*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I have given notice to call attention to the delays in connection with the provision and distribution of the funds required for the carrying out of the purposes of the Irish Land Act. 1903; to ask His Majesty's Government whether they propose to take any steps to secure the effective carrying out of the purchase provisions of the Act; and to move for Papers. I have done so in consequence of the lively dissatisfaction, and I think I may say the growing dissatisfaction, felt by all classes in Ireland at the increasingly slow progress that is being made.
764 There is no doubt whatever that at the time of the passing of the Act it was meant that the carrying out of its purchase provisions should be an expeditious proceeding. Mr. Wyndham stated, in fact, in so many words, that he hoped the purchase provisions would be completed in a period of fifteen years; and it is quite obvious to any one looking through the Act even in a most cursory manner that its provisions were drawn with the object of ensuring that the transfer of the land under the Act should be at a much more expeditious rate than we are accustomed to in the case of the transfer of property in land from one individual to another. The provision of the zones, the arrangements that were made to expedite the clearing of title, the enactment of a closing day, were all obviously meant to expedite administration, in the same way as the provision of the bonus was intended to expedite negotiations; and it is obvious, from the way the Act was originally worked, that the estimates in people's minds after the passing of the Act showed no difficulty or delay in being realised.
Shortly after the Act had been passed six or seven months was quite enough to get an estate through the Office of the Estates Commissioners. I am informed that even the Duke of Leinster's estate, which amounted to about half a million sterling, passed through all its stages in the short space of seven months. Latterly, the period from the originating application until the time of the receipt of the money by the owner has become lengthier and lengthier, and now there is a general belief in Ireland that it will be at least six or seven years before a landlord who arranges with his tenant to sell can hope to see his money, or before the tenant can get the advantage of the sinking fund. I think six or seven years in an extremely optimistic estimate. The time now required is very much longer.
At the present moment, roughly speaking applications amounting to £62,750,000 are before the Estates Commissioners, and in all ways £21,500,000 have been distributed £19,000,000 have been distributed by the Judicial Commissioner and £2,500,000 have been advanced through other parties who deal with 765 this matter. This subject has not been brought before your Lordships for over a year, but on 1st July last year my noble friend behind me, Lord Clonbrock, had the privilege of calling attention to it in this House; and it is interesting, I think, to compare the figures that he then gave with the figures that have been recently given us by the Government in order that we may inquire into the progress that has been made during the last twelve months. At about the same time last year £51,000,000 had been applied for, and just under £19,000,000 disposed of. My noble friend stated this latter figure to be £18,000,000, but the noble Lord opposite, Lord Denman, claimed that the figure was nearer £19,000,000—I accept, therefore, the Government figure. The average from the passing of the Act then worked out per annum at about £14,000,000 of property applied for, and just over £5,000,000 distributed. The position now is that £62,750,000 have been applied for, and £21,500,000 have been dealt with. The average now is £13,500,000 applied for per annum, and £4,600,000 distributed. Your Lordships will, therefore, notice that, as the result of the operations of the past year, the average amount distributed per annum since the passing of the Act has fallen from over £5,000,000 to £4,600,000.
But this figure does not show, I think, how serious the position has become. A year ago, as Lord Denman told us on July 1st, 1907, £19,000,000 had been distributed. Now £21,500,000 have been distributed. Therefore only £2,500,000 have been distributed as the result of the past twelve months working by the Estates Commissioners. Although, as I mentioned just now, the general idea is that a landlord or tenant will have to wait six or seven years for the completion of the purchase, at the rate of progress that has obtained during the past year it will be sixteen years before the last agreement that went into the Office of the Estates Commissioners is finally dealt with, and before the landlord receives his money and the tenant begins to pay his purchase annuities; or, to put it more simply, it will be eighty-five years before a tenant signing to-day will have the freehold of his farm vested in him.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I am comparing the figures given by the noble Lord on July 1st, 1907, with those given on June 25th, 1908. I think, as a matter of fact, the exact period is between eleven and twelve months. The figures I am quoting are up to 31st May this year. I am assuming that the figures in both cases were up to date. The noble Lord, Lord Denman, speaking for the Government, told us last year, in plain language, that we could not expect any very much greater progress than had hitherto obtained—that is to say, we could not hope for very much more than £5,000,000 to be distributed annually. I am quite sure the noble Lord had no inkling of the fact that the progress during the last twelve months would be so very much slower than in the previous years. Still, as far as I am able to tell from these official figures, the progress of distribution of money by the Estates Commissioners has fallen during the past year to an alarming extent—to the extent of 50 per cent. That is a most serious matter. My noble friend Lord Clonbrock asked the direct question last year—Why are you going so much slower than you did directly after the passing of the Act?I do not think that that question was directly replied to last year, but I should very much like to have a direct answer to it in the course of the debate to-day.
There has been no material diminution of the rate of progress in the Land Judge's Court or in the office of the Congested Districts Board. The delay evidently has taken place solely in the office of the Estates Commissioners. The position is bound to become very much more serious in the next six months; and for this reason. Your Lordships will remember that there is a provision in the Act which enables the Treasury to revise the amount of the bonus, if for certain reasons it is necessary to do so, and they obtain that power on 1st November this year. Now, if there is any revision of the bonus it will absolutely stop land purchase in 767 Ireland. Bargains have been going on for the last two or three years on the assumption that the bonus is to be 12 per cent., and the moment it is diminished you stop those bargains, and the parties will have to begin on an entirely new basis. Therefore, I think it would be a most lamentable thing if the amount of the bonus was varied; but that is not the point I wish now to put before your Lordships.
The point is this, that everybody in Ireland knows that there is danger of the bonus being varied on 1st November, and therefore great efforts will be made by landlords and tenants to get as many agreements signed as possible between now and 1st November, and the result will be an enormous increase in the number of agreements filed in the office of the Estates Commissioners. I have been in correspondence on another subject with one of the largest land agents who has already sold two or three great estates, and he informs me that he is at the present moment discussing sales to the amount of no less than £300,000, and this, of course, is being done under the spur of the fact that it is known that the agreements must be put in by 1st November; and if that is being done by one agent it is not unfair to argue that there will be an enormous increase generally. Therefore, though the block is serious now, it will be very considerably increased before your Lordships may again have an opportunity of discussing this subject.
My second Question is: Why is there any delay at all? Why was not the state of affairs that existed for five or six months, or longer, after the Act came into force, maintained throughout, or, at least, why was not the distribution kept up at greater speed? The answer is to be found in the Report of the recent Commission which sat under the Chairmanship of Lord Dudley. I do not think we could possibly over-estimate the value of the evidence that was given before that Commission, especially the evidence of members of Government Departments, which has given us insights into the working of these Departments that we shall not forget for many a long lay. Mr. Commissioner Finucane said—It depends entirely on the money. If we had £10,000,000 a year we could spend it 768 without the least difficulty, if we had sufficient staff for the purpose.Later on he said—If you were to raise £30,000,000 to-morrow we could pay it all away in two or three years. It is a mere matter of increasing our staff for inspection, and so on.Then this question was put—We may take it, then, that the block is due to the fact that the money is not there?And Mr. Commissioner Finucane replied—To nothing else—to want of money and staff.Money and staff, therefore, are at the bottom of this matter, and that is admitted by the Government. If the man in the street were asked the cause of the slow working of the Act he would reply "money," and, as usual, I believe the man in the street would be wrong, since great as the evil under "money" may be, I think that there is far greater evil under the heading of "staff."
A story is told in Dublin—I relate it merely as gossip—to the effect that a Treasury official and an official of the Estates Commissioners were sitting over a friendly cup of coffee, and the Treasury official challenged the official of the Estates Commissioners to mention a single case of an estate in relation to which all questions of title and so on had been settled and in which the landlord was ready to receive the money, for which the money was not forthcoming. The story goes that the gentleman from the Estates Commissioners was unable to mention a single one. I tell that purely as a story; it may or may not have happened. The conversation may have taken place between a junior clerk in the office of the Estates Commissioners and a junior clerk at the Treasury; it may have taken place between the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself on the one side, and on the other the noble Lord opposite who took his seat yesterday (Lord MacDonnell of Swinford) and whom all Irishmen are most glad to welcome to your Lordships' House; but, whether the story is true or not, it certainly illustrates what is believed to be the case in Dublin. We believe that in every case in which the papers have been ready and in order the money has been distributed by the Estates Commissioners. That, of course, may be explained by saying that whereas 769 the Treasury have given Commissioners very little money they have, at the same time, given them no more staff than was sufficient to distribute that amount.
I should be very surprised to hear that in no case have the Estates Commissioners made application for an increase of staff and been refused. But even if this is so the question of money is important, and it is evident that it is considered important by the fact that during the recess His Majesty's Government appointed a Departmental Committee of the Treasury, under the chairmanship of one of their Members, to inquire into the subject of the provision of money. I wish, first of all, to draw attention to the very peculiar terms of reference under which this Committee was appointed. They were appointed to inquire into Irish land purchase finance, but it was expressly laid down that they were to report how far the difficulties could be diminished or removed—Without imposing any additional charge on the Exchequer.I cannot help thinking that the present Prime Minister when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he appointed that Committee drew up those words of reference with a very merry twinkle in his eye. Why should it be altogether out of consideration that any cost of the present difficulty should be put upon the Imperial Exchequer? Whose fault, after all, is it? There were, your Lordships will remember, three parties to what may be called the land settlement of 1903.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
He is a part of the State; but, at the same time, the landlords and tenants of Ireland form a very large percentage of the Irish ratepayers and the attempt to confine the loss under 770 these transactions to the Irish ratepayer is practically an attempt to confine it to the landlords and tenants, the parties to the bargain. What happened in 1903 was this. The State said it was to the public advantage—I will not say why, though I have always maintained that the reason was. owing to the shortsightedness of the statesmen who passed the Act of 1881—that dual ownership in Ireland should cease and the land should pass from the landlord to the tenants, and that, in every case in which the landlords and tenants would agree to that transfer being made, the Treasury, that is to say the State, would lend the money, and would go further and provide the bonus which would ease over any difficulty in arriving at a price. The landlords and tenants have, to a large extent, made their arrangements, and now the State has difficulty in carrying out its side of the bargain, which is to provide the money.
The only hitch is that the State cannot provide the money as quickly as it is wanted for the carrying out of the Act. Why cannot, the State provide it? Because under present conditions it costs too much to get the money. Now the State says in effect, to the parties—I will set to work and see if I cannot provide the money without any loss to myself by seeing if the loss that is entailed can be made to fall on you.That, in very bald language, is really the situation in which we find ourselves at the present moment as the result of the terms of reference that I have quoted. The block is simply to be found in the fact that the State cannot at the moment carry out her bargain fast enough, and the whole system of land purchase in Ireland is imperilled as a result. Any financial loss under the Act would not be due to an Irish cause, but to the depreciation that for the moment has come about in Imperial credit; and surely it is not unreasonable to say that any loss which occurs in connection with Imperial credit should be borne as an Imperial charge.
Landlords and tenants have, to a great extent, carried out their part of the bargain. The Attorney-General stated in the House of Commons the other day 771 that the shortcomings on the part of the tenants in repaying their instalments were practically infinitesimal. I claim, too, that the landlords have expressed their willingness to sell at a fair price—at the price they were expected to ask in 1903. This brings me at once to the details of some of the paragraphs in the Report of Mr. Runciman's Committee. We are bound to regard this document as one of great importance, though I know it is only a Committee's Report and that we have not been definitely told by the Government that they intend to adopt its recommendations. But it is the sole evidence of the working of the Government mind on this subject, and it would be disrespectful if we passed it by without consideration.
