§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, in rising to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, I am disposed to begin by apologising for the unavoidable fact that it cannot be introduced here by a regular representative of the Irish Office. This question of Irish land purchase and the working of the Irish Land Acts is one in which I have, naturally, taken a keen interest from my former connection with the Government of Ireland; but I cannot pretend to have been able to give to it that continuous personal attention which would be necessary in order to make a statement of this kind really acceptable to those noble Lords opposite who are in perpetual contact with it and are acquainted with all its ins and outs.
There is a further difficulty in connection with the question affecting your Lordships' House as a whole. It is an extremely difficult and technical question, and although as I have said, there are many of your Lordships largely, no doubt, represented here to-night, who are familiar with it in all 388 its bearings, yet there are others, probably the majority of your Lordships' House—if the whole House were collected here—to whom its terminology is not much more intelligible than Hebrew. And therefore, to commend a Bill of this kind to the House as a whole without appearing superficial to the experts or unintelligible to the less-informed is not an easy task, and it is one with which I am afraid I may not be able to cope.
This Bill divides itself into three parts, not precisely represented by the numbered parts in the Bill as printed. The first division deals with the finance of land purchase as carried out under the Act of 1903, the second with changes in the plan and method of purchase, including the introduction of the principle of compulsory purchase, and the third with some changes in the constitution and powers of the Congested Districts Board. The first of these divisions, that of finance, is the one which has made the introduction of some such measure—in our opinion, this measure—not merely desirable but imperative. It is obvious, even to those who have observed this question only from the outside, that the time has come when some change or other is bound to take place in the financial system under which land purchase is being carried out in Ireland. If I might assume for a moment that the Act of 1903 is carried on by a great limited company, I should say that that company finds itself face to face with the prospect of liquidation. A new board of directors has to administer the affairs of the company, a different board from that which administered them when the company was first formed, and the consequence is that, if bankruptcy is to be avoided, some scheme of reconstruction becomes necessary, and the different classes of shareholders involved have to consider how that scheme of reconstruction had best be put into force. There are three classes of shareholders in this company—one represented by the whole body of taxpayers of the United Kingdom, the second by those who have the land to sell, and the third those who desire to buy it. Therefore, I put this Bill forward as what the Americans call "a business proposition," and I hope it may be considered as such, without the use on either side of the language of recrimination, which to my mind is altogether unsuited to its consideration, because we are face to face with a business difficulty, and we ought, I think, to meet it in a business spirit.
389 Why is it that Irish land purchase finds itself face to face with something approaching bankruptcy? Your Lordships know what conditions obtained under the Act of 1903. Under that Act the State advances to the tenant in Ireland, for the purpose of purchasing land, cash to such amount as is necessary, provided that that amount gives security for ultimate repayment in sixty-eight and a-half years, and, also, for payment during that period of interest at the rate of three and a-quarter per cent., ten shillings per cent. of which represents sinking fund for amortisation of the debt. The cash which is handed to the tenant with which to pay the vendor is raised by the issue of two and three-quarters per cent. Stock. The annuities payable by the tenant pay the interest on the stock and the sinking fund; but, in addition to that, it was foreseen from the first that there might arise contingent liabilities of various kinds, and those contingent liabilities were secured on a guarantee fund amounting, in all, to the effective sum of £1,160,000 a year. The principal contingent liability arose, as all the world knows, owing to the state of the money market, it being necessary to issue the stock at a discount, and the guarantee fund is liable for payment of the interest and sinking fund on that amount of excess stock, as it is called. The guarantee fund consists of the development grant, which amounts to £160,000 a year, and of the death duties and agricultural grants, which together amount to just about one million sterling a year. But as all the world also knows, those last two amounts go in ordinary course to the relief of rates in Ireland; consequently, if they are called upon to pay any of these contingent liabilities the loss falls at once and directly upon the general body of Irish ratepayers.
What is the position in which land purchase now finds itself? Before the year 1903, under the previous Purchase Acts, between two and three million acres of land had been sold for about twenty-five millions sterling. Up to September 15 a further amount of some eight million acres have been sold or agreed to be sold, and in respect of these transactions thirty-two millions sterling have already been advanced and some fifty-three millions sterling are still due in respect of pending agreements. I may say in passing that the calculation which we make is not one which is altogether accepted; but it represents, I think, something of a half-way house between opposing 390 views. The calculation that we make is that the remaining land in Ireland which might become the subject of purchase is somewhere about eight million acres, which might be expected to cost some seventy-five millions sterling.
We all know that throughout the transactions which have so far taken place there has been a loss in respect of excess stock. To put it shortly, the loss on the excess stock, taking together past and pending agreements, amounts to a sum which would require £400,000 a year to meet. For the future there will be a further loss involving the payment of a further £240,000 a year—that is to say, that over and above the amounts which can be charged on the development grant these further grants will ultimately become liable for the payment of about £640,000 a year. This is a charge which, unless something is done, will automatically under the Act of 1903 fall on the general body of Irish ratepayers. What is to be done? It cannot be denied that the money is there, and can be intercepted on its way to the Irish ratepayers, but there is a general agreement shared by both sides of the House that it is not possible to act in the strict letter of the Statute of 1903 and to call on the Irish ratepayers to make good the whole of this sum. It may, of course, be asked why, if this was so, was this particular security ever put into the Act of 1903. That is a question which I do not feel bound to answer, because the Act of 1903 was not our Act, but was the Act of noble Lords opposite. I think it entitles us to say, avoiding, as I desire to, all terms of recrimination, that the finance of the Act of 1903, if not absolutely speculative, was, at any rate, exceedingly hopeful, and when we are told that it was never seriously meant that Irish ratepayers should themselves become liable to this charge, and that if the necessity arose the Treasury would come forward and find whatever was necessary, I ask your Lordships to find me another Act under which an explicit provision is to have no effect at all, whereas a provision which is not in any way implied in the terms of the Act is held in a few years to be operative. I am certain that you can find no such measure. This Act of Parliament has to be construed like other Acts of Parliament, according to its text.
This state of things, hopeful though the finance of 1903 might have been, was not altogether unforeseen. Speaking on July 6, 391 1903, Mr. Ritchie, who was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer, said—If money cannot be raised at two and three-quarters per cent., the Bill will not work.Money has never been able to be raised at two and three-quarters per cent., and the Bill has not worked. From what happened in 1902 it might have been supposed that this breakdown would be foreseen. Mr. Wyndham, at that time Irish Secretary, introduced what I believe he has himself spoken of since as a trial Bill. Under that Bill the rate of annuity to be paid by the tenant was three and three-quarters per cent., of which three and one-eighth per cent., by Mr. Wyndham's own statement, ranked as interest, the remainder being sinking fund. At that time Consols stood at ninety-four. In the following year, Mr. Wyndham introduced his Bill, which is now an Act, by which two and three-quarters per cent. was the rate payable for interest and half per cent. was payable for sinking fund, and yet during that year Consols had dropped to ninety, and the position, therefore, in regard to the issue of stock was four points worse than in the previous year.
I think we more or less realise how it all happened. The Act of 1903 was carried through Parliament in a burst of generosity and good feeling. It brought various parties and classes in Ireland into closer association than they had been for, I was going to say, countless years, and the result was that everybody was so occupied in shaking hands and drinking each other's health that the finance of the Bill did not receive that close and almost morose attention which financial proposals of the kind generally receive. That is the explanation. I hope I have not stated it in a captious or too critical spirit but the fact remains that there was no warrant in the state of the money market or in the future of the money market, so far as could be foreseen, for supposing that British first-class securities would rise to a point which would make this particular transaction sound. That is the fact and it is a fact the result of which we have to face in the year 1909. It may be said that if His Majesty's late advisers had remained in office so marked an era of prosperity would have reigned that public funds would have risen to an extent which would have made these transactions less disastrous. That, however, must remain a matter of pure speculation. So far as the actual issue made by them is concerned it 392 amounted to eleven millions sterling at an average of eighty-eight and a-half. A much larger amount—that of thirty millions—has been issued by the last two Governments, the late and the present Government, at just a shade below eighty-eight, and having regard to the amount issued there is no material difference between the rates of the two sets of transactions.
Now, my Lords, what do we propose—representing those shareholders if I may carry on my metaphor who are the taxpayers of the United Kingdom—what do we propose to contribute in view of this deficit? In the first place the Exchequer takes over and is responsible for the whole of the excess on the fifty-three millions. That is taking over an amount of something like seven millions sterling—an extra charge of from £220,000 to £230,000 a year. It also takes over two millions excess in respect to the bonuses on that amount, and it provides a further four millions towards the new bonuses after the amount of twelve millions is exhausted, and the excess upon the issue of that amount; so that, speaking generally, it is not, I think, an over-statement to say that before we have done with this transaction the cost to the Treasury can hardly be expected to be less than twenty-five millions sterling, and it might be something more.
Your Lordships all know that there has been a disastrous block in the carrying out of sale and purchase under the Act of 1903, sufficiently indicated by the figure which I have given of the amount of agreements pending. The possibility of that block was to some extent foreseen, but it was supposed that the landlords, having sold their property and the transaction being completed, would not mind standing out for a considerable period. That was said by friends of noble Lords opposite in response to the criticisms that were made at the time of the possibility of a block.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I will try and find the quotation. I think it was said in debate in another place. But what Mr. Wyndham said, in introducing the Bill of 1903, was this—This operation [the making of advances] must be undertaken with due and jealous regard to the national credit …. I say emphatically that 393 it will be neither financially prudent nor administratively possible to expand these operations at a pace so high as to make us come to the City for more than £5,000,000 in any one of the first three years after the passing of this Bill. It could not be done …. After three years, in my opinion, it will be possible and desirable to mend the pace. We ought to be able after three years so to mend the pace, as far as we are concerned, as to enable all saleable land to be sold in the course of some fifteen years.Bearing in mind the whole question of the loss on excess stock, I think it is fair to conclude that Mr. Wyndham, when he said it would be possible to accelerate the pace after three years, meant that it would be possible to float on the market larger quantities of Irish land stock than five millions without undue loss. He may have thought that after three years there would be the Deluge, and that he and his friends would not be responsible for what might happen. But I do not think that was so. I think the whole forecast is of a piece. He believed that Consols and other first-class securities would rise, and that then it might be possible, when the Estates Commissioners had got fairly into their stride, to enlarge their operations and also to float large amounts of stock on the market. That expectation, as we know, has been disappointed.
Criticism has also been freely levelled at the Government for not in any case having enabled transactions to go faster by means of an increase in the staff of the Estates Commissioners. We have increased that staff to some extent, but I frankly say that the staff might have been, and probably would have been increased to a larger amount before but for the terrifying loss, if I may say so, to the taxpayers in respect of those large issues of stock. The Treasury undoubtedly were not prepared to go beyond the five millions, or a little more, which Mr. Wyndham promised so long as the Wyndham conditions remained. It was clearly impossible for Mr. Wyndham to pledge the Treasury, with which he might not be in any way concerned, to take a particular action in circumstances which he could not foresee after a lapse of three years, and we have never I think concealed the fact that that was one factor which made it impossible to increase the staff up to the point of dealing with £8,000,000 or £10,000,000 of transactions up to the present time.
I can assume from what has been said outside that in respect of these purchase 394 provisions various objections may be raised. It may be said, in the first place, that it is disastrous that the tenant's annuity should be raised from three and a-quarter to three and a-half per cent. We would gladly avoid doing that if it were possible, but it does not seem to be altogether unreasonable that the tenant should stand in in respect of the general transaction which involves a certain degree of sacrifice—by far the larger sacrifice, I may say, in the case of the taxpayer, but a certain degree of sacrifice from everybody concerned in the transaction. I know it will be said—Why, instead of raising this, do you not lengthen the term of repayment? I believe that financial purists consider the existing term of sixty-eight and a-half years as being economically indefensible, and I do not think that any set of Ministers could get the Treasury to agree to such enlargements as seventy-three, seventy-five, or more years, which I have heard of as being proposed in order to make the tenant terms easier.
Then we come to the supremely important provision in this relation which empowers the Treasury to issue stock instead of in all cases paying in cash. This is not the first time that such a proposition has been made because in the year 1905, before the block had reached its present formidable dimensions, Mr. Walter Long, who was at that time responsible, made this suggestion in the debate on the Irish Estimates. He said—There should be amending words introduced in a single-clause Bill to enable the vendors, if they so wish, and only if they so wish, to take a portion of the purchase-money in stock. What I propose is that two-thirds of the purchase-money should be the maximum to be taken in stock, one-third in cash, the bonus in cash, and the stock to be at its face value.It is only fair to add that that suggestion appears to have been scouted by every one concerned, and no more was heard of it. But still it was a proposition made by a colleague of noble Lords opposite, and I hope that they will bear the fact in mind. I hope they will also bear in mind that, taken as Mr. Long put it, it was a considerably worse transaction for the landlord than that which we propose at this moment.
There are, as I have said, fifty-three millions of pending sales. Out of this sum forty-eight millions are in respect of direct sales between landlord and tenant. The proposition which we make is that as hitherto there has been a certain classifica- 395 tion adopted by the Estates Commissioners a fresh classification of a different kind should be introduced. Assuming that it is only possible owing to the state of the money market to go on issuing at the average rate of five millions, one million of that total would be required for sales to the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners. That would leave four millions available for cash payment, and the suggested classification is that two millions of that four millions should be available for those who either wish or are bound to take all cash; that another two millions should be available for those who are able and willing to take half in cash and half in stock, and that two millions of stock should be issued for those who are willing to take all stock. That would be £8,000,000 of transactions to be conducted within the space of a year, plus the £1,000,000 in respect to the indirect transactions with the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board. With the arrangements which will be made the Commissioners ought to be able to cope with these transactions up to the amount of nine or ten millions a year. It is suggested that the three sets of transactions should proceed pari passu. At first sight this may sound as though no particular advantage would be gained by taking part in stock; but a little consideration, I am sure, will show noble Lords opposite that those who are prepared to take half in stock would have their transactions greatly accelerated thereby, and I should suppose that there must be a considerable number of cases where a man who has an estate mortgaged to not more than half its value, which I hope is not an infrequent case, would be prepared to take half in cash, which would be sufficient to clear off all his mortgages, and the remainder in stock, which, at ninety-two, represents an investment of practically three per cent.
I pass for a moment to another set of objections which may be made in relation to what is called the land purchase aid fund, but which is more affectionately known to its friends by the name of the bonus. As your Lordships know, the bonus has been at the rate of twelve per cent. payable up to November 24 of last year. That was the date on which the Treasury, as it was empowered to do under the Act of 1903, stepped forward and said that the fund was running so low that the bonus must be cut down, and it fixed the bonus for the future at the sadly collapsed figure of three per cent. By our 396 plan we introduce a sliding scale in inverse ratio to the number of years purchase, and I cannot help thinking that it would be difficult to show that that is not a reasonable and fair provision. It cannot be denied that there were a certain number of cases where the landlord got too much in the earlier days; he got more than he would have got if he had put his land up in the open market in England, where there was no land question. That was due to the fact that, in addition to obtaining twenty-five or twenty-six years purchase, which most people would consider adequate, he also obtained a large sum by way of bonus. It is hardly fair to suppose that State money ought to be advanced for purposes of that kind, for the amount of State money is limited. A, man getting twenty-five or twenty-six years purchase, which is as much as he can get in a great many parts of the United Kingdom, if not in most, should not, further, receive this lump sum, which may reach a considerable amuont. The effect of our change is estimated to work out at a bonus of seven and a-half per cent. all round; the average difference between seven and a-half and twelve per cent. represents another small contribution from the owners of the land to the settlement of the finance of this question.
We probably shall be asked why it is that we do not issue Consols for the whole amount to the extent of £8,000,000 or £12,000,000 a year and cut the loss. If there is one financial expedient against which we have all been warned all our lives it is to avoid frequent and intermittent issues of Consols. I imagine that anybody who desired to do so would have to march over the dead body of every clerk in the Treasury. A noble Lord says "Hear, hear," but the combined opinion of the Treasury and the City of London must govern the action of Governments in a case like this. We cannot depend on amateur advice, however capable, in a matter of this kind, and we are quite determined not to depart from the wise procedure both of all the Governments of noble Lords opposite and of Liberal Governments in former years in not casting these Consols on the market in large amounts with consequences to the national credit that cannot be foretold, but the gravity of which cannot be easily overrated.
Now, my Lords, I pass to the second division of the Bill, that dealing with the 397 land purchase provisions. It is said that we desire to abolish the zone system. There are a number of people in Ireland who would like to, but we are not of that number, neither are the Estates Commissioners, and for very obvious reasons. The abolition of the system of zones provided in the Act of 1903 would throw a vast amount of extra work on those concerned with the business of the purchase and sale of land, and must consequently tend further to retard its progress. But experience has shown that there are cases in which the effect of the provisions as to zones has been disastrous in this way, that it has brought about transactions which do not offer the proper security for the advance made. It may be that a rent, nominally judicial, is an agreed rent which the holding is really not capable of bearing, or there may be cases where, since a rent was judicially fixed, something has happened—either the exhaustion of turf or some natural accident like a slide—which has made the holding worth less than when the rent was fixed. If in such a situation the purchase money is calculated on the judicial rent the Exchequer may be without its due security, and it is simply in respect of transactions of that nature—I have, of course, not exhausted all the possibilities—that we propose to amend the provision with regard to zones.
Then there is the very important point as to compulsory purchase, which also has received some criticism which is not the result of complete understanding. The last thing we desire to bring about is anything like a general plan of compulsory purchase The terms of our Bill sufficiently prove that, because if all the transactions became compulsory all our suggestions with regard to payment in stock instead of cash would come to an end, because where compulsion is applied the payment must be in cash. The whole process of compulsory purchase must necessarily be a costly one, and it involves a degree of minute inquiry which naturally makes it, for the same reasons that I stated just now, unacceptable both to ourselves and to the Estates Commissioners. Still there are cases. I do not know that anybody will deny that sooner or later, before the whole transactions under the Act of 1903 come to an end, it will be necessary in certain cases to apply compulsion. That is to say, if the whole of the land contemplated to be sold under Mr. Wyndham's, 398 Act is to come into the market, and if it was not contemplated that the whole of the agricultural land of Ireland should sooner or later become the subject of purchase, I confess that in my judgment a further limitation ought to have been made from the very beginning as to the selling of a certain number of estates which those who sold them had a perfect right to sell, but which from the point of view of public policy and interest it was not in the least necessary should be sold. Estates have been sold in Ireland and large prices received for them which, so far as one can judge, were, and were likely to remain, perfectly peaceful, where the rent was regularly paid and excellent relations existed between landlord and tenant. If the whole of Ireland had been like that there would have been no question of an Irish Purchase Bill; and if it was intended to apply limitations and to say that the whole of Irish land was not to come into the market something ought to have been done to prevent those large transactions which have exhausted so much of the public money advanced without doing nearly as much as Mr. Wyndham's Act ought to have done to appease the land difficulty in Ireland. I do not see how it can be disputed that in two classes of cases compulsion may be legitimately applied. The one is the case of a landlord who may be cantankerous, if there is such a person as a cantankerous landlord in Ireland; and the other is the case where land is actually needed for the relief of congestion which could not be relieved in any other way. We have no desire to introduce a system of general compulsion; but so far as congestion is concerned, whether it is technically within the congested area or outside it, we are strongly of opinion that it is not possible to dispense with this weapon of possible compulsory service in the background.
