HL Deb 13 May 1925 vol 61 cc237-47

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I venture in a very few words to introduce a Bill which is of some importance, not only to this country but also to Northern Ireland—namely, the Northern Ireland Land Bill. It is a Bill which will, I hope, settle questions which have been in dispute for a great many years past. The matter began as long ago as 1870, in the "Bright" Clauses in the Act of that year, whereby sums of money were guaranteed, two-thirds to be advanced for land purchase by the State and to be repaid in thirty-one years. Mr. Gladstone, by two Bills, one in 1881 and the other in 1885, set up a Land Commission for the purpose of settling this question, and those Bills were followed by the Balfour Act of 1891, whereby guaranteed stock was to be charged on a specially guaranteed fund, and by the Wyndham Act, passed in 1903. Under that Act 2¾ per cent. stock was to be created, which proved to be insufficient. In 1909 there was an excess charge of £877,000 a year, which fell upon the Irish ratepayers. The Birrell Act transferred the excess charge to the Treasury. Land stock fell below par, the 3 per cent. stock being only worth between £59 and £60.

This Bill really dates from the Sub-Committee of the Irish Convention, which took up the matter in 1918, and then for the first time, with the consent of all parties, a scheme for the compul- sory purchase of the outstanding land in Ireland was introduced. Bonds at 5 per cent. were to be issued for the purchase of the five and a-quarter million acres still remaining to be sold. Unfortunately, the hopes entertained by the Convention of 1918 were not realised, and subsequent legislation was introduced, which completely altered the situation, and therefore this Bill now only relates to Northern Ireland, which, as your Lordships are aware, comes under the purview of the Home Office here. That is why I am introducing this Bill. To deal with the matter a Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Eustace Percy, and it accepted the whole recommendations of the. Irish Convention of 1918 on the matter of compulsory purchase—one of the few matters on which the whole Convention was agreed—namely, that the remaining land not purchased should be purchased compulsorily. Lord Eustace Percy's Committee went into the matter very carefully and issued a Paper with which I will not trouble your Lordships, and accepted compulsory purchase.

The difference between those recommendations and the ones which I have to put before you in this Bill arise from the fact, that the value of money has altered since then, and money can now be borrowed at 4½ per cent. instead of at 5 per cent. This Bill practically represents the agreed scheme of the Irish Convention of 1918, as modified by the changed monetary conditions of 1924. The Government of Northern Ireland will have the duty, if this Bill passes, of completing the terms of the purchase, which can only be done through the Imperial Parliament, but the Northern Ireland Government will have to meet any charges which fall upon it. This will be one of the Reserved Services and will fall upon the Reserved Taxes: An important point of this Bill is that the Northern Ireland Government are responsible for the finance of the Bill. The Bill has been drawn up in consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland, and, What is more important still, both landlords and tenants have agreed to its provisions, which I will shortly state.

There still remains in Northern Ireland a million acres of land to be purchased, and this acreage is valued at £8,900,000 This sum is going to be capitalised at 4¾ per cent.; bonds bearing 4½ per cent. interest are to be issued to the owners, and the tenants will pay the interest on these, plus ¼ per cent., which will go into the sinking fund. As the landlords get less than their old net rent they are going to have a bonus under the Bill, and the net result will be that the tenant will pay, by way of purchase annuity, between £70 and £89 for every £100 of his present rental, and at the end of 66½ years the land for which he is paying interest on the bond will be his property—the holding will become his own. The landlord will receive as income between 77 per cent. and 90 per cent. of his old net rental.

That is practically the result of the Bill into the details of which it is unnecessary further to go. These terms have been accepted by both sides and by the British Government and the Government of Northern Ireland, and although the landlord will be getting considerably less net rent than before, he will get greater security, and he is willing to take the terms offered. I do not suppose that there will be much opposition to the Bill. It was fathered by the last Government practically in identical terms, and was also drawn up by the Government which preceded it. The hour is late, and I do not think I need go into details of the provisions of this complicated Bill now, so I will content myself with moving that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Desborough.)


