§ ADJOURNED DEBATE. [SECOND NIGHT.]
Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [27th February], that the Question then proposed,
That Parliamentary inquiry, at the present time, into the working of the Irish Land Act tends to defeat the operation of that Act, and must be injurious to the interests of good government in Ireland,"—(Mr. Gladstone,)
—be now put.
§ Previous Question again proposed, "That the Original Question be now put."—(Mr. Gibson.)
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the speech in which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister introduced the Motion was one almost wholly concerned with considerations pertinent to the conflict of opinion which had arisen between the two Houses of Parliament, and to the conflict of action which was likely to arise between them. He (Mr. Sexton) did not propose on the present occasion to enter into any consideration of that conflict of opinion, or that probable conflict of action. He was simply satisfied to leave the questions between the Houses to be settled by those who provoked and formally raised them. Therefore, in considering the Motion of the Prime Minister, he would limit himself to the view of it imposed upon him by a watchful regard for the interests of the 1951 Irish people, and it did not occur to him that the interests of the Irish people were materially concerned in the conflict between the two Houses. But, passing from the speech of the Prime Minister to the Motion itself, he found that his conception of the interests of the Irish people imposed upon him the duty of offering most strenuous opposition to that Motion, which was to the effect that Parliamentary inquiry at the present time into the working of the Irish Land Act tended to defeat the operation of that Act, and must be injurious to the interests of good government in Ireland. He (Mr. Sexton), however, believed that the operation of the Land Act had been, and was, partial and feeble in a very signal degree. He believed its operation could not be made effective, except by prompt inquiry leading up to further remedial legislation; and with regard to the interests of good government in Ireland, he believed that the first interest ought to be the conceding of fair play and justice to men in urgent need of them; and he believed, further, that fair play and justice would not be conceded to the masses of the Irish people until such inquiry were held, and further remedial legislation passed. Some inquiry being absolutely necessary, he made bold to say that inquiry by the House of Lords would be better than no investigation at all. He believed that no inquiry, conducted by eminent persons, professing impartiality, and having regard to the public interest, could be carried on so as to exclude evidence which would be of great value to the Irish tenant farmer. One of the effects of inquiry by the House of Lords must be to bring out disclosures very different from those now anticipated. That, he had good reason to believe, was also the opinion of many Sub-Commissioners, who were charged with the administration of the Act, and the opinion of at least one, if not of two, of the Chief Commissioners. Speaking on behalf of the tenants, he did not fear, but rather welcomed, the result of any inquiry conducted by persons who at least profess a regard for the public good. Owing to the rather unusual proposal made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), he (Mr. Sexton) was now precluded from putting before the House, and taking its sense 1952 upon, the Amendment to the Prime Minister's Motion which he had placed upon the Paper. But he believed he should be able to show that the various matters suggested by the language of his Amendment, were well founded on fact, and that each formed a matter for necessary inquiry. He claimed, for example, that it was necessary inquiry should be made as to how far the Land Act secured that the tenantry within its operation should not be rented in respect of the improvements effected by themselves or their predecessors in title; and he said, without hesitation, that the action of the Land Courts had hitherto only resulted in the fixing of what might be termed a fair competition rent, in which nothing was allowed for the tenant's improvements or his legal interest. The rents fixed by the Sub-Commissioners had been such rents as strangers coming into occupation of farms might be fairly asked to pay. The position of the tenant with reference to his improvements was based on Section 8, sub-Section 9, popularly known as Healy's Clause." That clause expressly provided—That no rent shall he allowed or made payable in any proceedings under this Act in respect of improvements made by the tenant or his predecessors in title for which, in the opinion of the Court, the tenant or his predecessors in title shall not have been paid or otherwise compensated by the landlord or his predecessors in title.He directed attention to the absolute character of this clause, which prescribed no limit of time; and, taking that fact into consideration, along with that most terse and striking summary of the tenant's rights contained in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright)—which admission, he (Mr. Sexton) believed, had never been disputed—who said that nine-tenths of the expenditure of capital, of skill, and labour, which brought the soil of Ireland out of a state of nature, had been applied, not by the landlords, but by the tenants, he (Mr. Sexton) asserted that the Sub-Commissioners had put upon Healy's Clause such a narrow and limited construction as amounted to a judicial repeal of the enactment of the Legislature. They had done that by a legal juggling with two phrases contained in the clause, "predecessors in title" and "otherwise compensated." The Sub-Commissioners 1953 had held that a change of tenancy or change of rental, the issuing of a new lease, or other alteration of a tenancy, broke the title, and that the improvements executed before that breach of title did not belong to the tenant, and that, therefore, no compensation was payable. They had also governed the interpretation of Healy's Clause by the Land Act of 1870; and, notwithstanding that the language of Healy's Clause was without limitation as regarded the extent of the improvements and the time of their application, they had held that they were not bound to go further back on improvements than 30 years from the present time. They further held that a tenant might have been "otherwise compensated" by the forbearance of the landlord in not exacting an increased rent, or in not evicting the tenant. By these means the tenants had been deprived of the right which the Statute had given them. He had also to consider in this connection the effect of the judgment delivered on Tuesday last by the Court of Appeal in Ireland. That Court was composed of seven learned Judges, most of whom were landlords; and it was one of the sad and embarrassing conditions of the struggle made upon the Land Question by the Irish tenants that the final settlement of disputes between them and their landlords had been by a tribunal largely composed of men who were parties in their own cause. There were three especial features of that judgment to which he would refer. The first was, he admitted, rather in favour of the tenant, for it declared that a break in the chain of title should not prevent the tenant from having the value of his improvements deducted from the rent; but this deduction had come too late to help many poor tenants who cases had been decided by the Sub-Commissioners. The time for appeal by them had passed. They would henceforth, by a legal juggle, be rented by a judicial tribunal in respect of some of their improvements. Why had that been done? Because the landlords' association, petted and fostered by the Government, sent into all the Sub-Courts the ablest men at the Irish Bar; because these lawyers, superior in training and capacity to the Sub-Commissioners, imposed their views of the law upon these Sub-Commissioners. What was the case with the poor, un- 1954 lettered tenants, bound down by poverty and over-burthened by arrears? The association which they had instituted for the purpose, and which had the necessary funds, and could have attended to and suitably defended their interests, was suppressed by the Government as the Land Act was coming into operation. The sad result was that the Sub-Commissioners, overborne by the will and ability of the landlords' counsel, adopted, in numerous cases, a view of the law which the Court of Appeal had now declared was not the law. But, as he (Mr. Sexton) had stated, the announcement had come too late for many tenants, who were now bound throughout a statutory term of 15 years to pay rent upon their own improvements. This was the quagmire they had fallen into, from which the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) wished to save the Irish tenants. As he had said, there was one point in the judgment favourable to the tenants; but there were two great points adverse to them. The Court of Appeal had further decided that by the term "improvements" included in the Healy Clause, they were to understand not the increased letting value of the land, but the money expended by the tenant in works. The effect of this decision would be ruinous in the interest of the tenants. What did it mean? Was it not obvious to anyone who reflected upon the subject that judicious improvements upon the soil of a farm might increase its letting value to an indefinitely greater extent than was represented by the actual money expended. For example, the skilful expenditure of £100 on drainage works might increase the value of a farm by £50 a-year. His contention was that under Healy's Clause the tenant would be entitled to have that £50 deducted from the letting value of the farm; but what the landlord would be entitled to do, under the decision of the Court of Appeal, was to charge the tenant with the additional £50 rent, minus a small percentage, say 5, or, at most, 10 per cent upon the money expended upon improvements by the tenant. The second adverse point was this. The Chief Commissioners, Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Litton, had decided the natural interpretation of the Healy Clause to be, that the tenant should be the owner of the improvements, no matter when executed, or what their extent, so that they had 1955 the highest tribunal in the country, largely composed of landlords, oversetting and cancelling the decisions of the Commissioners. Another point contended for on behalf of the tenant, and decided by the Court of Appeal against him, was this—it was contended on the part of the tenants, and held by the Commissioners, or by a majority of the Commissioners—that no matter how long the period for which the tenant was in enjoyment of the improvements, yet he is entitled to their full value, and that was a view of the subject which, injustice and in reason, could not be questioned; but what was the decision of the Court of Appeal? That, in case of all improvements made before the passing of the Land Act of 1870, the enjoyment by the tenant of the improvements, the rent of the holding, and other matters, should be taken into consideration in deciding on the landlord's claim. But what did this amount to? Sheer absurdity. The enjoyment by the tenant of the improvements, or, in other words, the length of time the tenant had been paying rent for the improvements executed by himself, should be taken as a reason why he should continue to pay for them. A more manifest absurdity never proceeded from any tribunal and never presented itself to the minds of reasonable men. Finally, this construction of the Healy Clause entirely took away from the tenant all incentive to labour. He was still to be fined for his own improvements, and the difference between the new system, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal, and the old one, as laid down by the Act of 1870, was not a difference of principle, but one only of degree. The landlord was formerly entitled to take all the tenant's improvements. That was now merely altered to this extent—that the landlord was entitled to take 95 per cent of the improvements and leave the tenant 5. He (Mr. Sexton) had a letter today from a friend of his, an Irish barrister of considerable experience of the working of the Land Act, in which he conveyed his view of the effect of the decision of the Court of Appeal. He most admirably said—"The decision of the Court of Appeal knocks the spinal column out of the Healy Clause." That, he (Mr. Sexton) contended, was a disease in the Act, and a condition which required immediate inquiry. He had shown that upon the view of the Healy 1956 Clause taken by the Court of Appeal wholesale confiscation of the tenants' improvements had arisen, and hence the necessity there was for prompt inquiry and remedial legislation. What was the view taken of the decision of the supreme tribunal by The Freeman's Journal?—and he might inform the House that The Freeman's Journal was very widely read among the class affected by the Land Act, and that it very largely commanded their confidence, and that, therefore, the view taken by The Freeman's Journal would probably direct, or at any rate influence, the view that would be taken by the general public in Ireland. The Freeman's Journal said—We may sum up by saying that, while the Court of Appeal did not go as far as the landlords desired, on the other hand they dealt a heavy blow at the utility of the most valuable clause of the Land Act.It very wisely and thoughtfully added—A judgment tending to weaken the popular credit of, or faith in, the Land Act at so critical a moment as this would be little short of fatal to the Government as well as to the law.The Freeman's Journal did not seem to be unfriendly to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) or to the Land Act. On the contrary, it seemed to be desirous that the popular confidence in the Act should be strengthened; and when a journal animated by such a spirit gave utterance to language like that it was a matter for serious consideration. He therefore claimed that an inquiry was necessary in order to show how tenants who had applied to the Court might be saved from rack-renting pending the decision of their cases; and it would be useful to remind the House what had been the actual scope of the operations of the Land Commissioners in the Sub-Courts during the period of their existence. The Land Commission had been in active existence for over four months, and most of the Sub-Commissions had been in operation for the greater part of that time. How many cases had been decided? It appeared by a Parliamentary Paper that up to the 26th of January there had been 1,313 cases decided, and these cases affected only 42,000 acres of land. The former rents in these cases were £37,000, and the judicial rent fixed £28,000. That was to say, that in over four months they had only been able to apply their operations to an area equal, on an average, 1957 to the extent of a county. Although the Government assured the House that they gave no directions to the Sub-Commissioners how reductions should be made, yet it was very curious if they took the decisions, he cared not how, by Provinces or counties, by any subdivision they chose, they would find that they generally came to this—that the Sub-Commissioners had generally kept two principles in view. Firstly, they took off about one-fourth of the existing rent, no matter what the rack rent was, whether heavy or moderate in degree. That was their first principle. Their second principle was, that they took care upon their decisions never to go below Griffith's valuation. In this principle was contained the destructive spirit in which Healy's Clause had been administered. The gross rental of the 1,313 cases decided was £28,000, Griffith's valuation being £25,000. Now, Griffith's valuation included, at the time it was made, the value of all the improvements made by the tenants up to that time. It included all, and the nine-tenths of the difference between a state of nature, in which the land might only be worth 2s. or 3s. an acre, and the present state of land in Ireland, so eloquently described by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He wanted to know how decisions kept above the line of Griffith's valuation could be said in any sense to have regard to the Healy Clause? How many cases had been lodged? As to the case already decided, he had to complain that a Return of the cases decided up to the present promised some time ago by the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been kept back. It was the practice of the right hon. Gentleman to keep back Returns until the Irish Members could make no use of them. It was the same on the Coercion Bill, and he (Mr. Sexton) supposed it would be the same until they got rid of him.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
said, as the Return had now been laid on the Table, he could give the hon. Member the figures if it would help him.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he was much obliged; but to hand him a Return in the middle of his remarks would not facilitate him. The number of tenants who had applied to the Court was 69,597, or in round numbers 70,000, and 1958 in three months the Sub-Commissioners had decided 1,313 of them. That was to say, in three months the Courts of First Instance had arrived at decisions in one case out of every 50 awaiting hearing or decision. Now, in order to show that fact in a clear light, let them proceed to a very simple sum in arithmetic. If the 12 Sub-Commissions decided 1,313 cases in three months, how many would they decide in a year? Five thousand, and it seemed reasonable to suppose that the Sub-Commissioners at the outset, anxious to create a favourable impression in Ireland, anxious to decide as many cases as possible, anxious to prove their utility to the Government, proceeded at the utmost possible speed. They were capable of deciding 5,000 cases in a year; but there were 70,000 cases waiting their decision. If the Sub-Commissioners decided 5,000 cases in a year, how many years would it take to decide 70,000 cases? It would take 14 years, or the end of the first statutory period. The important significance of this was that the tens of thousands of farmers in Ireland who could not hope for a decision of their cases for an indefinite number of years would be subject during all those years to the rack-renting of their landlords—rack-renting recognized with perfect impunity for all that time, for with a studious care, far exceeding any bestowed upon the interest of the tenant, the Act had saved the legal right of the rack-renting landlord. It was obvious from the language of the Act that the rack-renting landlord could continue to impose and exact arrears of rack rent in the case of any particular tenant until his case was decided by the Court; and, moreover, the most experienced rack-renter was precisely the man who had the best chance of getting rid of his tenantry. If a landlord exacted a rent entirely beyond the ability of the tenant to pay, he had the tenant entirely at his mercy. He could proceed in the ordinary Superior Courts in Dublin and recover all these intolerable arrears of impossible rent, and then could throw the tenant out on the roadside, either by eviction, or by selling his interest. Thus, all the improvements he had placed upon the soil could be confiscated. It was already a matter of experience that where tenants had made application to the Court to stay proceedings for the recovery of rack 1959 rent until their cases were heard in the Land Courts, the Superior Courts had in all cases refused to grant the stay of proceedings for the recovery of rent. Indeed, Chief Justice Morris, himself a landlord, had dealt with the matter in a spirit rather jocular than stern. The learned Judge was not, perhaps, a wit; but he appeared, at all events, desirous to be esteemed as a joker, for he said he knew nothing about this new-fangled law—the Land Act. To the poor tenant that came before him, and begged for a stay of proceedings until it was decided by the Land Court whether the rent exacted was a rack rent or not, Chief Justice Morris said—"He knew nothing at all about this new-fangled law, the Land Act, but he knew something about the good old Common Law, and the good old Common Law said that a man ought to be paid his rent." He refused, therefore, to look beyond the Common Law, and gave judgment for the recovery of the rent, which, no doubt, would be found by the decision of the Land Court, when the case came before it, to have been rack rent. The conclusion he (Mr. Sexton) came to was, that there was no power to save the tenant who brought his case into Court from eviction, or recovery of the arrears of rack-rent; and he challenged the Government, or any man, to show why that should not be so, for the decisions given in every case hitherto proved that the rents all over Ireland were excessive and unjust. These facts proved that the unfortunate tenants ought not to be evicted in consequence of unjust rents, and still more that months and years must elapse before their cases were heard; and therefore that, pending the decisions of the Court, they should not be persecuted and banished for failure to pay what was impossible. The Government and the Prime Minister had repeatedly enlarged upon the proof afforded of the popularity of the Act by the number of cases lodged in Court. The number was large—very much too large, he was afraid, for the capacity of the Court; but it was not so significant when considered in comparison with the total number of agricultural occupiers in Ireland. He learned, from the official statistics of last year, that the total number of agricultural occupiers in Ireland was 574,000; and he submitted to the judgment of the House that the lodgment of cases on the Land 1960 Court to the extent of one tenant out of every eight or nine did not conclusively prove the universal popularity of the Act. He further claimed that there should be an inquiry, in order to devise means to protect tenants from eviction—and eviction in respect of accumulated arrears of unreduced rent which they never could pay—arrears of rack rents accruing in bad years. Some time ago he stated in that House that he thought the arrears at present existing in Ireland amounted at least to £2,000,000 sterling; but on reconsideration he was inclined to modify that estimate. He believed that at least one tenant out of every three in Ireland was in arrear; and he believed that, on the average, the period during which the arrears had accumulated was two or three years. From all he had heard and thought on this branch of the subject, he was inclined to say that a sum of not less than a half a year of the total rental of Ireland was at present owing, in the form of arrears, to the landlords. In other words, there was owing to the landlords not less than £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 of arrears. It was true that the Land Act contained a clause with respect to the payment of arrears; but the vital defect of the clause was that it was optional and not obligatory. How many applications had been made by the landlords since the Land Court was opened in virtue of that Arrear Clause? There were 9,000 landlords in Ireland. How many applications had they made? Twenty-one. How many tenants joined in these applications out of 100,000 in arrear? One hundred and thirty-eight, or about one in a thousand. How many applications were granted? Eighteen. How many tenants were affected by these grants? Ninety-five—that was to say that, out of 100,000 tenants in arrear, the State made advances to 95. And what was the amount advanced out of the £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 in arrear? £559. Absurdity could not go further. It afforded a most striking illustration of what was called the drop in the ocean. Why, the Sub-Commissioners charged with administering the Act in those districts especially occupied by small tenants had given it as their opinion that the Act would fail to provide even a temporary alleviation unless some generous and immediate provision was made with respect to arrears. The House frequently heard of signs of im- 1961 provement in the affairs of Ireland becoming visible from the Prime Minister and his