§ Debate on the Amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read 2a, viz., That the Bill be read 2a this day three months, resumed (according to order).
§ LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, those of us who speak from this side of the House in this debate are, I think, in a position of some inconvenience, if not of some difficulty. So far, we have only had one official speech from the Bench opposite—namely, the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and that speech was necessarily in the main expository in character. I noticed that during the hour and a-quarter over which that speech extended, the noble Earl devoted as much as three-quarters of an hour to an explanation of the finance of this measure. But I understand that that is a part of the Bill upon which it is difficult, if not impossible, for us in this House to make any impression. In the remaining half hour of his speech the noble Earl skated over the surface of the remainder of the Bill, avoiding the dangerous currents and the deep pools with a dexterity with which we are now perfectly familiar in this House, but which, if I may say so, although it may have enabled him to escape immersion, left us admiring but quite unconvinced. Since then no official speaker from the other side of the House has made any attempt to reply to our questions or to answer our arguments. In these circumstances speakers like myself cannot, I think, be blamed if there is a certain inevitable reiteration in our arguments, and if we press again and again the points to which no reply has has yet been vouchsafed. Hitherto, with one exception, no speaker who has not been connected with Ireland, either by birth or residence or official position, has taken part in this debate, but I hope it will not therefore be regarded as an impertinence on the part of an Englishman like myself to venture to intrude upon this discussion.
This Bill is as much an English interest as it is an Irish interest, and from a certain point of view it is even more so. In the last resort it is the credit of the British taxpayer that is involved in the vast transactions contemplated in this measure. As far as I can make out, the direct obligation imposed upon the British taxpayer by this Bill will amount to over twenty-five millions sterling instead of the bonus of twelve 483 millions that figured in Mr. Wyndham's Act. In addition to that the taxpayer here has to bear the costs of the flotation of the future stock, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland has told us that he will be mulcted to the tune of fifty thousand pounds in every million of stock that is raised. That is, I understand, the direct contribution of the British taxpayer to the settlement of this question. But then beyond that, and much greater than that, is his ultimate responsibility for the whole sum that is to be raised.
Now, your Lordships know perfectly well what the figures are. Twenty-eight millions sterling have already been found and provided for this purpose. Fifty-six millions are now due in respect of arrangements that have been concluded, but owing to the want of money, have not as yet been carried out, and we are told by the Government that ninety-nine millions further are required. Now the whole of this vast sum, amounting to over one hundred and eighty millions sterling, and likely to swell, in the opinion of the most competent authorities, to over two hundred millions, is raised upon the basis of British credit. Irish credit alone would, of course, be insufficient to bear the burden. I do not, of course, fail to see that the combined interest of the landlord and the tenant in Ireland are more than sufficient to cover the advances that would be made under this Bill. That is quite true, but the only ultimate security that the taxpayer in this country will possess will be the economic soundness of the experiment you are going to set up in Ireland, and the character, the industry, the thrift, and the capabilities of the peasant population whom you are about to encourage and to institute. I therefore venture to say that this is a matter of vital moment to your Lordships' House, and it is for you as the custodians in this matter of the interests of the British taxpayer most closely and carefully to scrutinise the proposals under this Bill.
I am certain that, if the British taxpayer realises the immensity of the stake at issue, he will be the last to complain of your Lordships' House for any attention, however minute and however close, that you may give to the consideration of this Bill. I think these considerations are all the more important because in the Report of the Dudley Commission very little attention is paid to the interests of the British tax- 484 payer, and in the debates I have read in another place not much seems to have been said about him. Indeed the greater part of this measure was never discussed in the House of Commons at all. It therefore seems to me scarcely possible to imagine a case in which the necessity for the action of a Second Chamber is better established than in this. If this Bill were to pass into law in its present form, this country would really have been committed almost without its knowledge—because I am told that nobody reads the debates in the House of Commons now, whatever may be the case with your Lordships' House—to a revolution in the agrarian system of Ireland as great as any revolution that may be expected from the Finance Bill that we are shortly to discuss in this House, with results upon the future economy of Ireland as disastrous and as profound.
There is a further reason I venture to suggest why you should look carefully into this matter, and why even an Englishman from the outside may venture to speak upon it. Depend upon it the principles that underlie this Bill, though they may be for the moment confined to Ireland, will not be long before they permeate into this country. Compulsory purchase in the interests of a poor and meritorious class of people; the erection of a powerful and irresponsible tribunal swayed by the currents of public opinion in the localities concerned, and provided by His Majesty's Government with large funds—an almost inevitable instrument of bribery—for forcibly acquiring land at arbitrary prices which bear no relation to the market value of the day—these are doctrines which will find, nay, which I think have already found, eager and willing disciples in this country. I remember a saying—I think it was one of Mr. Disraeli's—that St. George's Channel had been through all the centuries the greatest barrier that had separated the hearts and sentiments of the Irish people from our own. That may be the case, but it will be no barrier to the transmission of these doctrines and these principles from Ireland to England. The principles of this Bill are distinctly and directly Socialistic, and at the very moment that we are asked in this House to contemplate a scheme of finance which is in many quarters credited with those features, we are asked to pass into law and to sanction in Ireland an agrarian revolution which is on precisely analogous lines. I hold, therefore, that on 485 the principle Proximus ardet Ucalegon we, as the possible, nay, even the probable next victims of the experiment, are entitled to look most closely into the first instalment of it which is presented for our notice over the way.
To any one who has watched even from the outside the progress of Irish land legislation during the past quarter of a century, it must, I think, be a somewhat disappointing and even melancholy reflection that this is the latest phase to which we are now brought. Almost my first political recollections were connected with the question of land tenure in Ireland. When I entered Parliament the Statutes which were associated with the name of my noble friend Lord Ashbourne, who did so much for the system of land purchase in that country, were in course of being enacted. I remember very well the Land Bills of Mr. Arthur Balfour in 1891, and of Mr. Gerald Balfour in 1896. I recall the long and sometimes acrimonious debates that took place in the House of Commons on those Bills. Those measures attained a certain and a moderate amount of success, but they did not attain a complete success, because they failed at the crucial point of offering an inducement to the landlord to sell. Then in 1903 my right hon. friend Mr. George Wyndham, at a hopeful, and, I think I may say, even a dramatic moment, appeared on the scene with his eirenicon. I notice that the occasion was one that has tempted almost every speaker who referred to it to drop into metaphor and almost into poetry. It is true that everyone felt that the clouds that had settled over this question so long were being lifted, and that the dawn of a new and a better era was in view. I remember a phrase used by Mr. John Redmond, the Leader of the Irish Party in the House of Commons, to the effect that this Bill was "bringing to an end the struggle of centuries." And again Mr. William O'Brien said that this was "a great treaty of peace" between the contending parties in Ireland. Well, the Bill passed into law, and I hope I may say this, that nothing that has since passed has in any way detracted from the statesmanship of the author of that Bill, or of the Party that supported him in carrying it into law, or has snatched one single laurel from the brow of my right hon. friend. On the contrary, whatever be the fate of that Act, if it be modified or wiped out, it will always stand out as a landmark in the history, not merely of the Statesman and the Party that origin- 486 ated it, but in the whole history of land tenure in Ireland. It is a commonplace that the Act was a successful measure. It succeeded because it embodied a recognition of the simple truth that in order to make land purchase successful in Ireland you must make it to the interest of the owner to sell, and to the interest of the would-be owner to buy, and because the transaction between the two parties was absolutely voluntary in character, unattended by any element of partisanship or tyranny or injustice. It was almost, according to my recollection, a solitary instance of legislation by agreement between parties ordinarily widely opposed.
I confess, if I may digress for one moment, that I have never been able to understand why that method should not be more commonly applied to the solution of our political difficulties. I am a great believer myself, especially from such administrative experience as I may have had, in round table conferences, and in getting the legs of a body of men differing on questions of principle accommodated under the same mahogany. I never can believe certain questions in our public life that they are ever likely to be satisfactorily solved unless we approach them by some such method. I speak of such questions as education, the liquor question, the extension of the suffrage, and the redistribution of seats, and I would like to add, although I am afraid it is a very Utopian suggestion, the land question both in Ireland and in England. However, I know very well that this is not merely a digression, but that the sentiments I express are Quixotic and probably impracticable. But anyhow, in the case of this measure, there was the fact of achieved agreement between the two parties, and so successful was the Act that it only broke down because of its success. The vendor was there, the purchaser was there, the transaction between them had been concluded, and all that was wanting was the money to finance the transaction to its concluding stages.
Now this brief retrospect brings me to my point. Surely, when this stage was reached, it should have been quite possible for a Government, deriving guidance from the immediately previous history of the case, to offer some solution that would have carried on this continuity of agreement between the two parties. All that was required 487 apparently was a measure which in the first place would have provided, if not permanently, at any rate temporarily, the large sum of money that was required to carry out the financial operations already entered into. It would have relieved the Irish taxpayer of the cost of flotation, which everybody agrees was never meant to be placed upon his shoulders. It would have given wider powers, if they were required—though about this there seems to be some doubt—to the Congested Districts Board, and it would have prevented the overlapping of functions between that Board and other bodies in Ireland to which reference has more than once been made in this debate Such a Bill, which might have been of modest dimensions, would, I believe, have been received without opposition—I cannot speak for the other House of Parliament, but at any rate in the House of Lords—and you might have proceeded smoothly and amicably upon your way. Why has the Government not done so? We know the reason perfectly well. It is because such a policy would not have suited the exigencies of the Irish Party. It is not to their interest that the question of land purchase should be settled rapidly and successfully on the lines which I have indicated. Last night I more than once heard these gentlemen spoken of as the supporters of His Majesty's Government. Surely that is a strange inversion of phrase. His Majesty's Government are the supporters of the Irish Party. It is, as I understand, in obedience to the commands of the Irish Party that such a solution has been vetoed, and the whole question of the land system in Ireland is now to be reopened. Thus we arrive at the point that all the best features of Mr. Wyndham's Act of 1903 are in reality to be swept away. I lay stress upon that point because surely it represents the facts.
I listened last night with respect, and also with some astonishment, to that part of the speech of the noble Earl in which he defended the introduction of this new scheme. He represented it as a sort of harmless and innocent expansion of the existing law; as if he was a friend of Mr. Wyndham's scheme merely carrying it to its legitimate issues, as if he were a person who was placing, so to speak, a new thatch upon a house into which in the process of time the rains had succeeded in forcing their way. Surely these are not the facts of the case. As I understand it the Bill is as follows. 488 The bonus in Mr. Wyndham's Act has been whittled down substantially even if it has not disappeared; payments in stock have taken the place for the most part of cash; the zones are broken and many people think they are destroyed, and voluntary purchase has been absolutely destroyed. I thought I had here, but I am afraid I have left it behind, a speech from which I had meant to have quoted, by one of the highest of authorities on this matter—namely, Mr. William O'Brien. In a debate in the House of Commons which took place in December of last year on the First Reading of this Bill, Mr. O'Brien made a speech in which the phrase occurred that this Bill, so far from being any amplification or expansion of the Act of 1903, would be its absolute destruction and would blow it skyhigh into the air. I accept those words, and count myself safe in sheltering behind such an authority. Those are, as I understand, the destructive and negative features of this scheme, which practically wipes the Act of 1903 out of existence.
But now I turn to what is, after all, the immediate purpose, and the more important, namely, the positive and constructive, features of the new scheme. In the first place, reverting to the point that I took up in my opening remarks, you are about to place a new and onerous burden on the British taxpayer. Then you are invited to reopen the whole land question in Ireland, and you are invited to do this in response to an agitation of a most unscrupulous and immoral description, thereby placing a direct premium upon violence and disorder and crime. I might give many proofs of this, but I carry in my mind a resolution which was passed at a certain meeting of the United Irish League in which this Bill was acclaimed as "a triumph for cattle-driving in Ireland." Then in pursuit of your policy, you are attacking and breaking into the one branch of agrarian industry in Ireland—the cattle ranches—which seems in certain parts of the country to be best suited to the climate and to the needs of the people and which has been prosperous and successful in recent years. In place of that system you are going to set up a new system of small holdings of very doubtful economic value, the applicants for which are to indulge in a sort of headlong scrimmage, the lucky ones in the scrimmage being, as far as I can understand, destitute of any agricultural knowledge in many cases, and probably in a good many cases persons 489 of very undesirable character. You are asked to abolish the one body which has hitherto covered itself with credit and obtained popular support and esteem in the management of property and sale of land; and finally you propose an expropriation of the rights of owners of the soil such as I venture to say has never been embodied in any legislation of any Parliament in any civilised country in the world. You say to every landlord—and surely this is not an exaggeration—that he is no longer to be regarded as the owner of the fee simple of his land, but that he is a mere tenant-at-will who may be turned out at any moment, either, in the case of a congested district area by the Congested Districts Board, or in the case of the rest of Ireland, by an official sitting at Dublin.
Talk about evicted tenants. You are taking steps to scatter broadcast over Ireland in the future evicted landlords. Perhaps, however, if my language should be thought to savour of exaggeration, I may put the thing a little more clearly by asking you to note the exact character of the proceedings which, as I understand from the Bill, are to take place. It appears to be as follows. The whole of Ireland is to be divided into three parts. One part is to be handed over to the Congested Districts Board; the remaining two-thirds are to be the free playground of the new Estates Commissioners. Those, I think, are the proportions, and you give these bodies over these areas almost unlimited power of compulsory purchase over all estates and untenanted property. Now I come to the way in which it will proceed. Here I am well aware that I am putting a point that has already been submitted by more than one speaker on this side, but speeches of yesterday are apt to be ignored to-day, and I want to get from His Majesty's Government, if possible, an answer to the question whether the procedure I am about to describe is really the procedure meant to be carried out. It will be in the power of somebody, which means anybody, to make a proposal, or to enter into negotiations—those are the terms of the Bill—with the landlord for the acquisition of his property. Those proposals and those negotiations may be malicious or factitious or illusory, as the case may be. However, we will suppose that they have taken place. The landlord declines the offer, and says he does not want to sell. This fact is then reported to, or somehow or other comes to the notice of, the Estates Commissioners. 490 They then write to the landlord and send him what the Bill with cruel irony describes as their "final offer." I should have thought at this stage we ought to have had the first or preliminary offer. In fact, I doubt whether the word "final" should be in at all. However, they send this final offer to the landlord in writing, and along with this extraordinary document they send the amount of the price which they are willing to give. As far as I can ascertain from the Bill, that price need bear no relation to the value of the property in the neighbourhood, and certainly no relation to the value put on the property by the owner. Among the factors which they are to consider is the price which the tenant or other purchaser—the interested party, the grabber—may be willing to give. Well, if the landlord, confronted with this final offer, gives way, he is shorn at once of his property. If he declines to accept it, the matter is referred to Dublin or somewhere else, and after a short interval he is equally shorn. I would ask, Is it conceivable, is it credible, that a method of expropriation of rights in land of that description, can seriously be proposed by any responsible Government, or that they can honestly contemplate that it could be included in any measure likely to be passed by any responsible Legislature in Europe? I hope if I have put the case too strongly, I may be pardoned. I have put it strongly because I feel strongly, and with the hope of eliciting some expression of opinion from His Majesty's Government.
May I say a word or two further about the case for compulsion? Our attitude on this side of the House is this. What is the case for compulsion? I have been searching for it not merely in the few hours that we have devoted to this discussion, but for weeks past, while I have been studying this question. The first place I went to was the Report of the Dudley Commission. What are the cases in which they recommend compulsion? They talk of one unreasonable person who might block the symmetry of a scheme of resettlement. Their eye is fixed upon an individual—a unit. Then I went to the speeches of the Chief Secretary. He talked about compulsion being required, on one occasion he said in particular cases, and on another occasion he said in rare cases. Again we have not got to double figures. Last night the noble Earl the Leader of the House relapsed into the single figure, and talked about a cantankerous landlord. I do not know if he referred to the cantan- 491 kerous landlord as an individual, or spoke about him as typical of a class, but in any case are we not entitled to ask, "Where are these cases? May we not have particulars of them? "And then if they do exist and can be established, are we to believe, because one unrighteous man or five or ten unrighteous men exist, that therefore the whole city, which in this case is the whole country, is to be condemned? And are we really, in order to overcome the obstinacy or recalcitrancy of an individual, or even a small group of individuals, to revolutionise the whole system of land tenure in Ireland?
Another point made by the noble Earl was this. He said that compulsion might be necessary in cases where land was actually required for the relief of congestion which could not be relieved in any other way. That case, if it could be established, stands in an entirely different category. If he were able to prove the existence of such cases, the causes for relief being obvious and genuine, the difficulties and impossibility of relief in any other way being established, he would present a bona fide case for the sympathetic consideration of noble Lords in this House. But suppose he were able to prove such cases, surely these are not sufficient justification for the setting up of a great and elaborate machinery, an enormous instrument of intimidation not applied to congested areas alone, not limited, to these cases to which I referred, but as far as I can see extending its tentacles over the whole surface of Ireland. The noble Earl the Leader of the House, if I may say so, really let the cat out of the bag when he used the phrase to which the noble Marquess behind me alluded—"the weapon in the background." That is the real explanation of the whole matter. If the would-be purchaser cannot get the terms which he wants, he will enter into the transaction with the consciousness that behind him lies the power of compulsion; and similarly the landlord approaches the negotiations on the other side with the same consciousness, and with fear in his mind. Thus you arrive at this position, that the landlord enters the arena with both hands up, while the tenant enters it with one hand behind his back, and in that hand is concealed the bludgeon of compulsion. I hardly think His Majesty's Government can contemplate that these provisions will pass into law.
I should have thought here again that it would have been possible for them to 492 present to Parliament a carefully thought-out proposal, defining the cases in which compulsion might be required, stating, and in all probability strictly limiting, the areas to which it might be applied, defining again the objects for which it was to be enforced, and, above all things, giving the right of appeal to a High Court Judge or to the Court of Appeal. I should have thought that was possible, and if they had done so your Lordships' House would again have been willing to discuss and to consider the matter. But no such provision appears in the Bill, and in its present form I think compulsion is a matter which will receive the approval of but few members of your Lordships' House.
Now may I turn for a few moments to the question of the Congested Districts Board as illustrating the methods of the Government? I listened last night to many encomiums of the old Congested Districts Board, and the reasons of the success and the popularity of that body are obvious. It was a non-elective body. That is, it was not swayed by those influences that are apt to get the better of men who have constituencies behind them. It was although largely official, a non-departmental body, and it was unaffected by party prejudices and feelings. It had great official experience, and was strong enough to resist any kind of pressure brought to bear upon it, and to give an impartial hearing and a just verdict. This body has enjoyed, as we know, very considerable powers. It possessed an income which was increased by steady increments to £86,000 a year. It possessed very great powers for the purchase and resettlement of land, and for the promotion of Irish industries and agriculture in general. It had under its control 400 electoral divisions in different parts of the country, and it is a matter of common agreement that it played a valuable and a substantial part in the pacification and economic improvement of Ireland. If one wanted proof of that, one might quote even the Chief Secretary himself. I have a passage from a speech he made in the other House on the Irish Councils Bill in 1907, in which he spoke of the Board as—probably one of the most useful and one of the most popular bodies in Ireland.Nevertheless it is admitted that certain criticisms were made, and legitimately made, upon the operations of this body. 493 There was what the Dudley Commission described as the duality of administration and the overlapping of functions between it and the Department of Agriculture. There was a sort of mild rivalry that seems to have grown up between this Board and the Land Commission in those parts of Ireland over which both of them enjoyed certain powers of purchase, and it may well have been that a certain rearrangement of areas, a certain redistribution of powers, possibly an amendment in its constitution may have been called for. Well, my Lords, this surely would not have been a very difficult matter. I should have imagined that the principles of readjustment and reconstitution might have been easily embodied in a Bill which would have received the favourable consideration of both Houses of Parliament. But His Majesty's Government would have nothing of the sort. In their passion to destroy, in their deadly partiality for the clean slate, they must wipe out the old Board altogether and set up an entirely new organisation in its place.
I would like, if I may, to endeavour to bring home to you the real character of this new organisation which, it is proposed to create. In the first place, it is to be very large, and, I think, unwieldy in numbers, and as we all know the efficiency of these bodies is, as a rule, in inverse ratio to their numerical strength. It will be a body without traditions, possessing little or no training, with little experience in the matters with which the members will be called upon to deal. It is going to be invested with tremendous judicial and executive powers. It will have the distribution of an enormous patronage; it will have the ultimate control of something like forty or fifty millions belonging to the taxpayers in this country; it will distribute from year to year an income of a quarter of a million sterling; it is to have one-third of Ireland, much of which is not congested at all, as the theatre of its operations; it is to be free from Parliamentary control, and as far as I can judge free from any control whatsoever. And this body so composed is to be allowed to expropriate those owners of land in those portions of Ireland to which its authority applies; and in order to make quite sure that this body shall not do the work which is required of it, but shall, on the contrary, reproduce and stereotype the worst features of agrarian strife in Ireland, you go and place in the ascendancy upon it representatives of the 494 very class who hope they will benefit by the operation of its powers, and who in most cases are the agents of the United Irish League.
Last night the noble Earl the Leader of the House gave us a defence of this portion of the scheme, and it was, if he will allow me to say so, even more surprising than some other portions of his speech to which I have referred. He said that this new Board was intended to create a modus vivendi, and to reconcile the existing conflict between the congests and the landless men. In other words, they were to be a body of umpires who were to hold the scales even between these contending parties. How is it possible for them to perform this function? Remember, these nine gentlemen are to be returned by the county councils of the congested districts. What is the position? I have obtained the figures of the county councillors in the congested districts in the nine counties to be placed under the Board. They are as follow: Donegal, Nationalists, 28; Unionists, 4; Clare, Nationalists, 29; Unionists, 0; Kerry, Nationalists, 30; Unionists, 0; Cork, of which four rural areas are to be declared congested, Nationalists, 49; Unionists, 0; Sligo, Nationalists, 26; Unionists, 0; Leitrim, Nationalists, 23; Unionists, 1; Roscommon, Nationalists, 29; Unionists, 0; Mayo, Nationalists, 33; Unionists, 0; Galway, Nationalists, 31; Unionists, 1. In other words, the approximate total in the county councils in these areas over which these enormous powers are to exist shows Nationalists, 278; and Unionists, 6. Now these gentlemen who are returned as Nationalists are, as everybody knows, members or supporters of the United Irish League, and as such they support the policy of the League. Now what is the policy of the League with regard to this matter? I could quote scores of passages in which the views of the United Irish League about congests and landless men have been stated in the most uncompromising terms. In this and in the other House of Parliament the congests are presented to us as a body, as they are, of innocent and meritorious persons who, by reason of their poverty, ought to be given some better proportion of parts of the soil in Ireland. But if you go to the meetings of the United Irish League they are described as outsiders, aliens, planters, land-grabbers, who are deserving of no sympathy 495 and will receive no mercy at their hands. Therefore the whole efforts of the United Irish League and the county councils whom they return, and of the representative members of the new Board who will be returned by the county councils, will be directed to the settlement of this question in the direction of deciding against the congests and in favour of the landless men. How is it possible under these circumstances to describe these persons as umpires who are capable of holding the scales even? If they are umpires at all, they will be like the umpires we are familiar with at local village cricket matches who always give their own side "in." I need not labour this part of the scheme, because it has been absolutely pulverised in his Minute of Dissent by Lord MacDonnell, who sits opposite. I believe the noble Lord is going to follow me in the debate, and I hope that he will repeat for the benefit of your Lordships the opinions which he has there expressed upon this subject. I will only say that in handling the Bill I do hope that this new Board, with its enormous powers and its great capacity for danger, will disappear altogether from the measure.
