§ (Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Colonel King-Harman.)
§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.) ,
in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, it was perfectly monstrous that the country should be paying something like 961 £100,000 per annum in order that Irish landlords should be compelled to do what English and Scotch landlords did from choice; and, therefore, in any real effort to further economy and to reduce that expenditure he should be very glad to join. But while this Bill went a little way in the direction of economy, it contained proposals which amounted to a reversal in some particulars—and important particulars—of the Land Act of 1881; and it was because it contained those proposals that he now made the Motion which stood on the Paper in his name. The first part of the Bill dealt with the County Courts; and it proposed to set up these in lieu of the Sub-Commission Courts. At the present time the County Court Judges, with the aid of a Court Valuer, had the power of dealing with such cases as might come before them. This Bill proposed to take away the option or choice from the tenant as to which Court he would go into, and to compel him to go into the County Court whether he liked it or no. In the past, he and his solicitor had been able to decide which Court they would go into; but that would no longer be so if this Bill became law; and he said deliberately that such a reversal of one of the most important parts of the Act of 1881 was certain to produce the very worst feeling all throughout Ireland. It was very well known to everyone who had had anything to do with the Land Act of 1881 that the framers of that Act originally intended that the County Courts should be the Courts for dealing with those cases; but a little consideration convinced the framers of the Act that it was impossible for those Courts to do the work, and the Courts of the Sub-Commissioners were brought into play. What were the facts regarding the County Courts at this moment? He did not see how they were to do land work. In the first place, many of the County Court Judges were very old men. He knew that several of them were upwards of 80 years of age, and that the ordinary civil bill, criminal, and licensing business which came before them was as much as they could well get through, and how the Government could ask them to take up this new business passed his comprehension. In Kerry the County Court Judge was practically occupied six months in the year, and he 962 took two months' holiday, which nobody would say was too much. He would leave the House to say how much time the Judge would have to dispose of the land business of the county. He contended that this part of the Bill would destroy the option of the tenant, and thus strike a blow at the Act of 1881. The County Courts were, at the present time, sufficiently occupied with civil and criminal business to tax the powers of the Judges; and to add the land business to what they already did would be to produce the block in those Courts which now existed in the Sub-Commissioners' Courts. In the Sub-Commissioners' Court the legal Commissioner did not interfere unless a point of law was raised, or unless the two lay Commissioners differed as to value. It was only when one of those two things happened that the legal Commissioner gave his verdict. All this, however, was precisely reversed by the Bill, and the two Court valuers who were to sit with the County Court Judge were not to have any power save that of reporting to the County Court Judge, who would have the sole power of giving the decision. It turned the whole thing upside down, and reversed the order of procedure. There was a third objection to the first part of the Bill. He had never attacked, and did not intend to attack that night, either the administration of the law or those who had to administer it. It was, however, one thing for him to have confidence in the County Court Judges as land Judges, and quite another thing to induce the people to have confidence in them. The mere fact that the tenants of Ireland had not chosen to go into the County Courts when they had the option was proof that they preferred the Sub-Commissioners' Courts, and that they had more confidence in them. On those three grounds he objected to the first part of the Bill, as he considered it contained bad proposals. As regarded the second part of the Bill, dealing with the question of the Appeal Court, he looked upon it as of the utmost importance. It was already a monstrous grievance and great hardship for the Irish landlord and the Irish tenant alike that so much time should elapse before the appeals from Sub-Commissioners could be dealt with. He believed that there were now before the Appeal Court decisions which were given 963 as far back as 1885, and the appeals with regard to them had not yet been heard. What did the Bill propose to do? At the present time three members of the Land Commission must hear the appeals; but the Bill proposed that in future two should hear them. He did not see how that would relieve the block. He ventured to make a proposal to the Government on that point. If the Government admitted—which they could not but admit—the gravity of the situation, why should not they constitute a fresh Court of Appeal? Why should not Mr. Justice O'Hagan and Mr. Wrench sit in one Court, and Mr. Justice Monroe and Mr. Litton sit in the other? If the Government really meant to expedite the work by removing the block and do away with the present grievance, they had the machinery at their hands, without appointing a single new man, to furnish two Courts of Appeal. The most important part of the Bill, apart from the County Courts clauses, was that which abolished the Purchase Commission. He (Mr. T. W. Russell) looked upon that Commission as one of the few things in Ireland which had really worked well, and now the Government proposed to abolish it. In the year 1885 the House placed £5,000,000 at the disposal of the Irish tenants for the purchase of the fee-simple of their holdings. Since that time loans had been issued to the amount of £2,481,470; loans had been sanctioned to the amount of £1,475,801; and there were applications under investigation amounting to £509,417, making a total of close upon £4,500,000. These loans were spread over every Province of the country. To show how the Commissioners had worked, he might say that the total amount of interest and instalments which accrued to the 1st of November last was £50,910, and of this there was now unpaid £1,534, of which less than £60 represented instalments due on the 1st of May last. There had never been an Act of Parliament for Ireland passed in recent times which had worked so well as the Act which dealt with this point, and now the Government were going to abolish the Commission appointed to administer it. The work was to be handed over to Mr. Litton and Mr. Wrench, who were in arrear with the appeals to a tremendous extent, and they were expected to under- 964 take the double duty. He urged the Government to pause before they did anything of the sort, and suggested that if they were bent upon abolishing the Commission the work should be given over to the Landed Estates Court, which had two Judges, and also a vast number of clerks and highly-paid officials doing practically nothing at all. He believed there was hardly an official who went over to Ireland who was not struck with it. At the head of this Court was Mr. Justice Monroe, who had the confidence of most people interested in this question. In five years that bloated establishment, the Landed Estates Court, had managed to deal with 1,057 abstracts of title, 2,084 conveyances, and £6,000,000 of purchase money had passed through its hands. Surely any mercantile establishment would be able to do that work. The Government would promote economy if instead of abolishing the Purchase Commission and handing the work over to Messrs. Wrench and Litton, they amalgamated the Purchase Commission and the Landed Estates Court, at the head of which Judge Monroe would be. The Court would certainly have the confidence of the people. It seemed to him that the Bill, looked at as a whole, had every appearance of not having been carefully thought out, and he was curious to know who had recommended it; and whether a single Irish Member, representing either the landlords or tenants, had been consulted with regard to it. He hoped that the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) would get up and say whether the Land Commission had been consulted. He did not believe that they had. Then where did the Government get the Bill? This was one of the most important questions that could come before the House of Commons, and the Government, instead of pressing the Bill forward, should appoint some additional temporary Sub-Commissioners, in order that the block in the Land Court might be relieved at once. They might then put the Land Commission into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for another year, and that would give them time to face one of the gravest issues in Irish politics. The Government would have met with little or no opposition if they had looked to economy and amalgamation instead of bringing in a Bill which reversed the 965 Act of 1881, did not expedite the hearing of appeals at all, and abolished the only institution which had been an unqualified success in Ireland. He begged to move the Motion which stood in his name.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. T. W. Russell.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
said, he agreed with the observations of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell). He believed that the Bill was entirely unnecessary, and that the wisest course would have been to have put a clause in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, continuing the Land Commission for another year, and to have appointed several additional Sub-Commissioners, with a view of removing the block which was admitted to exist both in the Appeal Court and the Sub-Commission Courts. Why had the Government not adopted that course? No explanation had as yet been offered why they had avoided so very obvious a course and had resorted to such a clumsy contrivance which this Bill presented. The first and second clauses of the Bill were about as objectionable attempts at legislation as he had ever known. Hitherto those who applied to have fair rents fixed had been able to choose a tribunal in which they had confidence. It was proposed by the first clause to take away this choice from the persons interested, and thereby to destroy with one blow all confidence in the administration of the Act of 1881. If people were forced into a tribunal in which they had no confidence, they would lose confidence in the administration of the law. The confidence in the administration of other Acts besides the Land Act could hardly afford such a rude shock as that now proposed to be given. He was sorry to say that the confidence in the administration of law in Ireland generally was very weak indeed. It was said every day that the people had no respect for the law. He quite agreed they had not. It would be extraordinary if they had. This Bill was a specimen of the way the law treated them. The choice which the people had hitherto exercised had been found to work well. They were to 966 be deprived of that choice, and their cases were to be allotted between the Courts, just as the Lord Lieutenant might think fit. His Excellency might send the cases of particular individuals who might be obnoxious to the County Court Judges before County Court Judges. He might pack the tribunals in so far as he could send certain cases to certain Judges who would give such decisions as he desired. The decisions might be regulated beforehand. He did not say that such a thing was in contemplation, but he maintained that it was a matter of the greatest consequence to the Government of Ireland that they should completely preclude the supposition that they intended any such thing. They found these Tory Amendments in italics, though it was difficult to imagine why they were put in