I defer any observations on a clause which I know has led to a certain amount of cavil—the clause which deals with the question of new tenancies, because I think that is a point which can be better dealt with in Committee; but I should like to say a word about the power given by Clause 17, because that is a matter of some considerable importance. Clause 17, which deals with advances for purchases of parcels of land and the class of persons to whom such advances may be made, is a modification, and in some degree an amplification, 399 of Section 2 of the principal Act, and I have no doubt that some of your Lordships will say that no such amplification is necessary. The two points in which the section is enlarged are mainly these—that not only the son of a tenant or a proprietor of a holding on the estate but also one in the neighbourhood of the estate becomes a possible purchaser, and also, by subsection (e)—and this is a provision which sounds alarmingly wide—any person to whom in the opinion of the Land Commission after considering the requirements of persons mentioned in the preceding paragraphs of this subsection an advance ought to be made.We are told that this provision was inserted under strong pressure in the interest of those who are known as landless men, that is to say, the sons of farmers, large or small, in the neighbourhood of untenanted land. The landless men did not exist when I was in Ireland. Noble Lords opposite will confirm me in saying that the phrase was unknown. The farmers' sons were supposed to be largely responsible for the frequent amount of poaching which went on in the rivers in the west of Ireland, and were also supposed to be responsible for some parts of the various kinds of mischief which occurred in the disturbed part of Ireland. But that they were a body of men making a settled demand to be planted on the land was a suggestion which fifteen years ago, and I imagine for some time longer, was, so far as I know, never made.
Now what has produced the landless man? I think it cannot be disputed that he is to no small extent the offspring of the Act of 1903. Section (2) and Section (8) of that Act break, not absolutely for the first time, but break finally, with the idea of land purchase which had hitherto obtained in Ireland—namely, that of direct sale from landlord to occupier. I do not say that it was not necessary to break with it, but when you have broken with it you open the door for an entirely new kind of land hunger, and it is from that kind of land hunger that so much difficulty has since arisen. I think, also, that the mere fact of turning the occupier into a purchasing tenant must have tended towards the same result, because it seemed to stereotype the position of particular parcels of land in particular hands, and made those who had not land feel alarm that there would not be enough to go round, and that in no circumstances, however long they 400 might live, would they have a chance of getting a farm.
Those are the by-products of what, on the whole, is a beneficent piece of legislation. And I think it is fair to point out that the Act of 1903 was in this respect the thin end of the wedge, that it started this notion of obtaining land for the landless which has so gravely complicated the problem which we are endeavouring, so far as it is soluble, to solve by this Bill. But so far as the last subsection is concerned that is not intended to apply to landless men at all, and it has been misunderstood if any one thinks it is. Still less is it intended to apply to a gentleman who, having a small house in the North Circular-road, thinks that he would like to acquire a farm somewhere in the west of Ireland. This particular subsection—subsection (e)—is meant to meet the case of certain parts of many estates which are not strictly agricultural, and with which, in spite of that fact, the Estates Commissioners desire to deal, such, for instance, as one of those small houses surrounded by laurels of which there are probably more in Ireland than in any other country in the world. This clause enables such a building, or the doctor's house, to form part of an estate and be so disposed of.
I pass on to say one or two words about the provisions relating to the Congested Districts Board. We have all regarded with admiration and almost with awe the bulk of the work performed by the Commission which is associated with the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dudley. We admire their vast industry, the devotion which they gave to their work—and their position was sometimes difficult—and we all feel that there is much to be learned from the results of that inquiry. The Report of that Commission asked that the funds at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board should be increased to £300,000. We have not quite felt able to do that, but we have come forward—and this, I think, is a point in the Bill which will be generally approved by your Lordships—and increased their funds to a total of £250,000. Certain powers of the Congested Districts Board are transferred to the Agricultural Department and that is another point in which I think we may expect your Lordships' general approbation. There are two points on which I may expect criticism. The first is the extension of the area with 401 which the Board has to deal; the second is the reconstitution of the Board itself. That reconstitution follows somewhat closely the recommendation of the Dudley Commission. That Commission suggested that there should be four ex officio members, four appointed members, three paid members, and nine representative members—twenty in all. We have somewhat modified those suggestions by making it three ex officio members, five appointed members, two paid members, and nine representative members. The provision for representative members is one which, I have no doubt, will give rise to some discussion. I think it is fair to point out that the work of the county councils in Ireland, even in the most backward parts of Ireland, taking into consideration the almost complete lack of official experience among many of those who served on them, and taking also into consideration the fact that feeling runs high on many points, social, political, and religious, in Ireland—that work has, I believe, speaking generally, done them the highest credit, and has surprised even some of those who were most sanguine as to the result of the legislation, of which, as we know, noble Lords opposite have the credit.
It is important, therefore, in consideration of that fact, and in view of the enlarged responsibilities of the funds allotted to the Congested Districts Board, that there should be a measure of popular representation upon that Board. It is carefully limited, and direct dealing with finance is confined to the more permanent members of the Board. But there is also a further point which has actuated my right hon. friend in making this suggestion. As we all know, one primary difficulty which faces us in the question of the relief of congestion is the rivalry which is supposed to exist, and no doubt does exist to some extent and in some parts of Ireland, between what are called "congests" and the landless men for the possession of such land as may be found available. That conflict of desire and opinion is a misfortune which we have to face, and have to make the best of; and in our opinion if it is to be solved at all it can only be done by securing some measure of support from public opinion in those parts of Ireland which are affected. It is certainly true that you cannot hope to dump down a number of people from congested districts upon farms, which may be only slightly removed, or which may be removed 402 by some considerable distance, from their former homes if there are in the neighbourhood of the new farms a number of these landless men who desire farms. You cannot treat the migrating congest as if he were an emergency man, conducted to his work by a policeman with loaded rifle on each side of him. That, of course, would make your scheme of migration an economic farce.
But, on the other hand, are you prepared entirely to give up the relief of congestion by the enlargement of farms, and, to some extent, by what is known as migration? Without some degree of migration you cannot deal with these areas of congestion because in many of the congested areas, as we know, there is no land available. Therefore, unless you are prepared to fold your hands and sit helpless, you must do something positive. As far as we can see that can only be done by establishing some kind of modus vivendi between the two classes. It is all very well to say that the claims of the landless men are unreasonable. Perhaps they may be. I ventured to point out a short time ago what in my opinion is the natural history of the landless man. But there he is, and unless you can arrive at some form of compromise by which, by a general agreement enforced by this representative element on the Congested Districts Board, provision may be made to some extent for both classes, you have to admit that your last chance of relieving congestion is gone. We are most unwilling to make that admission, and that is the prime reason which makes it necessary to have some representative element on the Congested Districts Board.
I have endeavoured to set the question before your Lordships more or less as a whole. I am aware, of course, that I have omitted to deal with a great number of points—some of no small importance—which arise on the different clauses. I believe that if your Lordships will look at it as a whole, making such criticisms as you think fit on certain points, the Bill will not be found wanting. To make a personal confession, I have never been one of those who have been most enthusiastic for a complete scheme of Irish land purchase. There I am in a very small minority indeed. Noble Lords opposite and the Nationalist Party in Ireland have always held out a scheme of general land purchase as a panacea for the land difficulty in Ireland. I have 403 always thought, and. I do not know that I am altogether wrong, that a scheme of general land purchase would produce a new crop of difficulties, different, but in some respects not less formidable than those which surrounded the question of dual ownership, That is a personal matter and concerns myself alone. Both sides have agreed that purchase is the panacea, and we must make every effort and lose no opportunity of making land purchase work. This Bill represents, after long thought and closest devotion to the subject on the part of the Chief Secretary, our effort with that object. I therefore, with some courage, ask the House to assist us in making this measure a success, dealing with it with as gentle a use of the English language as is compatible with the discussion of any Irish question, and thereby, as I hope and believe, bring about a real measure of pacification of the Irish land difficulty.
But I know that there is a Motion on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill, coming, I confess, from a somewhat unexpected quarter. The noble Earl who is about to move the rejection of the Bill is well known to all Irishmen, and I am sure that Ireland has no better friend than he. He has never belonged to any large party in Irish politics. Not infrequently he votes with us against those whom he regularly supports on the other side of the House. It is, therefore, with some surprise that I saw the notice of his Motion on the Paper. I cannot pretend to forecast what are the reasons which he will give for such a drastic recommendation. I think it is in respect of the finance of the Bill that he desires its rejection. If so, we shall hear that is his reason, and other speakers on this side will have to give the best reply they can. But, at any rate, I hope your Lordships as a whole will not be induced to reject this measure. It is difficult to say what the results of such a rejection would be on the situation in Ireland. They must be, at any rate, very grave. We shall expect criticisms, possibly severe criticisms, in Committee. There are points on which I hope we may be able to meet the fears and criticisms of noble Lords opposite; but I do venture to warn the House that to reject the Bill would be an act of very great gravity indeed, and I implore your Lordships, at any rate, to read it a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Crewe.)404
§ *THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN, who had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move, "That the Bill be read 2a this day three months," said: My Lords, it is obvious, from the closing words of the noble Earl, that the course I am taking in moving the rejection of the Bill appears to him to be an extreme one, and it is quite probable that your Lordships in general will adopt that view. I can assure the House that in taking this course I am not acting on any sudden impulse or without due thought. The noble Earl has said quite truly that I have very often voted with noble Lords on the other side of the House on Irish subjects, and I regret exceedingly that in the matter of this Bill my opinion of what is necessary for the welfare of Ireland differs absolutely and entirely from the estimate formed by His Majesty's Government. This Bill has been before the country for close upon a year. I have studied the Bill to the best of my ability, and have come to the conclusion that it would be absolutely disastrous to Ireland. I have over and over again expressed that opinion publicly—as publicly as I could—and if I were to accept the principles of the Bill by agreeing to the Second Reading without making the strongest protest I could against it I should really be stultifying the opinion I now hold, the opinion I have always held, and every word I have said in public about the Bill.
§ Your Lordships will, I am sure, do me the credit at any rate of believing that it is not without due thought or with a light heart that I have adopted this course. I have done so because it seems to me the only absolutely honest and straightforward course that I can possibly adopt. I do not say that there are not good points in the Bill. There are some good points in it. In the first place, it remedies what I must venture to call the technical error in the Act of 1903 of charging excess stock upon the grants in aid of rates. Very naturally His Majesty's Government take to themselves a great deal of credit for doing so, but as a matter of fact responsible Statesmen on both sides have long ago agreed that it never could be intended and was absolutely impossible to charge losses on flotation upon the rates. I do not know how that came to be put into the Bill of 1903. I was, of course, in no way responsible for that 405 Bill. It may be as the noble Earl has suggested, that the House of Commons passed the Bill in such a hilarious condition that this protection of the Treasury was introduced into the Bill without any Member of the House of Commons taking any notice of it. Be that as it may, I think it must be agreed that it has never been supposed that this could be charged on the rates, and though I congratulate His Majesty's Government upon removing this blot in the Act of 1903 it was really a technical error, which would under any circumstances have to be removed. The Bill gives the Estates Commissioners power to protect the State and to protect tenants against intimidation or duress. The Bill recognises that compulsion may be necessary under certain circumstances, but I think the compulsory clauses of the Bill will not hold water for a moment. The Bill deals with the cases of future tenants. I do not mean to say that the methods employed in the Bill are the best, but the intention is good. These points, however, are mere details of the Bill.
§ The noble Earl opposite is perfectly right as to one of my objections. I think the financial basis of the Bill is unsound, and I think the whole main structure on which the Bill rests is unsound. I object to the Bill for three reasons. In the first place, it has come up to this House in a condition and under circumstances and at a time which are, to say the least, most unusual. The main objects of the Bill are to accomplish two things: to enable land purchase to go on in Ireland—I believe the Bill will absolutely fail in that—and to relieve congestion, and I am convinced it will equally fail to accomplish that also. As to my first point, will you consider for a moment the history of this Bill? It was brought in, I think, in November of last year, and dropped. It was revived this year, and eight and a-half hours only were given to the debate on Second Reading. It was taken in Committee on four days, including four half-days—Fridays. The Bill consists of seventy two clauses containing the most controversial matter—clauses not amending but repealing all the principal provisions that made the Act of of 1903 so gigantic a success, and forty-five hours were devoted to the all-important Committee stage in the other House of Parliament. I think fifty clauses were guillotined in batches, just as fast as 406 the tumbrils could bring them under the knife; and nearly all the other clauses were closured after what the most impartial critic must admit was a very short and perfunctory discussion.
§ I think I am not mistaken in saying that among the clauses that were. guillotined was the clause first introducing the principle of compulsion. Well, my Lords, compulsion may be right or wrong, it may be necessary or unnecessary, but however wise it may be, at any rate, the compulsory system is a complete and absolute innovation in a Land Purchase Act; and that a clause of that kind should have been guillotined without one word of discussion being allowed upon it, is almost reducing things to an absurdity. After the Committee stage of forty-five hours, there was no debate on Report, and there was a debate of four or five hours on Third Reading. This Bill has come up to this House really nothing but a bundle of decapitated and gagged clauses. It is not a small measure dealing with allotments or small holdings or enabling one or two enterprising farmers to acquire the fee simple of their farms. This is a Bill dealing with a great agrarian revolution, the transfer of the whole agricultural land of the country from one set of men to another. It deals with 150 or 180 millions of money; it affects the welfare of hundreds of thousands of families; the whole future progress and prosperity of Ireland depends upon it; and such a Bill, after only forty-five hours consideration in Committee in the House of Commons, is sent up to this House at the end of September, and we are asked to read it a second time. That is really reducing legislation by Parliament to the very verge, if not beyond the verge, of absurdity. That is one reason why I protest against the Bill being read a second time.
§ Now as to the Bill itself. What are the objects of the Bill? It deals with pending agreements; it provides, or attempts to provide, for future sales, and it aims, or pretends to aim, at the relief of congestion. Now as to the pending agreements. There is a sum of fifty-three millions which is owed to the landowners who have sold their land in Ireland, and who are waiting for their money, to the great loss and hardship of themselves and to the great loss and detriment of thousands of tenants who have bought from them. The 407 noble Earl gave us a very interesting description—which is not in the Bill—of how the money is to be spent. I think he said two millions were to be given in cash, and two millions partly in cash and partly in stock. That is, four millions a year are to be devoted to paying off this debt. What it really comes to is this. Parliament is asked to make a composition with the creditors of the State. These men, urged by a great Act of Parliament, have sold their properties, relying on the good faith of Parliament, relying on what may be truly called a Parliamentary bond. They sold their properties to carry out a great national reform, and now we are asked to go to them and say: "We are very sorry, but we cannot pay you. We owe you a sovereign. Please take sixteen shillings." Of course we can also say: "You can get your pound if you like to wait long enough." But it really comes to this: "We offer you sixteen shillings in the pound, and we strongly advise you to take it, because if you do not take it, you may wait ten, fifteen or twenty years; you may have to wait an indefinite period, until in fact it suits the convenience of the Treasury to pay you, and in the meantime you will be ruined." I do not think that is honourable, I do not think it is honest, and it is not creditable to this country.
§ As to the future arrangements, this Bill does not amend—it repeals all the principal provisions of the Act of 1903—all the provisions that made that Act the most successful Act of land purchase that was ever passed for Ireland, and I think I might say the most beneficial Act of any kind that has ever been passed for Ireland. I need not describe what the Act has done. I daresay your Lordships know as well as I do that in about five years the number of holdings that have been bought under that Act is more than four times the number purchased under all the other Acts during the last twenty-five years. That Act is an unparalleled success, and to what is that success due? It is due to a system of voluntary agreement, to the system of payment in cash, to the low annuity rate, to a generous bonus and to the zones. Every one of those provisions is absolutely annulled in the present Bill. The Bill introduces compulsion, I maintain, instead of the present voluntary system. The noble Earl who introduced the Bill has told us that the Government did not desire to see compulsion largely used. 408 They only want to enforce it in comparatively few cases, and he used as an argument the fact that if it was used to a large extent it would completely do away with any necessity for issuing the three per cent. Stock for the satisfaction of voluntary sales. What may be the wish and desire and intention of His Majesty's Government I do not know All I can go by is what is in the Bill, and the Bill provides that compulsion may be universally applied. The noble Earl has described exactly what will happen. The Bill will abolish voluntary agreements and payment in stock altogether, and your issue of three per cent. Stock will become absolutely useless because no one will take it. Sellers will prefer compulsion and cash.
§ I am not myself at all terrified by the word compulsion. It does not make me quiver or quake in my shoes. If this Government or any Government were to say: "We wish to see this great and beneficial revolution completed in Ireland; we are going to put an end to this delay and will finish off the business in the next five years. We will have universal compulsory sales; we shall give large preliminary powers to the Estates Commissioners; we will send round a strong judicial tribunal to revise and hear appeals and we will pay cash down on the nail," I should applaud it, and say "By all means do." And I quite agree with the noble Earl opposite that if land would not be sold simply out of what may be called "sheer cussedness," and a great and salutary revolution is to be thereby impeded and interrupted, I think such a state of things would be absolutely intolerable. I go further than that, and I admit that as regards the relief of congestion, if land is required in the immediate neighbourhood of a congested area and is held up, not for a fair price, but for an excessive price, simply because of the necessity to get the land, I think compulsion ought to be used. After all, compulsion is used in a great many cases, and I know no object in which compulsory powers could be more legitimately asked for or could be more legitimately applied than in relieving the condition of the people in what have been truly described as the agricultural slums in the west of Ireland. If land is required for that purpose and will not be sold but is held up to endeavour to get an excessive price, 409 merely because it is urgently required for that purpose, I should be quite in favour of its being compulsorily acquired. But this Bill does not confine itself to anything of that kind. It goes a great deal further. With all due respect, I say that these compulsory clauses in the Bill are really unworkable and ridiculous except in the cases where they would be fatal. The Estates Commissioners in their own two-thirds of Ireland, and at the instance of the Congested Districts Board in their own one-third, can exercise compulsory powers upon any landowner if his tenants or anyone else make him any kind of an offer. That is to say, if anybody chooses to offer a landlord in Ireland a penny an acre for his land, he could be compulsorily turned out. Surely that is ridiculous.