In the remarks that I have made on this Bill I have not dealt with the details, because I am not competent to deal with any of the more minute features of the measure requiring local knowledge, of which I am destitute. I have only ventured to call attention to one or two outstanding features of the measure which I hope your Lordships will alter with no trembling or uncertain hand. I altogether dispute the proposition that either the Peers in this House from Ireland, or the Peers on this side who represent England, are partisans in this matter. We are all of us just as anxious for the settlement of land purchase in Ireland; indeed, I think the Irish Peers must be more so than any Members of your Lordships' House. We are as much interested in the relief of congestion and in measures for settling upon the land the poor and miserable class to whom reference has been so often made. It is to the interest of every Irish Peer and also of every English Peer to see grow up in Ireland a strong, solid, solvent peasant proprietary in the future. Neither we nor those on the opposite side of the House make any claim to a monopoly of sympathy or patriotism or even of self-interest in the matter. We are all equally concerned in arriving at a successful, and, if possible, an amicable 496 issue. But there is one plea by which I hope your Lordships will not allow yourselves to be influenced. I refer to the threats, of which we hear so much, of what will happen if this Bill is not passed by your Lordships in its present form.
We have been openly told by Mr. Dillon, who is the real de facto leader in these matters, that if this Bill is seriously modified he will "cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of war." I have no doubt that in his hands those animals are under excellent discipline, and that they will obey, as they have done before, the orders of their keeper. But I hope you will not be in the least bit disturbed or diverted by these threats, but that you will go calmly on your way with the consideration of this Bill. After all, the real issue at stake is not the transient experiences of the forthcoming winter but the future through a long vista of years. If this Bill, by prudent compromise and by careful revision in this House, can be shaped into a suitable measure, I am sure your Lordships on this side will be only too anxious to do it. If you fail in your efforts, or if your propositions are treated with contumely in another place, and if in consequence of anything that you may do His Majesty's Government should decide to drop this measure, then I venture to say the responsibility will be not yours but theirs.
§ LORD MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD
My Lords, I came down to the House this evening in great expectation that I should hear from the noble Lord some information, and receive some guidance, as to how this complex matter should be dealt with. I am no stranger to the noble Lord's remarkable power of unravelling the most tangled skeins of revenue procedures and of rent laws; and I am a witness of the ardent desire which has always animated him to hold the scales of justice evenly between the owners of the soil and the toiling millions who cultivate it. But as the noble Lord's speech proceeded my hopes were clouded; phrases and allusions fell from his fluent lips which will leave their sting in Ireland. Nothing that he says gives any due as to how this impasse into which we have been led can be dealt with. A feeling oppresses me that although Ireland has the honour of counting him among her Peers, he has in no way entered into the feelings of those to whom a speedy ending of the land war in Ireland is almost a matter of life and 497 death. With great regret I say that I find in the noble Lord's speech no foundation upon which to build my own arguments.
It is also with great regret that I find, myself on this occasion differing from my noble friend Lord Dunraven. For several years now I have had the great good fortune of being admitted to my noble friend's confidence and of discussing with him the various phases of Irish affairs. I think I speak with entire accuracy when I say that in no point of aim or object have we ever differed, although we may have differed as to the means by which our objects might be attained,. In this particular case, I do not think there is any difference in object between my noble friend and, myself. The difference lies in this, that he can trust the Government to make no such changes in this Bill as will make it acceptable to the people of Ireland. I, on the other hand, think the Bill is capable of amendment, that the amendments are not very great and should be introduced into it before it leaves your Lordships' House.
I have heard with surprise and deep regret the remarks that have been made during the debate belittling the Act of 1903. I believe my noble friend Lord St. David's said that the best thing to do was to repeal the Act. I had the privilege of taking a share in the preparation of that Act, and I wish to offer to your Lordships some remarks regarding it before I proceed to deal with the Bill before the House.
It is well known to all Members of your Lordships' House that the Irish land difficulty is one of very old standing. For more than half a century Act after Act was passed to restore order or to produce order from disorder in Irish land affairs, but not one of that long sequence of Acts succeeded in laying the foundations of settled peace, or in avoiding hardship to one side or the other. It was during the debates on the Land Act of 1881, I think, that it occurred to the mind of that great Statesman, the late Mr. Bright, that perhaps a solution of the Irish land difficulty might be found in the abolition of rent altogether, by enabling the tenant to buy out his landlord. Provisions were introduced into the Act of 1881 giving effect to that proposal, and. these provisions were enlarged in the Act of 1896, with which the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Ashbourne is so honourably connected. Time passed on, and it became an accepted belief in 498 Ireland that only in an extension of land purchase could a solution of this longstanding difficulty be found. Accordingly the Act of 1903 was passed. It was passed amidst universal approval. What has been the result of that Act? In the last Report of the Estates Commissioners it is shown that the total of transactions from November 1, 1903, to March 31, 1909, amounted to £78,661,011. In the six months which have elapsed since March 31 last, further sales and transfers have taken place, so that at the present time more than eighty million pounds worth of land in Ireland has passed from landlord to tenant. If it be remembered also that under the previous Land Acts of 1881 and 1896 land valued at twenty-three million pounds was also sold, your Lordships will see that as the whole land of Ireland is, I believe, valued at under £200,000,000, more than half the saleable land in Ireland has already been sold under the Land Purchase Acts. From the tenants' point of view that is a great achievement, but far greater than the mere money figures indicate is the change that has come over the Irish people in the tracts in which land purchase has operated. It requires that you should, go amongst the people, that you should compare their state now with the state of their neighbours who have not bought, to perceive the change that has taken place in the disposition of the people. Under the operation of this Land Purchase Act a spirit of industry, of contentment, and, of loyalty has grown up which is the highest testimony to the success of the policy of the Act of 1903.
I have heard during this debate this policy measured in pounds, shillings, and pence. What pecuniary standard of measure can you apply to a beneficial change in the disposition of an entire people?
Where does the difficulty occur which you have been called upon here to face? We have been told that the Bill in the first place destroys the zones. I venture to think that those who have said that have not read the Bill with the carefulness which it deserves. Section 14, upon which the criticism is based, must not be read by itself alone; it must be taken also with Section 20. But let me consider what force there is in this charge that the zones are being destroyed. I agree with those who say that if the zones had been destroyed a very serious injury would have been inflicted upon land purchase in Ireland. 499 It is stated that the zones are the cause of the high prices which have prevailed under the Act of 1903. Nothing could be more fallacious. The high prices that have prevailed since 1903 are due to the low interest which the Act of 1903 introduced compared with the higher rates of interest which prevailed under the Acts of 1881 and 1896. I am not prepared to say that the zones may not have in some degree contributed to that, but that they were not the main contributory cause is, I think, clearly demonstrated.
Now what does Section 14 say? It says that in certain circumstances the Estates Commissioners must make inquiry as to "the security for the advance" or "the equity of the price." These are the two things which have to be taken separately. As to the security for the advance, I am quite aware that under the system which is known by the term "zone," the purchase price is based upon judicial rents, and so far, there is a security and an assurance that the price is such that the State can with safety advance. But there are certain cases in which agreements are made out of Court. They are registered in Court as judicial rents, and purchase agreements are founded upon them. These agreements do not pass under the scrutiny of the Courts, and do not give the same assurance which judicial decisions give as to their sufficiency in the interests of the taxpayer. All that the first portion of this section provides is that where the Estates Commissioners shall be satisfied that there is a danger to the taxpayer, they shall make inquiry and see that no improper methods have been adopted in fixing the price. In regard to the equity of the price, as I read the section, there is no intention of going behind any agreement which landlord and tenant make with each other. In Section 20 it is stated that the Estates Commissioners must inquire as to whether the improvements which the tenant has made in his holding have been included, whether the price has been based upon improvements which the tenant has made in his holding, and for which he has not been compensated by the landlord. This is purely a matter for discussion in Committee. I cannot, of course, speak for His Majesty's Government, but I am sure if there is any clear contradiction between the two parts of the Bill in this respect the matter will be corrected.
Now, my Lords, I come to the question 500 of finance. The purchase money under this Bill may be divided into three classes. There is, first, a sum of money which has been paid for land that has already been bought. That, at the present time, amounts to thirty millions, and in regard to that no loss whatever has fallen upon His Majesty's Treasury. The costs of floating that thirty millions—the average cost was twelve per cent.—was £3,600,000, and upon that an annuity of three and a-quarter per cent. interest and sinking fund has been met from the Ireland Development Grant. That grant is purely Irish money; and the corresponding and equivalent amounts which were given to England and Scotland are being utilised for their proper object in the promotion of primary education in those countries. But in neither of those countries is the necessity for primary education more manifest than in Ireland; yet, in order to finance the Irish Land Act, the Treasury have diverted this amount of £185,000 from its legitimate purpose. And yet allegations are made that the Irish people are not to be relied on to pay their debts. I repudiate that imputation in the strongest terms.
The next sum I come to is the fifty millions which is the amount necessary to finance pending agreements which are deposited in the Estates Commissioners' Office. It is quite clear that the costs of flotation of this sum must be either borne by the Treasury or must fall upon the Irish ratepayers. I heard it stated last night in the course of the debate that the Irish ratepayers are under a strict bond to pay this money. What is the origin of this obligation? When the Act of 1881 was introduced, and again when the Act of 1896 was passed, a guarantee fund was made a part of the financial system of both Acts. In 1881 the interest on Consols had not been reduced, and Consols were at par. In 1896 the interest on Consols had been reduced to two and three-quarters per cent., and the price was 109. No suspicion ever crossed any one's mind that any obligation or liability was imported or connoted by the existence in those Acts of the guarantee fund, and when the Act of 1903 was passed the provisions of the previous Act were incorporated in it, but nobody at that time throught that any obligation would fall upon Irish taxpayers than had fallen on them under the previous Acts. But I need not labour this point, because the common-sense of both Houses 501 recognised that upon no grounds of justice or honour could this obligation be imposed upon the Irish people. Quite properly, the Treasury came forward and said "We will take upon our own shoulders this cost of floating the fifty million pounds." Therefore in regard to that the account is clear.
The Irish people are grateful to His Majesty's Government for what they have done. Only in one particular do I think this settlement in regard to the fifty million pounds is a little hard. Under the terms of the Act the landlords are entitled to be paid in cash, but under the arrangements made by the Treasury only five millions in cash is to be floated every year. I make no complaint against the Treasury. I do not say that in 1903 any suggestion was held out that a greater amount of money would be raised in any other year than five millions. What Mr. Wyndham said was to the effect that "in the first three years of the Act we will not throw upon the market more than five millions, but we hope to quicken the pace a little later on, so that the whole transaction of £100,000,000 will be dealt with in fifteen or sixteen years." That meant that in no particular year of the fifteen or sixteen years would a larger sum of money than five or six millions, or perhaps seven millions, be raised. For my own part, I make no complaint against the Treasury on that account, but the position now in regard to the Irish Landlords is that many of them will have to wait eight or ten years before they get payment of their money, and as many of these landlords are indebted landlords, paying perhaps five per cent. interest while receiving three and a-half, I say their position is one of cruel hardship. I also say that I think they have just grounds for an appeal to the Government to give them better terms than those which the Bill incorporates. The Bill seems to suppose that Irish Land Stock should never get above ninety-two, but it is now at eighty-five, so that if any Irish landlord takes the option of payment in stock, he loses straight way something like seven per cent. That is a point on which I think Irish landlords in this general settlement, as I hope this will be, of the Irish land question, could make, with considerable reason, an appeal to the Government.
Now I pass on to the final part, the finances of this Bill. The noble Earl the Leader of the House put the future purchases at 502 £70,000,000, although I shall not be much surprised if they do not cost £90,000,000. The position is this, and here I have to deal with the question of compulsion. The key of the situation in dealing with this matter is the issue of stock at three per cent. It is perfectly clear that the only way this enormous sum of £90,000,000 can be advanced is either by throwing the cost of flotation on the Treasury, by throwing it on the Irish people, or by issuing three per cent. stock, which means throwing it on the landlords. The Treasury refused to accept any further liability, and I am not here to say that they should. The Irish people refuse, and you cannot enforce it in this case, seeing that you have abandoned it in the other. Only the third way remains. Now what happens? When an agreement to sell is proposed between landlord and tenant, the latter will say "I am willing to buy, but I will only buy at the price which my neighbours have paid." Take the case of a tenant with a £100 holding. That tenant will buy under existing terms at three and a-quarter per cent., say at twenty-three years purchase. His landlord is to get £2,300. The tenant's annuity is three and a-quarter per cent. on that, which, I think, is £75. If this Bill should pass in its present state, no tenant will give more than £75 for the same kind of property, which means that the three and a-half per cent. imports no greater charge on him than the three and a-quarter did to his neighbour. How is that to be met? It cannot be met. It is one of the deterrents to land purchase.
I wish to be perfectly clear and state the deterrents on the one side and the arguments for and against, and then I will give my own conclusions. If this Bill passes in its present shape every landlord may have to sell at from one and a-half to two years purchase less than before. I do not think that is a very great hardship, because I agree with my noble friend Lord Dunraven in thinking that Irish landlords, on the whole, have bought from one to two years purchase too high, and the raising of the annuity to three and a-half per cent. will automatically effect a reduction which in my opinion ought to be effected. What is the other deterrent? When the landlord takes his three per cent. stock and throws it on the market, he will get £97 or £96 per cent. for it. Local stock is selling in the market at ninety-seven and though this stock will 503 cease to be called Irish Land Stock, and will be called Guaranteed Stock, and thereby will secure a higher price in the market, it still will sell at some few pounds of discount. That is the second deterrent element which this Bill has introduced to the landlords. The third deterrent is the bonus. The bonus as at present drawn penalises the owner of good land in order that the owner of bad land may get more than its value. These reasons combine to deter the landlord from selling under this Bill. What will then happen? If the compulsory provisions of this Bill remain, landlords will have recourse to them. If the Bill remains unaltered, the landlords must have recourse to them. I agree with everything that was said last night to the tendency which this Bill will have to prevent dealings of an amicable nature, that it will all tend to compulsion. The tribunal that you have under the Bill could be changed probably, as the landlords would insist (and if they did I would support them), in asking for a Judicial Commission and the two Judges of the High Court, not that I mistrust the tribunal of the Bill. Such a tribunal would give the landlords as high a price in my opinion as they deserve. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dunraven in thinking that there ought to be for the landlords no terror and no dread in the idea of compulsion. During the time I was engaged in assisting Mr. Wyndham in preparing the Act of 1903 I had many conversations with all the more important landlords of Ireland, and with one especially, an extremely prudent and far-seeing man, the late O'Conor Don. He was entirely in favour of compulsion, and I myself do think that if the landlords could get over their objection to the word compulsion it would be to their entire interest under this Bill.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I hope the noble Lord will pardon me for interrupting, but I should like to hear the occasion on which the O'Conor Don, a very old friend of mine, said that he was in favour of compulsion, or used words to that effect?
LORD MAC DONNELL OF SWINFORD
I thought it was a commonplace in Irish politics. As far as his telling it to me, I am absolutely certain on the point.
I would like to ask the noble Lord whether the O'Conor Don did not couple with that opinion the condition that the exact sum which the 504 landlord was to receive should be put into the Act.
In speaking to me he distinctly said that. When the Bill was first Introduced in 1903, he did not like it altogether, and said, "I should prefer a compulsory measure as no doubt in that case the sum that the landlord was to receive would be put into the Act."
LORD MAC DONNELL OF SWINFORD
I have no remembrance of that, but I can assure your Lordships that this is a matter on which my recollection is absolutely precise. I have had several conversations with him in which he always insisted that compulsory purchase would have been an advantage to the Irish landlords. However, the matter is not of great importance. But what would happen if a general scheme of compulsory purchase was accepted by the landlords? Under this Bill His Majesty's Government would have to raise seventy or ninety millions in cash; they would have to pay the cost of flotation on the whole of that sum; they would have to give prompt payment, because it is not to be supposed that the State could expropriate the owner of an estate and refuse to pay for it. Let me point to another difficulty that is raised but has not been noticed in the course of this debate. In making a proposal leading up to a compulsory purchase, the Estates Commissioners, who buy only to resell, would have to find out from the tenants in some way or other what they were willing to give for their holdings. Say that the tenants agreed to give £10,000 for an estate, and say that on appeal to the judicial tribunal the landlord was awarded £12,000. The Land Commission could not retreat, having instituted these proceedings, so then they would be left with a property worth £12,000, for which the tenants were only willing to give £10,000. Then there would have to be another compulsion. You would have to bring compulsion on the tenants to buy. If you did bring compulsion on the tenants, you would be sowing a seed which in a very short time would produce the poisonous crop of repudiation. These considerations suggest to me that this proposal for compulsory purchase should be cut out of the Bill in the interests of 505 the Treasury alone. If the landlords wish it to be cut out I should support them, although I do not think they are wise in wishing to have it cut out. But if the Treasury wish to maintain it, I should begin to doubt the sanity of the Treasury. That is all I have to say on the question of finance.
I have troubled your Lordships at very considerable length, but before I sit down I wish to say one word regarding the Congested Districts Board. I entirely concur in what my noble friend Lord Dunraven said as to the necessity of representative institutions in Ireland. I have said so in the Minute which I felt bound to record on the Report of the Congestion Committee, but in my opinion this Board is eminently not one for a representative element. This is a Board which deals with the expropriation of the landlords in a large part of Ireland, and it would not be fair to the landlords to have that great work carried through by any body except one whose impartiality and competence were beyond reproach. I was for five or six years on the Congested Districts Board, and conducted its business in the intervals of its sittings. I think I ought to know everything connected with every branch of that Board, and I say without any hesitation that if you put on to it a representative majority selected from the county councils in the Western Counties—I do not cast any imputation upon the character of these men, some of whom ought to be appointed nominated members of the Board—appointed by election, and therefore having to work up to the dictates and to the wishes of their constituents, you will have a Board remarkable for its inefficiency.
On this question of the Congested Districts Board I have three suggestions to make. I think, in the first place, that all the purchases of land in Ireland should be concentrated in the hands of one body, the Estates Commissioners, who have now an unrivalled experience in purchasing land in Ireland, and who, as far as I am enabled to know, have given general satisfaction. It is fatal to economy in the purchase of land to maintain two standards, and if you maintain the Congested Districts Board as a purchasing authority you will have two standards in the future as in the past, but even more divergent than they have been, because the Congested 506 Districts Board in the past was always responsive to the suggestions of the Under-Secretary and of the Chief Secretary. The second suggestion is this. All the functions which are now exercised by the Congested Districts Board, and for which a special department has been created—namely, agriculture, fisheries and industries—should be transferred from the Board to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. The third suggestion is that the Board should be restricted to its present area, and that its operations should not be extended to the whole West of Ireland.
I have stated officially and publicly that the method of administration followed by the Board is not as productive of that strength of character as that of the Estates Commissioners. There always seems to me to have been too much spoon feeding in the method of administration by the Board. What we want in the West of Ireland is to put people as soon as we can on their own resources, and let them work out their own salvation. They are doing that under the auspices of the Estates Commissioners, who also deal with congestion as well as the Board. It was perfectly possible to compare the two methods of working and the results, and the conclusion which was borne in upon me was that there could be no hesitation in making a choice between the two. The last point I have to say is about the elective element. I need not repeat what I have said, but should your Lordships, as I sincerely hope you will, send this Bill to Committee, I shall be prepared, if no other noble Lord will take the duty, to place upon the Paper such Amendments as will, in my opinion, convert this Bill into a useful and beneficial supplement to the great Act of 1903, into a Bill which would help even further to lay the foundations of prosperity in Ireland.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
My Lords, I would like to explain that I am speaking now in the place of Lord Denman, who would have spoken but for the fact that unfortunately he is ill. The noble Lord who spoke first this evening very justly made some remark to the effect that they had received no answer of any sort from our Benches, and Lord Denman's absence is the reason which I would urge in explanation of it. I will endeavour to answer the different questions put to His Majesty's Government, especially by Lord Dunraven 507 and by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. In the first instance the two noble Lords queried whether there had been adequate discussion in the House of Commons, and Lord Dunraven said he considered the lack of discussion a sufficient reason for the rejection of the Bill. On the other hand, the noble Marquess considered it quite the opposite, and thought it a reason for au adequate discussion in this House.
I have had a comparison made of the actual time spent on the Bill of 1903 as compared with the present Bill in the House of Commons. The Bill of 1903 took in all sixteen days. This Bill took thirteen days, without including two days which were spent on the Bill last autumn. The compulsory clauses we are told were guillotined. I cannot find that this is the case. I noticed that the compulsory clause, which I suppose is generally taken as Clause 64, was discussed during the whole day on the eighth day of the Committee. I am also informed that discussions in Committee took more or less the form of a Second Reading debate. For instance, on the first day they had the new rate of annuity; on the second day, the new three per cent. stock, and incidentally the making up of differences between land and consols; on the third day, bonuses and landless men; and up to the sixth day was spent on the constitution of the Board and compulsory purchase. So I do not think it can with justice be said that this Bill has received no consideration in another place.