The Committee were placed in a position of very great difficulty. They were asked to advise how the Act was to be financed in future without loss to the Imperial Exchequer. It is quite obvious that if there is to be a loss it must fall on somebody's shoulders. Whose shoulders were they to put it on? Not on the Exchequer. That was ruled out by their terms of reference. Not on the tenants directly. That would obviously be a breach of faith that no Treasury would even dream of attempting, and it is, perhaps, not too unkind to point out that any attempt to get the tenants to contribute further towards the financing of this Act would lead to the Government having a very lively time with the representatives of those tenants in another place. Then there remain only the wretched landlords. I think it is generally admitted, or at any rate, the idea seems to have been in the Committee's mind, that any considerable increase of the burdens upon the Irish ratepayer was not at the moment very practical politics. Could the loss in any way be thrown upon the landlord's shoulders? As regards agreements signed to date, no. The Committee recognised that in the most open manner. Landlords owning property of the value of 80,000,000 sterling have made agreements with their tenants on the basis of payment in cash, and cash they will have to have if they desire it.
772 The Committee had to turn either to landlords who sign agreements after this date, in the hope of putting some of the loss on their shoulders, or to see if there was any landlord who, having signed already, would be foolish enough to allow some of the burden to be placed upon him now. Therefore they first of all set to work to try and show that certain of the landlords had been asking too much, and that it was not unreasonable, therefore, to put some of the loss that must occur on them. It is pointed out that there has been a fall in the price of trust securities—75 per cent. of the land in Ireland is in trust—and that this has operated greatly to the I benefit of the landlord, affording opportunities for investing his purchase money to so much greater advantage. The Committee go on to state, in paragraph 52, that the Irish Laud Conference adopted, as a basis of land purchase, the payment of a capital sum securing the landlord's income at 3 per cent, or at 3¼ per cent. But they will now be enabled, say the Committee, so to I invest the proceeds of the sale of their property as to obtain interest at 3½ per cent., and hence is drawn the suggestion that we could afford to accept a lower price or else that we had accepted too high a price and there was no great grievance in asking us to bear a little of the loss. I regret very much that the evidence taken by the Committee has not been published, in order that it I might be known upon whose testimony the Committee came to a conclusion I so utterly out of harmony with the real facts of the case.
Now, what happened? I wish to draw from the experience I have had of what has been done by a large number of landlords round me who have sold, and what has been done in a large number of estate offices with whose general policy in dealing with these matters I am acquainted. In Ireland estates are managed in larger units than in England. In England it is customary for a landlord to have his own agent, but in Ireland there are agents with large estate offices who see to the detailed management of an enormous number of acres spread all over the country, the object being that we desire, in the 773 highly technical legal system with which we are concerned, to have the best possible advice on all questions that might arise. Therefore we have an opportunity of finding out the policy pursued over large areas of land.
When the question of the sale of an estate came up and the tenants approached the landlord, the landlord's mind naturally went to preserving his present net income, and that had been guaranteed him by the Land Conference Report. When landlords found, as those of us did who were negotiating shortly after the passing of the Act, that we could get a higher rate of interest upon the capital obtained by the sale of the land than 3¼ per cent. a change was made in the situation. When we found that the higher rate of interest would enable us to obtain our present income on a smaller amount of capital, we gave the benefit to our tenants and agreed to accept a lower price than we would have done upon the Land Conference terms. Therefore I say that the prices obtained under the Act of 1903 have, as a rule, ranged lower than the Land Conference terms, and that the suggestion which the Committee has made is not a fair one. I repeat that I would like to know on what evidence that statement was made.
Having made that assumption the Committee, in a later portion of their Report, go on to outline a method by which it would be possible to throw some of the loss upon the landlord. In paragraph 103 they say—We therefore recommend that in cases which have reached the stage for making the advance, but for which cash is not immediately available, the landlords should be given the option of accepting their purchase-money in guaranteed 2¾ per cent, stock at the market price of the day if below par, subject, however, to a minimum price of £92, the bonus to be payable, as hitherto, in cash.They go on to say, in paragraph 105—We think it probable that a considerable number at any rate of those landlords whose agreements have only recently been concluded will prefer to avail themselves of the advantages which it (the option) offers rather than wait their turn in the issue of cash advances.I would like to know on what evidence that statement is made. In paragraph 106 the Committee add—We have suggested a minimum price of £92, because the yield of 2¾ per cent, stock at 774 that quotation is approximately 3 per cent., and we consider that if the landlord is assured of a return of that amount on his purchase money (in addition to the receipt of his bonus in cash) he may, in some cases at any rate, be induced to hold his stock as an investment, rather than throw it upon the market.Subject to one reservation, to which I will refer in a moment, I have no objection to this option being offered in the hope of seeing whether anybody will be stupid enough to accept it. If His Majesty's Government are at all friendly towards this scheme, I sincerely hope they will not expect that any appreciable number of landlords awaiting the £40,000,000 which is now undisposed of will accept this offer. Why should they? They have been promised cash, and they know that cash would return them from £3 10s. to £3 13s. Why should any man in his senses, therefore, be expected to accept £3?
There are two other disadvantages in connection with this scheme. First, the minimum price at which landlords are to be offered the stock is 92. The average price of Guaranteed Lind Stock last year was 84¾; it fluctuated between 88½ and 81½, and it is unlikely that the average will be any higher in future, because since last year another 5,000,000 sterling has been put on the market. So that the Committee's suggestion is that landlords should be offered £100 of stock at 92, which is only worth, on an average, £84 7s. 6d. Does anybody think that any landlord will accept this unless he is under the thumb of a mortgagee and is forced to accept it?
The mention of mortgagees brings me to my second point. In the Committee's scheme no mention whatever is made of superior interests such as head rents. A great many of these head rents are paid to the Government. Many of us have borrowed money from the Government in order to carry out permanent improvements on our estates, and land improvement charges as they are called are all repayable by instalments over, as a rule, a period of thirty years; but at the time of the sale of an estate they have to be redeemed in full. Again, there are Crown rents, paid to the British Treasury, all of which have to be redeemed at the time of the sale of the estate. Are we to be allowed to 775 redeem these in stock worth £84 7s. 6d. which we are to say for the moment is worth 92? Nearly everybody knows the reputation of the British Treasury. When we have an obligation to the British Treasury every single farthing has to be discharged and discharged to the day and to the full. I shall be very interested to know whether, if the Treasury are to be allowed to give us stock worth on the average £84. 7s. 6d., and which they are permitted to treat as if it was worth £92, we in our turn are to be allowed to perpetrate a similar financial swindle upon them when redeeming Crown rents.
There seems to be one remaining fatal objection to the scheme of the Committee. You have promised the landlords cash. I should have no objection whatever—and this is the reservation I alluded to a few minutes ago—to this offer of stock if I was perfectly certain that it would in no way act to the detriment of the man who stood out and insisted upon being paid in cash. If this option is to be permitted, it must be clearly laid down that the flow of cash into the office of the Estates Commissioners is to be in no way retarded. Without such a pledge, the inevitable result will be that you will be using the issue of this stock to save yourselves trouble in raising further gold. That would be a gross injustice to the landlords of Ireland. They have been promised cash, and they have a right to expect cash. I hope we shall have a definite pledge that, if some such scheme of options is to be tried, proper safeguards upon the lines I have sketched will be introduced. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships further on the subject of this Report. There are many other points that I object to in it, and several other inaccuracies, but they are not, perhaps, germane to the subject immediately under discussion, and I will therefore pass very briefly to the second part of the question—that of staff.
Have the Estates Commissioners sufficient staff? Do they make full use of the staff that they now have? We all know that the Estates Commissioners are very active-minded people, and that they are interested in very many schemes for the betterment of Ireland. It is 776 clear, from the evidence given before Lord Dudley's Commission, that some of the Estates Commissioners have given a great deal of time and trouble to the working out of a scheme for an ideal Ireland which I am quite certain none of your Lordships will ever live to see. No one is to have more than £100 worth of land; everyone who wants it is to have £10 worth of land, and we are all to live happily ever afterwards. This has all been outside the province of the Estates Commissioners. Most people take a Saturday to Monday rest, and I can only say that I sincerely hope that it is in such times that this scheme has been worked out, and that the working of the Land Act has been in no way retarded by the expenditure of public time upon it. There is no doubt that a great deal of the time of the Estates Commissioners has been taken up in a way that nobody expected five years ago—namely, in the working of the Evicted Tenants. Act.
The evicted tenants question has been allowed to grow into a very much larger question than anybody ever anticipated. The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India considered the question so small in 1893 that he thought it would be solved by a sum nearer £100,000 than £250,000. Mr. Davitt, in 1899, suggested that it was only a question of 1,000 tenants, and we know that in 1903 Mr. Dillon mentioned £100,000 as the sum necessary. Therefore it is obvious that in everybody's mind it was a very much smaller question than it has been allowed to grow into, and a great deal of the time of the Estates Commissioners has been taken up in this way. I not now going to argue against proper administration of that Question, but unless you wish it to continue a block on the proper carrying out of the purchase provisions of the Act, you should appoint another Commissioner especially for this purpose or vastly increase the present staff.
I pass from the question whether they have sufficient staff, because we have not enough information to enable us to answer that, and I ask the second question. Do they make full use of the staff they have? A short perusal of the regulations made by the Lord 777 Lieutenant on 15th March, 1906, containing instructions as to the inspection of estates shows, I think, quite conclusively that a great deal of the time of these inspectors, whom nobody in their senses would accuse of being idle men, is being wasted by unnecessary calls upon their attention to matters some of which have nothing whatever to do with the Commissioners. One of these regulations states that—The inspector is desired to report upon the character of any demesne and how it is used.There are cases, of course, in which the landlord sells the demesne to the Estates Commissioners and buys it back, and in that case it is reasonable that the inspector should make a report upon it; but in the majority of cases the landlord retains the demesne for his own use. It is left out of the sale, and the Estates Commissioners have no power to enter into the demesne in any way whatever. Yet this provision applies to every sale, and the time of the inspectors is therefore wasted. In another paragraph the inspectors are called upon to—Describe any timber that may be growing on the estate and report on the sporting rights and value thereof, and advise the Commissioners how in his (the inspector's) opinion such timber and sporting rights should be dealt with.The timber belongs to either the landlord or the tenant, and it is no business of the Commissioners what is done with it. Sporting rights in some cases are reserved to the Commission, but in very few. In the vast majority of cases they are either reserved to the landlord or transferred to the tenant. It is part of the bargain that takes place, and it is no concern whatever of the Estates Commissioners what happens to those sporting rights.
Again, in Paragraph 6 of the regulations there is this instruction—The inspector should also state whether he considers the agreed price inequitable.Section 5 of the Act gives the Estates Commissioners power to make such inquiries when the price falls outside the zones, but inside the zones they have no concern with the price whatever. Yet this paragraph clearly applies to all cases. The report when made is valueless. No evidence is taken on oath, 778 the inquiries are entirely at haphazard, no notice is given to the parties, and there is no guarantee that landlord's and tenant's improvements will be properly apportioned, and therefore the time of the inspectors is being in this way also unnecessarily wasted. Form E at the end indicates that the inspectors really have to go through the whole process of what is known as fixing a judicial rent. Their report has to be quite as detailed and quite as important as in our old friend the Pink Schedule. This is not his business, nor the business of his chiefs, who are solely concerned with land purchase, and is waste of time, for in the majority of cases a judicial rent will already have been fixed by the Land Commission. The inspectors under the Land Commission are the most hardworking civil servants in Ireland, if not in the United Kingdom; but it seems to me that by the action of their chiefs their time is being wasted, and this waste of time is retarding the progress of the Act.
The position is really one of vastly increasing anxiety. Agreements are being signed more and more, but there is less money being distributed, and the whole policy of land purchase is being, retarded. The Act of 1903 was, I believe, one of the best measures ever passed for Ireland. It was designed to cut out the canker of dual ownership which had sunk deep down in the whole of Irish agricultural life, and it is only because there is a feeling of the very gravest anxiety prevailing on the subject that I have ventured to bring the question forward, in the hope that His Majesty's Government may be able to announce some real and urgent amelioration of the position in Ireland.
§ Moved, "That there be laid before the House papers respecting the provision and distribution of the funds required for the carrying out of the purposes of the Irish Land Act, 1903."—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)
§ *LORD CASTLETOWN
My Lords, I venture to rise before others speak on this question, because I am not going to deal with the points brought forward by my noble friend opposite from the landlords' point of view. I think he has dealt with that side of the question very 779 exhaustively. I am going to take the point of view of an Irishman living in Ireland, and desirous to go on living in comfort and peace in that country; and I will also deal with the subject from the tenants' point of view.