§ But there are much worse matters than that. As I read the Bill I think I am right in saying that the Estates Commissioners, either themselves or acting for the Congested Districts Board, can compulsorily acquire property under whatever kind of tenure it is held, whether it was purchased the day before yesterday under the 1903 Act, or whether it has been inherited since the days of Adam. The Estates Commissioners can declare any piece of land to be an estate. You give them power to enter upon any estate and value the land, to put their own price upon it, and compel the owner, subject only to an appeal to the judicial commission, to take that price and evict him. This applies under this Bill to every single tenant who has purchased under the 1903 Act or any other Act. That is eviction made easy with a vengeance. I dare say I shall be told that we must trust to the discretion of the Estates Commissioners, that they would never think of doing anything of the kind. I have the greatest confidence in the Estates Commissioners, but after all, they are only human, and even if they are gods, they are not immortal gods. I do not know who their successors may be, and in any case, I absolutely protest against handing over the fortunes and destinies of all these people in Ireland to any individual, I do not care who he is. And that is what the Bill does. It enables any one Commissioner to transact any business that the three Commissioners can, and gives him power to compulsorily acquire any lands except those specially mentioned in the Bill, such as a demesne, and home 410 farms, and things of that kind. I would like to ask His Majesty's Government which of these two systems they want themselves. Do they want the voluntary system, or do they want the compulsory system, because it is absolutely impossible that you can have both. You cannot have a voluntary system and payment in depreciated stock going on alongside with a compulsory system and payment in cash. That is impossible. The voluntary system has answered very well. It has answered so well that we have run up to fifty-three millions of arrears on account of its success. If His Majesty's Government desire to supersede that by compulsion, on the grounds that the arrears will not hereafter accumulate, I think they will find themselves mistaken. It will pay every seller so much better to be bought out compulsorily. It is perfectly true that he does not get the usual ten per cent. additional price on account of compulsion, but he does get cash, which may be equal to ten per cent., and he gets his bonus. No one will want to come to voluntary agreements. If a man's tenants are perfectly ready to offer him a fair price it will pay him better to say "No," and be compelled to sell, and to get the price in cash. What will invariably happen under this Bill as it stands is that voluntary agreements will cease altogether. Sales under compulsion will go on, and the Estates Commissioners will not have any cash to satisfy them; you will run into arrears again, and in the course of another few years you will have another block or deadlock such as that which has occurred, because you have not been able to finance the Act of 1903 up to now. So much for the compulsory clauses.
§ Now, my Lords, to take another point. Stock is to be substituted for cash. I have the strongest objection to that. Cash is the only sound basis for payment. Surely in a great transaction of this kind it is essential that there shall be something like uniformity and stability of price and of terms and of everything that has to do with sale and purchase. Stocks must fluctuate; they do fluctuate, and they sometimes vary over considerable periods of time, and every large fluctuation of stock must give rise to a certain amount of dispute between landlord and tenant as to prices. The substitution of stock for cash would not lead to peace in Ireland, even if the landlords could accept stock, and I 411 do not see how it is possible that they could. If your Lordships will consider that under this Bill buyers have got to pay a higher annuity, the grant-in-aid is very largely diminished, sellers have to take depreciated stock, you will see that this Bill opens a gap between the landlord and tenant of at least five years purchase, and that will stop land transfer. The annuity rate is to be increased. I think that is exceedingly foolish. I do not mean to say that the difference of a quarter per cent. in the case of an average holding in Ireland is in itself a very important matter. Of course it is not. But the principle is all wrong. It cannot be right, it cannot be sound, that one half of the tenants in Ireland should be paying one rate of interest, and the other half another rate of interest. It may not have any immediate effect, but surely we ought to look to the future. The present generation may understand it, but a future generation will say, "Why in the name of goodness are we paying more interest than our neighbours?" And it will be a sore temptation to them to say, "There is no reason why we should, and we will not."
§ Now let me turn to the clauses dealing with congestion. The only good thing of the Bill, in my eyes, is that it is more generous in the matter of money, and I think His Majesty's Government deserve great credit for that. What does the Bill do? It practically dissolves the old Congested Districts Board, and creates a new Board with a very largely increased area, some of which is not congested at all, with greatly increased powers and with a brand-new administrative system. Well, I am not going into any great details in this matter. I object to the Congested Districts Board first of all on the ground that it is mere surplusage and totally unnecessary. Ireland is completely eaten up by Departments, boarded over with Boards. These Departments and Boards all overlap each other. They are engaged in doing the same or similar work. They are very expensive and inefficient, their inefficiency being largely due to redundancy. As some of your Lordships at any rate know, in my opinion you never will have economic and efficient administration in Ireland until the people of Ireland have themselves much more direct control than they have now over the administration of their own affairs. But that is not the question now. 412 We have to deal with a state of things as it is, and as things are I cannot see the sense of creating a Board larger and much more expensive than that which already exists. For dealing with land alone in Ireland there are about eight Departments and Offices and Boards, costing, as far as I can make out, about £407,000 a year—about £1 per head for every small agricultural holding in Ireland—an expensive luxury. What is the use of perpetuating the Congested Districts Board and making it larger? What are the functions of the Board?
§ To put it very shortly they are to buy and improve and sell land, to ameliorate the condition of the people by introducing better stock, by teaching them small handicrafts, assisting them in fisheries and all matters of that kind. All these functions surely come right within the sphere of two other Departments—the Estates Commissioners and the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. I think it will be universally admitted that in the matter of the sale and purchase and disposition of land the Estates Commissioners have been much more successful than the Congested Districts Board. They have got more land, and they have got it cheaper. As to the other functions of the Board, certainly they could be fulfilled just as well, and perhaps better, by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, which includes fisheries. As a matter of fact I think they would be conducted better. The Congested Districts Board has done very good work. There is no question about that. So has the Department of Agriculture. But there is a difference in the methods of the two. The Congested Districts Board helps the people, but at the same time teaches them to rely upon the Board. The Department of Agriculture helps the people, but teaches them rather to help themselves and to rely upon themselves, and the method adopted by the Department of Agriculture is by far the best for improving the social and economic and the moral and physical condition of the people. I cannot conceive why a transference of the duties of the Congested Districts Board has not been made to the Estates Commissioners and to the Department of Agriculture; but His Majesty's Government have taken just the opposite course. They have increased the Congested Districts Board; they have largely extended its area; they have given it a great deal more power, and they have 413 given it an elected element. I do not think the efficiency of the Board will be increased by that elected element.
We are always told—we have been told tonight—that to doubt the efficiency of an elected Board of that kind is rather insulting to the Irish people. We are asked to look at the admirable way in which the county councils have done their work. I know that the county councils have done their work admirably. I ought to know, because I have been a member of a county council for nine years. They have done their work extraordinary well, but there is absolutely no analogy whatever between their duties and the duties of the elected Board proposed in this Bill. The members of the county councils are ratepayers, and the electors are ratepayers. They are spending their own money and the money of their constituents, and if there is a fault to find with the county councils it is that, especially before elections, they are apt to be too parsimonious. But the elected members of this Board will not be spending their own money or the money of their constituents. They will be spending somebody else's money, and they will be elected in order to get as much as they possibly can for the district they represent, and the more they spend, not the less they spend, the more popular will they be, and the more likely will they be to be re-elected. You would never dream of entrusting in this country the duties which this Board will have to fulfil to administrative machinery of the kind you propose for Ireland. You have not done it in the case of the Development Fund. You appoint Commissioners. I would like to make one quotation and remind you of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on that point. Speaking on the Committee stage of the Development Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—
He did not think they would get the right type of Commissioners on the nomination of Chambers of Commerce or Agriculture or similar bodies. Under such a plan there would be a scramble between the various bodies and afterwards a scramble between the Commissioners themselves in the interests of the bodies who nominated them. They wanted Commissioners who would exercise their functions judicially.
And a little later on he said—
My view is that the more detached these Commissioners are, the more reliable they will be, and the better they will do their work.
Every word of that pregnant sentence is applicable to Ireland to the same extent, and to a greater extent, than it is in England. There is no disguising the fact that bodies of this kind are more subject to political and other pressure in Ireland than in England. I do not so much mean politics in the larger sense. I mean small local politics, local parties, local social pressure, the influence of local leaders. You will be putting these elected members in a most cruelly difficult position. You must remember they will be in a working majority on the Board, because neither the Chief Secretary nor the Under-Secretary will be able very constantly to attend. You are saying to this Board, "Here is a million of money a year for you to spend in land purchase. You have to satisfy the claims of the 'congests' out of that, and also the claims of the 'landless men.' And here is a quarter of a million for you to spend in improvements"—that is to say, to a very large extent, naturally, in charity. "We are not going to give you any instructions about the 'landless man' or the 'congests' as to which of them ought to get the money. Go home and scramble for it and fight it out among yourselves." I have not the slightest doubt that these nine elected members in Ireland will do their duty as honestly and as efficiently as any other nine men in any other part of the Kingdom, but you are putting them in an absolutely impossible position. They will be subjected to unfair influences. Their attention will be concentrated upon details instead of upon the problem as a whole. They cannot administer the money in the way it ought to be administered; that can only be done by a strong and absolutely independent body like you propose for the Development Fund.
§ Handing over the congested districts to machinery of this kind is absolutely certain to lead to disappointment; disappointment will lead to discontent, and discontent to disorder. In creating this large area which you have given to a Board supplied with most inadequate machinery, you are only making a breeding place for disorder and agitation which can be utilised whenever it suits anybody to say that there ought to be agitation in Ireland for political or for any other reasons. And was not the problem of congestion difficult enough before? Now it has become more complicated on account of the landless man 415 the noble Lord spoke of. I do not pretend to know the origin of the landless man. I know he exists, and that he is exceedingly inconvenient. Congestion can be relieved only by accretion or substitution or addition of land, where possible, or the substitution of one holding for another. For that purpose every acre of untenanted land that is available is necessary. For that land this new claimant has arisen. The theory is that comparatively large areas of grass lands should be broken up into comparatively small holdings devoted to tillage and should be given to men who have no land, and who would like to have some—not at all an uncommon complaint in Ireland. I am not arguing whether this is wise or foolish, economically sound or unsound. Assume that this new plantation is an excellent idea—that the land can be planted with capable men; even so, my point, and my only point, is that it is absolutely impossible for you to do both these things. You can not relieve congestion and provide for the landless man at the same time, and I want to know which His Majesty's Government desire to do. You cannot shelve this question on to this unfortunate elected Board. They cannot settle it. That is a matter that must be settled by His Majesty's Government. If you want to relieve congestion, say so in your Bill, and ear-mark every acre you can get until you have relieved congestion; but then you cannot satisfy the claims of the lacklanders. If, on the other hand, you mean to satisfy the claims of the landless man, say so in your Bill; but then you cannot satisfy the claims of the "congests;" your Bill will be a cruel fraud upon the unfortunate people in the congested districts; and in so far as you ask for public money for the relief of congestion and apply it to another purpose your Bill will be very little short of a fraud on the public.
§ My Lords, I think I have now mentioned the principal counts in my indictment against the Bill. I think a composition with her creditors is not creditable to the country. In my opinion the compulsory clauses are fatal in some respects and unintelligible in others. Your proposals for the relief of congestion are absolutely bound to fail. I am sure interference with title in the way the Bill does—that is, the title to land purchased—will be absolutely fatal. Once you throw even a shadow of doubt upon 416 the absolute integrity and sanctity of a purchasing tenant's title, you may give up all hope of regeneration in Ireland. Ownership will cease to charm to effort; you will do away with all sense of security and the certainty that a man has that he will reap the fruit of his own labour himself, you will destroy the whole object of land purchase. For the evil system of dual ownership you will be substituting an infinitely worse system. Every farmer in Ireland will hold at the will of a tribunal of one, or at most three, Estates Commissioners; and you will create such a sense of insecurity in Ireland that you will absolutely stop any possibility of progress in the country, and reduce it to a state of chaos from which you will never be able to extricate it again. Those are my principal points. There are other important points, of course, such as the zones, the bonus, and so on. I do not want to touch upon them except, perhaps, to say that, like all the rest of the Bill, the bonus as arranged is entirely in the interests of the Treasury. The whole Bill, from the Preamble to the last Schedule, is a Treasury Relief Bill and nothing else. It takes no consideration for the tenants or the landlords or anybody but the Treasury. If you will look at the Schedule you will see that it will pay a seller better to exact the highest price mentioned and receive no bonus than to sell at the lowest price and receive the largest bonus. The Schedule is an instruction to the landlord to stand out for the higher price; however charming that may be for the Treasury, it is not at all pleasant for the tenant to contemplate.
I have occupied the attention of your Lordships at inordinate length. The only excuse I can make is that the Act of 1903 has worked such miracles in Ireland and that this Act destroys it. If you could only see how in a few short years the whole face of the country has changed where the Act has been fairly in operation, you could understand, at any rate, with what dismay I and any man who has the real interests of Ireland truly at heart looks upon a Bill which tears that Act to shreds. And what was the necessity for this great and retrograde change? On the Third Reading of the Bill in another place the Attorney-General gave a reason for compulsion, and the Chief Secretary gave a reason for the Bill. The Attorney-General said that compulsion was neces-
sary. I am not quoting his words, but the effect of what he said. He said compulsion was necessary because the Act of 1903 had succeeded very well in the East, where rich and prosperous landlords had sold to rich and prosperous tenants, but it had been a failure in the West. The Attorney-General is quite mistaken. If he had looked at the Estates Commissioners' last report he would see that in County Cork alone 17,944 purchases had taken place. In Limerick, Tipperary, and Kerry there had been 28,122 purchases. About twenty millions worth of property has changed hands in those Western and Southern Counties under the Act. I think it possible that the Attorney-General was thinking of the County of Mayo. In Mayo the Act has been a lamentable failure. In that county there are only 1,181 purchases recorded. But the Attorney-General may have forgotten what I dare say your Lordships will recollect, that one of the members for the County of Mayo has exercised all his powers and strength and influence for the last five or six years in endeavouring to wreck the Act of 1903. Speaking, I think, about three years ago, Mr. Dillon said—
I wish to Heaven we had the power to obstruct the smooth working of the Act more than we did. It has worked smoothly; far too smoothly for my mind.
I must congratulate the hon. member on his most lamentable success. By himself he succeeded in wrecking the Land Bill in County Mayo, and with the assistance of His Majesty's Government, he will, if this Bill passes, succeed in wrecking it over the whole of Ireland.
§ The Chief Secretary's reason for the Bill was that the Act of 1903, the financial part of it, was "smashed beyond all repair." I am not going into financial matters, but I beg leave to doubt that the Act of 1903 is smashed beyond all repair. The House of Commons had no opportunity, or was allowed no opportunity, of considering the financial proposals in this Bill or of making suggestions or moving Amendments. It is not within the province of your Lordships' House to do so, and therefore there is no use or sense in discussing the matter, but I decidedly doubt that the finances of the 1903 Act have absolutely and hopelessly broken down. And I entirely demur to the statement that the only substitute for those financial proposals are the proposals that find a place in this Bill. 418 One thing at any rate is perfectly certain, that if the Chief Secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor could have obtained authority, which he certainly will not get from the noble Earl opposite, to whisper one little word "Consols," he would not have found it hard to repair the smash. I never could understand the reason, and I never shall understand, why, when a large sum of money is wanted for a great national purpose and is secured upon the Consolidated Fund of the country, it should not be added to the Consolidated Debt of the country. That passes my comprehension, particularly when the objects sought could be accomplished by that means, and apparently cannot be accomplished without it. The noble Earl opposite spoke of amateurish views on this subject. I would remind him that a good deal of opinion which he could not call amateur opinion was expressed in another place on the subject of Consols, and that in a division His Majesty's Government, with a normal majority of over three hundred, had only a majority of eight. Of coure, I admit that Parliament in passing the Act of 1903 gave no absolute bond. Parliament cannot give a bond. What Parliament says to-day it can unsay to-morrow. But if ever Parliament gave an honourable undertaking that if an Act worked well and satisfactorily it would fulfil its obligations and finance the Act—if ever such an undertaking was made, it was made and on the part of all parties by Parliament in passing the Act of 1903. Six years ago Parliament put Ireland on a fair footing of prosperity. Is it fair to falsify all the hopes of the people of Ireland by refusing to fulfil our promises and cancelling an honourable undertaking? The Act has been a success. Nobody can dispute or deny that. The tenants have paid their instalments honourably and punctually, the benefit that it was stipulated at the Land Conference they should receive they have received. It was stipulated for them that they should receive a substantial reduction in their rents, and they have received that reduction. All parties have fulfilled their part of the contract except the State. Is that honest, is it honourable, is it not a bad example to set the Irish people? To use a merely material argument, you may be sure of this, that to carry on land purchase in Ireland, even if it were to cost £640,000 a year, as the noble Earl said, would be cheaper than letting it stop.419
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
Quite so; the loss on flotation. I do not know what charges other than those that were originally contemplated would fall upon the Treasury.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
Yes, but the Government's estimate of the amount required for land purchase is greatly exaggerated. I do not know what the bonus is intended to be under the Bill, because there is no amount mentioned, only percentage. In my opinion the bonus should be kept up to twelve per cent.; that would require about another £3,000;000 or £4,000,000. Put the total amount at £640,000, or £740,000; such a sum is not an enormous sum in view of a Budget going up to £160,000,000 or £170,000,000. I believe it would be cheaper to carry on land purchase even if it cost that amount than to have it blocked and stopped. With land purchase completed, the Land Commission and the Estates Commissioners and the Land Judges' Court would, of course, cease. They would have nothing more to do. With a contented and a peaceful Ireland you could make very large savings in many directions. And you may believe me that a discontented Ireland is a very expensive luxury, to use Lord Rosebery's expression. I shall be told that if this Bill is rejected there will be trouble. That has been in fact promised. I suppose there will be. It is very easy to say what ought to have been done considering the abnormal session that we are undergoing. If His Majesty's Government had brought in a Bill of a single clause relieving the rates of what everybody admits they ought to be relieved of—namely, the charge for excess stock—land purchase would have gone on very comfortably and quietly. The Treasury could have continued paying off arrears for a year or two until, at any rate, the other House of Parliament had a proper opportunity of giving appropriate consideration to a Bill of this kind. I do not know whether if the Bill is rejected there will be trouble. But if the Bill is passed, with all its imperfections full upon it, I am sure there will be trouble 420 also. I do not know which will be the lesser of the two evils.
My Lords if you think the Bill can be amended and put into anything like a satisfactory shape, no doubt your Lordships will give it a Second Reading and endeavour to amend it; but I am bound to confess that I am not sanguine that you can do that. I am sure that I can credit His Majesty's Government with the very best intentions in this Bill, but I am afraid their good intentions will lead them where good intentions are generally supposed to lead. I am absolutely certain of this, that if a man were to sit down to devise a plan for blocking land purchase, for causing friction and disorder, for putting an end to the progress that Ireland is now slowly making, and to all chance of future prosperity, I do not believe he could invent a better instrument for his purpose than is to be found within the four corners of this Bill. That being my opinion, I have taken what I think is the only course I could take, and that is to move its rejection. I beg to move.
To leave out the word `now' and to add at the end of the Motion the words this day three months.' "—(The Earl of Dunraven.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I do not think the House will be surprised that my noble friend who has just sat down should have criticised this Bill somewhat severely. My noble friend took a conspicuous, and I hope I may add a very honourable, part in the negotiations which in 1903 brought about an arrangement with regard to the Irish land question which certainly seemed to many of us to open a new era of hope. It must be profoundly mortifying to my noble friend to see the settlement to which he was a party battered and undermined, as I am bound to say it seems to me to be, by the proposals of this Bill. I should have been disposed to vote with him, but for a reason which, curiously enough, was one of the reasons he gave for desiring to throw out the Bill. He mentioned that the measure has never been adequately discussed elsewhere. In this House we shall have full opportunity of discussing it, and I cannot bring myself to believe that when we do so noble Lords opposite will be entirely impervious to the arguments we shall be able to bring forward. 421 Indeed, I noted with satisfaction an expression made use of by the noble Earl which seems to justify my expectation, for I think he told us that he was not without hope of being able to disarm our fears or meet our wishes on several points in the Bill.
