HC Deb 24 July 1885 vol 299 cc1789-800

, in whose name the following Motion stood on the Paper:— That, in the opinion of this House, the oppressive character of Mr. Sub-Commissioner Walpole's relations with his own tenantry, and the general public distrust justly inspired by his decisions, render it undesirable that he should continue to be intrusted with the administration of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, said, that though under the circum-stances he was disposed to be merciful to the Government in the length of his observations, still ho was afraid that it would not be merciful to the tenantry of Ireland if he were to forego calling the attention of the House to the matter, and, after all, these were the first persons in his consideration. No doubt, it seemed scarcely worth while for him to call attention to the work of any particu- lar Sub-Commissioner in Ireland, for just at present it was pretty generally admitted that the whole system of fixing judicial rents in Ireland by Mr. Justice O'Hagan and his Colleagues was a disastrous and ridiculous failure and it was confessed that the whole thing should be immediately overhauled, and the settlement of the Land Question set about in a totally different direction. However, this gentleman, Mr. Walpole, was specially distinguished by his endeavour to frustrate the operations of the Land Act, and, perhaps, he had done more than any other man to bring the Land Act into disrepute. The Commission, of whom Mr. Walpole was the most influential member, was spread over the greater portions of the counties of Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, and in these districts Mr. Walpole had been applying to the unfortunate farmers whose cases came before him the same sharp practice that he exercised with his own unfortunate tenantry. Specific charges were made against him, and the Chief Commissioners were besought to investigate them; but they refused to do anything of the kind, adopting the usual Dublin Castle method of backing up an official whether he was right or wrong. Mr. Walpole was himself a landlord of the very worst type which had made landlordism so detested in Ireland. He was a retired grocer, who had purchased a small estate in the Landed Estates Court, for the purpose of making a commercial profit out of it by trafficking in and confiscating the improvements of his own unfortunate tenants. He would give a specimen, of Mr. Walpole's dealings with his own tenants, so that the House might judge of the sort of man who was administering the Land Act. When he purchased his property Mr. Walpole increased the rents on it until they amounted to twice Griffith's valuation; and this model Sub-Commissioner, who was set up to teach other landlords to be just to their tenantry, actually tried, according to a case that came before Mr. Justice O'Hagan, to impose on one of his tenants, named Higgins, a lease containing two covenants, the grossest, most penal, and confiscatory that could possibly be framed. By one of the clauses of that lease ho attempted to bind the tenants to renounce all claims for compensation under the Land Act of 1870, and by another this provident Sub-Commissioner sought to make him renounce all benefits in the future under any subsequent Land Act that might ever be passed. In other words, this gentleman sought to deprive his own tenant of all benefit from an Act to administer which he was himself now receiving £700 a year. How could it be expected that such a man could administer the Land Act fairly or honestly. The tenant had refused to sign the lease, but having continued the negotiations his claim for a fair rent had been refused by Judge O'Hagan. Unfortunately Mr. Walpole had shown consistency in Be far that he had acted in a precisely similar manner in his Land Court, as in the case of his own tenants. Mr. James Byrne, J.P., of Wallstown Castle, gave in The Farmers' Gazette a list of cases in which the landlords themselves had actually given substantial reductions on Mr. Walpole's judicial rack rents. On one estate, that of Mr. Purcell, with which he was acquainted himself, the agent accepted a rent of £130 for a farm the rent of which was fixed by Mr. Walpole at £150. In another case at Dungarvan the landlord's valuator valued the land at £27, and Mr. Walpole fixed the rent at £42. Looking over the Return of the judicial rents of this Commissioner for the month of April, he found that no abatement was made, and that upon the whole the rents were left at 33 per cent above the Government valuation, and that in the one case in which the rent was fixed by consent a reduction was made from £270 a-year to £160. The consequence was that tenants would not face the Land Court, but were driven to other means of getting their rents reduced. As to the case of the Earl of Egmont, the agent on this estate was Mr. French. He was a brother landlord and near neighbour of Mr. Walpole in Queen's County. They were frequently together, and he should not be surprised if the tenants drew their own conclusions from seeing the grinding landlord and the Land Commissioner driving together. In addition there was Mr. Bolster, who was a valuer under the Act, and he was cousin to Mr. Walpole. He thought, at any rate, seeing that £80,000 was paid to carry out this Act every year, the law should be so carried out as to be above reproach. Thirty tenants on the Egmont estate had presented a Memorial to the Chief Commissioners making specific charges against Mr. Walpole, and yet they had refused to investigate them. As long as things were as they were— as long as these reports were flying about against Mr. Walpole without any attempt being made to investigate them, so long should he express his indignation and so long should he declare that the appointment was a positive cause of disturbance. The hon. Member con-eluded by moving his Resolution.


