction which was drawn rather implied that if the people came on to the land, the cattle would go off. That is not so. Take 1,000 acres of the grass land, and if you divide them up into farms of 30 or 40 acres, they would carry just as many cattle if not more than they do now, and at the same time they would support the people of the country. As a matter of fact, these lands are very much understocked at the present moment. They are gradually deteriorating in value, and all land must deteriorate if you go on grazing the store cattle on it year after year without putting anything back on it. If you divide these grass lands up into small holdings, they will be in reality immensely improved in value, and anyone who entertains any doubt on this point can read the evidence of the Estates Commissioners, Messrs. Finucine and Bailey, who are experts on the matter, and who show plainly that if you divide up these grass lands they would be enormously improved.
Another objection that has been urged against this scheme of migration is that these new landholders the minute they get in will let their lands for grazing lands, and that, instead of having one large grazier you will have a dozen smaller ones. If that were a fact it would be a very serious objection, and in support of that argument the hon. Member for North Armagh, speaking on this question last year, produced a copy of the "Tuam Gazette," in which there were advertisements of a lot of the small new landholders offering their land for grazing under the 11 months system, and he put that forward as an argument that all new landholders would let their lands for grazing and would continue to do so. Let me ex- 243 plain. It is always to be expected that when these new men come into their new holdings they must let their lands for grazing for the first two or three years. They come into the holdings with very little capital and with no stock at all. They must feel their way and they must pay their instalments, and it stands to reason that in the first two or three years they must let the grass. But as time, goes on, and as they get a little stock and a little capital, you will find year by year they will let less and less, and that eventually when they get their full stock they will farm the whole of it themselves. That is the full explanation of that objection, and I do hope that the House will not be misled by arguments of that kind. Whether these new landholders will go in for a new and large system of tillage really depends more on this House than it does on them. You cannot force tillage on anybody, large or small. Tillage will come easily and quickly when it pays. It will not come one moment sooner, but whether it does pay or whether the land in this country will ever go back to proper cultivation depends entirely on the fiscal policy of this House.
Another objection that has been put forward is that these congests are quite unwilling to move. That is totally wrong. We had abundant evidence before the Commission to the contrary of that. I suppose if we examined one we examined hundreds of the congests, bonâ fide congests, men living on a few acres of mountain rocks of the usual class, and we asked them if they wore willing to migrate, and they said: "Of course; we go to America, to England, to Scotland, and Wales, and why should we not go to another part of Ireland?" Of course they would go. There was only one thing would stop them, and that was the opposition of the local people where they were going to. That I admit would tend to stop them, and I look upon that as the most serious question that we have to deal with in Ireland in relation to the relief of congestion by migration. Take a large tract of untenanted land,' which the board has just acquired for putting migrants on. Around that tract there would be many farmers' holdings, large and small. The Congested Districts Board always admitted the claims of the small uneconomic holders. They have always given them holdings. They have given them an equal, if not a prior, rate to the migrant, and their claim is satisfied. But a new class of claimant 244 arises. These are the sons of tenants—landless men. They claim that they must be satisfied before the migrants, or else the migrants will not be welcome. That is where the trouble comes in, and if that opposition were persisted in the relief of congestion would become extremely difficult. I think that clause 39, section 2 of this Act deliberately encourages that resistance. It empowers the board to sell to sons of tenants any balance of land which may remain over after they have satisfied the claims of the migrants. But if this Act works smoothly and thoroughly there can be no balance. There is hardly land enough within the congested area to satisfy the requirements of migrants, and the only way that that balance can be made is by discouraging the migrant from coming into the place. I submit that this clause will open the door to opposition of this kind, and if it is retained it will make the work of migration of this class by the Congested Districts Board ten times as hard, if not absolutely impossible.