Colleagues. He (Mr. Sexton), for his own part, confessed he saw no improvement, or signs of improvement, and he would give the House some figures in support of his view. At the Michaelmas Session of 1880 there were 926 ejectment decrees, representing arrears to the amount of £20,000. At the Michaelmas Session of 1881, how many ejectment decrees were granted? Not 900, but 2,000, representing a rental not of £20,000, but of £47,000. He might be allowed to cite another striking fact in this connection. The evictions for the half-year ending December, 1880—that was to say, of persons who were neither allowed back in any way, either as tenants or caretakers, but thrown out bodily on the road side and left there—amounted to 328 families, or 1,480 persons. That was the state of things before the passing of the Land Act; now, let them take the half-year after the Act passed. Whereas in the half-year ending December, 1880, 328 families, or 1,480 persons, were evicted; in the half-year, after that beneficent measure passed, 877 families, comprising 4,550 persons, or more than double the previous number, had been turned out of their holdings. The first effect, therefore, of that so-called measure of justice was the levelling of hundreds, he might say thousands, of humble homesteads in Ireland. He believed that in the course of a year or so most of the small tenants of Mayo—most of the small tenants of that district whose sufferings gave the first impulse to the land agitation—most of the small tenants of that district, the most keenly in need of remedial legislation—he believed that in the course of a year from the present time most of these who had up to the present staved off eviction by paying a year's rent—though God knows how they scraped it together—would be sold out and swept from off the land for the non-payment of arrears, notwithstanding the fact; and he laid it seriously and solemnly before the Prime Minister that these unfortunate men, steeped in penury, had applied to the Land Court to have fair rents fixed, and that their applications were pending before that tribunal at present. What pretence could be made, in the face of a state of facts like that, that the Land Act had in any effective sense 1962 remedied the evils of the Irish tenant farmers. Last Saturday there appeared in The Daily Express a paragraph stating that Lord Bantry, a well-known Irish landlord, intended to evict the whole population of the Island of Dursey. [An hon. MEMBER: A small island.] Yes; it was a small island, which was situated in the vicinity of Castletown, in West Cork. The 22 families which comprised the whole population of the Island were threatened with eviction. Now, these poor tenants were among the first to apply to the Land Court to fix fair rents; but that did not avail to save them. The Land Court would take no judicial cognizance of these cases until they actually came up before it for decision, some time or other, it might be, within the course of the next 14 years. The Superior Courts in Dublin, through their jocular mouthpiece, Chief Justice Morris, declared that they knew nothing about this newfangled law, but that they knew only the old Common Law, which said that a man should have his rent. Accordingly, though these poor tenants on Dursey Island had gone into the Land Court, and had sought protection there, they had been left without it, and on Saturday last the sheriff of the county Cork put up for sale the interest in their farms. Their interests wore bought in by the landlord, and he supposed in a short time these poor tenants would be evicted and the island depopulated. That case was not a peculiar or exceptional one. In every county in Ireland—North, South, East and West—similar cases were occurring from day to day, a fact which proved the helplessness of the most needy class of tenants in the country, and proved also the impotence of the Land Act to give effectual relief in the face of what the jocular Chief Justice Morris called the good old Common Law. Further, he claimed that it was necessary to inquire how far the working of the Land Act enabled the tenants of small holdings under £7 annual value to live and thrive. The phrase "live and thrive" had not, perhaps, a judicial ring about it; but, as far as his memory went, it was first used by Mr. Justice O'Hagan. He did not know whether the learned Judge had since become ashamed of the expression. He (Mr. Sexton) saw nothing to be ashamed of in it. Every tenant in Ireland who applied his industry to the soil had a right 1963 to live and thrive, and would, undoubtedly, live and thrive in any other country but Ireland. But why was it that Mr. Justice O'Hagan, when he came to revise, for the official record, the report of the eloquent speech which he delivered at the opening of the Land Court, and which attracted so much attention at the time, why was it that he struck out the phrase which embodied that perhaps somewhat shocking doctrine that the tenant should live and thrive? Mr. Justice O'Hagan, perhaps, had changed his mind on the subject; and he (Mr. Sexton) dared say that all of them, in the course of time, might be obliged to follow the example of Mr. Justice O'Hagan, and to strike out of their minds, as he struck out of his speech, the idea that it was possible for the tenant to live and thrive under the present Land Act. With regard to the small farmers, who constituted the mass of the Irish tenants, he wished particularly to direct the attention of the House to the state of the Province of Connaught. That Province was made up of poor land and of small farms, such as would command the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He did not think he went too far when he said that in Connaught the improvements made by the tenants on those small farms were generally worth more than the fee-simple. The land of Connaught, when in a state of nature, was not worth more than a few shillings an acre, and sometimes not worth a shilling at all. The fields there were small, and were surrounded by hedges of stones of enormous width and height, every stone of which was grubbed and dug out of the soil by the tenant. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) knew that in Sligo and in Mayo there were thousands of fields, the toil devoted to which by the grandfather, the father, and the son for generations for the purpose of securing a scanty subsistence had been such as would, have paid over and over again the fee-simple of their holdings. In the Province of Connaught there were 7,060 holdings under one acre in extent; there were 14,000 holdings between one and five acres, and there were 70,000 holdings under 15 acres, and he believed these 70,000 holdings constituted the running sore and open wound upon the body of the Irish tenantry. How had 1964 the Land Act applied itself to these 70,000 holdings? In four months the Land Commissioners had decided in the Province of Connaught 221 cases. These 221 cases covered 5,000 acres, showing plainly that the average size of the Connaught holdings dealt with by the Land Court was 24 acres, and leading to the irresistible inference that the small farmers holding between five and 15 acres, the men who had the greatest claim on the Land Court, the men who put into the soil several times the value of the fee-simple, had been discouraged by the proceedings of the Land Court, and were remaining outside—in other words, that the Land Act had failed to apply a salve to the running sore and open wound on the body of the Irish tenantry. The former rent in these 221 cases was £2,866, the judicial rent was £2,050, the tenement valuation, £1,500. The House would observe the peculiar facility with which, as he had mentioned, the Sub-Commissioners, in the absence of instructions, had always taken off one-fourth of the existing rack rent, and had never cut below the line of Griffith's valuation. The average rent in these cases before the Act was passed was £12; for the future it would be £9. Would any man tell him that a deduction of £3 in each case—the difference between the rack rent and the judicial rent—constituted such a decrease as ought to be made in the cases of men who had multiplied the value of the land by improvement? Would such a difference enable these men to face the bad seasons and comparative famine which must always be expected in Ireland? If the Land Act by its operation did not enable the tenants of Connaught to face bad seasons and comparative famine, then it was comparatively worthless so far as they were concerned. Sixty-nine cases from Connaught were brought into the Civil Bill Court, and they were of the same average size. In these cases the former rent was £772, the judicial rent £629, and Griffith's valuation £550; and it was clear that the tenants, though they had put into the soil several times the value of the fee-simple of their holdings, still had to pay rent on their own improvements. He observed that the Civil Bill Courts had dealt with tenants even more hardly than the Land Court, for instead of taking one-fourth from the rack rent like the Land Court, they took off only 1965 one-eighth, and gave the tenant a reduction of £2 for every £ 3 gained in the Land Court. The average rent paid by these 69 tenants before they went into the Court was £11. They now had to pay £9. He would ask hon. Members whether 9d. a-week struck off the rent constituted a material difference in the position of these men. He would say that the Land Act, in respect of these small tenants—the men who through the land agitation had instituted the Land Act—had the last claim upon the men who could not live without some improvement in their condition. It was neither more nor less than a cruel mockery. What had it done for these men? They went into Court owing, perhaps, two or three years' arrears of rent, £ 3 a-year was knocked off the current year's rent—they should remember not off the rack rent—whilst in the Civil Bill Court only £2 was struck off. What did it cost the tenant to go into Court? It never cost him less than 60s. Now, he asked any hon. Member of that House to put himself into the miserable condition of the Connaught tenant, who, with his rent already in arrears, asked the Court to stay proceedings against him till a judicial rent could be fixed. He must pay arrears of rack rent now, no matter how unjust they wore; he must pay for as many years as might elapse before his case came before the Court; and what was his position then? It cost him 50s. to get the case tried, and all the Court struck off was £2 or £3 of his rent; so that the poor tenant, after having had all the manifold advantages of this Land Act applied to his case, would be 10s. worse off than if he had not gone into the Court at all. In proof of that, a few small farmers—69 tenants of less than 10 acres each—had, he believed, brought cases in to the Land Commission in Connaught, and 15 into the Civil Bill Court, so that only 84 of the 70,000 small tenants in Connaught, all of them urgently in need of the protection of the Act, had gone into Court. Each of those men had to pay 50s costs, and in each case 20s. was struck off the rent. Now, he wished to say a word or two as to the absolute and complete failure of the Act with regard to leaseholders. He maintained that such was the case, for Mr. Justice O'Hagan had himself said that no lease had been broken by the Commission 1966 that could not have been broken under the existing law, and other Commissioners admitted the entire failure of the provisions of the Act in that respect. In fact, the leaseholders were in exactly the same position as if the Land Act had not been passed, and were living under the old Law of Equity. This was the case for two reasons. The first was the condition that the tenancy should have previously been a yearly one to have the lease broken. Hon. Members were aware—the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. Charles Russell) was certainly aware—that the existing leases in Ireland were very nearly all very oppressive leases; and the fact that the present oppressive lease was the renewal of another oppressive lease shut out persons existing under it from all remedy. While the Bill was before the House last Session, the Irish Members had moved an Amendment providing that any oppressive lease should be subject to the revision of the Court; but the Government had refused to accept it, and the result was that while an oppressive lease succeeding a yearly tenancy could be broken, an oppressive lease succeeding or renewing another of the same character could not be broken. In other words, a tenant who had been suffering oppression for a short time could obtain some redress, whilst he who had been suffering for a long time could get none at all. The second reason which had rendered this part of the Act practically inoperative was the condition that a lease could not be broken in respect of the amount of rent agreed upon, whether exorbitant or not; and a Bill which said that a lease shall not be broken in regard to rent, at most was a mockery, a delusion, and a snare. This was in itself enough to destroy the utility of the Act as far as leaseholders were concerned. For one leaseholder who had succeeded in breaking his lease through the Land Court, 50 had been successful in quite another way of action. That line of action had been dictated by the Land League to the Irish tenants, and had been pursued by them—a line of action which might be tersely described as combined passive resistance. During the 10 days' sitting of the Land Court in Cork, 267 leaseholders came before the Commissioners praying that their leases might be broken. Of those 176, in the interim between the lodgment 1967 of the cases and the time fixed for hearing, saw the hopelessness of the proceeding, and withdrew their cases; 91 were heard, and only six were broken. So that for every one lease broken by the Land Commission 45 were declared to be just. The Land Commission visited them with the sacredness of its official sanction, and they continued good instruments. Finally, he claimed that an inquiry should be granted to ascertain whether sufficient facilities had been afforded to proprietors of settled estates to sell their properties under the Peasant Proprietors' Clauses of the Act. The Act was a very complicated and ingenious scheme of legislation—he could scarcely say of statesmanship—but this was the only part of it upon the development of which he relied for the settlement of the Irish Land Question, and for the establishment of the prosperity of the Irish people. It was only by a wise and generous and a statesmanlike development of these clauses, by a pledging of the security of the State, by the severance of the landlord from the soil, and by relieving the land from the burden of maintaining these two classes, who had not been friendly in the past, and who never would be friendly as long as they were maintained in their present relations, that the settlement of the melancholy Irish Land Question, the mother of suffering and outrage, could be arrived at. What had been the operation of the Land Act in respect to the sale of farms? The Land Act had sold, in the four months of its existence, out of 9,000 properties in Ireland, only one small property to the tenants. That was the property of Jane M'Donnell, in the County Down. The smallness and in considefableness of that property might be estimated from the fact that only £1,574 was advanced by the Commissioners. They had also advanced £7,817 to five other landlords, whilst a sum of £16,094 had been sanctioned, but not given. Thus it would be seen that the whole operation of these clauses of the Act had been confined to advances amounting to £25,000 to 22 landlords out of 9,000, and for the benefit of 70 tenants out of 574,000. One great impediment to the sale of property under the clauses was that the Settled Estates Acts, which governed this portion of the subject, limited investments of the purchase money in cer- 1968 tain classes of trust funds. Supposing an Irish landlord were to sell his property to his tenants at 20 years' purchase of the judicial rent, that was equivalent to 5 per cent, the trustees of the property would be obliged to invest the proceeds of the sale in the particular species of investment specified by the Settled Estates Court. These investments would return him only 3 per cent, and he was thus deprived at one fell swoop of 2s. in the pound, thus involving the sacrifice of two-fifths of his income. Irish landlords, who had their interests to look after as well as any other body of men, would be idiots if they sold on such terms, and before they could be expected to take such a step in the path of reform their interest must be calculated and paid for in full in cash. He should also regard it as a grave and criminal omission on his part if, before he sat down, he neglected to say the Land Act had proved, among its many other impotencies and inefficiencies, most impotent and most inefficient in respect to the miserable case of the miserable Irish labourer. In one case—one of a thousand, he would venture to say—the Judges under this Act had ordered the farmer to provide the labourer with a cottage and a bit of ground; but the provisions of the Act in regard to the purchase of land, the erection of the labourers' cottages, and the providing them with plots of ground, had remained absolutely null, and had not been carried into effect in a single case. He would warn the Government if they long delayed to apply a wise and liberal spirit to the settlement and improvement of the condition of the labourers of Ireland, the hard-working, ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-clothed, neglected, discontented body of men, they would have a worse trouble on their hands than they had at present. He would like to say something about the signs of improvement, if there were any such signs; but he regarded the condition of Ireland with eyes very different from those of the Government. What they considered improvement he might consider to be retrogression. When he saw that the evictions during the half-year after the Land Act came into operation were three times as many as during the preceding half-year; when he saw the first result of that measure was the levelling of hundreds of homesteads in Ireland; when he saw the 1969 amount levied for malicious injury to property twice as much as the year before; when he saw the Government feared to call out the Irish Militia; when he saw there were now in the prisons of Ireland, under arbitrary warrants, on suspicion of having broken the law, five times as many respectable, innocent Irishmen as there were previous to the passing of the Land Act, he felt entitled to say that there were no signs of improvement. On those grounds he claimed a free inquiry into the Land Act. He appealed to hon. Members opposite to support him, however influences might be brought to bear upon them, from which he could boast of being perfectly free. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister held out threats of a Dissolution. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might be afraid of a Dissolution. ["No, no!"] He did not say they were. He said they might be; but he said, with absolute emphasis, for the Irish Party amongst whom he sat, that the Irish people, the electors of Ireland, would stand by those who had known how to stand by them through good report and evil report, and of evil report surely they had had enough. If the right hon. Gentleman now appealed to the country, he (Mr. Sexton) believed his Party would return to the House enfeebled in numbers and lowered in spirit; whilst he said, with perfect confidence, that the Irish Party would be sent back multiplied in numbers, and redoubled in strength, to insist upon the rights of the Irish people.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
Sir, those who have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) may well entertain some doubt whether that speech alone, for the delivery of which the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has afforded an opportunity, may not be more injurious to the operation of the Land Act than any inquiry by a Committee of the House of Lords could be. But I would ask the House to turn from the interesting topics on which the hon. Member has dwelt, and to consider the circumstances in which we are discussing the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. A few days ago, when the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House and gave Notice of this Motion, when, on its behalf, he postponed Business which up to that 1970 time he had considered to be of the utmost urgency, I think there was not a little surprise felt by many of those who sit on this side of the House at the course which had been taken without any sufficient warning or Notice in "another place," where such a warning might more properly have been given. The House of Lords, in the exercise of their undoubted right, had appointed a Committee in opposition to the wishes of Her Majesty's Government. The appointment of the Committee was, no doubt, opposed by the Representatives of the Government in that House; but it was not opposed by warnings of any greater solemnity than have been given on many previous occasions in both Houses of Parliament when Bills or Resolutions have been passed against the wish of the Government of the day, and no serious consequences whatever have resulted. But no sooner was the step of appointing this Committee taken by the; House of Lords than it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that a crisis had arrived—a crisis of such importance as, in his own words, to necessitate that national evil, the exhibition of a division between the high authorities of the State; and he carried his view into effect by proposing a Resolution so ingeniously worded as to imply a combined censure on the House of Lords and a Vote of Confidence in Her Majesty's Government without risking the direct expression of either sentiment. And when that course had been taken, the right hon. Gentleman justified it by the evil which he foresaw to the operation of the Land Act, and the cause of good government in Ireland, from an inquiry which should be extended into the judicial administration of the Land Act. It was of no use whatever for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to point out there was reason to suppose that the inquiry would be so limited as not to have the scope which the right hon. Gentleman considered to be specially objectionable; and that if there was any doubt upon the point that the inquiry was to be so limited, easy and obvious steps might be taken by the Government in the proper place to limit it, without coming to this House for a Vote which, whatever its result, could in no way interfere with the conduct or the conclusion of that inquiry. All that was said in vain, and the Prime Minister insisted that his interpretation of the Reference to a Select 1971 Committee was the right one, and that it was a Reference to the Committee to inquire into the judicial administration of the Land Act. That was the state of affairs on Monday last. If we are rightly informed, however, much has happened since then. I do not know how far I am entitled to refer to what is well known to every one of us from the public papers as having passed outside this House. It is no secret that the interpretation placed by the Committee of the House of Lords, who ought to be the best judges of the construction to be put upon their Order of Reference, is directly at variance with the interpretation of the Prime Minister, who, although he is a man of the highest ability, authority, and position, in such a matter is not infallible when compared with the authority of the Committee itself. If this statement is correct, as I believe it to be, why are we called upon this evening to proceed with this Resolution? If it is not correct, if there is any variation between the interpretation placed by the Committee of the House of Lords upon their Order of Reference and the desire of the right hon. Gentleman that the judicial administration of the Act shall be excluded from the inquiry, then we are entitled, at the earliest possible moment, to a full explanation from the Government as to what that variation consists in, as to what it is they want to have done, and in what way their fears can be allayed. If such an explanation is