The Bill is certainly anything but a mere amplification or development of the Act of 1903. It differs from it in its origin and the policy by which it is inspired. The Bill of 1903 arose out of a conference in which both sides did their best to come to reasonable and honourable terms. This Bill has its origin in the Report of a Royal Commission in which I think one may say without disrespect that the big battalions were entirely on one side, and not only is that the case, but this Bill goes far beyond the recommendations of the Dudley Commission. There are other differences. The Bill of 1903 was founded on voluntary sale; this Bill is founded on compulsion. The Bill of 1903 offered terms that were attractive to both parties; this Bill offers terms which, I am afraid, will be attractive to neither. The Bill of 1903 afforded a fair promise that it would bring to an end that continuous litigation which has been the curse of Ireland during the last few years; this Bill opens up a new vista of litigation. Finally, while the Bill of 1903 offered great relief to those public departments concerned in the administration of these questions, this Bill contains provisions which obviously will add enormously to the obligations and responsibilities and work of those departments. Therefore, my Lords, it is a mere mockery of words to represent this Bill as merely a legitimate consequence of the Bill of 1903.
I noticed that the noble Earl devoted more than half his speech to the discussion of the purchase provisions to be found in the earlier part of the Bill. I am not going to follow his example. I may say that I greatly regret that these provisions should not be more favourable than they are. The tenant's annuity is to be raised, the landlord is to be paid in stock instead of in cash, the bonus is to be reduced, and the long delay which has already discouraged people so much is, so far as we can see, not to be reduced. All these are serious impediments in the way of land purchase in Ireland. But I am bound to admit that the noble Earl did show, and I think, showed conclusively, that the time has come 422 when some reconsideration of the financial terms of 1903 has become inevitable. I do not pretend to any expert knowledge of these matters, and I will therefore confine myself to saying that I am very far from convinced that the financial arrangements contained in this Bill are the only financial arrangements which could be devised for the purpose of extricating us from the undoubted difficulty with which we are confronted. I believe there are other solutions of the problem, and I believe that it will pay you, and pay you well, to deal generously with it.
I pass from that to other clauses of the Bill. In the first place, there is the manner in which it deals with the zones. The zones were the bed-rock of the measure of 1903, and it is really almost superfluous to enlarge on the advantages which they offer. The tenant under the zones receives a liberal reduction of an already liberally reduced rent. The landlord is secured reasonable terms. As for the State, the measure of the advantages given to the tenant is also the measure of the security obtained by the State. That this is no idle opinion is, I think, conclusively proved when one remembers that as lately as July in this year out of no less than 60,000 purchasing tenants in Ireland, only 463 were in arrear with the payment of their interest. Why are we to throw over the zones? Because, in spite of all the assurances of the noble Earl, I maintain that this Bill does throw over the zones. The noble Earl gave us several explanations. I think one or two of his explanations were not, perhaps, quite seriously intended. He told us that it was necessary to have the power of going outside the zones because in some cases the farmers' holdings had been carried away by landslides. In the House of Commons the Chief Secretary said that what he had in his mind was the erosion of the tenants' holdings by alterations in the Irish coast line. Seriously, are we to break down a clause which was the essence of the settlement of 1903 in order to provide for such frivolous and negligible exceptions as those which I have cited?
But there are other reasons assigned. We are told that in some cases considerable sums have been added to the purchase money in liquidation of arrears due by the tenants. Well, I believe that to be a very arguable point. If a landlord, to whom 423 his tenant owes a couple of years arrears, says to that tenant, "I will sell to you for twenty years purchase of your rent and say no more about the arrears," I cannot see that that is a very criminal or reprehensible transaction. But I am sure that my noble friends from Ireland are quite ready to meet His Majesty's Government on that point, and if they desire to put into this Bill words restricting the addition of arrears beyond a certain limit to the purchase money, that seems to me to be a very reasonable solution of the difficulty. But if that is what the noble Earl wants, let him put it into his Bill, and let us know where we are. But do not let us have the zones torn up merely because the Estates Commissioners desire to have certain powers which they do not enjoy at present for dealing with cases where there is reason to question the bona fides of the transaction. At any rate it seems to me most unfair to impose this new element of uncertainty upon the contracting parties, and not less unfair to impose this new obligation upon the Commissioners who will have to administer this Bill. I should like very much to be told by some one who will speak on the other side of the House whether the Estates Commissioners themselves advise his Majesty's Government that a clause of this kind is really necessary in order to make the law water-tight.
Then I pass to the seventeenth clause, the clause in which we certainly believe that we have detected an intention to provide free access for the landless men, who are sometimes better known as cattle-drivers, to the benefits of the Act of 1903. The proposal to provide for the landless men by purchasing estates for their benefit was pulverised by the Dudley Commission. It was pointed out by that Commission that the primary effect of any policy of this kind would be to place an effectual obstacle in the way of what was the real and main object of the Commission—I mean the relief of congestion. I object to this proposal also upon the ground that, if it is adopted, it cannot fail to be most embarrassing to the Estates Commissioners. They will have not only the congested portion of the population on their hands, they will have these other claimants who, in my humble opinion, have no title whatever to the assistance which they desire to obtain. The noble Earl gave us the history of this 424 problem, and he told us that it never would have arisen but for certain provisions for which we on this side of the House were responsible in the Act of 1903. I believe it to be most unjust to the authors of the Act of 1903 to saddle them with any responsibility for the policy of giving land to the landless men. In the Act of 1903 there are two provisions, and two provisions only, which, by any stretch of language, can be interpreted as designed to afford relief to the landless men. There is the second clause, which is strictly limited to the sons of tenants on the estate and to small farmers under £5 rent in the neighbourhood of the estate. That is the limitation in regard to sales carried out through the Estates Commissioners. In regard to sales carried out through the Congested Districts Board the only provision dealing with the point is limited in its application to the tenants who are adjacent to the estate which is being transferred and who are, ex hypothesi, themselves congests.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I referred also to Section 8, which for the first time allows the purchase of untenanted land.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
But surely the purchase of untenanted land is, by common consent, one of the principal means of finding land for the relief of congestion. But what I should like to enforce is this, that in the Act of 1903 we were dealing with voluntary sales, and voluntary sales alone. The case is entirely altered when you import into the transaction this new element of compulsion. I hope we shall take the noble Earl at his word, and if he really does intend to limit this seventeenth clause to those exceptional cases which he described to us—if he only wants power to deal with the little houses surrounded by laurel bushes which he described in such picturesque language—I hope he will draw the clause in his Bill so that the power which he really wants, and not the much wider powers which the clause as it stand undoubtedly confers, will be given. I do not think I am beyond the mark in saying that, if the clause should remain as it stands, it will be possible to bring crofters from the Outer Hebrides and establish them on untenanted land in Ireland.
I wish to say one word upon the important question of compulsion. On this 425 point the Bill departs very widely from the Report of the Dudley Commission. I am far from desiring to take up the position that in this or in any other part of the United Kingdom we can altogether object upon principle to the exercise of compulsion when compulsion is exercised for some useful public purpose. But surely it is necessary whenever you desire to obtain permission to exercise compulsory powers, to show that some kind of case exists for making that demand. I venture to submit to the House that we have had nothing like a case for compulsion, either restricted or unrestricted, put before Parliament. The Commissioners have already more land than they can handle; they have more land than they can pay for, and there is land in abundance to be had if they set to work in the right way to obtain it. I heard of a remarkable case which, I believe, is authentic. I am assured that through private negotiations something like 12,000 acres of land which the Commissioners had themselves designated as being suitable for their purposes were offered by the owners to the Commissioners, who declined the offer because they had no money with which to pay for it. What is the use of coming to us and saying that compulsion is necessary when the facts are as I have described?
Our suspicions are, I think, pardonable. We know something of the manner in which these compulsory powers are to be exercised. All that is necessary, to use the language of the Bill, is that negotiations shall have been entered into between landlord and tenant. If a tenant or the parish priest goes to the landlord and offers twelve years purchase, that is negotiation; and the next step is the final offer made by the Commissioners, with an appeal to the Judicial Commissioner whose verdict is conclusive. In this case, as in other cases which we have recently discussed in this House, you have the very common spectacle of a supreme department driving the coach as furiously as it pleases, and then deciding what compensation is to be paid to the unfortunate people whom it happens to run over. There are other circumstances which justify suspicion. We have from time to time obtained indications of the sort of terms which would be accorded to those whose property might be taken from them compulsorily. We know that, in the view of the Commissioners, it 426 would be their business to buy land on a basis which would enable them to resell it. It is not a question what the land is worth to the proprietor; it is a question of the kind of bargain which can be made between the new proprietors and the Commissioners when the question of resale arises. In the Bill itself there is a clause which directs the Commissioners to have regard not to the intrinsic value of the estate but to the price which tenants and others are willing to give. A man has property which is worth a certain sum. What right have you, in taking it away, to be guided, not by the value, but by what somebody else who is waiting round the corner is willing to give you for it?
There is another very remarkable feature about this proposal for universal compulsion. The vendors who are compelled to sell are to be paid in cash and to have priority over other vendors. What an extraordinary proposal! You have one owner who is as you put it "reasonable" and ready to come to terms with his tenants. He may have to wait ten years, and he is paid in stock which is worth considerably below its face value. You have another owner described by the noble Earl as the cantankerous man; he is to be paid in cash and paid immediately. Could any paradox be more extraordinary?
If we are told that compulsion is to be so very rarely exercised, how do you get this enormous and inflated figure of £180,000,000 to cover future purchase transactions? I do not wish to be cynical, but I cannot help saying that these assurances of moderation, which I am sure are perfectly honest, must be a little discounted. The memory of the Evicted Tenants Bill is fresh in my recollection. Your Lordships will remember the assurances which were given to us then, and by no one more emphatically than by the noble Earl opposite, that the Bill was not intended to give relief to ordinary broken-down tenants but only to those who had lost their holdings in the "land war." If the noble Earl will inquire what has happened he will find that in a great many cases persons of that kind have been readmitted to their farms, and that the number of applicants, estimated by His Majesty's Government to be 2,000, has 427 risen to 11,000, and that a great many of them have not been dealt with yet. We ask for some indication of the nature of these rare and exceptional cases in which compulsory powers are indispensable. Even if compulsion is exercised very rarely indeed, the mere fact that compulsion is there—the existence of compulsory powers on the Statute-book—deprives all transactions, even those which are voluntary in name, of their really voluntary character.
The noble Earl opposite made use of a most apposite expression in that connection. He spoke of having compulsion as a weapon in the background. Exactly! That weapon will be in the background, and every one will feel that it may fall upon his neck. I cannot help thinking that one can divine the reasons why the Government have not thought it altogether expedient to put upon the face of the Bill that they intend to use compulsion only in very rare and exceptional cases. A great deal more than that is expected of them by their Irish supporters, and it is my firm belief that if they do not specify a little more closely than they have done what they mean by compulsion in rare and exceptional cases, what they mean by departing from the zones in rare and exceptional cases, what they mean by dealing with landless men only when there is "the little house with the laurel bushes around it"—the reason why they do not condescend to these particulars is because they know quite well that if they did, and if they put into the Bill a clear definition of what their intentions really are, they would have their Irish friends upon their back before they knew where they were. I have seen no case to justify either general compulsion or compulsion in special cases. If, however, the Government are able to show that certain lands in Ireland are really indispensable for the purpose of relieving congestion, that no other land is available, and that the owner has really no sufficient reason for his refusal to sell; if they can also provide us with a competent and impartial tribunal which shall decide as to the reasonableness of the demand and of the compensation offered, then we shall be glad to discuss with the noble Earl opposite whether compulsory powers carefully restricted in some such manner as I have suggested might not be inserted in the Bill.
I pass to the proposals for the creation 428 of the new Congested Districts Board, and I will venture to say one word in regard to the question of congestion in Ireland. We are, I suppose, all aware that there are in some parts of Ireland areas where the people are much crowded on the land and where there is great poverty and misery, and we all desire that those areas should be dealt with in the most generous and humane manner; but I do entreat your Lordships to take what I would call a sober view of this problem. Above all things do not let us ignore the enormous improvement which has taken place, not only in other parts of Ireland, but even in the most congested parts during the last half-century. I do not believe that any part of the United Kingdom has made such rapid progress in the time as Ireland has. Since the middle of the eighteenth century the number of holdings below five acres—that is, the smallest and most miserable holdings—has diminished by no less than eighty per cent. It is also noteworthy that houses of the first and second classes—that is, the better houses—have exactly doubled in number, having increased from 300,000 to 600,000; while houses of the third class have diminished from half a million to a quarter of a million, and houses of the fourth class, the worst type of cabins, which then numbered half a million, now number 9,000 only.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
May I ask if the noble Marquess's statistics are before the famine or after the famine?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
They start at the time of the famine—the forties. That is a very great change. The noble Earl must also be aware that the people are better clothed and better fed than they have ever before been in the history of the country. Again, prices have risen, and while they were rising rents have been reduced by thirty or forty per cent. Then there is the recent development of old-age pensions; they have certainly mitigated in an extraordinary way the poverty of some of the poorest districts in Ireland. I cannot resist giving your Lordships one or two figures with regard to this point. The Poor Law Union of Belmullet, in County Mayo, has a Poor Law valuation in round figures of £11,000; the total amount of pensions already admitted is over £9,000, and there are several hundreds of cases still to be dealt with. In the Poor Law Union of 429 Swinford the Poor Law valuation is £42,000, the annual total of pensions admitted is almost exactly the same, and there are several hundreds of cases still to be dealt with. The whole of the poor Law Union of Belmullet is scheduled as congested, and nineteen out of the twenty-one electoral divisions of Swinford are scheduled as congested. What I want to call your Lordships' attention to is this. I am assured—my noble friend Lord Mayo will correct me if I am wrong—that the rent now paid in these parts of Ireland is usually somewhat under the Poor Law valuation. The noble Earl agrees with me; so that it comes to this, that these districts are receiving, in the shape of old-age pensions, a sum sufficient to pay the whole of the rental due to the landlords under whom they hold their farms. This surely does go to show that the question of congestion even in these remote places is becoming considerably less acute than it was some time ago.
But I will give your Lordships another figure. I take the savings banks deposits, a return of which was lately laid on the Table of the House. It is remarkable, as showing the general prosperity of the country, that since 1881 the deposits in the Post Office savings banks have risen from £1,750,000 to £10,500,000. I have taken the trouble to take out the counties which are included under this Bill as congested counties, and I find, that not only is the increase in the savings banks deposits in these nine counties up to the level of the rest of Ireland, but that it has exceeded the rate of increase in other parts of Ireland. Deposits have increased sixfold over the whole of Ireland; in the nine counties which you are going to treat as abjectly poor and distressful they have increased sevenfold.
I trouble your Lordships with these facts because I wish to raise my voice against the fallacy that what we are pleased to call an uneconomic holding, because the rental of it is below £10, is a holding the occupant of which is necessarily in a very miserable and impoverished state. Nothing of the kind. The man who pays a rent of £8 very likely has seven or eight head of cattle; he probably has some sheep; he probably has more land than he can till properly; he has free fuel not far from his door; and, altogether, I have no hesitation in saying 430 that he enjoys a bargain which would make some of our hard-working English cottagers who pay £5 or £6 a year for the use of a cottage and garden positively green with envy. And this is capable of proof, because we know that, when one of these small holdings comes into the market, the tenant right often sells for twenty, thirty, or even forty years purchase—sums which are paid, not by the poor people in the neighbourhood, but very often by hard-headed men who come back from America and who know a good bargain when they see it. I dwell on these things because they do seem to me to show how dangerous it is to be induced by our genuine and natural desire to do all we can for the poorer parts of the Irish population to take short cuts and rash expedients which may land us we do not know where.
Now one word as to the new Congested Districts Board. I quite admit that the noble Earl showed us this evening that some change in the present arrangement is called for. The Congested Districts Board has done much excellent work and enjoys a deservedly high reputation in many parts of Ireland. But since the Board was first formed many other things have happened. We have had the creation of the Department of Agriculture and Industries, and we have had the development of the Estates Commission under the Act of 1903; and the result has been that there is at this moment a great amount of confusion, of duplication of work, and, I will add, a great deal of extravagance, owing to the number of authorities who side by side compete with one another in the same parts of Ireland. Therefore I am quite ready to consider the propriety of a change, and I agree with the noble Earl when he suggests that the charge of Irish agriculture and industries should be transferred to the Board of Agriculture. But I own I cannot concur with him when he proposes that the whole of the land purchase and settlement work now done by the Estates Commissioners in the nine western counties should be handed over to the new Congested Districts Board.
I think there is a great deal to be said for retaining within careful limits some system of what I would speak of as paternal administration for the districts which can properly be described as congested districts, and therefore, although it might be more logical and more symmetrical to get rid of 431 the Board altogether, and to divide its functions between the Estates Commissioners and the Department of Agriculture and Industries, I am quite ready to contemplate with equanimity the preservation of the Congested Districts Board in one shape or another. But I would suggest to the noble Earl that there are two principles which should be kept in view. In the first place, if you are to have this kind of paternal administration, try to confine it within the narrowest limits possible; and, in the second place, not only do that, but endeavour to establish a system which will bring about as rapidly as possible a condition of things in which the people will no longer look to paternal treatment, but will develop a spirit of self-reliance and will be able to shift for themselves.
I take exception to the proposals in this Bill because it seems to me they do neither of these things. You enlarge the size of the congested districts; you drive the Estates Commissioners, who are a much more competent and much better equipped body than the Congested. Districts Board, out of a third of Ireland; and you establish in this new Board a system which, it seems to me, is likely to keep what I would call paternal administration in existence for an indefinite length of time and under conditions from which we are never likely to be able to extricate ourselves. In my view the machinery which you have set up for this purpose is the worst possible machinery that you could have invented for such an object. You are creating a large and unwieldy body, comprising nineteen members. Why is it that three members are sufficient for two-thirds of Ireland, and that you have nineteen members for the remaining one-third? The majority of them are to be elected, and to be elected by bodies not without their merits, which I freely acknowledge, but bodies of which their greatest admirers will not say that they are free from partisan spirit. You have only to see how they administer their affairs to be convinced of that. This large body is to be entrusted with the expenditure of immense sums of money, and with very large patronage. Patronage is, I think, always the stumbling-block of local bodies, and in Ireland particularly patronage is invariably the stumbling-block. I cannot conceive, when you are dealing with the particular sort of patronage which this Board will command—I mean the transfer of land in 432 large quantities from one set of people to another set of people—a body less well adapted to exercise patronage than this composite body, with its representative majority, which you are going to set up. I say therefore, with regard to this part of the Bill, speaking for myself, that while I am quite ready to co-operate with noble Lords opposite in putting an end to the confusion and overlapping which undoubtedly do exist at the present time as between these different boards, while I am quite ready to see proper provision made for the paternal and generous treatment of a certain particularly impoverished areas, I cannot bring myself to believe that the House will accept the extraordinary—I would almost say the grotesque—proposals to be found in this part of the Bill.