Those are a few of the points which I wish to bring before the House. The part of the Bill dealing with the relief of congestion has been called Socialistic and revolutionary. If to relieve poverty and distress, if to buy up the monopoly of one man to relieve the necessities of thousands—if that is revolutionary and Socialistic, I am both one and the other; and I believe that in taking that view on this Bill I shall find myself in agreement with the vast majority of the Members of this House. But I would like to say this to the Government, that the people who are opposing this Bill, and the people who are in favour of it, are both saying that it was never meant to pass, and that it was only meant to dangle in our faces. Of course, that is for the Government to contradict, not for me, but I will say this: This Bill has raised great hopes and expectations in Ireland; the people, especially in the West of Ireland, are looking for it anxiously:, and if they take it into their mind that they are going to be fooled, I, for one, do not like to contemplate the effect that it will have in Ireland. I see that some doubts are expressed as to the attitude of the Government towards land purchase in Ireland. I read a leading article in the leading organ of the Liberal party the other day, the "Daily Chronicle," which condemned land purchase, and advised the Irish farmer not to buy his holdings. It is too late to give advice like that. You cannot 245 stop land purchase. You may delay it for the moment, but you cannot stop it, and in delaying it I think you will only be putting off the evil day or the day of reckoning which the British Treasury must face sooner or later. I do hope that the Government will press forward this Bill, and that they will give it to us as a first instalment of that larger measure which alone can bring peace and prosperity to Ireland.
§ Mr. BARRIE
I desire briefly to address the House in support of the Amendment moved this afternoon, and I feel that, in view of my agreement with much of what has fallen from the last speaker, that sooner or later it is more than usually likely that he will meet the fate that has already overtaken the hon. Member for Westmeath. I speak as the representative of one of the northern counties of Ireland, who have very largely taken advantage of the Act of 1903; and I speak to-night with full knowledge that they will agree with me when I say that, in their view, the Bill now presented to us is a Treasury Relief Bill, and a Bill for the endowment in certain portions of Ireland of the United Irish League. I note, and I am not surprised, that the Chief Secretary disagrees with the suggestion that this is a Treasury Relief Act. I hope to prove that there is fair ground for making that suggestion. And may I first of all remind the House o: the terms under which the Land Act of 1903 was passed? We were asked by Lord Morley, who was a prominent and distinguished Member of this House, to remember that the policy which had led up to that Act was one which must be regarded not as conferring a boon upon one class or another in Ireland, but as a great act of State and national policy. Lord Morley, in the same speech, went on to point out—and I think he was the only Member on that side of the House who did point out—that the bonus then set up might possibly run to £22,000,000 sterling, and not the £12,000,000 about which we have heard so much this afternoon. That speech is on record, and can be referred to by the Chief Secretary. I think it likely that we are not required to take too seriously his suggestion this afternoon that £12,000,000 was the maximum that this House was to consider as a possible liability under the Land Purchase Act. Then we have even prominent Members of the Irish National Party speaking in terms of the highest appreciation of that Act. Let me quote very briefly 246 from the hon. Member for East Mayo. This is what he said of that Act:—It must be admitted that the Bill is immensely better than when it was introduced, and in that respect I share the view expressed by my hon. friend and Leader the Member for Waterford. I saw. I think, in the 'Daily News' the other day that 12,000,000 English sovereign's were to be handed over to the Irish Landords to sweeten this transaction. That is not true…. The essence of the bonus is this: that whereas previously the Government was spending £750,000 a year in maintaining war between landlords and tenants in Ireland—money which was absolutely wasted—they MOW purposed" to devote £390,000 a 'year of that money, for a limited period, for the purpose of bringing about peace. For my part I sincerely regret that they have not devoted £500,000 per annum to the bonus, because that would enable the process to develop much more rapidly and the Imperial taxpayer would not lose sixpence more by the transaction.I venture to make these two quotations, and I will ask the permission of the House to make a short one from a Member of the present Government—I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone. In the same debate he referred to the Act as follows:—This Act is the result of compromise in which, and the basis of which was that the landords could secure the equivalent of their second term rents, and the tenants get a reduction of 15 to 25 per cent.I ask why