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MR. T. W. RUSSELL ON HEAD-RENTS.

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T is probably, on the whole, a sound empirical proposition that keen personal interests sharpen and strengthen a pen.

If this be so, the following paper should have considerable force, for it is the avowed object of the member for Tyrone-a man of great influence in the north of Ireland—without-as I am prepared to show—even the slightest show of justice, to rob— the word is used most advisedly—the writer of the value of at least seven thousand pounds, which, as the comparatively poor father of a family, he can very ill afford to lose. Unfortunately, too, the single argument in favour of such a course that has even a small show of reason, takes the unpleasant form of pointing to the undeniable fact that he has been already "robbed” by the state of nearly as many hundreds. Since A, who has voted for me,” Mr. Russell exclaims with magnificent indignation, “ has already secured a slice of the property of his head-landlord, why should B, C, and D, who have all equally voted for me, and have equally head-landlords, be left out in the cold ?

Why, indeed; unless the hearts of the public be reached through their heads, and they see in time that it is not well for them to endorse the promises of politicians, who without, as hope to be able to show, the slightest shadow of justice, would inflict great wrongs upon perfectly innocent people, by taking from them their perfectly innocent property. For, the interests in land with which these pages will try to deal, have nothing in the world to do with that claim for “dual ownership,” which unquestionably could sometimes lead to a conflict of equities, in matters as they stood—at least as seen from the State's point of view—and thus show some fair cause for legislation. Nothing could possibly be plainer or more entirely just than the rights of the owners of fee-farm grants. Their predecessors in title had given away for ever to their tenants all agricultural interests in the soil, reserving to themselves and their successors only a fixed rent of about what is commonly called the prairie value.” Every improvement, made from that out,

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to belong absolutely to the tenant in fee-farm ; and practically the lands were improved until the head-rents were less than one-third of the letting value. No matter how the country progressed, that head-rent could not be increased by one penny; but on the other hand, in the worst of times, it was always absolutely secure. By no possibility could there be fairer leases; and, if as a rule, the fee-farm tenant let his land to sub-tenants at about four times the rent he paid himself, that had plainly nothing in the world to do with the contract between him and the owner of the fee-simple, who besides bis perfectly secured rent retained his rights to inines and minerals. Naturally, very high prices were paid for such properties. The property of this nature, which the present writer received from his father, consisted of a little over £800 a year, paid by eight gentlemen; and although a comparatively very large number of years' purchase was given for it, it was always considered an excellent investment. Indeed, such ownership of fee-farm rents would seem to rank very much with debenture shares in a good railway, as far as income is concerned, while there are always the chances of minerals besides; and, as has been already said, by no possibility can they do any human being any wrong by confiscating his improvements.

Now, how does Mr. Russell propose to treat these perfectly unoffending and very valuable properties? By that fair test and by his own declarations—let the honesty of the man be tried! Of course, these owners have very few votes, and if large slices of the value of their estates can be given to their immediate tenants on the one side, and to their sub-tenants on the other—why, it will be a much cheaper way of getting such men as Mr. Russell a seat in Parliament, than that old-fashioned bribery with their own private monies, which sometimes cost a member so much!

At the very beginning of Mr. Russell's agitation, a Rev. Mr. Kirkpatrick wrote him a letter which appeared in the Irish Times of October the 29th, 1900, in which his attention was directed to the matter in the following plain and convincing sentences :

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The rent being in all cases presumed to be a fair one, the only ground for varying the number of years' purchase (in the proposed cases of compulsory sale), would be a difference in the security. This ought to make head-rents worth a larger number of years' purchase

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than rents paid by the occupying tenants. For example, £50 ordinary rent might be payable out of from fifty to a hundred acres. But £50 head-rent might be payable out of, and be secured upon, a thousand

Therefore, it ought to be worth a larger number of years' purchase. This consideration, I think, answers your query-why, when an estate is sold at eighteen years' purchase should a head-rent upon it be redeemed at twenty-five years' purchase? Just because the security is greater.

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Now, how does Mr. Russell reply to this plain statement ? After some mild argumentation upon other points, when he comes to deal at last with the vital matter of the bribe for both sides, which is to do such wonders for his scheme-a bribe which is to be paid out of the properties of the unfortunate class who, as I said, have very few votes—he becomes indignantly patriotic. This is what he writes :

I hope you will permit me to say that I do not appreciate in the same way your argument as to the superior claims of head-rents. If the State is to intervene, as I propose—if the general tax-payer is to aid in the great work of pacification—I see no reason why the owner of a head-rent is to walk off scot free. The tax-payer and the immediate owner will suffer somewhat—not much I hope. I see no reason why the owner of the head-rent should escape all share of the burden, merely because in the normal state of things his security was ample. Besides, I question your statement that the security behind the head-rent is better. The tenant-right of the occupier plus the landlord's interest is good for anything.

