Payment of Land Purchase Annuities.

Civil Services and Revenue Depart Ments Supplementary Estimate, 1921–22. – in the House of Commons on 20th February 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £265,024, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for making good certain Irish Land Purchase Annuities.

Mr. YOUNG:

This is also a formal Estimate, and the reason for it is exactly the same as the previous one. After the institution of the Government of Northern Ireland it retains instalments of principal and interest repayable formally to the Irish Land Purchase Fund. There is an important difference, however, between this and the previous Estimate. In future the Government of Northern Ireland will retain those instalments, because it is provided in the Act that those instalments of the Irish Land Purchase Annuities were to be a free gift from this country to the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore we have formally to take authority to repay those annuities.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

There is just one point I wish to raise in connection with this Vote. I am afraid we may be establishing a precedent which might be inconvenient in the future. The last Vote mentioned the Northern area, but this Vote does not mention it in the explanation at the top of the Vote. The whole matter is lumped together under "Repayment of Local Loans Fund." Needless to say, there is no mention of Northern or Southern Ireland. The point I am trying to put before the hon. Gentleman is whether we shall not have to do practically the same thing with regard to the Government of Southern Ireland if and when they require us to do so. The original Act related to the whole of Ireland. Are we constitutionally able to make this difference for a portion of Ireland which we call Northern Ireland, which was only contemplated when these particular Acts were passed. I should like to ask what is going to be the future of land purchase in the South of Ireland? I think that should be made perfectly clear.

Major BARNES:

What will happen under these circumstances? The Vote represents the amount due on account of Irish Land Purchase annuities in respect of land situated in the North of Ireland. But a Boundary Commission is to be set up which will transfer land in the North to Southern Ireland. Can the Financial Secretary to the Treasury assure us that the land in respect of which we are dealing here is not land which will come under the operation of the Boundary Commission; and, if not, can he tell the Committee what will occur if, as a result of the findings of the Boundary Commission, this land situated in the North of Ireland is transferred to Southern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Edmund Royds Mr Edmund Royds , Grantham

Is it not the fact that whether the land be in Northern Ireland or Southern Ireland all through these troublous times the Purchase annuities have been regularly paid in the whole of Ireland?

Captain SENN:

In Estimates previously presented to Parliament where the Supplementary Vote was for a new service the words "New Service" used to appear at the head of the Supplementary Vote, and the appearance of those words made it clear that on that Supplementary Vote the whole general question might be debated. In these new Estimates the practice of putting in the words "New Service" at the head has been entirely abandoned. I would like to know by whose authority this old practice in presenting the Estimates has been changed, and whether for the convenience of hon. Members it cannot be reverted to, so that we may know when a service is a new service. Is it not the case that by departing from the practice the privileges of this Committee in debating this Vote have been curtailed?

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

I am unable to give any ruling on that point until I know whether or not it is a new service. I have no knowledge as to that.

Mr. YOUNG:

The practice has been as described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman to put the inscription "New Service" at the head of a Supplementary Estimate when the service is actually new. But a service is not necessarily new because it has not been provided for in the original Estimate. The service may have been provided for by some running Statute which contained all the provisions necessary to discharge the service. Such is the case here. The whole administration of land purchase in Ireland is not a new, but an old service, having been provided for by Statute. It is only necessary, under the salutary rule to which reference has been made, to describe a service as a new service when it is in substance new, and has never been provided for before.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman was not in a position to give me the information for which I asked. I do not know if he has been able to obtain it.

Mr. YOUNG:

Perhaps, if the hon. and gallant Member will allow me; I might just deal with one or two other points that have been raised. As regards the title and heading of the Estimate, the form of the Estimate is, of course, new, and if it can be improved, I will certainly give the most careful consideration to the suggestion of my hon. Friend and of any other hon. Members with regard to form. With regard to the question of the land for which purchase arrangements might happen to be in force at the time of its transfer from one part of Ireland to another under the redistribution of territory, that, no doubt, would require some rather careful adjustments, and probably some arrangement would be necessary between the parties concerned.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

I am sorry that, although the hon. Gentleman has dealt with the questions of two other hon. Members, he has not dealt with mine, and perhaps, therefore, if I am not out of order, I may repeat it. This Vote deals with a sum of £265,000, and I think I am entitled to an answer on the only point that I have raised upon it. The sum is considerable, and I think the precedent established is more important still. The original Acts, which I have already quoted, referred to the whole of Ireland. How can we transfer this only to Northern Ireland, under Section 26 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, without a claim being set up, which might or might not be good in law, by the Government of Southern Ireland when it is duly constituted? If the hon. Gentleman is now seised of it, I shall be glad to hear his explanation. If he still does not understand my point, I shall be glad to explain it further.