There are other clauses to which I should have been glad to draw attention, but time does not permit me to do so. I will add only these two or three words upon the general aspect of the case. I am told that in the last twenty-five years there have been something like twenty-five Bills dealing in one form or another with the question of Irish land tenure. Is there never to be an end of this legislation? As for this particular Bill, I would like the House to consider what its ulterior effects on Ireland are likely to be. Let us think not only of the way in which it affects the pockets of landlords and tenants. Let us consider how it affects the prosperity of the Irish community. In a great part of Ireland you have, roughly speaking, only one industry, the industry of agriculture. Our national industries have thriven in the past because men have come to the front by their own energy and skill, and because the fittest of these men have emerged. In the rest of the United Kingdom that has been the case with the great industry of agriculture also. The tenant farmers of England and Scotland are men who, by a process of natural selection, have come to the front, and who, because they have been selected men, have surmounted the great difficulties with which agriculturists had to deal in recent years. But in Ireland the case has been wholly different. In Ireland under the present law, if a tenant farms his land badly his rent is reduced in order that it may suit the badness of his farming. If he cannot get through under these conditions, and has to give his holding up, he is reinstated, and not only reinstated, 433 but reinstated on his holding on conditions more favourable than those of his neighbour who has been punctual and hardworking.
This Bill takes us further along the same disastrous course. You are not only going to drive out the landowner, but there are clauses which show that your desire is to get rid, so far as you can, of the larger tenants and to establish a dead level of small or middle-size holdings. Under this Bill, if it becomes law, the old pasture lands of Ireland, the admiration of those who visit that country, will to a great extent be broken up, and the cattle industry, on which the prosperity of the smaller Irish farmers so largely depends, will probably go to the wall. Not only that, but you will by this Bill, if it passes into law in its present form, unsettle the minds of the tenants who are hoping and expecting to buy, and you will unsettle the minds of those who have already bought their farms. In addition to that, you announce a policy which has perhaps been misunderstood, but which has been acclaimed by the Irish law breakers as a triumph of their defiance of law and order. Finally, you, who will not trust the London County Council to make a town-planning scheme of its own, are going to hand over one-third of Ireland, a great part of which is no more congested than Salisbury Plain, to a tribunal with a constitution and with functions, judicial and administrative, unheard of in the history of any civilised country. You cannot seriously expect the House to pass this Bill in anything like its present form. We on this side are ready to join with you in carefully scrutinising its provisions and in converting it, if we can, into a practicable and reasonable measure, but I do not think that anybody can pretend that as it now stands it merits any description of the kind.
My Lords, I would not presume to address your Lordships' House so soon after having the honour of becoming one of its members but for the fact that I feel it my duty as a representative Peer for Ireland to do my utmost to oppose the principles in this Bill, which will be injurious to Ireland and to the landlords and tenants of that country. The great success of the 1903 Act was in a large measure due to the fact that it was the outcome of a conference between the landlords on the one hand and representatives of the 434 tenants on the other. An agreement was come to at that conference which enabled the Government of the day to pass an Act which had for its object the transference of land from the owner to the occupier without undue injustice to the landlord and without exacting from the tenants excessive payments for obtaining the fee simple of the land. This Bill completely breaks away from that conference. It introduces legislation which will be unfair to the landlord and tenant alike. Its principles are both confiscatory and Socialistic, and I believe them to be even more revolutionary than the Bill which is now being discussed in another place.
If we take a brief study of Clauses 17, 41, 43, 64, and 69, they will show the revolutionary character of this Bill, which completely upsets the whole idea of land purchase as it has succeeded under the Act of 1903. These clauses empower the Estates Commissioners to acquire compulsorily any estates or untenanted land in Ireland, for they provide that when negotiations have been started for a sale and no agreement has been arrived at they will then be empowered to take that land compulsorily. Thus you might have an irresponsible body of, say, three or four tenants going to a landlord and offering him a price which it would be impossible for him to accept. The Estates Commissioners would then be empowered to make him a final offer. They themselves would name a price, and if he was unable to accept that offer without ruin to himself, they would then be able to take his estates compulsorily. A man holding a fee farm grant, and occupying and using the lands thereunder, will suddenly find his land regarded as untenanted and himself ousted to supply the demands of the cattle-driver and the landless man. By the term "landless man" I mean the man who not only has not got any land, but who never had any claim to have any land; he knows nothing of land, and if he was placed on it he would not know what to do with it. A vendor under this Bill is to have no say whatever in the price which he has to accept for his land. The price is to be fixed by the purchaser, to whose interest it is to keep the price as low as possible. This is nothing more than confiscation by compulsion, and the nationalisation of the land.
I maintain that it is a gross injustice, and I cannot believe that the British nation, which has been able to boast of its sense of 435 justice and freedom, could ever allow such proposals as these to become law. Why has compulsion been thought to be necessary? is it that the voluntary system has failed? We know, my Lords, that the voluntary system has been only too successful. We have been informed that there are £53,000,000 of agreements now waiting to be financed, and I maintain that even more would have been lodged if it had not been for the policy of the United Irish League in interfering with negotiations. How can a Government which is unable to finance this voluntary system, with any show of reason get up and say that compulsion is necessary. I maintain there is no foundation for any compulsion whatever. If they maintain that compulsion is only meant for unreasonable landlords, why make the voluntary system an impossibility? For how do the Government propose to pay the landlord, who, if he is offered a reasonable price, would be willing to accept it? They propose to pay him with a three per cent. stock at face value, irrespective of its market value. In fact, they propose that the landlord has almost to float this stock. In other words, they propose to borrow from the landlord sufficient money to pay him off for his own estates.
They are not content to rob the landlord alone; they proceed to rob the tenant, for they provide that where a tenant's holding is worth more than £3,000, and in some cases £5,000, they will not advance him any more money. This means that he will either be forced to remain on without hope of any other purchaser for his holding, or that he will have to surrender the remainder of his land, or part of it to the landlord, who, in his turn, will have it compulsorily taken from him as untenanted land and have it divided up between the cattle-driver and the landless man. Therefore this will be reducing the tenant's power of doing good in his county and his capacity for employing labour; and from the social standing to which he has risen by his own energy and ability he will be forced back to his former level, from which he advanced be it said to his own credit and to the credit of his country, which should be proud of him. But is that country proud of him? My Lords, if it is, this Bill is a very poor way of showing its gratitude. This Bill hits the small farmer just as hard as it hits the bigger one, for by hitting the larger tenant you deprive the smaller farmer of his market for his stock which, owing to a lack of capital and 436 the smallness of his farm, he is unable to rear himself. You may argue that you propose to take the land from the better class of tenant and give some of it to the small farmer, and enable him to rear his own stock; but what would be the result of that? He will, through his lack of experience of farming, be unable to compete with the better class of farmer, and he will go to the wall. If you give him this land you will also have to give him capital to stock that farm with. And these tenant farmers are shrewd men. They will realise that they will be unable to compete with the fanner who is already experienced in farming; they will sell their stock, and they will sublet their land again to the grazier. My Lords, I beg to move the adjournment of the House till a quarter past nine.
§ [The sitting was suspended at eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
§ *LORD FARNHAM, resuming his speech, said: My Lords, when the House adjourned I was trying to point out that because you gave a small tenant more land and gave him capital to start it, you did not necessarily make him a successful farmer. He would, in all probability, be unable to compete against the farmers who thoroughly understood their own business; or else he would pocket the capital, sell his stock, and let his land to the grazier. This has in some cases already been done. One man was put on to a holding of 100 acres by the Estates Commissioners; the Commissioners bought twenty-three head of cattle for him at one fair, of which he sold fifteen at the following fair in another place, and his land is stocked with grazing cattle and he is selling the timber. Another man got seventy acres and a free grant; he is selling the timber and has sub-let the land. Another man got sixty acres and a grant of £100 to fit up a house. That man failed; he was unable to compete against the more successful farmers, and a Mrs. Ryan took over the land, sold the meadow by auction, and has sub-let the grazing. I only give these instances to show what will happen if you try and make successful farmers of men who have no knowledge of farming.
It is all very well for Mr. Birrell to dramatically declare that the land is for the people and not for bullocks, but if Mr. Birrell believes what he says and is prepared 437 to bring in legislation of this effect he will have to amend the law of nature, for the law of nature provides that we must eat to live, and that being so we prefer to eat bullocks rather than our fellow creatures. One of the best points of this Bill is the act that Ireland is to receive the sum of about £163,000 annually for the relief of congestion and distress. This is a fact which every one in Ireland will welcome, and Ireland will be deeply grateful to the Government for giving them this sum of money. But one of the worst points in the Bill is the nature and constitution of the Board which is to distribute this sum, and we sincerely trust, if we are to get this money as we hope we are, that the Government will take care to ensure that it will be distributed by a fair and impartial tribunal, which we have every reason to believe the proposed Board would not and could not possibly be. Now, my Lords, what is the necessity for the introduction of this Bill? What is the policy which underlies it? I have already pointed out that the failure of British credit to finance the voluntary system, as it was pledged to can with no shadow of reason be put forward as an argument for the production of confiscation by compulsion, and for those other revolutionary clauses with which this Bill bristles.
In order to find out the real policy which is the cause of the production of this Bill it is necessary for a moment to take a look behind the scenes. This Bill is nominally introduced by a Minister of the Crown who, as such, should be impartial, and legislate for the good of the community at large. Recent episodes in another place have shown us plainly enough whose hands have caused this Bill to be drafted. When Mr. Birrell had the audacity to move an Amendment of his own without first consulting the Irish Party, he was met with such a howl of indignation that he meekly suffered the humility of voting against his own Amendment. This, my Lords, shows us plainly enough that the Bill is in reality that of the Irish Nationalist Party. What has been the persistent attitude of that Party towards land purchase? When the Land Conference met and came to an agreement about land purchase, that party pledged itself to support it, and it was Mr. Dillon himself who proposed the resolution which bound them to it. The outcome of that agreement was that the Act of 1903 was passed—a triumph of conciliation; and, as a member of the present
Government who is now one of the sponsors for this Bill said, it opened up a new heaven and a new earth in Ireland. Ten days after the passing of that Act we are given the first inkling of the great breach of faith on the part of the Nationalist Party, and we find Mr. Dillon sowing the seeds of suspicion and of agitation in the minds of the Irish tenantry; for in a speech at that time he said:—
The passage of this Bill has only served to confirm in my mind the conviction, which I have always entertained throughout the whole of my political life, that in Ireland there is nothing to be hoped for except as the result of persistent agitation. To the amazement of some of us old campaigners we hear Irish landlords talking of conciliation, and while for my part I am entirely in favour of giving the new Land Act a fair trial and seeing what can be got out of it, I am so far sceptical that I have no faith in the doctrine of conciliation. I am willing to accept conciliation when the Irish landlords cease to be landlords, but so long as they are landlords I am sceptical of their conciliation.
From the date of that speech his policy became more and more clearly marked. Publications were prepared and issued to try and prove that the landlord was getting an exorbitant price and that the tenant was paying far too much. An agitation was started and the landless men instructed that they need only agitate and drive cattle and they would be able to make the Government give them as much land as they wanted. All this in some cases had the desired effect and stopped negotiations which might have come to a head, but in spite of it land purchase in the main continued to thrive.
A new plan of action, therefore, has become necessary. Eventually, owing to the lack of funds and the curtailing of the bonus by the Treasury from twelve to three per cent., land purchase came to a deadlock and some financial amendment became necessary. Here, my Lords, was Mr. Dillon's chance, and he was not slow to take it, with the result that we have this revolutionary measure before us to-day. He has played his cards well, for whether this Bill becomes law in its present form or whether it is rejected he has secured the fact that agitation will continue in Ireland, for if it becomes law it means that there will be an internal strife set up between the landless men and the existing tenantry. The noble Earl the Leader of the House said that it was not possible to treat a congest as an emergency man and send him about 439 accompanied by a couple of policemen; but if, as is proposed, a tenant is brought from the congested districts and planted down in another part of Ireland I maintain that the whole police force at the disposal of the Government will have to be planted down alongside him to keep him on that land. If this Bill is thrown out Mr. Dillon has threatened us with his dogs of war—I suppose he means his well-trained and celebrated pack of cattle-drivers. We cannot believe that your Lordships' House will allow our country to be plunged into such a state of anarchy and completely destroy any hope of a permanent and lasting settlement of the land question, and we trust that this Bill will be so amended that it will become in reality a Bill for the furtherance of land purchase, and not, as it is now, an Act of revolution, Socialism, anarchy, and nationalisation of the land.
LORD ST. DAVID'S OF ROCH CASTLE
My Lords, the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill and the noble Marquess who followed him have made several objections to this Bill. They say that it is ungenerous on the part of the Treasury because it puts up the rent charge which the Irish tenant is to pay from £3 5s. 0d. per cent. to £3 10s. 0d.; they say it is ungenerous because it reduces the bonus which the British taxpayer is to give to the Irish landlord from twelve per cent. to something like seven and a-half, and they complain, too, that in all future agreements landlords may be obliged to take a three per cent. stock at par. Those, my Lords, are the three principal reasons why, if it comes to a Division, I for one intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, because those are the three provisions in the Bill which do lessen the extreme burden of the Wyndham Act on the British taxpayer.
I do not propose to go into questions that have been raised by other speakers as to how this Bill deals, with the Irish landlord and the Irish tenant, because there are plenty of Members of this House who are much more competent than I am to deal with any such subjects. But, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like for a few minutes to consider the whole position of British credit, on which, after all, this Bill is based, and on which the Wyndham Act was based. There is no doubt that at the present moment British 440 Government securities are, as compared with previous times, in a somewhat depressed position. It is very easy to give reasons for that. I noticed the other day in his speech at Birmingham that a noble Earl, who usually sits on the Cross Benches here, said, with very great confidence, that Consols were depressed because of the badness of the Government. That was a simple explanation, and any conclusion the noble Earl comes to will always be interesting to the country. But I venture to think it would have been still more interesting to the country if the noble Earl had gone on and given a reason for his belief. In what way can a Government affect the credit of the country by its goodness or its badness? Naturally a bad Government in any country can affect the country's credit. If a Government repudiates them the securities of that country will fall to nothing; if it talks of repudiating or cutting down interest the securities will fall; or if it goes so far as to add largely to its bonded indebtedness its securities will also fall. But the present Government has done none of those things. It has never in any way threatened the securities of the holders of British Government bonds. The present Government since it came into office has never issued one penny of Consols; it stopped the Public Works Act of the late Government under which much of what ought to have been the annual expense of the Army and Navy was put on to the Exchequer in the form of loans; and, furthermore, the present Government in the four years it has been in office has, I believe, paid off more debt than any Government ever paid off before in the same time. For those reasons, to say off-hand that it is the badness of the Government which causes the low price of British securities is, I think, somewhat rash.
There are other reasons which I would submit to your Lordships' House as accounting very largely, possibly entirely for the low price of Government securities. One of them is the Wyndham Act, another is the Act which was passed also by the last Government by which Colonial Government securities were for the first time made trustee investments in this country. I do not want to go into this matter at length, but your Lordships know as well as I do what trustee securities were up to a few years ago—British and India Government bonds, English railway prior charges, the 441 debts of Crown Colonies, and securities of principal English corporations. It was a question of supply and demand. What did the last Government do? They passed an Act by which the securities of the self-governing Colonies were made trustee investments in this country, and they thereby added enormously to the number of securities that were competing with Consols and other Government loans, and by that Act they automatically brought down the price of all English Government securities.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
May I ask whether the noble Lord is talking about the Irish Land Bill?
LORD ST. DAVID'S OF ROCH CASTLE
I am, and if the noble Earl will bear with me a moment I think he will see that what I am saying is somewhat relevant. Under the Wyndham Act of 1903 the last Government created the addition of a large number of British Government securities. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of what the total amount of securities so created, has been. It is the fall in Government securities which has made the finance of the Wyndham Act of 1903 impossible. In the year 1906 there were some £16,000,000 of trustee securities issued in the London market; in the year 1907, there were £14,000,000; in the year 1908, there were £41,000,000, and in the present year up to date there have already been £33,000,000 worth issued. The fact that there were £41,000,000 issued last year and £33,000,000 issued this year, is, I think, sufficient alone to account for the low price of Government securities. The total amount so issued in the last four years has been something over £106,000,000, and of those £106,000,000 £52,000,000 were either created trustee securities under the Colonial Securities Act or under the Irish Land Act. It is those two Acts of the last Tory Government which, as I say, put in this country an undue amount of trustee securities, which have caused this depreciation of British Government securities, and, by so doing, made the Wyndham Act unworkable. I think the noble Earl opposite will agree that that is relevant to the Bill under discussion.
What is going to be the remedy? You will say, Has this depreciation ceased? Is it likely to cease? What is the position 442 to-day? There have been £41,000,000 of Irish landed securities issued already. Can the price rise when it is known by everybody in London that the further agreements which have been made amount already to £53,000,000? In other words, there are £41,000,000 of this Irish Land Stock on the market which have broken down the market, and if we had to go on with the Wyndham Act there are £53,000,000 more to come. In the face of that, I venture to say it is absolutely unlikely that these can be any great rise in the price of Government securities which would make the continued financing of the Wyndham Act possible. Noble Lords opposite may still think that the low price of these securities is due in some way to the wickedness of the present Government, and that if there is a change and the other side come in prices may rise. But what is going to happen if the other side come in? We had a great speech the other day by the ex-Prime Minister. He alluded with pride to the finance of the Irish Land Act, 1903, and held out great hopes that when his friends came back to office they would introduce legislation almost equally easy for the Scottish tenant and the English tenant to buy their holdings. If the finance of this scheme has broken down with £41,000,000 and you have £53,000,000 more already agreed on, and you have a Government estimate that on the top of that there is £73,000,000 more of Irish land to be sold, how in the world could any Government ever contemplate doing the same thing for Great Britain? It seems to me the reasons why the Wyndham Act has broken down are obvious, and it appears absolutely impossible that that Act can be continued as it is to-day.
My own notion of the remedy for this state of things is a very simple one, and it is not the least likely to be adopted. You would, no doubt, put up the price of British securities if you took Colonial securities out of the trustee market, or if you repealed the Wyndham Act altogether, which I think would be the best thing to do. But, short of that, I do not see any alternative except the proposals of the Government, which at any rate mitigate the financial evils of the Act of 1903. If your Lordships will allow me I would just like to remind the House of what the proposals under that Act were. Under the Act of 1903 an Irish tenant can agree with an Irish landlord what the price of the land is 443 to be, and when the price has been agreed the tenant can go to the British Exchequer and get the whole amount on loan. You know perfectly well if any one of you were advancing money on land anywhere you, as prudent men, would not advance more than two-thirds, or, at the outside, three-fourths of the value, but under the Act of 1903 you compel the unfortunate British taxpayer, who had no choice, to advance the whole of the money. The noble Earl shakes his head, but I think it is so. Then, again, the British taxpayer had something else to do. When the tenant and the landlord had agreed on their bargain, the British taxpayer had to find what is called a bonus, and give the landlord twelve per cent. as a present in addition to the price at which he had sold his land to the tenant. You would at least have thought when the Government of the day were making that handsome present on behalf of the British taxpayer they would have voted it out of the finances of the year. But nothing of the kind. They borrowed that too and left it to their successors of to-day, so that the unfortunate Government of the day has to charge the taxpayer with the interest on the bonus which the last Government gave to their Irish friends. I think the noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal understated it when he said that that finance was somewhat sanguine.