they obtained that reduction? The Hon. Member said it was necessary because of foreign competition, the falling of prices, etc. He then went on to remind the House of its historical obligation to landlords; that England was responsible for the Irish system of landlordism, and that if we remembered the recommendations of the Financial Relations. Commission the House was bound to take a most generous view of its obligations to Irish landlords. He then concluded—and these words are in sharp contrast to the spirit of the words of the Chief Secretary this afternoon—he concluded:—Talk of £100,000 talk of millions, the pence of Ireland is worth many millions to England and the British Empire!Sentiments of this sort were not particularly prominent in the speech of the Chief Secretary this afternoon. What do we find first? First, he thought it necessary to assure the House that he was still a believer in Irish land purchase. I accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman to that effect, but when I do so, I have to remember that he is one Member—a distinguished Member no doubt—of the present Cabinet; but that there is another Member of the present Cabinet, who, in Liverpool, two weeks ago, thought it his duty to say to a large audience there:I do not think any man would invest in Irish laud f he had a stocking available in which he could put his spare cash.It is for that reason, because of the expressed statement of the present Chancellor 247 of the Exchequer, succeeded and supported as it has been since the present Government came into office by a steady slowing-up of the settlement of land purchase in Ireland, that I venture again to say to the House, that the intention of this legislation is the final strangling of the beneficent work which the Act has been doing. There are various tests by which that assertion can be proved. I see on the Treasury Bench at the moment the Irish Solicitor-General. I venture, I hope with no disrespect, to ask him if he would feel at liberty to go to North Tyrone to-day and in open meeting ask his farming friends to support the Bill presently before the House? No Member of the Government—and two distinguished Members of the Government hold seats in Ulster—have ventured in open meeting to address their Constituents, since that legislation was premeditated, in support of any such measure. Until they are able to go to their constituents and get support in open meeting—I say open meeting advisedly, because we are accustomed in these latter days to ticket meetings, or so called popular conventions—I say I do not know of any agricultural Constituency where a supporter of the present Government could get a farmers' audience to say a single good word for this Bill. On the contrary, we do know that unanimous resolutions have been passed in opposition to this Bill all over the province of Ulster, and not even confined to that province.
We were assured by the Prime Minister last year that it was never intended that the Irish ratepayers should bear the cost, loss, of the flotation of Irish stock. What has happened since those words were spoken in the House? In two successive years we have had the Irish Executive levying the losses on the Irish councils.
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
And becoming particularly watchful that they were paid promptly. They do not even trust the honour of the Irish county councils that they would during the course of the financial year pay this loss. The Secretary for Ireland interrupts me to say what other course could we take? May I call his particular attention to the resolution passed by the County Council of Tyrone a few days ago—I think passed on a motion of a Member of this House—to the effect that in exacting these demands the Government were guilty of a breach of faith in view of the statement of the Prime Minis- 248 ter. I say again—and I absolutely believe it when I. say it—it is part of the process of compelling public opinion to be silent under the proposals of this Land Act. The idea underlying these prompt collections of these deficiencies is to prevent Irish farmers all over the country expressing their disapproval of the proposals of this Bill as they would otherwise do. I do not think that can be gainsaid. I hold in my hand a list of these exactions. I will read it if the House desires it. I will also read the resolution of the Tyrone County Council on the subject, although the House, I have no doubt, will take my word that such resolution was parsed. I see at the conclusion of it that a copy was to be sent to the Chief Secretary. I have no doubt he duly received it. We have had open meetings in other parts of Ireland at which this Bill has been thoroughly condemned. I listened to the Chief Secretary's speech this afternoon with the very closest possible attention, because I had been hoping that even now it would have been realised by His Majesty's Government that the true effect of this Bill is the strangling of future land purchase. I have found no fanner, even political opponent, who disagreed from that suggestion in Ireland. [A laugh.] An hon. Member laughs, but I am afraid there is no argument in a laugh. I am prepared to have a declaration from an open meeting of Irish farmers, dealing with the subject, with not a single landlord present.