Lord Lansdowne said that he considered landlords who had not yet been paid suffered a very real grievance from the dilatoriness of the Government in this respect. There is no doubt about that. Irish landlords, and I myself among them, have suffered very much from not being paid in time. We have often had large mortgages to pay, often paying four to five per cent., while getting only three and a-half. But it must be remembered that under the Act of 1896 all landlords who elected to sell their estates must of necessity have known that there would be a very large block before they could be paid. That was common knowledge as early as 1896, and I think Mr. Walter Long recognised that when he brought in the Bill to which reference has already been made. When 508 the present Government came into office they were faced with this difficulty—what was it possible to do? The Irish Development Grant was very nearly exhausted, and therefore all the cost of flotation must fall on the Irish ratepayer. The noble Lord said this was only a technical mistake. It is not a mistake, because it is the law of the land, and has been supported by the Law Officers on both sides. The Treasury are going to take over the whole of these undertakings in this Bill. They will take over the fifty-three millions, and, in addition, take over the expenses with regard to the flotation and the bonus. Your Lordships will understand that if it had been possible to raise money at three and three-quarters at par, there would have been no necessity for this Bill, but the difficulty now is that such a thing is not possible, and the only possibility of placing the finances of this Bill on some sort of sound basis is, I think, by the suggestion that in future land purchased in Ireland will be self-supporting, and that stock will be paid to landlords at the rate of three per cent. Arrangements must be come to between landlord and tenant with regard to this.
The noble Lord said he hoped it would be possible to accelerate the payment of this fifty-three millions. It may be possible, and it is likely that the present staff of the Estate Commissioners will be more or less increased so as to allow of a larger amount of stock being paid each year. With regard to the zones, the noble Marquess said they were virtually torn up by this Bill and done away with. I do not think that is quite correct. We all know what use they have been in Ireland, and there is no intention on the part of His Majesty's Government of doing away with zones. What they do is this—they simply leave to the Estate Commissioners a discretionary power by which they can, if they are dissatisfied with any particular arrangement or undertaking with regard to an estate, inquire into and see that the State has proper security for its money.
Lord Ashbourne asked if we could bring forward any case in which fictitious value was being asked for. I have looked the matter up and have found one case. An owner agreed to sell to his tenants at a certain price. He arranged with the tenants that a further sum was to be added to the agreed price, and as soon as he had 509 received payment himself he would hand over this further sum to the tenants, so that the object of the arrangement was that both vendor and tenant should receive an ulterior benefit. The vendor would receive twelve per cent. and the tenants would receive a sum in cash. It was believed that a great many cases of this sort existed in Ireland, and it was for this reason that the present clause in this Bill was drafted so as to give the Estates Commissioners general discretionary power to examine into any given estate. Lord Ashbourne also raised a point with regard to compulsion. He stated that in the event of compulsion being exercised, the Estates Commissioners had a perfect right to schedule and purchase any land which was already purchased under the Acts of 1886 or 1891.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon; but that remark was made in the course of the debate last night. I have inquired into that, and I find that land already bought and paying an annuity is not subject to this Act to any extent at all, and neither the Estates Commissioners nor any person in Ireland can purchase land which is already paying annuity. I have the quotation here, but if Lord Ashbourne does not think it is stringent enough we will make that perfectly clear. There has been a great deal said about compulsion. Several noble Lords seem to think that the Estates Commissioners are going to acquire land all over the country. That is not the case at all. The Estates Commissioners will exercise their powers very sparingly indeed. Lord MacDonnell gave a very good instance. He said the Estates Commissioners might propose to buy an estate and their final offer might be £10,000. The landlord would appeal against that, and on its going to the Judicial Commissioners they might award him £12,000, but the tenants would refuse to exceed the price of £10,000. What is going to happen? Who is going to pay the extra £2,000? It is obvious that the Treasury will not. It falls on the county. That in itself would not make the compulsory clauses very popular. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, made reference to the fact that any person could put into force the compulsory powers 510 of the Estates Commissioners. That, I understand, is an error. The noble Marquess shakes his head. I will give him a justification for my remark—I have lost the reference for a moment, but I will come back to it. I am informed that any person wishing to put compulsory powers into force must of himself be a tenant within the meaning of the Act. That, I am informed, is the case.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I am informed that that is the case, that he must be a tenant within the meaning of the Act. The noble and learned Lord also said that great dissatisfaction would be caused in Ireland by the different rates tenants would have to pay, that under the present Act they only paid two and three-quarters, whilst under the future Act they would be paying three and a-half. My Lords, there has been no trouble so far with regard to that; there are a great many tenants who have purchased under the Ashbourne Act and who are paying three and one-eighth, and there has been no trouble there. An Irishman's one wish is to acquire land. Every time he pays an instalment towards the purchase of land he gets nearer the goal of his ambition, and I do not think that he really cares whether he pays three and a-half or three and one-eighth or three and three-quarters per cent.
I will now touch very briefly on the compulsory powers so far as they affect the Congested Districts Board. I am sorry that Lord MacDonnell is so averse to the composition of this Board. I think it has always been recognised that compulsory powers were absolutely necessary in that part of the country, and I would venture to quote from the Annual Report of the Congested Districts Board for the year 1894–5 on that point. This Report was made to my noble Friend the present Secretary of State for India—The Congested Districts Board are in possession of information that there are large tracts of land that may be used to enlarge the holdings of small occupiers and to promote schemes for migration from congested districts. The Board cannot give effect to this important department of their work unless more funds are placed at their disposal and compulsory powers given to them to acquire lands at their just values.The Report goes on to say that large powers are desirable to give effect to such 511 schemes on a large scale. This Report was signed by Mr. Gerald Balfour and by Mr. Arthur Balfour, who was also a member of the Board. The noble and learned Lord asked whether I could produce any evidence of the necessity for compulsory powers in the congested district area. I have been able to find some very interesting cases in that respect. During the existence of the Congested Districts Board there have been thirty-two cases in which landlords have refused the Board's offers for their estates, totalling to as much as £318,000; 103 cases of refusal to sell grass land, and in no fewer than 244 cases owners have given no reply whatsoever to the circular asking whether they were willing to sell their land or not.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
Would the noble Lord give the dates? I pointed to cases within the last twelve months.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
The answer to that is that during the last twelve months the Congested Districts Board have had no money with which to offer to buy anything. If they had, they would no doubt have had refusals.
THE EARL OF MAYO
Could the noble Earl give us the number of years exactly over which those refusals would run?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
Could the noble Earl give us the date of the circular to which he said 244 people did not reply, and state to how many people it was issued?
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
This is during the whole time—from the date when the Congested Districts Board started. From this Report there is no doubt that in certain parts of Ireland compulsion to a certain degree may be necessary. I think most noble Lords will agree to that.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
That is very just. But there are a great many cases where the Congested Districts Board will want to get a certain bit of land in a particular district, and if they cannot acquire that by compulsory power what are they to do? It is beside the point to say that they could get land elsewhere; the point is that they want land in a particular district.
THE EARL OF MAYO
Where is the money to come from if you tell us that they have no money with which to buy?
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
That is last year, but if your Lordships are good enough to assent to this Bill the money will be forthcoming.
THE EARL OF MAYO
Is that to be taken from the money already asked for, £56,000,000, or where is it to come from?
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
There is their income, £250,000, and the Estates Commissioners would find the rest.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I am not perfectly certain on that point. Noble Lords have also taken very great exception to the composition of the Congested Districts Board; they have said they objected very strongly to the elective element therein. No one seems to have touched on the point that the administrative committee of the Board had entire control of the finance. There are four permanent and two elected members of that committee. Although the Board may suggest some policy to the administrative committee, that committee will not sanction it unless they like. They are a sort of small Treasury; they have absolute power in that respect. I think noble Lords take a wrong view especially with regard to that elective element.
There is one question with regard to Clause 17 of the Bill with which I wish to 513 deal—namely, with respect to the landless men. Landless men, as my noble friend behind me stated, are a product, or a by-product rather, of the Act of 1903. Before that time no one had ever heard of a landless man. Particularly, great objection is taken to subsection (e) of that clause because noble Lords from Ireland seem to think that the Estates Commissioners can put anybody down on the land under this provision. That is the last thing which the Estates Commissioners wish to do. The Estates Commissioners have taken this power simply to be able to deal with the residues of estates. The residue of an estate may be left which is not suitable for a tenant farmer, and it is simply in order to be able to deal with that that this has been inserted. If noble Lords do not think it practicable and we are forced to it we are perfectly willing to meet them.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
No; it is subsection (e) that is objected to, because it is said that any person can be put on the land under it. That is not the wish of the Estates Commissioners.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
There is very little difference really in respect to landless men in this Bill from the Act of 1903. The Act of 1903 allowed tenants' sons to purchase, and this Bill allows tenants' sons and also people in the neighbourhood to purchase. I do not think there is very much to cavil at there.
§ THE EARL OF GRANARD
I have dealt as far as I can with most of the points which have been raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, and the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven. I am glad to hear that your Lordships propose giving this Bill a Second Reading. I am sure this Bill will, as any noble friend Lord Mac Donned said, do a lot to further the prosperity of Ireland. We all agree—all of us who are going to live in Ireland—that without land purchase there, and without the peasant becoming the proprietor of his 514 land, there is very little hope of any ultimate settlement or rest in that country.
§ LORD ATKINSON
My Lords, I rise to correct a misstatement which was made, I presume unknowingly, by the noble Earl who has just sat down. The noble Earl said that Mr. Arthur Balfour and Mr. Gerald Balfour both approved of conferring compulsory powers on the Congested Districts Board. That is absolutely inaccurate, and in my hearing has been contradicted by both those gentlemen times innumerable. I have in my pocket a letter from Mr. Gerald Balfour, received only this morning, in which he repeats his statement that nothing of the kind occurred. What did occur was this. At a certain meeting of the Congested Districts Board, at a time when Mr. Arthur Balfour was chairman of the Board, the Board in his absence passed a resolution that it was desirable that they should have compulsory powers. At a subsequent meeting at which Mr. Gerald Balfour was present, the report referring to this resolution came up for consideration, and he, as chairman, was obliged to sign the minutes of the meeting, as every chairman is—a signature which does not at all express approval of the course taken at any previous meeting, but merely authenticates the minutes and nothing more. That has been stated again and again, and I believe it is to be found in the evidence of Mr. Gerald Balfour before the Dudley Commission. It is entirely inaccurate to say that either of those gentlemen on any occasion expressed an opinion that it was desirable to confer compulsory powers on the Congested Districts Board.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, the Amendment before your Lordships' House is that this Bill should be read a second time this day three months. I do not at all agree with the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, who has moved that Amendment, but I feel I cannot give a silent vote upon this Bill for the reason that there are two financial provisions in it which I think cannot be ignored. The first is the one which relieves the ratepayers of Ireland from any further liability. I should like to read what the leader of the Nationalist Party, Mr. Joho Redmond, said upon this subject:—Therefore, so far as we are concerned" [that is, the Nationalist Party] "we could not put any obstacles in the path of this Bill, If there was 515 nothing else in it at all except this question of congestion, if there was nothing else in the Bill except the lifting off from the shoulders of the ratepayers of Ireland £500,000 or £600,000 a year, which is the alternative of stopping land purchase altogether, it would be impossible for us to stand in the way of its passage into law … … but there are many other things of great value to it in Ireland.There we come to the parting of the ways. There are other things which he thinks of great value to Ireland in the Bill but this House does not agree with him.
Now, my Lords, for the Bill. You are all aware that this is the second session of the Bill, and it differs but little from the Bill of 1908. I am not going to waste your Lordships' time in seeking for epithets or adjectives with which to abuse the Government for the way in which the Bill was rushed through the House of Commons, but the tone of its originators was "Take it and swallow it," and all Amendments of a reasonable and drastic nature were walked to a quick death in the Division Lobbies of the other House. The Bill before us contains two principles—the continuation of land purchase but under compulsion, and the dealing with congestion in Ireland. The first has resolved itself really into a financial question and nothing else; the second is an economic one which we all know carries with it certain financial provisions. I should like to say something on the first.
Every Land Act in Ireland dealing in any way with the transfer of land from the landowner to the tenant has been carried out on the voluntary system, and from the time that Mr. Bright forty years ago brought in these proposals up till the last Act, the Wyndham Act of 1903, that system has been successful. The money advanced by the State has been punctually paid back by the tenants in Ireland. They have met their debts almost to the uttermost farthing, and we therefore on those grounds only, because these debts have been paid, begin to really think that the voluntary system has been a success. The noble Earl in his speech when bringing in the Bill said—I put this Bill forward as what the Americans call 'a business proposition.'I should like to ask the noble Earl whether it is a fair business proposition to pay in paper, in stock, and not in gold. He said that £2,000,000 was to be paid in 516 cash and £2,000,000 partly in cash and partly in stock. I do not see that in the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
No, it is not in the Bill. But I rise to correct a slight inaccuracy in the statement of the noble Earl. It is £2,000,000 in cash and £2,000,000 in stock for those who are prepared to take half of each—£4,000,000 in all.
THE EARL OF MAYO
Yes, they can take cash if they like, but we all know they will have to wait a very long time for that cash. The Chief Secretary has very often said things to smooth over the matter, and, as my noble friend Lord Curzon said, to glide over the currents and the dangerous pools, but we want to see it in the Bill, and then when we come to a later stage the matter can be discussed. The noble Earl said that the Act of 1903 was carried through Parliament in a burst of generosity, and that everybody shook each other's hand and drank each other's health, etc., etc., and we were all as happy as possible. I should like to ask the noble Earl if he ever read the speech of Mr. Bowles, the Member for Lynn Regis. Also Mr. Coghill in his speech abused the Bill in every possible way and talked of its being "a raid on the British Treasury." I do not think that is an instance of generosity, and I think the noble Earl rather overstated the matter in that respect.
I should now like to say a word with regard to what the noble Lord, Lord St. David's, said yesterday. He concluded his speech by saying that no one in the course of the debate had attempted to justify the Wyndham Act, and that the Wyndham Act had broken down and its finance was impossible. He made a speech which I think I am right in designating as the speech of an amateur Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said that because Colonial securities have been introduced into the Trustee Act Consols had fallen. I should like to ask the Government if they think that taking Colonial securities out of the Trustee Act would be a very popular measure? I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord St. David's, is an Imperialist or what he is, but his speech struck me as dealing rather with Imperial finance than with the Irish Land Act. We all know that the noble Lord has interests south of North America. I only wish to 517 say that there are valuable securities down there which might have affected in some way the price of gilt-edged securities in this country.
In this Bill we have compulsion to sell and compulsion on the tenant to pay a larger annuity—that is the State rent. I am not quite sure that there is such a universal demand in Ireland for compulsion as the Chief Secretary and the members of the Government wish to point out to us.
I should like to read to your Lordships an extract from what a noble Lord who is, I think, now in the House has written to me with regard to his tenants. He says that two or three tenants bought during his father's lifetime, and that early this year one or two of the tenants approached the agent with the request, which was very earnest, that they should not be forced to purchase. This arose from the fact that there was no specific rent day on the estate and that the tenants could pay when they liked, always with a satisfactory result to the landlord. As long as they paid that was the great thing; whilst those who had purchased had to pay on May 1 and November 1 to the rent collector of His Majesty's Government, who refused to give them any extension of the time in which to pay, which was most inconvenient financially to the tenants owing to the fact that they had to sell their live stock at a bad time. That does not show, I think, that there is really very much wish amongst tenants to purchase. I am not talking of the West of Ireland; I am talking of parts of Ireland away from the West where compulsion would be put in force as is in this Bill.
We all know that the Bill is brought in because of the calculations made under the Wyndham Act that guaranteed land stock could be issued at at least £95 for each £100 stock. That seemed reasonable enough, but owing to the fall in stocks the Guarantee Fund is almost exhausted, and under the 1903 Act the loss will fall upon the ratepayers. That is an acknowledged fact. We all know that this Bill is founded on the Runciman Report—that is, the Report of a Departmental Committee of the Treasury. I ask your Lordships' House and everybody concerned in this matter, Is the Treasury really better off because compulsion has been tacked on to 518 the Bill? Really it looks to me as if this is what might have happened: that the Chief Secretary was faced with this serious situation that land purchase must go on—he has admitted that; the Treasury were appproached and they said they could do it on certain terms, and they may have suggested, "If you put compulsion into the Bill you will have the Nationalist vote." That sounds very well. I am speaking for the farmers of Ireland who make their living out of the land, and I begin to think that we who live in Ireland have really been made fools of over this question, because I do not see myself why compulsion should have been tacked on. Is it for a financial reason? I have never heard that suggested. It has been tacked on in order to make it popular in certain quarters. We object to compulsion. When Clause 1, where the tenant is made to pay 5s. per cent. for his annuity, came up in another place, the Nationalist members and the Unionist members joined together and voted against the Government. That is a very rare combination. That was on the question of the tenants. Then the compulsion on the landowner is really of the most drastic kind. The compulsory sections are Clauses 64, 65 and 66, but the Estates Commissioners may by order delegate all or any of their powers to any one or two of their number with no appeal except on law and not on fact.
Now, my Lords, I should like to say a word with regard to what fell from Lord MacDonnell. I cannot congratulate the noble Earl who introduced this Bill on the way he has been treated by the Back Benches. One noble Earl, whom we all know very well, a very old friend of mine, attacked the Bill in no unmeasured terms. My noble friend Lord MacDonnell says he will support the landlords against compulsion although he does not quite see how the Treasury will take that. Lord Granard cited a case with regard to the zones, and then said he believed a great many cases existed. When we come to Committee I think we must hear what those cases are because I noticed that a great many of the remarks of the noble Earl—I say it with all respect to him—were more fitted for Committee than Second Reading. When we come to close quarters I hope we shall have those cases mentioned. As to the Estates Commissioners and the 519 power that can be exercised by a Commissioner, broadly speaking it means that one man can take land in any part of Ireland for any purpose he thinks fit. The drastic powers of compulsion to be exercised by a Commissioner against landowners reminds me of the sequestration of property in a conquered country after a war. That is exactly the case, and noble Lords cannot deny it. As has been said again and again from these benches, there has been no case made for compulsion, none whatsoever. The noble Earl read out some cases from the Report of the Congested Districts Board as showng that compulsion was necessary and that Mr. Gerald Balfour and Mr. Arthur Balfour were in favour of compulsory powers being given. I think he had his answer from Lord Atkinson with regard to those two gentlemen, and I hope that answer was perfectly satisfactory.
The most complete speech and the most perfect speech with regard to this Bill was delivered by the Chief Secretary in 1908, when he explained its provisions. The right hon. gentleman said that if you gave compulsory powers for one-third of Ireland to the Congested Districts Board for the relief of congestion it would be impossible to withhold similar powers from the Estates Commissioners outside that area, otherwise the boundary question would arise. We know that question will constantly arise, and that is one of our objections to the Bill. The Chief Secretary went on to say that nobody knew better than Mr. Wyndham that there were many estates outside the congested districts which presented precisely the same difficulties, and to include one and exclude another would, in his judgment, cause great injustice. My Lords, we will deal with that question also in Committee. The Chief Secretary added that it was obvious that the powers would have to be exercised within close limits owing to the limitations of the resources of the Estates Commissioners. That is the only saving clause in the Chief Secretary's statement where he put forward strongly and explicitly that there was to be compulsion but under limitations. He said that those powers were as necessary in the one case as in the other to secure social order. I do not myself see where the social order will come in when one man is paying one rent on one side of the hedge and another man a different rent on the other. I know what my countrymen are. The Chief Secretary 520 said it was social order which alone could justify these provisions of the Act of 1903.
I do not wish to say anything personal at all. I only speak from the political point of view with regard to the Chief Secretary. He has given way on many points, but he has not given way on this. I see no change here. Grass lands, pig styes, woods, apple orchards, shingle and rocks are all mixed up together in one huge Irish land stew to be ladled out by Mr. Commissioner so-and-so to whom he likes and how he likes. My Lords, I can see the cow-hunters and the cattle-drivers—I know them, and we have read about them and talked about them in this House—gathered round waiting with interest for a very large ladleful. We are threatened with direful consequences if this Bill is not passed as it is presented to this House. It has been said before that "the dogs of war are to be let loose." That is entirely too grand an expression. I would rather read it that the curs of village ruffianism should be unmuzzled to bark and bite at the heels of respectable men.
No doubt we shall be told in Committee that there is compulsion existing in England under certain Acts. But is over £50,000,000 owing in England for voluntary agreements for purchase between landlord and tenant? There is no analogy at all in the case, and if any analogy is made we shall, of course, be glad to argue it to the uttermost point. I must remind your Lordships that the representatives of the tenants and the representatives of the landlords came to an agreement at the Land Conference. I am sorry my noble friend Lord Dunraven is not here. I noticed that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said he took all honourable part in that agreement. I perfectly agree with that. I helped him. Compulsion was not in that treaty of peace, and I ask the responsible Ministers of the Crown if they are once more going to throw the apple of discord amongst us owing to financial considerations which have nothing to do with Ireland and which are not the fault either of an individual Irishman or of Irishmen collectively.
I should now like to say a word with regard to the zones. "Zones" is a technical word, and I quite understand noble Lords from England being immensely 521 confused by the technical terms which have grown up with successive Land Acts in Ireland. At one time I did not understand them myself. I understand them only too well now. Dryden says "An embroidered zone surrounds her waist." The zone we talk about in an Irish Land Bill is a much more prosaic question. I feel it is like talking Greek sometimes when using these technical terms. I am sure Greek is a great deal better understood by many noble Lords than some of the terms used. Tenants and landlord enter into a market, let me call it a Zone Market, and if they come to an agreement the Government can step in, in the shape of the Estates Commissioners, and say "Very well, you have come to an agreement and we will accept your terms within certain limits." I will not mention the limits; it is not material to my argument; but they step in and say "The money will be advanced, you are within the zones, it is practical business, and we ratify the bargain." The noble Earl, Lord Granard, said that we say that is entirely swept away. It is not entirely swept away, but the Estates Commissioners come in and begin asking questions about the price. "Is the price good enough?" Under the former arrangement they did not come down and examine the holdings and delay the matter in any way, but you now give them the opportunity of doing so. If there is any question of shortness of money it is very easy to delay the matter in that way, and we all know that it has been delayed in many cases because the money is short.
