§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
, who had the following Notice upon the Paper:—To call the attention of the House to the recent decisions of the Land Commission at Mullingar on the appeal of the landlord of the Lefroy Estate against the judicial rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioner; and to move—'That, in the opinion of this House, the Land Court is not entitled, under the Statute, to disregard the sworn testimony of several witnesses of an unimpeachable character who gave evidence on behalf of the tenants, and to decide merely upon the unsworn statement of a Court Valuer who had no previous acquaintance with the productive power of the land which he was sent to value,'said, he wished to point out that on appeals taken by several tenants of Lord Longford from the judicial rents fixed by the Sub-Commission, the three Commissioners, Mr. O'Hagan, Mr. Litton, and Mr. Vernon, sat, and the rents which the Sub-Commissioners had fixed they raised considerably, and, in some cases, almost to the original amounts. A rent of £38 was reduced to £24, and raised to £29 by the Land Commission; a rent of £26 10s. was reduced to £18 and raised to £25; a rent of £62 was reduced to £43 and raised to £57; a rent of £27 was reduced to £17 and raised to £25; a rent of £42 was reduced to £80 and raised to £37 6s. What he particularly invited the attention of the House to was the curious process by which this restoration to the high rents was effected. Before the Sub-Commissioners the tenants examined several competent witnesses, well known throughout the County Longford, as to the value of their farms —Mr. Gill, C.E., Mr. Harry M'Cann, a landlord and large farmer, and others. Their evidence was to the effect that even the rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners were somewhat high. The lands were also valued by Mr. Cochrane, Lord Longford's own agent, whose valuation' amounted to about the same as the judicial rents. On the hearing of the appeals, the landlord did not call a single witness as to value. But the Court valuer, who knew nothing whatever about the country, and had never seen the lands until he glanced at them by the direction of the Land Commission, gave evidence in the case. The valua- 785 tion which the Court valuer had decided to put upon the holdings got somehow into the Dublin papers, and was published before the landlord's side of the case had been heard. The landlord very prudently thought, perhaps, that, as the evidence of the Court valuer was so favourable to him, it was useless to call witnesses. And he was perfectly right, for the Court went practically on the testimony of its valuer, who was not sworn. That, he contended, was a subject of sufficient importance to justify his action in bringing it under the notice of the House at that stage of the Session. He had unsuccessfully endeavoured to attain his object by putting the facts into the form of a Question, and, therefore, felt compelled to take this opportunity of calling attention to the matter. If these rulings of the Land Commission were allowed to go unchallenged, a precedent might be set up, under which the simple statement of a Court valuer, not made upon oath, might bear down the evidence of the most important and best-informed witness called on the tenants' behalf. If the appointment of a Court valuer was meant to be of this efficacy, he failed to see any use for the Land Commission. If the Land Commission had nothing to do but send down a valuer to a place, and then to take his statement and convert it into a decision, he did not see why the country should be put to the expense of having Land Courts in addition to Court valuers. The valuer appointed by the Court might be sent round, and a judicial decision founded upon his report. He, therefore, trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant would give the Irish Members some assurance that nothing of this kind was intended.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
, in reply, said, he had communicated with the Land Commission, and had received an answer from the Secretary, to the effect that the Commissioners were empowered by the Statute to employ a valuer to report to them in cases where they thought it desirable, with the proviso that they might adopt his opinion or not as they thought fitting and just. They thought, therefore, that in the course they had taken in the case under notice, they were simply acting in accordance with the powers conferred on them by the Act, and they declined to enter into any explanation or 786 defence of their official acts. He (Mr. Trevelyan) could understand that the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), dwelling, perhaps, more on one side of a large question than on its entire aspect, should have thought it well to bring that matter before the House. On the other hand, it should be remembered that the Land. Commission was an independent tribunal, and as such was as little to be subjected to the criticism and the paternal care of the Executive Government as any other tribunal in the country. That was the theory which he (Mr. Trevelyan) had endeavoured to support in parrying the more numerous and more strongly urged objections taken to the decisions of that tribunal by hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Benches immediately opposite to him; and he should be most inconsistent if he did not fall back on the same principle that evening. If the Commissioners thought it right to enter into a defence of their decisions in these cases, he had no doubt they could show that they had come to a sound decision after a very careful consideration of the evidence before them; but for them to enter into such a defence would be to set a most unconstitutional and dangerous precedent. It was impossible, also, that the House should constitute itself a Court of Appeal from any tribunal whatever. They knew how the Prime Minister had commented on the intention of the Lords' Committee to ransack the decisions of the Land Court, and had declared — with the loudly-expressed assent of his entire Party—that no tribunal could maintain its independence if it were subjected to such an ordeal. The Committee of the House of Lords had abstained from taking that course, and the same rule must guide the action of the Government of the day. If the Land Commission were once to be challenged and questioned from the quarter of the House to which the hon. Member belonged, the ultimate effect must he disastrous to the interests of the tenants of Ireland. Therefore, in the interests both of the general public and of the Irish tenants, he (Mr. Trevelyan) must respectfully decline to enter any further into that question.