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[233 great thing to be aimed at by Unionism was the economic and social regeneration of the country by the power and resources of the common exchequer created by the Act of Union.
The estimate contained in the Chief Secretary's speech of the strength of the United Irish League was received with derision both by discontented Unionists and by Nationalists. The intimation that oppression would be prevented and order maintained, of course, afforded gratification among the former, which was confirmed by prosecutions instituted during the last half of December against certain Members of Parliament for taking part in meetings of an intimidating character in the west. On a charge of unlawful assembly held to intimidate a man into giving up an evicted farm, Mr. Conor O'Kelly, M.P. for North Mayo, and chairman of the Mayo County Council, was convicted by two resident magistrates at Castlebar, and sentenced to two months' imprisonment without hard labour, other defendants having shorter terms. Mr. Hayden, M.P. for South Roscommon, on a similar charge, was sentenced, at Castlereagh, to twenty-one days' imprisonment. In this case one of the objects of the meeting in question was said to be the intimidation of a man who had taken land on the grazing system, which it was one of the primary objects of the League to discourage, in order that the lands which had been so hired should be made available for the use of the small tenantry. In a third case, at Ballymote, Co. Sligo, Mr. John O'Donnell, M.P. for South Mayo, was sentenced to two months', and Mr. Tully, M.P. for South Leitrim, to one month's imprisonment, for unlawful assembly on an occasion when the object of the meeting was said to be to incite Lord de Freyne's tenants not to pay their rents. In all these cases, with the exception of that of Mr. C. O'Kelly, points of law were reserved by the resident magistrates for the consideration of a higher tribunal, so that the sentences did not at once take effect. Mr. William O'Brien, the founder of the United Irish League, who was travelling in Australia for his health when Mr. C. O'Kelly's case was heard, telegraphed his congratulations to that gentleman on his conviction ; and Mr. J. Redmond, on his return in December from a tour for the enlistment of support for the United Irish League in the United States (as to the results of which there were divergent reports), expressed his satisfaction that the Government had again resorted to coercion, that being the only “salt " required to bring the country into a healthy political condition.
It remained to be seen whether these gentle forms of “coercion " so far resorted to would avail to check the spread of a system of intimidation, or whether the full machinery of the Crimes Act would have to be put in force. The Government, it was clear, were anxious to avoid all needless interference with public agitation, and doubted the existence of any large body of popular sympathy bebind the League movement. There was no distress to be worked upon as in the early days of
the Land League ; the labourers looked upon the United Irish League as a farmers' concern, unlikely to be of any service to them; and well-informed persons believed the movement itself to be honeycombed with dissensions and jealousies.
The very perplexities of the Executive in Ireland in 1901 arose in no small measure from the advantages conferred by the Legislature, or the agencies established by it, on certain sections of the Irish tenant farmers. The chief ground of offence in the case of the De Freyne tenantry, for example, was that their landlord had not given them rent reductions like those given by the Congested Districts Board to the tenants on a neighbouring estate, which the Board had bought from Lord Dillon. Again, in Ulster, where Mr. T. W. Russell pursued throughout the year his agitation for the compulsory sale of all agricultural land in Ireland to the occupying tenants, one of the considerations on which he placed great reliance was the anon ous disadvantage at which the ordinary tenant found himself, in having to pay a higher rate per acre for the occupation of his holding than was represented by the sums, composed of instalments of principal and interest, which the tenants on the estates where sales had been effected under the Purchase Acts were paying, for a limited number of years, before becoming owners out and out. The fact that, even so, the occupying tenants were paying, in almost every case, rents greatly reduced at two successive valuations by the Land Courts, and were enjoying fixity of tenure, did not seem to weigh against this inequality. Mr. Russell's movement was not considered by those who had the best means of judging to be making much, if any, way, but he and his friends were looking forward with hope to a coming election in East Down, where a compulsory purchase candidate, though standing as a Unionist, would poll the Nationalist vote in the absence of any candidate of that party.
The perennial Roman Catholic University question was before the country in 1901 in a somewhat new phase, the Government having granted a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole subject of university education in Ireland, only withdrawing Trinity College from the purview of the inquiry. Evidence was taken during the summer and autumn and issued to the public, and an impression was current that the Commission would suggest some solution of the problem which would involve certain changes in the constitution of the University of Dublin. The state of Protestant feeling in the North of Ireland was by no means favourable to any substantial concession to the Roman Catholic demand for separate arrangements for University teaching, though in England there had seemed to be a sensible increase of acceptance for the views inculcated with so much earnestness by Mr. Balfour.
Effect of the War on Financial Affairs.
FINANCE AND TRADE.
FINANCIAL affairs both in this country and in Europe have been greatly affected by the continuance of the war in South Africa. The cessation for nearly two years of the output of the Rand Mines has had a material effect in reducing the world's supply of gold. There has been little actual scarcity, but all through 1901 the rates of interest in the money market were high, and the prices of almost all securities were correspondingly lowered. An exception to the rule was furnished by American Railroad shares, which were in enormous demand. This was due to no little extent to the material improvement in the earnings of the lines and to the generally flourishing condition of American trade. Taking it all round, the year has been a good one for those who have had money to invest, but a very bad one for those who have been obliged to sell securities. Institutions such as banks, insurance companies, trust companies, and other concerns who have much money locked up in securities have had to write down their assets more or less severely in order to make them conform to the low levels which were reached on the Stock Exchange. The same considerations do not apply to private investors, since they are under no necessity to issue a balance-sheet to the world.