This is not the first time that I have called your Lordships' attention to the question of land purchase. Twenty-four years ago I tried to induce the Government to embark on a large scheme of purchase, and I cannot help thinking that, if some of the suggestions that were made by those who were working with me at that time had been adopted, we should have been able to carry through by now a much larger and more successful scheme of purchase than is the case. I have often endeavoured to point out that this is not really a landlords' and tenants' question alone. It is not a local question. It is a great Imperial question which can be settled only on Imperial lines, as has been the case in Prussia, in Schleswig-Holstein, partly in Hungary, and even in Russia. In these countries the question has been worked out to a very successful issue by an arrangement of land banks. If the policy of land settlement can be carried out successfully in those countries, it is surely possible in this country to carry out a similar policy, especially as in those countries the Treasury has not in any way suffered from any drain upon it. The whole system is carried out by the issue of land bonds to the proprietors.
We are always told in the course of these discussions that the great difficulty is the danger of some loss to the Treasury. I read the other day the reply given to Mr. William O'Brien in the House of Commons on this subject. It was most satisfactory. It was to the effect that in the payments now being made by the tenant purchasers there had been very little default. To show the magnitude of the question I might inform your Lordships that applications for advances for land purchase under the Irish Land Act, 1903, have been lodged up to 30th April last for £60,890,000, representing 6,482 estates. About one-third of that number, representing a sum of about £23,000,000, have been paid to vendors or lodged in the Bank of Ireland pending ascertainment of incumbrances, 780 etc. Since April, a further number of estates have been lodged, and the purchase money of applications undisposed of amounts to about £42,000,000. Against this there will be about £4,500,000 available for purchase money out of the recent issue of stock. The amount, therefore, of pending cases will still amount to very nearly £40,000,000 before November.
My noble friend opposite, speaking from the landlords' point of view, said the present state of things constituted a very great hardship. I think the hardship is very much greater in many cases on the tenant purchasers, owing to the postponement of the period when they commence to pay off the sinking fund. The great difficulty at present in Ireland is the feeling of uncertainty and the sense of unrest which now permeate the whole country. This state of feeling is unnecessary, in my opinion, because it could be dealt with in the way I have suggested. It is not a question only for Treasury brains to consider how we can get out of this impasse. Neither is it a question of losing money on the Development Grant, which we are doing every year, or of paying out of the local rates. It is a question for the whole country. The ultimate security which is pledged is the credit of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
I believe I am speaking for a large I number of Irishmen when I say that we should be perfectly prepared, if it was found necessary, to pay from our local I rates if there is a default under the present system. But we would only pay if we found that there was continuity in the purchase policy, and if the scheme as outlined in 1903 was carried out rapidly and vigorously. But we should certainly be entitled to ask that the money we may have to pay should not be frittered away because the Treasury chooses to make issues at a lower rate than is necessary. I am credibly informed that j the Treasury could obtain all the money they want if they would take the advice of some of the big financiers in the city. Yet we are always told it is impossible to do this because we must carry on the old strict Treasury plan. Nearly every other country in the world is working on other lines in carrying on land purchase, and 781 they are doing so in a fair and equitable manner and with rapidity. They have adopted progressive methods, and absolutely sound methods also. Therefore I would appeal to His Majesty's Government to examine this question exhaustively. I think it would be advisable, however, to go slowly, but four million or five million pounds a year is too slow a rate.
To show how serious the condition of the country is, owing to the difficulty in carrying out land purchase, I would like to give your Lordships three illustrations. But let me explain before quoting those examples that the reason for the difference in the three districts is that in some parts the Act has worked quickly, in others slowly, and in others in a faulty way. After the passage of the 1903 Act, men waited to see how it would work, and, as we know, it worked well and rapidly for a certain time. Now they are beginning to see that the promises then made are being either forgotten or misconstrued, and there is a feeling of uncertainty.
In the three cases which I shall quote, your Lordships will see how clear this feeling comes out. In Wexford nearly seven-eighths of the county have been sold, and there the men are working quietly at their agricultural work, a certain number of the smaller towns are becoming very full of industrial progress, and there is a general feeling of security throughout the whole district. Then I come to another district—the county of Cork. In Cork five or six very large parishes have been sold. The result is that those districts are quieter, so I am informed by the parish priests, than they have ever been before, and the people are more contented. One of the parish priests said to me—We can now turn our attention from other matters, and work together for industrial progress and social development.Then I come to the third district, which is a peculiar one, and shows, I think, very clearly the difficulty we have to deal with. In a district in Leinster a very large portion of the land has been sold to the tenant purchasers. It is an agricultural district where there are some large grazing ranches. These were agreed to be sold to the Estates Commissioners 782 two or three years ago, but, unluckily, the money ran short and the negotiations fell through. The result is that, though the tenant purchasers are remaining perfectly quiet, all the rest of the district is in a state of very serious turmoil, and simply because the agreements arranged with the Estates Commissioners cannot be carried forward for want of money.
To show your Lordships how serious the state of affairs in this district is, I would quote from a sermon delivered by the Catholic Bishop of Ossory to his parishioners. He said—He did not learn until a few days ago that a considerable share of commotion and disturbance had arisen in the parish of Rathdowney. He did not know what led to that commotion and disturbance; he could not speak on it, and did not like to venture to offer any opinion. He would not, therefore, go into the question, nor would he attempt to apportion the blame either on the one side or the other. He regretted it very much, as up to this the quiet and peaceful inhabitants of the parish lived in perfect concord not only with those of their own religion, but those who differed from them in religion. He regretted exceedingly that anything should crop up to precipitate those good feelings and kindly relations. He hoped that on both sides there would be reasonable forbearance, and that nothing would be done to create angry feelings that might develop into something worse. He called upon all sides—at least he had a right to call upon his own people—to exercise great self-control, and to exercise a considerable degree of patience; to restrain those that would be prompted to do rash and foolish acts.Those words show how seriously the Bishop of Ossory regarded the state of affairs in that district. They also show how anxious the clergy are to prevent a recurrence of such acts. But they are unable to do so if the settlement of the land question in those particular districts is not proceeded with, and that cannot be done unless the money is forth coming with which to do it. That is a very simple answer to the whole problem.
The people who suffer most are not the landlords of Ireland. A great number of the landlords are able to look after themselves. Those who suffer are the poorer people—the farmers who have purchased and those who are about to purchase. I should like to make clear these points, that is—how the farmers and the general public suffer owing to the delay from land purchase. I will take three examples as explaining my meaning. First, the county and district of Wexford 783 where upwards of seven-eighths of the land has been sold to the farmers. Secondly, the district in Cork, in which between seven or eight parishes have been sold under the Land Purchase Acts. Thirdly, the district in Queen's County, where a large section of the land has been sold, but where there are a few unsold farms held by large grazing tenants. Now, in Wexford, where the land has been mainly sold to the people, there is no disturbance, no extra police, and therefore no strain on the resources of the people. Why is this? Simply because the land has been sold and the people are working at industries, social improvements, and other matters connected with their daily life. In the county of Cork the same state of affairs obtains, and one of the most eminent priests in that district informed me he had never known the country so peaceful, and, as ho put it, "everyone is busy looking after their own affairs and the social amelioration of the country." Why is that? Simply because, as I say, the land has been sold, and the people's minds are at rest on this subject. Take the third district I have quoted. There are those who might say: "Why is this district disturbed when so much has been sold?" The reason is a very simple one. A large portion within the district was in the shape of grazing ranches. The owner or the owners of these farms had agreed to sell to the Commissioners, but at the last moment it was found that no money was forthcoming, and the result was that the agreements could not be carried out. Since then there has been nothing but tumult and serious rioting, and even the bishop of the diocese hag been obliged to intervene and urge the people to be patient, and not to continue these demonstrations and riotous proceedings. A very heavy police tax has been incurred in that district, which will rest mainly on the shoulders of those farmers who had already bought their holdings. This, to my mind, is a most unjust and improper state of affairs. The districts in which these disturbances take place are flooded with police. Very high rates are placed on those districts in consequence, and the result is that the poorer classes are mulcted very heavily in respect of a state of things which is really no fault of theirs. Owing to the fact that the Purchase Act is not working as fast as it should—I do not say that that 784 is altogether the fault of the Government—this heavy taxation is unfairly and improperly placed on the people. Speaking on the subject of compensation in cases of cattle-driving, Lord Chief Justice O'Brien said—I would suggest to the Government that something should be done. A respectable farmer appealed to me that I should not levy compensation off his district. It is an anomaly that respectable farmers should be burdened because of the action of wrong-doers.The remarks of Lord Chief Justice O'Brien apply to the whole of the country, and I am convinced that if the Government, or rather I should say the Treasury, would take the trouble to find out, without any loss to themselves, how the future of the Land Purchase Act could be financed, the turmoil which at present exists would speedily die out, and that if land purchase could go on as it ought to, smoothly and quietly, I believe the country would settle down rapidly to a normal condition.
The promises that were made in the Act of 1903 must be fulfilled, and I would appeal to the noble Earl the Leader of your Lordships' House to try and find some way—I am perfectly certain it can be done—in which the system of land purchase can be accelerated and the Act of 1903 made to work more quickly. I do not ask—and I think noble Lords opposite would be very unwise to ask—for very much larger sums of money to be expended. I think the Act should move gradually and slowly. It has been found in other countries far better that the instalments should be paid, not at one time from a whole section of the country, but that one district should pay the instalments at one period of the year and another district at another period. It is wiser to work on those lines. I would appeal to His Majesty's Government to find a way to accelerate the system of land purchase, and thereby assist us in Ireland to turn our attention to industrial and social questions.
My Lords, as was mentioned by my noble friend on the front bench, I brought much the same matter before the House last year, and endeavoured to point out the exceedingly uncomfortable and serious position in 785 which both tenants and landlords were placed by the delay in administering the Land Purchase Act. I quite agree with my noble friend opposite, Lord Castletown, that this is a serious matter also for the tenants, for they are now paying a considerably higher percentage on the purchase money than their purchase instalments will be eventually. Therefore, it is very hard for them. It is also exceedingly hard for the landlords, who have to meet fixed Government charges, charges on mortgages, and various encumbrances, and to pay high interest while they are receiving only a small amount of interest on the purchase money; and they are unable to pay off those charges, as they naturally would do immediately were they in receipt of cash.
I and the other noble Lords who followed me on that occasion went into what we believed to be the causes of the delay. I do not think I need recapitulate them now. The noble Earl has mentioned most of them. Insufficiency of staff is one, and that Lord Donoughmore has put before your Lordships very clearly. With regard to want of organisation of the staff, of course, this is a matter of which no one can speak positively, except someone thoroughly familiar with the inner working of the office. We can only hope that if any want of organisation existed last year, it has been since remedied, but, whatever has been done, the pace at which the Act has been administered has not only not improved, but is now slower even than it was before, and materially slower than it was in the period immediately following the passing of the Act. We must attribute that, perhaps, to the causes I have mentioned, but the delay has been in some degree due to the instructions which have been issued to the inspectors.
My noble friend went so fully into that matter that I need mention only one point, but it is one which, I think, tends materially to protract negotiations. I mean the instructions given to the inspectors with reference to non-judicial holdings and grass lands. In the case of non-judicial holdings, they are, told to estimate what the fair rent is. If a man has been paying the same tent contentedly for twenty-seven years and 786 has never taken advantage of the Land Court to get a fair rent fixed, one may certainly assume that his rent, in his opinion, is not an excessive one, and his opinion ought to be worth a great deal more than that of an inspector who goes down and sees the farm for a day or two. The same with grass lands. In the case of a grass farm, more especially a non-residential grass farm, the tenant would not hold it and pay the rent he docs now unless he thought it worth the money, and that rent ought to be taken as a fair measure of the landlord's interest.