that way. The Lord Lieutenant was to have power, practically, to pay as he thought fit the County Court Judge in proportion to the work he sent him. How would that proposal work? If the County Court Judge was one the Lord Lieutenant could rely upon to give decisions, satisfactory to him and unsatisfactory to the tenant farmers, the Lord Lieutenant would send him a large number of cases. If, on the contrary, he could not rely on him to give satisfactory decisions, the state of things would be reversed. But the County Court Judge was the Chairman of Quarter Sessions—the Chairman of the Magistrates of the County—and, of course, could be relied upon to give such decisions as would please his confrères on the Bench, and, therefore, as a general rule, he would not only have as many cases as he thought fit, but he would have a very high allowance added to his salary. At present, as hon. Members were aware, these salaries were rather small. They were aware that the County Court Judges in England got from £1,500 to £2,000 a-year, and that in Ireland these gentlemen did not receive so much by at least £1,000 a-year. In spite of this fact, the County Court Judges were not without dignity. He had never known a County Court Judge in England tolerating any one calling him "My Lord," but that mode of address is not only tolerated by the Irish County Court Judges, but even encouraged. What did it matter to them that there was a difference of nearly £1,000 a-year between "His Lordship" 967 and the plain "Your Honour" of England. These Irish County Court Judges, who were so underpaid, would have now a prospect of a very consider. able addition being made to their salaries. Public opinion in England with regard to these gentlemen was very likely to be led astray, because Irish County Court Judges would be looked upon in the same light as English County Court Judges, whereas their functions were very different. In England there was no County Court Judge who was Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and there was not one who occupied the position that the County Court Judges occupied in Ireland. It must be remembered that the County Court Judges in Ireland had to hear appeals coming under the Crimes Act of last year, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) practically took the power of making a considerable and almost a surreptitious addition to their salaries. That was a thing which would lead to the suspicion of corruption. He did not say that anything corrupt was contemplated, but clearly the people of Ireland would be inclined to think that these extra salaries were not being paid by the right hon. Gentleman to persons who had to hear appeals from his Crimes Act Courts without a corrupt motive. To the minds of the Irish people, that was the plain and obvious use to which these new powers would be put, and it was for the Government to say whether they would leave themselves open to the imputation that they were corrupting these Judges. The Bill was a bad one from beginning to end. It was brought forward under the plea of removing the strain upon the Land Commission Courts, but it simply provided a tribunal in which the tenants would have no confidence whatever. No doubt the landlords would have confidence in it, but certainly the tenants would not. Now, to come to the question of appeals, if the measure was bad so far as it affected the trial of land cases in the first instance, it was still worse in regard to the arrangement it made for the trial of appeals. At present there was an appeal to three Commissioners—Mr. Justice O' Hagan being practically Chairman of the Court. Well, what was it proposed to substitute for that simple tribunal, the only objection to which, as the hon. Member for South Tyrone had 968 pointed out, was slow in operation, and could not overtake its work? It was proposed that the Lord Lieutenant should have power to appoint as a tribunal to hear appeals two of the Commissioners; that was the idea of the Government, instead of meeting the difficulty in a practical way and forming a second Court of Appeal, or by adding new strength to the existing Court. There were 14 or 15 Judges idle who could be sent to the assistance of Mr. Justice O'Hagan and a second Court of two or three Commissioners. Such a plan, however, never seemed to occur to the Government. As the hon. Member for South Tyrone had pointed out, the proposal they made, if carried out, would not have the effect of expediting the appeals by a single hour. The effect certainly would be to get rid of Mr. Justice O'Hagan, and the reason was that, obviously, his connection with appeals in cases affecting reductions of rent last year was not satisfactory. The object of the decision of the Government was evidently to enable the Lord Lieutenant to appoint as a Court of Appeal Mr. Litton and a gentleman with a very appropriate name, that is Mr. Wrench, and leave Mr. Justice O'Hagan out in the cold. But, however much the Government might succeed in their proposal, it would be found that they were not expediting the hearing of appeals in any shape or way. It was said that there might be special cases to hear. Hon. Members in this House probably had some knowledge of special cases. They know what appeals were on special cases from the County Court or from a Magistrates' Court. They knew that an appeal on a special case, no matter from what Court it came, was illusory, and rarely served the ends of justice. How was a special case got up? Why, the Judge on the Bench made out a statement of what he considered to be the case before him. He stated the facts as he thought fit—as they appeared to his mind—which might be altogether different from the real facts of the case, and altogether different from the way in which they would appear to a jury. The County Court Judge in his statement could state, if he liked, the appellant out of Court; and then, for fear he should miss the first shot, this Bill would absolutely give him power, which did not exist in any provision dealing with 969 appeals that he (Mr. Commins) had ever seen before, because it was provided the County Court Judge could send up any amendment of the cases he had stated that he thought desirable. That would be a temptation to a Judge to state appellants out of Court in an off-hand way, knowing that they would have an opportunity of amending the statement afterwards if necessary. Again, having sent up a special case, if a Judge found that it had not sufficiently stated a suitor out of Court, and had not properly fortified the decision he had given in the first instance, there was a direct temptation to him to amend the case in order more effectually to state the appellant out of Court. In short, the County Court Judge would always have it in his power to render an appeal nugatory and illusory. This provision alone was sufficient to destroy the confidence of the Irish tenantry in the County Court Judge and to condemn the Bill. The Bill provided a kind of salve for the wounded vanity of Mr. Justice O'Hagan, who was to be shelved if the County Court Judge was to be empowered to state a case before a superior Court, and Mr. Justice O'Hagan was to be consoled by being allowed to sit on these appeals in the superior Court. This seemed of a piece with the rest of the provisions in the Bill. Mr. O'Hagan was the Head Commissioner of the Court as at present constituted, and had the place of honour; but his influence was to be destroyed, because he was to be turned over in a superior Court, where, instead of being one of three and the presiding authority, he would be one of four in a Divisional Court, which he would enter as a junior, and would be without influence at all, although his colleagues would know less about the matters with which they would have to deal under this measure than he would. His three colleagues would take precedence over him, and would be able to over-rule his opinion. Therefore, it might be said that Mr. Justice O'Hagan was got rid of in both Courts—he was got rid of in one, and might be overruled in the other. This Bill was bad altogether. It was a measure calculated to be turned to every bad purpose. It was full of suspicious objects, and it would seem as though it were intended to neutralize whatever good there was in the Act of 1881. It would destroy whatever confidence remained in that 970 Act, and would do an immense amount of mischief, and, therefore, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone, who moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
said, he could not agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Roscommon (Mr. Commins), that the necessities of the present situation in Ireland as to the Land Court could be met sufficiently by merely increasing the number of Sub-Commissioners. He believed that if the Government took that course, they would be taking a course that would be lame and impotent. They had attempted, so far as he could gather, to deal with the matter in a more permanent way—in a manner which would give more permanence and uniformity to the Land Commission, and the decision of the Commissioners would meet with a very large amount of support. He, however, had no difficulty in understanding that no Bill dealing with the reconstitution of the Land Court or the powers of the Land Commission coming from that the Ministerial side of the House could be expected to satisfy hon. Members opposite. No doubt the Bill had entirely failed to satisfy the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Roscommon, but he (Mr. Macartney) would impress upon Her Majesty's Government that that was no reason why they should hesitate to deal with this question because there was a body of opinion in Ireland amongst all classes which were worth consulting on these matters, and which would entirely endorse the view of the Government. The hon. Member for South Tyrone had dealt with one or two objections to the Bill, and his observations had considerable force. He (Mr. Macartney) agreed with the hon. Member especially on one point, and as he (Mr. T. W. Russell) had made a suggestion to the Government with regard to the Bill, he (Mr. Macartney), if it was entertained, would venture to make another which he hoped the Government would equally consider. The hon. Member's first objection to the Bill was that the County Court Judges were at the present moment overworked. That might be so with regard to some of them, but it certainly was not the case 971 with others. Even in the case of those who had sufficient work already to occupy their judicial capacity, they had the fact that under this Bill Sub-Commissioners already in existence, or some of them, would be there to assist the County Court Judges in dealing with any accumulation that might arise owing to the altered jurisdiction of the Court. The second objection of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, he thought, was one of great force, and was one which the Government, he trusted, would consider favourably—and the suggestion he had to make was with regard to this point. His suggestion would not, perhaps, altogether take away the objections of hon. Members opposite to the Bill, but, at any rate, it would deal effectually with the objections which were entertained amongst the large class of Irish tenant farmers who were desirous of seeing some settlement effected in this matter. The contention of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone was, that the Bill upset the authority of the old Land Commission Court with regard to the power of the legal Commissioner in relation to the two lay Commissioners, and that it practically turned the Court topsy-turvy. He (Mr. Macartney) agreed with the hon. Gentleman that if the Bill were left as it had been drafted, and if the County Court Judge were left the sole authority for deciding upon questions of rent in Ireland, having a certain amount of regard to the advice of the two Assistant Commissioners who really acted as valuers, it would not be a tribunal that would sufficiently command the confidence of the people of Ireland, and that, therefore, he (Mr. Macartney) would be unable to give his support to it. But he would