Then as to the bonus. After all, we are told that you are very generous with the bonus. I suppose the generosity is based on this, that the Runciman Report reduced it by a stroke of the pen to three per cent. The Government have given us in this Bill a sliding scale for the bonus. I do not want to go into the figures at all, but the truth of the matter is that the bonus has slid away down the scale. The bonus was very important to us. The noble Earl knows as well as I do that it was the sweetener that enabled the landlord to sell his land. Now I come to the congested districts part. I approach this subject with no feeling of rancour whatsoever. I know what congested districts are, I have been in some of the very poorest, and I have seen very great poverty indeed. That was some years ago, but you must remember that owing to the Congested Districts Board as at present constituted a great deal of that poverty has been alleviated 522 and those people have been helped in many ways; and I am glad to see that the money provided for the new Board amounts to exactly £144,750. At the present moment there is no cry of distress in Ireland, and the West of Ireland has enjoyed a very fine season. The sun has shone there while the rain has poured down in other parts of the United Kingdom, and the President of our Trish Board of Agriculture has told me with truth that there is very little potato disease—that bane of the peasantry of the West—there, greatly owing to the efforts of the Board of Agriculture and the Congested Districts Board.
There is no doubt there is congestion in the West. Let me remind your Lordships that it is divided into three classes—the maritime class, people living on the seaboard: the intermediate class, half maritime and half landsmen; and the inland class who cultivate small holdings and never go out on to the ocean at all. Before I continue with regard to this question of congestion in the West, which I approach, as I said before, with no feelings of rancour or disagreement at all, I should like to say something again with regard to the author of this measure. I do not speak in any personal way at all. I have the pleasure of the Chief Secretary's acquaintance, but when we have a measure of this importance I think it is necessary to ask oneself what are the political achievements of the man who brings it in. I ask your Lordships, and I ask everybody in Ireland, what has Mr. Birrell done to promote the prosperity and welfare of that country? Mr. Birrell succeeded Mr. Bryce. Mr. Bryce left the country to go to America to occupy a great and honourable place there. Cattle-driving had begun. It continued in Ireland under Mr. Birrell's administration to such an extent that this industry was seriously threatened. I never thought it would go on and ruin it, and I never said so. I do not think we are all such fools in Ireland as to allow it to go on, no matter what Government are in power there, because cattle and horses (which were "driven" too) in an agricultural country like ours where we have the best grass in the world for cattle rearing and feeding is our most important industry. Let us see what Mr. Birrell did. He brought in the Councils Bill. The rejection of that Bill was about the cleverest thing the Nationalist Party have ever done. I give Mr. Birrell credit for the Roman Catholic University Bill, 523 and I was very glad to see it was passed. I will not say anything more about the Chief Secretary.
I should like to say a word with regard to the extraordinary provisions in the Bill by which nine counties are included in the congested areas. I have a table here with regard to the county of Cork showing the amount of land that could have been bought for the relief of congestion—always supposing congestion existed there—when it was in the open market. We can deal with that in Committee. Now I should like to quote to your Lordships something from an entirely independent Report with regard to the congested districts. You all remember the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Taxation. Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Blair Balfour, in their joint recommendations, said—this was in 1902—that in the congested districts there were two classes mainly, the poor and the destitute; that there were hardly any resident gentry, very few traders and officials, and that nearly all the inhabitants were either poor, or on the verge of poverty; that in those districts, the very poorest in Ireland, the taxation was by far the highest, but the local resources were so low that even with a high rate of taxation the indispensable needs of the locality could not be properly met; that there was very little spent on outdoor relief and there were very few indoor paupers because the people were very helpful to one another, and although so poor themselves largely supported their destitute. My Lords, that is very true. Let the Government make out a case where it can be shown that land adjacent to these poor holdings cannot be got without compulsion. I want to show that land can be got without compulsion.
Let me call your Lordships' attention to what the O'Conor Don said with reference to compulsory purchase. In his evidence before the Dudley Commission he said it was a novel thing, when you could get more land than you could use without compulsion, that although A did not want to sell his land and B's was quite as good you should take A's. He agreed if owners of land would not part with it that there might be a case for compulsion, but he did not agree that that was the case. His opinion was that it had been proved pretty conclusively that it was not so, and until all the land that could be obtained voluntarily had been acquired there was no case for compulsion. I heard the O'Conor 524 Don's father's name quoted in the debate just now. All I can say with regard to that is, De mortuis nil nisi bonum. My Lords, I will not detain you longer. I will only add that, as one living a good deal in Ireland and living in peace, I do not hesitate to affirm that at this moment the Irish people suffer from no grievances, political or social, which it is in the power of any Government to allay. There is absolutely no need for this up-rooting of a system of land purchase which has for nearly forty years worked well and worked for peace—I allude to the voluntary system. There is now in Ireland no Government oppression, no class oppression, no religious oppression, and no oppression at all unless it is an oppression not to be allowed to seize your neighbour's goods or resort to violent measures if you do not agree with his views on land tenure. My Lords, this complicated and drastic measure settles nothing, but, on the contrary, unsettles everybody in our country.
My Lords, I shall not detain you many minutes as there is only one point upon which I wish to remark. It is a point that no one has touched upon yet, and that is the effect the migration of congests to the grazing lands has upon the cattle trade of the country. That is one of the most vital points, and in order that it may be understood I must explain to your Lordships that among the grazing farms in the West we have what are called judicial holdings—small holdings under £20, holdings between £20 and £50, and. holdings above £50. The small men breed most of the young cattle, the middle men breed some, and the biggest judicial holders generally buy the cattle young from the small holders and when they become one and a-half or two years old they pass on to the grazier. It is absolutely necessary that they should go to the grazier, because the cattle cannot develop on small holdings; they want scope as they grow. If you take away the grass land occupied by the grazier all the small holders will become bankrupt; they will not be able to pay their instalments if they have bought their holdings, or their rents if they have not bought, and the result will be that although you benefit congestion in another district by the migration of the congests you will create paupers in the districts to which they go. I live in the country and farm my place myself, and I know perfectly well what the custom with regard to rearing cattle in Ireland is as I have explained to your Lordships; and 525 you ought not to break up an established custom suddenly before you see whether the proposed change is going to have a good effect.
The result of the Act of 1903 is that lands have been divided largely, and I can assure your Lordships that the cattle trade has been affected. There are too many young cattle in the country now to supply the graziers, and young cattle are a drug in the market. You may go round the fairs and you will see a lot of half-starved underbred cattle which have been reared on poor land and which the graziers will not buy. We hear about there being a boom in the cattle trade. There is a boom in the sense of a rise in the price of old cattle in condition because they are scarce, but young cattle, as I say, are a drug in the market. I think I can prove that to your Lordships by one or two quotations. The first is an article in the Roscommon Messenger,a very strong Nationalist newspaper of April 3 last, when the spring cattle trade was at its height. It is dealing with one of the results of land purchase. I do not want to abuse land purchase and I do not think this paper wants to either. It says that recent fairs in the county have brought under notice one of the natural results of land purchase which may lead to very serious injury to the cattle trade in the country if necessary precautions are not taken, and that within the last six or eight months there had been an entire absence in their fairs of herds of well finished cattle owing to the system of land purchase in the country.
Then, my Lords, the Tuam Herald of April 17, commenting on the same subject, says it is abundantly clear that not a moment too soon has the question been raised, and that we cannot allow universal purchase to go on without seeing whither it leads and where it ends. It goes on to say that the Irish cattle trade has been an established institution and must not all at once be subjected to a change a little short of revolution without seeing whether or not it is a change for the better. It points out that the small farmer raises young store cattle which, at the age of twelve to eighteen months, he sells to the grazier, and if the grazier who prepares the cattle for exporting is to go under, and he is being gradually stamped out by land purchase, the small owners and breeders must at once turn round and supply his place if possible. That, my Lords, has been the effect on the cattle trade in Galway and Roscommon. In August last I was going down from my place 526 in Galway and there was a fair being held at Gort at which the train stopped, and an inspector got into my carriage and complained that there was not a single young fat beast to be got that year and that there had been 2,000 less cattle carried from Ennis station. It may be asked why do not the people complain? My Lords, they dare not. There is no independent public opinion in Ireland to-day. I think the noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, will admit that. The League forms public opinion, and if people do not follow the League they know what will happen to them—outrage is the first thing, possibly murder in the end, and boycotting always.
I would like to say a good word for the graziers. We are told by the Irish Nationalist members that graziers employ little or no labour. That is perfectly true, but they put more money into the pockets of the small men than if they employed labour. We will suppose a grazier has a farm of 100 acres of moderately good land, and, allowing one beast to two acres, supposing he buys a young beast for £7, that £7 goes into the pockets of the small holder, so that the grazier buys at the rate of £3 10s for his acre, all of which goes into the pocket of the small man. Is there any other farmer who spends as much as £3 10s an acre? Why is it that they are unpopular? The fact of the matter is that the grazier is a more or less independent man; he is not popular with the Leaguers and therefore is not allowed to become popular with the small tenants. Grazing farms are the only farms that produce what I might call a fair competition rent for the land, and if you place small men on the land who are not agriculturists in the ordinary sense of the word at all although they may understand spade labour and the putting of a few potatoes in, the result will be disastrous. I am in favour of relieving congestion, of course, but what is the good of bringing over to the rich grass lands of Galway small men who know nothing whatever of farming?
Sir Horace Plunkett holds the same opinion, if I may quote from an excellent article he wrote in the June number of the Nineteenth Century and After. He points out the uselessness of importing these small men on to grass lands, and says they would have to be taught to be efficient labourers before they could begin to learn to be farmers. I do not agree with Sir Horace there, because I have had experience of these men as labourers and do not want 527 any better; the only thing is they require to have a man over them to show them what to do. They have not much constructive power, but put a good man over them and you do not want any better labourer. Sir Horace goes on to speak of the immense general importance to Ireland of discrediting the agrarian idea which leads every man to cling to his own land or to covet his neighbour's, and although he agrees with the necessity for the reduction of congestion yet he says the Government should refuse to give a farm to any man who has neither the knowledge and skill nor the working capital to enable him to make a living out of it.
I believe the real way to relieve congestion is to get employment elsewhere for the men in the congested districts. Galway, for example, is full of marble and granite, and there is a small company at work there now developing quarries. They have put £17,000 into it, and although it is only a small beginning they are already paying away £100 a week in wages. If capital could be got into the country to start that kind of thing it would relieve congestion considerably, and I would far sooner see £500,000 spent in developing such an industry than in giving it to landowners to induce them to sell their grass lands. When the Committee stage arrives I shall bring down some samples from the quarries of the company I have mentioned for any noble Lord to look at who cares to do so. It has been assumed that if the land is transferred from the possession of the owners to that of the tenants everything in Ireland will be settled. I think there are three very great dangers behind that assumption. One certainly is that capital will leave the country, another is that if the grass lands are divided it will certainly mean ruin to the cattle trade which is the most promising industry we have in Ireland. As soon as compulsory land purchase becomes general the loyalists will be driven out of the South and West, because that is the whole object of land purchase. It has been an agitation from start to finish to get the landlords out of their lands in the South and West because they are loyal subjects. If any noble Lord doubts that opinion I can amply justify it by quotations from the speeches of Irish Nationalist members. In every speech up to to-day they have said they want us out for that, reason.
I will not detain your Lordships very long in bringing before you, as best I can, the reason why I wish to 528 support the Second Reading of this Bill. I think it is admitted that there would have to be a re-adjustment of the financial position under the Act of 1903, and that appears to me to make it necessary for us to consider the points in this Bill as they appear before us. First of all, I must say what an extreme advantage it has been to us in this House to have had this Bill discussed, a Bill containing as it does such sweeping conditions altering to a very great extent the land purchase system in Ireland. The noble Earl who brought in the Bill said the Act of 1903 was passed amid congratulations, conviviality, and the shaking of hands by everybody. May I tell your Lordships why there was that great conviviality? It was because it meant a return to that freedom of contract between man and man which is so clear to every one of us. That conditions of things is to be swept away and the arrangement underlying the whole of the 1903 Act which made it such a phenomenal success is to be set aside. We have only had dug up before us one single case of irregularity of purchase, and I believe that case if it were inquired into would be found to be not so bad as it is supposed to be.
In bringing in the Bill the noble Earl omitted to allude to Part IV. That Part of the Bill brings the whole of Ireland under compulsion. It is put at the end of the Bill as a sort of afterthought. That appears to me to be a peculiar feature, and we cannot in all fairness apply it to particular parts; we must apply it to the whole of Ireland. I should like to ask the noble Earl who brought in the Bill whether, following the argument of the noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, we shall be able to discuss and amend the financial clauses of this Bill in Committee. I do not know whether that would raise a question of privilege, but Lord MacDonnell, in his very able speech, suggested that there was a possibility that we should be able to discuss and amend the financial clauses of the Bill in Committee.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I see the noble Lord wishes an answer now, and I am unwilling to answer that question at such short notice. The noble Lord knows as well as I do what the custom is as regards the privileges of the other House—that is to say, that to increase or diminish or vary a charge upon public funds has not hitherto been considered to fall within the province of this House, and the noble Lord will have 529 to judge how far any Amendment he may desire to put down on this part of the Bill is in conflict with that long-established rule.
Quite so. It may be a case of privilege, but it appears to me that this Bill has come before your Lordships' House in a very curious way. The financial clauses of the Bill were not discussed at all in the other House, and I do not know whether that fact would be any justification for altering them in this House. It appears to me to be a very odd position of affairs that a Bill of this kind dealing with such large financial matters should be brought up to your Lordships' House and we should not be in a position to in any way touch it or amend it. As regards the financial proposals, it appears to me to be a perfect farce that they should never have been discussed in the House of Commons, and yet the Bill has been brought up and placed on the Table of your Lordships' House.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I understand that one day was given by the other House to the discussion of the financial Resolution associated with the Bill, and a second day to the Report of the financial Resolution.
Then I have been misinformed, but One day appears to me to be a very short space of time in which to deal with the financial provisions of a Bill of this description. Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to tell me whether he may put our Amendments on the paper. Whether they will be considered or not is another question. The noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, gave us a concrete case just now showing that a considerable loss would fall on the landlord if the Bill passed in its present form, and that it might mean a loss in selling the land of two years purchase on the rent.
§ LORD MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD
In the case I gave the House the loss amounted to one and a-half year's purchase.
There is one clause which the noble Earl who brought in the Bill appeared to treat with great affection—Clause 17. I myself entertain the greatest misgivings with regard to the whole of that clause, because it means the incorporation into the Bill of that very dangerous element which has sprung up in Ireland of the landless men. Landless men do not exist 530 only in Ireland; they are a by-product that you get in any country in the world. If law and order are not guarded landless men will spring up anywhere and make themselves a trouble, and I maintain that it is quite unjustifiable to say that landless men are the outcome of the Act of 1903. They are a by-product created by the Government through not taking care to look after the law and the property of the people in Ireland.
The history of the Congested Districts Board is one of the nicest things in Irish history. It emanated first of all when Mr. Arthur Balfour was Chief Secretary for Ireland. But now you have been putting men who are not agricultural men on these lands, and you have been running great risks. An Irishman is a man who will take any land you put him on and see what he can do with it. I cannot help thinking that there has been too much hurry in dealing with congestion in the West of Ireland. But is the system of buying, dividing, and altering the size of holdings and putting men here and there going to obtain as a permanent institution in Ireland? The procedure to get untenanted land which has never come into the Courts is very peculiar, and the question of buying these untenanted lands is a very delicate one; for where negotiations have been entered into and failed it means that the property is depreciated in value. One word more about the compulsory clauses. The noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, said last night that compulsion meant cash payment, and that cash payment would mean another block, and a block which would be very hard to get over, in the Land Commission Courts. There is a block now of £52,000,000. According to the noble Earl's figures there are £75,000,000 required to complete sales.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I ought to explain about the £75,000,000. I took that as a sort of half-way house between the two extreme figures which have been named.
Assuming it to be £70,000,000, supposing you brought in compulsory purchase to-morrow you would have a block at once and a worse block than you have now. You cannot have the two things running side by side. You must have the one or the other. If you have compulsory purchase you must inevitably have cash payment, and you will have a worse block than you have now. We on this side of the House only ask that you will 531 allow the voluntary system, which has been such a phenomenal success, to continue as it is now. I dare say the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he addresses your Lordships' House will give us a case to prove that compulsion is necessary. We maintain, on the other hand, that land suitable for dealing with congestion can be obtained voluntarily if the owners are paid in cash and if they are properly approached. It is very curious, if the voluntary purchase system has been such a phenomenal success, that you should immediately knock it on the head and start another one. I am afraid, my Lords, I have gone over a lot of old ground, but with a Bill of this description and with the voluminous speeches we have had in the course of the debate it is almost impossible to avoid going back over some old ground. But I do trust, if we are to read this Bill a second time, that we shall be able to make it a Bill which will not inflict injustice on the owners and occupiers in Ireland.
§ [The sitting was suspended at eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I think that if there are any who have doubts as to the advisability or the necessity of a Second Chamber those doubts must disappear when it is realised in what condition this Bill, a Bill of great importance and magnitude, has been sent to your Lordships' House. I may say it has been practically undiscussed in another place—certainly its chief clauses have been undiscussed, because they were guillotined by means of a powerful majority; and therefore I say it is necessary in those circumstances that your Lordships' possessing here fortunately no guillotine and no question of that guillotine, should discuss each of these clauses when we go into Committee in the manner in which I think they ought to have been discussed in another place.
In the course of his speech last night my noble friend Lord Dunraven drew your Lordships' attention to the very short time that was permitted in the House of Commons for the discussion of this question. I do not think I need weary your Lordships by again going over the details he gave as to the amount of time given to this very important measure, but I heard with some surprise statements from the two noble Earls on the Front Bench opposite which seem to show that they think adequate 532 time and adequate discussion have been given to this measure in another place. In the course of his speech Lord Langford, who spoke last, made a statement in which he declared that no proper time had been given to discuss the financial clauses of this Bill. The noble Earl opposite, I have no doubt speaking as he believed absolutely correctly, declared that a certain amount of time had been given to the discussion of these financial clauses. Since your Lordships' House adjourned this evening I have looked into this question, and I find my friend Lord Langford was absolutely right. I find that one day was given to the financial Resolution in Committee, but that it was gagged without discussion in accordance with the rules of the guillotine as carried out by His Majesty's Government in another place; and I find that one day only was given on Report. The Report of the Resolution was taken on July 23, one day being allocated under the gag resolution to the Committee stage of the clauses, which occupied certainly not more than half an hour or so. Therefore, I think my noble friend, Lord Langford was perfectly justified in saving that the financial clauses of this Bill had been run through the House of Commons with hardly any, if any, adequate discussion.
I must remind your Lordships again, because it seems to be forgotten on the Front Bench opposite, that although this Bill contains no fewer than seventy clauses only ten of them were discussed at all in another place. To the Second Reading only two short days were given; for the Committee stage eight days, of which four were Fridays and therefore short days; for the Report stage, two days were given, the only clauses discussed being Government clauses; and for the Third Reading, only half a-day was given. I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether in his experience of the House of Commons he has ever known a Bill of this magnitude rushed through by means of a powerful majority with such unseemly haste, which I think, is absolutely injurious to the interests of Parliament as a whole. I confess I heard with a certain amount of surprise from the noble Earl Lord Granard, that he considered the Bill had been sufficiently discussed in the House of Commons. It is not for me to confute the noble Earl, who is not here, but I refer him to his colleague Mr. Birrell, and to two of his Nationalist supporters, Mr. Redmond and Mr. Kavanagh 533 What said Mr. Birrell with regard to this measure? Mr. Birrell said—I agree there are some parts of this measure which have not received proper, or indeed, any Parliamentary discussion.I think out of the mouth of the Chief Secretary I can prove that this Bill has not been fairly discussed, and I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack if he can give some reason why, on the confession of his own colleagues, this Bill has not been properly discussed in another place, and is sent up here where it is expected, I suppose, to be accepted literally without discussion. Mr. Redmond said that if there were no great Budget called for in this session the whole of the session could be most properly occupied with the discussion of this Bill. Mr. Kavanagh, also a supporter of the Chief Secretary, virtually said the same thing; and therefore I do ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack if he will give us some reason, when he replies to me, why a measure of this importance is sent up to your Lordships' House from another place without discussion. My Lords, I have my own ideas. I cannot but think it is the desire of His Majesty's Government to conceal from the country the shortcomings of this measure; but I hope your Lordships when we arrive at the Committee stage will not allow anything of that sort, and that you will discuss fully and freely every one of the clauses so that the country may understand what is the nature of this Bill.
I say at once that if this had been a measure to promote the transfer of land in Ireland by means of purchase it would receive the most cordial support of the Party to which I belong, not only in this House but also in another place. I have myself from the moment that I commenced my political career as an Irish member of the House of Commons done my utmost, as far as lay in my power, to promote the transfer of land from owner to occupier in Ireland on terms agreeable to occupier and owner and with no appreciable risk to the State; and I look back with satisfaction to the various measures that I have been privileged to support. I look back to the measure of my noble friend Lord Ashbourne in 1885 which did so much to solve the great Irish land problem; and of all the measures of land purchase which have been put forward by the Party of which I have been a member I can say with perfect truth that I 534 have done my utmost, as far as lay in my power, to promote those measures. But, my Lords, the Bill before us is not merely a Land Purchase Bill. It was not initiated in another place and sent up to your Lordships with the idea of transferring the land from the owner to the occupier on the terms I have put forward. This is a Bill which has been truly described in another place as calculated to paralyse the whole system of land sale and land purchase in Ireland. There are many other objects aimed at in this Bill far beyond the principles we have always supported. There is undoubtedly what is called compulsory sale. Upon that I shall say a few words before I sit down; but in this Bill, which we were led to believe was a Bill to promote the sale and purchase of land in Ireland, we find involved an enormous number of provisions of an absolutely extraneous character. We find there is the reconstruction of the Congested Districts' Board. We find also many provisions in this Bill which, if the question is fairly considered and thrashed out in your Lordships' House, must prove to be absolutely injurious to the question of land purchase and land sale in Ireland.
A great deal lies been said about the Act of 1903. I am proud to think that as a member of the Government of that time I had a good deal to do with that Bill in sup porting the proposals of my right hon. friend who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. George Wyndham. But remember what was the basis on which that Act was founded. There was a general agreement on both sides of the House of Commons, and also on both sides of your Lordships' House. It received the sanction and the support of the Nationalist Party in Ireland, and consequently I may say that it was a universally satisfactory Bill. But what is the Bill now before us? I cannot gather much from what took place in the House of Commons, because no discussion of the question was allowed there; but even from what I have heard in your Lordships' House in the course of the last two days I cannot but gather that this Bill is not universally approved of by all the sections of those parties who support His Majesty's Government either in this House or in the House of Commons. The finance question, of course, is a very serious one. If His Majesty's Government had introduced a measure which would have lubricated the wheels of finance, by which, I mean, introduced some measure which 535 would have remedied some of the imperfections with regard to finance in the Act of 1903—for I do not think there ever has been a Bill introduced into Parliament of any sort or kind without imperfections—that measure would have received the hearty support of the members of the Opposition, whether in this House or in the House of Commons. But this Bill does nothing of the sort.