But the inspectors are not only told to estimate what a fair rent is. They are further hampered by the conditions that are imposed. They are to consider what possible changes, economic or otherwise, might take place within the next sixty-eight years to reduce the value of the land to the purchaser. It is impossible to conceive how anyone can do that, but it certainly would have the effect of making the inspector very cautious and inducing him to fix a low price for fear it might turn out in after years that he had made a mistake. Again, he has to take into account what the value of the land may be to the Estates Commissioners after the purchase has been completed, what they had better do with it, and whether there are a sufficient number of suitable individuals in the neighbourhood who will buy that land at the price he has fixed. The landlord naturally thinks that the net income which he receives capitalised represents his interest in the holding, and that that is what he ought to receive, irrespective of what might happen fifty years or so hence or what the Estates Commissioners may elect to do with the land. Their intention probably is to divide it among the people in the neighbourhood, in the hope that they will till it and treat it after the most approved methods of husbandry, but this has often turned out a vain hope. I have heard of cases where the purchaser has immediately proceeded thither to meadow the land, and sell the hay off it, or let it to a grazier. This has gone so far that I have heard it said that the result of the Act is that the grazier has ten landlords instead of one. The intention, no doubt, is that the inspector should value it according to what it would be 787 worth when tilled. The land is often better suited for pasture than for tillage, and therefore the price fixed upon it is less than the value which, as prime pasture land, it holds in its present state. It may then be said that the landlord has only to refuse to sell the farm; but the Estates Commissioners can virtually exercise compulsion. They can refuse to consider the whole of his property an estate unless he throws in land of this description to them and at their price. Therefore it comes to this, that after a long struggle, either the whole thing falls through, or else the landlord is finally driven to part with his land at an inadequate price fixed at the mere caprice of an inspector, without hearing sworn evidence and without any appeal against his decision.
There are other points calculated materially to retard the carrying out of the provisions of the Act. When I brought this matter before your Lordships' House last year, the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies stated that the Government were fully aware of the very serious difficulty, and would do their utmost to endeavour to meet it. We can only express the same hope that they will do so now. Various solutions have been put forward. My noble friend has mentioned one taken from the Report of the Departmental Committee. There is another known as Lord Kenmare's or Sir Alexander Henderson s scheme. I do not press the Government to give any opinion upon that scheme to-night. I mention it simply because it has been so very much before the public, and I wish to dispel the idea that it is advocated, as things stand at present, by any large number of landlords. It has never yet been brought before the Landowners' Convention, the only body which can speak for the landlords of Ireland, and, therefore, we cannot express an opinion on the subject. But, as Chairman of the Executive Committee of that Convention, I wish clearly to state—without expressing any opinion upon the scheme—that it cannot be held, as yet, to have the unqualified support of any great number of Irish landlords.
My Lords, before I plunge into the rather intricate subject 788 we are debating this afternoon I should like, first of all, to thank the noble Earl opposite and his colleagues for consenting to postpone the debate until this evening. We should not have asked him to postpone it without adequate reason, but we are much beholden to him for doing so. All the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate have called attention to the delay in the working of the Laud Purchase Act of 1903, and all who have spoken on the question do so with no little authority and with very considerable knowledge of the subject. I think I am right in saying that they have all had long experience of these debates. I remember when the Land Act of 1903 was before this House, and when the noble Earl opposite. Lord Donoughmore, and his friends came over in great strength from Ireland and wrung important concessions, I think I am right in saying more than once, in the division lobby from the late Government, which was then led in this House by the late Duke of Devonshire; and for that achievement I must say I have respected him ever since.
In those days I never dreamed that I should be implicated in these debates, and I did not follow the subject with any very close attention. But I remember that in those days the prevailing spirit of the debate was one of optimism. To-day, I regret to have to say it, the tone of the debate has been one of pessimism. The noble Earl opposite will say, of course, that that is the fault of the Government. The noble Earl, if I may say so quite respectfully, is a good party man. It is his duty to criticise what the Government does, and I am bound to say that he performs his duty very thoroughly and well. But I am bound completely to differ from him on this particular point. The Government are not to blame for what has occurred in regard to the working of the Irish Land Act. The whole root of the matter is that the financial provisions of the Land Act of 1903 were unsound, and that has caused all our present difficulties. You may say it was impossible for Mr. Wyndham or for anybody else to foresee that Government stock and gilt-edged securities would have fallen as they have fallen in the past year. Mr. Wyndham estimated that the average price he would obtain 789 for the issue of his Land Stock was 95, but you cannot get over the fact that the very first issue which Mr. Wyndham or his Government made was at the price of 87; and from that day to this it must be perfectly obvious to anybody who studied carefully the financial provisions of the Act that sooner or later a deadlock must be arrived at.
It is not correct to say, although there is a general impression, I believe, in the country to that effect, that the Act so far has failed. That is not the case. Up till a short time ago when we went to the City for a new issue of stock, we had issued something over £28,000,000 in stock, realising £25,000,000 in cash; and when you tome to think that at the end of the present financial year we shall have paid off rather more than £40,000,000 of debt and have remitted taxation, and in something over four years have made these enormous cash payments of about £25,000,000 as well, I think that is no small financial achievement for this country to have performed.
The noble Earl has dealt in some detail with the administration of the Act, and I am bound to say that, somehow or other, he has contrived to get hold of rather extraordinary notions as to how the Act has been worked during the past twelve months. One of his questions, I think, was why are you going slower this year than you have done in previous years? The answer to that, roughly speaking, is that we are not going slower than we promised to go; we have maintained a steady rate of something like £5,000,000 a year. It has been going on for the past few years. The actual sum during the year ended 31st March, 1908, was £4,950,000. That is very little short of £5,000,000, the rate at which I stated last year advances would be made. I am afraid there is an impression in Ireland that the Estates Commissioners are rather neglecting the interests of the direct sales and are devoting more time and more money to the sales under Sections 6, 7, and 8 of the Land Act.
Perhaps noble Lords will permit me to give a few 790 figures on this point. In the year ended 31st March, 1906, the amount paid out with regard to direct sales was £3,888,000 odd. That really was a time for which the present Government although they were in office, were not responsible. It was for bargains that were filed in the Estates Commissioners' office during the previous autumn and summer. For practical purposes I will take that as the last year of the administration of the Act under the lute Government, when Mr. Walter Long was Chief Secretary. Now I come to the year ended 31st March, 1907. The sum in respect of direct sales paid out in that year was £4,300,000 approximately, and last year it was £3,988,000. Therefore it will be seen that we have kept up a steady rate of payment in direct sales, at a rather higher rate than in the last year for which the late Government were responsible. In the year up to the end of March, 1906, the percentage was 77.5 of direct sales; in the next year ended March, 1907, the percentage of direct sales was 83.9, and in the last year ended March, 1908, the percentage was 84.5 per cent, of direct sales. I hope the figures I have given your I Lordships will meet that point.
Then I think the noble Earl raised the question of inspectors. He seemed to be under the impression that there were not sufficient inspectors to deal with the cases of direct sales, but their number has been increased from ten in December, 1905, to fifteen in June, 1907; and with regard to the point that, I think, was made, that the Estates Commissioners hive been paying too much attention to the question of evicted tenants at the expense of other classes of sales, I can only say that a considerable number—I have not the actual figure here—of inspectors are being especially employed for the purposes of the Evicted Tenants Act, and are not allowed to interfere in any way with the working of the provisions of the Land Act of 1903. Also I am informed that the noble Earl is not correct when he says that under their instructions the inspectors have to inquire into demesnes not being sold, or into sporting rights not being sold, or that they have to fix fair rents where not already fixed.
Then I will not press that point. On the other two I am told that the statement of the noble Earl is not correct.
So far as I know, there has not. I should have thought that the mere fact that we had recently gone to the City to raise a loan of £5,000,000 for the purposes of the Act would have been evidence that the purchase provisions will certainly not be delayed. My noble friend behind me touched on the point of the raising of that loan, and that was also referred to on Monday in your Lordships' House by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn. We have been criticised for issuing the loan at so low a figure. I can only say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer took the best expert financial advice it was possible for him to get, and that that advice, taken separately from different sources, was unanimously to the effect that the figure at which the loan was issued was the proper figure. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, with, I may say, a rather fine disregard of the advice of the expert financiers, said that he always was in the habit of issuing stock at a ½ per cent.——
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
I said I considered that their advice was apt to be over cautious, and that I was in the habit of asking something more than they had recommended me to ask; but I did not say as much as ½ per cent.
Possibly when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has had the great experience that the noble Viscount has had in the matter of raising loans, he will be able to follow the noble Viscount's example in that matter. As it was, I submit that he could not do more than take the best financial advice the Government could obtain and act upon it. Then the noble Earl desired information as to the pace at which we were going 792 forward in finding advances for the purposes of the statute. In answer to that I may say that it will certainly be not less than the £5,000,000, unless some entirely untoward event should occur; and I may mention that the Treasury are now considering whether they can sanction some increase in the staff, which, of course, would entail a corresponding increase in the amount of advances made.
I will turn from the administration of the Act to the difficulties ahead. The noble Earl has alluded to the block of some £40,000,000—it is well over £40,000,000, I regret to say, at present—waiting in the office of the Estates Commissioners. That, of course, is a most undesirable state of things. The next difficulty is the question of excess stock. I dealt very fully with that point last year, and I do not wish to repeat what I then said. Of course, it is a very important point how long the Development Grant will last, and how long it will be before the Irish ratepayers are called upon to meet the charge on the excess stock. Then there is the question, which the noble Earl touched upon, of the revision of the bonus, and the point mentioned in the Report of the Departmental Committee, whether or not the bonus eventually may not have to be decreased. That is, of course, rather a question for the future. The immediate difficulty which concerns us is the question of excess stock, and that is a matter to which I think the noble Earl opposite did not pay much attention.
Schemes have been brought forward recently in various quarters for removing this difficulty, amongst others. For myself, I am rather glad to know that, because last year when I suggested that members of the party opposite might be good enough to make suggestions on the matter, I was met with a certain amount of good-humoured ridicule. I am glad to see that certain schemes have now been put forward, and naturally the Government welcome such schemes, because, at any rate, they show that people are alive to the difficulties with which we are faced, and are making an honest attempt to grapple with them. A scheme has been put forward, I understand, by the Nationalist Members of Parliament, but, perhaps, it would be 793 rather outside my province to deal with that. Then there is the scheme put forward by a Member of this House, to which Lord Clonbrock alluded, and which is known as Lord Kenmare's scheme. The noble Lord was good enough to give me a rough draft of the scheme, but it was only a rather short memorandum. The Treasury are not able to give any definite answer——
Nor can I make any definite pronouncement on that point. I may, perhaps, say, however that though it is possible it might afford a solution, I am told that if there were say, depreciation of securities all round in time of war or in time of panic, or untoward events of that sort, a considerable loss would be involved under this scheme, and that then the Irish ratepayer or the British taxpayer would have to suffer. I do not know if any Member of the House is conversant with the details of that scheme. If so, we should be very glad to hear any observations on that point.
Then the noble Earl asks what we are going to do in the future. That is, of course, a very grave and serious matter. It is at the present time being discussed by the Treasury and by the Government of Ireland, but no definite conclusion has yet been arrived at. I would ask the House to bear in mind the fact that while the Land Act of 1903 was really a bargain, there were four parties to it—the landlord, the tenant, the British taxpayer, and the Irish ratepayer. All these parties have so far kept to their bargain, and it is obvious that if one party to the bargain disclaims his share, then a very serious situation must arise. I was interested to hear from my noble friend behind me that, in his opinion, he thought the Irish ratepayer was prepared to meet a charge for excess stock——
I believe that the Government have carefully considered the question of whether or not it would be 794 practicable to come upon the ratepayer of Ireland to meet this charge of excess stock, and I understand, that they do not think it would be possible that any considerable sum should be taken out of the Irish rates. Therefore, in a large degree that eliminates from the bargain the Irish ratepayer. Then I come to the British taxpayer. The British taxpayer provides a bonus up to £12,000,000; he pays about £130,000 a year to provide the working expenses of the Act, and he is likely to have to pay that for a very long time to come. This charge is almost certain to increase rather than to diminish. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Earl contend that the British taxpayer had not kept to his part of the bargain. I understood that to be the contention of the noble Earl.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I do not think I put it quite so high as that. My point was that the British taxpayer will not carry out his bargain unless he produces this money.