venture to suggest that the Government might meet the objection pointed out by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone by providing that in future the County Court Judge, when he sat as a Land Court for the purpose of hearing cases under this Act, the Court should be constituted exactly in the same way as the Special Commission Court was constituted at the present moment. Let the County Court Judge take the place of the legal Commissioner, but let him be assisted in Court by two Assistant Commissioners who would have the same power and authority with which 972 the lay Commissioners were endowed at the present moment. He believed that if the Bill were altered to that extent, it would meet the views and reasonable desires, not of hon. Gentlemen opposite and those influenced, but, at all events, of a large proportion of the tenant farmers of Ireland. The third objection of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone touched to a certain extent the credit of the County Court Judges, though the hon. Member had pursued that objection very moderately. He (Mr. Macartney) did not dispute that one or two County Court Judges were looked upon in Ireland as being, so to speak, landlords' men, and, on the other hand, there were some who were regarded with great suspicion by the landlords themselves. [Cries of "Name, name!"] If hon. Members would communicate with him, he should be happy to give them the names of the gentlemen he had in his mind. He did not like to give names openly in the House in such cases as this, as he thought that was a practice which ought to be put a stop to. The objection of his hon. Friend to the County Court Judges would probably be a great deal modified if the Court was reconstituted in the way he (Mr. Macartney) proposed. There was, no doubt, great objection to be taken with the Sub-Commission Court on this ground, that they might be in the same district of the country, the same Sub-Commission Court succeeding another and dealing on a totally different basis with rents. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory than such a state of things as that. It prevented, in the first place, settlements out of Court between landlords and tenants; and, in the next place, it created great dissatisfaction amongst the litigants when the decisions of the Court were not sufficiently sympathetic in character. He (Mr. Macartney) had endeavoured to acquaint himself with the feelings of those he represented on this question, and he believed their great desire was that there should be some permanence and uniformity impressed on the Land Commission and its operations in the country. He believed that a bonâ fide attempt was made in the Bill to affect these conditions; but while he was prepared to support the second reading, he should certainly reserve to himself the full right in Committee of moving an 973 Amendment in the direction he had indicated with regard to the constitution of the County Court Judges' Courts. Now, the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone had spoken with regard to the clauses dealing with the Purchase Commission, and he (Mr. Macartney) certainly re-echoed everything the hon. Member had said. If he supposed for a moment that this Bill would put an end to the operations of the Purchase Commission, he should be against it; but what he gathered was that it only proposed to transfer the powers of those Commissioners. He did not think the proposed change was such as would induce him to oppose the Bill. He concurred with everything that had been said as to the desirability of giving greater power to the Landed Estates Court. He believed that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone had suggested a solution of the difficulty with regard to appeals which might be adopted with a certain amount of benefit. The hon. Gentleman had put his objections to this part of the Bill very tersely and forcibly before the House, and the hon. Gentleman who followed had seemed to find his strongest objection to the Bill in the fact that the County Court Judges in Ireland had given way to too much vanity in encouraging persons to address them as "My Lord;" but that was not an argument which would weigh with him (Mr. Macartney) with sufficient strength to induce him to go into the Lobby against the Bill. He should support the Bill, because he believed that the Government had endeavoured to deal with this difficult and complicated subject in a straightforward manner. He did not agree with hon. Gentleman who suggested that the question should be dealt by the appointment of a large number of extra Sub-Commissioners, as he did not think the matter should be left till next year, when it might be more inconvenient, if not altogether impossible for the Administration to take it up.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
said he was not surprised that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) did not intend to oppose the Bill; but the hon. Gentleman's attitude only emphasized the fact mentioned by the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), that whereas all hon. Members, 974 even of different opinions in the House, who in the slightest way pretended to represent the tenants' interests, were on the one side opposed to the Bill, there was yet an Irish Representative—one of the Irish landlords' Representatives—who would support it.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I am very sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman; but I must point out that I was not returned by landlords.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON
Will the hon. Gentleman have the hardihood to say in this House that he represents the views of the tenant farmers of Ireland?
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON
said, he would give the hon. Gentleman the greatest possible credit for the hardihood of that statement. If the hon. Gentleman was satisfied with the Bill as it stood, he probably was of opinion that the voice of the 86 Representatives from Ireland on the Opposition side of the House did not count for anything at all—that, probably, seemed to the hon. Member the strongest argument in favour of the passing of the Bill. He (Mr. Edward Harrington) recognized in the proposals of the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) a means of improving the Bill, if they had to face it as a necessity; but surely the spirit of the Government in the construction of this Bill must have been a very bad one when they made up their minds to give to the County Court Judges of Ireland, who were landlords, and had entertained and exhibited the bitterest feelings against the protective combinations of the tenants, the power of fixing fair rents, and the power practically of overruling the opinion of the existing Courts. If they turned the County Court into a Sub-Commission and placed the County Court Judge in the position of the Legal President of the present Sub-Commission Court, it would be an improvement on the Bill, but it would be no improvement on the existing state of things, and such a proposal would be no answer to the objections the Irish Members raised against the Bill. The County Court, as a tribunal for the fixing of fair rents, had been tried and found wanting in Ireland. In only a few paltry cases had the County Court been entrusted with the fixing of fair rents, and he would 975 presently tell them why. In certain districts in Ireland the block was so great in the ordinary Land Courts that some tenants who only paid small rents thought that they might run the risk of taking their cases to the County Court, and they had accordingly done so. The County Court Judges, in these cases, where the rent was a matter of paltry consideration and no big landlord had to be dealt with, had cut the rents down to the level at which the Sub-Commission were cutting them down on all sides. But that course had not been followed by Mr. Henn, whose name had been rather prominently before the public in connection with tha case of Mr. Wilfrid Blunt—Mr. Henn being a person who ought to be considered physically incapacitated for dealing with these matters at all, seeing that he was over 80 years of age. Three adventurous spirits had gone into Mr. Henn's Court to obtain the fixing of a fair rent, and with what result? Why, two of them had had their rents left as they were, whilst the third had had his raised. If it were left to the discretion of the tenants either to go to these County Court Judges or to the Laud Commission Court, the tenants would shun these County Courts as they would shun fire. Naturally, the County Court Judges who would have most time on their hands would be men like Mr. Henn, and these would be the men who would have the largest number of cases to dispose of, and would be more largely employed by the Government than anyone else, for two reasons. In the first place, because men of the disposition of Mr. Henn had taken care to raise the sentences of persons convicted under the Crimes Act who had appealed against their convictions, and were literally Bunting appellants out of Court; and, in the next place, because the experience the tenantry had of the action of these gentlemen in land. cases was in the highest degree unsatisfactory. The history of Mr. Henn in regard to the Land Act was that he had raised the rents of a hardy farmer who had gone before him. The Land Commission, rigged as it was proposed it should be by this Bill, would say—"Oh, here is a great chance to dispose of a large number of these rent applications; we will send them down to the County Court Judge, Mr. Henn, for he is the man who can dispose of them according to our desires." 976 The hon. Member for South Antrim might say that the Bill was satisfactory to him, but he (Mr. Edward Harrington) might make bold to say that that was not as ufficient recommendation for the Bill to the Irish Party sitting on that (the Opposition) side of the House. He (Mr. Edward Harrington) would venture to give the House a sample of the knowledge and special fitness possessed by these County Court Judges for the duties they would have to discharge under this Bill, if it were passed in its present shape. Much had been heard recently about the burnings and levellings of houses at Glenbeigh; and would it be believed that County Court Judge Curran, who was one of these dignitaries addressed as "My Lord," had actually stated that the tenants of that district of Glenbeigh had nothing to complain of, for nowhere in that country did he see more comfortable and tidy farms, and more compact and well-built houses? Happily, in respect to this matter, he (Mr. Edward Harrington) spoke in the hearing of many hon. Members who had seen the Glenbeigh district, and of many who knew that the cabins of the peasantry, which had been necessarily built of sonic strength, to resist the storms prevalent there, had been built by the peasantry themselves, and that the productive part of the soil had mostly been dragged into existence on barren spots by the energy and perseverance of the tenantry. When they found tenants paying £54 a-year rent for land in respect of which, only a few years ago, no more than £2 was paid, and when they heard Judges expressing such opinions with regard to land of this kind as they had heard from Judge Curran, all he could say was that such gentlemen had too superficial a knowledge of the Land Question, or were utterly incapable of forming any opinion with regard to it. What experience of a judicial character outside, perhaps, a Dublin Police Court had such men as Judge Curran to give them the right to fix fair rents? None whatever, and the men who would go out to bring in reports to them would have no voice whatever in the decisions. The Irish Members might be beaten on this measure, and, if so, he should very much regret, for the peace of Ireland, that the Government had made this proposal. He should very much regret it if it was 977 intended to persevere with the Bill; but yet he hoped, if they did persevere, that they would modify it in the direction indicated by the hon. Member for South Tyrone and the hon. Member who had just spoken—modify