I am not going to enter into the question of finance. It has been dealt with by Lord MacDonnell, and I have no doubt that in Committee it will be dealt with equally fully. Therefore, I do not propose now to enter into details; but what I do complain of is that the only solution, so far as I can gather at the present moment, to obviate the financial difficulties that have accrued is that the tenant who has bought should pay a higher annual sum to the State and that the owner who has sold should not receive his money in cash. As has been shown in the course of the debate, these two proposals must act most injuriously towards the whole question of transferring the land from the owner to the occupier, on which, I think, the future land question of Ireland depends. Not only will it do that, my Lords, but I think these proposals will injuriously affect the present arrangements that have been made.
Having said so much, or rather so little, about the financial question, because I think that is really a question for Committee, I pass to what I think are the chief clauses in the Bill which will most injuriously affect the question of the transfer of land in Ireland. I deal first of all with the zones. Now that question has been discussed from various points of view, but I have not gathered from anything that has been said that anybody can controvert the statement that the zone system initiated by Mr. Wyndham has been most beneficial in the transfer of land from owner to occupier. The only fault, perhaps, that can be found with regard to the zone system is that it has worked too satisfactorily, for it has what is vulgarly called "taken on," and a vast amount of land, far more than ever was anticipated, has been transferred from owner to occupier. The rapidity and the ease with which those transactions have been carried out have been due entirely to the admirable system of the zones as intro- 536 duced by Mr. Wyndham in his Bill of 1903. I do not think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will contradict me when I say that the transfer of land has been extremely rapid and extremely satisfactory, and that the only drawback has been that there has not been money enough to meet the requirements from the action of these zones.
What is the only objection put forward to the admirable working of the zone system? Undoubtedly the Nationalist Party did not approve of the progress made under the zone system in the transfer of land in Ireland. Undoubtedly that transfer, making the occupier the owner of his holding, is very injurious to those whose sole object in life is agitation in Ireland. Consequently, if the zone system, which has worked so satisfactorily, and would continue to do so if left alone, is allowed to remain, they recognise that agitation must be abolished. Therefore, they put forward a number of arguments as to why the zones have not worked satisfactorily. One of their arguments is that the prices of land are too high. If that is true the zone system must be unpopular. But is the zone system unpopular, either with the occupier who desires to buy or with the owner? If it were so the intending purchaser would naturally and wisely refuse to buy directly under the zone system and would insist on buying through the Estates Commissioners. Well, have they bought through the Estates Commissioners to a greater extent than they have through the direct system of sales, as they are enabled to do under the zones? I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will find that nine-tenths of the total applications to buy land have been under the direct sale of the zones, and not at the hands of the Estate Commissioners. Therefore, the statement that the zones are not popular is contradicted by the figure I have quoted.
Then we know, again, that the Nationalist Party, which are synonymous with the United Irish League, are extremely anxious to abolish the zone system, and the leaders of the Nationalist Party or the United Irish League Party held a meeting of their various constituents in September last year in which they denounced the whole of the zone system. But they have been repudiated by the men whom they advised not to take advantage 537 of the zone system, for in the two months following September last year; in which this appeal was made, applications for money to be advanced on direct sales amounted to nearly £13,500,000. I venture to say—and I hope the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will take note of my assertion—that the zone system is not only not unpopular but has worked with the greatest advantage in Ireland for those who desire to buy land. Then we have been told by the Nationalist Party that under the zones the occupiers of land who are anxious to buy have made improvident bargains. I have myself a higher estimation of the sense, the shrewdness, and the ability of the occupiers of land in Ireland than evidently the Nationalist Party have, and having had a certain amount of experience—I have sold all my property in County Down—I do not hesitate to say that the occupier of land is quite as capable of taking care of himself as the man whose land he wants to buy. If the occupier had been improvident and had given more than he could afford to pay, would not the result have been apparent in the fact that he would not have paid the annuities which were due? Is not that a proof that the tenant has not only got what he wanted, and that he has not lost, but has in all probability gained by the bargain? The noble Lord, Lord St. David's, made a long speech yesterday, but as I am not a financier I could not follow him with regard to all the points he put forward; but on one point I could follow him and controvert him. Lord St. David's seemed somewhat doubtful as to the security on which money was advanced to the occupier in order to enable him to buy his holding. Well, my Lords, I say at once that when the State advances money it is bound to recognise its responsibility and be perfectly assured that the annuities to be paid for the advance should be paid regularly and without any doubt or any fear that the State will not receive its just return.
But now let me go back to the various Purchase Acts with which I was connected. I should like to hear from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether he is aware of the regularity with which these annuities have been paid. From the very commencement the annuities have been paid regularly by these Irish tenants, and in a manner which has 538 not been equalled, Certainly not surpassed, by the London tenants of those Dukes who are so often held up to reprobation. If the noble and learned Lord cares to look through the figures he will find that the arrears are not even in thousands, but are only in hundreds; and therefore when Lord St. David's tells us there is no security I ask him to prove it, seeing that I can show that the interest on the money has been paid with a regularity of which anybody in any part of the United Kingdom might be absolutely proud.
Again, my Lords, we are told that the prices given under the zones do not represent the full security. The man who says that, to my mind, is absolutely ignorant of the details of the question as to how Irish laud passes from the occupier to the owner. The money advanced under the zones is only the owner's interest. But what remains? There remains the security to the State of the farm itself, and there remains above all what is known in the North of Ireland as tenant right, which your Lordships in England would understand as goodwill, and the goodwill of the farm generally surpasses by a very great extent the fee simple of the value of the land. Therefore I venture to hope that I have proved Lord St. David's statement to be absolutely inaccurate, and it would never have been made had he really studied the question of the transfer of land in Ireland, the regularity with which the payments were made, and the security of the State in obtaining its just return for its outlay.
Now what I want to know is this—What is the attitude of the Government with regard to zones? The Government seem to me to take up a very curious attitude. On the one hand they denounce the zones, as I gather by their Bill and speeches, while, on the other hand, they seem inclined to allow the zones to go on. They do not wish, so far as I can see, entirely to abolish them, but they give powers to certain commissioners to interfere and endeavour to make a bargain—a system which has never before been known amongst those who have accorded the Land Act of 1903 the right to come between the zones. What is the reason of this change in the zones? I have proved, I think, that the zone system is not unpopular, that it is advantageous to the owners and occupiers of land in Ireland, and that the amounts which have been 539 advanced have been at no risk whatever to the State. Therefore I am at a loss to understand on what grounds the Government propose to alter this zone system which has worked so well. I know exactly the excuse that is put forward. It is that unreasonable sums have been advanced in order that in the sum advanced the payment of arrears might be included. It was mentioned by one or two of my noble friends behind me. But I ask His Majesty's Government to give me some specific cases in which this has taken place. From what I have heard, the cases are few and far between. Lord Granard gave one; but can he tell me of a number of cases of a similar character? I have not heard of them. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will tell me. If this state of things has taken place which we are told is the reason for abolishing the zones, then let the Government first of all give us those cases, and if they are proved to be correct then let them do one of two things—either move an Amendment to their own Bill in your Lordships' House insisting that an inquiry shall be made as to the arrears over a certain number of years, or else let them, as my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested yesterday, put down two years of arrears which should be allowed within the sphere of the zones. I think that is a fair offer to the Government. But I do ask before anything is done and the zones condemned that we should be given some specific cases as to how the system of zones has been abused. Having realised the extraordinary rapidity with which sales have been managed and the extraordinary absence of friction with which these sales have been carried on under the zones, I say that it is not right that this system should be interfered with, as it would retard, and retard most materially, the good work done under the zones by the Act of 1903.
As to the question of the bonus, there seems to me a great deal of misapprehension as to the reason why the bonus was given in the Act of 1903. I do not think noble Lords have any idea of the expense that is required to effect a transfer of land between the owner and the occupier, and it was because the expense was so great in regard to the proof of title and many other things in the transfer of land, that that bonus was given, and more especially in order to meet the very high rate of interest 540 paid on charges on property in Ireland, for without that bonus being given it would have been absolutely impossible for the owner of property to sell. That was the reason why, a ter a considerable discussion in the House of Commons, it was decided that the bonus should be a fixed bonus and not a sliding one, and it is on those grounds, without going further into the matter, that I think your Lordships should very carefully consider the question before you decide to alter the system from a fixed to a sliding scale.
But now, my Lords, the most important question in the whole of this Bill is what I may call the compulsory sale, so frequently called compulsory purchase, although I do not know why, because no one is compelled to buy, but people are compelled to sell. Your Lordships, however, will understand what I mean by it. That principle was never under discussion in Committee of the House of Commons. I should like to ask the Lord Chancellor why that was the case, because I think the most important feature of this measure is the change from the voluntary system in the Act of 1903 to the proposed compulsory system under the Bill now being discussed. I should like to hear why it was never discussed. But I would say that, in discussing the whole question of taking land compulsorily, there must be two objects prominently before the mind of any just man. First of all, is it necessary to take the land compulsorily; secondly, if you are convinced that it is necessary, are you doing it in a just mannner? Let me deal first with the question as to whether it is necessary to take this land compulsorily. I think the only excuse that can be put forward for taking land under this Bill compulsorily would be by proving that it was absolutely impossible to get land otherwise. But is that the case, my Lords? I maintain that at the present moment that state of affairs does not exist. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition dealt very fully with this question yesterday. He will correct me if I am wrong, for I am speaking from memory, but so far as I could gather from his speech he seemed to think there was property in the congested districts of not less than 12,000 acres which was inspected by people competent to inspect—the Congested Districts Board—and which it was agreed would be absolutely suitable if it could be bought. Why was it not bought? 541 Because there was no money to buy it. Surely, my Lords, you cannot say that you ought to take land compulsorily when there is much to be sold voluntarily. At the present moment there is land of the aggregate value of £53,000,000—I think the noble Earl opposite gave this figure although my figure is £56,000,000, but that is a detail—which it had been agreed to sell under Mr. Wyndam's Act, but for the purchase of which money is not available.
I ventured, I hoped not rudely, to interrupt the noble Earl, Lord Granard, when he was talking about taking land compulsorily. What I want to ask is this—Are the Government proposing to take land compulsorily and to pay for it when they have no got the money to pay for the land in respect of the agreements which have been made and which were made voluntarily? If that is the case, I am very anxious to know where the money is to come from. If His Majesty's Government do not carry out the contracts agreed upon up to those fifty odd million pounds they have no right to take money to invest in fresh lands which they propose to take compulsorily; they have no right to do that until they have paid their rightful debts. We understand and believe that it is proposed to reduce the amount of money which is due to those who have voluntarily agreed to buy and sell by taking some of it to acquire land compulsorily. I cannot believe that anybody with a sense of justice can take money which has been agreed upon, and invest it in taking land compulsorily which has not been agreed upon. Before embarking upon any system of expropriation, any system of taking land compulsorily, the amount of money that has been agreed upon should first of all be paid off, and therefore I hope that your Lordships will not agree to allow any question of taking land compulsorily and paying for it with the money which has already been agreed upon, and more or less promised—I hope your Lordships will not allow that to be done under this Bill. I think I have proved that it is not necessary to take land compulsorily.
I now proceed with the other part of my argument. Is it just to take this land? Let me examine the provisions of this Bill in which it is proposed to take land compulsorily. The proposals are of a most 542 remarkable character. The first step in taking this land is the "final offer," and the final offer is to be the first step. There is to be no bargaining. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, laughs, but it is no laughing matter for those whose land is about to be taken. The Bill says that the final offer is to be the price which the Estates Commissioners are willing to give, and in arriving at that price, the Estates Commissioners are to have regard to the price which the tenants and other persons—I draw attention to that—are willing to give. Therefore it would seem that a wholly ridiculous and inadequate offer on the part of any tenant, perhaps some unknown tenant, may be made, and if refused by the owner, as it would be refused, that starts the procedure which begins the "final offer." Therefore I am justified in saying that the first step is the final offer and the final offer is the first step. A noble Lord opposite rather criticised a remark by a noble Lord on this side of the House with regard to the question as to whom "any person" may be. I think that in the Committee stage of this Bill we should have Clauses 17 and 43 clearly defined as to what "any person" may mean. It might be the man on the spot or it might be somebody walking about the streets of London, and anything more dangerous it would be absolutely impossible to imagine. What is to be the effect in Ireland if this provision is taken advantage of? The result will be that the owners of property will be forced to take the lowest possible price, a price far below the market value. Then what will be the result of that? Those who have purchased already, those who have agreed on their purchase deeds, would naturally think that they had paid far too much, and it is quite possible that those who have agreed to buy their lands for their sons might repudiate those agreements. They might do even more. There might be the feeling that a man had paid too much, and he might refuse to pay his annuity.
I was very much struck last night by a remark by the noble Lord, Lord Castle-town, who knows the state of Ireland a great deal better than I do. The noble Lord stated the belief that since this idea has been in the air there has also been in his district an idea to repudiate not only agreements, but to repudiate annuities. He went further and said he believed that 543 if there were a general repudiation of these annuities the result would be a civil war in Ireland. I would commend to the Government that carefully thought-out statement and ask them, in the face of that, whether they are justified in going on in the course that is being pursued. There is one question I want to ask, a really important question. Does the Chief Secretary really mean to carry out the proposals he has put forward with regard to compulsory sale? Mr. Birrell, replying to objections brought against the clause, declared that they were not likely to be realised because he said that for many a long day to come the cash at the disposal of the Estates Commissioners would be so small as to render it most unlikely that they would be put into operation. The Chief Secretary was referring to these compulsory powers. I want to know what that means. I think we are entitled to have an answer on that subject. Obviously, if the clause is to be worked it is unjust. On the other hand if it is only meant for show, if it is only meant to hoodwink the Irish Nationalists into believing they have the substance when they only have the shadow, I think your Lordships will be justified in putting an end to that state of affairs by removing the clause altogether.
Now I come to Part III, the part which deals with congestion. The question of congestion occupied a most extensive inquiry at the hands of the Dudley Commission and should have received by the House of Commons considerably more attention than it did Mr. Birrell, in introducing the Land Bill in 1908, said the Commission attracted an enormous amount of attention and excited great interest in Ireland, and that if the House of Commons imagined that they could refer a question of such vital importance and deep interest to a Commission of this sort and then pay no attention to that Commission's Report, they would be repeating the evil behaviour for which, unfortunately, there was some precedent in the past. What has the House of Commons done with regard to the Report of the Dudley Commission? The whole personnel of the Congested Districts Board is thrown into the melting pot. The House of Commons was only allowed a few hours at the fag end of the session to discuss a question which took the Royal Commission two years to investigate, by means of 116 public 544 sittings devoted to the examination of 560 witnesses through over 60,000 questions. Their work is recorded in eleven volumes of evidence, besides nearly twenty-one pages of supplementary matter. Surely it must therefore have been a joke on the part of the Chief Secretary—one of the somewhat remarkable jokes he makes—when he allowed the Report to be considered in such a short space of time. Therefore I do hope that when this question comes up in your Lordships' House it will be thoroughly discussed and thrashed out from every point of view. There are very important alterations made—alterations to increase the number of members of the Board, to increase the elective element, to enlarge the Board's area, and to confer upon the Board compulsory powers of purchase. For what purpose was that body originally created? It was created to endeavour to allay the distress and misery existing in certain congested districts. That Board did its work right well, and the changed condition of affairs in those districts is shown by the money invested in the savings banks and the increase in the thrift and industry of the people.
But what is proposed to be done now? It is proposed to alter the whole constitution of the Board. It is proposed to add to it a number of elected members. What does that mean? To the ordinary man in England it sounds very plausible, but we who live in Ireland know full well that local pressure will be put upon those elected members to do what they can for their own districts, and so carry out a system of jobbery simply in the interests of the districts with which they are associated. If they did not do so jealousy would be created and the lives of those people would be a misery. And their business must be neglected. How can a great body of nineteen people, some of them elected, some of them not, carry out the work which a practical body has been doing for the last few years? They will resolve themselves more or less into a body of discussion and debate, and a body such as the Congested Districts Board, which has the distribution of public finance, should be above anything of that sort. They ought to be above local pressure and able to deal with these great matters with absolute impartiality. But what would be the result of this? We know full well that these elected members would be the nominees of the United Irish League, and 545 that the United Irish League has never hesitated to bring pressure of a most unpleasant character to bear upon people who, to them, are obnoxious. I have had cases brought before my notice, in which a great number of labourers' cottages have at times been put down on certain spots, not because they were wanted there, but because it was thought they would annoy the man who was the owner of the land. That is not an unusual occurrence. If that is the case with regard to labourers' cottages, what will be the condition of affairs if they have still further and greater powers entrusted to them?
The main object of the Government in this Bill is, I understand, to migrate from the congested districts to other districts those people who are what are called migrants. What reception would those people have at the hands of the members of the United Irish League if they were planted on to land which those who were cattle-drivers thought was to be their reward for the action they had taken part in during the past two years? Do you think that migration would be encouraged under this new elected Board? We know well the opinion of those in authority in the United Irish League with regard to the landless men. There is plenty of evidence as to the opposition which the landless man feels towards the migrants. Reference is made to it in the Report of the Evidence of the Dudley Commission, numerous resolutions have been passed by branches of the League against migrants, and county councillors and other leading local members of the League have advocated the claims of the landless men as against the claims of the migrants. Under this Bill what is going to be done? You are going to let loose the cattle-drivers on the migrants. That will be the result of your proposals with regard to this alteration of the Congested Districts Board, and the whole bottom of your Bill is knocked out if these migrants whom, under your Bill, you propose to transplant into these districts, are not allowed to live there because the cattle-drivers object to them.
Why is this Bill introduced? I do not think any one will say it is introduced for the purpose of promoting prosperity in Ireland. Can any one say that it is introduced for the purpose of promoting the transfer of land between the occupier 546 and the owner which is now working so admirably? Can anybody say that under this Bill you are going to relieve congestion by putting migrants down in a district where they will not be allowed to live? I do not think any one will contradict me when I say the clauses of this Bill will not carry out those objects. They will ruin some of the chief resources of Ireland. Lord Clonbrock told us yesterday that in Connaught horse-breeding was a great advantage in supplying remounts for the Army. The noble Lord did not tell your I Lordships of the enormous amount of cattle reared on these grazing ranches, or the amount of cattle exported annually on which the agricultural classes chiefly depend. The amount of stock reared on these ranches in Ireland can be calculated by millions, and if you break up these ranches, if you try to make them into mere agricultural holdings on which to put migrants who have had no experience of farming or who will be driven off by the cattle-drivers, you will bring to a deadlock one of Ireland's greatest industries.
Why, then, is the Bill introduced? It is introduced simply as a quid pro quo to Mr. Dillon and the Nationalist Party for supporting the Liberal Party at the present moment in the House of Commons. It is the reward given to the members of the United Irish League for having decided that while this Bill was in progress there should be a cessation of cattle-driving. "Give Mr. Birrell a chance" was their cry. But does Mr. Birrell himself believe in the Bill he is introducing? I venture to say he introduced this Bill simply because he was told to do so, and he did so with the greatest possible reluctance. Here are Mr. Birrell's own words—No one would accuse any Chief Secretary of wishing to introduce a Land Bill if he could possibly avoid it. I have done the utmost I possibly could do to avoid introducing the measure.Those are the words of the Chief Secretary in introducing one of the most important measures ever introduced into Parliament. This Bill is not introduced to benefit Ireland. To my mind, if carried in its present condition it will mean the ruin of Ireland. It is because I feel so strongly on this subject, it is because I feel, living in Ireland as I do, how much Ireland depends on being governed by a firm system, endeavouring to promote prosperity by transferring the land on equitable terms 547 from landlords to tenants, that I beg your Lordships, when this Bill goes into Committee, to consider it most seriously in each and all of its details.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, I think everybody will admit that the whole subject of Irish land and its tenure is one of the most complicated legal, social, and political problems that can be presented for the consideration of any man, and I am under this disadvantage in comparison with the noble Marquess who has just spoken, that I have not his intimate personal knowledge of the working of this subject. I have knowledge merely as a Parliamentary student during a long period of years, and my knowledge is secondhand. An additional difficulty is placed in my way by the manner in which this debate has been carried on. All through the debates that I have heard in reference to this subject there has been a constant series of accusations against the Government of the day, varying hardly at all either in phrase or in substance, and going on now, in my own experience, over a period of twenty-nine years. In each one of those debates the same kind of accusation has been made in the same kind of language as was used yesterday and as has been used to day.
Let me see, for example, how the noble Lord, Lord Curzon, dealt with the matter. The noble Lord, if I may respectfully say so, did not contribute a single suggestion towards the solution of these difficult questions. He said that the Government were under the heel of the Irish Party; that the Irish Nationalist Party wished to prevent a settlement; that we have re-opened the whole of the question of land purchase; that we have destroyed all the elements of the Act of 1903; that the Government of this country are setting up an enormous system of intimidation; that we had a passion to destroy and a deadly partiality for a clean slate. We have also been told that the loyalists are to be driven out of the country, and that the Government wish to conceal from the country the real meaning of this Bill. Of course this is Parliamentary discussion, and I suppose Parliamentary invective differs from personal and private invective because of a certain usage; but there is no foundation for any one of those charges, and I will endeavour to establish 548 that with regard to particular charges made on this occasion, and others which have been made upon every occasion during the whole of the agrarian revolution that has been proceeding for more than thirty years in Ireland. I will myself endeavour to refrain from rhetoric. I am a great admirer of Lord Curzon's eloquence, but I cannot help thinking that if he could deal with these questions with a little less eloquence and a little more in a matter-of-fact way we should be more likely to come to some conclusion. I will endeavour to be matter-of-fact, and, as far as I can, to be accurate.