But the British taxpayer is continuing to provide this money. I speak as a British taxpayer.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I should like to speak as an Irish taxpayer, and to say—[The noble Earl was greeted with cries of "Order," and resumed his seat.]
I must say it does seem to me, when the British taxpayer goes on year after year cheerfully paying this money, that to imply that he is not keeping his part of the bargain savours rather of ingratitude on the part of noble Lords from Ireland. With regard to the taxpayer, the question the Government have to consider is this, whether they are prepared to ask the British taxpayer for a further contribution, and the answer to that, I understand, is that they are not prepared to do so. Then if you eliminate the ratepayer and the taxpayer, there are the landlord and the tenant left, and it is perfectly evident there will have to be a readjustment of the existing terms of the contract so far as these two parties to the bargain are concerned; and I think it is equally evident that what arrangement is come 795 to must be come to by agreement. It is obvious that if either the landlords or the tenants refuse to take advantage of the provisions of the Act, the efficiency of the Act must be very seriously impaired. It had been in my mind to revert to a suggestion made in the Report of the Departmental Committee, that in certain circumstances landlords should be induced, if it were possible, to take stock in lieu of cash; but any observations on that suggestion were rather ruled out beforehand by what was said by the noble Earl opposite, that he could not conceive any man in his senses accepting it.
I will not dwell further on that point. I may be told that what I have said in this debate is not satisfactory to the landlord party, and equally the Government may be told that it is not regarded with much satisfaction in other quarters; but I ask the House to remember that this is not the only sum that we are likely to be asked for, on behalf of Ireland, and that within a short time. The Irish Universities Bill will entail a considerable amount of expenditure, and if, as is possible, the Government adopt any of the suggestions of the Commission presided over by Lord Dudley, to inquire into the question of congested districts and so forth, that again must cost another large sum. Therefore, speaking on behalf of the British taxpayer, I have to say emphatically and decidedly that the Government are of opinion that he cannot be expected to undertake any further burden than that which the Act already imposes upon him.
It is very easy to say that this is merely a question of money. It is easy to say: Are you going to risk the success of the Irish Land Act for a mere question of money; and, as has been said, I think, outside the House: Are you going to spoil the ship for a hap'orth of tar? I have noticed that people generally, speaking on this question of the Land Act, treat large sums of money in a light and airy way. The sums are so enormous that one comes to speak of millions and half millions as things 796 of no account at all. People say, Surely you do not mean to imperil the working of this Act for a beggarly quarter of a million a year? or something of that kind. The Government have to consider where this is to end. If we go on finding further sums, how do we know that we shall not be asked for still further sums, or that we may not be involving our successors, it may be generations ahead, in similar financial difficulties to these which we are discussing to-day?
It is easy to say that this is merely a question of staff and of money, but nearly everything in this world, when you come to look at it, is a question of money. Almost every problem in the political arena to-day is a question of money. Take education, licensing, small holdings, any question you like to mention—if you had unlimited money, you could probably find an easy solution to any of them. But what we want to know is how we are to surmount the difficulty which confronts us at present with the means at our disposal. That is all I have to say. In conclusion I would only add that, although, perhaps, I have dealt, very inadequately with many of the points raised in this debate, I hope I have said enough to show that the Government are keenly alive to the magnitude and the importance of this question, and that they will give their earnest attention to any scheme, preferably within the limitations I have outlined, for a solution of this very grave and serious problem.
*THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
My Lords, into the question of the actual working of the Estates Commissioners' Office I do not propose to go. My noble friend Lord Donoughmore has already spoken sufficiently about that. I do not think there can be the slightest doubt that there is a great and unnecessary waste, both of time and money in that office, through examining into many matters of detail in connection with which examination is not necessary. To quote my personal experience, I sold my demesne and obtained an advance upon it, but a great delay took place in getting the advance because the security was too good. They objected to make the advance until they had surveyed and mapped off sufficient of the land as was 797 Considered adequate security for the money advanced. I do not blame the Estates Commissioners for that I think they were obliged to do it in accordance with some legal requirement. But this transaction caused a delay of some two or three months.
I think it is admitted that the root of the problem is the want of money. My noble friend Lord Donoughmore told your Lordships an anecdote to the effect that an official in the office of the Estates Commissioners was challenged to point out a case where the estate was ready for the money and the money was not forth coming. I dare say that might be so, but it strikes me very forcibly that it may also be the case that the estate is never allowed to be ready until the money is there to be paid, which is quite another thing. It does not appear to me that there ought to be an insuperable difficulty in obtaining the funds necessary to finance the Act, at any rate better than it has been financed.
The issue of £5,000,000 of stock made a few days ago has been mentioned. It obviously was issued at too low a price. The Chancellor of the Exchequer fixed it, no doubt, at the price he was advised to fix it at, but as a matter of fact, it was issued too cheaply. If the financial papers may be relied upon, you were offered, not the £5,000,000 you required, but the sum of £175,000,000, which is enough to buy the whole of Ireland and a great many English counties as well. The amount that was deposited amounted to £8,000,000, £3,000,000, more than you required. It is obvious that there would not have been the slightest difficulty in raisin." £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 on terms much less favourable to the Stock Exchange. It is mentioned in the Report of Lord Dudley's Commission that the Commissioners could use £10,000,000 a year, arid Mr. Commissioner Finucane placed the figure at £15,000,000 a year. I should like to see instructions issued to the Estates Commissioners that they could have £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 this year and another £10,000,000 in the following year, and that they were to proceed as quickly as they could. I am sure that would result in a great acceleration of business. I believe that if the Estate Commissioners were properly 798 staffed and knew they could have the money when it was wanted, the business would go through much faster.
What really is the situation? A little while ago £40,000,000 were required to satisfy pending agreements. I suppose it is more now. That is to say, the State is in arrears to the amount of £40,000,000. We are all pretty well accustomed to arrears in Ireland, and I think that question has been dealt with in almost every Land Rill. I am all in favour of Governments and Government Departments identifying themselves as much as they can with Irish manners and customs; but I do protest against their following them so far as to incur this largo amount of arrears, reaching to over £40,000,000.
It is, I think, agreed by everybody that the pending agreements must be satisfied on the terms on which the agreements were made. That is one part of the question. Besides that, there will be another £60,000,000 or so required for the future. I do not myself at all agree to the last estimate of the total amount required—£170,000,000. We will assume that £40,000,000 are required to satisfy existing agreements, and that another £60,000,000 will be required in the future. We have nothing to go upon except the Report of the Departmental Committee which has been alluded to—a Report which is absolutely inadequate, and which, of necessity, had to be inadequate considering that the terms of the reference were that no further demand was to be made on the Exchequer. It was, therefore, impossible for the Departmental Committee to make any suggestions of a practical value. The one important thing in that Report was that the Committee assumed—and it must be remembered that it was presided over by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—that the National Debt Commissioners would be able to find cash at the rate of £4,000,000 a year. That is a very important admission, because upon that fact a great deal may possibly be founded.
A great many suggestions have been made by the Committee of the Irish Parliamentary Party, by the Landlords Convention, and by various private individuals, myself among them; [...]put 799 into those matters I do not propose to go. No doubt His Majesty's Government will consider all those suggestions and proposals. My noble friend opposite, Lord Denman, has said that the financial provisions of the Act of 1903 are faulty. That, I suppose, means that they will have to be amended, and that some day or other an amending Bill will be brought in to deal with those matters. If that is so, I hope it will be brought in without any possible delay. I think there is a good deal that requires amendment in that Act. I would like to point out one or two matters which I hope will not be included in the amending Bill, and one or two which I hope will be included. In the first place I disagree with my noble friend Lord Castletown, and sincerely hope that losses on flotation will not be put as a charge against the rates in Ireland. Your Lordships will remember that in the Act which created county councils those authorities were restricted in the rate they could levy. They cannot levy a rate more than, I think it is 10 percent. above the average rate of the five years preceding the Act creating them. If you are going to put these losses upon them, what are they to do? You are going to compel them to raise an illegal rate. I should be very sorry to be the chairman or a member of the finance committee of a county council which did anything of that kind, because they would all be liable to surcharge. I do not think that point need be laboured. I think it is almost universally agreed that it would be absolutely absurd to place these losses of flotation on the rates. You would be simply making bankrupts of the county councils, and ruining the very men who had purchased under the Act and on whom you depend for the punctual payment of the annuities.
There is another thing that should not be done. There cannot by any possibility, I hope, be any suggestion for making any change in the annuity rate. The purchasing tenants pay interest at 2¾ per cent, and ½ per cent, sinking fund—3¼ in all. To my mind it would be absolutely fatal to bring in any legislation that would compel a change in the rate of annuity. I should be very sorry also to see any change made in the period for the liquidation of the loan, but I admit that an extension of the 800 period would not be such an important and formidable matter as a change in the annuity rate. In the course of a few years you would have one set of men paying 3¼ and another set paying 3⅝ per cent., and nothing would possibly satisfy them that they were being fairly treated.
Again, there ought to be no possible suspension of the Act. These forty millions of arrears have to be dealt with first, of course; but if legislation is brought in for amending the financial provisions of the Act I sincerely hope it will be brought in without any great delay in order that the whole process and sale and purchase may go on continuously. It would be a fatal thing if there was an absolute break, and if the Act was suspended for a certain time. I trust that the main principles that were agreed to at the Land Conference will be maintained. One of the most important of those was that cash should be made the basis, and I sincerely hope that cash may continue to be the basis. It is quite possible that some further high-class desirable securities such as Government promissory notes, redeemable at short periods, stand so high that they would never vary; but any stock that is liable to fluctuation would, to my mind, be absolutely fatal. It would load to a continual wrangle between landlord and tenant as to the price. As it is, a sort of general price has been fixed and is recognised. If you give stock which varies at all considerably, it is obvious that the landlord would ask more years purchase when the stock was low, and would be justified in doing so; and if it was high the tenant would want fewer years purchase, and would be justified in his demand also.
I find it exceedingly difficult to understand the great reluctance that there is to call this Guaranteed Land Stock what it really is—Consols. The only real difference between Guaranteed Land Stock and Consols is that these Irish grants in aid of local taxation as security stand before the Consolidated Fund, but I think all parties are agreed that the losses on flotation ought not to fall upon the rates; that security ought to be taken out, and if it is taken out there is no difference at all. Consols are 801 National Debt and Guaranteed Land Stock is not called National Debt; but the security in both cases is the same. The difference is merely nominal, the sort of difference that would exist if one of your Lordships put his name at the bottom of a bill or at the back of it. The liability is the same. It is a distinction without a difference. But there is this enormous difference to Ireland, that owing to its being called Guaranteed Land Stock it always has been, and I suppose always will be, at least eight or nine points below its true value. If Consols stand at 100, this stock ought to be 110. To put the matter at the very worst, supposing money cannot be obtained on any better terms than it has been obtained in the past, it is calculated that the loss on flotation would be £700,000 a year.
I quite agree with Lord Denman that it is all very fine talking in an airy way about millions. The sum of £700,000 is a good deal. On the other side, it has to be remembered that Ireland did not get a proper equivalent grant under the Education Act of 1902. She is owed £400,000 a year, and that has been running for several years. That is a matter that surely ought to be considered. And it must not be forgotten that, whenever this transfer of land is completed, you will save the Land Commission and the Land Judges Court—about another £400,000 a year. Then the Council Bill did not go through, and the Treasury was saved £650,000 a year. That makes, altogether, about £1,500,000, against the £700,000 a year which would be the most that would have to be found if the whole cost of the losses on flotation were satisfied by the taxpayer.