that special and odious clause in it which would give the County Court Judge an absolute and uncontrolled right of deciding what rent the tenant farmer had to pay. There was another part of the Bill to which he should like to call attention, and that was that part which sounded the death-knell of the Land Purchase Commission. It was not often that they (the Nationalist Members) found themselves in a position in this House to speak with anything like laudation, or even in a tolerant sense, of any judicial institutions in Ireland. They were in the habit of giving credit where they could conscientiously do so; however, he must say that though they frequently grumbled at judicial institutions, it was because they found them essentially wrong, partizans being appointed to preside in them, and not because they had any chronic disposition to grumble. The men who had been appointed to administer the Purchase Act could not be said to be partizans on the side of the Nationalist Members; on the contrary, if ever they had anything to do with these gentlemen at all, they were men who were opposed to them in politics, and yet they (the Nationalist Members) freely acknowledged that with the process which had been brought to bear upon them, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Lynch had tried to exercise a useful discretion in the administration of the Purchase Act. What was the lesson the Government now sought to teach the people of Ireland? Why, it was this, that the moment the Government discerned that the people displayed confidence in a Court they proposed to abolish it. It must be remembered that this question of purchase was a vital one for the people. The spirit of the Purchase Act of 1885 was this, not that they should send two Commissioners to value a farm and say what was the fair purchase rent for the tenant to pay the landlord and report that; but what was done was to allow the landlord to keep a screw on the tenant, and hand to the Sheriff executing the eviction decree a document of agreement for the purchase of the land. The Government stepped in and 978 did not ask the Purchase Commissioners to say—"What is the value of this land?" but what the debtors' security was. In appraising the land, the house that the tenant had built, the fences he had raised, and the fruitful industry he had bestowed upon the land was scored against him, because all that could be converted into money, and would represent his loathing and unwillingness to leave. He (Mr. Edward Harrington) only digressed into those matters to show that there was a great necessity that they should have upon this Purchase Commission men who were not suspected of being mere partizans, and if they took Mr. Justice O'Hagan away from the Commission what did they leave? They left two men, and those alone, who had given a fatal interpretation to a recent Act of Parliament, which interpretation, he ventured to say, was the cause of most of the trouble existing in Ireland at the present time. They know that Mr. Justice O'Hagan did not agree with those two Judges, and that his interpretation of the Act was favourable to the tenants, and they now took away that Judge in whom the tenants had some confidence—although not a strong, overweening confidence—and placed him in another Court to be overshadowed by other Judges, giving two landlord partizans the working of a very essential part of the Act of 1881—namely, the Purchase Clauses. There were many points which suggested themselves against this measure. He (Mr. Edward Harrington) had made out a list of County Court Judges in Ireland. He had made it out from directories, in order to find out whether they were Justices of the Peace, where their residences were, and what were the clubs they belonged to, as he had imagined that this would give him a very instructive guide as to the politics and prejudices of these gentlemen. He confessed, however, that the result of his search was not evidence which he could put forward in the House formally in debate, but it was strong enough to excite the prejudices of the people of Ireland against these Judges in the performance of the functions it was proposed to require them to discharge. There was evidence already of prejudice on the part of the people, in that they had abstained from going into the County Courts with land cases just as they would 979 have abstained from plunging into fire. But the Government now sought to force the people into these Courts, regardless of the fact that the County Court Judges had endeavoured to strengthen the prejudice excited against themselves as they had in the process of law aped at Quarter Sessions the Judges of Assizes in making declarations against the political organizations and combinations of the tenants in reference to the payment of rent. It was only necessary to search the files of a few prominent English newspapers to which scraps of Irish news were sent, which it was thought by those who catered for those journals would be acceptable to the palate of the English people, to find that these gentlemen from time to time made official pronouncements and declarations against the National League.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON
said, there were a great many phenomenal circunstances taking place just now. It was surprising indeed to find the Pope in agreement with the Conservative Party; but it capped the climax of all phenomena when they found the hon. Member opposite in agreement with the Pope. There was plenty of evidence to show that the County Court Judges had thought it to be their duty to utter tirades against the National League. The hon. Gentleman opposite had not been strictly correct in his interruption, although he had no doubt that the hon. Member was a sedulous student of the utterances of the Pope. It was to be hoped that the Pope was an equally sedulous student of the utterances of the hon. Member. But, as a matter of fact, the County Court Judges had condemned the National League when it was recognized as a legal organization, and there was this one fact he wished to call attention to—namely, that it could be ascertained and would be ascertained—because they were not going to run away with this Bill in a hurry—to what extent these County Court Judges were offshoots of the landlord Party and owed their position to such influence as was brought to bear upon the Government by haunting the Lobbies of this House and constantly importuning Members of the House and of the Party in power. He thought that the position of remonstrance that 980 the Irish Members occupied in connection with this question was one consistent with their duty to Ireland. It was one consistent with the attitude they had assumed all along. It was the fashion to call them agitators; but the Government themselves took every trouble to add to the volume of agitation in Ireland. They took hold of that in which the people had confidence in order to demolish it, whilst, at the same time, they put in its place that in which the people had no confidence whatever—something which they were utterly prejudiced against. But the Irish Members were strong enough to meet the Government on these points, and if the Government disputed the wishes of those who represented the tenant farmers and sought to force the tenants to go before a Court in which they had no confidence, the Nationalist Party would take care of the tenants, in spite of them, if the tenants would rely upon themselves and their combinations. The tenantry would never be left without someone to lead them.
§ MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)
said, he did not like the debate to conclude without giving expression to a word or two. He was sure that the tenant farmers of Ireland would prefer that the Land Act should be altogether repealed rather than that they should have to depend upon the County Court Judges. Let them just take the case of Judge Henn. He was a very old man, and those who knew him where perfectly well aware that he was entirely unfitted by age to fulfil the functions of a Judge in the Land Court effectually. In addition, it so happened that he was a landlord, and was one of the most perfect types of the placeman who was governed by Castle rule. He (Mr. Harris) had often been appealed to by tenants previous to the passing of the Act of 1881, asking whether it would be advisable for them to go into a Court in order to try and get compensation for improvements, and to obtain the advantages which the Land Act of 1870 was supposed to confer upon the tenants of Ireland, and he had no doubt that that Act of 1870 would have done a great deal of good in its time had it not been for the fact that the County Court Judges had put themselves into direct opposition to it. Mr. Judge Henn, in a special manner, had ignored the rights of the tenants altogether. Judge Henn 981 was, as he (Mr. Harris) had pointed out, a landlord, and in fulfilling his duties to the county he went from one landlord's house to another. He was of themselves, and the tenants would not all think of going into his Court, nor would they think of taking advantage of the Act of 1881 at all, if they were compelled to come under the jurisdiction of that gentleman. He (Mr. Harris) believed this Bill to be part and parcel of a system for the oppression and extermination of the tenant farmers of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) appointed the District Magistrates, and put immense powers into their hands under the Coercion Act, and, as they had heard to-night, he put these officials under a right hon. and gallant Gentleman as Parliamentary Under Secretary, who was an Orangeman, and, therefore, in enmity with people, so that it would seem altogether as if the right hon. Gentleman intended to give unity and adhesion to the landlords in making war upon the tenants of Ireland, and as though he did not wish to give any fair play at all to the tenants. It seemed as though his desire was to put down the tenantry and prevent them from obtaining the advantages of the Act of 1881. The right hon. Gentleman had made the most strenuous endeavours possible to crush down the friends of the tenant farmers, so that he (Mr. Harris) did not at all wonder at the new phase of the operation visible in this Bill. It was not to be hoped that the County Court Judges would assist the Irish people to any appreciable extent, or that they would afford any benefit whatever to the tenant farmers. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had any desire to facilitate the action and to save time, instead of introducing these County Court Judges, he would not, as the hon Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) had said, have appointed two Sub-Commissioners to act under the presidency of the County Court Judge, but simply have referred these land cases to a special jury of five persons taken from the ordinary jury panel, and left them to adjudicate as between the landlords and tenants. The expense of that system would have been very little. The adoption of this principle would, he insisted, be found to facilitate business in such a way that the present Bill 982 would have been of some use to the Irish tenants, instead of being a nullity, as he was afraid it would be. He (Mr. Harris) was glad to hear the hon. Member for South Tyrone making such a cogent and liberal appeal as that which he had to-night addressed to the Government; and he had hoped that, with regard to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) and other hon. Members opposite, that gradually some right feeling would have come over them, and would have guided them in dealing with this matter—would have induced them to act together with hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House—so as to have induced them to act upon principles outside ordinary religious difficulties. If the Government was able to sustain itself by appealing to the Orangemen on one side in memory of King William, and then to the Pope on the other side—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The opinions of the Pope to which the hon. Member is referring have nothing whatever to do with the subject before the House.