What strikes me about this debate is that nobody so far has attempted to justify that finance. The noble Marquess opposite admitted that some alteration in the terms of the Act of 1903 was inevitable, but he said he would not go into the matter. I was very much surprised to hear that, because, if we are to judge by the newspapers, I thought the noble Marquess was going to add to all the other duties he performs so admirably the duty of exercising a sort of revising power over every Chancellor of the Exchequer from now onwards. At any rate, the noble Marquess said he was not going into finance, but he added that he thought it would have paid us well—I suppose he means the British taxpayer or the British Government—to have been generous. My-Lords, what does an Irishman consider generous? We find the whole of the money to purchase the land in Ireland. The last Government estimated it would amount to £100,000,000, but we now find it amounts to £180,000,000—and we find that money without any margin of security. The bonus began at twelve per cent. and is 444 now reduced to seven and a-half, and the Government estimate that the bonus they have to pay and the losses on floating the loans which the Exchequer has to pay together are to cost the English taxpayer £25,000,000 as a present towards helping land purchase in Ireland. Yet the noble Marquess opposite thinks that we might have been generous. My Lords, I shudder to think what the Budget in any year will be when the noble Marquess is in power and has a generous fit on him.
The noble Earl opposite who moved the rejection of the Bill shook his head just now when I said that under the Wyndham Act the British Exchequer had no margin of security; they had to advance all the money. Technically, he is right. There were two securities provided for the British taxpayer. Firstly, there is the Irish Development Grant, a little over £100,000 a year, but £41,000,000 of Stock have been issued, and the Irish Development Grant is gone already. Secondly, there is one other security—the Guarantee Fund, the fund that the English Government hands over to the Irish county councils to help them in their rates. That was provided as an additional security for the British taxpayer, but I do not think the noble Earl opposite was very anxious that that security should be continued. I will come to what he said in a minute, but he was full of what he called the meanness of the Government. He said the British Government were obliged to find the money to carry out the Wyndham Act, and that they had not done it. What is the position? That Act has been in operation for six years. Mr. Wyndham stated, according to his original plan, that for the first three years he thought the Government ought to find £5,000,000 a year, and after that he hoped the amount might be increased. The Government have exceeded their promises by something like £11,000,000, and yet the noble Earl used some very hard words about the Government. He said they were compounding with their creditors and setting a very bad example to the people of Ireland, that they were not honourable or honest, and that the course they had followed was not a creditable one—severe words to be hurled at a Government which have not only carried out all their obligations, but have exceeded their promises by £11,000,000 in the course of six years. In the Wyndham Act there was a clause, agreed to by the Irish landlords and tenants, by their representatives in the 445 House of Commons, and by everybody all round, by which the Irish Guarantee Fund was to be responsible. What does the noble Earl say about that—that the Government are neither honourable nor honest, and that their conduct is not creditable. What does he say about the Irish Guarantee Fund? He says the proposals with regard to it were absolutely impossible—yet the last Government put them in the Bill—and that the one solid security given to the British taxpayer in advancing all this money to the people of Ireland was a technical error; and the noble Earl moves the rejection of the Bill and says that that one clause must be wiped aside at once as it was always impossible, and it was only through a technical error that it had got into the Bill at all. Are we to do business on that basis? Is it not clear that the Wyndham Act was a mistake and that its finance is impossible, and that the whole thing has broken down because no market in the world will bear those huge amounts of land stock thrown upon it? Therefore, my Lords, if the plan of the Land Act of 1903 has broken down, as it is obvious to everybody that it has, then I say there is no other alternative before us but to support the financial proposals of His Majesty's Government.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I consider that this Bill is an impossible one because every one must recognise that it is quite needlessly complicated and unnecessarily provocative. The speech which has just been delivered by the noble Lord who has such a knowledge of finance, shows that there is substantial matter to be discussed in reference to the finance of the Act of 1903, and that is not denied. I think whether we take the view which is suggested by him that it has broken down altogether, or the more moderate and reasonable view presented by my noble friend Lord Dunraven, that it may want some revision in some way, it is quite plain that it is desirable there should be some legislative re-adjustment of the financial position owing to the circumstances of the stock market and other matters. But if that be so, why not confine the Bill to that? It is suggested that a Bill was needed to revise the finance, and if the Bill had been confined to that and what was needed to make an equitable readjustment and to set the balance right, I venture to think the matter would have been discussed in that business spirit that the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, appealed to, and that an adjustment would have been 446 arrived at without any very great difficulty or complication. The Government, of course, is composed of able men—that is, there are many very able men in it; but why was it necessary for 'them to go outside that large and important topic which called for adjustment and was so susceptible of adjustment to open up a re-examination of the whole policy on which the Purchase Acts were founded, and to tear up the Wyndham Act of 1903?
I do not propose to follow the noble Lord in the discussion of finance. I have no special knowledge to enable me to do so; nor do I think it necessary in order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion with regard to this Bill at the stage at which we now are. But I may say, in passing, with regard to the raising of the tenants' annuity from three and a-quarter to three and a-half per cent., that although that might not mean a great deal to a man in big circumstances it would mean a great deal to peasants in Ireland. It may be that in the immediate present the contrast between the three and a-quarter and the three and a-half per cent. will not cause any serious dislocation of mind, but unquestionably, as time develops, there must be jealousy, if one set of tenants are found to be paying a smaller purchase annuity than another, and no explanation is to be given except the tall one that Imperial finance required it. Then I think it is also to be regretted, in considering the finance, that the bonus was not let alone; it was one of the great pillars on which the Act of 1903 rested; it was an encouragement and aid, and rendered it possible for the landowners to accept the purchase position presented to them. That has been changed. A new scheme in reference to the bonus has been drawn up. I myself do not think that as a business transaction it will assist the working of the purchase code, but there it is.
Then the attempt to deal with the zones I cannot see has any business justification at all. The zone system was a business suggestion to save time, to save expense, and to save a duplication of inquiry and examination. That was its object, and it worked admirably; it saved great expense and delay. Now they say—it is a stereotyped form in reference to this Bill with Mr. Birrell, and, to a moderate extent, with the noble Earl opposite—that everything is intended to be used in an exceptional way, and only to a very small extent. 447 If those who were to administer the Act were to be gifted with angelic minds and superhuman sagacity we might be comforted with those assurances, but when I find a power to the Estates Commissioners to ride straight through the zones whenever they think right, I regard the clause as full of extreme danger. Passing away from the finance, where is the need of any provocative spirit going beyond the adjustment of the present necessities of the situation? Why attempt to go through all the whole machinery on which the land purchase code rested in order to effect this financial object? Every single one of the Purchase Acts—I cannot say one more than another, but including the great Act to which the genius of Mr. Gladstone lent its force—has been rested and rooted on the principle of voluntary action. You will not find a hint at any other influence, not a single one; but with a light heart the Government tear up all these principles and substitute a principle of compulsion; and it must never be forgotten, as has been said by my noble friend Lord Dunraven, that voluntary purchase cannot well coexist with the compulsory system. The argument is not equal or fair, the freedom is gone; once you enter into negotiation with the spectre of compulsion at the door the contest is no longer equal because the person with whom you are carrying on the negotiation can invoke that weapon in the background, and prevent the equality which had previously existed.
I listened with respect and attention to the exposition of the Bill by the noble Earl opposite, and considering the magnitude of the task before him he condensed it, if he will allow me to say so, in wonderfully short time. The noble Earl, Lord Crewe, said there might be circumstances when justification might be found for some form of compulsion within reasonable limits and reasonably exercised, but when I take up this Bill and look at its clauses I remember that after all the Judges—those poor abused people—will not have to interpret the gracious words and the gracious manner of the noble Earl opposite; they will have nothing before them but the wide clauses of this Bill, which without stint or qualification give compulsion to two bodies over the whole of Ireland. What is the justification for it? I listened to the noble Earl attentively on that subject and not one syllable of a case did he suggest for the introduction of this great power. 448 I could understand a Government coming forward and saying, "This is a remedy which we do not like, but the circumstances are stronger than our wishes; we are assailed with this return and with that piece of evidence; we can no longer resist the evidence, and we are compelled, therefore, in spite of ourselves, to adopt this great remedy." But this matter has been discussed elsewhere only for some days, a stinted and starved discussion, and to-night we have had a debate extending over some hours. Can any of your Lordships, no matter what your memories may be, recall since the discussion opened any kind of case being made out for the magnitude of the compulsion that is sought to be enacted here? Where is the breakdown in the voluntary system? Since 1903, when Mr. Wyndham's Act passed, there have been transactions totting up to £84,000,000 of voluntary transactions, some of them completed and paid and others completed without being paid, and the purchase instalments we are all proud as Irishmen to know are paid accurately and well. That indicates the present prosperity of Ireland in a money way.
Where does the pressure come in? This House passed the Evicted Tenants Act, which Mr. Birrell said was working well and could not be added to. The labourers of Ireland are adequately provided for by Statute after Statute and money grants, and three or four days ago Mr. Birrell stated in the House of Commons that he could not do more for the Irish labourers and that there was nothing more he could ask to be done for them. What case, then, is there for ignoring these facts? What case is there suggested or shown to exist for starting the tremendous policy of compulsion which is found in this Bill? My Lords, I venture to think that if one half of the energy which has been shown in this matter were applied to smoothing and simplifying the voluntary system there would be no question at all. Where is the proof of its necessity? It is notorious that in addition to the purchases that have taken place there are very many owners in nearly every county of Ireland who are most anxious to sell on any reasonable terms in the most voluntary way to any one who is willing to buy. The Congested Districts Board, I am informed by those who know very well, have on their hands hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of grazing lands awaiting disposition by 449 them. I am glad to see that we have here one of the distinguished members of the Dudley Commission, who I hope will take part in the debate before it is over.
The Dudley Commission had, of course, to deal with this question, and when the statement was made before them, as I suppose it was made more than once, that sufficient land could not be got from landlords willing to sell to enable them to meet the case for congestion, a very active and keen gentleman who was there at once applied himself to getting a return, which he presented in a couple of days to the Dudley Commission, showing that a great number of owners—I think twenty-one—were in a position to offer on the spot 12,000 acres for purchase by the Congested Districts Board and to be applied by them to the purposes needed. That will be found in Vol. 10 of the Evidence taken by the Dudley Commission, at page 1407, and I have no doubt that a great deal more evidence of the same kind can readily be found there. If any one thinks that I can be answered by citing from any other page of that Evidence I may say frankly that I have not read it all, and I cannot advise any one to do it; but, independent of quotations, is there any recent case that can be given within the last twelve months—the Government have lots of time before the debate closes to-morrow—where land has been refused to be sold to the Congested Districts Board or to the Estates Commissioners which has been needed for the purpose of checking congestion?
I have said that the compulsion in this Bill is wide and unprecedented in its far-reaching character. Of course, compulsion is known to our law. Railway Acts are founded on compulsion, and it is given for many public purposes. In the Evicted Tenants Bill which we passed compulsion was granted, but there is nothing in the Evicted Tenants Bill which in the smallest degree supports the contention for compulsion in the present Bill. There the Bill stated the purpose for which it was to be used, its limited character, that it was confined to only two thousand tenants, and that before any one was restored it should be ascertained by the Estates Commissioners that the tenant to be restored was a fit and capable tenant suitable for the position. Is there a syllable in this Bill guiding or governing the discretion of either of the 450 parties entrusted with this work? Is there anything like it in any Statute of any civilised country? There is the Small Holdings Act which the noble Earl opposite is so proud of and administers with such care and attention. I have read that Act to see if there is any suggestion in it to support compulsion in the Bill before your Lordships. The cardinal proposition is found there that, if land cannot be acquired by agreement, that justifies the application of compulsion, and there is the great safeguard that that proceeding is administered by a great Government Department presided over by a capable head of standing and popularity. This, of course, requires us to examine the novel powers of compulsion that are given in this Bill. The Congested Districts Board are given a new congested district—why I do not know—and the Estates Commissioners are given the whole of the rest of Ireland. The Bill does not state that the parties who are to exercise the compulsion must be satisfied that there is a case for it; it is not said, from beginning to end of the Bill, that either the Congested Districts Board or the Estates Commissioners are to ascertain and be satisfied that lands required for the purpose cannot be acquired voluntarily and that there is nothing before them but compulsion. There is not a syllable said upon the subject. In the Evicted Tenants Bill there is a rigid limit put in of 2,000 people, but here there are absolutely no limits.
My noble friend who spoke last on this side of the House gave extraordinary cases of men who were given farms up to 100 acres and of what they did with the trees upon them and with the stock that was given to them to work on. But there is no limitation here as to the quantity of land they are to get and no limit of any sort or kind, good or bad, placed on the exercise of their discretion by these people. I do not think the noble Earl opposite was comfortable in dealing with this part of the case. For whom is this compulsion to be exercised? Every one must admit that it is an immense power to give to any person—whether one or ten I do not care in the least—or to give to any Department the right to go in and turn an owner out without "by your leave" or "with your leave," and at a price fixed by themselves. For whom is this power to be exercised? I listened to the noble Earl with great attention, and I do not think he is in a position to answer that question in plain terms. Is it for the 451 landless men? That is a plain question. The noble Earl said that the landless men were not intended to be covered by any section at all.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I think I ought to point out to the noble and learned Lord that it is subsection (b), I think, which enlarges the provision under Section 2 of the Act of 1903 by including those in the neighbourhood as well as the sons of actual tenants. So far, that subsection does enlarge it. The subsection which I said did not enlarge it was subsection (e), the last subsection.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
The noble Earl is fortunate in not having a copy of the Bill in front of him. If he is in any doubt about it I can hand him a dozen. He concedes in other parts of the statement that the Bill includes landless men as well. There is no question about that. It is part of his argument that they had to be dealt with and were dealt with. I do not care whether they were dealt with in this subsection or that subsection. I think the noble Earl is wrong. But it was the intention of the Government, and that is what we have to deal with. I ask him, Is this compulsion to be exercised? Will the noble Earl answer me in plain terms? Is it to be exercised for the landless men alone, or for the congests alone, or for the two mixed up together? What is the effect of that? I have great respect for the noble Earl and admired the excellent exposition which he made with such conciseness, but I read over Clause 17 and came to the conclusion—it might be wrongly—from the way the noble Earl unfolded himself to the House at the point that he was not comfortable in that part of his exposition.
Now, what is the meaning of a compromise? It is that each person has rights, and that each person must have a little give and take—in fact, a great deal of give and take. Has the noble Earl read the Dudley Commission's Report—not the whole, but a reasonable part of it? There, I think, he will find, in clause after clause and paragraph after paragraph, that if there is one thing abundantly plain it is that the Commission state with great force and great clearness that in their opinion the relief of congestion was to be found by relieving the congestion, and that if you sought to mix up that with the relief of the landless 452 men you would for ever perpetuate congestion. Is not that an immense fact? It is not one casual paragraph, but it is paragraph after paragraph. They dealt with every aspect of the question. We know the landless men. We know who they are and what they are. We know their hopes, expectations and wishes, but we tell you, as our deliberate opinion, that the only way to deal with congestion is to confine your efforts to the congests, and the only way to confine them to the congests adequately is by putting aside sternly the case of the landless men.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Will the noble and learned Lord tell me why landless men are provided for in Section 2 of the Act of 1903?
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
I will with pleasure, but I strongly suspect that the noble Earl has a very fair suspicion. The Act of 1903 was an entirely voluntary Act, and what had to be dealt with in Section 2 was the provision for surplus lands after those primarily intended to be dealt with had had their claims satisfied. That is what is in Section 2. Surely it is as different as day from darkness to start bran-new legislation for landless men, providing not surplus land, but finding land out of which to drive owners by compulsion in order to find for these men new homes and new pastures—something to quicken them and give them a pursuit in place of cattle-driving.
The noble Earl was historically cautious, and if I were a suspicious man, which I am not, I should think that he went out of his way to say that he did not know who the landless men were. I do not know how he would stand cross-examination on that subject, but I think he would break down. The noble Earl said he did not know how they started. One would think that these landless men were mushrooms which sprung up in the night and fed on the dew. Why, they were never heard of in the time of the noble Earl. They never were heard of in the time of the eminent Statesman who was sitting near the noble Earl while he was speaking, Lord Morley. They are the creation of the present Chief Secretary. There was no cattle-driving until his time. He is the author and the creator of that new Irish pastime, and it was only about April, 1908—I forget the exact month—that cattle-drives 453 commenced. Well, I am not going to say a word against them. Everybody must live, but certainly they are very lucky men. They break the law and a law is sought to be made for them, and by compulsion the real owners are to be put out to enable them to walk in under the œgis and protection of the British Constitution. Well, my Lords, I will say only this on the subject, that with the clear findings of the Dudley Commission that the only way to give relief to congestion was to confine your efforts to the congests, it is startling and monstrous to find that all these findings are set at nought. But I will say no more on this point because I see a noble Lord opposite who is a master of the subject, and who having sat on the Commission will be able to speak with an authority which no person who has read only a moderate part of the proceedings could dream of doing.
Now as to the change in the Congested Districts Board, I will only say a word. I believe on the whole the Congested Districts Board, has done able and valuable work in Ireland. I believe it is popular, but I know there is a great feeling on the part of many who have studied this question that the solution in the Bill is not wise. I do not put it more than that. Ireland is a well-Boarded country, and it would have been wiser to have distributed the powers of the Congested Districts Board over two of the other Boards which are working exceedingly well. But I do not go into that question. If the Congested Districts Board is to be maintained I do not understand the widening of its area so as to include many non-congested districts, and I do not in the least understand any justification for seeking to add the nine elective representatives. I say nothing against the individuals or against their honour or character, but it is obvious that men popularly elected who have not to provide a shilling of the expenditure, which all comes from the taxpayer, are not men whose qualifications fit them to consider the anxious and delicate duties, connected as those men are with local prejudice. Now the way this compulsion is to be exercised I will not discuss. It is startling. I suppose none of your Lordships have ever heard anything like it. Either of the bodies that exercise it may inspect and value without the leave of the owner, and, may be, without notice to the owner. It. may 454 be set in motion by a proposal from anybody—it may be a member of the League for all I know, or a member of any other association—and being so set in motion they would then have to go on and make a final offer.
Mr. Birrell has not the very good fortune to be an Irishman, and therefore he is responsible for the curiosity of this drafting. The final offer is the only offer in the whole Bill. The price to be given is not a fair value, but it is to be what they are willing to give. Well, that is a very comfortable way of buying what you want, and there is no appeal, good or bad, to any one except as to price, and then the price is to be fixed by the Judicial Commissioner, aided by two skilled assessors selected by Mr. Birrell. What a comfort and consolation to the man who is going to be turned out of his property! The Bill says that the assessors are to be selected by the Lord Lieutenant. What does that mean? Does it not mean the Chief Secretary? I have the greatest respect for Lords Lieutenant, but what would they know or be expected to know about skilled and trained assessors? Why, the Lord Lieutenant would send off a line asking, "What on earth"—I do not know what form of address would be used, but may be "earth" would be left out and he would not feel at liberty to appeal to a higher place—he would ask, "What am I to do in reference to these blessed assessors?" and then the Chief Secretary would consult whoever he is in the habit of consulting in London on these subjects, and the two independent assessors would be sent to help the Judicial Commissioner.