not forthcoming, it will be assumed that Her Majesty's Government are not so averse to the serious evil of the exhibition of a division between the two Houses of the Legislature as they profess to be, for they will not even try to avoid it by an attempt to carry out their own desire of keeping the inquiry within the limits they have laid down. If this assumption be incorrect, their non possumus policy is absolutely unaccountable. By having moved the Previous Question, I take it that my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) intends to convey to the House, in the words of Sir Robert Peel, assented to at the time by the right hon. Gentleman, that—It was not fitting that this House should adopt a proceeding which has the appearance of calling in question the undoubted right of the House of Lords to inquire into the state of Ireland.The Prime Minister has cited prece- 1972 dents; but if the present Resolution be not justified, as I think I have shown it cannot be justified, by the peculiar circumstances of this case, much less, as I venture to say, could it be justified by anything that passed in the year 1839, when Lord John Russell distinctly invited this House to pass a Motion which he pressed on the ground that the Vote arrived at by the House of Lords was tantamount to a Vote of Censure upon Her Majesty's Government; or by the precedent relied upon by the right hon. Gentleman in 1831, when, at a crisis almost unique in the history of this country, Lord Grey, in as solemn words as ever were addressed to Parliament by a Minister of the Crown, had impressed upon the House of Lords the grave consequences that would result if they rejected the Reform Bill of the Government, and had impressed upon them all those consequences before their vote was arrived at. Neither of these precedents is in any way akin to the course which the right hon. Gentleman has now pursued. It is not my intention, however, to detain the House upon this part of the question, because it has already been sufficiently argued by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin. What I would particularly wish to direct the attention of the House to is the question whether an inquiry into the Land Act is open to all the objections which the right hon. Gentleman has alleged; and whether, on the other hand, such an inquiry, properly limited and fairly conducted, is not only unobjectionable, but absolutely necessary in present circumstances. I say that, to a great extent, I differ from the objections which the right hon. Gentleman has urged to inquiring into the operation of the Land Act; but I do not entirely differ from him. I should be as averse as anyone in this House to an inquiry which might be instituted with the object of repealing the Land Act, with the object of depriving any class of Her Majesty's subjects of any privileges conferred upon them by that Act, or with the object of re-hearing any of the judicial decisions which have been given. But it does appear to me that there are very many points in which an inquiry into the operation of the Land Act may be not only useful, but necessary, and from which such topics as those will 1973 be altogether excluded. It may be objected that such, an inquiry should not only be limited in its scope, but that it should also be conducted by some tribunal which might be considered by all Parties in Ireland as, to some extent, fairly representing their views. Well, Sir, I do not wish here to refer to the composition of the Lords' Committee, beyond what has been already said in the course of this debate. But if Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that the Committee is not fairly constituted, they, in that House, had the remedy in their own hands; and they, at any rate, had no right to complain if those who agree with them in political opinion are not sufficiently represented. I do not think it can be said that an inquiry into the operation of the Land Act would be premature, even if we merely considered that part of it which has now come to overshadow the rest—I moan the clauses relating to land tenure. It is true that, out of the very large number of cases that have been filed for decision by the Land Court, only a few have as yet been tried. But I fear that we have seen enough with regard to those that have been tried, and have heard enough in the course of the debates this Session, to know that in this respect, as far as it has gone, the Land Act has satisfied no Party whatever in Ireland. It has not satisfied hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me; it has not satisfied those hon. Members who sit below the Opposition Gangway; it has not satisfied the Representatives of the Ulster tenants; it has not satisfied even those staunch followers of Her Majesty's Government who are represented by the Irish Members sitting in that quarter of the House. From each and all of these quarters have come, on various occasions, objection to the working of the Land Tenure Clauses of the Land Act, and I must say it is no wonder to me that those objections have been so frequent and so universal. I do not want to enter into the question whether those clauses have been fairly or unfairly worked, whether what has been done is just or unjust; but what I would say is this—and I do not believe anyone can contradict me—that what has been done was absolutely not anticipated by any section of politicians in this country. Look at the nature of the tribunal to which the decision of the ques- 1974 tion of fair rent has been referred. The Members in the Minority Report of the Richmond Commission—Lord Carlingford and those who agreed with him—laid down, as the principle on which any reference of this question to a Court should be based, that the Court should be a single one, that it should hold Circuits, and that it should be assisted by professional valuators. When the Land Act was passing through Parliament last Session, it was felt that the Court originally proposed by Her Majesty's Government for the decision of these questions—namely, the County Court, was unsatisfactory. The Bill was altered in that particular, and, to the best of my recollection, the general impression of Parliament was that the Court to which was to be intrusted the decision of these difficult and complicated matters was, at any rate in the first instance, and for principles which should guide future decisions, the great and independent Court of the Land Commission, the members of which were nominated by Parliament. And why? Because during the passage of the Land Act through this House an important alteration was made in the clause empowering the Court to fix fair rents. It had contained directions, more or less minute, to the Court as to the mode in which it should arrive at its judgment on this subject. Those directions were removed from the Act—and I think many will now feel it was unfortunately done—because the difference of opinion on the two sides of this House as to the meaning of the words "fair rent" seemed to be so great that it would not be possible to pass an Act containing words satisfactory to Parliament on this subject. Therefore it was left to the Court, not merely to act as a Judicial Court, but also to perform what really are legislative functions. And upon whom have these functions, so far in excess of those ordinarily intrusted to a Court, devolved? They have devolved upon Courts almost entirely composed of Assistant Commissioners, appointed for a year, at a salary of £750—Courts so different from ordinary Judicial Courts that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland, in his canvass of the county of Derry, absolutely held them up to his constituents as likely to be influenced by the political opinions of the Government that might appoint them. Did the hon. and learned 1975 Gentleman deny that? [The SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Porter): Most distinctly, I do.] I will ask the House to let me read a quotation from a speech delivered by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland at Limavady, on the 21st November, 1881. He is reported to have said—The fixing of a fair rent depended on the judgment of a particular man or a particular class of men. It was important, therefore, to have the administration placed in the hands of men in whom the people of the country had confidence. Some of the Assistant Commissioners who had the power of fixing a fair rent had been appointed for seven years; but a great many had been appointed for a period of only one. Suppose the Conservatives succeeded here, and defeated the Government and the Government candidate in what ought to be their stronghold, and that the example was followed by other constituencies, what would occur? Suppose a change of Ministry took place, and they had a Cabinet composed of Lord Salisbury, Sir Stafford Northcote, Mr. Gibson, and others, to appoint the men who would administer the Land Act, what would that Act be worth? The chances would be, judging from the recent speeches, that that Act would be administered by persons who would make it a dead letter—a measure that would be worthless to the tenant farmers.I think I have established the statement I have made. It may be said that, after all, the Sub-Commissioners are not intrusted with the power of finally deciding these cases, as it is a Court from which appeals may be made to the principal Commission; but I will venture to say that it has been already sufficiently proved that appeals on matters of fact from these Assistant Commissioners to the principal Commission cannot possibly materially alter the decisions of the Assistant Commissioners. It stands to reason that on questions of fact the local tribunal must necessarily govern the Court of Appeal. I have said it might have been expected that, in the first instance, these important matters would be decided by the Commission itself. I suppose the reason they were not was that the Commission was so occupied with other subjects that it had no time to deal with them. But surely the questions at issue being of such importance, the Land Commission being unable to act itself, must have laid down some general principles or instructions to the Assistant Commissioners which they might apply to particular cases. I do not know whether these instructions on general 1976 principles will be asked for; but I feel confident of this—that it could not but be of great public service that they should be published. Their publication would remove many unreasonable hopes and fears that have been entertained both by landlords and tenants, and would enable them in many cases, acting upon principles judicially laid down, to settle their grievances without bringing them before the Land Court at all. This might be of inestimable advantage to Ireland, not only in saving the enormous costs which now go into the pockets of the lawyers, but in saving time, which is so important an element in dealing with this subject. In connection with this point, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo has commented upon the block of business in the Land Court, and upon the apparent impossibility of getting through it, perhaps not even in the statutory period of 15 years. The risk of such an evil has been acknowledged by so high an authority as the Prime Minister himself. In his speech on the introduction of the Land Act, he said he had very great doubts indeed about the compulsory reference of every bargain relating to land to a Judicial Commission sitting in Court, because he doubted whether any judicial authority they could create would not break down under the weight. Although the Reference has not been made compulsory, it is so wide that the Court, if not already broken down, is in imminent danger of breaking down. I cannot see, any more than the hon. Member for Sligo can see, how this difficulty is to be met; but one thing I feel sure of—that it is a difficulty that demands early inquiry and prompt action, for if it be not removed, the "Fair Rent" Clauses of the Land Act will, practically, be rendered ineffective throughout Ireland. I do not want to dwell upon the minor point of costs, and will only say that the British taxpayer may fairly complain that the cost of £100,000 a-year for maintaining the Commission is not met by larger contributions from the litigants than the small shilling fees now payable. Nor shall I say much with respect to the utter failure of the Arrears Clause, which, founded upon a theory which no one would dream of applying to this country, has proved entirely inoperative in practice. It has been admitted to be a failure by Irish Members 1977 in every quarter of the House, and is a matter in respect of which Her Majesty's Government cannot possibly claim to have been successful. But with respect to the mode of selection of the Assistant Commissioners, I should like to remind the House of what took place at the commencement of this Session. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) said—"What the House was entitled to expect from the Government was the choice of the best men as Assistant Commissioners." The Prime Minister at once said—"Of course, that is a matter on which we are ready to stand the fire of criticism." The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant went even further, and appeared not only to expect criticism of the appointments, but even to be ready to anticipate inquiry into the decisions of the Assistant Commissioners. When charges were made in the House against the Assistant Commissioners, the right hon. Gentleman asked that they should be made in a definite form. How can those charges be so well defined and so thoroughly sifted as before a Select Committee? He went on to say—"I dare say fault will be found with some of their decisions. I told them—'Your acts will be sure to be criticized; you must be on your defence. Keep a record of your cases; you must be prepared to justify your decisions; but I will see that you have fair play.' "The right hon. Gentleman had actually the foresight to anticipate and provide for the very inquiry into judicial administration which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister now says is fraught with such evil to the good government of Ireland. What has been the action of the Assistant Commissioners with regard to fair rents? If there was one thing more than another to be gathered from the declarations of the Government last Session with respect to the Land Commission, it was that there would be no general reduction of rents in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) said, in relation to the rents of Ireland, that for the most part, in nine cases out of ten, they would be the same as before the passing of the Act. But what has happened? In the small number of cases which have already come before the Court this has happened. 1978 Rents of 40 years' standing have been diminished, although the Bessborough Commission recommended that, where a rent had been fixed 20 years ago, and had been continuously paid for 10 years, it should be taken as a fair starting point in deciding upon a fair rent. But not only have rents been diminished in cases where they have been fixed for 40 years, but also in cases where a voluntary diminution had previously been made by the landlord. In the case of estates purchased in the Encumbered Estates Court, rents have been diminished below the figure set down as the rent when they were purchased. And the remarkable fact is that in all these cases the percentage of diminution is about the same as in that of rents lately increased. I venture to say that that is a fact which, in face of the previous declarations of Her Majesty's Government, is so unaccountable as of itself to demand inquiry. But this is not all. An inquiry into the Tenure Clauses of the Act is, I think, desirable, with certain limitations, though, no doubt, objections may be urged upon the ground that it would be an inquiry pendente lite. I do not myself attach much force to the objection; but it is one that could not apply to an inquiry into the more important, or, as we have been told to call them, the permanent parts of the Land Act. What did the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) say on this question on the 27th of April, 1881? He was referring to the different kinds of proposals which were contained in the Irish Laud Bill. He said—I think there has been a disposition to regard too much that which does not seem to me the most important of these proposals. I believe that the evils of Ireland are too deep-seated to be removed by any change in the relations between the landlords or the owners and the occupiers. We believe, as Mr. Bright has so constantly urged, that these evils will never be effectually removed until there has been established a great increase in the number of owners of property in Ireland—until the vast disproportion between the owners and occupiers has been somewhat diminished, and until a larger number of persons in Ireland are placed in a position which will give them some sympathy with, some understanding of, the rights of property. We believe that it is in that direction alone that a permanent improvement in the condition of Ireland can be attained. It is, therefore, to the clauses which point in that direction, and also, I may add, to those which I trust will put in the power of many Irish people, who it is 1979 proved could not under any circumstances subsist in comfort on their own land, the means of emigration without disturbance of their family relations or disturbance of their religious convictions—it is to these modes that we look for the ultimate and main improvement of the condition of Ireland.I think it was very hard of the Prime Minister, in spite of the speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India, to fall foul of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) in respect of his remarks on emigration the other day. It appears that in the view of Her Majesty's Government—at any rate at that time—the Tenure Clauses were not so important a part of the Land Act as the other clauses to which I am about to allude. What are those other clauses? In the first place, there are the clauses relating to emigration and reclamation. Under the clause relating to emigration not a single application has been made to the Government. We can only suppose that this is due to the obvious absurdity of attempting to provide for the emigration of communities as distinguished from individuals by an expenditure limited to £200,000. The clause relating to reclamation has not been more successful. So far as I have heard, no application has been made by any office or any body of persons anxious to employ public money and expend labour on the favourable terms offered by the Act for the improvement of land in Ireland. Then, again, the provisions of the Bill for encouraging improvements by small tenants have been rendered nugatory by the rule adopted, so far as I can see, in defiance of the intentions of Parliament, by the Treasury. Before I pass from this matter I remember with pain that in the year 1881 3,415 cases of evicted families occurred in Ireland as compared with an average of 467 per annum in the years between 1870 and 1878. I say that it is much to be regretted that, in a year comparing so terribly with previous years in respect of evictions, it was not possible by means of assisted emigration, or by means of work on the reclamation of land, to diminish, to some extent, the sufferings of these poor people. But there are other clauses of even greater importance—those relating to the purchase and sale of land. So far as can be learnt from the Returns laid before the House, there has not been any advance in that matter 1980 under the system of the present Act. No one in the House will, I think, for a moment deny that this is an important question. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) admitted it fully a short time ago. Her Majesty's Government, in and out of Office, have repeatedly dwelt upon its important character. For myself, I have always thought that it is a subject which might be dealt with in such a manner as to confer very great advantages upon Ireland. But what has occurred? By the clauses in the Land Act which I have called the Tenure Clauses, you have established everywhere in Ireland a system of divided ownership resembling the worst kind of copyhold tenure in England; a system of tenure which has long ago become insupportable to us, and which is consequently gradually expiring; but so detrimental is it felt to be, that this gradual disappearance is not rapid enough; and its immediate extinction is sought by a Bill that has been introduced by an hon. Member sitting behind Her Majesty's Government in the present Session. You have absolutely destroyed among the owners of land in Ireland that power of control, and consequent feeling of interest in his property, which every owner of land should possess; and all experience shows that when you have taken this away from a man he will not expend money in improvements. On the other hand, what is it that you have given the occupier of land in Ireland? You have given him, no doubt, greatly increased security of tenure; but you have not given him perfect security of tenure, for there still hangs over him a consciousness that at the end of every 15 years he will be subject to revision of his rent; and, therefore, you cannot look to the tenants for that amount of interest and expenditure on the land which can flow only from full proprietary right. And yet you have not encouraged the occupier to strive to attain this full proprietary right by industry and frugality, for the kind of ownership which the Irish tenant now possesses has not even grown up by gradually established custom; it has by this Act been given broadcast throughout Ireland gratuitously and simply as a reward to agitation. By this course the Government have directly encouraged the Irish people to look to renewed agitation for greater advantages; and I fear that, whatever way become of the 1981 Land League, a periodical renewal of this agitation is only too certain, especially when seasons of agricultural depression recur in Ireland. Is it wonderful that, in. these circumstances, the occupier of land in Ireland has shown no readiness to avail himself of the privileges you have held out to him by the Purchase Clauses in the Land Act? The position appears to me to be full of difficulty. By your legislation you have brought the tenure of land, in Ireland into a situation in which it cannot possibly remain. The Land Act of 1881 as surely contains the seeds of its own destruction as the Land Act of 1870; nor would this be an unprecedented disappointment to its author, for we can all remember the ardent expectations of the Prime Minister in 1874, when, in addressing his constituents on the Dissolution of Parliament, he referred to the Irish Land Question as having been happily disposed of. You cannot go back in the course you have adopted. You cannot repeal the Act; you cannot deprive the Irish tenant of the privileges conferred upon him by it; but you can go forward—go forward in the path of justice and of right. I trust Her Majesty's Government will deal with the matter with that promptness and boldness which, in my opinion, it requires. Let us get rid, if possible, to some extent of this divided ownership, for the position of the landowner, as you now leave him, will too often be one of no use to himself or advantage to his country. I do not recommend the general expropriation of landowners in Ireland, for there are many cases where, in spite of all the difficulties and all the discouragements the Government have thrown in their path, Irish landowners will still remain the centres of improvement and of usefulness in their neighbourhoods; but there are other cases, and probably not a few, where the legislation for which Her Majesty's Government are responsible will complete the ruin which distress and lawlessness had begun; where landowners, rendered incapable of that good work which, under another system, they might have done for their country, will exist, but as absentee rent chargers, hating England for having deprived them of their rights, and hated by the Irish people as useless incumbrances on their industry. Can we do 1982 nothing to enable this class of landowners to escape from the unfortunate position in which the Land Act of 1881 has placed them? They cannot escape from it now. Tenants will not now buy the land, the price of which—to use the expression of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—has been so effectually steadied that it has become absolutely unsaleable to anyone else. Whatever may be the issue of the inquiry of the Lords' Committee, I trust the Government will look into the question of the operation of their Purchase Clauses. I cannot understand why the Land Commission should not be authorized to purchase any estates that may be offered to them, at a price calculated on the average number of years' purchase at which estates were sold in the Landed Estates Court during the three or five years ending with 1880, on a rental fixed by a judicial decision, or by agreement sanctioned by the Land Court; such estates to be re-sold, as occasion offers, to the tenants or other purchasers, to whom money should be advanced for the purpose. I cannot see why it is impolitic or impossible to do what was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) during the discussion of last year. I cannot understand why an Irish Land Bank should not be established, which would be a useful intermediary between the purchaser and the State, and by means of which the instalments of the purchase money might be safely and punctually collected. I believe that by such means—aided, if thought necessary, by the requirement of collateral security, or, perhaps, in some instances, of a guarantee from some local authority of the instalments payable by the purchaser—that the dormant Purchase Clauses might really, even now, be made to work, without any more risk to the State than the Government is pledged to incur by the system which they have already sanctioned. In the adoption of some such course some ray of light may penetrate the darkness into which we have been brought by the Land Act, and justice may be done to these unfortunate landowners and to the Irish people at large, who might by such a system be enabled to become purchasers of land at a cost no more perceptible than that at which tithe rent charge was sold under the Irish Church 1983 Act. These subjects ought to be carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government, for they are of grave importance. They will, I think, be disposed to admit that the Purchase Clauses have not proved successful, and that something more requires to be done in this direction. Something must be done to remedy the present state of things in Ireland, which only the other day was described by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Irish Attorney General as a state of complete demoralization. I will not do Her Majesty's Government the injustice to believe that they look to coercive measures alone for the restoration of order in Ireland. The policy I suggest is by no means a new policy; but it is one which has never yet been fairly or boldly tried. I now ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to devote to its consideration those great financial abilities which are peculiarly his own; for, apart from all other arguments, it is a policy which has this peculiar recommendation—that in its object and in its principles it has the approval of all Parties and of all sections of Parties in this House, and that means may be found in its administration of giving to Ireland safely, wisely, and usefully, something of that local self-government for which there is such a craving in the hearts of the Irish people.