§ MR. HARRIS
That is just what I think. With reference to the ability of the County Court Judges to decide such leases as these, he had some knowledge of what the County Court Judges in Ireland were. Lawyers were a very ignorant set of men—[Laughter]—well, outside their profession, lawyers were the most ignorant men he had ever met with; and perhaps it was that, in order to be a good lawyer, it was necessary that gentlemen should give all their attention to the law. In the Land Courts there were other questions besides questions of law to be considered; questions such as the location and quality of a farm had to be taken into account; and the very worst body of men for the consideration of those questions which could be selected were, to his mind, lawyers. On the other hand, the presence of a lawyer amongst a jury of five such as he suggested, would be of great value is directing the verdict, so far as questions of law were concerned. The legal knowledge of the County Court Judges would be of service in assisting and directing the juries. He could safely say that there was the strongest desire amongst the peasants in the district in which he lived to settle down and attend to their domestic affairs. They desired to live in peace and comfort with the world and 983 with their neighbours; but the introduction of change after change in such matters as the Land Law had the effect of unsettling and preventing them from becoming peaceful and quiet. He trusted that the Unionist Party would bear in mind the evils likely to arise under this Bill. There was one thing, at all events, they might be fully satisfied on, and that was that the Irish people would accept this Bill in conjunction with other measures of a coercive character. Hon. Members opposite thought that such measures as this were calculated to satisfy the Irish people, and make them turn round to the side of law and order; but such ideas were absurd. Finally, he appealed to the Government to pause ere they plunged such a county as Galway, which had shown signs of becoming again peaceful and orderly, but which, instead of being one of the quietest, was one of the most disorderly counties in consequence of the action of the judicial authorities, into a condition of fresh disturbance.
§ MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, he did not wish to repeat the arguments of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) in opposing the Bill to-night; but he desired to point out that there were one or two questions which the hon. Member had put to the House, to which he trusted an answer would be given. The first question wits that the Government would say where the Bill had come from. He was not at all sure that the Government would answer this question; but he could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour), who usually thought things out for himself, could not have done so on this occasion, or he would not have brought in such a Bill as this. He (Mr. Lea) desired to know whether the Government had in any way consulted or considered the Land Commission in connection with it, because surely the Commission which had been charged with so important a work, and had carried it out with considerable success, ought, at all events, to have been consulted when there was a block in the Land Court which it was sought to remove. It seemed to him that from every quarter of the House this measure met with opposition. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) stated 984 that he was going to vote for the second reading, but, at the same time, pointed out that the Bill required amendment in several very important particulars. It was on condition that it would be so amended that hon. Members had promised to vote for it. The hon. Member had asked whether the Special Commissioners were to be associated with the County Court Judge in an equal manner as they were at present associated with the Legal Sub-Commissioner, and it was important that this question should be answered, as there was nothing whatever in the Bill to guide the House on the point; and if such information were not given, he took it that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim would join hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House in opposing the Bill. One of the reasons given for the Bill when it was first introduced was that the Government found great difficulty in obtaining legal Sub-Commissioners. He (Mr. Lea) had asked men well acquainted with the Bar of Ireland if that statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was really a fact, and he was bound to say that the opinion they had given did not support the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. This was undoubtedly one of the most uncertain of the Government offices in Ireland; but the desire to get public appointments that might lead to other things in the future would weigh with many of the members of the Bar; and, after all, the fact that a man had held the post of Sub-Commissioner for six or twelve months would give him a status afterwards which would induce some clients to offer him business. There were in every county of Ireland large numbers of leaseholders waiting for judicial decisions. They had been depressed by many years of bad seasons, and they looked last year for relief from the Government Bill, and yet none of these leaseholders had been able to get their rents fixed. It was regarded as a mockery that a Bill should be passed one year, and that even after a delay of 12 months people should be in no better position than they were when the Act was first passed. Then the proposal the Government now made, and which would apply to these leaseholders, was a different one to that under which relief had been given to tenants by the Act of 1881. The Government proposed to force 985 the leaseholders who got the privilege of going into Court last year into the Courts of the County Court Judges, when for nearly the last 12 months they had the power of going into those Courts, but had positively refused to avail themselves of it. It seemed to him that the Government in so doing were not carrying out the spirit of the legislation of last year, and he believed that there was the strongest feeling against their proposal in Ireland. Since he had spoken the other day he had been informed that of the 60 valuers who had been appointed two or three years ago, but very few of them had been called upon to do any work—only one out of every four or five having been called upon to give evidence at all. Men were taken from Westmeath to Antrim, and from Antrim to Derry, and from Derry to Cavan, to value farms. In consequence of this considerable prejudice was felt against the Court valuers, and there was great objection to their reappointment. Then he should like to ask to whom the Government proposed to give this addition of £300 a-year in the shape of salary? Was it to be given to County Court Judges, who were already overworked, or to those who had very little to do, and would obtain work to keep them employed under the Act? If that was the line the Government were going to take, he would point out that they would be acting unjustly to the County Court Judges, who were overworked with ordinary Civil Bill business. It seemed to him that the Government were running their heads most unnecessarily against a brick wall in bringing forward a Bill like this. The tenant farmers had shown that they had confidence in the Land Courts by coming into them, and also that they had confidence in the Appeal Court by raising appeals before it, and he could not help thinking that it would be unwise to upset the existing arrangement in the manner proposed.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
said, he thought that the main object of the measure, which was framed for the purpose of more rapidly clearing off the arrears in the Land Court, was a most reasonable and proper one. The block in the Land Court was a most serious one, and, at the present rate at which the cases were disposed of, it would take three years to clear it away. 986 He thought, however, that the Government proposal would not only entail an enormous addition to the present heavy cost of the Land Court, already amounting to about £120,000 a-year, but the Bill would increase by £20,000 more. It would also fail to give satisfaction to the Irish tenants, who had no faith in the decisions of the County Court Judges, it being proposed to give them the power to override the opinion of valuers who were to sit as assessors. He therefore begged to press upon the Government the desirability of adopting the proposal which he had made last year—namely, that in the case of all holdings under £50 per annum, which constituted four-fifths of the holdings in Ireland, the Commissioners should have power to provisionally fix the rent at the same proportion to Griffith's valuation as the decisions of the Commissioners during the previous six months bore to their valuations, and that if within two mouths no appeal was lodged against it by either party, the decision so fixing the rent should become final. His belief was that if that proposal were adopted, there would not be one appeal out of every 10 cases, with the result that the arrears of the Land Court would be got rid of in a cheap and speedy manner. That proposal had met with what practically amounted to general approval last year, and the only objection that the Attorney General for Ireland offered to its adoption was that it did not come within the scope of the Bill, and that it was too late to be incorporated in it, as it was at that time before the House. He intended to bring forward his proposal again at the Committee stage of the Bill, and he trusted that between the present time and then the Government would consider whether they could not adopt it in preference to their own scheme, as he believed it would be gladly accepted by all the Irish Members, and give the relief that was so much wanted. He was bound to say that he hardly looked forward with any particular pleasure to the abandonment of the Bill or to the appointment of fresh Sub-Commissioners.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