Moreover, we have been paying off the National Debt at a marvellous rate—a very good thing to do. We have paid off £40,000,000 in the last three years. I am not quite certain myself that this is the soundest kind of finance if at the same time we are not satisfying our current commitments. I know what it would be in the case of a private individual. If I were to lay by money to pay my grandfather's debts it would be wise; but if, at the same time, I refused on that ground to pay my 802 tradesmen's current bills, I have no doubt the Courts would say my methods of finance were faulty. I do not think it is sound to pay off the National Debt in that way and not to find the money winch I submit Parliament is in equity bound to find to finance the Act of 1903. It would be almost insulting to Parliament, and to the whole system of constitutional government, not to admit that, in passing a great Act like that of 1903, Parliament practically bound itself to make that Act operative. It was a very unusual Act and was based upon unusual circumstances. First came the Land Conference of 1901, in which the two parties came to an agreement as to fair means and methods whereby the odious system of dual ownership should be done away with. That treaty was ratified by every public body in Ireland, practically by the whole Irish people. Upon that treaty the Act of 1903 was founded, and that Act passed through both Houses of Parliament with the acclamation of all parties. It is unusual that such an agreement as that should be the foundation of an Act of Parliament, and I do not think it can be argued that in passing an Act of that kind for the definite purpose of putting an end to dual ownership in Ireland and giving peace to the country, Parliament did not bind itself to see that it should be carried out.
I maintain that the landlords and the tenants have fulfilled their part of the contract, and, unless sufficient money is found to finance the Act, the State will not be fulfilling its part of the contract. What I ant afraid of is that the Government have not realised the gravity of the situation and do not understand how serious would be the disaster were the Act to become a failure. The success of the Act depends upon the punctual payment of annuities. Annuities have been paid with marvellous punctuality. Are you setting the people a good example? They must pay their annuities in good times and bad times, under any circumstances. That is their part of the bargain, and they fulfil it. It is not wise of the State to say "we will not fulfil our part of the contract, not because it is impossible—that is absurd; but simply because it is inconvenient." Hopes have been raised among the Irish people that it 803 would be cruel and unwise to disappoint. There are many lamentable. incidents in the history of Ireland, but it would not be easy to find any incident more lamentable than this great and beneficient Act of appeasement and content should be allowed, for the sake of a little money, to become an element of discord instead of an element of peace.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I am sure I shall not be contradicted when I say that the noble Earl behind me had every right to bring before Parliament the present congested state of affairs with regard to the purchase provisions of the Act of 1903. With my noble friend Lord Dunraven, I would urge His Majesty's Government to make a serious attempt to realise how important the situation in Ireland is, as well as the great inconvenience and discomfort which prevail among all the classes who are in any way associated with the administration of the Act, owing to the present block in the Land Commission Court.
Lord Denman informed us that the Government were fully aware of this, and were giving the matter their best attention. But, as a matter of fact, this congested state of the land purchase business is not new. My noble friend Lord Clonbrock called attention to it last year, though the position now is much worse than it was then. Noble Lords opposite assured us at that time that they would give the matter their best consideration, but the accumulations have increased from £33,000,000 last year to £41,500,000 at the present time, while £40,000,000 have been applied for during the year, and only £5,000,000 have been distributed. There is, therefore, a material increase in the block, and unless something is done we may anticipate a still greater increase as years go on.
It is well that we should consider what is the reason of this very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I think it may be said, with perfect truth, that the great Act of 1903 has exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine; but if it is to be eventually and thoroughly successful, it can only be through the policy being cordially taken up by the people and through its satisfactory administration. 804 What is the reason of the congestion? I understand that no fault can be found with the Treasury. The Treasury have, it is said, advanced money whenever application has been made. To a certain extent, the block is due to the delay caused by the proving of titles, though I am informed that even where the title has been cleared the money has not been forthcoming, because the inspection of the land has not been carried out.
I would press His Majesty's Government to say why the cost of proving title has been increased by the regulations of the Commissioners. If His Majesty's Government will look at the Act of 1903, Section 24, subsection (9) they will find that it explicitly enacts that the Land Commission should cause their officers to make such investigations and to perform such other duties as may be requisite and proper for the purpose of ascertaining titles and distributing the purchase money; and it is also provided that such ascertainment and distribution shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Treasury, be made without charge to the person entitled to the money. Yet, notwithstanding that, a serious change has been made by the Estates Commissioners in their new statutory rules, and they have directed that prima facie evidence of the vendor's right to sell shall be given by the lodgment of a certificate signed by counsel. Vendors will, therefore, have these very heavy costs to pay which the Act intended should be borne by the Land Commission. I ask His Majesty's Government to explain why this additional burden has been imposed on landlords, and if it is due to the Treasury having refused to give the sanction mentioned, can the Government state the ground of their refusal, and will they do anything to get the Treasury to give the necessary sanction?
I have heard that the block has also been caused in some respects by the delay in the inspection of estates. This is borne out by a statement of the Chief Secretary, who said, on May 21st, that the delay did not occur in the Examiners' office, or in the distribution of the money, but in the inspection of the estates and in the preliminary survey which was carried out with an insufficient staff. Why is the staff insufficient? I understood from 805 Lord Denman that the Government have some idea of increasing the staff. I hope that is the case. Otherwise we should like to ask why the staff, as acknowledged by the Chief Secretary, is insufficient. My own opinion is that the attention of the staff is engaged on minor and subsidiary branches of land purchase. Their time has been occupied in the reinstatement of evicted tenants, in the enlargement of holdings, and in providing parcels of land fur what are called landless men; but their primary duty, I maintain, is to administer the Act and endeavour to promote the transfer of land under it.
I remember Mr. Wyndham making a great point when he said—In using the powers of this Bill for settling the Irish land question, they ought not to single out one class for preferential treatment to the detriment of others.I think that in dealing with these subsidiary matters the Commissioners are treating unjustly those who were to benefit under that Act. The block might be largely got rid of by creating a temporary Commissioner to undertake these subsidiary duties, leaving the Commissioners free to carry out the original duties they were intended to perform. I have noticed in the debates that have taken place in the other House that the Nationalist Party have laid greater stress on the reinstatement of the evicted tenants than on the transfer of the land under the provisions of the Act. They seem to complain that the evicted tenants have not been restored with that rapidity which they had hoped for. The Nationalist Party have made no request for the acceleration of land purchase. Their desire has been, as Mr. Dillon put it, that Mr. Birrell would, as much as possible, speed up the Commissioners on this particular question of the evicted tenants. Consequently, we see that the desire of the Nationalist Party is not to promote purchase, and Mr. Birrell, in his reply, attempted to diminish the complaint by confining his reference as regards the cause of the delay to the restoration of evicted tenants. Therefore we are justified in believing that the Estates Commissioners have considered that it was the desire of their Chief that they should devote themselves to a very great extent to these subsidiary 806 duties instead of to the main duties which the Bill entrusted to them.
Attention has been drawn to the fact that this delay causes great inconvenience and in many cases discomfort to many who had hoped to benefit by the Act. The landlord naturally receives less rent when his agreements have been sgined than he would had his tenants been paying him the usual rents; and, in the case of estates that are mortgaged, the difference between 3½ and 4 per cent. has a serious effect upon his annual income. That is the hard case of the landlord. The tenant has also cause for complaint. He is paying his landlord 3½ per cent. instead of what he would be paying, in all probability 3¼ per cent., besides having the time postponed when he may hope to become the owner of his holding. I think the Imperial taxpayer also has cause to complain of this delay, for if once the block in the administration of the Land Act were removed and the measure carried into effect as was intended, there would be £160,000 or £170,000 year saved which is now paid in salaries and expenses. In these circumstances I think we are justified in asking His Majesty's Government seriously to consider the situation and to carry out the intentions of the Act of 1903. I believe that if the transfer of land could be effected on the terms intended by that Act, Ireland would be far more contented, and the people far more ready to devote themselves to the industrious development of the country.
*THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, on having introduced this discussion. I remember very well the part he took in the debates on the Bill of 1903, although, unluckily, I was not present during those proceedings owing to an accident. The noble Earl won his spurs in those debates, and it is fitting that he should deal with this matter on the present occasion. I can recall the passing of the Bill in the House of Commons, and I shall not easily forget the shout of "Aye" from every part of the House which decided its Second Reading; and when I remember that, I cannot understand the statement made by Lord Denman that the financial provisions of the Bill were totally unsound. 807 If they were unsound at that time, why did not the then Opposition object to them? I left the House of Commons on that night feeling that a new era had begun for Ireland, and that we had seen the last of the terrible Act of 1881, an Act passed to meet a state of affairs which, happily, does not exist now, but one which was calculated to ruin any country which has agriculture for its chief industry.
The House of Commons that passed the Act of 1903 has been swept away and almost annihilated, but I have no reason to suppose that the present House of Commons, nor indeed the present Cabinet, are not anxious to carry on the work of administering the latest Irish Land Act. However, there are ways devious and otherwise of administering an Act, especially an Irish Land Act. Before proceeding further I should like to say a word with regard to the observations of Lord Dunraven. The noble Earl, who was chairman of the Land Conference, has dealt very fully with the financial question, and I shall not presume to follow him in regard to that. But I must make one remark with regard to Irish finance. Two men have made Ireland feel their influence on its finances—Mr. Gladstone, who imposed the income tax on that country, and Mr. George Wyndham, who brought in and passed the Act of 1903. The first swelled the Treasury bag; the second pledged British credit to a large amount, and gave twelve millions as a bonus to sweeten the land market between landlord and tenant in Ireland. If I wore taken to task and heckled as to this bonus—we are often told that it was a present to the landlords—I would simply reply that it is a fractional part of the interest due to Ireland, and a fast diminishing one at that, on the imposition of an income-tax which it was never thought was going to be continued. Lord Denman referred to the British taxpayer, and I interrupted him with a reference to the Irish taxpayer. With regard to that question, it must be remembered that the individual Irishman pays exactly the same as the individual Englishman in the matter of taxes. There me very few exceptions.
The Notice which the noble Earl placed on the Paper speaks of the delays in connection with the provision and dis- 808 tribution of the funds. Let me deal for a moment with the Estates Commissioners. I have been through the Estates Commissioners' mill, and know what has to be done. It grinds somewhat slowly. I have sold my estate in County Kildare; the agreements in regard to my Meath estate are in the pigeon holes in the office of the Estates Commissioners; and I have reinstated an evicted tenant who was not an evicted tenant. I can quite understand your Lordships smiling at that expression. He was the son of an evicted tenant, and went to America; he returned, and is now back again on the farm, and wish him every luck in his undertaking.
It is not my intention to find fault with the Estates Commissioners or to comment on their work. They are Irishmen like myself, and are put there to do a very difficult job. They are badly housed and have not sufficient staff, and they might well be given more money with which to carry on their work. As to the inadequacy of their accommodation, I would read to your Lordships a quotation from the ad interim Report of the Estates Commissioners, in which they say—The work of the Estates Commissioners was commenced in No. 12, Upper Merrion Street, Dublin, on Monday, 2nd November, 1903. The office accommodation provided there was found to be insufficient, and other accommodation was provided.… Both the staff and the accommodation have already become insufficient for the purpose of enabling the Commissioners to deal rapidly and methodically with the applications for advances that live come before them.I say frankly that, if clerks were to be housed in this great City as badly as the clerks in the office of the Estates Commissioners are housed in Dublin, I should not be in the least surprised if they were to strike, and rightly so, because it is impossible to do the work, crowded together in the way these officials are. It is admitted that two-thirds of Irish land are mortgaged. The examining and clearing of title require the services of well instructed men, but you cannot expect young Irish barristers to go into the office and deal with this matter unless they are well paid and properly accommodated. Therefore it is exceedingly difficult to get a proper staff.
As to the question of evicted tenants, there is no doubt that political exigencies 809 have forced the evicted tenants question to the front. The Estate Commissioners have had an increase of staff to deal with this question, but no matter what increase in staff is given the matter has to go before the Estate Commissioners, and therefore it must, so to speak, put sand in the wheel of the purchase machinery. It is impossible to do two things at once. We agree, of course, with the principle of the Evicted Tenants Act, but object to its being worked in front of the Act of 1903.