I desire to point out to the House how serious the matter is, not so much for the landlords who have not sold as for the tenants who have, bought. Take my own county. Sixty-two per cent, of the farmers have purchased. Only 24 per cent, have been paid. I will come back in a few minutes to the question of how long the remainder will have to wait for their money, but dealing now with the 38 per cent, who have not purchased, I have made full inquiries, and I am satisfied that it is not possible that more than 20 per cent, of those can possibly come in as purchasers under the Act. I mention that in connection with the Chief Secretary's suggestion that a very large quantity of Ireland is yet to be sold under the Act. I think if you cut the figure suggested to the House in two, and made a deduction from that again, it would be nearer the real figure. This 38 per cent, of land, or the portion of it which is saleable, has not been sold because the landlords who own it are not anxious to sell, not because the tenants are dissatisfied with the terms that other tenants 249 have accepted under the Act—because I happen to know that tenants who have so far not been able to purchase would be only too pleased to purchase on the terms that their brother-farmers have secured. That, I think, is the best reply that pan possibly be made to the suggestion that the Irish farmers have made improvident, bargains under the 1903 Act. I think I have never heard a farmer declare that he regretted the bargain he made under the Act of 1903. That, I think, disposes of the suggestion very largely dwelt upon by the Chief Secretary this afternoon that the Irish tenant farmers had been only too willing to give the Irish landlords more than the market value for their land. Under the proposals of this Bill it may be 13 years before the last batch of tenant farmers, who have already completed their bargains, may be settled on their farms. I wonder does the Chief Secretary ever figure out exactly how much it has added to the cost of the farmers concerned.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The hon. Member does not say anything about the present Bill. I have not created the block.
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
The right hon. Gentleman interrupts me to say that he has not created the block. That is true to a certain extent, but to a certain extent only. I recall that within six weeks of the opening of the present Parliament there had been a great feeling of dissatisfaction in Ireland at the slowness with which settlements were being effected.
I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, in which I asked if 10 millions were required for the purpose of the Act during the financial year 1906–7 would it be provided by the Government, and Mr. Bryce said "Certainly"; and on the Estimates for that year, in view of the complaints both from below and above the Gangway, that the work of the Land Commission was moving too slowly, we had an assurance from Mr. Bryce, given in very much the words used by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, that everything was being done to expedite the work of the Land Commission, and that no expense would be spared to do it. In that connection let me remind the House that he was dealing with the year 1906. The Land Commission for that year cost Great Britain £166,000. The present Government have added and superadded to the cost of the Land Commission each year until we find in the following year it went up to 250 £225,000, a jump of £60,000. The next year it want up another £25,000. Last year it went up £32,000, and I notice from the Estimates put before us the other day that for the coining financial year the cost is to be the stupendous figure of £315,000. Yet the process of land purchase settlement has not been increased. By a most adroit and skilful arrangement of figures, in which a quarter of a million that has not yet been distributed was included by the Chief Secretary this afternoon, he made out that the progress has been accelerated. The figures speak best for themselves, and: let us take them in their financial years. Until this Government came into office the rate was roughly five million pounds per annum. We take the first year for which they were responsible, and we find that the total amount that they distributed was £2,210,000. Next year they distributed £8,000,000; the following year the rate fell back to £5,000,000; and last year—and that is the year ending this week—they have distributed £7,000,000. If you work these figures out the net result is that it has cost practically double to settle estates under the Land Commission as regulated by this present Government—the Government that has always been so strong in the economy of public departments under its care. But I need not dwell upon that. I have said, and I repeat, that no intelligent farmer in Ulster, be he Nationalist or be he Unionist, is under the slightest delusion as to the true intent of the Land Bill now before the House. It is a Treasury relief Bill to begin with. It is an endowment of the Irish Nationalist League. It is putting into their hands something like a quarter of a million sterling for administrative purposes, plus a million sterling per annum to be used in land purchase. I think the true inwardness of that also is granted. But we complain that, while that is done the natural process of land settlement where all bargains are honorably fulfilled, is to be only £4,000,000 sterling per annum in future. Now that I have the privilege of speaking in the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I want to add another final proof of my suggestion as to the true intention of this Bill, namely, that it is a Bill to relieve the British Treasury from an honourable obligation. The Chief Secretary was silent on the subject this afternoon, and I think it is still more regrettable that the leader of the Irish