The British Government has been a large borrower on account of the war expenditure in South Africa and China. In February 11,000,0007, in 3 per cent. Exchequer Bonds, redeemable at par on December 7, 1905, were allotted at an average price of 971. 58. 4d. per 1001. At the end of the financial year 1900-1 the Government recognized the advisability of borrowing upon a more permanent form of security than Treasury Bills, Exchequer Bonds and Ten-year War Loans. Issues of this kind at short intervals deplete the floating cash of the money market, and are more expensive than a security for which the public can subscribe freely. In April, therefore, 60,000,0001. in Consols were created. This issue, which was made at 941, and thus produced 56,700,0001., was a success. Half of the amount was offered to the public and the rest disposed of privately as follows: 11,000,0001. to Messrs. N. M. Rothschild & Sons, 10,000,0001. to Messrs. J. S. Morgan & Co.
a London branch of the American house of J. P. Morgan & Co.), and 9,000,0001. to the Bank of England. At first the issue was popular, but later on public opinion turned against Consols altogether, probably because the rate of interest will be reduced to 24 per cent. in April, 1903. A good many realisations took place, and on July 15 business was done in Consols at 91, the lowest price recorded since their conversion
by Lord Goschen. By the end of the year they had recovered to 941. The great fall which has taken place in the value of this important security during the past three years is due partly to the suspension of the sinking fund and partly to the Government's borrowings for war purposes. India was also a borrower in London, and an unsuccessful one. The fault was less with the advisers of the Indian Government than with fortune, An issue of 3,000,0001. in India 3 per cent. Stock was made on July 11, and that day happened to witness a collapse in the American Railroad market as well as a heavy fall in Consols. The result was failure. An amount of 709,500i. was allotted and the remainder was withdrawn.
In contrast with the accidental failure of India has been the marked success of Colonial loans. Indeed, Colonial loans -whatever may be said against them from the point of view of the true interests of the Colonies—have been one of the features of the year. In December, 1900, the British Treasury published the conditions under which the various Colonial securities might become available to trustees under the Colonial Stock Act. By the end of 1901 Canada, Natal, New Zealand, and all the Australian States except South Australia had complied with the conditions, and their inscribed stocks consequently were added to the Trustee List. Most of them also appeared as borrowers on 3 per cent. Stock at prices which varied from 91 to 94. These issues were popular with investors, who saw in them a means of getting substantially more than 3 per cent. per annum, together with good security.
British Railways have not been, by any means, in a flourishing condition. Coal and other materials were very high in price during the last half of 1900 and the first half of 1901, and it was hoped that there would have been a material improvement during the second half of 1901. But although coal was cheaper, yet traffic receipts were in many cases less and other expenses were higher. Altogether, 1901 has been hardly a better railway year than 1900, which was one of the worst of recent years. The only really successful lines have been the underground electric railways in London—or “tubes” as they are popularly called. One line in particular--the Central London -has taken so much traffic from the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Companies that it has been decided to equip these railways for electric traction as soon as possible. There is, unfortunately, a good deal of friction between the boards of the old Underground Railways, which, it is feared, will seriously delay their electrical equipment. The capital for the Metropolitan District Company is being found by an American syndicate, of which Mr. Yerkes is the head.
On January 1, 1901, a new Companies Act came into force. Although this act has many stringent clauses, it does not appear likely to have much effect on the character of company promotions. The proverbial “coach and four” has been driven
(237 through it in one or two directions already, and, no doubt, enterprising persons will in time discover further means of nullifying its provisions. It may be doubted if there is any legislative means of protecting the ignorant or careless investor. The affairs of the London and Globe Finance Corporation attracted much attention all through the year. Its collapse occurred at the end of December, 1900, and as many as twenty firms on the Stock Exchange were obliged to default in consequence. The company engaged in a highly speculative business in connection with the mining markets, and no one knew anything of its affairs except the managing director, Mr. Whitaker Wright. The chairman of the corporation was Lord Dufferin, and its failure was a severe blow to that distinguished public servant. Much sympathy was felt for him in this misfortune at the end of his honoured career, while it was greatly regretted that he allowed his name to be associated with a speculative business which he had not sufficient special knowledge to enable him to control. The allied companies—the Standard Exploration Company and the British America Corporation-have also failed, and the three concerns are being wound up compulsorily.
The South African mines resumed crushing on a small scale in May, and the number of stamps has since been considerably increased. It was expected that by the middle of February, 1902, a quarter of the whole number of stamps would be at work. No mine was allowed to drop more than fifty. For May the gold output was 7,478 ounces, and for December as much as 52,897 ounces.
Turning from finance to the foreign trade of the country we find that 1901 was on the whole a good year.
There was some falling off as compared with 1900, but then the latter year showed a larger volume of trade than in any previous year in the national history, and it was a year of high prices. The total imports during 1901 were valued at 523,075,0001., a decrease of 836,0001., or 0.15 per cent., compared with 1900, which latter year showed an increase of no less than 38,598,0001., or 7.9 per cent., over the figures for 1899. It must be remembered that 1899 was itself considered a good year. If we take the exports we find that the total values for 1901 were 291,192,0001., decrease of 10,693,0001., or 3:6 per cent., as compared with the figures for 1900, which in their turn showed an increase of 26,959,0001., or 10-1 per cent., over the by no means inconsiderable exports of 1899. The total trade of the year 1901, inclusive of the re-exports of foreign and colonial merchandise, amounted to 877,449,0001., a decrease of 0.7 per cent. in comparison with the total trade of 1900, which, however, showed an advance of 7.8 per cent. over the trade of the previous year. From these figures it will be seen that, even taking the rough test of total declared values of imports and exports, the year 1901 makes no bad appearance when placed alongside the record year of 1900, while 1899 is left as a very poor third. Total declared values