My Lords, I will only detain you at the most one or two moments at this late hour. I desire to give general support to the Bill, the main facts as to which have been outlined by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading. So far as the Imperial Government is concerned, I agree that the risk of loss is negligible. The position is safeguarded in many ways, and, in the last resort, any deficiency incurred can be recovered from the Northern Ireland residuary share of Reserved Taxes.

The point I wish to say a word about is of importance and it is in relation to the guarantee. As a matter of fact this Bill is creating a precedent. A somewhat similar Bill was before this House just before Christmas with regard to the Irish Free State. We then guaranteed a certain amount to complete the purchase of land in the Irish Free State, but the Irish State is a Dominion. Now, Northern Ireland is not a Dominion. The Six Counties of Northern Ireland are represented in the Imperial Parliament. I pointed out, I remember, on the occasion of the Irish Free State Bill that it was a most unusual thing for the Imperial credit to be granted in connection with a Dominion loan. And there is, if I may say so, a good deal of misconception in the minds of many people about that. Many people are of the opinion that Dominion loans and Colonial loans are guaranteed by the Imperial Government. That is not the case. Such a guarantee has hardly ever been given. I think there are only two or three such instances. I know it was done some years ago in the case of Mauritius, it has also been done in the case of one of the Transvaal loans, and it was done in the case of the Irish Free State loan. But here we are going further, because, as I have said, the Six Counties do not form a Dominion. They really are part of our own country, and therefore what is really happening is that the Imperial guarantee is being given for raising money for certain purposes for six counties which are part of Great Britain.

I am not objecting to that at all. I support this Bill, but I want to point out what the position is. I submit that this precedent which is being created is an important one, and I hope that it will be used in other instances, not confined to this Bill. There are other cases in which, in the public interest, a case can be made out for an Imperial guarantee, and that is the point which I wish to put to your Lordships. I hope that, as time goes on, in certain cases certain other counties and places where they find difficulty in raising money, or where it would help very much in the interests of their inhabitants to have an Imperial guarantee, that guarantee will not be withheld by Parliament.


My Lords, I will not follow my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill in his review of Irish land legislation. I think, however, he is mistaken in saying that the Land Act of 1903 was not a success. On the contrary, it was a very great success.


I did not say it was not a success, but that the 2¾ per cent. proved insufficient.


The 1909 Act, which replaced it, was the one which was not a success. However, I will not go further into that. In normal circumstances I should have been one of the first to congratulate the Government on the Bill which they have introduced. It represents the only complete achievement of the Irish Convention of 1918 that the report, which embodied the provisions of this Bill, was unanimously agreed to by that body, and therefore it deserved to come to fruition. As I had the honour to be a member of the Committee which drew up the report which forms the basis of this Bill, I should in normal circumstances feel a parental pride in it, in the thought that it has survived the perils of infantile diseases and that at last, as a strong young man, it is going to take its place in the world. But the circumstances are not normal.

Almost directly this infant appeared in the world it was adopted by the then Prime Minister of this country, Mr. Lloyd George. He said it was one of the most beautiful babies he had ever known, and he immediately put it in the charge of the Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Macpherson, as head nurse. We did not hear a great deal more about it, except that we were told it was considered that it was really such a precious baby that it was necessary for the future happiness of Ireland that he should preserve and develop it, and it only made a public appearance for a few days at the end of 1920. But then a change came over the spirit of the dream, and we were horrified to discover quite lately that this wonderful infant was not the paragon we had imagined. Instead of that, it seemed to have developed suddenly into Siamese twins, and we gathered that His Majesty's Government proposed to per-form a surgical operation to separate the two bodies. This has now been done, and we have one of these twins presented to us as a youth of stately stature, while I think it is suggested that the less we ask about what has become of the other twin the better pleased the Government will be.

Let me drop metaphor. It is perfectly well known that the report on which this Bill was based was prepared for the whole of Ireland. It was adopted for the whole of Ireland, and the Government of the day pledged themselves in the most solemn manner that it would form part of their policy for the settlement of the Irish question, and would be coterminous with any scheme of Home Rule which they brought in. If the Bill which was introduced—I have it in my hand—and which in all material particulars is exactly the same as that which is now proposed to be applied to Northern Ireland had become law, and if the Government of the lay had stuck to their pledges and had passed that simultaneously with the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the whole matter would have been settled, and there would have been no question as to the division of Ireland or any other question of that kind. But, instead of that, as we know, the midnight Treaty with Sinn Fein took place, and the Government contend, I understand, that the Treaty has changed the whole aspect of affairs, that Irish landowners in the South must now look to the Irish Free State for assistance, and that His Majesty's Government have nothing further to do with the matter.