The whole structure of this business shows an effort made to squeeze out voluntary purchase and to coerce the owner. If there were time—and there is not—I could give section after section showing instances. I have sketched out five or six, but in mercy to the House and myself, having regard to the clock, I will only give one. The Congested Districts Board are given this enlarged district to do what they like with. And there is a section which says that no one is to bid against them, that no poor man in the whole district, or the whole world, is to be at liberty to come in and buy over the heads of the Congested Districts Board without their sanction. Did your Lordships ever hear such supreme nonsense as that? I pass 455 by its grotesque injustice in saying that nobody, if he might like a farm or a property and might be willing to give a fair amount of money for it, shall be at liberty to buy it or make a bid for it without the sanction of those who have the power of coercing whenever they think it right.
I do not understand the scheme of this Bill. I could understand it if it confined itself to finance, which required some adjustment. The way the Bill has been run with the Finance Bill excites some suspicion, because a suspicious person, which I am not, might have thought somehow or other their fates were interwoven. But why was it not sent here before? Why are all its stages sandwiched with those of the Finance Bill? It looks as if high-contracting parties had no child-like confidence in each other or in their work, and I should be very curious to read the last words of Mr. Birrell and Mr. Dillon on this subject. I can well imagine the judicial way in which Mr. Healy would indicate that "I told you so." But I am not suspicious, and all I say is this: If ever a Bill wanted investigation in Committee it is this Bill. I will adopt the course indicated by the noble Marquess and vote for the Second Reading, not with any great trust or confidence, but with an earnest desire that it may be improved and made into a somewhat more reasonable and fair Bill.
My Lords, I do not propose to speak at any length on this Bill. I think pretty well everything I was going to say has been said before, and I think everyone must feel sympathy with me in having to follow my noble and learned friend who said everything that is to be said a great deal better than I can. However, I have only to say that I fully associate myself with those who look upon this Bill as an absolute obstacle to voluntary purchase which has succeeded so admirably for so many years. I speak with great diffidence as to its financial provisions because I do not pretend to understand finance, but I think that what we have heard is sufficient to show that some of its provisions are absolutely mischievous as impeding voluntary purchase, that others are inadequate for the object they have ostensibly in view of relieving the existing deadlock, and that some—a very few—are useful. They are few, but they are so far 456 useful that I am not prepared to support my noble friend who moved the rejection of the Bill.
Well, my Lords, to come to a point that has been much talked of to-night—the introduction of compulsion and the reconstitution of the Congested Districts Board. I hope the most strenuous opposition will be given to that by your Lordships. I think everyone will admit that a man's property ought only to be taken compulsorily from him when urgent necessity exists. Now, in the Province of Connaught where I live, and which has been specially mentioned as a place where compulsion is required, we are unable to find out not only that there is any necessity, but that there is any occasion for it. The Congested Districts Board have now more land than they know what to do with. They are the largest graziers in the Province of Connaught. Every fair is filled with cattle from the farms they have purchased and now hold, being unable apparently to dispose of them. We know besides, as was stated by the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench, that they have been offered large tracts of land at various times, to which there was no objection raised as to price, but which at the time they were unable to purchase owing to want of funds. It is most extraordinary that in a state of things such as this we should be told that there is any occasion whatever for compulsion. Is it not much more reasonable to suppose from past experience that any land they might require for purposes of migration could be acquired by them, provided they are prepared to give a reasonable price for it? But it is just the fair price which seems to stand in the way, and it looks very much, as has been stated by my noble friend who spoke last, as if the landless men and the cattle-drivers are looking, not only to obtain the property of their neighbours whom they have oppressed and injured, but to obtain it at a cheap rate, and that the Government have been induced by popular clamour to introduce compulsion to satisfy these unjust demands. If so, it is a manifest premium on agitation and an invitation to people to resort to turbulence and violence in order to obtain the benefits they hope for by legislation.
My Lords, I must say that some words that fell from the noble Earl who introduced the Bill—although I am sure he did 457 not attach that significance to them—would seem to give some support to a view of this kind. The noble Earl said that in parts of Ireland which were undisturbed and where the tenants were paying their rents contentedly there was no occasion for land purchase. Well, the inference might easily he drawn from that that orderly and law abiding farmers were not entitled to receive the undoubted benefits conferred on them by the Act of 1903—the acquisition of the fee simple of their property on easy terms, and that these benefits were to be reserved for the turbulent members of their class in more disturbed parts of Ireland.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I am sure the noble Lord would not misunderstand me himself, although he was afraid others might. It is undoubtedly true that the whole transaction of land purchase in Ireland arose out of the agrarian difficulties in that country. That, I think the noble Lord will admit, and it has been a disappointment to us that so much of the scope of purchase has taken place in those parts of the country where it seemed to us to be least required.
I should be more inclined to say that the necessity for land purchase arose not from agrarian disturbance in that country, but from the mischievous provisions of the Act of 1881—the dual ownership conferred on landlord and tenant by that Act. That is, in my opinion, what rendered the Purchase Act expedient. But I am fully sensible that the noble Earl did not intend that any such inference should be drawn from what he said. The new composition of the Board would seem to bear this out. It is to be increased by nine members elected by the county councils; in other words, nominees of the United Irish League. Now the maxim and watchword of that body is the breaking-up of the grass lands and their division among the people of the locality. The original duties of the Congested Districts Board were confined in the congested districts to the relief of congestion—at least, that was a great part of their duties—by adding, when possible, to the small holdings and promoting migration to other districts. They were not appointed to divide grass lands among the cattle-drivers, and, what would practically amount to the increase of congestion, to dot 458 all over the country a multitude of small holdings. No doubt they were allowed by the Act of 1903 to dispose of superfluous land in their possession to certain people—the sons of the tenants and. others limited by certain conditions. Those conditions have been so relaxed of late that it would appear as if they might give the lands almost to any one. We were glad to hear from the noble Earl that by subsection (e) of Section 17 it is not intended to give them to everybody, but as it stands it would seem that they might be given to anybody whom the Estates Commissioners may select. The Congested Districts Board as it is has, on the whole, done good work. Why not, therefore, leave it as it is to perform its duties, or a portion of its duties, for I think the provision transferring the promotion of industries to the Board of Agriculture is a very sound one. But leave the Congested Districts Board as it is to perform its old duties connected with congestion in its old area.
Apart from the injustice of breaking-up these grass lands in this wholesale manner, there is another matter to be considered. There is the absolute dislocation of the cattle trade, for every one knows that young cattle require a large range and cannot be reared successfully on farms that have been divided into small parts. The same thing may be said of young horses. I read not long since that there was a shortage of horses for military purposes in the United Kingdom. Is it wise, therefore, to cut off the supply in this manner? My Lords, I have nothing more to say. I have only mentioned some of the objectionable parts of the Bill. Amendments will be submitted dealing with them which I hope will receive due consideration from your Lordships.
§ LORD CASTLETOWN
My Lords, I shall try in what I am going to say to be very circumspect in my language. I shall speak in sorrow rather than in anger. I regret on this occasion I have to dissociate myself entirely from the Party to which I owe allegiance, and to speak against the Bill now before the House; but as a Liberal and a believer in eventual Home Rule for Ireland I cannot join with them in trying to pass a measure which in its present form must absolutely prevent the possibility of Home Rule ever being given to my country, and is also so opposed to all Liberal maxims that I am 459 astonished that any men brought up in the school of Gladstone, Bright, Forster, and Spencer can assent to its conditions. I can only imagine that the Cabinet has given a free hand to their Irish representative and that he has surrendered himself and his conscience to the leaders of mischief in Ireland. In those circumstances I am thoroughly justified in trying to do all I can to avert what I consider will be very grave dangers to our country, and in opposing those who wish to destroy its agricultural future.
There are three points I wish to touch upon before I deal with the Bill itself. First, in examining this Bill in this House we are bound to consider what occurred during its passage in another place where a measure which deals with the lives and fortunes of thousands of Irish agriculturists was forced during three or four days through the House of Commons, exactly in the same way in which men were convicted and sentenced to death and goods confiscated under the terrible tribunals which sat in Paris in the great Revolution, and curiously enough the same instrument with a foreign name does the work in both cases—the guillotine. Your Lordships may think I am making too strong an analogy or that I am laughing at this matter, but I am doing neither the one nor the other. There is a serious likeness. The unfortunate Frenchman undoubtedly lost his head as well as his property. In Ireland the Chief Secretary only deprives the Irishman of his livelihood, his means of existence, and his fortune, and with a callousness and carelessness which strikes me as significant. He says—The game is up; you have got to accept my measure whether it is good or bad.I will deal with this point more fully when we come to the compulsory clauses.
The second point is as to how the Bill postpones any possibility of Home Rule for sixty or severity years. Are the Irish Nationalists such fools as to imagine, once the Treasury of England has lent these huge sums to Ireland, has installed three or four Treasury officials—the so-called Land Commissioners—as absolute rulers and dictators over every acre of land in Ireland, that England is going to run the slightest risk of giving Ireland control again over a penny piece of her money? By this Bill, if it passes in its present 460 shape, the Irish agricultural helots will be for generations under the heel of the British Treasury. That will be the effect of the Bill practically as it stands.
The third point is worthy of the attention of even the Cabinet that is proposing the measure, and it should be carefully thought out by the taxpayers of this country. I have a right to speak upon it, as I believe I was the first person with the late John Bright to advocate land purchase or land sale in Ireland. I have brought forward several measures in this House with that object. I was consulted personally by Lord Spencer, Mr. Childers, and Mr. Bright in the measures that they had in hand, and for nearly twenty years I have worked assiduously at the three projects. The one point always kept in the forefront by the great Liberals I have quoted was that the sale should be voluntary and progressive. I remember Mr. Childers saving when he at length consented to a scheme of land purchase—We must go slowly. If you sell all at once, even if it were possible, repudiation at some period is sure to follow.It stands to reason if the different purchasers have different interests payable at different dates repudiation is most unlikely, if not impossible. On the other hand, the present Bill attempts by compulsion to make the sale immediate and wholesale, and will give the means of repudiation, and I have reason to think that even now such a plan is being fostered by some sections of the agitators. It is only by steady voluntary purchase you can guard against this. The Bill puts a premium on such a danger—that of repudiation—a danger which, if it occurred, must lead to a civil war between England and Ireland for the recovery of the huge debt which would be due by Ireland to the British Treasury.
My last point is this; it is perhaps a sentimental one, but I have a right to urge it. We in Ireland hold our land under legal tenure such as obtains in England and Scotland. We have done nothing to invalidate that tenure. We have done all we could in our several ways to enhance the value of the land in our districts. My family and the families of many noble Lords opposite held lands in Ireland before England existed as a nation. We held them under tribal custom 461 We held them afterwards under the most solemn covenants as feudal lords to your Kings. We have fought for them and retained them in evil days and in good days. We have spent large sums in improvements, and in doing our duty in our several localities. All this my family and others have done, and now we are to be compulsorily driven forth from our lands and homes because, forsooth, an English Chief Secretary is so alarmed at the United Irish League, that, he is obliged to say" the game is up." Cromwell instituted his Court (which, curiously, had three Commissioners on it) for confiscation and for driving the mere Irish to hell or to Connaught. We have now a Cromwell establishing the same type of Commission with the object of driving every Irishman, except his friends of the League, out of the country.
We claim as Irishmen with these rights, with these credentials as resident and improving landowners, the same rights that you have preserved for the Englishman and the Scotsman. I say that if this Bill passes in its present shape it will place every Irish agriculturist for ever under the control and at the mercy of the British Treasury, will drive every atom of capital out of agricultural land, will put back the clock of progress for many years, and must lead every small farmer to envy his neighbour with a larger farm and covet his land, and thus create agrarian crime, not between landowner and tenant, for the landowner disappears, but between man and man, Irishman and Irishman, and farmer and farmer. I d o not say that the Bill is absolutely hopeless. There are clauses in it of great value; clauses which may be amended. Some of the difficulties which have cropped up since the Act of 1903 are properly dealt with. For instance, the finance clause which absolves the ratepayers of Ireland from guaranteeing the losses on the Development Grant is a great boon, and many of the technical clauses which grease the wheels of administration are of value. I cannot, therefore, agree to the motion for rejection, but I trust the House will try to evolve by careful and patient work some useful measure out of what at the present time is a most dangerous Bill.
With regard to the financial proposals, I do not wish to say very much, but there are one or two points with which I should like to deal. The Treasury could, if they 462 had adopted any of the best Continental methods—for agricultural land on the Continent has passed, without friction or loss to anyone, from owner to occupier—have sold the land of Ireland twice over since 1866, and neither the Treasury, the landowners, nor the purchasers would have suffered or been one penny the worse. But that is past history. About half of Ireland has been sold, and you have to provide the means for selling the rest. As regards the tenant purchasers who are to be brought in under this Bill, the new departure is extraordinary. The Treasury exact a higher rate from the new purchaser under this Bill than they do under the 1903 Act, and therefore two types of annuity payers are created. What the result of this extraordinary manœuvre will be it is hard to forecast. At first it will check all sales, and I think it will eventually give a handle for repudiation to the future annuitant occupier. They will say, "Why are we not put on the same footing as regards our annuities as those who have bought land under previous Land Purchase Acts?" Naturally, however, it is for the Treasury to decide this question, and as Lord St. David's has said, the expenditure has already been enormous and will be still greater.
As to the finance of the Bill from a landowner's point of view, I have personally no great fault to find, and I am afraid I shall be at issue with some of my friends on the other side. I have always held that payment for land sold should be made in bonds, stock or cash—half and half, if possible, but preferably in bonds, as was the case in Continental countries, provided always the bonds or stock were equivalent in value to cash. It is worthy of note that abroad, where the finance scheme was carried out on proper and wise lines, the land stock of several Continental countries stands much higher than our much-vaunted Consols. I see that in another place the Chief Secretary was urged to make better provision under his bond-issue clause for payment to vendors, but no answer was vouchsafed. I would strongly urge, if the Government and the Treasury wish land sales to go on, that some concession should be made in this direction.
The change in the bonus system strikes me as unwise, and it will undoubtedly hamper future sales, as there are many who 463 cannot sell without it, or must ask a higher rate or dispense with sale altogether. I conclude, therefore, that the finance provisions are the last effort the Treasury have been able to bring forward, and that they do not object to frustrate future sales as much as possible. If you are determined to work on these lines, let me urge what I have so often suggested. When you are offering bonds to the public, make them of the smallest denomination. A £10 or £20 Bond at 3 per cent. would be attractive to many of those in Ireland who now invest either on deposit accounts in banks, or in Post Office and other saving's banks. I venture to commend this idea most strongly. I know it would work well as far as finance is concerned, and it would interest the public in the success of the Land Purchase Acts.
Now I come to what I think is one of the most dangerous proposals in the Bill—namely, the abolition of the zones. I cannot think how any one who really wished to carry through land purchase could have suggested the reversal of the system of sales under zones. As one who has sold under all the Acts since 1886, I can safely say that the zone system was the key which unlocked the door of real land sale and purchase in 1903. It enabled the tenant and landowner to meet on equal and open terms. It gave each a starting point. Surely it would be possible without destroying this vantage ground to make it legal for the Estates Commissioners, if they suspect fraud or chicanery in a sale, to postpone negotiations until their inspector has inquired into the matter. From what I have read of the debates in another place I gather that there has only been one salient case of fraud among many thousand transactions.
If the Estates Commissioners and the Government and Treasury wish to stop land sales for good, let them say so and do it; but the attempt to make the zone system responsible for fraudulent transaction is disingenuous, if not ridiculous and mischievous. If the Chief Secretary and his advisers want to carry on the sales of land they must leave the zone system alone. That system is based on judicial rents fixed by a Government tribunal. If the Government and that tribunal are honest, both sides, landowner and 464 tenant, must abide by those decisions. If the Government, on the other hand, is going to discredit its own work and the work of its employés we arrive at a deadlock. Perhaps that is what is desired by those who are the sponsors of the Bill.
I now come to the compulsory clauses As regards those which deal with the congested districts, I will speak on them when we come in Committee to Part III. With regard to the proposal outside the congested area that if a landowner does not sell his estate he is to be made to do so by the Estates Commissioners making him an offer "at such price as the tenant is willing to give," I can only infer that the author of this Bill had in mind the confiscation clauses and Bills of Elizabeth, James I., Cromwell, Charles II., etc., and that it was proposed to make new plantations in Ireland on English lines. The result will be as disastrous as in those former days. I will now touch upon the mischievous scheme contained in the compulsory clause to deprive the landowner, not only of his land, but of all interests in any portion of it. All amenities are to be confiscated; his possibility of existence in his demesne or home farm is to be destroyed. He is to be denuded under compulsion of everything except his actual house, which is already ear-marked for a convent or monastic institution. I and others in Ireland know exactly what is meant by this scheme, and it is far wiser to speak out and let those on this side of the Channel who take any interest in Ireland know what is intended. For this reason I will speak more at length upon the compulsory clauses.
The necessity of compulsory purchase was, I believe, hardly debated at all in the other place, as the closure precluded any one exposing its viciousness and absurdity, its oppression and object. In this House, I propose, as briefly as I may, to explain what it would mean to all agricultural classes in Ireland if this proposal were to become law. But before doing so let me point out the absurdity—I hope all people realise how ludicrous it is—that the Government should ask for compulsory powers, when they are unable to pay for the land sold voluntarily at this moment. As a matter of fact, fifty-two million pounds worth of land is now sold and 465 unpaid for, and the Chief Secretary wants powers to enable the Commissioners—his Cromwellian Star Chamber—to compel any one to sell any piece of land anywhere. I mean no disrespect to the present Estates Commissioners. I know them well and like them personally. I believe in their high sense of honour and impartiality, though I know well also how they are bullied and badgered by certain politicians, and I realise fully how frail Irish and even all human nature is when surrounded by importunate officials who are in their turn worried and fussed by questions in Parliament and pressure in high places, religious and political. I refer only to the Office; not to the individuals who compose it. The Commissioners, as I say, are to be allowed to compel any one to sell any piece of land anywhere, except in the case of a landowner his demesne house, garden, and home farm. The result might be that a landowner who had sold five years ago voluntarily would be waiting to be paid five years hence, while some other owner, who was compulsorily evicted, would be paid off at the price "his tenants were willing to give," and would be able to go away with his money at once. The Government cannot pay for years for what is already sold, and yet it wants compulsory powers to buy more.
I have referred to the landowner's position under this scheme. Let me take the tenant's side of the case. Say a property voluntarily sold has to wait ten years for settlement, and the tenants have to pay three-and-a-half per cent. during that time, while a property alongside is compulsorily bought and paid for. The tenants on the latter get an immediate reduction and can laugh at the honest men on the other side of the hedge who are patiently awaiting their turn. How does this issue conduce to peace and quiet? It leads inevitably to bitterness, envy, and eventually agrarian crime. Everyone knows why these compulsory clauses are inserted in this portion of the Bill. They are the germ for compulsory acquisition of the resident landowner's home farm, demesne, garden, and eventually house, and everyone in Ireland knows the ultimate object that the framers of the Bill have in view. It is openly referred to by men of all shades of opinion, who say it is merely a question of waiting for a new Bill to come in, and then this germ will develop.