seconded the Motion. As long as they continued to maintain a rack-renter as Sub-Commissioner so long would they find that the administration of the Act was a farce. There never was a set of thieves who clung together more closely than the landlords of Ireland; and, as to Mr. Walpole, he had fixed rents so totally wrong that even the landlords had voluntarily reduced them. He hoped the new Government would deal fairly with this matter. A great many bad characters in Ireland, from Lord Spencer downwards, had lost their positions by the fall of the late Government.


I must inform the hon. Member that that is not a respectful way to speak of any Member of the other House. I must ask him to withdraw the expression?


Which expression?


The expression just used with regard to Lord Spencer.


Which expression?


The hon. Member knows perfectly well what expression.


HOW can the hon. Member withdraw if he does not know what expression you object to? What is it?


I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the expression he used?


said, he would, of course, withdraw immediately anything Mr. Speaker liked. If he had spoken in a disrespectful way of a Member of the Upper House, it was not at all his intention to transgress the Rules of the House or anything of that kind. Of course, he knew that there were a great many things which a Member was allowed to say outside the House which he could not say inside; and so he should withdraw and reserve what he had to say as to Lord Spencer and others until he went back to Ireland. A great many persons had been removed from their offices in consequence of the change of Government, and if Mr. Walpole should be removed a great deal would be done to allay the suspicion with which the administration of the Land Act was regarded in Ireland. Mr. Walpole was a man who, above all others connected with the administration of the Act, had made himself obnoxious.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the oppressive character of Mr. Sub-Commissioner Walpole's relations with his own tenantry, and the general public distrust justly inspired by his decisions, render it undesirable that he should continue to be intrusted with the administration of the Land Law (Ireland) Act,"—[Mr. O'Brien,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that the hon. Member who had just spoken had made an observation which very much surprised him and which ought to receive some notice. The hon. Member said it was fortunate that observations could be made outside the House which would not be allowed in it. But perhaps some hon. Members found it more fortunate that observations could be made within the House which would not be made outside it. They had been told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that Mr. Walpole defrauded his tenants, and was a landlord of the very worst character, and that it was a notorious fact that a set of thieves never stick together more than the landlords of Ireland. His (Mr. Lewis's) belief was, from all the testimony they had heard from the other side of the House, that this gentleman was a highly respectable man. He was sure that Mr. Walpole would not have been so vindictively attacked from the other side of the House if he had not been deserving of the respect of all honourable men. It was somewhat surprising they should be told that a landlord was not fit to be a Sub-Commissioner, because he was an interested party. Well, if that was so, a tenant, for the same reason, ought not to be ap- pointed. Everyone who knew anything of Courts was aware that the discontent of litigants knew no bounds, and that each man believed his own case to be better than his opponent's. he was not, however, aware of any attacks similar to this having been made in that House, either on a Land Commissioner or Sub-Commissioner with reference to the administration of the law in Ireland. But, if that House was to be made a Court of Appeal, not against any particular decision, but against the men who gave those decisions, all ho could say was that it would be impossible to suppose there could be any respect for the administration of justice in Ireland. It was said by the hon. Member who introduced this Motion that nine-tenths of the people of Ireland believed that Mr. Walpole was a perfectly abandoned character. He (Mr. Lewis) trusted they would hear from the Government during the night something of the position and character of this gentleman. On the Ministerial side of the House it was believed that the majority of the Land Commissioners were more in sympathy with the tenants than with the landlord. Their decisions, although always favourable to the tenants, were, nevertheless, always submitted to. He trusted the Treasury Bench would not countenance these charges against the Irish officials. If this was the way in which all persons connected with the administration of justice in Ireland were to be attacked from time to time in the various departments and stages of their duty, there would be very little prospect of any law being obeyed in Ireland.


said, with a full sense of the responsibility imposed on him in speaking of an absent man, he believed this gentleman—and he knew the locality—was very severe in the exaction of his rents—a quality which ought not to have recommended him to a Chief Secretary for appointment; that great dissatisfaction was caused by his decisions; and that he was not competent for the office either from his knowledge of the value of the land or the working of the Land Commission.