In the first place, let me ask what is the occasion of this Bill? The Chief Secretary for Ireland expresses a great reluctance to bring in any Irish Land Bill. I can completely understand his feelings. I think there are very few Members of this House who do not sympathise with him. But let me see what were the circumstances and necessities attending the introduction of this Bill. The primary necessity was a necessity of finance. I do not make any reproach at all to Mr. Wyndham nor to his colleagues in the Government of 1903. But we must all acknowledge that they based their proposals upon serious miscalculations. In the first place Mr. Wyndham said that the size of the problem, the value of the land which was to be purchased under this scheme, was one hundred millions sterling. Now that was obviously wrong. There have been contracts already amounting to £85,000,000 sterling, and if his calculation had been right we should have been within £15,000,000 of completing the whole of the transactions. We know from the figures that there is from seventy-five millions to ninety-eight millions of property still to be disposed of. We know that the size of the problem was understated by one-half. In the next place, the Government of that day acted upon the assumption that two and three-quarters stock would be issued at par. As a matter of fact, the stock which has been issued during the last five or six years has been issued at eighty-eight and a fraction, and it is now still lower, and if we continued on the footing on which the Act of 1903 was introduced there would be a complete departure from the absolute limit of the demands upon the Treasury which was promised at that time in Parliament by the Government of the day, and on the faith of which Parliament passed the Act 549 of 1903. An immense block has arisen in consequence.
The complaint is made, "Why do you not increase the staff?" and the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, said "What you are proceeding to do is asking the State to make a composition with its creditors." But Mr. Wyndham's pledges did not relate merely to the amount of stock that would be required or to the rate at which it would be issued, but also to the rate at which the purchase would proceed. My noble friend the Leader of the House referred to that in his opening speech, but no reference whatever has been made to it in the subsequent debate. Let me remind your Lordships of what was said by Mr. Wyndham in 1903. He said there was to be "due and zealous regard in this respect to the national credit." Surely we must all share in an opinion of that kind. He then proceeded—I say emphatically that it will be neither financially prudent nor administratively possible to expand these operations at a pace so high as to make us go to the City for more than £5,000,000 in any one of the first three years after the passing of this Act.But during the first three years after the passing of the Act upwards of £5,000,000 was issued every year. He proceeded—After three years, in my opinion, it will be possible and desirable to mend the pace. After three years we ought to be able 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.In other words, it would be at the rate of £7,000,000 a year. In the fourth year upwards of £5,000,000 was issued, and in the fifth year upwards of £6,500,000 was issued, and I must say it seems to me very difficult to blame the Treasury in that particular, remembering the promises that were made and the conditions upon which the landlords themselves and the tenants knew it was intended to operate when the Bill was passed. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition admits that the time has come to reconsider the financial arrangements. Any one who has not only a jealous regard but who has a reasonable regard for the national finances of the country and the national credit, which is valuable for Ireland as well as this country, must feel that the noble Marquess is fully justified in making that statement. But it is easy to say there should be re- 550 consideration. It would have been most interesting from one of the distinguished authors of the Bill of 1903 to have received some assistance towards getting out of the deadlock created by that legislation. We were assenting parties to the legislation of 1903, I entirely agree, but being in Opposition and without official knowledge we could not be expected to be acquainted with all the financial foundations.
Our solution of the deadlock is this. There are four parties who are concerned in these transactions. There is the landlord, the tenant, the Treasury, and the ratepayer. Nobody proposes that we should proceed on the lines of the Act of 1903 without some change, and for this reason, that it would leave upon the ratepayers a charge of about £640,000 a year. That is what will be the effect unless some Bill is passed to mend the situation. We do not propose that the ratepayer should bear that sum of money, and the Treasury is ready to come to his relief. I must confess that the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, made a remarkable statement when he was dealing with the liability to fall upon the fund in relief of rates. It was solemnly laid down in the Act of 1903, and was a condition given as a security to Parliament, that the Treasury would not be called upon to find the money. The noble Earl has referred to this as a technical error in the Act of 1903. He is very tender to his friends, but I think he was, I will not say unkind, but a little severe upon his opponents. Under this Bill the ratepayers will be relieved from the responsibility for this £640,000 a year.
Now I come to the Treasury, and let us see how they are dealt with. The Treasury are generally supposed to have no friends, and though I do not agree with everything that has been said by my noble friend, I can quite understand sympathy even for the Treasury in the circumstances in which they are placed by the dilemma caused by the Act. The Treasury take over the liability for excess stock for pending agreements capitalised at seven and a-half millions. Instead of a bonus of twelve millions, including excess stock, on the bonus they will have to pay eighteen millions. The twelve millions were not given, as the noble Marquess seems to suppose, on the footing that everyone would get twelve per cent., but on the assumption that 100 millions would cover the purchase and that the 551 twelve millions should go as far as they could if the amount was over 100 millions. It was an absolute limit—these are the words of Mr. Wyndham—with regard to the bonus, and it now comes to eighteen millions. I never knew the Treasury in such a melting mood before. I think the Treasury have behaved with singular generosity, for not only will they pay this large sum, but they will have to find cash—and this is an answer to one of the questions of the noble Marquess—for all the compulsory purchases they may make under the Bill, if it passes, and they will have to pay the staff expenses. Taking all together, instead of there being the limit of twelve millions, as was contemplated under the Act of 1903, there will be loss to the Treasury estimated at about thirty millions. I think it was the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, who, in the course of the debate, and in default of making any practical suggestion, which I was most anxious to hear from him, said it would be wise to treat people generously in this matter. I think the Treasury have behaved generously on the figures I have just presented.
I now come to the landlord. Of course, in a situation like this some sacrifice is to be expected from everybody. Let me take the case of the landlord. The landlord may stay as he is, waiting for the block to be removed, and pray remember that whenever landlords or tenants entered into an agreement under the Act, knowing the finances of it and the rate at which the purchases were to go through—that it was not to be done at the rate of more than five millions a year—they all knew there must be a block. They must have known it. What we ask them is that, if they like to stay as they are, very well, they will take their turn; but, if they do not, they have the option of taking payment in stock partly or wholly, and partly, or wholly in cash. My noble friend explained it was rather an intricate matter, but I think he explained it most clearly—that there would be different lists, and one of the lists which would be early taken would be that of those sellers who were willing to take half in stock and half in shares, the stock being taken at a price of ninety-two. The tenants, it is true, sacrifice a quarter per cent. more in security. I regret it, but when a reconstruction, so to speak, has to be arrived at—and no one really disputes that there must be a reconstruction—have not the Treasury taken a 552 fair share of the burden, and is it not reasonable that a small contribution of that kind should be made by the other parties to this transaction in the circumstances to which I have alluded?
I was very much entertained by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, who said, When are we going to have an end of Land Bills? And he seemed to suggest that there was something approaching delinquency in our bringing forward this Irish Land Bill at all. I do not in the least mean to reproach him, but I think he might have remembered it has arisen out of the deadlock created by the miscalculation which was made in 1903. I thought myself, when he made that observation and asked that question, that I detected on the countenances of some of those noble Lords sitting behind him that irrepressible sense of humour which is the magic of Ireland.
Let me turn to the other complaint that has been made. If you will permit me, as I know there are other speakers with a better title who wish to address the House, and as it is essentially a Committee point, I will not say anything at this stage about the composition of the new Congested Districts Board and the representative element upon it. It is an argument which requires dealing with. We shall meet it and deal with it in Committee, but, after all, that is a thing which is not one of the fundamental parts of the financial operations of the Bill. It may be an important part of the Bill and such as deserves discussion; but in the short time at my disposal I prefer to deal with the really substantial part of the Bill. And first, before I do that, may I refer to the statement which has been made that this Bill has not been discussed in the House of Commons? We have had figures given us about what the House of Commons did, how many hours they bestowed upon it, how many days—a sort of time table of the proceedings of another place. Is it not rather delicate ground for one House of Parliament to take under its wing the internal proceedings of the other House, and to constitute ourselves censores morum of the other House of Parliament? I respectfully suggest that for the consideration of your Lordships. But let me just see. The tremendous offence on which Lord Dunraven adverted was that only eight days had been given to the Bill in Committee of the other House. I wonder why its important pro- 553 visions did not receive consideration in that time. I am not going to transgress in the direction which I have ventured to indicate; but let us take a hypothetical case. Suppose it were the case that in any imaginary House eight days were spent in debate upon trivial and unimportant questions, and therefore an important question was not reached. I suggest that as a hypothesis. That only eight days should be spent in Committee appears to shock the noble Marquess. He announced at the same time that this House would freely and fully discuss these important questions. I shall watch with interest whether we take eight days. I do not mean by that in any way to incite your Lordships to take a longer time, but I think that eight days in Committee, we will say in this House, is not an altogether inadequate time.
Now I come to the question of zones. Your Lordships have been told repeatedly that His Majesty's Government by this Bill proposes to obliterate the zones, the beneficial effect of which has been so great. This is only one instance of what has taken place in the course of this debate, in which a great deal of zeal has been spent in defending what nobody attacks and in attacking what nobody defends. I agree the zones are excellent. We agreed with you on that in 1903. The peculiar merit of the zone system is that it saves a valuation of property which has been once valued. There is no great mystery in the zone system. I understood one of your Lordships to say, in regard to this particular branch of the subject that it was so confused that English or Scottish intelligences could hardly grasp its full meaning. It simply means that when you have valued a rent, if you take so many years' purchase you may assume to get the basis of a judicial rent and not require a second valuation. Nothing has surprised me more during this debate than the assumption that we are tearing up the whole system of the zones. We are doing nothing of the kind. I will tell your Lordships what we mean. Experience has shown—this can be discussed in Committee—that there are some cases—I do not think many—in which the very basis upon which the zone system rests has failed. For example, the judicial rent may be an agreed rent which has not been subject to revision by the Court. Surely, it is a modest request that where the very essence of the zone system is in a particular case violated because there is not in fact a 554 judicial decision, though there may be in form, you should be at liberty to ask that your security should be established to your satisfaction by showing that the price is a reasonable and equitable one. That is our intention. It is in the Bill, and if it is not clearly expressed in the Bill, it will be made the subject of criticism when the clause is reached in Committee.
There is another point that has been dwelt upon repeatedly in the course of the debate. There have been but few points dwelt upon, but these few points have been repeated and enlarged upon, I do not say unduly, but with every kind of apprehension that something disastrous and wicked is being enacted. The point I wish now to take is compulsory purchase. The question was put to us, "Do the Government run a voluntary or a compulsory system of purchase?" I answer at once, "We run a voluntary system." It is our wish to maintain the voluntary system. It is clear that if you have concurrently two systems competing with each other—the voluntary and compulsory—the compulsory, like Aaron's rod, must eat up the voluntary. It really did not require the elaboration devoted to it. What we mean, what has been stated by my noble friend the Leader of the House is this. We mean compulsion to be exceptional and to be supplementary to the voluntary system. I am sure I need not enlarge upon this; at least if I cannot induce your Lordships to agree with me by stating it I do not propose to elaborate it. Is it not the case that there may be estates in Ireland where it is desirable in the public interest there should be a change? I think the Leader of the Opposition, and certainly Lord Dunraven, admitted there may be cases of that kind. Are there not cases also possible in which you may need for the relief of congestion to acquire property, not at a distance—because people do not wish to have congests from outside thrust upon them, having people of their own to provide for—but land in the particular neighbourhood? Are there not cases like that? All I say is if you desire the purposes for which, and the occasions upon which, compulsory powers are to be employed to be stated, there is no objection to those powers being limited by some reasonable definition. All this was said by my noble friend the Leader of the House. But the statement has been entirely ignored by your Lordships and some of those who took part in the debate have spoken as though they proceeded on the 555 belief that some great expropriation of the land of Ireland was intended by the Bill, that we were replanting or resettling half of Ireland, and that every man's property was to be at the mercy of the Estates Commissioners, or, indeed, of one of them. That is not the intention of the Government. We have stated in terms clear and deliberate what we do mean.
The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, referred to the machinery and objected to it in the strongest terms. He said the final offer was the original offer, and that it was to be framed upon the footing, not of the real price, but of the price—I have forgotten the words, but of the price offered by the tenant or other person. It may be cumbrous, though I do not think it is, but the scheme is this. If the Estates Commissioners desire to acquire a piece of land for reasons which are sufficient, then they make an offer for it. They may, in the first place, inspect it. Then they make a final offer—that is a firm, a fixed offer which they cannot withdraw from. If it is accepted, well and good. If it is not accepted, then the thing goes to be tried by the valuer irrespective of what the tenants or others may offer. The true value is to be fixed by the Judicial Commissioner, and I believe the Judicial Commissioner enjoys the confidence of noble Lords in Ireland. This is the other terrible evil which called forth so much of the oratory of Lord Curzon and of other noble Lords. I am stating it in prosaic, I am afraid in very prosaic, language, and I cannot see that it forms a better basis than a good many other things for the suggestions of robbery, confiscation, spoilation, and Socialism, and all the other numerous sins of which His Majesty's Government are said to be guilty.
Let me come to another question Do you propose, it is asked, to provide for landless men? Is that the design of Clause 17? And I was asked by the noble Marquess to define "any other person." In the first place, powers are given in order, as my noble friend the Leader of the House pointed out, to deal with exceptional parcels. At present you cannot sell those parcels. I will not be guilty of the indiscretion of again referring to the house with laurel bushes and the mill, but, as a matter of business, you ought to have the power of 556 selling. The noble Marquess who last addressed the House said there would always be liability to very great difficulty when you had to plant congests—I do not like the phrase, but I think it is understood—in surroundings which are not in their own neighbourhood. There is a provision in the Act of 1903 by which land in some circumstances may be given to the sons of tenants or, I think it is, to persons in the neighbourhood. This is the clause I am told which is really the origin of the agitation by the landless men because, before it was introduced, the whole scope of the Irish Land Acts so far as they related to purchase was to fix tenants and to regulate the relations between landlords and tenants. It is in some cases impossible to deal with the question of migration if the Commissioners are not entitled to give some consideration to the claims of the landless men—I adopt the phrase—in the locality. The Government must try and effect some working arrangement where the congests are concerned if they can.
These landless men are tenants, sons of tenants, successful herds, or agricultural labourers of a good type, who are strong agriculturists, and they are the stamp of men who are first introduced by the Act of 1903. It is because you cannot deal with congests without some powers of this kind that this clause finds its place in the Bill. I think there is nothing wrong in that. It is nothing but what is reasonable. You have to deal with an exceptional and difficult situation, and this is the way in which the Government think that it is best to deal with it. Now I think I have referred, not to every minor point, for that would not be expected in a Second Reading debate, but to every considerable or big objection which has been made to this Bill. Your Lordships may judge. I have at all events tried to. I have asked leave to postpone the question of the constitution of the Congested Districts Board which is too long for the present occasion. I have referred to the zones, to the compulsory powers, and to the landless men, which are the three things which have filled up this debate. The answers which I have given, my Lords, are the answers of the Government, and I can only say, in conclusion, that I think our proposals ought to be received and considered in a fair spirit because they are fair dealing proposals and are not introduced for any of the malignant or 557 ulterior purposes which have been rather ungenerously attributed to them.
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, in my humble protest against many of the provisions of this Bill I shall have to traverse ground which has already been covered by previous speakers, and, in that respect, I may have to ask the indulgence of the House. My task is rendered somewhat more difficult from the fact that I have to follow the noble and learned Lord, whose persuasive powers are so well known. But, even with all those powers, I think he has failed to make out a good case for the Bill before the House. I have learned something, however, from the noble and learned Lord, who is a past master in the art of debate—namely, that when you are in difficulty about a point or principle the defence of which presents difficulties to your mind, what you do is to relegate it to the Committee stage. After all, the question of the composition of the Congested Districts Board is a very important point. I am afraid I shall have to dwell rather more largely upon it than the noble and learned Lord thought it necessary to do. It seems to me that in dealing with a measure of Irish land purchase, and especially when that measure proposes most important and drastic alterations and really advocates an entirely new line of policy, it is sometimes helpful just to look back for a moment and cast your mind over the past history of the question, and the different stages and phases through which it has passed. To the vast majority of your Lordships the whole story is familiar, too familiar perhaps, but there may be others interested in the system of land tenure in Ireland and England and in the bearing the one has upon the other to whom it is not so familiar.
I need not go farther back than the Act of 1881, because all later land legislation comes as the natural result of the situation created by the passing of that Act. At that time dual ownership appeared. It was created by three things given to the tenants—fixity of tenure, whereby they remained in their holdings and could not be put out except for non-payment of rent; fair rent, which provided them with a Land Court, which fixed the rent and revised it every fifteen years; a free sale, which gave them the right to part with their interest at any time to anybody. The landlord 558 and tenant were forced into partnership and became unwilling occupiers of the some bed, rather an uncomfortable condition for both. But it was early recognised by landlords and by all who had the interest of agricultural land at heart that the system of dual ownership was an impossible one, and, moreover, harmful to the agricultural and economic development of Ireland. Various schemes were thought out, the landlords being desirious of selling their interest, and many Acts were passed with the object of setting up machinery for the transfer of land from owner to occupier. But the terms offered by these Acts were neither tempting nor satisfactory enough to bring about a deal on any large scale, and matters drifted on till in 1902 the impossibility of further continuance of this dual ownership and the harm it was having on agriculture in Ireland were pressed home, and a conference took place between the representatives of landlords and the tenants. As a result, we had the Act of which we have heard so much, the great Wyndham Act of 1903, if I may so call it, which embodied to a certain extent the terms of the conference with modifications. The result of that Act is, of course, well known to your Lordships, but I would like to give a figure or two to show what it has accomplished. Its results have been excellent. Whereas during the twenty-two years from 1881 to 1903 under the various Land Acts £21,000,000 was advanced to 63,000 tenants for purchase, between 1903 and October 31, 1908, £25,000,000 was absolutely paid out to 69,000 tenants, and agreements between landlords in the case of further 173,000 tenants and involving £54,000,000 were entered into, thus showing that what was aimed at in previous Land Acts and had been long felt necessary by all parties was on a fair road to accomplishment under the Act of 1903.
That brings me to the contemplation of the present situation before your Lordships' House. One of the chief complaints I have to make about this Bill is that it opens the ball by deliberately tearing up the financial agreement between the Treasury and Ireland. In 1903 a bargain was struck and a contract made and agreed upon by all parties—the landlord, the tenant, Parliament, and last, but not least, the Treasury. The noble Earl the Leader of the House seemed to indicate that he failed as yet to understand how it was that 559 that contract was agreed upon in such a manner. He seemed to think it was due to a certain levity, to the idea that there was an era of hopefulness springing up in Ireland, and to many other circumstances which he did not quote, but which no doubt he had in his mind. But the fact remains that the agreement was agreed upon. It was no doubt subjected to all the financial experts of the Treasury first. Where is that agreement in the Bill now before the Horse? I am not financier enough to follow the details to say, but this I know, that in the very opening words of the Bill future tenant purchasers are asked to pay £3 10s. instead of £3 5s. as the rate of their purchase annuity. I think I am right in saying that that amounts to something more than £20,000,000 which has to be taken out of Ireland by the Treasury. The noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, in his speech seemed to indicate that the tenants were to be relieved of the extra burden due to the fact that they were to pay £3 10s. because the landlord was the man who would suffer, inasmuch as he was to accept, under compulsion, two or three years less purchase than he had got hitherto. But, my Lords, if the system of compulsion in the Bill falls to the ground the tenant still pays his £3 10s. instead of £3 5s. Past history goes to show that representatives of Ireland and the Irish people have swallowed before now the English bait, not always to their internal comfort. That tenant purchasers in Ireland can be guiled into believing that an extra quarter per cent on their purchase annuity, whereby they are mulcted of twenty millions, is good and wholesome medicine for a malady that is being rapidly cured by present methods, I really find hard to believe.
No, the position cannot lead to further progress in land purchase. Rather will the effect be otherwise. It will lead, I believe, to cessation of land purchase, and it will set adrift once more the spirits of unrest and discontent. What is the attraction? Some attraction there must be which is offered to representatives of the Irish people to disarm opposition to this proposal. It would appear to lie in the third part of the Bill, in which they are given the idea that they are to have a free hand in the distribution of grass lands in the West—a flattering, but as I think I shall show, an illusory idea—and, in addition, the free handling of a quarter 560 of a million of money. So much for the tenants' interest.
What about the landlord? The landlord is given the option of two things. He can either take payment in stock or in cash. The former holds out hopes to him of some earlier settlement, whilst the latter foreshadows the indefinite postponement of the completion of his sale, inasmuch as all settlements in land stock are to have priority. He is between the devil and the deep sea. If he takes payment in cash he may have to suffer an indefinite postponement, while his former experience under previous Land Acts has given him an absolute desire to have payments in cash, and the bargain of 1903 was that he was to have payment in cash. The Chief Secretary has stated in another place that anything which would affect the transfer of land and land purchase in Ireland would be an economic and political blunder of very great magnitude; and yet he is himself responsible for a Bill which, if it has not that very object in view, at any rate can only bring about that as a result.
I come to what I regard as another very serious blot upon the Bill—namely, the manner in which it is proposed to deal with the relief of congestion, a study of which I have had to make during the past eight years as a member of the Congested Districts Board. The problem of the relief of congestion is a thorny one and beset with difficulties, and it is of very large proportions. The Report which I have in my hand says that in the nine counties which are proposed to be scheduled as congested there are 80,000 holdings which require enlargement and improvement. Our policy on the Congested Districts Board has always been to encourage migration, and this migration seems to have fanned in some mysterious way the flame of land hunger, until a situation has arisen in which landless men have put forward claims of ever growing proportions. The noble Earl said that landless men were not heard of in his palmy days of administration in Ireland. That is perfectly true. They are a by-product, which has arisen quite latterly, and it was stated by the noble Earl and also by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that they are really a product of the Act of 1903. With due respect, I must disagree with the manner in which they have interpreted 561 that Act. It seems to me the landless men were brought into the Act in a perfectly different manner and from a perfectly different point of view. There is nothing in the Act of 1903, at any rate, which showed that a preference should be given to landless men as against congests. But let me explain my interpretation of the Act with regard to landless men. They were brought in under the following conditions. There might be a case in which the State had purchased a congested estate which, we will say, contained 500 acres of untenanted land. We will say that 300 acres of that untenanted land had been used up for the purpose of congests and another 100 acres for the evicted tenants, so that there remained yet another 100 acres. Rather than that the State should remain perpetual landlords, or that the 100 acres should be put up for auction, provision was made in the Act of 1903 that those 100 acres might be given to any landless men. That is a very different proposition from that which is urged—namely, that the Act of 1903 introduced these landless men.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My idea of the position simply was that the landless men came into being by the inception of something beyond the direct sale from landlord to tenant; that was the first change that started the possibility of obtaining land except as a tenant buying from the landlord. I do not go further than that.