Nationalists was also silent on the subject. It is a startling fact that while we are given as the reason for 251 raising the annuity under land purchase by a quarter per cent., the doubtful finance of the Act, when passed, we have now, as a change in the Bill since it was before us in November last, the startling proposition to also raise the annuity under the Labourers Act, passed by the present Government. I confess I was extremely surprised when I read that provision in the Bill, and I am even more surprised that no protest so far has fallen from the Nationalist Benches. This is the legislation of the present Government, and however legitimate and proper it may be for them to change the faulty finance of the Act of 1903, are they prepared to assure the House that they were not equally in fault in respect of the finance of the Labourers Act of 1906? Possibly this new provision hits all Ireland equally, but if the earlier provisions to raise the annuity for land purchase was calculated to strangle legitimate land purchase as we believed then, the new proposal to raise the annuity under the Labourers Act is equally certain to strangle the operation of the Labourers Act of 1906. However faulty its new finance, however detrimental to Unionist counties, undoubtedly that Act was doing good work in Ireland, because it was rapidly improving the housing of the labouring classes all over that country. I am not surprised to see that an Irish public authority last week seemed to have gripped the change which at the last moment has been inserted in this Bill, and they have passed a very strong resolution, which I have no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary have already received. I regret I have trespassed longer than I expected, but as a tenants' and labourers' representative I feel strongly on this subject. I am anxious, as no Member could be more anxious, to see land purchase reach its natural conclusion in a reasonable time. I am anxious, as no Member below the Gangway can be more anxious, to see the houses of the labourers in rural Ireland rebuilt as quickly as possible, but I warn the Government that under this Bill, though it may seem to them a small thing, they are making a difference as regards taxation so serious that Irish rural councils will be discouraged. They will lose faith in the permanent intentions of the Government, and this problem will become again, as it was for years, an acute political one, and this Government, this Government alone, will be responsible for bringing it again into the arena of party conflict.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Redmond Barry)
The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke as a representative of an Ulster Constituency, and he very pointedly addressed me by way of a challenge as to whether I, who also represent an Ulster Constituency, would venture to assure the House that any Constituency could be found in Ulster prepared to give its adherence to this measure. That challenge came to me as an absolute surprise, because I certainly was under the impression that the tenant farmers, who constitute a very large portion of my Constituents, were one and all throughout Ulster, and practically throughout every province in Ireland, in favour of the main provisions of this Bill. [OPPOSITION cries of "No, no," and an HON. MEMBER: "In no part."] Reference has been made to a resolution passed by the Tyrone County Council protesting, I understand, against the burdens that fall upon them under the Act of 1903. This measure is intended very largely to remove in the future those burdens from the shoulders not only of our own farmers and county councils, but from the shoulders of the farmers and county councils throughout the rest of Ireland. Why hon. Gentlemen opposite urge the view of the Tyrone County Council as being against this measure I do not understand, because the expectation of the Government is that when this Bill is understood and realised by the Tyrone County Council and other county councils it must of necessity have their enthusiastic approbation and support. What does the Bill propose? Hon. Members opposite must admit—and I think it was admitted in the most unequivocal manner by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University—that under the law as it stands at present, if land purchase is to proceed one step further the entire burden, and the loss upon flotation of stock necessary to raise the funds for the purpose, must every penny of it be borne by the Irish ratepayers. To-night the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, towards the end of his speech, stated that that was the effect of the law as it exists a I: the present time, and no hon. Gentleman acquainted with the working of the Act of 1903 would for one moment gainsay that fact. The Chief Secretary has shown in his speech what the amount of that loss will be if the transactions are to be carried out on the present basis. He has shown that they will amount to a charge of £800,000 upon the 253 ratepayers of Ireland, and that is taking the period at 68½ years, and giving credit for the £160,000 to be charged upon the Ireland Development Grant. Does the hon. Member opposite realise the first great proposal of this Bill is to take that immense burden off the shoulders of the Irish ratepayers and relieve them not merely as regards £50,000,000 worth of estates outstanding, but also as regards all purchase agreements from all responsibility as regards flotation losses. The right hon. Gentleman says this Bill paralyses land purchase in Ireland. All I have to say is that at the present time land purchase in Ireland is absolutely paralysed, not by any reason of a proposal contained in this Bill, or by reason of anything my right hon. Friend has done, but in consequence of the inexorable terms of the existing law under the Act of 1903. Does the hon. Member opposite dispute that?
