§ Advances made under Section sixteen of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906 (which are by virtue of that Section repayable in like manner as advances under the Land Purchase Acts), shall be repayable as respects advances made before the passing of this Act in like manner as advances made in pursuance of pending purchase agreements, and as respects advances made after the passing of this Act in like manner as advances made in pursuance of future purchase agreements, and in the latter case the rate of interest paid by the Land Commission to the National Debt Commissioners shall be three per cent. per annum instead of two and three-quarters per cent. per annum.2174
§ Mr. BIRRELL
moved to leave out from the word "shall" ["under the Land Purchase Acts shall "] to the end of the Clause, and to insert instead thereof the words "whether made before or after the passing of this Act be repayable in like manner as advances made in pursuance of pending purchase agreements, and as respects all such advances the rate of interest paid by the Land Commission to the National Debt Commissioners shall be two and three-quarters per cent. per annum.
"(2) The payment charged on the Ireland Development Grant under Section seventeen of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906, shall, so far as that grant is insufficient to meet the payment, be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament instead of being charged upon that grant. Provided that the total amount of the 2175 payment to be charged on the said grant, or to be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament, shall not exceed twenty-eight thousand pounds in any year."
This Clause makes provision for the repayment of advances made under Section 16 of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1906. That is the Section which authorises the Land Commission to make advances from the Land Purchase Fund to rural district councils for the purpose of providing labourers' cottages, such advances not to exceed four and a quarter millions (sterling), and to be repayable in the same manner as advances under the Land Purchase Acts. This Bill provides for the repayment of advances at a new rate of 3½ per cent., and therefore, unless the Bill made some provision, any such advances would probably have to be repaid at the new rate. The original Bill provided that the old rate of annuity was to apply in respect of advances made before the passing of the Act. Over a million sterling has already been actually advanced before the passing of the Act, while three and a quarter millions remain not yet actually advanced. That would probably have to be repaid under the new terms; but although that three and a quarter millions has not been advanced nearly the whole of it has been sanctioned for schemes by the Local Government Board, and therefore practically the whole amount, although it has not been advanced, has all been sanctioned. I therefore, by the alteration now submitted, propose, with the sanction of the Treasury, that all advances under the Labourers Acts, whether before the passing of this Act or after, up to the limit of four and a quarter millions originally proposed, shall be repayable on the old terms. The first part provides that any loss occasioned owing to the issue of excess stock for the purposes of the Labourers Acts will be provided for out of the Votes rather than the Development Grant, and therefore will not fall in any way upon the ratepayers.
The second paragraph of the proposed Amendment relates to a matter which, I think, explains itself. Under Section 17 of the Labourers Act 20 per cent. of the amount of the purchase annuities payable by district councils was charged primarily upon the Ireland Development Grant. That is to say, the district councils were relieved to the extent of 20 per cent. of their obligations to repay advances, provided in each year the sum did not exceed £28,000 to be paid out of the Development 2176 Grant to meet that grant. There is the further provision that any sum paid out of the grant shall be paid out of the Votes, so that the Grant was made the channel of communication between the district councils and the ultimate liability. The Development Grant now, of course, will very soon be absorbed. The next advance of money will absorb the whole of the £160,000 per year, and no money will be available for the initial payment of this annual sum of £28,000. Consequently we are asking to prevent it going through this empty formality of paying out of an existing fund and then having it repaid out of the Votes. So far as the Development Grant is insufficient, payment is to be defrayed direct out of moneys provided by Parliament up to £28,000.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MOORE
I think that the Committee and those who represent Irish constituencies ought to be very grateful to the Chief Secretary for acceding in the first part of his Amendment to a request which was made to him, and backed very strongly by the local bodies in the North of Ireland. This is certainly about the only one of the Amendments which I think can fairly be said to be an Amendment made at the request of my hon. Friends who sit on these Benches for Northern constituencies. I think we ought to be very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for meeting our wishes, because it was felt to be a very serious blow to the working of the Labourers Acts if the Treasury were successful in having their way in the conditions as to the amount of money to be borrowed for the purpose of labourers cottages. I am not going to repeat on this Clause the criticisms which were made at the time as to the effect of the various funds provided by the Labourers Act, 1906, on particular parts of the country; but it would have been a further obstacle to the working of the Acts if the Bill had remained in its original form. I am not at all satisfied as to the second part of the Amendment, and now that we are in Committee it is only right that the matter should be examined. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman, as there was no Debate on Clause 10 at any stage of our proceedings, but the second part of this Amendment is entirely the creature of his; own brain. The only explanation we have had is that which the right hon. Gentleman has just given, and, as practically the security of one-fifth of the whole annual 2177 amount going under the Labourers Act, 1908, is affected by the Amendment, I think, if the Act is to be properly worked and safeguarded, we ought to have some further explanation. Under the Act of 1906 there is a Parliamentary charge upon the Development Grant, which, under Section 14, is practically put at £23,000 a year. That £28,000 is a Parliamentary charge upon the Development Grant equal in priority with any other charge, except £5,000 in respect of Trinity College estates. What the right hon. Gentleman asks us to do is to give up, without examination—I am not saying that it ought not to be done after examination—the security which we now have of a Parliamentary charge on a Parliamentary fund, and to trust to the House to vote the money annually. That might involve very serious consequences, possibly paralysing the workings of the Acts in a particular year. If we are to trust to annual estimates the security will not be the same. Parliament might not vote the money in a given year. There might be some arrangement entered into with hon. Members below the Gangway, and it is conceivable that under political conditions in this House the £28,000 might not be forthcoming. It therefore might be a very serious injury if we were deprived of the security which the Act of 1906 gives.
I do not think that this Sub-section interferes with the security of the Development Grant. It states that "the payment charged on the Ireland Development Grant … shall so far as that grant is insufficient to meet the payment be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament instead of being charged upon that grant." That is, therefore, an addition. It does not go back on the Development Grant at all.
§ Mr. MOORE
The Chief Secretary said that the Development Grant was practically exhausted, and this Amendment may be drawn to meet that view. Is it not the case that the Parliamentary charge under the Labourers Act for the purposes of the Labourers Acts has equal priority with any other charge on the Development Grant?
§ Mr. BIRRELL
There are only two statutory charges which have absolute priority, one of £20,000 and one of £5,000, the £185,000 being thus reduced to £160,000. Other charges which may be put on from time to time are all subject by statute to the obligations upon that fund to make good the losses on flotation. 2178 Therefore, as soon as the fund is exhausted for that purpose, the £28,000 and all other charges will disappear altogether, because there will be nothing out of which to pay them. Hence it is obviously better to place the grant so that it would have to be put on the Votes.
This Amendment in no way interferes with the amount of the Development Grant. It is in addition to it. It is not in order to raise any question of a rearrangement.
§ Mr. DILLON
I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for a very valuable concession, and I think I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we do not believe there is the smallest foundation for the fear of the hon. Member (Mr. Moore) in regard to this £28,000.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.