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
At any rate, we are all agreed about this, that the congests should have priority of claim as against landless men. Yet in Clause 17 of the Bill His Majesty's Government uses language which countenances the landless man as against the congest. This has been repeatedly disclaimed, I know, by His Majesty's Government and by noble Lords who sit opposite. Well, then, if that is so, let them disclaim it by Amendment in the Bill. My Lords, I come to the new Congested Districts Board, which I am afraid I may say more about than the Lord Chancellor thought fit to say. It is an extraordinary idea that you should set up a composite board of twenty members, some ex officio, some elected, and some nominated, perfectly independent in their actions, and who are to take over all the work of land transfer in these new congested districts and all the work has hitherto been carried on by the Congested Districts Board. 562 I say it is a novel position, and there is no instance on record where such a task has been entrusted to a body independent of State control. It has been stated in another place that, after all, this new Congested Districts Board is not to be independent of State control, as we think, because in Clause 51 of the Bill the Lord Lieutenant may do all sorts of wonderful things. He may regulate everything by Order in Council. Well, if that is so, why bring in the elective element at all? I think the idea of nine elected members representing local prejudice and bound more or less by local agitation, which at present is all in favour of the landless men, is really a most mischievous principle.
It has been argued also that if so much objection is taken to the elective principle upon this new Board, why was the elective principle introduced by a Unionist Administration which set up the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland. It is perfectly true that that Department consists of a council, two-thirds of whom are nominated by the county council, who, in their turn, nominate two-thirds of the Agricultural Board, which has a veto upon the spending of the Department's funds. If this is the basis which His Majesty's Government have taken for the constitution of their new Congested Districts Board, I think it would have been far simpler, instead of setting up a new Department, to have taken this Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction as the body for carrying out the work hitherto carried on by the Congested Districts Board. I would have no objection to that. The Agricultural Board have passed a Minute claiming their fitness for this work and stating their willingness to undertake it, except anything connected with land purchase. Now that could have been done, as has been said by other speakers, by the Estates Commissioners who have been dealing with land transfer, which is the very object of their existence, and they have been dealing with congestion in other parts of Ireland, for I would remind your Lordships that there is congestion not only in Connaught but in Ulster as well as other parts of Ireland. You have the machinery in hand, and there is no doubt that the whole of the work of the Congested Districts Board might have been divided between these two departments.
563 Is it to the benefit of Ireland that there should be a further partition of the country? We already see a theoretical division between North and South, and is it really to the benefit of Ireland that you should now divide the East from the West? Are the fish in some waters to be congests and the fish in others to be non-congests? That is to say, are the Western fish always to be congests and the Eastern fish non-congests? Surely it would have been saner policy to develop the administrative work of an admittedly progressive and thoroughly efficient body of men such as the Department of Agriculture and to give it a national policy which would at any rate have made for harmony, in contradistinction to setting up a Congested Districts Board which must result in overlapping and friction. I should like to remind your Lordships that there has been a Minute passed by the Belfast Chamber of Commerce setting very forcibly forward the arguments for and objections against this part of the Bill. It represents the views of sound business men who have realised that the welfare of our home commerce is largely dependent upon the prosperity and progress of the agricultural industry—in fact, the two must go hand in hand. I commend this Minute to your Lordships as coming from a body of Irishmen possessing a well-established and worldwide reputation for sane and business-like methods in commerce and finance.
My Lords, I do not intend to dwell at any length upon the principle of compulsion. It has been thoroughly put forward by other speakers in your Lordships' House, but this I will say, that I join in the general chorus of disapproval of any recourse to compulsion where voluntary methods have succeeded so well. Whether compulsion is to be permitted for a definite degree of congestion is a point which I admit is arguable, and will be argued, I have no doubt, when we reach a later stage. But, on this side of the House we have, I hope, proved that if this Bill is to have a Second Reading at your Lordships' hands it must be drastically amended in Committee, and I believe we are all agreed that it cannot leave this House in the shape in which it made its entrance. We have endeavoured to indicate the lines upon which the Bill might be amended, and I am glad to think, from the remarks which fell from the noble Earl who introduced this Bill, that when we come to the Com- 564 mittee stage His Majesty's Government will sympathetically consider Amendments moved on the lines we have indicated. Of this I am quite sure, that the Bill cannot leave your Lordships' House in its present form, and we may have to appeal to the majority of your Lordships' House when we come to the Committee stage; but if that appeal is made, it will not be from the point of view of a landlord who looks not beyond the confines of his estate or to whom personal interest is paramount. We want to see Ireland happy and contented, and, above all, we wish to see stability in the management of Irish affairs. Ireland has lost much and has suffered much from frequent changes of policy on the part of successive administrations. We have had a direct agreement entered into and accepted by all parties. Is it not natural, therefore, that we on this side of the House should desire to stand by those principles, and is it not the duty of the State to see them through? I think it behoves us to allow nothing to pass that may hinder or undo the good work that has been begun. It requires only, here and there, a judicious step forward to enable it to attain to maturity to the benefit—the lasting benefit, I think I may say—of Ireland and the Irish people.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, this Bill contains proposals so novel, and it is so far-reaching in its effects, that even if it had come to your Lordships as the result of full and adequate discussion in another place I doubt whether its proposals wonld have been acceptable to the majority of this House. But what has been the history of the Bill? We have heard from other speakers how it was put down for consideration on Friday after Friday when the vast majority of Members, exhausted from vigils from the previous Monday, were seeking a few hours of well-earned repose, and those jaded Members who were present found it impossible adequately to discuss the provisions of the Bill owing to the use of the closure. The most contentious clauses were passed by means of the closure, not only without discussion, but also without explanation or attempt at justification by the Minister in charge. The Divisions on those clauses which were discussed showed a Government majority getting beautifully less and less, until, on one occasion, the Government were only 565 saved from defeat by a majority of eight votes. And this is a Bill which has been hurled at your Lordships' heads in the closing days of September with a threat that if you do not pass it the most unpleasant consequences will follow.
We are led to understand that the friends of disorder in Ireland who, to use their own classic diction, have "given Birrell a chance," will in their turn be given a chance by the right hon. gentleman during the long winter nights that will be shortly upon us. I do not believe there is one of your Lordships on either side of the House who will be affected by these threats or who will not try to do what he thinks his duty in this matter. So far as I am concerned, I should be inclined to dismiss this Bill with as little consideration as it received in its passage up to us were it not for one clause in it. I daresay many of your Lordships remember the well-known story of a famous sermon delivered by an eloquent prelate on an epoch-making occasion, and the observation afterwards of a cleric who remarked that there was not enough gospel in it to save a tom-tit. I have found in this clause just enough gospel to save this tom-tit. I refer to the clause which relieves the Irish taxpayer from a liability he incurred under the Act of 1903—I venture to say through excessive zeal on the part of the Treasury—and which I think all sides agree it was never intended should be carried into effect.
This Bill professes to be a corollary, and a necessary corollary, of the Act of 1903. Let me shortly remind your Lordships what that Act was. It was a treaty of peace made between the landlord and the tenants of Ireland, solemnly ratified and confirmed by the State. It was an attempt, and a successful attempt, to do away with the system of dual ownership which was introduced in 1881, which proved the bane of Ireland, and which might go down to posterity, coupled with the curse of Cromwell, as the curse of Gladstone. It enabled landlords and tenants to come together as free men to arrange within certain limits, terms of sale and purchase. The tenants on becoming owners of their holdings paid annuities considerably less than they had previously paid in rent. Landlords were consoled for parting with their acres by payment in hard cash, and the State, which ratified the proceedings and provided the money 566 necessary to carry it out, was amply secured, as has been pointed out, in the first place by the fact that the tenant's annuity was much less than the rent he had previously paid; secondly, by the security of his tenant right; and, thirdly, by those improvements which it was believed by the magic of property were bound to be made to his new possession. The Act was mainly intended to make occupying tenants owners of their land. It was certainly intended, in cases where holdings were too small, that a certain amount of the grass land adjoining should be voluntarily purchased to enlarge them, but in the main the graziers were to be left as in time past, the great middle-classes of Ireland, the backbone of the country, the pliers of its most successful industry, to furnish a market for the young stock of the new owners, and the grass lands were to remain the property of landlords to furnish an example by their rich pasture land, their well-kept fences and drains, of what the land of Ireland could be made when in capable hands.
Now, my Lords, let us examine the present Bill, and I must really take the present Bill as I find it here and not the good intentions of the Government as explained by the Lord Chancellor. In the first place, we find that the tenant who purchases under this Bill of a Home Rule Chief Secretary has to pay a considerably higher annuity than his more fortunate brother who purchases under a Land Act of a Unionist Government, and the landlord instead of being paid in cash is paid in depreciated stock, which must tend more and more to depreciate as he is forced to throw it on the market. As to the graziers of Ireland, that great body—what of them, my Lords? So far as I can make out they are to be done away with in order that the executive of the United Irish League—for such in fact, if not in name, will be the reconstituted Congested Districts Board—may be able to reward the most stalwart supporters of their policy of cattle-driving, and to place on the grass lands of Ireland corner-boys without capital, without assiduity, and without knowledge of farming.
And to do this it is proposed that these grass lands should be purchased compulsorily. I ask why compulsorily? The noble Earl, Lord Granard, gave us an answer to that question. He stated that 567 during the eighteen years that the Congested Districts Board has existed there have been thirty-two cases in which landlords have refused to sell at the price the Congested Districts Board offered them. Surely that does not mean that they would not accept a just value if it were offered them. It merely means that they do not consider what was offered to them the full value of the land. The noble Lord also mentioned a number of landlords who refused to sell their grass land, but he forgets that no one thought of selling his grass-land until 1903, and he does not tell us how many instances there have been since the new policy was introduced in 1903. He further told us that a great many landlords made no reply to the circular sent out by the Congested Districts, Board. I think a great many people when they received the circular thought it was ample time to reply when they understood the Board was taking active steps to acquire their land, and I have heard of instances where the Board sent out to know if landlords were willing to sell grass-lands which did not belong to them. But I think we may say that the landlords of Ireland, whatever they may think of the policy as an economical one of turning the grass lands of Ireland into agricultural holdings, and however sorry they may be to part with land with which their families have been associated for many generations they are perfectly ready to allow this experiment of the Government to be tried if they are only certain of getting an adequate price for their land. I ask, what is an adequate price?
I had the honour of a conversation with a distinguished Radical politician—and so many Radical politicians are distinguished that I am not in any way betraying the identity of the gentleman in question—who said that if he were valuing my grass lands he could not help being influenced in his valuation by the thought which would come into his head that they would depreciate in value owing to the introduction in the near future of Canadian cattle, to which I replied that if I had to value his grass lands I could not help being influenced by the thought that they would appreciate in value by the advent in the near future of Tariff Reform. The one opinion is as good as the other. If we can get at facts they are much more important. What prices have been given during the past year and are still given by solvent tenants 568 for these lands? I only speak for myself and do not bind any other member of the Party to which I have the honour to belong, but I think the least that can be offered to landlords for their grass lands is twenty years' purchase on the gross rental which they have received for an average of seven years previously.
I do not know whether the noble Earl, if he winds up the debate, will tell me that that is unreasonable or will take refuge in generalities and say that the tribunal the Government have appointed consists of gentlemen who have actual experience and that we may trust to their impartiality. If he does, I know it is not the habit to attack members of the Civil Service who are not able to defend themselves; but without doing so I think I may say we do not consider them to be the proper judges of the value of our lands for four reasons. The first of, these is that they are the purchasers themselves, and I do not think I need dwell further on this point. It seems to me it must be apparent to everybody that the purchaser is the last person who should fix the price he is willing to give for a thing. The second is that they are precluded by the words of this Bill from giving a fair price, and are obliged to consider not the value of the land, but what the people to whom they are willing to sell it will give for it. The third reason is that we know from the evidence of some of these gentlemen given before the Dudley Commission what their views are with regard to the value of land. Mr. Commissioner Bailey states that:—Many owners seek for a price that will give them their income on the basis of their grazing lettings. This, of course, is, impossible.They may have received this rent for ten, twelve, or fifteen years, but to accept it as the basis of purchase—would mean our purchasing the land at a price that we could not dream of re-selling it at to an occupying purchaser.He further states that an outside tribunal ignorant of their redistribution schemes might fix those prices too high. It is but fair to Mr. Bailey to say that those remarks were only made with regard to voluntary purchase of land. What does Mr. Finucane say? He says—A man might receive £2 an acre for eleven months (as a grazing rent), but a yearly tenant might only pay, say, for that, £1 an acre; so that the two things are different.569 There is a fourth reason. To prove my case it is necessary that I should quote figures. There are two cases—I will not mention the names for obvious reasons, but if the noble Earl would like to know the names I should be glad to give them to him privately. In one case the owner received £35 a year as rent, in addition to which he received £10 a year for shooting rent from a neighbouring landlord. This rent had been paid for seventeen or eighteen years, and the man who had given it expressed his willingness, if my friend remained the owner, to take a lease for ten or twenty years more. I do not say that this ought to count as the same value as freehold, but it was a valuable asset to him, and at any rate he receives at present £45 a year for this land. The Estates Commissioners offered him £556. He appealed to have this increased; and the grazier who had farmed the land for the previous twenty years appeared before them and stated his willingness to become a statutory tenant of the land at the same rent. The Estates Commissioners listened to his representation, and increased their offer to £620. My friend appealed to the Judicial Commissioners. His appeal was dismissed, and the costs, which amounted to £40, were not allowed. So for what he had previously received £45 a year, he will now receive, deducting £40, £580. As he is a limited owner and has to invest this at three and a-half per cent, he will receive £20 6s. for what he previously received £45. Another instance is of a former rent of £64 and an offer of £852, twelve and a-half years purchase; and another instance is £24 a year and an offer of £326, thirteen and a-half years purchase. Is it astonishing that under these circumstances we do not trust the Estates Commissioners as a tribunal to fix a price of our grass lands?
We know what happens in these cases. A young man is sent down from the Land Commission offices. He does not seek out the grazier and find out if he is satisfied with his bargain, but fixes his own price—what he thinks agricultural tenants will give for it, and we have it on the evidence of Mr. Finucane that they may be exactly half of what the grazing rent is. After that he takes fifteen per cent, for State security, and on reduced rent offers twenty-six and a-half years purchase, These are not my figures but they are the evidence of Mr. Stuart, one of the chief 570 officers of the Land Commission, and I should like to point out the difference in the interest that results. Twenty years purchase on £100 would be £2,000. The Land Commissioners would at once reduce the £100 to half and take off fifteen per cent, for State security. That makes it £42 10s. Taking that at twenty-six and a-half years purchase it would be £1,105. If the landlord had to invest at three and a-half per cent. he would receive £38 10s. instead of the £100 a year he had previously received, and there would be no question of bonus being added to this because we are told that in cases of twenty-six years purchase and upwards there is no bonus, and that in the case of a purchase of untenanted land the number of years purchase shall be calculated "in the manner prescribed by the Treasury." We know why land is reduced from £2 an acre so that the tenant may only pay 17s. an acre. It is given by Mr. Doran in his evidence. He says the tenant is able to go on letting it to the grazier to whom the landlord let it before and thus "accumulates a little capital" from the difference.
There are some noble Lords who are said to be converts to the principle of compulsion being extended to Ireland. But the principles of the case are very different in England and Ireland. In England every acre of land outside your park walls will not be compulsorily taken, and the purchaser is not the man who fixes the price. In England there is an allowance made for severance and for the depreciation of the rest of time property, and also for land being taken compulsory. None of those things is allowed for in Ireland. There is only one other point. That is the question of income tax. Both Schedules A and B are charged on untenanted land. Let me take the case of a farm which lets for £100 a year. Take the poor law valuation as £80. On Schedules A and B income tax would be paid on £96 10s., if it is sold on the terms I have just named the landlord will only pay in future on £38 10s. I hope some noble Lord will call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this fact. It might be interesting to find how it would work out if applied to the whole of the untenanted land in Ireland. I have only touched really one of the many problems which abound in this Bill, but the question of congestion is one which affects those of us who live in the west of Ireland very closely, and I thought it my 571 duty as far as possible to put the case before your Lordships as to our difficulties in this matter. I wish to make it clear that while we are perfectly ready to sell our grass lands for the benefit of State purposes, if it is thought desirable that we should do so, we are not prepared to accept any terms of compulsion unless His Majesty's Government can show us clearly when we reach the Committee stage that they cannot acquire land voluntarily at such a price that will enable landlords to receive their net income when invested at three and a half per cent.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships have been struck by what seems to me the salient feature of this debate, and that is the extraordinary differences that we find between the Government Bill and the Government speeches. We claim that this Bill abolishes the zone system, and I think the drafting of Clause 14 is perfectly clear upon that point. The clause says, "If the Land Commissioners are satisfied that circumstances exist which, in their opinion, necessitate inquiry," &c. The zones are in future, by the proposals of the Government Bill, to be absolutely at the discretion of the Estates Commissioners. That is what we call abolishing the zones. Indeed, in the Third Reading debate in the House of Commons the Chief Secretary defended this clause and used very strong language about it. He said that it was his desire that the Estates Commissioners in those cases under consideration in connection with the zones should be given an opportunity to strike a blow. Now we hear from the speeches of the noble Earl who leads the House and the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, that these provisions which are asked for in Clause 14 are only desirable in order that they may be used in exceptional cases, and I notice that the Lord Chancellor spoke of one case which he considers, and I believe rightly, an exceptional case; that is to say, the case where there is an agreed rent which is to take the place of a judicial rent. But that is not the proposal in the Bill. We note the noble and learned Lord's offer to put that proposal in the Bill, though, of course, I am not in a position to say whether or not that would satisfy my friends from Ireland.
On the question of compulsory purchase, unquestionably Clause 43, read in connection with Part IV of the Bill, sets up a universal system of compulsory purchase. There is no limit to it whatever. We now under- 572 stand from the Leader of the House and from the Lord Chancellor that these powers again are only required for particular and exceptional cases. Again, my Lords, there is no mention of exceptional cases in the Bill. The Bill could not possibly have been drawn wider than it now is. The Bill as drafted, we maintain, opens the door as wide as possible to the landless men. We now understand from the Government speeches that these powers are only required for exceptional cases. Why are not those exceptional cases in the Bill? At any rate I think my noble friends from Ireland can congratulate themselves that we have made some progress. I have only had a very short experience of your Lordships' House. There are many Members with very much greater experience than I have, but has any one of your Lordships even seen a Government Bill come up from the House of Commons and the representatives of the Government tumbling over each other on Second Reading to amend it? We shall be very interested indeed in discussing this Irish Land (No. 2) Bill when it is submitted to us in Committee next Tuesday. As I have said, I am not, of course, in a position to say whether the Amendments suggested to us will be satisfactory or not, but I think I may say this, that whereas no case has been shown in the course of this debate for the proposals that are in the Bill neither has any case yet been shown for the Amendments that are suggested, and we shall be interested to see whether any case can be shown for them at a future stage. But I cannot help asking one question. If really what we have been told in the course of this debate is the proposal of the Government, why was nothing said about these things in the House of Commons either in Committee or on Report? There was absolutely no sign of what I may call this conciliatory spirit in the course of the debates in another place. I was very much struck to notice that on the Third Reading the Chief Secretary declared himself without hesitation a tenant's man. He did not use that exact phrase, but undoubtedly he did come down upon the tenant's side of the fence, and I am sure whilst your Lordships will be given no explanation of this phenomenon you will all take very careful note of it.
I desire to associate myself with the wish of many of your Lordships not to go into the details of this Bill, which we will, perhaps, be better able to discuss in Committee. Therefore, I will only deal very shortly with one or two of the financial proposals that have 573 not yet been dealt with. But first I should like to refer to one statement by the noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, in which he spoke of a great many leading landlords as having been at some time or other if not now in favour of compulsion. I have only been connected with the Irish Landowners Convention for some five or six years, but I have had the opportunity since that statement was made of communicating with Mr. Willis, who has been secretary for over twenty years. This is what he writes to me in one sentence—As to Lord MacDonnell's statement about 'a great many landlords,' it is curious that the landowners Convention has never heard of them, and that the Convention has been unanimously passing resolutions against compulsory purchase in almost every year, and certainly in connection with every land Bill, since 1887 without any of these supposed dissentients making any protest.The Irish Landowners Convention is known to be supported by landlords in every single county in Ireland, and I do not hesitate for one moment to assert that if there had been one leading landlord in favour of compulsory purchase we should, have heard about it in the Irish Landowners Convention meetings on more occasions than one. I hope we shall hear no more of this suggestion that there have been leading landlords in Ireland in favour of compulsion in any shape or form.
I only desire now to refer to one or two of the financial aspects of this Bill that I think have not been referred to. As I have said, the details of the rest of the Bill will probably be much better raised in Committee, but I presume that a number of the financial proposals will not be conveniently raised in Committee. That is my excuse for dealing with them now. I do not desire to go in any detail into the general aspect of the case, for that was dealt with in the absolutely unanswered speech of Lord Curzon, whom I am sure all Irishmen are very glad to welcome in his first speech in your Lordships' House on Irish affairs. I accept, of course, the difficulties of the financial position as being the primary necessity for this Bill. I was not, if I may say so with all respect, very much struck with the simile of the noble Earl the Leader of the House when he compared what we have to do now to a scheme of reconstruction between three classes of shareholders, and when he asked us therefore to approach it as a business proposition. I do not feel at all like a shareholder in this matter. I feel rather like a party to a contract who has 574 fulfilled his part of the bargain and who has been asked by one of the other parties to the contract to let him off a portion of his part of the bargain and to share some of the loss that he finds put upon him as a result of arrangements made six years ago. I think this Bill was very rightly described by Lord Dunraven as a "Treasury Relief Bill." We are interested to hear that in future £2,000,000 a year is to be set aside for payments in cash; £2,000,000 of cash is to be set aside for those, as I think, extremely stupid individuals who will agree to accept half in stock and half in cash. But, remember, stock is not a full description of what you are going to offer landlords. You are going to offer landlords stock which is worth eighty-five at ninety-two. We have had no justification of that proposal from noble Lords opposite. The only mention of the words "ninety-two" that I heard came from the Lord Chancellor. I had hopes that we were to have some justification for the proposal which is made for giving stock at ninety-two which is now worth only eighty-five, but noble Lords opposite have carefully avoided the least mention of this very important provision in the Bill.