My noble friend Lord Donoughmore next asks the Government whether they propose to take any steps to secure the effective carrying out of the purchase provisions of that Act. Before dealing with this, I should like to refer to, though I will not quote, the words of Lord Morley in praise of the Bill when it was in the House of Commons. Nothing could be stronger or more statesmanlike than his statement on the Amendment moved by Mr. Coghill to read the Bill a second time that day six months.
There was one point in the speech of Lord Castletown to which I think I ought to refer. I agree with Lord Dun-raven that it is preposterous that the ratepayers of Ireland should be called upon to pay any deficiency thrown upon the Development Grant. I cannot imagine such a suggestion. It is quite unthinkable. I know it is in the Act, but it must be remembered it was said that economies were likely to be made—economies with regard to the police, for example, which, under the present Government, have not been realised. Therefore I cannot admit that the ratepayers should have this burden put upon them in any way. The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government seemed to welcome the statement of Lord Castletown on that matter. I deny that Lord Castletown has any right to speak for the ratepayers of Ireland generally, and I am sure that any speech made in a market place in Ireland against payment would be a most popular speech.
Lord Denman referred to the Runciman Report. That document constitutes the only opportunity we have had of seeing what is in the mind of the Treasury at the present moment. I should like to quote to your Lordships the concluding words of a leading article 810 in The Times on this Report. The Times states—It must be borne in mind however, that they are the recommendations of a Departmental Committee only, which was bound to approach this wide and complex subject from the standpoint of mere finance.I think that is an excellent statement. It was only from the standpoint of finance, of course, that the Departmental Committee could possibly have approached it. The whole basis of the Act was a gold basis, and that is the reason why it has been such a success. The publication of the Treasury Report has cast a dark shadow over the whole of those interested in the working of this Act. The British Treasury are not likely to lose any money whatever over the transaction, for the tenant has paid his interest most punctually. Mr. Cherry, the Attorney-General, stated in the House of Commons, in answer to Mr. William O'Brien, that the instalments under the 1903 Act were oven better paid than those under former Acts. Therefore I cannot coo what complaint there can be on that score.
In the first of the series of recommendations the Committee say—We consider that the finance of land purchase should be put on a workable basis as soon as possible, and that it is essential to restrict the operations of the law, as it stands at present, at the earliest possible moment. This object could best be attained by the announcement that after the briefest possible interval all fresh agreements should be subject to arrangements hereafter to be determined by Parliament.If that were to be enforced, the Act of 1903 would come to an end altogether. The answer to the Runciman Report is the issue of land stock to the amount of £5,000,000; and, therefore, I do not consider that what I may call the wicked and evil recommendations of that Report are likely to be put into force. That is satisfactory. No doubt the noble Lord will take credit for that issue of stock. I am not very much impressed with it. I do not consider that Erin, like Dame, has been embraced by the Treasury Jove in a shower of gold. I look upon it not as a shower, but as a little mist, such as I have often noticed on the Welsh coast, when crossing over to Ireland. Since the Runciman Report £4,000,000 worth of estates have come into the Estates Commissioners' hands, 811 and this shows that the publication of this Report has made people very anxious to get in their agreements as soon as possible.
We are all agreed upon one point, and that is that the Act must go on. Not only are the landlords and the Unionists of Ireland agreed, but the Nationalist Party as well, for in the Report of a Committee of the Irish Party on Land Purchase Finance, the Committee summarises its conclusion as follows:—(1) The progress of land purchase should be accelerated; money should be provided much more rapidly than is proposed in the Treasury Memorandum; and the stall at the disposal of the Estates Commissioners should be proportionately increased. (2) Losses on flotation of stock issued to provide the cash for advances should not be allowed to fall on the Irish ratepayers, but should be met by an Imperial charge.That Report was signed by eight Nationalists, headed by Mr. Redmond, the Leader of the Nationalist Party. I may be twitted as to the other conclusions arrived at by the Irish Party. Let me say at once that they are debatable points, and I have no doubt it would be quite possible to exchange opinions on the subject and come to a definite conclusion, and most likely to agreement. We came to a definite conclusion and agreement in the Land Conference, and I have not the least fear that we could do so again. We had a very disagreeable winter last year, and I do not look forward to next winter in Ireland with complacency, unless the working of the land purchase provisions is accelerated.
I do not propose to enter into the question of cattle - driving, but there is a feeling of sulkiness and distrust growing up amongst all classes in Ireland. This great Act was a measure of appeasement, and we are quite prepared to join together and do our best to see it carried out. It is bringing about a great change. Peasant proprietary is an established fact in Ireland. Land is passing from the present landlords to the people, and where that system is set up you have, as Lord Castletown said, peace and quiet, and agitation ceases to be a profitable or an interesting business. The State rent is paid punctually. England stands to lose nothing by the full administration of the 1903 Act. The Irish people—and I speak with some knowledge of my countrymen— 812 believe fully that England will keep her promises, and what the noble Lord has said to-night leads me to believe she will. There is, however, always a "but" in Irish affairs. It is this, that although you may provide sufficient money year by year, it is also necessary to provide sufficient staff for the Estates Commissioners if you place upon them duties such as those dealing with evicted tenants. As I have said, I believe that England will keep her promises, and it is with that feeling in my heart that I have ventured to address your Lordships this evening.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the subject which the House has been discussing this evening is one in which I have taken a close interest for so many years that I am impelled, even at this late hour, to say two or three words with regard to it. I shall not take up the time of the House for many moments, and I shall avoid altogether certain branches of the case. I do not, for example, wish to make reproaches or to answer the reproaches which have been made as to the manner in which the present Government or the late Government have dealt with the Irish agrarian question. It is tempting, perhaps, for one side to tell the other that all this trouble has arisen from the too optimistic financial arrangements which accompanied the Act of 1903, and it is not less tempting to us to do what has been done by one or two noble Lords who have spoken this evening and to impute the blame to the principles upon which the Party opposite have dealt with Irish land legislation.
I desire to avoid all these things, and to consider for one moment only what seems to me really the most important point before us—the gravity of the situation with which we are threatened in Ireland owing to the apparently impending breakdown of Irish land purchase. That breakdown is one which I feel sure noble Lords opposite would contemplate with as much regret as we contemplate it on this side. We are, after all, threatened with the failure of the one successful experiment which we have made in dealing with the Irish problem. The evidence that that breakdown is near at hand seems to me overwhelming. I will not go over the ground again. It has been pointed 813 out to us that the office of the Estates Commissioners is blocked by a huge accumulation of business, and that that accumulation tends to increase and will reach a point which will altogether interrupt the realisation of the high hopes which were formed in 1903. My noble friend beside me told the House that, according to his calculations, if things went on as they are going now landlords and tenants who entered into these purchase agreements might be kept waiting for no less than sixteen years before the transactions would actually be completed.
Just consider what that means. To the tenant the misfortune is not only a financial misfortune; not only has he to pay, as interest, a larger sum than he would pay as purchase annuity, but you prevent him taking the first steps along that road which will eventually lead him to the absolute ownership of his farm. As we all know, the Irish peasant is a sentimental person, and I believe that that sentiment of inchoate ownership is one which has a most extraordinary effect on the mind of these people, and if you tell them that they will have to wait, I do not care if it is six, eight, or sixteen years, before they begin to pay the first instalment of the purchase money, it will lead to a feeling of vexation and disappointment which it is almost impossible to exaggerate.
Of the hardship to the landlord I need not speak at length. He has to be content with a sum less than the interest which he might obtain from the investment of the purchase money; he lies out of his bonus; and in the meanwhile, if his estate is an encumbered one, he is liable for heavy charges upon encumbrances and on account of tithe rent charge, quit rent charge, and other charges of the same kind to which Irish land is liable. There is another class which has not been mentioned this evening, and which suffers acutely under this system. I mean the whole class of agents and solicitors who have this vast amount of heavy business thrown on their hands, and who have, as a rule, to wait for their remuneration until the money is paid. It comes, then, to this, that there is absolute unanimity in Ireland amongst all sections of the community that the breakdown of these arrangements would be a great national misfortune. That is stated with great 814 moderation, but with great erect, in the Report of the Treasury Committee which has been so often quoted this evening.
Two causes have been mentioned as those to which this breakdown has been due. The first is the inadequacy of the staff and the other the inadequacy of the funds at the disposal of the Estates Commissioners. As to the staff, I have not yet what across anyone who really knew what was going on in Ireland with regard to land purchase transactions who was not absolutely convinced that the insufficiency of the staff was one of the most potent causes which has tended to bring about these vexatious delays. I believe that both branches of the Estates Commission stand in need of reinforcement—the department which has to deal with the inspection of estates, and the department of the Judicial Commissioner, which has to do with the examination of title and so forth; and we have the most unequivocal evidence of the Estate Commissioners themselves that this is their opinion.
I wish to express my agreement with what my noble, friend Lord Mayo said a moment ago when he told the House that ho for one did not desire to make any complaint whatever of the Estate Commissioners and their staff. They have a gigantic work imposed upon them, and they have to get through it with a. staff which has been to a large extent improvised. It is not like an old department with long traditions mid long habits of transacting business of a special kind; it is new work thrown on a new department, and from time to time—here again I make no reproach—new work of a particularly troublesome character has been thrown upon the department of the Estates Commissioners. I do not desire to discuss the policy of our legislation with regard to evicted tenants, but it cannot do otherwise than involve the minute investigation of very trivial cases, amid these minute investigations must interrupt the larger and more important work of the Estates Commissioners. It is also perfectly true, I believe, that owing to the manner in which these departments are housed in Dublin, their business is transacted at a very great disadvantage. I have a very lively recollection of the trouble which was given to the old War Office when its departments were scattered all about the 815 West End of London—I think in eighteen different buildings; and I have no doubt that the Estates Commissioners have suffered greatly from that cause.
One word only with regard to another point which has been pressed by two or three of my noble friends. I mean the additional impediment thrown on the work of the Commissioners by the regulations issued in the year 1906. I do not for a moment wish to suggest that no regulations were necessary. I think it is quite likely that the experience of the Commissioners may have shown that there were points at which it was desirable to strengthen the hands of the Commission, and I make no complaint that that should have been done. But, again, I have never found anybody who was not convinced that the regulations issued in 1906 were of a needlessly meticu ous and minute character. Two or three instances have been mentioned. Why is it necessary to tell your inspectors that they are to project their minds into the future, and form an opinion as to the probable course of agricultural development during the years which lie ahead I Surely, as my noble friend Lord Clonbrock said, if you have a tenant who has paid his rent regularly and contentedly for twenty-seven years, and has not thought it worth while to go into Court, it is prima facie evidence that his rent is a reasonable one. I often think that sufficient regard is not paid to the fact that the Government has for its security not only the interest of the landlord, but the additional interest of the tenant, which, as we know, is saleable, often for very large sums indeed, in the open market, and which is certainly an additional protection to those who acquire the fee simple of the land.
The insufficiency of the staff is one difficulty, and I was glad to hear from Lord Denman that His Majesty's Government are disposed to take the matter into consideration, and that they will probably recommend some increase of the present staff. Then I come to the money difficulty; and feeling that I am here skating on extremely thin ice, I shall be careful to avoid committing myself to any definite suggestion as to the manner in which it might best be overcome. But I was very glad to gather from Lord Denman that His Majesty's Government are ready to con- 816 sider—shall I say in a friendly spirit?—the concrete proposals which I understand have been elaborated by some gentlemen interested in this question, to whom, I think, we owe a debt of gratitude for the part they have taken in endeavouring to find a solution of the difficulty. Of course, we shall find that all the parties concerned are equally unwilling to assume any additional liability; the landlord will not be ready to accept a smaller price for his land. I think my noble friend was right in saying that most of them had put the price down as low as they could, having regard to their own protection. The tenant naturally dislikes having his purchase annuity increased. The Irish ratepayer is apparently averse to incurring new obligations; and then, when we come to the Treasury, the noble Lord who represents that Department, and who is imbued with the Treasury spirit has told us that we are not to look for any assistance whatever from that quarter.