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And there he leaves the matter without another word. Now, how are we to argue with a would-be statesman who tells us in the words I have italicised, that he cannot see how £50 a year secured as a first charge on one thousand acres, is better secured than if it were only charged on fifty? When he tells us that he cannot see that, it would be plainly quite useless to remind him that, as I have said, the owner of the fee simple, to whom the first fifty pounds a year is paid, is the owner of the fairest of all leases, fee-farm-grants, which have had nothing in the world to do with that “confiscation of tenant's improvements” which has furnished Mr. Russell and his friends with their one reasonable argument for all this recent land legislation in Ireland. That alone would seem to show perfectly fair cause why, in Mr. Russell's words, “he should walk off scot free.'' But the plain attempt at “robbery” in this case, is made manifest by the fact that Mr. Russell would only give in his new compulsory scheme, the perfectly innocent

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owner of the fee-simple, whose property is the first charge on the whole estates, the same number of years purchase which he would allow the fee-farm tenants, who, according to him, had done all the mischief by unduly seizing on their subtenants' improvements. And yet an apparently good authority, writing in the Irish Times of November the 11th last year, tells us that "he looks upon the present system of compulsory redemption of these fee-farm-rents under Lord Ashbourne's Act, at 25 years purchase, as 'robbery’; and that such rents ought not be compulsorily redeemed at less than 36 years' purchase. I know at all events, that I myself, as a free agent, refused thirty years purchase for a large part of one of mine, at a time when all first-class securities, such as debentures on a railway through a rich county (which they resemble), were not at all as high as they are now. But apparently, and to judge by these extracts of letters already given, Mr. Russell would only allow us eighteen or nineteen; so that if he could get bis way he would rob us for the benefit of his voters, of something between one-third and one-half of the value of our perfectly unoffending property. Of course this might appear to suit both the middle landlord and the tenant exceedingly well. But how would it suit the taxpayer who is expected to lend his credit to the extent of some one or two hundred millions of money--to enable the transaction to come off ?

Does anybody in his senses believe that such a piece of absolutely shameless plunder could be final ? Even Mr. Russell admits that Mr. Davitt is not with him. And behind Mr. Davitt would be practically all the workmen of Ireland. There is nothing so very pleasant in seeing innocent people robbed for the benefit of another class, as could make the working-men then entirely contented with their own lot. They too, could complain that excessive competition had dealt unduly with their position in the past, and no doubt they would have in due time their own Mr. Russells, who, at all events could by no possibility be more shameless in stating the price-out of other people's properties—they were prepared to pay for their votes ! But probably the tax-payers of the United Kingdom will think twice before they lend their credit on so huge a scale for the benefit of a single class for which legislation has already done so much. Votes are dearly bought when they are bought at the expense of that respect for private property which is so necessary for the continued success of a great commercial nation.

So far I had written in this attempt to save the property of my children from what every unprejudiced thinker must see to be plain confiscation, before I had read Mr. Russell's England, Ireland, and the Century,” in the Fortnightly Review of March, 1901. Having read that article, I must confess that the idea has struck me that, after all, his prejudices may have more to do with his savage attempts on me and mine, than his honesty; and that even where “the English garrison,” as he calls Irish landlords, are concerned, he may be to some extent open to reason, which of course a dishonest man never is. Now I should like to ask him to ask himself whether in the supposed case of a quarrel arising between the preference shareholders and the ordinary shareholders of an absolutely necessary and most important railway, of so deadly a nature as to make its being taken over by the state an absolute necessity, he would consider it fair that the perfectly innocent holders of debentures, which had been always paid to the day, and who had nothing in the world to do with the quarrel, should receive no more for each of their shares than the preference shareholder for each of his, although these first mentioned shares had been bought at a far higher price, and had always been considered of very much greater value ? I must confess again I cannot conceive any honest man either answering that question in the affirmative, or being able to point to any valid distinction that could be drawn between this imaginary case and that of the owners of fee-farm grants under a compulsory sale of Irish land, that would not be wholly in favour of the latter; for of course some new discoveries might make railways comparatively useless to-morrow, but while men are men they must eat, and therefore land must be valuable. And again, as I have shown, their predecessors in title had practically taken the most generous and straightforward means of guarding against what dr. Russell asserts to have been the great Irish danger of an undue seizing of improvements, which the landlords, as a rule, had been unable or unwilling to make themselves, by handing these all over to their fee-farm tenants, and had therefore been so far, practically at least, the best of patriots. As long as a State makes any claim to be just and strong, properties of their own nature so just should be protected.

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