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, that he had received several representations from Irish landlords, who were as much dissatisfied with the decisions of the 787 Appellate Tribunal created by Parliament to decide the question of a fair rent, as the tenants whose case had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy); but he had uniformly refused to bring their complaints before the House, because he thought both sides ought to be bound by the decision of the highest Appellate Court, and he could have wished that the hon. Member for Longford had taken the same course. The course he had recommended to landlords was the one which the tenants also should follow. Otherwise, in what way was finality to be attained under any circumstances, if Members of Parliament were to bring the cases of individual litigants who were not satisfied with the decisions given by the duly-constituted final Court of Appeal before the House of Commons, which had no opportunity of examining the witnesses, of seeing the land, or in any way trying the matter in dispute? As to the Court valuer not being sworn, it might be an improvement to take his evidence on oath; but hon. Members opposite knew very well it was not the usual course; the change, however, if desirable, might be effected by legislation. The intention of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite appeared to be to teach the Irish tenants that they were treated with injustice, and not to be content unless they obtained as great a reduction of rent as they expected. That was not a patriotic course to pursue after the labours Parliament had undergone—after their violation of all the principles upon which land legislation had hitherto proceeded, after all Ireland had suffered, and after all England had endured, to proceed in this way; and he trusted that hon. Gentlemen opposite would do their utmost, in an honest and earnest manner, to teach the unfortunate people of Ireland to respect and be content with the law, and to avail themselves of the advantages which had been offered to them. Unless they did so, they would have no cessation of that which was so ruinous to the interests of that country.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the theory broached by the hon. Member for Gal-way (Mr. Mitchell Henry) was a very peculiar one—namely, that the Irish people should be content with things as they were, and that they should not 788 follow the example of all other civilized countries in endeavouring to improve the laws when they were found to be bad.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, that he simply asked hon. Members opposite to do what he had done with regard to the landlords—decline to bring forward the complaints.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he held that the most obvious way of improving the law, when it was found inadequate to protect the interests of the people, was to call attention to practical examples of its actual working. He was not surprised to hear that the Irish landlords were dissatisfied with the operations of the Land Act, because they had expected to have nothing taken off their rents, and they keenly resented the reduction of a single penny. His hon. Friend (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) was entitled to the gratitude of the whole of the farmers of Ireland for bringing the question forward, although the manner in which it had been met by the Government did not promise any very useful result. He protested against the bold official answer of the Commissioners to the allegations of his hon. Friend, who had not called in question their decisions so much as to challenge the propriety and judiciousness of the mode in which those decisions had been arrived at, they having sheltered themselves behind their official position as a tribunal. Throughout their decisions—and it was a most remarkable thing—the Sub-Commissioners had, in their decisions, shown a tendency to approach nearer to the line of the landlord's valuation than that of the tenants. He (Mr. Sexton) objected to the Government having studiously withheld a comparative settlement of the decisions of the Sub-Commissioners with the rents which the tenants had been in the habit of paying, although the Government possessed full information upon the subject. He also objected to the mode in which the official valuers made their valuations, for they fixed the value of a farm at its present letting value, without taking the improvements into consideration, and thus defeated the objects of the Land Act, the interest of the tenant in his improvements being destroyed. Then the official valuers had not been selected with proper discretion. He had received general reports relating to those gentlemen, who, 789 to his own knowledge, had in many cases drawn up their reports with very little discretion; and if he had liked to have echoed the Tory Gentlemen in their tirades against the decisions of the Land Commissioners, he could have enlightened the House considerably from the tenant's side of the question. For instance, Mr. Charles Grey was an Englishman, and yet his evidence was preferred to that of respectable local experts, and his appointment was in other respects open to objection, for he was an agent for Lord Derby, who had been called in numerous cases as official valuer. This gentleman had bought the town lands of Ballinrobe, and immediately raised the rent upon 300 acres of land by £200. Having used his feudal rights in that direction, he then indulged in the sharp practice of selling the land at the increased rent, making an enormous profit. Mr. Scully, the gentleman who purchased the land, found it impossible to collect the rack-rents. No valuation this gentleman gave would give satisfaction, however just; and he (Mr. Sexton) went on the principle that those official valuers should be sworn, and that they should be above suspicion.