said, that the Mover and Seconder of the Motion had made a violent attack on the Sub-Commissioners in general and on Mr. Walpole in particular, as well as on the mode in which the Land Act was carried out. But he was not responsible in any sense for the passing of that Act or the appointment of the Commissioners or Sub-Commissioners. He did not think that the House was called upon to pronounce any judgment on the character of Mr. Walpole as a landlord; but, so far as he could gather, there was no foundation whatever for the vague charges—[Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND: Not vague charges at all.]— levelled against Mr. Walpole for his conduct as a Sub-Commissioner. A Memorial containing various charges against Mr. Walpole had been presented to the Commissioners; they took the greatest possible pains to investigate the matter; and not only from the evidence in their own office, but from every kind of evidence that could be brought before them, they came to the conclusion that the charges were absolutely groundless. It had been said that there was some complicity between him and Lord Egmont's agent, Captain French. It was said that he had driven about with him upon an outside car. It was said that upon one occasion ho had stopped for one night at the same hotel as that gentleman, and also that he had given Mr. Walpole a "lift" upon his car. [Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND: He gave him several "lifts."] But he was informed that this gentleman was an absolute stranger to Mr. Walpole. Mr. Walpole was not solely responsible for these decisions; he was one of three Commissioners, and these three Commissioners were responsible in all cases for these decisions. The hon. Member for Mallow had stated that Mr. Walpole's conduct had been of such a character as to drive tenants out of the Court; but he had made inquiry into the matter, and it appeared that at the time Mr. Walpole assumed office there had been only five applications by tenants. He did not think that he should detain the House further. He had done all that he could to find out about these allegations. But he was convinced, both from his researches and the inquiries of the Land Commissioners, that there were no grounds whatever for them; and he thought that if there was any ground for objection to Mr. Walpole's decisions, the Court of Appeal would be a more fitting tribunal in which to try them than the House of Commons.


said that, accustomed as the Irish were in that House to hear lame defences by the Chief Secretary, he did not believe that in all his experience he had ever hoard a more helpless attempt at a defence than that which had just been presented by the Chief Secretary as to the serious charges made against this official by the hon. Member for Mallow. He had insinuated that the charges made were vague; but he believed that he had never heard anything more clear or specific than the case which had been presented by his hon. Friend. He remembered the great shock which the appointment to the Land Commission of Mr. Walpole had given the country. He was a man whoso evil reputation was widely known. He was a rack-renting landlord of the very worst type—a man who, having been successful in some pettifogging trade, bought land, and at once became an odious tyrant and rack-renter. He had a character which had received full confirmation since his appointment as a Land Commissioner. He asked what kind of proof the right hon. Gentleman wanted? Every public board—Boards of Guardians and Town Commissioners—and public body whose representative character enabled it to express a reliable opinion on behalf of the people had passed resolutions denouncing his onesided and partizan conduct. Surely no better proof than that was required in support of his hon. Friend's statement. In many cases even the landlords themselves, instead of accepting Mr. Walpole's decisions, had actually given reductions, and cases could be shown in which the judicial rent fixed by Mr. Walpole amounted to 40 per cent in excess of the landlord's own valuings. In the counties of Cork, Waterford, and Limerick there existed such a strong and widespread feeling of discontent that it was positively dangerous to the administration of the Act. It was most unfair to the tenants to have such a man to decide their cases, and many of them refused to go near the Court at all where he acted as Sub-Commissioner, feeling convinced that they thereby would only incur useless expenditure in costs, in addition to their loss of time.


said, he could assure the House that it was with very considerable pain that hon. Members sitting in that quarter of the House had heard the right hon. Gentleman attempting such a forlorn and hopeless task as the defence of this official. He was sorry to see the present Government falling into the errors of its Predecessors in attempting to defend everybody. There had been no stronger case over brought before the House. The block in the Appeal Court was something both disgraceful and hopeless. He had a letter in his hand from a tenant who had served an originating notice so far back as four years ago to have a fair rout fixed by the Sub-Commission. He went into the Appeal Court; but up to the present there was not the least sign of the case being heard. The whole country was waiting for relief against the appeals which blocked the Land Court. He believed that an official of the stamp of Mr. Walpole, who fixed rents in some cases so much above the valuation even of the landlord's valuers that the landlords themselves refused to abide by his decisions, and reduced the rents fixed by him themselves, was a man who really did even the landlords more injury than good.


said, speaking as a landlord himself in Ireland, he believed that conduct of the kind which had been described was really injurious to the interests of the landlords. He believed, however, that the question whether Mr. Walpole's conduct was of the nature described should be investigated by some independent tribunal.