The noble Lord gave us, I thought, some most admirable advice on that point. He protested against noble Lords on this side dealing lightly with vast sums of money; he spoke of the fear His Majesty's Government had of doing anything that might involve their successors; and he suggested that it was desirable that we should adapt our obligations to our financial resources. I think it is not unlikely that when a Bill which is now before this House and the Second Reading of which we shall take on Monday next comes up for discussion we may hear something about the light treatment of vast sums, the danger of involving our successors, and the need of adapting our obligations to our visible resources. But I do not desire to pursue that further.
All I will say upon the money question is this. I trust that His Majesty's Government will not regard this demonstration on the part of my noble friends from Ireland as a more Irish raid on the British Exchequer. The matter is much more serious than that. I trust it will be approached in the spirit in which a distinguished colleague of the noble Earl opposite to whom my noble friend referred a moment ago, Mr. John Morley as he then was, dealt with it at the time when the Land Purchase 817 Bill was before the House of Commons. He said—The Bill must be regarded not as conferring a boon on one class or another in Ireland, but as a great act of state and national policy.And Sir Edward Grey, in the course of the same debate, added that—The Bill is the essential price you will have to pay for bringing about a voluntary arrangement of the Irish land question.That is the spirit in which, I hope, this question will be dealt with by the Government which is now in power. At any rate, my Lords, I trust that they will look in the face the very serious combination of circumstances which is developing itself in Ireland. Those who know that country best are deeply impressed with the gravity of the present situation. Two or three years ago the country was in a comparatively peaceful condition, and the minds of the agricultural population were turned almost entirely to the question—the most absorbing of all in their eyes—of acquiring the ownership of their farms. At this moment we cannot say that the condition of Ireland is orderly and peaceful. Read the reports which appear week after week of the language used by learned Judges in different parts of Ireland, and you will see that certain portions of the country are at this moment honeycombed with disorder. If on the top of that, at a moment when this agrarian movement is assuming dangerous proportions, you superimpose a breakdown of Irish land purchase, you will create a situation with which the strongest Government will find it difficult to deal. My Lords, His Majesty's Government have shown themselves not wanting in resource and in audacity in dealing with other great public questions. I trust they will display some of those qualities in dealing with the grave problem which my noble friend has brought before your Lordships this evening.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I unfortunately was not in the House when the noble Earl who introduced this matter uttered the first few sentences of his speech, and, therefore, I do not know exactly in what capacity he approached this subject, whether it was as an Irish landlord or as a Member of the front bench opposite, The caution given by 818 the noble Marquess who has just sat down was by no means an unnecessary one when he urged us not to regard this as a great demand of Irish landlords upon the resources of the Treasury. This debate has been treated throughout as if it were simply an Irish one. For one or two moments noble Lords who are not Irish landlords have appeared on the front Opposition Bench, but they have never stayed, and none of them have taken any part in the debate. I am bound to say I think that is not entirely to the credit of your Lordships House. This matter has been treated in speech after speech as simply a question for Irish landlords and Irish tenants, and the great scope of it has in fact been lost sight of altogether.
The noble Marquess who has just sat down said he did not wish to engage in a game of argumentative battledore and shuttlecock as to who might be considered responsible for the unfortunate state of things with regard to the working of this Act. It is perfectly true, no doubt, that the Act of 1903 was in a very large measure passed by consent. A certain danger attaches to measures that are passed in any degree by consent. People are so enthusiastic over the consent that they do not always look so closely as they might into the measure; and I think it cannot be denied that my noble friend behind me was well within the mark when he stated that the financial provisions of that Act had proved to be unsound. Although the measure received general consent, I think if noble Lords opposite will look at the discussion in 1903 they will see that it was pointed out that from our point of view it would have been very much better to have paid landlords from the start in stock and not in cash, in which case this particular kind of difficulty would never have arisen at all.
This debate has, of course, divided itself into two entirely separate subjects, one the official working of the Act in Ireland, and the other the great financial question connected with it. I propose only to say a very few words on the first point. As regards the staff, it is, of course, perfectly true—I do not see how it can possibly be denied—that if you multiply the staff indefinitely you will do the work more quickly; but the staff as it has gone on is the staff as it was 819 devised for the work of that particular Act, and with a view to the operations taking place at a particular rate. Of course, it is open to noble Lords to argue that the staff ought to be increased, but it is only fair to mention that so far as any question of bargain is concerned on this side of the subject, that bargain has been carried out by the maintenance of the staff at the level which I have no doubt Mr. Wyndham contemplated when he was responsible for the passing of the Act. I do not wish to dwell on the question of delay. I can hardly believe it possible that the duties of the Estates Commissioners in connection with the Evicted Tenants Act have had any substantial effect in delaying the work of the Commission. The transactions under that Act have, of course, not been numerous, and, as I say, I find it difficult to believe that whatever effect they may have had in that respect can have been otherwise than something trifling.
It is only fair to mention, on the other side, that a certain degree of delay has taken place in regard to questions of title, and in some cases that delay has extended to a period of a year. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, asked how it was that prima facie evidence on the authority of counsel was now asked for in questions of title. I understand that that was declared by Mr. Justice Wyley to be strictly demanded by the terms of the Act, and although I do not know this—I am only speaking now from conjecture—I should imagine that before the rule was enforced there must have been a certain number of cases of time wasted by people coining to Court, and its being found after a time that they had no title in respect of the particular land or other matter which they desired to sell. There have been delays, I know, some of a year's duration on minor matters. I hope—and I believe—it will be found possible, as my noble friend behind me suggested, to make seine small increase in the staff with a view to accelerating the working of the Act.
Now I pass to the much larger side of the question—the financial side; and it is necessary, I think, to deal with what has been said as to the terms of the bargain entered into in the year 1903. Both the noble Earl who introduced this matter and Lord Dunraven spoke of this 820 bargain as though it were a bargain to see the working of the Act through with British taxpayers' money, whatever the cost might be. I defy anybody to find a word in any speech made by a responsible person at that time which would lead to that conclusion. The bargain was a perfectly definite one stated in terms of cash. So much money was required, it was said, for the purpose of purchasing Irish land. So many millions of money were to be found by the taxpayer for the purpose of the bonus, and I can hardly imagine that noble Lords opposite are prepared to argue that if, for instance, the bonus should be found inadequate to give the 12 per cent. to every landlord, however many landlords may sell in the course of these transactions, it is an absolute obligation of honour on us to find so many more millions—nobody knows how many—in order to secure that amount of bonus to every landlord. No bargain of that kind was ever made. The terms of the bargain are absolutely explicit. They are to be found in the four corners of the Act, and I do not admit that qua bargain, whatever may be said as to the policy of doing this, that, or the other, any further obligation than that expressed in the Act rests on the Government of this country.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I think it would be a great pity if you did not maintain it at 12 per cent., but I made no claim for its maintenance at 12 per cent.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I understood the noble Earl to say that we were bound to finance this on the same scale all through.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
Then as regards what the Treasury may do in the future. I have to repeat, what my noble friend said, that His Majesty's Government are not prepared to find any more of the taxpayers' money for the 821 working of this Act. I have also to say, with equal explicitness, that equally they are not prepared to add this charge to the National Debt. That was a point that was dealt with with much ingenuity by the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven. He argued that there was no difference in practice whether a particular stock was called Consuls or Irish Land Stock. I think anyone who knows anything of the City would be inclined to dispute that proposition. Consols have a special sanctity of their own which is possessed by no other stock in this country, and, indeed, we are proud to think, by no other stock in the world; and to add at a stroke 150 millions to the National Debt is a proposal which it is better to say frankly we are totally unable to consider.
In passing, I should like to allude to another observation of the noble Earl as to the price at which the last loan was issued. The noble Earl argued that because that loan had been subscribed over so many times over, that was a proof that it might quite reasonably have been issued at a higher price. There, again, I think the noble Earl was uttering a fallacy. I believe it to be the fact, though I do not pretend to be an expert in such matters, that it is quite possible for a loan to be subscribed a hundred times over, so delicate are the operations of the money market, at a given price, and at a very slightly higher price not to be fully subscribed at all. People know in the City exactly what the value of the stock at a particular price is to them, and they want to get as much as they can, and, therefore, a man sends in for 1,000,000 of the stock well knowing that others will do the same, and that he might have some chance of getting the amount he actually wants. But if he does not like the price, neither he nor the other would send in at all. Therefore, I think it would be very unsafe to build an argument on that particular point.
I have made these two categorical statements, and, therefore, noble Lords opposite may fairly ask, if that is so, whether we see any way out of this difficulty. I am very sorry that the noble Earl who opened the debate, dismissed quite so abruptly as he did the possibility of a considerable number of landlords being willing to take stock instead of cash; but, on the other hand, I was somewhat reassured by knowing 822 that it was in respect of the price of 92 that he dismissed the matter so curtly. As regards that, I have to say that we are not in any way hound by what appears in the Report which has been quoted as to that price of 92. The actual price would, no doubt, have to be a matter for consideration, and I admit also for negotiation, because, more particularly in respect of agreements already entered into, it is perfectly clear that a price must be found which will be satisfactory to the landlords. I hope there may be some way out through that road. The landlord will have to consider whether he would rather take his payment in stock, or supposing he and all landlords insisted on cash, they then must take the chance of having a delay of what might ma undoubtedly be a considerable number of years, though not quite so many as the number the noble Marquess opposite mentioned. The noble Marquess was taking as a basis for that calculation the amount of £2,500,000, whereas my noble friend showed that we have boon proceeding at a rate of close upon £5,000,000 a year. As I say, I hope it may be possible to find sonic way out on that road. I do not think the noble Earl was quite fair in saying that a stock at 92 is only worth 84⅓.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
It was then at a very much lower price than it has been since. The noble Earl might just as well have said, because Consuls were at one time 113 and very likely averaged 108, that in the year afterwards, when they went down to 96, they were worth 108. You must take the figure of the moment, though it is quite fair, no doubt, to consider possible fluctuations in the future. That is really all I am able to say on the matter. We recognise the gravity of the position; and I can assure noble Lords opposite that we are by no means insensible to it. But we are not prepared, in the somewhat airy way which has been suggested by some noble Lords opposite, to take over all these liabilities and mortgage the future, or to adopt any of those schemes which are really a gamble on the Government stocks remaining at a certain figure a certain number of years hence. I cannot 823 help thinking that if noble Lords opposite were not speaking as Irish landlords, but happened to he on this side of the House, their tone would necessarily have to be a different one so far as that point is concerned; and I fully recognise that the noble Marquess opposite, speaking not as an Irish landlord but as a reasonable person, adopted a somewhat different tone. I hope this discussion will prove to have been of a useful character, and if it should prove to be in any way of a fruitful character none of us will regret that it has been held.
*THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I do not intend to put your Lordships to the trouble of going to a division, and I hope, in taking that course, I can lay some claim to be considered a reasonable person. I only desire to make two points clear. Lord Denman stated that I was incorrect in saying that the inspectors troubled themselves with demesnes and sporting rights. I may say that they are distinctly requested to report upon these matters in the instructions issued by the Commissioners in accordance with the Lord-Lieutenant's Regulations. In paragraph 2 the inspector is asked to prepare and send in a report on the form prescribed showing—the character of any untenanted land or demesne and how it is used.The inspector is also requested to describe any timber that may be growing on the estate, and to report on sporting rights and advise how they should be dealt with. There is no mention that these observations are to be confined to estates where the Commissioners are purchasing the demesne or entering into transactions with regard to the demesne. I have since learned from one of the officials from Ireland that, although these are the regulations, the inspectors do not, as a matter of fact, bother about demesnes or sporting rights unless transactions are taking place concerning them. I am glad to hear that is so. The noble Earl has made it quite clear that it is in the mind of the Government that a solution might be found in asking some of us to take stock. I only desire to repeat that I sincerely hope, from the point of view of good faith, that, if stock is offered, those people who hold out and 824 insist on having cash will not be placed in a position of inferiority or disadvantage in consequence. I think it would be a most unfair thing if that were done.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.