The Report of Mr. Runciman's Committee—a Report with almost every word of which we disagree, and a Report the evidence of which has never been shown to the public—says, on what authorty I cannot imagine, that landlords who are given stock at ninety-two, although it is only worth eighty-five or any other price, will keep it because they will obtain a three per cent. investment. All the evidence that I can find before the Dudley Commission proved conclusively that every landlord who gets cash can expect to get from £3 11s. to £3 12s. per cent. as the result of money he invests from purchase in trustee securities. Is it seriously imagined that anybody is going to be so stupid, if he is an entirely free agent, as to take stock at ninety-two which is only worth eighty-five, to take stock which is going to pay him three per cent. when he has the right to expect cash which will enable him to re-invest in investments which will pay him another ten shillings or eleven shillings per cent. If he is a free agent, if no undue pressure is brought to bear upon him, not one single landlord will accept stock at the price offered in this Bill.
I believe that this Bill is going to relieve the Treasury a great deal more than is thought, because it is going to confer upon them the obligation to produce only 575 £2,000,000 in cash and £2,000,000 a year in stock. That there are landlords ready to take as much as £2,000,000 of stock in a year I myself believe is a hope that is almost a waste of time to discuss, and, if it is, the Treasury are going to find themselves in the happy position of having to produce less than £4,000,000 a year in cash, whereas hitherto they have had to produce £5,000,000 and sometimes £6,000,000 in cash. Note the result of that. Instead of getting rid of purchase agreements at the rate of £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 a year you are going to get rid of them at the rate of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 a year, and the £50,000,000 now outstanding are going to take sixteen or twenty years to clear off. It is difficult to realise, unless I am an extremely pessimistic prophet, how the provisions of this Bill are going to help to get rid of this block that everybody admits is an evil.
The noble Lord, Lord St David's, referred yesterday to another aspect of this question. I do not wish to follow him in detail as to his attacks upon my noble friends on this side of the House regarding the provision of the bonus. The noble Lord described the bonus as a gift which noble Lords on this side of the House gave to their political friends in Ireland, and he had previously explained what he meant by that statement. He seemed to imagine that the bonus was something extra that the landlord got after he had agreed upon the price of the land with his tenant. Of course anybody who has ever negotiated with a single tenant knows that the fact that the bonus was there made it possible for landlords to agree to prices considerably lower than they would have had to have asked if there had been no bonus, and considerably lower than they would have had to ask under this Bill. I do not wish to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord St. David's, as to anything he said about Irish land, because I do not think he would pose as an expert on Irish land. But I do recognise him as an authority in the realm of finance. The noble Lord made it quite clear that stock, whether this Bill passes or not, but principally if this Bill passes in its present form, is not going to rise. We are not going to see Irish Land Stock at ninety-two or anything like it for many years to come. One may say, in passing, it has not been at ninety-two since the year 1906. If the price, therefore, is not likely to rise, are you quite sure it is not likely to go down? You assume at present that landlords will take stock at 576 ninety-two which is worth eighty-five, but, as we have been shown, the number of trustee securities on the market is increasing. Are you quite sure that this stock is not going down? Do the Government really think, supposing this stock went down to seventy-eight, that landlords would still take it at ninety-two? Do you think they would assist you to get rid of the block by making a still greater sacrifice? I almost feel inclined to prophesy that we shall have this fall, and that five or six years hence we shall have another block, and we shall have slower progress than we are having now. We shall then have another Land Bill, and I am sure we shall have another eloquent speech from the noble Earl who leads the House in which he will tell us as he told us yesterday, that he wishes to avoid all recrimination, as he did avoid all recrimination, but that it is not unfair to say that the finance of the Act of 1909 was a little hopeful; thereupon another request will be made to the landlords and tenants of Ireland to take over a little more of the loss that the British Treasury does not like to incur. That may be very satisfactory to the British Treasury, as this Bill, I have no doubt, is very satisfactory, but it will not be much encouragement to those of us who desire to see the progress and the pacification of Ireland as a result of land purchase.
I want to refer very shortly to a point that has been made a very great deal of by Government speakers which I think has not been answered as yet from these Benches. A great deal is being made of the liberality of the British taxpayer in this matter. I do not wish to deny the liberality of the British taxpayer, and I do not wish to quarrel with the figures of the Lord Chancellor, but I think he was a little inclined to treat this whole transaction as a dead loss. I quite agree that the bonus provisions are going to be a dead loss, but the money that has been advanced outside the bonus provision is, we are told, going to be paid back to the last penny, and everything points to every penny of it being paid back.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
The figure in my mind is the £100,000,000 as Mr. Wyndham put it, or the £180,000,000 as Mr. Birrell thinks it is. But remember this. If this is going to cost the British 577 taxpayer something, he is paying for his sins of the past. The object of land purchase is to get rid of dual ownership, and dual ownership was the mistake of a British Parliament in 1881. It is not the result of any indigenous growth in the Irish land system itself. But apart from that, I want to lay greater stress upon another aspect of the problem that I think is always forgotten in this matter. I know it is difficult to get money for financing these transactions because of the fall in Imperial credit. But if this reason causes difficulty to the British Treasury we must remember that also, as apart from Irish land, this reason has caused a considerable profit to the British Treasury. While it is difficult to raise money for Irish land with land stock at eighty-five, the Treasury is all the time redeeming Consols at eighty-two by the operation of the Sinking Fund. It would, I have no doubt, be scouted at the Treasury that the large profit made over the redemption of Consols should be in any way accounted as against the large loss made by reason of the Irish Land Stock, but it is not unfair to lay stress upon that point in commenting upon the general financial situation.
I will not at this late hour enter into the question of the Government estimate of £180,000,000. I believe that estimate to be hugely inflated and above the real necessities of the case, but perhaps I may be allowed to say this. Remember that the ideal as shown in the Bill is very different from the ideal of the Wyndham Act. The object of that Act was the abolition of dual ownership. The present Chief Secretary seems to work on the principle that, if anybody has any land at all, that fact is prima facie evidence that the land ought to belong to somebody else. There are only 20,000,000 acres of agricultural land in Ireland, and that, under the census returns, includes land used for countless purposes, not strictly agricultural. Mr. Birrell estimates that 19,000,000 of this has got to come under the operations of the Purchase Act. I am perfectly certain the abolition of dual ownership would not have made it necessary for anything like that number of acres to be considered. Again, as judged by the Bill, there can be no denying the fact that the problem financially has been enormously increased by what it is now proposed should be done for the landless men. Under the 1903 Act it was solely intended that landless men should be dealt 578 with as ancillary to the doing away with dual ownership. This Bill, as I read it—I have no special knowledge of the intention of the Government behind the Bill—makes provision for landless men a primary object. I believe that if the landless men were excluded, as they ought to be, for they have no claim whatever on the British Treasury to set them up with land, Mr. Wyndham's original estimate, though it might not have been large enough, would have been very much nearer the mark than Mr. Birrell's estimate of £180,000,000.
I apologise for keeping your Lordships at this hour. Most of the other points I had hoped to refer to can be raised at a later stage when, probably, they will be raised with greater profit. I only desire to enforce one point now, and then I will sit down. I feel very seriously and sincerely the gravity of the present proposals for peace and order and contentment in Ireland. What we should be concerned with in these Purchase Acts is the settlement of the country in a contented manner. Lord Londonderry has explained at length how he believes that the principal result of the passing of this Bill in its present state must inevitably be infinitely greater discontent and more turmoil than we have seen even in the last two or three years under Mr. Birrell's—to put it mildly—not too keen repression of disorder. The peace and prosperity of the country are vastly greater than any other interest that can be considered by your Lordships, and believing, as I do, that this Bill if passed in its present form would be fatal to those interests, I most sincerely hope that the Bill will be very substantially amended in Committee if it is afterwards to be read a third time and passed by your Lordships' House.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I am sorry that, owing to the absence from unavoidable causes, of some of my noble friends who sit on this side of the House, these Benches have not been so fully represented in the debate as they would otherwise have been. We are relieved to know that your Lordships do not intend to support the Amendment of Lord Dunraven. I rise to say a few words, which I will compress into as short a space as possible, to close the debate, and I will endeavour to deal generally with one or two points that have been raised in the course of it.
The whole case against the finance of 579 the Bill was put as well as it could be put by the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven. He took the matter on the highest ground. He assumed that there was an absolute bargain or promise on the part of the British Parliament that, however large might be the sum to be raised in respect of land purchase in Ireland, however gross the miscalculation contained in the Act of 1903, equally favourable terms, whatever the cost to the Treasury and the United Kingdom, should be carried into effect, and with the somewhat significant exception of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, who certainly did not take that line of policy, and of a few sentences which fell from the noble Earl who has just sat down towards the close of his speech, the same note has run through all the speeches that have been made from the Benches opposite during the course of the debate. I think it is rather a good thing that a speech was made such as was made by Lord St. David's. I do not adopt all his arguments, and I do not profess to be an unbiassed critic. I have a warm affection for Ireland, dating from even before my official connection with the country, and I like to see Ireland absorbing public money within reason. But I think it is not a bad thing that noble Lords from Ireland should hear what is the view of an Englishman of business like Lord St. David's as to these transactions when we hear speech after speech made in which there is not a word of recognition of the enormous cost at which these transactions in the Bill are to be carried through.
I think if Irishmen, whether landlords or tenants, take up the position that the taxpayer of the United Kingdom is a sort of tame and rather stupid mulch cow who stands to be milked twice a day for their benefit, they must not be surprised if they hear somewhat hard words used by those who have no special sympathy with Ireland. I was very sorry the noble Earl, Lord Shaftesbury, who is more an Englishman than an Irishman, seemed to take something of the same tone and to adopt what I may call the full Irish attitude in this matter. No more signal instance in that attitude has been seen on the opposite side of the House than the way in which the burden upon the guarantee fund has been spoken of throughout the debate, as though it was not a genuine section under under the Act of 1903 as much as any 580 other. I think it was Lord Curzon who said it had been inserted per incuriam. We have heard in private life of gentlemen who have written their name on bills per incuriam and been sadly shocked afterwards when they had been called upon to pay. But I think your Lordships will admit it ought not to appear as an excuse for the insertion of the clause in the Bill. It is true, as was said, that almost the only voice of Cassandra which was raised in the course of debate in another place was that of a gentleman well known for his knowledge of finance, Mr. Thomas Bowles. Who can say that if the House of Commons at large had taken the view of Mr. Bowles they would have passed that Act in its present form? It is impossible, of course, to prove it one way or the other, but when you talk of this being a mere paper guarantee it is fair to consider that, if the great majority who were wrong had happened to agree with Mr. Thomas Bowles who was right, perhaps the provisions of the Act would have been different. It is quite possible the tenants might have had to pay larger annuity, and consequently the number of years purchase obtained by landlords during the past six years might not have been as many as they have been.
There are one or two other points on which I desire to say a word. My noble and learned friend who sits upon the Woolsack dealt, I think fully, with the question of compulsion. I noticed that speakers on the other side all through the debate said the Estates Commissioners could take land when they pleased. They did not trouble to mention the fact that there was an appeal to the Judicial Commissioner with assessors. That is a somewhat material fact. I might say, in passing, that the noble Lord opposite, Lord Curzon, seemed to think the Estates Commissioners were a creation of this Bill. He spoke of them as "these new Estates Commissioners." I do not know whether he has ever read the Act of 1903, but he seemed to consider the Estates Commissioners were a body of our creation. It is curious that one of the phrases used in regard to the compulsory clauses should have caused so much comment as it has from noble Lords opposite—the phrase in regard to the provision that the amount which the tenants or other person would be likely to give would be taken into account. I do not see how you can have any form of compulsory purchase without 581 taking into account what a willing buyer would be likely to give. It seems to me a natural element in the transaction, and I think it is not necessary to read into it the somewhat sinister meaning which has been ascribed to it by noble Lords opposite. As regards the whole of this question of compulsion, noble Lords opposite say it is impossible to have compulsion and voluntary purchase running concurrently. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack put that dictum into its proper form when he said they could not run concurrently in competition. That is perfectly true. But they do run concurrently, as your Lordships know very well, in a series of transactions with which we are all familiar. A great many of your Lordships have sold land to railway companies. In the last resort the railway company can get practically any piece of land it wants. But as a matter of fact it is the rarest thing in the world for things to go so far. I am sure Lord Cawdor knows that very well and would bear me out when I say that in the numerous transactions in which a great railway company is concerned every year in connection with the taking of land, the vastly larger proportion is acquired by agreement. That is all that was meant by the weapon of compulsion remaining in the background, the sentence which filled noble Lords with alarm. The power is the same as a railway company has in the last resort of acquiring compulsorily what is wanted for public purposes, a power which enables those transactions to be carried out between railway companies and private owners which I believe are generally satisfactory to both parties.
The noble Lord, Lord Oranmore and Browne, asked me whether I would lay down a rule, so far as I am competent, that all grass lands taken by compulsion ought to be bought at twenty years purchase on the average rent which had been obtained by public letting on the eleven months system for the last seven years. I am sure the noble Lord did not expect me to answer that question, although he had no doubt a full right to put it. I cannot recall any precedent for such a provision being inserted in an Act of Parliament. I can-not help thinking, however, that the fears which have been expressed that the price of grass land will be unscrupulously cut down are not justified. It is true there are certain considerations to be taken into account in determining the number of 582 years purchase which ought to be paid for any piece of land or indeed anything else, whether it is sold by compulsion or by agreement. The degree of certainty with which you can look forward to the permanency of the rent which you are receiving is a material factor in a matter of this kind. As I daresay the noble Lord knows very well, when royalty rents of mines are put up for auction, even though the mine, apparently, is going to last for a great number of years, they can hardly be made to realise more than half the number of years purchase which ground rents would effect, and so far as any element of uncertainty enters into the letting of grazing land, no doubt it would have, and I submit ought to have, seine effect on the member of years purchase to be given.
Now, my Lords one word about zones. Noble Lords have gone on reiterating, with a persistence which I admire, that we are trying to abolish zones. I think my noble friend on the Woolsack made it clear what it is we desire to do with the zones. Perhaps I might make one more attempt by illustration to do it again. The effect of land purchase is to divorce the landlord from the land, and divorce, as we know, is a process of law. But collusive divorce is forbidden, and there is an official whose business it is to find out if divorce is collusively obtained. The Estates Commissioners for this particular purpose, are placed therefore in the position of the King's Proctor, who has to intervene if he conceives that the legal process is being carried tint by improper collusion. Beyond that, as regards the zones, we do not go. The matter was fully developed by my noble and learned friend, and I will not dwell upon it further.
One word about the problem of congestion and its bearing on the question, to a certain extent, of compulsory purchase and the question of the landless men. In his speech yesterday the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition broke into something almost approaching rhapsody when he spoke of some parts at any rate of the congested districts in Ireland. He said, which I am not concerned to deny, that it is possible to overstate the magnitude of the problem and of the grievance, and he pointed out, what is perfectly true, that if you take a year or two before the great 583 famine and compare the number and size of the holdings with what obtains to-day the comparison is all in favour of the present time. That there has been a real and progressive improvement we all of us, I think, would admit. Rut I do think the noble Marquess overstated his case a little when he dwelt upon the charms of the small holdings in the west of Ireland. I felt almost alarmed that some of the noble Marquess's Wiltshire small tenants, whom I know to be both unusually numerous and unusually prosperous on an admirably managed estate, might be so inspired by the noble Marguess's description of holdings in the west of Ireland that they might turn their faces to the setting sun and desire to exchange their English home for other homes in County Kerry. But, my Lords, however that may be, and I do admit that there is a real improvement, yet, at the same time, there is a real problem, the problem of what is to be done to secure larger holdings, or, in some cases, other holdings, for a certain portion of those who live in the congested districts and cannot eke out their small means by other work such as fishing.
Consider this in its bearing, in the first place, on compulsory purchase. So far as I have been able, I have followed through the various speeches the different steps of the argument which I conceive to be used by noble Lords opposite, and what I desire to show is that it is barren and leads absolutely nowhere. Those steps are these. The argument against compulsion is that there is plenty of land to be got somewhere—that argument was freelyused—and therefore that there being plenty of land to be got there was no need to buy it forcibly. Well the conclusion to be drawn from that is, of course, that a general system of migration must be necessary, because the principal need of compulsion, as has often been pointed out, is not to get land anywhere but to get particular land in the immediate neighbourhood of the people for whom it is required. Then there is a further statement laid down forcibly by Lord Ashbourne and confirmed by other speakers that under no circumstances is a landless man to have any land. What is the result of that? It is generally agreed that, unfortunate though you may think it, there is a large body of these landless men who desire to obtain some farm. We have been told over and over again—we were told yesterday—that if congests 584 attempted to appear on untenanted land at any distance from their own neighbourhood there would be extraordinary danger. I am bound to say I am inclined to agree with the view, that, unless you can arrive at some agreement in the matter, if you dumped down a number of men from Connemara in County Clare their lives might be exciting but they might also be brief.
Where are we in that case? You must not take land close to those congests' homes because you might have to take it by compulsion. Therefore you have to migrate. But if you migrate then you run up against the landless men. It is all very well to say you can protect your migrating bodies, but everybody will agree that that makes the proposition of migration on a large scale impossible. It is, of course, the duty of the Government in Ireland to protect, sometimes for twenty years it may be, the lives of those who are supposed to be in danger. But it would be a farcical proceeding to deport people from a place where they are safe and set them in a position where they will have to be guarded for an indefinite number of years by police. That means that migration transactions are impossible. That is to say, you are left with no remedy at all for the relief of congestion. I have wearied your Lordships by indicating the series of steps, but the only conclusion I can arrive at is that the whole problem of the remedy of congestion is regarded by noble Lords opposite as completely insoluble, because at every point we are met by one or other of these objections.
I think it would be a pity if I were to attempt to detain the House any longer at this, for us unusually late hour. I merely desire to comment on one statement made by Lord Donoughmore, who was good enough to speak of the Amendments he assumed we were going to introduce and which he said he desired to see. I did not gather from the speech of my noble and learned friend that he said the Government were going to introduce Amendments. Lord Donoughmore, though he spoke of his limited experience, knows the House as well as any man, and what the Government have done is what is frequently done from this side of the House—that is, we have expressed ourselves desirous to meet certain objections if noble Lords would indicate the manner in which 585 they wished the clauses to be amended. The noble Earl was quite right when he said that he never knew a case in which the Government, having conceived a Bill, proceeded to amend it. We have no intention of doing anything of the kind. The Bill as it stands is our Bill, but we admit that there are clauses which are widely drawn and where it would be possible if the Estates Commissioners were to behave in an absolutely reckless way for the principles in those clauses to be carried further than is our desire or intention. That both my noble and learned friend and I have admitted. Noble Lords wish to see the words narrowed and we profess our willingness to meet them on that point, and I have no doubt when the time comes in Committee by putting our heads together we shall be able on one or two of these points to arrive at a conclusion which will not be unsatisfactory to one side of the House or the other.
I have nothing further to add except once more to repeat that, although I do not admit that the time given to this Bill in another place was in itself insufficient, I fully agree that there is no reason why we should not, and every reason why we should, give it the fullest consideration here in Committee. I was made a little nervous by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack when he indicated what an imitation of the proceedings in another place would involve here. I am afraid it would involve longer consideration than any Bill has received in your Lordships House for the last 600 years, except the Education Bill of 1906 of deplorable memory. Of course, we must leave it to your Lordships to put down such Amendments as you please, and we will, of course, see so far as we can that they have the fullest consideration.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
I gather from this interesting debate that with, I think, the exception of four noble Lords, your Lordships are all of opinion that though this Bill is an exceedingly bad Bill it ought to be read a second time. Under those circumstances I have, of course, no desire to press my Amendment, and that being so I should be only wasting the time of your Lordships unnecessarily if I were to traverse, or attempt to traverse, any of the arguments that have been advanced in favour of the Bill, that is supposing I could discover any. Nor would I attempt 586 to do what would be much more difficult, and ask your Lordships to try and harden your hearts against the sweet persuasiveness of the Lord Chancellor. There are only two points I should like to mention; they are not really important points, but they might lead to misunderstanding. One is in connection with Clause 17. Lord Granard attributed to me an objection to subsection (e) of that clause. As a matter of fact I do not think I mentioned the subsection at all in my speech. As any rate, what I do object to is not subsection (e), which I could agree to, but subsection (b). So far as I am concerned, subsection (e) is quite satisfactory. It is subsection (b) which to my mind is dangerous as introducing the landless men.
The only other observation I would make is in reference to the very interesting speech we heard from Lord St. David's. The noble Earl the Leader of the House has alluded to it as a wholesome tonic and as a speech from which we can learn what the commonsense businesslike Englishman thinks of the finance of the Irish Land Bill; but I would point out that the noble Lord, Lord St. David's, was mistaken as to his facts. In the first place he spoke purely and merely of the English taxpayer, he being apparently under the delusion—I am very sorry to say it is a delusion—that the people of Ireland pay no taxes. On the contrary, they pay taxes which they think press unduly upon them according to their relative capacity to bear taxation. The noble Lord said British taxpayers made the whole advance without any margin. Of course they make the whole advance, but there is a very good margin, as I am sure the noble Earl opposite knows. The advance is made upon the landlord's interest only. The value of the landlord's interest can be best computed by the judicial rent, and there is a margin of about twenty-five per cent. on that alone. Besides that, the whole holding forms, of course, the security, and the tenant's interest is worth as much as the landlord's, so that there is really a margin of anything between fifty and seventy-five per cent. on the transaction. Moreover, Lord St. David's was unaware, I think, that any default on the annuity is a charge upon the whole county rates, and therefore not only is the capital well secured but the interest also. I think probably if the noble 587 Lord had known those facts he might perhaps have modified a little the opinion he expressed concerning Irish land.
Now, my Lords, I think that is all I wish to say. Of course I do not press my Amendment. The general opinion of your Lordships is that this Bill can be so amended as to be made a workable measure. Naturally I was much impressed by what fell from the lips of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and by what fell from Lord MacDonnell, who gave it as his opinion that the Bill could be made a beneficient measure. With all my heart, my Lords, I hope so, and I confess I am rather cheered and consoled by the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. If he will allow me to epitomise it, it was to the effect that the real 588 intentions of His Majesty's Government as expressed in this House are absolutely different from the intentions of His Majesty's Government as expressed in the Bill. I could not have foreseen that when I made my speech asking the House to reject the Bill. But that being so, I am not myself without hope that possibly the Bill may be made into a workable measure. With the leave of the House I will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn: Then the original Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before One o'clock a.m., till a quarter past Four o'clock p.m.