said, that he must confess that he had listened to the debate that had taken place on this Bill with great pleasure. The desire of the Government 987 to deal with the subject of the arrears in the Land Court had been generally appreciated and approved of, and the difficulties which existed had been discussed without any spirit of partizanship being introduced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had again advocated the adoption of the plan which he proposed last year, and which had been brought forward from more quarters than one. He was quite alive to the evils that resulted from the litigation with regard to the land in Ireland, and he would gladly consider any scheme by which the rents might be fixed automatically with power to either party who considered themselves to be aggrieved to appeal. The right lion. Gentleman opposite thought that his proposal had obtained a great body of support in Ireland, and in that case he should certainly most gladly consider the desirability of adopting some such scheme as he had suggested. His own proposal, of course, had been based upon the theory that each case where the rent was to be altered required due consideration on its particular merits. It was only because he was afraid of effecting too violent a change that he had abstained from proposing some elaborate scheme under which the rent might be fixed automatically, such as that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. He might point out the extreme difficulty which would attend any attempt to deal with this question, because, whatever scheme might be proposed by the Government, it would be always open to debate, and to the objection that some more complete and perfect plan might be framed. Hon. Members who brought forward such schemes had not the responsibility thrown upon them of passing them. A larger scheme, which might be more perfect, would be far more difficult to pass. This Bill had many parents, and since it was laid upon the Table he had gladly and cordially consented to consider favourably any Amendments not proposed in a Party sense. With regard to Clause 1, which had created more controversy on both sides of the House than any other, the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) proposed to make a complete amalgamation of the Landed Estates Court and the Land Commission Court.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
explained, that what he had said was that the only Commission Court which had worked satisfactorily within his memory was the Land Purchase Court, and it would be much better to join it with the Landed Estates Court than with the Land Commission.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that the Bill was not intended to destroy the Land Purchase Court, which was left so long as it had work to do. It did not prejudice the question whether any money should be added or not to that already given under Lord Ashbourne's Act; but while it did not prejudice the question against adding a further grant, neither should it prejudice the question in its favour. All that it was necessary for him to say on behalf of the Government was that they felt—and he felt himself, perhaps, more than anybody—that a Government which should break into the existing system of land purchase in Ireland would take upon itself a very heavy responsibility—a responsibility so grave that any Government might hesitate to take it upon its shoulders. Supposing further grants were made under Lord Ashbourne's Act, their administration would fall to the amalgamated Land Commission, including the two distinguished gentlemen, Mr. Lynch and Mr. M'Carthy, who were now occupied in working the Land Purchase Scheme, and who had deserved so well of the State. They would still be in office to carry out the existing loans, and also to administer the new loans, if new loans should be added. With regard to arrears, the hon. Member for Tyrone had pointed out very truly that not only were there very large arrears in the Sub-Commissioners' Court, but also in the Land Commission Court proper. He did not think his hon. Friend was right in saying that the proposals in the Bill laid before the House were in no respect calculated to deal with the arrears. These proposals might not be wholly adequate, but he thought they would do something to carry out his hon. Friend's object. If the Land Commission was enabled to economize its work so as to save time, it would enable then to deal better with the arrears. His hon. Friend had suggested that Judge Monroe should be added to the Commis- 989 sion to assist in carrying out the scheme, and if his hon. Friend would put down an Amendment on the Paper to that effect, he should be glad to consider it. But he would remind his hon. Friend that Mr. Justice Monroe was a Judge of the High Court, and might object to the proposal of the hon. Member. Then he came to what he thought was the main objection which had been taken by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House representing the tenants of Ireland, and that was to the proposal to make the County Court Judge the absolute arbiter of rent, having as advisers, but not as partners, the two lay Commissioners who are to be added to them. Well, of course, the Government were most anxious that any modifications they might make in the Act of 1881 should have the confidence of the tenants of Ireland. They would bo fools if they wore not. He (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had carefully considered the suggestions which had been made on that point from hon. Gentlemen representing all parts of Ireland, and the solution which commended itself to his mind was to associate the lay Commissioners with the County Court Judges on absolutely equal terms. If that change were made in the Bill, it would not be fair to the County Court Judges to compel them to take the new work; they ought to have the option of refusing. His idea was that every County Court Judge who should consent to carry out the work on equal terms with the lay Commissioners should be paid for doing it some such sum as he had stated before—namely, £300 a-year, in addition to the ordinary salary he received at present. If the County Court Judge said, "These are not the terms upon which you engaged me," no pressure would be put upon him. If what he proposed were done, the County Court Judge would have nothing to complain of, and there would be a great accession of strength to the Courts engaged in the work of dealing with the arrears. Another suggestion had been made to him which he proposed to embody in a clause—namely, that if both landlord and tenant agreed, it should be in their power to have a fair rent fixed by the lay Commissioners going over the land, without the trouble or cost of appearing in any Court whatever. In other words, instead of 4 Court dealing with rents, 990 there would be two gentlemen arbitrating between landlord and tenant, and possessing the confidence of both. He hoped he had shown the House that he had approached this matter in no hard and fast spirit of controversy; but that he had tried to meet the views held in the various quarters of the House, and he trusted that if the Bill were amended as he proposed it should be, it would deal with the vast mass of arrears now unhappily before the Head Commission Court and the Sub-Commission Courts, and would not frighten either party in the suits pending between landlord and tenant in Ireland at the present moment.
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
said, he was obliged to confess that the changes now suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland completely altered the form and character of the Bill. As it was originally introduced, the Bill practically amounted to an upsetting of the whole machinery of the Act of 1881, but now, the first occasion on which the Chief Secretary had addressed the House upon the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman proposed a total change in the measure. He had no objection to either of the changes the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make, as they went to distinctly improve the Bill. But he hoped that if the measure was to be pressed, the Chief Secretary would go a step further in the direction he had indicated that night. Though the changes would improve the Bill, the Bill itself was not an improvement on the present state of the law in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman would do very much to remove the objections felt to the Bill, if he would agree to leave to the tenants the power they now possessed of removing their cases from the Civil Bill Court to the Land Commission if they felt inclined to do so. Mark what the Bill proposed to do. After the passing of this Bill, the parties would not be entitled, as a matter of course, to have any proceedings transferred from the Civil Bill Court to the Land Commission—that was to say, that once a tenant was got into the Civil Bill Court, when he was sent there without any option of his own, as it was proposed by the second sub-section of the Bill might be the case, once he was sent by the Lord Chancellor or the Land Commission to the County Court, a Court 991 most agreeable to the landlords, the door was to be closed upon him, so that he could not get out again. But, on the other hand, the door of the Land Commission was left open to the landlord. If a tenant had his case removed, according to the disposition of the cases provided by Sub-section 2, into the County Court, he must stay there, no matter whether he liked the tribunal or not; no matter whether he had confidence in the tribunal or not; but, on the other hand, if a landlord went into the Land Court, and he thought that Court would not take as favourable a view of the case as the County Court, he was left by the Bill the option of having his case removed to the Land Commission Court. The right lion. Gentleman would go very far to remove the objections which were entertained to the Bill, or he would at least mitigate the objections to the measure, if he would agree to leave the tenant the option of having his case removed from the Civil Bill Court to the Land Commission Court whenever he felt he had no confidence in the County Court. That would be a very simple proposal, and he did not see how it could be objected to on any ground, because the first element of the intention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was to increase, if possible, the confidence of the tenants in the tribunal which he proposed to set up. Surely, when a tenant felt he had no confidence in a Court, he ought not to be locked up in that Court, but ought to have the right to remove his case if he thought proper. At present the tenant had such power, but this Bill proposed to take it away from him. He (Mr. Gill) was anxious to understand upon what principle the new Court of Appeal was to be arranged. He did not see that the proposal of the Bill would facilitate the hearing of appeals at all. All that he could see the clause relating to appeals did was to practically shelve Judge O'Hagan, by removing him from the tribunal of which he was now the president and the most powerful Member, into a Court where he would sit with three other Judges and be their junior. He (Mr. Gill) did not see that any definite result could be obtained by such a step. What the object of shelving Judge O'Hagan was, he was not qualified to say; but a Pretty strong opinion existed in Ireland 992 upon the point, and unless some more satisfactory explanation was given of these clauses than had been given tonight, the present impression would continue. They all knew that Judge O'Hagan, in regard to the schedule of rates of reductions which were adopted by the Land Commission recently in carrying out the Land Act of last year, differed from the two other Commissioners as to the amount of the reductions of rent, and differed in favour of the tenants. He, unquestionably, by his