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
I am sorry to interrupt the learned Solicitor-General, but I would remind him of the assurance given by the Prime Minister that the Irish ratepayers should not and must not be debited with these losses.
§ Mr. REDMOND BARRY
Yes, and it is in pursuance of that promise that the Prime Minister has consented to this Bill being brought in. I am dealing with the law as it stands at present. Does the hon. Member opposite deny that, as the law stands, without the proposals of this Bill, every single penny of loss, amounting to £800,000 a year for a period of 68½ years, will fall, every penny of it, upon the Irish ratepayers? If the hon. Member doubts that I would refer him to the admission made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University who, in the plainest and most unequivocal terms, said that was so under the law as it stands.
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
Yes, but the figure of £800,000 is calculated in its most extreme form as if the value of money was going to remain at the unparalleled low level it has reached at the present moment, and that is highly improbable.
§ Mr. REDMOND BARRY
I do not think that is reasonable. The House will recollect the figure given by the Chief Secretary, and that was based upon the assumption that the price would remain at 85. But, supposing it rises to 87 or 88, the amount will be reduced; but it will still remain an enormous item, which, under the law, must be borne by the 254 Irish ratepayers. No one acquainted I with the Act can dispute that for one moment, and it is by reason of that that land purchase in Ireland may be said to be paralysed. I ask hon. Members opposite what they think can be done in this matter unless such a Bill as that which is proposed is passed into law? Do they suppose that, as things stand at the present time in Ireland, the £56,000,000 necessary for outstanding sales can be raised? How is it to be raised? Does it occur to them that, in order to raise it according to the present prices, flotation losses to the extent of £8,000,000 would be sustained? Do they realise that every penny of that money would have to be borne by the Irish ratepayers unless this Bill comes to their assistance? What justice is there in the hon. Member getting up and saying that the effect of this Bill will be to bring land purchase to a dead stop in Ireland and kill and paralyse it? Instead of killing and arresting land purchase, this Bill will have the immediate effect of enabling these transactions to be carried through successfully. Instead of paralysing land purchase it will give it an impetus, and enable the transactions to be carried out, by taking away a burden and a cog upon them, with which, by the admission of everybody acquainted with the facts, it would be impossible for Ireland out of her own resources to deal. Therefore, it is a travesty of the situation to suggest that this is a Bill for the purpose of arresting land purchase and bringing it to a standstill. It is intended to and it must necessarily have precisely the opposite effect.