466 Let me now point out the result economically to agricultural Ireland of such compulsion. Half of Ireland is now sold, and the majority of English nonresident owners have gone. The portions unsold are mainly represented by men who desire to live on in Ireland, or who wish their descendants to do so. If you try to force those men to leave the country, and if you take their land compulsorily, they will go. You have then a very grave danger immediately in front of you, because you at once force a number of unemployed labourers on the market. One noble Lord told me to-day that he employs 170 men. I myself employ a considerable number, and I should think every landowner in Ireland does the same. The Irish farmer, on the other hand, who has bought under different Acts will give out as little labour as he can, and will part with no land to anyone except by compulsion. What therefore will be the result? You will be compelled to bring in another Bill very shortly to force him to divide the farm which he has purchased under Government sanction, among the labourers of his locality. That will not conduce to peace. On the contrary, it will lead straight to agrarian crime of the most bitter kind. The object of these clauses is to prevent agricultural peace returning to Ireland. They are meant to keep this friction alive for ever, to stereotype and strengthen Treasury control over every acre of land, and to compel agricultural Ireland to become a land of white slaves, every man in which will be made to realise he has really no land of his own. He is there only on sufferance and is under the rod of the mighty Boards now being created and can do nothing without their permission. I have heard a good deal of rubbish talked about the Boards of Dublin Castle. There has never been anything like these newly-proposed autocratic bodies since the days, as I have said before, of Cromwell's junta, for driving the Irish beyond the Shannon; and this, my Lords, is the proposal of a Liberal Government. As an Irish Liberal and a believer in Home Rule I can only say I am amazed at the new departure, which is not only mischievous and unnecessary, but stupid.
There are two clauses which will require very grave and serious attention. One of these is Clause 67, which deals with future tenancies. This, to my mind, is one of the worst suggestions in the Bill. It means 467 opening up and perpetuating the rent-fixing work of the Land Commissioners. This Court is one that has done more to break down and destroy good feeling between tenant and landowner than any other. Its judgments are distrusted and disliked by both sides. They have been based on only one idea—to reduce rent and keep many Sub-Commissioners employed. Yet it is proposed to keep this hideous anachronism going and to make it perpetual. The one object of the sale of a farm to a tenant occupier was to obliterate this system. The one idea of all who urged land purchase was to end this, and to allow each side to start afresh; in point of fact, to restore the Liberal system of free contract in Irish agriculture and Irish land finance.
I come now to Clause 67. Future tenants referred to in this clause all became "future tenants" with their eyes open. They can purchase as well as other tenants. Their position is the same as that of other tenants. Section 45 is inserted to give work to those who may have got a nice easy job under the Land Commission, and to give the agitator another point from which he can jump off and start a renewal of agitation. Then under Section 15 of the Bill the amount of the advance to any one tenant purchaser is restricted from £5,000 to £3,000, and the purchaser must be "resident." This is absurd. The Act of 1903 recognised the necessity of inducing the larger farmers to remain in Ireland. Out of their class must come, and are now coming, the J. P.'s, the county councillors and all those who must, in every rural community, guide, help and govern. The landowner is going rapidly, and his house is becoming a religious domicile. The only people who will carry on local government are the larger farmers. The State is acting in a suicidal manner in trying to deprive these men of their right to purchase. These men will also be the only employers of labour, and if the Government wish to keep the peace in rural Ireland after the great confiscation is carried through they must bear in mind that the labourer will eventually claim his share of the loot. If the larger farmer who employs labour is wiped out, the struggle for existence by the labourers will begin more rapidly and be more disastrous.
It may amuse your Lordships to hear a story hearing on this point. A farmer, who had two farms in the County of 468 Limerick, was a man of very determined character and was very well known in the district. He was approached by the Land Commissioners with a view to acquiring one of his farms and an inspector came down to tell him that this farm was going to be taken by the Land Commissioners for certain evicted tenants, or, what may now be called "landless men." The farmer looked at the inspector and said, "Now tell me, when will these men come down to take my farm." The inspector replied, "I cannot tell you the exact date, but it will be very shortly, as the arrangements are being made." Then the farmer said: "Well, you can tell the Land Commissioners from me that if those men come down to my farm on Monday they will be stiff by Tuesday." I daresay noble Lords know what is the meaning of the word "stiff" when used in that sense. The curious fact is that the Land Commissioners sent none of these evicted tenants down to the farm, and the man is still in undisturbed possession of it.
There are several minor clauses in the Bill with which I agree. They are of a technical nature and in many respects are merely rectifications of omissions or mistakes in the 1903 Act. I will refer to these if they come up in Committee. There is one other clause I wish to refer to for one moment—namely, the fee farm rent clause. Clause 69 is, to my mind, most dangerous, not to the landowners, as it will hardly affect them, but to the very large class of fee simple holders who would come in under it. Under previous Acts it was settled that holders of fee farm rents could sell to their under-tenants, reserve their own lands, and pay off the guarantor of the fee farm rent. Now it is proposed to deprive these men, in most cases large farmers, of their holdings and occupation. I consider this clause would put a premium on agrarian crime, as everyone will be trying to get a bit of this type of land, and the unfortunate farmer would be at the mercy not only of the Estate Commissioners but also of his poorer neighbours. It lends itself to an absolute orgy of land grabbing at the expense of, most likely, the most useful and necessary class in the Irish agricultural community—namely, the improving large farmer. I know of many farms of these two types—the fee farm grant and the long leasehold I know that their owners and occupiers are the very last men the Government should wish to displace. 469 The Chief Secretary I see stated he was a very bad draftsman, and I can only imagine this is another of his attempts at creating chaos in Ireland. I shall oppose this clause in Committee most vigorously, not from the point of view of the landowner, but to protect a deserving and useful class of agriculturist against the Court of Confiscation which it is proposed to set up in Dublin.
As to the whole gist of the Bill, it strikes me first as the determined attempt of the man who wished to kill land sales and purchase years ago. I need not refer to the gentleman by name. As that attempt has failed hitherto, and there is now about £60,000,000 worth of land ready to be sold, the Government and Treasury have decided to check land sales as much as possible, to break and ruin the larger farmers who have trusted to the terms in the older Purchase Acts, and to sow dissension and troubles between larger tenant purchasers and smaller tenant occupiers by depriving one portion of them of their lands, and by handing those lands over to other tenant purchasers. The Bill will, if carried into active effect, devitalise the big cattle trade which sends so much money through the country. I am a tillage farmer myself, and a small farms advocate, but I know that the large farmer and the cattle jobber are absolutely necessary also. The Bill will force every landowner, whether he has sold his property or not, out of Ireland, and will deprive the country of any little capital these men may still have. It banishes for ever from Ireland one of the great axioms and beliefs of Liberal policy—freedom of contract and individual independence.
These two keynotes of existence are destroyed throughout agricultural Ireland, and a Commission of three or four, who may or may not be Irishmen, but are in any case Treasury servants, are placed in supreme command with despotic powers over the whole agricultural life of Ireland. Such a scheme has been unheard of before, and yet agriculture is our main business. What would people say if the Government were to place two or three Treasury nominess in possession of the rights of the Lancashire cotton spinning industry or the Welsh coal industries? We should never hear the end of such an attempt, and yet we poor and mere 470 I Irish, as Cromwell called us, are to be brow-beaten into accepting this Board of Commissioners, this Agricultural Star Chamber, this Vehmgerichte of the United Irish League. Any Irishman who has the pluck of a mouse must protest against such a mischievous measure.
It is not necessary to refer again to the monstrous farce that the Government propose in this Bill. Compulsion is to be used to force every landowner to sell his property, and this at the very moment when the British Treasury is unable to complete for want of money the sales of £60,000,000 worth of land already sold. I will not drag in the old story of the treaty or covenant entered into between the influential leaders who signed the concordat between tenants and owners as to the terms of sales. I do not believe personally in the faith of any Government official, but I had hoped the possibility of giving peace to the Sister Country would have induced any Government—they are all alike—to have stuck to their compact. The present Irish authorities have decided not to do so. They think repudiation of that agreement, further agitation and more waste of money in Irish police, more Irish officials, Irish misery and trouble, is the best way to govern Ireland. They talk in their public speeches about giving Home Rule. They know in their hearts that this Bill is a tighter, harder iron link to bind Ireland to England as the wretched borrower is bound for ever to the moneylender, and that it makes Home Rule hopeless for years to come.
The objects contained in this Bill are to give years of work to the officials and boards who already "utilise" and run Ireland; years of emoluments and practice to the Irish lawyers; years of agitation to the United Leaguer, Nationalists, M.P.'s, publicans, and all the hangers on who benefit by these organisations. As for agricultural Ireland, the objects of this Bill are destruction of freedom of contract, the sowing of the seeds of a land war between small and big farmers, and between labourer and employer, and eventually the repudiation by the Irish tenant purchaser of a debt collected by what is called the old original enemy—England. It is not a cheerful outlook, and cannot, I think, commend the Bill to your Lordships in its present form. Whether it can be amended sufficiently is hardly for me to say at this stage; but 471 I am of opinion that it might be made less impracticable for and harmful to the whole condition of agricultural Ireland, if a judicious compromise could be arrived at on some of its most mischievous features.
§ LORD CLONCURRY
My Lords, I desire briefly to ask your Lordships to bestow careful consideration on Part V of this Bill, which deals with future tenants and was slightly touched on by the noble Lord who has just sat down. The Bill was first introduced by the Chief Secretary for Ireland in November last. In that Bill the section appertaining to future tenancies, in Part V, was very similar to Part V of the Bill now before your Lordships' House. The Chief Secretary supported that Part very strongly and based his argument upon the fact that in the year 1887 Parliament had passed an Act containing a clause that is generally called the "eviction-made-easy clause." The Chief Secretary stated with perfect truth that a great many tenants had lost their status under the policy of that particular clause; that they had become caretakers; and that he desired under his Bill to restore them to the state of so-called present tenancies. The Bill introduced last year did not reach this House before the close of the session. It was reintroduced this year and again included Part V, but the clause, although containing practically the same matter as before, had its retrospective action somewhat dangerously increased. The Bill went through all its stages in the other House, and I have here a copy of it printed as amended in Committee.
After the Bill had passed through Committee words were inserted in Part V extending the scope of the section in the most extraordinary way, and including some provisions that your Lordships would hardly credit. Take a case like this. Where the tenancy right or judicial tenancy has been sold by public auction, where the purchaser has paid his purchase money, including all the costs and expenses incidental to the purchase and assignment, the tenant right he has purchased is to be taken away from him. The clause does not say one word about compensation to the man who has purchased, but the tenancy is to be given back as a free gift to the man who sold it twenty-five or thirty years ago. The Bill also proposes the cancellation of every existing lease 472 within the meaning of the Land Act of 1881. I do not think the Chief Secretary could have intended when those extraordinary additions were made to Part V that this clause should be seriously discussed in your Lordships' House. If it were capable of amendment an effort might be made to render it workable, but I am afraid it is not.
I feel myself almost under a personal obligation to say a few words on this Bill. Looking round the House I realise that I am one of the few survivors of those who have taken some small part in every attempt in this House to frame Irish legislation for a period of forty years, including the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881. In various parts of the Bill two words occur with ominous frequency—namely, "untenanted land." I say without fear of contradiction that the main argument addressed to the English and Scottish Members of this House to induce them to sanction the exceptional legislation imposed on Ireland was the statement that Irish land tenure differs essentially from the land tenure of England, Scotland, and all other civilised countries. We have been told that this exceptional legislation was only necessary because of the curse of dual ownership. I ask your Lordships what is "untenanted land." The owner must fall into one or two categories—either he is the representative of the old yeomen, occupying his own parcel of land, paying no rent to a landlord and receiving no rent from a tenant, or he must be an ordinary landowner who has in recent years acquired the tenant right of land from an out-going tenant. I earnestly trust that your Lordships will give us attention and assistance in Committee when we are trying to improve the two parts of the Bill in the directions I have indicated.
My Lords, I see that this measure is entitled—An Act to amend the Law relating to the Occupation and Ownership of Land in Ireland, and for other purposes relating thereto.I think it might much more properly be described as "an Act to abolish the voluntary system of purchase in Ireland, and to substitute compulsory appropriation." The Act of 1903 contained many useful provisions, and among others three essential features which were very conducive to its success. They were voluntary agreements 473 between vendors and purchasers, the system of zones, and the bonus. How have these three essential features been dealt with in this Bill? They have simply been swept away. In the place of voluntary agreements there is to be compulsion; in the place of zones an expensive and arbitrary system of inquiries as to the value of the land; and in the place of fixed bonus, one varying in inverse ratio to the price. Has the voluntary system failed to work properly, or has it worked so well and so successfully that the Government and its subordinates are desirous of putting a stop to the enormous purchases which have taken place under it? Under the voluntary system between £80,000,000 and £90,000,000 worth of land has passed into the possession of the occupying tenants, and although it must be admitted that a considerable portion of the purchase money has not been obtained, can it be said that a system which has been so enormously successful ought to be abolished and a compulsory system set up in its stead without very serious consideration, and without cases being brought forward to show an absolute necessity for a change?
I must say it has been very difficult for noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House to carry on the debate, considering that we have to follow each other. We throw the ball over to the other side, and it never comes back. The Government have been challenged to show any case whatever for compulsion, and neither in debates elsewhere nor in your Lordships' House have we heard one single word said why compulsion is necessary. It seems to me that the very success of the voluntary system has been made the excuse for killing voluntary sales. Those tenants who have purchased their farms are too contented, prosperous, and peaceful to satisfy the agitator, whose occupation and income would be gone if Ireland were only permitted to be peaceful, quiet, and prosperous. Let the trade, the commerce, the prosperity of Ireland perish, so that the paid professional agitator may survive and thrive! That is the creed of the real authors and promoters of this Bill. What does the Bill provide in the place of the voluntary system? It provides by Clause 43 nothing but compulsory expropriation. The vendor is not to be consulted or to have any voice in fixing the price at which his land is to be taken away. He is not to be considered in any way. All that is required is that 474 somebody—any one—may come forward and offer any ridiculous price to the vendor, and if the vendor refuses to accept the terms offered, the assistance of the Land Commission can be invoked, and the Land Commission can come down, fix the price, and obtain the land compulsorily. They need not consult the landlord in any way as to the price, but simply take into consideration the price which the tenants, or other persons, may be willing to give. What sort of price is it likely that the tenants or other persons will give when they know that this is to be the standard by which the price is to be fixed?
Then it is proposed to abolish the zones—one of the most useful provisions in the Act of 1903. Under that provision, if a landlord and tenant agree to sell the land at a considerable reduction on the tenant's rent—usually from twenty-five to forty per cent.—the purchase goes through as a matter of course. Under the present Bill there will be an expensive system of inquiries. If the Commissioners are satisfied that an inquiry is necessary, they can have one in every case. How are they to be satisfied as to the necessity for inquiry? No doubt what will happen will be that they will listen to the ex parte statement of the would-be purchaser and will immediately institute an expensive and costly inquiry at the expense of the vendor. Then they are at liberty to alter the price and fix it as they please, and if the vendor declines to accept their price they can take his land compulsorily. He will not even be in the position of being able to rescind the existing agreement and of being placed in the position he was in before. I am aware that in another place a case has been quoted, and pressed for all it is worth, to show that this system has been abused. I know nothing whatever about that case, but I think it speaks volumes for this provision that although it has been in force for upwards of six years only one case has been quoted in which there is any suggestion of fraud, or anything of that kind happening. It is, perhaps, the one exception which proves how very useful this provision has been in assisting in the enormous sales which have taken place. By the bye, I have heard that that case upon which so much stress has been laid was decided by the Court of Appeal in Ireland and that it was decided that there was no fraud of any kind in the case, and that it was a perfectly legitimate transaction. I do not know, if the highest 475 Court of Ireland has so decided, why it should be continually quoted over here as such an atrocious case as to require the whole land laws of Ireland to be altered. This Bill suppresses the zones, and in the place of that system encourages all sorts of inquiries and inspections. Those are scarcely matters to encourage land purchase in Ireland.
I should like to say a word with regard to the congested districts. I am not very well acquainted with them, because I am glad to say my county is not a congested county now, whatever it may be if this Bill should pass. But I must protest in the most emphatic manner against the county with which I am intimately associated—Clare—being included among the scheduled counties in this Bill. There is no congestion in Clare, or if there is I do not know where it is, and I have been all over the county. Possibly some people may consider there is some congestion amongst the fishermen along the coast. Their chief occupation in life is fishing, but no doubt they occupy their spare time on their small farms. But is that a reason why the whole county should be scheduled as a congested district and handed over to the tender mercies of such a Board as that composed under this Bill? I see the Board is to consist of three ex officio members—I think the Chief Secretary, the Under-Secretary, and the Secretary for the Board of Agriculture are the three—five appointed members, nine representative members, and two paid members. In regard to the three ex officio members I desire to be silent. With regard to the five appointed members, by whom will they be appointed? Nominally, no doubt, they will be appointed by the Chief Secretary, but in reality they will be appointed by the man who has ever been hostile to landlords in Ireland and who is the real author of this Bill. Then we come to the nine representative members. They are to be elected by the local authorities, which, in some counties at all events in the West, are composed of the most violent agrarian agitators in the country, manipulated by the United Irish League. To complete the ball, there are to be two permanent paid members. What qualifications are these gentlemen to have? Apparently none except perhaps to absorb £4,000 a year of public money.
Then we come to the property owners. How are they represented on this Board? They are not represented at all. They are 476 entirely ignored. The fixing of the price as well as the taking of their properties is left to the tender mercies of this Board, which will consist almost, if not entirely, of the nominees of the United Irish League. This Board will have control over one third of the whole of Ireland. Are the men of whom this Board is composed likely to show justice or fair play to these landlords? And yet this Board is not only to take land compulsorily, but will have the distribution of it. Think what an amount of favouritism, jobbery, and corruption there will be in the taking and distributing of land by this Board. Does anybody suppose that this Bill will facilitate land purchase or in any way relieve congestion? Under this Bill the land will be given to the "landless men." I understood the noble Earl opposite to say that he did not know the term, that it did not exist in his time in Ireland. He traces it, perhaps, to the Bill of 1903. I can assure him it has a very different origin—namely, that of the United Irish League. That is the creator of the landless men in Ireland. The land will be given to those men, and woe betide the luckless congest who should venture to leave his own district and migrate to the fertile lands behind. His life will not be worth a moment's purchase. This Bill will leave the great question of congestion unsolved and make it impossible of solution in the future. Does any one who knows Ireland suggest that this Bill originated in the fertile imagination of the Chief Secretary for Ireland or in the Department over which he presides? No, my Lords, it had its origin in the brain of a man who has ever been hostile to the voluntary system of land purchase in Ireland, whose powerful mind has obtained the complete mastery over that of the Chief Secretary, and whose Party, to use the words of a distinguished member of that Party, retains in Dublin an office within whose walls the Government of Ireland is carried on.
§ Moved, "That the debate be adjourned."—(Lord Curzon of Kedleston.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to; Debate adjourned accordingly till to-morrow.