Mr. YOUNG:

I did and do apprehend, I think, the bearing of my hon. and gallant Friend's question, but I had a certain diffidence in dealing with it because it occurred to me that it did not really bind itself very closely with the subject-matter of this Estimate. As my hon. and gallant Friend will remember, it was provided in the original Government of Ireland Bill that an arrangement similar to that which is now being carried out in this Supplementary Estimate for Northern Ireland should be applied also to Southern Ireland. It must also be equally clear that, owing to the changes which have taken place in regard to the future constitutional position of Southern Ireland, and her future financial arrangements, probably the arrangement made as regards land purchase annuities in connection with Southern Ireland will need readjustment. I fear that on the present occasion, even were I in order, I should not be able to give any more accurate or detailed account as to what the arrangements as regard land purchase in Southern Ireland will be. My means of information do not enable me at present to say more than that it will have to be subject to arrangement as between the British Exchequer and the Exchequer of the Irish Free State, as part of the general financial arrangements which would have to take place on the establishment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

Photo of Hon. Esmond Harmsworth Hon. Esmond Harmsworth , Isle of Thanet

I should like to ask the Financial Secretary one question. There is at the bottom of this Estimate a note which says that the second and third of these amounts, payable on the 1st December, have been advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund, and that the Vote will to that extent be used to repay the Civil Contingencies Fund. This Contingencies Fund, I should have thought, was formed to a certain extent for emergency pur- poses, perhaps for paying servants of the State in distant parts of the world when it would only be possible to wait until an Estimate was presented to the House of Commons, but surely this fund was not formed for the purpose of being used for paying such monies as we have before us to-day, and having an Estimate afterwards presented to the House of Commons and paying back into the Civil Contingencies Fund such large sums of money?

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I think there is considerable force in the hon. Member's statement. The Civil Contingencies Fund, to the best of my recollection, used to be quite a small fund, and it was used for civil purposes. Its very name shows that it was used for civil contingencies. No one can say land purchase in Ireland is a civil contingency. It is something that is authorised by Statute, and has been going on for 50 years. Under these circumstances, I cannot conceive by what right the Government has taken this money from the Civil Contingencies Fund, which was started for something quite different. This again raises a constitutional question as to whether or not the Government is right in taking money either without the sanction of the House of Commons or from certain funds devoted to other purposes. I remember, either last Session or the Session before, drawing attention to the fact that the Civil Contingencies Fund had been very largely increased, and I pointed out that it was not advisable to give the Government control over a large sum of money such as that it was proposed to institute. I was told it would not be improperly used. It seems to me this has been improperly used. It has been used for a purpose for which it was never intended. This again involves a constitutional question, and I hope we shall have a satisfactory explanation.

Mr. YOUNG:

I, of course, entirely agree with the right hon. Baronet and the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. E. Harmsworth) that the uses of the Civil Contingencies Fund require the most careful scrutiny and safeguarding by this House. But, in fact, the use of the fund for this particular purpose is typical of the use of the fund, and is exactly the sort of use which the fund is provided to meet. It is a Civil Contingencies Fund. This is a civil purpose. I hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) say land purchase is not a contingency, because it is provided for by Statute. That is very true, but there has been a contingency, the contingency of a new Government of Ireland Act, violently cutting off all the financial arrangements in Northern Ireland and requiring special emergency arrangements to meet that exceptional contingency. The contingency in this case was that all these sums have to be repaid under Statute or statutory obligations to the Local Loans Fund, the Land Purchase Account, and the Land Purchase Fund. As regards the second two, the Land Purchase Account and the Land Purchase Fund, they had to be repaid on 1st December, 1921, when the House was not sitting. We could not get our Supplementary Estimate before that because we did not know what sums were going to be required. That is exactly the sort of contingency the Civil Contingencies Fund exists to meet. You have to make a statutory payment for a single occasion owing to a contingency of a special sort. We were not able to get a Vote before. We must advance the money from the Civil Contingencies Fund for the two months which must elapse until we could come to the House on the first possible opportunity to get authority to repay to the Fund. That is what we have done. At the earliest possible opportunity we have come to House in order to get authority to repay the money to the Fund from which we had to take it because of special emergency. In these circumstances, I think the Committee will agree with me in being satisfied that this was, in so far as any use of the Civil Contingency Fund can be normal, a normal and reasonable use of the Fund of a sort with which the Fund was created to deal.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I cannot say that I think it was a normal use, or a use which was intended when the Fund was instituted; but I quite admit that the Government have got themselves into a horrible muddle in connection with the Irish Treaty. The hon. Gentleman says that the House was not sitting on the 21st December. That is true, but we were sitting on the 16th or the 17th December, and it would have been possible to have brought this Vote forward then, and to have saved the Contingency Fund from being used. I am much obliged to the Financial Secretary for his answer. I have every sympathy for him. It was not altogether his fault that this difficulty has arisen over a Treaty which apparently has not given peace to Ireland or succeeded in carrying out the financial arrangements in the ordinary way.