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, the speech which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had just concluded derived additional force from his experience of the affairs of Ireland. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) believed that in an extension of proprietary rights among the people of Ireland lay the true solution of the Irish problem, and the best hope for the pacification of Ireland. When they had a large body of men possessing a stake in the country they would have an additional guarantee for law and order, and would take away from the ownership of land in Ireland much of the odium and unpopularity which now attached to it. With regard to the other remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, he did not think they touched the question before the House at all. He regretted that the Arrears Clauses of the Land Act had not worked better; and he agreed with the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) that, until the question of arrears was dealt with in such a way as to take the 1984 burden off the backs of the poorer tenantry in many parts of Ireland, the Land Act could not produce its intended effects. There was a class of tenancies, the smallest class in the West of Ireland, where, if the tenant had the land for nothing, he could not live upon it. The Land Act, in enabling the poor people who were trying to obtain a miserable subsistence on two or three acres of land to assign their holdings, had done the only thing it could do for them. It would have been thought an unkind and unpopular thing for the State merely to have told them to emigrate. But the question was whether they were entitled to disapprove of the proposed inquiry into the Land Act. The proposal of the "Previous Question" was simply a refusal to test the question on proper grounds. But that was a most inadequate way, if the House should adopt it, of meeting the dangerous course which was being taken in "another place." The proposal to inquire into the Land Act at the present moment was so fraught with danger, he would not say to the relations of landlord and tenant in Ireland, but to the peace of Ireland, it was so calculated to increase the bitterness which existed, and to increase the agitation, and to bring in the train of agitation that bloodshed and barbarity which had dogged the footsteps of agitation recently, that he said nothing short of a Vote of Censure on anything like inquiry was adequate to meet the circumstances of the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister told them that nothing was now seen in Ireland but conflict between the Land League and the Land Act. He thought that if hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House would only reflect for a moment on the issues involved in that contest, they would hesitate before they even voted for the Previous Question on the present occasion. If they would open their eyes and see the principles upon which the present struggle was being conducted, and the enormous disadvantage at which the Land Act stood in that struggle, they would not press the matter to a division, but would allow the Motion to be carried. They would see in the struggle between the Land League and the Land Act how dangerous it was to do anything which would weaken the Land Act. They had been accustomed, un- 1985 fortunately, to see all grave issues that had arisen in Ireland dealt with by force; but the present struggle could not be met by force. That was admitted even from the Opposition Benches. They were warned against such an issue as was now raised by the Duke of Wellington; but, notwithstanding that, many of them had still a lurking disposition to appeal to force as a remedy. They had been even told that there was a Coercion Act, and that reliance should be placed on the Act; but he was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that coercion was no remedy for the present state of things in Ireland, but that it was intended merely to clear the way for the operation of the Land Act. Those who would at the present time endanger the operation of the Land Act must feel in their own mind that they would rely on force and coercion to assert the position of the landlords, and they therefore appeared willing to imperil a measure that the Government had passed, with the assent of the nation, for the solution of the present difficulty, for the purpose of going back to force. What was the effect of the struggle which was now going on in Ireland? If hon. Members would only think of this they would see what a dangerous issue had been raised. They had been told over and over again by the hon. Member for Sligo and others, with the most perfect candour, that the simple abolition of landlordism was the object of the struggle. That was the object of the Land League whilst it existed; and, in spite of this suppression, it still existed. The Land Act was very far from abolishing landlordism; its object was to make the relations between landlord and tenant more tolerable by fixing fair rents, and modifying the conditions which made tenancy unbearable. They were told that 70,000 tenants had gone into the Land Court and reposed their confidence in the law. That only represented a portion of the tenantry. Those outside would have their position defined by the tenure of the Land Court. They, in reality, represented to a much larger and wider extent the popular sympathy with that Act, and they had gone into Court in spite of the Land League, in spite of threats against going into it, in spite of warnings in many cases that they would be murdered, and their houses burnt, if they went into the 1986 Court. ["No!" and "Hear, hear!"] He did not say that the organization of the Land League posted such threatening notices, or stimulated the posting of them; but behind the Land League, and making themselves the allies of the Land League, whether it would or not, there were many about the country who had warned tenants that if they went into the Land Court they would suffer for it. Those 70,000 tenants—and many others were ready to follow their example—now walked in the path of the law; and what was their reward? Why, the highest Branch of the Legislature, before the Land Act had been five months in operation, hurried, in spite of the earnest remonstrances of the responsible Government of the day, into an inquiry into the working of the new Act, an inquiry which discussed in a most invidious way its judicial decisions, an inquiry which, however fenced about, certainly involved the idea that the Judges of the Land Court had not been properly chosen, that they were incapable men, and that their decisions were not worthy of confidence. An honest inquiry would be less dangerous than one which sought to show that the Judges were not worthy of confidence. It was no wonder that those who hated the Land Act should support this infatuated policy, the only result of which would be to drive the 70,000 men who had come within the pale of the Constitution into suspicion and anarchy. But every practical man ought to be ready to sacrifice every association he had contracted in that House to preserve his fidelity to the Land Act. The policy of the Land League might be summed up in two words—"no rent." It was not that unfair rent should not be paid, or that bad landlords should have their rents cut down when those rents were extortionate; he would go, and had gone, as far as that. It was not that unjust leases should be treated as though they did not exist; it was an open declaration that no landlord, whether good or bad, should get his rent, or any part of it. That policy had been condemned by all moderate men in Ireland, and by one high ecclesiastic, who went as far as his conscience would allow him to go with the Land League. Hon. Gentlemen opposite knew that every time the Land Act was adopted by a tenant the "no rent" policy received a defeat. He re- 1987 gretted to say that persuasion was not the only means used in the struggle between the Land Act and the Land League. He would be sorry to charge the hon. Members for Sligo and Wexford, who had the courage of their convictions—and if he made the charge he would think he was stating something which was untrue—he would not charge them with supporting heinous and criminal ways of carrying out their ends, or in any participation, direct or indirect, in stimulating the crimes they had seen perpetrated in Ireland. He believed and knew that men like those would lay down their lives rather than suggest or stimulate anything of the kind in Ireland. But, at the same time, everyone knew that murder and incendiarism and mutilation of dumb animals had been going on to an extent that had brought disgrace upon Ireland. They could not read the papers, and he did not mean the Conservative papers alone, without seeing recitals of those crimes, and, he was glad to say, appeals to the humanity of the people against such crimes. He was sure the Leaders of the Land League were sorry to see such crimes committed; but the murderers had constituted themselves, against the wishes of the League, the allies of the "no rent" policy. The landlord and his bailiff escaped the bullet now; it was the small farmer who had paid his rent, or his son, or, if neither was on the premises, some dumb animal that suffered. The effect of the inquiry would be to frighten the men who were ready to throw themselves into the Court and trust to the Act. If the decisions of the Court were to be shaken by imputations on the character and ability of the Judges, what was the good of men running the risk of having their throats cut for the sake of seeking its judgments? He hoped that that House would, by a large majority, assure the people of Ireland that the Land Act should be upheld, and that they would get the full benefit of it. He trusted, too, that they should receive some assurance from the Government that the suggestions made by the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken and by others with regard to the Land Act would receive attention. The Act had a hard and unequal battle to fight. The middle classes in Ireland were dispirited and disorganized; their day was yet to come. The upper 1988 classes were hostile to the Act. It had no allies, and must depend upon its own merits. He would venture now very respectfully to make an appeal to hon. Members on the other side. He had endeavoured to aid in the direction in which they were going, and never separated himself from their policy until he thought it had reached a point which passed the limits of justice. He was willing to aid them still within the limits of justice; and he made that appeal to them not to support the inquiry into the Land Act at the present moment. There were, no doubt, matters which required investigation in the Land Act; but let them remember that the inquiry which was now proposed was an inquiry intended not to remedy the Land Act or to extend it, but to discredit it and to undermine the value of its decisions. Any such inquiry would only be productive of anarchy in Ireland; and he would say, if he might, in conclusion, that he believed those Irish Members would best serve their country who would use all the influence they possessed to endeavour to dissuade all their countrymen—he hoped they were not many—from the commission of crimes which were bringing disgrace on their association and on the country at large.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ SIR HERVEY BRUCE
said, as one of those who had been more injured by the administration of the Land Act than by the Act itself, he wished to defend the landlords from the aspersions which had been cast upon them by the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Givan) for their audacity in meeting together and attempting to defend their rights. He should like to know why landlords in Ireland were the only class to be debarred from meeting together? The tenants met continually, and, in justice to themselves, were bound to meet, and among them were Members of the House who certainly were totally unconnected with land, and who went among their constituents hurling wholesale abuse on the heads of the landlords. He only claimed for the landlords of Ireland the same equal right as was given the tenants, to meet and discuss their business, and hoped that that right would 1989 be readily extended to them. But the question before the House was whether they were to condemn the conduct of the House of Lords in asking for an inquiry into the working of the Land Act? The House of Lords, as far as he understood, were merely desirous of considering the course of proceedings which had been adopted in Ireland with regard to the Act; and if the Government or the supporters of the Act had nothing to hide or disguise, surely there could be nothing fairer and nothing better for the Act and for its good administration than that everybody should know how the Commissioners were discharging the duties which the Act had intrusted to them. He could see no reasons for the great jealousy that existed in some quarters; and what were the reasons? In his able speech the other night, the Prime Minister gave no reasons against the appointment of the Committee, save the assertion that it would be dangerous to the peace of Ireland. He granted that such a statement under ordinary circumstances from the Prime Minister ought to have had, and would have had, great weight; but they must recollect that the Prime Minister had made so many mistakes as to what was for the interest of Ireland as to prove himself more ignorant of Ireland, its requirements, and its people, than any Minister of his experience. He did not find fault with the Prime Minister that such was the case, considering his arduous duties; but he did not think they were therefore in any way unjustified in not bowing to his opinions. The right hon. Gentleman had failed in all his legislation for Ireland. The disestablishment of the Church was to put everything right, and the Land Act of 1870 was to restore peace and prosperity. He believed many of the tenants now wished that Act had never been passed. [Mr. T. A. DICKSON: No.] Perhaps he knew as much about the feelings of the tenants as some persons who travelled about the country minding other people's business. As to the Act of last year, the speech of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had demonstrated beyond question that that Act was not conferring the benefits which were expected. It would only lead to more agitation and more demands. He did not see how the tenants were to escape out of the difficulties created by the Act 1990 under the 14 years referred to by the hon. Member for Sligo, unless more Sub-Commissioners and more Commissioners were appointed, for one Head Commission could not manage all the eases coming in. For himself, he did not for one moment attempt to quarrel with the Act or wish to see it repealed. To repeal it would be fatal to the peace of his native country. But he did quarrel very seriously with the way in which the Act was administered. He did not think it was administered in the manner Parliament intended. The fault of the Act was that, while going very far in one direction, it did not go far enough in providing remedies where it inflicted injuries. As it stood at present, it was not of the slightest use for pacifying or giving satisfaction to any one class. If the Act were properly administered, why did the Government refuse this inquiry? It was not intended in that inquiry to call up the conduct of every Sub-Commissioner, but merely generally to see whether the wishes of Parliament were being carried out. He confidently affirmed that they were not. The Prime Minister had referred to a remark of Lord Chief Justice Holt, when he was asked his, reason for a judgment he had given. But was there any analogy between the case of the Sub-Commissioners and the Lord Chief Justice, who was quite independent of either House of Parliament? The position of the Chief Justice could not be compared with that of an irresponsible Sub-Commissioner in any way, and especially in this—they were not sworn. The Prime Minister also said that they had made elaborate provision for the exclusion of the House of Lords from any interference with the cases. He thought that a most unwise and injudicious remark to make, as it showed the feeling that existed in the right hon. Gentleman's mind against the House of Lords. Another observation by the right hon. Gentleman seemed an endeavour to set the inhabitants of Ulster against the other portions of Ireland. He (Sir Hervey Bruce) denied that the Northern population were ready to go against you almost to a man if you allowed them to imagine that you were going to tamper with the Land Act. [Mr. T. A. DICKSON: Hear, hear!] He (Sir Hervey Bruce) had a bettor opinion than the hon. Member for Tyrone had of the people of Ulster, and he thought the 1991 hon. Gentleman's own election might show him that they were not to be bought by the bribes which were held out by those below the Gangway. The fact was that the Northern population, though they would like their rents lowered, would not go in for rebellion at the bidding of anyone or any Party in the House. The North of Ireland would remain staunch to the integrity of the Empire, and the Prime Minister was making a wrong reference to the objects of the Committee when he suggested that they would tamper with the Land Act. He and those who agreed with him in supporting the action of the House of Lords did not wish the Land Act tampered with. He could not agree with the Prime Minister that an inquiry would shake the confidence of the people in the Land Act. They wished to see carried out in their integrity the promises of the Ministers, and they were anxious that the persons appointed to administer the Act should be above suspicion in every way. With regard to the administration of that Act it might be unwise, perhaps, to enter into personal matters; but in order to judge of the conduct of the Sub-Commissioners one must go somewhat into details. He (Sir Hervey Bruce) had sat in the Commissioners' Court every day on which they had heard the few cases connected with his property. In the first place, he found it impossible to procure the services of a valuer who would be compelled to give evidence in each separate case, and as the valuer whom he desired to employ was obliged to go to other places, he was practically unable to utilize his services. It was true the cases were open to appeal, and as the landlord had not the opportunity of bringing his case before the Court it might be found necessary to proceed with the appeals; but this would lead to increased expense. He did not think that it was in the interest of the tenant himself that no independent valuer should be heard. The valuers in the cases to which he had referred not being land valuers proper, it would be necessary for him to appeal, unless he was able to settle the matter otherwise. Among the valuers brought forward by the tenants there was not a single professional land valuer. He did not wish to say anything against the integrity of the three Land Commissioners, but he 1992 objected to the system of administration, and unless the system were changed it could not work. The Act could not work satisfactorily to any class in Ireland. Two of the valuers were tenants on neighbouring estates, and one who had a freehold of his own was the third. He (Sir Hervey Bruce) had no counsel. One of the valuers, on being asked how much he was paid a day for giving his evidence, became indignant and said, "Nothing;" and when asked to state the grounds upon which he had come to his conclusion was unable to give them, and one of the Sub-Commissioners suggested that perhaps the valuers' rule was the "rule of thumb." That might be one excellent way of coming to a decision; but he was of opinion that that was hardly the rule by which the land in Ireland ought to be valued. He could, however, assure the House that that valuer was the best the tenants had. Then there was another valuer who had a small farm, for which he had given a high price. Another of the valuers was admitted to be a stupid fellow, while a third, a Scotchman, had at one time been his own steward; but they could not get on together. He (Sir Hervey Bruce) was unable to get an independent valuer, and was compelled to fall back upon old valuations and books. Was that a satisfactory way of valuing land? How would Englishmen like such a system applied to this country? Another great injustice was that on estates where there was limited tenant right so long as tenant right had existed, the tenant could now put his farm up to auction, getting thereby money which never belonged to him, and impoverishing his successor, to the detriment of the landlord. He was glad to see some of the Irish Liberal Members taking notes, as it showed they were preparing to break the silence which was imposed upon them on Monday. It was obvious that it was desirable to have a large and well-to-do proprietary; but still the landlords had been centres of civilization and refinement, and he thought it would be a great misfortune if they were driven away. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had referred in eloquent language to the farm labourers. The Land Act had left them out in the cold. He had always said it would, and he had in vain attempted to introduce provisions for 1993 the benefit of the labourers. The tradesmen were in the same predicament. Thus Parliament would have appeased one class and raised up hostility in two classes of the community. He foresaw that the indignation of those classes would presently be aroused against the Government, and if the Franchise were lowered the labourers would have to be reckoned with as well as the class to whom only the Government had hitherto offered sops in the way of legislation. He was sorry to find that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) taunted the landlords with being slothful and not attending to their own interests, which meant that they did not evict non-paying tenants. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I did not say so.] He (Sir Hervey Bruce) was very glad to have drawn the disavowal from the right hon. Gentleman; but the right hon. Gentleman certainly was reported to have said that the landlords were not protecting themselves. He (Sir Hervey Bruce) and the Conservative electors of Londonderry had been taunted with supporting a gentleman who had gone great lengths in supporting the Land Act. It was true that he had supported Sir Samuel Wilson in the late Election for the County of Londonderry; but by such support he by no means must be understood to have approved of all Sir Samuel Wilson's opinions, any more than the present Government, by their support of a noble Lord (Lord Ramsay) at Liverpool, had committed themselves to Home Rule. He preferred the general policy of Sir Samuel Wilson to that of the Solicitor General. In conclusion, he would like to say a few words for the class to which he belonged. There seemed to have been a sort of general principle of reduction animating all the Sub-Commissioners, whether or not the rent was an old or recently raised rent. There were some of the landlords who, perhaps, might survive these times—some of them who had something besides land, and would be enabled to live over this great diminution of rent—others, though greatly crippled, would be able to live among their tenants as heretofore; but they could hardly be expected to be a contented class, though loyal they would ever be. Others would not be able to stand it, and would have to seek homes in other lands. These proceedings would take from them their only means of livelihood, and they would 1994 go forth ruined and discontented men. On the other hand, the Act was not satisfying the men for whose benefit the landlords were being reduced and ruined. If the Government thought that they could not govern Ireland without these periodical sops to one class at the expense of another, let them say so; but surely that was not justice. Let the Prime Minister admit that he was throwing over the landlords, many of whom had earned the prices of their estates in early life, in order to please the discontent of the lower class; but, if he did so, let him follow it up as a Prime Minister ought to do, and make restitution. Only a man of his great financial abilities could frame a satisfactory scheme in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman might smile; but these were not words of empty flattery. No man in the House was so competent to do it as the right hon. Gentleman, and let him set his mind justly and earnestly to the work. He (Sir Hervey Bruce) did not say it should be done by compensation. Perhaps it might be by loans, or by some other means which the right hon. Gentleman might see his way to adopt. He would then secure the support of all classes in Ireland, except only that class which would be content with nothing but separation from the Empire.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he rose to support the Resolution before the House, and, notwithstanding the speech of the hon. Member for Coleraine (Sir Hervey Bruce), he had no hesitation in saying that the results to Ulster would have been disastrous had the Government hesitated for one day in taking the action they did. The Ulster farmers regarded with dismay the action taken in "another place," and they had very good reason for doing so when they remembered how the Land Act of 1870, after it was passed, was treated by a Committee of the same place. It was a matter of notoriety that the administration of that Act was paralyzed by the Lords' Inquiry, and the County Court Judges were intimidated from carrying out its spirit and intentions. The farmers of Ulster, and indeed of all Ireland, feared that the same disastrous results might follow from the inquiry which the House of Lords now contemplated into the Land Act of 1881, three or four months after it had come into operation. He had been looking over 1995 the reports of the speeches made in 1872 in moving for the Committee to inquire into the Land Act of 1870, and he had been struck with their similarity to those made the other night in the House of Lords on moving for the present Committee in respect to the Act of 1881. Viscount Lifford said in the debate of 1872—It was a singular circumstance, however, that in Ireland the least efficient Chairmen were appointed to the most important counties the questions were left to be decided by a single Judge Such being the case, some of the decisions arrived at wore of a startling character Two codes of Land Law were springing up—one administered by the Judges, and the other by Barristers, many of whom had seldom held a brief."—[3 Hansard, ccxi. 1001–2–3–4.]Another noble Lord said it was not the Act he complained of, but the administration of the Act, and that what was wanted was a more satisfactory tribunal. If hon. Members would compare the debate of 1872 with that of 1882, they would see how history repeated itself. The Commissioners were now being called by the old name of briefless barristers. But while fault was formerly found at there being only one Judge appointed to do the work, noble Lords were not now satisfied though three were nominated. They were now again being told that the Act was not being administered in accordance with the promises contained in the speeches from the Front Ministerial Benches when it was passed. If he knew rightly the duties of the Land Commissioners, they were not called upon to administer according to the speeches made by any Member of the Government, however eminent. The promises of the Front Bench were not bound up with the Land Act. The Commissioners were sitting to administer an Act of Parliament, and not to interpret it by speeches or promises. He had no hesitation in saying that if a statement was made from the Front Ministerial Bench, that the rents of Ireland would scarcely be reduced by the operation of the Act of 1881, the occupants of the Front Bench knew very little of the condition of Ireland, and of the system of rack-renting which had been going on there for years. He thought it was a dangerous statement which was made the other night in the House of Peers, when a noble Lord said that what they wanted to do by this Committee of Inquiry was to en- 1996 tirely revolutionize the working of the Land Act. It was calculated to spread consternation and terror throughout Ulster; yet it was to this Committee of Inquiry that the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) would commit the case of the tenant farmers of Ireland. [Cries of "No!" and "Yes!"] The Member for Sligo supported this Committee of Inquiry. He asked that the Land Act should be inquired into, and he said the noble Lords in "another place" were right in demanding an inquiry. The hon. Member would send the tenant farmers of Ireland before a Committee that represented 500,000 acres, and a rental of £600,000 or £700,000. Would that be an impartial tribunal in the hon. Member's eyes? He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) only spoke for the tenant farmers of Ulster; but they would repudiate such an idea, and would look upon the going before such a Committee as disastrous to their interests. There were Members of this House now in prison partly for attempting to keep the tenant farmers of Ireland from going into the Land Courts. He could see very little difference between their action and that of the noble Lord who was seeking to come between the tenants of Ireland and the administration of the Act which was intended to protect them, and confer some benefits upon them. The Land Act of 1881 was passed to mitigate the sufferings of the Irish tenant farmers which had been going on for centuries, and which every year for 50 years had been brought before this House. It was not until 1881 that they got a fair instalment of justice. He knew that it was impossible, when redressing the wrongs of centuries, to avoid some cases of individual hardship to landlords who had inherited rack-renting estates. The rental of Irish landlords was purely a fictitious one—for it embraced not merely the value of the soil, but included every shilling of the improvements of the tenants. Year by year these improvements had been swallowed up by gradual increases of rent. Now, the Act prescribed that a fair rent should be fixed, a rent which should exclude the improvements of the tenant; so that while the process going on in the Land Courts was a painful one, it was an absolutely necessary and just one. He had never heard a tenant farmer in Ulster—and he had attended as many meetings of tenant farmers in Ulster as any Member in the 1997 House—ask for one sixpence of the property of his landlord. The only thing they ever asked for was that their own property, the result of their own toil and sweat and prudence, should be as free from confiscation as the property of the landlord. The reductions which were now being made by the Commissioners were being denounced every night in that House as monstrous. He might give a few examples of cases settled voluntarily between landlord and tenant without the intervention of the Court. The first was a very peculiar one, and he was sorry the hon. Member for Coleraine (Sir Hervey Bruce) had left his place, because it was a case that had arisen near Coleraine. The tenant was Walter Smith, a Scotchman, who 10 years ago took a farm for 10 years, a farm which had been previously occupied by the landlord himself. The improvements on that farm had all been effected by the landlord, and were maintained by the landlord. The tenant never expended one shilling in improvements. The farm was, in short, held purely on the English system. The lease expired last year. The old rent had been £200; the new rent was £120. Could he cite anything that would more completely justify the reductions that were now going on all over Ireland? There were other cases settled out of Court on the same landlord's property. In the case of one tenant whose rent was £10, the new rent was fixed at £4 15s. Other two, whose old rents were £13 10s., had new rents of £7 10s. agreed to; and one more whose rent was £15 10s. had been reduced to £10 5s. The whole of these cases were cases of mutual agreement between landlord and tenants. He had a few cases in another part of Ireland—Kinsale—upon the estate of Mr. Luke Joseph Shea. In one case the old rent was £341, and the new rent £238; and in another the old rent was £16, and new rent £8, or a reduction of 50 per cent. The reduction in a third case was 32 per cent, in a fourth 35 per cent, and in a fifth 33 per cent, and in a sixth 35 per cent, making an average reduction on this landlord's property effected out of Court in a friendly spirit of 30 per cent, or 7 per cent beyond the average of the reductions made by the Assistant Commissioners. The hon. Member for Coleraine had said that the tenant farmers of Ireland would much prefer that the Act had never been passed. Was that the opinion 1998 of the hon. Baronet's own tenants? He (Mr. T. A. Dickson) had had the pleasure of meeting a great number of the hon. Baronet's tenants in December of last year, when he was on business in Londonderry County, and he could only say that these tenants would much prefer the protection now given by the Land Act to the tender mercy of their landlord. The hon. Baronet had given a number of cases in connection with the settlement in Coleraine Land Court. What were his own cases to which he referred? Why, it was pretty well known in Londonderry that there were no more rack-rented tenants in the North of Ireland than the tenants of the hon. Baronet. What were the reductions made in 12 cases on his own property? The Government valuation in these was £292; the rents were fixed at £302, so that they were above the Government valuation. A vast amount of misapprehension existed in this House respecting this valuation. He would refer to the Select Committee which sat in 1869, inquiring into the valuation of Ireland, and to the evidence given by Sir Richard Griffiths, Mr. Greer, and Mr. Vernon, now one of the Land Commissioners. Sir Richard Griffiths said that in altering the valuation they embraced the tenants' improvements. Mr. Vernon made the same statements; and Mr. Greer said that the valuation of Ulster was 25 per cent over that of the rest of Ireland, that it was a stiffer valuation, and that it embraced the tenants' improvements. When rents were being fixed above the Government valuation, whoever had a right to complain it was assuredly not the landlords. He knew the feelings of Ulster, and he endorsed the statement of the Prime Minister, that if any attempt was made to weaken the force of the Land Act of 1881 or prevent its administration, the farmers there were ready to begin agitation over again with redoubled vigour, and if they begun it again they would place it upon more advanced lines than they did before. He agreed with the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) that the real difficulty in connection with Ireland at the present time were the arrears of the small tenants. The Act had completely failed in connection with the question of arrears, and if its benefits were ever to reach the mass of the tenant farmers of Ireland some provision must be made 1999 very soon to meet the cases of those who were helplessly in arrear. On one point he differed from the hon. Member for Sligo, who estimated the arrears at £8,000,000 or £9,000,000. There were 400,000 tenant farmers whose rents were under £10. The hon. Member said that one-third of the tenants were in arrear—that would be 130,000 of these in arrear—and, taking their average rent at £7, it would represent a sum of £2,750,000.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he did not include the larger tenants, as the whole difficulty rested with the smaller ones. If the case of the 400,000 small tenants were met the difficulty in connection with the administration of the Land Act would be overcome. He could see no hope for better times in Ireland until something was done with these arrears and the evictions. The Attorney General had doubted his statement that the cases now ripe for settlement could not be settled for an average of three years. But he had arrived at this conclusion after careful examination of the progress that was being made. He thought the Sub-Commissioners ought to sit permanently in such counties as Mayo, Tyrone, and Armagh, whence had come one-third of the cases now upon the books of, the Land Court. He thoroughly agreed with that portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), that the true solution of the Irish Question would be found in making the people the owners of the soil. It showed the progress the question was making when such a thing could be advocated from the Front Conservative Benches. Two or three years ago such a project was looked upon as revolutionary. He sincerely trusted that the Prime Minister would take into consideration the hint given him by the late Secretary of State for the Colonies. By an extensive system of local government in Ireland, and by the creation of land banks, he believed that thousands of tenant farmers could be made, without any risk to the State, the owners of their own property. In this lay the true hope for Ireland.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, that as hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to think 2000 that tenants had most to hope from the Purchase Clauses of the Land Act, and as those clauses had not yet been operative, there was good ground for demanding that an inquiry should be set on foot, in order to see whether they might not be made effective. Apparently, the speeches of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) and the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Heach) were to be allowed to go forth to the country unanswered from the Government Benches. One fact, however, could not be denied—the state of Ireland seemed to be worse than it was six months ago. The block in the Land Court seemed complete, and even if the Sub-Commissioners desisted from their work for three months the appeals would still be in arrear. He was at a loss to know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by saying that the country approved the Land Act. Did the people of Ireland approve of the Act? The Members below the Gangway said it was a failure, and one hon. Member opposite, who professed to represent the tenants, declared that the most important clause in the Act was wholly inoperative. But the right hon. Gentleman told them that the Land Act was strangling the Land League. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I never said that.] The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the infant Hercules strangling the Land League, and he subsequently explained—for the reference had been misunderstood by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill)—that by the infant Hercules he meant the Land Act. He did not think the attempt had been attended with success so far. It had been suggested by an hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell), who, unfortunately, was not there at present, and others, that test cases should be submitted to the Sub-Commissioners. They were desirous of doing what he and others who felt like him were desirous of doing—to discover whether rents which had stood for a long time at a fixed figure were to be reduced, or whether the Commission merely intended to direct their attention to rack rents. But the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government stepped in and declared that testing the Land Act did not commend itself to his approval. He did not approve of the action of the Prime Minister in putting the Land League and Land Act in direct 2001 opposition the first day the latter came into operation. He felt strongly with what had been said by the hon. Member for Sligo on the subject of the purchase of holdings, but did not think it was in the power of the landlords to take any action in that respect at present. Rents had been uniformly reduced, and there was not the slightest security that the reduced rents would be paid. He could not help complaining of the conduct of the Solicitor General for Ireland during the contest for his seat, and he begged to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Conservative Members were resolved to have an explanation of his references to the appointment of Sub-Commissioners, after he had expressed regret that rents had not been sufficiently reduced. Not only a judicial, but a political element was introduced. The Solicitor General implied in his Londonderry speeches that if the Conservative Party were returned to Office they would have the power to curtail the cutting down of rents. He would not say that the hon. and learned Member had used his official position for the purpose of influencing votes, but he had not justified his conduct at all. The sole occasion on which he had spoken since his election he passed the subject by as if it deserved little consideration. He did not desire to trouble the House with the various appointments of the Sub-Commissioners; but he must refer for a moment to the case of Mr. M'Devitt, for it was most necessary for the House of Lords to know the reasons why that was made. One of the conditions imposed last Session by the Government in making those appointments was that the gentlemen selected should be en rapport with themselves. Now, the Act had been passed in August. Mr. M'Devitt wrote a book in September, and was appointed Assistant Commissioner in October. In his book he stated, with regard to the fixing of fair rents, that reasonable allowance must first be made for the maintenance of the tenant's family. He (Mr. Brodrick) presumed that upon this principle a tenant with five children should have his rent fixed at a sovereign, a tenant with 10 children half-a-sovereign, and a tenant having 15 children should not be asked to pay anything. In other words, this tenant's family should be supported at the expense of 2002 the landlord. Mr. M'Devitt further wrote that the Court should determine the letting value by deducting the tenant's improvements. He would not complain of this; but Mr. M'Devitt added that the Court must also have regard to the value of "the tenant's good-will, interest, or tenant right." Now, "good-will, interest, or tenant right" was a matter which Parliament expressly declared should be excluded from consideration in fixing a fair rent. If Mr. M'Devitt acted up to these opinions, how could the Land Act be fairly administered by him? When the Government, knowing his opinions perfectly well, appointed this gentleman, with such views as his, they could not be surprised at a general reduction of rents to the amount of 25 per cent. He had been prepared for, and had even rejoiced to see, certain rents reduced; but he could not admit the justice of a general reduction like the present. It was especially unfair to landlords who, in the present disturbed state of the country, could not get efficient valuers. A distinguished valuator, well known in Ireland, when asked in December last to value land, replied to the agent stating—Sir,—In reply to your letter asking mo to make valuations of land a for you, I beg to thank you for your kind and remunerative offer; but from the present disturbed condition of the country I would not consider my position a safe one while acting on the unpopular side.A more striking instance occurred on the property of Lord Mountgarret. Several tenants having gone into Court, Mr. Kidd, a land valuator and practical farmer, was engaged for the landlord; but being met at the village of Urlingford by some tenants he was told he must not go upon the lands, and that if he did his life would not be safe. Lord Mountgarret was forced into Court without having any professional evidence of valuation. All these, and much more, wore matters which needed to be inquired into, not merely on account of the landlords, but in the interest of the Sub-Commissioners, who had not adequate materials upon which to come to a decision. It was useless for the Government to assure the House that the Land Commissioners were archangels and all the Sub-Commissioners angels. The House wanted some clear proof that these gentlemen were really competent. 2003 But, whether such an inquiry was held or not, it was certain that the Government had promised that, while some rack-rents might and ought to be knocked down, there was to be no universal change. Now was the time for the Government, and particularly the Chief Secretary, to clear away these charges. But what did they do? The Chief Secretary was absent, no doubt on important business; but the Prime Minister had passed the word round that no answer should be given [Mr. GLADSTONE: I did nothing of the kind.] It was strange that although the debate had proceeded for 10 hours since the right hon. Gentleman proposed his Resolution, and although 12 Conservative Members and two right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches had addressed the House, not even one occupant of the Front Treasury Bench had yet risen to offer any reply, thereby falsifying the pledges of the Chief Secretary that the Government would be prepared to defend themselves against all charges.