differing with that decision, and by the reasons which he gave for that difference, shook the confidence of the country in the Land Commission, and materially damaged the position of the Government in regard to the decision. Now, Judge O'Hagan, apparently as a punishment and as a precaution that he might not do the same thing again, was to be taken out of his position in the Land Commission, and to be deprived of his power of deciding cases in future. He was transferred to another Court where he would be almost a cipher, or where, at any rate, his position would not be so powerful as it was at the present time. The Land Commission would be left entirely in the hands of Mr. Wrench and Mr. Litton. The characters of both Mr. Wrench and Mr. Litton—especially of Mr. Wrench, who was the more powerful of the two—were well-known in Ireland, and the tenants of Ireland had no confidence in either of those gentlemen. They regarded them as enemies of their interests and as partizans of the landlords. In addition to all that, the House had passed a Bill to-night which would place in a position of power, as a permanent official, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet Division of Kent (Colonel King-Harman) who was, perhaps, the most notorious rack-renter in Ireland, and who would have a great deal to say, henceforth, in his new position in regard to the appointments that would be made by the Land Commission, and to the distribution of cases between the County Courts and the expiring Land Commission. The Bill, as originally proposed, and even as it now stood amended, by the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief' Secretary, contemplated the complete extinction of the Land Commission Court as 993 it had hitherto existed. There were phrases in the Bill which seemed to contemplate that the Sub-Commission Courts would cease to exist altogether, and that the entire business of the Land Act would be transacted by the County Courts. That, certainly, was the right hon. Gentleman's original view; but whether it was his view now, he could not say. At any rate, the power of rigging the County Courts would in the future be just as much in the hands of the Land Commission, from which the influence of Judge O'Hagan was to be removed, as that of rigging the Sub-Commission Courts was formerly, and was now. The provision in the Bill as to appeals, in respect to which he hoped the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Madden) would offer to them some explanation in the direction of showing what use it was for the purpose of facilitating appeals, and also with a view of showing whether the comment he (Mr. Gill) had made on it was not justified—namely, that the only definite result obtained was the shelving of Judge O'Hagan. Those were the comments he felt called upon to make upon the Bill that night. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would see his way to retain the present provision of the Bill which gave the tenant the option of having his case removed from the Civil Bill Court to the Land Commission; because, if the right hon. Gentleman could not, the provision of the law would be the most one-sided that could possibly be framed, for it took away from the tenants the privilege which they now possessed and most rightly possessed, while it left the landlord still in possession of that privilege. He regarded the Bill as an unfortunate one, and he was against its principle altogether. There were many Amendments which might be made in the procedure of the Land Commission Courts, some of which had been alluded to that evening; but they did not at all touch the principle which had been aimed at by the Bill—namely, the forcible transfer of tenants' cases into tribunals the Judges in which were notorious partizans, whose characters and proceedings had been under the notice of the House during the past week. That principle of the Bill was an obnoxious and a wrong one, and, in his opinion, subversive 994 of the best intentions of the Land Act of 1881. The crisis which the Bill was intended ostensibly to meet—namely, the glut in the Land Courts, could be met and met promptly and by a less expenditure of money than was now contemplated, by the appointment, temporarily, of a sufficient number of Sub-Commissioners, as was done in 1882, when a larger glut in the Land Courts prevailed. At that time 80 extra Sub-Commissioners were appointed, all of whom ceased to hold office as soon as the block was got rid of. The same thing might be done at the present time, and would be a much more prompt and efficient way of meeting the present crisis. He considered that that was the best course to adopt, and, therefore, he joined most heartily with his hon. Friends in thinking that every representative of the tenant farmers ought to oppose this Bill to the best of his power.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
said, that when this Bill had been introduced, he had ventured to remark that it was a measure of a reactionary character, intended to carry out—as far as the Government dared to make any measure carry out—a policy of a reactionary nature, and one which, so far from alleviating or smoothing the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland, would tend to exasperate and make them still more difficult. The Government had pleaded then, as a ground for the Bill, that, in the interests of economy, it was necessary to utilize the surplus legal strength in Ireland, and they found in the Irish County Court Judges a large legal force which had never yet been availed of, and they desired to give these gentlemen technical assistance in the shape of Land Commissioners, to enable their knowledge of law to be brought into play for the decision of judicial rents; and it was difficult to find men with the requisite knowledge and capacity and position to fill the office of Sub-Commissioners under the Land Act of 1881, that was, to exercise the full functions discharged by the Assistant Commissioners with respect to the fixing of fair rents, and that, therefore, they would select and appoint persons not with the sufficient and adequate knowledge, but still with sufficient knowledge to report to the County Court Judges as to the technical questions connected with the valuation 995 of land. That had been the only excuse given by the Government for not appointing additional Sub-Commissioners. Now, it appeared to him (Mr. Parnell) the Government, by the announcement made that night, that they would extend the functions of the Assistant Commissioners—whose functions would be under the Bill as it now stood, in the nature of those of assessors—to the functions of Assistant Commissioners under the Land Act of 1881, had completely cut the ground from under their feet as regarded their objection to increasing the number of Sub-Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, in introducing this Bill, had distinctly stated as the foundation and reason for bringing the County Court Judges into the matter, that he could not get men easily or quickly of sufficient capacity and knowledge to fill the office of Sub-Commissioner.
§ MR. PARNELL
If there was any difficulty in obtaining legal Sub-Commissioners, it must be more difficult to get men to fill the office of lay Sub-Commissioners. It was, he submitted, therefore infinitely more difficult to obtain men of sufficient trust, capacity, and knowledge to fill the various duties of lay Sub-Commissioners than those of legal Sub-Commissioners. With regard to the legal Commissioners, there was the whole Bar of Ireland to draw from. Questions of judgment did undoubtedly arise, but they were subordinate to the question of law. The number of barristers that would have to be appointed in order to provide a force adequate and sufficient to make up for the County Court Judges would only be something like 25 altogether. But surely the right hon. Gentleman did not pretend that it was impossible for him to select from the Bar of Ireland 25 barristers competent to discharge the duties of Sub-Commissioners? Then he had failed to make out a case for the Bill which asked the House to disturb the settlement of 1881, in order to admit the jurisdiction of a number of Judges in Ireland who were to be converted into legal Sub-Commissioners, and whose characteristics were to be of a reactionary nature. It was well known that the Irish tenants distrusted the County Court Judges, and 996 that was evident from the fact that the tenants persistently avoided all reference of cases to them. That attempt to make County Court Judges arbiters in questions of fair rent was simply a corollary to the policy of the Government last Session when they had destroyed the Land Act which had passed through the House of Commons by Amendments introduced in the House of Lords. It was a matter that would be fraught with danger to the peace and tranquility of Ireland, and he contended that the reasons put forward by the right hon. Gentleman as excuses for the Bill were frivolous and unsound to the last degree. It was absurd to suppose that 25 barristers could not be found to discharge the duties of legal Sub-Commissioners. At any rate, if lay Sub-Commissioners could be obtained a fortiori legal Sub-Commissioners could. He would urge on the right hon. Gentleman to let things stand as they were, and follow the precedent of his Predecessors, and increase the number of Sub-Commissioners. The matter was not more pressing than it was in 1881 and the beginning of 1882, when Lord Spencer was Viceroy, and surely the work of the Land Commission was greatly in arrears. There were then something like 90,000 cases awaiting decision, and Lord Spencer appointed a considerable number of additional Sub-Commissioners, with the result that in the course of a year or two the arrears of work were wiped out. There was no such great amount of urgency now; because, in those days, the judicial rent dated from the fixing of the rent; but to-day the judicial rent dated from the date of the application by the tenant. Until the recent Act was passed, there was no power in the Court to allow a drawback in respect of rent paid after notice of application had been given, nor to extend the period for repayment, and therefore these were special reasons for urgency. But that was now all changed. The right hon. Gentleman might say that the County Court Judges were not using the equitable power which they possessed. But that showed how unsatisfactory a tribunal they were. He contended that the County Courts of Ireland were totally unfitted to decide upon the very delicate and important questions arising out of the fixing of judicial rents. Under the Bill the Lord 997 Lieutenant could, with the consent of the Treasury, order extra remuneration to any County Court Judge. That was a monstrous proposition. The County Court Judges of Ireland at present were paid at least one-third more than they ought to be paid, for they had literally no functions to perform. How many days did they sit on the average in the course of a year? Did they sit 20 days out of the 365?