said, he believed that this was really a case which the Government should consider seriously. There was, no doubt, very widespread dissatisfaction at the decisions of Mr. Walpole. The fact was that that gentleman had only had experience of very good land, and was really not competent to decide in cases where the value of poor land was called in question. Without wishing to make any invidious or hard attack upon Mr. Walpole, he would suggest that he might be transferred to some other part of Ireland. Some effort should also be made to expedite the heaving of appeals.


said, he knew nothing personally about Mr. Walpole; but he was able to state that his action as a Land Commissioner had given rise to the utmost discontent, Resolutions had been passed by numerous Boards of Guardians expressing want of confidence in him.


said, it seemed to him that the Government would do well to be influenced by the advice given them by the hon. and gallant Member for Cork (Colonel Colthurst), who, not being a Gentleman who usually acted with the Irish Party, had spoken from a different point of view. He (Mr. Biggar) believed that it was the interest of the landlords to prevent such grievances as gave rise to agitation. The time had come when the number of Sub-Commissioners should be reduced. At any rate, the Government could not expect to get rid of agitation in respect to the administration of the Land Act while they retained the services of Sub-Commissioners like Mr. Walpole, who failed in inspire general confidence in his decisions.


thought it was clear from that discussion that the administration of the Land Act by that gentleman was not likely to give satisfaction to the Irish people; and ho would suggest that the Government should consider whether they could not see their way to having some inquiry made into that matter. The evidence in favour of inquiry was certainly as strong as it was in the Maamtrasna case.


said, he thought that the observation of the Chief Secretary had been misunderstood. The only charges, as far as he was aware, which were brought forward against Mr. Sub-Commissioner Walpole were contained in a Memorial that was presented in October, 1884, to the Irish Land Commission. That document contained some general observations in reference to the way in which Mr. Walpole had acted as a Sub-Commissioner; and then it set forth certain specific charges. It then became the duty of the Land Commissioners, as the Body nominated by the Legislature for the purpose, to inquire into that matter; and, after having obtained all such information as would enable them to form a judgment upon it, they came to the conclusion that both the general and the specific charges against Mr. Walpole were without foundation.


Did they take the evidence of a single memorialist? ["Order!"]


said, that the charges were dealt with by the Body which the Legislature had appointed, and which made the investigation in the ordinary way. That investigation having been so made, the result was the acquittal of Mr. Walpole not only of the general, but also of the specific charges preferred against him; and if the Government were now to say that the matter would be re-opened, it would not be a censure upon Mr. Walpole, but a censure upon the Land Commission, because it would be conveying to the Commission that they had not done their duty on a matter that had been brought before them. On the result of the investigation which had taken place the Government were prepared to stand.


said, he considered there were grounds for inquiry, and he should support the appeal made to the Government by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Law-son).


said, he happened to know the county in which the property of Mr. Walpole was situated. He had a number of tenants bound down by papers, which he called leases, prepared in a dexterous manner, which deprived the tenants of the benefit of the Land Act. The whole population of Queen's County had been aghast when they had heard of the appointment of Mr. Walpole, knowing, as they did, his relations towards his own tenants; and their forebodings had been fully justified. The people in Mr. Walpole's sub-division would not regard the proceedings in his Court as judicial in any sense. They looked upon him as having been placed in his present position by landlord influence, in order to maintain the level of judicial rents as high as possible. It should also be borne in mind that the inquiry that had taken place was confined to those who were interested in whitewashing Mr. Walpole.


said, he thought the answer of the Attorney General for Ireland was one which would hardly be seriously regarded. The inquiry which had been made into the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred had been utterly insufficient, and no real evidence had been taken. He could assure the Government that this was a very grave matter. The judicial character of Mr. Walpole was seriously attacked, and a large amount of collateral evidence was brought forward in support of the charge brought against him. He hoped that the Government would look into this matter in the interests of everyone who desired a settlement of the Irish question on a permanent basis. There could be no doubt that the retention of Mr. Walpole on the Bench would prove a great impediment to the agrarian policy which the present Government had entered upon with regard to Ireland.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words" in the opinion of this House, the general public distrust inspired by the decisions of Mr. Sub-Commissioner Walpole renders it desirable that further inquiry should be made into his administration of the Land Law (Ireland) Act,"—{Mr. O'Brien,) —instead thereof.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 123; Noes 32: Majority 91.—(Div. List, No. 247.)

Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."