said, he begged to withdraw the expression, and to substitute that the Government were acting contrary to their pledges. He did not desire to multiply cases to which no answer was forthcoming; but he would mention one instance where an application was made to the Court to fix the rent of some land not raised since 1800, where the soil was excellent, and close to two rivers. In fixing the value the Sub-Commission said that the present rent, which had been paid for years without complaint, must be too high, because in a bad year the tenant would not be able to pay it. Being, therefore, of opinion that the rent, according to the "live and thrive" theory, was such as a man could not afford to pay in a bad as well as in a good year, they forthwith made a reduction of 3s. in the pound. The President of the Board of Trade was the only Member of the Government who had as yet expressed any opinion as to the reductions of rent ordered by the Commissioners, and in his speech to his constituents he had made allegations that would have been easily refuted if they had been made on the floor of the House. The right hon. Gentleman, in the speech to which he referred, had 2004 dealt with none of the hard cases that had been mentioned on that side of the House; but, after giving two or three instances of rack-renting, which no Conservative would be concerned to defend, had made the generalization that a reduction of 25 per cent was desirable throughout the whole of Ireland. The fact was that in regard to this matter the Government themselves were in a difficulty. They had sent out men with very divergent notions, and without any instructions to guide them, and the result was that every unjust or excessive reduction of rent raised correspondingly extravagant expectations on the part of the tenant. The Government argued that the time for inquiry had not yet come. When would that time come? Did the right hon. Gentleman think the matter would be more ripe for investigation when 5,000 cases had been decided instead of 1,300, and did the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be easier for him by that time to amend the Purchase Sections of the Act? When was the the right hon. Gentleman prepared to grant an inquiry? He stated that the proposed inquiry was contrary to the purposes of the Government. If that were so, the House had a right to know what were the purposes of the Government. Those purposes were being deliberately concealed by the Government, and if that were so they had every opportunity now of explaining and justifying them. If the Government continued to run the Land Act, against the Land League the distance between the two would be almost imperceptible. The Government were endeavouring with all their power to frustrate investigation, although concessions had been made on those very points which they said were the only points in regard to which they would oppose inquiry. He reminded the Government that they were trespassing upon the rights of some fair-minded men who had always been loyal to the Government, and denying them what they had a right to demand at the hands of the Imperial Parliament—the right of appeal and investigation into the working of what they regarded as an unjust law.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he must congratulate the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson) for the great advance he had made on the Land Question since he addressed his constituency in Septem- 2005 ber last. At the time he thought the Land Act was perfection itself, and he wrote to one of his constituents shortly after it was passed, stating that it settled the Land Question, and scarcely required any further amendation. He (Mr. Healy) was glad to see that the hon. Member had so far modified his views as to say it was only an instalment of justice. The hon. Member informed the House that the hon. Member for Sligo had rejoiced practically in the appointment of the Committee by the House of Lords, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) cheered the statement of his supporter that the Irish Members did not consider that the Lords' Committee was an important one. Now, the contention of the hon. Member for Sligo was one which he thought any man who remembered the case of the Act of 1870 must back up. The Irish Members opposed the Resotion of the right hon. Gentleman for this reason. It was a Resolution, not directed, as they read it, against the House of Lords—it was a Resolution which declared that any inquiry into the Land Act of 1881 was premature and opposed to the interest of the good government of Ireland. For that reason, and for no other, he was opposed to it. The hon. Member referred to the ineffectual efforts of Mr. Butt to obtain inquiry into the Act of 1870, and said that when they at all times found it so difficult to get anything like adequate inquiry into the grievances and complaints existing in Ireland, they would be very little justified in opposing an inquiry of this kind, simply because it was proposed in "another place," in which they had little confidence. The hon. Member, whatever his views might be, was not a consistent follower of the Prime Minister. He said, when the Bill was before the House, that anyone who denied that the Irish tenants were rack-rented, knew very little of the matter; but the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had expressly told the House that the Bessborough Commission had tried the landlords, and, as far as rack-renting went, acquitted them. It followed, therefore, that either the Prime Minister knew very little about the matter, or that the hon. Member for Tyrone was mistaken.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
explained, that what he said was that if hon. Members on the Front Bench thought that the 2006 tenants of Ireland were not rack-rented, they knew very little about the Land Question.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he was very glad that that was the statement made by the hon. Gentleman; but did he not, by that statement, put his Chief in the position that he knew very little about the Land Question? He (Mr. Healy) would say that the Prime Minister understood the Land Question better than any Gentleman in the House, and because he understood it he made that statement, which was simply made to induce Members on the Opposition side to give him the Bill. He said, in effect—"If you give me this Bill you will find there will be no reduction made in the rents." The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) had spoken of the valuers of land, and of their fear to work for the landlord, lest they should be shot at. But,if that were true, how was it that the evidence of the valuators was unsatisfactory to the tenants? If those valuators were in such dread of their lives, how was it that the reductions made by the Courts were not more than 25 per cent? He would like to call the attention of the House, and of the hon. Member for Tyrone, and the senior Member for the County of Cork (Mr. Shaw), who objected to an inquiry, to the character of some of the valuators under the Land Act. The well-known John Barrett, of Cork, had been appointed a valuator. He was one of the most notorious rack-renters in Ireland, a man hated and detested by the people. He never went about without firearms, and for the last two years had been constantly guarded by the police. His character was such that the people in his locality would not hang a cat or a dog upon his evidence. His rack-renting on the estate of Lord Kenmare was simply intolerable. When he was appointed agent on that estate he immediately raised the rents in some cases 300 per cent. In one case he raised a poor man's rent from £14 to £42 without ever having walked the land. He could not accept the doctrine that the House of Lords ought not to inquire into the character of such a man as Barrett. He would now notice one or two remarks made by the Prime Minister upon this question. He had said that there was a tremendous conspiracy among the Irish Members which assumed a new 2007 and amazing development the moment the Land Act was passed; that after hindering in every possible way the passing of the Land Act, they did their utmost to hinder its operation in Ireland. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when the Bill was twice in peril in that House, it was not saved by the votes of himself and his hon. Friends around him? Then it was said that the operation of the Act had been defeated by the action of the Land League in selecting cases under the Act; but many of the test cases were since brought into Court owing to the action of the tenants, and substantial reductions granted, thus proving their bonâ fide character. He would call the attention of the House to one of Lord Ken-mare's leases, which Mr. Justice O'Hagan had pronounced to be one of the most stringent leases he had ever seen, and one that no Court of Equity would ever enforce, the tenant being an ignorant and illiterate man, who had executed the lease without any advice. His Lordship accordingly set aside the lease and gave the tenant costs. That was one of the test cases he himself had selected, and yet the right hon. Gentleman had said that the test cases had been selected with a view to discredit the Act. He (Mr. Healy) was delighted at the suppression of the Land League. He thought it was the best thing that ever happened in Ireland, because he knew that the right hon. Gentleman might as well try to suppress the Atlantic Ocean as to suppress the Land League; and, therefore, the nominal suppression of the Land League would only intensify the feelings of the Irish people, and if the right hon. Gentleman continued the present coercive measures, as he would no doubt do, next year, he should himself consider whether it would not be advisable to vote for another Coercion Bill, such was its excellent effect in nationalizing the people. Mr. Parnell had been desirous of making use of the Land Act for the purpose of bringing down rents, and he told the tenant farmers of Ireland that if it did not do that it would be useless to them. He had himself issued a circular to the tenants of the county of Cork, in which he stated that he wished to bring before the Court all cases in which the rents were 20 per cent above Griffith's valuation. They were desirous of selecting 2008 cases of an average character, and he believed that if they had not selected cases from the estates of certain "big guns," they would not have been interfered with. They were anxious that cases should be selected from the estates of the Duke of Devonshire, the Earl of Kenmare, the Earl of Meath, Earl Fitzwilliam, Mr. King-Harman, and other lights of the Liberal Party, and the statement to that effect was published in the newspapers. He presumed that it would not be pleasant to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India to find that his noble father had been declared by the Land Commissioners to be a rack-renter; neither would it be pleasant to Lord Kenmare, another Office-holder under the Government, nor to the remainder of the magnates whose names he had mentioned. It was because of this that the Land League was left high and dry in a few days after the publication of the announcement of the arrest of Mr. Parnell and the subsequent Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant. He could not adopt the roseate view taken by the hon. Members for Sligo and Tyrone as to the small amount of arrears of rent in Ireland. The statements made by hon. Members were much below the mark. In 1879 alone the failure of the potato crop resulted in a loss to the tenants of £9,000,000 sterling. In the four years 1876, 1877, 1878, and 1879, the loss through the failure of the potato crop must have amounted to something like £18,000,000. The potato being the chief crop of the tenants, they were obliged to purchase food equivalent to this loss. Therefore, it was fair to assume that during the four years he had mentioned there must have accumulated in arrears an amount equivalent to the loss which the people had sustained by the failure of the potato crop during that time. In 1879 and 1880 the Duchess of Marlborough's Relief Committee, the Mansion House Committee, and the Land League distributed £1,250,000; but that was expended in purchasing only the coarsest food—namely,Indianmeal. How could the hon. Member for Tyrone reconcile that fact with his statement that the arrears due at present amounted to only £2,000,000? He believed the arrears of rent which the land did not earn, taking the amount at a very moderate estimate, reached £20,000,000 sterling 2009 at the present moment. In all the 70,000 cases which had gone into the Court, the landlords might press for the existing arrears and turn the tenants out before they could get the benefit of the Land Act. The fault of this must lie on the shoulders of the Chief Secretary. He (Mr. Healy) proposed an Amendment during the last Session of Parliament, providing that the judicial rent should have a retrospective effect as regards arrears, so that if a man's rent was reduced from £100 to £50, and if he owed three years' arrears, the amount he would have to pay would be £150, instead of £300. How did the benevolent Chief Secretary for Ireland receive that proposal? He did not think it worth while to say a single word on its merits, but he objected to it on a point of Order. He wished the Chief Secretary for Ireland joy of his point of Order. In his opinion, that point of Order was likely to be heard of by his Government for some time time to come, because the arrears which they refused to deal with in a proper spirit would hang like a millstone round the necks of the unfortunate tenants. What was the action of the Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1880, before he became tainted with the corrupt influences of Dublin Castle? In 1880, when supporting the Disturbance Bill, he appealed to the landlords of Ireland to be merciful to their tenants; he pointed out that there were a number of bad years, and he asked them not to put him in the position of a man having to execute injustice. Two years afterwards the Chief Secretary for Ireland was only too alert in sending the Forces of the Crown to carry out evictions for those very arrears of rack rents which formed the subject of his appeal for mercy to the Irish landlords a short time before. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government considered that the time for inquiry had not yet come. He, however, would like to renew the Question of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick), and to ask the Government when it was likely that that time would come? In his opinion, an inquiry into the working of the Act was necessary within one month after it had passed; for such were the appointments made by the Government, and such was the action of the Sub-Commissioners, that the Irish people lost all confidence in it. After the decision which had re- 2010 cently been given, he thought the clause associated with his name might be left to the tender mercies of the lawyers, and of those hon. Members who represented Ulster in that House. Hon. Members from Ulster were so fond of basking in the smiles of Ministers, that they were afraid to offend their nobility by pressing on them the necessity of remedying the grievances of the Irish people. The Irish Members on that side of the House had done their best to redress the grievances of the people of Ireland and of Ulster, independent of the action of hon. Members opposite; and if the Courts now began to nibble at the clause, and to whittle it down, he thought they might leave the safe guidance of the measure to the hon. Members from Ulster. Although the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government objected at the present time to an inquiry into the working of the Act, he admitted while the measure was passing through the House that there were some points on which he had not made up his mind, and which he considered would be fitting subjects for inquiry during the Recess. One of these was the subject of town parks. The Recess had, however, gone by, and no inquiry was instituted on the subject. He would not go now into the question whether the rents which had been fixed were fair or unfair, or whether the action of the Sub-Commissioners was justifiable; but he desired to express his opinion that, even if those rents were fair to-day, beyond all doubt they would be entirely unfair before the 15 years had expired. This year alone there were 20,000 miles of railroad being made in America. These represented millions of tons of additional produce, which would be shipped to England and Ireland, and the lands of Cornwall and Kerry were bound to come down to the lands of Kansas and California, plus the freight paid for the conveyance of the produce across the Atlantic. He did not think the landlords, whether Irish or English, sufficiently realized that fact. He had been informed by a gentleman in Boston that the land in the Eastern States of America had felt the competition of the Western States as keenly as they did in Ireland, and that a farm which he had purchased 20 years before, he not only had to give to the tenant for nothing, but he had to 2011 pay the rates and taxes himself. One instance in which the value of land in the Eastern States had depreciated was related to him by a distinguished American lady—the mother of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. Her ancestors, in 1815, paid $50,000 for an estate, which, although now cultivated in the best manner, and with every appliance of modern science, would not sell for the price originally paid for it. If that were the case as regards the Eastern States of America, how much more should they feel and appreciate the pressure in England and Ireland. He thought, therefore, a very proper subject for inquiry by the noble Lords would be to ascertain how far it was desirable that this statutory term of, say, 15 years should be continued. For his own part, he thought the tenant who accepted a statutory term of 15 years at present was very unwise. He believed that land in respect of which the Court had now fixed 30s. an acre as a fair rent would not be worth more than 10s. or 12s. in some years' time. Although not strictly pertinent to the question before the House, he should like to mention a remark made upon a speech of his by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Speaking at Birmingham, he gave his reasons for exceptional and extraordinary legislation for Ireland. He said that a Member for Ireland, in the House of Commons, had stated that the ordinary Government of the country had been "knocked into a cocked hat." That was a phrase, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bright) believed, expressing the utmost contempt; and he must say that when a man stood up in the House of Commons and told the Government that an association with which he was connected had knocked the Government of Ireland into "a cocked hat," he had no reason to complain of the ordinary law having been suspended. An assertion of such vulgar audacity in the House of Commons, said the right hon. Gentleman, went far to justify the course the Government had taken. This was, no doubt, intended to apply to him (Mr. Healy); but he wished to say that he had never made use of such expressions. What he did say, between 5 and 6 one morning, when he had the advantage of the presence of the Home Secretary and of the hon. Member for 2012 Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), was that, if it were true, as the Prime Minister admitted, that the Queen's Government, after 700 years of rule in Ireland, had been supplanted by an association which had not been two years in existence—if it had been "knocked into a cocked hat" by this association, that was an extraordinary admission. He had previously denied using the expressions attributed to him by the right hon. Gentleman—notably, in a letter to the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) six months before; but, notwithstanding, the right hon. Gentleman had thought it right to go down to his constituents and charge him with vulgar audacity. Whatever his speeches might be, he (Mr. Healy) was not in the habit of referring to his opponents as "dolts and fools and asses." When an accusation had been made and formally denied, the right hon. Gentleman ought to have taken the ordinary means, open to him as to everyone else, of assuring himself that the charge he brought was justified.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