Then as regards the resolution of the County Council of Tyrone, which the hon. Member suggests was passed as a complaint against the statement of the Prime Minister. He recalls the assurance of the Prime Minister that it was not the intention of Parliament in 1903 to impose these immense losses on the ratepayers, although the Act by its provisions did so. Does the hon. Member or the County Council of Tyrone suggest that, with the statute as it at present stands, it is possible for the Prime Minister or any other Member of the Government to disobey the law? It is impossible for the Chancellor of Exchequer to do anything except deduct from the sums going through the Local Taxation Account to the County Council of Tyrone the arrears of annuities, expense of bonus dividends, advanced dividends, and the other items which go to make up the immense loss. There is no 255 option except to carry out the Act in that respect. What, therefore, is the ground of the hon. Gentleman's complaint against the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
The explanation is the direct statement of the head of the Government that, in view of this pending legislation, these exactions should not be demanded or collected until this legislation was passed. That has nothing to do with raising the annuity.
§ Mr. REDMOND BARRY
Why, the proposal in the Amendment to-night is that this legislation should not be entertained at all, and that you should retain the position of affairs existing under the Act of 1903. That is the proposal the hon. Member is about to vote for if he supports the Amendment. I do not wish to attribute motives, but I find it difficult to understand with what face hon. Gentlemen opposite, knowing as they must what the position is under the burdensome provisions of the Act of 1903, can come before this House and suggest that either this Bill or any speech of any Minister has had the effect of paralysing land purchase, or bringing it to the standstill at which it has unquestionably arrived under the Act of 1903.
Then the hon. Member has spoken of the Bill as being a Treasury Relief Bill. If one wished to bandy phrases with the hon. Member, I should certainly say that a greater misnomer could not be applied to it. The Bill, so far from being a Treasury Relief Bill, is intended to afford relief, and just relief, to the ratepayers of Ireland from an intolerable burden which, by common admission, ought never to have been imposed upon them, but which nevertheless was most carefully saddled upon them by the Act of 1903. Of course, it is a very easy matter for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that it was never intended by the Act of 1903, but the fact remains that this burden was by that Act most carefully placed upon the ratepayers, and the calamitous difficulty which has arisen in regard to land purchase comes from the very fact that there exist these provisions under which it would be impossible to carry land purchase one step further, except at an enormous loss to the ratepayers, which everybody agrees it would be impossible for them to bear.
256 I pass to the other great provision of the Bill—namely, that dealing with the problem of congestion. I understood the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the Bill would have no important effect in relieving congestion in the West. I was rather surprised that the right hon. Member for Dublin University, in speaking of the proposals relating to congestion, should have carefully pointed out that the Act of 1903 did not contemplate the relief of congestion in the West of Ireland as any very prominent part of its proposals. He was careful to say that the great object of that Bill was to accomplish land purchase throughout Ireland, and that only as ancillary or incidental to it congestion was to be relieved. That language was in very serious contrast with the words used by the right hon. Member for Dover on 14th March, 1902, when in a debate in this House upon the Irish Congested Districts Board he spoke of this problem of the relief of congestion in the West not as being a subsidiary or subordinate part of the Irish problem, but as being in itself the paramount problem of the Irish situation. Speaking of the condition of the people in the West of Ireland, he said that the state of affairs existing there was worse than that existing in the slums of the big cities, that as far as he was concerned he thought that that state of affairs should be kept outside party politics altogether, and that it was a matter which, in season and out of season, in this House and out of it, he would constantly keep before the minds of the people of this country as a problem pressing for solution, and as being in itself "the paramount problem of the whole of the Irish question." In the face of that language by the author of the Act of 1903 it is amazing to hear from the right hon. Member for Dublin University that the relief of congestion in the West is only something ancillary or incidental or subordinate to the main purpose of the Act of 1903. We take no such view, and we cannot but think that the failure of the Act of 1903 to realise for the people of Ireland what they and Parliament believed to be one of its main objects—namely, the relief of congestion in the West—has led to many of the troubles which have since supervened upon Ireland, and it is a fundamental justification of the proposals of my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member opposite said that no substantial proposals were made that would tend to relief. Does he overlook the fact that the Bill proposes to increase the income of the Congested Districts Board available 257 for this purpose from £86,000 to £250,000 a year? Does he call that nothing? Is his proposal to reject that part of the Bill? Does he object to that portion of the Bill? He does?
And it being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.