HL Deb 13 August 1901 vol 99 cc578-85

My Lords, I beg to move for the Return which stands in my name on the Paper, relative to transactions under land purchase legislation in Ireland. His Majesty's Government have made it known that they intend to introduce a new Land Purchase Bill of a comprehensive character next session. The whole subject is, therefore, certain to be carefully considered during the recess by those who are interested in it, and it would be useful to have a Return, giving what I may call a bird's-eye view of the work done, and the rate of progress from year to year under legislation of this character up to the present time. My proposed Return is so framed as to show what I think is the case, namely, that the rate of progress has increased according as the terms of repayment, and other provisions of these Acts have been made more and more liberal and workable. The policy of land purchase, if we leave out of account a small class of cases under the Irish Church Act of 1869, may be said to have originated in the Land Act of 1870, under which the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland were authorised to advance two-thirds of the purchase-money to intending tenant-purchasers, who had to repay same in thirty-five years by an annuity of 5 per cent. These provisions were not found to be workable to any important extent, and accordingly, under the Act of 1881, the Land Commission were authorised to advance three-fourths of the purchase-money, but no improvement was made in the terms of repayment. This very timid and trifling improvement in the terms did very little, as might have been expected, to extend the policy of land purchase.

In Table I. of my proposed Return I only ask, therefore, for general information, in the most summarised form, of the operations which took place prior to the Act of 1885. The Act of 1885 has been always popularly known as the Ashbourne Act, a title which appropriately recognises the important part which was taken by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland in getting it passed. It enabled the Land Commission to advance the whole purchase-money for the tenant if the landlord consented to a portion thereof (fixed by the Act at not less than one-fifth) to be retained for sixteen or seventeen years as a guarantee deposit, and it extended the term for repayment from thirty-five to forty-nine years, and reduced the tenant's annual payment from 5 per cent. to 4 per cent. on the amount of the purchase-money. These important steps towards more liberal terms at once gave a great impetus to the land purchase policy, and from that time forward it becomes important to have tables showing the progress made from year to year under each of the principal forms or methods of land purchase, and also under each of the principal stages of procedure—namely, loans applied for, loans sanctioned, and loans issued. These particulars are given in the yearly or other periodical reports issued by the Irish Land Commission, and I therefore anticipate that very little trouble and expense would be entailed on that Department by asking them to lay them before Parliament and the public in the collective and tabular form indicated in my proposed Return.

In Table II. of my Return I ask for particulars respecting operations under the Ashbourne Act and the Acts extending or amending it. I ask for them for each year down to and including 1891, but for the ten years following 1891 one set of figures will be sufficient, because almost the whole of the ten millions authorised by those Acts had been applied for before 22nd August, 1891. I should wish to omit from this table the operations under Section 5 of the Ashbourne Act, because they consist almost entirely of sales of estates or portions of estates negotiated through the Land Judges' Court. There are special questions connected with those operations, and it would be useful and convenient to have them tabulated separately. In Table III. I ask for similar yearly returns of the work done under the Acts of 1891 and 1896, except the portions of those Acts which are administered by the Congested Districts Board and the Land Judges' Court. In Table IV. I propose similar particulars respecting operations under the Redemption of Rent Act of 1891. This Act was rushed through Parliament at the end of the session of 1891, at a date when it was impossible to take the sense of your Lordships' House upon its provisions. They are so extraordinary that when they were incidentally mentioned in a subsequent session the noble Marquess at the head of the Government found it difficult to believe that such an Act could have been proposed and carried by his Government. They provide, practically, that a tenant holding under a lease perpetually renewable, or a grantee under a fee-farm grant, if he can persuade the Land Commission that his rent represents a full agricultural rent, may require his landlord to sell his holding to him on terms to be agreed upon between them, or, failing such agreement, at a price compulsorily fixed by the Land Commission; and if the landlord will not agree to a sale, then the tenant can have his perpetual lease or fee-farm grant converted into a present tenancy, and can have his rent periodically revised under the so-called Fair Rent Acts. It would, I think, be useful and instructive to have a table showing how this remarkable piece of Unionist legislation has been working, as far as its compulsory sale provisions are concerned.

Table V. is designed to show the working of the provisions for the sale of estates or portions of estates through the Land Judges' Court under Section 5 of the Ashbourne Act, to which I have already referred. Table VI. deals with operations under the compulsory sale provisions of the notorious fortieth section of the Act of 1896. It seems scarcely necessary for me to say that they are the subject of special interest and of much controversy. Table VII. is intended to give us similar details as to the land purchase operations effected through that valuable body the Congested Districts Board. The note at the end of my Return is intended to indicate that, if possible, the word "loans" should be treated as indicating the number of tenant purchasers under each heading, but, if this would make any difficulty in framing the tables, perhaps the number of tenant purchasers created by these operations could be given separately.

I am also anxious that the highest and lowest prices of guaranteed land stock on the Dublin Stock Exchange should be shown, as far as practicable, for each of the periods during which this stock has been the medium of payment. I am informed that this information could be inserted with sufficient accuracy from some of the official Stock Exchange publications, or could be supplied by the Government brokers. The price of this stock in the market is generally regarded as having been an important factor in enabling many landlords to sell at prices

TABLE I.—Loans issued under all the said Acts in respect of Transactions for the Purchase by Tenants of their Holdings entered into prior to the passing of the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885, viz.:—
(a) Number of Loans issued
(b) Amount of such Loans £
Year ended. Price of Land Stock. Loans Applied for. Loans Sanctioned. Loans Issued.
Lowest. Highest. Number. Amount Number. Amount. Number. Amount.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)

which they could not otherwise have accepted. This last fact suggests to me to urge upon the Government that, if they wish to really extend the operations of the Land Purchase Acts, it is at least as important to tempt landlords to sell as to tempt tenants to buy. The improvements in the provisions of these Acts have hitherto been almost entirely limited to the last-named object. If the Government, in their proposed new legislation, would try to remove some of the formidable difficulties which deter many vendors from using these Acts, they would probably find that they had thereby done more to promote the, extension of the land purchase operations than anything that has yet been done with that object in view.

Moved, for the following Return—

Return showing, as far as practicable, for each year (or other stated period) (1) the Lowest and Highest Prices (in each calendar year) of Guaranteed Land Stock; and (2) the Number and Amount of Loans under the Land Purchase Acts (as defined in Section 48 (1) of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1896). Such Return to be as nearly as possible in the following form:—

Year ended Price of Land Stock. Loans Applied for. Loans Sanctioned. Loans Issued.
Lowest. Highest. Number. Amount. Number. Amount. Number. Amount.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)

Note.—Throughout the foregoing Tables the word "Loans" indicates separate holdings and shows the number of tenant purchasers dealt with—(Viscount Templetown.)


My noble friend, who has taken a very great interest in this question, has prepared a form of Return with extraordinary care, and the information that he seeks to elicit will no doubt be supplied to him in the compendious form asked for. The Land Commissioners, as I mentioned a few days ago, are not available now to consult, and the Return deals very much with their operations. I see no objection to supplying the Return, and I am sure my noble friend will understand that if the information in any of the columns should not be as complete as he might wish, it will be due to the fact that it is not in the power of the Land Commission to provide it.

On Question, motion agreed to, and Return ordered to be laid before the House.