said, that no one could have failed to notice, in the course of the debate, the great variety of arguments from the opposite side of the House, all converging on the same lines. They had had speeches from a considerable number of hon. Members, many of whom spoke in the interests of the landlords, and advocated the Previous Question. They had had two able and interesting speeches from hon. Members from Ireland pursuing directly opposite lines of argument, but leading to the same conclusion as those from the Conservative Benches. In fact, the Committee of Inquiry was supported both by the advocates of the Conservative cause and by those of the Land League. That was a very remarkable state of things; but it was to be accounted for by the fact that, although these hon. Members differed in everything else, they were, at least, agreed in one respect—namely, in cordially disliking—and he might even say in hating and fearing—the Land Act. The proposal which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and which had been met by the somewhat singular resort of the Previous Question, was one which affirmed that any inquiry into the operation of the Land Act at present was fraught with 2013 danger and impropriety. He had been listening for the arguments that were to be adduced to negative that proposition, and, without in the slightest degree presuming to underrate the ability of hon. Members who had spoken, he had failed to find any arguments that tended to negative the proposal. It had been pointed out by the Prime Minister that the necessary result of a Committee of Inquiry into an Act which had only been four months in operation would be to interrupt the work of the Commissioners, who, as was alleged by hon. Members on all sides of the House, were already overburdened with work. It would be to cause alarm and discontent among the tenantry of Ireland in reference to the working of the Act, and it would be to imperil the independence of those whose judicial independence ought to be preserved by every means in the power of that House. He had failed to hear any answer to those obvious arguments. There had been a great deal of discussion which would have been interesting and pertinent if the question before the House had been the second reading of the Bill. They had had a great many suggestions as to hardship in individual cases, although, at the same time, the hon. Gentlemen who brought forward those cases themselves renounced the idea of sitting in judgment upon the Commissioners. They had had arguments addressed to them which would go to the repeal of the Act altogether. One hon. Member—the Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick)—said that the clauses of the Act were too loose in their wording, and he drew the inference that, therefore, there ought to be an inquiry into the Act. The hon. Member who last addressed the House—the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy)—drew attention to the 15 years' clause, as regarded judicial leases, and argued that the clause worked injustice. Those were matters which were proper for discussion in the earlier stages of the Act, and it was unnecessary to remind hon. Members that they were debated in the House. This was certainly not the time for the discussion of matters of that kind, and, indeed, all discussion on the subject had been repudiated. Then, how did the matter at present come before the House? In the preliminary discussion which took place on the Motion of the 2014 Prime Minister for the postponement of the Orders of the Day, a remarkable speech was delivered by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), which was noticed by the Prime Minister immediately afterwards. In that speech the hon. Member made a serious attack upon the Land Act. He said he thought the Prime Minister did well to evade inquiry into the Land Act, because he knew perfectly well, and the Government knew well, and the majority of the Sub-Commissioners knew well, that the Act would not bear inquiry for a moment.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
When the Prime Minister came to notice that speech, he drew the attention of the House to the fact that in itself it put in the strongest point of view that which had been repudiated by those who were in favour of this inquiry—namely, that the inquiry would be gone into with a preconceived opinion against the Act and to work out a foregone conclusion. Attention having been drawn to that, the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), when he came to deal with the speech of the Prime Minister, evidently felt himself in a position of very considerable difficulty. He saw at once the fatal mistake which had been fallen into by the hon. Member who preceded him, and he endeavoured to guard himself carefully and cautiously against a repetition of it. Accordingly, his argument was not that the Act was unsatisfactory, but simply that the inquiry of the Committee would be perfectly harmless. The right hon. and learned Gentleman felt himself in considerable difficulty in dealing with the question in that way. In the first instance, he had to deal with the question whether there was a grievous wrong which called for a hasty inquiry under unpreceedented circumstances. With that question the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not grapple. No one disputed the jurisdiction and power of the House of Lords to have a Committee of Inquiry into this or almost any other subject. That was ewithin their power and their right but then, before they exercised it, care should be taken by them that their proceedings did not imperil 2015 the interests they proposed to deal with. Now, if an inquiry of this kind was to be directed by the House of Lords, surely it was a legitimate subject of inquiry whether there was any precedent for such a proceeding. Could any case be cited in which an inquiry into the operation of an Act had been undertaken within four months of its passing, at a time when only 1,300 cases, out of a list of 70,000, had been considered? His right hon. and learned Friend referred to the inquiry which took place upon the Motion of Lord Lifford into the Land Act of 1870. He said it was true that inquiry was ordered 18 months after the passing of the Act instead of four, and that, of course, made some little difference in point of time, but in no other respect did it make any considerable difference at all. But his right hon. and learned Friend made a slight mistake with reference to the date. It was not in February, 1872, that the Committee was asked for; it was in June, 1872, at a time when the Act of 1870 had not been 18 months, but almost two years in operation. It seemed to him (the Solicitor General for Ireland) that there could be but little analogy between inquiry into an Act which had been in operation for two years and one which had only been in operation for four months. It was urged with great force upon the House of Lords by Lord Hatherly (then Lord Chancellor) that an inquiry into an Act, even after a period of two years, was utterly premature; but, nevertheless, the Committee was appointed. Under these circumstances, therefore, an inquiry into the working of this Act four months after it came into operation, was absolutely without precedent, and appeared to him to have no reason or argument to support it. A suggestion had been made in some quarters with reference to limiting the inquiry. In a matter of State policy, which was vital to the highest interests over which the Government presided, the House could not deal with a limitation of the inquiry such as had been suggested, and which, it appeared to him, would be futile—namely, that the Committee should not of necessity inquire into the judicial action of the Commissioners in individual cases. That would leave the whole of the general action of the Commissioners to be ransacked. If there was to be 2016 an inquiry into the operation of the Act, and if the Commissioners were to be examined with reference to it, the only way in which their conduct could be dealt with would be by going into individual cases. At the same time, there would be such obvious danger in such a course that the House would never consent to an inquiry of that kind. Its inconvenience was perfectly manifest. He was far from saying that it would be the wish of the Committee, in investigating individual cases, to discredit the Commissioners or to intimidate them; but that would be the inevitable effect. And even if the Commissioners were firm enough—which it would be almost impossible to expect they should be—to resist that influence on their minds, the people of Ireland would regard the matter in a different light, and nothing but the vote now proposed to the House could avert that result. He did not suggest that any noble Lord on the Committee would be capable of giving an unfair vote on that or on any other question; but men on a Committee of that kind were, after all, but human beings, and even if they were not biased, it would certainly not be believed that they were impartial judges in their own cases, while it was known that some of them were not only large landowners in Ireland themselves, but were impleaded before these very Land Courts at the present moment. That showed that such a Committee appointed under the circumstances which he had mentioned could not have the confidence of those whose confidence in the working of the Act it was most vital to uphold. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), speaking of the duties of the Committee, asked what was meant by the judicial administration of the Land Act—whether it would exclude an inquiry into the operation of the Act and the results of decisions under it; whether it would exclude an inquiry into the rule as to costs; and, whether it would exclude the question of compensation? Compensation was a word that had cropped up more than once in the debate. It had been directly alluded to by some hon. Members and hinted at by others. It appeared that in the view of the right hon. Gentleman, at least, all these matters should be included in the inquiry—namely, the results of the 2017 Commissioners' decisions, their administration of the Act, and the question of compensation. Now, he thought that if there was to be instituted an inquiry to lay a foundation of a claim to compensation, that indirect mode of doing it was not fair treatment of the House of Commons. The fair way to raise that question would be by legislation, by inquiry directed pointedly to that matter; and enough had appeared in the course of the debate already to indicate that one of the deepest, though almost unexpressed anxieties for the appointment of the Committee was the desire to get compensation. It was stated by hon. Members on the Conservative Benches that the Prime Minister had shown a change of front by coming down to the House and saying that he would have been willing, in the interest of public policy, to have waived his objections to any inquiry if the proposal had excluded the judicial action of the Commissioners. That was the offer which had been made in the interests of peace—a proposal conceived in a spirit which must have commended itself to the Opposition, whether they were able to agree to it or not. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not feel themselves able to accept it; and, as a matter of fact, it was not accepted. But the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister never put that forward as his own idea. ["Oh!"] He merely stated that now the Committee had been resolved upon by the other House, he would, in the interests of peace and to avoid a conflict, have been willing to assent to that Committee if it was limited in the way he suggested. That limitation was not made. It appeared, therefore, from the remarks made by the proposer of the Previous Question, that his case amounted merely to this—that the matters to be inquired into were the 1s. stamp on originating notices, which was not enough to cover the expense, and also the administration of the Act as to costs, although the question of costs was the subject of appeal. Other questions were likewise hinted at; but he excluded the judicial action of the Commissioners in the sense which had been objected to. Other speakers who followed the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin did not adopt his line of argument as to the scope of the Committee. The hon. Member for West 2018 Surrey (Mr. Brodrick), although appearing in the first instance to follow it, afterwards changed his course, and asked how, unless the inquiry were directed to the working of the Act, it was possible to stem the current of the Commission. That was the object, then, to stem the current of the Commission—to show that the Commissioners had been doing wrong, and to make them ashamed of their actions. [" Hear, hear," from the Opposition.] Hon. Members opposite cheered that; so, then, the inquiry was to be instituted for that object. Then the inquiry was not for the purpose of ascertaining the truth, but for effecting an end already determined on, a foregone conclusion—to make the Commissioners feel that they had been doing injustice; that they had, in fact, been robbing the landlords, and that the inquiry was instituted solely with that purpose and object. How was the inquiry likely to be received by the public? It was said that it was to be of a harmless character; that the Committee would have no power to overthrow decisions in individual cases, or examine the Commissioners, and, therefore, that it would be merely for the purpose of informing the mind of the Legislature. But if they excluded individual cases and the examination of the Commissioners, what was then left, beyond what was in everybody's hands in the Papers presented to Parliament? That showed there was no sincerity in that argument, because, if they excluded all that, the rest was merely a matter for paper returns. An hon. Member coming after the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, and taking a different view, said that the Commissioners ought not to be examined about their reasons, and that if they were questioned about them they ought to refuse to give them, and that the inquiry would do nobody any harm. Was it seriously contended that such would be the effect? He thought the cheers which he received just now, when he said that the inquiry was intended to show the injustice of the Act, disposed of that argument. The view he had suggested, not only as the probable, but the inevitable result, was the one which had been formed by the public. What was said of this very harmless inquiry, which was to prejudge nothing, and to interfere with nothing, the very day after the Resolution of the Lords was passed, by The 2019 Standard, a paper not at all unfriendly to hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Standard said—It may be as well to explain precisely what this Motion means, and what is the contingency which Ministers now have to face. The powers of a Parliamentary Committee are almost unlimited. Its Members can place any persons whose testimony they consider essential in the witness-box. They can ask them any questions; they can compel the revelation of the most inconvenient secrets. In the present case they can, perhaps, do more even than this. It will be in their power materially to interfere, as Lord Carlingford perceived, with the operations of the Land. Act. The Land Commissioners will inevitably be summoned, and their labours—if they are not actually intermitted, since they will, of course, be summoned singly—must be, to some extent, interfered with. The Dublin Triumvirate will, as the Lord Privy Seal remarked, 'have to be brought to England, and much inconvenience must be occasioned by the stoppage of the work of the Courts.' But the effect of Lord Donoughmore's Motion can scarcely end here. It practically amounts, not only to a censure on the Act of last Session, as that Act has been interpreted by its administrators, but to the temporary paralysis of its machinery. Obviously, Ministers cannot afford to accept the vote of last night in silence. They must reconsider their position, and the country will expect them to define their future course. The House of Lords has virtually withdrawn the assent which it reluctantly gave to the Land Act, on the plea that it was based on false pretences. How will the Government take such a rebuff as this? If the Land Act was originally necessary to prevent civil war in Ireland, what disastrous consequences, in the opinion of the Government, may not the partial arrest of its procedure entail?Well, on the Monday after that publication, the declaration was made by Her Majesty's Government; and that declaration was to the effect that if the Resolution was to be persisted in, then, in the opinion of the Government, it was essential, for the preservation of the vast interests protected by the Act, that the House of Commons, at least, should show the people whom it concerned that, in its opinion, there was no ground for interfering, and no ground for permitting even a temporary paralysis of the measure. Hon. Members who had spoken from below the Gangway attacked the Act from precisely opposite quarters. He did not intend to enter upon, nor follow hon. Members opposite through, the very able arguments they had addressed in reference to the policy of the Act. He had no intention of attempting to controvert their arguments. Time would not permit even if he were anxious to do so. But their point of view 2020 was this—the landlords objected to the Act because it went too far, and because it pulled down rents 25 per cent; but hon. Members below the Gangway objected to the Act in toto, because they were of opinion that it did. not go far enough, and that it had done no good. Therefore they said, somewhat illogically—"Let us submit it to the tender mercies of the House of Lords." The singular coalescence on the subject between the Opposition and the hon. Members below the Gangway was explained by the fact that both had a common end in view. The landlords wanted to get rid of the Act altogether, and they thought that the best way of getting rid of it was to damage and discredit those who were charged with the administration of it. Hon. Members connected with the other Party had the same object in view—namely, to damage and discredit the Act and to get rid of it altogether, because they knew that the Act was doing its work, and that if it remained it would spread its beneficent operation over the whole of Ireland. He knew the great admiration with which its provisions were regarded in the Province of Ulster; and he knew, further, that the Act itself was, at this very moment, spreading rapidly and widely in the Province of Munster and in other parts of Ireland. He had proofs of that which he could cite if time allowed. In parts of the county of Cork the Act was getting under weigh, and the people were now turning towards it. A singular illustration of that fact occurred the other day in connection with an incident which for some time past had been made use of against law and order, and which had been very commonly employed throughout the country. Hunting had been stopped in many places. It had been regarded as one of the worst signs of Irish feeling that sport should have been interfered with and stopped; and in one part of the county of Cork in which hunting had been stopped, he knew from reliable authority that not only was the hunt recently allowed to go on, but that a large number of young farmers attended the meet, and formed a guard to protect those who were engaged in the hunt and to prevent anything in the shape of obstruction. [Mr. HEALY: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman name the place?] He could do so, but he did not think that it would be ad- 2021 visable. A good many other topics had been referred to in the course of the debate. The hon. Baronet the Member for Coleraine (Sir Hervey Bruce) had stated that, in his opinion, there was hardly a tenant in Ireland who would not prefer that the Act should not have been passed. He was not quite certain whether the hon. Baronet referred to the Act of 1870, or to the Act of 1881; but it struck him as being a very remarkable utterance from the Province to which the hon. Baronet belonged, in which his property was situated, and in which the hon. Baronet had had the disastrous litigation in the Law Courts to which he had referred. It was a somewhat strange thing, therefore, to assert that the tenants did not like the Act. The hon. Baronet asserted that the landlords throughout the country had found it impossible to provide either valuers or witnesses. Surely it was a singular circumstance, even in the county of Londonderry, that the hon. Baronet found it impossible to obtain witnesses.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
thought it was strange that such a thing should be said in regard to the county of Londonderry and the neighbourhood of Coleraine, where the entire district was as peaceful as any part of England.