I am not going to abuse the Irish Free State Government, nor even to criticise it. That Government was placed in a very difficult position. It was dependent for support on many who disliked the very name of England, who looked on the Irish landowners as the British garrison, and who therefore would not have been sorry to get rid of them lock, stock, and barrel at any price. The loyalists had no representation in the Lower House of the Irish Parliament, and consequently the Irish Government was obliged to put forward such a Bill as they could pass with the assistance of those gentlemen to whom I have referred. So far as the Senate of the Irish Parliament is concerned, as we know, their powers are practically limited to delaying any measure for nine months. In addition to this, the Free State was very short of money, and therefore probably the Bill which they passed was as good a one as they could manage to pass in the circumstances. But it certainly was very much less good than the Bill which had been prepared by the British Government, or the one which is now submitted to your Lordships to be passed for Northern Ireland.

Southern Irish landlords received less good terms, and they received no bonus. As a result of this, there is no doubt that, unless assistance is given from this country, many Irishmen with estates which are burdened with debt will find themselves ruined. Our complaint is not against the Irish Free State, but against the British Government. I need not weary your Lordships by repeating to you the pledges that were given on this subject over and over again by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, by the late Mr. Bonar Law, and by two members of the present Government, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the noble and learned Earl who is now Secretary of State for India. Those of your Lordships who take any interest in this matter know perfectly well what those pledges were, and no one knows better than the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who was in no way responsible for them, but who has done everything in his power to help Irish loyalists, for which I wish to take this opportunity on their behalf of recording their very grateful thanks.

I know it may be said that in the Bill before us the bonus which is given eventually falls, not on the Imperial Government but upon Northern Ireland. It is a somewhat delicate subject to touch upon, but, although the Government of Northern Ireland has assumed this burden, I believe I am right in stating that the Imperial Government has, not directly but indirectly, given them assistance by a contribution towards certain Services for which, under the Act of 1920, they are not really responsible. There is no mention of the South in this Bill, and I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether I can take that as inferring that the subject is still under consideration. I earnestly hope that this is the case. I do not know what. are the obligations of members of an existing Government towards pledges made by a former Government of which they also were members, but I say that there is not a noble Lord or right hon. gentleman to whom I have referred who would feel that he was justified in acting in his private capacity in the manner in which collectively and in a public capacity they have done. I am only sorry that this Bill does not include some compensation for Southern landlords, and I most heartily congratulate our brethren in the North on the very good terms they have obtained.


My Lords, I have no wish to offer any opposition to this Bill because I know full well that it is a measure agreed upon between the people who live in the six counties of Northern Ireland and His Majesty's Government. Therefore, whatever I might feel upon the subject, it would be useless for me to express any view contrary to the proposals in the Bill. His Majesty's Government and the people who live in Northern Ireland have believed, like the rest of Ireland for many years past, that the panacea for many of the ills of their country is the sale of the land to the tenants. Let us remember that this Bill differs somewhat from other land purchase measures of the past. In the past, Bills for the sale of land to Trish tenants have been for the compulsory sale by the landlord to the tenant, while this Bill provides for compulsory purchase by the tenants from the landlords. Whether a tenant wishes to buy or not he has to buy. That may be good or it may be had.

May I say in passing that I am one of the last representatives of the so-called landlords who own a considerable number of acres in Northern Ireland and it is for that reason that I would like to say this. My tenants and I have always got on extraordinarily well together. The same was true of my father and his father and their tenants. There has never been any trouble, and I believe that not a penny of bad debt exists to-day between my tenants and myself. I know full well that those tenants who will be forced, after the passage of this Bill, to purchase their holdings, may well rue the day. They have petitioned me in the past that they should not he forced to buy. On the other hand, I have no wish to sell. It is only because the passing of this Bill into law compels me to sell that there will be any sale.