§ MR. PARNELL
Did! they sit 40? Would it be right that an English County Court Judge had earned his salary, if he only sat on an average between 30 and 40 days throughout the year? [Mr. MADDEN dissented.] English Judges, whether Judges of the County Courts or of the Supreme Courts, were paid salaries which were known to be less than the amounts which they previously earned at the Bar; but none of the Irish County Court Judges earned at the Bar anything approaching the salaries they received as Judges. It was a monstrous thing that, at that time of day, the Government should attempt to raise the already bloated salaries of the County Court Judges of Ireland, which was one of the forms of bribery of the Bar of Ireland. He trusted that the House would reject the particular clause embracing that provision. What was the meaning of the clause relating to the subject of appeal? It would have been much better originally not to give a right of appeal from the decision of the Sub-Commissioners, because appeals had acted like a drag upon the working of the Act of 1881; it had almost overwhelmed it, and in many cases rendered it nugatory. If by this Bill they offered, as they were now proposing, further inducements to the landlords to swamp the Courts with appeals, they would simply stop the working of the Land Act of 1881 and of the Act of 1885. Were the Government acting in good faith in introducing the Bill and its predecessor and successor? They had understood from the Government that that Session was to be an English Session; that the British public were sated with Irish legislation, and that they 998 wanted a little time to devote to the consideration of their own interests and grievances, and he (Mr. Parnell) and his Party had always been quite willing that their wish should be gratified. But the Government, by the introduction of the Bill, and the Parliamentary Under Secretary's Bill, were doing all they could to erect obstacles in their own path. The Bill was entirely unprovoked, and its introduction could only be viewed as an exhibition of sheer "cussedness." The Chief Secretary was so elated by his wonderful successes in Ireland that he thought right to emulate the typical Irishman of Donnybrook Fair, who went up and down with his coat tails streaming, saying—"Will nobody tread on the tails of my coat?" The measure before the House was not wanted, and the Government ought to withdraw it. There was urgency for an increase of Sub-Commissioners in Ireland, but there was no urgency for a Bill of that character. He recommended the Government to refrain from introducing provocative and exasperating measures, which indicated a reactionary tendency on the part of the Government, and which, if persevered in, would undoubtedly increase, instead of diminishing, the confusion in the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN) (Dublin University)
said, the discussion which had taken place on the Bill had been productive of very substantial results. The Bill had been introduced to the House of Commons by the Government, not as the best possible theoretical solution of the difficult questions with which it dealt, but as an honest attempt to deal with questions of paramount importance which it was absolutely necessary to deal with by legislation in the present Session. It was absolutely impossible to avoid dealing with the matter, because the question of the continuance or non-continuance of the Land Commission, which was about to expire, must be dealt with by legislation during the present Session. They had now arrived at a period in the history of this Commission at which some definite arrangement must be made. Then Parliament was face to face with certain difficulties in the administration of that Act, such as the vast amount of arrears, in the fixing of fair rents, and in ap- 999 peals. If the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) had been present in the House when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) delivered his very conciliatory speech with reference to the various suggestions which were made by various sections of the House of Commons, he would not have indulged in his comparison of the right hon. Gentleman to the traditional Irishman at Donnybrook Fair inviting someone to tread on the tail of his coat.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, his remarks did not apply to the appearance of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary on the second reading of the Bill, about which he made a most interesting speech, but to the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman in the House.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, that he assumed that the hon. Member (Mr. Parnell) in speaking on this Bill, referred to the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) with regard to the Bill which was under discussion. The Bill made provision for clearing off the arrears of work which already existed in the Courts. There were arrears which could only be wiped off if the Land Commission were strengthened. He claimed that this Bill was an honest and fair attempt to deal by legislation with several important subjects. The first was the block in the Land Courts. The Bill proposed an enormous improvement in the machinery which existed in the Civil Bill Courts in providing the Chairman with two lay assessors. But if this suggestion which had been pressed on the Government were adopted, it would place the County Court Judge in the same position as the ordinary legal Sub-Commissioner; and what object could there be in giving the tenant an option between two tribunals similarly constituted? Then, it was said, if you appointed lay Commissioners, why not appoint legal Sub-Commissioners; if you could get one you could get the other? That was not so. It was by no means so serious a matter for a lay Commissioner to accept temporary duties as it was for a practising barrister, who would have to abandon his professional connections while his employment lasted, and afterwards to begin life over again.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he did not believe there were 30 barristers in Ireland who would not accept the post.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, then the hon. Member did not know much about the Irish Bar. No barrister in substantial practice would accept a temporary employment of this kind.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, that there was a substantial difference between getting lay Sub-Commissioners and legal Sub-Commissioners. It was somewhat remarkable that while the hon. Member for Cork said the Judges had not enough to do, the hon. Member for South Tyrone said they had too much work already.
§ MR. MADDEN
said, the position of the hon. Member for Cork was that they were all nearly idle. He had dissented from all the figures of the hon. Member, and he considered the highest figures mentioned by him to be an absurd under-estimate of the days occupied by sittings of the County Court Judges. In common fairness, if the County Court Judges were called upon to do extra work they should receive additional remuneration. He could quite understand that so long as the ordinary judicial work only was increased—work which they undertook to do—the Judges had no claim for additional remuneration; but when they were asked to do work of a totally different character—namely, to sit as Sub-Commissioners, that was, to occupy a position they never undertook to occupy, he submitted the case was very different. In conclusion, he would point out that this Bill prepared the Land Commission for any contingency that might happen. The money was very nearly exhausted. There might be an additional grant of money. There might be a large scheme of land purchase. If the money should be exhausted the duties of the purchase department would come to an end, and if there were a large scheme of land purchase then the energy of the entire body of the Commission would be required. The last clause of the Bill simply provided for the continuance of the Commission for seven years, and made it effective for whatever class of work was put upon it. It was from that point of view that the Government 1001 submitted that provision to the House. On the whole, he submitted that the discussion of the Bill had furnished important results, and would enable the House to produce even a more beneficial and useful measure than that now on the Table, and that it was an honest attempt to deal with arrears and the hearing of appeals.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, with the permission of the House he would say a few words explaining why he proposed to go to a Division, notwithstanding the conciliatory attitude of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He frankly admitted that the Government had made several concessions of great value during the debate. They had given way on the co-ordinate authority of the Assistant Commissioners with County Court Judges, they had made the question of the Purchase Clause perfectly clear, and they had expressed their willingness to strengthen the Court of Appeal. But what he considered the main principle of the Bill had been left intact, that was, the destruction of the option or choice of the tenant as to the Court where his case should be heard. That he held to be a reversal of the Act of 1881, and upon that he proposed to divide the House.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
said, he would merely interpose a very few remarks before the House went to a Division. In connection with this Bill he had thought it his duty to ask the right hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland for some Returns giving information on that point as to which the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) and others had made objection. There were grave suspicions in the minds of the tenantry of Ireland as to the bona fides of the Government in the matter, and though the Solicitor General declared the Bill was an honest attempt to deal with the arrears of land business in Ireland, he (Mr. Flynn) and others contended that it was nothing of the kind, The Returns he asked for were to show the number of cases of application for the fixing of fair rents brought before the Land Commission, as distinguished from those brought before Civil Bill Courts. He found it impossible to get this information, and perfectly understood why the Government declined to give it. However, he had gone through the Returns for the last four months of 1887, and found figures 1002 which he thought the House should have in its possession before going to a Division. The number of cases for having fair rents fixed brought before the Sub-Commissioners during the months, September, October, November, and December, last year, amounted to 3,097, and the fixed rental amounted to £60,000. In the same mouths last year, the number of such cases before the Civil Bill Courts was 62, with a rental of £1,203. Those facts spoke for themselves more powerfully than hours of declamation and rhetoric. They put the case in a nutshell, and were a strong illustration of the contention of Irish Members, that the Government gave the Irish people nothing that they asked for, and insisted upon forcing upon them everything they did not ask for. Question put.
The House divided:—Ayes 228; Noes 139: Majority 89.—(Div. List, No. 86.)
Main Question, put, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed for Monday next."
§ MR. PARNELL
asked that the Government would give due Notice of the intention to take the Committee stage, and whether Monday was set down merely pro formâ with the purpose of then fixing a definite day. If it was not the intention to take the Bill on Monday, would the Government give due Notice of when it was intended to take it, so that Irish Members might be in their places? Many Irish Members had business and professional engagements to fulfil, and had to sacrifice their own interests and those of their clients to attend the House on the bare possibility of Bills coming on. Could the Government give some substantial promise as to when the Bill would come on? The same remark applied to the Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Bill read earlier in the evening. Would the Government also arrange to make those the first business?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, he would set the Bills down for the same day, and they should follow each other as first business. It would probably be more con- 1003 venient to Irish Members than to attend if the Bills were divided and made First Orders on separate days. He would take care that due Notice should be given. The Bill would stand now for Monday, and Notice should be given on Thursday should there be any change in the intention to take the Committee stage on Monday.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The same understanding applies to the other Bill set down for the same day.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill committed for Monday next.