§ SIR HERVEY BRUCE
It was not on account of fear that I was unable to obtain a valuator; but because I could not get the persons I wanted.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
said, he was glad that he had afforded the hon. Baronet an opportunity of explaining. Perhaps the other cases might be explained by the same reason. After all, what was to be done? It was said that the Land Court was hopelessly blocked, and that 70,000 cases remained for hearing. Wore they, then, to wait until the Committee of the House of Lords should make their Report? The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) had commented upon the slow operation of the Act, and he (the Solicitor General for Ireland) had interrupted the hon. Gentleman in order to supply him with information. A Return had recently been laid upon the Table, which was brought down to the 24th of February, and it showed that the 2022 Court had fixed rents by decree in 2,365 cases; while in 841 cases the applications had either been dismissed or withdrawn. In addition to these there had been agreements between the parties to fix fair rents, and filed in Court, under the provisions of the Act, in 2,180 cases, making a total number of judicial rents fixed up to the 24th of February of 5,386. This represented the result of four months' working of the Act, and was at the rate of something like 16,000 cases a-year. It was, however, quite obvious that the tendency would be towards an increase in the despatch of business, and in the number of cases that would be settled. He regarded it as one of the most important results of the Act that, after the decisions arrived at in the cases already heard, both landlords and tenants saw that it was not to their interest to enter into litigation, but to come to terms as speedily as possible. In the first three months decisions were only arrived at in 1,300 cases; in four months the total was 5,386, thus showing a very considerable acceleration of the rate of progress. It was further to be remarked that there were parts of the country in which the cases for hearing were comparatively few. When the remainder wore decided the Commissioners would be set free to devote their energies to other parts of the country where the cases were more numerous, such as Tyrone and Mayo, adverted to by his hon. Friend who sat behind him. The right hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks - Beach) had spoken of a matter which was personal to himself (the Solicitor General for Ireland)—namely, the speeches which he had delivered in the Londonderry Election. It was said that he had dealt with this subject very lightly, or had passed it over as if he regarded it as something unworthy of consideration. In the speech which he delivered the other night, he did refer to the Londonderry Election speeches, at what, he feared, had been wearisome length. He had stated then, and he would repeat now, what he had said in reference to the Sub-Commissioners being appointed only for a year, and what had afforded the ground for a complaint that they were partizan appointments. He had never dreamt for a moment of acting upon the Sub-Com- 2023 missioners in any shape or manner. He had nothing to do with the Commissioners at all; but he was dealing with the electors, and his argument, whether it was right or wrong, was a fair one. It was this—Many of the Leaders and Members of the Conservative Party had been decrying the Act as one of spoliation, and also alleging against the Government that the Government had been guilty of a breach of faith, inasmuch as the decisions had not been what the Government had held out to the public they would be; and under the circumstances, if a Conservative Government came into power, and found these offices open, what would be done? Those who considered it a reproach against the present Government that they had not controlled the action of the Commissioners, and who were also of opinion that the action of the Commissioners amounted to robbery and spoliation, might not only think themselves justified, but bound to select persons for these offices who would not be guilty of the crime. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who spoke upon this subject in a speech which, with the exception of one portion of it, he (the Solicitor General for Ireland) had much admired, had done him the honour to refer to his election speeches; but the right hon. Baronet did not refer to the whole of them. If the right hon. Baronet had read the whole of them—a labour which the right hon. Gentleman would scarcely think it necessary to undergo—he would have found that, over and over again, he (the Solicitor General for Ireland) had urged the people to go to the Land Court, because, even if they failed to obtain a reduction of rent, they would get fixity of tenure and security for improvements, which would be, in itself, a substantial advantage. He never said that they should go, because the necessary result would be to obtain a reduction of rent. He did speak of one case in which the rent, he thought, had not been sufficiently reduced. He thought so then, and he thought so still. It was, however, upon a point of law upon which he was asked an opinion, and he gave it. It was not pleasant to be obliged to refer to these matters; but he cordially re-echoed the opinions he had expressed in his election speeches as to what ought to be the operation of the 2024 Land Act. Although the question of fair rents was a vital one, and one that lay at the very threshold of the settlement of the Land Question, nevertheless, it must be subsidiary to the all-important one of the Purchase Clauses, for in the Purchase Clauses of the Act would ultimately be found its great success. After a period of so much depression, it was not to be wondered at that these clauses had not come much into operation; and it was impossible to arrive at a conclusion in regard to the working of any particular portion of the measure after an experience of four months. It was hardly to be expected that the tenants would be able to go into Court and purchase now. If it could be shown, after the Act had had a fair trial, and after a full opportunity had been afforded for development, that these clauses could be improved, in order to prevent people from being kept away from the Court, then would be the time for giving assistance in that direction, and he thought it was the right direction in which any attempt to develop the Act should be made. In the meantime let the Act have fair play. That was all that he asked for it. Do not discredit it in the first instance. Do not impute corruption and dishonesty to everybody connected with its administration. If they did they were acting with partiality, and unfairly to themselves. The 36 men chosen to administer the Act had, as had been stated over and over again by his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, been selected with anxious care to obtain the services of the persons most fit to discharge the duties. It was no little compliment to the working of the Act that it should be assailed equally on both sides. It was said that it was an Act that pleased nobody. There were just two parties to the Act—the landlords and the tenants—and looking to the North, South, East, or West, there were only those two interests concerned. If the Act pleased the landlords in all respects, it could not please the tenants; if, on the other hand, it thoroughly satisfied the tenants, the fact would be an argument, and a strong argument, that it was unjust to the landlords. It was precisely because the Act was assailed with vehemence by the landlords as being unjust to them, and going too far in favour of the tenants, and, on the other hand, assailed by 2025 the tenants, because it went too far in favour of the landlords, that he had arrived at the conclusion that it was a just and fair Act; and he now asked the House to allow nothing, at least at present, to counteract its operation.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he desired, on the present occasion, very briefly to address the House. He had no intention of following his hon. and learned Friend through all the matters which he had put forward so clearly and so well from his point of view, in reference to the operation of the Land Act. He (Mr. Plunket) had had an opportunity, not many days ago, of discussing those subjects before the House; and he should not again trespass upon its patience as to them. What he was desirous of calling the attention of the House to was the position they were in at present owing to the Motion of the Prime Minister—a position in which, as far as he could see, they were likely to continue for a long time. What had been the course of the debate ever since the Prime Minister sat down, after the wonderful speech in which he introduced in the House of Commons this attack upon the privileges of the other House of Parliament? There had been a series of speeches from opposite quarters all delivered at haphazard, and pointing to no definite conclusion whatever. But, with scarcely an exception, they had agreed upon two points—that was, in very serious criticism of the working of the Land Act of last year, and in the urgent demand for an inquiry into its operation. It was impossible to foretell exactly how long the debate was likely to continue if the Prime Minister insisted on keeping this Resolution upon the Order Book, for certainly it was a challenge to everyone who had not already delivered his sentiments on the subject to criticize the Land Act, either from the point of view of the regular Opposition, or from the point of view of hon. Members below the Gangway, or from that of the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson), who himself wished to see a considerable alteration in one part of the Act. It was quite clear that the interest of the debate did not centre in the Motion of the Prime Minister, which amounted, practically, to a Vote of Censure upon the House of Lords. It involved, in addition, a general defence of the Land Act and a far-reaching discussion into the 2026 working of that measure. In the first place, he proposed to refer very shortly to the grounds upon which the Prime Minister presented his invitation to the House of Commons to pass this grave censure upon the other House of Parliament. Such was the wonderful rhetoric of the right hon. Gentleman, and so consummate an actor he was, that he (Mr. Plunket) had, in reality, been almost carried away by the right hon. Gentleman before he concluded his address, and he did think that something serious or terrible had been done, or was going to be done, by the House of Lords. The precedents quoted were precedents in some of the gravest crises in the history of the country, and they were presented to the House as though they were cases exactly analogous to the present position. But when he came to study the matter he found that all the precedents brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman related to great occasions when the other House of Parliament had passed important Motions, which were intended as direct Votes of Censure, and which carried with them the total condemnation of the Ministry of the day, disabling them from administering their proper functions. But the present action of the House of Lords was nothing of that kind. It was simply the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the working of an Act of Parliament, which was the law of the land, and for which the Government were not responsible, save in respect of the appointments they had made under it, as it had been passed by Parliament itself. [A laugh.] The Home Secretary laughed; but the right hon. and learned Gentleman must very well understand the difference, and he would not attempt to deny it in debate. There was one precedent which had not been referred to by the Prime Minister, but which had been alluded to that evening by the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson)—namely, the Committee which was appointed in 1872 to inquire into the working of the Land Act of 1870. The hon. Member for Tyrone spoke of that Committee as one which had carried terror and consternation into the hearts of the Irish tenantry. The hon. Member said that the Chairmen of County Courts, who were intrusted with the carrying out of the Act, had been terrified or intimidated. Nothing could 2027 possibly be further from the reality. The hon. Member was under a total misapprehension. He (Mr. Plunket) had often heard the proceedings of that Committee discussed. The Committee certainly inquired into the working of the Act by the Chairmen of County Courts. The charge against these gentlemen was that, under their administration, there was a great diversity of judgments, which rendered the operation of the Act altogether unsatisfactory. But the first thing the Committee of the House of Lords stated in their Report was that they were of opinion, upon the evidence which had been placed before them, that it was not expedient to make any change in the constitution of the tribunal. Passing away from the matter of precedent, he found that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister founded his case upon two very serious statements. He said, in the first place, that the Government could hardly be responsible for the peace of Ireland if the Resolution appointing a Committee of the House of Lords were allowed to remain unanswered by the House of Commons. But what illustrations or what evidence did the right hon. Gentleman bring forward in support of this assertion? He said that the Ulster men, who were attached to the Land Act last year, were prepared at once, on the appointment of a Committee, to recede from the ranks of loyalty to it and to join the ranks of the Land League.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he had never stated that the Ulster tenants were prepared to recede from the ranks of loyalty; but what he had said was that if any change was made in the administration of the Land Act, they would be prepared to take part in an agitation on very advanced lines.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he had not referred to the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson), but to the Prime Minister, who certainly said that the tenants of Ulster, who were in favour of the Land Act last year, were prepared, on the appointment of the Lords' Committee, to join the ranks of the Land League. At the time this remarkable statement was made by the Prime Minister, he (Mr. Plunket) thought it was a strange commentary upon the two years of Office enjoyed by the right hon. Gentleman, after the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman in his campaign 2028 in Mid Lothian in reference to the condition of Ireland. He was glad to find that now the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. A. Dickson), as well as the hon. Baronet who sat behind him (Sir Hervey Bruce), had given a very different opinion upon that subject; and he (Mr. Plunket) for, his own part, certainly did not concur in the view expressed by the Prime Minister. He had seen and heard a good deal of the men of Ulster, and this he did know—that they were the last men in the world to be carried away by an influence of that kind. He had no fear whatever that the inquiry of a Committee of the House of Lords into the working of the Land Act would turn them all into Land Leaguers. It was not very long ago that he himself had seen the men of Cavan and of Monaghan meeting the Land League foot to foot, and hand to hand, on the farm of Captain Boycott; and was he to be told that in two short years they were to be converted into Land Leaguers themselves, not because the Land Act was to be repealed, but merely because a Committee was to sit and inquire into its operation? He had most carefully read the speech of the Prime Minister, and, as far as he could gather, that was the most serious ground upon which he proposed his Vote of Censure upon the House of Lords. But the right hon. Gentleman said, also—and he (Mr. Plunket) was sorry to hear the statement made—that one or two gentlemen had sent instructions to their agents to recall the offers they had made to their tenants for a settlement out of Court. He (Mr. Plunket) did not propose to enter into that subject again. He had been recently able to explain what these settlements out of Court came to; and if the House would permit him, he would read a letter which put the case in a nutshell, and would not only give the House to understand the true position of many an Irish landlord at the present time, but would enable them to see the sense in which they were induced to make these settlements out of Court. The letter was written by a gentleman with whom he was personally acquainted, and who was a Justice of the Peace for the County of Mayo. The writer said—Will you kindly inform me is there any prospect of a stay being put upon the wholesale confiscation now going on through this country? 2029 Several of my cases, you may remember, came before the Ballina Sub-Commission last November. The decisions given there were very adverse—in my 11 cases reducing me on an average 6 per cent below Griffith's valuation. I lodged appeals, trusting the inequity of these proceedings might receive some cheek; but how I am to pay the costs already incurred I really do not know.He (Mr. Plunket) was sorry to say that he knew this story was only too true. The writer went on to say—I fear I must not only withdraw from these appeals, but endeavour to arrange with my other tenants—upwards of 100 more—on the basis of the decisions already given, however unjust I may feel them to be…Where am I to find the money? Last November I was compelled to appeal to some relatives in England for pecuniary assistance, as I and my family were on the brink of starvation. I wish I could make these facts known to the English public. I, for one, am a ruined man by the operation of this Act. I, unfortunately, raised money to lay out in improvements. The interest must be paid, and the 34 per cent reductions being made sweep away half the balance of income I had calculated on for the support of my family. I have now not more than £160 a-year to live on, and should have been bettor off had I not laid out a shilling in improvements. I raised money from the Board of Works too, and a letter from their Solicitor, received last night, threatens legal proceedings. I am simply a ruined man, and have decided on emigrating to Australia.This was by no means a solitary instance, for there were numbers of other persons in the same position. Through the last two years of agitation, when no money was allowed to be paid in the shape of rent, he could mention to the House cases of a most painful character, which would really make hon. Members pity these poor people. Not only men, but women of gentle birth, were reduced to such straits that they had actually had to go to the poor house, and, as he himself knew in one case, to the lunatic asylum, driven mad by the sufferings they were forced to endure. And now, after those two years of agitation against payment of rent, there came the Land Act, which was sweeping away, either by decisions in the Land Court, or by these forced settlements out of Court, one-quarter of their income. Without speaking of any particular case, he wanted to know whether, if such results as these were alleged on good authority, there ought not to be an opportunity afforded either of proving or disproving them? He had no wish to trouble the House too long at that hour of the night; 2030 but he wished to say one word more in regard to the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for Ireland. His hon. and learned Friend had put his case in a way in which it was difficult for any other hon. Member to follow him. He would be the last to accuse his hon. and learned Friend of any intentionally corrupt or improper motive; but what did his case amount to? His hon. and learned Friend frankly admitted that in the course of his electioneering proceedings he did put a question as to the judicial appointments. "What will happen," he asked, "if there is a change of Government?" And he justified it on this ground—that if the Tories came in they might appoint judicial officers who were favourable to the landlords. His hon. and learned Friend was logician enough to know that that involved the contrary proposition, and held out the expectation that if the Liberals remained in Office they would appoint Judges more favourable to the tenant. There was another point on which he desired to say a few words, and that was in reference to what were called the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act of 1870; and if the House would permit him, he would take the present opportunity of clearing himself, and those who sat near him, of an accusation which had been often brought against them, and, he must add, repeated by the First Commissioner of Works on every occasion when the question relating to Irish laud was the subject of discussion. Three or four times during the last Parliament he had brought the right hon. Gentleman to book, and shown that his accusations were absolutely devoid of foundation; but in respect of those occasions it would seem that the memory of the right hon. Gentleman failed him. Attacking him personally, he said that he (Mr. Plunket) had thwarted him on the Committee, the object of which was to deal with the Blight Clauses, and that, but for his clogging the wheels of its machinery, the labours of the Committee, which extended over a period of two years, would have been of less duration. It was not right to say he had thwarted him at all. He wished the House to understand that, so far as he in any way checked the rather headlong career of the right hon. Gentleman at that time, he never had opposed him in 2031 the interests of the landlords at all. At that time the right hon. Gentleman was not sitting on the Government side of the House, while it was his (Mr. Plunket's) fortune to represent the Government of the day upon that important Committee. The opposition which came from him was offered in the interest of the tenants and ratepayers. He always said that, whoever else might lose by these clauses, the landlord must be benefited. But there was one point on which he had opposed the right hon. Gentleman, whose theory was that every kind of tenant ought to be made a peasant proprietor, and who stated in his Report that it was greatly to be desired that a large number of small tenant proprietors should be created. Upon that point he differed from the right hon. Gentleman at the time, and he differed from him still. The Committee divided upon that question, and he (Mr. Plunket) proposed to substitute the words "solvent tenants" in place of "small tenants." There were also some proposals with regard to machinery for working these Bright Clauses, to which he could not agree; but to accuse him, and those sitting near him, of having refused him any sanction or encouragement was really too bad; and this was the last time he should ask leave to speak on that subject, although, from former experience of his right hon. Friend, he had not the least doubt that he would present the accusation again as fresh as ever on a future occasion. In closing the few observations which he offered to the House on this subject, in 1879, he said that—Should the Government adopt the Resolution of the First Commissioner of Works, they would find ample material to work upon in the evidence and abundance of suggestions contained in the various Reports of the Committee…It was not a question between landlord and tenant. He believed that when the tenants of Ireland came to understand all the benefits offered to them by these 'Bright Clauses' of the Act of 1870, they would avail themselves much more frequently of its advantages than was the case at present."—[3 Mansard, ccxlv. 1622.]And the present Leader of the Opposition, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the end of the speech which he made upon the same occasion, said, with regard to their taking immediate action upon the Resolution, that—It must be remembered that there are a great many measures—some already on the 2032 Table, and others actually promised—besides which we do not get on with our Business as fast as we could wish, having to spend a day or two of each week in discussing Votes of Censure. Nevertheless, I do not at all abandon the idea that even before the close of the Session we may be able to make some proposal which will advance the object of the Motion."—[Ibid. 1668.]And yet, in the face of these statements, the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works said that they were always opposed to the policy which he advocated. He thanked the House for having listened to him so far, and concluded by expressing his opinion that it was a lamentable and unfortunate thing that the House should be called upon to spend its time in discussing the present Motion, which, in itself, had a most shadowy foundation in expediency, and which had gravity and importance only in the lime-light of the Prime Minister's eloquence. The Lords' Committee, as they all knew, had now gone more than half-way to meet the only serious objection to the inquiry; and if the Government still persisted in wasting time in a long and rambling debate in order to pass a Vote of Censure upon the other House, he believed the public opinion of this country would be that such conduct was unnecessary, aggressive, and vindictive.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Charles Russell.)
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.