I hope that when this Bill is passed it will conduce to the happiness, the peace and the prosperity of the country in which I live. It is an epoch-making piece of legislation. It is the parting of the ways. Landlord and tenant will part for ever and aye, as soon as the Bill receives the Royal Assent. Whether that is for good or for evil I cannot say; I believe it will be for evil. A bond of sentiment exists between landlord and tenant in the North of Ireland. The bonds which exist between landlord and tenant in England are entirely different from those existing in the North of Ireland, where that bond is a purely sentimental one. But sentiment counts for a good deal in times of stress and trouble. Those who lived in the North of Ireland before the war know well what stress we endured, and had there been no bond between landlord and tenant in those great days of trouble our difficulties would have been considerably greater. As I said at the beginning, I have no wish to oppose this Bill. On the contrary, I wish it luck and I hope it will be placed on the Statute Book. I might be wrong in my view of it, and other people think they are right and that it is going to help towards peace and prosperity in the country in which I live.


My Lords, I need not tell your Lordships that I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam in a great deal that has fallen from him. He cannot speak to an audience largely consisting of owners of land without striking a responsive chord when he speaks of the sentiment which unites tenant and landlord upon a well-managed estate. It is a sentiment which is of immense value to the country and is one of the great amenities of English rural life. But as my noble friend himself has said, the relations between an English landlord and an English tenant are not, and have never been, precisely the same as the relations between an Irish landlord and an Irish tenant.

I am not at this hour going into the whole history of Irish land purchase, but, as my noble friend knows, the pernicious system of double ownership has always existed in Ireland, especially in Ulster. It was intensified and extended in the teeth of the resistance of the Conservative Party by a succession of Land Acts for which the Liberal Party was responsible. That system is unworkable and it has been the policy, I believe, of nearly all Parties, except the Irish Nationalist Party of old days, to bring the system of double ownership to an end by the only method which is possible—namely, by buying out, the landlord—and a succession of Irish Land Purchase Acts has been the form in which Parliament has tried to achieve that end. My noble friend who was responsible for moving the Second Beading of this Bill has given your Lordships an outline of the succession of those Irish Land Purchase Acts, and now at last, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we are in sight of a final settlement, an agreed settlement as my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam admitted, and though I sympathise with him as he sees the last traces of that old relationship vanishing, I cannot but be happy that at last, at any rate in part of Ireland, the Irish land question bids fair to conic to an end.

I must say a word about the speech that has been made by my noble friend Lord Oranmore and Browne. He used very kind words of myself, for which I am very grateful to him. It is true that, not alone but in company with others, I have done my best to help the loyalists in Ireland and in particular, in relation to the present discussion, the owners of land in that country. My noble friend has gone through great experiences, and I do not expect him to be entirely accurate in his description of what has passed, but he will forgive me for correcting him in an important particular. He has suggested to your Lordships that when the Treaty, that unfortunate Treaty, was signed—for which, of course, as your Lordships know, I personally and many of my friends have no responsibility—the British Government said: "We have no more to do with the position of the Trish landlords in Ireland." Is not that rather hard? I am not underrating the sufferings of the Irish landlord, but where would the Irish landlord be if the British Government had not guaranteed, as it has guaranteed, the land stock of the Irish Free State by the Act which was passed in the winter of last year? My noble friend thinks, I know, that that was insufficient.


I am very grateful for that.


I am sure my noble friend is, but he did not mention it in his speech, and he will forgive me having reminded him of it. I must say that it is a very important particular. Where would the Southern loyalists be if the British Government bad not guaranteed the stock? I know my noble friend agrees with me. I do not think my sympathy with the Irish loyalists is exhausted. The British Government is always watching to see what it can do to help the loyalists. But the Treaty is a fact, a deplorable fact, a fact from which there is no retirement. I remember sitting where noble Lords opposite are sitting now, and warning your Lordships when the Treaty was passed that there was no means of going back upon it once it had been passed. That was one of the reasons why I urged the House to reject it. You must, of course, look facts in the face. As I have said, the sympathy of the British Government with the Irish loyalists is not exhausted, and never can be exhausted; yet we cannot hope to look after them as we should have looked after them had the Treaty never been made.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.